So, anyone heard of Armenian wines? If not, you will soon. I was in Yerevan for a recent work trip and happened to be visiting a bunch of agricultural sites, many of which were growing grapes. This country’s soils are so well-suited for orchards, particularly grapes, because of their volcanic or bouldery geology. All are very well-drained and the climate affords them enough sunlight and water stress to push them to the max. The grapes have traditionally been used to make exceptional cognac, but now the farmers are waking up to the fact that they have excellent conditions to grow world class table wines. This is not unlike the Spanish epiphany of the late 1990s or the Portuguese awakening of the early-mid 200os.
Now to the wine: it is ripe, tight, and spicy. Its native grapes reminded me of the Norton varietal here in the mid-Atlantic USA; very bold and very unique. I reckon that this will be drinking well for years to come. Sheridan, be thankful that I got a bottle for you too…
Sheridan snagged this Port during his last trip to the Iberian Peninsula, which means he’s been saving this for us to drink together now for roughly a year. It was well worth the wait. Not all too common here in the USA, this White Port is so rich and supple, somehow displaying both sweet and savory characteristics simultaneously. Its high viscosity makes it almost meaty, but it is so deliciously floral, fruity, and mildly sweet that it could drank as an aperitif or a dessert wine. I could have drunk the whole bottle, and probably would have had Sheridan not also been pouring a Vintage Port from the same producer that same evening
Name: Branco – 20 years old
Winery: Quinta dos Corvos
Price: (ask Sheridan)
Where to Buy: Unfortunately, only in Portugal at the moment
This young beauty starts with a refreshing blueberry and blackberry bouquet. Violets and crushed flowers lead into a fast, berry-heavy start with tinges of vanilla. Very nice. The fruit rolls in with some slatey tannins – not too much – to bring it to a tight, luscious finish. A very pleasant wine, medium bodied and delicious. I expected less and got a lot.
A deep, rich beauty that will make you fall in love with Argentina all over again, from one of her finest wine houses. A blend of Bordeaux grapes that really shows off all the classic flavors: dense vanilla and tobacco notes, red fruit and white pepper. Well-structured with nice tannins that will hold her for years to come, but she’s ready to drink today if you’d like. The French oak, in a mix of new and one year old, keeps the oak nice and mellow – not overpowering like many California and Washington wines. I always trust Achaval Ferrer, but was nonetheless impressed by this offering.
If you find yourself wandering around the Arenal district of Sevilla, near the legendary Plaza de Toros, and are in need of refreshment, there’s only one place to go: Pepe Hillo. This traditional tapas tavern has a mid-twentieth century inspired-décor with tons of old bric-a-brac, newspapers, and – yep – mounted noggins of famous fighting bulls that make you feel like Joselito himself is going to tap you on the shoulder any minute. This is the kind of establishment that Spain’s meteoric rise in the period immediately after joining the Eurozone, and its population’s rush to embrace a future whose glaringly bright promise never quite arrived, placed on the endangered list. Old men are serving you and old men are sitting nearby nursing their late afternoon or lunch drinks, though quick with that wit topped with feigned arrogance that the Spaniards of Andalucia are so famous for.
If your Spanish is up to the task, you can get a decent amount of banter out of the comically cranky barkeeps. If not, you’ll still manage to lay your hands on fine examples of Andalucian tapas. Pulpo (exquisite octopus, grilled or fried), anchoas (anchovies like nothing you’ve tasted), various tortillas (a type of omelet, primarily of egg and potato), gazpacho, cola de toro (succulent stewed bull’s tail), and all manner of lovely jamóns
famously cured in the nearby mountains. But the real star of the show, their virtuoso performance that you can scarcely find anywhere else, and, for my money, one of the most refreshing Summer treats around, is the amazing Salmorejo Cordobés.
Just what is this salmorejo, you might ask? A shorthand might be gazpacho’s rich cousin. Whereas a gazpacho might be made primarily of tomatoes and present almost like a refreshing vegetable drink, a salmorejo should be a rich, creamy, emulsified cold soup only capable of being taken via a bowl and spoon. Boiled egg, Serrano or Ibérico jamón, and only the finest olive oil forms the holy trinity of delicious garnishes on the top. I’ve had it with olive oil preserved tuna in place of the jamón, but only once. I will go so far as to suggest that you not only order this rare and delicious beauty, but that you have it before ordering anything else just in case your taste buds drive you to order a second helping before moving to other portions of the menu.
As with many places in Spain, if you’re squeamish about bullfighting or a strict vegetarian, this may not be the place for you. As with many of my most favorite spots, a friendly local told me about this place and I’m damn glad I engaged the chap. You don’t have to be a fan of tauromaquia to enjoy a stop in Pepe Hillo, but a sense of joie de vivre and an adventurous appetite will serve you well.
Fresh flowers and moss on the nose. Yep. Fresh and mossy. A light bodied red fruit explosion sneaks up on the front end, with a hint of vanilla. Some pleasant green tannins bring this one to an abrupt close, and a lingering hit of that same freshness as it fades out to warm tannins.
Dank, dark, and rusty on the front end, like some old shipwreck pulled up out of the sea. Nice tannins, leather, and some hints of vanilla. This is a tough beauty. Prunes and dark, black fruit. A tight finish from not inconsequential tannins. Excellent with seafood and fennel.
If you’ve ever imagined yourself sitting in a sprawling French café next to the likes of Picasso, Hemingway, and Edith Piaf in a scene torn from the pages of A Moveable Feast, this is your spot. Originally opened in 1836 by Alsatian transplant Georges Holfherr, this grande dame sits alongside Lyon’s old train station Perrache and features exquisite décor from the last two centuries. I found it because it’s a mere five minute stroll from the law faculty of the Catholic University of Lyon, where I teach as a guest professor in an executive course once a year. It’s a gorgeous space with substantial history, not all of which is readily discussed in polite company.
Unfortunately, I’ve only ever visited for one of the expansive lunches that the French are so well known for. The daily menu is exquisite and changes regularly. As to be expected, service is achieved with the crisp efficiency of a thoroughly professional staff who whisk away plates and crumbs, sliding into place the next course with the elegance of a well conducted orchestra. The food – all courses – are tip-top brasserie fare, with less reliance on the typical local delicacies of organ meat and offal that one encounters in the city’s legendary bouchons. That is, typically French, but not specifically Lyonnaise. Regardless, you can’t go wrong by following the chef’s daily suggestions in this bustling open space – perhaps the largest restaurant of its kind in Europe.
Now to the bit of history that Georges doesn’t advertise, with the caveat that this is all still under investigation. I was first told about this by a local who may or may not have been correct in pointing it out. With that disclaimer, one cannot help but notice the flooring tiles featuring one of the twentieth century’s most recognizable symbols: the swastika. As it was related to me, during the World War II the Germans first took the southern portion of Lyon, with the northern portion continuing to fight on for some time before falling. During that time, the German army favored Georges, using it as a beer house and social center. As with some parts of Europe, some evidence of the occupation survived the death of the “Butcher of Lyon.” Hence, what you might notice today if you have the misfortune, as I did, of dropping your salad fork.
Consider this a lovely, reliable spot to haul a group for a delicious and lively meal with an exuberant atmosphere – Lyon’s true specialty.
A very American wine – too much oak that obscures the grape and the terroir. Tastes like cherry vanilla ice cream. Yes, that’s crazy talk. Drops off at the end with cola flavors and a dark cocoa, chewy tobacco finish. Pleasant, but not my cup of tea. At this price point I probably won’t be buying this again – or anything from this group, but have a hard time waiving people off it. If you like this style of wine – heavily oaked obsessive single-grape varietal wine, you’ll enjoy this wine. I bought this for reasons that should be obvious and it reminds me of something Georges dos Santos of Antic Wines said to me the first time I met him regarding Washington wine: “it’s good that they like it.” Again, it’s a question of style and this just isn’t mine, regardless of the name.
Somehow both fresh and leathery on the nose. Ripe red and black fruits on the front end, flowing quickly into tannin-laden leather notes and a faint hint of violets. This is a young one, but a beauty. All those powerful notes, but still somehow manages to hold a medium body, feeling fresh and clean in the mouth. It went equally well with heavy Italian sausage as it did with lighter Portuguese seafood paté.