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Porrera, Priorat, Catalonia, Spain While one can have a wine tour of Spain via the tapas bars of Barcelona (which we most certainly did), nothing beats standing in the vineyard with a winemaker in understanding a wine. Much of our travel to wine regions is appointment driven; each year we go to Napa...

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Alex & Elyse: A Love Story

Posted by admin | Posted in currentVintage, Events, Food, Nantucket, travel, Wine | Posted on 27-09-2009

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Alex and Elyse…sounds like a famous couple, like Jack & Diane or Peaches & Herb. They are famous, but alas, they are not a couple, although for this story I am trying to make them one…because I love them both.

Alex Gambal

Alex Gambal

Alex Gambal and his then wife moved with their kids to France in 1993.  They were looking for an experience abroad and a serendipitous meeting with famed wine importer Becky Wasserman led to that experience and then some.  What began as a stage, resulted in his enrollment in viticulture school, and voila, in 1997, Maison Alex Gambal was born.


Ray Coursen of Elyse

Ten years earlier, Ray Coursen and his wife were working on Cape Cod.  One day, Ray offhandedly asked Nancy when she’d be ready to move to California to start making wine. “Tomorrow,” she said, and off to the wild west, they went.  Ray worked his way from the tasting room to the cellar, becoming winemaker in a matter of  a few years.  In 1987, the Coursens founded Elyse, producing 286 cases of Morisoli Vineyard Zin, still one of their preferred fruit sources today.

Ray is known for Zinfandel and Rhone varietals.  His wines are extracted, rich and voluptuous.  Alex deals exclusively with chardonnay and pinot noir, and his style is typically more elegant and restrained.

Alex makes about 5000 cases of wines/year; Elyse makes nearly double.  Alex makes 18 wines, 60% white and 40% red.  Of Ray’s 20 or so bottlings, of whites there are only two.

Stylistically, the wines of Alex Gambal and Elyse don’t have so much in common, yet on many other levels they do.  Both Alex and Ray are negociants with both eyes on the vineyard.  They each hold long-term contracts with trusted growers to ensure the quality of the fruit.  They each own a few of their own vineyards.  Ray went to school to study agriculture.  Alex tends his own garden.  They are both artists, farmers and scientists, as that is what is required to own a winery and produce consistently good wine.  Elyse wines are on all the great lists in Napa.  Alex’s are on some of the best lists in Beaune.

They are both good friends to the Nantucket Wine Festival and they share a passion for wine, food and life.

These days, countless points and accolades later, Alex and Elyse continue to produce amazing wines:  Food friendly, fruit-centric, hand-crafted wines from their respective corners of the world.  They are truly living the dream.

What a nice couple!

Gambal label

“I came in frankly not knowing the first thing about Burgundy or how to make wine, but to have an experience with my family, trying to enrich our lives. If things turned out well, that would be great. But if it didn’t we’d go home to our former life.”—Alex Gambal

“When I first saw how small Burgundy is and how diverse it is I realized that it would take me a lifetime to begin to understand it. That’s what I love about Burgundy, because I continue to learn something new about it every day. That’s what makes it so wonderful, and also so maddening. Here we have two principal grape types and how can it be so different from one little place to the next. Burgundy isn’t a spectator sport, it’s a contact sport. You really have to be willing to get in and get your hands dirty. Otherwise, forget about it.”—Alex Gambal

“In our winemaking we let nature express each vintage uniquely, by using indigenous yeasts which are naturally on the grapes. We make our wines following Burgundian tradition : our whites are barrel fermented and both red and white wines are matured on their lies with just one racking prior to bottling.”–Alex Gambalag 2 labels

Re. the 2009 harvest:

“When one controls all from A-Z, and mother nature provides 6 months of glorious weather, the results are easy to see and taste.” Alex Gambal,  September 2009

“I also recommend Alex Gambal’s 2007 Bourgogne Blanc.  It’s another wine that delivers more than its appellation suggests, I suspect because it comes entirely from Cote d’Or Chardonnay (the law allows Bourgogne Blanc to be made from grapes grown throughout Burgundy, including the Côte Chalonnaise and Côte Mâconnaise).  Gambal waited to harvest the Chardonnay in 2007– and it paid off.  I guess it’s in his nature to gamble.”—Michael Apstein, www.winereviewonline.com, July 2009

“A meal without wine is eating; a meal with wine is dining – it’s a conversation, an event. It’s what wine is about.”—Ray Coursen

1034989x“Winemaking is cooking without a flame. Great chefs search for the best ingredients and then carefully prepare them so the layers of flavors in the food all reach the table. They’re constantly searching for wonderful fruit to work with. Besides the vineyard at the winery, we’ve been fortunate to find amazing fruit from vineyards stretching from Carneros to Howell Mountain. As a fellow winemaker once said, “The best wines come from the vineyards with the most footprints in them.” –Ray Coursen (s2wines.com)

Re. C’est Si Bon:

“This was the favorite wine that we would all take a little pull from in the wine room.”—Ray Coursen

Re. winemaking:

“I like a little oak, but I don’t want it to be overpowering – I want to taste the fruit. I love wines that pair well with food…When I make a wine, my tastes and techniques will influence the process, but what’s most important is the fruit. The fruit dictates what the wine will be. We’re fortunate to work with an amazing group of growers and vineyards, whose fruit keeps taking us to wonderful places.”—Ray Coursen

Re. visiting Elyse:

“This is a MUST  for all serious wine drinkers.   It does not have a fancy tasting room, no gross monuments to oneself here, no long driveways with valet parking,  no cheese-and-figs,  no members-only library, no bubble room,  no car collection,  no tram, no tractor ride, no cablecar,  no castle, no outdoor sculpture garden,  no ponds,  not even pistachios…if you know what I mean.
This is Napa the original way.   A small tasting room  with giant, delicious wines that do all the promoting themselves.   This is THE BEST OF NAPA. “—Brenda S., NY, NY, March 2008 (www.yelp.com)

Re. Elyse Wines:

“This excellent winery continues to turn out a bevy of intriguing wines, including both Zinfandels and Rhone Ranger offerings.” -Robert Parker (June 2008)

Balloon over Napa seen from Elyse Winery

Balloon over Napa seen from Elyse Winery

Alex Gambal Blog:


Ray Coursen video:


I first met Ray Coursen in Yountville in 2003 and have been fortunate to dine and lodge with him several times since.  Most day’s you can find him lunching at Redd with fellow winemakers such as John Arns and Jim Barbour.  Alex’s wines I discovered years ago at the Nantucket Wine Festival and I have also enjoyed clinking glasses with him in Beaune.  His cuvée is in an historical courtyard just inside the town wall of Beaune.  I look forward to seeing them both this winter and again at the Nantucket Wine Festival in May.  Elyse and Maison Alex Gambal wines are available at currentVintage.

Tasting of Alex & Elyse Wines

4-7, Wednesday, September 30, 2009

currentVintage, 4 Easy St, Nantucket.

Maison Alex Gambal window in Beaune

Maison Alex Gambal window in Beaune

Ode to Jorge

Posted by admin | Posted in currentVintage, Events, Food, Nantucket, travel, Wine | Posted on 17-09-2009

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Jorge Ordonez

Jorge Ordonez with Ateca "Atteca" Garnacha

Pioneer. Visionary. Legend.  These words are so overused (often by me)…so what do you call someone who really is a PVL?  In this case, I’ll call him a rock star, because just as a rock star is more than a musician and the president is more than a politician, Jorge Ordonez is more than a wine importer.  He is a rock star of the wine industry, and we’re not simply talking limestone and schist.

Three words are consistently associated with Jorge:

Quality.  Influence.  Charisma.

Before Jumilla was a household word, there was Jorge Ordonez, ambassador of the Spanish wine world.  In the 1980s, Jorge recognized that the Spanish wine trade needed an intervention.  The vines were there, the wines were there, but that wasn’t what was making it into the households of the American consumer.  The good wines were often not so, by the time they were shipped across the Atlantic in un-refrigerated conditions.  Grapes from the oldest vines in the world were being lumped in with new stock, resulting in mass-production plonk.  For the winemakers who were making great wines already, Jorge organized controlled shipping and distribution so that what went into the bottle in Spain was what arrived on our shores.  Recognizing the value in Spain’s pre-phylloxera vine heritage, Jorge championed the potential for low-yield, highly concentrated wines and guided these wines into bottle and ultimately, the international marketplace.

His quality standards from the vine to the restaurant are such that he has raised the level of the entire Spanish wine industry, as others must now compete on the field he has groomed.

Mark Donato & Jorge Ordonez at Cinco restaurant, Nantucket

Mark Donato & Jorge Ordonez at Cinco restaurant, Nantucket

Jorge’s aggressive management style has influenced every aspect of Spanish wine production from the vineyard to the bottle label.  Some bemoan the modernization of old world wines, but Jorge maintains that he is merely an adviser and only intervenes when asked or needed.  Nevertheless, modern technology has come to Spanish regions that were mere backwaters 20 years ago and dozens of indigenous varietals have reached a wider audience, while outside varietals, eg chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon have been introduced.

Jorge has developed some interesting and influential projects in the last decade.  In addition to importing and consulting, he is now highly regarded producer and his collaborations as well as his own projects have proved extraordinarily successful, in case you haven’t heard…El Nido,  a joint venture with Australian wizards Chris Ringland and Dan Phillips has been called the greatest wine ever to come out of Jumilla.  The “El Nido” is generally 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Monastrell and has received 93-99 points from Robert Parker every year of it’s brief existence since 2002, with it’s cousin Clio not far behind.  That is impressive even to those who pretend they don’t care about points.  These are modern wines:  big, extracted, fruit-forward mouthfuls of wine showing their Australian influence and appealing to an American palate.

Jorge has also endeavored to celebrate the Moscatel of his native Malaga through Jorge Ordonez & Co. a joint venture winery with the late Austrian, Alois Kracher, and his son, Gerhard.  Their original and aromatic Botani Moscatel Seco (high elevation, hand-harvested, air dried) is a revelation in dry Moscatel and the sweet moscatels are superior as well.

Jorge Amanda

Lastly, this leaves charisma.  Just because you can sing doesn’t mean you’re the next Madonna.  You can be the most knowledgeable wino on the planet or represent the best wine in the world, but words will fall on deaf ears without personality and passion behind them.  Jorge’s demanding and dynamic style combined with unflagging determination have brought Spain much recognition and prosperity in just twenty years.  He represents nearly 50 Spanish wineries (which could easily be doubled), holding them each to his exacting standards, regardless of price, and he continues to bring his own innovative and quality wines to the market.  Considered the Martha Stewart or Oprah of the Spanish wine world, vineyards that are not meticulous don’t make the cut and there is a long line of wineries waiting to take their place.

In a nutshell,  since 1987, Jorge Ordonez has saved the Spain’s old vines from the tractor, brought them to their true potential, and then educated the world of their value.  It is exciting to think what the next twenty may bring…!

Jorge Ordonez wine tasting at currentVintage:

5-7 Monday, September 21, 2009


Nantucket Food Pantry dinner at Cinco

Featuring Jorge Ordonez and wines of Fine Estates from Spain

6:00 Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Watch Jorge Ordonez interview on The Wine Library

Bottom two photos Courtesy of Gene Mahon, www.mahonabouttown.com

top photo courtesy of www.elephantjournal.com

Guilty Pleasures

Posted by admin | Posted in Culture, currentVintage, Nantucket, travel, Vintage | Posted on 09-09-2009

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Elisabeth hanging at Mar a Lago

Elisabeth hanging at Mar a Lago

As a year-round resident of Nantucket and shopkeeper in this island resort community, there are two recurring questions/comments that one must perennially endure:

What do you DO in the winter?

It MUST be nice having the winter off (sniff, sniff)…

The first assumes there is nothing to do in Nantucket. Although there is some truth to that, particularly in March, we generally spend the winter working, renting movies, dining with friends, renting movies…Just like the rest of the Northeast, as well as much of country.

Regarding the second comment, the concept of “having the winter off” is a bit of an oxymoron to a small business owner.  My “seasonal” business is open generally seven days a week April-December and weekends in the dead of winter.  We close a couple of days a week in November, but that hardly makes up for the 9am-11pm schedule of July & August!  In the off-season, I travel incessantly to source our vintage inventory for the upcoming season.  It is a choice and the lifestyle I have chosen, but it is not quite exactly having the winter “off”, as in poolside in St Barths or three months in Aspen.  That said, I do spend a lot of time “sourcing” in some very un-wintery places…Mar a Lago, anyone?  But after traveling like mad all winter, and working like crazy all spring and summer, I am fantasizing about downtime.

This being the week after Labor Day, currentVintage now closes at 8:00 during the week–how great it will be to have some nights at home surfing the computer, organizing my shoes, applying a face masque—and of course, watching movies.

In that spirit, I thought I’d share some funny You Tube videos.  I am not up on You Tube like I am on wine and fashion;  these are not the latest releases.  These are NOT “cult’ following insider selections that are known only to me and my friends.  These are not particularly provocative or necessarily major artistic works of art.  They are mainstream, been-around-the-forwarded-emails-block, seen by thousands if not millions.

Perhaps it is culturally significant that everyone from a Burger King worker in East LA to 20-somethings in St Paul to the citizens of Antwerp to a 3-yr old in New York City all have the exact same dance moves, but that is not the point.  Bottom line is they crack me up, and if you are as tired and weary as I am after this marathon of a summer, the guilty pleasure of hanging out and laughing hard probably sounds really good.

My top 5 favorite make-me-smile You Tube videos*.

*Note the Broadway influence–it was all I could do to resist including Susan Boyle.

HAIR:  A 3-yr old Member of the Tribe!

Hang in for the first 40 seconds and you will realize you’re witnessing the next Gavin Creel–A three-year old member of the tribe!

“Do Re Mi”

A spectacular, seemingly spontaneous Sound of Music routine involving 200? dancers in an Antwerp train station –This will be the happiest 4 minutes of your day!

“Les Misbarack

A year old now, this video brings back all of the energy and enthusiasm of the campaign trail a year ago.  The music is as exhilarating in this video as it is on a Broadway stage.

Bon Qui Qui at King Burger

Anjelah Johnson of MAD tv is brilliant.  Not that I would have known that if my savvy 9, 11 and 13-yr old nieces hadn’t set me straight last Christmas.  I loved her from “Don’t get crazy”.

“Forever” Wedding Dance

The popularity of this summer video has outlived some marriages…Given that their wedding song is by Chris Brown, Jill and Kevin of St Paul are using the popularity of their You Tube video and Today show to raise awareness of and funds for domestic violence

Haute Hippie Icons & Boho-Chic

Posted by admin | Posted in currentVintage, Events, Fashion, Nantucket, travel, Vintage | Posted on 01-09-2009

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As I wrote about Talitha Getty in the currentVintage newsletter this week, it was apparent that given the era and her brief life, she was spared the kind of ridicule that today’s iconic fashionistas have experienced.  Why, exactly, was she so admired?  What, exactly, has she contributed to the human race besides her beauty and wealth?  The answer may be very little, but so what?  I’m not saying that teachers, nurses and Greenpeace workers don’t deserve praise, fame and fortune; only that the stylish are interesting to me and I have no issue when they are celebrated and adored for making the world a more visually interesting place.  But Talitha died young and thus permanently beautiful, albeit in a very ugly and unglamorous (heroin overdose) way.  How cliché, yet still lovely that the legacy of a single photograph continues to inspire today.

Rachel Zoe, Boho-Glamour Icon

Rachel Zoe, Boho-Glamour Icon

If Talitha is the poster girl for 1960s Boho-chic, Rachel Zoe is the modern one.  I loved Rachel Zoe before she was popular.  She was on my radar for awhile and then, in 2006?, there was an article on RZ in Vogue or somewhere that featured photos of Rachel in various Halston Grecian column dresses lounging poolside in platforms and dwarfed in her awe-inspiring closet.  Her Boho-chic meets Studio 54 Glamour aesthetic was/is precisely my idea of cool and I have watched in awe as she has so successfully branded the look and made it practically Stepford in Hollywood.

Rachel Zoe in the closet dreams are made of...

Rachel Zoe in the closet dreams are made of...

Some say her style is irrelevant now—and some have been saying that for years.  But, guess what, it’s not.  I love it when the public refuses to roll over on a style they like (Carrie Bradshaw, anyone?).  Usually by the time a trend has hit mainstream America, fashion has long moved on, but sometimes, it just keeps coming back because people like it and designers have no choice.  I skipped the Sex and the City phase alltogether, but as long as young girls are still buying crinolines, I am happy to sell them.

Where Talitha had the benefit of being a beautiful & rich heroin addict pre-internet, Rachel has laser-sharp scrutiny 24/7.  Rachel’s suntan & cigarettes look is frighteningly unhealthy, yet perversely attractive.  I met her at a party of Sienna Miller’s a couple of years ago.  It was the Twenty-Eight-Twelve Launch Party on the roof top of the Gramercy Park Hotel, and there was RZ in a terrific little leopard vintage number.  I complimented her dress, she praised my palazzo jumpsuit.  I said I owned a vintage clothing store in Nantucket, she said that she wore only vintage.  At that point, when I should have had the sense to hand her a business card, etc, I proceeded to talk about anything and everything else, then eventually mosey on, having just met the most influential stylist on the planet and being too obtuse to make something of it…

Elisabeth in RZ-worthy vintage in Gramercy Park

Elisabeth in RZ-worthy vintage in Gramercy Park

That’s another reason I admire Rachel.  It is great to have great style, but style plus savvy is what really counts.  I don’t really care for the idea of the made-in-elsewhere line of “affordable” looks she has developed for QVC and I have yet to see her reality show, (although I would probably love it if I watched much tv), but I don’t blame RZ for trying to milk every dime of her celebrity ride.  She’s the first to admit she’s not saving lives, just being style guru to the red carpet and now, the masses.  Even if she is effectively over tomorrow, she’s more than made her fashion mark.  Personally, as a stylish-but-sans-savvy business woman, I think that is very cool.

Rachel Zoe in Boho Maxi

Rachel Zoe in Boho Maxi

Giuseppe Zanotti Boho Biler boot from The Zoe Report

Giuseppe Zanotti Boho Biker boot from The Zoe Report

RZ & disciple, Kate Hudson

RZ & disciple, Kate Hudson

Rachel in Vintage? Suede Coat w/ Mongolian Lamb cuffs

Rachel in Vintage? Suede Coat w/ Mongolian Lamb cuffs

Tom Binns modern pearl necklace from rachelzoe.com

Tom Binns modern pearl necklace from The Zoe Report