Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'Rock vs. World' among Black Ankle events

A shot of the tasting room at Black Ankle Vineyards.

Spotted a couple of events coming up this weekend on Black Ankle Vineyard's site that I wanted to mention. The Mt. Airy winery won the Maryland Governor's Cup for its 2006 Crumbling Rock, a red Bordeaux blend, even while just opening for business. That award distinguishes the wine as the best in the state.

So this Sunday, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the winery, guests can participate in a competition called Crumbling Rock vs. the World. According to the winery's Web site, they've asked "some of the finest wine retailers in the state to recommend their best $35 to $50 Bordeaux-style wines, and we'll taste five of them blind to see how they stack up against our home town favorite. An array of appetizers and discussion of the wines, their regions, similarities and differences will round out the afternoon."

The cost is $50 per person. For more information and reservations call Tracy at 301.788.1412, or e-mail tracy@blackankle.com.

The next day, March 30, chef Ken Lurie of
Bud's on Silver Run will prepare a seven-course meal and pair each course with a Black Ankle wine. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a mix of hors d’ouevres, including Hot Oysters with Sautéed Bok Choy, Mini Crab Crostini and Cider Poached Foie Gras on Grilled Ciabatta, served with Black Ankle's 2007 Viognier. Dinner will be served starting at 7. The cost is $125/person.

If you haven't gotten over to Black Ankle yet, it's worth the visit. Some already are calling it among the finest wineries on the East Coast; others simply say this one will set the bar for the wineries to come. No question that those from central Pennsyl;vania, for instance, might be aghast at the prices of the wine, which peaked at $40 when the winery opened. But for a winery in its first year of business, the wines are uncharacterically superb. The winery, by the way, is a member of the Frederick Wine Trail and one of several located within only a few miles of one another.

Wine shop owner asks: Couldn't I sell cheese?

Wanted to share this op-ed that appeared in last Wednesday's edition of the New York Times. With a proposal to allow New York grocery stores to begin selling wine, an owner of a wine shop asks why he can't sell cheese.

Published: March 19, 2009

“DIO mio!” exclaimed my father, Giovanni, over the phone. I had just informed him of Gov. David Paterson’s proposal to allow New York grocery stores to sell wine. And I could practically see him reaching for the Chianti when, as the owner of a small wine shop in downtown Manhattan, I told him I thought it could actually be a good thing.

Thirty-five states already permit wine sales in grocery stores, and those states still have independent retailers. But the common wisdom persists that such a move will crush me, the little guy. Big-box retailers will use their superior buying muscle to force me and my fellow independents out of business.

This is definitely a fear, especially in a slowing economy. Much of our daily sales are moderately priced bottles, a category likely to be offered in grocery stores as well. And smaller suburban retailers may indeed have it tougher as shoppers opt for the convenience of having one fewer place to drive.

But I also see these proposed changes as a huge opportunity to serve our customers better while redressing outdated, irrational and inequitable laws.

New York’s Alcoholic Beverage Control code, which has governed the sale of wine, beer and liquor since Prohibition was repealed in 1933, sometimes seems like a charmingly genteel relic of a bygone era, when buying wine for Sunday supper was regarded as the Devil’s work. We still can’t open before noon on the Sabbath.

I’m not bemoaning the loss of the Sunday breakfast crowd. But these proposals will bring increased competition, and it’s only fair that there should be commensurate opportunities to expand our small businesses. If supermarkets can have multiple locations, why are we prohibited (pardon the pun) from operating more than one store? Or from keeping the same hours?

If grocery stores can sell a Côtes du Rhône, then why shouldn’t we be able to sell baguettes and cheese? How about artisan beer? Or just reusable shopping bags? (A Rochester store was recently fined a whopping $10,000 for doing this.) What goes for the grocery stores should go for us too.

If the laws were truly fair, we independent retailers will have our own advantages. Big chains will have to buy big. And while your local supermarket pushes those same familiar bottles, independent stores will still provide substantially more selection and be better able to seek out smaller, even very limited producers, like the guy who makes just 40 cases a year of really good lambrusco.

Wine, after all, has always been more than just a floor-stacked commodity. A pleasure to be savored, a conduit for culture and the fastest way to bring people together that I know of, it’s also hard to buy without trusted help. Come to us with a recipe for gnocchi with Gorgonzola, for example, and we will help you pair it with the perfect wine — a nebbiolo from Italy’s Langhe region, in this case. And we will know you by name. Try getting that from the teenager with the name tag and the vest.

Marco Pasanella owns a wine store.