The 12th annual Hospice du Rhône has come and gone, and as usual, the world’s biggest celebration of Rhône-style varieties showcased memorable wines and prompted noteworthy quips.
Held at the local fairground in Paso Robles, the event’s theme this year was "Pour it again, Sam." There were three days and nights of bowling, educational seminars, grand tastings of library, barrel-sample and current-release wines, tons of good food, a charity auction, and the usual HdR silliness. In a spoof entitled "Pink Eye for the Wine Guy," a "Fab Four" of local winemakers converted veteran vintner Chuck Ortman into a "pinkie" (in this case, a rosé lover) after—or so the skit goes—he orders a Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon with mussels at a chichi restaurant.
There was lots of buzz about Mourvèdre. Barossa Valley’s Rolf Binder, of Veritas and Rolf Binder Wines, asked, "What would Mourvèdre wear? A ballroom gown, beret, bomber jacket, Wonder Bra and cufflinks." Domaine Tempier winemaker Daniel Ravier commented that "Mourvèdre is better in Bandol," where Domaine Tempier is located, "than in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Sometimes Mourvèdre is really stinky because it can be a reductive grape, but I like stinky."
Still in all, at HdR, enthusiasm for Syrah remains center stage. Christophe Baron, winemaker at Washington’s Cayuse Vineyards, said that he "decided to make wine in Washington State, not France, after I visited [Washington]. I grabbed a rock the size of a baseball that reminded me of Châteauneuf, jumped up and down, and said, ‘That’s it! I’m staying in Walla Walla!’"
But as the saying goes, it takes a lot of beer to make good wine, as John Alban, HdR’s co-director, was quick to acknowledge. "I know many of you didn’t get to ask your questions of the winemakers at the seminars," he said. "For the remainder of the day, they can all be found over by the Budweiser truck."
Destination: phnom penh, cambodia
The air of old indochine returns, with a resurgence of french and khmer cultures.
Peppered with commodious French Colonial mansions, and dotted with two-wheeled food stalls stuffed with bushels of baguettes, Phnom Penh has the air of old Indochine. Now that Cambodian politics are stable, the telephones work, transport is efficient and amenities can be as luxurious as they were in the country’s colonial heyday. Happily, meal prices remain at pre Jet Age levels: Local specialties such as curry-like Amok Chicken hover around $3, and a three-course menu at an elegant restaurant can be as low as $10.
This is an exhilarating time to visit as Phnom Penh is just now recapturing its French/Asian identity after decades of war, and locals are opening soignée dining spots that combine classic European techniques with indigenous ingredients such as banana buds and fried morning glory. Diplomats flock to Topaz for its 10,000-bottle wine cellar and luxury dishes like foie gras terrine and Charolais beef flown in from France, while the year old K-West has a more bohemian atmosphere with chill-out music straight from the Paris clubs and a mostly French wine list. The multicultural menu ranges from cheeseburgers to Nasi Goering to Australian steaks. (Topaz Café Restaurant, 100 Sothearos Boulevard; tel.: 855 23 211 054. K-West, 1 St. 154 Sisowath Quay; tel.: 855 23 21 47 47)
Adjacent to K-West overlooking the riverfront promenade is the new Amanjaya Pancam boutique hotel. Its expansive accommodations have polished rosewood floors, shimmering silk curtains and hand-hewn bathtubs. Room prices are surprisingly modest; a private Champagne dinner for two served by a butler on your candlelit terrace is an affordable indulgence. In the center of town, the modernist InterContinental Phnom Penh has the mid-century flair of a Graham Greene novel. The Deco-era Raffles Hotel Le Royal is a spectacular blend of Khmer and French Colonial style with its soaring staircases and ebony furnishings inlaid with mother of pearl. (Amanjaya Pancam Hotel, 1 Street 154, Sisowath Quay; tel.: 855 23 21 47 47. InterContinental Phnom Penh, Blvd. Mao Tse Toung; tel.: 855 23 424. Raffles Hotel Le Royal, 92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh Sangkat Wat Phnom; tel.: 800 637 9477)
In their revived passion for Western culture, Cambodians are rediscovering wine. While French reds from well-known regions are still the most popular selections, intriguing Australian vintages also fill out the wine lists. The city’s first wine bar, Rubie’s, located on a strip of popular Euro-centric bars and bistros along Street 240, carries only New World bottles. Another social center for expats is the venerable Foreign Correspondents’ Club, better known as the FCC, perched on the second floor of a French Colonial waterfront building. Here a crowd of upwardly mobile 30-somethings lean into the river breeze with a local Ankgor beer in hand, conjuring days of W. Somerset Maugham. (Rubie’s, 13 Street 240; tel.: 855 012 823 962. Foreign Correspondents’ Club, 363 Sisowath Quay; tel.: 023 724 014)
The city’s best entertainment is still the Russian Market, where stalls are jammed with curios and old silver, and lustrous silk scarves sell for a song. If you don’t mind grey market goods, there are Gap-labeled T-shirts improbably emblazoned with the Belgian comic strip hero Tin Tin for less than $2 each.
A 40-minute flight from Phnom Penh, near the old country town of Siem Reap, is a corner of ancient Asia that political turmoil has hidden from Westerners for two generations: The 1,000 year old Ankgor complex, 230 square kilometers of lavishly carved temples and gracious courtyards created by the Khmer civilization. Two luxury hotels have recently opened at the edge of this UNESCO World Heritage Site: The 1928 Raffles Grand Hotel d’Ankgor has evocative colonial era décor, including a working timber and wrought-iron cage elevator from 1929. The newly built French Sofitel Royal Ankgor feels right out of a Khmer village, with its red tiled roofs and lush tropical gardens. The sophisticated spa is so reasonably priced—one-hour massages start at $25—that you can spend all day in the flower-scented outdoor VIP pavilion without breaking the bank. (Raffles Grand Hotel d’Ankgor, 1 Vithei Charles de Gaulle, Khum Svay Dang Kum; tel.: 800 637 9477. Sofitel Royal Ankgor, Vithei Charles de Gaulle, Khum Svay Dang Kum, Siem Reap; tel.: 800 221 4542)
Beyond Cambodia’s captivating sights and enchanting cuisine, it is the patina of traditional Khmer culture, where a guest is greeted with an elegant bow and hands pressed together as if in prayer, which allows the visitor to feel as though they are not just in a distant place, but have entered another age. —Janet Forman
FOR MORE NEWS AND NOTES FROM THE WORLD OF WINE, SEE THIS MONTH’S ISSUE OF WINE ENTHUSIAST
Frank Gehry’s Vodka Vision
In Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s April 2004 issue, we highlighted the recent fad in hip and interesting vodka packaging, but now the trend is getting even more exciting. Frank Gehry, the master architect responsible for such marvels as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, has parlayed his vision of the perfect spirits package: a superpremium Polish vodka encased in a spectacular bottle.
Wyborowa (pronounced vee-BROH-vah) Single Estate, a pure rye vodka, debuted exclusively in the U.S. Market this spring. "We knew that [Gehry] could craft a bottle that truly reflected the extraordinary vodka inside," said brand director Jeff Agdern. Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, the vodka is available in selected markets, and will be available nationally in 2005.
Grand Krewe Wine fanatics, cork dorks hit New Orleans Wine & Food Experience
How many of you were here last year?" one winemaker asked 60 or so attendants of a seminar at the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, held at various French Quarter locations over Memorial Day weekend.
Almost everyone in the room raised his or her hand, a testament to the event’s retention rate. Once you get sucked in, it seems, you just can’t stay away. And really, why would you?
Now in its 13th year, the festival (called by its acronym, NOWFE) drew a mostly Southern crowd, but its participating winemakers and representatives (among them, David Mirassou and Michael Martini) came from greater distances. The festivities began on Wednesday night, with over 30 vintner dinners at local restaurants, ranging in size from an "intimate" 50-cover meal at Morton’s to 100-plus folks at Galatoire’s. A bevy of seminars followed over the next three days. During one time slot, participants had to choose between The Australian Premium Wine Collection’s John Larchet’s quips on "rogue" wines, and an all-star Cabernet tasting featuring such wines as Cornerstone Cellars, Miner, Azalea Springs and Napa’s new collectible wine, 13 Appellations. The latter, which culls a ton of grapes from vineyards in each Napa Valley AVA (and will suffer an identity crisis with a 14th Napa subappellation pending) is "the first project that I know of that brings the Valley together," said one Napa vintner.
Thursday evening’s Royal Street Stroll was, as always, a NOWFE highlight. Close to 50 antique shops and galleries opened their doors to wineries, including Stags’ Leap, Pezzi King and Terra Valentine, who poured bottles of their newest vintages for browsing customers. Meanwhile, 80 members of The Krewe of Cork paraded down Royal Street in velvety, cork- and grape-laden finery, behind a local jazz band and krewe King and Bistro at Maison de Ville Master of Ceremonies Patrick Van Hoorebeek. One "cork dork," as some Krewe members call themselves, dressed as a bottle of Fat Bastard Shiraz. His parade dates? A couple of tall, cool drinks wearing "Skinny Bitch" labels.
The lines for the vittles at Friday and Saturday’s Grand Tastings were even longer than those for the wines. Mr. B’s Seared Scallops in Truffle Oil were worth the wait in line; the Gumbo Shop doled out what many locals say is among the city’s best gumbos.
With so many gourmands in town, New Orleans’ top restaurants were booked solid. At Chef Susan Spicer’s Bayona, The Crossings’ general manager, Peter Rickards, was in from New Zealand, talking up the winery’s NOWFE gold medal-winning Sauvignon Blanc; at Bistro at Maison de Ville, Fetzer Winemaker Nancy Walker and Brown-Forman’s Pat Patterson were celebrating a Best of Show award for Fetzer’s 2002 Bien Nacido Reserve Pinot Noir. At Peristyle, patrons were elbow to elbow, getting their last meals from Chef Ann Kearney Sand in before Sunday, when the restaurant’s new owner, Chef Tom Wolfe, formally took the reins.
"We’re going to try to have a good time," former NOWFE president Tim McNally said before the festivities had gotten under way. "At least, we’re going to work at it real hard." It was clear that McNally and his own krewe invested much effort in the extravaganza, from the seminars to Sunday’s farewell Bubbles and Brunch. But it was no work at all for the weekend’s estimated 12,500 ticket holders to enjoy themselves, N’Awlins style.
An Offer Enophiles Can’t Refuse Sicilian company releases "Anti-Mafia" wine
The group of Sicilian farmers who brought Italy anti-Mafia pasta, made from wheat grown on land confiscated from mob bosses, is now releasing its first vintage of anti-Mafia wine. Some 30,000 bottles of the white IGT wine made of 100 percent Cataratto —a grape native to the island—were bottled in April and represent a symbolic victory over organized crime.
Italy adopted laws allowing authorities to seize property from the Mafia in 1986. Among the various parcels were 35 hectares of vineyards that previously belonged to various crime syndicates and the "boss of all bosses," Toto Riina. Riina is currently serving multiple life sentences for crimes including ordering the bombings that killed two prominent anti-Mafia magistrates in 1992.
The vineyards, located near San Giuseppe Jato, were handed over to the Terra Libera ("Free Land") association headed by Gianluca Faraone. "We are now replanting 16 hectares of vine because they were burned and destroyed in retaliation by the same people we got the land from," he says.
The white wine is named "Placido," after Placido Rizzotto, a labor leader from Corleone who was murdered by the mob in 1948. The wine is the latest in a line of Libera food products that includes pasta, dried legumes and melons. An offshoot association sells olive oil. Faraone hired consulting enologists to make the wine and hopes to release more kinds in the future, "as long as they are made from indigenous Sicilian grapes," he says.