Lettie Teague Speaks With Respected Wine Authority Clive Coates Wine drinkers who dislike the 100-point scoring system (and there are quite a few) might want to consider the “Coatesian” classification of wine. English writer and critic Clive Coates rates wines by means of adjectives, utilizing words like “fine” and “very good”-occasionally augmented by “plus”-to indicate the quality of a particular wine. For example, a wine that is “very good” but has a little something extra would be scored as “very good plus.” A wine that was even better would be “fine” or “fine plus,” or even “very fine plus.” But calling a wine “fine” makes it sound like it doesn’t quite measure up to a wine that is “very good,” I protested to Mr. Coates, who was in New York to promote his latest book, “My Favorite Burgundies.” The 72-year-old is one of the world’s most highly regarded authorities on wine, particularly the wines of Burgundy, where he now makes his home. Mr. Coates has written nine books about wine, and his “Côte d’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy” is considered a seminal work. Mr. Coates seemed surprised that I misunderstood his terminology, thinking perhaps it was confusion born of cultural differences-the linguistic rift that occasionally widens between the Americans and the English. The two of us were at Crush Wine & Spirits-I’d asked Mr. Coates if we could do a bit of pre-lunch browsing together: I wanted to look at Burgundies through his eyes. Mr. Coates seemed mostly surprised by the high prices the wines command in New York. “I find the idea of a premier cru Marsanny for $58 to be a lot of money,” he observed, adding: “Obviously you Americans are not as poor as I thought.” But he admired the store’s selection of the more basic Burgundies. “It’s nice to see some good generics,” he said to Joe Salamone, the Crush wine buyer, and Ian McFadden, the director of fine and rare wine, who were standing nearby. Mr. McFadden offered to show Mr. Coates the rarer, more expensive Burgundies in the store’s back room. Mr. Coates declined. He was perfectly happy examining the lesser wines-many of them made by his friends and neighbors. He was particularly pleased to see a wine from Domaine Dureuil-Janthial. “We had Mr. Dureuil’s Aligote at a luncheon recently and it was delicious,” Mr. Coates said. (Aligote is the “other” white grape beside Chardonnay grown in Burgundy that is used to produce inexpensive but often quite good wines.) “Do you find that Aligote is better than it was 20 or 30 years ago?” Mr. McFadden asked him. “I think wines in general are better than they were 20 years ago. The quality of everything has gone up in almost every country,” replied Mr. Coates, adding that it was also easier to make wine. Or, as he put it: “It’s possible to make wine in a bucket of sand on the North Pole.” Mr. Coates has been writing about wine for decades; he started out as a wine merchant in London and took up writing on the side. He even founded a magazine, Vine, which lasted more than a decade. All Mr. Coates would say on the subject of its circulation or readership was: “It provided a good living.” His first few books were about Bordeaux, the region he knew best and visited the most often in his early years. Of course, both Burgundy and Bordeaux were very different places back then, Mr. Coates noted, as were the wines. Most Burgundies were bottled by negociants rather than individual domaines, and few of the important Bordeaux chateaux were owned by corporations, as they are now. Mr. Coates lives in the Côte Chalonnaise region of Burgundy just south of the Côte d’Or-an area that he described as a “gastronomic desert.” And worst of all, there is no decent Chinese food to be found, so when Mr. Coates visits New York he makes sure to eat as much of that cuisine as he can. He had already eaten at several Chinese restaurants by the time we met at Shun Lee Palace in Midtown. Mr. Coates generously supplied the wine for our lunch-a lovely 2005 Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Emile Riesling that was from Alsace rather than a Burgundy. The former is an easier match with the restaurant’s cuisine, he noted, though “Marsanny Rose is a great wine for Chinese food,” he said. We talked a bit about his early years in Burgundy and the differences between Burgundy and Bordeaux. “Burgundy is a very friendly place. It’s a very relaxed place and it’s a family place. In Bordeaux, there is no one who ‘lives over the shop,’ so to speak. You can’t go and chat with the owner. You can do that in Burgundy,” Mr. Coates said. Burgundy lovers can do just that under Mr. Coates’s guidance, as he takes very small groups of wine drinkers to visit various Côte d’Or domaines-places they might not find on their own. “I know the people where you will get the best visit even if they aren’t most fashionable,” he said. Mr. Coates regards it as his responsibility as both a journalist and a tour guide to introduce people to the small growers he feels should be better known. They don’t need him to tell them about Domaine de la Romanée Conti, the most famous domaine in Burgundy. Or, as he said: “They don’t need someone to tell them how good DRC is.” Famous or otherwise, I was sure that the wines were all very fine-perhaps even very fine plus.
The NCAA Doesn’t Sell Alcohol to the General Public at its Basketball Championships. Seven members of a bachelor party slumped on the couches of an Indianapolis hotel lobby last Sunday, nursing cans of amber ale before they headed to the NCAA men’s basketball regional final between Kentucky and Michigan. Two days earlier, the men had arrived for a day of semifinal games at Lucas Oil Stadium to a sobering sight: “The beer taps were all removed,” said a member of the party. “We were like, ‘Aww.We’re screwed.’ ” A bachelor party in Indianapolis last weekend, which also visited the home of ‘Garfield’ creator Jim Davis, was surprised to learn at the NCAA basketball tournament’s Midwest regional games that the NCAA prohibits the sale of alcohol to the general public. Clockwise from bottom left: Dan Kador, Robert Newton, Bill Conroy, Ryan Spraetz, Nate Walsh, Kevin Wombacher and Kyle Wild. Courtesy of Dan Kador The men’s basketball Final Four that begins Saturday in Arlington, Texas, is the culmination of the highly popular tournament run by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, with an anticipated TV audience of millions and a sellout of AT&T Stadium.But thousands of fans who attend the games will be forced to swallow a policy that is nearly unique among major American sporting events: The NCAA doesn’t sell alcohol to the general public at its championships. The NCAA is so serious about the ban that host sites are even required to cover up any existing ads for alcoholic drinks. The no-booze rule, in place during all rounds of the tournament, endures even as more colleges and universities, such as Texas, have begun selling beer at athletic events. An NCAA spokeswoman said the association’s overall goal is to maintain “an environment that promotes healthy choices about alcohol.” Flask While fans in suites and other restricted areas are exceptions to the policy, most people at the Final Four will have to sweat it out all evening. Saturday’s two semifinal games can last a total of six hours including a 40-minute intermission-making it one of the longest major dry sporting events. AT&T Stadium, home of pro football’s Dallas Cowboys, seats 77,122 for the Final Four. Longtime basketball fan Jim Dillon, 47 years old, said it is “ridiculous” that fans can’t buy alcohol. “What’s the point of the rule? Because it’s a student-attended event? It’s not as corporate as the Super Bowl, but it’s getting there. Ticket packages, brokers, private jets. It is big-time.” The average face-value ticket price for all three games of the Final Four has nearly doubled in 10 years, from $140 to $279. On ticket-resale sites this week, three-game tickets were selling for an average of more than $1,000, according to ticket-resale aggregator TiqIQ. Mr. Dillon says he has sneaked alcohol into three-quarters of the 22 Final Fours he has attended with “Maguire University.” The fictitious school, invented by buddies trying to get tickets, has evolved into a drinking club that makes an annual pilgrimage to the Final Four. Another Maguire U affiliate, Art Duffy, said that the easiest method of sneaking in alcohol is to use a plastic flask so as not to set off metal detectors and fill it with rum or whiskey, which mix well with stadium sodas. Mr. Duffy said it is best to arrive close to tipoff when security officials are tired and ticket holders are impatient to get inside. He said he has brought in alcohol five or six times and has never been caught. The Final Four rotates among various cities around the country, and weather that calls for light clothing can create challenges for would-be booze mules. It was a 70-degree day in St. Louis when the Final Four was held there in 2005, recalled Greg Shaheen, an executive who ran the NCAA tournament from 2001-2012. That made the fan approaching the stadium in a bulging coat look suspicious. Sure enough, security guards found several beer cans stuffed inside the sleeves. “His argument was, could we just let him drink them there?” Mr. Shaheen recalled. They couldn’t. The man left with the beer. Another warm-weather city, San Antonio, brought out the party spirit in patrons of the 2004 Final Four. Six of them were surprised at the door by the no-alcohol policy but thought that, surely, the NCAA would allow only them to bring in some beer if they pledged not to tell anyone. Mr. Shaheen says they even offered to share it with him. This year, the Final Four teams include two-Wisconsin and Florida-that made the top 10 of the Princeton Review’s latest list of “party schools.” A Wisconsin spokesman declined to comment and a Florida spokesman called the list “an unscientific survey that we don’t take a lot of stock in.” Major-college football’s championship game does offer beer sales to the public. Owing to various historical quirks, that game is operated by a consortium of conferences rather than the NCAA. Clemson University in South Carolina doesn’t sell alcoholic beverages to the general public at games, athletic director Dan Radakovich said, but the Final Four is so high-profile that many fans expect them. “If you’re going to charge a lot of money and they can’t, for example, buy a beer at these marquee events, that could become a problem somewhere down the road,” said Mr. Radakovich. “I think that’s a factor that the people who are in charge of these events need to take a very objective look at.” An NCAA spokeswoman said any change to the policy, in place for 40 years, must come from the association’s executive committee. The issue hasn’t come up recently, said committee member E. Joseph Savoie, president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. AT&T Stadium hosted last season’s NCAA tournament South regional games, a kind of warm-up for this weekend’s championship. Cody White, manager at Spec’s Liquors in Dalworthington Gardens, Texas, near this year’s Final Four site, said “we do see people buy flasks or mini-bottles to sneak in the games.” The best-selling flask is plastic and holds 16 ounces, he said. Kevin Wombacher, the groom in the Indianapolis bachelor party last weekend, discussed the NCAA policy with students in an undergraduate composition class he is teaching as part of his Ph.D. program in health communications at the University of Kentucky. “They said, ‘How’d you have a bachelor party without drinking at the game?’ ” Mr. Wombacher recalled. “I said, ‘You can always go out before or after the game. It’s not the end of the world.’ “
France-based distilled beverages firm Pernod Ricard will open micro distilleries in 11 new cities across the US, Europe and Australia, in a move to launch its Our/Vodka brand beginning June. Currently available as Our/Berlin, the Our/Vodka brand was launched in Berlin in March 2013 under a partnership with a local distiller. As part of the proposed plan, Pernod Ricard’s Absolut will partner with urban micro distilleries in cities across the world to craft a range of vodkas, which will be made using locally-sourced ingredients and will have their own flavor. The micro distillery for Our/Detroit will open in June, with Our/Seattle, Our/New York, Our/Amsterdam, Our/Los Angeles and Our/London opening later in the year. The Our/Austin, Our/Miami, Our/Nashville, Our/New Orleans and Our/Melbourne are expected to be unveiled in 2015.Our/Vodka founder Åsa Caap said that finding the right partner in each city is crucial. “Since we hand over the responsibility of running the local brand and business to them, it has turned out to be our most critical task. In fact, we only team up with people who we could see ourselves spending holidays with,” added Caap. Our/Vodka is packaged in a simple milk bottle featuring metal crown cap.
There have been some pretty exciting spirits auctioned in the past year, including a six-litre crystal decanter of rare whisky and a long forgotten rum from the 18th Century. Auctions of rare and expensive spirits have long been a fascinating spectator’s sport. With high prices reflecting the rarity of coveted bottles, big sales frequently make big news in the spirits industry. Collectors and status seekers attend auction houses across the world with the hope of acquiring a unique and desirable expression, and paying a price to match. A new record for the most expensive spirit to ever be sold at auction has been claimed this year, but which other interesting and, inevitably, pricey lots went under the hammer?Click through the following pages to see our pick of the spirits auctions which got tongues wagging in the last 12 months or so.