Monday, June 30, 2008

Lunch At La Chaumiere Restaurant 2008 During Restaurant Week With Serge Reveille

As you can see from this photo of our store we had a big space open on the floor ready to fill with lots of wine to sell our customers. Some of the wine I would soon taste with Serge Reveille would end up here in this space : the Macon white, the " Les Heretiques " , the white Sancerre and the red Chinon, all from Louis/Dressner imports. But now to the real story at hand.

A few months back, was it February or March Serge Reveille asked me to lunch. I accepted and told him that I would like to sample some of the Louis/Dressner portfolio of many French, small vineyard, fighting organic properties that excel at producing distinct expressions of their soils and climate. I knew that we would be dining at La Chaumiere. I had not been there in years, perhaps the last time also with Serge?! Who remembers these things? So many things happen to all of us all of the time that it's a wonder that we remember anything. That's why I like to have my menus signed and whatever else including photos to help bring it all rushing back to me. That's exactly what has happened today. It's Monday June 31st, my day-off and I am home cleaning house with my wife. I stumbled both on the menu signed ( a copy ) and the pictures on a disc that I downloaded earlier. What are the chances of that ? It must be a sign ( like in the movie SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE ) that I write ( blog ) about this soon.

As I said I knew that we would be dining at La Chaumiere( on M. Streets N.W. D.C. across from the Four Seasons Hotel at the edge of Georgetown ). I had forgotten that it was restaurant week. I had been wanting for quite some time to see Martin Lumet that bought the restaurant from the prior owner, along with the chef. Together they run a tight operation as I was about to see, observe, sample and evaluate. I give them high scores indeed. I'd say something like an A++ if not more. They did not lose points on any score and in fact exceeded my expectations. I'm not a restaurant critic and don't claim to be but my food was delicious and I'd go back in a heart-beat for more of the same and something new and exciting, too. Martin was the perfect host on a very busy luncheon period and our lady waitress was excellent, too. When you put that all together with a nice, welcoming, typical French environment I don't think you have to say any more.

I met Martin even before I met Serge. They are both French and both have married lovely American women and live in the D.C. metropolitan area like me. I used to work with Serge years ago when I did wholesale work at Wines Limited with Serge, Marvin Stirman and Alfio Mariconi. I sold lots of their portfolio for them in D.C. to restaurants and to retail wine stores. That's when I got to know La Chaumiere for the first time. I conducted at least two private wine dinners there upstairs in their private dining room. I'll have to find those old menus and include them in a future blog. All I need is more time to find these things that I have tucked away in folders and put away on my shelves! Maybe I'll go look in a few minutes.

Anyway, getting back to Martin I used to sell him wine years ago when he became a customer of ours at the Mayflower Wines and Spirits on M. Streets N.W. D.C. He used to come in after work and buy whatever he needed. He had just arrived from France and was just beginning to get his feet wet here. He later went on to work at the FOUR WAYS restaurant just off of Dupont Circle on R. or was it S. Streets? I went there a few times for dinner, wine luncheons, tastings etcetera. Martin worked there with Jim Hutton and Gastone Zempieri. This all dates us of course and shows that we all have some bottle age on us to put it in wine terms. I don't mind. They have been marvelous and sometimes glorious years spent here in the nation's capitol. I can't remember too many specifics about what Martin bought but suffice it to say that we hit it off immediately.

Later Martin worked at LA FERME restaurant just off Chevy Chase Circle in Maryland. I saw him there on a few occasions. Then he went to work with Serge, Marvin and Alfio at Wines Limited and he'd come to Cleveland Park Wines and Spirits to sell me wine. So it was interesting to be going to have lunch with Serge at La Chaumiere and to see Martin in action. He did not disappoint.

Serge I met after I met Martin. He came to Burka's Fine Wines and later to Cleveland Park to sell me wines. In between I went to work with him at Wines Limited. We have also known each other for years. He was just in the store last week ( June ) with the owner of his newly-renamed wholesale company. It was good to see you Serge. Thanks for this lunch by the way. I might forget to write it later.

It was a sunny bright day the day we had lunch at La Chaumiere. Serge had brought me some excellent wines from the Louis/Dressner portfolio. I had met Joe Dressner on at least two if not three occasions at Cleveland Park Wines. The first time he came dressed all in black and it was late in the afternoon and he was tired and yet delighted/thrilled with the positive reception we gave both he and his selections of wines! To paraphrase what he wrote in our journal/book at the store : " I was near suicide, despair and then I arrived at Cleveland Park and was restored, pulled back ... " as if we had saved him from doing something awful. He had not been as well received in other accounts and was depressed by that. We bought some of his wines then and there. I later learned that Joe always dresses in black. I also learned that he had asked Mike who I work with if I was always this chipper and up-beat?!? He asked in amazement that anyone could possibly, naturally be?!? I admit it, I am.

I can't believe it? I found the dinner menu from my private wine-food-pairing dinner at La Chaumiere( 2813 M. Streets N.W. tel: 202-338-1784. Gerard Pain was the owner and his daughter Geraldine Pain worked there, too )! The chefs were Chef Olivier and Chef Jamie. I wrote : " The very first thing I noticed when I called La Chaumiere today was the bright, cheerful voice of Geraldine Pain... hearing the warmth in her voice relaxed me immediately as we spoke. Listening to Geraldine speak about the restaurant brought it to life vividly once again before my eyes. La Chaumiere means : French country inn with a thatched roof - that is exactly what they have recreated on M. Street. The first thing that hits you as you walk in is the warmth from the fireplace that burns non-stop from the fall into the spring. As you are seated you cannot fail to take in the wood beams and the white stucco walls with all the farm tools, copper pots, old wine bottles and especially those intriguing jars of canned vegetables and fruit. Dining at La Chaumiere is like " comme chez vous". Or better yet it is " comme chez votre grandmere ". We had appetizers of a seafood Galatine with a coulis of tomato, then a warm marinated Salmon with a Lobster butter, followed with a confit of Canard and wild mushrooms, a Salad de saison and finished with a bread pudding in a Bourbon sauce. For wines we enjoyed some sparkling wine, then a selection of Italian, French, Californian, Oregonian and Virginian wines! Wow! From Bertucchi's Bianco imperiale to Argyl's 1989 Chardonnay, to Alexander Valley's 1990 Chardonnay and Trimbach's Pinot Gris, to Gigi Rosso's 1991 " Moncolombetto "Dolcetto and Chateau Cornemps 1990 red Bordeaux, Hidden Cellar's 1990 " old vines " Zinfandel, a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc and finishing with Oasis' Nectar of Traminer( half-bottle ) semi-sweet Virginia wine. These were the choices being considered for this meal. The dinner was either in 1991 or 1992. I forgot to write it down on this proposal of which I still have a hand-written copy.

Things haven't changed much in these last fourteen or fifteen years, La Chaumiere still has all this to offer, At our luncheon I had the Quenelle de Brochet with the white Macon from Joe Dressner. I fell in love with both! That was the hors d'oeuvres and it was followed by the Blanquette de Veau a l'ancienne. For dessert Serge and I split the Souffle ( Grand Marnier ). The other wines we sampled were a fabulous Loire Valley Cabernet Franc from the town of Chinon, a biodynamic French country red wine called " Les Heretiques " and a smooth as velvet Sancerre. I bought some of all these wines for the store and have sold through all of them. I bought all the 2003 white Macon because it was so exceptional, even with that extra bottle-age.

At the luncheon across the table from Serge and me was my salesperson for the store Frenchman Jean Gagliolo who used to be the chef at La Nicoise restaurant where the waiters were all on roller skates, remember ?!? We did a private wine dinner with Jean at La Nicoise on Sunday, September 22nd, 1991 at 7 PM. What a small world it is!?! Anyway, Jean was having lunch with the wine-maker for one of our favorite California wineries, Lyeth Vineyards in Sonoma. He came over to the store after the lunch at La Chaumiere and tasted me and our customers that happened to be there on his new releases.

Some of all these pictures will be here if I can get them to download. Wish me luck! I may need it as these are on another system.

I have had a problem loading these photos, some are missing, some are duplicated. I don't have the ones of Serge that I would like or the one of the fireplace in the center of this room. I also added a picture of the store and many of them are on their sides. Aaargghhhh! Sorry. They will have to be added at a later date when I get a firmer grip on this process. Cheers, TONY

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Michael Downey Selections Annual Wine Maker / Owner Group Tasting For The Trade, 2005

I have not been able to go to all these tastings but I have enjoyed two of them so far. I used to work with Michael Downey twenty-five years or so ago at the Mayflower Wines and Spirits that was located on M. Streets N.W. Washington D.C. at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue. It was a small specialty store that specialized in Italian wines and that is where I first cut my teeth on them. Sidney Moore and Michael Downey ran the store together ( they hired me when Mo Parzoe said they should talk to me. I was then managing the store Colonial Liquors a block away at the time ). I remember sitting down with Michael as he interviewed me.

It was many years later when Michael started his own import company and he worked with some of the people and their wines that he had helped introduce both to the Washington D.C. metropolitan area as well as to the United States. Sidney's parents Aaron and Helen Millman lived in Florence at the time ( Aaron was on the Chianti consortsio at the time ) and he would travel through Italy and find wines to send back in containers to Sidney and Michael to sell through the store. I loved this more immediate connection to these Italian wines and their owners/families. I got to know and love some of the children of these families. Andrea Fossi ( of FOSSI chianti came to learn English and about America. We sold Andrea's chiantis going all the way back to 1958. We had pretty much every vintage. I remember the great 1959 vintage as well as the 1060 and the 1961( my two brothers were born in these two last vintages. I believe that I still have a bottle of the 1961 ). In the picture with Andrea and me he is holding a bottle of his excellent VANTI ROSSO great everyday Italian red table wine quaffer, perfect for these hotter times of summer. We currently have several different bottlings of Andrea's wines in the store. I also got to know Alesandro Furlan of the FRANCO FURLAN winery( Friuli, Italy ) as well as Elizabeta of the VIETTI Piemonte winery. They all came to my house at least once and we all worked together in real harmony and fun at the Mayflower Wines and Spirits. I loved those early days here in Washington D.C. The Mayflower Wines and Spirits was a wonderful place for me to work and to grow and learn. I met many stimulating people while there and that has really fostered my love for Italian as well as for French wines.

In these photos from the Downey portfolio tasting I have a picture of Andrea and me. He's holding a bottle in his hands. We're both smiling and he's on my right and has frizzy white hair that's everywhere. He was nice enough to come and see me on his last visit this May 2008 and I have a recent blog about enjoying his current 2006 Chianti at home in my back yard one evening with my wife. Be sure and look it up.

I met lots of " new " wine makers/ owners here at the tasting from Veneto and Naples and Piemonte. I already knew Max DiLenardo and have some wonderful pictures here of him. Max has come to the store at least three times now. We love Max's Tocai called TOC now as well as his excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Father's Eye( named after a Eric Clapton song ), his Merlot, his Cabernet, his dessert wine - pretty much all his wines ! Because memory fades and I don't have my notes with me now I cannot remember the names of all these people and their wines. Let it suffice to say that I have carried wines from them all and will be receiving a fresh shipment in another week at Cleveland Park Wines and Spirits, so stay-tuned.

There are also pictures of the French wine maker from the Oltrepo Pavese region of Italy included here. He simply loves Italian wines. He did not follow an Italian girl there to Oltrepo Pavese or meet one there and decide to stay. He makes some amazing reds and whites. My favorite of his is his red Bonarda. He's been in the store and tasted with our customers and I will track down the sheet that he filled in my catalogue and include both his name, the date of the tasting and more about his excellent wines.

There is also a picture of a man pouring the Naples wines, both reds and whites including the famous sparkling dry red Gragnano that they serve up at the TWO AMYS restaurant on Macomb Street. He came with his wife to taste wines in our store a year later, or was it two? I don't remember. My memory has holes and that's why I get people to sign my books. That's also why I take multitudes of pictures. The problem is that I want to get these older tastings/events posted and I'm home with my pictures here in the computer and my books/catalogues are at work. Oh well, I can always post follow-ups with the details to follow. Here are my general recollections. We have carried the full range of dry whites from the Grecco di Tufo, the Fallanghina, the Coda de Volpe, the red Alglianico and I'm missing another dry white?! The Fiano, that's the one I'm missing! They are all such delicious wines, distinct and wonderful each in their own, dry complex , satisfying ways! The fact that impressed me so much about this couple from Naples was that the husband spent a really long time walking around the store photographing all the shelves, Italian, American, etcetera. His wife would pour the wines and describe them, he'd join us for awhile and then go off and photograph some more. I will have to include an entire blog to this later.

There's also a picture of a young boy and his father to his right. They have a table filled with reds from Piemonte, Italy. I think the father's name is Mauro. He came a year later I believe to the store ( 2006 ) with his good friend Giorgio, also a Piemonte wine-maker. We hosted a tasting with them in the store and sold lots of both of their wines. Between the two of them they cover a good expanse of what's best in Piemonte including the sweet dessert wines made from the red Malvasia. Giogio makes a really good white Gavi and excellent Dolcetto ( he's ready to announce to anyone that it's the best red wine in the whole world! ). I asked Mauro why this statement did not bother him. He's the quieter one of the two, taller, a bit more reserved than Giorgio. He's also brown-haired while Giorgio is more white blond with piercing blue eyes that drill immediately to your core! It was fun to observe the two in our store during their three hour tasting with customers. However, Giorgio was not at this 2005 Michael Downey portfolio tasting. Mauro told me with a twinkle in his eyes that he did not mind because his was the second best red wine made in the world. Go Mauro. Great attitude if you ask me.

Two things to mention in the photo of Mauro with his son are : to the left side of them seated is Jim Arsenault ( owner of The Vineyard wine store, VA ) who just passed away recently and who added so much to the wine world here in our area helping to really launch California wines through Mac Arthur Beverages back in the '80's. He will be missed. Also, behind them is the accordionist/musician friend of both Shannon and Giulaume who came and played with passion and soul and I remember thanking him. His music added to this event. The food was also excellent there in the center of this hall space where we were all happily gathered on this beautiful Monday in Virginia.

I learned a year later why Giorgio was not at the tasting : he's really afraid of flying! It took Mauro years to convince him to come and I asked Giorgio about it : he still hated flying! But he did come and together they both conquered in our store. Anyway, I met Mauro and his son and tasted through his wines. I had already sold some of them. They have labels with local sports games feature ( people playing them ) on them - line drawings, distinct. The wines like Giorgio's are all balanced and excellent food wines. They both strike me as traditional and designed to complement foods.

Also featured is a picture of Michael Downey's daughter's ( Shannon Downey ) French photographer( documentary filmmaker )husband Giulaume outside at the entrance with a camera around his neck bathed in full sunlight. I love when Giulaume comes to the store. We always speak French and give each other a hard time in fun.

And last but not least is pictured an American ( California ) wine maker in the Hawaiian print shirt smiling holding one of his bottles. I liked I think the Zinfandel the best of all. He had quite a range and at the time I think we just brought in the Zinfandel seeing as there were so many Italian wines that we simply had to have! He had two vineyards that he was poring, we bought the PHILIP STALEY. I'll have to ask Brennan for an update on the other.

There's also a picture of Peg Downey ( Michael's wife ) next to Shannon both smiling at me as I snapped away before leaving for home. The tastings are always on Mondays ( my day-off ) and so I was able to taste leisurely and really get a sense and feel for the wines, people and the event. This one was well-attended by a lot of the local wine trade including both retail and restaurant people. I always end up talking for awhile to people I haven't seen for a long time, friendly, professional with always something new to experience.

I know I have probably omitted something. I'll include it after I download the pictures. Enjoy them and come to our store at 3423 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. D.C. to buy some of these excellent Michael Downey Selections. You can call us at 202-363-4265 and go to our web page at

I forgot to mention that Michael passed away several years ago and his wife Peggy carried on the business with their two children Shannon and Brennan Downey. I don't know why there are no pictures of Brennan but he was there working hard, too. They also have Bill that works with them that is passionate about Italian wines and largely responsible helping them get Max DiLenardo on board.

Like I said I forgot to mention things that became apparent when I looked at the pictures again. One is that I forgot to mention the Veneto producer pouring his excellent wines including the bubbly in the photo as well as the ever-popular Gambellara white that never stays long on our shelves. We've worked with other wines as well and will have to do another Michael Downey month in our store soon! This is only the beginning of my mentioning all these fine wines and the people behind them. In parting let's echo all the t-shirts and their motto : Get Down With Downey Wines !

Cheers, TONY

Laurent Vonderheyden, Owner CHATEAU MONBRISON, Margaux, France, 2006, In Store And Dinner At Lavandou

Stories are many and often intertwined and involving many people. This particular one involved Laurent Vonderheyden that I used to work for many moons ago when he was the president of his won company called Laurent Selections with a primarily French portfolio ( many Bordeaux wines as his family owns Chateau Monbrison in Margaux, Bordeaux ) with some American and Italian. That was back twenty years or so. I used to manage the wine department when Laurent hired me to work with him and do sales for him in Washington D.C. I grabbed at the chance to work wholesale for him because it might give me a bit more time with my family on weekends to see and be a bigger part of their lives. I never regretted it except to say that ultimately I always preferred managing a wine department in a store where people came to see me.

Earlier as I drove to the library with my daughter here in Annandale , VA. on Sunday, June 28th, 2008 I thought about how I would write this story about Laurent's wine-tasting in the store and then dinner afterwards at Lavandou restaurant just down at the end of the block. As I said there are always multiple parts to almost any story. I had just been looking at the old picture I took and store here on our home computer. They are not the best I have taken. That's too bad. Some are really quite good though. The ones at the restaurant are darker and much more ambiance/atmospheric in quality , almost as if there had only been candles for lighting. I will include some of them because I think that on a good screen the reflection of light on the people and on the glasses and cutlery on the tables will be quite " moody " and they do create a feeling of night and wine, food and song of long ago. The pictures in the store are much better lit and though sometimes a bit out of focus they create the flow and the energy of these tastings done in the evenings at Cleveland Park Wines and Spirits.

Laurent has two chateaux wines, Chateau Monbrison being the principle one and Chateau Cordet being the other. We served some of both because the Chateau Cordet is more affordable and still very good. We organized with John Peters a sweep of these vintages, from 2001 through 2004 I think. The idea was to show everyone Laurent's style of wine-making and we combined with each course two of the wines so that people could compare them with the food and figure out for themselves which wine worked better with which part of the course. No wine usually works well with all ingredients on a plate, usually one does better with the sauce or the vegetables or the main focus of each plate served. That's what makes it all so much fun. I usually tell people to keep some of each of their wines and ask for more glasses so as to be able to compare each wine with each course just to learn. It means little room on the table but it sure can be revealing when you realize how well a certain wine can work with a specific dish, even if it was not initially presented that way. I remind you of my comments on the Paolo COPPO luncheon at Proof restaurant where the 2006 Chardonnay from owner Paolo in my opinion complemented best the penne and small spicy meatballs, even better than the Barberas and the Barolo 2003.

THe night of the tasting and dinner we had wine writer Ben Giliberti come to see Laurent and taste his wines. Ben came with his wife. They are both featured here in many of these photos. They have known each other for years. I may have introduced them, I'm not use. I do know that they knew each other while I worked for Laurent Selections. I would often be the one to drop off samples for Ben to try and see what he thought. Of course the idea was to get him to really like something and include it in one of his articles. Luckily for me this happened many times and I am very grateful to Ben for have given me a bit more ammunition so to speak as I would go around town back then and taste and sell and propose my wines to anyone willing to listen.

Also at the tasting was one of our customers that happened to have her son with her at the time. Ramona and her son, Milan have become good friends over the years. We have watched them both grow over the years. The pictures of Milan enjoying his COLDSTONE Cremery ice cream is priceless and so I have included it here. It was smart of Ramona to get him that just before coming to taste the wines of Laurent. This was she could focus on these excellent Margaux wines while her son attacked the ice cream! The other reason I include these is that just a few days ago Ramona and Milan left Washington D.C. to go live in California with her family. Good luck to you both, may you both thrive there. Don't forget, however to drink other wines and not just those from California.

John Peters and Alan Cohen ( part-owner of LVDH Imports ) are also present. We also had special friend and guest at dinner Antoine Songy at the dinner. I met Antoine Songy when I worked for Laurent. He really wanted to come as a surprise to Laurent and so we kept the secret until he showed up at the restaurant afterwards. And then there were many of our customers, too at the dinner.

Laurent makes some really polished red Bordeaux wines in Margaux. I think that this evening I had more than one favorite. Some I liked better with the food and some I really enjoyed on their own. I remember both really liking and thinking what a great value the 2002 was ; Laurent was in agreement. It had a bit more stuffing and edge and bite, all of which I love when you combine that with some pepper, spice, leather and earth in the flavors, with good measures of baked French sunshine imprisoned and finally released from the liquid/grapes that had held it captive for so long! I smiled several times when these wines finally met my lips and covered my tongue. Oh yeah, Bordeaux sure can be tantalizing.

Here are some of the pictures to help fill in some of the blanks. At some point I will find all my paperwork and include dates, more about the vintages, wines, people etcetera. For the time being this glossed-over recollection of bits and pieces from my memory will have to suffice.

It;s funny as how when you go and load the pictures after you write the text that you remember things that you forgot to write before. One of those things is that our customer named Peter came in and got a bottle signed for his French girlfriend, Veronique.
They are currently renovating an old home in La Rochelle, France into a beautiful B& B and have already invited me over. I can't wait! They are charming and always bring us these amazing food platters during the holidays! Thanks Peter and Veronique. J'ai jamais demander a toi Veronique, est-ce que tu a bien aime le Bordeaux de Laurent ?!?

Marilyn Chilton who I have known almost as long as I have been in the D.C. wine business ( I met her when I worked at the Mayflower Wines and Spirits ) is raising her glass of wine cheering us and the dinner and the wine. Thanks Marilyn. Funny, I just saw you in our store this past Saturday. I'll have to remind you of this dinner next time I see you.

Also, at the dinner I saw two young ladies sitting off to the side and asked them to join Laurent, Alan, Antoine and myself. They readily agreed. They had lots of life and personality and seemed ready to have a great time at the dinner. The blond even got up and danced at the end around Laurent. There are two pictures of that. At the end they closed the restaurant down with us and are seen outside of it in a couple of pictures with Laurent. I waved and went on my way after snapping those last shots. What a grand evening it was.

Cheers, sante, ... merci John Peters, Alan Cohen, Antoine Songy, Laurent Vonderheyden and all the excellent staff at Lavandou. TONY