Monday, June 30, 2008

Off-Site Wine Storage

This cannot continue, friends. Average temperatures should be in the high 80's over the next three months. I don't mind if my daily drinking bottles hang out in the heat, but I'm in a bit of a pickle regarding the bottles I want to cellar. I had some space in a friend's cellar but he went and sold his house, completely disregarding my needs. I have to vacate by the beginning of August.

To top it off, my Eurocave is full. Too full. I cannot properly store bottles such as the 2006 Coudert Fleurie, the 2005 Bonhomme Viré-Clessé, or the 2005 Puzelat Menu Pineau, mid-term drinkers that should be treated with care for the next year or so, not abandoned to the 80-plus degree heat of my living room.

Seems as if off-site storage is the solution. I did a little bit of research and found that they all use approximately the same pricing structure. Storing the wine is not very expensive, maybe $2 per case per month. If you're talking about 10 cases, you're talking about $120 a year. Not too bad. They get you when you put the wine into storage, and get it out of storage. Kind of like the shaving or the printing model of revenue generation: razors are cheap, so are printers. Its the blades and the cartridges that get you. Want to retrieve those 6 bottles of Muscadet for your oyster party in December? That's $3.50 per bottle retrieval fee plus a $5 handling fee plus various other fees, such as the "Muscadet goes with Oysters" fee ($2.50).

Sometimes it seems like investing in another Eurocave is the best option, as I wouldn't pay to retrieve and replace bottles. But there is the space issue (otherwise known as the "wife will kill me" issue), the electric bill issue, the $2,000 now versus about $150 a month issue...

Would you mind sharing your experiences, recommendations, condemnations, ruminations, and whatever else on off-site storage? Please don't be shy! I can't be the only one trying to figure out what to do and how to do it.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Domaine Spiropoulos Ode Panos, $15, Athenee Importers of New York.

I don't drink a lot of Greek wine. I saw this bottle while browsing a favorite store and knowing nothing whatsoever about it, the following clues convinced me that it might indeed be a good wine: It's made from organically grown grapes. I have no idea what they do to those grapes in the wine making process. For all I know they could treat their organically grown grapes with all sorts of enzymes and loads of chemicals. But organically grown is a good start. It's
11.5% alcohol, a nice low level, but doesn't necessarily indicate a sweet wine. Also, there is a striking dearth of lizards, ladybugs, kangaroos, or any kind of marsupial on the label.

If you visit the Ode Panos page on the Domaine Spiropoulos website, these are the first sentences you are likely to read:

It is well known that Moschofilero is the best variety to use, in order to produce sparkling wines. ODE PANOS did not refute this believe.

I had much the same experience contemplating those words as I did drinking this sparkling wine - a giggle followed by a bit of confusion.

Located on the Island of Peloponnese, Domaine Spiropoulos has vines in Mantinia and Nemea, the two appellations on the island, totalling 50 hectares. That's a big holding of land. They grow indigenous grapes such as Moschofilero and Agiorgitiko, and also grow Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and other varieties - how they can do that successfully without an incredible diversity of soil and many micro-climates is beyond me. Which is why I have suspicions about the actual wine making and doubt that it lives up to the organic standards of the grape cultivation. But that is pure supposition. In fact, let's get back into the positive spirit of things with the following quote, also taken from the website:

We are the first to prove than Organic Cultivation methods, careful vinification and provision of high quality products is a way of living.

So there.

At first I was stunned by the amazing nose of salt water and flowers. So fresh. And there was something else that I've never smelled in wine, something that I cannot name, but something very appealing. Something woody, like Balsa wood maybe? Light bodied and crisp, with a briny citrus palate, and a finish of that same balsa wood (?) sensation. I was thinking it would be beautiful with grilled whole sardines with olive oil and sea salt. Fresh feta cheese and olives. Or grilled calamari. Or any of the local delicacies we sampled years ago in Crete. This is a new set of aromas and flavors in sparkling wine for me, and I wonder if it is unique to the Moschofilero grape.

But things quickly went downhill. I'm sorry to say that after no more than 45 minutes open, this wine fell off the deep end and was dominated by that confusing balsa wood aroma and flavor. I persevered, but BrooklynLady pronounced it undrinkable, and she's probably right. I wish that someone who is better at identifying aroma in wine had been there to taste with us, because Balsa seems too benign. But that's as close as I can get. We agreed that it wasn't corked or cooked or anything like that. Just so unusual, and not all that pleasant. The beginning was so good that I may have to try another bottle, just to see if this one was wrong. If anyone has experience with this wine or this grape, please step in and educate us because I'm lost on the Island of Peloponnese.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Night of Loire Valley 1990's

In a way, it's silly of me to have so little understanding about the development Loire Valley wine over the long term. I have a lot of the young stuff in the cellar - shouldn't I know more about what happens to this wine in 20 years? With this in mind I decided to find a few bottles of mature wine and have a little dinner for my friend Adam before he went off to Tallahassee to wed. I wanted to find mature versions of the wines that I enjoy drinking now in their relative youth.

I found a bottle of 1990 Domaine du Viking Vouvray Tendre (JD Headrick Selections) for $34. Viking's wines surprised me when I tasted them back in April - they were balanced and distinctive, really very good. And then I grabbed a bottle of 1990 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses (Louis/Dressner) for $45. I found a bottle of 1990 Luneau Papin Muscadet L' D'or for $40, but we didn't drink it on this night. Another time and another post.

We didn't have time for a long drawn out meal, so I decided to serve the Vouvray as an aperitif and then again with a cheese course. I wanted something simple as a main course that would support the aromas and flavors of the Chinon, not overpower them. I went with what the market gave me - a ragoût of shell peas, new potatoes, asparagus, spring onions, and green garlic. Kind of a ragoût, anyway. I slow cooked the vegetables in butter and white wine, and added some chopped parsley at the end. Simple. I made a confit of chicken thigh by slow cooking them in their own rendered fat and then crisping the skin. Simple.

The Vouvray was just delicious, although I must say that I might not have guessed its age if tasting blind. There was still plenty of nice ripe fruit. There were aromas of woolly funk, wax, wet graphite, and a pure grapey vinousness. An expansive and broad palate with round and smooth acids carried ripe summer fruit and honey across the tongue. The fruit was gone from the mid-palate, replaced by a sense of natural spring water and light straw - perhaps the only hint at the wine's age. We thoroughly enjoyed this wine, but I might have guessed it to be a 2002 if tasted blind. Does this mean that the wine has another 20 years ahead of it? Then again, keep in mind that I'm not terribly familiar with what good quality Chenin Blanc from a good vintage smells or tastes like when it matures.

The Chinon, well this was unmistakably a mature wine. This one went up to 11, folks. Such a beautiful and inspiring wine. The beginning was all barnyard, almost off putting. But it blew off after about 15 minutes and the graceful perfumes of fruit and flowers wafted out of the glass, filling the air around the dinner table. That's true, not just a punchy wine description - the aromas were completely vibrant and they filled the room. Luxurious red fruit, subtle roses, piercing but gentle acidity, refined black tea and road tar, rotting leaves, all of these things flirted with each other and combined to knock us out with their lusciousness on the nose. A nose like the silkiest and most elegant and sexy red bathrobe. I cannot really describe the palate because the sensation is just too new to me, but it was inspiring and beautiful, and we lingered over it, alternating between trying to discuss it and just basking in it. I must have this wine again. And I have a couple of the 2002's in the cellar, but it would seem prudent to grab a few more of those too, you know, for research.

One weird thing - the cork on the Vouvray was blackened at the end and kind of shriveled - it seemed old. But the Chinon cork was quite short, unusual for a wine meant for extended cellaring. And it seemed new. Maybe they reconditioned this wine at the estate? Is there a way to determine whether or not a wine has been reconditioned?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Tallahassee Wedding Wine Choices

I just got back from a weekend in Tallahassee, Florida. For those of you who weren't paying attention in 5th grade social studies class, Tallahassee is the capital of Florida. It's on the panhandle, actually closer to Macon, Georgia and Montgomery, Alabama than to Miami, for example. I'd never been there before, or anywhere in the real south, for that matter.

The trees were shockingly beautiful. Old and graceful Cypress, Willows, and others, trunks of huge diameter, and many of them with lacy green Spanish Moss draped all over the branches. I saw alligators, blue heron, various other heron, and ibises on the Wakulla River. I ate an amazing pulled pork sandwich at a place called Gertie's BBQ. I saw many stately looking houses set in deep green fields, and many boarded up houses and stores in the downtown area. It was super humid, and quite hot - at least 95 during the days. Some of the accents were amazing - this park ranger who piloted our boat on the Wakulla River - I could listen to books on tape, or anything else this guy says, all day long.

My friend asked me to select the wines for his rehearsal dinner and wedding, an honor of the highest proportion. Approximately 250 people planned to attend each event. Rehearsal dinner was BBQ ribs and chicken and the usual sides. Wedding dinner was a buffet that including everything from Sushi rolls to roast beef to cheese fondue. Budget was $15 per bottle, which I took to mean including shipping from NY, which adds about $3/bottle. Why ship from NYC, you ask? I wanted to get delicious natural wine for the wedding, and the closest cities I could find that had what I might have wanted are New Orleans, Atlanta, and Miami. Why not just go with what I know and do it from home.

This wasn't easy! After several tastings with bride and groom, we decided on the following for the rehearsal dinner:

2006 Domaine de la Pepiere Muscadet, $12, (Louis/Dressner Selections). Crisp, bracing, a bit creamy, nice citrus falvors, easy to drink as an aperitif or with dinner. It wasn't as easy a year ago when it was released, but the year in the bottle has mellowed the edges. This vanished right quick, before the dinner even began, I believe. That's what happens when you offer delicious white wine on an outdoor terrace on a summer Friday evening in Tallahassee.

2005 Clos Siguier Cahors, $10, (Jenny & Francois). You already know that I love this light, but deep and complex rendition of Cahors. I thought that its berry and licorice flavors, and its medium bodied and slightly grippy texture would work well with BBQ. Hard to gauge, but it seemed as though people enjoyed it.

For the wedding:

2006 Domaine de la Fruitiere Jardin de la Fruitiere, $9 (JD Headrick Imports). A VdT blend of Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne, this is one that I discovered while tasting through the recession wines.

2004 Domaine de la Soucherie Anjou, $12 (Rosenthal Imports). I was worried about the alcohol at 13.5%, but in all other respects it seemed like a good choice. It turned out to be a lovely glass in the frothy heat of the wedding. So yes, both whites are Loire Valley.

2006 Château d'Oupia Minervois
, $10, (Louis/Dressner Selections). A beautiful dark and fruity red. I only wish that they had chilled it a bit.

2006 Domaine Rimbert Saint-Chinian Les Travers de Marceau
, $12 (Jenny & Francois). Yeah, I know that it's also a Grenache blend, but this wine is very different from the Minervois. This one is lighter in color and body and the perfume is raspberries and herbs. The Minervois is darker and juicier and earthier.

It was a gorgeous wedding. Even the weather cooperated - for those two hours, the humidity lifted, the breezes swayed through the trees, the light was perfect over the pond. And everyone focused on having fun, not on their wine, which is a good thing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV René Geoffroy Champagne Brut Expression, $39. Terry Theise Selections. A little more than a year ago I tasted a Geoffroy wine for the first time, and it helped to open my eyes to the beauty, grace, and power of good Champagne. A grower in the village of Cumières in the Marne Valley, Geoffroy makes wines of real depth, wines whose richness and power are matched by their elegance and poise.

There is a high proportion of Meunier in this, his "entry level" Champagne. Usually about 50%. And the balance is mostly Pinot Noir, so this is almost a Blanc de Noirs. Chardonnay plays a bigger role in the Cuvée Volupté, the Tête De Cuvée (top blend of the house). But that is the only one - red grapes dominate most of this producer's wines.

This bottle was just outstanding, the best showing yet for the April 2007 disgorgement. Yeasty wet bread dough on the nose enlivened by citrus and ripe green apples. There is no malolactic fermentation for this wine and the acidity remains sharp and bright. A very broad and inviting nose of great clarity, and it fleshes out and gains depth with air time. The palate is beautifully balanced with figs, fresh red fruits, piercing acidity, and plenty of chalky minerals. The wine feels very full in the mouth with a sappy richness of red fruit, but maintains great focus. It's as if there are different phases in the mouth: an initial bready and muscular phase, structured and firm. Then comes the fruit, pure and delicate. Then a deep sappiness that's grounded in chalk. Just beautiful wine, and it seems like it could age gracefully.

I love this wine, one of my favorite entry level Champagnes for sure. Everything I've tasted from Geoffroy has been excellent, but sadly, I've merely tasted most wines, not enjoyed them at home with a meal. That's because I've seen only this cuvée in stores. My kingdom (puny and with no powers of taxation, but a kingdom nonetheless) for a bottle of Empriente or Cuvee Volupté!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

By the Glass - Thierry Puzelat Edition

Thierry Puzelat, along with his older brother Jean-Marie, is responsible for a big lineup of delicious wines from the Touraine and Cheverny appellations in the eastern part of the Loire Valley. The family estate is called Clos du Tue-Boeuf, but Thierry Puzelat also operates a négociant business, buying grapes from nearby growers who farm as he does. The Puzelats grow Pinot Noir, Gamay, Côt (called Malbec in Argentina), Bréton (called Cabernet Franc in the film Sideways), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris (called Pinot Grigio in Italy), and the rarely seen Pineau D'Aunis and Menu Pineau (called Arbois in the Jura).

Puzelat's wines are delicious regardless of the particularities of the weather in the vintage. The style may change depending on the year, but not the level of quality. These are food-friendly and inexpensive wines, even now with the terrible dollar. These are natural wines - vineyards are organically farmed, fermentation is accomplished using yeasts on the grapes and in the cellar, and there are no further manipulations to the juice. The Puzelat brothers' wines are an institution at natural wine bars in France, and are firmly entrenched in the vocabulary of natural wine aficionados here in New York.

Here's what I love about these wines: they taste honest, like real representations of the grapes and soil from that place. They buzz with energy, some say "wildness." They are eminently drinkable, great with dinner, and they just feel right.

My guess is that if you like the wines that I talk about here, you might already know about Clos du Tue-Boeuf and Puzelat. But if not, why aren't you drinking these wines? You love good wine, right? And most of these are under $20 a bottle. Maybe it's because the shops you frequent don't carry Dressner's imports. Or maybe your shops focus on high scoring wines, and these wines don't really feature in the publications that dole out the points. Maybe the wines are sitting right there on the shelf and you never tried them because after all, the grapes aren't always listed on the label and there are so many cuvées...where would you start? Start anywhere - it honestly doesn't matter. Everything is good. Here are some notes on wines I've had over in the past month or so:

2004 Puzelat Touraine Pineau D'Aunis La Tesnières, $18. Tesnières is the little village near Cheverny where Puzelat sources grapes. The new vintage is 2006, so you're not going to find this now, but it's a gem each year. This one offers fresh strawberries and cracked black pepper on the nose, a waft of caramel underneath is the only clue to the wine's age. Fresh and light in the mouth, this is great with a chill. Well balanced, great acidity, energetic and alive in the mouth. I'm drinking it right now with a plate of Buffalo Mozzarella and golden beets. It works.

2006 Puzelat Touraine La Tesnières Pinot Noir, $18. A funky nose of mushrooms, red fruits, and violets. Pure and lovely palate of ripe fruit and mushroomy earth with buzzing unpolished energetic tannins. Very impressive indeed, and a great price for interesting Pinot Noir. This recently reappeared on shelves in NYC.

2007 Clos du Tue-Boeuf Cheverny, $17. Cheverny rouge must be a blend, and this is about 90% Gamay and 10% Pinot Noir. I love this wine, just as much as I loved the 06, although this one is quite different. A much lighter wine - in color, in flavor, in texture, and in alcohol too - this is only 11%. A bright red berry and potting soil set of aromas and flavors, with that Puzelat wildness that provides underlying energy. There is some spice, the tannins are smooth and friendly, the overall effect is incredibly gulpable. Chill a bit and pair this with literally any food. Literally. Okay, maybe not with starburst fruit chews or haggis. But steak, eggplant Parmesan, lobster, mushroom barley soup, scallion omelets, raw oysters, chopped liver, etc.

2002 Puzelat Touraine Pinot Noir La Tesnières$18 I stumbled on this bottle, the last in the store, at Astor the other day. How's that for sunken treasure? And the bottle was imported by Jenny & Francois, not by Dressner. Who knew? Four years of age on one of these is rare - it's almost impossible to stop your self from drinking these on release. This has an interesting color, like strawberry juice with some orange bricking, and a bit cloudy. The nose is very Pinot, strawberry with cooling herbs, a pleasant soft earthiness. Almost no tannins left in the wine, or they're so fine and sweet that I can't perceive them. Light and graceful on the palate with delicious hints of stewed strawberries, soil, and subtle minty notes on the finish. Some chalk on the palate too, and lovely acids - not bright, gentle. If this wine were a person it would be Jessica Tandy.

2005 Puzelat Touraine La Tesnières, $19. Can you guess what this is from the name of the wine? Me neither.This is the glorious white wine made from Menu Pineau, known in the Jura as Arbois. This is honestly one of the finest bottles of white wine I have had the pleasure to consume in 2008. A rich golden yellow color, like a much older wine, but this is as fresh as a daisy. Nose of smoke, petrol, mineral water, figs, and fennel seed. A really amazing nose, clean and incredibly well defined. BrooklynLady thought we were drinking a northern Italian wine - the fennel threw her off. Viscous on the tongue, full bodied, it really spreads out with figgy and citrus flavors, all supported by vibrant acidity. Smoked fish! Pickles! Black Mission figs! Sushi! Pasta with a tangle of spring herbs and green garlic! How I want to drink this wine with all of those foods...

2006 Clos du Toe-Boeuf Le Brin de Chèvre, $18. For whatever reason, this was denied appellation status and is a Vin de Table. This happens periodically and should act to convince you of the wine's particular interest and deliciousness. Not as tingly of a nose as the 05 Puzelat Touraine Tesnière, but lovely nonetheless. Smokey figs, nuts, citrus rind on the nose. Viscous texture with really sharp acidity. Slightly oxidized, especially on day 2, but very delicious. I would lay this down for a year and drink the 05 Puzelat Menu Pineau today.

There are many others to try too, this is just a sample. If you haven't yet done so, taste a Puzelat wine. Hard to do better for less than $20.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Drinking Long-lived Wine...Young

Listen: sometimes you just have to drink the wine, even though you are positive that it is way too young. How else can you track its evolution, understand it in its entirety?

I bought a bunch (by my small NYC cellar standards) of Loire Valley reds and whites from the heralded 2005 vintage, and most of them require some cellaring in order to show at their best and most complex. At least that's what I hear - I don't have a lot of experience with mature wines from the Loire Valley, or from anywhere for that matter.

I want to learn about this for myself. I'm going to open some bottles, and then do so again in a few years, and then again, instead of tucking it all away. It's easy to read what more experienced people write about how long to age a wine. But there are no absolutes with wine, it is my own experience that matters most to me. Not that I don't appreciate input, but without building my own context then I'm just choosing people and following them.

Why these particular wines for this exercise?

  • Cabernet Franc is supposed to mature gracefully, to pick up many secondary characteristics to go with its youthful floral fruit. It is a part of some of the great long lived Bordeaux, like Cheval Blanc.
  • They're inexpensive, so I can do this 4 times in 15-20 years for about 100 of today's dollars.
  • They're natural wines - they have real tannins, no enzymes, nothing added except for a small bit of sulfur at bottling. I want real tannins, not artificially crafted. It just seems like I'll learn more this way.
It's more fun to do this with a friend, so my pal Adam came by and we opened two bottles. So here's what we opened, and we have sufficient stock to re-visit every few years for a while:

2005 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny Vielle Vignes, $25, Louis/Dressner Selections. I loved this wine at the big Polaner Tasting and I remember wine maker Fredrik Filliatreau saying "Enjoy it now for the fruit, or let it age for the new flavors and the complexity." Seems like a good candidate for this experiment.

We decanted the wine and I was struck by the light red color, a very pretty cherry red. This is an elegant and graceful wine wrapped in layers of youthful aggression. It hits you with alcohol (13.5%), the tannins are ripe but not yet smooth or sweet - there is plenty of grip here. And the overall feeling is somewhat disjointed, not out of balance, but not yet harmonious. There are pure mineral red fruits with some cooling herbal notes on top, and a lovely floral aspect to the nose. After about two hours the fruit and the tannins were working better together, and there is very good acidity. There is still something herbal and lovely, but it vanishes, and reappears, and vanishes. It will be interesting to see how this changes with a few years in the cellar. I can envision this as a rose tinged beauty, very light and graceful. We'll have to wait and see...

2005 Catherine et Pierre Breton Bourgueil Clos Sénéchal, $28, Louis/Dressner Selections. The cognoscenti say this wine needs 25-30 years. That's quite a bit of time, no? What does a wine like this taste like right now? Dense, dense, dense, that's how. We decanted and almost four hours later the wine was still a jungle, almost impenetrable. Inky dark color, barnyard aromas initially, then tobacco leaf, some muddy earth. This one buzzed on the tongue in a nice way though, very energetic for such a bruiser of a wine. The fruit is dark plums and blackberries, and it's really buried in this tasty soup of tannins and mud. Although I can tell that this will sort itself out as the tannins mature, it's hard for me to imagine this wine in the future as anything but a big muscular dense monster. Can it really lose serious weight? We'll have to wait and see...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

2002 Huet Vouvray Pétillant Brut, $33, Robert Chadderon Selections. It is without hesitation that I can say this is the finest non-Champagne sparkling wine that I've had. And it's better than many a Champagne, if you count Veuve Clicquot and the like. I had the 2000 Huet Brut and I really liked it, but that was years ago. So much sparkling wine since then, hard to know how that wine would rate against this one. But this one against everything else I've had in the past year - not even close, honestly. Well. I do love the Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura, but that's a totally different, lighter style of wine. Lyle at Rockss and Fruit and Peter Liem at Besotted Ramblings both loved the 02 Huet wine and wrote quite eloquently about it, if you'd like a second or a third opinion (although in this case, I am the third opinion).

I understand what Lyle meant when he said he'd like to sneak it into a Champagne blind tasting. It has the same depth, the mouth filling and expansive flavors, the same degree of richness and pleasure. It feels like a good Champagne in the mouth, and it finishes with mouth aromas that linger after swallowing. Although the flavor profile is a bit different (this is Chenin, after all), this would be right at home in a lineup of Champagne.

The nose was airy and fresh, and I got grass, flowers, and a bit of green melon fruit. Great purity on the nose. The palate was broad and mouth filling with bubbles that seemed bigger than what I usually find in a Pétillant. Fresh ripe fruit mingled harmoniously with bright acids and underlying minerals. Just excellent wine, the top of its class, and quite food friendly. Paté, roast chicken, poached fish, unsalted almonds...bring it on.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Smoking My First Brisket

No, this is not some sort of euphemism. I've used my Weber grill to smoke pork ribs plenty of times, but never a beef brisket. 9 out of 10 times at the BBQ joint I order ribs, so at home I cook ribs. But the other day while cruising the meat case at the food coop, I came across a beautifully lean slab of brisket from Slope Farms - naturally raised, grass fed, farmed by a doctor who used to live in Park Slope.

Most Important Lesson Learned - lean brisket is for braising (cooking in liquid). When using a dry cooking technique like smoking, use the fatty cut, as the fat slowly bastes the meat keeping it nice and tender.

Our brisket tasted great, smoky and delish. But in a survival situation I could have used it to craft a pair of sandals, you know, if the desert sands were too hot for bare feet. Hyperbole of course, but in truth I was not able to convince the connective tissue in this, the lean end of the brisket, to melt away. And I smoked this baby for almost 4 hours. Yes, it probably needed double that, but 8 hours - it's hot out there folks! And I didn't have that much hard wood charcoal. Even if I did, I cannot imagine my wife's reaction had I told her I'd be spending 8 hours of a Saturday smoking meat. Well actually, I can imagine, and that's why I stopped at almost 4 hours.

This was my technique:

-24 hours before smoking I rubbed the brisket with coarse salt and ground black pepper.
-played 2 different Sinatra and Basie records, including the classic "It Might as Well be Swing" for the brisket as it came to room temperature before smoking.
-removed the top rack and cooked the brisket in a pan next to the coals.
- soak plenty of mesquite in water for an hour, added it every 20 minutes or so to the coals.
-I wasn't sure how to position the window of holes on the grill's top. I went with holes above the brisket. I know...who really cares. Excuse me, I'm detail oriented.

Anyway, this was rather delicious, if somewhat tough. But some home made cole slaw, a little Carolina style hot sauce (chili flakes soaked in white vinegar), some decent but plain white bread, sliced dill pickles...yup, there's a reason that no photos of this fine sandwich exist.

So what wine to serve with this beast of a smoked brisket? I was gravitating towards a sparkling wine, like the Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura that I love so well. But in the end I decided that this meal would be a great excuse to check in on a wine that I've been meaning to revisit - the 2002 St Innocent Pinot Noir Seven Springs, $32 on release.

2002 was supposed to be the vintage of the millennium in the Willamette Valley, but I haven't been loving the wines. This wine was positively closed the last time I tasted it almost exactly a year ago. This time it showed better, although still a bit disjointed. The nose is mature, with truffles and mushrooms. After 30 minutes alcohol intrudes on the nose, then later on ripe dark fruit emerges, always with a mushroom undertone. The palate is broad and mouthcoating, but still somewhat primary with dark cherries. Seems like the palate has not matured as much as the nose. On day 2 the palate shows better integration of the fruit and soil/mushrooms and the tannins are supple and round. A nice herbal finish leaves pleasant aromas in the mouth. This seems promising, which is good, since I still have a half case (?!) of this hiding in the cellar.

Cheers to the fatty end for next time.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Salmonella on Your Tomatoes?

Today I was out of town on business. I ate lunch with my client at a sports bar type of restaurant. I ordered the "Miami," a corned beef on rye with cole slaw. It arrived packed with many slices of fresh tomatoes.

I'm going to come clean with you - I don't eat out a whole lot. I care a lot about what I eat, and we buy almost only seasonal locally grown or raised food for our family. We are dedicated to eating this way because it tastes better and feels healthier, and because it makes sense to us to eat what can be grown nearby - less transport necessitates fewer preservatives and chemicals, etc.

Because tomatoes aren't available yet on the east coast, I haven't had a "fresh" tomato since late last September. Really, I haven't. But today I did. And I come home to read this terrifying article about a massive tomato recall. As if I needed more convincing - don't eat foods that are out of season! Don't eat at chemical mega-plexes like Olive G***** or BurgerK*** because this is all they serve.

Lord, whoever you are, help us all to eat better.

So, do I have salmonella now? I guess time will tell.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

2006 Beaujolais - Dressner's Tasting

Last month I wrote a little bit about my experiences with 2006 Beaujolais. This weekend I went to an amazing tasting - Joe Dressner poured a load of Beaujolais wines, some that he imports and some that he doesn't. My original post mentioned only the wines that I had at home with dinner, and I feel that there's no substitute for that environment when evaluating a wine. But tasting so many excellent wines next to each other while in the relaxed confines of Chambers Street Wines, while discussing them a bit with was clear to me the wines that stood out, the wines that I MUST purchase and drink at home, and those that were merely delicious wines that I would enjoy drinking anytime. I'm serious - everything was really good. Beaujolais in the right hands is such a pleasure.

Here are the standouts, the wines that I MUST have again:

2006 Jean Foillard Morgon Côte de Py, $28. They decanted this at 1 PM after opening and discovering "a bad stench on the nose." It was about 4:15 PM when I had my first taste. There is no sulfur in this wine, this is all natural, and it can be an unpredictable experience opening this. I would never order it at a restaurant, for example. It might take too long to open up. Or it could be a sub-par bottle without being corked. This bottle though, at this time - utterly amazing. Such a luscious dark purple perfume, such spicy and energetic fruit, so light and lively, yet such depth to the flavors. Brilliant wine.

2006 Coudert Clos de la Roilette Fleurie Cuvée Tardive, $26. Always great wine, and this was no exception. The nose was intoxicating with violets and soil and ripe dark fruit. The palate was pretty tight, but very pure and with plenty of evidence of the deliciousness to come.

2005 Michel Tête Juliénas Cuvée Prestige, $28. A new shipment released by the importer, not a second lot or something. Gorgeous nose, full of flowers and spices. The palate is dense and full of ripe fruit. I'd drink this now, but I'd also be curious to see it in 5 years.

2006 Coudert Clos de la Roilette Fleurie, $22. Not as extravagant on the nose as the old vines Tardive, but lovely still, and far more approachable on the palate. I'd drink this now and hold onto the Tardive for a few years at least.

2006 Lapierre Morgon, $23. My first ever taste of a Lapierre wine, and I liked it a lot. Very pure and elegant, and quite delicious.

The other wines poured were great too, but the above wines were my favorites. Here are the others:

2006 Domaine du Vissoux Moulin-a-Vent "Les Trois Roches," $23. Tight and mineral, like a brick wall, but there are hints at the delicious fruit underneath.

2006 Terres Dorées Côte de Brouilly, $19. I like this wine every year. Some dried fruit on the nose, some cinnamon, lots of dark fruit. Very tasty.

2006 Descombes Chiroubles Vieille Vignes, $28. Very nice indeed, layered and rich.

2006 Descombes Régnié Vielle Vignes, $28. Very happy to taste this, as I loved the regular 06 Régnié. Clearly good wine, but wasn't as giving as some of the others at this moment.

2006 Michel Tête Juliénas, $20. Tasty indeed, but not as compelling as the Prestige.

2006 Desvignes Morgon Javernières, $24. This was showing very austere, difficult to penetrate. It was certainly nice, but I don't have the experience with this particular wine to understand where it is in its evolution.

And by the way, I had the 2006 Lapalu Brouilly Vieille Vignes, $25, with dinner the other night and it was fantastic. This is a natural wine imported by Jenny & Francois. From 80 year old vines, this is complex and delicious. Beautiful nose of dark fruit and flowers, great purity, ripe spicy fruit. This definitely belongs on the same team as the other Beaujolais tasted above.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Foreau Vouvray Brut, $25, Rosenthal Imports. I love Foreau's still wines. Along with Domaine Huet, Foreau at Domaine du Clos Naudin is thought of as the finest producer in Vouvray. Foreau farms organically doesn't interfere with the wine - never adding sugar and not taming the acidity via malolactic fermentation. In most vintages there are sec (dry) and demi-sec (off-dry) wines, both superb, and both age-worthy. The sec in particular demands years in a cold cellar in order to truly express itself. These are profound wines, racy with acidity, very mineral, and very pure.

So it was with great anticipation that I came back to Foreau's Brut sparkling wine. The last time I had this wine was about three years ago. And I'm truly sad to say that this was a very disappointing bottle. I actually didn't trust my palate on this at first. Foreau is a superstar, how could this wine be as mediocre as we thought it was? Maybe I'm missing something, but I found this to be nowhere near the quality of several other Loire sparklers.

Foreau disgorges sparkling wine four times a year. On the side of the label there are four numbers that, with the aid of a Cap N' Crunch plastic toy decoder, will reveal the age of the wine. My bottle said L2041. The middle digits signify the vintage, in this case 2004 and the final digit indicates that this is lot 1, the first disgorgement. The decoder has yet to figure out what the L and the first digit mean.

Notes on the wine: toast and mineral water on the nose, and something like cold cream. But there is something unattractive there too, something soapy. The palate is citrus and toast, but there is little complexity and depth. It's kind of clunky actually. We lost interest in this wine after one glass, and that's saying something. I went back to it later, hoping it had blossomed into something lovely. No dice.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Belle Pente - Old World Pinot from Oregon

Pinot Noir in Oregon's Willamette Valley is, in my opinion, still trying to figure out what it wants to be. Is it a new world style wine, dense, concentrated, and fruit forward? Or is it in the style of Burgundy, with more of an emphasis on delicate aromatics, balancing acidity, and earth tones? From what I've experienced, the majority of Willamette Valley Pinot is made in the new world style, and that's fine. Most producers have no trouble selling out their stock.

I prefer the Burgundian style of Pinot. There are several Oregon producers that I know of making old world style Pinot - John Thomas at Thomas, Doug Tunnel at Brick House, Mark Vlossak at St Innocent (for some bottlings, anyway), to name a few. One of my favorites is Belle Pente.

Belle Pente is run by Brian and Jill O'Donnell, who are dedicated to making delicious and terroir expressive wines in an environmentally friendly way. The estate vineyard was converted to organic farming in 2000 and they began to use some of the principals of biodynamics in 2005. Yields are low and production is small - there are only 300 cases of the 2005 Estate Reserve, for example. Brian uses natural yeasts for fermentation unless mildew or rot forces him to use a baking soda spray, which kills some of the natural yeasts. He then inoculates with a Burgundian yeast that he says is neutral in terms of aroma.

The Pinot lineup includes Dundee Hills and Yamhill-Carlton District wines, "entry level" wines made from grapes sourced from several vineyards. The Belle Pente Vineyard bottling is from the estate vineyard and it's a forward and youthful wine, although it can be quite complex. The Estate Reserve is a blend of the finest blocks in the estate vineyard, and although the vines are young, you'll be shocked at the complexity and character of this wine. The new vintage costs $45. I haven't yet tasted the 05, but the 04 was outstanding.

There is an older vine Pinot called Murto made from grapes from guessed it - Murto vineyard. Belle Pente's 6 acres of Murto are farmed using the same principles as their estate vineyard. Murto costs about $35, and in my opinion, is one of the top three values in all of Oregon Pinot Noir.

These wines are not so easy to find outside of Oregon (and I imagine are impossible to find outside the US). A couple of NYC stores carry them, but even then it's limited quantity. You could always order directly from the winery, if your state allows this kind of brazen treachery (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

I have a small stash of 2005 Murto, and I decided to open a bottle the other night just to see how things are going. Here are a few notes:
2005 Belle Pente Pinot Noir Murto Vineyard, $37. There is a mixture of soil and brett upon opening, and the topsoil notes remain on the nose throughout the first evening, but are joined by cherry and cool herbal aromas. A lovely and elegant nose. The palate is sweet and ripe but balanced with acidity, and there is great purity. Not revealing all that much yet on the palate other than the sweet fruit and cooling herbs, but there is clearly a lot going on under the surface. I re-corked the remaining half of the bottle and left it for the next evening.

On day 2 the aromas have integrated beautifully. There is a lovely pine/herbal character that cools the bright red cherry, and still some soil underneath. This is a complex old world nose. The palate shows great purity and focus, harmonious fruit and acids, all supported by firm tannins. This is well balanced (only 13% alcohol!) and just a pleasure to smell and drink, an outstanding Oregon Pinot in the old world style.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Brooklynguy's Manhattan Ramen Roundup

Ramen is not Cup 'O Noodles, dear god no. Ramen is soup with flour and egg noodles and various toppings. And people in Japan feel as strongly about ramen as we in New York feel about bagels or a slice of pizza. This is simple comfort food, but plenty of science is required to make it right. And if you put 10 New Yorkers in a room you'll have at least 5 opinions on what makes a bagel "right." Same thing in Japan with ramen.

I love ramen because when it's good, it's healthy, completely satisfying as a meal, and very inexpensive - if you add an order of gyoza (dumplings) and a drink, you're spending about $15. But a bowl of ramen on its own is a full meal, make no mistake. Food for all seasons, ramen is obviously perfect in cold weather, but I love it on a hot day too as a healthy lunch that's not heavy on meat.

If you're interested in ramen, or in good cinema, see the movie Tampopo, an ode to the joys of ramen and food in general, and made in the style of an American western.

Here are a few things that are generally true about ramen:

  • The noodles should be boiled al dente. They should be springy and chewy, not soft.
  • It is absolutely appropriate to eat ramen loudly, slurping the noodles into your mouth.
  • The broth is either cloudy pork bone called Tonkotsu, or clear and made from pork, seafood (dried scallop, anchovy, mackerel, for example), chicken, vegetables, or some combination thereof.
  • The broth is seasoned in two ways. 1) The chef uses her or his own seasoning called the Tar, which can be a mix of garlic, vinegar, oil, and who knows what else. The bowl that contains the Tar should never be emptied - it is continually replenished and the aged essence of the seasonings is a point of pride. In Japan there are ramen shops whose Tar bowls have been in continual use for over 50 years. 2) After a small amount of the Tar is placed at the bottom of the bowl, the chef seasons the soup with either Shoyu (soy sauce), Shio (salt), or Miso (fermented soybean paste, the same used to make Miso Soup. Light, red, and dark Miso pastes can be combined.
  • The toppings are serious business. Six is traditional, but there may be more or less. Typical toppings include slices of Chashu (roast pork), shinachiku (fresh, seasoned bamboo shoots), scallions, seaweed, naruto (thinly sliced fish cake), boiled spinach or bean sprouts, cloud ear mushrooms, and egg (best when it's soft boiled and seasoned. Some ramen shops will offer chili oil, shucked corn, white pepper, crisp roast garlic slices, and other toppings upon request.
  • The toppings are meant to be an interlude between bites of noodles. They are the garnish, not the meal.
  • You may ask the chef to make changes to your bowl of ramen - extra pork, no scallions, whatever you like. This is common.
So without further ado, here are seven places to have Ramen in Manhattan, in the order of my preference. If there's a great ramen joint in your town, let us know in the comments. I can usually tell whether or not I would live in a city by the quality of its ramen.

Rai Rai Ken - 214 E. 10th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.
A red paper lantern hanging outside announces this narrow and often crowded ramen joint. This is one of the first true ramen shops in NYC and it's still one of the very best. Three flavors are served: Shoyu, Shio, and Miso. While none of the individual elements at Rai Rai Ken are the best in town, they are each very very good, and the overall bowl is fantastic.

Noodles: curly, springy and light, but thick and satisfying. Excellent.
Broth: mix of vegetables, pork, and seafood. Deeply flavored but totally mild with no oil or grease, a healthy and wholesome feeling broth.
Toppings: Strong on the roast pork and bamboo, scallions and fish cake are nice. Weak on the egg, which is hardboiled and without real flavor.

Ramen Setagaya - 141 1st Avenue between St Marks Place and 9th Streets.
Very popular in Japan, Setagaya is famous for Shio ramen, and justifiably so. There are no other choices - when you go to Setagaya you're getting Shio ramen. It's the finest bowl of Shio ramen I've ever had, rich and mellow, and deeply satisfying. Sit at the bar and watch the chefs scurry about, or sit at a table and watch the untranslated and zany looking ramen shows on the big screen TV.

Noodles: straight and on the thin side, chewy and tasty. Excellent.
Broth: chicken and dried seafood, and utterly luscious. Salty, but in flavor, not as a sensation, if that makes any sense.
Toppings: Strong on the seasoned soft boiled egg (DELICIOUS), bamboo, seaweed and scallions. Pork is nice, but I'm not crazy about the way they throw the slices on the grill at the last minute.

Ippudo - 65 4th Avenue between 9th and10th Streets.
Also very popular in Japan, Ippudo is most notable for its incredible Tonkotsu broth. More of a restaurant than a ramen joint, and the higher prices reflect this. You sit at nice tables in a chic atmosphere, which in the context of ramen kind of turns me off, but to each their own. Whatever you might feel about the decor, there is no arguing about the velvety, incredibly rich and flavorful pork bone broth. I'd like to carry some around at all times in a hip flask. There are several types to try, differing only in the toppings and in whether or not there is spicy ground pork and oil added at the end. I like them all, but the Akamaru ramen is my favorite.

Noodles: thin and straight, springy. Very good, but a bit delicate.
Broth: perfect.
Toppings: They're fine, but nothing special. And you must pay an extra $3 if you want the seasoned soft bolied egg. It's all about the broth at Ippudo.

Naruto Ramen - 1596 3rd Avenue between 89th and 90th Streets.
That's right, the Upper East Side has a ramen joint. And it's pretty good, the toppings in particular. I once was served noodles that had a faint ammonia smell, as can happen when they are not so fresh. And the soup is not particularly distinctive. So not worth the trip way uptown if ramen is your goal, but worth it if you happen to find yourself up there already.

Noodles: curly and chewy, pretty thick, variable in freshness.
Broth: pork, chicken, and seafood base, served only as Shoyu ramen.
Toppings: excellent. Best roast pork of all of these places, thick and juicy. Best bamboo slices too. Good seasoned soft boiled egg.

Fukumatsu - 212 East 52nd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.
Also not worth a special ramen trip, but perfect if you're in the area and the craving hits you. Nothing is bad, but nothing is distinguished either, and the place is really more of a sushi restaurant. That said, Wednesday's lunch special is a bowl of ramen, a California Roll, 4 gyoza, and a salad for $12. So if you're hungry and don't mind the jostling of midtown...

Noodles: curly and springy.
Broth: Chicken, pork, and dried seafood broth served only as Shio ramen, but the rich salty taste is not there. Perfectly fine soup, but not great as Shio broth.
Toppings: fine, nothing special.

Momofuku Noodle Bar
- 171 1st Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets.
There are plenty of good reasons to visit Momofuku noodle bar, but in my opinion, ramen is not one of them. This is a different take on ramen, and there's nothing wrong with a different take, but the results here are less impressive than the other options at this restaurant, and less impressive than all of the other ramen shops in the area (you're around the corner from Rai Rai Ken and down the street from Setagaya...what's wrong with you?!?). The problem is the broth - it's just too rich and porky, unbalanced. It's like broth on steroids, which as everyone knows, are illegal.

Noodles: fine, not as springy as you would expect, but fine.
Broth: pork (and good Berkshire pork too), but too porky.
Toppings: delicious and meaty slices of Berkshire pork belly, but that's all that's memorable.

Minca - 536 East 5th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B.
This is the only place that I just didn't like. The broth tasted off, way too chicken-y, and too greasy. The bamboo shoots still had the can water flavor all over them. The scallions were limp, nothing was right here. Too bad because they offer many flavors of ramen and the setting is quite nice. It would be very difficult for me to go back though, the bowl was that poor.

Noodles: fine, but lost amidst the unpleasant chicken broth clinging to them.
Broth: I already told you - not fresh, unbalanced, poor.
Toppings: fine, but does it matter?