by Jonathan Russo
on May 18, 2010
in Book Reviews
The Authenticity Hoax is the most infuriating of all reads. The reader suspects that author Andrew Potter is either fundamentally cranky and unhappy, a boorish contrarian or clever at coming up with a manuscript that will be published by Rupert Murdock (Harper) and reviewed by him as well (Wall Street Journal).
This book is the latest diatribe from the conservative right, attacking anyone who doesn’t want to shop in the sterilized world of malls, vacation at Disneyland or, as specifically obsessed about in this book, eat tasteless, industrial junk food manufactured by chemical companies. Like the small band of readers in Fahrenheit 451, Potter thinks these “status seekers and phonies” need to be herded back on to the corporate industrial reservation.
Here’s where Potter is correct: we do romanticize and fantasize the past. We spend too much time in front of the idiot box instead of reading Spengler and Gibbon, we do not understand the hardships and miseries of our ancestors. As someone who loves history, I know that today is as good as it gets in terms of prosperity, health and social fluidity. Although Mr. Potter seems nostalgic for a time of “faith and authority,” few of us would trade the modern world for “faith” in the 14 century Borgia church or the “authority” of Hernando Cortez. According to Mr. Potter we have left behind the proscribed path and have ventured onto our own personal highway of authenticity.
Along the reading way, there are swipes at repressive countries and the authenticity seekers who support them as long as they are pre-modern. I guess he is taking on Cuba and Nicaragua. I would agree, but how many of us are trying to get to the latter for some homemade kimche?
The Authenticity Hoax takes off its gloves when it comes to Al Gore, Prince Charles, and James Howard Kunstler. Here, lock step with the Murdock goon squad on Fox News, Mr. Potter accuses them of “a dopey nostalgia for a non-existent past, a one-sided suspicion of the modern world…” I don’t think so.
In an Orwellian turn, Mr. Potter takes these people who want us to live better, fuller lives in nicer surroundings and makes that anti-progressive. He implies the great leap forward in material progress was probably the 50’s. Levittown and CBS, Robert Moses and the bomb. Yet I can’t think of a more culturally sterile time. Racial, sexual and intellectual repression was at an all time high. As Maslow posited and the author points out, humans want safety and security while living in a technologically progressive world. But, once these needs are met, people also seek a parallel transformation of their spirit.
Mr. Potter thinks the search for organic, local, and artisnal food is equivalent to participation in a high school clique, comprised of an elite group who continually sends out messages designed to exclude others who can’t afford to catch on. He characterizes the historical search for flavor, taste and quality as “conspicuous authenticity.” What would he have thought of Europe’s centuries-long quest for spices? Would that desire for better flavor and taste be an elitist hoax? You get the idea. Mr. Potter hates raw-milk cheeses, grass-fed beef and heirloom squash. These are all signs of the cult of Jean-Jacques Rousseau fanatics who, by denying modernity, are deviant.
Mr. Potter, this is progress. This is building on the blessings of science and taking it one step more into the world of the senses, of quality, of essence. The real phony in this drama is the fake food flavors of the commodity food world. What you seem to think is progress is actually the opposite. Your standardized, genetically distorted, pesticide ridden, hormone infused, flavorless, factory-processed food manufactured by agri-business monopolists may be “NEW!” but it’s not progress. These ‘evildoers’ are but a distraction on the path to authenticity.
Stalinists too believed in progress and their architecture reflected that. Lionizing a farmer or butcher or cheese monger is not being party to “a debased political culture dominated by negative advertising” but part of an ennobling process our Jeffersonian ancestors would have understood.
Yes, there may be food snobs who don’t want to see Wal-Mart go organic, but they remain a tiny minority. The rest of us would like to build on science to create a food supply that rewards those who bring us flavorful, ethically made, healthy food and drink.
Sounds to me like the opposite of a hoax.
THE AUTHENTICITY HOAX: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves
By Andrew Potter
(Harper, 296 pages, $25.99)
by Jonathan Russo
on Mar 8, 2010
New York’s Long Island breaks into two at Riverhead, some 80 miles from Manhattan. The South Fork encompasses the Hamptons, with its super-fabulous lifestyle astride the magnificent beaches of the Atlantic Ocean. The North Fork has always been quieter, more agricultural, with its bay front coves and more easy-going people. In the last decade, the North Fork has also become home to vineyards and wineries. Route 25 is a mini Napa. Limos fill large parking lots and take the tasting hordes into impressive wineries. Some have odd architectural characteristics like Spanish Mission style – in a region that never had a Spanish presence.
As the area’s popularity has grown, the quality of its wines has improved. The early wines were a homemade affair. As more money flowed in, and the rich and famous became winery owners, the talent pool of growers and winemakers gained depth. Good quality Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are now being made. Experiments with Gewurztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc are also taking place. Sadly, there is little or no concern for the environment or sustainable wine making. This is more unfortunate since this historic farmland has been poisoned by decades of pesticides and fertilizer use.
Enter Barbara Shinn and David Page, who in 1998 purchased 20 acres off the beaten path in Mattituck, founded Shinn Estate and immediately took it in a different direction. Combining their love of food (they owned the restaurants Home and Drovers in Manhattan) and their love and respect for the land, they carefully crafted a planting pattern that matched the grapes to the terrain, with a goal of making small quality batches and thoughtful blends. They planted Cabernet Franc and Caberbet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Semillon and Pinot Blanc.
They expanded in an organic manner by slowly adding physical capacity, stainless steel tanks, outbuildings, and finally a 4-room bed and breakfast.
Now, in high gear, they are ready to fully commit to organic and biodynamic winemaking. While they have always been sustainable, they are in the first year of a three-year certification process in both practices. When achieved, they will be the only winery east of the Mississippi to be so. According to Barbara, “We are really driven to farm naturally considering that wine is where food meets agriculture. We’re part of a movement to farm fruit organically out here.”
They are eager promoters of their cause and have started another first for the region: futures dinners, where their customers can have a light dinner, barrel taste upcoming wines and purchase them at a discount. Works all around. Inside barns filled with stainless steel holding tanks and large wooden vats, long tables are set up. Candlelight casts a romantic glow as their border collie wanders between diner’s legs. An order form and tasting notes sheet is at each place setting, facilitating purchasing and remembering.
At a recent event, there were 9 wines. We went with some real experts: Meryl Rosofsky who has written for OWJ and teaches food courses at NYU, and Jean-Pierre and Deidre Riou. He’s the owner of Gifted Grapes, a wine importer of numerous small vintage French sustainable wines and one certified organic one. The final judgment of our group was this — the Shinns and their wine maker Anthony Nappa are making excellent wines. There were favorites however, with the Estate Merlot being almost everyone’s. This was followed by the Cabernet Franc and the 9 barrel reserve Merlot. The Wild Boar Doe blend was also a hit. It was harder to pick a favorite among the whites, although the Coalescence and non-oaked Chardonnay were stand-outs.
Check out David Page’s weekly farming blog that we have linked to. Barbara Shinn will also be writing for OWJ on a regular basis. We hope our readers will stay at their bed and breakfast, drink their wines and consider having weddings and other celebrations there. They are setting the standard and creating an example in responsible farming and winemaking.
The first week of the New Year is the slowest one for restaurants. We eat out then to show support and take advantage of the lower crowd levels. We also wanted to ring in the year with a toast to one of our all-time favorite wine makers Tony Coturri. We made our way to Kuma Inn on Manhattan’s Lower East Side with two bottles of Coturri in hand, a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Bollens Vineyards and a 2007 Barbera from Testa Vineyards, both from California’s Mendocino County.
Kuma Inn is BYOB and enables one to pair away with abandon… what a joy. They serve Asian tapas, small plates of great food. The inspiration behind it is chef King Phojanakong, who worked with both David Bouley and Daniel Boulud. His mother is Filipino and his father Thai so fusion is in his DNA. We started out with a chuka salad; mixed seaweed, sesame and chilies and a plate of grilled baby octopus with pickled bamboo shoots. We opened the Barbera first. It was deeply luscious, fruity without any sweetness, ruby red and smoky. There was a perfect balance of acid and tannins that gave a silky mouth feel. The wine drank ripe and mature yet I think it could age for several more years. The consensus at the table was that the octopus was one of the best octopus dishes ever tasted, in any ethnicity; Spanish, Italian or Japanese. Soft and succulent, grilled to perfection with dense flavors of a balsamic reduction. The pickled shoots counterpointed the smooth flesh with a crunchy texture. There was joy in our mouths and smiles at our table as we experienced the tapas. Meanwhile the Coturri kept opening up with each minute and each bite.
Next, we chose three dishes: a Pancit bihon – stir-fried noodles with port sausage, bean sprouts and carrots, a pan roasted ocean scallops with bacon kalamansi and sake and finally sautéed tofu with Thai basil and wood ear mushrooms in spicy soy mirin. Out of control best describes this course and the Coturri Cab. Clean strong fruit greets you, then a rich smooth tar and leather feel rests on the tongue. A round smoky richness lingers too. Frankly by this time the dinner evolved (or degenerated depending on your point of view) into a series of sips and chews accompanied by grunts and hums of joy.
The food here is exquisite. I had lunch four days later at the justly acclaimed Momofuku and honestly the food at Kumma Inn is equal. The tastes and flavors are bold, innovative and utterly competent in their execution. The ingredients come together perfectly and the sauces are exquisite. This is a cash only second story joint. Ringing in the New Year with Tony Coturri and King Phojanakong augers well for drinking and eating in the coming decade.
by Jonathan Russo
on Dec 30, 2009
This last decade in wine has been one of polarization – two trains speeding down the rails with different destinations in mind. The world of branded image-driven corporate wine got bigger. The top brands consolidated their stranglehold at the distribution and retail level. Mega corporations with thousands of employees pressed and sold billions of gallons of wine. Deeply discounted, and priced to equal the quality, they succeeded in taming what was once a Wild West show of growers and distributors. Like the formally fragmented radio industry, they consolidated into a Top 40 format that produced the same soulless sound from Maine to Oregon. Internationally, as well, corporate wine made inroads against the marketing-challenged small producer.
We’ve seen a world standardization of taste profiles, like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, become uniform from Chile to Australia. Globalization has meant uniformity; less surprise, more predictability. The Lifetime Achievement and Man of the Year awards given out by the leading wine magazines tell the story. They reward the successful corporate consolidator, the man who now has 40 brands and a 50% market share in his portfolio. These magazines feature the pesticide polluter, the industrial farmer and those indifferent to the earth and farm workers. It is all about efficiency and success measured in cases and cash. You can see their photos in black tie at all the big hotel galas – the big wine press rewarding its enablers.
In a revolt born of disgust and sorrow, the Organic, Biodynamic and Natural wine movement has risen to challenge these practices. Starting with the farmers themselves, they have chosen to grow grapes without poisoning the earth. A few more have chosen to ferment and blend and bottle without adding false ingredients and flavors. And a few more have decided to make a business out of this and distribute these wines to the world.
The world of real wine has not yet tipped, but the next decade may see that happen. As the world of food and wine continues to receive scrutiny that exposes its toxic downside, you can be sure more and more wine drinkers will want to know what is in their glass; how it was grown, how it was made. The rate of conversation to healthy farming is astonishing. It is the thing to do in New Zealand and Sonoma, in the Loire and Lebanon. Wine has always been an artisinal product. It should not be hard for it to return to its roots.
For the next decade I raise a glass to the continued success of everyone in the real wine world; the farmers, wine makers, distributors wine shops, wine bars and restaurants. You are all part of an organic chain, a process that is developing and growing alongside the artisanal food movement. Yet it’s all in the drinking and there too, the real wine world has succeeded, most of its wine is simply delicious. Thanks again.
There are also many people to thank for their help at Organic Wine Journal. All our writers, contributors and photographers. Those that have helped promote and publicize OWJ and those that have supported us with advertising. It is still a complete labor of love. As the decade is almost decanted, it’s time to peer into the sediment and see what is left to be poured into the next decade. We want to thank our readers who have spent the last few years believing that wine should heal, not harm, the planet.
by Jonathan Russo
on Dec 7, 2009
To understand Israel’s Tishbi Winery, it helps to know the history of winemaking in Napa and Sonoma. California’s wineries were started in the last quarter of the 19th century by visionary European immigrants, hard-working farmers. They grew grapes they were familiar with in the “old country” and prospered slowly; enduring droughts, market disruptions (prohibition), changing tastes and a flood of imported wine.
The strongest, like Mondavi, Sebastiani and Seghesio, have thrived, becoming billion dollar brands. They ship millions of cases, have hundreds of thousands of visitors traipsing through their beautiful architectural-statement wineries and have added restaurants and additional income generators like olive oil and catering.
Tishbi’s history parallels some of the above. Founded in the 1880’s by Lithuanian immigrants, and backed by Baron Edmund de Rothschild, they cultivated unused land in northern Israel, near the cooling Mediterranean Sea. Think Pacific Ocean breezes. The business has metamorphosed as time has passed. Initially all of the grapes were sold into a cooperative. When Jonathan, the current patriarch, took over, he decided the future was in quality, so he ripped out the Alicante and started to grow Cabernet and Chardonnay. It turned out that the soil was perfect for growing a wide variety of high quality grapes and the original 62 acres now produce award-winning wines. His vision was prescient because in 1984, the coop went bankrupt.
Success has created expansion and there are now four other vineyard locations, including one in the Negev desert. There, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are grown using innovative irrigation techniques that are literally making the desert bloom. In the more traditional Israeli grape-growing regions of the Galilee, as well as the Judean Hills south of Jerusalem, eight other varietals including Viognier, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir are cultivated. Roughly 85,000 cases are made, a third of which are exported to everywhere from the U.S. to Brazil and Hong Kong.
There are 18 Tishbi wines made in 4 groupings, each indicative of a quality. They also make “Domecq Trophy” brandy as well as two desert wines, olive oil, honey, and jellies and preserves. Artisinal bread is baked on the premises and served with lunch.
Like many California wineries, this one is multi-generational. The patriarch today is Jonathan. His grandparents started the winery. Today his wife Nili manages the visitor center and retail shop and his son Golan is his “right hand” as well as the wine and bread maker. Another son Michael is in the field as cultivator, while a daughter Oshra is marketing manager as well as managing the café and making a line of fine foods.
Care for the land is utmost in the Tishbis’ minds. They are passionate about not harming the soil and so do not use pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in the growing of their grapes. “I believe the soil has enough power to make wine without fertilizers, and I don’t need quantity, just quality,” Jonathan told us. Dry irrigation methods which use 20% as much water as regular methods, severely restrict yields and produce intense concentrations of flavor as well as leaving room for the sun to find its way onto the grape clusters eliminating the need for fungicides. “In Golan they do it by the book. If it’s Friday, it must be pesticide day. At Tishbi, we’re low-tech. The grapes tell us what to do, not a computer.”
Israel is not in the E.U., so organic certification is a difficult matter. It’s questionable as to whether it would be worth the effort to become certified as neither the U.S. nor the E.U would recognize it. Talking to Jonathan, it was clear that his family’s land practices were part of a very deep commitment and not something he needed to advertise.
There are other organic wineries in Israel and we learned that it is fast becoming the way to go amongst a new generation of wine makers. If they are all as successful as Tishbi, Israeli wine has a bright future ahead of it.
Tishbi Estate, Pinot Noir, 2006.
Very unique. Not your grandfather’s pinot, an acquired taste. Highly acidic. Not a lot of fruit. Tishbi says, “mocha and coffee bean, thyme, delicate and elegant.” Our tasting notes weren’t the same, so we leave it to you.
Tishbi Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006.
Just what you want. Great balance. Lush, rich, full with fruit. Chocolate. 1 year in oak. Delicious. Tishbi says, “plum, raspberry, cassis, vanilla. Velvety texture, slightly sweet.” We agree.
Jonathan Tishbi Special Reserve, 2004.
Smoky. The leather is so prominent that even a wine novice can detect it. Deep, flavorful. A desert grant cru. It deserves the name ‘special.’ 2 years in oak. Tishbi nailed it by saying, “complex, rich and full body, purple hues with stone fruits, violets, herbs, nuances of dark chocolate.” Even Gary Vaynerchuk raves about this beauty, ranking it #4 in the world. Multi-award winner.
by Jonathan Russo
on Oct 28, 2009
I love this restaurant. One of Keith McNally’s first successes, it’s been a fixture in New York’s Tribeca for 29 years. I lived four blocks away from 1975-1985 during a wild and crazy time in New York so it’s a real trip down memory lane just to step in the place. Odeon is now owned by Keith’s ex-wife Lynn, and she seems to have the joint still jumping. It was all there: the lighting, the ambiance, and the downtown vibe. We stepped in for dinner the other night and had to wait at the bar as the crowds kept flowing in.
Shown to a table and given the wine list, I am pleased to report that Odeon, for all it’s venerable age, is totally cutting edge. They do something that so many find hard to do – they tell you which wines are organic and biodynamic.
Under Pinot Noir and Gamay they have three organic and one biodynamic selection, including a Moulin A Vent Les Trois Roches, Beaujolais 2007 France. You can also choose from two organic Rhones or a Merlot from Bordeaux, Fronsac Chateau La Vielle Cure, 2004. Sadly, of the 6 Italians there are no organics, but they do have two choices from Chile and Argentina.
That isn’t so hard, is it? Rather than guessing, summoning a Sommelier or having to memorize a list of producers, Odeon simply tells you what is organic and biodynamic. They even put it in bold letters.
The price points for these wines are in the middle of their conventional counterparts, so it’s clear that organic and biodynamic doesn’t have to cost more. It’s also great that they don’t segregate organic and biodynamic into their own section, and keep them with their proper regions and varietals.
This is the way we think it should be done: low-key, informative, not in your face. Just helpful. Thanks Odeon, and I plan to keep coming for another 29 years.
by Jonathan Russo
on Oct 4, 2009
According to the Associated Press, congress has granted $350 million in aid to struggling milk producers. It seems there is an oversupply of milk, and the price paid to farmers is so low they are losing money on every gallon sold, hence the needed rescue by taxpayers.
What wasn’t written about is how the farmers got into this mess. I think we know one cause. It’s an instructive lesson in biotech-farming, cellular manipulation, and the agri-industrial complex. Scientists and marketing executives at Monsanto figured out that by dosing cows with the growth hormone rBHT they would produce more milk. Never mind that this unnatural state of being may be uncomfortable or harmful to the cows. Never mind that the consequences of hormone manipulation may cause lasting harm to the animal or serious side effects. Never mind that the residue may poison the consumer. Their only goal is increased profits for the company, regardless of what it does to nature.
Across thousands of farm house tables, and corporate board rooms, the dollar signs flash. “Wow, increased milk production. More milk from the same cow. We’re gonna be rich.” The decision to buy hormones from Monsanto and manipulate milk production is easy.
Multiply this idiocy by the number of cows and, voila, you have an increase in the supply of milk that is evidently unsustainable. Consumption of milk is actually falling due to vastly larger soda marketing budgets. Add on a recession and stretched food budgets and taxpayers come to the rescue.
Like everything else in corporate America, decisions are make in the vacuum of what profits them in short term. Individuals, including farmers, do the same. No one is focused on the collective long-term consequences until it all ends up in the dump of bad ideas and white flags. Free enterprise for corporations and farmers until they need the “socialists” to bail them all out.
What’s next? There is already a glut of cheap low quality wine in the world. For years the Europeans have been buying up billions of gallons of the stuff and either dumping it down a drain or turning it into vinegar. When modern science can increase yields greater than the market can absorb them, a karmic imbalance occurs.
Learning from the lessons of the milk world, we may be faced with something similar in the world of wine. One of the ways to prevent imbalances is to return to the roots of farming; natural, organic and biodynamic. Yields that the earth intended for that particular grape in that particular place. It is doubtful that the taxpayers of Australia, Chile or South Africa will be interested in paying grape growers for nothing. If we all just drank true terroir wines grown carefully in places intended for grapes, we could cure in advance the next liquid oversupply. Cute names and clever graphics developed by gigantic marketing corporations with huge ad budgets can only mask the coming glut of low quality wine. Après that, le deluge.
by Jonathan Russo
on Sep 9, 2009
A Tale Of Three Rosés
One of life’s unfortunate characteristics is limited choices. In August one cannot lounge about in St. Tropez and hike Oregon’s Cascade Mountains at the same time. Bicyclists must choose to go touring or trail riding. People lucky enough to have a horse or a boat know that there are other horses and other boats that would greatly increase their enjoyment of the sport.
Thankfully with wine you can have it all. Take the three rosés that graced our table in just one week. They covered a range of tastes, bodies and hues that made summer meals enjoyable and memorable.
We first had a 2005 Chateau De Roquefort, from Cotes De Provence. This Biodynamic beauty is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan and Clairette. We were told on the label that it was hand made between September 12th and October 4th.
The very pale straw color of this rosé is unique; it is lighter in hue than even a Domaine Ott. Yet the refreshment was intense, very light and bright flavors of lemon and lime with a subtle bouquet of strawberries. The spice notes were there and probably came from the Cinsault. There was a local field blend quality to this wine and we could imagine the proprietor and the workers having a glass after a hot harvest day. We chose to accompany this wine with some fresh goat cheese and local oysters. The pairing was perfect as the delicate flavors of the wine allowed the food flavors to remain clear and bright. We love this wine nice and cold with simple food.
Next we had a local to us rosé from Shinn Estate Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island, a mere 80 miles from Manhattan. Shinn is almost biodynamic. They are trying to do everything right in a very difficult wine-growing region. When they have to intervene to save the crop they do so with natural alternatives. They have an almost Napa style winery with a B&B and a catering kitchen.
Their 2008 rosé is a blend of 25% Cabernet Franc and 75% Merlot. We agree with the tasting notes on the label that the wine has aromas and flavors of strawberry, raspberry and watermelon. Shinn has made this one “bone dry” and “squeaky clean.” We tasted a little peach fruit too. This wine accompanied a pasta and pesto meal and was a perfect choice. The basil was grown within a few miles of the Shinn Vineyard so there was pairing in the DNA. What we loved about the two dishes (accompanied by a field salad and artisanal bread) was the clear flavors of food and drink, which facilitated the enjoyment of both. The “bone dry” rosé left no lingering sweet taste on the on the tongue so that the salad and pasta remained distinctive. Overlooking the water at a summer table groaning with local food and wine had a true taste of terroir. Thank you Shinn Estate for this lovely rosé.
Lastly, but not least, we opened a 2007 Yorkville Cellars Rosé De Franc made from organically grown grapes in California’s Mendocino county. This is beautiful farm country and one of the epicenters of organic and biodynamic winemaking in the new world. The vineyard is a small family operation and the Wallo family of Yorkville (population 145) invites all to come and have a “picnic under the shady oaks.”
This is a delicious wine. The darkest hue of rosé of the three and the fullest in body. The intense ruby color and viscous body were made to stand out. We tasted earth and fruit and straw and smoke. The cool nights and warm days of Mendocino put the grapes thru changes that clearly strengthen their flavors. Interestingly and by coincidence we had this wine with a Cioppino, a legendary San Francisco fish stew. San Fran is only a hundred miles south of Yorkville. The pairing was a total success. The strong well crafted wine and the bold flavors of clams, mussels and fennel worked so well. A lesser wine would have been overwhelmed and a lighter food might have been too, but in reverse. We think this wine should be drunk with hearty food or just by itself. The rich red color of the Cioppino and the rich red hue of the rosé gave the table a glow not easily forgotten.