Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Two Great Tastings Coming Soon

In the next 10 days there are two tastings happening in Manhattan that I am excited about attending. The first focuses on an appellation that I have woefully little experience with, Chateauneuf du Pape.

It's happening this coming Saturday February 3rd, organized by the folks at Chambers Street Wines. The event is called Chateauneuf du Pape 2005 - A Preview Tasting, and it's hosted by Tribeca Grill, the trendy eatery owned in part by Robert De Niro. This tasting will feature the wines of at least 15 different vignerons, and six of them will be on hand, in person, to share thoughts about their wines. No wine will be available for sale at this event, which says to me that I can learn about wine and talk to the people who craft wine, as opposed to taste wine and feel pushed towards buying it.

And by the way, the tasting is free.

This link to Jancis Robinson's discussion of the 2004 vintage in the southern Rhone Valley, brought to my attention by our good wine friend Doktor Weingolb in beautiful Montreal, should be enough to whet anyone's appetite for tasting Chateauneuf du Pape wines. I am really excited to taste and broaden my understanding of these wines.

Then on Thursday February 8th comes the next Southeby's Pre-Auction tasting. These can be hectic, reminiscent of the running of the bulls in Pamplona - there is a general stampede when the doors open. The fuss this time, I am guessing, will be all about the Cheval Blanc. This tasting costs $75, but if you check out the list of bottles, you might agree that it's worth it, a steal even. So many mature wines that I would not otherwise have the oppotunity to experience.

You have exactly one hour to experience the wines, and there is exactly one bottle of each wine for the tasting. It's impossible to spend thoughtful time with each wine, better to scour the catalog and focus on a few regions. I've enjoyed these tremendously in the past, and my pal Deetrane and I will definitely be among those elbowing you out of the way near the mature Burgundies.

So if you're in town, come check it out.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A $15 Beauty from the Loire Valley

I remember about three years ago, in the summer time, my then girlfriend BrooklynLady and I were hanging out in her kitchen cooking together, talking about wine. She asked if I had ever tasted a Muscadet. No I had not, and what, do tell is Muscadet?

Muscadet (mus-ka-DAY) is a region in the western part of the Loire valley, near the city of Nantes. White wines from Muscadet are made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. They tend to be light in color and body, and are intensely mineral driven. They are thought to be a perfect compliment to raw oysters from the nearby coast. Muscadets are gleefully paired, though, with any fresh shellfish or other seafood. To me, the wines can sometimes exhibit a kind of a briny-ness, although that might be because of my first association with Muscadet - served very cold with a dozen raw Oysters on a date with BrooklynLady. YUM. And it was a good date.

There are a couple of appellations in Muscadet, the best of which is considered to be Muscadet de Sevre et Maine. And the best bottles from that appellation are aged sur-lie, or on the lees, the musty mix of yeasts and other post-fermentation solids (a technique that is also common in Champagne, if I am not mistaken). This aging provides flavor complexity that can be missing in other bottles. About a year ago, Eric Asimov's tasting panel featured Muscadets, and the overall assessment of the wines was quite good.

I have tasted many a Muscadet since then, and I enjoy them tremendously. Sure, their bracing acidity and citrusy freshness calls out for a hot summer afternoon. But there are no fresh oysters in the summer months (don't eat raw oysters in summer months without an "R" in their name - they are breeding then and too musky to be enjoyed). I find Muscadets to be excellent winter white wines, oddly enough. They just seem to go so well with so many foods, and their mineral dryness is so refreshing in cold weather.

Have you tried a Muscadet? If you haven't, don't feel bad. There is a reason that the region is not that famous - the wines are not all so good. Even those from Sevre et Maine, aged sur-lie, are not reliably good. Your local wine store might not even carry any Muscadets. Some places stock Muscadet but not from Sevre et Maine, and for some reason they keep the bottles upright (they are an odd shape anyway - tall) and in the sale bins, not screaming out "quality."

But if your wine store does stock good Muscadet, try one the next time you're cooking a simple seafood dish this winter. Better yet, try this one, an absolute beauty for under $15:

2005 Domaine de la Pepiere (Marc Ollivier) Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie Clos des Briords, $14.
Pale straw color. Reserved but pleasant nose of wet stones. Light and just slightly effervescent mouth feel, rainwater and citrus on the palate. Very nice, but the party really began on day two. Much more developed citrus and wet stone aromas, yeasty smell too. Surprising length on the palate with pronounced mineral, citrus oils, and some ripe green melon too. This wine clearly will take on all sorts of interesting aromas and flavors with age. Shall I make room in the cellar for a $15 beauty? I think I shall!

Friday, January 26, 2007

2004 Shea Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone

If you're interested in Oregon wine you probably know by now that Shea's crop of 2004 wines received high praise and high scores from Wine Spadvocator. Normally those kind of reviews don't particularly interest me (I normally am not aware of them, more to the point), but this time I am quite curious to taste for myself.

Shea was a common name when I first became interested in Oregon wine, but more as a vineyard on other producer's labels. Many prominent Willamette Valley producers source grapes from Shea vineyards: Mark Vlossak of St Innocent and Panther Creek (where he is consulting winemaker), Ken Wright, and Josh Bergstrom, Beaux Freres (the winery partially owned by Robert Parker), and Patricia Green, to name a few. And until recently, Sine Qua Non, the California cult winery, put out a Pinot Noir sourcing Shea grapes. The final vintage of that wine was 2003 - Shea reclaimed the grapes for its own wine.

About a year ago I ordered a half case of 2004 Shea wines, selecting a bottle of this and a bottle of that, but buying three bottles of 2004 Shea Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone, because this is the wine made from the grapes that used to go to Sine Qua Non.

I haven't had the occasion to try one of these wines, and they probably should be cellared for a while anyway. When my good friends NorthCarolinaGuy and Gal moved out of New York (can you guess where they moved?) I gave them a bottle of the 2004 Shea Pinot Block 23 as a gift, and apparently they enjoyed it very much. So far so good - they have great taste and if they say it's great, I trust them. The 2004 Shea Estate Pinot is the one that received the highest rating, if I am not mistaken, then the Block 23 and the Homer, then the Wadenswil clone.

The other night I lost my senses, threw caution to the wind, made a tuna sandwich with red onions, and opened a bottle. I am excited to report that the wine is truly fantastic. Spadvocator hit the nail on the head this time. Here are some tasting notes:

2004 Shea Pinot Noir Wadenswil Clone, $48.
Deep bloody transparent ruby, clear at the rims. Big smells of chocolate, black fruit, coffee grinds, some mushrooms. Lots of sap, flavors of black cherry and blueberry, chocolate and spices, with a pleasant bitterness at the finish. Well structured, good acidity. This wine is HUGE, really powerful in aroma and flavor, but seems like it is honest power, from the grapes. Feels a bit disjointed, like it hasn't come together quite yet, but the individual parts are excellent. Not elegant, muscular, none of the animal or barnyard I like in Burgundy wines - this one has its own Willamette blue fruit terroir thing going on.

Day 2:
Much more balance in the nose, and some gamier aromas - really nice. Much better delineation of flavors too - clean blue and black fruit, juicy, harmonious and balanced by great acidity. Developed an elegant side overnight. Smooth tannins too - very well structured.

It seems to me that this wine will benefit from 10+ years of cellaring - it has great stuffing. I'm not touching my two remaining bottles for a long time - I bet they will mellow and develop beautiful secondary aromas and flavors. And I solemnly swear to you, people who care about wine and food, that next time I will have roast venison or lamb, or a big porterhouse with the wine. Not a tuna sandwich. Actually it was fine. I ate the tune while the wine rooted around in the glass and got comfortable.

So count me in for the 2005 wines when they are released, I guess. Anyone want to split a case?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Following up on a Buying Strategy Idea

Recently I talked about buying wine produced in an "off" vintage, wine that in great vintages might be too expensive for me to taste. I have been sampling some older experiments using this strategy, a few 2001 Pinots from Oregon and Burgundy, 2002 was considered the star vintage in both regions. Results are mixed so far - some good wines, some disappointing wines. Just goes to show that you still have to know what you're buying, and choose carefully.

This kind of thinking is especially important for me now that every few years it seems to be "the vintage of the century" in Burgundy (or Bordeaux, others too). Imagine that I am ready to plunk down the cash to buy a bottle of Grand Cru wine from, say, JF Mugnier, or Robert Groffier. 2005 is supposed to be an incredible vintage, and from the little I have tasted so far, it's not hype - the wines are amazing. But the yields were low, and many wines will be snapped up by collectors and those on mailing lists, they might not even make it to retail. And if by some miracle I were to find a bottle of 2005 JF Mugnier Musigny, I bet it will cost $375 or so. I might be ready to splurge on a couple of three digit wines for the cellar, but not when the first digit is anything other than a "1."

So I instead will focus on 2004 current releases - there might be some good value here, assuming I know what I'm buying. And among higher end Burgundies I do not know what I'm buying - I have tasted very few high end Burgundy wines. So I did little reading (Burgundy Report and Black Ink, among others) and decided on a few bottles to purchase from the 2004 vintage, wines I will never afford (or find in stores) when the 05's are released.

I will share these recent purchases with you now, Brooklynguy's 2004 Burgundy Line (imagine thumping music, and yourself at eye level with the catwalk, the wines come strutting in):

2004 Domaine JF Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses...applause, whispered murmurings of appreciation...see the way the light shows off her elegant color at the neck of the bottle? So beautiful...

2004 Domaine JF Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny...her younger, wilder sister...see the alluring curves on the shoulder? Mmmm...

2004 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Clos Saint-Jaques...she scandalizes me, the way she sparkles, her transparent attempts to seduce...but I cannot avert my eyes...

2004 Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin Vieille Vignes...such confidence and poise for such a young wine, so brazen in her posturing...she will surely grow to be a heart stopping beauty...

2004 Domaine Georges Roumier Chambolle-Musigny...this one is frisky, a fighter, and a lover...and I want her to love me, but I am terrified of her...

I'm glad I bought only five wines because I don't think I could have kept going with that nonsense for even one more minute.

Actually, I also bought a 2004 Domaine Pierre Amiot Morey St Denis 1er Cru Les Millandes, but this purchase was un-researched, and was the result of me confusing this producer with another Amiot - Amiot Servelle. There are about five producers named Amiot in Burgundy, so go figure. Watch this one be the best bottle in seven years or so.

I hope you enjoyed your preview of the 2004 line (and I apologize for the nonsense, and thank you for your patience).

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Biodynamic Roundup

WBW #29 Roundup is posted at Fork and Bottle. Better late than never for me to mention this, right? I finally got around to reading most of the posts, and I learned a lot. Maybe I'm too cynical about this biodynamic thing, as most people really dug the wine they tried.

Now I have to try Zind Humbrecht wines, some more Nigl wines, I should crack open my 2003 Sineann, and my god - have you ever watched that guy Gary on Wine Library TV? Pretty intense stuff.

Thanks again to Jack and Joanne at Fork and Bottle for a great topic and a great roundup.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Revisiting Some 2001's

Usually the wines from the year immediately preceding a great vintage can offer good values for the careful consumer. For example, 2002 was considered to be a great year in Burgundy and in Oregon, and the wines tend to be priced accordingly. In both regions, 2001 was not as highly regarded, particularly difficult in Burgundy where hail and limited sunlight wrecked havoc in certain areas. Wines are generally priced accordingly - in other words - people like you and me might be able to afford wines that are out of range in 2002.

This is a good thing to capitalize on if you keep a cellar of any size, and if there are limits to what you can spend. This idea is applicable in all of the "great" wine regions. The thing is, though, this idea on it's own can actually be dangerous if it leads to wanton buying, to careless consumption. After all, it is a lesser vintage we're talking about, and there is a reason for this. You still have to know what to buy. Some Willamette Valley Oregon Pinots, for example, reflect the low concentration and thin flavor profiles that come with reduced sunlight and heat in August. Same thing in Burgundy. And $40 is still a lot to pay for so-so wine, even if the same wine costs double that in 2002. It's still $40 wasted on so-so wine.

So how should we choose wines from these value vintages, and feel secure about quality? For me, the answer is to stick with producers and vineyards that I typically enjoy, that I trust to make great wine regardless of the quality of the vintage.

Following are my recent experiences tasting two Pinots from 2001, both wines from producers I trust, and in one case, from a vineyard I trust.

Michel Lafarge is a big name in Volnay, and his wines exemplify the silky, seductive, complex essence that Volnay is known for. He makes excellent quality regional and village wines, and two pricey but highly regarded 1er Crus. Take a peek at these notes from Black Ink describing a visit to the Domaine in 2001. Reliable producer? Absolutely. BrooklynLady and I LOVED his village wine, the 2001 Volnay, back in June. So why shouldn't the 1er Cru be excellent, even better? Because it's Burgundy and who knows what the heck is going on over there. Apparently the Clos de Chateaux des Ducs vineyard was hit pretty hard with hail. I actually first tasted the same wine in December, and mentioned it here.

2001 Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru Clos du Chateaux des Ducs, (I paid $27 in an online auction, $85 retail, the 2004 costs $98, the 2003 is about $125).

Thin red color with some brick orange at the rim of the glass. Nice aromas of red fruit, some flowers, a little earthiness too. But these aromas dissipate quickly, leaving only an herbal edge on the nose. Candied red fruit flavors and herbs, pleasant for the first half hour or so, then falls off a bit. Not bad, but certainly not recommended. Had I paid retail, I would have been really annoyed. As it is, I could have purchased two bottles of Clos Roche Blanc, or Bernard Baudry Chinon Domaine for this $25...My plan is to open my remaining two bottles soon, and in the company of at least 4 people - everyone gets a glass, drink it while it smells and tastes good.

Chehalem is an Oregon Winery known primarily for their outstanding Rieslings, dry and off dry. They also make pretty good Pinot. I first tasted Chehalem wines when BrooklynLady and I visited the Willamette Valley in January of 2005, and I was impressed. There are several cuvees, the one that touched me the most is Corral Creek, a wine made from estate vineyards. The 2001 was delicious back then. Now:

2001 Chehalem Pinot Noir Corral Creek Vineyard, $35.
A little disjointed upon opening. Clear ruby color. Smells of barnyard and some candied red fruit (starting to think that is typical of thin Pinot from difficult vintages), some mushroomy smells too. Flavors took a while to come together, and held up for a short while. But in that window, very nice red fruit balanced with earth and good acidity, some herbal notes on the finish.

Okay, so these didn't show all that well. Even reliable producers and vineyards can show poorly in a tough vintage. I still have faith in this buying strategy, and I plan on applying it to the 2004 vintage in Burgundy. I just got my property tax refund from the city, along with a check that I never expected I would see for work completed back in June. I'm gonna get me a couple of pricey 2004 Burgundies, at what I hope are value vintage prices. Let you know what I get once I'm done.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A Brooklyn Moment

I was ready to write about two wines I revisited in the past week that are special to me, both from the 2001 vintage, both Pinot Noir. So I got home from work, washed my hands (there's flu everywhere now, pal - soap and water is a must, like 5 times a day), made a little something to eat and sat down at the computer ready to go.

I'll tell you, these bagels from Terrace Bagel are still delicious, two days later. My extended family came in from out of town Saturday to "view" my very pregnant wife, essentially. At 8 in the morning on Saturday I walked a mile through frozen streets to Terrace Bagel to pick up a couple dozen and some smoked fish. This place is worth it though, particularly their pumpernickel, the most underrated of bagels.

Anyway, back to the 2001 Pinots. But I should just say one thing about this whitefish salad too. They do a great job with it, creamy but with plenty of whitefish lumps, salty and smoky, and somehow light at the same time. Calls out for a few thin slices of red onion, which I am lucky to have going on right now. Whitefish salad on a pumpernickel - fughedaboutit.

So the 2001's. One is a Volnay, one is from Oregon. You know, I made this salad dressing with anchovies and lots of good red wine vinegar the other day. I bet it would be great on some salad greens with my bagel. That vinegary taste in the dressing combined with the savory's just sound food science.

Both of these Pinots were really good when we tried them a while ago, but they might not be holding up too well. So we decided to revisit them this past week. What would be a good wine to drink with whitefish on pump with salad? Clearly not this Cahors I've been meaning to try - to heavy. Not the New Jersey (!) Sangiovese my cousins brought for me on Saturday. Ah, perfect - an inexpensive but yummy sparkling wine from the Loire Valley, a Chateau du Hureau Saumur Brut NV, $11.

Bagels and smoked fish is usually brunch food, and people tend to go with sparklers for brunch. So why not now, on a Monday night? This wine clocks in at 12% alcohol, which is nice and reasonable. There are a few really nice sparkling wines from Saumur. In fact, I think this sparkler can give any non-Champagne a run for it's money. Hureau makes serious still wine too, not just sparkling wine. Take a peek at this piece from Jancis Robinson last March. I agree with her assessment of the '04 whites - they're not giving too much right now (even though now is almost a year after she wrote that piece).

Their sparkler is great with my dinner though. I hereby abandon all attempts to write about my 2001 Pinots, and instead give into my Brooklyn moment: whitefish salad on a pumpernickel bagel for dinner on Monday night.

NV Chateau du Hureau Saumur Brut, $11.
Fine, sparse bead. Lovely aromas of green apple, lemon, and fresh cut wheat. More like a petillant (fizzy, not as bubbly as Champagne, for example) than a sparkling wine, this wine feels good on the tongue, and it compliments the smokey and savory whitefish salad perfectly. Fresh flavors, apple and citrus, some minerality. It holds its own against red onion slices too.

Next time, really - a couple of 2001 Pinots.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Blind Tasting: Bordeaux Varietals Part 2

In a world...where all wine is served blind from paper bags...four friends are about to embark on a journey...that will change their lives forever.

If you re-read the above nonsense in your best movie-preview-guy voice, it sounds better. So maybe it wasn't quite that dramatic, but we had a lot of fun with the Bordeaux varietal blind tasting. We lost a few people, as it was the first truly cold night of winter in Brooklyn, and things just come up some times. So it was only Deetrane, Mike, BrooklynLady, and I who tasted 6 wines blind, made notes, and ranked them in the order of preference.

We didn't tell each other anything about the wines we brought - no one knew the full lineup of wines until after the bags came off. I had so much fun smelling and tasting the differences in these wines, grouping them by color or by aroma. It's silly to make generalizations because the wines were from all place, and from many vintages. Yet I noticed that many of the wines had an herbal minty-ness in the aromatic profile. In fact, I enjoyed the aromatics very much, more than the flavors in most cases.

We assigned five points for a 1st place vote, three points for 2nd place, and one point for 3rd. Here are the results of the voting:

First Place - 2003 Roxy Ann Winery Claret, Rogue Valley, Oregon $25: two 1st place votes, 1 2nd place vote = 13 points. A blend of 47% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 19% Cabernet Franc. This wine comes from south west Oregon. I have enjoyed this wine on many occasions, yet I was a little surprised that it won the tasting. My notes: Dark garnet color. Interesting nose of candied cherries and mint, some chocolate too. Silky velvet in the mouth, sweet fruit with nice acidity on the finish. Makes me think of chocolate cake. I put this wine in 2nd place.

Second Place - 2001 Sterling Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Napa Valley $68: one 1st place vote, one 2nd place vote, one 3rd place vote = 9 points. A blend of about 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, and the rest Petit Verdot. This is an expensive wine, and I was curious to see how it would compare to the others. My notes: Herbs on the nose, expressive palate of eucalyptus and cassis, a little cedar on the finish. I liked this wine and picked it 3rd.

Third place - 2000 Jason's Vineyard Meritage, North Fork, Long Island, $13: one 1st place vote, one second place vote = 8 points. I really liked this wine when I tasted it a few weeks back, and I knew then that I would enter it into this tasting. My notes: lighter red than the others, more translucent. Huge nose of wild animal fur, some mint. Silky mouthfeel, complex flavors of cassis, cherries, and earth. The more I sipped and smelled, the more I liked it. I had this wine as my top wine of the tasting. And at 13 clams per bottle - you gotta be kidding me! Order it online if you have to (and if you like gamey Bordeaux style wine). I wonder...what would Lenn say about this wine?

Fourth place- 2001 Bodegas Caro (Barons de Rothschild / Catena), Mendoza, Argentina, $33: three 3rd place votes = 3 points. A blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Malbec, this wine is made in collaboration with Barons de Rothschild Lafite. My notes: dark purple, reserved nose of olives and dark fruit. Simple palate of dark fruit, with an interesting high toned finish of herbs. I found this to be an interesting wine, but I didn't like it enough to want bottles of my own.

Fifth place - 2004 Baron Philippe de Rothschild Mouton Cadet, Bordeaux, $7: one 2nd place vote = 3 points. The 3rd wine of Baron Philippe de Rothschild. My notes: Odd nose of candied orange peel, some mint. Reserved palate. Not my favorite, slightly bitter. For 7 bucks it's hard to complain, I guess, and I hear that as recently as 2003, this wine was really quite good.

Sixth place - 2003 Siverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, $34: no votes. This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is a 94 pointer in Wine Spadvocator. Mike suggested that the wine might simply need more time in the bottle. It was very reserved, and started to open up more after a while, but it never really took off for me. My notes: Dark purple. Reserved nose of dark fruit. Sweet sap , some black fruit flavor. Simple.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Blind Tasting: Bordeaux Varietals, Part I

One of my wine and food resolutions for 2007 is to do more blind tasting. I love the idea of tasting blind, letting your senses, and only your senses take control (isn't that some 1980's pop song?). Professional wine ratings, pre-conceived notions, and all other biases should go right out the window.

I would love to participate in a blind tasting of the sort that Eric Asimov's gang do for the NY Times Wines of the Times column. These folks have the resources on hand to do blind tastings in a scientific way. They try to control the variations in the wines, so that to the extent possible, they reflect variations in the skill and style of the producer, the quality of the grapes, the terroir, or the vintage. Recent NY Times blind tastings include, for example, 2003 St Emilions : 25 wines, all 2003, all from the St Emilion appellation, all at $100 or less. Or slightly less scientific because of the inclusion of several vintages, Washington State Merlots: 25 Merlots, all Washington State.

I cannot do that kind of tasting - falta dinero, as they say in Espanol. But I can try to approximate the scientific nature of those tastings while hosting an event that will be educational and fun, and that asks participants to get involved in selecting the wines we will taste.Our goal for this first blind tasting is to compare young wines from various regions, all made from Bordeaux grapes. Not scientific, by any means - there might be 5 or 6 vintages, wines made mostly from Merlot and others made mostly from Cabernet Franc, and others that are blends. But this is our first blind tasting and it has to be fun and easy for people to participate. I didn't want to get too strict the first time. You know, the first one is free, get 'em hooked, and then I can say things like "bring the biodynamic 2001 Saumur Champigny of your choice."

One good thing is that all participants have lots of experience drinking wine. I suspect that they will bring interesting wine to the tasting. They also have a good sense (so they think) of their preferences. It will be interesting to see how my rogue wine from Oregon and my quiet beauty from Long Island measure up. I actually have not delved very deep at all into Bordeaux varietals, so this is also an excuse for me to get an unbiased sense of how to further explore, should I choose to.

Here is the set-up:
Blind Tasting of Bordeaux Varietal Wines

Everyone is bringing one wine A) that is made predominantly from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Cabernet Franc, or a blend of the three; and B) that is not older than the 2000 vintage; and C) who's identity will be kept secret until after the blind part of the tasting is finished.

I hope that participants will bring a variety of wines - Bordeaux of course, but also Long Island, California, who knows what else. We will remove the capsules and the corks an hour before tasting, put the wines in paper bags, and taste through them, each participant selecting their three favorite wines, in order. A 1st place vote is worth 5 points, a 2nd place vote is worth 3 points, and a 3rd place vote is worth 1 point.

I am entering three wines, and one of them is a beauty from Long Island's North Fork that I really believe will finish in the top 3...tune in next time for the results of the tasting.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #29 - Biodynamic Wine

Lenn at Lenndevours started Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW) over two years ago, an online tasting and sharing of notes and experiences with wine. Hosted by a different blogger each month, it also seems to build community among bloggers and blog readers. I started reading the summaries, called round-ups, long before I got my feet wet blogging.

This month WBW is hosted by none other than the illustrious Jack and Joanne (two American kids doin' the best they can) over at Fork and Bottle. Biodynamic wine is the theme they selected for this month.

But before I get into tasting notes I want to say something quick about Fork and Bottle: this site is a must for foodies who are parents or parents to be. There is a wonderful section called "Kids and Cooking" with nice photos and ideas about their experiences cooking with their son. I was inspired by reading this material, inspired to think for myself about how I hope to do it, not just to take notes and repeat what I read. So to Lenn, who is due to have a baby any week now, as are BrooklynLady and I, and to all the other parents participating in WBW - check this part of the Fork and Bottle site out also. My .02 cents.

Now...biodynamic wine. Well, after reading some of the links Jack and Joanne helpfully provided, I still feel a bit confused. I absolutely am a Rudolph Steiner fan, and I definitely think of soil and its components as a vital living being that can experience varying degrees of health. It makes sense to me as some one who cooks and eats almost exclusively locally derived healthy food, organically grown produce, and hormone-free, antibiotic-free, free range meat, that soil produces better grapes when it is "fed" in a healthy way.

I am confused by what I think of as odd practices that are part of biodynamics. Why a cow horn filled with manure, buried for the winter? Herbs aged in the skeleton of a rabbit? Maybe there is science behind this, but surely another type of horn might also work, or must it be cow? Not that I care, mind you - if this works for producers and for the Earth, then I'm all for it. I just have not been able to understand the science behind some of biodynamics from what I've read, and you have to admit - without the science, it can seem a little weird.

But I also noticed from reading Jack and Joanne's biodynamic wine producers guide, that many of the wines that I love and cellar are right there on the list, particularly in the Loire Valley: Closel, Breton, St. Nicholas, Clos Rougeard, Sablonnettes, Clos Roche Blanc...and the producer of the wine I want to talk a little bit about now, Francois Chidaine. Maybe biodynamic wines ARE better, or maybe I just love wines from the Loire Valley...

Montlouis is a little town right across the Loire river from Vouvray. Montlouis, like Vouvray, is a 100% Chenin Blanc appellation, producing mineral driven wines in dry, demi-sec or off dry, and vintage permitting, moelleux, or sweet wines. But Montlouis does not have the same cache as Vouvray, for some reason. This might be because of differences in terroir (Montlouis is reputed to be sandier), or maybe because there are more producers in Vouvray who consistently make great wine. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

My two favorite Montlouis producers are Domaine Delatang and Domaine Francois Chidaine. BrooklynLady and I visited Delatang in while in the Loire Valley in October of 2005 and we loved our tasting (there was a 1995 moelleux...YUM). We didn't make it to Chidaine, and I always regret this. Next time. Dressner's site describes the various Chidaine wines in one page of compact writing - take a peek. I always love the elegant Chidaine petillant wines- at about $18, an incredible bargain.

For WBW I decided to taste a 2005 wine, the vintage that everyone is so excited about all over France, and the Loire is certainly no exception.

2005 Domaine Francois Chidaine Montlouis Clos Habert, $25.
Lovely floral and ripe melon on the nose, wet rock smells become more prominent after 90 minutes open. First impression on the palate is purity - this wine has that rainwater feel to it that I associate with good Loire whites. Light to medium bodied with flavors of ripe fruit, nice balancing acidity, and strong minerality. After some time open, the palate gains in complexity, with interesting flavors of herbs (lemongrass?) and even some black licorice remaining in the mouth after swallowing - "mouth perfume." Described as demi-sec, but I feel like it is without the sweetness, the honeyed finish that is usually present in demi-sec wines. It is not fully dry though either. Maybe a demi-demi-sec?

This wine continues to change and improve in the glass now after 11:00, and I opened the bottle at about 6:00. Hard to say because I am not tasting them together, but I would unhesitatingly say that this wine is equal in quality to the '05 Foreau and Huet Vouvrays that I have sampled. In fact, it might have a more complex flavor profile. Then again, did I taste Foreau or Huet after four hours, or were they gone by then? A project for the future, no doubt.

Thanks to Jack and Joanne for this interesting topic, and for providing the list of producers.

Monday, January 15, 2007

More Exploring Burgundy: 2004 for Beginners

The following quote regarding the 2004 vintage in Burgundy is from Hugh Johnson's Pocket Wine Book 2007:

In Burgundy it looks like a more mixed year than the merchants are saying. The whites are seductive; the reds looked equally so in the barrel, but as their early fruit drew back to reveal the underlying structure, it turned out that there was a vast difference between those reds with ripe tannins and those with hard, green tannins. As one grower said, the difference is between those where the tannin is inside the wine, and those where the wine is inside the tannin.

I read that last week and it really resonated with me - ripe versus unripe tannins, wine inside the tannin. Resonated in that I think I understand what he means, especially by unripe tannins. Not that I have extensive experience with the 2004 vintage - far from it. But I think I understand the flavor and mouthfeel of ripeness/green-ness in tannins.

Part of my Burgundy exploration includes drinking wine, and part includes purchasing wine for cellaring. Nowadays you can find 2003's in stores, which on the whole, I found to be a bit heavy, and of course 2004's. I tasted a regional 2004 that I liked a lot (Voillot Bourgogne Vieille Vignes), and a few village wines while in Burgundy, and a slew of Domaine Daniel Rion wines that I will write about soon, but I am still just beginning my exploration of 2004.

On Saturday I opened a 2004 Sylvie Esmonin Bourgogne Cuvee Sylvie, $16. Why this wine? A) Imported by Dressner, and I tend to like the Loire Valley wines imported by Dressner...maybe their one Burgundy import is good...B) The store has 2004 village and 1er Cru Esmonin wines too. If I were to enjoy this wine enough, I could grab a bottle or two of "better" wine for the cellar...C) I just wanted it, and so what?

2004 Sylvie Esmonin Bourgogne Cuvee Sylvie, $16
Dark violet color with gamey smells upon opening, some herbal smells too. Some dark fruit and sap smells that I can only describe as Dymatap (that grape flavored cough medicine for kids). Pretty closed in the mouth, but some dried leaves/underbrush character. An hour later the wine was completely different, and quite unpleasant. Dominated by cedary green aromas, and woody, almost cardboard flavors. I thought it might be corked. I tried to drink it, could not, and left it alone until tht evening when I went back to it to ask BrooklynLady if it was corked. Presto-change-o! Different wine again. Much better too, thankfully. Still some green-ness, but pleasant dark fruit and underbrush flavors. Drinkable, but I would not buy this again.

I remembered Hugh Johnson's writing and re-read it, thinking that I had just experienced "wine inside the tannin." Then I read this post, and the subsequent comments on Bill Nanson's website (fantastic - I cannot believe it took me this long to delve into it) Burgundy Report:

Some people say green, some people say herbal, but I will define it as a type of cedar smell. At low levels it gives a pleasant cedar, or almost menthol edge; as it becomes more pronounced, it is more resinous, eventually resembling the well-known (in the UK) ‘coal-tar’ soap. What is really surprising, is that it is often quite pronounced on the palate too - though perhaps this is what burghound would better describe as ‘inner mouth perfume’.

I felt better - I'm not a total dope, the wine really does have a cedar smell and taste, and it's kind of unpleasant.

But what of Domaine Esmonin? I would clearly not think of delving further into their higher priced 2004's, but then I read this post highly praising them, also on Burgundy report. So what's a Brooklynguy to do? This guy Bill is most clearly an expert, and I bet the wine is great. I could grab a bottle or two and stick them in the cellar. But I trust myself too and I just did not care for the wine I tasted. I need a few more days to think about it...

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Leek Trick

When it comes to cooking, I tend to be somewhat of a copycat. Why not - what's wrong with that? If I like something I eat, why shouldn't I imitate it at home? Part of the fun is the trial and error involved in attempting to recreate the dish.

Over a year ago BrooklynLady took me to Savoy in Soho for my birthday. As an appetizer I ordered a salad made of roasted delicata squash and braised leeks. So good! I particularly loved the preparation of the leeks - not chopped up at all, simply braised and cut in half. I tried several to recreate this dish at home with varying (and for the most part, limited) success. The squash part I can do. It's the leeks that get me.

I would ruin gorgeous local leeks from the farmer's market by braising them whole, leaving too much dirt left inside. Or by cutting them up to clean them properly before braising, and they fall apart hopelessly in the braise.

In Paris I had an appetizer salad again with a beautiful braised leek and like a bolt of lightening, it hit me...cut the leek in half lengthwise, and TIE THE LEEK BACK TOGETHER WITH COOKING TWINE (see below) before braising. This way, you can clean it thoroughly and yet keep its shape.

And it works! What, you knew that already? This is old hat? Fine, so maybe I'm a little slow on the leek uptake. You are now talking to the guy who can make great salads, hot or cold, with braised leeks. Braised in white wine and herbs, lemon juice and chicken stock, whatever I feel like. I've been using them as a side dish with braised meats too - a nice combo when the leek is braising liquid includes citrus juices.

So that's it, that's my leek trick. It's not copyrighted, you can try it. If you like it, make check out to Brooklynguy, and mail to Brooklyn, NY.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My First 2005 Burgundy Bottles

The 2005 vintage in Burgundy is hyped in the same way as in Bordeaux -amazing, the vintage of the century (does that include the 1900's?). I imagine that the wines will be prohibitively expensive and in Burgundy, quite rare. I look forward to tasting a few and to deciding for myself if I think they live up to the hype.

A week ago, after our monthly baby-doctor's visit, I popped into Garnet to see if anything 2005 had arrived. My wife loves it when I combine visits to the OBGYN with visits to the wine store. I was delighted to find four different reds from Paul Pernot. I bought two bottles: 2005 Clos du Dessus des Marconnets, $22, and 2005 Pommard Les Noizons, $32. I chose these particular wines because we LOVED the 2001 Clos du Dessus when we we visited the Domaine during our recent Burgundy trip, and because we also loved the Pommard Les Noizons at Domaine Jean Lafouge. It's Lafouge we liked, sure, but it's also Les Noizons, non? Let's see what another good producer does with grapes from that vineyard.

Clos du Dessus des Marconnets is a "monopole," a vineyard owned completely by Domaine Paul Pernot. We opened the 2005 on Sunday night with our Cari Bo. This is a wine that we both liked at the Domaine, but it was hard to get a good sense of it there - it was very tight, and we had just tasted a flight of whites. What would this bottle hold? Is 2005 going to be as good as they say?

Yes, yes. yes, and absolutely! I like to maintain a calm composure, to remain balanced if I can. But I must tell you that I was so excited after we opened and tasted this wine that I was behaving as if I were 7 years old again - short attention span, bouncing around a bit, drooling a little, lots of uncontrolled crying. Everything about this wine was pure pleasure - the smells, the flavors, the mouth feel, the balance, and..the amazing price. I truly cannot imagine tasting its equal at under $30, but maybe that's because this is the first 2005 I've had so far.

I will admit now that I went back to Garnet on Monday night, after our tour of the hospital's birthing ward - and again, my wife was touched by my combining the acquisition of liquor with the touring of the facility where we will have our first child. I bought a case of 2005 Paul Pernot wine: some Clos du Dessus, some Pommard, a couple bottles of Beaune les Reversees 1er Cru, and some Volnay Carelles. If you like Burgundy wine, I strongly urge you to try a bottle of the Paul Pernot Beaune Clos du Dessus des Marconnets. See if you like it. It could be the value bottle of 2005 Burgundy., and if it is any indication of the quality of 2005, we are in for a real treat.

Here are some tasting notes from the other night:

2005 Paul Pernot Beaune Clos du Dessus des Marconnets, $22. When I pulled the cork the floral smells literally burst upwards from the bottle. Very floral nose at first, lots of violets. Deep dark cherry smells, earth too - a rich and heady aromatic profile, opulent. Succulent juicy fruit on the palate, but not too sweet at all - some sap at the back of the throat. There is enough earth underneath the fruity baby fat to make me think that the wine will gain in complexity over time. Even now, good balance of fruit and acid and a lingering finish. I could smell this wine long after swallowing. After almost four hours in the decanter the flavors and aromas were still bright. This wine will improve and mature for a few years at least, and should be a stunner. Drinking beautifully now though - there is no shame in just going for it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Brief Digression: Cari Bo

I spent almost a year between 1996 and 1997 traveling in Southeast Asia. I went to Viet Nam, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Sumatra, India, and Australia. It seems like so long ago now - more than 10 years. I was fascinated by the food before going, in fact, the food was the main reason that I chose to go to that part of the world.

I could prattle on about street food in Penang, Malaysia, south Indian meals served on banana leaves, Laotian ground fish with hot chilies and rice powder eaten with cold Pilsner in restaurant made of bamboo on stilts over the Mekong River, the multitudinous variations of pho in Saigon, the ridiculously beautiful and impossibly sweet fresh rambutan and mangosteen fruits of Sumatra, ...but some other time. One of the things I did during that trip was watch people cook, sometimes in their home, other times at restaurants, and once in a class (the least helpful).

I learned as much as I could about the ingredients that define a certain cuisine, and when I returned to New York I sought out those ingredients in Chinatown (there are at least four Chinatowns in NYC) and practiced cooking my favorite dishes. One of my favorites is more of a style of cooking than a specific dish - curry. A word invented by the Brits to describe a mix of spices in India, most people use it when describing a stew or braise of meats or vegetables with a mix of spices.

On Saturday BrooklynLady and I went to our favorite soup dumpling place (Shanghai Cafe on Mott Street off Canal) in Manhattan's Chinatown for brunch. While walking around, I grabbed the ingredients for a simple Vietnamese style curry. Vietnamese style, to me, means a rich curry broth finished with coconut milk, not necessarily very hot, relying for flavor on herbs, chilis, bean sprouts, and other condiments added at the diner's discretion.

If you can find Madras Curry Paste, or Cari Dau An Do, a Vietnamese style curry paste, buy some. It's packed in California and I cannot tell from the label where it is made. It is a vegetarian curry paste, no shrimp paste added. Even if you have never before attempted to cook Vietnamese curry, or any kind of curry, you can do it with this paste. Just sautee some onions until golden brown, add a tablespoon or two of the paste, smile as the aromas waft about the kitchen, add some chicken or beef stock, bring to a boil, add beef or chicken on the bone, bring to a boil again, reduce to a simmer for 90 minutes, add some coconut milk ...voila. If you want you can include vegetables in various combinations. I like to add some nuoc mam (Vietnamese fish sauce) along with the stock to kick up the umami factor.

It's important to cook the onions for a while to break down the cellulose and release the sugars, to achieve a creamier sauce. Other than that, the most important thing is to use good quality coconut milk and fish sauce, and fresh hot chilis. After experimenting with many of them, I prefer Three Crabs Brand Viet Huong Fish Sauce. Chaokoh coconut milk is my favorite, and that's because it has only coconut, water, and a preservative as ingredients. Avoid brands that include guar gum, sugar, or other ingredients - all you want is dessicated coconut and water.

This time I used local grass-fed beef sirloin that I cut into cubes and russet potatoes - that's it. This dish would be called Cari Bo (Bo is Viet for beef). I added a chili or two to the onion mixture, but the stew was meant to be mild. So I sliced a bunch of chilis and soaked them in fish sauce, an approximation of Nam Pla, the fiery Thai condiment. I could add Nam Pla to my heart's content while BrooklynLady could be more restrained on the chili heat, if she so decided. We bought a nice crusty baguette (the Vietnamese are surprisingly good baguette bakers - they learned from the French, after all) and imagined we were at a street stall in Saigon.

I'm not sure what exactly it is that prompted this post - I haven't really posted recipes that I use before. I haven't cooked South Asian food in a while, and it brought back some memories, so I decided to share. Good luck finding the Vietnamese curry paste - any good Asian grocery should keep it in stock. Happy curry!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Rose Water

Maybe I'm too picky, but there just aren't that many high-end restaurants that appeal to me these days. High-end to me, by the way, means more than $100 for two people with appetizers and wine, maybe a dessert. Often the food is too fussy and sacrifices flavor and aroma for presentation and length of ingredient list. Or the food is too bland, too salty, or improperly cooked. We have been a bit disappointed by meals at several well-regarded and pricey restaurants in the past few months (Grammercy Tavern, The Tasting Room, Stone Park, to name a few). In fact, I am at a loss for high-end places to go out to eat - there are literally only three high-end places right now that I think of when craving a nice dinner out. So yes - I need your help and your recommendations, if you're willing to share.

Rose Water in Park Slope is one my three favorites. The owner, although a young guy, is clearly a veteran in this line of work. He makes the whole experience smooth, from waiting for a table (which even without a reservation, you usually have a shot at getting, even on a weekend night), to ordering, to choosing wine. He also seems to have a hand in the kitchen, as I have overheard him on several occasions telling them how to present something or what to put on a plate.

The narrow entry way passes right by the kitchen, so you are compelled to look in as you go to your table. You will see people carefully composing plates, but none of the insanity, none of the yelling that is common in so many restaurant kitchens. Everyone who works there, it seems, just came from yoga class. The dining room is small and tastefully decorated. One wall is brick with cute candle fixtures placed unevenly across it, creating a homey-elegant look. Others are decorated with vases of woody branches or a narrow band of tapestry/painting. Lighting is perfect: you can read the menu easily and see your companions, but it's dim enough to feel sexy.

The menu changes often and emphasizes seasonal produce and free range organically raised meats. A year or so ago I noticed a distinct North-African influence, with cous-cous or harissa making an appearance, and once there was a dish called Braised Short Ribs with North African spices (I think). I haven't seen this in a while though, and that might be because Rose Water lost its chef a few months ago. It has not lost its step at all - we have eaten there twice since the new chef, both meals were excellent.

The crowd is probably mostly local, but there are folks of all ages and types. I have seen groups of 6 enjoying a tasting menu with wine pairings, young couples at dinner with the parents, people on dates. This is just a comfortable place to eat. One issue - the tables in the center of the dining room are very close together - no privacy there.

The wine list also changes regularly, and is always excellent. There are well chosen wines from the Loire Valley, Burgundy, the Rhone, Bordeaux, Italy, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, and of course America. At reasonable prices too. These are interesting wines, made from many different grapes. There are several nice wines by the glass too, and this is important when your wife is pregnant.

During recent visits we enjoyed appetizers of rutabaga soup with beets and goat cheese creme fraiche, the goaty and creamy creme a perfect pairing with the earthy rutabaga puree. We had the best mixed green salad you're going to find - really. This one takes "mixed green salad" seriously, does not offer it as a throwaway for those who will not order a "real" appetizer. This salad had pear slices and pumpkin seeds once, and apple slices, what I think was alfalfa sprouts, and chestnuts the other night. The vinaigrette changes with the salad ingredients, and are always bright and appetizing.

This past Saturday night there was a special appetizer of fois gras with persimmon chutney. We did not order it (so no need to yell at us, OBGYN, if you're reading this), but our neighbors did, and since we sat at a center table right next to them, I could practically taste it. It looked beautiful, smelled great, and the guy eating it wasn't paying attention to his girlfriend at all. He made a show of listening to her, but he was far more focused on his fois gras.

BrooklynLady had an amazing dish Saturday night, one that is typical of Rose Water in its homey and elegant simplicity. Roast pork loin with baked red kidney beans, collard greens and pickled jalepenos. The baked beans were tender with warm flavors of mustard, ginger, and brown sugar, and they were somehow light - not gloppy with sauce. The greens were a tiny bit spicy and well prepared, avoiding that waterlogged syndrome that seems to plague collard greens in most restaurants. This is one of the special things about Rose Water - the side dishes are excellent - not afterthoughts that sounds better in writing than they taste on your plate.

A month or so ago I ordered braised pork that was served with white beans, Dijon mustard, mustard greens and cipollini onions. I was really impressed by the pairing of fresh farmer's market mustard greens with Dijon mustard - so creative (I since discovered that this is actually a classic pairing, but what do I know). This time I went with roast cod with braised savoy cabbage. The cod was cooked perfectly, but this is the first time I've tasted a dish at Rose Water that was pretty bland. Duck is a reliable choice at Rose Water, always flavorful and interestingly paired. BrooklynLady had duck last time, served withwild mushrooms - delicious.

It's easy to have interesting wine at Rose Water. This Saturday night I had a glass of white Granache from the Languedoc - I cannot remember the producer. It was a lively match with the Rutabaga soup. I then had a glass of red with the cod - that's right, RED WITH COD. Sue me. I ordered it because it was a certain red, a light and fruity red with hardly any tannic feel. A Domaine de la Pepiere red. Well known for producing excellent Muscadet, the unusually briny white that pairs famously with the oysters from the nearby coast of Normandy, wine maker Marc Ollivier also makes three inexpensive reds. The Cabernet Franc is my favorite, there is also the Cot (known elsewhere as Malbec), and the Cuvee Granit, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, I think. I had the Cab Franc with the cod, served slightly chilled as it should be. Juicy, dusty, and delicious, and about $10 a bottle in the store.

We have tasted only a few of the desserts, and I don't know why, because what we have had is so delicious. Apple fritters are addictive, served with whatever home made ice cream is on tap that night. Cardamom hot chocolate is exactly as it should be: creamy, chocolaty, and heady with the scent of cardamom. I want one right now, and another for breakfast.

Rose Water does what is reputed to be a great brunch, and in the warm weather months the tarp comes off the tables on the sidewalk - a lovely place to eat on a warm Park Slope night. I feel lucky to have this place close by, but I would travel if I had to - it definitely qualifies as a destination restaurant. Not that I want you crowding up the place or anything, but I'm trying in honor of the coming of our first child, to learn to share.

Friday, January 05, 2007

How to Explore Burgundy?

I am starting to feel more comfortable as a consumer of Burgundy wine. I have much more of a sense of what I am looking for in a wine and I have a bit more confidence now when evaluating the selection at a store. There are so many producers though, some with famous names, others unknown to me. And they each make a Bourgogne wine, sometimes a Cote-de-Beaune or Cote-de-Nuits Villages, a Village level wine, and then usually one or more 1er Crus, maybe even a Grand Cru or two. We're normal guys and gals, we don't have a load of cash to throw around experimenting on $50 bottles of unknown wine. How do we decide which new wine to try?

Buying bottles randomly just isn't for me. I'm more of a list maker, an strategizer. I have to have some sort of system in place when I do things or I start biting my cuticles, I get way too annoyed by people who take up more than one seat on the subway, I lose my cool in general. Not good.

So I thought I could explore by trying the Bourgogne level offering from various producers in order to determine which ones are making wine in a style that I like. But what if a producer's entry level wines are not representative of their better and more expensive wines? I tried a 1999 Meo-Camuzet Bourgogne at dinner one night at Ma Cuisine, a restaurant in Beaune, and it was insipid and uninspiring stuff. But Meo-Camuzet is a storied producer with many a treasured Grand Cru under its belt. Based on my experience with that wine, I will not be ordering or buying their more expensive wines anytime soon, and for all I know, I could be missing out.

I tried a 1998 Domaine Robert Groffier Bourgogne a few weeks ago and I really liked it, then the 2002 Bourgogne too. Those experiences prompted me to look to Groffier for a holiday dinner splurge, and I needed to trust some one to drop a 'C' note on one bottle of wine.

Lately though, I've been shifting my strategy, reading up a bit, picking a producer, usually one who is not a famous name, and buying a couple of their wines at various levels. Yes - this strategy costs more initially. I might get lucky and discover that I love that producer's wines. I might not like them at all, and that would cost about $100 instead of $20-30 using the above strategy.

But this second strategy recognizes the fact that unless a piano falls on my boss' head, and she emerges from a brief coma with new outlook on life and a heart of gold (or until I can make a new and better job happen), I will not be someone who can afford to regularly drink 1er Cru or Grand Cru wines anyway. I need to find good producers whose village wines are delicious and reasonably priced. I will learn more this way too - I always learn a lot from tasting village wines next to 1er Crus and/or Bourgogne wines, for example.

Most recently I tasted some whites made by Domaine Henri Prudhon et Fils. I know, the website is only in French, but check it out - very easy to see the different wines they make, see the family and the Domaine, and even work your way through some of the tasting notes they offer. The Domaine is located in the village of Saint Aubin and has produced wine since 1921. Just over half of the wine is white, most of it 1er Cru, which is unusual, I think.

I started with two wines from the 2001 vintage, not a great year, but certainly not bad, and I figured that many 2001 whites should be mature and ready for drinking around now. These wines also happened to be imported by Rosenthal, an importer I trust, and are reasonably priced at Chambers Street (this link goes right to the White Burgundy price page), especially after the 10% mixed case discount. Here are some notes:

2001 Domaine Henri Prudhon et Fils Saint-Aubin 1er Cru La Chatenière, $26.

Nice yellowish gold color, clean smells of banana and vanilla. Fresh tasting, with herbal flavors rounding out the fruit, and a medium to think mouthfeel. Not a delicate wine, and not overly compelling, but certainly tasty. I could imagine serving this with some sort of white fish in a creamy sauce.

2001 Domaine Henri Prudhon et Fils Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru les Enseignieres, $41. Lighter yellow than the Saint Aubin. Subdued nose of citrus, but after 30 minutes of air time, much more impressive aromas of tropical fruits, lemon, and wet rocks. Floral flavors, some vanilla, and nice cirtusy acidity. The wine has a pronounced mineral character, particularly after swallowing on the finish. It continued to improve over two hours or so. BrooklynLady said that it reminded her of red wine in a way, a good Beaujolais. I think I know what she meant in that the wine had such lively fruit and acidity, such vibrancy (but on the flavor profile, I didn't get it). I think it is probably not fined, based on the amount of "stuff" floating around in the glass when you hold it to the light. No problem here, just mentioning it.
We enjoyed this wine tremendously with tofu in black bean sauce and leftover mushroom lasagna. So now I know that although I might not prioritize Prudhon's Saint Aubin wines, I might poke around some more among their Pulignys and Chassagnes. And I didn't even do any cuticle biting (over this, anyway).

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Les Ruchets

Pretty specific name for a post, right? That's because I am a newcomer to the Cornas appellation. I have tasted a grand total of two Cornas wines, and the first was about four years ago and I don't remember the producer. This post is not about Cornas, or this specific producer. It is about my experiences tasting this one wine, the 1999 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas les Ruchets, $58 (but I bought mine on Wine Commune for $32).

Before I share some tasting notes, here is the little bit that I can provide as background. The red wines of the Northern Rhone are 100% Syrah (except in Cote-Rotie where a tiny amount of Viogner is sometimes added). Appellations include the imposing and noble duo of Hermitage and Cote-Rotie. Wines from those appellations are quite expensive - well into the triple digits per bottle, particularly for Hermitage. That makes it tough for me to just pick one and give it a try. How would I know where to start?

Maybe in a nearby appellation. St Joseph, Cornas, and Crozes-Hermitage are the other Northern Rhone applellations that produce red wines, and they are more approachable price-wise than Hermitage or Cote-Rotie. Cornas seems to have the best reputation of the three, supposedly offering rustic wines, but high quality wines that provide a glimpse into the glory of Northern Rhone Syrah.

Jaime Goode's site Wine Anorak offers a brief "Spotlight on Cornas" that offers some technical information about the Cornas Appellation and also photos and tasting notes on various wines made by various producers.

I decided about 18 months ago that I wanted to understand something about Syrah - what does great Syrah taste like? We tasted a couple of inexpensive versions from California, both of which tasted like "generic red wine" to me. Then I saw a great deal on three bottles of 1999 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas Les Ruchets on auction and grabbed it. Les Ruchets is his top cuvee, using grapes from vines that are more than 80 years old and aging in 70% new oak. Click on the link above to get to the Wine Doctor's, as always, informative profile of this producer and negociant.

The bottles arrived with corks protruding slightly over the top of the glass lip. That probably means that the wine was over heated at some point - very annoying, and might mean that the wine will not age well. But that's the chance you take when you buy from an auction site like Wine Commune. I always check corks when buying wine at a store - I like the cork to be under or even with the lip of the bottle.

BrooklynLady and I tried this wine three times over the past year and while we were not completely blown away, I learned that I do want to continue exploring Syrah. I have no idea whether or not the wine was damaged, but we took no chances trying to age it. Here are some notes:

1999 Jean-Luc Colombo Cornas les Ruchets

Dark red, so dark that absolutely no light passes through it even when you hold the glass at an angle up under the light. So dense that it seemed as if it had sediment in suspension, so much of it that it was completely opaque. There was no sediment in any of the three bottles, though. This is without question the inkiest, most dense wine I have ever tasted.

Aromas were far more complex on the second day (we made it to the second day only with the third and last bottle), with distinct road tar, cooked blackberry fruit, uncooked bacon, and dried herbs. An amazing nose that I have never before encountered. Big and chewy in the mouth, but not at all overwhelming. Cassis, cherry cordial, bloody roast meat, and...I know this is weird, but...Boysenberry jam from the bottom of Dannon Boysenberry yogurt. I used to eat it by the gallon as a little kid, so believe me, I know.

This is not wine to have by the glass on its own. It needs food. We enjoyed it at Adam's house a few months ago with his yummy braised short ribs. We enjoyed it again over the past few days with a cassoulet-like white bean stew with chuncks of garlic sausage. I hope to try some more great Syrah this year.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Dinner at Home

No, not at my home this time, but at the restaurant called Home in Manhattan's West Village. Opened by David Page and Barbara Shinn in 1993, this place functions as an example of their food, wine, and environmental philosophy: local, sustainable, delicious.

These people do not just pay lip service to buzzwords like "organic," and "locally grown." They thoughtfully put them into practice at their restaurant and their winery, Shinn Estate Vineyards in Long Island's North Fork. You probably know by now that Lenn Thompson is a great resource for learning about Long Island wines. He recently posted a link to his interview with David Page on his blog Lenndevours, where you can read in more detail about Page's and Shinn's philosophy and practice. This is not crystal wearing hippie stuff - this is an intelligent way to approach the problem of interacting healthily with the earth while growing food and making wine, acting responsibly. This is something that we all could be thinking about, and here is a great example of how. was the restaurant? BrooklynLady and I went with our friends NorthCarolinaGuy and Gal last week. One visit does not make or break a place, but this was a pretty good start. We had no reservation and when the host lead us to a table outside in the backyard, I was worried about the temperature. Normally I wouldn't care but BrooklynLady is almost 8 months pregnant and I didn't want her to be uncomfortable. As soon as I mentioned this the host whisked us inside to a table that he said had been reserved by other people. Fair or unfair, we felt cared for before we even got a menu, and this is good.

If you used the link above to look at the menus, you know that Home serves local fish, meat, and fowl, and offers only New York wines, with a bottle or two from Massachusetts and Virginia thrown in for good measure. I had a glass of 2004 Castello di Borghese Dry Riesling while we perused the menu. I had this wine last summer and loved it, but this time I found it to be a little sweeter than I wanted. It had nice green apple aromas, and sweet apple and citrus flavors. But the sweetness was not balanced with enough of a mineral feeling, enough acidity.

Maybe I liked it less this time because I watched the waiter pour me the dregs of an open bottle, about a half a glass, and then top that off with wine from a newly opened bottle. I understand that restaurants don't throw out wine, but I think that you shouldn't mix bottles of wine like that - its just bad form. And if you do, make sure that the customer does not see you doing it.

I started with a special appetizer salad of watercress with shreds of duck confit, shitake mushrooms, and pickled red onions. Delicious! Earthy, salty, vinegary, and peppery flavors in harmony. NorthcarolinaGuy had this too and when we were done our plates looked like they had been through the dishwasher. BrooklynLady's macaroni and cheese appetizer was also yummy, real comfort food. Home is known for this dish, apparently. Crusty on top, some herbs, some oven roasted tomatoes, plenty of rich melted local can you argue with that?

I did not taste NorthCarolinaGal's entree of cinnamon cured duck breast, but it sure smelled and looked beautiful. She said it was very good (and her plate was clean when she was done). I liked my spice crusted pork chop very much, although there wasn't much spice to it, mostly crust. Don't get me wrong - it tasted great and had a nice texture, but I couldn't taste individual spices. Had it not been called "spice crusted" I might have thought it was some sort of bread crumb mixture. It was served raw in the middle like a steak, which as local pork, I can live with. Ask for it well done if you don't eat raw pork. BrooklynLady and NorthcarolinaGuy both ordered roast hen, which was simple and tasty with its own juices, some herbs, and turnips and other winter vegetables.

I did a strange thing when ordering wine with dinner. Why did I not order Shinn Estate wine? I have no excuse, really. Their Merlot wine is well known as one of the North Fork's best wines. Eric Asimov has mentioned it several times, it generally gets excellent reviews. The 2004 Shinn Estate was sitting their on the wine list, but I felt like I should try something else. We loved the wine we got, but I wonder if the best way to experience Home is to include Shinn Estate wines in your time.

We had the 2002 Macari Reserve Merlot, $42 (restaurant price). This wine was deep dark inky purple and smelled of chocolate and spices when first poured. It got a little muskier and plummier with air time. Flavors mirrored the smells - dark fruit, some spice, a little bit of barnyard and musk - a real winter kind of wine. It was powerful but also light on its feet, not at all overpowering. And at a reasonable 13.5% alcohol, it went well with food. I have to say - I continue to be impressed with Long Island wines, particularly reds made with Bordeaux varietals.

Desserts were excellent. Butterscotch pudding (when was the last time you had that?) was creamy and indulgent, and chocolate banana bread pudding was a fiesta of warm banana-chocolate bready goodness. We had a scoop of home made Calvados ice cream too because it sounded to good to be true, but was great. Espressos arrived before dessert which was like the glass of Riesling issue, a sloppy and easily avoidable mistake. Not to be too picky, but hey - you pay more than $100 for two people at places like this and its fair to expect them to get it right.

All in all, I would definitely recommend Home based on my first visit. It's not the best restaurant in the West Village, but it's not trying to be. It serves local food prepared simply and deliciously with excellent local wine. It does so in a lovely and log-cabin-elegant setting, and at reasonable prices. I will return for sure, and next time I will order Shinn Estate wine!