Sassicaia fraud brings high
technology to wine authenticity.
"A nice bottle of Sassicaia 1994, sir? Going cheap." It's not an offer you're likely to hear every day, but it is one that raised the suspicions of police in Italy last Christmas. Following a lead, they raided a warehouse in Naples and found 20,000 bottles of fake Tenuta San Guido 1994 Sassicaia. Twelve people were arrested.
In response to this and previous frauds (the last was in 2000), Sassicaia's owner, Marchese Nicolò Incisa della Rocchetta, has redesigned his bottles. For the 2000 vintage, "Tenuta San Guido" is now embossed in the glass.
However, that may not be enough of a safeguard. Such is the demand for his wine (the 1999 vintage currently retails for $240, when you can find it) that Marchese Incisa is considering taking the extra precaution of introducing a microchip as part of the label.
Marchese Incisa's dilemma is just the latest in a long line of attempts by owners of prestigious wine labels trying to prevent fraud. At Château Pétrus, "we have been taking precautions with the bottles since 1996," says Frédéric Lospied of the chateau's owners, J-P Moueix, "but we are very discreet about it, as you can understand."
At Champagne Louis Roederer, each bottle of Cristal is given an individual code number, which is only readable using special equipment. The number allows an owner to check the history of each bottle.
Scotland's Scotch Whisky Research Institute has created a neural computer network that can tell whether a whisky is genuine or fake. A network recognizes the five main flavor components of whisky blends to determine the authenticity of the liquid.
DNA testing, widely used to identify criminals, has also arrived for wine fraud prevention. Australia's BRL Hardy is impregnating the neck labels of its top price Eileen Hardy Shiraz with DNA of Shiraz from the McLaren Vale vineyard that provides the grapes for the wine. The ink can then be detected by electronic scanning, or the DNA itself can be identified.
"The requirements for brand protection are constantly increasing in the wine industry," said Ron Taylor, managing director of Brand Integrity International in Australia. "We have been looking at in-product DNA testing and hidden track and trace information at the nano level being included on the labels or bottle."
None of these precautions will stop wine fraud. Richard Puddephatt, director of brand protection for Allied Domecq, has estimated that fakes may account for as much as 8 percent of goods of all kinds, including alcoholic drinks. As Lospied said, "in Asia, particularly China, fraud like this is not artisanal any more, it's industrial. It goes on night and day." So next time you get an offer of a rare wine from somebody you're not sure about, make it the offer you can refuse.
Zinfandel Aficionados Flock to Annual
ZAP Event in San Francisco
At 10:30 a.m. last January 24, lines of Zinfandel fans stretched for several hundred yards outside the two massive hangars where 275 Zinfandel producers were pouring tastes of their wine for the 13th annual Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) festival. It was the third day in a series of events that attracted some 10,000 patrons. The first ZAP, back in 1992, featured 22 wineries. Now there are 320 winery members and 6,000 consumer members.
With big winery names like Rosenblum, Hartford, Seghesio, Ravenswood and Turley, plus smaller, boutique operations such as S.E. Chase, Benessere, Carlisle and Tres Sabores—and just about everyone else who makes this spicy, vivacious red wine—the tasting served up the world's most varied Zinfandels ever.
Oregon winemaker Peter Rosback poured his Sineann Zinfandel, made from the only old-vine Zinfandel vineyard in Oregon. The 6-acre vineyard was planted 100 years ago 20 miles from the town of Hood River, now best known as the West Coast capital of windsurfing.
"I made my first Zin in 1987," Rosback recalled. "It was inspired by a Hood River Vineyard Zinfandel made in 1985." The vineyard was subsequently abandoned, but it was later purchased, retrained and nurtured back to life. Not surprisingly, the wine showed a similar pedigree to other top-notch old vine Zins being poured from California.
Those who missed this year's ZAP event may be able to catch April events in Kansas City, St. Louis, Denver and Houston. For more information, go to www.zinfandel.org.
Director of winemaking at Cline Cellars
So you wanna be a winemaker?
Talk to this guy.
Charlie Tsegeletos is director of winemaking at Cline Cellars. Before that, the 47-year old U.C. Davis graduate worked for 15 years at Glen Ellen, the producer of inexpensive fighting varietals. On a beautiful Sonoma Valley evening before harvest, we dished about winemaker stuff.
Wine Enthusiast: Was it frustrating to work at Glen Ellen, a winery that turns out supermarket wine?
Charlie Tsegeletos: I think the frustration was when you'd have a wine lot that really stood out, and I had to blend [the parcels] in my program. It was also a little frustrating because, in that $5 range, people consider it to be a lower-quality wine. But I was always happy to talk to people who had a bottle of wine that I made in their refrigerators!
WE: You liked that job, and current job. But what would make a winemaker hate his job?
CT: If you're just churning out wine in a mill. If you're unrecognized, and just a nameless, faceless winemaker, that would be very frustrating.
WE: Do winemakers change jobs a lot?
CT: Yes. I've worked for five wineries, and just about every winemaker I know also has. We've been called the last of the nomadic people, in the sense that we've all had so many jobs. But that's how you learn.
WE: How does a winemaker know who's hiring?
CT: There's a grapevine, so to speak. For instance, I was contacted when the winemaker [at Cline] was going. I happened to know someone who worked here.
WE: Do some winemakers put feelers out if they're interested in a new position? How does that work?
CT: You bet. If someone's unhappy and they're starting to sniff around, there are lots of people you can talk to and say, "What have you heard? Is anybody looking?"
WE: Do some wineries have reputations for being difficult places to work?
CT: I'm not naming names! But I'm sure you could think of a few.
WE: What's the worst part about being a winemaker?
CT: I won't have a weekend off for the next three months [because of harvest].
WE: What's the best part about being a winemaker?
CT: Coming up with that finished blend. Siting down and having all the bits and pieces in front of you and physically doing that blend.
WE: What if your boss doesn't like it?
CT: Well, then I have to explain to him what I'm trying to accomplish. Some people don't like Gewürztraminer, but if you made a really superb Gewürz, and you know people out there are gonna love it, then you say, "Come on, buddy, get on board."
WE: Would you encourage your kids to be winemakers?
CT: Oh, yeah. I'm always around people who enjoy good wine and food, and you're always in places that have grapevines and are absolutely gorgeous.
WE: They say it takes a lot of beer to make good wine.
CT: True! Except you have to be careful not to fall into the crusher-stemmer.
Destinations: Rome's Enoteche
Hail wine bar! The number of Rome's wine bars, or enoteche, has gotten so high that there's a five-year moratorium on opening new enoteche in Rome's historic center. At last count, there were more than 3,000 within the city's limits.
Wine bars here are all enoteche, which means wine is also sold to take away. All enoteche have one thing in common: the owners are extremely knowledgeable and passionate about wine and wine trends; expect them to be kind and gracious. Experience Italy's hedonism for yourself, as you traipse and taste your way through the ruins. Salute!
L'Angolo Divino (Via dei Balestrari, 12; Tel.: 06-6864413) is just a couple blocks in from the overly trendy Campo de' Fiori area. It's one of the best wine bars in the 'hood, and has been family-run since 1946. It's low-key and casual; you can sip and study the encyclopedic catalogue of wine while conversing with the owner, Massimo. The wine list is heavy on Piedmont and super Tuscan wines, and runs the gamut from Proseccos to Champagnes, but Massimo (as you'll find out after five minutes) is most enthusiastic about biodynamic wines.
Cul de Sac (Piazza del Pasquino, 73, Tel. : 06-68801094) is steps away from Piazza Navona. Watch your waiter fish for a wine bottle from the shelves, then reel it in with a long pole. It's run by the Saffioti and Tamba families and frequented by professionals, celebs and beautiful people. CDS's five-pound wine book is as big as the Old Testament. The bar also offers a seductive selection of patés, salads and pastas.
Del Frate (Via degli Scipioni, 118 ; Tel.: 06-236437) is casual, yes, but high-power clientele gather here for high-end choices; there are over 1,000 selections on the list. A stone's throw from Saint Pete's, this fashionable wine bar is run by Fabio and Dina Del Frate. The atmosphere is all amore, with candles, lulling music and tasty sfood.
At R&D Auditorium (Parco della Musica, Viale P. de Coubertin, 30; Tel.: 06-80691630), you have just entered…the Italian zone. Next to Rome's futuristic new music auditorium in the Parioli area is the beyond-hip concept eatery R&D, short for "Restaurant & Design." Order either designer décor (al dente on those Enrico Franzolini chairs, darling!) or a 1997 Sassicaia from the swank menu. Slouch in deep red upholstery, experience beautiful food, and drink. R&D also offers wine classes.
Enoteca Trastevere (Via della Lungaretta, 86; Tel.: 06-5885659) is almost always packed, and with good reason. Located in one of Rome's most popular neighborhoods, the cozy wine bar, with its dark wood-paneled walls and tables, feels like home. Since 1993, owner-sommelier Signora Etta is on site each day ready to help customers choose from more than 900 selections.
At Marco & Giancarlo (Via Monte della Farina, 38; Tel.: 06-68806989) expect nothing fancy—it's no frills, fun and close to Campo de' Fiori. This bare-bones vineria champions Italy's most traditional wines, particularly those from Southern Italy. Sit alfresco, soak up and sip selections from the 280-bottle wine list. "We don't care for vini facili, barriqued wines, or trendy wines—only the wines we like," Marco Maccione said.
L'Oasi della Birra (Piazza di Testaccio, 38/42; Tel.: 06-5746112) is a laid-back institution in the heart of Testaccio, one of Rome's last "Roman" neighborhoods. The upstairs enoteca has over 1,500 wines from which to choose. Unusual for Rome are the 500 beer offerings served on the Bavarian-styled lower level. Go here for typical German dishes, Val d'Osta specialties (including 170 cheeses), and a splendid array of lardi.
Le Doggy Bag is new French chic
Bordelais take wine to go
If you don't finish your delicious—and expensive—croustille de foie gras de canard, a French restaurant will have no sympathy, and no doggy bag. But if you don't manage to drain the last glass of your 1982 Château Latour, fear not. Now, in many restaurants across France, the sommelier will produce a stopper and a smart bag, and you will be able to take the half-drunk bottle away with you.
Promoted by both the Alsace and Bordeaux wine produces organizations, the idea of "le doggy bag" for wine has arrived. The initiatives have been spurred by the French government's efforts to promote greater road safety through anti-drunk driving campaigns. The upper blood-alcohol limit is now .05 percent, lower than it is in the U.S., and les flics—the traffic cops—are out all over the country to enforce it.
The result has been what France's restaurants regard as a disastrous 23 percent drop in wine consumption away from home in the past year, and an equally impressive 17.5 percent drop in traffic accidents, in 2003.
In response, the Alsace wine promotion organization, the CIVA, teamed up with one of the biggest restaurant wine distributors, CEB, to offer doggy bags for clients ordering Alsacian wine in restaurants.
It's been a big success, according to CIVA Marketing Manager Richard Kannemacher, who says that the organization has "put together 400 kits for restaurants, and we had over 1,000 orders. It's definitely a scheme we will continue right through 2004."
At the same time, the Bordeaux Wine Council signed up over 700 restaurants around France (mainly in Bordeaux and Paris) to offer the "Bordeaux Bag," a smart holder for bottles of unfinished wine. It appeals to the designer-chic craving among the French.
"While the national trend on restaurant wine sales has been down, we've seen our sales increase by 30 percent because of doggy bags," said Manuel de Motta, who buys wine for the 300-seat Chai 33 in the Bercy district of Paris. "It's helped push up the average price of a bottle of wine, because customers are more willing to order an expensive bottle, knowing they can take it away if they don't finish it."
While doggy bags remain the favored way of stimulating wine sales, Richard Kannemacher notes another side effect of the clampdown on drunk driving. "We've seen sales of wine by the glass explode," he says, "and what is encouraging is that the range of quality of wines by the glass has also really gone up."
Maybe you can't really afford that bottle of Latour 1982, even if you don't have to finish it in one sitting. There will soon be a day when you can just have a glass, and a great and affordable French restaurant memory.
White Wine, Deconstructed Strange, yes. but at Chef
José Ramón Andrés's Minibar, it's probably the most normal thing on the menu.
José Ramón Andrés is a chef who thinks backwards. Devising a new creation for Minibar, his six-seat restaurant-within-a-restaurant in Washington, D.C., Andrés is likely to begin with a familiar classic and "deconstruct" it into its essential ingredients. These are then reconfigured and combined in new ways designed to intensify the flavors, excite the palate and intrigue the mind.
Take his "deconstructed glass of white wine," for example. A component tasting on a plate, white grapes are puréed and left to ferment overnight, then made into an aspic. Andrés rings a plate of this gelatin with morsels of 12 ingredients that contribute flavors to various white wines. These range in depth from neutral fresh grapes to complex vanilla bean, with a variety of flavors—passion fruit, lychee, pomegranate seed or fig, for example—in between. Diners are encouraged to taste one element at a time along with a bit of the gelatin to experience how the flavor contributes to wine.
"This is white wine from the chef's perspective," Andrés explains, adding that he hopes diners will recall the dish when they encounter similar flavors in future wine tastings.
"The idea is to be very open to wine, without being afraid of saying or thinking the wrong thing about it," he says. "When someone says they taste lychee in a Gewürztraminer, they mean they taste some exotic fruit that they experienced at some time in their lives. The idea of the deconstructed white wine is to trigger those memories, but also to give people a reference point for flavors they may not have been able to identify before."
Andrés readily admits the dish "will never be finished. The flavors that come out of white wine for me are unlimited, because as I experience more wines I expect to discover additional flavors to showcase."
At 34, the Spanish-born Andrés gives the impression of a chef who would be at the top of his game, if he could only settle down long enough to decide what that game is. Winner of the James Beard Award in 2003 for Best Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region, he is executive chef and part-owner of three of the capital area's favorite restaurants: Jaleo (Spanish tapas); Zaytinya (Eastern Mediterranean mezze); and Café Atlántico (Latin American cuisine). A second Jaleo opened in 2002 in Bethesda, Maryland, with a third in the works for Arlington, Virginia, plus a Mexican restaurant.
Andrés opened Minibar late last summer in the mezzanine level of Café Atlántico, in Washington's trendy Penn Quarter neighborhood. At Atlántico, he offers a cuisine based less on Mediterranean comfort food and more on the inspiration of his mentor, the celebrated Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. (Andrés works two weeks each summer in the kitchen of Adrià's El Bulli restaurant.) It's a cuisine that uses texture as flavor and highlights familiar ingredients in unfamiliar combinations to jar diners out of their preconceptions.
Five nights a week, two seatings of six diners each are treated to a culinary roller-coaster ride, as a pair of chefs led by Andrés and the restaurant's head chef, Katsuya Fukushima, spin out a total of 34 small dishes designed to dazzle and challenge the palate. Not all are easily likable; the "chocolate truffle" with liquid foie gras filling seems to have a love-it-or-hate-it quality, and the minimalist "mojito," three squirts from an aerosolizer that give the flavors of lime, rum and mint, might leave you thirsty for a real drink. But the Minibar has quickly become the most sought-after reservation in the nation's capital.
"Combining ingredients in a manner that accentuates their essential flavors is much more interesting to me than putting everything in a cocktail and shaking it up," says Andrés.
Deconstructed White Wine
For the grape gelée:
2 pounds seedless white grapes
Â¾ cup water
Â½ teaspoon lemon juice
3 sheets gelatin
3 grapes, halved
Vanilla seeds scraped from a bean
Passion fruit, or a reduction of its juice
Fresh mint, preferably small inner leaves
Dried figs, diced
Grapefruit segments, sliced
3 lychee nuts, fresh or canned, halved
To prepare the grape gelée:
Stem and rinse the grapes, then freeze them completely. Purée the frozen grapes in a blender with the water and lemon juice; strain and refrigerate overnight, covered.
The next day, place six shallow dishes in the refrigerator to chill. Soften the gelatin leaves in cold water while heating 1/3 cup of the grape purée to a simmer. Squeeze the water from the gelatin leaves and add them to the hot liquid; stir until gelatin is melted. Combine with the remaining grape juice and chill for 5 minutes.
Remove the plates and the gelée from the refrigerator. Pour some of the gelée onto each plate, then chill them again for two hours in the refrigerator.
To serve, arrange flavor components around the edge of the gelée, as if they were hours on a clock. Serve immediately.
Note: Alternatively, the grape gelée can be made using 2 cups of a neutral wine (one that is not noticeably oaky or flowery), such as Muscadet. Soften 3 sheets of gelatin in cold water. Bring 2/3 cup of the wine to a boil; squeeze the water from the gelatin, then add the gelatin to the hot wine and stir until it melts. Add the remaining wine and chill for 15 minutes. Serves 6.
It's not enough, it seems, for Wine Enthusiast contributor Stephen Beaumont to just write about beer. Last winter, Beaumont, along with co-founder Brian Morin, opened Toronto's beerbistro, a beer-cuisine restaurant where lager finds its way into cheddar fondue ($12.50), and salmon is marinated in Unibroue's Blanche de Chambly and served with beer pancakes ($11.50). Now Beaumont has invented a few beer cocktails to throw back with the brewski-infused vittles. (One to try at home: the Bourbon Black & Tan, composed of five ounces each St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout and Black Oak Nut Brown Ale, plus one ounce of Maker's Mark.) What's Beaumont's next move—a reality show broadcast from a weissbier-filled Jacuzzi?
beerbistro, 18 King Street, East, Toronto, Ontario. Tel.: 416/861-8242.