Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Farm Fresh Pork Cutlets and Beaujolais

I am checking to see whether you and I prefer this look for the blog - its certainly a little brighter than the brown.

I love the Grand Army Plaza Farmer's Market. Almost all year round, BrooklynLady and I get amazing produce there, great bread, honey, eggs, fish, and sometimes meat. There used to be this lady who ran a yarn booth. She had bright colored scarf and hat samples hung everywhere, pattern books scattered all over her table, and a small cooler sitting under her table full of frozen lamb.

I started with a package of simple loin chops and never looked back. She sold lamb only when it was time to slaughter, and I used to fill my freezer when the time came - butterfly leg roasts, all kinds of chops, shanks, and these great little bone-in rib pieces that I used to stew with yellow split peas in a curry.

She is gone, vanished without a trace, and I mourn her lamb. But last Saturday I discovered that the farmer who sells great fresh herbs and heirloom tomatoes also sells fresh pork for 2 months out of the year. They have only 12 or so pigs, and slaughter 2 or 3 at the end of the summer. I noticed this only because they had a little chalkboard up next advertising bacon, chops, etc. Its as if they don't want you to know.

I bought a package of smoked thick cut bacon, another of 4 center cut bone-in loin chops, and a pound of pre-sliced cutlets. I have never actually made pork or veal cutlets, but how hard can it be? Bread them (or don't), fry them, some lemon, salt, pepper, garlic, herbs...not too much to think about. I got some dark purple mustard greens too, and some butternut squash.

The rinsed cutlets are on the left. I wanted to lightly bread the cutlets in something flavorful, but I didn't want to distract from their freshness and porkiness - not to mask them in other words.

I used breadcrumbs I bought at A&S Pork Store, added some chopped parsley, lots of salt and pepper, and some grated Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses. Dipped the cutlets in an egg and water mixture, rolled them in the breadcrumbs, and fried them in canola oil. Here is the breadcrumb mixture.

So, one thing I didn't count on is the fact that breading sticks a little bit to a hot pan, and therefore the first batch of cutlets is the prettiest. Subsequent batches are flecked with the dark burnt splotches of cooked breading from earlier cutlets.
No matter, I can pick off the splotches and scrape the pan, and present the cutlets with their photogenic side face-up.

I diced a piece of the bacon, added some crushed garlic, and braised the mustard greens. BrooklynLady carmelized the butternut squash in brown sugar and butter in the stove.

All said and done, a quick and easy dinner for a Monday night - 45 minutes total - perfect amount of time for rehashing the day while sipping a 2005 Domaine de la Voute des Crozes Cote-de-Brouilly, $15.

Disappointing wine, though, sad to say. I love the spicy and aromatic fruitiness of beaujolais. I feel like the wines are incredibly versatile too, pairing well with all sorts of food and all seasons. A chilled Fleurie is great with grilled fish on a summer evening, and a room temperature Moulin-a-Vent or Cote-deBrouilly should be great with light meat or chicken dishes on a fall evening.

This one was not that wine, though. There are so many good cru Beaujolais to taste, and most are under $20. I have had some great ones this summer and fall - I will share some favorites soon. This one had faint cherry smells, but none of the spice I am used to, and a vegetal palate with very reserved fruit, very thin mouth feel, and almost a chalkiness to it. I left the bottle alone for over an hour and it barely improved. Off bottle? Maybe, but I have no experience with this producer.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Weekend Wines and Eats

Before sharing comments about this past weekend's food and wine, I want to mention a great series of posts I came across while searching online for help planning our Burgundy trip. A German guy, I think, and his coworker at something called Black Ink visited Burgundy each year for 5 years and lovingly describe their wine and food experiences. Worth reading, although I warn you - you may feel compelled to visit Burgundy afterwards.

Now, the weekend's wines. I had four very good wines this weekend, 3 of which cost under $20, one of them under $15. We had some yummy food, and an expensive bummer of a very poor meal at a popular and supposedly excellent Brooklyn restaurant.

Friday night BrooklynLady and I went to visit Deetrane and Pristine and their new 4-day old baby. We need practice holding newborns, yes, but this was also a great excuse to eat Deetrane's delicious cooking - he made simple but utterly delicious tagliatelle with a sauce of thick and lusty heirloom tomatoes. I contributed a bottle of 2003 Montevertine Pian del Ciampolo, $18. I know basically nothing about Italian wine, but this producer is a winner. I read about Montevertine in Eric Asimov's NY Times blog and as I often am when reading his blog, I was immediately sold. He could probably convince me to buy a hundred dollar bill shredder.

2002 Pian del Ciampolo was in stores until a few months ago and it was graceful, light bodied, but pretty intense wine. Sort or reminded me of a Pinot Noir, actually. 2003 is supposed to be far superior to 2002 in Tuscany and I was excited to try the new vintage. It just showed up at Chambers Street a few weeks ago. It is just delicious! Fuller bodied than the 2002, intense smokey cherry and leather flavors, very earthy. A pure feeling to the wine too, no appreciable oak or anything else to get in the way of the fruit and soil.

Saturday night after seeing The Science of Sleep (so-so at best), BrooklynLady and I had a some friends over for dinner. Our menu:

Fried green tomatoes with home made green goddess dressing
Pan roasted hanger steaks with piri-piri sauce
Roast pink potatoes
Boiled magenta radishes with butter and salt

We had the 2005 Huet Vouvray Demi-sec Clos du Bourg, $34 with the tomatoes. I wanted to cut through the rich green goddess dressing, but also to echo the sweetness of the fried tomatoes. I am more and more impressed with the 2005 vintage in the Loire, and this wine was a show stopper. Absolutely pure and clean, with well delineated aromas of ripe melon, pears, and perfumey white flowers. Well balanced with mouthwatering acidity and a mineral backbone, clean flavors of sweet ripe fruit, lemon, and rainwater, with that touch of honey at the end that identifies the wine as a demi-sec. This is a cellar selection, in my opinion, as I am certain that the flavors and aromas will become more complex in time.

We opened the 2005 Domaine des Roches Neuves Saumur Champigny, $14 with the steaks and sides. I have posted about Thierry Germain's wines here before - I am a real fan. This is his entry level wine and its meant to drink young. Juicy with fresh blackberries and plums, and some underlying funky-animal, something vegetal from the soil, that adds complexity and makes it a great food wine. And at this price...buy a case and show it off to your friends - they'll think you're breaking out the expensive stuff.

BrooklynLady and I had an unexpected dinner out Sunday night at Stone Park, a hot spot on 5th Avenue in Park Slope. Our friends who can't go out much due to their 3 year old called us, and although we traditionally cook for the week on Sunday nights, we couldn't pass up the chance to hang out with them. I've been to Stone Park 4 times now and each time I am less and less impressed. The first time we had marrow bones (boring, sadly), blue fish cakes (excellent), a thick and wonderful grilled porkchop, and a nice piece of fish. Each time I return, something goes downhill. But I go back because its supposed to be so good, and who am I to disagree, right? Wrong. I need to learn from this.

This time was absolutely the worst and I will not go back. In fact I would go so far as to recommend that people not go there. Expensive food and drink, and not well executed, with some holier-than-thou service to top it off. They had nothing non-alcoholic to offer BrooklynLady to drink, and were helpless to come up with something. I practically had to climb behind the bar and mix her a mocktail myself. I ordered a $10 cocktail called a Pegu Club, a mixture of gin, cointreau, and lime juice. I've had good versions of this drink (at a bar named Pegu Club in Manhattan) and it's bracing, tart, and refreshing - a great aperitif. This one came in a half empty martini glass (fill that puppy up for $10, pal) and was utterly flat andway too sweet. A bad omen.

Our thick pork chops were burned tasting and black on the outside, and raw on the inside. BrooklynLady's steak was rare although she asked for medium, and although she politely sent it back for more fire, it returned in the same bloody state. The corn gratin it came with was cold, right out of the walk-in or something. Our friend's salmon was also raw on the inside with tough and inedible chinese broccoli. They then forgot the candle that we asked for when ordering the desert, and served us cold "warm chocolate cake" and cold tart tatin.

When the bill came our lovely bottle of 2005 Calera Central Coast Pinot Noir, $33 ($18 in a store?) was not there. That's nice, I thought - comp us the wine after a clearly screwed up dining experience. I let the waiter know I appreciated this gesture, and he took the check and added the $33, thanking me for my honesty. Never again, I tell ya!

At least the wine was good. Light, simple, red cherries and a bit of earth in a glass. A pleasure to sip while trying to find the edible areas of our food.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Please Help Plan my Trip to Burgundy!

BrooklynLady and I are going to France in November: 5 days in Paris and 4 in Burgundy. We are having a baby in February and this is essentially the last time we can travel for over a week together without young'uns. So we're off...

Never before visited Burgundy, and we're looking for your suggestions on wineries to visit, restaurants, scenic drives, yummy breakfasts, places to avoid, local politicians to vote for, etc.

Please share your knowledge or your heresay - we need help planning!

Anyone know if you can bring wine back in your bags again?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

An Oregon Pinot Gris

Pinot gris is called Pinot Grigio in Italy, and this is of questionable value to its reputation. I have to say that Eric Asimov's recent pinot grigio tasting notwithstanding, I just haven't found a Pinot Grigio that I would serve proudly to a fellow wine lover. A few years ago when I lived in Prospect Heights, my local wineshop carried a Pinot Gris from Elk Cove, an Oregon producer. I remember it as costing a little more than $15, and it was very tasty.

I have since found other Oregon producers whose wines I prefer, but I still have a taste for the Oregon style of Pinot Gris - richer in flavor, fuller in body and texture compared to Italian versions. I would be extremely curious to see the results of a blind tasting, if one should occur, of Oregon Pinot Gris. Actually, I bet that Cole Danehower in his popular Oregon wine newsletter Oregon Wine Report has done such a tasting, but I have not seen the results.

A year ago I ordered some Pinot Noir from Bergstrom Winery, and because I couldn't afford a half case, I filled it in with a couple of bottles of their 2004 Pinot Gris. I opened one last night with BrooklynLady's uttery delicious butternut squash soup. She made it with farmer's market squash, garlic, onion, and stock, a white potato, and she added fresh ginger and some crumbled and fried fennel sausage from A&S Porkstore. Turned out to be a good pairing, as the vibrant wine stood up and complimented the flavors of the soup.

2004 Bergstrom Pinot Gris, $18
Intense aromas of flowers and melon jump out of the bottle when first opened and poured. Initially almost over the top, but quickly settled down, and smells of honey and lemon come through too. A vibrant and lip-smacking feeling, with apple, lemon, and citrus flavors, rainwater, and some honey at the finish. Prominent acidity and a lingering finish. I don't have enough context to understand this particular wine in comparison to others, but it is a bright and flavorful wine that goes well with food. Makes me want to explore further.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Cocktail from 1923, and a Surprise from Deetrane

I try not to drink booze because I want to devote my alcohol calories to wine. But the problem is, I love booze. I used to keep lots of quality booze in the house, but then I rediscovered wine and let go of booze because it became too easy to drink all the time, and that can't be good. But ever since JonnyBongos gave us the bar a few weeks back, I've been slowly re-introducing good booze to our house.

My new favorite cocktail is the Sidecar. The Sidecar, according to Colin Peter Field, former 'best bartender in the world' and maestro of the the Bar Hemingway at the Ritz Paris, is the following simple concoction:

5/10 cognac
3/10 cointreau
2/10 lemon juice

This is a bright and lemony, but rich and full flavored drink. Great before dinner, but I could have one after dinner with a cigar too. Jeez - my problem is, I could have one with brunch and be psyched.

Anyway, tonight I put together the osso bucco that I began yesterday when I braised some beef shanks. Tonight I cooked some white beans with butternut squash and garlic and black peppercorns, and made my first gremolata - finely minced garlic, flat leaf parsley, and lemon zest that is traditionally scattered atop braised meat if you're Eurpoean.

See sidecar at top right, with bowl of beans and osso buco, center.

I heated up a baguette, tossed a salad, and poured 5 1/2 months pregnant BrooklynLady a bowl of sparkling apple juice, and mixed myself a sidecar.

The refreshing brightness of the drink went well with Deetrane's wonderful news - his wife gave birth to a baby boy last night!!! 7 pounds 13 ounces of little baby boy. Delivered abruptly in the corridor of a Brooklyn hospital, but that's another story.
That calls for another sidecar. These things go down like icewater on a hot day in August.

Congrats to Deetrane and his wife Pristine, and goodnight. And welcome to the world, new little boy. In 21 years (18 if you're Canadian, 16 if you're French) we will have a sidecar together, if my stomach can still take it, and we will toast your parents.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Another Saumur Champigny

My pal Deetrane is a Wine Commune addict (I will not link there, I'm no pusher, baby). He can't seem to help himself - even though he says he shouldn't be buying wine now, he finds himself perusing the Wine Commune acutions looking for good deals. He tries cheap wine from producers he hasn't heard of, and invents fantastic new explanations for his wife about how and why another carton of wine arrives at the door.

Last week he emailed me to ask if I wanted to go in with him on a case of wine he won on auction. He wasn't familiar with the producer but he knows that I love the Loire reds. Turns out, he got a case of 2000 Domaine des Roches Neuves La Marginale, their top cuvee, for a little under $12 per bottle. This wine sells for about $30 per bottle. Even though 2000 was a tough year in which many Loire reds were kind of fruitless and diluted, good producers should still make good wine, right? decent wine? Wine worth $11.66 per bottle, including delivery?

I took half the case off Deetrane's hands and made dinner last night that I hoped would pair well. Seared sirloin steak with simple shallot red wine reduction, some baby bok choy, and roasted potatos. I've been into radishes lately too, and I got some at the farmers market with white peels and beautiful hot pink flesh. We had those boiled and tossed with butter and salt - simple and yummy.

2000 Domain des Roches Neuves La Marginale
Highly vegetal when first opened. Smells of green peppers, maybe, with fresh earth. Reserved, if any fruit on the nose. Closed palate, but promising because the texture and color are right on, and well...because I believe! And although this is not a superstar wine, I was right to have faith. I opened it 2 hours before dinner with a few friends, and by the time people were eating, the fruit was more evident on the nose and definitely in the mouth. Mostly raspberries, with some black fruit undertones and an astringent feeling from the tannins. The wine was well balanced though, with no alcohol feeling and nice minerality on the finish. I imagine that in better years, the fruit is more focused. I will definitely try a bottle from the current vintage 2003.

It doesn't seem as if this wine will improve much with cellaring - there is just not enough stuffing. I want to save a bottle or 2 for the day in 5 years when I have some sort of vertical Loire red tasting, but this is a drink now wine.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Golden Nugget of a Tasting, Part II

About 30 people showed up at Sotheby's for the pre-auction tasting, as compared to about 100 last time. I went back for seconds and even thirds at some bottles. This time they left the art hanging on the walls, so I swirled and sniffed surrounded by Renoir. After an hour of tasting (and I'm sorry, but when its old fine wine I don't spit, I don't care if its uncouth), I was worried that I might pull a Steve Wynn and shove my elbow through one of the canvases, but I remained in control of myself.

In sum: I tasted some really sick wine last night. Its an incredible learning experience to sample a flight of 2000 Bordeaux and then compare that to another flight of Bordeaux from 1970 to 1990. I felt that I learned something about the evolution in the bottle of wine. The highlight for me though was tasting 6 Burgundies, 3 of them Grand Cru wines. I have never tasted Grand Cru Burgundy before and I'll tell you, it felt great - something I could get used to.

It was not possible for me to keep detailed tasting notes about all of the wines I tasted, but I can share something about the wines that I thought were memorable:

The 1970 Chateau Montrose just didn't excite me much. Lots of green olives on the nose, not much fruit, ion the mouth either. Pronounced lead. The flavors were sort of dull. The Bordeaux of the night was definitely the 1983 Chateau Gruaud Larose. This wine was very dark and smelled of tobacco and black fruit. Very juicy and fresh, still young, with some tar and sappy sweeetness at the finish. The 1996 Chateau Calon Segur (which BrooklynLady favors due to the heart on the label) was very interesting. Unusual smells of herbs and candied orange peel and figs. The younger Bordeaux were not so impressive, but that might be due to having just tasted the more mature wines. The 2000 Chateau Grand Puy Lacoste was the most interesting to me, with blueberries on the nose and cassis flavors.

The first Burgundy we tasted was maybe the best, a 1992 Compte Georges de Vogue Bonnes Mares. There was some rust in the color, but no signs of aging I could detect in the wine. On the contrary, it was full of orange peel and prunes, and some animal smells, with cooked fruit and pine in the mouth. There was not much acidity, but the flavors were clear and pure. I imagine that this wine should be consumed now and not saved any longer. I am happy to help whoever purchases the wine in that endeavor.

I also was fascinated by two wines from Armand Roussseau. The 1997 Rousseau Clos de la Roche is a Grand Cru wine. The color was incredibly light red, verging on rose. But the nose was alive with strawberry and animal, and the flavors were piercing with cooked cherries. Very light and delicate - I imagine it would be wonderful with salmon or wild mushrooms.

The 1997 Armand Rousseau Ruchottes Chambertin, Clos des Ruchottes was in the end my favorite wine. Also a Grand Cru, this wine was all class, style, and grace. A reserved nose of cooked cherries and pine, and lovely and well delineated flavors of cherries, spices, mushrooms, and a lingering cranberry finish. It got better each time I went back too. I am trying to drum up some support among friends to bid on the lot of this wine.

As a side note, there was a bottle of 2002 Cristom Pinot Noir, Jessie Vineyard in the same flight as the red Burgundies. Now that's a bit unfair, right? If it were a 1997, now that might be fair. This wine smelled and tasted like artificial cherry candy compared to the Burgundy wine. No finesse or elegance. The Cristom was like an amateur boxer sparring with Bruce Lee - never really had a chance.

There were lots of other interesting wines - I didn't mention the white Burgundies at all. But thats as much as I could really process. I felt inspired though to organize a tasting at home though, to replicate the experience of flights of wine. Its a great way to learn about a varietal or a set of producers. Any takers?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wines of Catherine and Pierre Breton

Red Hook Brooklyn was a mostly Italian neighborhood of stevedores back before Robert Moses plotted part of the elevated tracks of Brooklyn Queens Expressway so as to isolate Red Hook from the rest of north Brooklyn. One of the largest public housing projects in the US sits in Red Hook. It has been for years one of the most isolated, poor, and blighted parts of the city. There is no subway stop there, no grocery store, hardly any commerce at all in fact. Walking around can convey a surreal 'ghost town' kind of feeling.

As is common in New York, a combination of artists and other intrepid souls in about 2000 began moving to Red Hook for the low rents. Soon there were a few art galleries, a bar or two, and even a couple of restaurants. Now Red Hook is a bona fide hot neighborhood, with property values rising, several good restaurants, and plenty of attitude and hype.

A few years ago a Frenchman named Arnaud Erhart opened a restaurant in Red Hook called 360, and he served a 3 course prix fixe menu for a startlingly low price of $25. Then again, you had to go to Red Hook to get there, so the price is fair. But the food was excellent. It quickly became Red Hook's first destination restaurant.

I've had 5 or six meals there in the past few years, almost every one of them excellent. A few years ago I took my then girlfriend BrooklynLady to 360 on a date and we had a great meal. The wine list is called "eccentric" by reviewers, which means that there are no bottles from Bordeaux or Burgundy, even though almost every bottle on the list is French. Mr. Erhart loves wine from the Loire Valley.

BrooklynLady picked a 2002 Catherine et Pierre Breton Clos Senechal to go with our dinner that night and we loved it. C&P Breton make Bourgueil (boor-geye) wine, beloved in France as everyday drinking wine, and largely unknown here. These wines are made soley from cabernet franc. We have since then taken every opportunity to try other Breton wines - there are many cuvees, some meant to drink young, others aged in wood and meant to be cellared for at least a bit. Louis Dressner's website offers great explanation of the various cuvees from this producer.

I have only tried Breton's young wines once, and it was at a tasting so I did not have them with food. I have now had their ageworthy cuvees a couple of times and I really love them - they work so well with food, they offer such juicy and complex flavors and aromas, and they are such a good value in fine wine. The most expensive bottle I have yet to see in a store is $25. The only negative comment I have is that the wines, including that very first one at 360, tend to fall off after an hour open. The beautiful fruit flies away leaving a graphite and iron flavor.

Tonight after running around Prospect Park (I don't want you to think I'm some lazy type of sloth - I jog 3 times a week pal) I made a simple celery root and potato soup, and heated up the braised beef and turnips that I made the other night. We opened a bottle of one of my favorite Breton wines, Les Perrieres.

I love this wine! It is a banquet of raspberries, spices herbs, and minerals. It doesn't overpower the soup, and it dances with the braised beef. So far the fuit is holding up too, and its been open over an hour. Keep your fingers crossed...

2002 Catherine and Pierre Breton Les Perrieres, $25.
Somewhat murky opaque purple, right to the rim. Smells like the monkey cage at the zoo when you first open it, but afte 10 minutes this blows off. Aromas of forest soil, pine, and red fruits, with a bit of woody vanilla in the background. Vibrant and juicy flavors of raspberries and blackberries, with Dannon boysenberry yoghurt. Layers of herbal and vegetal flavors. Some turned earth too. The finish is blood and iron. All of this is buoyed by vivid acidity and a reasonably low 12.5% alcohol level. You could drink this wine on its own (and you might want to this first time - its that interesting) but have it with some deeply flavored food. Bill me if you don't like it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Wine for a Rainy Tuesday Night

You know how sometimes when you get home from work later than you want to on a rainy night and you're mentally and physically exhausted, you just want to decompress on the couch with a glass of something soothing and delicious?

It rained basically all day today in NYC and I was soaked when I got home a little after 9 PM. I was hungry and cranky, and I wanted a glass of wine that would make me feel better. Of all the wines that I know, the type that most reminds me of home made chicken soup is red Burgundy. That is a strange thing to say, yes. But home made chicken soup is always deeply satisfying, no matter what style it happens to be. I feel the same way about red Burgundy wine.

I opened a bottle of 2004 Marechal Savigny-les-Beaune and stretched out on the couch, sipping the wine while the Cardinals loaded the bases against Glavine and the Mets. I swirled the glass and the aromas of wet earth and dried cranberries, menthol, and high notes of cherries wafted out, as did my stress, leaving me with a smile for the first time in a few hours.

Actually, although the wine smells great, it is probably more wonderful BrooklynLady's sweet hugs and kisses that brought my smile and relaxation.

The Mets are down by 2 and I get up off the couch to have something to eat. The wine is developing beautifully - there is a little spice in the mid-palate, and a pleasant bitterness mingles with the fruity, sweet finish. I am always so impressed with the grace and balance of these Burgundy wines, so different from my beloved Oregon pinots.

I'm almost too tired to eat, so I have a cold taste of the beef and turnips I braised last night and wow - it's gonna be good when heated up. And the wine is even more animated with food. Lively and fresh, vibrant acidity, fruit and earth flavors mingling seamlessly. I'm really impressed with this wine, and its a humble wine, no premier cru status or anything, just a good village wine from a good producer for $34.

The Mets are done for the night (and as a fan of New York's other baseball team, I can't say that I'm sorry). It's late and I could stay up drinking this wine looking out the window as it keeps raining and let the events of the day wander through me. But instead I will put it in the fridge and crawl into bed with the now sleeping BrooklynLady and give her an earth and cherry pinot kiss before sleep. Maybe she will dream about Burgundy.

Monday, October 16, 2006

2005 Vouvrays Have Arrived

The 2005 vintage is supposed to be so good in many French wine regions, and the Loire Valley is one of them. When BrooklynLady and I were there a year ago all of the vignerons were saying this. I've been eagerly anticipating the arrival of some of my favorite Vouvrays, and finally they are on the shelves at Chambers Street Wines.

Chamber Street, by the way, has a truly fantastic selection of Loire Valley wines, both the whites and the reds. The entire back wall is devoted to Loire whites, including many differe t chenin blancs from Savennieres, Vouvray, and somethimes the lesser known Montlouis sur Loire, Coteaux du Loir and Jasnieres. Sancerre and Pouilly Fume are of course well represented, but you can also find the lesser known (and lower priced) sauvignon blanc wines of Menetou Salon and Quincy.

While in the Loire Valley we visited the Domaine Bernard Baudry and Matthieu, the son of the founder Bernard, who in his early 30's clearly has a wonderful career ahead of him (read: I am JEALOUS) patiently explained each of the cuvees while pouring tastes. As he could see our enjoyment of the wines (maybe he does this for everyone, but I like to think we were special), he poured tastes of some older wines also - just spectacular. We then toured the facilities. We checked out the dark and dank cellar where hundreds...thousands (?) of old Baudry bottles are sleeping. I also got to climb a ladder and stick my torso into a large cement vat full of fermenting juice. The smell of eggs was overpowering!

During our conversation we mentioned that we were interested in the whites of Vouvray and asked for his recommendations. He said that one of his favorites is Foreau, and I remember that when he said it he put his fingers to his mouth, kissed them and said "so pure."

BrooklynLady and I have since made sure to taste the wines of Domaine du Clos Naudin, made by Philippe Foreau, and they are indeed delicious. He makes dry wine ("sec" on the label) each year, and off dry ("demi-sec") and sweet wines ("moelleux") when the weather brings sufficient sugar to the grapes.

We have been looking for an excuse to taste one of the 2005 Vouvrays, so on Saturday night I made a little dinner for the wife, almost all from the farmer's market. To start, a salad of sorrel (a very lemony green) and broccoli rabe with roasted squash and warm goat cheese. Then sauteed striped bass, braised turnip greens, and cous-cous with almonds and raisins (and whatever was left of her harissa). I deglazed the bass pan with white wine and lime juice and threw in some chopped leaves from the top of a celery root.

We opened a bottle of 2005 Foreau Sec. I try not to get too excited about these things, but the wine absolutely lived up to the hype - clean, vibrant, beautiful. At $29 its a bargain, compared to great whites from Burgundy, for example. Sure, its completely different wine, but my point is, for under 30 clams you can try just about the best version of a famous wine.

2005 Foreau Sec Vouvray, Clos Naudin, $29.
Smells of fresh almonds and honeysuckle. Lucious, mouth filling texture, although the wine is not too heavy, medium bodied really. The fruit is still somewhat reserved - these sec Vouvrays can age and improve for decades. After a half hour or more open, extremely clean and pure flavors of quince, some light green apple and peach, and rainwater, with a nice underlying minerality. The wine held up perfectly in the fridge overnight too. The glass I had with lunch on Sunday was bright and tasty. Matthieu was right - Foreau's wine is incredibly pure.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Golden Nugget of a Tasting

I debated with myself about sharing this golden nugget of a wine tasting, and the good side of me won. When Sotheby's does a fine and rare wine auction they usually hold a pre-auction tasting. You will not get to sample the 1945 Mouton or a La Tache, but you can taste loads of wonderful, and to my budget, prohibitively expensive wines, all for a fair $75 fee.

Problem is, the tasting lasts for exactly one hour, and Sotheby's wine staff open 1, that is one, uno, a singular bottle of each wine that they serve at the tasting, and first come first serve it is. That means you have to nudge your way in to get a taste of the "best" bottles, and you must make sure to prioritize your tasting in order to ensure that you don't miss out on something rare. So I hope that only a few out of the hundreds of thousands of you who read this blog will come to the tasting - I don't want to knock you down on my way to sample the 1970 Montrose.

Deetrane first told me about these tastings and took me to one a year ago. There was a Stag's Leap Cask 23 vertical from 1982 to 2003, a series of 6 or 7 Red Burgundies from the 1997 vintage, some of them premier cru wines, several Kistler Chardonnays from the early 1990s, 4 old Italian wines, and several other lots. You could spend a half hour exploring the differences between the wines in any of those lots. Deetrane tries to taste every wine at the tasting, and I give him credit - his memory for flavors is remarkable. I may have to focus on certain areas.

Here are the wines they will pour at the tasting, as well as a link to the auction catalog. There are fewer this time than last, so I will do my best to taste them all. If you go to the tasting, look for me. I'll be the guy sweating the white Burgundy section.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Lamb and a Loire Red

Lamb is probably my favorite carne - such intense flavor, rich and kind of gamey. I love grilling chops or kebobs, and I am learning from the wife how to roast lamb. She makes these little cuts on the surface and inserts slivers of garlic, she rubs mixtures of herbs she has pounded in the mortar and pestle...she's some sort of lamb magician - her roast lamb is always moist and flavorful.

BrooklynLady also makes wonderful harissa, that she likes to stir into her vegetable soup. She made some yesterday and I appropriated a bit as a rub for a piece of lamb shoulder, which I roasted with a few small russet potatoes from the farmer's market. We opened a bottle of 2004 Domaine des Roches Neuves Terres Chaudes, a cabernet franc from Saumur Champigny in the Loire Valley. The Wine Doctor gives great background information - worth checking out (but the link seems to be crashing my computer now, as does any attempt to get to the wine doctor site).

BrooklynLady and I never made it to Saumur Champigny when we visited the Loire Valley last year. We had only 4 days and we prioritized Chinon and Bourgueil for reds, a mistake in retrospect. I have been exploring some Saumur Champigny wines lately and I am really enjoying them. Thierry Germain's (winemaker at Roches Neuves) 2005 Saumur Champigny is a truly great value at $15. It's deep and dark purple and full of blackberry and plums, with some pleasantly dusty tannins to make things interesting. It's young and fruit forward, and meant to drink that way.

Tonight, with my current roast lamb effort, I decided to try the second wine from Roches Neuves, the 2004 Terres Chaudes. At $20, it is not much of a jump up in price. It is also an inky wine, but more of a garnet than the purple of the entry level wine. It has the same dark and big fruity quality as the entry level wine, but there is something more complex happening, something earthy and a bit gamey. There is more acidity, and also some iron on the finish, something I find to be common among Loire cabernet francs. The wine continues to evolve in the glass, and would probably improve with some age.

The lamb came out well this time, most likely due to the spicy warmth of the harissa. We ate it with the russets (undercooked - will I ever get this roasting thing right?) and bok choy. A very satisfying meal on a rainy Wednesday night.

Wine Blogging Wednesday #26

Lenn at Lenndevours started an online community wine tasting session a while back, participation has increased as time goes by. I have always enjoyed reading WBW and I'm geekishly honored to participate. This month's host is Beau at Basic Juice, and his idea is a novel one: instead of naming and then discussing the wine, he asks participants to describe a wine and challenges everyone to guess the origin. Whites may be from New York (I wonder what Lenn will write about...), Oregon, Italy, and reds can hail from Washington, Spain or France.

Here is my entry:

I have been looking for an excuse to taste this wine for almost a year now, but who has the space in their Brooklyn apartment to roast a whole lamb, or the time to hang and roast a pheasant? Those are the things I imagined eating with this wine, hearty and rustic food, and the wine would be served in medieval goblets to be shared at long tables with men in fur vests who eat without cutlery.

Instead, with WBW #26 fast approaching, I walked the bottle over to Deetrane's house, we called Mike to come help us taste, and we opened the bottle with nothing at all to eat. We did use large goblets though, and tried to pepper our conversationwith old fashioned swear words, like maggot and wench. We decided that we had to pour and then leave it alone in the glasses for an hourbefore tasting - its still very young.

This wine was inky purple/black. While pouring, it smelled of plums and the woods (possibly the dreaded Black Forest in Germany). We made it for about a half hour, but then the dunderheaded gnave Deetrane lost his patience, and went for his goblet. We followed suit. Mike is a derivatives trader at a big investment bank, and he collects and has had many an opportunity to experience this style of wine. Deetrane has also explored wines of this style, but I am still essentially a tender virgin in this area. So after not loving my first taste, I was relieved when after sipping they said things like "This wine is HUGE,"and "Wow, it needs at least another 3-5 years."

I smelled blueberries, faint raspberries, and lots of bloody meat, with the hot smell of alcohol also prominent. The fruit was tightly coiled like a court maiden's braided hair. I could make out some dark berries, but the flavors weren't clear. A nice acidity tingled the tongue, but powerful and astringent tannins were basically dominating the experience. Overall, I would not recommend this wine to drink now, but I would definitely enjoy tasting it again several years down the road. Deetrane and Mike felt the same way, so I will have my other bottle thrown in the dungeon for at least 5 years. At some point thereafter, I shall summon it before me and commission the roasting of a pheasant.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What to Serve with Lasagne?

BrooklynLady made a wonderful lasagna the other night, with goat cheese and fresh ricotta, turkey sausage and homemade tomato sauce - she used the really tasty San Marzano tomatoes. Jonny Bongos was having a "last dinner at our place before he moves to California," and I wanted to uncork something nice for the occasion.

I realized that the only bottles of Italian wine I have, both 1999 Brunellos, are buried literally on the bottom of the wine fridge. Even though I will miss Jonny Bongos terribly, I was not about to take every bottle out of the fridge and then re-stack them. So...what to serve with lasagne and salad? How about a Fleurie or some other cru Beaujolais...but I forgot that I opened my last bottle a week or so ago. I have a nice 2001 Palacios de H. Remondo Rioja, but although delicious, I remember it as weighty at 55% tempranillo and 45% grenache.

Then I realized I had a perfect excuse to try a 2004 wine from one of my favorite Oregon producers, St. Innocent. Hopefully the wine would be light enough to work well with lasagne but assertive enough to shine through the tomato sauce and stand on its own. Pinot noir with lasagna, though? I had just finished telling JB about my new wine blog, and now I'm smiling meekly as I tell him "yeah, this should be good with the lasagna."

I'm no wine pairing expert, but the combination worked fine by my taste. The bright red cherry flavors in the wine complimented the acidity of the tomato sauce, and the velvety texture of the goat cheese was echoed in the smooth mouthfeel of the wine (I hear cheese will do that to tannins in wine).

This got me thinking - many tasting notes speak of cherries and earth, whether they refer to Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, or other varietals. Maybe they pair in a more versatile way that I think. I know that it makes more sense for Italian wine marketers to associate their wines with classic Italian foods. And for Oregon pinots to be paired alongside Pacific salmon and other local cuisine in their ad campaigns. This makes perfect sense - local food goes well with local wine. But we as consumers should be encouraged to try our own, possibly counter intuitive pairings too. not everyone keeps wine from all over the world at their fingertips, and dinner should be served with wine. Everyone wins if I open an Oregon pinot with my lasagne (except for Tuscan wine producers, I guess, but they'll win next time when I open a Montevertine with my New Zealand lamb chops).

2004 St. Innocent Temperance Hill, $25
Synthetic cork, which always interests me when the procuder says the wine will age only a few years (3-5 in this case). If the synthetic cork preserves wine better, why not use it for your ageworthy wines? Anyway...this is a somewhat simple wine that delivers pure simple pleasures. Clear red color, right to the rim, with fresh red cherry and some light vanilla scents. Flavors of bright red cherries with faint earth underneath. There is not much in the way of complexity here, but that's okay - the flavors are clean and sweet, and very food friendly. A pretty good value at this price too. Although Temperance Hill grapes say nothing about the quality of White Rose, Shea, or Seven Springs grapes, the quality of this wine bodes well for the other 2004 St. Innocent wines that I have yet to taste. And it was great with goat cheese lasagna.

Monday, October 09, 2006

It's...A Brand New Bar!!!

Jonny Bongos' grandmother passed away recently and he was put in charge of dealing with her apartment in Midwood and all of her furniture. Bongos decided that her 1950s era wooden bar would make a great wedding gift for me and the BrooklynLady (allright, so its been way over a year, but fughedaboudit).

What a beautiful piece of furniture! I can't remember the name of the design company, but Bongos knows, and it's a reknown furniture designer. It's in great shape, with a nice rollout drawer, several bottle storage areas, and some lovely old etched glasses - perfect for retro cocktails.

Now I sort of pledged to myself that I will limit my alcohol calories to wine, but since I brought this bar into the house yesterday, I've already swilled 2 boozy Brooklyn cocktails (just like a Manhattan, but with some orange liquor, according to the great bar 'Brooklyn Social'). Will this bar be my ruin? As my friend Pro recently commented, "great gift Jonny Bongos, for a couple about to have a baby."
Im so psyched about it though, and in fact I now know what I want to do for my 35th birthday: host a cocktail party. Thanks to Jonny Bongos for the amazing wedding gift!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Domaine du Closel Savennieres

Savennieres is one of the great Loire Valley appellations, producing amazing white wines made from the chenin blanc grape. The wines are usually dry with pronounced minerality, and when well made, offer beautiful stone fruit and honey flavors. Many wines made in Savennieres can improve for decades with cellaring. These are impressive and serious wines, and represent an amazing value when considered with wines of equal quality from Burgundy, for example.

There are several top notch producers of Savennieres, including Domaine du Baumard, Chateau d'Epire, and Nicolas Joly, proprietor of Clos de la Coulee de Serrant, one of only 3 vineyards in France to have status as its own appellation. My personal favorite Savennieres producer is Domaine du Closel. Their website explains their history, describes their vineyards and various cuvees, so I will not go into that here. I will instead describe my visit to the Domaine a year ago.

BrooklynLady and I were well into our Loire Valley trip at this point, and she was nearing the end of her well documented patience for wine traveling and tasting. We got in our tiny little rental Renault and drove from our guest house in Chinon (view out front door on the left), looking for the small village of Savonnieres. Did you notice that? I spelled it differently...because its a different village! After arriving in that village, which looked very industrial, and not at all like a place where grapes are lovingly grown and transformed into world class wine, I asked the friendly people at a car repair shop on the side of the road. They adopted the project of locating the wineries as if it was a quest to find their lost children, immediately broke out the laptop and we were off to the internet!

When we determined that BrooklynLady and I were looking, in fact, for another village entirely, much laughter ensued. Off on our way, with the wife's patience eroded to near danger levels. This all changed when we found Savennieres. A beautiful and quaint village with 2 streets and a little tabac (newstand, but usually offering coffee and even some booze to go along with your smoking and visiting and gossiping and newspapers). In the tabac I asked the guy behind the counter in my halting French if he knew Domaine du Closel.

He smiled and said "yes, I know her. She eez right 'ere, mah friend," and pointed to an older lady perusing the newpapers in the back of the store. He was pointing at Michele de Jessey, introduced to me as Madame de Jessey, the General Manager of the Domaine. She was absolutely charming, and asked if we could give her 15 minutes before visiting her so she could prepare to receive us properly. She suggested that we tour the little 18th century church in the center of town.

When we arrived at the Domaine, Madame de Jessey greeted us at the gate, and October being harvest time, a long low truck overflowing with green grapes passed us as the gate opened. "Would you lke to tour the vineyards before you taste the wines" she asked. Mais bien sur! "Our dog will guide you, just follow him to the vineyards." And yes, we walked behind what clearly is the most intelligent labrador retriever in the world down a little path, through a gate, up a hill, and into the Clos du Papillon (BrooklynLady with smart Lab in Clos du Papillon). There the dog waited for us, and then wehn we turned to leave he scampered out in front again and led us back to the path, but then around the Domaine, through the vegetable garden, and back to the tasting room near the front gate. I expected him to shake my hand and wish me "bon chance" before taking his leave.

We tasted several vintages of Les Caillardieres and of the the Clos du Papillon, the top cuvees of the Domaine. We also tasted the sweet wines that they make in hotter vintages, such as 2003. Everything was truly wonderful, and we were so charmed by our experience that we remain top fans of the Closel wines, keeping several bottles in the cellar as well as a few for current drinking.
The 2002s are just amazing, winning the NY Times Savennieres tasting a while back. These are beautiful wines, but sadly are mostly sold out now. I have a couple each of the 2002 Clos du Papillon and Les Caillardieres in the "cellar," and if I can be patient and well behaved enough, I willlet them sleep until my first child, due February 11, is well into his/her teens. The 2003 vintage, as in most of France, was very hot. There was no dry Clos du Papillon that year, only a sweet wine. Here are some notes on the recent wines:

2003 Domaine du Closel Les Caillardieres, $17.
Tasted back in March, 2006. We had it with savory parmesan chicken, sweet potato puree and salad. Initially all citrus on the nose, it blossomed over the next hour. Minerals, citrus, and quince, figs on the palate with a long finish.

2004 Domaine du Closel Les Caillardieres, $22.
Enjoyed with Deetrane, Pristine, and BrooklynLady over brunch of fried flounder, fried green tomatoes, and fresh corn. Pretty citrus and honey aromas, with some fresh grassy smells too. Definitely off-dry, with clean and acidic stone fruit, and rich figs, wrapped in light honey. Just delicious and very food friendly. It evolved in the glass, and probably could improve with 1-3 years of age.

2004 Domaine du Closel Clos du Papillon, $24
Although enjoyable now, this wine should probably spend some time in the cellar to allow the various flavors to uncoil and show themselves. Intense minerals, particularly on the finish. Very dry, some quinine and bees wax at first, herbal flavors and quine on the mid palate. A lighter body and less viscous texture than Les Caillardieres. Plenty of acidity keeps this wine refreshing, but you can tell that it needs some time. It might improve for 15-20 years, but will be more expressive in 3-5, I would guess.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Bubbly Surprise!

Yesterday I popped into Chambers Street Wines on the way home from work to ask them about a bottle of Loire white wine I bought there a few weeks ago. It was a 1992 Savennieres from a producer whose name I cannot remember now, but I tried it because it seemed like a good opportunity to taste an older Chenin Blanc without breaking the bank - $27 for the bottle.

My wife Brooklynlady got me into Loire whites a couple of years ago, and she, as usual, has great taste. I have yet to really explore the sauvignon blanc wines of Sancerre or Pouilly Fume (although I have tried a few of the more reasonably priced sauv blancs from Menetou Salon and Quincy). Instead, I have focused on the wines she loves, from Vouvray and Savennieres. Both made from Chenin Blanc, they can be bone dry, off dry (called demi-sec on the label), or sweet (called moelleux on the label). Better producers make wines with layers of flavor, rich texture, and great herbal and mineral flavors. These wines can age for decades.

Anyway, I was psyched to taste this 92 Savennieres, and looking for the right situation to open the bottle. My pal jonnybongos, soon to move to the bay area, was around for a late dinner on Sunday night and I opened the Savennieres with the Chinese fried tofu in fermented bean sauce. The wine was just wrong - golden brown like sherry, and just as oxidized. We had to discard it, sadly.

Yesterday I decided to ask my wine gurus at Chambers Street about the wine. I haven't had many bottles of off wine and maybe I was wrong, maybe its supposed to be like that. After all, I've never tried an old Chenin Blanc that's not a dessert wine. The Chambers Street Winegirl said it was probably off, and she insisted on giving me a store credit! I was so pleased by this gesture, that I took the credit and immediately redeemed it for a bottle of NV Pierre Peters Champagne Brut. This champy is a grand cru wine made only from chardonnay, and it was described as light and elegant.

I LOVED it. It went so well with game 1 of the Yankees / Detroit Tigers series. Pronounced yeast and something nutty on the nose. Beautiful texture with fine bubbles and great acidity, and light lemons and bread on the palate. I would drink this Champagne constantly, if it were socially acceptable. And at 33 bucks a pop, it seems to be a great value in Champagne.

Now...what to enjoy with game 2?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Oregon Pinot Noir - Some Thoughts on the 2004 Vintage

In 1993 the bartender at the now-defunct French restaurant where I waited table graduated from Reed College in Portland, and he knew about Oregon pinot. He convinced the owner to put Eyrie Willamette Valley Pinot Noir on the wine list, and this was my first experience with Oregon wine. It was very tasty wine, very low priced compared to Burgundy, and to a 21 year old who was just learning about wine, that Oregon label was a million times easier than dealing with the labels of Burgundy!

Fast forward about 10 years and most New York restaurants who take wine seriously include an Oregon pinot. Even modest wine stores carry the Eyrie or Rex Hill or Benton Lane, and better stores stock the real heavy hitters – Shea, Bergstrom, Penner Ash, Archery Summit and others. And if there is one wine region in which I have any kind of depth of knowledge it would be Oregon pinot noir.

One of the things I love about Oregon wine (now that I can afford to taste some of the better ones) is the individuality of style, not only the Willamette Valley as a whole, but within the producers within the Willamette Valley. While Josh Bergström of Bergström Winery makes heavily extracted, full bodied and rich pinots that might evoke comparisons to the California “fruit bomb” style of wine making, Mark Vlossak at St. Innocent crafts lighter wines of great elegance and complexity that can go toe to toe with the Cote de Nuits red of your choice. Chehalem, Brick House, Adelsheim, and Shea (to round out my personal favorites) wineries produce wonderful juice thwith their own recognizable “house” style.

2004 was a tough year to make wine in the Willamette Valley. Lots of rain damaged fruit and yields were uncommonly low. Many producers simply did not make their top single vineyard designate wines. 2002 was supposed to be the best vintage ever, and 2003 was so hot that the wines are often flabby and overly extracted and alcohol-laden. My favorite recent vintage is 2001. I harbor hopes that 2004 will be like 2001 – a solid vintage in which my favorite producers successfully crafted their “house” style of wine, without “vintage of the century” claims to attract excessive media and consumer attention.

I have tasted 4 wines from the 2004 vintage so far, and I have been disappointed by what I perceive as the uniformity of the wine, the absence of individhouse style. Is this specific to 2004? Were the rains just too heavy and the subsequent rot too destructive? Or, could Oregon pinot be drifting into that murky place where producers succumb to pressure to make wines that appeal to a “broader market” and sacrifice some individuality?

Too soon to tell, but I keep my hopes up until I taste more of the wines from 04. And even then, I’ve had too many good Oregon wines to give up without sampling the 05s (just starting to become available), and the 06s once they arrive. Here are a couple of tasting notes, and because they are not all that positive in general, I will also recommend a different and wonderful wine from the same producer. These wines might be hard to find in local stores. All can be ordered directly from the winery. The only way I know of to find the older wines is on an auction site like wine commune.

2004 Adelsheim Pinot Noir Goldschmidt Vineyard, $40.

The winery says this wine should be consumed within 5 years, but it was young and improved dramatically with decanting. Dark opaque purple. Smells of plums and some leather. Sweet dark fruits, and once the wine had a few hours open, spices and acidity balanced the wine - too much alcohol heat initially. Overall it is just good, and I will wait to open my other bottle for a few years. I tasted this alongside a 93 premier cru burgundy and a 2002 Moray St Denis. This wine didn't approach either Burgundy in finesse and elegance.

David and Ginny Adelsheim were among the first people to come to the Willamette valley to make pinot noir. They make red wines at 3 levels: a Yamhill Valley wine which is their “basic” wine, and for about $25 is usually a fantastic value. It’s readily available in wine stores too. Their Elizabeth’s reserve wines are made from some of the best grapes from their various vineyards. They are more profound, and easily worth the $15-20 difference in price. Adelsheim makes five single vineyard wines, and this is one of them. The 2001 Adelsheim Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard wine is probably the finest wine I have ever tasted from Oregon.

2004 Bergström Pinot Noir Cumberland Reserve, $34.

Very disappointing. Typical Bergström dark garnet. Dusty smell of earth and very faint dark fruit. Prominent alcohol, even on the nose. Nice smooth texture with pretty fine tannins, but not much varietal character. In a blind tasting, this could be mistaken for a blended wine. No red cherries, no spice, not much acidity. This wine developed a mushroomy taste on the 2nd day that was interesting, but it is not an elegant pinot. And as a big blockbuster it fails because it lacks richness or profundity.

Bergström makes many pinots each year, sourcing fruit from Shea, and other vineyards, and producing their top wine from their own fruit. Cumberland reserve is a blend of fruit and gives us the opportunity to sample Josh’s style at a reasonable price point. The 2003 Cumberland is a beautiful wine.

2004 Van Duzer Estate, $28.

Translucent ruby with scents of flowers and dark berries. Velvety smooth mouth feel. Dark fruits on the palate with some earthiness and a bit of red fruit too. A lovely wine, well balanced and somewhat austere in the Burgundian style. Not all that complex, but a good value.

Van Duzer does not yet have the name recognition or top flight status of some of the other wines I’ve mentioned, but they soon will. They make 3 reserve wines (under $40) from different plots of their own fruit, and they make an estate wine that is blended from all 3. This wine is my favorite of the 04s so far.

2004 Chehalem Pinot Noir Corral Creek, $39.

Pretty translucent light purple. Mushroomy earth and cherry liquor on the nose. Some flavors of plums and dark berries but the fruit is still tightly coiled. The wine is medium bodied and elegant in a way, but also dominated by the liquor in the nose and on the palate - the wine's mid palate and finish are too alcohol-laden. At almost 15%, I guess this is not surprising.

Chehalem makes a few different pinots each year, ranging from the “entry level” 3 Vineyard wine, to single vineyard wines and their top wine, simple called Reserve. I really like Chehalem wines, particularly the red fruit driven, lively and spicey Corral Creek pinot. Although not adored by the critics, the 2001 Corral Creek remains one of my favorite Oregon wines.