Friday, February 29, 2008

Grower Bubbles: Tasting Through the Skurnik/Theise Champagne Portfolio

Kevin Pike, Director of National Sales & Marketing for Michael Skurnik Wines, paid a visit at Tria Fermentation School recently to present a double-header look at a goodly portion of the Michael Skurnik/Terry Theise Champagne portfolio. During an afternoon session, he focused on presenting the portfolio to restaurant wine buyers from the Philly area. I headed to the evening session, a public seminar geared primarily at bringing the charms of grower Champagnes to the attention of the students in attendance.

Kevin Pike hard at work.

The welcome wine of the evening was Henri Goutorbe’s “Cuvée Prestige” Brut, a non-vintage blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 5% Pinot Meunier and 25% Chardonnay from various villages in the Vallée de la Marne. Golden and dense, generous in texture and laden with hazelnut and fresh bread notes, it was a solidly centrist starting point. As guests mulled over the first of their many wines of the evening, Kevin blazed through a whirlwind overview of the Méthode Champenoise, followed by an overview of the geography and primary terroirs of the Champagne region.

Following those geographic lines, the tasting portion of the seminar began in earnest with an exploration of a grower Champagne from each of the three primary terroirs being discussed. First up was Pierre Peters’ “Cuvée de Réserve” Brut NV, representing the Cotes des Blancs. Typical of the Cotes and its chalk based soil, this is a Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay grown in the 100% Grand Cru villages of Oger, Avize, Cramant and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. With 11 grams of residual sugar, this was well under the Brut cap of 15 grams but one of the most highly dosed of the wines we’d taste from the Skurnik portfolio – non-Brut styles aside – over the course of the evening. That hint of sweetness was well masked and balanced by the wine’s fine acidity as well as by a hint of maturity; the cuvée was based primarily on wine from the 2000 vintage and was fairly recently disgorged. Still, plenty of primary fruit emerged, with suggestions of meyer lemon, winter melon, green apples and a gooseberry twang. I’ve had rough luck with Peters’ Champagnes over the years, encountering far too many bottles that were beat up or tired out; this was showing well.

Representing the Vallée de la Marne, a cool, frost prone region running from outside Chateau Thierry in the west to Epernay in the east, was the Brut “Tradition” NV from Gaston Chiquet. Because of its frost resistance – it’s a late budder and an early ripener – Pinot Meunier is the mainstay of the Marne. That’s reflected in Chiquet’s wine, made up of 45% Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay, with a dosage of 8.8 grams. This would be a good savory course wine, particularly with white meat and poultry courses, given its firm texture and flavors of red fruits, including fleshy red apples.

One of the evening's tasting lineups.

Though 60% of all Champagne produced originates from the Aube, the southeasternmost district of Champagne, and closer to Chablis than to the rest of Champagne, we would not taste any Aube produce on the evening. The last of the major regions to be represented then was the Montagne de Reims – Pinot Noir country. In spite of the importance of Pinot Noir in the district, the wine we’d taste from Champagne house Aubry, their basic NV Brut, was another Pinot Meunier dominated blend (60%) rounded out by equal parts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It was driven by red dominated fruits, with red pear, cherry and cinnamon spice notes on the finish; yeastier than the previous wines, it closed with a distinct flourish of applesauce. Aubry doses their Champagnes using MCR (sterilized, concentrated grape must) rather than cane sugar in the belief that it is a more natural approach.

Moving on to part two of the tasting, Kevin prepped the group on the finer points of blind tasting as Tria staff members made a circuit of the room, pouring four different Champagnes from foil wrapped bottles. Given the theme of the course – Grower Champagnes – and Kevin’s role as a spokesperson for small house bubblies, some of the questions and suggestions he raised began to lead some of the cagier members of the group toward a realization of what was about to ensue.

Tria volunteer staff pouring blind.

  • The first wine of the blind flight showed medium, straw like colors in the glass. Very sulfuric, like over-cooked hard boiled eggs with a touch of smoke, on the nose. Course aromas and coarser texture. Red fruit driven palate. Overall, clumsy. I guessed large production, probably from mostly Aube fruit.

  • Wine two was very pale in color, grapey on the nose, with just a touch of acetyl character. Bright, lively acidity and very fresh, young fruit. This was clearly Blanc de Blancs, I thought, most likely with a fairly brief sur latte aging regime.

  • The third suspect in the blind line-up was clearly the sweetest of the wines on the palate. Like the first, it was sulfuric, this time smelling more like an egg salad sandwich. Low acid, coarse mousse and, sulfur aside, far less aromatic than the first two. Even less redeeming than wine number one.

  • The eye alone gave away a lot about the fourth pour, as it showed ever so slightly pink onion skin color in the glass. Absolutely red fruit, along with cinnamon and baking spice on the nose and blueberry compote on the finish. Pinot Noir dominated wine from the Montagne de Reims was my best guess, Bouzy perhaps.

Counting myself among those cagier members of the crowd, I wasn’t surprised to see what happened next. But it was great fun to see how many jaws dropped when the blind bottles were stripped of their foils, particularly from the first. Wine number one was Veuve Clicquot "Carte Jaune". Two was the NV Blanc de Blancs from Varnier-Fannière, from Skurnik’s portfolio. Third up was Moët White Star. The bottle no longer even indicates dryness level but this was clearly on the sweet end of the Extra Dry spectrum. Rounding out the flight was a NV blend of 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay with six grams dosage, from Henri Billiot, a small house in Ambonnay, also a member of the Skurnik book.

This idea of showing good and bad examples of the same type in a side by side comparison seems to be a growing phenomenon. It’s not exactly rocket science but it is a very convincing way to demonstrate certain truths without relying simply on hyperbole or trust in and “expert’s” opinion. The only downside, of course, is tasting the bad stuff in general, and needing to find room for it in an already crowded tasting slate.

After allowing time for fallout from the nasty little revelations, including some energetic discussion of the large houses’ reliance on sulfur for stability and high levels of dosage for attainment of “house style,” Mr. Pike closed out the regular portion of class by pouring two more wines from important stylistic genres. We tasted Chartogne-Taillet’s Rosé NV, a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made pink by a 19% addition still Pinot Noir base wine from the 1999 vintage. A classic, understated example of the dried, wild red fruit combined with subtle nuttiness that often results in blended rosé Champagnes.

Rounding out the planned selections for the evening was Jean Milan’s “Cuvée Tendresse,” a non-vintage Sec bottling, 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay grown in Oger. Apparently, it’s produced from the exact same base as used for Milan’s “Cuvée Spéciale” but with the addition of a 24 gram dosage. I would love to have tried it with a simple pâté de foie gras spread on fresh brioche. A sharp-eyed member of the class noticed that this was a NM (Négociant-Manipulant) bottling, the only one of the evening from the Skurnik/Theise portfolio. It was perfectly sound proof, and a good point of discussion, that not all NM Champagne is inherently inferior (just as not all RM Champagne is automatically superior). Many small producers, like Milan and Diebolt-Vallois for instance, have moved to Négociant licenses to allow themselves the flexibility to buy in small quantities of fruit from family members or conscientious neighboring farmers. Given the near impossibility of buying or affording new land in Champagne, it’s a reality driven by economic necessity which is only likely to grow in prevalence in the coming years.

Class would normally have ended at this point. We’d already tasted ten wines, a good two or three more than in the usual Tria seminar. However, Kevin had some leftovers from his afternoon trade tasting and volunteered to share them with the group. It gave us the opportunity to move into another category we’d yet to visit: vintage Champagne. Here’s a quick round-up:

Pierre Peters “Cuvée Spéciale” Brut 1999
Fruit from a single plot called “Chétillon” in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Slightly reductive aromatically but delicious in the mouth. Lots of apple cider nuance.

Aubry “La Nombre d’Or Sablé” Blanc des Blancs 2003
A blend including some of the Champenoise rarities cultivated by Aubry: 40% Chardonnay, 30% Arbanne and 30% Petit Meslier, with a miniscule two gram dosage, again using MCR rather than cane sugar. To add to the wacky wine factor, this is also in bottle at a lower pressure than normal, about four atmospheres rather than the usual six, a style Aubry refers to as “Sablé.” Wild aromas of funk, cheese and forest floor goodness. Weird, compelling and very much alive.

Pehu-Simonet “Cuvée Junior” Millésime Brut 2002
A 50/50 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend, with the Pinot Noir vinified in wood. All Grand Cru fruit; intensely powerful, loaded with savory minerality.

Marc Hébrart “Spécial Club” Brut 2002
I enjoyed the pleasure of meeting Jean-Paul Hébrart during a visit with Diebolt-Vallois – he’s married to Jacques Diebolt’s daughter, Isabelle – in February 2004 so it was a point of personal interest to get to taste this. It didn’t disappoint. A 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay blend showing tons of lime pith and red cherry skin character. Loads of sex appeal and simply delicious. Kevin considers 2002 the finest all around vintage in Champagne since 1996. This would make a great choice for the cellar.

Some of the seminar's dead soldiers. Note the squat bottle at the right; that's the signature bottle of the Spécial Club.

If you’ve carried on to this point, you’ll share the sense of how intense and almost exhausting this tasting was. It was a challenge trying to keep on top of what was what, tasting through a total of 14 wines in about 90 minutes while participating in a full-on presentation, along with Q&A, about the ins and outs of the Champagne industry. Aside from the fun of the blind tasting portion – usually not my favorite thing but quite illuminating in this scenario – standouts for me included the Goutorbe which started the evening, Hébrart’s “Spécial Club” as well as the “Nombre d’Or” from Aubry. It was quite the bubble infused evening.

* * *

Additional references:

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Natural Wine Seminar at Tria

Seats are still available for my class on Natural Wines, to be held at Philadelphia’s own Tria Fermentation School on Tuesday, March 25.

Hélène Thibon and her horse, Nestor, tend the organically farmed fields
at Mas de Libian in the Ardèche.

For those that may have missed the announcement the first time around or perhaps been stymied by the vaguely ethereal name of the course, we’ll be tasting naturally farmed and produced wines from France, Italy, Germany and the US, and discussing the ins and outs of the blossoming natural wine movement. Topics will include building a greater understanding of the differences between organic and biodynamic farming and of how they both relate to more typical commercial farming practices. We’ll also tackle the demonized role of sulfites in the wine making regime and discuss the myriad list of other seemingly wacky and often quite unnatural ingredients that are “allowed” in wine. I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Wine Book Club #1: Vino Italiano – The Regional Wines of Italy

First published in hardback in 2002, followed by a revised and updated soft cover edition in 2005, Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy, by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch, has quickly become fairly widely regarded as the new core text on Italian wine. For me, it takes over that crown, though with less technical detail and clarity, from Burton Anderson’s now out of print (and very expensive) The Wine Atlas of Italy. It also borrows on the personal, subjective charms of Victor Hazan’s classic (and inexplicably inexpensive) Italian Wine. It does both while also filling all of the expected roles of a survey book – for that’s essentially what it is – and establishing its own peculiar sense of objectivity.

One of the primary reasons I jumped at the chance to host this first edition of the Wine Book Club is that I wanted to push myself to break my own preconceptions. Frankly, I was predisposed to dislike the book. A copy had been sitting at the ready in the staff library where I work since just after its original publication. And while I’d picked it up for specific reference purposes on multiple occasions, I’d never had the urge to read it cover to cover. Or perhaps more accurately, I’d been disinclined to read it cover to cover. Why? Not for any rationally substantive reason; more based on a gut, intuitive reaction. Something about the tome’s authorship, really just the Bastianich half of it, turned me off. Why is a guy who owns a wine shop and has controlling interest in two wineries, whose mother is a world famous celebrity chef, and whose business partner is arguably an even more famous chef, bothering to write a wine book? Actually, the “Why bother?” made sense. It was the “Why should I read it?” part of the equation that didn’t click. I want my wine book authors to have subjective opinions; I just don’t want them to be clouded by their business relationships.

As it turns out, it’s that certain insider’s perspective that – though it has some shortcomings – makes the book not only good but worth a spot on any Italian wine lover’s bookshelf. At the book’s core is a region-by-region summary of the Italian wine scene, with every regional chapter broken into subsections on sparkling, white, red and dessert wines. Each leads off with a rudimentary map and gets the ball rolling with an anecdotal passage involving players in the local food or wine scene. That lattermost aspect lends a personal touch that helps make the book more engaging than a more typically textbook or atlas driven approach. A look, for instance, into the culture of artisanal vinegar production in Emilia-Romagna is treated with as much if not more technical depth than most of the wine-specific sections.

Occasionally though, the approach wanders a little too closely for comfort into the realm of namedropping; I sometimes found myself struggling to keep track of who’s who. A sub-headed section of the “who’s who” in each region would have gone a long way toward correcting that shortcoming, adding more value within the region-specific context of each chapter than it does in the purely alphabetic form chosen for the appendix of producers.

This brings me to one of the questions I posed in a Wine Book Club reminder about a month ago: If you were sitting behind the editor’s desk at Clarkson Potter, what, if anything, would you have changed about the book’s overall format, tone or style?

Given the scale and scope of Vino Italiano, its overall impact is actually quite impressive. I think it could have been significantly strengthened with the addition of more detailed and more regularly interspersed maps as well as by a stronger use of photography. Too often, attempts are made to convey richly visual and geographic information using words alone. While the power of the pen is great – yes, I’m going to use a cliché – sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. The pictures that are interspersed throughout the book seem geared more toward establishing a vaguely artsy/folksy sensibility than to actually supporting the content. Photos of some of the producers and vineyard areas being discussed would have gone a long way to anchoring them in the reader’s mind. Likewise, more detailed maps might have gone a long way to alleviating some of the confusion that’s common when trying to understand the orientation of a place one may never have visited. The $10-ish price increase these additions may have necessitated could easily have been borne as justified by all but the most frugal book buyers.

I’d also like to have a clearer sense of which author’s voice I’m reading at any given time. Given Mr. Lynch’s background as a writer for Wine & Spirits, as well as other food and wine periodicals, I’m inclined to think that he is the primary author. Yet there’s no clear indication that that is actually the case. I’d also like to have seen a clearer expression of opinion, a more subjective approach if you will, though that would clearly have made the book less broad and centrist in its appeal. In any event, as much as I want to dislike the authors’ embrasure of the increasing encroachment of international grape varieties, the growing importance of modernistic approaches in the winery and the prevalence of rich, heady wines in the bottle, I can’t help but respect the level handedness with which these controversial topics are addressed.

As to my other questions:

  • Has your general understanding of Italian wine grown through the experience of reading this text?
  • Is there a wine region, particularly one that was previously relatively unfamiliar to you, that the book has inspired you to learn more about?

I think that Vino Italiano is an indispensable resource in building understanding and knowledge of Italian wine. Though I’ve read it cover-to-cover, I’ll return to it regularly as a topical reference manual. Of the book’s 500-plus pages, well over 100 pages encompass detailed appendices that define terms, list vines and provide a quick reference tool for regional and producer-specific information. I can’t say that it has created an interest that wasn’t already there for me; however, it’s certainly intensified my interest in, and improved my understanding of, wines from many regions, Lombardia and Campania, for instance, among others.

And the bonus point challenges:

  • For the critic: Did you find any editorial mistakes? If so, what were they?
  • For the wine geek: Did the book inspire you to rush out and hunt down a wine or two? Then share some vinous love. Include your tasting note(s) in your review to earn kudos.
  • For the gourmand: To earn double bonus points – and to inspire a little salivation among your readers – prepare a meal from one of the recipes in the book, pair the dish with a wine from the appropriate region, and report on the experience.

Suffice it to say, I’m constantly shocked to find that the level of editorial care applied in most literary publishing circles does not seem to extend to the genre of wine texts. I won’t be so unkind as to chronicle every typo and awkward sentence, but I will say that there are many (the mention of "Bryno" Giacosa on p. 135 is perhaps the most embarrassing). If anyone at Clarkson Potter is reading, I’m available to help edit the next edition! Happily, technical errors, at least ones that I was able to recognize, are few and relatively minor. In the Veneto chapter, for instance, Bardolino is cited as having been elevated to DOCG status; in fact, only the designation of Bardolino Superiore is now DOCG, while Bardolino in general remains a DOC (this is recognized in the appendix of DOC information). Similarly – perhaps it came too late for press time for the second edition – I was surprised not to see mention of Dogliani’s recent elevation to DOCG status within the already DOCG-rich Piemonte.

The book didn’t really inspire any shopping, at least not that couldn’t wait, but it does have me thinking about opening a couple of the new frontiers already waiting in my cellar, like the Ribolla Gialla from Friuli’s Stanko Radikon or the Fumin from Valle d’Aosta producer Grosjean Frères. As much as I’d like to regale you with tasting notes or a recipe trial, I’d saved those for the final week and never quite got there as I was waylaid with a nasty viral bug from which I’m just beginning to recover. But hey, that leaves me with some fun to look forward to.

Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy
By Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch
Copyright 2002, 2005
531 pages
Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York, NY
ISBN 1-4000-9774-6

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hot, Hot Wine

“Hot.” So many meanings can be conveyed with one little word. In this case, alcohol level has nothing, at least not directly, to do with it. This is a story about stolen wine. It probably would never have hit my radar if not for an email from my main man in Monterey, Steve. He sent along a link to an article from The Monterey County Herald, "Savvy Thieves Steal Rare Wines from Cheese Shop.” Said thieves broke into the Cheese Shop Carmel after hours just a few days prior to Valentine’s Day and made off with a veritable bundle of wine, including multiple bottles of:

2000 Bond Melbury; 2000 Bond Vecina; 2001 Bond Melbury; 2001 Bond St. Eden; 2002 Bond Melbury; 2003 Bond Melbury; 2003 Bond Pluribus; 2001 Dalla Valle Maya; 1997 Dalla Valle Maya; 1999 Dalla Valle Maya; 1996 Harlan; 1997 Harlan; 1998 Harlan; 1999 Harlan; 2003 Harlan; 1997 Peter Michael Les Pavots; 2000 Peter Michael Les Pavots; 2003 Screaming Eagle; 2004 Screaming Eagle; 2002 6 Litre Silver Oak Alexander Valley.

I’d visited the shop with Steve during a visit in January last year and had also been there years earlier while in Monterey for a business conference. Even so, I wouldn’t normally be writing about pseudo wine news from 3,000 miles away if not for a couple of synchronicities that inspired, nay compelled me to do so.

  • An alarmingly similar if larger scale theft occurred within days of this one, yet on an entirely different continent. Do Bianchi reports, with tongue firmly in cheek, on the theft of a thousand bottles of Barolo and Barbaresco from La Spinetta.

  • At very much the same time, Wine Camp posted on the frustration of ordering wine at hot restaurants. Hot as in popular? Perhaps; but more to the point, he was referring to hot as in serving temperature – of wine. It’s a common problem in bars and restaurants, where wine is all too often stored in proximity to heat sources and without due regard to ideal serving condition.

So what does one have to do with the other? As much as I hate to hit a guy while he’s down, I have to say that both times I visited the Cheese Shop Carmel, I walked away only with cheese and bread. I took a pass on wine, not because they carry only absurdly overrated cult reds. There’s also a reasonable selection of both California and European wines. I took a pass because the wine portion of the shop was a balmy 80 degrees. That may be comfy for the t-shirt clad staff members but it’s no good for the vino. Those wines were hot before they were stolen, savvy?

The burglarized bottles will almost certainly turn up on the gray market, to be sold to buyers who are, as shop owner Kent Torrey ironically bemoans, “unsuspecting of their illicit provenance.”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Last Call for Vino Italiano

This is it. Assignments for the first edition of the Wine Book Club are due in just two days. So sharpen your pencils, polish your apples and get to it, folks. It looks like we have an international affair on our hands, as reports have already started to trickle in from as far and wide as Australia, England and New York. I’ll see the rest of you here on Tuesday.

Friday, February 22, 2008

WBW 42 Roundup Posted and WBW 43 Theme Announced

I’m a tad late in announcing the summary of WBW 42. Since I’ve been participating in Wine Blogging Wednesday, I’ve never seen such a quick turnaround. Andrew Barrow at Spittoon posted his summary only a couple of days after the event deadline. His job may have been made easier than most thanks to his topic of choice. Describe an Italian red using seven words. Sixty-one participants sipped, pondered and waxed poetic. That’s only 427 words to deal with. There’s never been a more succinct episode. I must admit I was less than overwhelmed with the topic when it was first presented. In the end, my wine brain turned off, the quirky side of my background in literature kicked in and I ended up having fun with the assignment.

I’ll have to fight back similar initial feelings in March. Joel at Wine Life Today has announced the next theme. It’s comfort wine. In Joel’s own words, “choose a wine, any wine, that you love to unwind to and tell us about not only the wine but what makes the experience special and relaxing for you!” You may have noticed by now that that doesn’t exactly encapsulate my usual approach to wine. However, at the end of a long week fighting what seems to be the mid-Atlantic plague – I’ve been home in bed for four days straight, and with not a drop of wine – I have to admit that just about any wine would be comforting at the moment. The due date for WBW 43 is Wednesday, March 5. I’m sure I’ll manage to come up with something.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pairing Peking Duck

Mention the word “duck” in the company of wine lovers and you’ll find them more likely to reach for a corkscrew than to reflexively shrink, drop or roll. Arm wrestling matches are likely to ensue over the pairing of choice. Will it be red Burgundy or Bordeaux, or something from the deeper southwest of France perhaps? All are likely preferences. But let’s not forget how important preparation techniques and seasoning can be in determining that ever-fleeting ideal pairing.

Take Peking duck for instance. There’s a very high skin to meat ratio in the classic serving style. Long, slow roasting breaks down the proteins in the meat, making it more about richness and texture. I just love the counterpoint between the golden, crackly skin and the buttery, tender texture of the meat below, enriched with some of the fat rendered from beneath the bird’s skin during that luxurious roast. Add to that, when the dish is done right, the subtle, pervasive infusion of Asian five spice and you’ll begin to get an idea as to why I love Peking duck. I’m salivating just writing this.

When it comes to Peking duck, my mind turns away from red wine entirely, focusing instead on a white with nerves of steel and a heart of fruit. Riesling. My heart and habits take me to Germany but Austrian or Alsatian examples can work as well. I look for a solid core of fruit, scintillating acidity and a spine of minerality to temper the wine’s fruit. This is not the place for austere stoniness or for opulent fruitiness (both of which have their place, of course). Subtle spiciness is welcome; big, broad grapefruit driven flavors are not. Trocken (dry) or halbtrocken (half-dry) wines seem to work best, ranging anywhere from the simple to the deep. What’s important is balance and purity of flavor.

The pairing was put to the test recently, as I shared an over-the-top meal with a group of friends at a tiny little nook in Chinatown in celebration of the Year of the Rat. After about ten courses, all served family style and washed down with a few other wines, we decided to order a Peking duck for good measure. As luck would have it, I had toted along a bottle of Riesling we’d yet to open, the 2004 Monzinger trocken from Emrich-Schönleber, a Nahe-based producer I visited in 2004. It is Schönleber’s simplest Riesling, at least in terms of what’s bottled for sale beyond the winery’s front door. Ask Werner Schönleber about it and he’ll just shrug, as if to say it’s no big deal. Ask his son Frank and he’ll just talk about how easy it is to drink a bottle (it typically chimes in at around 11.5% alcohol). In spite of the wine’s simplicity relative to its stable mates, it’s still capable of mid-term cellaring in solid vintages. With a couple years in bottle, its early yeastiness and fresh citrus tang become integrated into a more complete wine. On this night, it was brimming with white peach, laced with red spice and underpinned by mouthwatering slate minerality. As with all of Schönleber’s wines, it was all riding on a wave of beautifully balanced acidity.

With the duck, let’s just say it was divine. A lovely match with the crackling skin, spice and fat infused meat and even with the mildly sweet hoisin brushed pancakes. Without solicitation, at least three of my fellow diners commented on the pairing, asking if I’d brought it with the duck in mind. I hadn’t. It was just serendipity. Does it work for you?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wine Book Club: One Week Warning

For all of the well-intentioned procrastinators – like me – out there, this is crunch time. Only seven days remain to the February 26 meeting date of the Wine Book Club. For this first edition, we selected Vino Italiano by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch. Dr. Debs, the rest of the club coordinators and I knew from the outset that a 500-page, two-month assignment would be an endurance effort, so I hope everyone’s still hanging in there. Any bloggers planning to participate or simply willing to help are encouraged to spread the word by posting reminders on their own sites.

For those in need of a refresher on the whole club thing, check out the following entries:

I’m looking forward to hearing from everyone next week.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Nominate Your Favorite Wine Blogs for the 2008 American Wine Blog Awards

Nominations are now open for the 2008 American Wine Blog Awards. This is the second year for the awards, which Tom Wark at Fermentation implemented in recognition of the hard work, passion, creativity and increasing influence of the voice of wine bloggers. Now through February 27, you have the opportunity to make your voice heard. You can nominate up to three blogs in any or each of the following categories.

Following the eight links above will take you to the description and nomination page for each specific category. After the open nomination period, a panel of industry judges will review the nominations and trim the field down to a handful of finalists in each category. Final voting will then be reopened for public participation.

Nominations can be made by anyone, so don’t be shy. There’s no need to be a blogger to participate. Make your voice heard.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hey Hey We're the Mothers

A little nugget of silliness for a Sunday night, courtesy of the YouTube archives. Be sure to stick in there to the end. It might just make you a believer.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Vday Bubbles

Say what you will about Hallmark’s cooptation of Saint Valentine’s Day, when you’re married – or in any kind of relationship for that matter – it’s unwise to ignore the holiday. This year, it was a moot point, as Thursday’s one of my late nights at the office and an evening of extracurricular activities for my spouse. Even Wednesday was hectic but we made do with a little carryout from our favorite neighborhood Chinese spot as an early way to celebrate the day.

Ever since a recent close but not quite encounter with Selosse, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of pairing Champagne with Chinese cuisine. Champagne, Blanc de Blancs in particular, has long been one of my favorite options for the Japanese staples of sushi and sashimi but I’d never given much thought to extending Champs’ range to the greater hodge-podge and challenges of the Chinese table. What better occasion than V-day to give it a whirl?

Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru, Larmandier-Bernier NV
Larmandier-Bernier hit my radar after reading about their wines on more than one occasion on the blog of the overtly bubble-fueled Brooklynguy. This is naturally grown and produced Champagne from Chardonnay grown in the villages of Vertus, Cramant, Oger and Avize. Its low dosage – only 4 grams – is not immediately apparent, as the wine shows generous fruit and has some substantial flesh on its bones. Not as laser-like in its acidity and minerality as some Blanc de Blancs or as overtly lemony as others, it nonetheless exhibits attributes from both of those palettes. Brioche, blanched hazelnuts and red apple skin nuances add to its depth. After the initial intensity of the mousse subsided, it turned out to be a very fine aperitif. To my joy, and slight surprise, it also fared quite well in the company of grilled shrimp with a lightly stir-fried hash of red and green bell peppers and a few spikes of fresh garlic. As my wife partook of only a small glass, I was able to save a little into a second day. An oilier texture emerged. The delicate lemon chiffon elements from day one gave way in the wake of more overtly apple flesh driven flavors. I'd love to try a bottle with a couple more years of aging on the cork.
$47. 12% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Louis-Dressner, New York, NY.

Quite by coincidence, Eric Asimov briefly extolled the virtues of Champagne with Chinese food, Sichuan in particular, in a posting on The Pour that appeared on Valentine’s Day. Scrubbing bubbles and cleansing acidity, he asserts, are its keys to success. I found the charms of Larmandier-Bernier’s Blanc de Blancs to extend beyond that simple yet entirely accurate formula. It actually brought out a particular savor in the food, a one plus one equals three pairing as one of my co-workers likes to say. Apparently, I’ve been missing the boat all these years. Rest assured, I won’t wait until next February to repeat the experience. Carryout Chinese is good for any night when time is at a premium. And good Champagne is a delight on any night, period.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Natural Wine Seminar at Tria Fermentation School

The March schedule of classes has just been announced at Tria Fermentation School. In addition to a multitude of hops and malt oriented courses in celebration of Philly Beer Week, you’ll find me back on the schedule. At the moment, there are still plenty of seats left for my class on Natural Wines, to be held Tuesday, March 25.

We’ll be tasting organically and biodynamically farmed wines from France, Italy and Germany, and discussing the ins and outs of the blossoming – and ancient – natural wine movement. The registration fee of $65 is all-inclusive. Act fast if you’re interested, as the spots tend to sell out fast. I hope to see you there.

WBW 42: Describe an Italian Red Using Seven Words


Wine Blogging Wednesday is a monthly meme.
This episode hosted by Andrew at Spittoon.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


When I moved to the Philly area fifteen odd years ago, Dmitri’s was one of the first spots that made me instantly fall in love with the town’s food scene. While that dining scene has grown, diversified and improved since then, Dmitri’s hasn’t budged an inch. The location and décor are still the same. Prices have escalated only in step with inflation. The menu hasn’t changed. Yet it somehow has avoided being passed by, comfortably maintaining a sense of timelessness. Hell, some of the same servers and kitchen staff I first encountered way back when are still to be found working the floor several nights a week. It’s a Philadelphia institution I’d hate to have to do without. I’d happily swear off cheesesteaks, soft pretzels and scrapple before I’d give up a seat at Dmitri’s.

I usually like to filet my own fish but that's a rather tough job when four people are seated at a table built for two. Besides, the lovely Angela performs the task more elegantly than I would. At right, a moment of repose for the amazingly efficient kitchen staff.

Dishes here are best shared. The small space and tiny tables almost demand it, as does the family style of service. Plates are delivered as they’re ready and often don’t make it to the table before diners dive in for a forkful. This is Philadelphia’s original home of the small plate/large plate menu. The only challenge that can present is just how much to order. It’s a great spot to go with a huge appetite and a group of friends. But it can just as easily be treated as a solid source for a quick solo meal at the small open kitchen bar. Just don’t go expecting creative nuances or of the moment ingredients.

Dmitri’s is all about simple food, simply prepared and simply presented. Grilling, broiling, sautéing and deep-frying are the cooking methods of choice, applied with an equally deft hand to a variety of seafood. Salty fried smelts, zesty sautéed mussels and snappy grilled octopus are all favorites of mine, along with consistently moist and fresh whole grilled fish. When in season, softshell crabs are a house specialty. The seriously good split babaganouj and hummus plate, served with warm pita triangles and a dish of dipping oil, makes a great communal starter.

Typical scenes on the table at Dmitri's. Space is at a premium and plates rarely stay untouched long enough for a photo.

I generally find “no reservations” policies irksome; however, it makes total sense in this tiny space. Service is quick, turnover is rapid and, although Dmitri’s pulls diners from all over the region along with its share of more adventurous tourists, it’s essentially a neighborhood joint. On weekends, be prepared to arrive before the doors open early in the evening or else for a wait that can range up to two hours at peak. The bar at the New Wave Café, handily located across the street, doubles as Dmitri’s unofficial waiting room.

Along with my long-standing love affair with the original Dmitri’s, the main reason I never give a second thought to the “new” Dmitri’s location near Fitler Square is simple. Dmitri’s Queen Village branch is a BYOB. It’s not a place for big, rich or complicated wine of any sort. Don’t bother toting along your favorite California Cab or Meursault. Save one dish – the grilled lamb – the menu is geared completely toward crispy, dry, aromatic whites and rosés. Dry Sherry – Fino or Manzanilla, ideally – makes for a perfect starter to accompany many of the small seafood plates. Reds can work, obviously with the lamb but also with the grilled fish or salmon. Just keep them lively and fresh. The red I hauled along on my most recent visit, Vin de Table Français “La Guerrerie,” a Malbec/Gamay blend from Clos du Tue-Boeuf in the Loire, was wild, funky and, as it turned out, a pretty interesting match with both the grilled medallions of lamb and the grilled red snapper.

If you live in the Philly area and haven’t been to Dmitri’s or if you’re visiting from out of town for more than one evening you owe a meal there to yourself.

795 S. 3rd Street (at Catherine)
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 625-0556
Dmitri's in Philadelphia

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Blogs of Note: Home Town Edition

This thread saw its kick-off with a little shout out to some of my favorite New York wine bloggers. It’s only fitting then that the second edition should bring things home to Philly, “the city that loves you back.” Philadelphia has a rich, all too often overlooked, food and dining scene and a corresponding wealth of good food blogs. I read almost all of them semi-regularly – you’ll find many in my Philly blogroll – but there is a core handful that really keeps me hungry for more.

Taylor of Mac & Cheese lives in the town where I work. As here at MFWT however, the majority of her out and about adventures focus on Philadelphia. Her choice of circuit is driven primarily by her vegetarianism. Sandwich shops and corporate cafeterias are fair game. Her posts are peppered with recipes, anecdotes and loads of fun-to-read attitude. For whatever reason, whether it was her disgruntlement with public expectoration and dogs’ balls or her rudi-scientific drawings, I was hooked when I read last summer’s post on errant basil pruning.

It’s a brand new blog and I’m probably a little biased as its author is a friend and occasional dining buddy, but I’m digging the Philadining blog. “Phil” has been running a regular website, also called Philadining, for years and is an über-regular commentator in the Philly forum at Nonetheless – surprise, surprise – I rather prefer the more visceral, of-the-moment quality of the blog relative to the website and the clearer voice which blossoms outside of the sparring ring at eG. It’s worth keeping an eye on for the fantastic photos alone. I only wonder where he’ll find the time to maintain both the blog and the website….

In stark contrast to its food culture, Philadelphia has a young, relatively meager wine scene and an almost total dearth of wine blogs. Aside from myself, I can think of only one other Philablogger who writes about wine, though only from time to time as he tends to focus more on food. I just wish David Snyder, aka Philafoodie, would post more often, as his journalistic style is extremely well executed and his topics tend to be well researched. His ongoing series on the great foie gras debate is particularly compelling.

I considered saving this final entry for the “Blogs of Note: Food Porn” edition. Shola Olunloyo surely considers himself a citizen of the global food scene. However, from the days when we cycled together on the Tuesday night drive ride, to his time behind the stove in now defunct Stephen Starr (L’Ange Bleu) and Neil Stein (Bleu) restaurants, I’ll always think of him as a Philly guy. Studiokitchen is his business, his persona and, in its most public essence, his blog. Updated regularly, the blog features stunning food photography, descriptions of culinary experimentation, and no shortage of the nuggets of wisdom spawned in Shola’s “search for deliciousness.” Recently, he’s even committed to jumping into the wine blogging scene, albeit solely photographically.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Marc Vetri at Snackbar

What happens when one of Philadelphia’s most soundly established and respected chefs, Marc Vetri, comes out to play at one of the city’s more adventurous micro-restaurants, Snackbar? Let’s just say the city’s foodies take notice. When last I attempted to secure a reservation for one of these Snackbar events – it was Shola Olunloyo’s guest chef installment – I struck out in the race for a table. This time around, I succeeded thanks to a little help from some friends. The payoff, as served at Snackbar this past Monday, made our group effort worthwhile. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the meld between Vetri’s soulful cooking and Snackbar chef Jonathan McDonald’s reputation for gastronomic edginess. In the end it was clear that Vetri took the lead, to good effect, while McDonald’s creative touches with textures, techniques and flavors were cleverly inserted into each dish.

Snackbar’s usual front of the house staff was on fine form on the evening. They were helped along by Jeff Benjamin, sommelier at Vetri, who selected the beverages paired with each course and worked the tables, imparting wine background and pairing rationale along the way. Though we wouldn’t discover it until the end of the evening, there was some extra guest support in the kitchen as well, courtesy of Michael Solomonov, late of Marigold Kitchen, soon headed to Zahav and once a member of Vetri’s kitchen team.

Arancine di Riso with Parmesan Emulsion
The first course they delivered was a teaser. One lonely little arancine, a risotto fritter posed in a wave of foam set in a miniature casserole dish. Actually, the fritter was a nice size; it’s just that I could have eaten a handful. The outer shell of rice was toasted to a golden brown, not quite crunchy but with a great tooth feel. Inside, tender, ground essence of veal and peas were perfectly seasoned, at once rich in flavor yet light in weight. McDonald’s touch could be seen in the parmesan emulsion. It worked much better here than a full on sauce would have, adding flavor and delicacy without marring the texture of the rice puff.

paired with:
Franciacorta Brut Rosé, Le Marchesine 2002
I love bubbly as a starter, so I wasn’t about to complain when the bartender leaned across the bar to fill our glasses. When I found it was Franciacorta, I was doubly happy, as it’s rare to find any in the Philadelphia market. If Jeff hadn’t stopped by to point out that it was a rosé, I may have never known, as this was the palest possible pink, barely discernible in the red glow reflecting from Snackbar’s crimson walls. Though not particularly complex, it did showcase the chalky, slightly grapey character of Franciacorta that makes good examples a nice meeting point between the fruitiness of Prosecco and the more intense structure of some Champagne. It didn’t hurt that it was one of the better pairings of the evening.

Shaved Porchetta with Treviso, Arugula, and Celery in Forms
Tasted in its separate parts, this course at first seemed disjointed. “Celery in Forms” were pretty to look at, had certainly been modified through some culinary craft but were still essentially just celery. Lightly charred treviso radicchio also seemed at first to be there simply as a foil to the gentle, fatty richness of the porchetta. It was the dish’s assertive dressing, infused with flavors of cured, salty meat, and hinting at a touch of nut oil (hazelnut perhaps?), that pulled the dish up a notch, making it more than just a nod to the salumeria.

paired with:
Colli Orientali del Friuli Tocai Friulano, Rocca Bernarda 2006
This was without question the pairing of the night. As Tocai is a classic match with Prosciutto di San Daniele, the famous ham of Friuli, perhaps it was an easy leap to matching it with porchetta. Nonetheless, it was a leap well taken. Crisp, slightly mineral, floral and peachy, this showed the best attributes of young, unoaked Tocai. Its lively acidity married well with the acid in the dressing as well as the fattiness of the pork.

Squid Ink Spaghetti with Braised Squid and Hot Tomato Jelly
Italy met the Basque country in this dish of tender braised squid, sauced in its own ink and served with a nest of al dente squid ink spaghetti. This was arguably the simplest dish of the night, which might explain why I would happily tuck into a full-on portion of this as a main plate. However, it still managed to represent a mischievous interplay between Vetri’s soulfulness and McDonald’s tweaks. Plain to see atop the pasta was a sprinkling of intensely sweet and tangy oven-dried grape tomatoes, while lurking behind those black noodles were a few gel forms of molten tomato essence, shaped to mirror their vine plucked counterparts yet more cerebral in both their texture and flavor delivery.

paired with:
Blanche de Bruxelles Bière
As much as I enjoy good beer and believe in the possibilities of pairing beer with ambitious food, I’ve always found it a bit odd that Belgian beers are give pride of place on the beverage menus at both Osteria and Vetri, our guest chef’s establishments. Mr. Benjamin explained that he was looking for a low-alcohol option that would work with spicy heat, which he rightly understands as a challenge, when high intensity, for even lighter, sweeter wines. The problem was that there was only a barely perceptible tingle of red pepper heat in the squid ink spaghetti. A clean, vibrant white from Campania could have handled it easily. The Blanche de Bruxelles was refreshing. It didn’t clash with the dish but it did just kind of stand there and do its own thing, offering very little in the way of spark in the pairing. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Braised Eel with Chanterelle Ragu and Winter Greens
There was real elegance in this dish, evoked by well integrated flavors, traditional flavors of the season and careful preparation and presentation, pulled back a notch only by its rather gray color palette. The eel itself was tender and richly organ-y in taste. Unlike the preceding course, it’s not something I’d want a heaping bowl of or something I’d choose as a regular dish. But it may have been the most challenging plate of the evening in spite of showing no obvious edginess.

paired with:
Bourgogne Pinot Noir “Vero,” Drouhin 2006
Named for Veronique “Vero” Drouhin, this is her “unique selection of Bourgogne Villages,” a wine she assembled from fruit grown throughout various parts of Burgundy. Her time spent working in Oregon, though, shows more than the wine’s cumulative possibility of character, as it lacked delineation, acidity and finesse, replacing them all with soft, round, one-dimensional fruit. As a guy who spends his days on the floor in a wine shop, I can understand the urge to concede to the popular desire for red wine. But this isn’t a party; it’s a chef’s tasting menu, man! I’m being overly tough on Jeff here, as it wasn’t a bad pairing. As with the beer/pasta combo, the Burgundy didn’t clash with the eel. I just didn’t like it. The wine, that is. Though not exactly seasonal, I would love to have seen rosé served here, perhaps a Bardolino Chiaretto, straight from the shores of Lake Garda where eel is a local staple. A Bardolino normale or a bright, un-pumped-up style of Valpolicella could have done in a red wine necessitated pinch.

Pomelo Campari Sorbet

The intermezzo on steroids. This cleansed the palate of the preceding courses and then some. The tart, bitter and explosively flavorful combo of grapefruity pomelo and herbal Campari was delicious. Its lingering tanginess left me very, very afraid to try the Negroamaro that had been poured in anticipation of the next course.

Veal Cheek and Sweetbread Duo
The final savory course of the evening took things back to a sound footing in comfort food, yet with a higher degree of elegance relative to the squid pasta. For me, the sweetbreads were the star of the plate, seared to a just barely crisp exterior and not shy of showcasing the tender, juicy offal. The veal cheeks were tender almost to a fault, buttery in their softness and richness, yet were hard not to like. A portion of saffron infused artichoke heart, firm and snappy in texture, provided color and art on the plate. It was cut and poised in a way that made it resemble, at first glance, a chanterelle.

paired with:
Salento IGT Negroamaro “Masseria Maìme,” Tormaresca 2003
Tre Bicchiere winner or not, this was (slightly) hot wine from a hot region in a hot growing season. Opaque, opulent and blowsy, it was another example of a pairing that neither clashed nor added much in the way of interest. Pugliese Negroamaro could certainly have been a nice match; it just needed a bit more acidity and cut in place of richness. Better yet, how about an old school Barbera d’Alba or a juicy rendition of Langhe Nebbiolo?

Castagnaccio (“Bad Chestnut”) with Ricotta Foam
Even after squid ink, eel and sweetbreads, the award for most unusual dish went to the dessert course, hands down. Essentially a brownie made with chestnut flour, this had wild flavors of fermentation, funk, even a slightly fishy nuance. It was irresistible. The slightly sour tang of the ricotta foam, texturally like airy whipped cream, matched perfectly with the Castagnaccio, while a generous streak of honey provided an optional spine of sweetness.

paired with:
Recioto di Soave “Le Schiavetto,” Le Mandolare 2004
Here, the pairing was on without question. For me, only the Tocai/Porchetta combination provided a more harmonious match on the evening. The honeyed nuttiness of the Recioto di Soave, along with its sound acidity, worked well and avoided the heavy handedness that might have come from a more obvious match like Recioto della Valpolicella or Banyuls.

Piccola Pasticceria
A little sugar artistry finished off the evening. The macaroon was well executed but it was the marshmallow – looking strangely like a decapitated Peep – that was the attention grabber. Artichoke and bitter orange zest, I believe, made it clear that Snackbar’s experimental tendencies were not being neglected.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Pacing was relaxed yet steady. Service, as mentioned earlier, was precise and friendly. Even sitting in the worst seats in the house provided its own pleasures. We may have suffered the occasional blast of cold air but our position front and center gave a great view of the room and afforded the opportunity to talk with the staff and other diners at the bar. The partnership between Vetri and McDonald clearly worked to good advantage in the kitchen. I’ll look forward to a return visit to Snackbar on a regular night and will certainly be on the lookout for their next guest chef event.

Many thanks are due to Philadining for sharing some of his photographs. The shots from the Arancine through to the Sorbet are all his. It was only beginning with the veal/sweetbread duo that I finally heeded his cue that shots taken at the bar were not likely to work. Check out his summation of the evening at the Philadining blog.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Vino Italiano: Wine Book Club Tickler #2

As we’re now a touch past mid-term in the assignment period for the first meeting of the Wine Book Club (WBC), it’s about time for a wake-up call. For those arriving late to class or just needing a helpful reminder, our first selected text is Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy, by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch. For anyone wishing to participate in the first edition of the WBC, the due date is Tuesday, February 26. That’s exactly three weeks from yesterday. If you’re at all unsure of the ways and means of joining in, just check out the original club announcement for the full details.

It’s also time for me to deliver, as promised in my initial plug, a few questions to help all you eager wine book readers along the path to inspired reviewing.
  • Has your general understanding of Italian wine grown through the experience of reading this text?

  • Is there a wine region, particularly one that was previously relatively unfamiliar to you, that the book has inspired you to learn more about?

  • If you were sitting behind the editor’s desk at Clarkson Potter, what, if anything, would you have changed about the book’s overall format, tone or style?

Just to keep things interesting, I thought I’d also offer up a few opportunities for you to earn bonus points in your reviews.
  • For the critic: Did you find any editorial mistakes? If so, what were they?

  • For the wine geek: Did the book inspire you to rush out and hunt down a wine or two? Then share some vinous love. Include your tasting note(s) in your review to earn kudos.

  • For the gourmand: To earn double bonus points – and to inspire a little salivation among your readers – prepare a meal from one of the recipes in the book, pair the dish with a wine from the appropriate region, and report on the experience.

Please feel free to leave your progress reports in the comments section of this post. A little feedback from fellow WBC participants will certainly be good for everyone’s motivation as our due date approaches.

And if extra motivation is still called for, check out the first installation of “Spin the Bottle,” the interim session of the WBC. Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20 and Tim Elliott at Winecast were both charged with reading and critiquing Wine and Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking, a compendium of essays by various contributors, compiled by Fritz Allhoff. Tim has promised his review shortly; you can check out Deb’s now.

* * *
Related reading:

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Feeling reflective tonight. This is from a slightly simpler time. The song list from this show, which I snatched at the end of the Minutemen's set, is still stashed away in my box full of old fliers and fanzines.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Notes from a Sunday

This past Sunday was to have been a night out with friends for dinner in Philly. When crossed signals decreased our group by one, the rest forged ahead. We ran into a road block, though, when we realized that Sunday was the opening night of Philadelphia Restaurant Week (which ends today, by the way). Fixed price specials at spots all over town, along with a promotional media blitz, seemed to have brought the hungry out of the woodwork. Spur of the moment reservations were simply not to be had.

Rather than resulting in frustration and frowns, our thwarted plans simply made for a lovely alternative: dinner at home with friends and a few bottles of wine to try. While my hosts seasoned a rack of pork, cleaned and sliced potatoes for the roasting pan, and prepped some broccoli rabe to be sautéed, I uncorked a couple of whites.

Savennières “Clos du Papillon,” Domaine du Closel 2001
I’m a Savennières lover. There’s a bunch in my cellar and I wish there were room and budget for more. After trying the 2000 “Clos des Perrieres” from Château Soucherie earlier in the week, I was keen for more. The “Perrieres” was intriguing but left some questions in its wake; it was showing depth and layered flavors but also a significant level of oxidation. Maybe it was just a less than pristine bottle. Or perhaps it was just the wine, as I’ve seen other Loire Chenins suggest oxidation at mid-life and then somehow recover with more time in the bottle.

In any event, Closel’s 2001 “Clos du Papillon” was showing beautifully. We drank it as an aperitif – I’d love to have tried it with some oysters or scallops – and it showed loads of feminine grace. At first, it was extremely subtle, almost completely shut down on the nose. Very soft, round textures greeted the mouth, like letting a perfectly polished river rock roll about on your tongue. No oxidative tones here. It was still showing structural youth. Peach butter, lime minerality, toasted marshmallows and a little mango all came to mind. Soft but balanced acidity carried through to a persistent finish. A touch of heat emerged as the wine warmed in the glass but hardly enough to diminish its pleasures.
$23. 13.5% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Louis-Dressner, New York, NY.

Mâcon Solutré Pouilly, Domaine de la Chapelle 2006
The least elevated of the whites of Pascal and Catherine Rollet, the rest of which hail from Pouilly-Fuissé, this is a strong value in unoaked white Burg. With loads of clean pear fruit right up front, it smells like classic Mâconnais Chardonnay. Fresh, lively acidity gives a crunchy, toothsome mouthfeel that marries well with the wine’s interplay between sweet and tart apple fruit. Mint, tarragon and a touch of chalkiness emerge with aeration. At just over $15, I’d be happy to give this a spot in my regular rotation.
$16. 13.5% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA.

Marsannay “Les Longeroies,” Domaine Bruno Clair 2004
As this had been opened the day before, it was more of a taste for the purpose of satisfying curiosity than it was a drinker for dinner. Pale and bright in the glass. Sour wild cherry fruit, lean and green on the palate. Skin-driven astringency, high acidity and a vegetal mid-to-rear palate all suggested unripe fruit. Interesting from an academic perspective but not something I’ll go looking to buy, particularly at the $40ish price point.
$40. 13% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, AL.

With the pork roast and potatoes about to come out of the oven, we moved on to extracting corks from a couple of suitable reds.

Bourgogne, Bernard Dugat-Py 1999
As the condition of the label in the photo suggests, this bottle had come in and out of my cellar on more than one occasion. For whatever reason, I’d always been talked out of opening it. At around $25 on release, it wasn’t the price barrier but rather the hard to find nature of Dugat-Py’s Burgundies that had always made dining companions uncomfortable with its presence. On this night, I was committed to shrugging off any such objections.

As it turned out, the bottle’s previous return visits to the cellar had been propitious as this was showing very well at eight years of age. Deep garnet red in color, going just limpid around the edge of the glass. Plenty of chewy tannins suggest further aging potential but the medium-bodied, clove inflected, brambly black cherry fruit was hard to resist now. Beautifully aromatic, with spice, earth and black fruits galore. A solid pairing with the roast pork and taters.
$25 on release. 12.5% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA.

Lessona, Aziende Agricole Sella 2001
Little known Lessona is nestled in the northeastern corner of Piedmont alongside Ghemme and Gattinara. The Nebbiolo-based wines grown here bear more in common with the wines of Valtellina, to the east in Lombardy, than with Barolo and Barbaresco, Piedmont’s more famous Nebbiolo zones. Sella’s Lessona makes for a worthy introduction to the typicity of wines from this high altitude, semi-mountainous growing region. Brisk acidity and sinewy structure combine with aromas and flavors of tar, raspberries, red licorice and stony minerality. Also a solid pairing with the evening’s meal. I’d like to see this come in closer to the $20 price point but it’s certainly compelling enough to make me want to try the estate’s other cuvées.
$27. 13% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Selected Estates of Europe, Mamaroneck, NY.

“Aurore d’Automne,” Domaine de Bellivière 2005
The wacky wine of the night for sure, “Aurore d’Automne” is also an intriguingly delicious sticky rosé from Le Loir, made from a blend of partially botrytized and partially dried Pineau d’Aunis and Grolleau. This was pulled out of the cellar primarily for something to check out and sip after dinner although it did acquit itself admirably with our simple dessert of chocolate/hazelnut gelato. The color of a new penny, with a nose that hit me right off with a whiff of curing tobacco. There was a barn used for exactly that purpose not far from where I grew up, so it’s one of those strong aroma memories left over from my childhood. Not far behind the tobacco came aromas of Douglass fir and red fruit confit. Sweetness is obvious but well balanced by firm acidity. Resin, sherry-like characteristics and rosemary all emerge as the wine develops, along with more delicate flavors of orange oil and rosewater. Even the napkin I used to wipe up a few drops lost to the table top smelled awfully good.
$48 (500ml). 11% alcohol. Natural cork closure. Importer: Louis-Dressner, New York, NY.
Blog Widget by LinkWithin