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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Bin There, Done That

Bin There, Done That
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Milford, CT – Lilting lounge music. Late day sun streaking through stylishly patterned floor-to-ceiling shades. Star- and diamond-shaped fabric light covers. Asian-influenced architectural splashes. Tastefully integrated earth tones – browns, beiges and burnt reds. It seemed like just the right setting for sampling tapas and wine… and that’s what I was here to do.

The week before, an email promoting the activity, from Fairfield-based Harry’s Wine & Liquor Market, dropped into my inbox. They were providing wines for the event. Serving as the host site was Bin 100 Restaurant in Milford. And benefiting from it all, the local Boys & Girls Village, which would receive 5% on all wine purchases.

I sat in a chair next to a few other folks in a “staging” area provided before the event’s official start. When I asked a local couple what had spurred them to attend, the male half of the duo replied, “My mom. She comes in here a lot… and it was something to do. We usually go out Thursday nights.” Another local strolled up and asked, “Are we sitting?” Someone replied, “I think we’re waiting for the starting gun.” Added another, “Or the first pop of a cork!”

The sommeliers busily assembled their wares on long tables draped with white cloths. There were four stations in all – two on each side of a partition in one large free-flowing space. The wine representatives included Corvo Wines, Winebow, New England Wine & Spirits and Maja Imports. Discussion between them was amusing and thick-accented, and touched on international subjects like World Cup Soccer.

Each of us participants was ultimately outfitted with a wine glass. The couple beside me was joined by an elegant-looking woman (presumably the gentleman’s mom) and her friend… and moments later we were off and sipping.

I figured I would follow the table number order, so began with Table #1, Corvo. The station was manned by Walter Sullivan, a northern Fairfield resident and Market Manager for CT, RI and Massachusetts. He was a nattily dressed old fox with a blue blazer, khakis, a pastel pink dress shirt and tie.

Meaning “crow” in Italian, Corvo is based in Sicily, which Sullivan described as “what the boot is kicking” in terms of how the country lays out next to Italy’s long “boot” shape. The grapes used in their products are all indigenous to Sicily, meaning they cannot be found anywhere else. He suggested we begin with a white, as the whites are lighter in flavor, then proceed to the reds, due to the tannins in the latter. Tannins, by definition, are astringent, bitter plant polyphenols that cause the dry and puckery feeling in the mouth following the consumption of red wine.

A 2008 Corvo Bianco, made with the Insolia grape varietal, passed across my tongue nice, dry and crisp, with a hint of citrus, very balanced. Next up, a 2008 Corvo Terrae Dei (translating as “God’s Land”), comprised of Grillo grapes. It was creamy and fuller and high rated by Wine Spectator magazine. As we sampled, Sullivan explained that white wines should be consumed “within 2-3 years after bottling as a rule of thumb.” He also pointed out that Corvo is the largest producer of wines in Sicily and its parent company is Il Va Di Saronno, which makes the popular liquore Amaretto di Saronno.

Reds were up next, beginning with a Corvo Nero D’Avola. It had a fruity nose and peppery dry taste. Finally, a 2007 Corvo Terrae Dei Rosso boldly marched out, with a full body suited to steak and “American palettes.”

Speaking of palettes, I felt the need to cleanse mine, so b-lined for an adjacent food station, of which there were four. The offerings here were an assortment of tapas, and were delectable, including fine cheese, fruit, nuts, mussels, gourmet crackers, hummus and goat cheese.

Sated for the moment, I returned to battle, reporting for duty at the Winebow wine station. There, Wallingford, CT-based Wine Consultant Carl Vitale, a young guy dressed in gray slacks and a pastel purple dress shirt, greeted me. He explained that Winebow is an importer/distributor of top, family-owned estate wines and that their selections are marked with a Leonardo Locascio stamp. Thirty years ago, Locascio left his job as a Citibank VP and started the import business out of his house in New Jersey. Now the business imports a wide range of brands, from Chile, Italy, Argentina and California predominantly.

Vitale had me try a 2008 Sauvignon Gris, a Chilean white from the Cousino Macul winery, a family owned business for over 150 years. It was round and rich with hints of pink grapefruit and mango. We then grabbed some surf wax to ride Point Break, a California north coast red from Longboard Vineyards that exploded with cherry notes. Next, we scaled the Argentinian mountains to reach a 2007 Catena Malbec, a fantastic red from a “perfect little micro climate” well irrigated by melting snow that collects in the Mendosa area, the “hub of winemaking.” I needed to get an extra pour of the latter, winking to a trio of tasters beside me, “I can be greedy, right?” The reply: “Sure, as long as he lets you.” Vitale nodded yes and poured. “Gol!”

Winebow’s final offering was a 2006 Palazzo della Torre, made and bottled by the Allegrini family in the Venetto region of northeast Italy. The brand is comprised of three grapes, which are actually frozen in the winemaking process.

About 60 tasting participants had gathered at this point, all neatly dressed, ranging in age from late 20s to seniors, with an average age hovering in the late 40s I guessed. As I darted to a second food station for my now ritual palette cleansing, I encountered two women on the younger end of the scale, Maja and Crysta, both 24, and Maja’s boss, Jim, owner of the Orange Ale House, a neighborhood-style bar and grill in the next town east. Jim was a guest of the Boys and Girls Village, to which his business had given $85,000 in the last year alone.

I asked the girls what brands they’d enjoyed thus far and Maja said, “The brut champagne at the Maja [Imports] table. It was very delish.” About the coincidence in names between her own and the name of that importer, she laughed, “They knew I was coming!” I had to ask how she’d acquired her name and she said it was after Maja the Bee, a noted cartoon in Eastern Europe that was a favorite of her older sister’s. She pulled up a photo of the icon on her iPhone, saying, “I’ve told that story to like three people in my life.” I was honored to have gained the confidence of this blonde Croatian sun goddess.

Another eastern European, short-haired blonde Elena from Belarus, was manning the New England Wine & Spirits station. This group is a West Haven, CT-headquartered distributor/importer. She got me out of bed for a Wente Vineyards brand called “Morning Fog.” This California white had a nice oaky taste, well balanced. “Very popular, a beautiful summer wine, very potent nose… an exclusive brand,” Elena summed up. Feeling somewhat naughty now, I supposed that it would be appropriate for me to experience 7 Deadly Sins, so to speak. This 100% Zinfandel is vinted and bottled by Michael and David Phillips out of Graton, CA. “Beautiful fruit, for Zinfandel lovers,” Elena said as it tiptoed across my tongue.

I would have one more small sample at Elena’s table and, appropriately, a 2007 Petite Petit was waiting in the chute to ski into my gullet. Another Phillips brand, made from Petit Sirah and Petit Verdot grapes, the brand is aged 14 months in French oak to produce a nice, dry, very fruity taste.

A quick word from Stephen Joffe, president/ceo of Boys and Girls Village about the organization’s program offerings in the areas of behavioral/mental health, child welfare and special education, and it was on to the last wine station, Maja Imports. Pony-tailed Miguel and owner Inaki Markina were there to greet me. Surprisingly, Markina and Miguel had come to the country from Spain to play Jai Alai in Bridgeport and Milford. Markina ultimately retired and desired to return to his native country, but did not want to leave his college-aged daughters here on their own. So he stayed and opened the import business.

The first brand Markina had me try was the Canals Cava Brut. Canals is the family bottler and “cava” is essentially the term used for champagne in Spain. This $10 bottle contained three grape varietals including Xarello (picked at sea level), Perelada (from the base of the mountains) and Macabeo (from 150-200 meters). Canals is just one of the small wineries that the importer represents and all grow their own grapes.

Next up was a white called Eidosela Albarino. Markina explained that “Eido” means special place, Sela is the town and Albarino is the grape variety.

I blushed red when he introduced me to a 2006 Ostatu Crianza Rioja. Ostatu in this case is the wine name, Rioja the region and Temperanillo the grape. This nectar spends 13 months in French oak then another 10-12 months in bottles before it is released to market, to perfect its oaky, fruity balanced bouquet.

Last but not least, he shared a sun goddess in a bottle called Solorca Crianza, a wonderful red aged 13-14 months in French/American oak to produce a velvety, soft taste, “perfect with steak, oxtail, lamb.” Here again, he broke down the wine name noting that Sol=sun and Lorca is the name of a poet killed during Spain’s rule by General Francisco Franco.

This had been a fantastic experience I remarked to a quad of women as I stepped away from

the last wine station. “You can’t go wrong with tapas and wine. We didn’t have a wine we 

didn’t care for,” they concluded. I couldn’t have agreed more. 

Reggae Meets Funk

Reggae Meets Funk
By Mike Lauterborn
© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Stamford, CT -- One part reggae. One part funk. Mix together in a phat joint. Add a generous dash of music lovers. Stir vigorously. Serves many.
These were the ingredients of a hot steaming stew called “Reggae Meets Funk”, a groove-inducing musical buffet spooned out last month at the Route 22 Restaurant and Bar in Stamford, CT by Messrs. Mystic Bowie and Jen Durkin.

Bowie, a veteran professional born Fitzroy Alexander Campbell in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, ladled the reggae. Durkin, with a 15-year career as a lead vocalist in groups like The Bomb Squad and Deep Banana Blackout, brought the funk. It was a badass combo and the two alternated their beats and unique styles, more than satisfying the hunger of the enthusiastic crowd that had come to see them.

“Mystic is always open to influences… pop, rock, funk,” Bowie’s new manager Maxine Stowe noted when asked how this sumptuous meal of music had been inspired. “And Jen has a huge base in CT. With the region’s rich music scene, this was the perfect setting for this mix.”  Route 22’s music booker, Jason Jones, was also instrumental in bringing the act here. He contacted Bowie and Bowie brought in Durkin, with whom he had tag-teamed in the past.

Bowie and Durkin, standing center stage amongst their six-piece band, certainly seemed to complement each other.  Bowie bopped and bounced in his tight yellow tee, braids and camo pants cinched at the waist while Jen effected a Janis Joplin-esque cool vibe in black shades, flowing cotton top and white pants, but also held a Jamaican-inspired percussion instrument. “This place is amazing. We can get some serious acrobatics going!” Durkin gushed.

The space was indeed made to accommodate their music – a little funky, a lot laid back. An industrial ceiling of sheet metal to reflect their beats. Air ducts like dutchie pipes. Brick walls with old gas station signs, license plates and even a working traffic light. Staff in black Route 22 t-shirts. Even a disco ball center ceiling shooting out little pinpoints all over the room.

Billed as “America’s Favorite Pit Stop”, Route 22 boasts two locations: the Stamford locale and Armonk, NY. The latter is the original location and began life as a gas station built back in the late 20s. Founder Lance Root, a restaurant/club veteran who ran Hard Rock Cafes and opened the Harley Davidson CafĂ© among other credits, developed the vision playing off the gas station theme and his surname. He credits his booker Jones with helping bring the concept to life with hot acts like Bowie and Durkin.

“We’re mixing it up, doing some old, some new,” Bowie informed the full house about the duo’s song set, as he and Durkin alternated between jams like “Nevah Kiss & Tell” and “Rasta Man Call” from Bowie’s latest CD “Nevah Kiss and Tell” (dedicated to his “mama” Beryl Smith Jones), rifts like “Take Me Back” and “Higher”, and classics such as “I Can See Clearly Now” and “The Tide is High”.

The crowd – black, white, male, female, baseball caps, beanies, even a cowboy hat in the pack – ate it all up, weaving, bending and swaying, bathed in gel lights. When Bowie started chanting, “Music is my drug of choice!”, a line from his new song “Drug of Choice”, the gathering exploded, singing along with him and fist pumping in the air. Bowie was their reggae god and they were his disciples, if only for the evening.

“Lord have mercy!” Durkin had to call out, marveling at the frenzy the duo had created, a frothy brew and “the best of both worlds” as she aptly put it describing the reggae/funk collaboration.

The most diminutive member of the congregation was a Bowie relation. “My biggest fan is here, my nephew Little Benny, “ the singer announced, bringing the lad up on stage and handing him a cowbell and drumstick to knock out an accompanying beat. The room devoured this and when he’d completed his gig, Benny received uproarious applause and Bowie’s praise, “More cowbell! You’re hired!”

Benny was not the only family member of Bowie’s in the house. Thirteen-year-old son Jason, from Bowie’s first marriage, was seated with Stowe at a dedicated booth adjacent to the dance floor. Jason mentioned a brother and sister, who live in Florida. Second wife Shannon was also on hand, busily conducting sales of Bowie’s CD, organizing literature and speaking with press.

Stowe, who actually co-manages Bowie along with Jay Stollman, hopes to take Bowie’s career “vertical”. A niece of Clement Dodd who founded Studio One (Jamaica Recording), one of Jamaica’s leading record labels, Stowe spoke of Bowie’s philanthropic efforts. These centered around the Mystic Bowie Cultural Center, a 5-acre facility established in Jamaica to offer free music, sports and drama lessons – educational resources in effect to help underprivileged youth. Bowie is constantly raising funds and shipping school supplies, clothing and musical instruments to the island-based facility Stowe informed.

As the group’s percussionist launched into a solo, saying, “I wait all day to break it down, to do this!”, the crowd went wild, pure joy broadcast on their faces, all funked up and feelin’ irie. The intensity built as heads were engaged and bobbed, arms waved and “the wall of sound” (the band’s guitarists) kicked in.

“Are you feeling good? Are you feeling good?” Bowie taunted. Then, “Are you ready to shake?” as he began crooning Calypso-style “Everybody Shake”.

It was a sweet helping of dessert rounding out this feast of funk and reggae roast. Appetites were sated, palates stimulated and revelers infused with tasty beats. A five-star rating had been well-earned.

About Mystic Bowie:
About Jen Durkin:
Writer Mike Lauterborn: