Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Boston Lettuce, Snap Pea, and Radish Salad with Green Garlic and Buttermilk Dressing, and Goodbye Dan Melia!

Take a look at some of the lovely spring vegetables that my favorite farmer Bill Maxwell had last weekend:

Even my small daughters were interested in eating these radishes. They look like candy.
Snap peas are crisp and sweet. There was also some Boston Bibb lettuce, a favorite of mine, and I knew that I would make a salad.

Green garlic is such a treat. If you've never played with it, you should try. The whole thing is edible - use the green parts the way you would scallions, or fry it in the wok with a bit of meat and a little soy sauce. The head of the garlic is sweeter and milder than the more mature garlic in the supermarket.

I decided to try to make something like creamy buttermilk salad dressing, and I wanted it to be a vehicle for green garlic. Reading the interwebs for recipe ideas, it seems clear that in order to make such a dressing, one combines mayonnaise and possibly sour cream or crème fraîche with buttermilk, a little vinegar, and then perhaps herbs other seasonings. I used a dollop of sour cream whisked with a dollop of mayo, whisked in a bit more than a quarter cup of buttermilk, a glug of white vinegar, the chopped green garlic, some salt and pepper. That's it.

I had enough to dress the salad and then to fill a small glass jar. I was tempted to put a $14 price tag on it and slip it onto the shelves of one of the groceries that front most of our Brooklyn restaurants these days. Instead, I ate the same salad for the next three days. And used the dressing as a condiment for a turkey burger. Tomorrow, I might simply drink what is left of it because it tastes that good.

My good friend Dan Melia, who is very sadly and very soon leaving NYC for greener pastures, came for dinner and we ate this salad of Bibb lettuce, radishes, and snap peas with this $14 hand-whisked dressing. Dan brought along a beautiful bottle of Riesling, the 2001 Willi Schafer Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett, and it was fantastic with the tangy-fresh-sweet-savory-radishy-lactic salad. The wine was so good though, that really it would have been fantastic with anything.

And so, as we have done many times before and will do again, but I guess much less frequently, we ate our food and drank our wine and talked about all sorts of things, and it was exactly as it should be when you are with a good friend.

Goodbye Dan Melia! I hope that there are great vegetables, decent salad dressings, great wines, great people, and great everything else where you are going. I will really miss you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

An Interesting Pairing Featuring Pelaverga

The other night I had dinner with a few friends at a favorite Japanese restaurant. This is a place where diners select almost none of the dishes they will eat - the chef chooses, and it is not a sushi place. It's more of a home cooking situation. Anyway, with the consent of the owner, we bring our own wines (paying corkage fees), and I've found over the years that Sherry, Champagne, Loire Chenin Blanc, and other savory white wines go best with the variety of dishes.

Well on this night, I experienced a pairing that was completely new to me, and I enjoyed it immensely. My friend Mariko Kobayashi, an experienced NYC sommelier, brought the 2009 Castello di Verduno Basadone Pelaverga to the dinner. I'd never had a Pelaverga before. I remember that Jeremy Parzen wrote about it, and apparently it is an unusual wine even in Italy.

When would we drink this wine, I wondered. We had all sorts of other wine at the table, most of it the typical savory white wine we tend to drink with this food. Then, when we were served a lovely sashimi course, Mariko suggested that we try the Pelaverga with the Bonito sashimi. She said that the richness of the fish, and the smoky grilled exterior would pair well with the red wine.

She was right. I would never think of drinking red wine with Bonito (or Tuna or Mackerel), although maybe Poulsard would work. It would have to be a very light bodied red. This Pelaverga was not particularly light in color, but it reminded me of a Loire Valley Pineau D'Aunis with its floral and peppery fragrance and its fresh and energetic palate. It of course elevated the smoky character of the grilled portion of the fish, but I loved also how it brought out the meatiness of the Bonito and still refreshed the palate.

Another reminder to be open minded about pairing wine with food, and to let others guide us from time to time.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

La Paulée de...Austria !

About 50 or 60 wine lovers came together to celebrate Austrian wine the other night at Seasonal Restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Stephen Bitterolf, the Wine Director at Crush, conceived of this event with an eye towards the famous La Paulée Burgundy dinners where everyone competes to bring the finest bottles and people walk from table to table tasting each others' wines. That's right - Austrian wine, La Paulée style.

It takes big bottles to put together the La Paulée of Austrian wine, and Stephen Bitterolf has them.

This was an incredible opportunity to drink so many of Austria's greatest wines. Okay, you don't spend an evening with a wine watching it unfold, and for me that's the road to understanding. But I've had barely more than a handful of mature bottles, and still haven't tasted some of the best sites and producers, and this was a great way to delve in a bit further.

Importer Carlo Huber and Seasonal Executive Chef Wolfgang Ban.

I could be wrong in saying this, but I think that Austrian wine is not something that most people understand, even in the wine-loving community. Stephen Bitterolf is a passionate believer in Austrian wine and has for a long time carried a wide selection at Crush, where Joe Salamone and others who work there also believe in the wines. And yes, there are serious collectors in the NYC area who have old bottles stored in their cellars.

Robert Dentice, a huge collector of Austrian wine, and his partner Renee Patronik

But I see German wines far more often at restaurants and when friends get together. Maybe this is because most Austrian wine is sold in Austria - the wines sell easily, right there at home. Maybe it's because the modern wines are dry, and a lot of Riesling lovers talk about how they prefer their wines to have a bit of residual sugar. It can't be the prices, because it's possible to buy some of the greatest Austrian wines for the price of a villages Burgundy. Whatever the reason, the wines are not as mainstream as they should be based on quality, price, and deliciousness.

Ray Isle of Food and Wine, and Joe Salamone of Crush, both enjoying Austrian wine.

So it was a great evening for Austrian wine lovers, and also an opportunity for some of the great Austrian wines to get some much-deserved attention in NYC. This is why several producers donated rare large-format bottles for the event, and why the Austrian Wine Marketing Board was so helpful in getting those wines quickly to NYC for the dinner. This is why Executive Chef Wolfgang Ban closed Seasonal and used the whole space for the event, and charged only $90 all-in for a fine 4-course meal (full disclosure - I was comped a ticket by Crush because they apparently have mistaken me for a wine writer).
Allan Roth and Gene Vilensky, a couple of guys who love Austrian Riesling. Don't let the wood-framed glasses fool you - they are not Williamsburg hipsters. Allan is in education and Gene is a mathematician. Regular folks like them love Austrian wine too.

It was an embarrassment of riches - the wines were great. Not every wine, but I was seriously impressed with so much of what I drank. Of the big name Wachau producers, Prager and Knoll seemed to be the most prevalent at this dinner. Most of the other big shots were there too - I saw bottles by Alzinger, FX Pichler, Hirtzberger, and Moric. I saw no Nikolaihof and no Rudi Pichler, which kind of surprised me. From the Kremstal I saw Brundlmayer and Schloss Gobelsburg, but no Hirsch or Nigl. And I don't think I saw anything from the Wagram, which makes sense on a night when people are bringing the fancy bottles. But there is plenty to love in the Wagram (I'm a little bit obsessed with Bernhard Ott right now, but that's another story).

Stephen hosted and spent the whole night pouring. I don't think he stopped to eat.

I didn't really take notes, but here are some of the wines that were memorable for me, in the order in which I tasted them:

1986 Alzinger Gruner Veltliner Mühlpoint Kabinett Trocken. A designation no longer used. A wonderful old nose.

2002 Bründlmayer Riesling Zobinger Heiligenstein Alte Reben. I've heard Heiligenstein described as the finest site in the Kremstal. This wine was in magnum format, and was beautiful in its lush fruit and its focused minerality.

1988 Alzinger Riesling Ried Loibenberg Kabinett Trocken. The wine was in excellent shape, despite the dodgy label. Complex, fresh, vibrant, a real treat and a great advertisement for storing these wines.

2000 Prager Riesling Smaragd Achleiten. I brought this wine and that's why I thought it was so interesting. But it was impressive in its balance and elegance, considering that it was a very hot vintage that in some cases produced some overly fleshy wines.

1997 Prager Riesling Smaragd Weissenkirchner Ried Achleiten. I don't know how (or if) Weissenkirchner Ried is different from the regular Prager Achleiten bottling. But this was as fine a wine as any that I tasted on this evening. Rocks, lemongrass, so subtle and wonderful.

2001 Prager Riesling Smaragd Klaus. Intense and very long, and shows how Klaus is so absolutely different in character from Achleiten. More lush in its fruit, more forward and generous.  

1997 FX Pichler Riesling Smaragd Kellerberg. Whoa, this wine floored me. Just beautiful wine, as fine as any on this evening, for me.

2002 Moric Blaufrankisch Lutzmannsburg Alte Reben. There were several Moric reds and for whatever reason, they didn't show as well as they might have. But this wine was great, so beautifully perfumed.

2001 Hirtzberger Riesling Smaragd Singerriedel. Intense and big, but harmonious. I loved this wine. I think I prefer the more gossamer style of Alzinger and Prager, but I love Hirtzberger's Singerriedel.

This was such a wonderful evening and I feel lucky to have been a part of it.

Friday, May 11, 2012


You know how when you're drinking a good Sherry, how one of the things that's so good about it is that strong streak of acidity that runs right down the spine of the wine? I've always appreciated that about Sherry, particularly Finos and Manzanillas, the bright acidity that enlivens the oxidized wine.

Everything in the above paragraph is factually incorrect, and I refuse to believe that I am the only one who thought those things about Sherry. Doesn't it seem like an acidic wine? And obviously it's an oxidized wine, right?

No! And no!

I remember the time I was drinking some or other Sherry with Peter Liem (whose much-anticipated book on Sherry will be out soon), and I told him how great I thought the acidity was, and how fresh the wine felt even though it was oxidized. He smiled at me the way one might smile at a 3-year old who is learning to put her pants on by herself, and told me that actually, Sherry is a very low acid wine. And that biologically aged Sherries (Fino style wines) are actually reductive wines that are protected from oxygen by a layer of flor.

Palomino is the dominant grape grown in Jerez, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa Maria. It is a low acid grape, and the very hot climate probably doesn't do anything to help preserve whatever natural acidity is in the grape. I recently learned that Sherry wines, by law, must achieve a certain pH level and therefore have to have acidity added in most cases!

So what is it that gives good Fino style Sherry wines that acidic feeling? I asked this question while tasting with Peter and Eduardo Ojeda, cellar master at Valdespino and La Guita.

"Sapidity, it is sapidity," Eduardo said. Peter agreed.

Here is what the interweb says is the definition of the word sapid:

--Perceptible to the sense of taste; having flavor. b. Having a strong pleasant flavor; savory. 2. Pleasing to the mind; engaging.

Here is another, this time a "medical definition:"

--affecting the organs of taste : possessing flavor and especially a strong agreeable flavor.

Okay, I don't think that Eduardo and Peter meant exactly this. Eduardo put his fingers to the sides of his cheeks, where they meet the back of the jaw bone as he said this. I think he meant the sensation of mouthwatering-ness, the idea that something in Fino style Sherry produces a vibrant sensation in the mouth the way acidity does, something that causes that tingling mouthwatering feeling. What is this thing, that Eduardo and Peter are calling sapidity? I honestly have no idea. One of wine's mysteries, I would guess. 

I was reminded of this recently when drinking a glass of 2011 Domaine Les Fouques Côtes de Provence Blanc Cuvée de L'Aubigue, $14, Imported by Fruit of the Vines. I know I've been harping on these Fouques wines lately, but with good reason. $14 is what you pay if you buy one bottle. If you put together a case you're talking about $12.60, and tell me honestly - how many truly interesting wines are there at that price nowadays (in NYC, anyway)? Mssr. Asimov has been saying for a while now that $20-25 is the value sweet spot, and I agree completely in the sense that there aren't so many great values at lower price points. The Fouques wines are David Lillie direct imports at Chambers Street, and that's why the prices are low - no "middle man." Take advantage, my friends - the wines are full of character and are completely delicious. I've not had the red wine, but the rosés and the white are really lovely. This white is just so correct and tasty, with slightly smoky lemon and seashell aromas, and a balanced and energetic palate. It would be great with seafood of all sorts, and I imagine it is versatile enough to do well with all sorts of other warm weather fare.

Anyway...At first I was worried about the white wine when I saw 14% alcohol on the label. Would the wine be balanced? Turns out the answer is yes, although the wine doesn't feel particularly acidic to me. It is mainly Rolle, also known as Vermentino, with about 10% each of Ugni Blanc and Clairette. I don't know, but I doubt that these grapes are low acid grapes like Palomino. Could be. The climate in Provence, however, is hot hot hot, and many producers nowadays have trouble keeping potential alcohol at a reasonable level if they allow the grapes to hang long enough to reach phenolic ripeness. Perhaps even a modest hang time in that climate can result in lower acidity.

Yet this wine still has a mouth watering feeling, and I felt it immediately, and particularly on day 2. What is this about? Sapidity? I'm willing to go with that.

Friday, May 04, 2012


Been so busy lately with work that I just haven't had time to write here. But I want to share some recent "Whoa," wine and food that really knocked me out.

1999 Clos Rougeard Saumur Bréze, Louis/Dressner Imports, price unknown. Whoa, this is just amazing wine. Clos Rougeard's rare (and pricey) Chenin Blanc is one of the most intriguing white wines of the Loire Valley. I've had three bottles in my life, including this one, and this was the best of them. Such wonderful freshness and purity on the nose, such well articulated aromas and flavors. Beautifully balanced, deep, complex, so very delicious. More, please.

 Have you ever been to City Island? I grew up here in New York, my parents both grew up in the Bronx, and I had never been until a few weeks ago. Among other things, we ate this plate of Little Neck clams. Briny. Cold. Refreshing. Whoa.

 2009 Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rosé, Imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. I bought two bottles last spring and never got around to drinking one of them. Whoa! I need to remember to put some good rosé away and forget about it for a while. Well made Bandol rosé definitely improves with age. This Pradeaux rose is only a year old, but already offers a glimpse of what time in the cellar will do. Mellow, incredibly mineral, very complex, flashes of the savory. Truly lovely.

This is William Mattiello, one of the owners of Via Emilia, in the Gotham City section of Manhattan, pictured with a bottle of Vittorio Graziano's white Lambrusco. William's wife is the owner of Lambrusco Imports, a small company that brings some very special wines to NYC, among them the very fine wines of Vittorio Graziano. At Via Emilia you will spend $36 for Graziano's red Lambrusco, the best that I've ever had. Initially the wine smells like a barn but it does beautifully with air (and with age, says the wise Levi Dalton). Try the white wine too, called Ripa del Bucamente, made mostly of Trebbiano. Oxidative, herbal, fresh, delicious. And $34 on the wine list. Whoa!

Crabby Jack's in (just slightly out of, actually) New Orleans. Do you like a po'boy? I do. I had the half and half, with fried shrimp and oysters. Very good. My friend had roast beef. Whoa.

2006 Benoît Lahaye Champagne Millésime, $68, imported by Jeffery Alpert Selections. I haven't seen Lahaye's vintage wine in the states, ever. I drank the 2002 in Portland on the day that I met my good friend Peter Liem, back in August of 2008. Always wanted to be able to buy the wine here, and now Chambers Street has a few bottles. Whoa, the 2006 is drinking so well right now, such a silky texture, so well balanced, so graceful, and with such wonderful finesse, and such a skilled bit of blending. At this price, it is among the very best Champagnes available in NYC.

I used to make fish soup all the time. It's been two years now, I think, but I made fish stock from a black fish rack the other day, and then fish soup. Whoa, one of the best I've made, if I may say so. Made an aioli to go with it, with green garlic pounded to a paste with a mortar and pestle, and hot paprika. Tried a few different wines with it this week. Best was a Provence rosé, the 2011 Domane les Fouques Côtes de Provence La Londe, $18, Direct Import of Chambers Street Wines. On day two the wine has distinct licorice notes. Lovely.

I have a good friend who loves Bordeaux wines. He's younger than me, so it's not that he grew up in the glory days of Bordeaux. He just loves the wines, that's it. He likes to open one when I'm over for dinner, and he's gotten quite good at picking one that I might also enjoy. Recently it was the 1995 Calon Segur, whoa. Tobacco leaves, mellow, honestly a lovely wine. Very, very young, and also very enjoyable on this early spring evening.