Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010

2010 was for me a typical vintage. There was plenty of sun and rain, and also plenty of obstacles and challenges. In the end, it was a good year. Not the kind that will be remembered as a blockbuster, more of a classic year. The kind of year that I've learned to respect and appreciate more as I get older.

The day after Christmas we got two feet of snow in my part of Brooklyn. I love the way the neighborhood looks when it's freshly blanketed in snow.

The city wasn't quite able to adequately manage snow removal, however, and there were buses and ambulances abandoned in the streets. Side streets went un-plowed for days and some people were effectively trapped in their homes.

Silly as it may sound, it reminds me a little of how I sometimes feel about my blog. I've been writing it for what feels like a long time, and it's easy to get stuck, to feel trapped, like I have nothing more to offer.

Then I remember that I am not obligated to try to entertain anyone, I am not beholden to any wine business interests, and that I write this blog because it makes me happy. It helps me to advance my own learning and it's my primary creative outlet.

But I won't lie - it feels great that you seem to enjoy reading the blog. So much so that I can fall prey to the temptation to try to entertain you, as opposed to doing what I do best - simply sharing my thoughts about the things I'm learning.

I promise to get back to that in 2011, or to do my best anyway. It shouldn't be too hard at first, as January is shaping up to be the most amazing wine month of my life so far. Several amazing tastings, a lunch and cellar raid that should be completely insane, the first meeting of my Burgundy Wine Club (I'll explain later), and a long awaited trip to Champagne. Thank you so much for reading and for participating on this blog. It's an honor to have you here with me and I hope that my ramblings will continue to be of interest to you in 2011.

And mostly, I hope that your 2010 ends beautifully.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Great Champagnes, Under $50

It's the time of year for lists of Champagne's greatest hits. Today alone, Eric Asimov of the NY Times published an article reviewing his tasting panel's thoughts on sparkling wines not from Champagne, and also a blog post listing some of his favorite Champagnes.

Well, I want to add my .02 cents. Here are some of my favorite Champagnes that cost $50 or less before sales tax:

Blanc de Blancs.

Pierre Gimonnet Selection Belles Annees Brut Premier Cru, $34, Terry Theise Selections/Michael Skurnik Imports. Bright fruit, a graceful style.
Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueux Brut Blanc de Blancs, $47, Jenny & François Selections. Richer and more robust, from the Aube.

Pinot Noir-heavy wines.

René Geoffroy Empreinte Brut Premier Cru, $48, Terry Theise Selections/Michael Skurnik Imports. This is always based on a single vintage, and is usually about 90% Pinot Noir. Fragrant and vivid, well balanced.

Benoît Lahaye Brut Essentiel Grand Cru, $40, Jeffrey Alpert Selections. About 90% Pinot from the village of Bouzy. Simply excellent.

Pinot Meunier-heavy wines.

Françoise Bedel Cuvée Origin’elle Brut, $45, JD Headrick Selections. About 80% Meunier, slow to unwind, quite rich, made in a slightly oxidative style, lots of soil.

Blended Wine.

Chartogne-Taillet Brut Cuvée St Anne, $38, Terry Theise Selections/Michael Skurnik Imports. For me, a classic Champagne.

Rosé Wines (Tough, because there are few choices at $50 and under).

Margaine Brut Rosé Premier Cru, $50, Terry Theise Selections/Michael Skurnik Imports.

Brut Nature/Non-Dosé Wines.

Raymond Boulard Mailly-Champagne Grand Cru Brut Nature, $43, Imported by Selected Estates of Europe. Complex wine that is more about soil than about fruit, but still feels ripe and delicious.

Tarlant Brut Zero, $45, JD Headrick used to handle Tarlant, and I'm not sure who does now. Spicy and vibrant.

So...what do you think? Suggestions welcome. There is still time for us all to blow some dough on Champagne before the big eves and days arrive.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

You be the Sommelier

My food coop sells veal cheeks now. I am not sure who to thank for this, so I will simply thank everyone. Seriously - a few years ago, before the farm-to table and the nose-to-tail movements were still picking up steam, there is no way that cheeks would be part of the offerings in the meat department at most grocery stores.

What to do with veal cheeks? I was thinking braise, shred, and then use as stuffing for ravioli. But I don't have a pasta maker, nor any experience making pasta, so I decided on a braise with some root vegetables. It's gotten very cold here in NYC and it seemed like a comforting thing to eat.

It's a good idea to remove the white connective tissue from the cheeks before cooking. It's not so easy, but it's on only one side of the meat. I did the best I could, but you can see in the photo above that I decided to live with some connective tissue instead of shredding the meat in an attempt to remove it. These are things that professionally trained chefs can do rather easily, I am sure.

I didn't want to use anything in the braise that might obscure the tender veal's flavor. I decided on white wine and a bit of chicken stock for my braising liquid, and nothing more than onion, a whole un-crushed garlic clove, a few black peppercorns, and a bay leaf as seasonings.

I browned the meat very well, poured out most of the fat, and then cooked the finely chopped onion until golden, sprinkling with some salt. Deglazed the pot with some white wine and scraped up all of the browned bits. Added more white wine and less chicken stock, put the veal back in the pot, and brought to a simmer. Then the garlic clove, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Covered with moist parchment paper and the pot lid, into the oven at 300 degrees for an hour. Then I added some parsnip chunks and some red potato halves (red all the way through, not just red skin). Lid and parchment paper back on, another 45 minutes or so in the oven.

You can serve this immediately, but I like braises better on the next day. I removed the veal and the vegetables from the pot, strained the liquid and reduced it, and served it the next evening.

So that's the dish - braised veal cheeks with root vegetables and lemon thyme gremolata. Please, you be the sommelier. What would you serve with this dish? Leave your ideas in the comments and in a few days I'll tell you what we drank and how that worked out.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chateau Simone - Wine From Another Era

Last night I had dinner with a friend and we shared a bottle of 1999 Chateau Simone Palette Rouge, $48, Imported by Robert Chadderdon Selections. I absolutely loved the wine and I was still thinking about it this morning. The wine offered so much visceral pleasure, and that's mostly what we discussed last night while drinking it. But today I've been thinking about where the wine is from and when it was made, and how it is so different from most other wines that we are likely to drink today.

Chateau Simone is about 15 hectares of vineyards in and around the village of Meyreuil, less than 10 miles east of Aix-en-Provence, further inland and to the west of Bandol. The same family has been making wine there for over 300 years. Different members of the family, of course - no one can live to be 300 years old. Except vampires. Anyway, this old estate has been making great red, white, and rosé wines for a very long time. The reds are made primarily of Grenache and Mourvèdre, and there are many other grapes added in smaller proportions, like Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan, Petit Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and then local varieties such as Muscat Noir, Castet, Manosquin, and Brun-Fourca. If I ever again have cats, they will be named Manosquin and Brun-Fourca, and that is a promise.

If you aren't familiar with Chateau Simone, you might think of the estate as a wise and slightly eccentric uncle who is entirely old-world. These are wines that are highly prized by a small but lovingly devoted following. They are similar in composition to most wines from Châteauneuf-du Pape, which is not really that far away as the crow flies, but from my drinking experience, they don't taste anything like Châteauneuf-du Pape. To me, they don't taste like anything else that I know of.

I want to tell you what I think makes these wines so special, but before that I should tell you that I do not possess many facts about Chateau Simone. I read on the Wine Doctor's site that the wines are aged in foudres for 18 months and then in barrique for a year. Seems plausible, but the wine I drank last night, and all of the Simone wines I've had, taste and feel nothing of barrique. Then again, I've never had a recent vintage - I've drank only a few wines from the late 90's and a few from the mid-late 80's. Was the Wine Doctor writing about today's Chateau Simone, or about Chateau Simone in the early 90's? Perhaps the wines are made differently now - I heard that a father retired and a son or sons took over. But I honestly have no idea whether or not this is true. Another thing - as of a few years ago Robert Chadderdon no longer imports Chateau Simone. It's now a Rosenthal wine.

So now, let me tell you why I think these wines are so special. Most wines that are made today in Provence and in the southern Rhône are very big and extracted wines. Chateau Simone Rouge is made from well-muscled grapes too, but extraction is not a word that comes to mind. Somehow, this wine is a miracle of silky texture and wispy elegance. It can be stunning in its clarity and lavender flower detail, and in the intensity and pungency that emerge from its slender frame. Just think about the alcohol level - the 1999 is 12.5%, and that was a pretty warm and ripe year. There just aren't many wines anymore from this part of the world that are made this way, emphasizing delicacy and detail of expression, texture, and weightlessness. Who makes 12.5% alcohol wines in Provence nowadays?

And what a shame that is! Grenache, Mourvèdre, and these other grapes clearly have the potential to make great wines in a subtle style, and very few estates use them that way. And that number seems to be shrinking. There are still a solid core of Bandol producers making old school wines that although big, are modest in alcohol and quite expressive and detailed - Terrebrune, Pradeaux, Pibarnon, and Tempier come to mind. But wait - didn't things change even at the venerable Domaine Tempier in the past 10 years or so? Will the wines from the early 21st century, when mature, taste as the wines from the 1970's do now? Will the 2007 Chateau Simone Rouge in 8 years taste the way the 1999 did last night? I don't know, but I really hope so.

If you haven't tried a mature Chateau Simone, they are worth searching for, and although rare, bottles turn up here and there if you're looking. They are beautiful and unique, and of another era.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mid-term Cellaring Results

Not too long ago I retrieved some wine from off-site storage, things that I meant to drink at about this point in their lives (and in mine), and also a few things to check in on. The results have not been terribly impressive so far. These are wines that I liked very much several years ago, enough to send several bottles to off-site storage. It's interesting to see the way your own tastes change, to put yourself back in the mindset of making these decisions. Kind of like reading an old journal entry.

Anyway, here are the wines, along with a few notes:

2006 Marcel Lapierre Morgon, $22, Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. This is absolutely and utterly delicious, and I only wish I had socked more away. Now there is an earthy complexity to the nose, although there is still plenty of dark fruit. There is also a pungency to the palate that is truly compelling. Great balance, vibrant acidity, lovely finishing perfume, just great wine - a joy.

2004 Éric Texier Côtes du Rhône-Brézème Domaine de Pergault, $29, Louis/Dressner Selections. I'm glad I have another because I have mixed feelings about the bottle we drank, and I want to drink it again. The nose was lovely and detailed, with lots of black olives and some floral hints, but the wine felt rather dilute on the palate. It never really filled out, although after it had been open for almost 2 hours it did put on a bit of weight. Perhaps I opened this one too young, or maybe I should have drunk it several years ago when I loved it. I have one more and I'm thinking that I should put it away again for another 5 years.

2005 Paul Pernot Beaune Clos du Dessus des Marconnets, $23, Fruit of the Vines Imports. Boy, did I love this wine a few years ago. I still like it fine, but it has not developed any kind of complexity - it's a lovely, fruity wine. There is nothing whatsoever that is exciting about it, though. Live and learn...

2004 Domaine du Closel Savennières Clos du Papillon, $26, Louis/Dressner Selections. There was a time when I loved this wine, LOVED it. And I don't think I was wrong - when it was young, this was a delicious wine. Only a few years later, though, and something is dreadfully wrong. The nose is beeswax and lots of alcohol (14.5%), and that's it. Two hours later, that's it. The palate is a disaster - way too evolved, no definition, not flawed, but unpleasant. So much so that we decided not to drink it. I think that this was good once, and has not aged well. But I have a couple more, so hopefully I'm wrong.

Isn't it interesting how things turn out?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

November Wines: a Laundry List

Here are the wines I drank in November that have not, even in passing, appeared recently on this blog. The "excellent" group consists of wines that are truly memorable, wines that inspire me to seek out and buy these and wines like them. The "excellent" and "very good" groups are wines that I would happily buy at the given price. All other wines, even if I liked them, are not wines that I would buy today given my recent experience with them. Doesn't mean that I think they are bad, just that there are other wines I would prefer to buy with that money. Within each group, I will list the wines in the approximate order of enjoyment.

Excellent Wines
2009 Peter Lauer Ayler Kupp Riesling Senior Faß 6, $24, Mosel Wine Merchant. FANTASTIC. Full disclosure, my friend Dan Melia represents this wine. But forget about Dan, the wine is great.
(2004) David Léclapart Champagne Cuvée l'Apôtre, price and importer unknown. Sick Blanc de Blancs.
2009 Guy Bossard Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Expression de Granite, $18, Kysela Imports. You're crazy if you don't try this wine.
2007 Michel Brégeon Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine, $12, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. Just a few years and this wine goes from aggressive acid and rocks, to beautiful.

Very Good Wines
1998 Domaine de L'Arlot Nuit St Georges Clos de L'Arlot, price unknown, Michael Skurnik Wines.
2006 Domaine de la Tournelle Ploussard de Monteiller, $24, Jenny & François Selections.
NV Gutierrez Colosia Fino Sherry, $23, Bon Vivant Imports.
2006 Gatti Piero Brachetto d'Acqui, $12 (375 ml), importer unknown.
2007 Binner Saveurs Printanières, $17, Jenny & François Selections.
2009 Günther Steinmetz Riesling trocken, $15 (1 liter), Mosel Wine Merchant.

Good Wines
2000 Auguste Clape Cornas, $50, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant.

These, I Had Problems With
2005 Huët Vouvray Pétillant Brut, $26, Robert Chadderdon Selections. Inexpressive.
2009 Château Jean-Pierre Gaussen Bandol Rosé, $19, Moonlight Wines Imports. Pleasant, if not terribly complex wine, and lacking in the acidity that I think this kind of wine needs in order to be successful.
2005 Mark Angeli Anjou Blanc "La Lune," $27, Louis/Dressner Selections. Felt tired and out of balance. I should have drunk this years ago.
2009 Luneau-Papin Muscadet de Sèvre-et-Maine Clos des Allees, $14.50, Louis/Dressner Selections. This vintage is not the racy and mineral driven wine that I remember and love from years like 07.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Two Excellent New Wine Blogs

Looking for something new to read about wine? Something very smart?

Here are two new wine blogs, one called Cellar-Book by Keith Levenberg. Keith used to write The Picky Eater, and this is his new site.

The other is called So You Want to be a Sommelier, and is written by Levi Dalton.

These are two incredibly smart fellows, and their writing is excellent too. If you like wine, and blogs, you should check these out.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Osso Bucco

I've made Osso Bucco before, but with beef shanks, never with veal. The other day prowling the meat case at the coop, I saw three shiny and beautiful veal shanks sitting there, and so I pounced.

Osso Bucco is braised shanks, a humble cut of meat, and yet there is something celebratory about it. It's no more difficult than any other braise, and if you're having trouble thinking of something yummy to serve for the holidays (that might impress your guests), consider Osso Bucco. You can create your own recipe, in a way - you need to brown and then braise the meat, and you should probably add some vegetables. I braised mine in a mixture of chicken stock and fresh squeezed orange juice, and added sliced fennel and carrots. You can use tomato, wine, stock, any kinds of vegetables, whatever. The point is, brown the meat, cook it in the oven low and slow. Here's a bit more on how I did mine, which were pretty darn tasty, if I say so myself.

I usually season braising meats with salt and pepper at least 24 hours before I plan to cook them, but I didn't do that with this veal. I guess I figured that the meat would be rather delicate, and that I didn't want to over-season it. Veal and beef shanks have a white membrane on the outside that holds everything together. You should use kitchen shears to cut through it in a few places, and then some cooking twine to hold them together. I've skipped that step before, and for some reason the meat curls and twists while braising. It's worth using twine.

Dredge the shanks in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and then brown them on all sides in a heavy bottomed braising pot. Remove the meat, pour out the fat from the pot, and pour in a bit of acidic liquid. I used some orange juice. You can use wine, vinegar, whatever. Scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pot, and then add 2-3 cups of liquid - I used a mixture of chicken stock and orange juice. Probably it's best to use veal stock. Good for you if you find veal bones and make veal stock.

Bring the liquid to a boil, add the meat back to the pot, cover with a damp sheet of parchment paper and a tight lid, and into the oven at 300 degrees for an hour. If you want to eat the marrow, turn the meat so the wider end of the bone is facing up.

Then add your vegetables - I used a fennel bulb that I cut into half in slices, and two big carrots. I also added a bay leaf, a few black peppercorns, and a bit of salt. Cover again with damp parchment paper and a tight lid, another hour in the oven, and life should be good. If you're using beef shanks instead of veal, you might add 30 minutes to each cooking segment, by the way.

While the veal was braising with the vegetables, I made a gremolata, a mix of chopped citrus zest, herbs, and garlic. I used orange zest because I used a bunch of oranges for the braising liquid, and I used those wispy fennel tops that look like dill, because I used a fennel bulb in the braise. You could use parsley and lemon zest, whatever you like. I also used just a little bit of garlic, less than a teaspoon, and some salt.

When the veal is as tender as you want it to be, remove it and the vegetables from the pot. Now you decide what you want to do about sauce. I simply turned up the heat on the stove top and cooked down my braising liquid until it was reduced by a bit more than half.

On a bed of rice, with some of the vegetables, the sauce, and topped with gremolata...yum. We spread the marrow on toast too, just because we could. And by the way, although my kids didn't eat it in this form, I shredded some of the leftover meat for them, mixed it with the chopped vegetables and even some gremolata, and they both ate it all up.

What to drink with this dish? I used orange juice and stock, and after reducing like that, there was an unmistakable orange scent to the sauce. I wanted a full bodied white wine, something with plenty of acid to cut through the rich meat, but also something with herbal flavors, maybe, to play with the fennel? Since I have no Italian white wine in the house, I opened a 2005 Domaine du Closel Savennières Clos du Papillon, $33, Louis/Dressner Selections, which worried me with its alcohol and bulk two years ago, and has not improved, I'm sorry to say. If I could go back in time and prepare better, I'd open a Tocai from Friuli, perhaps by i Clivi.

Osso Bucco, baby! Don't even be a little bit scared, because you should definitely make this dish.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Money isn't Everything

Money isn't everything when it comes to Champagne. As with most great wines, there are fantastically expensive bottles and modestly priced bottles, and when thinking about the wines as a group, price does not necessarily indicate quality.

I was reminded of this when thinking about two Champagnes that I had recently, one fantastically expensive and the other more modestly priced. Around the time of my birthday in mid November, a friend took me to a steakhouse in Manhattan to share some interesting old wines over dinner. The first wine we drank was the 1981 Krug Collection, about $700, imported by Moet/Hennessy/Diageo. I am not entirely positive of how Krug Collection is different from the other Krug wines, as even, the finest source of Champagne information, does not discuss this wine in its Krug profile. I believe that Krug Collection wines are simply held back after disgorgement, kept in the cellar for further post-disgorgement aging. But I am not sure.

We decanted the beautifully amber colored wine and gave it a few minutes to compose itself. It was delicious wine, richly perfumed with roast nuts and toffee, and nicely balanced on the palate with rich and somewhat saline inflected nutty flavors. I immensely enjoyed drinking this wine, although if I am honest, I think I enjoyed it more because I was drinking old Krug than because of what was in the glass. The wine was very good, yes, but it was also lacking in the complexity, detail, and energy that I would hope for from such an exalted wine. In the end, a great experience, but I would not say a great wine.

A week or so later BrooklynLady and I opened a bottle she gave to me for my birthday, the 2002 André Clouet Brut Millésimé, $50, Imported by Village Wine Imports. Clouet is considered to be one of the better producers in Bouzy, a village famous for Pinot Noir in the Montagne de Reims. It started out a bit creamy and kind of simple with round red fruits dominating the palate. It seemed ungrounded, as though there wasn't enough acidity or structure. But 20 minutes later the wine had come together beautifully. This is a wine of harmony, finesse and elegance, of gentle red fruit and zesty citrus peel, a bit of spice too, all on top of a finely chalky floor. But these flavors are subtle and quiet, very much understated. The wine is quite light in body and fine in texture, but it is deeply vinous and of good intensity and length. I think it is a great wine. I took extra pleasure in this wine, by the way, because I had just read Peter Liem's November article entitled Bouzy & Ambonnay: The Great Grand Crus of the Southern Montagne, in which he discussed the similarities and differences among the wines from those villages.

I am not dense enough to suggest that I compared these wines and that Clouet is the better wine, or the better value, or the better anything. I drank them on different nights with different food, in different moods, with different people, and the wines are made differently using grapes from different places. And, I expected much more from one wine than from the other. Who knows, you might drink these wines and have a different experience. The point I am trying to make is not a scientific one.

I am trying to say that you do not have to part with loads of money in order to drink a beautiful bottle of Champagne. I believe that there are truly great Champagnes available (in the NYC market, anyway) for $50 and under. Not wines that are great based on value they offer for their price. I'm talking about great wines in the absolute sense. 2002 André Clouet is one of them.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Foillard Fleurie

I love Jean Foillard's wines. There are many great Beaujolais wines, but if I were forced to choose only one to drink (and thank goodness I am not), I would choose Foillard's wines. And I say this without even having tasted only half of the wines he makes. The Morgon wines from Côte du Py and Corcelette I've drunk many times and based on these wines, Foillard makes my favorite wines from the Beaujolais.

I've never tasted the other Morgon wine, also from Côte du Py, called Cuvée 3.14, a wine made from old vines, and I think from un-grafted rootstock. You know, 3.14 as in π, as in pie, as in franc de pied (French rootstock). But I don't know this for a fact, I'm merely speculating.

Until the other night, I'd never tasted Foillard's Fleurie either. But a good friend opened a bottle of the 2007 the other night (about $40, imported by KERMIT LYNCH), and it was absolutely lovely.

This wine opened slowly, as Foillard's wines tend to do, the nose building to a crescendo of ripe Gamay fruit and flowers, wet stone underneath. The palate is elegant and shows great intensity and focus, and without weight, exactly the kind of thing that makes Burgundy and Beaujolais lovers swoon. The wine is well structured and firm, but lighter in body and more nimble than, say, Foillard's 2007 Morgons. It has the same power, but is even wispier.

I am not someone who can speak intelligently about the soil composition in Morgon versus Fleurie, but I think that comparing Foillard's wines is helpful in trying to understand the two terroirs. As Bert Celce of Wine Terroirs writes in his excellent and informative profiles of the Foillards, "Be it Corcelette, Côte de Py, Fleurie, Morgon, they vinify all these Gamays the same way (including the "lower" cuvées), which means that whatever differences you'll find (especially when comparing similarly-old vines), it will come from the terroir particularities."

On another note altogether, did you notice in the photo that this bottle looks different from Foillard's other bottles? Yes, the label is black, as is the wax coating the capsule. But I'm talking about the prominent message on the front of the label that says "Imported by KERMIT LYNCH." I have nothing but respect for Kermit Lynch and I would not presume to criticize his decisions regarding the wines he imports, or anything of that nature. But because appearances are such trivial matters, I will nitpick a little here.

This message is apparently now on the front of all of the US-bound Foillard wines, and I don't like it. It's kind of like watching Goodfellas, but with a constant graphic on the upper right part of the screen that says "Produced by BARBARA DeFINA." She was of vital importance in bringing Goodfellas to audiences and everyone thanks her, but she wasn't the creative force behind the film, and if I want to know who produced the film, I can look. It doesn't seem all that classy to have that information front and center.

Nitpicking -- finished. Thank you.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Whole New Problem Begins to take Shape

In the past few weeks I had the opportunity to drink 3 old Nebbiolo wines, all courtesy of my old pal Deetrane. These wines were fascinating, and they were incredibly delicious, even if in one case, only for a short window. Friends, I have a whole new problem now. I must have more, I absolutely must.

The first wine was from the 1978 vintage, a Barbaresco Asili. We think the wine was by Ceretto, although the label said Azienda Bricco Asili. My hopes were not high, as the cork was a crumbly dried out mess. We decanted and let it sit for 15 minutes or so, and the wine was not impressive, with acidic red fruit jutting out and a somewhat musty finish. But another half hour in and the wine had harmonized and the aromas were gentle with truffles, spices, and earth. The wine was well balanced and still showed good youthful acidity. But this lovely window lasted for only about 15 minutes, and then the wine unraveled and became a bunch of rather tired component parts. Could be a storage issue, or it could simply be what happens with some old wines. You get a short window, especially if you decant.

The following week we opened a great bottle of wine from one of Barolo's step-children, Gattinara, the 1971 Le Colline Gattinara Monsecco Conte Ravizza Riserva Speciale. (Bad photo, sorry) Deetrane bought a few of these bottles and after drinking one, he was excited to share. Before and as we opened it I harbored suspicions, based on the perfect condition of the bottle and the cork, that this wine had been re-conditioned, perhaps topped up with young wine. Who knows? I loved this wine. We did not decant and the wine was great immediately, with earthy truffle smells that hinted at orange peel and cherry. The nose on these things! Truly intoxicating. The wine built in intensity over the hour it was open, becoming more and more vibrant in its flavors. This was beautiful wine and I want to drink it again, this time with a plate of noodles dressed with butter and white truffles. Actually, I don't care what I eat with it. I just want to drink it again.

And then, on a recent evening in which I was feeling a bit gloomy, Deetrane decided to open a ridiculously special bottle to share, the 1962 Gaja Barbaresco. These iconic bottles sometimes scare me, especially when I am lucky enough that they are opened to share specifically with me. What happens if I don't love it the way I'm supposed to? Nothing to fear here, as this wine was utterly majestic, one of the finest wines that I have ever drunk, and I say that with absolute conviction, like GW Bush in 2003 declaring the end of the war in Iraq on that aircraft carrier. Only I'm right about this - the wine was fantastic.

The color was a very pale rose petal/orange, much lighter than it looks in the photo. Vibrant and energetic on the nose, truffles, roses, spices, orange peel, youthful (!) cherry fruit, and the smells were so well defined and pure. Perfectly balanced and harmonious, it really spread throughout the mouth and nasal cavities, leaving this truffle and rose scent in its wake. It was growing as we finished it too. This was the kind of wine that makes you re-evaluate your own wine cellar.

So now what. I need to start cellaring Nebbiolo now? This could be a problem...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

You be the Sommelier

BrooklynLady makes a mean lasagna. The two that she most often makes are spinach lasagna and sausage lasagna, and both are gobbled up very quickly in our house. Recently she made a new lasagna using fall ingredients, something that none of us had eaten before.

Pumpkin, goat cheese, and sage lasagna..delicious! She combined the pumpkin with fresh soft goat cheese and chopped sage and alternated layers with Béchamel. This is an extremely savory lasagna, rich with sweet pumpkin, slightly tangy from the goat cheese, and perfumed with sage. A large pan of this lasted all of two days, as the kids loved it too.

That's the dish. Please, you be the sommelier. What would you serve with this pumpkin, goat cheese, and sage lasagna?

And by the way, happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What Makes a Good Vintage?

Thanks to my then girlfriend, now wife BrooklynLady, sometime in 2004 I rediscovered wine. I had no idea, really, of what it was that I liked (and I'm still figuring it out). I mostly bought daily drinking wines, but I also made the occasional purchase of a special bottle, something a bit more expensive. I didn't yet know where to look for meaningful information about wine, but I wanted to spend my money wisely.

One of the things I used was a vintage chart. I still have it, actually.

Think about it - there are so many bottles on the shelves, so many choices on auction sites. How can some one who is serious about getting into wine, and on a limited budget, sort through it all? The vintage chart is such a helpful tool, like a cheat-sheet. Before buying a special bottle I always made sure that the vintage received a high rating on my sheet. And if it got a low score, or if the vintage wasn't listed on the sheet, I would pass.

I know now that this is an absurd way to buy wine - to think about wine, even. But that's only because I now know enough to understand how much I don't know. When you're starting out, a vintage chart helps to make sense of the enormous set of wine choices. Then you learn aphorisms like "good producers make good wine in all vintages," and perhaps you focus more on terroir and producers. And one day you spend $75 on a great producer's villages Burgundy from 2004, and you realize that it might be true that good producers make good wine in all vintages, but there are better ways to spend $75. It's all part of learning about wine. I won't understand the mistakes I'm making now for a few more years.

I think about vintage now when I buy a special bottle of wine, but I think about them according to my own taste and experience. Because I am attracted to wines made in a lean and graceful style, I find that I prefer wines that come from quiet vintages that don't attract attention. For example, I really like the Loire red wines from 2007. This was a typical year with a typical set of problems, and no one declared it to be a blockbuster vintage. 2005, on the other hand - a vintage of the decade. I would bet huge sums of money that I will prefer the 2007's in 15 years, but time will tell.

I don't know a lot, but I'll tell you this: when it comes to "great vintages," it's better to decide for yourself. And who cares if you wind up liking a vintage that the critics deride? You'll enjoy your wine and pay less for it too.

I was reminded of all of this the other night when I had the good fortune to attend an amazing wine dinner at Alto put together by the inimitable Levi Dalton. You may have heard about this, as my pals at Do Bianchi, McDuff's Food and Wine Trail, and Rockss and Fruit were also in attendance and have already written a bit.

We drank Nebbiolo made by Peter Weimer of Cascina Ebreo in Novello. His flagship wine is called Torbido!, although it is made in a place and in a style so that would normally be called Barolo. We drank several vintages of Torbido!, beginning with the first ever vintage of 1997, and including 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2004. We also drank the 2002, although it was released as Limpido!, not Torbido!

Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi told me, "Peter Weimer allows the vintage to express itself, he doesn't force the wine to become something it isn't." Drinking these wines, then, was an amazing opportunity to learn something about vintages in Barolo. Which ones would I prefer?

Take another look at the vintage chart. 2000 and 1997 are rated as essentially perfect vintages. Everything, in fact, with the exception of 2002, is supposed to be very good. My experience was a bit different.

I liked most of the wines very much, although there was one that I found essentially undrinkable. That was the 1997. To me, it was a shapeless wine with no focus, and the fruit had an oxidized character. It had no energy, and seemed out of balance to me. I would drink the passable 2002 over the '97 every time. But there were at least two other people at the table who preferred the 1997 to any of the others.

I did like the 2000, the other blockbuster vintage according to my chart. It was not as profound as other wines on the table, but it was balanced and somewhat expressive, and entirely drinkable. I didn't like the 1999 so much at first, as it had a diffuse and overripe character on the nose that was very similar to the 1997. But I came back to it later on and it was truly a lovely wine - good energy, clean ripe fruit, good acidity, and quite harmonious. Jeremy said that it was the most classically styles of the wines, and I think I understand what he meant. My personal favorite was the 1998. I loved the pungent truffley aromas and the fine grained tannins, the intense and yet graceful character of the wine. The 2001 was clearly a beauty, but like the 2004, it was showing only a little bit of itself at this early stage of its life. Who knows what they will become?

This was a solid reminder for me that regarding wine vintages, as with most everything else, I'll always be happiest when I do my own thinking.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Conversation with Neal Rosenthal - Part 3

This is the final post about my conversation with Neal Rosenthal. It was a great experience for me to spend time with him, and I hope that you've enjoyed reading about it.

We talked a bit more as we finished our lunch.

BG: So if you don't do trade tastings, how do you get the word out about your wines? How do you grow your business?

NR: The best publicity is word of mouth and longevity. I've been doing this for over 30 years and I've hung around by doing a really good job, and by respecting the customer, by the quality of service that I offer. I've been able to make a nice living doing something that I adore, and without compromising my principles.

BG: Aren't there a load of new restaurants opening all the time, places with local and artisinal sensibilities? How do you draw new venues into the fold?

NR: That's why we added Clarke (Boehling), the first new sales rep I've hired in seven years. We realized that we wanted to get everywhere that we should be, and Clarke is helping us do that.

BG: I don't know how anyone can keep up with all of the changes.

NR: You know, I think that young consumers and young people in the wine trade have been cheated out of opportunities to drink old wine. I remember when the great old restaurants in the city like Lutece and La Caravelle would buy their bottles of Bordeaux, and they would put it directly into their cellars. They bought the wine but they had no intention of selling it for years. They wouldn't even put it on the list! That's not happening anymore and it's really a shame. And it's part of why wine is made differently now. Wine is made to drink young now, to gobble down. They relax the tannins, keep the acids low, bring the fruit forward. There's no point in aging those wines, and now it's hard to find old wine that's been stored properly.

BG: Do you keep old bottles of your wines?

NR: Yeah, we can go down and have a look in my cellar in a little while.

BG: (Wiping drool from mouth) That would be awesome. So have you ever had experiences where you like a wine and want to import it, but you think that people won't buy it?

NR: Of course, but I usually buy the wines anyway. You go out and find an audience for the wine. Especially now that my customers are so savvy, so experienced. My Swiss wines, for example. It's hard to sell a $30 bottle of Swiss wine. How many Swiss restaurants are there to sell it to?

BG: Are you successful with those wines?

NR: Not yet, but we will be. It's exciting to work with a group of people growing those grapes and making those unique wines. Eventually people will drink them and find joy in them. And listen, you can have convictions, and still be wrong. I believe in these wines and I enjoy the challenge, so I do it.

BG: I want to ask your opinion on a few hot-button issues, of late. What's your take on the Natural Wine phenomenon?

NR: To become obsessive is bad. What point does it make when you open a Lapierre Morgon without sulfur and the wine is undrinkable? What's the purpose of that? If my sense is that the vineyards are taken care of, if I know the person who grows the grapes and I like them, I'm satisfied. You can go too far with these things...

BG: What about the debate over shipping wines over state lines?

NR: I think it's a phony issue. There is a viability to the three-tier system. Distributors have a role to play because they get out on the street. They're the ones who open the wines for potential customers, they make sure the wines are placed, they take the re-order.

BG: But if I were to move to a state that doesn't allow out of state shipping, I couldn't buy your wines, for example.

NR: Yes, there should be a more open market, but access to wines happens because one person in Memphis demands a wine, other people too, and then a distributor buys the wines.

BG: I guess so. What are the things that you still want to accomplish in your business?

NR: Hmmm. (Thinks for a moment). I'd like to fine tune the portfolio, to ensure that our growers are making wine the way we're used to, that they're not compromising.

And with that, we started walking through the house to the stairs that lead to Neal's underground personal wine cellar.

ND: By the way, what are your hobbies outside of wine?

NR: I'm a long distance runner and I'm quite serious about it. I'm an age-group winner in a half-marathon and I've run several marathons. I've been politically involved, but I'm giving that up in frustration. I still love to write, and farming - I spend a lot of time on that now. And I love to follow my daughter's career, she's the editor of the National Interest journal. Her name is Justine Rosenthal.

BG: How did you get into beekeeping?

NR: Some of the winemakers I work with keep bees and I always found it fascinating. A few years ago I decided to try it myself.

BG: What's your take on the mass bee die-off a few years ago?

NR: There are lots of scientific theories about that, but I think it's pretty simple, actually. Here's what's actually happening with the bees. There are people who keep bees and they travel around the country with the seasons, and sell their services to farms all along the way. We are overworking them, plain and simple. They travel all the time and work all the time, and that's not the way it was meant to be. The more they work, the weaker they become, and the more susceptible to disease.

We walked into the wine cellar, a large room with two aisles, gravel floors, and cement slabs for shelves. there are boxes piled up and piles of wine in the shelves. It's a beautiful thing. And it is not temperature controlled - Neal says that because it's underground, it's not necessary to regulate the temperature.

BG: Oh, so those are just some magnums of Carillon Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet.

NR: That's very good wine.

BG: Man, nice Gaudichots!

NR: Do you know about Gaudichots? It was part of La Tâche, but then DRC bought most of it up and had it re-classified as Grand Cru. Gaudichots is a great vineyard.

BG: It must be so much fun to have a cellar like this.

NR: Yes, it really is.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Conversation with Neal Rosenthal - Part 2

More conversation with Neal Rosenthal:

Finished with our tour of the grounds, we went inside the house for a look around. Neal showed me his root cellar, where he grabbed a bunch of his potatoes for our lunch. There were rows of jarred tomato sauce and other preserves, made from the fruits of his farm.

Also many rows of Italian food products - anchovies, honeys, olive oils, and more.

NR: These are food and cooking products that we import from Italy. I haven't figured out how to sell them yet (he shrugs).

BG: (picking up a jar of utterly beautiful rosy pink anchovy fillets) These look beautiful! Are they for cooking or for eating?

NR: I cook with them, but you could just eat them.

Then we passed a large shelf where 50 or more bottles of wine stood.

NR: These are wines that we'll drink soon.

BG: Nice! I have a bottle of that wine, the 2004 Pradeaux.

NR: The Longue Garde?

BG: Yup. I have the regular wine too.

NR: The Longue Garde is a very special wine. It's made only in the best vintages, and it's old vines pure Mourvedre. It's a spectacular wine (he smiles).

At that moment, and via that exchange, I felt like I understood something about Neal Rosenthal that cannot come through simply by reading this dialogue. He was genuinely happy. Perhaps because I have the wine, perhaps because he enjoys telling people about his wine, but it seemed to me, that he was happy just because the wine exists.

BG: You'll taste these all in the next few weeks?

NR: Kerry and I drink a bottle of wine with dinner every night. We have to drink our wines in order to see where they go, to keep up with them. They are evolving constantly and I need to understand them. I've made a career on tasting wines young and having a sense of whether they will age well, or be better young, but I have to check on them to follow their development.

BG: Do you drink wines from outside of your own portfolio?

NR: Of course. It is the height of hubris to think that your own wines are the best or among the best wines if you don't drink the other wines.

Now we walked upstairs and through the living room, into the kitchen. Neal told me to sit down at the table, and he began to make lunch.

He opened a bottle of wine for us to share, the 2005 François Gaunoux Meursault 1er Cru La Goutte D'Or. He began washing and cutting potatoes, and cooking them in a cast iron pan. He seasoned them simply with salt, pepper, and a bit of dried red chili flakes. Neal made the egg batter for our omelets, and we talked some more while he cooked.

I noticed that there were no lights on in the house. There was no need - it was a sunny day and the windows allowed in a lot of natural light. We didn't discuss this, but I'm sure that he enjoys not having to turn on the lights.

BG: So, do you read about wine on the internet?

NR: I do, but not so much. The thing is, I'd rather read online than read the boring repetitive useless stuff that the critics write in those magazines, you know the ones, they come out every three months or so. Their wine vocabulary encompasses 20 descriptors and a point score. That is useless. Wines shouldn't be written about that way. They write only about the physical characteristics of a wine, but they don't discuss the exuberance and joy of drinking the wine.

BG: So what are the internet sites that you like?

NR: There are a few, but you know, on the other hand, a lot of what's online can be fairly uneducated and that can be dangerous. I'm occasionally tempted to write a response when I think that some one is misunderstanding a wine, misinterpreting it. But I don't because once you do that, it becomes argumentative and that's not where I want to be.

BG: So how do you keep building your wine knowledge?

NR: By tasting and drinking. I cannot spend as much time tasting as I used to, there's just not a lot of time. Most of the tasting I do is in Europe with growers, the growers I work with and others who I don't work with too.

BG: I know that you don't do trade tastings. Can you tell me your thoughts about that?

NR: The only way to understand what we do is face to face, not in a mass group tasting experience. We like to get 10-12 people together and drink wine, talk about it. If you have hundreds of people in a room sipping and spitting hundreds of wines, what's the point of that? You cannot understand our wines that way. Not only don't I need to do tastings like that, I despise them. They reduce wine to the most base commercial level.

Neal stopped cooking and looked at me.

NR: We have to protect what's best about wine. It is ancient in our civilization, it is a perfect mix of the intellectual and the sensual, it enriches our lives. The beauty of great wine is that it lives inside of you after you've had it. It's a stimulus for memory. What it tasted like, but more importantly, what it made you feel, why you drank it, what you talked about while drinking it, and with whom. Wine is a social event, not fodder for criticism.

We sat down to lunch. There is no yellow or orange food coloring in that omelet - the eggs were very fresh.

NR: Do you like the wine?

BG: I really do. When you opened it I could smell it before you even poured it.

NR: It's very old-school.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Conversation with Neal Rosenthal - Part I

Almost a year ago now, I interviewed Becky and Peter Wasserman. It was a great experience - I learned a tremendous amount and I feel like I helped to share a tiny bit of an interesting story. Recently I had a similar opportunity. I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon at Mad Rose Ranch, the domain of wine importer Neal Rosenthal. He kindly opened his home to me and we walked around, ate, drank, and talked.

I did my very best to record everything faithfully. I did not use a tape recorder, instead taking careful notes. What follows is a paraphrasing of his comments during our conversation (and sometimes a paraphrasing of myself, for the sake of condensation).

Before I get into our talk, though, I want to share a few preliminaries. Neal Rosenthal has worked in the wine business for 34 years. He shared the story of those 34 years in his book, Reflections of a Wine Merchant. He has been interviewed before too - many times.

My point is, although I'm very excited to share with you the things I learned, I'm not trying to suggest that I can condense 34 years of bold work into three blog posts. So take this as what it is - I spent a few hours talking with the guy in his home. We got along really well, and I'm going to try to paint a picture of him as I understand him to be.

It was a gorgeous fall day and the countryside near Neal's ranch looked impossibly lovely. We walked through a few of his 57 acres together before we began the interview. He met me outside of his house, a former barn that he and his life/work partner Kerry renovated and built onto.

I wanted to meet him at his house instead of calling him or meeting him during one of his NYC visits, because Neal Rosenthal's home is interesting, and it's a big part of who he is. He is an old school and iconic wine importer who lives on a ranch somewhere in mid-state New York.

He keeps bees and chickens. He grows a lot of his own food. He has strong opinions about things and knows exactly how he wants to live, how he wants to interact with the world.

Neal is comfortable with himself and seems not to be interested in whether or not other people share his opinions. He emits what I can honestly describe as a child-like joy in showing the visitor around his home and property. "We try to grow everything from seed," he says. "Here is where we do a lot of it," pointing out a small greenhouse.

He wasn't always a country boy, however. Neal is 65 years old, and he spent the first 9 years of his life in Manhattan, in the eastern part of the upper east side, away from Madison and Park avenues, east of the third avenue elevated subway line. His father owned and worked at a pharmacy on Lexington Avenue off 72nd Street and his mother worked there also. The family moved to Teaneck, New Jersey when Neal was 9, and he grew up there, attending high school and college nearby. His parents kept the pharmacy, and his father commuted to Manhattan.

BG: What did you do before you were in the wine business?

NR: When I was in college I thought I'd be in government. I was a politically aware guy - I come from a classic eastern European Jewish family and I had socialist ideas. I majored in history and I thought I'd be a history professor. Then, for reasons that I still don't fully understand, I went to Columbia University for law school. I did exceptionally well - I was on the law review. After school I worked at a big corporate firm doing corporate international tax law.

BG: Why did you leave that work?

NR: The theory was challenging but the practice wasn't so interesting. I didn't have the feeling that I was serving a bigger purpose. I worked for 7 years in that job, got married, had a daughter. But I was miserable and in the end I spent more time daydreaming than doing my work. I knew I wouldn't make partner, and one day they told me "Neal, you're not going to make partner," so I decided it was time to leave.

BG: And what happened?

NR: I left my job, got divorced around the same time, and wanted to write fiction. But I had to pay alimony and I had to find a way to make a couple of bucks because I knew that you couldn't make money writing fiction.

BG: So you got into the wine business to make money.

NR: Not at all, I never got into this to make money. I never could have imagined this, what I have now. My father had a pharmacy, and in those days a pharmacy had a luncheonette, a long counter and you could eat lunch there or have a soda at the fountain. At some point my father sold the pharmacy and kept the luncheonette, which he then converted into a liquor store because he thought it would be easier to make money. I bought it from him and tried to make a couple of bucks while making it as a writer. We never drank wine at home, but the upper east side was a high class neighborhood and we had to sell wine.

BG: How long was it before you fell in love with wine?

NR: Not long at all. Working retail, everyone wants to sell to you. You see lots of wine, you make choices, you see all of the crap that's out there, you see some of the good stuff. This was when wine was much cheaper than it is now and I could drink some of the greatest wines in the world.

BG: And so how did you go from selling wine out of an old pharmacy on the upper east side to becoming an importer?

NR: I'd read these wonderful things that Frank Schoonmaker wrote about an appellation and its wines, I'd find the wines, and they didn't move me. Have you read Frank Schoonmaker?

BG: No.

NR: You really should read him. AJ Liebling too. These guys weren't describing how wines taste. They wrote about their travels, and what they were doing and thinking about when they drank a wine, who they drank it with and why it meant something to them. You really ought to read these guys.

BG: Okay (makes a note in little book).

NR: Anyway, the wines I tasted in NYC didn't move me, so I went to Europe to find the wines that moved those guys. In January of 1980 I went to Piedmonte and I drank the wines of Luigi Ferrando and DeForville, and I brought the wines back to America. Now 34 years later I am still working with both of these families, and I am very proud of our long and loyal relationship.

BG: That is a long working relationship.

NR: It is. You don't see a lot of this anymore. There are a couple of other folks, like Kermit Lynch and Bob Chadderdon, who are old school like this, who started the way I did. They have a real identity, they know who they are, they're not trying to be something to everyone, they buy the wines they want to put their names on, the wines they like to drink.

BG: So, what do you do that works, how do you run your business?

NR: I buy the wine, ship it, store it, and sell it. That's what I do. It's a capital intensive business, but it's the right way to do business. You have to pay your bills on time. You have to...are you Jewish?

BG: And how!

NR: You have to be a mensch.

BG: So what's the other model? How are other people doing it?

NR: They ask a producer to hold 50 cases for them, to reserve the wine. They don't commit to buying it. They try to sell the wine, and once it's sold they pay for it. That's not what I do. I buy wine up front, and then I bring it here and store it and sell it. I have a big warehouse in Queens where I store wine. I pay to store wine while I sell it, and if something doesn't sell, so what? If I have some great Burgundies that wait three or four years in the warehouse before I sell them, so what? They get better.

BG: But you're taking a risk buying the wine up front, right? You have to be very careful in picking which wines you buy.

NR: Yes, of course. I cannot have three thousand cases of cheap white wine hanging around, that's a big loss. I have to buy carefully. When you put your hand in your pocket and spend that money, you have to be disciplined, to know what you're buying.

BG: Come to think of it, you don't really have many cheap whites in your portfolio...

NR: You have to understand, I've never had a contract in my life - ever. It's all handshakes. I started by buying 25 cases of Sancerre from Lucien Crochet - that's 300 bottles of wine. I took the wine and 90 days later, I paid him. That's the way I do business, and I have to know what I'm buying.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thanksgiving Wines

How do I pick wines to bring for Thanksgiving, Brooklynguy?

What should I do, Brooklynguy, because I have to pick the wines this year?

It's my responsibility to get wine for our dinner this year, and I don't know what to get. What should I buy?

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on Thanksgiving wines, Brooklynguy.

None of the above are questions that were asked of me, although I'm going to pretend that they were.

Here's how I pick wines for Thanksgiving - I remember that in my family, the only person who cares even a little bit about the wines is me. No one wants to discuss the wine. But they know that I'm into wine, so they expect a 2 minute explanation about the wines I brought. Not more than two minutes though, and keep it simple.

So I bring wines that I want to drink, but also wines that I imagine my family will also enjoy because they smell and taste good. And I try to keep things low in the alcohol department because there will be driving in traffic, and more importantly because I don't want it to be my fault when a family member gets awkwardly weepy and declares their firm intent to see more of the rest of us.

I like to drink sparkling cider while hanging out before the meal, and my family does too. They don't hate it, anyway. It feels festive and it's low in alcohol. Three producers whose ciders I buy without hesitation - Julien Frémont, (Louis/Dressner Imports), Eric Bordelet (JD Headrick Selections), and Cyril Zangs (Savio Soares Selections). This year I'm bringing one of Bordelet's pear ciders, the 2009 Poire Authentique. At 4% alcohol, I just cannot see things getting out of hand for anyone. I'm also bringing 2009 Bisson Prosecco Treviso (Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant) because it's very tasty and accessible, and at 11% alcohol, this bottle will not directly result in too many abusive comments amongst my family members. None of those bottles costs more than about $15, unless you buy the fanciest Bordelet Ciders which are beautiful, but also drier than the turkey you will very shortly be forced to eat.

I'm bringing white wine too, and nothing terribly creative - Mosel Riesling, thank you very much. Why not, really? It works well with the food, the sweet orchard fruit makes people happy,and the saw-like acidity makes me happy. In my family, I seem to be the only one who drinks white wine during thanksgiving dinner, so if I want to drink 2008 Knebel Riesling Trocken and 2009 Peter Lauer Saar Riesling Barrel X, then that is exactly what I shall drink. These are both imported by Mosel Wine Merchant, cost around $15 each, and are legitimately excellent wines.

You might be surprised to hear that I am also bringing red wine this year. I would bring Beaujolais, but the ones that I like the most cost at least $20 per bottle, and I'd prefer to spend less. I know it's a bit bulkier than is ideal, but I tend to bring Loire Cabernet Franc wines to Thanksgiving dinner because people expect their red wines to be brawny and dark, and I certainly do not want to rain on my family's parade. So I'll bring 2007 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny La Grande Vignolle, $18, Louis/Dressner Imports and 2007 Domaine Guion Bourgueil Cuvée Prestige, $14, Fruit of the Vines Imports. These wines are actually far more graceful and balanced than people might like, but they are delicious wines that will make people happy and whose spicy undertones should pair nicely with the frustrated political discourse and inappropriate career advice that will flow freely during dinner.

Hope this helps!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Noodles in NYC - it's Not Just Ramen

As much as we all love ramen, there are other delicious noodle soups to be had in NYC. Consider Phở, the Vietnamese dish.

These are rice noodles in beef broth seasoned with charred onions, star anise, and other spices. My bowl in that photograph is topped with thin slices of very rare beef, but phở is often topped with beef or fish balls, a grilled pork chop, or any other kind of meat. Tear a bit of holy basil, scatter a few bean sprouts, and add the condiments of your choice to a little side dish - I like ground chili paste and nước mắm, Vietnamese fermented fish sauce. My favorite phở in NYC, and honestly I've tried very many of them, is at Cong Ly at 124 Hester Street.

Then, there are lamb noodles.

It takes days to simmer the lamb bones and meat for this beautiful broth. At Lamb Noodle Soup in the Golden Shopping Mall food court, 41-28 Main Street in Flushing, it is aromatic and very clean tasting, and yet deeply lamb-y. These are wheat noodles and they were made in front of our eyes. I wanted to drizzle this bowl with the fiery roasted chili paste sitting on the table, but my almost 4 year old would have none of it. So instead we ate our lamb noodle soup unadorned, and it was truly fantastic.

And these are hand pulled noodles from Lan Zhou, a Northwest China specialty. I took some noodles, broth, and beef stew and put them in little daughter's bowl before hitting it with the chili paste, chunkiang vinegar, and cilantro. These are also wheat noodles, and also made by hand - hand pulled, to be exact, pulled right before we ate them. In fact, for your viewing pleasure, here are a few pictures that capture that process.

It starts with a piece of dough the shape of a sausage.

This guy is an absolute pro. With quick and smooth hand movements, he thwacks the dough a couple times, turns it back on itself, and he has it in loops.

Things sped up here. Several more pulls and turns, and there are many more loops, thinner now, of course.

And then suddenly there was a kind of combined thwacking and pulling, one final pull and into the pot. This place is at 5924 8th Avenue in Sunset Park.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, too.