Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Drinking Nancy's Wine

Max just called and told me the terrible news. It is with heavy heart that I report the person for whom I wrote this entry back in April, Nancy Kranz, has passed away today, November 21st 2010, after suffering a sudden, massive stroke. It is sad news, but she is a lucky woman. She did things her way until the end with little compromise. She lived in the house she loved, she drank her husband's wine, and no one had to take care of her in an undignified way or tell her what to do or where to go, and she went peacefully and with little pain. My heart goes out to her family who will miss her very much. And I hope her house, belongings and remaining treasure of wine is appreciated to the fullest extent by those she left behind.

Here is the original post from April:

I've known Max and Shawn for a few years now. Ever since that first great Alfama Rectangular Table dinner (see blog post Summer 2009: The Season That Killed) that sparked our friendship, I'd heard tell of Max's step-grandmother Nancy's insane wine stash. Her husband, Peter, was an avid Burgundy collector, with a special penchant for Joseph Drouhin wines, and he also enjoyed good Bordeaux and German Rieslings. They lived in a crazy house he designed himself, in Darien, CT, with their own cellar. He died a few years ago before he could drink them all, so the wines, some dating back to the 1930s, were now in the process of being enjoyed by his widow and whoever wanted to come by and help her drink them. Would I like to come to CT some time and try some?

Well, what has two thumbs and likes old wine, especially Burgundy?

It took nearly three years for us to put this together. And in this time, Max's brother, Ry, has helped himself to a significant amount to store on his own, not to mention Nancy is drinking somewhere around a bottle a day. But there are still good things to be had. Thus, on a rainy April Monday, myself, my good friend John, our friend Liza (pronounced Leeza) and Max set out for Darien, greeted there by Shawn, Max's mother, Charlotte, and Nancy herself.

Below is what the cellar used to look like:

This is what is was like Monday (a little dark, but you can sense depletion):

That's Shawn on the left, and Max and me. Peter had devised a map system to relocate the wines. The wines were listed alphabetically with a code to their "coordinates" in the cellar, with a corresponding, hand drawn map for reference. The shelves were marked with these codes. Unfortunately, much had been depleted, but not crossed out, so hard to tell what would still be there. But we found some gems and took them back upstairs, up the spiral staircase, which oddly was built slightly under an unusable "bridge" from the living room to bedroom. We knew there was a good chance some of the bottles would be corked or past their prime (the conditions are not ideal, dark, yes, cool and damp, yes, but still fairly open to the elements, making the bottles un-auctionable, which is fine, as they were all intended for nothing but private consumption anyway). Nancy assured us we could always make other selections if we hit a bad bottle. They had gotten in the habit of lining up the corked bottles on a shelf down there.

Here is the beautiful view we enjoyed while drinking. The whole house is a big, open window. Gorgeous, but, sadly, impossible to heat. Still, the view in springtime, even in the rain, is spectacular. Peter had this idea of digging a pit, and through the house's history, it just kept getting bigger and bigger. On this day, it was filled with water, looking like quite the picturesque pond scene.

The first wine we tried was a 1964 Rheingau Spatlese. Hard to tell exactly who the producer is from this deteriorated label. And dig the creepy Hitleriffic logo! Shawn's joke, "Well, if this is wrong, I don't wanna be Reich!" The first bottle was badly corked, but we found another. It seemed a little past its prime, but once it hung out in the glass, oxidized dried fruit flavors with good acid balance came to life. Our glassware was not ideal, but it did the trick.

The next bottle was a 1969 Drouhin white Burgundy. The label was way too deteriorated to know appellation and producer. But it was full of flavor. Deep, rich apple, citrus peel and burnt sugar with good acidity. The back of the bottle had this helpful label on it. No, those are not floaties IN the wine. The bottles have a lot of crud on them. We cleaned them off best we could before drinking.

Here's some pictures of us enjoying the spread. And yes, that's an old surf board made into a dining room table! That's John and Liza below.

Liza and Charlotte.

Nancy and John.

The next bottle was a 1976 Drouhin Chambertin. Quite full of flavor, despite being a tad past its best consumption time. Wouldn't kick it out of bed though, as they say.

Next up, a 1970 Jaffelin Clos du Vougeot.  We couldn't tell much from the label, as you can see, but luckily the cork held a lot of answers. The wine came out cloudy, and didn't have much on the nose, but what an amazing concentration of flavor! Great fresh cherry, lots of herbs dried and fresh, including basil. This kept getting a lot better in the glass, and the aromas began to emerge.


Charlotte: "Shall we open the Musigny?" Shawn: "Only if there's also a Squirreligny..."

1971 Joseph Drouhin Musigny. The first time I'd ever tried a wine from my birth year! Lots going on here. Very warm cherry and plum flavors, juicy, luscious, with some pine cone and cedar notes. Very much alive and in prime. A real thrill for me to have the opportunity to drink! Sadly, I don't have a photo of this bottle, the label was pretty far gone.

Aside from mapping his wines in the cellar, we also found out that Peter had meticulously kept much of his Playboy collection in a three-ring binders, which we easily found in a nearby cabinet. Max and Shawn happened to pull one from the early to mid seventies, with one spread, if you will, of a very young, stunning, pre-Superman Margot Kidder!  Nancy sat by amused as we looked through it, at the old liquor adds, at the unabashed shots of real, untrimmed bush, at the unenhanced breastage and soft lighting. Those were the days... Glad she still wanted those around. Well, there was lots that was in essence Peter's personality around that house. As I wandered about, looking at pictures and objects, I became very moved, imagining those two around the time the wines were originally purchased, living their lives, laughing, loving, drinking, traveling. They must have been a great couple to be around. 

By now it had gotten dark, and we were quite happy.

Liza on the porch having sips and a smoke.

Bageera the cat.

This is his litter box, no joke.

Next up, a 1970 Corton. The label was way too far gone to read any more about it. No idea of producer. But let's just say this bottle was quite devoid of suckage. Really delicious and well within drinking dates.

We ended with a 1964 Grand Pontet Rousan-Segla, St. Emillon, Bordeaux. It was way mossy, musty and earthy on the nose and I was worried it would be awful. But in the glass, lots of concentrated black fruits, spice, chocolate, prune, moss (in a good way) and dirt. This was excellent right out of the bottle (note that none of the wines were decanted, but we still enjoyed them!), and kept getting better, as long as we could stand to let it sit in the glass. John said this was his favorite of the bunch.

By now several hours had passed, Nancy was getting tired, and John, Liza and I needed to get back into the city. We said our goodbyes and thanked Nancy again and again. So good of her to share these precious bottles and sit and drink them with us (none the worse for wear, rumor had it, Nancy would soon be enjoying a Manhattan while watching the Daily Show). It's a day I was beyond lucky to experience, and I hope I live as full a life as Nancy to continue to enjoy this great memory. Thanks so much to Max and Shawn for finally making it happen! Cheers to you, Charlotte and Nancy!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ye Shall Know the "Troot"

It's been kind of a funny weekend of human observation.

In desperation for extra cash, I was prompted to contact the Census Bureau to see if they need my help with field work in the neighborhood. While I do not relish the idea of going door to door and harassing negligent residents to fill out the form, I'd be fine with any clerical or phone work they'd need me to do. But in order to get work, I first had to take a half hour standardized test, basically to see whether I possess basic common sense, along with some math and organizational skills.

I did this Saturday afternoon right here at the Carroll Gardens library. I was seated at a table with five random, cash-starved people, and there was lots of down time between filling out forms, taking the test and waiting for it to be scored. Next to me was that guy who tells everyone what they're doing wrong and how to get it right, and in front of me was that woman who hums to herself and can't to anything without commenting out loud, such as writing down her address. It's perfect they found each other because she doesn't listen to directions and he loves giving them.

So by the time we were all waiting for our scores, he pushes a pamphlet for his Christian Scientist (a term I never understood, considering they categorically don't believe in most things scientific) church to her and they have a loud conversation about sinning and finding the "troot" (his repeated, heavily Brooklyn-accented pronunciation) within yourself. With all this Godtastic talk, I am in hell. While playing with my iPhone in attempts to ignore them, I look up and meet eyes with two others at the table, who smile nervously. Finally one kind man interrupts and wants to discuss the test questions, some of which were admittedly weird. Like, which of these words is synonymous with "controversial?" He managed to distract them till I could pick up my test and leave. If I ever see him again, I am so buying him a cocktail!

Speaking of, the rest of the weekend was very boozy and fun! Saturday night met up with Phil (you might know him from previous posts such as Bottles and Bruce) and a bunch of our neighborhood friends and my ex-Morrell peeps at the Waterfront Ale House on Atlantic. After that crazy afternoon, felt great to ease into that scene and catch up with old pals. It's always funny to get this crowd together, because we all geek out in our own ways. Phil likes to tell us which beer on draught is "showing well" while Tom and Brett discuss the wines they've tasted lately and what they ate with them. I miss working with those guys, even if not the job itself.

Sunday was the Dizzy Fizz Pre-Tales Blogger Brunch at Rye House. A gathering of Twitter peeps, booze bloggers and local mixologists hosted by Herbsaint and Tales of the Cocktail to get us in the mood for promoting the big July event in New Orleans, that is, for those of us going, ahem. Above is an Herbsaint drip in the proper glasswear. Cubes and water melt slowly into the spirit below. We got to keep the glasses!

This is the spirit in a very delicious Herbsaint Fizz. Kind of like taking a Shamrock shake to greater heights!

Was hoping to hang in a corner with Rob and a couple of our mutual friends, but Selena Ricks, who helped organize the event had us in assigned seats, which ended up being very fun. Sat with a few people I already knew, and it encouraged me to mingle with those I didn't. Unlike throwing together random, cash-hungry would-be public servants, it had to be OK if we all like to write about booze, right? Well, if anyone there was looking for the "troot" within them, they kept it to themselves.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We're Just Plain Smart

Well, kids. I have good news and bad news. The good news is Rob and I were starting to really rock on the cocktails! The bad news is, we came to a mutual decision not to take the live Bar Smarts exam next week in DC. The main reason is, we did all the work for the Wired program, we completed the Modules, we passed all the online quizzes, we know the spirits, we get the paradigms for the different types of cocktails (stirred whisky-based ones, sours, martinis, collins, fizzes, etc), but taking three whole days to drive to and from DC and pay for a hotel room and gas for a one-day exam suddenly seemed like an unnecessary expense in both time and money. At the end of the test, whether or not we passed really wouldn't matter that much in the long run. Neither of us plan on becoming mixologists on a professional level, we just wanted to learn. And that we did. As far as I'm concerned, mission accomplished!

Please don't be disappointed. We didn't give up. We are just being practical. Now that we have the basic skills, the real fun begins. One of the reasons Rob and I became such good friends is we both love to taste and learn about new spirits (and in my case, also wine). That will always be in motion. Plus, nothing like experience to really hone a new skill.

Besides, my friend is suddenly VERY busy. I'm very proud to report that Rob's bar, Idle Hands, is finally in possession and remodel work is under way!  Rob will be opening the underground Rock and Roll Speakeasy-type space (the joke is that the 'Speak Loudly,' Billy Hurricanes will be upstairs) on Ave. B with pals Marc Shapiro and Dave Cianco. Hoping to welcome the pubic by Memorial Day weekend, the boys have their work cut out for them. Having gandered at the space, I can tell you, amid all the highfalutin booze joints of late, with the limited space and the rules and the waiting, they're here to make drinking fun again. Can't wait, fellas!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Disassembly Required

Tuesday: Back to Rob's for more Bar Smarts practice. It's noon. I'm thinking maybe we should watch the DVD's that come with our kit before we embark on more mixology. I know there just HAS to be a better way to disengage that shaker. Seen plenty of skinny hipster bartenders get them open with little effort. It can't be for lack of upper body strength on my part. 

Module 3 is lead by Master Mixologist Dale DeGroff, cocktail historian Dave Wondrich and the previously mentioned Winegeek founder, cocktailian Andy Seymour. They take us through all twenty-five classic cocktails that we have to know backwards and forwards, the proper techniques, barwear, etc. And FINALLY, where to hit the bloody shaker so it separates and people can drink! Heel of the hand smack below the rim of the metal part, et...voi-effen-la!

Turns out banging it incessantly on the counter is about as productive and satisfying as doing so with one's head against a wall. Separates nine out of ten times. That one time outta ten's a nasty bitch, but it eventually goes.

A quick trip up to Kalustyans for some bitters and a stop for fresh citrus and we're off! Kris came home from work just in time for a fresh mojito, and soon Marc and Jay joined us to watch the Yankee/Red Sox game as Rob and I tried to keep up with this small, but thirsty crowd. A couple more new drinks were tried out such as a Gin Fizz (not to be confused with the Ramos version with egg whites, this is more a gin sour), Sidecars, Mai Tais (now that we have the key orgeat syrup ingredient), Sazeracs (the rye version), more whiskey sours (a version with, another without egg whites), Bourbon Collins (iced tea-like and refreshing) and Old Fashioneds. Jay requested a Bourbon Mojito, which ended up being a GREAT idea. Think Mint Julep with more citrus. Then my piece de resistance, a Pisco Sour, shaken with egg whites, swirled with bitters. Now I know all you experienced mixologists aren't too impressed, but considering how little I knew at the beginning of the day, I'm pretty proud of my accomplishment. And it tasted mighty fine.

Shake Some Action

When we last left our intrepid mixologists, things were looking pretty messy. Hopeful, but messy.

But I'm happy to report that we're hitting a groove. A reason I haven't posted in a while is we had to take a brief hiatus while my mixology partner, Rob, took a job in L.A. for a couple of weeks and I spent that time trying to figure out the general stuff of life and come up with a game plan. But more on that later.

After both of us passed our first Module of Bar Smarts (see previous post), which was essentially a history of distillation, we made our bar purchases and really set to work.

The first day was last Friday. Thumbing through our spiral-bound bible, we settled on four cocktails. (Don't worry, much of this was sacrificed to either our brave "assistant," Rob's wife Kris, or sadly, the kitchen sink): Negronis (mine shaken with ice, served up, his stirred with ice), caipirinhas (both too sugary for my tastes, and we needed better limes), Blood and Sand (which is blended scotch, in this case, Chivas Regal 12, orange juice, sweet vermouth and cherry heering. And as gross as it sounds unless it's made with bourbon. THEN you have a drink!) and finally, a true whiskey sour with fresh lemon juice. Makes all the difference.

By now we are much more sure-footed with the mixing and the shaking. Massive accomplishment when the ingredients actually land IN the mixing glass... But, and those of you who know me will find it hard to believe, I just couldn't "break the seal." That Boston Shaker just wasn't coming apart for me once I was ready to pour out my drink. Rob had figured out a method with very precise hand placement and a lot of pulling, but that wasn't working for me at all. I gave my shaker a solid dent banging it in frustration against the counter to break the vacuum, but that didn't work either.

I was starting to get panicked flash forwards of making a caipirinha for someone like Andy Seymour during the test and failing because my shaker stayed closed shut like a bad steamed mussel. I clearly needed practice. But I also suspected there was a trick to it. I'm thinking we need to watch the DVD's. Either that, or take up body building.