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Monthly Archives: April 2012

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More New Wine at Slows

Editor’s note: Another appropriated communication on the subject of new wine at Slows from local wine authority, Putnam Weekley. Though intended solely to educate the staff, again, there is so much excellent general information on wine that it must be shared.  


This week there are an unusually large number of new wines at Slows.

Gone, for now, are:

Ulacia Txakolina,
Verasol MCS,
Montsarra Cava,
Domaine Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon
Dr. Thanisch Riesling (“Sofia’s”)

New Items:

NV Lini 910 Lambrusco Rosé
2010 Thomas-Labaille Sancerre, Chavignol, Les Monts Damnés
2009 Didier Montchovet Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire
2008 Eugen Wehrheim Riesling Kabinett, Niersteiner Oelberg
2009 Vieux Chene, VdP Vaucluse, Cuvee de la Dame Vieille


The Lambrusco label will look familiar to most of you. Last year we carried a similar wine from the same producer, their “Rosso.”

This so-called Rosé is fairly dark in color. Think of it as a very light colored red. And while grouping wines into broad, visibly evident categories – Like “Rosé Wines” – is easy and quick, that approach will help explain conformist wines better than distinctive ones. In other words, we are right to prefer the renegade over the predictable. So before considering Lini’s Rosé you might want to forget what you know about pink wine.

Lambrusco is a grape variety associated with the Italian province of Emilia and the culturally rich city of Bologna. It is commonly equated with a sweet factory made drink sold under the Riunite brand. (“Riunite on Ice, So Nice.”) This, however, is quite a bit different. It’s dry, for one thing, and the wine-growing is on a smaller and slower scale. It is less processed.

Is it sparkling? Yes. To be more specific, it is frizzante, which means it has about half the gas of a Champagne-method wine.

The Lini family established their winery in 1910, hence the name.

A 5 oz. coupe holds about 4 oz. and it costs $7. A bottle is a sensational value at $28 and it is the easiest thing in the world to drink – not boozy, tannic or heavy – in fact the opposite.

It tastes delicious. It will not clash with any of our foods, so in one sense it will pair well with any of them. However, I think this is less of a food companion than it is a pure drinker, before a meal, after a shift, whenever drinking will be done.


Sancerre is a French region in the upper Loire valley. White Sancerre is always 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Within Sancerre, the town of Chavignol is known to produce particularly ripe and sturdy wines. And there is one more distinction to mention, the vineyard: Les Monts Damnés. (Damnation Mountain)

Les Monts Damnés is a unique slope in Chavignol. It is aimed and curved toward the south in a way that amplifies the sun’s rays making for a unique ripening of the grapes. Here are photos of it: http://jimsloire.blogspot.com/2012/04/sancerre-monts-damnes-views.html

Kimmeridgian Marl makes up the soils in Burgundy, Champagne and Chavignol and it is the greatest dirt in the world!: http://www.winegeeks.com/articles/139

This is truly a rare find. I would be shocked if this were offered by the glass anywhere else in Michigan, or even in the Midwest. Slows sells a 5 oz. pour for $11, a bottle for $44. The only other restaurant I could find selling it in the country is in North Carolina where it is sold by the bottle for $52.

How does it taste? Rather like a Chablis-Sancerre hybrid of sorts. It is racy and scented of diverse fruits and plants: apples, citrus, apricot, dandelion stems, stone, and clover. It combines richness, persistence and precise detail in a unique way. By contrast, brand name Sauvignon Blanc wines from New Zealand will taste noticeably more herbaceous and of grapefruit, and cloying, with alcohols out of whack. Other wines from Sancerre are leaner and more ephemeral than this. This bottle can develop and reward patience as it ages.

Your takeaway: While this is indeed “a Sauvignon Blanc,” selling it as such would be wildly short of the mark. This is a classic Les Monts Damnés, a great Sancerre, and if it can even be considered representative of Sauvignon Blanc, this is one of its greatest expressions found on earth.

This will pair well with the Slows cheese trio – mac, hoffmans, and enchiladas. Also it will complement blackened catfish, rare salmon, and the various chicken based items – wings, yardbird, strut, breast.


Everyone knows Red Burgundy – or Bourgogne Rouge – is made from Pinot Noir. But there are two exceptions: Passetoutgrains, which is typically a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire. In this case we are drinking a wine made from Gamay. Gamay, incidentally, is the grape that makes Beaujolais in its region just to the south.

This is a good example of strictly “Natural Wine.” The grapes are certified biodynamic and almost nothing was added to the wine during fermentation and aging. The idea is to capture the whole taste of the fruit and the vineyard. And indeed, this is a charming bundle of Gamay goodness, tempered with a bit of bottle age. It is light bodied, dry and berryish on the palate. And as its fruit-flavored baby fat has worn away over time, there is emerging a distinctive earthy flavor that might remind you of Agave (see Mescal and Tequila.) This comes from the whole pulpy mess of fruit and the diverse microbes that get the fermentation going after the grapes are picked. In a perfect world I’d like to see this served a bit cooler than room temperature. Ice-bathe the bottle for 3-5 minutes if you want to see what I mean.

Consider allowing someone asking for “Pinot Noir” to taste this (and with an additional sample of the Rayos Uva Rioja they will know the two best and very different alternatives.)

Pair this with pork in all its forms, but especially in the form of a Reason sandwich.

$8 / $32


This Riesling has been seen on our list twice before. It is from a single vineyard in the German region of Rheinhessen and it is off-dry, semi-sweet, fruity – whatever you want to call it. The reason it’s sweet is that Riesling, and wines from this far north in general, tend to have so much natural acidity that residual fruit sugar is an important balancing element to the flavors. The Oelberg (Oil Mountain) vineyard is in the township of Nierstein, and it is one of the few esteemed vineyard sites in the Rheinhessen.

The best way to experience Riesling is to concentrate on the aromas. There is really a lot going on in there. Smell it for at least a minute before you even take a taste. Red apples, preserved lemons, flinty mineral and stone sensations, and all of it is fairly intense and organized.

This wine certainly can pair with fish and chicken, but there is one unorthodox pairing that I like even better: brisket. There is a groomed classic personality to both the wine and the meat that speak to each other. The meat does not “overwhelm” the wine, or at least not completely. Consider having that with a side of green beans and potato salad or sweet mash.

Still $7 / $28


Vieux Chene (Old Oak) is an estate in the hills that join the Rhone Valley to Provence in southern France. This is from a certified organic farm.

It is made with Grenache from very old vines (old vines produce more concentrated and complex wine) and younger plantings of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and Merlot. This is a perfectly ripe, dry and drinkable every day red wine. It’s lack of pretense and complication is in direct proportion to its charm, good flavor and utility.

This will pair well and complement virtually everything on the menu. Vieux Chene rocks.

Medium-bodied. $6 / $24 … another astonishing bargain



I’ve become a little obsessed with our Ferreira White Port. As a concept, White Port has a few knocks against it. 1) It is not an antique tradition – the first white port was bottled sometime in the past 100 years, and there is little coherence to the various styles that would exemplify it. 2) It is an obscure subset of an already niche wine, that being the standard ports, ruby and tawny, made with red grapes. And 3) There are some expectedly shoddy “white port” knockoffs made in the central valley of California which tend to appear in liquor stores in poor neighborhoods – a perfectly legitimate if quick and cheap alcohol high.

This wine however is worth some serious consideration and reflection. Comparisons to good Sherry and Madeira are warranted. All have a certain nutty aroma that does indeed invite pairing them with roasted almonds. All are fortified – meaning the natural sugar in the grapes was preserved by halting fermentation by way of an added dose of neutral grape spirits. So it’s strong and a bit sweet. But so, …, balanced. This has aromas and scents of baked apples, peppered candied lemons, fresh figs, hazelnuts, apricots, and rainier cherries.

This is typically thought of as an aperitif (moreso in France) or digestif (moreso in England) but I had a hunch that this would actually pair well with a JP’s revenge. So on Friday I sat at table 209 and tested my theory. It was the wine and sandwich equivalent of bacon on a Chuck Norris, or to name a sanctioned classic, Sauternes and Fois Gras. Two incredibly rich and succulent flavors brought together to amplify and complement the other. And in spite of the decadent flavors, it actually made a rejuvenating meal.

That’s plenty to think about for now. Please call, write or see me to offer your insights or to pose questions.

Thanks for reading,


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On Gourmet

When Detroiters walk into Astro Coffee, it’s not uncommon to see a first-time patron walk up to the counter, look up at the menu, and say something like “I don’t want the gourmet coffee; what’s the regular one?” Or conversely, it’s easy to stroll the aisles of a supermarket and see trail mix, pasta, or hot dogs branded as gourmet products.

Context is everything. A word so over-utilized can only derive meaning from a group of people with a shared understanding of its meaning. It’s probably, then, the case that people who appreciate cuisine and its place in the world also can appreciate some elements of its history and even its lexicon.

Much like food and drink, language focuses a powerful lens on the unique aspects of a given culture. So it should be of little surprise that gourmet, one of our most enduring terms for describing those of discerning taste, is derived from French. It seems suitable that a country capable of producing burgundy and inventing Bearnaise should have coined a term for appreciation of delicacies that’s lasted almost 200 years and across languages.

Perhaps the most well-known gourmet since the term came into popular usage was Jean Brillat-Savarin. His 1825 book The Physiology of Taste is widely regarded as the archetype for the contemporary food essay. Written in French and later widely translated, it was released only five years after the earliest use of the term in English as cited by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).


Among his numerous opinions, Brillat-Savarin comes to the conclusion that “Those persons who suffer from indigestion, or who become drunk, are utterly ignorant of the true principles of eating and drinking.”

He’s drawing the distinction between gourmand and gourmet, between those who over-eat and those who enjoy quality. Interestingly, the former is a much older term: The OED cites   an early written usage of gourmand in Vitae Patrum by English merchant William Caxton in 1495. While the two are often used interchangeably today, the two are, in fact, historically unrelated.

Derived from Old French words groumet and grommes meaning “manservant,” the term gourmet grew in Middle French to describe specifically the role of a wine valet, an attendant who understood the full range of wines’ properties. Such a servant was skilled, able to quite possibly discern a wine’s characteristics and origins from smell or taste.

While the OED hints that there may have been some earlier cross-pollination between Germanic languages and Old French, other sources are more confident in the connection. Some speculate that the root of the word groom, the Old English grōma (meaning a male child), was incorporated into the French language, initiating the evolution toward gourmet.

Of course, all that said, people were celebrating great food long before French aristocrats were training young men to sniff their wines for them.

Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, is the inspiration for English words epicure and, now, modestly clever combinations of words like “epicurious.” Today, Merriam-Webster defines an epicure as “one with sensitive or discriminating tastes,” a definition strikingly similar to that of a gourmet, though it also lists an archaic definition for one devoted to sensual pleasure.

It seems that this misconception of Epicurus as an unabashed hedonist emerged from something of a smear campaign against his name. While he is now widely acknowledged for having lived a modest life, his philosophy of simple, virtuous living leading to absence of pain or suffering was rooted in an atheistic worldview that eschewed an afterlife. Such thinking was clearly considered dangerous by many Christians throughout their own early history. Indeed, a derivation of his name came to be synonymous with heresy in early Christian cultures, and its earliest usages in English relate as much to religion as they do to food: Thomas Cooper, bishop of Winchester, lamented in his 1859 An admonition to the people of England that “The schoole of Epicure, and the Atheists, is mightily increased in these dayes.”

Still, throughout the 1600s and 1700s, his name was synonymous in some English-speaking circles with dainty, thoughtful consumption of delicious food, meaning that despite its confused origins, it pre-dates gourmet in its conveyance of this concept.

In the 20th century, though, there can be no doubt that “gourmet” came to symbolize all the finest things in the culinary realm. Even the magazine, Gourmet, that carried the term on its cover for seven decades is something of a metaphor for the word itself. When it debuted in 1941, Gourmet was the pinnacle of food magazines. While its primary competition was printed in black and white on newsprint with more modest recipes on its pages, Gourmet aimed to bring haute cuisine to its readers and itself embodied the spirit of the finer things, printed in color on glossier paper. Critics like James Beard reviewed restaurants in fashionable locales, and French cuisine was prominently featured.

But by the time the 90s came about, can anyone say that Gourmet carried itself  differently than any other magazine? Scanning the shelves at a book store, it blended in among the dozens of new periodicals. Instead, it was larger, denser, more serious publications that came to earn respect, like Gastronomica or The Art of Eating. While Ruth Reichl, editor for the last years at Gourmet, managed to feature spectacular writing (look no further than getting David Foster Wallace to write about lobsters), the image of the magazine became confused: It sat next to bubble gum on store shelves, and in an effort to capture younger readers content was no longer solely aimed at the white linen crowd. Conversely, in its earliest history, there was a clear audience: It was reserved for those who cared and, frankly, probably those who had the means to care.

It’s a decent parallel. Just as the Gourmet brand saw itself diluted in a sprawling, re-emergent American food culture, the term gourmet has ostensibly lost its value with every package of preservative-laden, gourmet-labeled product that came to grace grocery store shelves. If everything is gourmet, then nothing is.

That said, with 200 years of history behind it, there’s still a case to be made for gourmet as a valued part of our cultural dictionary. After all, in context, it still has meaning. And among people who do truly care about what they’re eating, it can retain that meaning, the one and the same about which Brillat-Savarin wrote 200 years ago. At the very least, I’m sure everyone can agree it’s more appealing and more appropriate than foodie.

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New Wine at Slows

Editor’s note: We appropriated this communication on the subject of new wine at Slows from local wine authority, Putnam Weekley. It was originally intended solely to educate the staff but we thought there was so much excellent general information on wine in these few paragraphs that it had to be shared.  


Here are three new wines on our list, and I seriously adore all of them. So give credit to Tara for gettin’ em, and blame goes to me if you manage somehow to find fault with them. Item by item:

2010 Rioja, Rayos Uva. $9 / $36

Short version: this is our closest thing to the common notion of “Merlot.” Dark. Ripe, assertive fruit tannins. In terms of suggested fruits and spices, it is more linear than exotic. Considering the alternatives – at Slows now - this wine will also be the nearest thing to the common notion of “Pinot Noir.” (It’s like a Bugey Pinot with more density.) But please note, comparisons to warm weather Pinot Noir grown in fertile soils (i.e. from Santa Barbara, Willamette, and Marlborough) are much harder to make. This wine is not fat or pumped up with flavors of Jäger, bruised strawberries and cola.

The comparisons to Merlot and Pinot Noir are conveniently suggested by the biography of the winegrower. Olivier Rivière studied enology in the heartland of Merlot (Montagne St. Emilion, Bordeaux) and later worked at the great Burgundy estate of Domaine Leroy, famous for its biodynamic Pinot Noir vines.

Rayos Uva is 100% Tempranillo farmed organically and aged in large vats. It can be considered a Tinto, bottled younger than Crianza, Reserva or Gran Reserva. Oftentimes Rioja – particularly common Reserva – is associated with barrel-aged wines which can taste rather more of leather, vanillin, and tobacco. In this case by contrast, vat aging results in a wine more reminiscent of fresh fruit, ripe skins, and scented of minerals.

read more

2010 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, La Quercia – $7 / $28

Look in any wine shop, or any list at an Italian restaurant. There are a LOT of wines bearing the appellation “Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.” (mōn-tā-pool-CHYA-nō : da-BROOTS-ō) In a crowded field of red wines competing for fickle consumer attention, common entries often exhibit signs of a winemaking arms race. There is ever more extraction, more alcohol, and more wood flavoring. While that aggressive style may indeed get attention, after exposure it can become tiring in a hurry.

La Quercia’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is different. Hand work, organic farming and minimal interventions have resulted in a wine that – while appropriately tannic and robust – leaves the palate refreshed and wanting more of its whole fruit and spice.

Let’s iron out a common point of confusion. This wine is made from the Montepulciano grape variety grown in the southern Italian region of Abruzzo. No problem there. However, there happens to be a more prestigious wine from the Tuscan town/comune also called Montepulciano, the best wines from which are called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The latter is made from a local clone of the Sangiovese variety, which is the variety grown in neighboring Chianti and Brunello. The most likely reason for the shared name is that once-upon-a-time farmers in Abruzzi idealized the wines from Montepulciano and so used the name to describe their own vines which best emulated it. Such borrowing of names is very common in wine history; you could even regard it as the rule rather than the exception. (See California Burgundy, Chablis, and Madeira)

The upshot is this: it is not necessarily specific enough to refer to this wine only as Montepulciano. More completely put: it is a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. By the same token, asking for a “Pinot” could get you a cheap Italian white wine or a red wine from someplace like Oregon.

Short version: Montepulciano produces dark, tannic wines with a certain rustic edge. This sterling example is a good suggestion for someone looking for a “Malbec” or even a “Cabernet” (If the prices were reversed, and this were $9 while Domaine Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon were $7, I would gladly drink the Montepulciano for the higher price. This is not to say that our Cabernet Sauvignon is not solidly above average for things called Cabernet Sauvignon. It is.)


2010 Macon Charnay, Domaine Jean Manciat $9 / $36

Short version: 100% Chardonnay, which should be assumed of all things White Burgundy. Slows carried this cuvée about five years ago. The intervening years have allowed these younger vines to accrue the benefits to wine-quality of age: deeper roots, harmonious micro cultures, and accumulated interactive experience with their farmer, Mr. Manciat.

Some context: The Macon region is the vast southernmost region of Burgundy. By nature, Macon white wines *should* be fatter and sweeter than comparably situated wines in the more northern Burgundy regions of the Cote d’Or (i.e. Chassagne Montrachet.) However, industrial farming and a collapsed market in the postwar period encouraged most farmers to produce thin, dilute and acidic wines. To some extent, especially with older wine drinkers, Macon is associated with this cheap type of Chardonnay, and it may even suit some wine drinkers. Jean Manciat’s Macon is one of a handful of notable exceptions to this old rule. In fact, with the perspective of a few decades, the Macon region is now a happy hunting ground for drinkers seeking distinctly delicious wines that wear very well on the palate, in an open bottle, and laid down in a cellar.

Serve cold, but enjoy it best at about 60 deg. F.

read more

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April 29, Potluck Brunch at Lincoln Street Art Park & Sculpture Garden

Green stuff is growing, birds are fornicating, and thus our thoughts turn to eating and drinking outdoors in a hip place with interesting people.

Join us April 29th for a potluck brunch. Bring a dish to share, a few bottles of something to drink, and a chair to sit in if you wish. We’ll be making mirth from 12 – 5 p.m. and may even have a bonfire later in the evening if folks are still hanging out.

Take some time to explore the murals, sculpture, graffiti, and other forms of street art found on Lincoln Street (affectionately known as the Ghetto Louvre). A keen eye will find something in virtually every nook and cranny in the park and surrounding area, including the Recycle Here facility around the corner on Holden Street. It’s where creative talent inhabits the gritty landscape of post-industrial Detroit — truly a fascinating place.

Bring your friends, bring your kids, bring your friends’ kids, this potluck is open to  everyone that wants to come. Hope to see you.

Link to the facebook event page


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Old Forester 100

Quite a while back, Todd slammed a marketing campaign for Old Forester bourbon. Rightly, I think, he suggested that a serious drinker would consider the particular marketing effort — which involved promoting some pretty awful drink ideas — so absurd as to not want to drink the bourbon. We later blind taste tested it against some others, and it fared well, though not as well as Buffalo Trace.

That said, in our tasting, we only covered a somewhat random handful of whiskeys, so I was kind of excited when Dave at the Sugar House decided to host a bourbon tasting tonight.

Here’s what I wasn’t expecting: Old Forester 100 would be my favorite.

The line up of 6 total whiskeys was (in order) Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Elijah Craig 12, Old Forester 100, Old Granddad Bonded, and Henry McKenna.

I tasted each straight and then tasted each with a bit of water as well (we were given one ounce pours), and I most admired the OF 100 for its round, balanced flavor and lack of any noticeable off flavors either straight or cut. (I shouldn’t have been surprised: I probably drank 8 ounces of the stuff last Saturday night.) None of the whiskeys were noticeably “bad,” though I was surprised that Buffalo Trace was my second least favorite (next to Elijah Craig). I was equally surprised that the Henry McKenna didn’t clearly assert itself as a top two or top three choice and that Elijah Craig 12 year was so grassy and flat. It just wasn’t as complete of a drink. Among the 80ish proof bourbons, Four Roses was the clear winner. Compared to the McKenna, a higher proof spirit, I think I preferred the Old Granddad.

For straight drinking, the OF 100 seems pretty unmatched in the price range. For mixing… Well, more experimentation will be required.

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