Bushwick, Open Studios and the Chuck

Posted in Uncategorized by EVWG on the October 26th, 2006

thechuck1.jpgI didn’t really know when I would get around to this third installment of the Trader Joe’s experiment. After the first two I was all into taking a bit of a break from the Tj’s to search far and wide (in NYC) for more excellent value priced wines. I found some and will taste them after I write this post. The thing is, an opportunity arose for me to dive once more into the experiment and this time it was for the signature line: The Trader Joe’s “Two-Buck…” Oh, wait sorry…”Three-Buck Chuck.” My wife is an artist and her studio is located in the up-and-coming art community of Bushwick, Brooklyn. Off the Morgan Ave. stop on the L train there is a burgeoning art scene happening in the coolest way. Last weekend the three or four former factory buildings that make up this community held an “Open Studios” event where all the participating artists open the doors to their studios to display their talents. It was an amazing event and my wife had a great time with her studio mate entertaining guests and talking shop. I am not very knowledgeable about art but I do appreciate the craft and support the effort to expose unknown artists in a city where art can be very political. Local artists Unite! We had so much fun and I can’t wait until the spring when they have another one.
So every time we go to these kinds of events that are usually in a Brooklyn art space of some sort the wine served is usually bulk wine that is heavily on the cheap side. Of course it is. These are artists that struggle to pay their rent by juggling one or two jobs while trying to dedicate enough time to there passion in the studio. I always drink the wine. I am not a snob. I figure if these good people go out of their way to purchase wine for the masses it is only right to partake of their sacrifice. But I have always had this idea that a good wine to be served at these events would be the Chuck. Sure it’s the same price of some of these bulk wines that are usually available but maybe, just maybe the Chuck has one up on them and a new trend can surface.
When my wife put me in charge of providing her and Beth’s studio with wine I immediately had visions of this amazing international cheese plate with some sort of pate and various selections of fruit presented in a visually stunning fashion accompanied by amazing wine from south America and Italy so that people would have something nice to munch on while observing some beautiful artwork. I saw myself going to various cheese mongers and charcuteries searching for the good stuff and selecting reasonably priced wines to pair. And then I saw a theoretical bill rising and rising and began to realize why these events don’t go over the top. It should be about the art not the refreshments. Sure you should have something to snack on but the focus should be on those hard working artists that pour their souls out onto some sort of medium hoping it touches the small place in ones’ soul that makes them feel they need that piece In their gallery, apartment or business.
But I am a wine geek with a need for exploration. So I decided to journey into the world of the Chuck. As it turns out a case of any of the wines is only thirty-eight bucks. Not bad at all. The choices are: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and shiraz. I figured the event was going on for seven or eight hours and I wasn’t sure of the turn out. So I highballed it and we got two cases, one white and one red. I felt that of the three reds available the shiraz would be the most fun and have the best chance at being well done. Of the whites I figured the sauvignon blanc would do well because I didn’t have to worry too much about oak. They opened up at nine in the morning on a Saturday and my wife and I were there at ten to pick up our two cases of Three-Buck-Chuck and off we went in a cab to the “Open Studios” event.
I must say that when all was set up and ready to go it had just turned noon and I was eyeballing the wine. I was actually fidgeting with my wine key, the geek in me screaming to be surfaced. As always it doesn’t matter to me whether the wine has a good or a bad rap. I just want to try it and figure it out. So quarter after twelve I started poppin’ bottles. We hit the sauvignon first. Oh boy. I wish I could say that this wine was surprisingly good for the price (three bucks, mind you) and I hope this doesn’t sound too mean but your better off spending a little bit extra on an albarino or a New Zealand Sauvignon. It was pretty bad. It had little or no character and a weird cardboard taste. Not the corked wet-cardboard taste but fresh cardboard. There was just nothing going on. Wow, talk about mass production. It wasn’t only us either. At the end of the day we had more sauvignon left over than shiraz. We’ll probably just cook with it this fall. I’ll cook the flavor out of it. Hopefully.
Next the “shiraz.” The reason I put this in quotes and I probably should do so for the white is that even though all the Trader Joe’s labels have a varietals name on them they also all have this text below the Trader Joe’s name: “Trader Joe’s blend,” and I think I saw a vintage on the back of the bottle so they can’t be mixing vintages unless they know some loop hole in the AVA regulations. I guess their just getting grapes from multiple vineyards and just pumping the stuff out (like in Sideways where the scene opens on a tanker being filled with mass produced vino). Or it’s all some sort of marketing ploy trying to convince people not in the know that it is something more than what it is; playing on their naivety. I will have to do some research. Anyway, back to the point.
After my wife and I slung down some cups of the sauvignon blanc while talking to onlookers in the studio we just had to stop. This wine really was not good. We should have just bought the chardonnay so the oak would mask everything. Keep it as cold a possible and go with it man. So we took a bit of a break had some lunch and decided to brave the shiraz. Or what trader’s calls shiraz. Sure there was that fruitiness and the berries were struggling to be seen but no depth. Okay I know it was only three bucks but I am just exploring here. I have to approach every wine with an open mind and give each one some tasting notes (read my post on Iron wine). It was a bit watery and shy with some juiciness and a faint, far away, distant hint of spice. The thing is this wine is approachable and it’s not to bad for a really cheap wine to serve at an event if you’re short on cash. And you know what? People drank it. They actually slugged it down. It was a hit and I wonder if it was because it was free or if it actually had something going for it. Either way we still some left over and I don’t know what to do with it. I will probably cook with it just like the sauvignon.
My wife and I agreed that the next time she has one of these events (if there are any curators reading this I put her website link in the title of this post and you can find it also in the link section in the sidebar. Shameless plug, I know but I really think she does some cool stuff. And that is not just some biased statement. I truly love her stuff. If and when I ever have my own wine bar here in NYC she designing it) we will do some research and find some great South American wine, Spanish and Italian wine to provide. For the amount we paid for two cases of the Chuck we could have bought a case or more of decent wine from some wine discount store. Live and learn man. Live and learn.
What it comes down to though is that it was a great day for Bushwick artists. The turnout was great, there was a parade and a great after party with bands and people who were swallowing razor blades and breathing fire and just downright dancing naked. I can’t wait for the next one. The sense of community is quite strong and you can tell everyone is working together well to make this place happening. I also can’t wait to challenge myself with a new selection of wines. Maybe next time I’ll break down do the cheese thing.

It Was A Good Day To Be A Wine Geek

Posted in Uncategorized by EVWG on the October 17th, 2006

StagsLeap.jpgI’m just a wine geek. I don’t pretend to be an expert on anything other than what I know and even then I am not so sure. I just love experiencing wine and everything that comes with it. Food, company, atmosphere. I run a restaurant here in the East Village and do a lot of the wine buying. Because of this sometimes I am privileged enough to be invited to wine events in the city. The reason I am saying this is because I was invited to one of the most amazing lunches recently that I have ever experienced in my wine geek career. Now I am not blowing my own horn here. I just have to talk about this experience because I believe it is an important moment for wine. How do I begin?
It was a Tuesday and it was my day off. My wife was watching her kindergarteners cover themselves with paint and I was preparing myself for a nice day of relaxing, writing a post for the blog and attending a Argentinean wine tasting later in the day (which I must talk about further in a later post). I was on my first cup of coffee when I got the phone call. Stag’s Leap Cellars was rolling out their new chardonnay at BLT Fish; someone just canceled would I like to attend. Stag’s Leap is one of the most prominent wine producers in California. They have a line of cabernet and chardonnay that truly reflect what the state has to offer. The price range of these wines is pretty high. Even though some of the cab vintages can be thirty bucks they usually go higher. I tend to focus on the under twenty-dollar range but if I were to go above such limits in the California category this producer would on the short list. Actually at the top of my short list.
Just as Stag’s Leap is one of the most prominent of its industry BLT Fish holds the same prestige in the restaurant world of New York City. It is known for high quality seafood dishes and is also one of those restaurants that my budget would only be able to handle on a special occasion. Oh…and their wine list is spectacular. So with all this in mind I recalibrated my day and gave a resounding yes to the invite.
Now, I am not the biggest seafood fan and being into wine this may seem weird. How am I supposed to experience wine in full when the taste of fish doesn’t sit too well with me more often than not? Good question. The answer is even though I don’t normally go to seafood for a wine pairing I have a pretty good sense of what flavors are in different types of dishes and can imagine what would work best to compliment the meal. I mean I have eaten seafood but it’s not my first choice. But on this day everything changed.
I arrived and was directed to the private room. Wow. Never been to private room event before. The room was filled with suits and I immediately felt underdressed for the occasion. I had on a collared Polo type shirt with jeans and a pair of my new adidas kicks. I asked the guy at the door if I was to casual for the event he looked me over and asked who I was with. When I said, Kristy he smiled knowingly and asked me to have a seat as Kristy waved me over to her table. Whatever man, I live and work in the East Village and that is what I am representing. I own one suit and it is the one I wore to my wedding. This lunch was starting to seem a little more involved than I thought it was going to be but with my newfound calmness I started to feel more and more confident as I approached the table.
I sat down at one of the big tables and was introduced to the man sitting next to me. He shook my hand and said his name was Warren. I gave him my name and we began the usual small talk that ensues after formal introductions. As we talked I noticed people at the table really hanging of Warrens every word. They were also asking him some interestingly heavy wine questions about the Stag’s Leap line and vintages. I piped in a bit but mostly listened to the conversations around me trying to soak in all the information coming in. I love hearing groups of wine geeks bantering about the industry. It’s all very enticing. Warren seemed to pause a moment after being asked a question. He seemed to be quite a humble man and that he always wanted to choose his words carefully before answering.
The first course arrived along with the first wine pairing. The course was a raw hamachi with a lemon herb and olive oil sauce. The wine was the Stag’s Leap 2004 Arcadia chardonnay. This was very exciting. I wasn’t very sure what hamachi was and I was a little nervous about tasting it but the wine smelled great and I could just imagine how well it would go with a seafood dish so it was time to just dig in. I took my first bite and was immediately in heaven! Wow. It was absolutely out of this world. It had a definite meaty flavor void of all fishiness. The lemon sauce was perfectly balanced with the substance of the dish and the accompanying greens. I took a sip of the Arcadia and the pairing came together. This chardonnay has a good bit of oak on it but is restrained at the same time. This oak element is needed for this particular dish because it helps cut through the lemon sauce while still being able to enjoy it and compliments the meatiness of the raw hamachi. Speaking of hamachi, I had to find out what it was. I was already underdressed so why not just come out and show my ignorance? Turns out it is a kind of raw tuna. Well count me in as a fan of hamachi form now on. If this item is on a menu (and I can afford it) it’s all mine.
We all cleared our plates and they were swept away with the wait staff’s swift elegance. This was really fun. I looked at the next course on the pre fixe menu and began to prepare myself for another great seafood dish. The wait staff came back around and filled our glasses with the wine being featured for this event, the 2005 Stag’s Leap Karia chardonnay. When the servers disappeared everything changed and this event came into great focus. Before the next course could be served Warren, the man seated next to me asked if I could clang my glass a few times to get everyone’s attention. As I did so he turned to stand and I got a good look at his nametag for the first time: Warren Winiarski Owner/Founder Stag’s Leap Vineyards. Can you say, floored? Turns out this entire time I was sitting next to a legend of sorts in the wine world.
He fumbled with the microphone for a minute with no success then just put it down, asked if everyone could hear him and launched into a poetic speech about wine and life. This man has been making wine in California for decades and to hear him speak so passionately about his craft was just a privilege. To know that after all this time he has not lost a hint of love for wine was just amazing. He pulled out a satellite map of his vineyards and began speaking of soil and geography and climate and wind. He spoke of land mass and its advantages for blocking air currents as well as it being in just the right place to protect the grapes from harm. I was completely entranced and before I knew it I found myself verbalizing my thoughts as he explained his approach to wine. I was nodding my head and giving up a yes, yes here and there. Thankfully I caught my self before I got too loud and made a complete fool out my self. I felt Like I was in an evangelistic charismatic conference and I was shouting praise as the preacher spit into the microphone compromising the diaphragm.
Before he could get too technical he stopped himself and introduced his daughter Julia Winiarski. She is the one in the vineyards watching every step of the process and had a first hand account of the production of this new wine. When Mr. Winiarski sat down I did my best not to gawk (this man humbly won the judgment of Paris for crying out loud). Julia began speaking and I was just as enthralled with what she had to say as with what her father had to say and I apologize for my lengthy post but if you are still with me here is where my point from the first paragraph begins. This is why lunch at BLT Fish was an important day for me in wine. She began to speak of the vineyard process of trimming the grapes before harvest. Inside I gave a loud, “You go sister!” even though this is becoming standard practice all over the state. But what got me was when she stared talking about the from-fermentation-to-barreling segment of production. She was just as humble as her father putting the microphone down and waving her hands around passionately talking about how they approached the process. She said chardonnay naturally has beautiful elements to it and for this wine they didn’t want to take away from that so they cut down the use of oak dramatically. As soon as she said this I went for my first nose of Karia. Sure enough all I smelled was minerally earth. It was very Chablis-like. It even had hints of that earthiness you get in a good champagne. I didn’t sip yet because I felt that would be a bit rude and I would probably miss something. She took some questions about past vintage procedures but I still couldn’t get over the focus of the wine in front of me and found myself staring at the glass ready for the next course, excited about the pairing. When she finished and sat down everyone applauded and I almost stood for a standing ovation but, again, I was underdressed and a little over-excited about being there.
The second course was served. It was a breaded halibut with delicata squash puree (not too sure what a delicata squash is. I should look in to that) with a dash of caper brown butter. It just sounded right. And man was it right. It was right on. The halibut was flakey and full of meaty substance. The breaded top gave it a crunch and a toasty flavor that was perfect. I rolled a piece in the butter and…wow. It was out of this world. I took a sip (my first sip) of the Karia. This is an excellent wine. It is a chardonnay with minimal oak from California with a pre-harvest trim to concentrate the flavor. The palate is clean and minerally with mild fruit beautifully intertwined with the body. It soaked up the halibut and complimented the butter wonderfully as I washed it down. What a great pairing (of course it was. What am I thinking. This was BLT Fish).
As I sipped Karia and ate this wonderful dish I couldn’t help but think of why this day was so important for me as a wine lover. Warren Winiarski is practicing restraint in and area of the world that has generally gone overboard. If this catches on we may be seeing a change in the way the majority makes their chardonnay. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to buy a reasonably priced chard (sorry about the cheesy nickname; Just couldn’t help it) that sees almost no oak if any at all. And if it does, when you sip it you can taste the producer’s use of restraint. Give it oak. Sure just…please, in moderation. Now I am sure there are producers out there that do this but I see this as possibly becoming a trend. Or, I guess what would be cool is to see this becoming a trend. Back in June when the thirtieth anniversary of the “judgment of Paris’ was in full swing in London and in Napa there was a quote from Mr. Winiarski in the Los Angeles Times that really drove the point home. He said, “Raisins from Greece taste the same as raisins from California. If you lose the element of restraint, the distinctiveness of the place where the grapes are grown is lost.” In 1973 this man -without even knowing it at the time. The vineyard was only a year or so old- made a wine that would change the way the world saw California as a wine region and that would inspire great producers to this day. In 1976 this wine took top honors when being compared to the likes of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild (Paulliac) and Chateau Haut-Brion (Graves). More than thirty years later here he was speaking of a new approach to wine in the United States that will hopefully have that same influence. By the way, in the most recent thirty-year anniversary of the “judgment of Paris” The same 1973 cabernet vintage won second place.
I slowly finished my glass of Karia and restrained myself from asking for another glass. On that last sip the oak peaked out for just a moment on my palate and was washed away. Excellent. The third course of herb crusted rack of lamb with wild mushrooms and sauce paloise was served along with the very well known 2004 Stag’s Leap Artemis cabernet sauvignon. The lamb was downright succulent and beautifully seared with a rare middle. The protein in the lamb mellowed out the tannin in the Artemis to perfection allowing me to enjoy the fruit and body of the wine as it mingled with the wild mushrooms. Last but certainly not least was a cheese course with the Winiarski family’s other cabernet beauty, Fay. It was a 2003 but a bit rougher around the edges, which is what you need for a diverse cheese course. Cheese has protein as well and that helps the pairing play well on the palate.
Well, it was all over. It was time to mosey and everyone started to look at his or her watch to see that the New York minutes had flown by. Warren stood and thanked everyone for coming and announced that all attendees would be receiving a complimentary bottle of the Karia and a book by the journalist who attended the first…the original “judgment of Paris,” George Taber. Mr. Winiarski was nice enough to sign my copy. I shook his and thanked him for the opportunity to be a part of what happened this day. I know this all sounds very over blown and over charismatic but for me it was an important day. I’m not an expert on wine and I am not an authority. I am just a wine geek who had a chance to witness the wine world at work. Now that is what I call a day off. It was a good day to be a wine geek.

No Wine For This Geek. Just Beer and Blue Smoke

Posted in Uncategorized by EVWG on the October 11th, 2006

BlueSmoke.jpgI grew up, most of my life below the Mason Dixon line. I was raised on ribs, sweet tea, buttermilk biscuits, and mmmmmm…. gravy. I don’t really miss livin in the South…I mean don’t get me wrong, I love the slow pace, the beautiful, lazy rivers and that southern drawl that creeps into my vocal chords every time I visit…I just love it all temporarily. This city has everything I need. It has the fast pace and stimulation that gets me through a day. I like falling asleep to the sounds of the urban environment. Especially this urban environment. The food of the south will always be in my heart. I remember when my parents would go to farm parties and choke down boiled peanuts while we played baseball in the cow pasture using manure for bases and running from water moccasins that slithered unnoticingly in the pond. All day long a whole pig or two, roasted on a spit ready for the sun to set a little. We’d all come in from whatever we were doing and get to eating before the ’skeeters’ got too bad. We used to go to agricultural fairs and take tours of peanut farms and go to southern oyster shucks. Ah…let me get back to reality and my focus for this post. The reason I am reminiscing of the past and the south in particular is my wife and I finally, after talking about it for a couple of years and actually living around the corner from it at one time, got around to going to Blue Smoke.
BBQ is getting big here in the big apple over the last couple of years. 2007 will mark the third year for the annual BBQ festival in midtown and I will be there with bells on. A couple of years ago the New York Times did a feature on the growing technology of the BBQ ribs smoking methods being practiced, and Blue Smoke was on their short list of good stuff.
I’m sure a lot of you reading this have already been to this establishment so everything I say about it might be quite familiar. I just have to pipe in here and give it some props. We went there in on a weeknight and it was already packed at seven thirty. The interior is chock full of southern nostalgia. It has the rustic feel of a big BBQ pit house in some remote town outside of Valdosta, Georgia. The music is appropriate, pumping blues and jazz through the speaker system. There is actually a separate part of the place that has live music, which we will be checking out eventually. We lucked out because the inside was full but there was one table available outside and it was beautiful weather so we snatched it up in a second.
The menu for this place is amazing. The choices are dizzying. From pulled pork to baby back ribs and…did I See hush puppies on the appetizers list? When I was young, I went through a hush puppy phase that lasted a couple of years. Every restaurant we went to I had to have some of them hush puppies. So here I was at the age of thirty-one drooling over the opportunity to devour more of one of my childhood favorites. This is the north, so instead of just plain old puppies these came with a side of jalapeno sweet and sour sauce. The server came for the initial talk; specials and can I get you guys something to drink. No wine for this geek tonight. No sir-y. Oh sure, they had an extensive wine list for a BBQ joint, but even a Riesling wouldn’t do here. I asked if they had Brooklyn Lager and she smiled and said not only did they have Brooklyn Lager but they also had a special brew that Brooklyn Brewery made just for them. I was enthralled with the idea of a lager custom-made for the drippy molasses that is rack-o-ribs BBQ sauce. When the beer came to the table it was a beautiful amber color and tasted fabulous. You could tell this place took care of their taps and the beer was just sweet enough that it would cut through the spicy sauce.
I ordered a half rack of ribs with fries and my wife did the pulled pork, Southern staples that I couldn’t wait to try in this Northern environment. I wish there was more to say, other than the ribs were smoked to utter perfection and the hush puppies were out of this world with that sweet, sour, spicy sauce they came with. The meat on the ribs fell of the bone and the beer washed down the accompanying sauces I was alternating between. One sweet one spicy. My wife had a mountain of pulled pork and I had to help her finish it. Even as my stomach wailed in protest I devoured the rest of her plate. The meal was so filling that we had to just sit back afterwards and spend an extra twenty minutes or so sipping our beers. They were too good to just abandon and leave them lonely and unfinished just so the bus staff could pour them down the drain. That would be alcohol abuse (cliché, in know but oh, so true). When we finally left it was nice to know we had a bit of a walk back to the East Village. It was a beautiful night and our stomachs were beautifully full. We strolled back to our hood and all I could think of after a meal like that was a nice single malt fourteen year old scotch to top it all off. I thought this all the way up the five flights and into the apartment and across the living room into the bedroom and…when I hit the pillow I was out. No scotch. No rocks. Just sleep. Now that’s good BBQ.

The Trader Joe’s Experiment (Part II)

Posted in Uncategorized by EVWG on the October 4th, 2006

So here we are in the second part of the Trader Joe’s experiment. I have had this 2005 Robert Mondavi Private Selection pinot noir sitting in my “cellar” for over a week now. I have been a busy guy and just haven’t got around to it until recently. I also had a seven-dollar albarino from T.J.’s (should I really start abbreviating this place? Do I really want to be that guy?) that had to be drunk…. I mean…analyzed. It was a 2005 as well. We didn’t get to them both in one night. If we did this, it would be a pretty vague account of what happened with a lot of “uh, I think it was white…wait or was it red…oh man.” No, when it’s just the two of us on a school night (my wife is a NYC public school teacher) one will do.
I was on a seasonal roll that day and I had gone a little crazy at the farmer’s market. I sautéed some fresh green and yellow beans in olive oil and added some sesame seeds to toast it all up a bit. I blanched some broccoli and sautéed some sliced red bell peppers in butter for about twenty minutes then poured it over the broccoli. I also heated some sliced zucchini in water and vinegar, and then drained and submerged them in olive oil with an Italian herb mixture. For dessert I peeled some pears, made a honey and mustard butter sauce and just cooked the pears in the sauce for like an hour or so, basting them every once in awhile to coat. In the end I would top them with plain vanilla ice cream and dig in. I was having so much fun it wasn’t until I was almost done and my wife was off the L train on her way home that I realized I had overlooked adding some meat to the menu, like chicken or something. Oh well, it would be four course veggie meal. Literally.
And what better way to enjoy a veggie course than a nice crisp white wine. The pinot would just have to wait for another night when I remembered the chicken. I pulled the albarino out, popped it and poured myself a taste, then swirled. Swirling white wine is a bit different than swirling red. With red I look at how it coats the inner walls of the glass to get an initial check of the depth. With white wine I almost swirl out of habit but it does serve a purpose. All wine needs oxygen to open up. The nose was lean and minerally with a slight hint of fruit. I could tell that there were compromised elements to the wine but nothing too crazy. There was just a hint of aromas being a bit off balance, which made me think it had to open some. White wine opens just like red wine but for me it is in a slightly different way. When I pop a bottle of white it is usually right out of the fridge and nice and cold. I like keeping the bottle out while I drink it letting the wine “warm” up some if you will. As white wine comes slowly to room temperature all the aromas and fruit start to open up and mingle with each other allowing you to get a better grasp on what the wine has to offer. So I figured those compromised elements would smooth out as the bottle sweated away on the counter (away from the heat of the stove).
I took the first sip and was impressed with the fullness of the wine. It had more fruit on the palate than on the nose. The acidity was not forceful, but definitely prominent. This was a good sign that when the aromas came out more, everything would balance out. My wife arrived and it was time to sit back with some good tunes, good food (thankfully I didn’t burn anything) and what was turning out to be good wine.
Everything came into place. By this time the wine was right where it needed to be and it went nicely with the four-course veggie meal I had accidentally prepared. It washed down the red pepper butter sauced broccoli. It played with the toasted sesame seeds in the beans and sat right next to the zucchini in a contrast of flavors that worked well. When it was time for dessert we had saved the last drops of the bottle in our glasses. As we dug into the pears and vanilla ice cream the residual sugars of the albarino came out and mingled with the sweetness of the mustard honey butter sauce. My wife and I came to the conclusion that this wine was a good value (I mean we finished the bottle).
All in all, this is a good seven-dollar wine from Spain. If you’re looking for a low budget night of eating and drinking, whether it be with friends or a significant other, this is a nice, refreshing value. Even though wines from this country can be fairly inexpensive and there are a lot of good deals out there, you still have to be a little choosey. I will be buying a more expensive albarino in the near future to compare. Not too expensive. I am always trying to stay on the low end so everyone will be able to enjoy it. I haven’t had too many white Spanish wines and I want to get an idea of what other producers do with this grape. I can’t remember the name of the producer for this wine and for that I am sorry. I do believe, however, that it is the only one of its kind in the shop. I will get that producer name anyway and give a short shout about it soon. Cheers!

Stemless Espana and Ham on a Harness

Posted in Uncategorized by EVWG on the October 2nd, 2006

El alimento. El vino. El ambience. Lo amo! That is how I feel about this new wine bar here in the East Village. Bar Carrera. My wife and I were headed back to our neck of the woods after coming down from a busy Sunday of running around, fulfilling a list of errands. As we approached our hood, she voiced her need for a nibble, nothing too crazy just something to munch on before we headed back to the apartment. I suddenly felt the same way and nothing sounded better than some wine and a cheese plate, with some assorted meats to bring the weekend to a close. Oh yeah.
We decided to hit up Bar Veloce on Second Ave. and do the Italian thing. We actually haven�t been there yet even though it is literally right across the street. As we walked up Second Ave. we passed Veselka and ran into our friend Elizabeth. I mentioned our destination and she said,  Have you been to bar Carrera yet? Then it hit me. Oh yeah, I had heard of this place. The owner of Bar Veloce opened a Spanish wine bar right next door to his Italian wine bar. So much for Italian. Thanking Elizabeth for the insight, we headed up to check this place out.
The place is about as small as it’s next-door neighbor and I must say just as sexy, if not more. The interior is streamlined, with soft lighting, chill music and a total of about a dozen or so barstools at the beautifully constructed bar. Opposite the bar and against the wall is a long counter with stools. Most of the wines by the glass are presented in a nice display case on the bar so you can stare at the label while enjoying the glass. Speaking of glasses, as we sat down I looked down at the other people eating and drinking and noticed their glasses were stemless. This a recent Reidel innovation that has caught the boutique bug here in New York City. For me it swings both ways as far as preference is concerned. On the one hand they are beautiful to look at and fun because they are different. On the other hand I like the stem because you are not forced to hold the bowl of the glass, all the while warming up the wine as you sip (I know that is the geek in me talking). But man they look nice in a soft comfy setting. And after we ordered the wine, I see how they can get away with it.
The menu consisted of tapas, tapas, tapas. The descriptions made everything sound absolutely enticing. On another trip we will dive into those beauties but this was a night for wine and cheese with some meat to top it off. They have a cheese plate, a meat plate, and a “plata combinando” as they put it, a cheese and meat combination plate. Ya know what we went for. What is really cool is, behind the bar they have a leg of Serrano ham under a lamp on this neat harness and get this your portion is hand sliced to order. Pretty cool.
The wine list is very exciting. If you have read any of my previous posts you’ll know that I am on a major Spanish/South American kick right now. And it hasn’t stopped. I have been seduced by malbec, tempranillo, albarino and company and the love affair continues. There was everything here, from indigenous varietals to blends, to ports, sherries and interesting sangria-like concoctions. Oh, if we only had the time to go through them all. My wife tends to lean towards the white wines and I tend to lean towards the red side (this is a very broad statement. I am a wine geek after all and no wine shall be denied). What is cool about this is we get to taste each other’s choices.
My eyes landed on a varietal not yet in my vocabulary: godello. How intriguing. A white grape indigenous to Spain that, according to the bartender (there has to be a better name for a bartender in a wine bar. If anyone knows of one or has any ideas let me know) if you like sauvignon blanc, you will like this. The description on the menu mentioned something like, wet rocks. Well that sounds interesting and right up our alley. A glass of godello please. As for the reds, I was in heaven. I could not decide. Do I go for the obvious like a rioja or do I go for the Tres Picos 100 percent granacha that I know so well? Or do I branch out and sip and swirl an eye-catching blend. Oh let’s go for the blend. Yes, let’s branch out. I ordered a blend of granacha and tempranillo. This is where it got really exciting. My red wine was served at sixty to sixty-five degrees, the perfect temp for enjoying red wine. They actually keep their red wine by-the-glass bottles at the right temperature and for me that was a first. Well, there is one other place I have been to, but that was an expensive inert gas system with elaborate displays and such. This place just had a temperature controlled hand cellar behind the bar. How cool is that? And then it all came together for me about the stemless glasses. If you’re going to have stemless glasses, then it would make sense to serve the wine at a cooler temperature. That way your wine won’t warm up too much. Sweet.
My wine was very well balanced with the fruit and the acidity. As it warmed up a bit the fullness of the blend became more apparent and I was able to enjoy the deep spice and jammy-ness of Spain. Great glass wine. My wife’s godello, sure enough, had wet rocks on the nose and on the palate. It is an aroma I enjoy in a wine. It’s this kind of minerally smell that is comforting when balanced with a good fruit and this godello had some nice fruit. Good stuff.
The “plata combinando” arrived and it was absolutely perfect with the wine. There were two types of cheeses and some quince along with cut-to-order Serrano and some awesome, smoky chorizo. One cheese was definitely manchego and the other was some kind of goat cheese but I can’t remember the name. My wife and I just sat back, chilled to some hip Latino pop electronica and enjoyed the atmosphere while nibbling on some amazing nibbles from the Iberian peninsula.
This place is real chill. I hope it catches on in a way that keeps it enjoyable to visit. I hope the staff stays cool and doesn’t get too jaded when this place starts rollin. I would like to check it out in a couple weeks on a weekend night to see how they are doing. And my wife and I will definitely be back for some of the tapas and those interesting indigenous drinks. Hasta la vez pr’xima mis amigos.