Thursday, May 26, 2011

It continues, part II

I really need to stop this, but it's so insanely entertaining as to be laughable. Now the link works! But, it takes you to a map, literally a map, of the layout of the floor. I can see where the tables will be, where the band will be, etc. I don't need this; can't really imagine any use for this posting whatsoever.
Give me the layout of wineries and restaurants so I can plan my time in advance...please. Pretty please...with sugar on top...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

So close...and yet so far

Lo and behold(!), the day after I posted my complaint about the lack of an advance map an option appeared at http://www.nowfe.com/?s=grand+tasting+floor+layout. Imagine my excitement...followed by disappointment. The link does nothing. It just cycles back to that page. Almost got it right.
Please keep trying, I know you can make it happen.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A NOWFE Frustration Continues

I have never understood large wine events not making the full list of wines to be tasted available in advance. The ubiquitous presence of computers makes the situation even more baffling. The ease of posting that information makes the absence inexcusable. A local, respected sommelier interviewed for the Times-Picayune article previewing the New Orleans Food & Wine Experience offers advice about the Grand Tasting. He recommends taking 15 minutes to plan where you want to go and what you want to taste. I applaud his notion.
However, when I'm paying $30 an hour to taste wine and enjoy some food, it would be nice to be able to make that plan from the comfort of my own home. Once I'm at the event I want to be doing, not planning.
I'm aware I may be in the minority. I always run into lots of people I haven't seen in a while and having been in the business in New Orleans for fifteen years I have lots of colleagues to see, but I'm there to explore and taste. The more information I have in advance the better prepared I am to visit the winerie I "need" to see and have appropriate questions ready.
A detailed map of what is handed out as people enter; the map is found inside of a printed program. Somewhere along the line a document must be produced, at least a week (probably a lot earlier), in advance that could be posted on their website. Encouraging people to print these in advance would cut down, eventually, on their printing costs as well. How about it?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

NOWFE: 1st Article Feedback

The Times-Picayune published a preview article in the Lagniappe section Friday. It is a much stronger effort than in years past. An item lost on many gets stressed early on: this is a charity event, benefiting various culinary and restaurant-focused, local organizations. The cause is good and the events are solid but lots of people do not participate due to the expense.
Improvements have been made regarding the overall event. Unfortunately, one of the biggest vanishes this year. The Grand Tastings return to the Convention Center from their more successful Superdome location of the past few years. Although crowds are appropriately handled and the hall works, the taller, roomier Superdome felt more inviting to this taster. Renovations at the home of the Saints forced the return to NOWFE's previous sipping grounds.
The largest improvement of late has been related to food. More new and interesting culinary efforts exist than ever before. Too much of it still runs out much too early, but thank you.
I worry about the addition of VINOLA, a high-end event on Thursday featuring wines priced at retail from $75 up. For years, NOWFE's Grand Tastings accommodated restaurateurs by offering free admission before the paying customers arrived. Due to some short-sighted thinking and some abuses by restaurant staff, the option was eliminated for a number of years. Now that it has returned, better wines and wineries should follow. [Like it or not, right or wrong, most wineries stress restaurant placement over retail sales. This means that some dropped out since they lacked access to the market they desired but are now returning.]
However, since wineries and local distributors donate all the wine consumed at the various events, focus for upper end wines may shift to VINOLA at the expense of the Grand Tastings. [Forget seeing the wineries that produce small quantities since they can not justify free bottles for judging, dinners, the Royal St. Stroll and Grand Tastings] Even the article, by Todd A. Price, describes them as follows, "The Grand Tasting, which features more budget priced options, is a chance to discover wines that you might drink on a weeknight and that are easy to find at your local grocery and liquor store." I can hear the NOWFE board cringing as I type this. If it's all"budget priced" wine then should the tickets be $89 + service charges? Should they continue to be called Grand Tastings? I think the description is inaccurate; I still found exciting, relatively high-end wines available at the Grand Tastings the last two years but fear an erosion in deference to the upper-end customers at VINOLA (tickets are $150 for this event).

Tomorrow: a frustration continues, mabye we can finally end it for next year...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The French Need a Better Marketing Company

When it comes to wine, I am a devout Francophile. In matters of marketing I find them excruciatingly clueless, squandering their long established reputation to chase business. The folks outside of Europe making wine must love them.
Bordeaux and Burgundy still attract serious consumers and offer some of the most collectible wines available. Both regions have been plagued by suspect producers riding the coattails of more earnest neighbors; the resulting confusion, perhaps alienation, for disappointed customers has damaged reputations.
Bordeaux has moved to cull some of the producers that produce Two-Euro Pierre believing that will alleviate the loss of prestige. That level of plonk does not make it to the U.S. Ridding the market of sub-par wine is never a bad idea but the CIVB (Bordeaux's Wine Council) believes that naming various tiers 'Fun', 'Exploration' and 'Art' will somehow further improve their status. I don't get it.
The inherent 'problem' for the region remains the climate and resulting style of wines when considered among the hugely extracted, super-ripe styles available from various New World sources. I never felt ripped off by Bordeaux under $10, I don't buy any. I no longer buy Bordeaux at all because the prices for wines that used to be affordable have risen to astronomical prices and I almost never find anything under $25 that's worth drinking. Lower priced options lack the concentrated fruit people expect from those wines and will disappoint most drinkers. If the move is to solidify the European market then the goofy names will likely be a liability; if the goal is to right the ship in the U.S. then the wines need more trickery and magic in the cellar to make them plusher and more gulpable. I am not advocating this necessarily, but name and label alterations will not change customers reactions, if the products even get to them. More and more buyers have simply forsaken Bordeaux selections across the board due to lackluster sales.
Burgundy has also fallen into step with some deranged Pied Piper. They are planning on two new appellations, 'Coteaux Bourguignons' and 'Bourgogne Cote d'Or.' The latter allows low cost Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to be labeled something other than just Bourgogne. I'm confused about this, but can sort of see the point. My fear is that bottles previously bottled as Bourgogne Cotes de Nuits or Cotes de Beaune will now lose their individual identities and be bottled as one under the new moniker. This may be misplaced concern, but for me, the appeal of Burgundy is its striking specificity, which could be diluted under this approach.
The former shows the French at their rudderless best. 'Coteaux Bourguignons' can be used on lower priced Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Gamay from Burgundy and Beaujolais. Basically, it's a renaming of an appellation rarely, if ever, seen in the U.S. - Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire (now there's a ironic name). People already complain they don't understand the French system, I know, let's add more names and be sure to include at least two grapes of the same color from different regions to further befuddle the potential consumer.
The French led the charge by creating the appellation system. It works well, for the most part. They should be careful about chasing current trends, they may find the market comes back to where they used to be only to find them out to lunch. Just ask all those growers in California who planted Merlot in the late 90s...

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wine in Kitchens

This should never happen, even in your home. unless you're about to cook with it. Kitchens get hot, have lots of light and vibrating appliances that jostle wine. Just in case you don't know, all of those things are bad. Plenty of restaurants around the world store wine there due to space constraints or idiocy, or both. Much too often in casual dining experiences in New Orleans I want an ice bucket for my reds. This can happen even when wine is not stored in the kitchen since our weather hardly drops below 80, even in the middle of the night, for three or four months at a time. A few weeks at less than optimal temperatures may not damage the wine severely and most casual dining spots steer clear of offering high end selections.
Kitchen storage is another thing altogether. They get away with it because the risks of consumption pale in comparison with fish stored behind the bar or chicken on a pantry shelf. While I do not believe that TV shows owe us any education, especially 'reality' versions, some should strive to present a more professional standard. Top Chef Masters stores wine in their kitchen. I will grant you it is a grand room, no doubt equipped with state of the art everything. Wine bottles decorate some walls with no apparent enclosure to ensure proper temperature. It looks neat and maybe they're "only using the wine for cooking" but it sets a bad example. I'm sure the air conditioning is top notch but I see the chefs sweat while working so the wine can't be at ideal temperature.
Oh well, I guess there are no reality shows to emulate, even one that donates all winnings to charity. Think Jersey Shore might be the shining light for us? Me either.

Monday, May 9, 2011

New Orleans Wine and Food Experience

Now that Jazz Fest (or Feast, if you prefer) has passed, the next big event on my calendar, other than my daughter's birthday, occurs Memorial Day weekend. The New Orleans Wine and Food Experience runs from Tuesday, May 24th through Saturday, May 28th. The Grand Tastings generate the most excitement while the Royal Street Stroll generates the most drunks. That is a wine drinking, not a tasting. I find the weather more conducive to a porch, a rocking chair and a rum punch but attendees seem to enjoy.
The seminars often underwhelm, but one stands out. It also sold out. Titled, "Bubbly Personalities" the event will profile the house style of various Champagne producers. Brilliant! Too many people lump them all together. Even within the Brut category, sweetness levels vary dramatically.
Two seminars will serve as advertisements for glass manufacturers, but you get parting gifts so maybe it's worth it. Bizarrely enough, one of these events is a beer seminar.
Jordan will offer a Cabernet "retrospective" which I assume will include an assortment of older vintages. I would love to be proven wrong about this wine being overpriced and undernourished but with entry costing a c-note, I suppose I will have to rely on my previous, disappointing experiences.
A seminar from Badia A Coltibuono featuring wines and olive oils should be required for fans of traditional Tuscan wines. The estate is magnificent and the culinary program they run there helps make their on site restaurant a must visit if you're in the neighborhood.
I most want to attend the "Mountain High, Valley Low" offering. Despite the unfortunate, Frankenstein focus group name it purports to showcase Napa wines from the valley and higher up the mountains. With no names available for perusal, the $100 entry fee keeps my credit card in my pocket, but I love the idea.
Here's the entire list:
http://www.nowfe.com/events/friday-saturday#Seminars
Stay tuned for more posts leading up to the event and some stories from past events...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Bubbly Babble

We hear a lot about Champagne and sparkling wine and the inherent superiority of the former. Generally I agree, but buy more of the latter in deference to my wallet. I often err on economic side with Roederer Estate. Served at my wedding, a go-to wine for glass pours in restaurants and a wonderful visit that included an attempt at disgorging by hand (epic failure) admittedly skew my opinion.

Their upper end selection, L'Ermitage, always wowed me but reached a price point that would cause me to buy French instead. When I sold the wines, we never travelled with the wines in the same bag; it avoided losing sales to yourself. They fit different spots on lists anyway.
It had been years since I had the French and Californian versions together. With a mere one dollar difference between the Brut Premier and the L'Ermitage it's a fair comparison.

Louis Roederer Brut Premier - Founded in 1776, perhaps they were destined to produce sparkling wine in the U.S. as well. They stand out from the crowd because they own most of the vines that produce grapes for their Champagnes. This is about half Pinot Noir, one third Chardonnay and about 15% Pinot Meunier. Three years of aging allows sufficient maturation and their signature comes from the relatively high percentage of reserve wines added to the final blend (6-10%). While I like it, I am rarely blown away. I actually found it a bit thin in the mouth, which surprised me since the reserve addition usually results in a bigger, toastier flavor profile. The wine held up well for its seeming lack on the entry, becoming long and finishing very high-toned. Lovely, but the real pleasure came next. $39-43, Imported by Maisons, Marques & Domaines.

Roederer Estate Brut L'Ermitage 2002 - In 1982 the family established this outpost in the Anderson Valley, releasing their first wine in 1988 (L'Ermitage in 1989). The blend is half and half, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, all of it from estate vineyards and the aging is extended; 2002 is the current release. The heavens parted and sunshine shone down when I tasted this. All right, maybe someone just opened the curtains, but the wine proved a revelation nonetheless. All the depth lacking in the Brut Premier appeared here with a wild, creamy lemon palate. Powerful but not overdone, the citrus element kept the wine focused but the exuberance in the glass echoed around my mouth for more than a minute with each delightful sip. Not Champagne, not masquerading in that guise, but utterly delightful and damned impressive. $38-$42.