ARE CORKS SCREWED?
Bonny Doon and APCOR seek closure on the cork-screwcap controversy
The bad blood brewing between APCOR, the quasi-governmental association of the Portuguese cork industry, and California winemaker Randall Grahm, founder and winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyards, boiled over in October, when Grahm sponsored bicoastal events in New York and San Francisco that he heralded as "celebrating the death of the cork."
Last July, Grahm released 80,000 cases of Bonny Doon's 2001 Big House Red and White wines sealed with Stelvin screwcaps. Grahm has vowed to use Stelvins on all of Bonny Doon's wines eventually. (The only other American winery to bottle premium wine in a screwcap has been PlumpJack, in Napa Valley.)
That was a shot across the bow to APCOR. Portugal supplies about 65 percent of the world's cork from its vast forests, and the cork industry is vital to the country's economy. Bonny Doon's defection was seen as a threat, coming as it did on the heels of similar decisions by Australian and New Zealand wineries to shun corks in favor of screwcaps.
APCOR has fought back vigorously. The organization claims that only 0.7 percent of corks are tainted by mold (the chief reason that winemakers like Grahm cite for shunning them), a figure disputed by many in the industry. The association even recently posted a speech by Prince Charles on its website in which the heir to the British throne defends the use of corks as closures.
Is the cork really dead?
Randall Grahm and APCOR's
Henrique Martins respond, in statements exclusive to Wine
Do you think that corks are on their way out?
Sound off at email@example.com.
In a widely circulated letter, Henrique Martins, APCOR's president, referred to Grahm's "death" events as a "publicity stunt," a description that Grahm does not dispute. "Of course it's a stunt! What do they think it is?"
"The Death of the Cork" events were fêtes at upscale restaurants in which the theme was black: black tie, black tablecloths, black coffins and black humor. Even the food was noir; the 11-course meal featured everything from seared black cod and squid pasta to blackened almonds and black lentils. At times, the scenes resembled something out of The Addams Family—more comedically macabre with a coffined Monsieur Thierry Bouchon ("bouchon" is French for "cork"), a life-size figure made entirely of cork, situated at the head of the banquet table.
In New York, Jancis Robinson delivered the cork's "eulogy" in remarks that were replayed via videotape in San Francisco. The audience at both events—mostly members of the media—seemed sympathetic to screwcaps, although consumers are said to be turned off by them. But that may be changing. Richard Poyol, general manager of Pechiney Cork & Seal of California, a division of the French-owned company that manufactures the Stelvin, said he has had conversations with wineries that are considering switching from cork to screwcaps. He would not name names, but said "it's a certainty" that in 2003, additional California wineries will be making the change.
They're probably waiting to see how Bonny Doon's Big House wines perform in the marketplace. Will consumers shun them? "This is a huge risk for us," Grahm concedes. "It must not fail."
For more information, visit www.deathof thecork.com.
Iron Curtain Closed Again
in DC Restaurant
Zola reminiscent of spy movies and Cold War
Remember the good ol' days of John Le Carré and George Smiley, Ian Fleming and James Bond, Len Deighton and Bernard Samson? The good ol' days of the Cold War when the enemy was an Evil Empire instead of a shadow in a cave, and the fate of nations hung on secrets whispered across greasy diner tables or over elegant cocktails at an embassy soirée?
That era of romantic espionage is recreated once more in Washington, D.C., with the International Spy Museum and its adja- cent restaurant, Zola. The restaurant, designed by the firm Adamstein and Demetriou, evokes the espionage motif with subtle visual puns such as spy portals in the intimate booths, coded letters flashed onto the entryway staircase by recessed lighting, and murals of shredded documents.
Chef Phillip Carroll's "straightforward American cuisine" provides a counterpoint to the intrigue of the Spy Museum and the restaurant's playful interior. A Tasso Ham Risotto, topped with spicy fried oysters and rimmed with a savory red pepper syrup, and a Chipotle Roasted Pork Loin highlight a menu rich in organic and regionally grown ingredients. And the chocolate fudge cake is worth defecting for.
The intrigue extends to the wine list as well. General manager Ralph Rosenberg has created three wine stations throughout the dining rooms that display the 11 white and eight red wines available by the glass. Diners not only see the bottles and the crystal glassware as they are led to their tables, but are "co-opted" by samples of Legacy Sauvignon Blanc from Transylvania, or Spy Valley Gewürztraminer from New Zealand. ("I put out an all-points-bulletin for any wine with 'Spy' in the name," Rosenberg says.)
And the global wine list—strong on Californian and antipodean offerings—hints of Cold War secrets, peppered as it is with wines from behind the old Iron Curtain, such as Hungarian Tokajis and Cabernet Sauvignon from Romania and Bulgaria. Rosenberg promises more wines from Eastern Europe as they become available in the U.S. The list offers 18 half bottles as well, which is about, well, 18 times more than most restaurants.
Zola, named for the French novelist Emile Zola, who wrote about the Dreyfus affair, also features specialty cocktails such as the "Spy-Tini," Estonian vodka and Mandarin orange brandy. Or you can go for a traditional Plymouth Gin martini the way Nick and Nora might have sipped it.
And yes, you can have it shaken, not stirred.
Zola, 800 F Street N.W., Washington, D.C., 20004. Tel.: 202/654-0999; www.zoladc.com. Metro: Gallery Place. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Chicago restaurateur attempts to fill the cavity in the dessert wine market
In his candy-striped shirt and tie, Jerry Suqi is a lot of things: a restaurateur, man-about-town, cosmetics maven, art collector and someone The New York Times described as "seemingly unaware of his own hyperbole." And, in September, he added wine educator to the list.
That's when the 34-year-old launched his newest Chicago hot spot, Sugar: a dessert bar. Sugar is a grown-up Candyland game come to life, where well-heeled sweet tooths sit on chocolate-bar benches, rest their wine bottles in buckets affixed to lollipop tables, and belly up to a giant honeycomb bar.
Imagine Willy Wonka on drugs and dressed in Versace, with textiles patterned after glucose seen under a microscope, and art depicting the sinister effects of sugar, such as dental decay and gluttony. Waitresses wear cotton-candy pink mini dresses and go-go boots (all the better to dance on the tables), while waiters kneel at private booths wearing Pucci-inspired shirts.
It is in this 4,000-square-foot adult-in-a-candy-store environment in Chicago's River North neighborhood that Suqi plans to change Americans' notions about dessert wines.
I have a penchant for desserts and dessert wines, and I wanted to expose the glory of these wines," Suqi says. "These are the most underappreciated wines. Muscat was possibly the first grape used for wine and Europeans have loved dessert wines for hundreds of years. But Americans are always in a hurry to go. They don't sit and enjoy the best part."
Suqi planned Sugar to allow just that, and only that. The 19-page menu features only desserts, wines and spirits. With Suqi, executive chef Christine McCabe Tentori, an alumna of Charlie Trotter's, developed a menu that pairs decadent sweets with specific suggestions for postprandial drinks. With a chocolate pavlova and caramel banana pudding (Banana Karenina, $15) diners are directed to the Don PX 2000 Bodegas Toro d'Albala, from Spain ($9/glass; $40/bottle). Suggested with the tasting course of sorbets and ice creams (Through the Looking Glace, $12) is Inniskillin's 1999 Riesling icewine ($25/glass; $145/bottle).
The fact that dessert wines don't share uniformity in grapes or terminology like other wines is one of the educational stumbling blocks Suqi faces. "A Cabernet Sauvignon is the same wherever it is from. Dessert wines are particular to the region, and so we want our staff to really know their stuff," he says, adding that his environment is ripe for such efforts.
Suqi likens the experience of tasting wine at many fine dining restaurants to "receiving the Eucharist. I want people to feel not frightened by this wine list, but able to explore, make their way through the wine list with a guide who's kind." Sugar's staff is trained and tested weekly by a sommelier who is able to explain ice wines, late-harvest grapes, "the arduous process and art form of making dessert wine," use of the entire vine and other peculiarities of the libation.
Even Suqi has been surprised by how quickly both customers and distributors took to the idea of stocking a cellar full of dessert wines. "The suppliers have been enthusiastic. They've been sitting on these wines that would not sell because there has not been an outlet for them."
Sugar: a dessert bar, 108 W. Kinzie, Chicago, Illinois. Tel: 312/822-9999.