Category Archives: Politics

It Don’t Mean a Thing

When a Black Man’s Blue

On March 19th, 1935 at approximately 2:30 pm a young Puerta Rican man of color named  Lino Rivera walked into the Kress Five and Ten store on 125th st in Harlem and tried to steal a simple 10 cent penknife. Noticed by the store owner and manager a scuffle ensued. What happened next shook the city and ended a cultural institution. The police came to take the young Rivera away through a back exit as an ambulance arrived to inspect the store manager and shop owner for superficial wounds, but when it left empty the growing crowd grew suspicious. As misfortune would have it a hearse happened to pull up across the street at what one would deem the absolute wrong time. The people of Harlem feared the worst (and for the time with good reason).  The truth was that the hearse’s driver  was actually visiting his brother-in-law but these series of events were the final spark that would ignite the Harlem Race Riots. They also helped to set a stagnant stain on America’s perceived view of culture, diversity and race. It solidified an economic wall for the haves and the have nots and was the end to an American institution that launched careers for legends like Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Lena Horn and the suave leader of one of the greatest jazz ensembles of all time, Duke Ellington…  The Cotton Club

Police Officer Leading Injured Man

 Black and Tan Fantasy

During the turn of the 20th century the Brahman of old Harvard yard began to discuss what the great American music would be, and who would be our  Bach, Mozart or Paganini. At the time the assumption that this gift to the world’s stage that would inspire an organic growth in culture due to their godly talent would be one of their own. Not just by education but by birth right (which at the time would have been one in the same).

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Never in their wildest dreams would they have thought that names like Jelly Roll Morton and Bessy Smith would become the biggest names in American pop culture. Those names became the grandparents to rock and roll, funk, disco, R and B and hip hop.

At the time many of the premier clubs like the Cotton Club  were whites only establishments but the elaborate choreography and exotic numbers  by the all black performers were too much for people not to want to see.  When the the club began in 1920, boxer Jack Johnson opened it under the name Club Deluxe without much fan fare. It took a bootlegger turned mob boss to transform the softly spoken speakeasy into the screaming lion as these musicians roared their swan songs into the heart of the roaring 20’s. Owen Madden purchased the club while incarcerated at Sing Sing prison in 1923. Johnson remained as the house manager but by then the venue was mostly used to sell Madden’s beers and liquors to those who were clambering for more dancing, music and libations in a way that they had never seen before. In 1927 the club was looking for a new house band and a young, handsome man who was known simply as the Duke walked in and and changed music forever. It was quoted in the New Amsterdam News that “Ellington until recently now was a comer, today he has arrived. Watch his dust from now on.” 260px-Duke_Ellington_hat

I’m sure that the Harvard elite would have been happy to sit and excitedly watch the lovely Lena Horn dance to what was called Ellington’s “Jungle Music” and still wonder where our Mozart was, all while snapping their fingers and tapping their toes.

Creole Love Call

 On April 29th 1899, Edward Kennedy Ellington was born in Washington D.C. to James Edward Ellington and Daisy Kennedy Ellington both accomplished pianist. At 7 he began to play the piano and was surrounded by what his mother considered “dignified” women to help him distinguish manners from barbarianism. He had an easy way about him. This along with his dapper, crisp appearance made people take notice of the young man. His friends soon called him Duke because of his noble air. At 15 he wrote his 1st peace, a fun and jumpy rag time number called “Soda Fountain Rag.”  At this point it was apparent that Duke was no ordinary child. He was already a serious musician and composer. In 1917 Duke’s Serenaders (his 1st band) played to a packed house at True Reformer’s Hall where he took home a whopping 75 cents and played dual roles as band leader and booking agent.

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He later moved to Harlem and was an intricate part of the Harlem Renaissance where the Charleston was all the rage and jazz legend Eubie Blake began African-American musical theater.  halmen

The 1920’s were an explosion of culture, art and music in Harlem. The music scene was extremely competitive and those who made it had to be at the top of their game. Duke was relentlessly hard working cutting 8 records in 1924. In 1925 he helped to compose songs for Chocolate Kiddies which was an all African-American revue that introduced European audiences to the sights and sounds of the black experience.

Echos of Harlem

When the now infamous Cotton Club had a house band opening, Duke was recommended for the job. His small 6 piece band had to grow to 11, as was the house rule, but it was obvious at the audition that no one else would be better suited for the job and began on December 4th 1927. The Cotton Club was a widely known speakeasy. Like most of the day, if you were “off the give” there was someone “on the take” as blind eyes turned eagerly to stare at the “Tall, Tan and Terrific” dance girls swinging their hips to the Dukes suave and effortless style of orchestration. The Cotton Club’s weekly radio show helped to bring curious whites from the safety of their neighborhoods into the Harlem nights seeking drink, music and sexuality. Duke was like a drug to them and they couldn’t get enough. In 1929 a short film called Black and Tan Fantasy” as filmed by RKO where Duke Ellington was set as the star of this all African-American cast.  black-and-tan-29-photo-1

It would seem by many that Duke Ellington had arrived and achieved what the Harvard elite would have thought impossible as famed Australian composer Percy Grainger had once said “The three greatest composers who ever lived are Bach, Delius and Duke Ellington.  Unfortunately Bach is dead, Delius is very ill but we are happy to have with us today The Duke.” In 1931, the Duke left the cotton club to broaden his musical focus, craft his style and technique and help many young writers like Billy Strayhorn compose jazz standards such as “Lets Take the A Train.” He was a musical genius and a savvy business man who developed a gratuitous and self-sufficient empire. What he created was not “jungle music” or just another form of jazz, swing, big band or bee bop but what he simply called American Music. This is the sound of our soul, or legacy and our culture. He was and is our Mozart

When the Harlem Race Riots erupted in 1935 the Cotton Club relocated to a safer midtown, but after the repeal of prohibition and without the life and color of Harlem the club lacked the vibe, flavor and passion that was one of the most well known, outspoken and culturally important movements this country had ever known.

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Jazz Cocktail

keeping in the tradition of Prohibition I wanted to concentrate on spirits that would available at the time so we stayed with gin and rum both named for Ellington songs.

Honey Suckle Rose

1 1/2 oz Aria Portland Dry Gin
3/4 Barenjager Honey Liqueur
3/4 lemon juice
3 dashes Peychauds bitters
Shake and double strain into a cocktail glass
garnish with a rosemary sprig that is draped with rose water (this will give the aromas of spring without an intense piney flavor that rosemary can add)

Creole Love Call

1 1/2 oz Barbancourt 8 year Rhum
3/4 dry vermouth
1/2 Ramos Pinto 10 year Tawny Port
1/4 Belle de Brillet
2 dashes Fee Bros. Aztec bitters and 1 dash Bittermans Hell Fire bitters
Stir and strain into a cocktail glass
garnish with orange oil and a cinnamon stick (this will change the aromatic as you drink)Awesome_1397758198978

Jubilee Stomp

During the height of prohibition and the allure of the speakeasy
two names stand above all else: Duke Ellington and the Cotton Club.
Join us in Saloon on April 29th for a  $45 three course dinner and pairing with
music, dancing and drink in celebration of the 115th birthday
of Jazz great Duke Ellington with the Lyle Brewer trio
as they play through some of the most iconic jazz selections
from a true jazz master.

The music starts at 7 and the drinks will flow until the well is dry.

 

 

The French Kiss

There’s no Bread

By the turn of the 19th century the effects of the “Little Ice Age” was beginning to ease in northern Europe but the residual struggle for the people of France was about to explode. As the monarchy and the church used its resources to settle vendettas against the English crown by funding a bunch of long hair dreamers an ocean away the people of France were ready for their own revolution though this one would be much bloodier then anything we would see in 1776. They were poor, they were hungry and this northern freeze that was perpetuated by a series of volcanic eruptions made the availability of wheat in sparse. As a result King Louis XVI, foreseeing an angry population began importing potatoes to feed his starving subjects. But this did not entirely entice or appease the common woes. By the time  the benefits of potatoes were realized it was too late for the monarchy. It was with vengeance that this substitute for the famous French bread was rejected although it is funny that the hamburgers best counterpart bares the name of the country that most likely did not create it. These events would unwittingly turn the wine making world on its ears and give rise to what in my mind must be the most gracious and beautiful French word… Terroir

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As Napoleon  Bonaparte’s army marched through the region of Burgundy he began to take land from the papacy. Some of the world’s most famous vineyards had already developed a reputation as he started to divide and sell these holdings to various countrymen. This redistribution of wealth enabled villagers the right to control the vineyards as they saw fit without the church telling them who was holy enough to drink their wines. What sets Burgundy apart from most wine regions is this attention to the vineyard. The land is to have a voice rather than be a blank canvas for a winemakers dream. In fact there is no term for winemaker in France. The person in charge of the growth of the wine is called the elevage. This is the person who raises the wine as a parent would a child. I personally take pride in knowing that the greatness of my children grows from within them. I am only here to guide and help in finding the right direction. This is how the elevage will approach his or her technique in the vineyard, winery or the tasting room for that matter. They are there only to guide the wines growth and try not to get in its way. This adherence to viticultural integrity is a religion in Burgundy. Now, I am not saying that this does not happen throughout the rest of the France or any wine growing nation for that matter but when I began learning wine some 20 years ago it was in Burgundy where this passion for the all encompassing terroir held the greatest transparency. 

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Deconstructing Reconstruction

Burgundy is divided into 5 different regions. Each one with a different climate or micro climate and soil content. The majority of her great wines are based ultimately on two varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Anyone who thumbs their nose at a California Chardonnay and believes that this specific style quantifies the reality of what the grape is has never tried Christian Moreau Les Clos, Grand Cru Chablis which is one of the greatest wines in the world. To get the best sense of terroir, Burgundy’s northern most region of Chablis will be our home and the misunderstood Chardonnay our muse. Burgundy holds the concept of terroir in her soul. Terroir is the all encompassing idea of earth, wind and fire i.e. the soil, the weather and the sun. It is also a cultural understanding of the grapes evolution in the earth and how the aroma and structure this localized world imparts from the blood of her vines translate into our glass. No other region exemplifies this to me more the Chablis.

 Chablis  should not be confused with a  boxed wine or a big jug with a screw cap that has some old dude awkwardly smiling. These jug brands from Gallo and Carlo Rossi were made to fool a growing wine market in the United States and Canada as the lyrical names of Chablis and Burgundy began to captivate returning GI’s after the second world war. 

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The history of Chablis and its importance goes back about 1500 year when a band of monks settled the area after fleeing marauding Vikings. I’m sure it wasn’t the climate or weather that drew the monks but what soon became apparent was how well white grapes thrived here. Brooklyn_Museum_-_Monk_Testing_Wine_-_Antonio_Casanova_y_Estorach

 

 

 

Due to the high mineral deposits from upper Jurassic limestone and glacial soils the wines50b80032a24bc.preview-620 of Chablis have an intense flinty character.

 

The downright cold climate forces the grapes to really struggle on the vines.

The summer sun can be warm, promoting healthy ripening but the frigged nights will give the wine an acidic backbone and lay the ground work for a mineraly palate with a creamy finish. The idea that Chardonnay smells like oak is highly misguided. Oak smells like oak, Chardonnay smells like its environment. When forced to struggle and compete with other grapes the strongest will have the richest dynamic and character. If left basking in the sun which in the case of California is ample and planted on the valley floor which in California is standard, the grape in the end may have little personality. Think of the tough kid who has had to struggle his whole life and makes good in the end. They tell the story we want to hear. In the new world it is often the wine maker who will have to create the story with malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation where the malic acids which we find naturally in grapes and apples are converted to lactic acids that you would find in dairy) and a generous helping of well toasted new oak barrels. Enter your oaky, buttery California Chardonnay. oak

Let me be clear that there is nothing wrong with these wines and some of them are outstanding like the great wines from Sonoma’s Hartford Court but the point of Chablis is to give a sense of place. A pin prick if you will on the map of the wine world. It is not the custom of Chablis to use oak and if it is used it is there to soften the wines harder edges. When this is done it is typically older oak barrels which impart little to no flavor but give the wine a rounder, honeyed aroma. It is not there to smell like oak. This is usually done for wines from the best vineyards where the acid is high and more concentrated sugar levels develop. chablis-grand-cru-les-clos-soil-257

 

What makes the best vineyards you ask? Good question. The vineyards aspect to the sun, the height above sea level and the soil content are a part of it. There are 7 vineyards in Chablis that have been given the status of greatness. These are known as Grand Cru or Great Growth and they reside in the heart of Chablis. They all rest along les Serein River which helps regulate their micro climate. The elevation is slightly higher so after it rains gravity will naturally pull water down to the bottom of the vineyards or to the river. Because of the drainage and rocky soils that we typically do not associate with fertility, the struggling vines higher up the slope will have a richer concentration like espresso to coffee. This will give the grapes a bolder level of sugar and acidity, both vital ingredients for the survival of these great wines. The sugar gives body and alcohol, the acid its life line. This is what makes your mouth water when drinking wine. It is essential when pairing with food. This will help breakdown fats, open your taste bud and promotes healthy digestion. This is why wine dances best with food and in a way no other beverage can compare.

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One reason why Burgundy and its Grand Cru vineyards stand alone is that no one person owns the vineyards. I suppose this is where I should make a distinction. The vineyard is where the grapes are born and mature, the winery is where these healthy little fellas are turned into wine. When Napoleon strutted into Burgundy and started to redistribute vineyards the most important where offered not to a single person or family but to the community. Within each of the Grand Cru vineyards or the next level down called Premier Cru or 1st growth which can be equally as stunning, a winery may only own a small parcel of the vineyard so Les Clos Grand Cru vineyard for example, is roughly 60 acres but a winery may only own 1 or 2 acres of it. Some parts are owned by a grower who makes no wine at all but sells his fruits to smaller wineries that have little to no land holdings. This is where the idea of terroir really holds true. The difference between each single vineyard or parcel of said vineyard can be striking. Often times I am offered a taste of a wine from one vineyard only to taste a wine of the same winery of a vineyard sight that is just across the road that is made in the same manor and the wines can be subtly or completely different. In my experience (which is not expertise) Chablis holds this to be her backbone, her blueprint and her legacy. 

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Read the Fine Print

Here is a breakdown of the labels. As you will notice the winery is hard to find and the grape not even mentioned. One should assume white Burgundy is always Chardonnay. This allows the grower and producer to focus on terroir. Burgundy is all about either the village or vineyard. You need to read the fine print. Here the elevage plays second fiddle to the land.

 

Lets do a little rundown of Chablis’ vineyards status. Of the nearly 7000 acre of Chablis only a handful have a designation beyond the humble name of Chablis. For the Grand Cru vineyards there is Bougros, Vaudeseir, Valmur, Blanchots, Les Preuses, Grenouilles and Les Clos. Each of these sights are literally rubbing elbows. There are another 40 vineyards that were granted Premier Cru status but only about 15 of them hold as much providence as the great ones. Many of them share the same attributes as the Grand Crus but if there is one phrase that suits Burgundy to a tee it is location, location, location. Nothing can top a Grand Cru. These wines are rare and can be pricey but thankfully Chablis still is uncharted territory for many wine connoisseurs and collectors as the winery names or vineyards don’t hold the distinction Burgundy’s southern vineyards do, or Bordeaux, or Napa, of Tuscany for that matter. There is still relative obscurity to Chablis, it vineyards and its eliveges and for this I am thankful. A  Petite Chablis will cost about $15, basic Chablis may set you back about $20 to $30 but its Premier Crus will only set you back about $40 and its Grand Crus, maybe $80. Yes, this is good money but when other wineries or vineyards demand sometimes outrageous prices a few extra bucks to be on the right side of history is a pretty nice high.  703917471

 

 

 

Applied Alchemy

So for this section I will not talk about making a cocktail. Not just because it is wine as I once made vermouth using a red Burgundy to finish a cocktail I had for a Burgundy dinner back in the summer but because the elegance and graciousness of these wines should be enjoyed with food so today I give a recipe for my dinner tonight. When I was at my local wine store, I picked up a couple of bottles of Domaine Chenevieres. Knowing the basic flavor profile of the vineyards and grower I headed on over to the grocery store and started assembling my menu for the night. 

 For the 1st wine I bought Cheneviers Petite Chablis which are wines grown just outside of the district where some of the more famous vineyards lie and can be a tremendous value. The minerality is not as complex with less concentration but it is a perfect introduction into wines that can demand top dollar. With this bright citric wine I opted for New England’s best, Wianno Oysters. With these I made a mignonette of lemon and tangerine juice (1/2 of  each) diced shallot (1 whole) diced pink lady apple (1/4) a dash of freshly crushed black pepper and a tough of maple syrup (1/8 oz) to draw out the tangerines flavor and finished them with Lemon Thyme. 

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For the main course I purchased some local cod (I love highly acidic whites with the delicate yet buttery flavor of cod) and poached it in a tomato and fish broth which I added thinly sliced spring onions, watercress, baby potatoes and white asparagus. I completed the dish with a pat of butter to give it a rounder finish. With this I paired the Chenevieres Fourchaume Premier Cru. Fourchaume is one of the most famous Premier Crus. Just a one minute drive from its more prestigious cousins Fourchaume holds a similar aspect to the sun as do the Grand Crus, the micro climate is also similar with the same soil content but this is the beauty and mystery of great wines not just held to Burgundy because although the wine is well made it does not hold the acid as do the great growths of Chablis. In the end it hits just a tad short in length. Not that I am complaining as it was generous, racy and bright with a viscous buoyancy on the palate. This is a fantastic wine but does not have the longevity as the great ones. But that is why there are only 7 Grand Crus in Chablis. 

The wine itself has an aroma of toasted almonds, tangerine, silt, clay and toffee with a salty edge. The mouthfeel it is bright, and focused with a ton of limestone on the mid palate and round sweetness on the finish. The bottle really opened up with the richness of the finishing butter.

 Ingredients

  • 5 oz cod
  • 1 whole spring onion
  • 1 cup fish stock
  • 1/4 cup tomato puree
  • 4 white asparagus
  • 1/2 lemon (the squeezed out body of the fruit used for the mignonette)
  • 1/2 tangerine (the squeezed out body of the fruit used for the mignonette)
  • baby potatoes
  • lemon thyme

The Process

  • Boil your potatoes
  • once boiled but them off to the side until you are ready to plate your dish
  • Bring to a slow boil the fish stock and tomato puree
  • season with salt and pepper to taste
  • add one lemon thyme sprig and the lemon and tangerine rinds
  • as this heats add the spring onion bulb thinly sliced
  • in a saute pan add evoo and a pinch of chili flake
  • once the oil heats on a medium heat add the white asparagus
  • once they start to sear which will encourage a slight caramelized flavor add a ladle of the broth
  • lower the heat to medium low and let the asparagus lightly steam with the broth
  • remove the asparagus and add your cod.
  •  add enough broth until it almost covers the fish.
  •  plate your potatoes at the bottom of a bowl with your asparagus on top
  • once your fish is cooked gently remove it from the broth and place it on the asparagus
  • add you watercress to your broth with a pat of butter and reduce until the butter is melted
  • as always taste as you go and season accordingly
  •  once the butter is melted spoon over the fish until it fills the bottom of the bowl
  • add finishing salt, a drizzle of evoo and thinly sliced spring onion greens

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Over the years of drinking with a purpose (maybe I’m just fooling myself) there have been a handful of moments that have given my path not just direction but momentum. Like great Single Malt Scotch Whisky which is all about terrior, nothing plays with my heart strings like the zesty and toasted aromas of Chablis. This really is the standard I hold all other beverages to and thankfully, although Chablis is a tough act to follow, many of my favorite spirits, beers, wines and cocktails take it in stride.

Amen Napoleon, Amen.

ND