Thursday, May 27, 2010

Which is the Best Wine?

Which of these would you expect to be the best wine:

2007 Michel Lafarge Côte de Beaune Villages
2007 Simon Bize Savigny-lès-Beaune Bourgeots
2007 JF Mugnier Nuits Saint Geerges 1er Cru Clos de la Maréchale
2006 Comte Armand Pommard 1er Cru Clos des Epeneaux
2002 Comte Armand Pommard 1er Cru Clos des Epeneaux

Wine shows differently throughout its lifespan. Some red Burgundies are fruity and enticing when young, then shut down for many years, and then emerge with less fruit perhaps, but with new layers of depth and complexity. Others have a longer initial period of delicious fruitiness, and then don't shut down as long, if at all.

I know it's cliché, but it's true - there are no best wines, there are only best bottles. This idea works in terms of bottle variation and in terms of context (the occasion, the food, etc.). It also works in regard to the time in the wine's life in which it is consumed.

What if you were offered a gift bottle of any of those wines - which would you choose? On paper, the Mugnier Maréchale and either of the Comte Armand wines would be my choice. They are the best wines in an absolute sense. They emerge from better terroir, and they should evolve and blossom in a more profound way than the villages and regional wines.

I believe that most Burgundy people, myself included, would say if forced to rank the wines, that either the Mugnier or one of the Comte Armand wines (probably 2002) are the absolute best. That notwithstanding, on the night that I drank them all together, the best wine was not one of those three. And this is an important reminder to think about wine in a more creative way than simply by asking which is the absolute best.

The other night I had the occasion to drink the above wines (and also a slew of whites) at a dinner in Brooklyn featuring Peter Wasserman, who spoke a bit about the wines as we ate and drank. We had lots of good wine that night, but I remember being tickled by how excited Peter got as he smelled his glass of Lafarge's Côte de Beaune Villages. He literally pumped his fist in the air as if he just scored a touchdown. "I love this wine when it's like this," he said. I understood exactly what he meant.

My favorite, what I would say was the best wine on that evening, was the 2007 Simon Bize Savigny-lès-Beaune Bourgeots. It was in a perfect place for drinking - open and expressive, perfumed with flowers, bright red fruit, and a lower note of earth. It was well balanced and delicious and it left a long and pleasing inner mouth perfume of pure Pinot. This wine was in a perfect place. If I were able to travel in time, and thereby compare the Bize Bourgeots with the 2007 Mugnier Maréchale in whatever future year it gets to a perfect place, I have no doubt that the Maréchale would be a better wine. But at this point in both wine's lives, the Bize wine is better. And that's part of what makes wine so much fun, I think.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dinner and a Food Tasting

A good friend came over the other night and brought our dinner with him, a bottle of 1995 Lafouge Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru La Chapelle, price unknown, USA Wine Imports. I have a soft spot for the wines of Jean and Gilles Lafouge. BrooklynLady and I visited the estate back in 2006 when she was pregnant with our first child. The wines are expressive and true, and affordable. And I had never had a mature bottle, so this was a real treat.

With a dinner like this there is no pairing that is exactly perfect, and there are few things that are utterly terrible. Okay, very spicy food, something with lots of stewed tomato, the most delicate consommé, these things probably wouldn't have worked with our dinner. But within reasonable parameters it would be hard to mess this up entirely.

I decided to prepare a tasting that would accompany our dinner, a plate of little things for us to experiment with and see what worked best with the '95 La Chapelle. I boiled and sliced some fresh red beets and drizzled on them a bit of sauce made by whisking soft goat cheese, olive oil, and vinegar. I roasted some shitake mushrooms in nothing but butter and salt. I sauteed escarole with anchovies, and I hard boiled an egg just to the point where the yolk was set, but not cooked through. I was hoping to offer savory, sweet, mineral, tangy, earthy, and bitter flavors on the same plate.

Dinner was fantastic. The nose was all about underbrush and savory aromas, still energetic and appealing. My friend detected floral notes too. Although it was gone from the nose, the palate still had plenty of soft stewed fruit. The palate was vibrant and expressive and sang out in that lovely mature wine tone. Very vibrant and fresh with good acidity even though the structure was almost resolved. As delicious as this wine is, I imagine that it is still a few years from absolute peak, which I am finding to be true about each of the few 1995 wines I've had in the past year.

It was fascinating to taste these different foods with our dinner. Without any doubt, the roast mushrooms were the best pairing. They were in perfect stride with the savory underbrush notes in the wine. I also enjoyed the way the tangy and sweet beet dish paired. The egg was fine, neither here nor there. The only thing in our tasting that didn't work very well with dinner was the escarole. I might have used too much anchovy, or perhaps the bitter, salty, umami-ness of that dish was simply too pungent for our gentle old dinner to successfully collaborate with.

Note to self - cellar some La Chapelle. And eat more roast mushrooms with mature Pinot.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Santorini Wine Tasting

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the Wines from Santorini tasting. The wines of 10 different producers were present, along with some of the wine makers. Amazing timing, as it was only a week ago when my first Santori Assyrtiko kind of blew my mind. This was a great opportunity to taste more of the wines, to build a bit of context, so see which of the wines I would be interested in seeking out on my own.

A few general things - as tasty as the wines can be when very young, these are wines that show dramatic improvement with only a few years of bottle age. It seemed as though the young wines showed a bit of sulfur on the nose, and a few years in the bottle seems to be sufficient for this to dissipate. But the wine itself also takes on whole new layers of complexity. Also, there are some producers who clearly know how to use oak. I drank some delicious wines that were fermented in stainless steel, but my favorite wines of the tasting were fermented in or matured in oak.

And lastly, all of my favorite wines shared this pure salty seawater character that formed the foundation of the wine. But it's not seawater like you might get in Chablis - not a briny tidal pool kind of thing. It's more like sea spray, like the salty mist that happens when a wave crashes.

Here are some of my favorites from the tasting and a few notes:

2009 Domaine Sigalas Santorini Barrel Fermented Assyrtiko - this was too young for me to understand, and there was still a bit of sulfur on the nose, but the wine is creamy and deep with great balance and energy. If the next two wines are any indication, this will develop beautifully.

2007 Domaine Sigalas Santorini Barrel Fermented Assyrtiko - All told, this was my favorite wine of the tasting. Highly perfumed and heady with lemon and vanilla, smoke and salt water. A beautiful nose that forced me to return to this wine at least three or four times during the tasting. Balanced, bright, great depth, and wonderful intensity and lightness. Great wine. And I stood with the wine maker Paris Sigalas tasting these wines and asked him which of the recent vintages were best. He said 2006 and 2009. Those seem great too, but at the tasting it was the graceful elegance of the 2007 that really moved me.

2006 Domaine Sigalas Santorini Barrel Fermented Assyrtiko - Riper and richer than the others, smokey, and something almost chalky (but there is no chalk) on the nose. The "soil" in Santorini contains a lot of porous pumice - maybe this is what I was smelling. Broad and round on the palate with rich and saline influenced flavors, and something like peas or red lentils in there. That could be because I read Peter Liem's description of the wines in general, and he used red lentils. I did smell them though. I suppose had he said "rhinoceros" I might have smelled that too.

Photo of Paris Sigalas and Brooklynguy (on the right, cropped out) courtesy of Dr. Parzen.

Sigalas' stainless wines were great too, and he was an absolutely lovely guy. Serious but smiling. Dressed nicely and very classy, but obviously a get dirty outdoors of guy. Sigalas wines are imported by Diamond Imports.

I also loved the wines of Hatzidakis. Across the board they were simply excellent. The 2008 Hatzidakis Aidani seemed rather weird at first, but that's probably because until that point I had consumed nothing other than wines made from the fiercely acidic Assyrtiko grape. This one was more gentle and round, more floral, and it grew on me. I liked the menthol and tea on the finish - very interesting wine, and I'd love to have it with dinner. Call me crazy, but I'm thinking Szechuan tea smoked duck.

2008 Hatzidakis Santorini Assyrtiko was beautiful wine, salty and savory with deep flavors of herbal honey and smoke, and of course, seawater. This is fermented and matured in stainless steel. The 2008 Hatzidakis Nykteri, a barrel matured wine, was rich and deep with great balance, very energetic. The flavors seem a bit constrained still, but they are pure and nutty, smokey and salty. Compelling indeed. Hatzidakis wines are imported by Trireme Imports.

I couldn't understand the 2008 Gaia Thalassitis - it just seemed mute to me, too young. I'm curious about this wine and I hope to taste it in a few years. But the 2009 Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment was open and absolutely lovely, very expressive and perfumed, sheer and delicate. The aromas are more floral, although there is still a bed of sea spray. Gaia wines are imported by Athenee Imports.

There were other good wines too, but I found these to be most compelling. What bothers me, is that I cannot find a place in NYC to buy most of these wines. I hope that changes soon.

I enjoyed these wines so much that I was inspired over the weekend to open one of the few bottles of Santorini wine that I have in my "cellar", the 2007 Hatzidakis Santorini, $22, Trireme Imports. This is a blend of Assyrtiko, Aidani, and Athiri. It is deep gold in color and seems like it's been around for a while. But it's just slow to unwind, and when it does it's fresh and vibrant and full of sea foam. There are savory lentil notes, something like eucalyptus, and a bit of honey trying to push its way out of the rock. This went beautifully with our dinner of roast black fish and braised turnip greens.

I need to drink more of these wines at home with dinner. And at these prices, I can actually afford to.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

They Lied to Me

A few years back they told me that if I take the empty Mugnier wooden case and plant bulbs in it, by year two I would have beautiful grape vines whose fruit bears more than a passing resemblance to Mugnier's gorgeous Chambolle fruit.

I'm into year 4 now and I feel ready to admit that I've been had. These are not grape vines and there are no Mugnier Chambolle grapes.

Too bad. I've been getting in there with a bull's horn filled with dung and other biodynamic treatments, and assiduously avoiding copper, even after heavy rains.

If you can think of a better way to use a good old wooden case, let's hear it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Laundry List of Recent Wines

I try not to do laundry list posts that sound like "here's what I drank recently." But I've had some interesting wines lately, some of them great, others a bit lackluster. So this will, in fact, be a laundry list post. Feel free to change channels now if you refuse to participate.

Here's what I drank recently:

2008 Marcel Lapierre Morgon, $20, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. Sigh of relief. This wine was great. And I was starting to lose a little faith, as my 06's haven't shown so well and I had two bad bottles of the 07 for every okay one. But this, this is why I love Lapierre's wines. Graceful and with crystal clear purity, perfectly balanced, just gorgeous wine. The next two bottles could be bad - who knows? But if this is representative of his 08's, then I'm back on the wagon. Mine is from an "S" lot, which I understand to mean that it had a bit of sulfur at bottling. I've read comments on the interweb about variation again in 2008, but specifically with the "N" lots - no sulfur as I understand it. Chime in with your 08 Lapierre thoughts, please.

2008 Jean Foillard Morgon Cuvée Corcelette, $34, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant. I love this wine in general, and this bottle was good, but it didn't show nearly as well as a bottle I drank a few months ago. The nose is full of fresh fruit and leafy herbs, but the palate is in a tight place right now. It felt constrained and rigid, with a lot of iron and mineral and lots of grip. I'm sure it will loosen up again in a few years.

2007 George Descombes Morgon, $20, Louis/Dressner Selections. I keep hearing about how great this wine is drinking right now, but I wasn't terribly impressed. I like it, but I wanted to love it, the way I love the 2007 Régnié. I prefer the Régnié in the end. The Morgon is very pure and there are minerals and soil, there is iron on the palate, and herbs too. What there isn't a lot of is fruit. There is some, but not a whole lot, and I'm fine with that actually. But the nose is a bit muddy - the overall effect is not as fresh as I would hope for and that kind of killed it for me. That said, I did drink this on a root day...

2009 Bernard Baudry Chinon Rosé, $18, Louis/Dressner Selections. A different animal entirely compared to the 2008. Whereas the 08 was a lean and super acidic kind of beautiful, the 2009 is much more fruit forward. This is a fun wine - there are strawberries here. Still a serious wine with great texture and balance and lots of acidity, but it is a more openly joyous wine this year, with more exuberant fruit. On a hedonistic note I'll take this wine. If I were showing Baudry's Rosé to other people who had never had it, or if I were cellaring some for the future, I'd take the 2008.

2009 Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina Rubentis, $21, De Maison Selections. Those of you who aren't familiar with this culty Basque wine might be thinking "Watch your language, fella." This is a well regarded producer working with approximately 85 year old vines of an indigenous grape called Hondarrabi Zuri. The white wines are fantastic - saline and brisk, slightly effervescent, full of character. I had one recently at my pal Bruce's house and it really sang. This wine, however, left me wanting more. I understand its appeal - the nose grows but never gets loud, and it shows this unusual and appealing mix of watermelon and savory herbs, like rosemary and thyme. And texturally it is a marvel, slightly effervescent and silky. The alcohol is under 11%, the wine is dry and full of minerals and it is definitely interesting. But in the end I just wasn't really captivated by it - it wasn't all that delicious.

2007 Domaine de Roally Viré-Clessé Tradition, $24, Louuis/Dressner Selections. This was a shimmering beauty, full of fresh and baked yellow apples. Fresh, energetic, a rich wine that is also very pure and just lovely. Good acidity and balance too - wears its residual sugar well. The remaining third of the bottle was not as good on day two though, which I found confusing. Shouldn't this wine age well? I drank a 1994 last year that was fantastic.

NV Valdespino Sherry Fino "Inocente," $20 (375 ml), Imported by Quality Wines of Spain. Now THAT is some Fino. I know the price sounds high, but I could find only one store that carries the wine, so they can charge what they like. So light and brisk, yet there is a pungent undercurrent of smokey nuts and saltiness, something almost like good coffee - it builds slowly and steadily and this one is better to sip slowly because there's a lot going on. But that's hard to do because it offers so much visceral pleasure. It was at its best on the third day out of the fridge, and it could have kept going, but I finished the bottle. This is in the very top level of Fino that I've tasted, right there with La Bota #15. And I guess that shouldn't be a surprise, because if I'm not mistaken, Equipo Vavazos selected from among the Valdespino butts to make #15. I could very easily be mistaken...

2002 Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Cuvee Fiacre, $70, Terry Theise Selections/Michael Skurnik Imports. I bought this wine because I like the producer's wines in general, and because when I tasted it as part of a blind tasting a few years back, I thought it was superb. Haven't had it since. I was warned that it is too young to drink, don't touch it for ten years. I don't know...I opened one recently at the end of a great night of wine with friends, and I thought the bottle was fantastic. Not closed at all, very approachable. Beautiful ripe fruit that showed the dark berries of Pinot and also the apples of Chardonnay, compelling richness and depth, a stout frame and firm structure. And still this wine showed grace and poise, harmony. I loved the way the minerals mingled with the fruit on the finish, very long. This is very serious stuff, worth every penny.

Okay folks, that's it. Thanks for coming out tonight. I'm here two or three times a week.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Will the Real Cloth Bound Cheddar Please Stand Up.

Ever since I read about cloth bound cheddar in The Art of Eating I knew that I had to try some. I've had one or two now and not found anything to love. And then the other day we tried some Wensleydale made for Neal's Yard. This without question is the finest Cheddar I've ever had. Nothing comes close.

Wensleydale is made by a large producer, but this cheese is made specially for Neal's Yard, and it is old school cloth bound farmhouse Cheddar. The cheese is just delicious. It is moist but not entirely so, and also a bit crumbly. It tastes of grass and fresh cream and is beautifully balanced. I love the subtlety of this cheese - it is gentle and quiet, but it really lingers. I enjoyed imagining eating it in an inn somewhere in rural England, perhaps The Slaughtered Lamb from American Werewolf in London, perhaps with a hunk of bread and a glass of something. It is smooth and creamy and very difficult to stop eating.

We tried grating this cheese into scrambled eggs - very nice. We tried melting on bread - excellent. But the best way to eat it, I think, is simply to slice it and eat it on its own. We did this a little while back, some good whole grain bread, and a simple salad on the side.

What to drink with a cheese like this? There were all sorts of good suggestions the last time I wrote about cloth bound Cheddar. We drank beer this time, specifically stout, and it was perfect. Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, to be exact. The sweet and slightly bitter taste of the almost black beer played beautifully with the creamy smooth cheese. I'm telling you, the combination of this just slightly effervescent dark beer with the Wensleydale is dangerous.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Santorini Dreams Become Reality

This story begins here, one of the many excellent posts on Peter Liem's now defunct personal blog. I remember reading it a couple of years ago and thinking "hmmm, Santorini, huh? Certainly sounds good from Peter's description. If I see one of those I'll try it."

Actually, this story really begins in June of 2005 when BrooklynLady and I were in Crete on our honeymoon. We ate some phenomenal food there. I'll never forget driving from the northern part of the island over some hills to the south, down winding breakneck roads in a crummy little 2 seat stick shift rental car, goats on the side of the road staring at us, the Mediterranean (that part of it called the Libyan Sea) taking up the entire horizon. We pulled up to some or other little beach and there was a restaurant, and they offered us a round red plastic bucket with maybe 10 plump sardines in it. They wanted us to select from among them for our lunch. Those fish, a simple salad with a cheese the name of which I have forgotten, but it is similar to feta, only much softer and creamier, and some blistered pita-type bread...hard to beat. The wine, let's just say that beer was a better option, and that's mostly what we drank in Crete.

I've never really looked for the wines Peter recommended, and maybe that's because I've never had a Greek wine that I could get excited about. But then a week or so ago my friend Adam wrote to me from a trip down south to tell me that he tasted something that he loved, something new to him. A wine from Santorini called Sigalas (one of the producers that Peter recommended). Okay, that's it, my turn to try them.

I bought a bottle, understood that it would be too young to drink, but that would not stop me from opening it almost immediately with something tasty from the fish people. And when I went to the market I saw this:

And I thought of stuffing the sea bass with oregano and thyme, lemon slices, green garlic slices, chopped black olives, and of drinking it with my Santorini wine, and imagined that it would be good.

So I gutted, salted, and stuffed, and scattered, but minus the oregano - didn't see any at the market. And I decided that some very thinly sliced white onions would be good too. The fish went in the oven and I opened the bottle just to see what was happening in there, to let it stretch out a bit before we really went at it. At first it was very lactic and yeasty, and very saline. If I didn't know what I was drinking, I might have begun my thinking in Muscadet.

The fish was done, I made a simple salad with a lemony dressing and mushed some Feta cheese through my fingers in a lame attempt to recreate the softer version that we had in Crete, and I cut two thick slices of good white bread. We were ready to go.

Did you know that there is, apparently, technique involved in artfully removing the flesh from a roasted sea bass? I know how to carefully lift the bones off one side of the fish, but there's that tricky initial set of cuts to make. I knew enough to salt the skin so it lifted away like paper. but I did an ugly job of it, let me assure you. I need a lesson in this department.

Anyway, we had our version of simple and delicious, evocative of our Greek honeymoon dinner. And this time the wine was utterly superb. BrooklynLady had no idea what it was and part of the way through her first glass she walked into the kitchen and said "What is this? I really like it."

2009 Sigalas Santorini, $20, Imported by Diamond Importers, Inc. In the 30 minutes or so it took for me to get dinner on the table, this wine found blossomed. If you read the link to Peter's post you already know that these are old vines, and that the vineyard techniques and the terroir are unusual. The wine tastes familiar and unusual at the same time. It really reminds me of a great Muscadet in its phenotype, but whereas Muscadet's complexities veer off towards things like fennel or anise, and briny ocean, this Assyrtiko's complexities are smokey and savoury. This wine had top notes of fresh lemons, minerals, and a creamy lactic tone, a middle layer of savory herbs and something almost brothy, and a bottom layer of smoke and ash. It is full of character, deeply complex, perfectly balanced, and altogether compelling wine. I'm very excited about this wine, and about Santorini, and I will be buying more.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Spices that represent the stories of our global diversity."

Please allow me to quote Lila Byock writing in the New Yorker, May 17th issue, p. 20, in the "Tables for Two" feature in which she reviews the new ABC Kitchen, a restaurant inside the renown furniture store :

Jean-Georges Vongerichten's latest venture (his second this year) marks the chef's debut on the crowded farm-to-table scene. On a rough-hewn table, a shrine to greenmarket produce is lit like a Vermeer. There's a rooftop garden, mismatched china, and waiters wearing thrift-store plaid. It's enough to make you think you're in Brooklyn. But while the vegetables are organic, the atmosphere is canned - a seductive advertisement for the boho-chic appliances sold at ABC Carpet and Home. The menu, printed with soy-based ink, boasts of "bread baskets handcrafted by the indigenous Mapuche people of Patagonia" and "spices that represent the stories of our global diversity."
This is where we are, folks. The farm-to-table movement, to use the given terminology, is a fantastically positive development for our nation. Because of this movement, thinking about where our food comes from is common in all social strata, not just among the granola-fed hippies. And we need to think about it because a lot of what is sold as 'food' you simply would not feed your children if you really knew what it was made of. This movement is real, and the money is talking too. Swaths of people are willing to pay a farmer at a market more money for meat and produce than they would pay at a grocery store. They want the quality, and they sometimes believe in the cause. There are rooftop farms in Greenpoint, butchers in Williamsburg, and everyone is a beekeeper. And for years now, any hip new NYC restaurant knows and can proudly recite the provenance of everything it serves, from salt to lettuces to pork chops.

I think this is great! I'm a healthier person now that I buy exclusively antibiotic-free, hormone free meat and milk that comes from grass-fed antibiotic-free, hormone free cows. And local fruit and vegetables - I know the farmer, Bill Maxwell, and he's a solid guy whose hands are dirty and he warns me what I have to wash before giving to my kids (his strawberries) and what I don't need to worry about. Imagine how much healthier our nation as a whole would be if everyone's eating habits conformed only a bit towards the principles of this farm-to-table movement.

Still, there is something that just rubs me the wrong way about JGV opening a restaurant devoted to this trend, and apparently doing it in a kitschy way, hitting all of the right buttons, getting in on the act. For me it feels cheap, like he and his business planners are using everyone who worked 10 lean years tending barely profitable organic vegetable farms, or 15 lean years tending herds of lovingly raised goats. His restaurant couldn't exist if it weren't for those people. And something about the way he is presenting this ABC place stinks of bull$#*} to me.

I should be glad that this thing has taken hold with the likes of JGV, right? Or is this simply another calculated means of making money, and in the process cheapening the values of the message being delivered?

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Chablis Night

We had a bunch of people over for dinner this weekend for Chablis night. We pulled out all the stops - had the living room re-done with shag carpeting, disco balls, velour shirts, and big jugs of California white wine. Okay, that's not exactly what we did. But close. Everyone brought along a bottle of Chablis, I made dinner, and we enjoyed eating, drinking, and hanging out.

In part, this was inspired by this Chablis post and the reaction to it by Kristin, Henriot's marketing director. I wanted to drink a few of the William Fèvre wines alongside some other good Chablis. As I knew they would, our guests brought along some excellent wine.

As people arrived and got settled we drank wines by two of my favorite Chablis producers, Gilbert Picq and Alice and Olivier de Moor. The 2007 Gilbert Picq Chablis Vieille Vignes, $23, Polaner Imports, was just delicious. It's coming into a great place right now - very open and expressive. The wine has such great extract and richness of fruit, yet remains essentially a wine of minerals and soil. One person said that it was like drinking limestone. I'm a big fan of the Picq and this wine is a great example of why - these are inexpensive wines that offer a whole lot of Chablis. The 2008 Alice and Olivier de Moor Chablis Rosette, $38, Louis/Dressner Selections is the first Chablis I've had from the 2008 vintage. A little hard to tell what's going on here as the wine is several years away from any kind of peak drinking window. Very tight aromatically, but there are hints of chalky rock and citrus fruit, and there is a definite oxidative character to the fruit. It opened up a bit over the next 45 minutes and I think the wine is very promising.

We then enjoyed two wines from the 2005 vintage with my fish soup. 2005 is thought to be a great vintage because, as in most of France, conditions were essentially perfect. No sorting was required - fruit was free of rot and perfectly ripe. I'm not sure yet where I stand on 2005, as I've had some wines that are more about ripeness and grape character than they are about terroir. This was something that we discussed a bit over dinner, with at least one person's experiences completely counteracting what I just said about 2005. Anyway, these 2005's were both quite good. The 2005 Vincent Dauvissat Chablis, about $25, imported by Wine Cellars (acquired from a private collection) was a ripe and fleshy wine that showed lots of character for a regional wine. Texturally luscious, beautifully extracted, a delicious wine. After 15 minutes open, I preferred its partner at our table, the 2005 Daniel Dampt Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet, about $25, Vinalia Imports. Côte de Léchet is a 1er Cru that I've never had before, a hill directly east of the village of Chablis next to a smaller village called Milly. It seemed rather nondescript at first, especially next to the little pool of hedonism that was the Dauvissat. But it opened up nicely and showed layers of fruit, stone, and that iodine Chablis character, particularly on the finish. Both wines stood up beautifully to the fish soup, which was a bit spicy.

With a dish of scallop and king oyster mushroom with sorrel oil, we had two interesting wines, both of which never fully opened up. And I can tell you that confidently because I drank the remnants of both on the following afternoon (after being left out all night and half of the next day with no cork or anything) and they were both just great. Not that they were bad at dinner, just less expressive. The 2002 Billaud-Simon Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume, price unknown, Imported by Wine Brokers Int'l and acquired from a private collection, was rather mute on the nose at dinner, but I loved the taste of the wine. It was subtle and very mineral, the fruit felt delicate. And on the finish there was a pungent jab of Chablis marine character. The next day the nose was more expressive too, very stony, with high toned green fruit. Lovely wine. And then another Côte de Léchet - none in my whole life and then two in one night. Who can predict these things? The 2001 Daniel-Etienne Defaix Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet, about $50, Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, showed an entirely different character from the other wines, very oxidative. It was also more golden in color than anything else we'd had, and so I was thinking it was a bit past its prime, but I was probably wrong. Especially after drinking it on day 2. If it was past prime, wouldn't the 18 hours open have done some damage? It seemed more fresh, somehow, the next day. The fruit was infused with this pungent marine essence, and there was very good extract and length. The oxidative notes added complexity and did not distract from the Chablis nature of the wine. We had another 2002, by the way, a Jean et Sebastien Dauvissat 1er Cru Séchet, Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, but the statistics played out as expected, and one of our 9 bottles was corked - this was the one.

With roast blackfish, spring vegetables, and tarragon cream sauce we ventured into Grand Cru territory. The 2006 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, about $80, this wine is a sample donated by Henriot Inc., was to me, a real knockout. it took a little time to open up but then the nose was chalky and fresh, floral, and with a core of lemony marine infused stone. Pure and graceful, and it packed a lot of power into a lean frame. The finish was pungently Chablis and quite long. I would rather drink this than the 2005 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, $75, Imported by Henriot Inc. Others at the table disagreed, saying that the 2005 is a better wine and needs time, that it has better material and is still true to Chablis and to Les Clos. I don't have enough experience with these wines to say anything definitive here, but the next day I drank what remained from each bottle and the 2006 was even stonier and better defined, and the 2005 showed a bit more Chablis character than it did the previous evening, but still to me was more of a delicious Chardonnay. It could simply need more time to unlock the rest of itself, who knows. It certainly is a solid wine with great material. Perhaps its simply a matter of taste. Anyone who has played around with these vintages in Chablis, please feel most free to add your two cents.

Anyway, good friends, lots of Chablis, some Captain and Tennille on the 8-Track, a little dinner...that's a good night.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Further Adventures in Blind Tasting

The other night my pal Peter came over for dinner. He's one of those former Brooklynites who packed up his wife and kid and moved out of the city to somewhere in the Hudson Valley. Now he has room to do his art, he cooks, makes ceramic plates, gardens, composts, uses crystals as deodorant - you know the type.

Peter and I have been following each other's blogs for a while now, and I have a decent sense of what he likes to eat. He has a decent sense of what I like to drink. This guy cures and smokes his own bacon. He likes pork. So I made pork belly (my first ever attempt). It came out tastily enough, although I served it the way a guy behind the counter on a naval vessel might put together your lunch plate - sloppy.

Peter brought a red wine that he wanted me to taste, and he decanted it and poured it blind. I love blind tasting. If you feel that you have something to prove, or if your companion is challenging you, it isn't fun at all. But if you feel that you have something to learn, and if your companion is participating in that with you, it's really fun.

There is, however, a lot of psychology to get past. Peter knows what I like. Would he pour some oddball version of a Pinot Noir or something? Would he pour something entirely off the beaten track? Something that he likes, but that I am not familiar with? Something that I am completely and entirely familiar with? Kind of reminds me of these few minutes of utterly classic cinema:

Anyway...When Peter first poured me a tiny bit I immediately thought the wine was from the southern Rhône. I got distinct black olive aromas. The wine was not as dark as I would expect though, if it were really a southern Rhône wine. We left it for a while and enjoyed our salads and our Mas de Gourgonnier rosé, and when it came time to eat the (sloppy) pork belly, back to the mystery wine.

I began to try in my mind to make the wine fit within some Burgundy compartment. This was sturdy and brawny wine, the fruit character was jet-black, the tannins smooth and sweet. The texture of the wine was remarkably silky, considering it was such a well-muscled wine. The perfume was by no means delicate, but it was graceful. And it still sung of black olives and dark earth. Could it be a Volnay from near the Pommard border? I kept trying to make it a Burgundy.

In blind tastings past I've tried to turn Châteauneuf du Pape into Burgundy. This wine felt like Châteauneuf to me. Would I be making the reverse mistake this time? In the end, certain that I would be wrong, I said "I think it is a southern Rhône wine, late 1990's."

Turned out to be the 1998 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape. How do you like that - even a broken clock is right twice a day. The wine was really great, by the way. Something I would eagerly drink again. Finishing the bottle together it became more and more expressive, in the end showing that beguiling mix of herbs that they call garrique. And really, such finesse for a wine from this part of the world. A real treat.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Don't Forget About Guy Bossard

With his cute bearded and smiling face, his annual oyster and old wine party, and his many cuvées, one even more delicious than the next, it's easy to be exclusive in Muscadet with Marc Ollivier and Domaine de la Pépière.

But there are other skilled producers with vines planted in the great Muscadet terroirs, like Jo Landron of Domaine de la Louvetrie, Pierre Luneau-Papin, Michel Brégeon, and Guy Bossard, to name those whose wines I know a little bit. I've had utterly brilliant wines from each of these producers - I have no one favorite (although the 2000 Brégeon Gorgeois was pretty awesome). All of these producers make reasonably priced and cellar-worthy wines that are pretty easy to find. Well, all except for Guy Bossard (click here for the Wine Doctor's profile). His wines are reasonably priced and most assuredly cellar-worthy, but I don't see them very often. And when I do, it's likely to be only one of his three top cuvées. Recently I drank one of his wines and it reminded me of why well made Muscadet is really the most under-valued white wine in the world.

2007 Guy Bossard Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Expression d'Orthogneiss, $22, Kysela Imports. Bossard's top wines always need a lot of time to open up. When drinking them young it's not a bad idea to decant them several hours before hand. I didn't do that this time, and I was surprised at the immediately beautiful and expressive nose. Absolutely clean and pure, very fresh, and vibrant with lemon, herbs like anise and mint, and stones. The palate is not as expressive, still pretty tough and rocky, and showing wafts of yeasty cellar that come and go. If there is fruit in there, or flowers or herbs, they're buried under the rock. I don't see why this wine shouldn't evolve into the complete package, but I don't have enough experience with it in other vintages to feel confident in my predictions. There is lots of energy here though, and again, the nose is just beautiful.

If you're curious about the wines, get 'em while you can, as Jim Budd reported that Bossard put his Domaine up for sale.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Lamb Kebabs and Syrah

Our spring this year skipped over the typical two weeks of mid 60's weather and seems to have jumped straight to high 70's. I prefer an actual spring, but when life gives you summer weather, grill. And so one warm evening last week I made lamb kabobs. I rubbed each chink of lamb in olive oil and then dredged each piece in a spice mix that I ground in the mortar and pestle - coriander, cumin, dried red chilis, and salt. Wedges of onion to bookend the lamb, et voila. One trick, aside from the mandatory hardwood grilling, is to soak the bamboo skewers in hot water for a few hours. This allows them to sit without burning on the hot grill.

Sear the kabobs for a few minutes directly over the hot coals, turning to make sure that every surface gets its turn. Then rotate the grill rack and cook over indirect heat for another, let's say 10 minutes, but that's up to you and your personal taste. Let the meat rest for another 10 minutes and serve with whatever you like. On that evening we went with very simple green salad and rice that I topped with a quick blend of chopped fresh green garlic, white vinegar, and good olive oil.

Hard to argue with that.

It would be very difficult to go wrong here, picking a wine. I know there a few chili flakes, but still, I think this is one of those drink-anything-you-want dishes. Would Beaujolais be good? It would be amazing. Would Riesling be wrong? Why would it be? Certainly a light-bodied Loire Cabernet Franc would be beautiful (I was thinking specifically of the lightly chilled and delicious 2007 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny, $15, Louis/Dressner Selections, but I didn't have any in the house because I am a fool).

Perhaps in an attempt to relive some of the recent glory of Northern Rhône Syrah with steak, I opened a 2008 Pierre Gonon Vin de Pays de l'Ardèche Les Iles Feray, $17, Imported by Fruit of the Vines, Inc. This wine is so different from the 2007 version, which required at least an hour in the decanter to stop smelling like burning rubber tire, and was always edgy and a bit volatile even when drinking well. The 2008 is immediately lovely, round and accessible, fleshy and earthy, very well balanced, and with a resounding mineral twang on the finish. It handled the spices perfectly - it is made from very young vines and although nicely structured, it is not a tannic wine.

And this particular wine with this particular dinner on this particular evening with my particular wife was a good reminder that although a Verset Cornas or a Chave Hermitage is certainly a better wine, a Gonon VdP made from young vines in St. Joseph has its place too, and can bring the same degree of pleasure as its more illustrious cousins.