CONCLUSIONS AFTER TAKING IN FOUR DAYS OF PROFESSIONAL TENNIS.
Tennis in the desert
I was fortunate enough to be able to venture down to southern California to take in the first four days of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. As a great lover of tennis who had never seen the male professional game before (I’ve been to the Bank of the West which is a women’s pro tournament), I came away with a different sense of the game and will here post a few of my observations.
Palm Springs. Gorgeous towering mountains surround it, craggy and brown. Millions of spindly palm trees reinforce the SoCal vibe as well as offer a sort-of Land-of-the-Lost Vibe, as though one wouldn’t be terribly surprised if a Tyranosaurus came stomping out of the desert and through the shallow plasterboard roof of a strip mall. Other than this, the restaurants are depressingly trapped in the late 80s/early 90s. They are cheesy and most menus are insupportably broad and long (e.g. one bistro will serve wasabi tuna tartare, prosciutto-fig pizza, and paella).
*Honorable mention goes to Birba, the pizzeria with respectable food and drink, and to Tinto, the new outpost of Philly chef Jose Garces, whose courage in opening a reasonably challenging restaurant (Octopus? Boudin Blanc?) in this sand-blown desert of gastronomy was apparent. For instance, Tinto’s wine list is all Spanish and includes the words Hondarrabi, Treixadura and Xarel-Lo, which must seem as absurd to resident diners as snow falling from the endless blue sky. It can’t be easy on the locals or the help (perhaps they’re relying on imports of both). The list was almost apologetically introduced to us by our server, Jolie, with the preempitve remark, “It’s all Spanish wines, but I can tell you which wines are like Chardonnay, which are like Cabernet, and which are similar to Pinot Grigio.” Nevertheless, kudos to Garces for pushing the boundaries: At least it wasn’t the (hip and inept) Ace Hotel, whose by-the-glass Chardonnay was Fat Bastard.
Sorry for the rant. With all due respect to Marilyn Hagerty, I readily admit to living in a gastronomic bubble. Indeed, I couldn’t live outside of one.
Now, on to the tennis. My big takeaways:
1. The differences between players’ physical skill levels are slight.
The one thing that made a huge impression on me is how really terrific every player is. To more keen followers of the sport, that may seem obvious, but in a world where the same four players more or less make it to the semifinals of every important tournament, I figured the superiority of their abilities would be apparent.
Instead, I found that the differences in power, serve speed, quickness, shot-making between the number one player and the fiftieth ranked are not large. On any given day, a non-seeded guy can beat a top seed, because he (or she) is basically just as good. Which means … what separates the greats from the almost-greats is small but significant. Conclusion: It’s the less tangible qualities of grit, consistency, determination, and poise that are the major differences between the good and the great.
2. Poise, indeed—in tennis, a quality that’s underrated.
I’d never seen so much tennis as I did the last four days, yet in probably 75% of the matches I watched, the leader caved or almost caved when it came time to win the match. Shocking was the regularity with which someone serving for the set would double fault or net easy volleys or shank routine forehands into the fifth row.
In these situations, a weird, crippling tension seems to overtake the player who dominated the match, giving his opponent a brief spell of uninhibited, relaxed success. You’d think the leader would be riding high, coasting to the wine, but such is often not the case. Most of the time, the dominant player prevailed, but not always: we saw some guys blow some matches that they should have won. Why do players tighten up when it’s time to simply win the match?
Conclusion: Knowing how to “close out the match,” as the commentators say, is a mental skill just as important as anything a player can do with the racquet, and the top players have it. (Federer most of all, of course, though he seems to be slipping in recent years, blowing several matches that he practically had won.)
3. Return of serve is all.
I thought the boring days of the ultra dominant server had gone away with the retirement of guys like Richard Krajicek and Goran Ivanisevic. The days of grass court matches where players totaled thirty or more aces and most points lasted only one or two shots. I thought they were eradicated, because the matches I see on TV tend to have incredibly long or especially intense rallies. The ball is in play. Point construction, groundstrokes, and touch become so important.
Anyway, I was wrong: Serve still dominates practically every match. Most guys are serving around 115-130 MPH and it’s just really hard to get back, let alone do anything with. While I saw some good rallies at this tournament, I had to hunt for them (hint: locate the Spanish players). Most of the points still resolve around unreturnable first serves, which makes for pretty dull tennis. Except for the matches featuring good returners. What sets them apart?
I used to think being a great returner, as Agassi was, meant hitting a lot of service-return winners, but now I revise my understanding of that term to mean a player who is just able to get the ball back in play with regularity. As long as you get it back and reasonably deep, you’ve got a fighting chance in the point and then your consistency, determination and poise can lead you to a win and a top 4 ranking.
Conclusion: The top players are all excellent returners of serve, even if that doesn’t mean they’re hitting a lot of winners. (See Djokovic vs Nadal in last years’ US Open Final. His returns continually flummoxed the Spaniard by coming back at high velocity and landing inconveniently at his feet.)
Against the Pint Glass
My latest column in Chow:
“When we use the cliché pint-sized, we’re generally talking about something very small. So why is it that the pint glass, as the most common American vessel for beer, is—among its other faults—entirely too large? … “
Please follow the link to read the rest.
Sam Adams’ better beer glass.
BURGUNDY WEEK IN SAN FRANCISCO — [Feb 19, 5:27pm, updated w more restaurants]
It’s the week of La Paulée in San Francisco, and Daniel Johnnes and his drink-Burg crew have inspired a host of restaurants to participate in a Burgundy promotion. La Paulée is this country’s premier festival of Burgundy, including tastings, seminars, and a whopper of grand dinner in which the country’s greatest sommeliers flock to the city like scalpers to the Superbowl, and the world’s greatest wine flows like rain off a pitched roof in a tropical storm.
Lots of Burgundy is poured in this town, you say—so what makes it unique that these restaurants are getting in the Bourguignon spirit? Well, not many restaurants can afford to pour Burgundy by the glass on a regular basis, seeing as the wines are produced in relatively small amounts to most other regions in the world and therefore command a high price. Second, restaurants like to rotate their wines by the glass, and these days there’s a lot of different wines in the rotation—so it’s just not all that common to see such a wide variety of Burg poured by the glass at one time. Third, it’s exciting to see some restaurants like A-16 and Acquerello get in the spirit, leaving their orthodoxies to salute the cause.
I heartily recommend you take part of some or all of the multi-day Paulée (visit the Web site for schedules and tickets). But whether or not you do, make sure to get out to one of these restaurants and have a glass of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay from the mother land. These sommeliers are pouring some seriously good juice, which is not often available by the glass. I asked many of them to give us a list of what they’re pouring, so here it is. I’ll update it as more Burgundy glass pours come in.
Frances, wine director Paul Einbund
Rotating every day or two:
Domaine de Pattes Loup, Chablis
Pierre-Yves Colin, St Aubin, En Remilly
Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, Nuits-Saint-Georges Les Plateaux
Anne Gros, Chambolle-Musigny
Epic Roast House, wine director Petra Polakovicova
By the glass
Bruno Colin, Chardonnay, France, Chassagne-Montrachet 2008
Joseph Drouhin, Pinot Noir, France, Chorey Les Beaunes 2009
Bernard Moreau et Fils, Bourgogne 2010 (chardonnay)
David Duband, Côte de Nuits-Village 2009 (pinot noir)
Potel Aviron, Morgon Côte du Py, Vieilles Vignes 2009 (gamay noir)
Jardinere, wine director Eugenio Jardim, sommelier Jai Wilson
Bernard Moreau, Bourgogne 2010 (Blanc) 18
Philippe Colin, Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru “Clos Saint Jean” 2006 20
Ambroise, Bourgogne 2009 (Rouge) 14
Denis Mortet, Gevrey-Chambertin “Mes Cinq Terroir” 2004 (Rouge)
Bourbon Steak, wine director Noah Dranow
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Meursault ‘Charmes’ 1er Cru ‘05
Thomas Morey Chassagne-Montrachet ‘Embrazées’ 1er Cru ‘07
Carillon Mercury ‘Champs Martin’ 1er Cru ‘08
David Duband Vosne-Romanée ‘09
J.J. Frederic Mugnier Nuits-St-Georges ‘Clos de la Marechale’ 1er Cru ‘05
De Montille Volnay ‘Brouillards’ 1er Cru ‘07
Sons and Daughters, wine director Carlin Karr
Domaine de la Cadette ‘La Chatelaine’ . 2010 . Bourgogne Vezelay
Pierre Yves Colin Morey ‘Le Blanc’ . 2010 . Saint Aubin
Chateau Thivin . 2010 . Cote de Brouilly
Maison Roche de Bellene ‘Vieilles Vignes’ . 2009 . Bourgogne
Joseph Roty ‘Les Ouzeloy’ . 2006 . Marsannay
Zuni, wine director Thierry Lovato
2009 Chandon de Brialles, Savigny-Les-Beaune, Les Lavieres & Pernand-Vergelesses, Ile des vergelesse
2007 Tollot Beaut, Chorey les beaune
Saison, wine director Mark Bright
Saison will be focusing on many Burgundy regions beyond the celebrated Côte D’or
Mark writes: “We are doing a Burgundy Wine Pairing with our tasting menu. From Cremant to Botrytis Macon from Thevenet. I know we will be pouring Chablis, PYCM St. Aubin, Jessiaume Santenay, Sauvignon St. Bris, we are doing all the ordering now, but it will be a huge collection of everything Burgundy, especially Aligote and Passetoutgrain, I am going to really try to show the region of burgundy and all of the small pockets included, Leflaive Macon Verze, etc.
A-16, wine director Shelley Lindgren,
Shelley writes that one of her bartenders, Jonathan Patch, really got behind the idea of pouring Burgundy at the otherwise Southern-Italian focused A-16. In-house education is major part of working at A-16 and often staff members will take on research projects and be in charge of educating their fellow employees. She was kind enough to share Mr. Patch’s descriptions, so that those not as well-schooled in Burgundy can get a leg up.
It’s really quite awesome the work he did on the background of each of these selections.
Jean Paul Brun - FRV 100
FRV 100. This wine’s name seems more like a sports car model than anything else, but it is actually a play on words. Pronouncing FRV 100 out loud in English will get you nowhere, but if you sound it out in French you get “EFF ERR VAY SON” or effervescent! Because it’s got bubbles. It’s also a rose, tremendously light (7.5% alcohol,) and slightly sweet. This wine comes from Beajoulais which is technically part of Burgundy, but it truly has a unique identity all its own. Plus its wines hinge upon a different grape entirely, Gamay. This wine is made in the “methode ancestrale” or ancestral method which means that juice which is beginning its fermentation in a tank is put into bottles with its yeasts and sugars intact to finish fermentation under pressure. The trapped carbon dioxide provides the bubbles. Jean Paul Brun is very vocal about only using native yeasts in his wines and adds only a tiny amount of sulfur for protection.
Boudin — Chablis ‘Chantemerle’
Chablis is at the Northermost tip of Burgundy and almost at the limits of feasible wine-growing. The weather is generally colder than down south, and the whites from this region generally have a lean body and pronounced acidity. At their best transmit the chalky, fossil-rich Kimmeridgian soils into a unique and unmistakeable minerality.
Francis Boudin’s vineyards are unique among Bundundian vineyards in that he didn’t participate in a trend to replant his vineyards with high yielding clones following devastatingly cold vintages in the 50s and 80s. Instead he opted to replant his vines by massale selection which means taking cuttings from some of the better vines in your vineyard for replanting. This preserves the diversity of vines in a vineyard and many would argue allows the expression of the vineyard to be more complex and unique. Boudin’s Chardonnay grapes are hand harvested and stainless steel tank fermented.
Bouard-Bonnefoy - Aligote 2010
The Aligote grape is the second most widely planted white grape in Burgundy behind Chardonnay although there is a rather huge gap with about 8 times as many Chardonnay vines in the region. Many consider it a lesser grape, and it is often pulled up or planted only in the poorer vineyards in the region. This combined with the high acidity of the grape makes for many bottling that have a belly-churning acidity and not much else. At its best though, that acid makes for incredibly lively white wine.
Fabrice and Carine Bouard ran Domaine Bouard-Bonnefoy after Fabrice retired at 35 from a police job protecting dignitaries. The vineyards have been in Carine’s family for generations. Most of their wines are from 10 acres of Chardonnay on the rarest, most sought after plots on the golden slopes of Chassagne-Montrachet. I can’t seem to find out where their Aligote fruit comes from. The Boaurds work very traditionally in the area, using ancient wooden presses, hand tending to the vines and bottling their wines unfined and unfiltered.
Domaine Faiveley - Mercurey, Monopole
The Faiveley’s have been at the forefront of Bungundy wine-making for seven generations. Over time, they have become the largest owners in the region with over 125 hectares of holdings, and many of the most prized plots. While many wine makers in Burgundy source fruit from vineyards they do not own, Over 80% of the wines made by Faiveley are from land they own and they have many monopoles (monopolies,) some of which are in Mercurey, where they own entire vineyards. The Napoleonic inheritance laws typically caused vineyards to be so finely divided that négociants (winemakers that purchase fruit from growers and bottle the wine under their own name) are now often used throughout Burgundy to make and bottle commercial amounts of wine.
Domaine Jean Tardy -Nuits St. George ‘Au Bas de Combe’ (bottom of the valley) 2007
In 1972, Jean bought 2.5 hectares (about 6 acres). He took over the domaine from his father who never owned any of his own land. Currently he owns 5. He would like to add further to his Domaine, since he now has more customers than wine to sell, but current prices make buying or renting uneconomic. Jean always saignee’s his wines (squeezing and removing some juice from the grapes to concentrate the wine) and is dogmatic about using 100% new oak every year. He never filters his wines and rejects most types of fining.
Bouchard Pere et Fils (father and son) — Beaune du Chateaux Rouge
Bouchard Père & Fils owns 130 hectares of vines. On top of that are a large amount of grapes, and some must, bought in from other growers. In total this equals a production from 200 to 250 hectares, depending on the year. The firm was established as a cloth merchant by Michel Bouchard in 1731, and in 1746 his son Joseph subsequently began selling wines and acquiring vineyards. In 1995 the Bouchard family sold the firm to Joseph Henriot.
Farallon, wine director Luke Kenning
Farallon is running a special Burgundy tasting menu. Here’s the meal, along with Burgundy wine pairings.
LOCAL DUNGENESS CRAB SALAD, crisp avocado, cara cara segments, champagne-orange vinaigrette, Crémant de Bourgogne, Cuvee Agnès, L. Vitteaut-Alberti
SEARED GEORGES BANK DIVER SCALLOP, sauce de poisson, sautéed brussel leaf nest, petite bacon salad,Saint-Aubin, Philippe Colin, 1er Cru Le Charmois 2009
CEDAR PLANKED ARTIC CHAR, fava leaves, red onion soubise, pancetta hash, Chassagne-Montrachet, Château de la Maltroye, 1er Cru Clos du Château 2006
LIBERTY FARMS DUCK CASSOULET, tiny white beans, mergez sausage, fried crustini, Mercurey, Domaine Suremain, 1er Cru La Bondue 2009
COCOA NIB FLORENTINE NAPOLEON, chocolate pudding, almond praline, coffee crème anglaise, cardamom cream, Madeira, Blandy’s Malmsey 15 Year
Summer Melon Cocktails
We’ve been getting a ton of melons in our CSA boxes the last few weeks, more than we can eat. Solution? When you can’t eat ‘em, drink ‘em. Our handy juicer rapidly turned a perfectly ripe cantaloupe and watermelon in to gorgeous, pastel-hued juices.
Melon juice tends to be delicately flavored, so take care not to select spirits or use them in proportions that will overwhelm the flavor of the juice. Avoiding vodka for no other reason than its lack of challenge, I chose pisco and tequila for these two drinks (after considering gin and mezcal). Melon juice also wants for a little acidity; a dash of lime or lemon wakes the cocktail up.
The cantaloupe became a tequila cocktail: 3 oz fresh cantaloupe juice, 1.5 oz Don Julio Blanco (assertive, but not over the top), .5 oz lemon juice (for acidity, which the melon lacks), .5 oz gum syrup. Shaken hard and poured into an absinthe-rinsed (for complexity tumbler. Delicious.
The watermelon became gazpacho, but also this simple take on the pisco sour, using Encanto Pisco, lime juice, a fresh eggwhite. No sugar added. It was gorgeous.
"His victory marks a growing trend in the wine industry: a sommelier is not necessarily a wine steward, but rather a well-educated, well-rounded wine professional."
-Press release (apparently not online yet) from TEXSOM announcing that the winner of the 2011 Texas Best Sommelier competition was Bill Elsey, who “you won’t find … working the floor of a restaurant. Rather … selling Duchman Family Wines to restaurants and wine shops.”
This trend is something we discussed peripherally at the conference (where I served on a panel), but the directors of TEXSOM are the first I’ve seen to actually declare that the definition of sommelier has changed.
The declaration of this shift will no doubt inspire controversy, yet it does seem to reflect the stance taken by the Court of Master Sommeliers. On the other hand, when the term ‘sommelier’ is used in casual speech, the meaning seems to still be taken unequivocally to mean one who works as a wine steward in a restaurant.
A wine and something to eat, this day
I’m tired of talking about the great wines of the world, let’s just talk about the really damn good ones.
Wines that do what they do without really trying, so good that you only notice them if you stop to observe and contemplate, as you should every time you put anything in your mouth.
Such a wine is the Tami Frappato. Even better is that it’s $17 (at Dig, in SF).
For that price I got a wine that went perfectly with this meal, every single part of it. Not only that, but the wine tasted good on its own. Had better depth than two Barbarescos I tasted the other night. In simple terms it blends earthy and fruity in an extreme way, a la Beaujolais, but with a recognizably Italian flair. Tami is made by the popular Sicilian natural winemaker Arianna Ochipinti, and in fact I prefer it to her more famous eponymous wine. I like the sloppy crease in the label. And did I mention that it was only $17?
The meal cooked in 15 minutes and was composed of a dish combining local, spicy merguez sausage sautéed with onion and red pepper. Corn on the cob. And a chicory and romaine salad with oil and white wine vinegar. The wine easily handled each element. Its bright acidity went toe to toe with the vinegar in the salad, while its crisp, just-ripe wild blackberry flavor was a blunt but satisfying contrast to the bright, bitter greens. The sausage dish was a walk in the park: the Frappato’s earthy side wrapped around the spices in the merguez and in the dish, while its fruit amply handled the sausage’s spice, its tannins (unusual for the variety) clamped down on the fatty meat. Corn is corn: soft meets sweet meets sweet resistance to the tooth.
I’m not saying don’t drink Barbaresco; I’m saying don’t not drink Tami Frappato. $17.
By the way, here’s the recipe for the main:
3 links of spicy merguez (mine was from SF’s 4505 Meats)
3 small red peppers (these and all vegetables from Riverdog Farm)
1 small onion
2 dashes chili powder
2 dashes cumin
1 long dash vinegar
1 garlic clove
S & P
sautée until done.
My latest feature in SF Magazine, whereas I look at what is required to make compelling Chardonnay in California and reasons why it doesn’t happen very often.
"There was a famous Harvard Business Review paper published in 2004 about how one can find success in business in times of extreme competition. The postulate was that success can really only come if you are capable of finding “blue ocean,” i.e. delivering a product or service that is so utterly differentiated and superior to that of your competition, that you essentially have no competitors. In the world of wine production, it is my most tenacious belief that, despite occasional evidence to the contrary, producing a distinctive vin de terroir is the only lasting way that a wine producer will ever be able to find blue ocean—a truly sustainable niche. In other words, chasing scores by changing your winemaking practices to favor a particular à la mode style may offer short-term success, but in the end, is a fool’s game. Winemaking trix are for kids, and we must grow up … Maybe it is a bit paradoxical, but embracing the real, as I have said, does not mean gritting one’s teeth and hoping for the best. Embracing the real requires the realization that one must look deep within oneself to find an imaginative path toward success, maybe one that has never been attempted before. It is the understanding that there is no longer any way at all to “play it safe.” There is only risk."
Randall Grahm Red Wine, White Wine, Blue Ocean | Been Doon So Long (via Instapaper)
Longman & Eagle, a new restaurant in the rapidly gentrifying Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago. I like its slogan.
Wanted to mention my most recent column in the NYT. It’s about the 44-mile bike path that’s being built in the Napa Valley between Vallejo and Calistoga. Can’t get done soon enough for me. (Photo courtesy lbsterling on Flickr.)