Thursday, October 25, 2012

Equipo Navazos Dinner at The Spotted Pig

Sherryfest, as you know, was the US's largest ever set of tastings and events dedicated to Sherry. It was created, in part, to honor the work of Peter Liem, whose Sherry book was just released. Sherryfest began for me, I am incredibly lucky to say, at The Spotted Pig for a special dinner featuring the wines of Equipo Navazos.

 Jesus and Peter outside of The Spotter Pig. 

Jesus Barquin, one of the founders of Equipo Navazos, is the co-author of Peter's book. In order to avoid any perceived conflict of interest, Peter alone wrote the portion of the book that discusses specific Sherry bodegas, and Equipo Navazos did not participate in the Sherryfest Grand Tasting. So this dinner was a way of acknowledging Jesus' and Equipo Navazos' huge contribution to Sherry's resurgence in the US market. Also, the wines are pretty good...

This was one of the finest wine dinners that I have ever attended. All of the food was excellent, the wines were great, but what made this so very special (aside from the excited vibe in the room as Sherryfest was about to get underway) was the brilliant harmony achieved in each course.

Wine Director Carla Rzeszewski is an ardent Sherry lover and she, Peter, Jesus, and Rosemary Gray (Peter's partner in Sherryfest) did a wonderful job making this dinner happen.

But listen to this: Chef April Bloomfield, Sous Chef Edie Ugot on the left, and Spotted Pig Head Chef Katharine Marsh did a great thing in preparing for this dinner. They tasted every wine, talked about them with Carla, and created a menu that would brilliantly complement the wines being served.

Seriously. This was a wonderful dinner. A dinner that impressed me in its attention to the smallest of details.

Jamon Ibérico is such a wonderful thing to eat and I've almost always seen it served solo, so that its subtle and complex flavors can be appreciated without anything else getting in the way. Here, a salad featuring this gorgeous jamon. Earthy roasted sunchokes supported the jamon, and did not interfere. A few grassy pea tendrils mixed into the greens had much the same effect. The wines were perfect with this dish. Until Sandro Pilliego of Palo Cortado suggested otherwise, I had kind of assumed that one would drink an Amontillado or a more elegant Palo Cortado with jamon. At this dinner, it was white wine - the 2011 Navazos-Niepoort and La Bota de Fino No 35, both newly released. The tangy energy of these wines worked so well with this salad.

Tuna was poached in olive oil and topped with tomato. The menu said coriander, but I tasted fresh mint in there. This, for me, was a revelation. You know how Fino Sherry can show an oxidative side to its flavors (even though it is not an oxidized wine)? And you know how mint can leave a fresh, airy, and I would now say oxidative sensation in the mouth? Well, the mint in this dish and the gorgeously pungent and focused wines worked together in an eye-opening way for me. The mint highlighted the fresh and airy aspect of the wines in a very lovely way. The dish was paired with La Bota de Manzanilla No 32, the utterly wonderful latest release in a line of bottlings from the old Sánchez Ayala solera. And also with La Bota de Manzanilla Pasada "Bota NO" No 39, a wine that comes from a single barrel of Manzanilla Pasada from Bodegas Misericordia, of La Guita. This barrel is highly appreciated within that small Manzanilla Pasada solera, and therefore marked "NO" by the cellar master, to indicate that it should not be touched for blending or for any purpose, really. But Equipo Navazos was able to bottle a small amount, and this will be released soon.

And here was, I can honestly say, as fine a pairing as I have experienced in 2012. Thick slices of maple syrup roasted pork belly, with crackling and crunchy skin on the end, some wild mushrooms and fennel. If there ever were a light and elegant version of pork belly, this was it. It was paired with two dark Sherries, La Bota de Amontillado No 37 and La Bota de Oloroso "Pata de Gallina" No 34. No 37 is an Amontillado that comes from a small solera in one of the La Guita Bodegas, and it is a thing of beauty. Saline, nutty, perfectly balanced and deeply complex, the way this wine worked with the pork was kind of stupefying. This is not to sell the lovely No 34 short - it also is an excellent wine, coming from an old Juan Garcia Jarana solera that was purchased by Lustau and released under its Almacenista label, and then sold to Fernando de Castilla, where it was bottled for this release. It is a very elegant and delicious Oloroso, and I need to spend more time with it because I will admit that I was so blown away by the particular synergy between pork belly and No 37 that I hardly paid attention to anything else.

Such an wonderful evening! So great to gather with a load of NYC Sherry lovers and wine industry big shots, all in honor of the beautiful Equipo Navazos wines, of Peter Liem and his great new book, and of the festival of Sherry that he helped to create.

We left a lot of empty La Bota bottles sitting there on that counter in The Spotted Pig. We wandered out into the night, our stomachs full, our whistles whetted, smiles on our faces, ready for the Sherryfest to come.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What I've Been Doing

Haven't written anything here in a little while. Partly because I've been very busy. I've been working a lot, and some of that involves travel.

I found this place in New Orleans called Bacchanal, where you can buy a bottle of wine from the shelf and then drink it out back amidst the large shade trees, eat something tasty, and listen to shockingly good music.

In that garden, I very much enjoyed the 1996 López de Heredia Tondonia Reserva.

With a simple and lovely seafood salad.

I've visited family and walked in the woods some.

The nights are starting to get chilly and I've cooked some heavier food.

These potatoes with butter and dill were supposed to be like the ones you can eat on the Brighton Beach boardwalk. Not quite, but I almost got there. I continue to be surprised and inspired by how hard it is to prepare seemingly simple dishes.

I've eaten at old and familiar restaurants, like Aliseo.

I've eaten beautifully prepared Aji (horse mackerel), at my favorite Japanese restaurant.

Gorgeous with Champagne, by the way.

I've drunk the new vintage of some familiar wines that I love. Bernard Baudry's 2010 Cuvée Domaine and Grézeaux are both very, very good. Also, some older vintages of familiar wines that I love. 2002 Huet...whoa!

I've had some grand wines that are new to me. I'd tasted Raveneau before, but never sat with a bottle over dinner.

Same with Bartolo Mascarello. This wine was quite moving, I thought. And still very young, I kid you not.

It's been a great fall so far. And now, we in NYC are lucky to be in the midst of Sherryfest, the greatest week of Sherry events that the US has ever seen. More on that soon.

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Burgundy that I Buy Every Year

My oldest daughter was born almost six years ago. When my then-wife was approaching the end of the second trimester of her pregnancy, we decided to take a trip to France, to Burgundy. Before leaving I asked David Lillie at Chambers Street if he could recommend any producers we should visit. He generously set us up with Jeanne-Marie de Champs, a Burdgundian who has been in the wine trade for quite some time. She took us to visit several producers, one of whom was Jean Lafouge.

We were completely charmed by the Lafouge visit. Everything was right - Jean and his son Gilles, the relaxed way they welcomed us to their work and their wines, the cellars, the house, the way they kept making sure my pregnant wife had water, did she want a chair, did she need more air, something to eat?

The wines happened to smell and taste very good also. My daughter had been in her mommy's tummy for about 6 months at that point. I like to think that she also tasted those wines, the lovely whites from Auxey-Duresses, the properly oily and nutty Meursaults, the pure and complex reds from Auxey-Duresses and Pommard. She tasted other wines on that trip too, but something about the Lafouges and their wines - for me it just stuck. 

I resolved to include Lafouge wine in the little collection of 2007 birth-year wines I would amass for my daughter. True, Auxey-Duresses is not the most illustrious Burgundy terroir, but it is not the only wine I've saved for her. And some wines you save because they are great wines, others you save because they have a special meaning. Lafouge Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru La Chapelle is an excellent Auxey-Duresses that for me has special meaning. I like the other wines by Lafouge too, the reds are all good, and the Meursault is actually among the best values that I know of in white Burgundy. But La Chapelle for whatever reason is the one I put in the cellar. In fact, it's the only Burgundy wine that I buy each and every year. I buy Burgundy differently now, getting far fewer bottles of higher quality. But I always get a few bottles of Lafouge La Chapelle. My younger daughter has a birth-year bottle of La Chapelle waiting for her too.

I just picked up the 2010's, a vintage of low yields and supposedly excellent quality. These, like most La Chapelle I own, are not birth-year bottles, and I have no idea when and how I will enjoy them. I'm excited...