Shots Heard 'Round the World...
Since cocktails were born in America, you might assume that the United States cultivates the world's best bartenders. Wrong…sort of. At the Bacardi Martini Grand Prix, an international bartender competition that's been held annually for the past 40 years, an American has never won. Until now.
At this year's event, held under the direction of the International Bartenders Guild, two of America's top bartenders walked away with no fewer than six awards, including the coveted Best in Show trophy. Laurio Livio, a bartender from California, garnered a prize in the junior competition.
Sixty bartenders from 20 countries participated in this year's event, which took place June 6-8 at Cortijo Bacardi in Málaga, Spain. The drink jockeys competed in four events: Freestyle or Flair, which involves juggling liquor bottles, pyrotechnics and much fancy footwork; Paissa Prix, the junior competition; Millennium Cocktail, in which competitors had to make and present one original drink; and Fancy Cocktail, a competition in which each bartender had to make a drink of his or her own creation as well as a classic cocktail assigned by the judges. The latter two competitions are the most prestigious—and that's where our native sons showed the rest of the world a thing or two about mixology.
Tony Abou-Ganim, beverage specialist at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas, won the second-place award in the Millennium division, and third place for style and technique. Dale DeGroff, master mixologist and former beverage director at New York's Rainbow Room, took second place in the style and technique, and—drum roll, please—first place in the Fancy Cocktail division. Dale's fancy cocktail, the Old Flame, contains Bombay Gin, Martini & Rossi red vermouth, fresh orange juice and Martini Bitter (it's often hard to find in the U.S.—think Campari and you're on the right track). Dale's Old Flame was the drink that won the Best of Show award.
Let's hope that next year's competition sees more prizes for bartenders from the home of the cocktail.
Chablis Arrives in Napa Valley
Historic Partnership Releases First Vintage.
In what appears to be a first Franco-American joint Chardonnay venture, Burgundian winemaker Michel Laroche has teamed up with wine importer and Napa Valley vintner Anthony Terlato to create a wine called Michel Laroche at Rutherford Hill. Laroche owns some 300 acres of vines in Chablis, where Chardonnay is the grape of choice. Terlato, whose import business is based in Chicago, also owns Rutherford Hill and Chimney Rock wineries, both in Napa Valley.
Two years ago, at Terlato's invitation, Laroche came to California to give a winemaking seminar. "Afterwards, we were sitting around drinking Cognac and smoking cigars, when the idea to do this came up," Terlato recalled. "I was hoping we'd make a wine like Chablis."
"This is really a first step," Laroche said in June, during a tasting of the new wine which took place while he was visiting Napa Valley. "I'm satisfied with the results, although I wasn't sure we could get the right kind of quality when we started."
The wines of Chablis are known for their steely, mineral-like flavors and limited use of oak. Over the last 10 years, however, the French region has seen oak barrels used in winemaking more and more frequently.
Last June, the two vintners held a tasting to celebrate their first vintage: Michel Laroche at Rutherford Hill 1999 was tasted against Michel Laroche Chablis Premier Cru Les Vaillons Vielles Vignes 1999, and Chablis Grand Cru Les Blanchots 1999. All three of the wines were drinking well, and it was clear that the Napa Valley Chardonnay was up to the Burgundies in terms of quality. It demonstrated a remarkable synthesis of style, and incorporated both Burgundian and Californian flavors and textures.
Future plans call for budwood to be brought over from Laroche's Chablis vineyards and planted in California. Three more years will pass before wine can be made from these young transplants. Meanwhile, Laroche and Terlato will work with the Napa Valley grapes currently under their control.
Fortunately, the Franco-American duo is not in a hurry. "We just want to see what we can do," Terlato notes. Only 200 cases of Michel Laroche at Rutherford Hill were made in 1999. The wine will be available in select restaurants nationwide.
The Youngs and the Restless
California grape-grower extraordinaire is set to broaden his horizons
One of the most famous names in California grape-growing, Robert Young, has made the transition to wine producer with the release of the 1999 Robert Young Estate Winery Chardonnay, which is made from grapes grown in the famed Alexander Valley vineyard.
Since 1975, the family-owned Robert Young Vineyard has been a source of top Chardonnays for Chateau St. Jean, the Sonoma Valley winery that was a pioneer in vineyard-designated wines. Both St. Jean and its then-winemaker, Dick Arrowood, were launched to fame as a result of the lavish praise critics heaped on those early Chardonnays.
The vineyard also has been the source of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, White Riesling, Syrah and Merlot, for such wineries as Dry Creek Vineyard, Gallo, Sebastiani and Clos du Bois. But the Chardonnay, which occupies 130 acres of the vineyard's 317 planted acres, has always been its superstar. Winery president Fred Young, the 48-year-old son of Robert Young, who at 82 is still in good health, explains why his family decided, after two decades as growers, to become winemakers: "No one else [in the family] really wanted to get into the wine end, but I kind of wanted to. So I went to my two sisters, who aren't involved in the vineyard, and asked them if they'd be interested, and we all talked it over. And in 1995, I talked to Dick Arrowood, and told him we were thinking about it, and he said he'd help us. And we talked to our accountant, and he said mostly he advises people why they shouldn't get into making wine, but in our case, he said we should do it."
Young adds that being a producer and a grape supplier ensures that the family's next generation will have jobs, if they want them. "There wasn't really any room in the vineyard operation for them to get involved, but this opens up tons of opportunities to become winemakers, sales [associates], and so on." Arrowood made the '99 Chardonnay as consulting winemaker, but the Youngs recently hired a full-time winemaker, Kevin Warren, who formerly worked at Belvedere Winery. Arrowood says he will stay on as consulting winemaker if he's needed.
Fred's 49-year-old brother, Jim Young, who is vineyard manager, says he'll take the best fruit from the vineyard for Robert Young's wines. "We select which areas will be for our own production, those blocks that are the best, which have historically gone into the St. Jean bottlings." So rigorous is the selection that the crews will pick off individual grapes that have been sunburned or pecked by birds. The result is a massive, concentrated wine that Arrowood says is the best Robert Young Chardonnay he's ever made, as well as the first to undergo full malolactic fermentation.
Chateau St. Jean winemaker Steve Reeder says he "initially had concerns when [the Youngs] came to us and said they wanted to make their own [wine]. But when we sat down with them, and they explained what the intent of their brand was, in style, price, and quantity, those concerns were negated." Only 937 cases of the '99 Robert Young Chardonnay—which sells for $35—were produced. (The Chateau St. Jean bottling, of which 11,000 cases were produced, sells at a suggested retail price of $25.) Reeder says that St. Jean's volume of Robert Young Chardonnay will decrease by only 5 percent as a result of the loss of grapes.
One thousand cases of a new Robert Young red wine, Scion—a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc—will be released in September. Fred Young says that the family doesn't have plans to produce wines other than the Chardonnay and the Scion. But that doesn't mean the family is content. They recently purchased more than 100 acres of land in New York's Finger Lakes region, which will be developed in conjunction with Anthony Road Wine Company.
Hardys Plans To
Australian Winery to Use Old-Vine DNA to Prevent Counterfeit Bottlings
The hundred bucks or so that you spend on the newest vintages of Eileen Hardy Shiraz now comes with an insurance policy of sorts. BRL Hardy has announced that bottles of 1998 Eileen Hardy Shiraz will sport neck seals embedded with DNA taken from 125-year-old vines in McLaren Vale. Hardys put the DNA in light-reflecting ink that adorns its new tamperproof neck labels. Experts can use electronic scanners to measure the refraction of light from the ink or have the ink tested for the genetic materials to determine authenticity.
Sounds like great news for customers, right? Yes and no. This new technology will benefit those who buy Eileen Hardy Shiraz from auction houses, which will be able to conduct presale checks using the aforementioned techniques. Though Hardys will also conduct random checks of the Shiraz (of which they produce 3,000 to 6,000 cases per year) at retail stores, the DNA can't be seen by the naked eye. This means that retail customers have no way of ascertaining whether the bottles in front of them on the shelf are the Real McCoys before they buy them. Ah well, you can always take your chances—Hardys says that "individual customer enquiries will be investigated on request." That's a lot of special attention for your Ben Franklin.