Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #39 in Two Weeks

A friendly reminder from your local Brooklynguy - WBW #39, Silver Burgundy, is now just two weeks away. I hope you're experiencing something new, getting back to some old favorites, and generally enjoying yourself with this theme - these are food friendly, high QPR, interesting wines. So taste up folks, and send me an email with your links in two weeks!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

By the Glass

I used to call this kind of post "Recent Sips," but I think I like this better. Anyway, here are a few interesting wines from the past month or so that did not get their own post:

BrooklynLady and I learned our lesson, and went to dinner last weekend on our date (no more cooking classes for now). We went to Rosewater, a neighborhood favorite. They believe in using local and sustainably raised foods whenever possible, and the food is generally delicious. Great atmosphere too - small and intimate with flattering lighting, a knowledgeable and friendly owner/host, interesting and satisfying dishes - this place is a winner. Worth coming to from Manhattan, or when visiting NYC. Just take a look at their wine list! Someone cares about this list, you can tell.

BrooklynLady enjoyed her Goose Island Nut Brown Ale from Chicago and I was really impressed with my glass of 2006 Castello di Borghese Sauvignon Blanc (about $20, available at the winery or at Vintage NYC). A relaxed nose with citrus and grassy wisps, and a well balanced palate that followed through on the nose, with a round and smooth texture. This was a great sipper, and it paired very well with our cheese pumpkin risotto appetizer. I bet this would have done well in our recent blind tasting.

I ordered "Rabbit Three Ways" as a main (roasted rack, lardo wrapped loin, confit of leg) - what to drink with this dish? I went with a Gamay from the Loire Valley, a glass of 2006 O. Lemasson Touraine Le P'tit Rouquin ($14 or so, available at stores that carry Dressner wines). This is a challenging wine - I tasted it once before and thought it needed food. The nose is dominated by dried leaves and funk at first. Aeration brings about the cool minty red cherry fruit, but this is a foresty, potting soily wine, and it did go very well with the ever-so-slightly gamey rabbit.


2006 Jean-Claude Thevenet Mâcon-Villages Pierreclos ($15, readily available). A little Wine Blogging Wednesday research, if you will. This regional wine was dominated by minerals, Minerals on the nose, on the palate, all over the place. It had an almost quinine character to it. Maybe with clams on the half shell, but difficult on its own, not lots of flesh in this one.

2005 Chidaine Montlouis-sur-Loire Les Tuffeaux (about $23, Dressner stuff again, might be sold out at this point but there are other Chidaine wines on the shelf - try one). I know that some people find this wine to be lacking in acidity. But I really like it. Yes, it's a fleshy and off-dry monster, but it has pretty quince and hazelnut aromas, herbal and woolly complexity, and a great mouth feel. I think this is a great aperitif, or maybe with young and creamy goat cheeses.

2006 Domaine des Cassagnoles Vins de Pays de Cotes de Gascognes Reserve Selection (about $12, should be easy to find - a Peter Weygandt wine). I loved the "regular" version of this Southwest France gem, so tasting the reserve was a no-brainer. This wine is 100% Gros Manseng and its much fleshier and richer than the "regular" blend, with a more floral perfume. Very lovely indeed, although I think the "regular" wine might be more distinctive. At $12 this is a great value too - a $15 beauty without question.


2006 Domaine du Vissoux Beaujolais Pierre-Marie Chermette ($15, readily available). My first 06 non-Cru (is that a word?) Beaujolais. More stemmy and rustic than the very ripe and easy 05, needs about an hour to show its stuff. When it does, it is lovely red fruit with foresty undertones. Very nice, but not in the same league as the 05.

2002 Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses (about $17, readily available). I love it when good producers hold back some of their wine and release it when it's a bit more mature. That's exactly what Raffault has done here. This is the top wine from that estate and 2002 was a good vintage in Chinon. If you come across this it's definitely worth a try. This is light to medium bodied wine with a complex nose of forest and fruit, with plenty of iron minerality. The palate is earthy and broad, with dark fruit and more minerals, maybe a bit of tobacco at the finish. It is graceful in texture and firmly structured at the same time. This could keep aging for sure, but it's fun to taste a high quality somewhat mature Chinon now...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Cooking School Date

BrooklynLady and I have a hard time getting time to go out together, now that we have a little daughter. I understand now that we used to take this for granted. We had the ability to go out on a whim, to have a simple date, like taking a walk through the leafy streets of our neighborhood and grabbing a drink somewhere. Or something a bit fancier, like going to dinner at a nice restaurant.

So now, when we actually get to go out on a date, we try to put some effort into it, to think of something really fun to do, because we don't get to go out that often. Pressure? Yup. But recently we thought we had a sure thing. We decided to take a cooking class together! Sounds like a nice way to spend a Friday evening, right?

We both love to cook, and we're already pretty competent, but it would be nice to add some new dishes to our repertoire. So when we saw a class called "Essentials of Provençal Cooking" in the Institute for Culinary Education Catalog, it just seemed obvious. Provence - isn't that the land of black olives and lavender and all sorts of other yummy things?

Here is the course description:

Provence is a gastronomic paradise where French techniques meet Mediterranean elements like garlic, basil, olives, lavender, and honey. Throughout this enchanting evening you will learn essential techniques, including selecting the proper herbs and other aromatics that pair with the freshest of ingredients to make simple dishes that burst with flavor. On your menu will be Pastis; Tapenade (olive spread on rustic bread); Brandade de Morue à l’Aïoli (dried cod with aioli); Soupe au Pistou (bean soup with cheese and basil-garlic dressing); Daube de Boeuf (beef simmered in red wine); Tian d’Aubergines et Courgettes (eggplant and zucchini crustless tart); Carré d’Agneau Rôti aux Herbes de Provence (roast lamb with herbes de provence); Fenouil à la Provençale (braised fennel with tomatoes and garlic); Dried Fruit and Honey Compote.
You know as well as I do - that sounds amazing. Four or five dishes that I would love to learn how to make. But sadly, mis-advertised. Here is what the course description SHOULD have said:
Provence is a gastronomic paradise where French techniques meet Mediterranean elements like garlic, basil, olives, lavender, and honey. But we will not discuss that, we just wrote that to get you in the door. Instead you will watch the chef as he thinly slices onions and garlic, just like Emeril or one of the other food network chefs. You will prep zucchini, more onions, and slice several baguettes. Please remember, do not ask any questions about or in any way attempt to discuss Provençal cooking. And if you thought you'd enjoy a glass of wine on Friday night while prepping onions, forget it pal. We have knife safety to think about. Now get to work, and split into three groups so that you can actually make all of the food. That's right, we'll assign dishes to your group - you will not learn to make all of the dishes as advertised. Stop complaining and start slicing onions. Please do not make me repeat myself.
Thankfully BrooklynLady looked up at me about 15 minutes into the 4 and half hour class and said "can we escape this together?" We faked a childcare emergency and fled, wandering downtown until we found ourselves at the much hyped, but quite good Momofuku Ssam Bar. But that's another story...

So have you ever been to a good cooking class? Was my experience typical? New York typical? I cannot believe how LAME LAME LAME this class was. Clearly we are not the target audience. Or is everyone else normal and we're crazy???

Monday, October 22, 2007

Holy Lavaux St Jacques, Batman!

Sorry for the '80s camp TV reference in the title of this post, but it aptly sums up my reaction to this, the best still wine (yeah, these days I exclude Champagne from all comparisons cause it's that good) I've had in my home in quite a while. It might be a little bit annoying because it is expensive wine, probably $70 or more for a bottle - not exactly sure of the retail price. More annoying might be the fact that if you decided that you were going to buy a bottle, it is not easy to find - I checked Wine Searcher and could not locate exactly this wine from this vintage.

But the wine was beautiful and I'm telling you about it anyway.

2004 Dominique Laurent Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St Jacques Vieille Vignes
, (about $75 Martin Scott Imports). I doubt that I would have bought this bottle myself, as I RARELY spend this kind of money on wine. But I was able to get a bottle at the wholesale price from a friend.

I've heard several wine people say that if the classifications were re-drawn today, Les Amoureuses in Chambolle-Musigny, Perrieres in Meursault, and this - Lavaux St Jacques would get Grand Cru status for sure. I can see why, based on this wine. This was my first Lavaux, and please lord, whoever and wherever you are, make it so that it's not my last?!?

The color is vibrant ruby, and very clear. There is a richly musky perfume, with freshly turned earth, and some baking spices - a deep nose, this is what they mean by brooding, I would assume. The palate is broad, very deep, elegant and firm. Bright and spicy red and sour cherry with dried leaves and underbrush, and cheek tingling acidity. These are mouth coating, long lasting sappy Pinot flavors. It is the depth and length of the flavors that is astounding - this is just obviously a step up from the Burgundy wine I tend to drink. This wine is unfiltered and unfined and unadulterated beauty. I was entranced with the stuff from the moment I opened it, all throughout its life at our dinner (roast rack of lamb with herbs) and for the rest of the night. I slept with the empty bottle next to my pillow.

So if you want an astounding Pinot for your holiday dinner, let's say, and you want to know that you're getting an amazing bottle for the $$$ - this would fit the bill, in my opinion.

And it's interesting because Dominique Laurent is a negociant producer, buying grapes from other growers to make wine. This might not be in vogue at the moment, especially not on this blog, but it goes to show that amazing wine can come from a variety of producers, of all shapes and sizes. I wonder who grew the grapes - there are a few exceptional producers who own vines in Lavaux, according to Burgundy Report...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Larmandier-Bernier Blancs de Blancs

BrooklynLady brought a bottle of this home recently as a little gift, and WOW, thanks goodness she did. You know how there is a bottle at your local wine shop that you see repeatedly, but that you for some reason just never taste? I have no idea whatsoever why I have never tried the wines of Larmandier-Bernier. They sit right there in both of my favorite wine stores, where the buyers are selective about what they get. I guess that's why it's nice to have some one else pick a wine for you sometimes - you get to taste something new.

(and their website is among the finest wine producer's sites I've come across - check it out) is a grower-producer. They make wine only from their own grapes. They farm biodynamically, they use only the natural yeasts that occur on their grapes, and they believe strongly in little or no dosage (adding sugar after disgorging a bottle of Champagne). All of this means that their wines are a true reflection of their terroir and of the skilled hand of the wine maker. They can vary from year to year, as the yeast character varies, and as the weather in their micro climate varies.

There are six wines in the portfolio: a brut made mostly of Chardonnary, a blancs de blancs, a non-dosage blancs de blancs called Terre Vertus, and old vines brut from Grand Cru vineyards in the village of Cramant, a rosé made entirely of Pinot Noir, and a red Champagne (!) called Vertus Rouge Premier Cru. After tasting the wonderful blancs de blancs, I understand that I must taste all of them if possible - it was truly beautiful wine.

NV Larmandier-Bernier Premier Cru Blancs de Blancs, (about $46, readily available).
Vibrant yellow color with a nose of chalky toast, opening up to reveal lemons, minerals, flower blossoms, and after an hour or so, sweet ginger cake! Just a beautiful nose, a sniffer's delight. The palate is soft and creamy but quite zippy, with white grapefruit, buttered toast and hazelnuts and a lingering lovely finish. I was so sad to see this wine go! A definite re-buy.

And big ups to the BrooklynLady for bringing this wine home. She should become our new Champagne buyer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Sauvignon Blanc - a Mini Blind Tasting

Good friends NorthCarolinaGuy and Gal were in town for a few days and what better reason to have a wine tasting? The tasting gang hasn't been together for a while now - April was the last time we really did our thing. I tried to do a Beaujolais tasting over the summer but lots of people actually came and the tasting became eating and drinking a load of Beaujolais instead. That's a fun thing to do on a summer evening though, so no complaints.

Why Sauvignon Blanc this time around? Because there are many great wines to be had in the $12-30 range, from many wine regions, and also because I think Sauvignon Blanc can be a great late summer and fall food wine. Tangy, citrusy, sort of grassy, minerally, light, lip smackingness that goes well with most fish and chicken dishes, and late summer vegetable dishes too, like a squash and roasted tomato tart, for example.

Everyone brought one bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, we bagged 'em, tagged 'em, and tasted 'em. Each taster noted their top three favorites, in order, and we added up the scores to pick a winner (first place vote=3 pts; second place vote=2 pts; third place vote=1 pt). After that we spent the evening drinking the wines with a variety of goat cheeses, a classic pairing. And if this evening proved anything to me, it is that Sauvignon Blanc goes GREAT with goat cheese, the creamy young ones, the chalky older ones with an ash coating, and the really old hard ones too.

A couple of general thoughts: the Loire wines kind of blew the others away. Not only to my tastes, either - they were the top scoring wines. Granted, we only tasted 6 wines, but I thought that they were just better than the rest. Could be our small sample, but this reiterated for me that France continues to make some of the finest under $15 wine in the world. There was no New Zealand wine in this tasting, which is a shame. And no Long Island wine either. Another time...

The 2006 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny, ($14 at Prospect Wine Shop and readily available at other stores) received 5 out of 7 first place votes! This is the same wine that I went nuts for almost a month ago. It really is that good, and at about $14, it's a steal. Happily for consumers, there are many producers making great wine in Touraine, Cheverny and other parts of the Loire, many of the wines at this price. This one, like all Cheverny, is actually a blend, with about 10% Chardonnay in the mix. People liked the balance of this wine, the clean aromas and flavors. NorthCarolinaGuy said it smelled like dandelions.

Strangely, I was not one of the 5 people who picked it as their favorite. I preferred the wine that took second place, the 2005 Lucien Crochet Sancerre La Croix du Roi (about $23, available everywhere). I was the only one who put it in first place, but 2 people picked it second, and 2 more as their third favorite. I thought this wine was excellent, with inviting and warm citrus oil aromas, some grass and herbs, and wet slate minerality. It really drew me in, and the palate was so nicely textured, medium bodied and well balanced. A nice choice from NorthCarolinaGuy and Gal.

A wine from Graves in Bordeaux took third place, getting the final first place vote from Mike (a true Bordeaux-phile) along with 2 second place votes. Like the Cheverny, Bordeaux blanc wines tend to be blended, in this case with Semillon. Many whites in Bordeaux are oaked, but I am not sure whether or not this is. I would bet that it does see some oak. The 2006 Château Graville-Lacoste Blanc ($12 at Wine Library in New Jersey, about $15 everywhere else) had a lovely nose of flowers and citrus, with good acidity and balance on the palate. It lacked the focus and definition that I found in the Loire wines, but it was very good, and I think a good value.

Next comes a Deetrane special, a wine he bought somewhere on the gray market, that even had we loved, we would never be able to find for purchase. From northern Italy in the Fruili region, the 2003 Vie de Romans Fruili Vieris Sauvignon (price unknown, unavailable) was just strange. 2 people liked it enough to put it in second place, and 2 more people put it in third place, so it definitely appeals to some palates. Not mine though. Here are my notes from the tasting:
"What an intense tropical nose, like pineapple candy. Overwhelming, and not natural, in my book. The palate features pineapple, red ruby grapefruit, and other fantastically candied flavors. Interesting, in the way pop rocks are interesting - you're happy you tried them, but you don't really want more than a taste." But remember, some folks liked this wine, so don't write off Fruili Sauvignon Blanc just cause I thought it sucked.

The two wines pulling up the rear, so to speak, were both from California. The 2006 Honig Sauvignon Blanc ($12-15, available everywhere) had a positively green tint to it, and although it is unoaked, it had a distinctive creaminess to go with the grass and lemons. But it was not very focused, and there was not enough acidity to balance the wine. It got a second place vote and a third place vote.

The 2006 Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Sauvignon Blanc Rancho Chimiles (about $27, unsure about availability) did not show well in the blind tasting, getting only 1 third place vote. Maybe it needs more time in the bottle? I found it to be a bit dull. Cat pee nose and a creamy palate but with a bitter quinine type of edge to the finish. Guarantee you that had we not done this blind, this wine would have scored much better.

Okay, that's the word on our tasting. I learned that I need to explore the inexpensive Sauvignons of the Loire, and also that I may be missing something by not drinking Sancerre more often.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

WBW # 39 Announced - Silver Burgundy

What do you think of when you hear "Burgundy?"

I think of endlessly beguiling and beautiful Pinot Noir, and also of Chardonnay - crystalline, tense, and rich. I think of Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romaneé, Gevrey-Chambertin, and the storied villages of the Côte de Nuits, and also of Puligny, Meursault, Volnay, and the other superstars of the Côte de Beaune.

Then I come back to planet Earth, where I cannot often afford to indulge in the wines of the Côte d'Or, the Gold Coast. There are a few in my cellar, and I agonize over opening them because they are so special and so dear in price. For many of us, these are not everyday wines.

What if you want beautiful Burgundian wine, but you're not in the mood to agonize? What if you're spending about $12-25 per bottle? Is this even possible?

That was just a rhetorical question, as the answer is most emphatically YES. There is great Burgundy wine to be had at those prices, and a great place to start is outside of the Gold Coast, a bit further south in what I like to think of as Silver Burgundy. The Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais are two regions where excellent wines and reasonable, sometimes downright cheap prices can be found. And this is the theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday #39 - taste a bottle(s) of Silver Burgundy, wine from either the Côte Chalonnaise or the Mâconnais.

Some of you are wondering "well why did Brooklynguy exclude Chablis and Beaujolais from his Silver Burgundy thing?" Here's why: Chablis is unique, and probably deserves its own WBW event. Whereas whites from the Côte Chalonnaise or the Mâconnais tend to be similar in style to the Côte d'Or, Chablis is really doing its own thing with Chardonnay. And Beaujolais...well Beaujolais definitely deserves its own WBW, and it's been getting some blogging attention lately already. If Chablis and Beaujolais are open game then there's just too much to choose from. This way, we're going to develop an extensive set of tasting notes and experiences with a specific set of interesting and affordable wines. So I'm sticking with the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais. Don't worry, you're gonna love it. And if you don't, talk to Lenn - he's the one who allowed me to host.

Okay, so here's some info about
the Côte Chalonnaise and the Mâconnais. The grapes are the same as they are in the Côte d'Or - overwhelmingly but not always Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. And as in the Côte d'Or, there are several levels of wine based on the status of the vineyard, from basic Bourgogne (grapes from anywhere in the region), to village level (grapes from vineyards that are entitled to "village status" in that village), to 1er Cru (grapes from 1er Cru status vineyards that supposedly make wines that are consistently superior to their village and regional comrades). There are no vineyards with Grand Cru status in either the Côte Chalonnaise or the Mâconnais, and there are no vineyards with 1er Cru status in the Mâconnais.

Many people feel that the Côte Chalonnaise is better for red wines, and the Mâconnais is better for whites. That is only a general rule though, and there are certainly exceptions.

In the Côte Chalonnaise "entry level," or regional wines carry the name Bourgogne or sometimes Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise on the label. Regional wines in the Mâconnais are called Bourgogne, but can also be called Mâcon, Mâcon-Villages, or Mâcon-Supérieur. These wines should be quite inexpensive and depending on the producer and to a lesser degree the vintage, can be of surprisingly high quality.

There are five village appellations in the
Côte Chalonnaise - Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny, and village level wines will carry one of those names on the label. Bouzeron, created in 1979 and the youngest of the appellations, is only for Aligoté. This is the grape traditionally used to make a Kir, the delicious aperitif in which a little bit of cassis liquor is put in a wine glass and then filled with Aligoté. But some of the whites of Bouzeron are far too good to "waste" on a Kir. Montagny is the other all-white-wine appellation of the Côte Chalonnaise, and its Chardonnay can be every bit as complex and exciting as those from its more famous northern neighbors in the Gold Coast.

Rully is just south of Bouzeron and produces reds and whites made of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Mercurey is probably the rock star of the Côte Chalonnaise. Its reds are indeed powerful and complex, and if you're not careful they might trash your hotel room. There are also excellent reds to be found in Gevrey. These three appellations, Rully, Mercurey, and Givry have 1er Cru status vineyards.

Village level wines In the Mâconnais are usually called Mâcon-something or other - the something or other is the name of the specific village. Like Mâcon-Charnay or Mâcon-Lugny. A few village wines are called Pouilly-something or other, like Pouilly-Fuissé. There are also village wines from St. Veran and Viré-Clessé, in the far north of the region. As you may have guessed, there are way more than five village appellations in the Mâconnais. In fact, there are 43 villages with their own appellation. There are great white wines hiding in these villages that might set you back, maybe $15.

Here are two more places to read more about the Côte Chalonnaise or the Mâconnais:

Eric Asimov's tasting panel recently tasted a load of 2005 Mâconnais whites

The Wine Doctor, as usual, offers a great guide to the region, and some suggestions on producers to look for. He sadly calls his guide "Chablis and the Lesser Regions," but that's all relative - lesser than the Grand Crus of Musigny, yes. But excellent wines nonetheless.

Okay, so you have more than four weeks from today - go out and taste some wine(s) from either the Côte Chalonnaise or the Mâconnais, write up your post, and then email me at the address in my profile on or not much later than Wednesday November 14th with the link to your blog and to your post. Not a blogger but want to play WBW #39 anyway? Well email me your notes and I will post them too. Big shot wine writer, but want to get in your two cents? Well c'mon in - the water's warm and no one will think any less of you - quite the contrary.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Wine Pairing for Very Small Children

Hmmm, tonight it's mushy carrots, but it's also puree of braised beef and onions. Should I do the dry Aubuisieres 05 Vouvray, or the deep and sultry, but young St Innocent 05 Seven Springs...One thing I can tell you is that I am NOT asking my dad.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

WBW #38 - Portuguese Table Wine

This month's installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday is hosted by Gabriella and Ryan at Catavino, and the theme is Portuguese table wines. As you probably know by now, Lenn at Lenndevours began this tradition over three years ago now, and it continues to pick up steam.

One of the reasons that I love WBW is that it sometimes forces me out of my comfort zone. With the exception of a super cheap bubbly called Espiral Vinho Verde, I have never to my knowledge tasted Portuguese wine. The irony is, I am going to what will surely be an incredible event focusing on Portuguese wine in two weeks. But that is in the future, and this is now. So knowing essentially nothing about Portuguese wine, how should I choose a bottle for WBW? I thought it might make sense to try something that resembles wines I know, for the sake of comparison.

I love dry whites that are made to sip with local seafood, and so do lots of folks in Portugal, particularly in the northwest, apparently. The Vinho Verde (Green Wine) region is known for the Alvarinho grape, aka Albarino in Spain. The wines are known to be light, low in alcohol, brightly acidic, and sometimes with a bit of petillance, or fizz. That fizz is the carbon dioxide that's retained in the wine after malolactic fermentation. These wines are meant to drink young and to compliment the region's fresh and tasty seafood dishes.

BrooklynLady and I enjoyed some scallops for dinner the other night with a simple white wine, lemon, and butter sauce. Some broccoli rabe, an ear of late summer corn on the cob - not Portuguese fare, but seafood nonetheless. So with great curiosity (okay, BrooklynLady's had lots of Portuguese wine - I was the curious one), we opened our Alvarinho and toasted WBW 38.

2006 Antonio Esteves Ferreira Alvarinho Soalheiro, $17 (Chambers Street Wines).
I'm not gonna sugar-coat this, people. No matter how much we wanted to like this, it was just no good. And it wasn't corked or heat damaged or anything else. It's just a style of wine that is never going to get any traction in our house. The problem is, the wine I drank is not at all typical of Vinho Verde, and I learned that after drinking the wine, while wondering how on earth it could be so different from what we expected.

The wine had an attractive straw color with a nose of green apple, grapefruit, and vanilla cream. But the palate was flabby, totally unfocused, with an almost viscous texture. A little sweet, with almost no acidity at all, just a fat white jelly roll of a wine. And the wine did not taste or feel clean to me - I'm betting that there is all sorts of manipulation going on with this particular wine. Either that or the wine-making equipment wasn't clean, which is more common than you'd think. I re-corked it and figured we'd taste it again in a day or so to see if anything developed. Nope - same same same.

So what the heck is going on here?!? I read the entry on Vinho Verde in Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine, and I picked up a really important clue from the following passage.

The Vinho Verde DOC officially divides into six subregions, distinguished by climatic differences and the white grape varieties grown there. The area around the town of Monção on the Spanish Border produces one of the best but least typical Vinho Verdes from the Alvarinho grape. Alcohol levels of up to 13% set these apart, and thanks to a combination of consumer demand and low yields, they are relatively expensive.
Well, my bottle is 12.5% alcohol and is indeed from the subregion of Monção. So I'm going to take a few guesses at what specifically is happening with my wine, and I'm hoping that the fine folks at Catavino, or anyone else, can raise me up from the depths of ignorance, tell me right from wrong.

The wine was totally and completely still - not a teeny bit of petillance. Did they skip the malolactic fermentation? Maybe, but it sure seemed smooth and buttery, the whole point of malo. I bet instead that they did malolactic but did not retain the CO2, maybe in some way attempting to separate the wine from the "average" Alvarinho, make it somehow more "international," or something.

The vanilla creaminess on the nose - that smacks of wood to me. Did they oak this wine? I'm gonna guess that the wine sees some small portion of new or used, but not neutral oak. Maybe 10%?

In any case, it is clear to me now that this wine is not representative of Portuguese Alvarinho. We wanted a bright and acidic dry white that worked well with seafood. We got a thick and creamy white that I think might be intended as an aperitif, or to compete with a California Chardonnay. So we're not done - we're coming back for more Alvarinho, but for now we're avoiding the Monção subregion.

Thanks to Gabrielle and Ryan for hosting, for creating such an informative site on wines from the Iberian Peninsula, and for urging me to get out of my comfort zone.

Monday, October 08, 2007

First Braise of the Season

We're having quite a long and drawn out late summer here in NYC, with warm days and perfect evenings, like just-barely-warm bathwater. And global warming be darned, I'm enjoying it. But it was chilly for a few days last week, maybe Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and all I need is a 5 degree drop in temperature for my braising instincts to kick in.

So we cut up a large slab of Slope Farms (no website, but the grass-fed, antibiotic free, pasture grazed, open minded and definitely not racist, sexist, ageist, or any of the "ists") beef chuck into neat 6 ounce portions, and went to work. Braising has got to be the easiest form of cooking that I can think of. You can use interesting ingredients if you want, or get fancy in various ways, but the simplicity of meat braised in a simple combination of wine and stock is basically all you need. And for the first braise of the season, I like to keep things simple:

Brooklynguy's First Braise of the Season

Wash and trim 2 pounds of good quality beef chuck steak (tough shoulder cut, perfect for braising), cut into portions you want to serve. Season the pieces with salt and pepper, set aside. Finely chop 2 medium/large onions. Heat some canola or safflower oil over medium/high heat, using a pot that can go into the oven, like a Le Creuset braising pot or something. When the oil is hot, add the beef pieces and let them brown without disturbing them for about 2 minutes, turn them and brown for another 2 minutes. Remove the beef pieces and set aside. Lower the heat to medium, pour out excess oil, if there is any, and fry onions in the pot, stirring pretty often, until they are almost golden brown.

Pour in 2 cups of red wine - I like to use a Loire red here, like a $10 Saumur-Champigny or something. Beaujolais is also yummy. Also add 2 cups of stock. My favorite is home made vegetable stock, but use whatever you want. You will be shocked how much better this comes out if you use home made stock. Add the beef back to the pot and any juices from the plate, 2 cloves of crushed but not chopped garlic, and a bay leaf or 2. Bring to a boil and let boil for a minute, then reduce heat to a simmer, stirring to scrape the onions off the bottom of the pot.

Cover the pot with a wet piece of parchment paper and then a lid, an place in a 350 degree oven for an hour. Take out of oven, remove paper and lid, add peeled and chopped carrots, peeled and halved turnips or chopped potatoes, and one Serrano chili that you have poked holes in with a fork, maybe 3 times. You can leave out the chili, but trust me, Serranos are not that hot and we're talking about one for the whole pot, and just quit your whining and add the chili. Leave it out next time if it sucks. With the cover off, put the pot back in the over for another hour.

You can substitute different veggies, add good canned Italian tomatoes and their juice instead of wine, add an herb sachet for the uncovered cooking time, or doctor this up as you like - it's just a basic braising recipe.

Take the pot of the oven, stir, taste, season with salt and black pepper, and let the whole thing rest for a few minutes. I like this dish better the next day, but it's hard to wait. So have a crusty baguette ready, take out the chili, and put a portion of beef into a shallow soup bowl, and ladle in some braising liquid with some of the vegetables. Serve this with a nice hunk of baguette and a green salad with vinegary dressing.

And for the me this dish clearly deserves a Burgundy, but go with whatever you like. We honored our first braise of the season with a really nice bottle from a good vintage, made by an up-and-coming producer, from a 1er Cru vineyard in the wonderful commune of Gevrey-Chambertin. By the way, if you haven't yet checked out Bill Nanson's very fine piece on Gevrey-Chambertin in the Summer issue of Burgundy Report, you should. I learned a lot. He describes the geology of the village and then tells of each Grand and 1er Cru vineyard.

Anyway...we opened a 2002 Dominique Gallois Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Les Petits Cazetiers, $45(two years ago at Chambers Street Wines). As you might read in Burgundy Report, Petits Cazetiers is a small vineyard just east of Cazetiers, and is very rarely bottled on its own. The grapes are usually mixed in with Cazetiers and labeled 1er Cru Les Cazetiers. Cazetiers borders the great 1er Cru Clos St Jacques, but gets a bit less exposure and is therefore not usually as ripe and exuberant.

This wine was dark and perfectly clear purple, with reserved smells of crushed fruit, flowers, and, some forest. The most striking thing about this wine is its texture - smooth as silk, a great mouth feel. The aromas become more lively after 45 minutes open, but this is not a boisterous flamboyant wine. It's more dark and thoughtful, demands that you give it your full attention and patience. While it lacks great depth, it is absolutely delicious and satisfying, with fine tannins and nice grapey mouth aromas after swallowing. And it was great with our first braise - would have been even better if it was snowing outside and we lived in a house with a wood burning stove.

Now I can relax and let the weather get colder before doing this again, but I had to get that first one out of my system.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

It's Love! It's...More Grower Champagne!

Brooklynguy is in love with Champagne. I mean seriously, it's just so good, I can hardly stand it. I've been thinking about it all the time, when I'm jogging, when I woke up at 3:30 AM the other night in need of water (too much whiskey at the ol' poker game), when I'm working...and maybe most tellingly, when I'm drinking other wine. SORRY OTHER WINES, but I cannot be true to you right now, because I've found another and I'm in love.

I had the distinct honor and pleasure of tasting as much of the Terry Theise Grower Champagne portfolio as I could last week, at the Michael Skurnik tasting last week at TriBeCa Grill. What an opportunity! I mean, this stuff is more expensive at the entry level than Burgundy, so to be able to taste the whole lineup like this, to learn this much at one time about Grower Champagne, to determine which are the wines that I want for my own cellar...fughedabadit.

By the way, having attended a few big tastings lately, I can confidently say that the Skurnik crew put on a classy event, one that actually encourages tasting and discussion. I found ample room at each table, as they were not loaded on top of each other, knowledgeable and friendly Skurnik folks pouring the wine, and time to breathe, think, and talk between swirls and sniffs. I had a BALL, and I learned a whole lot.

I am still developing my personal tasting scaffolding in Champagne, the structure that everything else will go on top of. So I really am not the guy to evaluate the wines. But I will tell you this - there were some utterly thrilling and gorgeous wines, wines that honestly haunt me now and it's a week later.

I learned that I love the wines of Rene Geoffroy. I tasted five of the wines, and two of them were as beautiful as anything I've ever had - the 1995 Cuvee de Rene Geoffroy (must be about $250 for a magnum), and the NV Cuvee Volupte (about $70/bottle?). Too rich for you? Me too. But the basic wine, the NV Brut Expression is just fantastic, it really is a calling card for the other wines, and you should be able to buy it for about $35. At 50% Pinot Meunier, this wine is deep, nutty, and juicy, and at the same time elegant and crackling with bright minerality and acidity. Geoffroy uses lots of Meunier, and the wines were all long and intense. Right now I'm in a place where if I were told, "you can take one case of one type of entry level Champagne to a desert island," it would be this wine.

But I also loved the Chartogne-Taillet lineup. And you know what - the top wines might not completely crush you wallet-wise. The 1999 Vintage Champagne, at 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay is really deep and fleshy, with roasted nuts, brioche, and other yummy things on the palate, and you might find it for about $55. This is a special Champs, holiday special. So is the 2000 Cuvee Fiacre, with an unbelievable nose of flowers, although that will cost you about $65 per bottle. The entry level NV Cuvee St-Anne was beautiful - delicate nose of white flowers and a balanced palate with sweet fruit and elegant acidity. And at about $33-36 per bottle, it's like you're stealing from the producer. Really, what I'd like to do is take half Geoffroy and half this wine to the desert island.

There are others from this tasting that could easily make you weep with joy - Jean Milan's 2002 Selection de Terres de Noel at about $85/bottle, Billiot's NV Cuvee Laetita at about $80/bottle, Lallement's NV Brut Reserve at about $55/bottle, Gimmonet's 1999 Special Club at about $75/bottle, or basically anything by Vilmart & Cie. And my palate wore out before I could taste some of the wines, like the Varnier-Fanniere or the Hebrart wines. But I bet they were real good too.

If I can say one thing based on this tasting, and on other recent tastes: buy Grower Champagne! Try one of these bottles before the holidays come and see what I mean. You'll pay maybe $8-10 more than you would for Perrier-Jouet or Duval-Leroy, but they're so much better, with such character and personality. You know what, buy one of these and one bottle of Duval-Leroy, the NEW 93 POINTS wine according to Wine Spectator. Bag them and taste them blind, and let's see what happens. That's right, I just challenged you to a tasting.

Okay sorry, my testosterone is in check now. but these wines are really getting me excited. Try and see for yourself, and please let me know what you think.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Red Burgundy from the Martin Scott Portfolio

I am still talking about the Martin Scott Portfolio Tasting, but I'm changing it up here at Brooklynguy's place. When I get to go to a tasting like Martin Scott's, I get really excited, and in my excitement I shared lots of my personal wine scores in previous posts. But you're not reading this because you care about my personal scoring of wines.

How do I know this? Well, first of all, you could hear crickets chirping on the other posts - silence. There were no comments, except one, which read "hey Brooklynguy, can you please cut the crap with the lists of 20 wines and scores, and actually share something interesting about your experience?" And that one was from me when I re-read the post.

So this time I will tell you about only a few red Burgs from the tasting, wines that were really special to me. I will also tell you about a couple of wines that I didn't like, merely to balance things out.

One thing I want to say right here and right now is that I think you can spend between $30-$60 per bottle and get a case of stupendous 2005 red Burgundy. Yup, I think you can spend about $500 and get a case of beautiful and age worthy Burgundy wine from "The Vintage of the Century." But the Cote de Beaune is the place to go. Most village level wine from the Cote de Nuits, never mind the 1ers and higher, are going for lots more money, and although some might be better than, say, the utterly gorgeous 2005 Simon Bize Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru Les Fornaux that I tasted, are they five times better? Okay, I suppose it's possible, if they are strong 1er Cru or Grand Cru wines. But good luck getting hold of them, and start looking for a second job now, 'cause that bottle is gonna COST you, pal.

That 2005 Simon Bize was really beautiful. Deeply funky on the nose, but also floral, with fresh earth and pine. And sweet ripe cherry fruit on the palate, primary but absolutely delicious. With decanting you could drink it now, or instead save a few bottles for 5+ years, and when you get around to tasting it, send your notes of appreciation to Brooklynguy at Chateau Brooklynguy, Brooklyn. Wine searcher shows three places selling this stuff on pre-arrival, with Woodland Hills Wine Company in California offering the best price at $43 per bottle. Crush and Chambers Street both offer this wine here in NYC, but for $57 and $64 respectively. If you live on the east coast, shipping a few bottles from Cali rings the cost to the Crush level, I would bet.

I wonder how the other 2005 Bize wines are...anyone taste them yet?

I also really liked the 2005 Comte Armand Pommard 1er Cru Clos des Epeneaux, with its deep floral nose and the rich smoky depth of the palate, which had a definite sense of movement, and great balance and acidity. But at upwards of $140 a bottle (best prices are Blicker-Pierce-Wagner out west, and Crush here in NYC), I will enjoy from the sidelines.

The 2005 Denis Bachelet Gevrey Chambertin Vielle Vignes is another wine that I loved. It had a deep violet perfume with lots of forest smells too, and lovely fresh fruit and minerality. Very sturdy and firm but also very elegant, this is beautiful stuff, but again you're shelling out $105 for this, only at Crush, as far as I can tell.

Here is one from the Cote de Nuits that is not astronomically priced, although it certainly ain't cheap. The 2005 Domaine de Montille Nuits St George 1er Cru Aux Thorey was a savage but beautiful wine, and who knows - maybe you are the one who will tame it. Earth and animal fur on the nose, with flowers and pine. The palate starts bitter, but quickly gives way to fresh dark fruit and herbs, well balanced, firmly structured, haunting in a just-saw-a-leopard-pacing-in-a-cage-at-the-zoo kind of way. Makes you sad, angry, ashamed, but you also need another look...And $70 at Vinopolis in Portland, Oregon, or $75 at Wally's in Cali will make it happen for you.

A few big-shot wines that were underwhelming, all 2005s: Mugnier Nuits St Georges 1er Clos de la Marechale. The second vintage since Mugnier reclaimed this vineyard, and not very auspicious as a beginning, in my book. Dujac Morey St Denis was just eh, to me. And the Lafarge Volnay Vendanges Selectionnes, was so tightly wound up, Joba Chamberlain could throw it 98 miles per hour straight down the plate. Try as I might, I just couldn't figure anything out about that wine.

Okay, so that's it. If you're putting together a stash of 05 Burgundy, and you're a value conscious Burg buyer, I would unhesitatingly buy a couple of Simon Bize Aux Forneaux bottles. Add these to your Paul Pernot and Lafouge bottles, you're really in great shape in value '05 Burgundy.