Taking Solace in the Solstice

Astrologically, as we drift into winter, the period from late December to early February is a time for stillness and contemplation; a time to both relax and uplift your spirit.

As the old year draws to a close and the new one lingers on the horizon, the arrival of the Winter Solstice (on or about December 21) brings with it the shortest day – and longest night – of the year. From its Latin roots, we are reminded that on this day, the sun stands still; we can take a breath and look up at the stars.

Gazing upward, Orion greets us from his perch in this sky. Home to three of the 25 brightest stars, Orion’s gleaming placement among the stars permits him to be seen all over the world, regardless of hemisphere. This winter constellation, named for the myth of Orion, and seen so well amidst the darkness, poetically alludes to the regenerative powers of the sun as Orion’s own eyesight was restored by its healing rays. And, just south of his brilliant belt, Orion’s faithful companion, Sirius, also known as the Dog Star, literally sparkles as brightest star in the sky.

In olden days, this moment in the calendar marked the end of harvest (and all of the hard work it entailed) and signaled instead a time to celebrate. The festival of Saturnalia celebrated in Rome took place from December 17 to 25 – those Romans knew how to party!

So it was with a festive spirit that we took our cue from these ancient holidays and headed out on New Year’s Eve in our finest and toasted to the dawn of a new year with Louis Roederer Champagne at the Metropolitan Opera‘s Black Tie Gala (we know how to party, too!).

Now that New Year’s has come and gone and 2017 has recently arrived, the days are fresh with promise; the sparkle of a brand new year. Just around the corner, Imbolc awaits with its portent of lighter days and lighter hearts as the sun slowly returns.

But for now, it is the perfect time to pause, reflect, raise a glass and count our blessings. May they be as numerous as the bubbles in your glass of Champagne or other sparkling wine.

France and India, A Marriage Made in the Kitchen

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In an interesting twist to the typical press lunch, wine brand Vinadeis presented a subset of its portfolio alongside Indian cuisine at New York City’s Junoon restaurant.  Named for the Hindi word for passion, the Michelin-starred, fine dining establishment fuses together India’s culinary history and the Chef’s modern sensibility. Wine Director, Michael Dolinski carefully curated the restaurant’s existing menu to identify the best pairings to show off the selection of whites, rosés and reds.

Formerly known as Val d’Orbieu, Vinadeis was founded in Corbières back in 1967. The company has now expanded its purview beyond the borders of Languedoc and includes activities in the Rhone Valley as well as in Bordeaux. Today, there are approximately 20,000 hectares of vineyards under its management.

While many of its projects involve bulk wine, large brands and cooperatives, Vinadeis is especially proud of the estates and chateaux under its umbrella. Benoit Roussillon, Head of North America for Vinadeis (pictured above), was quick to point out that behind each estate, there is a family and a story. And, moreover, their aim is to respect the story of those families in pursuit of crafting the highest quality wines.

Held just the week before the Thanksgiving holiday, a time when many consumers panic about the best wine(s) to serve with the cacophony of food on the bountiful table, the Vinadeis event was a unique illustration of how well the French wines lent themselves to an unlikely pairing of the diverse flavors and textures of Indian food. Presented family-style, attendees had the opportunity to sample several dishes with each course, matched with two or three wines.

The luncheon first kicked off with Butter Garlic Shrimp and Saloni Macchi, a salmon dish, served with pickled cucumber, onion relish. These two dishes were paired with the rosé and white.

The dry and fresh Château de Jonquières Rosé Cuvée Cersius 2015 AOP Languedoc, a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Cinsault, matched nicely with the shrimp with its cherry and herb aromas and flavors. Situated near Narbonne, the Château de Jonquières property was previously a Cistercian granary, which belonged to the Abbey of Fontfroide.

The 100% Chardonnay Domaine de Cazelles Verdier, Les pierres qui chantent 2015 IGP Pays d’Oc, was unusually aged in Acacia wood, given it a woody and spicy, yet not oaky, flavor with lots of cloves, and married beautifully with the salmon. Owned by the Verdier family since 1713, Domaine de Cazelle Verdier is known for its chalky soils.

The Murg Roulade Korma – minced chicken with a purée of nuts – was served with two reds: Château Notre Dame du Quatourze Rouge Nautica 2014, AOP Languedoc and Domaine de Cazelles Verdier, Les pierres qui chantent 2014, AOP Minervois. Both wines are Rhone-style blends with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan.

Presently owned by Georges and Suzanne Ortola, the name Chateau Notre Dame du Quatourze refers to a tax paid to the castle (formerly owned by the archdiocese) by the local farmers. This unoaked red is organic and biodynamic, with nice, bright red fruit.

From the same producer as the Chardonnay, the Domaine de Cazelles Verdier Minervois offers up intense, concentrated red and black fruit.

The third course consisted of Awadhi Raan, a leg of lamb with saffron and nuts; Nadru Matar Makhana with lotus root, English peas, and roasted tomato sauce; and Daal Makhni, black lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas in a tomato cream sauce, as well as sides of Pulao Rice and Butter Naan.

With this last set of savory dishes, we headed to Bordeaux for a trio of reds: Château Valade “Cuvée Renaissance” 2012, AOP Saint-Émilion Grand Cru; Château Brown 2012, AOP Pessac-Léognan; and Prieuré des Couleys de Meyney 2010, AOP Saint-Estèphe.

The Merlot-dominant (90%) Château Valade “Cuvée Renaissance” 2012 was bright with red fruit and slight spice notes. The property has been in the family since 1878, with the current generation Paul and Lorette Valade at the helm for more than 30 years.

With an almost equal proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the Château Brown 2012 displayed darker red fruit, with a plush texture and firmer tannins. The chateau dates to the medieval period but was named for the Scottish merchant John Lewis Brown, in the late 18th century.

Given its blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Petit Verdot, the Prieuré des Couleys de Meyney 2010 was the most full-bodied and tannic of the three, with lots of black fruit, herbal, spice and cedar aromas and flavors. Originally built as a convent, the Château de Meyney property dates to 1662, placing it among the oldest in the Médoc.

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Life’s Lessons from Puppets

Handspring Puppet Company’s Il Riturno d’Ulisse Photo Credit: Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

While much of the world seems to be overrun by robots (witness Stephen Colbert’s repeated references to them and Westworld), I have always been more intrigued by puppets, starting with the purchase of a marionette at the Howe Caverns’ gift shop. A treasured memory was watching a bunraku performance in Osaka, Japan many years ago.

Puppetry has always been a passion for Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones, which is why the two Cape Town residents founded Handspring Puppet Company in 1981. Although they are perhaps best known for their work in designing the puppets for the Tony Award-winning War Horse, it was their recent staging at the Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival that served as my introduction to them and their company.

A mashup of puppets, opera and Avant Garde film, Handspring Puppet Company’s  1998 collaboration with Director William Kentridge – The Return of Ulysses – is stunning example of the theater’s ability to surprise, delight and make us think and is truly in keeping with the Festival’s aim in exploring the power of art and music to reveal the complexity of our interior lives.

Based on the opera by Claudio Monteverdi, one of the earliest opera composers, The Return of Ulysses tells the story of the final chapters of Homer’s Odyssey: Ulysses’ reunion with Penelope at the palace in Ithaca. Written in the same year as circulation was discovered (1640), Handspring and Kentridge reimagined the stage as that of an operating theater (historically, people would pay money to watch medical operations as theater) and animated footage from the History of the Main Complaint is displayed on a screen in the background.

As the show opens, the singers are accompanied by historical instruments played by the Ricercar Consort, named from the Italian word ricercare – to seek – and apropos of the story as Ulysses seeks to return home to his wife. The prologue introduces Human Frailty, Fortune, Love and Time, as they discuss Ulysses’ life and fate, and I am struck by the words, “My limbs are weak, but I have wings.” A fitting anthem for malaise of the times.

Later, in a post-performance discussion with Kohler and Jones, we are given more insight into the unusual triad among singer, puppeteer and puppet to work in harmony with one another. Furthermore, they admonish the singers to look up at their respective puppets and to show their breath – both of which are inimical to an opera performer’s training. But, as Jones and Kohler point out, without such an approach, the work falls flat – breath is indeed life.

 

Alie Shaper asks and answers the question: What If?

2016-10-24-18-12-53 I first met Alie Shaper at a Women for Wine Sense event in February 2010. At the time, the President and Winemaker of Brooklyn Oenology, was four years into her Brooklyn-centric wine brand, which merges New York State agriculture with the vibrancy of New York City culture.

Now, as she celebrates Brooklyn Oenology’s tenth anniversary, she has ventured out with an additional range of wines: As If. The three wines that make up the new collection – a white, rosé and red – are respectively called Serendipity, Courage and Persistence and chart her foray into the wine industry. The Cornell alumna kicked off her career with an engineering degree and a military contract in San Jose, CA before returning to New York to start a life in wine.

This new wine line was conceived in 2014 when Alie received unexpected access to great grapes and saw the opportunity to tell her story – both past and present – through wine: from her serendipitous exposure to the world of wine; her courage to follow her passion; and the continued persistence to make her dreams come true.

Greeting me at the As If launch party, Alie explained that she wanted to, “Do something less about Brooklyn and more metaphysical,” this time around.

All the wines are labeled as New York State, likely for consistency, but the white and red are technically produced from Nork Fork of Long Island fruit and the grapes for the rosé were sourced from the Finger Lakes.

The As If Serendipity White 2014, New York State, (SRP $35.00) is a blend of 40% Chardonnay, 30% Viognier, 30% Sauvignon Blanc. It is fresh with melon, citrus fruit and apple notes, bright acidity and long length.

As Alie pours the As If Courage Rosé 2014, New York State, (SRP $28.00), she quips, “This is literally liquid courage.” The wine brings together 50% Cabernet Franc, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 10% Syrah and 10% Petit Verdot. It is a deep-colored, dry wine with watermelon, spice and a meatiness/heartiness that make it a good autumn rosé.

Finally, the As If Persistence Red 2014, New York State (SRP $40.00), with 60% Cabernet Franc, 25% Petit Verdot, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite of the three, so I was not surprised when Alie revealed that the Cab Franc came from Macari, one of my favorite Franc producers. This stunning wine displayed complex aromas and flavors of toast, berries, and dried herbs, along with good acidity and long length.

The wines are available for purchase through Brooklyn Oenology.

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IDNYC opens doors to the city’s jewels

idI have always maintained that everything is better that sparkles — wine, water, diamonds and personalities. So, George Balanchine’s Jewels ballet is no exception.

Inspired by a visit to Van Cleef and Arpels, Jewels is a work in three parts: Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. The Emerald set included slivers of malachite draped on the sides, while the sky dripped with glittering gems suspended above the dancers who were adorned with faux stones that sparkled brightly from the stage. It was magnificent to watch the glitter and glamour as the ballerinas took the stage to practice their pirouettes one last time before curtain.

This chance to attend the working dress rehearsal of such an iconic ballet was thanks to my membership in the New York City Ballet. And, the membership, at least for this year, is courtesy of IDNYC.

Don’t have your card yet? What are you waiting for?

IDNYC was launched by the mayor in 2014 as a way to provide a government-issued photo identification card for all city residents, particularly those who may have difficulty getting other government-issued IDs. But, even if you don’t need another government-issued ID, the benefits for all card holders include a one-time membership in many of New York City’s finest cultural institutions such as the ballet.

Since getting my IDNYC in January, I have been blessed to visit the Museum of Modern Art gratis; obtain advanced ticket sales opportunities for NY City Center; receive a flurry of event invites from BRIC; and purchase discount tickets to The Book of Mormon. The benefits of being a member of the New York City Ballet have been my favorite and, most importantly, a reminder of how much I love the ballet. I will be sure to support the ballet after my complimentary membership expires as a result of this experience.

 

Piper-Heidsieck’s Rare Rose makes its NY debut

2016-09-29-19-51-52Régis Camus, Piper-Heidsieck’s award-winning (he has been named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year eight times) Chef de Caves, likes a challenge and apparently has the patience of a saint.

His latest accomplishment? Crafting a high quality tête de cuvée from the tricky 2007 season.

Camus kicked off his Heidsieck career on the Charles-Heidsieck side of the business before migrating to Piper-Heidsieck in 1994. Once there, he devoted himself to ensuring that the Cuvée Brut NV (non-vintage) – the mainstay of the Champagne house – consistently delivered year in and year out.

Then, in 2000, he expanded his purview to include the company’s prestige cuvée: Rare. His first foray was the beautiful Rare Millésime 2002, adding to the previous seven vintages of this wine. But, in spite of all of this success under his vinous belt, he was anxious to create a rosé counterpart, waiting around for the right opportunity to do so.

In 2007, he decided it was time to pursue this dream. Given its name, it should come as no surprise that part of the concept of Rare is to produce a vintage wine when it is difficult. Only a few Champagne houses crafted a vintage wine in 2007. As Regis quips, “You need guts to do it.”

Yet, he was resolved and, thus, brought together three key elements to guide the creation of his new wine: color, nose and palate. For the wine’s color, he envisioned the pink hues in stained glass; for its nose, he sought the subtleness of red fruit; and for its palate, he wanted the exotic nature, minerality, freshness and purity of the Rare Brut.

Once the potential wine had been assembled and sent off to age on its lees, he waited nine years to release it, but, it was worth the wait.

Bringing together an almost equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (56% and 44%, respectively), the wine is delicate and elegant, yet exotic with spice and tea along with red fruit notes of strawberries and raspberries. The spice components linger on the palate throughout the wine’s long length.

2016-09-29-19-49-44While not the most commonly connected food pairing, the Rare Rosé showed beautifully against a backdrop of Tamarind’s high-end Indian cuisine; its exotic elements holding their own with the complex flavors and seasonings of the food.

At $450 per bottle, and with fewer than 800 bottles in the U.S., this is sadly not a wine that I (nor many others) will get to enjoy with any frequency, but, it is a remarkable (and tasty) testament to one man’s perseverance and patience. Santé, Regis!