A Trip to Leonard J. Buck Garden

This gallery contains 5 photos.

For Fathers’ Day, after a 40-mile bike ride, we went to Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills, NJ.  Ellen and I visited here once at least 10 years ago.  This spring, I’ve ridden past the entrance several times, so it … Continue reading

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Fraud in the Wine Business: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Two massive frauds have rocked the wine business this spring.  First, there’s the ongoing saga of Rudy Kurniawan, who’s alleged to have sold hundreds of counterfeit bottles at several auctions.  When authorities searched his suburban Los Angeles house, they found what was described as an “elaborate” facility to bottle and label counterfeit wines.

Since the beginning of the 2000s, the amount of money spent on fine wines at auction has increased fivefold.  Mike Steinberger’s Vanity Fair article describes younger wine enthusiasts, “new players … distinguished by their insatiable acquisitiveness and eagerness to flaunt their trophy bottles” as driving up auction prices.  Kurniawan found a ready market for counterfeit old wines he is said to have produced himself.

Then there’s the recent investigation of improper practices at the esteemed Burgundy negociant Labouré-Roi.  First reported in the French newspaper Le Bien Public, the story hit the English language press on Thursday.  The U.K.’s Daily Mail details a fraud investigation where this old, established Burgundy producer sold as many as two million bottles of fake Nuits-Saint-Georges over a period of several years.  The bottles were allegedly “topped off” with inexpensive plonk from the south of France before being sold to consumers.  Labouré-Roi exports 30 % of its production and the U.S. is one of their export markets.

Armand Cottin, a Labouré-Roi director, said, “We are three years after the period which was checked by investigators and we are now approaching a situation where we have an error rate of close to zero.  The management is taking responsibility for the situation we are in.”

Error rate of close to zero?

When I first read about this on Wednesday, I alerted a friend who works at Labouré-Roi’s NJ distributor.  He was unaware of these charges.  At present, it’s unknown how much, if any, of this wine made it to the U.S.

Kurniawan’s story makes fascinating reading.  I’m sorry that people were taken in, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the hubris and greed that seems to seep through all the cracks of this story.  There’s a sound reason to buy young wines at a traditional retailer and put them away to mature.

The charges against Labouré-Roi are much more distressing.  I sold this brand when I worked in retail.  When I was a sales rep and later a purchasing agent for Winebow, Labouré-Roi was marketed by a well-run competitor with good, knowledgable sales staff.

If what the French authorities allege is true, Labouré-Roi blended e.g. cheap syrah or grenache with pinot noir, labeled it as Nuits-Saint-Georges – one of the prestige appellations of Burgundy, and sold it with a commensurate price.  Error of close to zero?  This operation doesn’t sound like an error to me.

In the wine business, your word means everything.  From telling your customer, “Yes, we can deliver these goods on Friday” to “This is Nuits-Saint-Georges.”  The whole idea that a business would bottle fake wine from anywhere and allow their distributors to present it as the genuine article is abhorrent.  The damage to their reputation will take years to repair.

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A Note on GMOs

Soulsby Farms has a good essay regarding genetically modified organisms in our food supply.  I’d like a footnote or two for reference, and I’d like to eliminate the use of the apostrophe to denote plurals.  But in his theme, the writer is right on.

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Garden Spring 2012

Due to a variety of commitments, I haven’t written on this blog recently. Here are a few pictures from our garden today.

garden with peppers, basil and sage

Foreground: basil, peppers. Our old vines sage in the background. Tough keeping up with the weeds.

I no longer have a space to sprout seeds indoors; this year, I ordered heirloom tomato and pepper transplants from Seed Savers.  Tomato transplants worked well last year.  We haven’t planted peppers in several years, due to poor results.  This year, I’m trying Jimmy Nardello’s sweet peppers.  They didn’t make the photograph, but we have silverbeet Swiss chard too.

The sage plant, now 17 years old, is gradually taking over the garden.  Ellen cut back a good bit of it this week.

dianthus and rue

I love dianthus.

The perennials are coming in nicely at their usual leisurely pace.  Our hollyhocks have spread, I can’t wait until they blossom.



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Pork and Vegetables with Red Wine Sauce

In our house, the cooking goes in waves.  For a month or two, I’m totally organized, I know what I want to prepare, and I have a list.  Right now, I’m at the other end of the spectrum.  Plan?  What plan?  With a bare minimum grocery list, I’m flying through the store, picking vegetables that look good and hoping to prepare everything nicely later. Continue reading

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Abbaye des Monges “Augustine” La Clape Coteaux de Languedoc 2007

A mouthful of a name for an interesting red wine.

The nose is a mix of blueberries, grilled meat and smoky or gamy nuances.  The palate is fresh and medium-bodied with bright acidity.  The fruit  is  a teaser, never quite coming through on palate.

On one level, this is bright and fresh for a five year old wine, but falls a bit short on palate.  The great bouquet doesn’t quite follow through to the palate.  I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it.  Best bet: try it and decide for yourself.

Varietal composition: Grenache, Syrah, Carignan: 30% each; Mourvedre 10%.

Retail price:  $10.99.  Imported by Wines and Beyond, Rhinebeck NY

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Azienda Vinicola Palama Arcangelo Salice Salentino DOC 2008

Back in the day, Dr. Cosimo Taurino’s wonderful Salice Salentino Riserva  introduced me to the pleasures of southern Italian wines.  Mea culpa: I sold Taurino products to make my living, but they’re truly wonderful wines.

Palamá’s Arcangelo Salice Salentino reminded me how much I enjoy wines from this part of the world.  I do have some quabbles:  while the percentages vary, depending on what one reads, DOC regulations require the classic Negroamaro to be blended with Malvasia Nera.  What’s up with 20% Primitivo in the blend, and not a drop of Malvasia Nera?

My other issue – and Palamá isn’t the only offender here, by far – is the vintage date hidden on the back label, in small print.  It’s like there’s something to hide.  I’m old school on this:  put the vintage date on the front where it belongs, please.

OK, I’m done with venting.  This wine is a really good value for the money.  The bouquet is a classic combination of roasted plums, blackberries and toasted spices like cloves.  The palate is classic southern Italian:  full, classic roasted fruit flavorsw with a good lashing of acidity.  This is well worth seeking out.

Imported by Small Vineyards LLC, Seattle WA.  Retail: $9.99
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