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Flint, Rubber, Toaster Oven: 2004 Santadi Shardana

We regularly open wines here at the shop for purposes of educating customers as well as ourselves. The other night we took advantage of trying a very cool red wine from the island of Sardinia, the 2004 Santadi Shardana Valli di Porto Pino. It would have been easy to taste Cannonau, which is probably the most famous red varietal from Sardinia, but the island offers so much more. This particular wine is made mostly from Carignano, with a little Shiraz (85%, 15%, respectively). This is one of those “funky” wines that shows characteristics of things not normally thought of when describing wine. Although smooth with some silky tannins, this wine has a very distinct flinty quality that flirts with burnt rubber and what one staff member described: “It’s like that scent, when you use a toaster oven but it hasn’t been cleaned in a while…and it has all the crusted stuff on the bottom that burns.” Sound scary? Think again. The Carignano vines are, on average, about 100 years of age and provide intense fruit. Dense, darker fruit flavors are coupled with a vibrant minerality. The wine is meant to drink right now; it’s excellent to pair with a rich stinky cheese.  So if you want something unique, fun and well priced, pick up a bottle and tell us what you think. -Joseph Sangiovanni

The 2004 Santadi Shardana Valli di Porto Pino currently sells for $18.99, on sale.

Tasting Romanée-Conti with Aubert de Villaine

Romanee-Conti Tasting

What we saw on the sorting table was beautiful, some of the best Pinot Noir you can dream of.

This is how Aubert de Villaine, self-described “steward of the domaine,” referred to the 2009 harvest at yesterday’s trade tasting in the The Library at The Palace Hotel. One of the highlights of the year for each that I’ve been in the business comes with tasting the new vintage from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, an event comprised of wine writers, sommeliers, and buyers like me. As the wines are well beyond my means, it is a privilege to taste them, and listening to de Villaine’s synopsis of each vintage is more informative and enlightening than any wine course in which I’ve sat. His dissemination of the vintage from winter through harvest and élevage is not dissimilar from the way in which Ishmael tells his tale of the white whale, slowly and surely, building gravitas with inclement weather and pulling victories from sunny afternoons. Yesterday, he stumbled quietly in French for the first few words before explaining that his English was out of practice and apologized for the volume of his words: “My voice as I get old gets less and less." Naturally, when he finishes with the tale of the vintage it’s impossible not to have a deeper reverence for the wine in the glasses before you.

New to the lineup this year was the Corton, a bottling crafted with fruit from Clos du Roi, Renardes, and Bressandes. De Villaine described these parcels as among the original part of Corton, vineyards that existed before the appellation grew to its current size. When paired alongside the other wines there was a marked difference in both the aroma and flavor of this Beaune-based beauty which de Villaine summarized as only a master Burgundy Jedi could: “The wine of Corton looks towards the ground, and the wines of Vosne look towards the sky.”

As the tasting continued de Villaine made constant reference to the “airiness” of Vosne, a description that made perfect sense given the aromas that permeated the room. In past years (‘07, ‘04) the wines haven’t shown at their best at this tasting, but yesterday’s exposition left smiles on just about every face in the room. Comparing the ’09s to the ‘59 vintage, de Villaine remarked, “I don’t think I’ll ever see them at their peak. You may.

You may if you’re flush and lucky enough to find some. Each year the retail allocations shrink as demand grows. I find it amazing to think that given the current economy it is possible to sell as many bottles from this estate as one can get their hands on. The good news is that magnum lovers will be rewarded with more magnums in 2009. More magnums at the expense of larger formats, of which there will be none. Aubert explained that “95% of big bottles ended up at auction,” which elicited chortles from a grinning John Kapon seated at the table behind me. Once the subject of auctions and the parallel market came up, de Villaine discussed a number of new anti-fraud features they were planning to incorporate into the labels in coming vintages, “things that only we at the Domaine are aware of.

The tasting ended with a few sips of Le Montrachet. The 2009 seemed less melodramatic than in previous vintages, “more mineral,” as de Villaine described it, and completely devoid of botrytis. Sitting there among my colleagues I enjoyed the Montrachet from sip to swallow, savoring it as I read through my notes and quotes from de Villaine. I’ll spare you my impression of the wines (it’s obvious I enjoyed them), but a note scribbled between some nouns and adjectives reminded me that as we’d settled into the degustation Aubert ended his vintage report and encouraged us to taste in silence and avoid using words “for something that doesn’t need words.” His voice might be getting “less and less,” but to me his words have never been more resonant. -Jesse Salazar