Unfiltered

Four-Buck Fred, New York's shipping countdown, Cabernet in a cone and pairing wines with Jules Verne's books
Jul 13, 2005

• No, dear reader, a Napa Valley wine for $4 a bottle is not a sign of the apocalypse. But we concede that something mighty strange is afoot. Bronco owner Fred Franzia, the mass-market heavyweight behind the Two-Buck Chuck label, has released a $3.99 Napa Valley Merlot and Chardonnay under the Napa Creek label--one of the brands at the heart of the long-running legal slugfest Franzia appears to be losing against California state authorities and the Napa Valley Vintners. (Franzia wants to keep making brands such as Napa Ridge using Central Valley grapes, while Napa vintners are trying to stop him to protect their prestigious--and pricey--image.) The $4 Napa Creek wines are for sale at Trader Joe's and some independent California retailers. Because the bottles bear the Napa Valley AVA, a minimum of 85 percent of the grapes must be from the appellation. The company isn't revealing the production volume, but this might be a case where Franzia--no fan of elitist Napa--is just as interested in making a point as in making money.

• The countdown officially begins. In a ceremony at Finger Lakes winery Lamoreaux Landing, New York Gov. George Pataki (R) signed into law a recently passed bill that allows residents to receive direct shipments from wineries in other states and also allows New York wineries to ship their products to numerous other states. Slightly overshadowed was next-door neighbor Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell (R) signing a similar bill on the same day. The New York bill had been held up until the last day of the legislative session because Pataki expressed concerns over case limits, but a last-minute deal was struck that permits each winery to sell up to 36 cases per year to any individual adult consumer. The Connecticut bill takes effect Oct. 1, while the New York bill takes effect 30 days after it's signed, making Aug. 12 the official day that interstate wine shipping becomes legal in New York. A note to West Coast wineries: Make sure that operators really are standing by.

• Up with Malbec, down with Cahors. That's the word from former Cartier chairman and Cahors vintner Alain Dominique Perrin. In New York today, Perrin, who owns top Cahors estate Château Lagrézette, revealed that French authorities agreed last week to liberalize labeling regulations to allow the Malbec varietal designation to appear on AOC wines from the southwestern French region. He's going to start using it on his yet-to-be-released wines from the 2001 vintage. Normally, AOC wines can only carry the names of their regions (with the notable exception of Alsace). But that's not a great marketing tool for an off-the-beaten path region such as Cahors, according to Perrin, who says he has been fighting for the liberalization for nine years. Though Cahors has been making quality Malbec for centuries, and Lagrezette's blackstrap reds show plenty of richness and elegance, the grape has only risen to global prominence in the past five years with powerful Malbec-based reds from Argentina. "In this country, nobody knows where Cahors is," Perrin said. "To me Cahors doesn't mean anything--Malbec does."

• "The Merlot? Splendid choice … would you like that in a cup or a cone?" Caffé Gelato in Newark, Del., is celebrating its fifth consecutive Wine Spectator Award of Excellence by offering diners a dessert sampler of six 1-ounce servings of wine-infused gelato. The flavors are black currant Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Zinfandel cracked pepper, Champagne strawberry, dark chocolate Cabernet, honey apple Chardonnay and black cherry Merlot berry. "We do different wine dinners, and sometimes we have some leftover, end-of-the-bin stuff that we don't have on the list, and we just started pairing it up," says owner Ryan German. But he admits that some gelatos are more appealing than others. "The black cherry Merlot berry you could have two big scoops, but the cracked pepper Zinfandel you'd just want that one little scoop with the sampler," he says. "It's one of those things you'd have to be a little adventurous to enjoy." As the gelatos aren't easy or cheap to make, they're not available at the restaurant's walk-in gelato counter up front. "We're never inclined to say no to a customer," German says, but "if someone wanted a cone of Cabernet chocolate, it'd be four or five dollars." You might even have to show your ID.

• If you're going to a restaurant next week and ask to speak to the sommelier, you may have to wait a while. Icon Estates (formerly known as Franciscan Estates, the fine-wine division of Constellation Brands) kicks off its eighth Sommelier Summit in Napa on Sunday for a three-day in-depth look at current trends in the world of sommeliers. We're told it's the hottest ticket in sommelier circles, and dozens of sommeliers from all over the country will be attending, including some from top wine-destination restaurants in Las Vegas; Atlantic City, N.J.; San Francisco; and New York. Looking over the itinerary, we can see why. Talks include "Getting Screwed: Corks and Closures Part II," "Pinot Party" and "Alcohol: The Sweet Spot Tasting." And they call that work.

Jules Verne's famous books inspired a special meal at Au Crocodile.
• Fans of Jules Verne may want to head to the Grand Award-winning restaurant Au Crocodile in Strasbourg, France, this year. For the 100th anniversary of the author's death, co-owners Monique and Emile Jung are offering a fanciful dinner inspired by five of Verne's books. While visiting New York recently, they treated guests at Jean-Georges to the imaginative meal, whose prelude honored Verne's birthplace with a Nantes appetizer of marinated tuna, washed down with Veuve Clicquot Brut La Grande Dame 1996. The five subsequent chapters were each paired with a wine from Alsace. The Tribulations of a Chinaman in China were quickly dispersed with Ning-Po prawns, fresh coriander and julienned vegetables served with an elegant Trimbach Pinot Gris Réserve Personnelle 1999. For Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jung replaced monkfish with burbot, a freshwater cod whose fleshy texture matched the black bean-and-squid ink purée. A red chile purée spiced it nicely, and the Albert Mann Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg 2002 slaked diners' thirst. We need to read up to find out what Michel Strogoff has to do with chicken oysters (though guests had a few chuckles about shucking them), but the dish performed seamlessly with a soft, berry-flavored Bott Frères Pinot Noir 2003 thanks to the sweetness of the beets and beet sauce. The Mysterious Island inspired a refreshing tropical fruit salad that added to the litchi and mineral theme played out in the Schlumberger Gewürztraminer Grand Cru Kessler 2001. A ganache-and-ice cream dessert told the story of a trip From the Earth to the Moon, and for the pairing, Jung drew on Alsace's other specialty--eau de vie and liqueur, in this case, distiller Miclo's Poire William. Poor Verne himself would probably have been unable to indulge in the meal--Jean Verne says his grandfather blamed his time as a struggling writer in Paris in the 1850s for digestive problems later in life--but he surely would have appreciated the adventurous dishes.
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