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mixed case: opinion and advice archive

Photo by: David Yellen
Mixed Case

August 2012

Tormented From the Grave
Spain's dynamic young winemakers know there's a fine line between respecting tradition and being enslaved by it
Posted: Aug 30, 2012 11:45am ET
By Mitch Frank

When Telmo Rodriguez and Pablo Eguzkiza saw the big, juicy clusters of Garnacha grapes hanging on the vines in their Las Beatas vineyard, they were tempted to kill their vineyard manager. Except he was already dead.

Rodriguez is one of Spain's best known winemakers today. He grew up at the historic winery Remelluri in Rioja, but left in 1994 when his father refused to let him innovate. He partnered with Eguzkiza, a fellow Basque he had met while studying enology in Bordeaux. Together they began searching for old forgotten vineyards no one had bothered to tear up in under-appreciated regions of Spain—and in the 1990s, Spain had a lot of under-appreciated regions.

Today they make wine in nine appellations. When they expand to a new place, they always hire a young enologist to help them make the wine and an old grower to manage the vineyards. "These old guys, they remember how things were done before viticulture became industrial," says Rodriguez.

"The problem is, there aren't many of them left," adds Eguzkiza. "And you have to keep an eye on them." Old guys, it seems, often think they know better than hotshot winemakers. That was the problem with the Garnacha in Las Beatas.

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What Are the Best Wine Books for a Starter Library?
Make your top picks for essential reading
Posted: Aug 28, 2012 1:00pm ET
By Jennifer Fiedler

One of the best things about working at Wine Spectator is that we get advance copies of most of the wine books that come out each year. I can tell you this much: A serious amount of words are spilled on the topic per annum. Come every fall, it's tough for the editors to choose which ones make it into the book review roundup for the December 15 issue.

But when it comes to the books I recommend privately to friends who want to "get more into wine," I have a very short list of all-time favorites. Maybe it's a matter of which books I read first myself or a bias toward older books, but most of my picks have been around for a while.

Making a starter library is like making a mixtape: You need a balance of upbeat and down-tempo, of familiarity and surprise. Unless someone really wants to get academic, I generally steer clear of recommending intro-to-wine books. It's like including music scales on your 60s garage-rock mixtape; I'd rather learn from the songs themselves.

I'll share four of my favorites below, but I'm curious: Which books would you choose for a starter library?

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The Big Grapple: Can Long Island Wines Get Some Respect?
With changes afoot, New York City's backyard wine region could finally remake its image
Posted: Aug 23, 2012 1:30pm ET
By Ben O'Donnell

Author and journalist Ron Rosenbaum once called New Jersey "the second most maligned and unfashionable place to come from in America." The line appeared in an essay about Long Island.

"I don't think it's a secret," said Kareem Massoud of the North Fork's Paumanok Vineyards, "that Long Island has an image problem." We were in the vineyard, talking about the thorny issue of Long Island wine, which also gets some punch-line treatment in the American wine world. I'd describe the skeptic spectrum as running from "underripe and overpriced" to "a bachelorette party with vines."

I went out to the East End with some friends to do some casual wine touring, but I also wanted to meet with a few winemakers and ask them about this. Why do Long Island wines get a bad rap, still? What can be done about it?

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Authentic French Cuisine (and Much More) in Queens
Exploring the restaurants of New York's underappreciated borough
Posted: Aug 21, 2012 12:15pm ET
By Robert Taylor

With the amount of time I spend at Citi Field each summer, I've come to learn the restaurants along the No. 7 train through Queens fairly well. As decent as the ballpark's food is, sometimes you want to stop at a real restaurant (or just pick up one of the city's best Cubanos on the way home).

All-Time N.L. East villain John Rocker certainly didn't mean it nicely when he commented to Sports Illustrated about the diversity along the No. 7 train, but it's wonderfully true that there are myriad ethnic cuisines and exciting restaurants to be found along every turn and stop of the subway ride from Manhattan to Citi Field (and beyond).

My favorite restaurant in Queens, just one stop from Manhattan, is Tournesol, an authentically French restaurant with affordable prices and a solid wine list. I'm also including a run-down of some of my other Queens' top draws on the way to or from the game.

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Nature Is One Tough Boss
From hail to heat waves—is wine worth all the worry?
Posted: Aug 16, 2012 1:00pm ET
By Mitch Frank

My job doesn't hinge much on nature, and I'm grateful for that. Two years ago, Sonoma winegrowers weathered unseasonably cool weather for much of the summer. With the fruit not getting any riper, some opted to pluck leaves, exposing the grapes to more sunlight. A random heat wave then cooked their grapes on the vine. Who says Mother Nature doesn't have a sense of humor? It's a cruel one.

Wine producers are always boxing a far, bigger, faster opponent. They have to think fast, ready to change course if necessary. They always have to be prepared for the worst. Sometimes, nature is a partner. Other times, she just hits them with a sucker punch.

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The World's Most Exclusive $20 Wines: Champagne and Châteauneuf
For the world's loftiest wines, the price of admission can be too steep to get familiar. Here's the trick to benchmarking on a budget
Posted: Aug 14, 2012 12:45pm ET
By Ben O'Donnell
I admit: I'm a sucker for the classics, the stuff out of Bordeaux, or Oporto, or the Mosel tippled at feasts and fairs by princes, pashas and men in powdered wigs. These made up our modern wine world in its infancy, and these are the styles that taught the rest of the world how wine is made. I think it's important that they remain a part of a drinker's education and evolution. I also think that to understand a wine, you need to drink it, regularly, from different producers and vintages. Here's the rub: There are certain appellations that you essentially cannot crack without at least $35 to put down on a bottle. So I benchmark on a budget. How? By drinking on the edge. Here are two examples—alternatives to Champagne and Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
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Why Is Liking Wine a Character Flaw on TV?
Villains always blink their eyes; must they order fine Burgundy at dinner too?
Posted: Aug 9, 2012 12:45pm ET
By Jennifer Fiedler

If there’s one thing I learned from a very short-lived side career as an art director on television shows, it’s this: no prop is accidental. Which means when I watch TV and see a wine bottle, I have to wonder, what is that doing there? And what is it supposed to mean? Too often, wine (or wine appreciation) gets used as a shorthand cue for an “evil” character or some other moral deficiency and a wine bottle on screen signifies there’s about to be some evil-doing ahead—equivalent to a James Bond villain having a foreign accent and laughing maniacally. But that’s too bad, because I know plenty of non-evil wine drinkers, and I’d like to think that enjoying wine doesn’t have to be a character flaw.

With that in mind, I graded some of this season’s televisions shows on how positive their portrayal of wine drinking was on a scale from 1 (wine = evil) to 5 (wine = good). Is it really possible the Bachelor had the most positive view of wine on TV?

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High-Altitude Wines and Fair Weather Fare at Citi Field
Evaluating ballpark dining during a weekend Phillies-Mets series
Posted: Aug 7, 2012 1:00pm ET
By Robert Taylor

It ain't easy being Philly in New York. As a Philadelphia sports fan, I accept that I face harassment from the locals. And as a Phillies fan in particular, I hear it pretty regularly from my diehard Mets fan colleagues. But the Phillies come to town frequently, and I've braved the hostile confines of Citi Field in Queens for a few games so far this season. I was also there to check back on the wine and food offerings of Citi Field, where restaurateur and recent Wine Spectator cover boy Danny Meyer runs most of the operation. For denizens of the "nose-bleed seats," there's the upper-deck wine bar, or for more high-end bottlings, the Delta Sky360 Club. And of the dining spots, two of my favorites are Catch of the Day and El Verano Taquería.

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Living Life to the Fullest in New Orleans
Commander's 2012 Grand Award shows the city has exchanged average wine programs for creative and committed ones
Posted: Aug 2, 2012 12:30pm ET
By Mitch Frank

When I moved to New Orleans in 2010, I was curious where the city's wine programs would be five years after Hurricane Katrina. While the city had always had stars like Brennan's and Emeril's, a lot of restaurants were happy to have average programs, with maybe a little extra French depth. People visited New Orleans for the food.

But I have found a generation of young sommeliers here who reject that idea-and like so much down here now, pre-storm complacency has been rejected in favor of creative wine programs. Commander's Palace has been at the forefront.

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