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Sherry Amour?

2013 April 24

Apologies for the silence last week. There were one or two things that I had planned to post, but with all the madness in Boston, I wasn’t in much of a mood to talk about fermented grape juice. Wine just seems very small at moments like that. True, between regular mass shootings, a steady supply of natural disasters, and assorted other mishegas, one is reminded of wine’s smallness all the time nowadays. But amid the carnage in Boston, one of my favorite cities, I found myself at a loss for wine words.

Others were not. The Wine Spectator ran an interesting two-part series last week looking at the newfound passion for sherry among American sommeliers and wine writers and wondering if their enthusiasm will trickle down to the chardonnay guzzling masses. “Does Wine Evangelism Work?” asked the Spectator. It is a great question, and sherry is an excellent test case. It is a complicated category, and the wines are not obvious crowd-pleasers. I’ve got more to say on the topic of wine evangelizing, but before I say it, I’m curious to know if all the buzz about sherry has reached your ears. Are you a sherry drinker? If not, has sherry’s sudden cachet tempted you to give these wines a try? Have you purchased any sherry recently, and what did you think of it? I’m eager, too, to hear from retailers: are you seeing heightened interest in sherry? The somms and the scribes are proselytizing furiously on behalf of sherry, but are they winning any converts?

Jury Awards Bill Koch $12 Million in Punitive Damages

2013 April 12

A follow-up to my previous post: the federal jury that ruled in favor of Bill Koch yesterday in his lawsuit against Eric Greenberg today awarded Koch a whopping $12 million in punitive damages, to go along with $379, 000 in compensatory damages.  That works out to $500,000 for each of the 24 counterfeit bottles that Greenberg sold to Koch. In my earlier post, I made a smart-ass comment about Greenberg no longer being able to afford wine and having to switch to beer–it turns out I might have been right! The jury deliberated just two hours before reaching its verdict yesterday, and it has now awarded Koch $12 million–I think we can safely conclude that the eight jurors really, really did not like Greenberg, who says he will appeal the decision. The arrest last year of Rudy Kurniawan showed that the government took the wine fraud issue seriously, and Koch’s resounding victory against Greenberg has proven that a jury can be persuaded to take it seriously, too, and that those caught selling counterfeit wines can face very harsh consequences. I’d imagine the Greenberg verdict has sent a chill through certain corners of the fine wine market.

The Wine Trials: An Update

2013 April 12

Late yesterday, Bill Koch won his lawsuit against fellow collector Eric Greenberg; a jury in New York ruled that Greenberg had defrauded Koch by knowingly selling him counterfeit wines. The jury took just two hours to reach its verdict and awarded Koch $379,000 in compensatory damages; it reconvened this morning to decide on punitive damages. If the eight jurors want to really stick it to Greenberg—and based on the speed with which they returned the verdict, they clearly did not think well of the onetime billionaire (much of his fortune apparently evaporated when the tech bubble burst)—this loss could be a brutally expensive one for him, especially if he’s forced to cover Koch’s legal fees. Koch reportedly spent $10 million pursuing the case. After this experience, I wouldn’t be surprised if Greenberg gave up wine and switched to beer. It might be all that he can afford now.  (For those of you with time to spare and a taste for legalese, here’s the transcript of the closing arguments and the verdict.)

It is a huge victory for Koch, who filed the lawsuit in 2007. Although the Florida energy tycoon won a default judgment three years ago against Hardy Rodenstock, who sold him four of the so-called Thomas Jefferson bottles, Koch has had mixed results in his campaign to rid the wine market of fraud. A lawsuit he filed against Christie’s in 2010 was dismissed, and he has also had some setbacks in cases that he’s brought against Acker Merrall and Royal Wine Merchants. The Greenberg complaint was the first Koch lawsuit to reach a jury, and as such, it was an important test. The wine fraud issue doesn’t generate a lot of public sympathy; rich guys buying $30,000 bottles of wine and getting swindled by other rich guys is an issue that is more likely to provoke Schadenfreude than outrage. The challenge for Koch’s lawyers was to not only prove their case, but to convince a jury that even billionaires purchasing obscenely expensive old wines are entitled to consumer protection. Koch’s attorneys succeeded in doing that, and the fact that a jury found in Koch’s favor is no doubt very encouraging to the prosecutors preparing the case against Rudy Kurniawan. Indeed, from what I understand, Jason Hernandez, the Assistant U.S. Attorney who is the lead prosecutor in the Kurniawan case, was in the gallery for much of the Koch v. Greenberg trial.

But Hernandez wasn’t taking a break from the Kurniawan matter. On April 8th, the government obtained a superseding indictment against the alleged counterfeiter At a hearing two days ago, Hernandez told Judge Richard Berman that the new indictment consolidated some of the claims contained in the previous indictment and added two more wine sales to the charges against the 36-year-old Indonesian collector. In addition, the new indictment includes a list of assets that the government wants Kurniawan to forfeit, including two homes in the Los Angeles area, nearly $750,000 worth of jewelry, a Lamborghini, an $18,000 Montblanc pen (for his handwritten tasting notes?), a stake in an unnamed restaurant, and a stake in a land management company in Burgundy (as I reported in my Vanity Fair article about Kurniawan, he invested in a business set up by winemaker Étienne de Montille to finance the purchase of vineyards in Burgundy, notably de Montille’s acquisition of a parcel of Vosne-Romanée Malconsorts).

Kurniawan pleaded not guilty to the new indictment, and it was during Wednesday’s hearing that Judge Berman tentatively scheduled the trial to start on September 9th. Hernandez indicated that he may have to ask the judge to push back the start of the trial because several winemakers he intends to call as witnesses will be tied up at that time with the harvest. Presumably, one the government’s star witnesses will be Burgundy winemaker Laurent Ponsot. As you may recall, Kurniawan’s undoing began with the allegedly fake bottles of Ponsot  Clos Saint-Denis and Ponsot Clos de la Roche that he tried to sell at an Acker Merrall auction in April 2008. Ponsot traveled to New York to prevent those bottles from being sold and thereafter embarked on a quest to find the source of the fraudulent wines. He soon concluded that Kurniawan himself was the counterfeiter, the FBI eventually got involved, and Kurniawan is now sitting in a Brooklyn jail cell awaiting trial.

In other legal news from the wine world, Robert Parker posted a video last weekend in which he said that The Wine Advocate will be publishing Antonio Galloni’s Sonoma report in its next issue. Galloni’s failure to turn in that report, and his stated intention to post it instead on his own site, led The Wine Advocate to file a lawsuit against him last month. If Galloni has indeed had a change of heart, I assume the lawsuit will be dropped. But I’ve seen no updates yet on the status of the case. Stay tuned!

Care For A Word Salad With Your Wine?

2013 April 10

Have you ever noticed that critiques of “professional” tasting notes are much more interesting and entertaining than the tasting notes themselves? In general, tasting notes suck. The tasting note, as a literary form, doesn’t easily accommodate stylish prose. But a bigger problem, I think, is that most wine critics are not good writers, and their shortcomings are magnified by the absurd number of tasting notes that they typically churn out.  They tend to fall back on the same tired descriptions, the same overwrought phrases, the same ridiculous metaphors, which makes their notes achingly dull to read but exceedingly easy to mock. The famed children’s author Roald Dahl, himself a wine enthusiast, once wrote a letter to Decanter magazine in which he derided as “tommyrot” the “extravagant, meaningless similes” used to describe wines. He asked of wine critics, “I wonder…if these distinguished persons know that their language has become a source of ridicule in many sensible wine-drinking households. We sit around reading them aloud and shrieking with laughter.”

Dahl now resides in the great chocolate factory in the sky, but tasting notes continue to provide endless comic fodder. Keith Levenberg, who is one of the finest wine writers in the business (even though it isn’t actually a business for him: he has a day job as a lawyer and writes about wine purely for recreational purposes, which makes his work all the more impressive), posted an item the other day poking fun at tasting notes and some of the more ludicrous phrases and clichés that are a standard feature of the genre. His riff about “literally” is especially funny, if a little wicked, and points up the fact that some of these guys are literally just throwing words at the page, with no thought to what they are actually saying.

I part company with Keith when it comes to the use of fruit descriptors, which he maintains are complete BS. Sure, the cherries and berries thing can be taken too far—it really doesn’t matter to me whether it was a Bosc pear or a red Anjou pear that a critic smelled in a chardonnay; just knowing that he caught a whiff of pear is sufficient. But Keith thinks wine critics should avoid fruit references entirely. “Cabernet sauvignon does not taste like currants,” he writes. “Pinot noir does not taste like cherries. Riesling does not taste like apples. They taste like what they are. Cabernet tastes like cabernet, pinot tastes like pinot, riesling tastes like riesling.” That’s a bit glib, and if you follow this line of reasoning to its logical end, you must conclude that it is a fool’s errand to try to describe wines at all. Judging by the 3580 tasting notes that Keith has posted on CellarTracker as of this morning (and I do hope he is billing his clients for the time), he clearly doesn’t believe that—he just objects to name-checking the specific fruit aromas that one detects in a wine.

But if a riesling has a pronounced green apple note, or a Chablis shows a lot of citrus, why not point that out? It can be useful information. Keith writes, “Nobody has ever bit into a cherry and remarked that it tasted like a Gevrey-Chambertin, a fact which ought to prove conclusively that any Gevrey-Chambertin’s resemblance to a cherry is so distant it’s barely worth noting.” Nobody has ever taken a bite of chicken and said that it tasted like frogs’ legs; however, it is certainly the case that frogs’ legs taste a lot like chicken, and this comparison can be helpful to people who’ve never tasted frog before and are wondering what to expect. Such analogies are of limited value, but they are not devoid of value.

At any rate, Keith’s post is well worth a read, and while I’m sure his intent was merely to give everyone a good laugh (mission accomplished!), perhaps his mockery will encourage a few spit-and-scribble types to pay a little more attention to the words they use.

Tasting notes are also the subject of Andrew Jefford’s latest column. Someone—presumably not Andrew—slapped a strange headline on the piece: “Wither Tasting Notes?” is an interesting question, but it is not a question that Andrew addresses in his article. Instead, he evaluates the tasting notes of some of the more prominent wine critics—reviewing the reviewers, you might say. He begins with the most prominent critic of all, Robert Parker.  “Parker’s own notes seem to me to remain the gold standard,” Andrew writes. “They are lengthy enough to do justice to the wines he is writing about, and while not polished in any literary sense convey the character of the wine with great deftness, are internally coherent….and bubble with the kind of energy and enthusiasm that can fire the reader into a purchase.” I completely agree, though I would put it more bluntly: Parker is a terrible writer who happened to have a knack for turning out compelling tasting notes. At their best, his tasting notes really did make you want to run out and load up on whatever wine he was praising. His enthusiasm was infectious.

Andrew goes on to assess the tasting notes of some other well-known critics. He contends that Jancis Robinson’s notes “can seem abbreviated, staccato, occasionally capricious and lacking in internal coherence, as if she grew a little bored or impatient as she wrote them.” I don’t know that I buy that, but if Jancis’s notes do occasionally betray some ennui, who could blame her? She’s a hugely gifted writer, and there is nothing more mind-numbing than pumping out 50 tasting notes in a single sitting. Andrew says that “Neal Martin writes lengthy, articulate, and coherent notes, but (like many European tasters) he seems to have an enthusiasm problem.” From this side of the Atlantic, that restraint looks like a virtue, not a flaw. Some American critics are so determined to get their scores and notes cited by retailers that they have effectively become shills, dishing out big numbers to lots of wines and stuffing their tasting notes full of superlatives (even wines that don’t get monster scores often receive lavish praise, creating a bizarre disconnect between the ratings and the tasting notes).

Andrew declares that “tasting notes are the kerosene of wine criticism; they have powered its ascent, and keep it aloft. If scores matter, they do so because they are a shorthand for the note itself, but it is the tasting note which builds a critic’s reputation, not the score.” On this point, I strongly disagree with him. In my opinion, scores are the kerosene of wine criticism, and they have come to serve that function in no small part because tasting notes are generally so crappy. Describing wine is not easy even for talented writers, and most of the “note-issuers”, as Andrew amusingly calls them, are not talented writers. Their tasting notes tend to be long on obscure descriptors and banal adjectives and woefully short on genuine insight. There is no doubt that scores are the first thing most people notice, and I suspect that many oenophiles, having waded through enough of these word salads, no longer even bother to glance at the accompanying tasting notes.

What say you? Do you think tasting notes are the cornerstone of contemporary wine criticism, or is it the scores? Words or numbers? Jefford or Steinberger?

My Plea to the People of France: Drink More Wine!

2013 April 4

Fifty years ago, you would not have seen a headline like that—that’s because headlines were generally more circumspect, and also because the French didn’t need any encouragement to whip out a corkscrew. A half-century ago, they drank wine prodigiously. In 1965, France’s per capita annual wine consumption was 160 liters, or 213 bottles for every man, woman, and child. That’s a lot of Fleurie and Bourgueil in a year. Did France have a drinking problem? Perhaps, but the country was prosperous; indeed, 1965 was the height of Les Trente Glorieuses, the 30 fat years that France enjoyed after World War Two.

But in the late 1960s, French wine consumption started to drop, and it hasn’t stopped falling. In 2010, per capita annual consumption was down to 57 liters, a 65 percent decline from the mid-1960s. Initially, the trend was driven by changing lifestyles and social mores (no more wine at lunch). The introduction of harsh drink driving laws in the early 1990s helped accelerate it. The laws were surely necessary—France had a high incidence of drunk driving fatalities—but they also reflected a a bizarre, neo-Prohibitionist tilt in French public policy. The French government began to actively discourage alcohol consumption, and it also stopped distinguishing between wine and other alcoholic beverages. Wine used to be treated differently because it was regarded as integral to France’s cultural patrimony, but that is no longer the case. Even more worrying, younger French appear to have little interest in wine; they see it as an old fart’s drink, something for grandma and grandpa. They prefer beer and spirits. The story of France’s fading wine culture was discussed at length in a magisterial book chronicling the decline of French cuisine generally. I can’t remember the author’s name, except that he was American and fabulously erudite and witty (handsome, too, I hear), nor can I recall the book’s title, except that it was very clever. :)

But just because this strange, sad tale has been told before doesn’t mean that it can’t be told again, and the BBC ran an excellent feature last week about the precipitous drop in French wine consumption. It reported that only 17 percent of French adults drink wine on a daily or almost daily basis now, and nearly 40 percent don’t drink wine at all. The BBC correspondent suggested that the diminished thirst for wine was a sign that perhaps the French were losing their art de vivre. That is a depressing thought for anyone who cherished the French way of life and was influenced by it (my hand is raised). Sure, French habits of the table, and a French sensibility in general, can easily be found outside of France these days, which is testament to the power and appeal of the French example. Even so, I’d still rather get my Gallic fix at a moody café in Paris, not Park Slope.

However, the biggest concern I have about the relentless decline in French wine consumption is what it might mean for wine production in France. It has already had a pernicious effect in some parts of viticultural France: the Languedoc, Beaujolais, and the periphery of Bordeaux have all been mired in economic crisis for the last decade due in large part to falling domestic sales. True, la crise viticole, as it is known, has mainly affected winemakers turning out plonk, and even if French consumption continues to plummet, it is unlikely that the finest producers in Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhone, and Champagne will feel any pinch; foreign demand for their wines can readily compensate for any decline in domestic demand.

But the fact that fewer and fewer French are drinking wine, and that wine is losing its prestige in France, could have other onerous consequences. If the French no longer feel any particular attachment to their viticultural tradition, that makes it a lot easier for politicians to do dumb things—like, say, building a railroad or highway tunnel underneath a grand cru vineyard. If you don’t care about wine, if you never touch the stuff, what do you care if some bureaucrats get the bright idea to carve up a hillside in Gevrey-Chambertin? This is why the effort to get UNESCO to recognize the climats of Burgundy as a World Heritage Site is so important; it can protect these vineyards even if the French public is largely indifferent to their fate (winemakers in Germany’s Mosel Valley are kicking themselves because they neglected to seek similar recognition for their fabled vineyards, which are now threatened by that monstrous bridge being built across the Mosel River).  But even if the Côte d’Or is granted World Heritage status, there are plenty of special vineyards in France that could fall victim to “progress”.

In that riveting book I mentioned earlier, the author talked about the effort to save lait cru, or raw milk, Camembert, which was at risk of extinction. He noted that the French public seemed unconcerned about its fate, which was no surprise: by the mid-2000s, most French knew only industrially-produced, pasteurized Camembert, so what did it matter to them if the raw milk variety disappeared? It’s not a perfect analogy, but you get the point: it’s hard to make people care about things that are not part of their lives, and as the French continue to turn away from wine, one can’t help but worry about what this might portend for Burgundy, Bordeaux, and the rest. Ultimately, the best protection for these regions is an enthusiastic, knowledgeable domestic consumer base. Bizarre as it is to be writing this sentence, the French really must start drinking more wine.

White Smoke Over the Vatican, A White Flag in Bordeaux

2013 April 1

Depending on your taste, some dispiriting news out of Bordeaux: Château Figeac has hired Michel Rolland as a consultant.  Figeac is one of Bordeaux’s most venerable estates, and also produces one of its more distinctive wines: Although Figeac is located in St. Émilion, the wine includes an unusually hefty share of cabernet sauvignon—around 35 percent—to go along with the merlot and cabernet franc. Figeac has also stood out in recent years by being one of the few wineries to resist the Parkerization/Rollandification (it has been a pincer move) of St. Émilion, Starting in the 1990s, there was a dramatic stylistic shift in St. Émilion, and brooding, lush, very oaky wines became the appellation’s signature. Rolland was a consultant to a number of St. Émilion estates and prescribed the practices (longer hang times, extended macerations, micro-oxygenation) that yielded these hedonistic fruit bombs, to use the vernacular. It was a change that thrilled Parker, who was effusive in his praise for the New Wave St. Émilions.

But Figeac’s late owner, Thierry Manoncourt,  a revered figure in Bordeaux, abhorred these inky, jammy wines. Under his watch, Figeac continued to turn out elegant, classically proportioned (read: modest alcohol) St. Émilions that, thanks to the large percentage of cabernet sauvignon in the blend, were utterly sui generis among Right Bank wines. Although Parker was fairly bullish about some recent vintages of Figeac—he gave 90 points to the 2005 and 93 to the 2000 (though he later downgraded the latter)—he complained that the château was inconsistent and wasn’t realizing the full potential of its terroir. It appears he stopped reviewing Figeac after the 2008 vintage, which he slammed, giving the wine just 81 points; he definitely became more biting in his criticism of it. Perhaps there was a “frank exchange of views” and Parker either decided to shun Figeac or found he was no longer welcome there.

Manoncourt passed away in 2010 at the age of 92, and last year, Figeac was passed over for promotion to Grand Cru Classé A, the highest classification in St Emilion’s hierarchy of estates. However, two Rolland clients and Parker favorites, Pavie and Angélus, were elevated to the top rung, joining Cheval Blanc and Ausone. The Manoncourt family evidently decided that resistance had become futile and called in Rolland. Yet, the timing of this move strikes me as a little odd. It would have made much more sense 10 or 15 years ago, when Parker was at the apex of his power and all the buzz was about the revolutionary happenings in St. Émilion, But Parker is now 65, his influence is waning, Rolland appears to have lost some clout, too, and the radical changes in St. Émilion are yesterday’s news. While I don’t know that old-school clarets à la Figeac are poised for a comeback, it would seem that the cost of holding out against the modernist trend is not as high now as it was a decade ago.

Figeac fans are in various stages of grief over the news of Rolland’s hiring. The outpouring of dismay and concern elicited a typically blustery response from Parker. Writing on eBob, he said that he had recently spoken with Manoncourt’s widow, who told him that she had hired Rolland because she “wanted to return Figeac to a position of greatness.” He enumerated some of the ways in which Figeac had allegedly fallen short (underripe fruit, excessive yields), predicted that its performance would improve dramatically under Rolland, and suggested that the ignorant masochists lamenting the changes at Figeac look instead to the Loire Valley for “diluted and vegetal” wines. Ever the sweet voice of reason….

I don’t doubt that Figeac generally tastes “diluted and vegetal” to Parker and to people whose preferences align with his. The debate over the changes at Figeac is illustrative of something that too often gets overlooked or forgotten in these debates: no two palates are the same. Thank you for stating the obvious, Mr. Steinberger! I am stating the obvious, but it is a point that has a way of getting lost in all the sturm und drang. I attended a Figeac vertical in Paris in 2007 at which they poured the greatest hits from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, along with more recent vintages. The greatest hits were indeed great, but wines like the 2005, the 2000, and the 1986 all struck me as worthy successors to gems like the 64 and the 59. The 98 Figeac is a terrific wine, too. I adore Figeac for its restrained opulence (an excellent and very apt phrase that Neal Martin invoked at the Paris tasting) and its freshness—the ripe but not overripe fruit, the brisk acidity. I also like the green note that the two cabernets impart to the wine. But to Parker, that green note is a flaw, not a virtue, and what I perceive as fresh and elegant strikes his palate as thin and insipid. It’s a Mars. vs. Venus thing, you could say. To this point, Figeac has catered to ignorant masochists like me; the decision to hire Rolland suggests it will henceforth cater to Parker. As I said, it’s a move that would have made perfect sense a decade ago; it will be interesting to see if it pays off now.

The Wine Trials

2013 March 26

Forget the vineyard; when it comes to wine, all the action this spring is in the courtroom. It began today at a federal courthouse in Manhattan, with opening arguments in the case of Koch v. Greenberg (the trial was supposed to start yesterday but was postponed; I assume it was on account of the weather). This is the case that billionaire collector Bill Koch filed six years ago against fellow collector and onetime billionaire Eric Greenberg. Koch alleges that Greenberg knowingly sold him a number of counterfeit wines at a Zachys auction in 2005.  I did a long investigative piece for Slate in 2010 looking at the Koch/Greenberg saga and focusing on one bottle in particular, a magnum of 1921 Château Pétrus that Koch bought at the Zachys auction. The 21 Pétrus is a bottle that connects not only Greenberg and Koch, it also links New York’s Royal Wine Merchants, from which Greenberg procured many of his wines, to the infamous Hardy Rodenstock. The Wine Spectator published an excellent rundown of the case yesterday.

Rudy Kurniawan’s name is sure to factor prominently in the Koch v. Greenberg proceedings. Greenberg bought wine from Kurniawan and had frequent dealings with the alleged counterfeiter. It appears the criminal case against Kurniawan is headed for trial, too, presumably sometime in the next few months. Unless Kurniawan, who is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn (and, no, he wasn’t given a weekend furlough to attend this year’s La Paulée), has something juicy to offer federal prosecutors—incriminating evidence against, say, an auction house—the government has no incentive to cut a deal with him, and so far as we know, no deal has been cut.

Last week brought more wine-related litigation: The Wine Advocate filed a lawsuit against Antonio Galloni alleging breach of contract and fraud. Galloni, Robert Parker’s onetime heir-apparent, quit The Wine Advocate in February to start his own publication and walked out the door without delivering several reports that he’d been contracted to write on behalf of The Wine Advocate and for which he had been paid, according to the complaint. Instead, he apparently intends to publish the disputed material, which includes tasting notes from Sonoma, Burgundy, Piedmont, and Tuscany, on his site. The lawsuit alleges that Galloni knew when he traveled to these places that he was planning to leave The Wine Advocate and to keep the tasting notes for his own use; yet, he allowed The Wine Advocate to fund his trips (the complaint indicates that he was reimbursed for everything except the Sonoma visit, which took place in January; it doesn’t say whether or not he ever submitted those expenses) and claimed to be representing The Wine Advocate when he was really representing himself.

Over on Wineberserkers, a number of lawyers have been scrutinizing the details of the lawsuit to see if there are loopholes that might allow Galloni to prevail. The complaint includes evidence of shoddy recordkeeping by Parker (in the form of some unexecuted contracts), and it also makes at least one preposterous assertion: it suggests that The Wine Advocate has a proprietary claim to the 100-point scale. Nonetheless, the sharpest corporate lawyer I know says that based on the available information, Galloni has little chance of winning if the case ever goes to trial. It surely won’t go to trial: unless Galloni has a very fat bank account and doesn’t mind being sidetracked for months by litigation, he is going to have to settle, and quickly.

That said, I’d love to hear his side of the story, because maybe it would help me understand why he has acted in such a seemingly self-sabotaging way. He was under contract to do these reports for The Wine Advocate, and even though he quit, it appears he was still obligated to turn them in. Perhaps there’s something in the fine print that might allow him to wiggle out of his responsibility to hand over the tasting notes, but even then, why risk a lawsuit, why court Parker’s wrath? It just makes no sense.

Galloni is almost certainly on the losing end legally, and from a PR standpoint, he has done himself no favors, either. However chagrined he might have been about the sale of The Wine Advocate, which cost him his status as Parker’s designated successor, it seems he was treated exceedingly well by Parker. According to the lawsuit, Parker paid him $300,000 each of the last two years, and also gave him a monthly budget of nearly $6000.  That’s Condé Nast money (I’m surprised there wasn’t a Town Car included) and was surely far in excess of what Parker needed to pay to retain Galloni’s services. Galloni claims he quit The Wine Advocate because he didn’t want to be an employee. Fair enough, but his decision to stiff The Wine Advocate on the reports that he was contracted to write was foolish, and when you factor in the generosity that Parker showed him, his behavior looks pretty shabby.  Indeed, Galloni has managed to achieve something that didn’t seem possible: he’s cast Parker in a sympathetic light (and yes, that’s a pig hovering over your house). I watch a lot of soccer, and I’d have to say that this is one of the more bizarre own goals I’ve ever seen.

Just Checking In

2013 March 18

I’d apologize for the light posting, but after a year of light posting, the three of you who are still following this site are surely accustomed to it. Anyway, it’s been a busy last month. I was in Tokyo for a week on a magazine assignment. Despite a crazy case of jet lag—I am not exaggerating when I say that I got 10 hours of sleep in total during the six nights I was there—it was a great trip. Tokyo is an amazing, amazing city, and I can’t wait to get back. The food was sensational. There was a lot of this:

That needs no explanation. And there were some unfamiliar things, too, like this:

That’s blowfish sperm sac. No, it didn’t kill me, but I did spend a few anxious minutes reflecting on my life after I ate it (I only learned what it was after I’d  swallowed). Maritime reproductive material was very much in season during my visit to Tokyo: In fact, I ate so much cod milt (it wasn’t by choice—it was one of those When in Rome things) that I started to fear I might return home pregnant with a cod. If you see me pushing a stroller with a fish tank in it, you’ll know.

After returning from Tokyo, I spent two days trying to catch up on sleep, and then I was off for the Paulée  de New York madness. The highlight for me was doing a Q&A with Aubert de Villaine as part of the Paulée program; he was amazing (no surprise), and the event went very well. I also got to drink some fabulous wines during the Paulée weekend (and not just Burgundies!). I will try to post some notes on what I drank later this week, along with notes for the 2010 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines.

Some good news: my Vanity Fair article about Rudy Kurniawan has been nominated for a James Beard Award. They announced the nominations this morning, and the winners will be announced at a dinner in New York in May.

Also—and apologies for the very short notice (not that you would expect otherwise from me)—I’m doing a Q&A on Wednesday night in New York with Jancis Robinson. Jancis has a new book called American Wine: The Ultimate Companion to the Wines and Wineries of the United States, and we are going to be talking about the American wine scene. The event is taking place at the 92YTribeca at 5:30pm.  All 130 seats were sold as of this past weekend. However, because of the strong demand, the organizers are now making some additional seats available—and, yes, wine will be served! Click here for more information, and I hope to see a few of you on Wednesday.

A Conversation With Aubert de Villaine

2013 February 7

As part of this year’s La Paulée de New York, I am going to be interviewing Aubert de Villaine, the co-director of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Burgundy’s most celebrated estate and probably the most famous winery on the planet. “A conversation with Aubert de Villaine” will take place at Restaurant Daniel on Saturday March 9th, from 10-11:30AM. De Villaine and I will discuss his many years at the helm of DRC and will also talk about Burgundy’s past, present, and future. De Villaine is a remarkable figure whose importance to Burgundy, and to wine, can’t be overstated. As Allen Meadows put it to me, de Villaine is the conscience of Burgundy; where he leads, the rest of Burgundy follows. Changes he instituted at DRC in the 1970s helped set in motion Burgundy’s quality revolution, and some 40 years on, de Villaine remains Burgundy’s guiding light. Needless to say, I am very excited about this event, which will benefit the effort to have the vineyards of Burgundy recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site*, and am honored to be able to play a part in it.  Click here for more details and tickets, and I hope some of you can join us on March 9th.

*The most acclaimed of those vineyards, of course, is Romanée-Conti itself, which has been a source of brilliant wines going back hundreds of years, and which was also the subject of probably my favorite wine quote of all. A document published in 1794 noted that the wine from the Romanée-Conti vineyard was “the most excellent of all those of the Côte d’Or…Its brilliant and velvety color, its ardor and scent, charm all the senses….Well kept, it always improves as it approaches its eighth or tenth year; it is then a balm for the elderly, the feeble and the disabled, and will restore life to the dying.” The de Villaine family acquired the Romanée-Conti vineyard in 1869, and Aubert de Villaine has been its custodian, and custodian of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, since the early 1970s.


2013 January 16

GM Bailout: A leading environmentalist changes his mind about genetically modified crops.

Brownshirts in Birkenstocks: The rise of right-wing organic farming in Germany, with a reference to Rudolf Steiner and biodynamics.

Schlockwork Orange: Top sommeliers deliver a much-deserved smackdown of orange wines.

The Wallaby Loses Its Bounce: Hurt by the strong Australian dollar, Yellow Tail suffers its first annual loss in 20 years and may have to sell assets and move its bottling overseas.