Monday, March 8, 2010

Washington Social Diary

Noting thoughts on a red.
by Carol Joynt

Be careful what you wish for, especially if you are a Virginia wine maker who submits some beloved treasures to a blind tasting by a group of Washington’s leading wine experts. They may be on your side, but they also are brutally honest.

The setting couldn’t have been more late winter beautiful. The large, round and sun dappled country kitchen of Beverly and John Fox Sullivan’s Georgetown home, which is not to be confused with the Sullivan’s country home in the heart of Rappahannock County, Va., a region that has staked a claim as the Washington area’s rural “foodie” stomping ground. John, CEO of Atlantic Media and publisher of The Atlantic, and Beverly, a noted collector and dealer of Haitian art (see NYSD), are devoted food and wine lovers.

The Sullivan home, where the wine tasting took place.
They welcomed the wines, the wine tasters and other friends to the marathon on behalf of a Rappahannock based food magazine, Flavor, and its publisher, Melissa J. Harris, and editor, Jennifer Conrad Seidel. The Sullivans provided their kitchen while Harris and Seidel chose the 68 wines that would be tasted (yes, 68) and the tasters. It was a Monday. They started at 11 a.m., which might sound shockingly early to civilians, but as much as this event was serene and friendly it was also business.

The official tasters were Harris and the elite of Washington area restaurant sommeliers and mixologists: Andrew Meyers of CityZen, Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve, Derek Brown of The Passenger & Columbia Room, Gina Cherevani of PS7, and Scott Calvert of The Inn at Little Washington. Rounding out the group was the capital’s number one wine connoisseur, CBS News White House correspondent Bill Plante. Bill’s famous for his love and knowledge of wine, and for always finding time for a fine meal and an excellent bottle, even while traveling round the world with every president since Ronald Reagan.

From morning until mid-afternoon, with a break for a buffet lunch, the tasters focused hard on the task before them: to taste 3 flights each of white and red wines from Virginia’s top 22 vineyards. Each flight featured between 12-16 wines. “The idea was to get DC to taste Virginia wines,” said Seidel. “Virginia has had a bad reputation but now they’re doing much better. Some restaurants make an effort, but they could do more.” She noted a Virginia sparkling wine, Thibaut-Janisson, has been served by President and Mrs. Obama at White House dinners.
The red wines, wrapped in anonymity.
Some of the white wines, chilling outside.
The dogs keeping watch.
The tasters round the table.
Wine experts have a colorful, code-filled language all their own. At the Sullivans they swirled, sniffed, tasted, made notes and talked a lot. There was laughter and one-upmanship as they compared notes: “Bottle stink,” “I don’t know about the flavor but it has absolutely no body,” “Peachy sweetness,” “Too much acid,” “Not wholly unpleasant,” “Oh, yikes!” “Mid-palate its marrowy,” “Green baby poop,” “Juicy,” “You know when you get your nails done, it smells like that,” “Coconut,” “My gums are swollen,” “Caribou,” “Circus peanuts,” “Frangipane,” “Its burning me, dear God,” “Sugar beets,” “Mildew,” “Candy corn,” “Soapy,” and “Note: shouldn’t be drunk.”

This was a tough team. As a group, they are accustomed to the world’s great wines. They are spoiled. However, as one of them said of the Virginia wine industry, “These are our hometown people. I’m glad they’re making wine and not bombs. I feel bad that we can’t be more positive, but the wines we have tasted are not world class.” Another said, “There are quite a few Virginia wines I’ve enjoyed, and there are some drinkable wines we’ve had here, but they are expensive for what they are and you can’t compare them to other wines in the world.” To be fair, he said, “We get lots of bad wines from throughout the world.”
The organizer, Flavor publisher Melissa J. Harris. Andrew Meyers of CityZen restaurant.
The facilitator, Flavor editor Jennifer Conrad Seidel.
Bill Plante surveys the landscape.
Wine tasting host, John Fox Sullivan.
Step one: Gina Cherevani, "mixtress" of PS7, tastes a wine.
Step two: Gina writes her analysis.
“Personally I know a lot of Virginia winemakers,” said one of the sommeliers. “Most of them are gentlemen farmers or investment bankers who started a vineyard to look like a gentleman farmer.” He added, “Virginia wineries are in their infancy.” But another countered, “Jefferson gave up on making wine in Virginia and he was a pretty smart dude.”

The names of the wines that were in the tasting will be revealed and the winners announced and celebrated at a charity event on April 24 at the Sullivans home in Little Washington, Va. For what its worth, as the tasters finished their task and headed back out into the world, one of them said: “I can say this is the most fun I’ve had at a tasting.”
"It tastes like green baby poop." Scott Calvert of The Inn at Little Washington, Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve and Andrew Meyers of CityZen.
Host John Fox Sullivan contemplates what?
Host Beverly Sullivan.
Gina Cherevani of PS7 and Derek Brown of The Passenger & Columbia Room.
Bill Plante and Scott Calvert.
Bill Plante inhales the wine's nose.
He sips. He savors.
He spits.
He makes notes.
The view to the kitchen/wine tasting room.
During a break in the tasting, John Fox Sullivan makes a point about Virginia wines.
Lunch was provided by a local caterer. Lunch was served as a buffet.
In all, the tasters tasted 68 wines.
Bill Plante gets an email message. From the White House, no doubt?
Melissa Harris recounts some of her favorites....
Organizing the tasting glasses.
John and Beverly Sullivan. Bill Plante, White House correspondent for CBS News and Washington's #1 wine connoisseur.
The tasters were never without an audience.
Tasting over, Todd Thrasher and John Sullivan check in with the outside world.
(AP) Michelle Obama, Carla Sarkozy; Presidents Obama and Sarkozy.
It may be double date night at the White House when French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni, make an official visit to Washington on Tuesday, March 30. The latest and quite clever thinking at the White House is to nix a full-blown State Dinner in favor of something new: President and Mrs. Obama and the Sarkozys, alone together, in the private family dining room upstairs at the residence.

To the extent the guest list might be expanded it would be only to include Michelle Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, and the Obama daughters, Malia and Sasha. The guest list for a state occasion doesn’t get more exclusive, and this arrangement would be intimate as well as certifiably uncrashable. Earlier in the day, after the Sarkozys arrived from New York, the Presidents will discuss strategic issues like Afghanistan and Iran. Details are still being worked out for a couple of public appearances for the First Ladies.

The visit will be very brief in the annals of a state visit. The Sarkozys may be in Washington for no longer than a day. With a stop in New York, the entire trip to the U.S. may be only two days.
Photo: EPA.
The old Nathans building in Georgetown, soon to be home to New York's Serendipity 3 ice cream parlor, with a crowd of tourists passing by last summer.
It appears that New York’s own over-the-top ice cream parlor, Serendipity 3, is bringing its signature Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, Tiffany lamps and stained glass windows to Georgetown. Blogger and former Miss Washington DC, Kate Michaels, announced that her boyfriend, Rodrigo Garcia, signed a deal to put Serendipity 3 in the location that for 40 years was Nathans pub at Wisconsin and M Streets.

(Disclosure: Nathans was started by my late husband, inherited by me, closed this past July and I’m not involved in the new venture at all.) The opening reportedly will be late spring.
Rodrigo Garcia, Cafe Milano's Laurent Menoud, and Kate Michaels.
Rodrigo Garcia with Laurent Menoud.
For the past couple of years Rodrigo was manager of Anthony Lanier’s popular, members-only L2 nightclub here. He is also the son of Marlena Romallo Chalmers Cooke, widow of Jack Kent Cooke, the multi-millionaire entrepreneur who owned the Washington Redskins football team, the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and the Los Angeles Kings hockey team. Rodrigo has said that while his mother’s relationship with Cooke was often volatile (they married, divorced and remarried), he and his stepfather “always got along.” Marlena moved away from Washington after her husband’s death in 1997.

Serendipity III's Frrrozen Hot Chocolate has been a hit since Serendipity opened in 1954 in New York City.
With Rodrigo opening such a high profile sweet shop, one can hope this means Marlena will be back in Washington more often. She was a colorful addition to the landscape, made clear by The Washington Post in a report on her 1993 arrest for drunk driving:

“She was seen hurtling down M Street NW in Georgetown with a man clinging to the hood of her Jaguar convertible and pounding the windshield, police said. The wild ride occurred about 12:55 a.m., continued for several blocks.

At one point, according to a police source, Cooke threw her gold pumps at a police officer, striking him in the face, after he suggested she remove her shoes for better balance during a sobriety test.”

Between her marriages to Cooke she was profiled by Vanity Fair magazine, posing provocatively stretched out on the floor of a suite at the Hay-Adams Hotel, with a view of the White House out the window. Soon after, Marlena and Jack were back together.

“Bringing this brand to DC was truly serendipity,” Rodrigo told Kate Michaels, in giving her the scoop on the deal. “The city seems to have a bit of a sweet tooth.” With his family’s knack for attention, and Serendipity 3’s notoriously long lines and wait times, there should be a lively traffic jams from day one.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.
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