James Beard Awards
Paul Grieco’s quirky wine list at Hearth and Antinori’s new Super Tuscan
For the first time the James Beard Awards has a new category
“Outstanding Bar Program.”
It’s high time that “bar chefs” are recognized for their creativity.
The award was presented on May 7th at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall by sponsor Campari for “A restaurant that displays and encourages excellence in cocktail, spirit, and/or beer service through a well-presented drink list, a knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about beverages.”
The winner: PDT (Please Don’t Tell), a Manhattan speakeasy style bar whose co-partner Jim Meeham accepted for his bar and staff. Meehan is known for his unusual drinks which often feature one predominant ingredient like bacon-infused bourbon or peanut butter. He recently revealed his recipes in The PDT Cocktail Book.
(shown above: Jim Meehan; photograph by Kent Miller)
Another award of note was presented by Southern Wine & Spirits of New York for “A winemaker, brewer, or spirits professional who has had a significant impact on the wine and spirits industry nationwide. Candidates must have been in the profession for at least 5 years.”
The winner: Paul Grieco of Terroir in New York City.
Paul Grieco is a legend among wine people and has one of the most curated lists of mainly small producers in his two restaurants Terror and Hearth. Recently, I interviewed him and analyzed his list at Hearth:
♦ Hearth (403 East 12th Street)
Focus: Owner Paul Grieco has created a masterpiece full of personal obsessions (Riesling) and obscure and quirky choices like Slovenian Schiopettino and Uruguayan Tannat. The list is designed like a storybook, telling the tales of great producers and listing wines under amusing categories like “Trimbach, The Protestant Antagonist,” “From the Cellar of a Distinguished Gentleman,” and “Wine Celebrity Rehab.”
Notable For: Grieco actually changes it seasonally as you might a wardrobe. Instead of offering verticals of great wines, he spans the world horizontally with single bottles from all worthy regions and producers. Ambitious list of Riesling and small grower Champagne—Vilmart & Cie, Pierre Peters, Billiot---which he’ll encourages you to decant and drink out of wine glasses (never flutes).
Must try: Chateau Musar from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, a wine growing culture that been around 8,000 years. Whether the red blend cuvees of Masur Jeune 2009, $40, or Hochar Pere at Fils 2004, $68, or Chateau Musar 2002, $110, all transport you and speak to you from another time and culture.
Splurge on: Trimbach Clos Ste. Hune, Alsace, 1999,$268, arguably the earth’s finest Riesling with amazing power, extraction and acidity, a bottle to forever change anyone’s preconceptions about Riesling, which Grieco considers the world’s greatest white wine.
(shown to the above right: Paul Grieco; photograph courtesy of Harlan Turkell)
(shown to the above left: atmosphere shot; photograph courtesy of Clint Spaulding)
lodovico antinori of super tuscan fame
In spring the wine tastings come fast and furious, hoping to tempt the wine writers to write about the new cuvées in their summer issue. Here’s a week in review of wine events:
♦ Seminar and tasting of Nicolas Feuillatte Rosé Champagnes and Palmes D'Or vintages at Le Cirque
♦ Dinner at Café Luxembourg with Spain's Toro region pioneer, Bodegas Farina
♦ Seminar and tasting with Lodovico Antinori of Super Tuscan fame launching his $280 bottles of Tenuta di Biserno and lunch at A Voce with the talented chef Missy Robbins cooking.
♦ Opening of the Neuhaus chocolate boutique on Madison Avenue and Champagne reception
♦ Launch of Lillet Rosé, party at Mondrian Soho penthouse terrace.
I’ll take you to the most serious tasting from Marchese Lodovico Antinori, who brought the world the famed Super Tuscan Ornellaia, his answer to his cousin’s Nicolo Incisa’s Sassiciai. Super Tuscans blend the key French varieties and forgo Tuscany’s grape Sangiovese. Lodovico also created Masseto, another Super Tuscan made from merlot.
Lodovico Antinori began by rhapsodizing about Masseto, a wine property he sold in 2002, saying “With its fleshiness and sensuality, it was one of the most successful wines in the world. It had such layers of subtleness.”
We were soon to experience the layers of expression in Antinori’s new wines. He was in town to showcase three wines from his new 90 acre estate, Tenuta di Biserno, bordering on Bolgheri. The vineyard is at the northern slope of the Upper Maremma sharing the same area as Ornellaia, which is across at southern slope. The vineyards are still very young with the planting only starting in 2002.
“Biserno is different from Ornellaia because it has a higher percentage cabernet franc and also a high 8 to 12% of petit verdot in its blend.” Few wineries in the world use such a high percentage of petit verdot,” he said.
“The style we want to achieve in Biserno is elegance. This wine is pretty European in attitude,” Antinori continued. “The key factor is that it should be a good partner with food. From the Upper Maremma with its micro-climate, the wines are very seductive. There are many grapes and each grape should contribute a voice. These are layered wines. Our concern is to keep the alcohol level down below 15%.”
We started the tasting with Il Pino di Biserno 2007, $80, which was the tenuta’s second wine. It was a dark opaque color and had flavors of cherries and chocolate, was mouth-filling with silky tannins.
The Tenuta di Biserno 2006, $180, was spicer, rich and intense with prunes and dark berries flavors and a long finish. The Tenuta di Biserno 2007, $180, had ripe tannins and a nice freshness with a concentrated structure. The 08 Biserno, $180, with its elegant tannin structure was aromatically more complex with chocolate, dark fruit, and spicy flavors, having spent 15 months in new French oak. All three weighed in at 15% alcohol but were balanced and lovely.
Next we tasted the top of the line Lodovico, which is mainly cabernet franc with merlot and then a very small quantity of petit verdot. It’s aged 18—21 month in new French oak and rests another 12 months in the bottle. Right now only 9,000 bottles are being made and Antinori eventually hopes to buy more acres and up the amount to 18,000 bottles.
Antinori was really challenged with his cabernet franc. “It’s a capricious grape,” he said. “Until it reaches eight years, you really don’t know its evolution. It’s full of surprises. Each year it will be different. Then after eight, it will find and equilibrium and balance and its shallowness turns to subtleness.”
This is a Parker style wine—big and in the international style, the trademark of their consultant Michel Rolland. Rolland claims that the press always puts down high alcohol wines, yet they are always chosen in blind tasting, so obviously they are what the taster wants.
We tasted Lodovico 2007, $280, which had beautiful layers of fruit, floral and spice with notes of blackcurrant and Mediterranean herbs. The Lodovico 2008 ($280) had more balance and elegance. These bigger wines really stood up to the grilled veal tenderloin and veal sausage and the Il Pino worked well with the wild boar orecchiette with young Tuscan pecorino cheese.