Trees, Stars, and Water

 

Perhaps I’ll start you off with a little Haiku. “Trees are like tall withered snowmen, standing silently.” According to experts, there are more trees in our world, than there are stars. Nasa estimates there are about 100 to 400 billion stars in our galaxy. In 2015, scientists estimated there are three trillion trees on earth.

Five fun facts about trees: 1. Trees can help reduce stress. 2. Trees help to improve water quality. 3. Tree rings can predict climate change. 4. Trees never die of old age. 5. Trees are the longest living organism on Earth.

The Apollo 14 mission in 1971 took seeds to the moon to see  it they would grow differently there. To everyone’s surprise, the trees grew the same way as they do on Earth.

I look out our windows and see the trees providing cover for the flora and fauna. I stand in amazement as I see the eagles perched upon our cedar or pine trees. They sit in a majestic aura that captivates our senses. The wonder of nature is the formula for determining seasons, migratory trends, and the interaction between all that lives in this ecosystem.

The fundamental prize of our senses is to take in this beauty with sight, listening, and the smells of the flowers and trees that dot the landscape. Each sensory experience reduces our stress and brings us closer to being apart of all that we witness.

At night we view the stars in all their magnificence. Each bright pin prick of light helped those that came before us navigate and wax poetic about the vast universe we are but a small part of. Every star you see is bigger and brighter than the sun.

All stars begin from clouds of cold molecular hydrogen that gravitationally collapse. As the cloud collapses, it fragments into many pieces that will go on to form individual stars. The material collects into a ball that continues to collapse under its own gravity until it can ignite nuclear fusion at its core. This initial gas was formed during the Big Bang, and is always about 74% hydrogen and 25% helium. Over time, stars convert some of their hydrogen into helium.

Stars are in perfect balance even though they are in constant conflict with themselves. The collective gravity of all mass of a star is pulling it inward. If there was nothing to stop it, the star would just continue collapsing for millions of years until it became its smallest possible size; maybe as a neutron star. But there is a pressure pushing back against the gravitational collapse of the star: light.

The nuclear fusion at the core of a star generates a tremendous amount of energy. However, putting all of this scientific knowledge aside, the unbridled beauty of a star offers a poetic sense of guidance, hope, and destiny. They can also represent the infinite and unattainable, or alternatively they can represent inspiration.

The connection between the human spirit and the vast, enigmatic cosmos distills a complex emotion and existential questions. This distillation melts into a simple equation that provides a hopeful introspective look into our soul.

This brings us to our last and perhaps most important part of this piece. Water as the life blood of our existence. Interesting that 97% of the water on our planet is salt water. Water is the only substance on earth that is found naturally in three forms: solid, liquid, and gas. More than 90% of the world’s supply of fresh water is located in Antarctica.

A trillion tons of water is evaporated every day by the sun! Another interesting fact is that the earth is a closed system that rarely loses or gains extra matter. Essentially, this means that the same water that existed on earth millions of years ago is still present today.

In relation to our own anatomy, our bodies are 60-70% water. Our brains are 75% water, our lungs are 90% water, and our blood is about 82% water.

As I look out upon our landscape towards the back of our home, I see the spectacle of water. This version is a manmade lake formed from the existence of a dam. It doesn’t make it any less spectacular as its soothing ebbing and flowing represents the viewing and then disappearance of shore land.

Each season promotes this sensory evolution of water. It feeds this ecosystem, enabling the clouds to breech the picture while the creatures enjoy the sustenance that promotes their existence.

As far as our existence, this water feature advances the peaceful nature of our park-like setting into a soothing picture painted by God.

 

Spanish Sherry

When first I heard about Sherry, the only thing communicated to me was that Spanish Sherry was the best in the world. There were few upscale restaurants in San Francisco that had quality Sherry as either an aperitif or an after dinner offering.

At the time I had regularly scheduled tastings with four master sommeliers, usually in a private dining room at the Ritz Carlton. Our tastings included wines from around the world as a testing ground for future advancement in the sommelier world.

I found these tastings to be enlightening, and so very educational. To be around those four guys that had passed their master sommelier exam was a true blessing. It gave me a heightened awareness of the subtleties of wine and the distinctive properties exhibited by terroir and varietal composition.

One of the tastings I’ll never forget involved Spanish Sherry. This wasn’t so much a lesson in determining the varietal or terroir but a lesson in the excellent art of Sherry production. I was told there was only one place that produced the greatest Sherry in the world… and that was Spain.

While there was usually a debate about other varietals related to best in the world… there was no doubt that Spain was the Sherry capital of the world.

The history of Sherry is closely linked with that of Spanish wine production, particularly the political fortunes of the Cadiz region, where it originated. This region saw the Phoenician settlement of the Liberian Peninsula create a triangle of Sherry production that exists to the present day.

The triangular region between the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria, and Sanlucar de Barrameda is the epicenter for one of the world’s oldest wines.

The evolution of Sherry has been influenced by many of the world’s greatest empires and civilizations : the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Moors, Spanish, and British. While Sherry does not enjoy the level of popularity it once did, it remains one of the world’s most unusual and historical expressions.

The Sherry Triangle is an area in the province of Cadiz in southwestern Spain. The secret is the combination of soil. The  chalky, crumbly, moisture retaining albariza, encourages the growth of flor, a type of yeast that forms on the aging wine and prevents it from oxidizing.  The cities mentioned above are where the bodegas store and blend this magnificent beverage. Jerez translates as Sherry in Spanish, and so the wine is named after this region.

There are strict rules to what classifies as Sherry. Only fortified white wines bottled in Jerez and made using Jerez grapes can be awarded the D.O. (Denominacion de Origen). In the Jerez region the predominant grape is the Palomino, named after a 13th century Spanish knight. In other regions this grape is pedestrian. However, in Jerez the magic of the soil and the prevailing humidity allows the growth of the protective flor yeast to exact an exceptional dryness and earthy aroma.

Few things can beat Sherry as a pre-meal aperitif. Ever since Sir Francis Drake ransacked the port of Cadiz in 1587 and made off with 3,000 barrels of Sherry, the British have been addicted to the stuff, and continue to be the main international clients.

Within the category of dry Sherry there is the Manzanilla, which is made exclusively in Sanlucar de Barrameda. Many can detect a hint of sea in this wine due to its proximity to the ocean.

Like Port, Sherry is a fortified wine, meaning extra alcohol is added to bring the percentage of alcohol to around 16 percent. After the grapes are harvested in early September, they are crushed to make a still white wine. This ages for about two years before being put through the criadera and solera system, which is a process to blend different years to ensure the finished product is of consistent quality.

The different types of Sherry are as follows: Fino: clear and perfectly dry with an aroma of almonds. This type of Sherry is served chilled accompanied by nuts or tapas. Manzanilla: this is the Fino Sherry made in Sanlucar de Barrameda. It is even drier and paler than other Finos. Oloroso: The layer of flor yeast is thin, or absent in this Sherry as it ages. There is partial oxidation which accounts for the darker color. Oloroso is a rich amber with an aroma of hazelnuts. The best and oldest is the legendary Matusalem. Amontillados: this Sherry is the mid-way point between Fino and Oloroso with some qualities of both. Palo Cortado: In Jerez they say this is a wine that you can’t make… it just happens. A rare treat, it has an aroma reminiscent of an Amontillado while its color is closer to an Oloroso. One of the best is the 60 year old Sibarita. Cream Sherry: this is an Oloroso Sherry mixed with the sweet Pedro Ximeniz, a good companion for pates or fois gras.

In October we are going to this magnificent area of Spain to participate in our own Sherry tasting. Going to the source where centuries of wine making have produced products indigenous to only one region… is truly a gift. Meeting the winemakers and owners of these bodegas is a once in a life time trip. The sensory experience involving the landscape, grapes, barrels, and those that participate in its creation will be like stepping back in time. Their focus and thus acclaim is a testimonial to generations of Spaniards engaged in producing what many believe… is the best aperitif and after dinner beverage in the world.

Madeira, A Wine that Stands the Test of Time!

 

When I was the GM at the Fairmont in San Francisco, I was in charge of the “owners” restaurant, Masons. Mel Swig was the owner of the Fairmont Hotel and the gentleman that started that iconic brand. He hired me as the GM to  upgrade the food, beverage, and service.

The restaurant was built for magnificence, with rare Brazilian wood pillars that framed the Connemara marble floors. The walls were adorned in hand-woven silk tapestries that were custom made to fit each panel outlined in the blonde, Cerejira, Brazilian wood, polished to a mirror like finish. Carpet was outsourced from India and the ceilings reflected a complex checkerboard design sculpted in Avodire, African wood.

The Chef I outsourced from the famous L’Etoile restaurant at the Huntington Hotel on Nob Hill, his name was Claude Bogaurt.  When he left for Masons, they had to close L’Etoile. His culinary acumen was unparalleled, adding a sophistication to proven dishes loved by the residents of Nob Hill and tourists alike.

I also added world famous piano player Peter Mintun, (also from the Huntington Hotel), making Masons synonymous with international sophistication.

Herb Caen the famous San Francisco gossip columnist wrote about Peter Mintun over 100 times. Celebrities and musicians alike revered Peter Mintun for his repertoire from memory that spanned from the 1920’s to the present day popular songs.

With those pieces in place I expanded the wine list and added another very important composition to this culinary puzzle, Madeira. Madeira is produced on the island of Madeira (Madeira means, “Island of the forest”), 480 miles southwest of Lisbon, off the coast of Portugal.

Madeira is oxidized through a unique process involving heat and aging. This intense process results in a virtually indestructible wine that will last (even in an open bottle!) for centuries. The style is characterized by a dark color, and a rich texture with coffee and caramel flavors. The wine is made from the Malvasia grape used because of its high levels of acidity which balances the high sugar content.

There are four main recognized different types of Madeira:

  1. Sercial is a white grape that produces some of the driest Madeira wines. This varietal originates from the region of Bucelas, near Lisbon.
  2. Verdelho is semi-dry characterized by a bitter, nutty taste with aromas of dried fruit and honey.
  3. Bual is semi-sweet with distinct notes of spice, dried fruit and a touch of botrytis (noble rot), accentuating it’s late budding, not allowing it to be exposed to spring frosts.
  4. Malmsey is the most famous Madeira wine. This is the richest, sweetest style of Madeira. Light golden, smooth and luscious on the palate with chocolate notes woven with caramel, hazelnut, a finish of honey, and a threat of mango. This  ultimately makes Madeira one of the most desirable dessert wines in the world.

Shortly after accepting the GM job, I was invited to a Madeira tasting at the Ritz Carlton on Nob Hill sponsored by the Wine Spectator. I was excited because this tasting featured one of the most famous wine critiques in the world, Michael Broadbent. After writing his classic book, “The Great Vintage Wine Book”, Mr. Broadbent went on tour teaching restaurateurs about one of his favorite wines, Madeira. Mr. Broadbent actually has his own line of Madeira’s bottled for him by Blandy.

This event at the Ritz wasn’t only a tasting of vintage Madeira’s but an opportunity to taste some of the rarest expressions of that grape. I tasted quite a few Madeira’s at that tasting. It was really the first time I had been exposed to such a variety of this rare wine. Most restaurants of an elegant nature didn’t serve Madeira’s as a dessert drink option.

I thought that this was the perfect pronouncement of elegance to finish a fine meal. Thus, I brought Madeira to the Fairmont for the first time in it s illustrious history. This event was written up in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Bringing Madiera to Nob Hill is a flawless gesture for a beverage that is the perfect end to a meal. What could be better than to have dinner at this elegant restaurant, finishing with a vintage Madeira,  while listening to the unbridled music mastery of Peter Mintun?”

I brought in non-vintage Bual and Malmsey as choices that were not priced to high for the average guest, and thus summarily promoted by our staff. I did however also bring in a Madeira for the more adventurous. I purchased a case of 1863 Madeira which I served at $100.00 a glass.

When asked by patrons that were interested in renting our private dining rooms, “Is that 1863 Madeira worth the price per glass?” I would exclaim, “Personally, I drink nothing this century. Yes, it’s a beverage experience that creates a fond memory. How much is that worth?”

And so, later this year, Nancy and I will venture to the island of Madeira. This is a dream come true. Madeira is my close second favorite wine behind the red Burgundy of France. The journey to explore wine regions around the world, learning the exciting variables that honor these artists and create memories in a bottle is an expedition to a time and place never to be forgotten.

 

 

What’s Your Favorite Wine, Part II

 

In the deepest recesses of a restaurant in Tiburon California, after work, the GM, Fritz, said to me, ” Jack, it’s time for you to try a red Burgundy from France.” I will set the mood…this was the Private dining room at the Caprice which featured a rock fireplace carved out of the California coastline, wood wine cases from expensive French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese wines that acted as the fascia over the existing ceiling.

To further add ambience to this most beautiful space was a bar, crafted out of redwood, adorned with a nautical bell, and other sea fairing memorabilia. Two final touches made this a world class space.

First there were the port holes from the USS Texas dotting the southern wall facing San Francisco Bay. As the waves would crash against the side of the building washing the building with salt water, the remaining sea water would proceed under the structure to cool the wine in the cellar to a perfect 59 degrees.

Keep in mind that day in 1972 I didn’t know a red Burgundy from a Cabernet. I was just happy to be taken under the wing by Fritz whom was well versed in all aspects of beverages. That night in 1972 I tried a Chateau Corton, red Burgundy, in the proper glass, as God intended. I was completely blown away. That was the start of my love for wine and specifically, red Burgundy.

Today I will speak of my three favorite red wines. If I broke down each red varietal available, this blog would read like War and Peace. The three wines I refer to are as follows:

  1. Pinot Noir
  2. Cabernet
  3. Syrah

Pinot Noir was Napoleon’s favorite wine. Specifically, the wines of Chambertin. He used to carry a barrel full of Chambertin wine in a wagon wherever he would travel along the French countryside. His favorite vineyard was “Clos de Beze”.

So I’m telling you the former Emperor of France, Napoleon, in the country for centuries revered as the greatest producer of wine, had only one favorite, and that wine was Pinot Noir.

I won’t detail the complexities of the vineyard designations, but when Nancy and I viewed this area of France… it was a dream come true. Grape vines cropped short, beautifully cascading up and down the hills of Burgundy with a gentle mist adding mystery to magnificence.

The flagship of Burgundy are the Domaine Romanee-Conti (DRC), Grand Cru vineyards. The production consists of 5,000 bottles per year. It is simply not possible to produce anymore and maintain the high quality because the vineyard is only 1.8 hectares.

This domain produces a total of eight different wines, from eight plots. Each plot has Grand Cru status ( the grandest of wines, both red and white account for less than 1% of the region’s production) . These eight are located in the Vosne Romanee. However, in 2008 another vineyard was added, the only vineyard in the Cote de Beaune, Corton.

To best illustrate its magnificence I have chosen the  1990 LaTache red Burgundy, agreed by many to be an amazing representation of this region. This ’90 La Tache is tasting better than all other La Tache wines tasted to this point. This wine has an explosive nose of lovely raspberries, some charred oak with great intensity and length. An experience by which all others would be judged.

Pinot noir is very difficult to produce. When you try the subtle earth first flavors (old world) followed by raspberry, blackberry, cherry, spices, and a whisper of oak, you will drift to the sublime. The DRC pinot noir is the purest, most aristocratic and most intense example of pinot noir you could possible imagine. Not only nectar; a yardstick with which to judge all other Burgundies.

Pairing pinot noir with food involves the simple expression of the product prepared from farm to table. Lamb, Veal, Chateaubriand, are all great choices.  The simplicity of preparation will add value to the quality of the pairing.

Next is Cabernet, again available in many different countries. The best examples are from Bordeaux, Napa Valley, and Washington State. Napa Valley cabernet was put on the map in 1976 (The Famous Paris Judgement) when it entered the 1973 Cask 23 Stags Leap Cabernet (and won) against the finest representations from the Bordeaux region of France.  This included the 1970 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, 1970 Chateau Haut Brion, and a 1970 Chateau Montrose from Saint-Estephe.

Today’s Cask 23 Stags Leap, 2019, combines the signature perfume notes of Fay vineyard with structure and dark fruit. Fragrant fresh aromas of red and black currant, black tea, anise and nutmeg fill the nose. The wine has a vibrant mouthfeel with savory and velvety tannins along with blackberry and currant flavors. As an important side note, new world wines are fruit forward and old world wines are earth first.  The Napa Valley represents a punch in the palate as the blackberry and current explode in your mouth.

The first growth Bordeaux wines are a blend of five different varietals. This blend tones down the bigger varietals and gives the old world, earth first signature another layer of expression.

Another region that produces fine Cabernet, is Washington State. This state produces a Cabernet that has exploded on the scene over the last twenty years and has captured more 100 point Wine Spectator recognition awards than any other winery in the United States.

The winery I refer to is Quilceda Creek located in the Columbia Valley, Washington State. The 2021 Quilceda Creek Cabernet uses 100% French oak and grapes from the Champoux, and the Mach One vineyards.  This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon combines power with finesse. Paul Golitzin, the winemaker, comes from a great pedigree of winemakers that traces their roots back to the original Beaulieu Vineyard winery in the Napa Valley.

That original winemaker at BV was the famous Andre Tchelistcheff, “the Maestro”. His nephew, Alex Golitzin, launched Quilceda Creek. Pairing this wine crafted by this genus with game meats, salmon, or hand-crafted pasta dishes would be a magical mystery tour of textures greeting grapes.

The last wine I will discuss is Syrah, the King of southern France and specifically the Rhone valley. Some of the most famous Syrah wines come from the appellations in Northern Rhone: Cote-Rotie. The vineyards are unique because of the steep slopes facing the river and their stone walls. Cote Rotie can be translated in English to “the roasted slope” and refers to the long hours of sunlight that these slopes receive.

The wines featuring Syrah also contain up to 20% Viognier, a white grape used for its aroma. If Viognier is used it must be fermented at the same time, a process known as “co-fermentation”.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is the most famous AOC (Appellation d’ Origine Controlee) in the Rhone Valley. Within the Rhone Valley Chateauneuf -du- Pape is an historic appellation as it is the very first in France and therefore in Europe. The gratification of this wine is both intellectual and hedonistic in nature. The flavors mimic a Provence marketplace with its flavors, and wide array of aromas, rich and round, sumptuous and opulent.

As with Pinot Noir the only place to truly enjoy this wine is from the Rhone Valley in France. However, if your vacation would limit you to the US, then the obvious choice would be Paso Robles, and the Herman Story Winery. A Boutique winery that features only Rhone varietals and blends of said varietals.

Russel P. is the winemaker at Herman Story and provides the most entertaining and substantive experience in all of Paso Robles. The wine produced by this winery represent the best in full-bodied, rich, deep fruit, and oriental spice on the market today.

Pairing Syrah is simple. Go out and shoot something, grill it, oven roast it, or barbecue it, and you will find the richness of the wine will enhance the flavors of the game.

Syrah is a complex wine with an intense ruby color, deeply-rich, with blackberry, boysenberry, and pomegranate. The fruit on the nose is complemented with allspice, pepper, and tobacco.

I hope you enjoyed the excursion into my favorite red varietals and remember… life is too short to drink cheap wine.