I now have a better picture of the State of California Alcohol Beverage Control license transfer timing and when escrow will close, and so here is a quick update on the status of the sale of my wine bar. I want to use this opportunity to introduce you to the buyer, Troy Stevens. Troy’s intention is to keep everything in the restaurant intact, with the same employees you have come to know and love, the same décor, and the same menu. His plan is to run the restaurant as a going concern, with no closure or gap in service. Over time, I am sure he will make small changes to improve and optimize the business, to put his mark on it, and make to the place his own. My name may no longer be on the masthead but I will be leaving you in very good hands. Troy will be working with me over the next few weeks to smooth the transition (it turns out that there are many details, small and large, involved in running a restaurant, e.g., I am now an expert on evaporative coolers), and you will have the chance to meet him in person.
The sale and change of occupant will finalize some time during the week of April 16. I do hope you stop by before then to say hello and to meet Troy. We are planning a bacchanalia to mark the sale, and I will be sure to keep you informed about that.
I am selling my wine bar. I do not yet know when the transaction will finalize: it may be as soon as the end of the month or perhaps a few weeks later than that. I will send another message once I have a firm date, as we will celebrate with one or more going away bacchanalias. Moreover, I will need your help with drinking the delicious wines that stock our shelves (nearly 20 cases of wonderful stuff from Selection Massale await your delectation!).
Eight years ago, I knew that I loved wine and wanted to try to make it my life. I had the idea that I might deepen my relationship with wine by opening a wine bar, and reckoned that falling for wine was sufficient motivation. I am embarrassed to admit that I did not anticipate that it is also delicious to have customers who become regulars and later, friends. I also did not foresee the pleasure of turning someone on to an unexpected wine, and the delight of looking out at the floor on a busy night and witnessing people having a jolly time at my restaurant. I know I will miss my wine bar, but enough with the elegies!
The decision to sell a business, one in which you have invested sweat equity, energy, and passion, is not an easy one. After six years in business I might have discovered that I do not really care for wine all that much, but the truth is that I continue fall ever deeper for it, and have come to the point where my infatuation is compelling me to move to the next level in my business. Please stay tuned for news of Lou 2.0.
Here is the well-reasoned argument that Michel Chapoutier makes against natural wine (in the March issue of Decanter):
Chapoutier has always been good for denouncing the incompetent, the foolish, the bureaucratic, and it is quite easy to stoke his fires. However, the subject of les vins naturels — essentially, organic wines that have gone to the next level of having no sulphur in them – brings out a fearsome display of bile from the pocket dynamo. ‘Using no sulphur dioxide is a connerie – it is rubbish,’ he declares. ‘It’s like making vinegar, bad vinegar. How can anyone allow toxic yeasts to develop so that these inhabit the wine? The polemic on this is intolerable – and I’m tired of the diktat of these hippies who are from another world. It is extraordinary that people defend products with defects on the grounds that in the past growers were making wines with defects, so that is good, or natural. Those old wines had defects because people lacked the tools and means not to make fault-free wines.’
Mr. Chapoutier, a winemaker of means and accomplishment, is cosseted and secure in his beliefs about correct wine, and yet here he is, getting his panties in a tight bunch about the practices of an insignificant group of marginal hippie winemakers. Clearly, the brand of conventional wine is so fragile and easily tarnished that it demands a vigorous expression of revulsion—infidels!—to preserve the integrity of the sacristy. It is fun game to heap calumny upon a target with no name, to immolate nameless straw men. Mr. Chapoutier’s laughable focus on sans soufre wines is an ignorant reduction, as only a very few natural winegrowers have gone down that path—but what does Mr. Chapoutier care? He is a coward, lacking the balls to name a single hippie wine or vigneron, and is capable of engaging in dialog only with himself.
The dire picture, drawn by Mr. Chapoutier, is of hippie barbarians at the gate, positioned to sucker an entire generation of wine drinkers into accepting lousy, flawed wine because us poor, deluded rubes know no better. Alternatively, perhaps natural winegrowers are indeed hippies from another world: a world that Mr. Chapoutier will not or cannot understand. May I suggest to Mr. Chapoutier, if he is so tired of the imagined diktats of Stalinoid naturalistas, that he fortify himself with a double espresso and fasten his seatbelt; it’s going to be a bumpy night!
The international phenomenon of Beaujolais Nouveau day is a marketing scheme that the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais cooked up in the 70s. Their goal: get people frothy about drinking boring wine. I think that the UIVB probably wanted to do something to raise the profile of Beaujolais—but they haven’t, and now just help promote an industrially made, boring wine to consumers that will never get to taste a drop of the good stuff, conditioned as they are to think that all Beaujolais must be this industrially made crap. Beaujolais Nouveau has so poisoned the brand of Beaujolais that when I offer a good bottle of it (which is every day—I love good Beaujolais, and even though the good stuff is not as inexpensive as it once was, I still consider it very well priced), my customers rarely think to order it: “you can’t serve Beaujolais in July—it’s out of season!” So, most of the time I pour cru Beaujolais and only list the name of the cru, e.g., a Morgon is listed on my wine list simply as Morgon, and never Beaujolais. I pour a fair amount of Morgon that way (and Moulin-à-Vent, and Fleurie, and Chiroubles, and etc.—I have poured over 50 cases of various forms of Beaujolais over the course of 2011).
This invitation to a Beaujolais Soirée at the Beverly Hills Country Club sums up the problem: it is a soirée to celebrate Beaujolais in which precious little Beaujolais is available. There will be food and wine from Normandie and Alsace, but just one wine from Beaujolais: an industrially made wine from Georges Dubœuf.
A Beaujolais fête with precious little Beaujolais
I have nothing against primeur wine—it is fun, fresh stuff. I do have something against industrial wine, and so I will be administering an antidote this November by pouring the good stuff—three or four Beaujolais wines, including two wines from Foillard (possibly my favorite grower in the region), including his 2011 Nouveau (gasp!), and a fancy 2008 Fleurie.
Here is a sentiment about wine versus beer that I cannot endorse:
“As one’s palate progresses in life, appreciation of the pungency of hops and barley tends to lessen, and the goose of a well-aged grape
tends to grow.”
Beer is not a gateway drug to wine. Beer is a discrete pleasure, not a first, tottering baby step that adults inevitably abandon in favor of wine, once they find themselves “evolved enough to enjoy the finer things.” At the end of my week, after tasting twenty or two hundred wines, I do not reach for a glass of wine, but find myself craving a beer or hard cider. Moreover, it is gratifying for me to see a vigneron whom I love do the same. To be sure, as an old geezer, I drink more wine than beer, and the beers I tend to gravitate towards today are on the sour rather than the hoppy side of the spectrum. However, I am not such a feinschmecker that I consider my palate as somehow more evolved than my beer-drinking friends; it is just different. I appreciate and take delectation in beer, probably more so today than in my glug-glug-glug twenties.
I reject the notion that there is an inevitable arc from beer to wine—reality is more amorphous than that glib formulation. There are complex, multi-dimensional beers, and there are boring, monolithic wines.
Reading 19th century distillation treatises and formularies is, depending upon your inclination, a valuable and frequently amusing pastime. Valuable, if you are interested in what makes aromatized wines tick or the differences between the historical absinthes of Besançon and Nîmes (among other differences, the latter contains black alder and angelica); amusing if you relish the polite and ponderous language of old fashioned technical prose. These volumes reveal aspects of the recent past that we tend to overlook in deference to the long dead. I’m interested in formularies because I’m interested in archaic winemaking techniques–less so because of creative anachrony, and more so because I believe that sometimes the old ways can yield more interesting results than the new ways (of course, I appreciate that I’m competely wrongheaded in this belief—many historical practices are better off remaining in the past, e.g., slavery).
Here is a receipt for Spirit of Tar, found in MM. Duplais (ainé and jeune), A Treatise on the Manufacture and Distillation of Alcoholic Liquors (London: 1871). You may find the entire PDF on the ever-informative Wormwood Society web site. I imagine that one could attempt to a fake Barolo by adding a bit of Spirit of Tar to common Langhe Nebbiolo. Of course that would be a folly, but to the 19th century mind spellbound by trompe-l’œil and charades and as manifest in these treatises, a harmless one. I do not know what “Norway tar” is, but I suppose that it is a tar of Norwegian manufacture. Duplais recommends Spirit of Tar in the manufacture of a factitious Constantia.
At some point this spring I may have urged you to taste Pinela, a delightful wine made from an heirloom Slovenian grape variety that comes in a bottle of curious and peculiarly unsettling design. This Monday please join us for supper to welcome the person who makes this wine, the great Slovenian winegrower, Miha Batič. Situated in the Vipava valley, the Batič Vineyards are located in an historic corridor in southwest Slovenia that connects Northern Italy to Central Europe and beyond. The Batič family has been making wine at this cultural and geographical crossroads only since the end of the 16th century: Today, Mr. Batič is doing honorable work not only with Pinela and the other traditional grape varieties of his patrimony, but also international varieties such as Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. Whereas other growers might exploit international varieties to make oaky, extracted wines—monotonous wines that ostensibly appeal to the widest possible foreign market, Mr. Batič makes pure, honest wines that reflect his tradition and his family’s sensibility.
Mr. Batič farms organically and ferments his wine without any additives, using only wild yeasts and minimal and sometimes no sulfur. The rosé ferments in stainless steel; the whites and reds in Slovenian oak barrels. He bottles his wines, with the exception of the Cabernet rosé, without fining and filtration. He gives some wines a short maceration, and gives others—notably his “Zaria,” an unsulfured orange wine made from a blend of Slovenian autochthons that include Pinela, but also Vitovska and Zelen—a long maceration in open top fermenters.
This Monday you will have the opportunity to see what makes Batič tick, and taste four different Batič wines ranging from fresh, to earthy, to orange.
Blue crab cake, frisée-radish salad
Batič rosé (Cabernet Sauvignon) 2010
Batič Zaria 2009
Niman hanger steak, fried green tomato, butter beans, wild arugula, salsa verde
Batič Cabernet Franc 2008
Cow Girl Mt. Tam, Meadow Creek Appalachian, Rogue Crater Lake
Batič Pinela 2008
From my large (over 3,000 specimen) collection of food and wine paper ephemera. No visible copyright, but my guess is that this is from the early 1950s. Ample and droll kitsch value here, but there’s also an archeological dimension, too, such as this nugget of old fashioned wine wisdom:
“The most popular white table wine types are Sauternes and Rhine Wine…Rhine wines are paler and thoroughly dry…remember that there are Dry Sauternes (not sweet at all).”
Click the image to download a PDF of the entire charming booklet.
I’m unsure just how this sort of e-mail scam works (I assume that it involves credulous rubes sending credit card or bank information to the scammer). And, I do not know what the hell a spinach armada is. But, I think the copywriter deserves some credit for brightening my day. The following, styled in ALL CAPS, is verbatim:
MY NAME IS KATE WARNER,I WILL LIKE YOU TO KNOW THAT ITS BECAUSE OF MY HEARING IMPAIRED CONDITION LEAD ME HERE REGARDING MY EMAIL, MY MOM BIRTHDAY COMING UP ON THE 25TH OF APRIL 2011 AND I HAVE SOME IN-LAWS COMING,SO I WILL NEED SOME (HOT TUNA FRITTATA AND SPINACH ARMADA WITH SALAD) FOR ABOUT 150 GUESTS THAT ARE COMING SO I WANT YOU TO GET BACK TO ME WITH THE PRICE PER PERSON AND THE TOTAL COST FOR THE 150 PEOPLE WITH TAX TO FEED INDIVIDUAL BOXES NOW,SO I CAN GET YOU MY CREDIT CARD DETAILS TO CHARGE THROUGH.CAN YOU MAKE IT FOR ME ON THAT DATE ? AROUND 3PM THE ORDER WILL BE PICK UP BY MY PRIVATE SHIPPER.I WILL ALSO LIKE YOU TO GET BACK TO ME WITH YOUR RESTAURANT ADDRESS AND ALSO YOUR DIRECT NUMBER SO I CAN HAVE IT FORWARD TO THE SHIPPER THAT WILL COME FOR THE FOOD PICK UP ON THE DAY OF THE EVENT,LOOKING FORWARD TO READ BACK FROM YOU ASAP THANKS.
Come join us on a voyage to the lovely Islets of Langerhans
Each Monday night Lou offers a wine tasting supper consisting of three to four courses with matching wines for $55. We serve supper from 6PM to 11PM, and you do not need to make a reservation (although if you are bringing a group of six or more please call us after 5PM at 323 962 6369 to let us know).
Please join us on Monday, April 25 for a special supper focusing on the wines of Hungary’s Tokaji region. In collaboration with our friends from the importer Blue Danube, we are excited to present to you a range of Tokaji wines and vintages. The wines we will taste on Monday run the spectrum from the searingly dry and nervy to the traditionally sweet and luscious to a precious and exotic Eszencia, a nectarous wine that occasionally retains nearly 1000 g/l of residual sugar, requiring more than a decade to finish fermenting. We will taste Tokaji made from the two most important Tokaji grape varieties, Furmint and Hárslevelű, varieties that growers may vinify either alone or blended, and a dry, perfumed Ságramuskotály (Yellow Muscat), one of the other sanctioned grape varieties that prosper in the region.
The Tokaji brand (and quite an old brand it is—vineyard designation began in the early 18th century) was burnished by sweet wines which were very much appreciated by European and Russian nobility during the early modern era, and the wines were renowned for their long lives. A quick online search, for example, reveals that there is a stock of Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos available from the 1906 vintage, which you may buy for the modest sum of $2630 per 500ml bottle.
Like so many things, the quality of wine produced suffered during the Communist era, during which state-controlled wineries were compelled to make watered down, industrial-strength wine, produced from over-cropped vines. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, both foreign and domestic investors have helped to restore the luster of Tokaji. One modern innovation is the rise of dry Tokaji wines, dry wines being traditionally a second thought–as you will witness on Monday, it turns out that Furmint and Hárslevelű are capable of making exciting dry wines, too.
I struggled with thinking through what food to pair with the sweet-to-exceptionally sweet wines we will be enjoying this evening. To be sure, nothing sweet, as I didn’t want to leave my guests stranded on the islets of Langerhans. And so, in lieu of dessert, we are offering a savory-salty course of domestic farmstead cheese, one each made from goat, sheep, and cow’s milk
‘09 Patricius Yellow Muscat (dry)
Salad of farro, asparagus, pistachio, olive, feta
‘08 Patricius Furmint (dry)
‘09 Bott “Hatari” Hárslevelű (off-dry)
‘09 Bott Csontos Furmint (dry)
Smoked Niman pork chop, baby potato, cabbage-fennel slaw, pickled carrots
‘09 Bott “Bott-rytis” late harvest
‘07 Patricius “Katinka” late harvest
3 cheeses and accompaniments:
Bellwether San Andreas (sheep), Rogue Creamery Crater Lake Blue (cow), Zingerman Lincoln Log (goat)
‘04 Patricius 3 Puttonyos
‘00 Patricius 4 Puttonyos
‘02 Patricius 5 Puttonyos
‘02 Patricius 6 Puttonyos
‘00 Aszú Eszencia