Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Quality of Gramercy is Not Strain'd

Gramercy Wines I’m Yammering About:
2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley $50
2010 Syrah Walla Walla Valley $55
2010 Grenache Olsen Vineyard Columbia Valley $55

I think the first wine made by a sommelier that I ever tasted was Bonaccorsi. Michael Bonaccorsi, who died suddenly and at a very young age in 2004, was sommelier at Spago Beverly Hills when he started his own label, I think around 1999. I’ve always been of the opinion that it should be illegal for sommeliers to make wine. Punishable by law. No prison time, but you’d have to listen to Michel Chapoutier speak, or serve 100 hours of community service, which is a shorter sentence. Be a winemaker or be a sommelier, for God’s sake, don’t try to be both. I never met a waiter in a steakhouse yet who wanted to be a butcher. Besides, sommeliers are not artists. If anything, they’re librarians. They buy things and put them on shelves, hopefully with some discernment. Wine lists are just card catalogues.

Mike Bonaccorsi called on me at work one day with a couple of bottles of wine for me to taste, a Chardonnay and a Syrah, I think. I bought several cases for the restaurant, more out of professional courtesy than passion for the wines. They were good, but not great that first vintage. But I liked Mike. Everyone liked Mike. Don’t think I ever bought wine from a sommelier again. You know, it’s  odd, but some of the most narrow-minded wine lovers I know are sommeliers (though Mike was never that kind of guy). You’d think they’d have more eclectic tastes, but they don’t. They might like wines with lower alcohol, or wines that are extracted and more intense than John Malkovich in musth, or wines from some obscure region like Coullioure or Waiheke Island or Ecuador, but they don’t appreciate them all. Sommeliers can be downright militaristic about their wine preferences. I tried to like everything.

Gramercy Cellars is new to me, though the winery has gotten lots of favorable press. Since I left the sommelier racket, I simply don’t read much press. Reading wine press is like death, only without the beckoning Light and cool wooden box. But somehow I ended up in the Gramercy Cellars Wine Club. I think I read about the winery on Paul Gregutt’s blog (the coward, giving up blogging for family and money—what kind of sickness is that?). Or maybe I saw the label and just liked that it reminded me of the classic old horror film, “The Omen,” starring Gregory Peck. I think that’s the film where somebody gets impaled on a metal fence like the one on the Gramercy Cellars label—skewered and left for dead like the truth on FOX News. Whatever happened, I recently received a shipment from Gramercy Cellars, which turns out to be the winery of a Master Sommelier, Greg Harrington. But a very nice Master Sommelier. I was reminded of Mike Bonaccorsi.

I placed a reorder with Gramercy Cellars, six bottles. About an hour after I placed the Internet order, I received an email from Greg asking if I was buying the wines for review on my blog and offering to send me the wines for free. My first thought was, “He reads HoseMaster of Wine™?” That’s scary. Like seeing your sexting photo on Tosh 2.0. And you just stepped out of a really cold lake. I responded to Greg that I had been contemplating doing more wine writing on my blog, but that wasn’t at all what I was doing with the reorder. I don’t solicit wines, and I don’t have a tab on my blog that says “Where to Submit Samples” as if I were a fertility clinic. Though plenty of jerkoffs read my blog, I don’t necessarily want their samples. Anyhow, that wonderful Master Sommelier shipped me the six bottles at no charge, and with no expectation of a review. What was he thinking?

When I encounter a new winery, I’m always looking for style. Any good winery has one, every great winery has one, and the rest of the sorry wines produced in the world have all the style of that guy you see on ATM surveillance cameras. And you can’t get any sense of style until you taste several wines from that new winery. So I started tasting my Gramercy Cellars wines in no particular order and with no particular agenda, except I wanted to drink them with a meal, and over the course of a couple of days. I don’t think I’ve ever had a young, great wine that wasn’t better the second day. Like chewing gum.

With a selection of wines in front of me from Gramercy (Every time I type Gramercy, I hear Marvin Gaye in my head. “Ah, Gramercy, mercy me/Ahhh, things ain’t what they used to be, no, no/Where did all the blue skies go?/Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east.” I just have great Gayedar, I guess.), I gravitated first to the 2010 Grenache Olsen Vineyard. I love Grenache. Not the sort of cheap crap from Spain that tastes like hard cherry candy. I can drink that stuff, some of it is pretty tasty for the tariff, but I don’t think of it as Grenache. It’s often from vineyards more overcropped than JFK assassination photos.

Grenache, for me, comes down to Chateau Rayas. I cannot open a bottle of Grenache without comparing it to that legendary Chateauneuf-du-Pape. I love Rayas. I would marry Rayas and birth little Rayasses. I dream about Rayas, and wake up stickier than the floor at a Justin Bieber concert. I first tasted Rayas in 1987. I was with three other wine guys having dinner at Pacific Dining Car, where I was the sommelier. We occasionally convened there and would bring the best wines we could to try to top each other, bring the consensus best wine on the table. It wasn’t a blind tasting. Half the fun was drooling over the famous labels on the table. That first night I tasted Rayas, which sealed my doom and made me a Rayas buttboy, there were a couple of other very memorable wines on the table, 1985 Sassicaia and 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. And then there was the 1978 Rayas. It changed my life. The ’85 Sassicaia was truly remarkable, and the Martha’s was still in its infancy and a brilliant bottle of wine, but the Rayas was majestic. I’d never heard of it. You can argue about the greatest Grenache on planet Earth, but not with me. It’s Rayas. Yes, Rayas went through some tough transition vintages after Jacques Reynaud died and his nephew took over, but it seems he has the place back on track recently. If you have a Life List of great wines you hope to taste, you must have Rayas on it. I hope I can land some of the 2010. But I was saying…

Gramercy produced all of 95 cases of their 2010 Grenache. It’s very nice, and it’s clear to me that Greg Harrington loves Grenache, but it’s no Rayas. Nor did I expect it to be. That's asking far too much. During dinner, a bit of lamb loin, I kept mentioning Rayas, hoping the Rayas fairy would drop by with a glass or nine. It’s never fair to compare a wine like Gramercy Grenache to a legendary wine from your memory, but that’s what we do. I don’t want to drink wines that I don’t have high expectations for, anyway. I do drink them, but I wish I didn’t have to. Drinking those sorts of disappointing wines is like buying a book by Dan Brown—you know it’s going to suck, why buy it? The guy writes like Mickey Spillane with brain damage. But there are days you just make mistakes.

I did have high expectations for the Gramercy Grenache, just from the alliteration. And it was quite good. I’m anxious to try another vintage of it. The 2010 left me yearning for a more powerful finish is all. The lead-up was terrific. There's beautiful Grenache fruit here, bright red and fresh. Over and over I kept mumbling to my wife, “It goes down nice, but it doesn’t have a great finish.” “Yeah,” she said, “tell me about it.”

Based on the Grenache, I was very eager to taste the Cabernet and the Syrah. If the Grenache fell short for me, I still very much liked the style—restrained, fresh, impeccably balanced, and beautifully layered.

A few nights later, after a rat ate my Prius, I decided to open a bottle of each and taste them with a Chateaubriand I’d roasted. We’d drink half of each bottle with our meal, then drink the rest of each bottle the following night. With young wines I don’t bother to gas them or pump them over night. That’s sounds a little too much like you’re holding teenagers hostage in your basement.

I wonder how many Cabernet Sauvignons I’ve tasted in my life. I’m certain more than any other variety. It’s my wine equivalent of French fries. But I still love Cabernet. I don’t buy it as often as I once did though. Is there another grape variety around the world that so often underdelivers when it comes to price versus quality? When Cabernet comes up you often hear opinions like, “When it’s good, it’s really good, but otherwise, it’s overpriced.” Forget Rayas, it’s more like Jose Reyes. Constantly underperforms.

Drinking the Gramercy 2009 Cabernet (and I’ll just assume that everyone understands how different it is to drink wine than to taste it) with dinner I must have said three or four times, “I think this will be really good tomorrow.” It had that sort of muscle and acidic structure that I thought would fill out over night. It was darn good Cabernet, though, with that whisper of tobacco that I find fulfilling in fine Cabernet. I love Columbia Valley Cabernet, and have often expressed the opinion that Washington Cabernets will one day equal, even surpass, the great wines of Napa Valley. But, as good as this wine was, it didn’t dramatically improve. It didn’t deteriorate either, which is a good sign. I get the feeling after tasting his wines that Greg Harrington’s passion is the Rhône varieties. That’s obvious from his lineup, but I sensed it when I tasted the Cabernet. Winemakers always say their wines are like their children and they don’t have favorites, but now and then you can tell which kid is the one that would make Sophie’s Choice easy.

Or maybe the Cabernet suffered alongside the 2010 Walla Walla Syrah. I wouldn’t even blink at the $55 price tag for this wine. Simply put, this is brilliant wine. In the great big world of Syrah, it’s vastly underpriced. My HoseMaster brain thought of it as Raymond Chandler might have:

“I smelled the blood when I walked in. The wind was blowing, that hot wind that blows across the city urging neglected housewives to sit on their husband’s face, only with a pillow in between him and the twin hills of Côte-Rôtie. I was nervous as a dog with a bladder infection. It was dark, a saturated kind of dark, and I could smell meat and blood and smoke. There was a familiar taste in my mouth. Fear. But I like the taste of fear. It means you’re alive.”

The second night the Syrah went from bombastic to fascinating. Like a guy who is the life of the party the first night, but the second night he’s not “on” and is far more interesting. It was sensational with my simple little Chateaubriand, which was also nice and bloody, and the second night, well, it overwhelmed the roast chicken, but was still wondrous. And I think there's still some for sale on the website. It comes with my enthusiastic recommendation. Yeah, I know, so what.

If you read all the way to here, you might want a link:

Gramercy Cellars


Mockingbird said...


You watch Tosh 2.0?
Into sexually ambiguous boys, eh?

Mockingbird said...

Why would you compare new world Grenache to one CNdP house?

...and why take 165 words to say what takes only 7: "I did not pay for this wine"

That exercise seems as masturbatory as the bloggers' talking about talking about talking about wine....

Samantha Dugan said...

As suspected, I fucking love it when you talk wine....sigh. I love you.

Bella Vino said...

Sorry you didn't mention the is excellent!

Dave Larsen said...

Wow! You didn't disappoint with your first wine review. Very entertaining and informative. What more can you ask for as a consumer? Keep em coming!

Napa Peter said...

HM, glad to see you're gonna throw in some reviews again. Just takes a little bribery, huh? (if you know what I mean)! Look in your mailbox, my bunk is on it's way for review! COD, of course.

Marlene Rossman said...

"I don’t solicit wines, and I don’t have a tab on my blog that says “Where to Submit Samples” as if I were a fertility clinic. Though plenty of jerkoffs read my blog, I don’t necessarily want their samples."

You're not a fertility clinic? Uh,oh!

Joe said...

Over and over I kept mumbling to my wife, “It goes down nice, but it doesn’t have a great finish.” “Yeah,” she said, “tell me about it.”

Sheesh. Is there some way you could warn readers before they read something like that?

Now I gotta go buy another new keyboard. And, fair dues, not drink my pink-moscato-and-sprites while reading

Thomas said...

Nice wine "reviewing" Ron. Just one criticism: too long. I have work to do and can't keep getting hooked on someone else's good writing at length!

Thomas said...

Oh, (re, Marvin Gaye reference) were you aware of "grammercy's" ancient definition or were you just lucky?

The picket fence is interestsing. That's what it looks like in Grammercy Park, in Manhattan.

Charlie Olken said...


This is a form of wine writing that has all but disappeared. In fact, if one adds in the one-liners, it is a form of wine writing that has never existed.

Suffice it to say that it is not too long. This is the Hosemaster invites his friend, the brilliant sommelier to taste with him. And, as for the person who thinks that this is too personal, that was the point in the first place--so ignore him.

What a brilliant way to have a two-person panel. Love it.

Or should I say. LOVE IT.

And, thanks.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Ah, well, then that makes it worth it. I love you too!

Bella Vino,
I didn't get to taste the Tempranillo, it wasn't part of my club shipment. But the guy knows how to make wine and seems to understand the varieties, so I wouldn't be surprised if it was terrific.

Thank you. In this first little essay I wanted to talk about the wines the way we actually tend to think about them when we're just drinking them among friends and peers, with all the assorted blind alleys and meaningless observations. But without some foolishness thrown in, it would be mindnumbingly dull. As it is, it's much different than my usual shenanigans here, and something of a shock, even to me.

Napa Peter,
No worries. Luckily, I always take my bomb-sniffing dog with me to my mailbox. The way I write jokes, I need a bomb-sniffing dog. Mine, apparently, ain't that good at it.

No, Love, I'm a mental clinic.

The whole point of a set-up is not to telegraph the punchline. Comedy writing 101. Though pink Moscato and Sprite might be the perfect match for my fluff.

Praise from you for my writing is high praise. Thanks. And, yes, I did know the ancient definition of "grammercy," but that's not why I kept hearing Marvin Gaye. I just like Marvin Gaye. And Shakespeare. Not often one gets to put them in the same essay.

I actually enjoyed this exercise, not something I would ever say about writing satire. I don't plan to do it very often, but every now and again, when the wines move me. I wanted to get the first one under my belt, and Greg Harrington at Gramercy Cellars inadvertently motivated me with his generosity. And, believe me, that Walla Walla Syrah is Three Stars every day of the week.

Thanks, Charlie, for the very kind words.

Dave (no, the other one) said...


I had only recently "discovered" Bonacorsi wines shortly before Michael's passing and was moved by the later news about how the community was turning out to help his widow with all the chores of keeping the operation going.

Your first review has some serious problems however, unable to read it in just one sitting I now have a mid-range Gruner sprayed all over my monitor and some upper end Grenache from Madera shorting out my keyboard.

Seriously though, finally some reviews that are so much fun to read as well as meaningful.


Dave (yeah, that one)

gabe said...

that was an excellent wine review. more please!

Dean Tudor said...


Based on what I learned from your review, I'd have to give your review a 94...

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Dave the Other One,
Unbeknownst to me, Greg Harrington of Gramercy Cellars was a friend of Mike's and credits him with being the inspiration for finally chasing his dream and starting a winery. Greg sent me an email yesterday about his connection to Mike, about which I had no idea when I wrote the piece. Very odd coincidence.

Mike had a LOT of friends. Everyone wanted to help after he died.

Thanks. It's nice to step away from the HoseMaster once in a while. He's a giant butt sore. But he's why everyone's here, so my wine review forays will be just every so often. And about who knows what.

Let's see, 94 Canadian. I think that's 78 in American points. About right.

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PaulG said...

Great stuff my friend. One correction - the great Columbia Valley Cabs are every bit as good as the best of Napa and far less expensive.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Yup, I'd agree. I meant to imply that ever since I first tasted wines like those from Woodward Canyon and Leonetti and then Quilceda Creek back in the early 90's, and even earlier (remember that awful label that Quilceda Creek first had, sort of turd brown?), it was obvious that Columbia Valley was magic for Cabernet. I do hope prices stay reasonable. For at least as long as I'm buying them, anyway. And I'm definitely buying them.

Art said...

Charlie hit the nail on the head with his comment! And have you all heard that Robert Parker is selling the Wine Advocate to Singapore investors, and it will start accepting advertising? Good timing, Ron -- there's a void to be filled!

William Hughes said...


This is the best review I've read in a long time.

By the way, do you do your tastings naked? If so, please send pictures. I'm looking for something to help kick start my new bulimia weight loss program.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks for the kind words. I do have a very strict tasting regimen, which does not involve nudity. Unless it's a public tasting. That clears the room.

Here is the link that explains the procedure:

Thanks for chiming in!

Beau said...

That was a fun read, Ron. Thank you. It also made me thirsty. I agree with your thoughts on Columbia Valley Cabernet, I just wish they'd focus on not slathering oak and shit all over the wines, and let the rest of the bits and bobs do the talking. Looking forward to the next one!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks. I can't honestly say that I've had a ton of Columbia Valley cabs lately, but the ones I have tasted, namely Gramercy, Ellanelle (a steal) and Soos Creek (another steal), weren't at all overoaked. I always thought Leonetti was, but that style certainly gained him Parker numbers, so hard to fault him.

And if you're thirsty, get you some of that Gramercy '10 Walla Walla Syrah. Man, I can still taste it.

Finkus Bripp GC said...

Aaaahhhh Rayas!

I was invited to a wine circle jerk at a friend's restaurant in Munich a few weeks back and we each (three of us) brought a bottle or two of our favourite juice. We heeee'd and we hawwww'd for hours till the owner brought out an '86 Rayas... one way to shut a group of wine geeks heee'ing and hawwww'ing up - really fast. Incredible wine!

Love your writing Hosemaster. Keep on keepin' ON and happy holidays.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Thanks, or, rather, Danke. In a perfect world, I'd drink Rayas once a day rather than Diet Coke.