Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jo Pithon's 2005 Savennières "La Croix Picot"

Though I didn’t realize it at the time I purchased it, Jo Pithon’s 2005 Savennières represents a near end-point in the modern viticultural history of the Anjou. It’s the penultimate vintage ever to be bottled under Pithon’s own label and under his own autonomic control.

In 2005, a 95% stake in Domaine Jo Pithon was purchased from its financially strapped owner by Philip Fournier, founder of the telecommunications concern, Afone, which is based in Angers. Subsequently, Monsieur Fournier also purchased the Château de Chamboreau from its previous owner, Pierre Soulez, in 1996. The two estates have now been combined to form an aggregate of 27 hectares of vineyards situated throughout Angevin wine country. The wines are now being marketed under a new label, Domaine FL, after the family names of the new owner’s parents, Fournier and Longchamps. More complete details of the transaction and merger can be found at Jim’s Loire.

Though I hope I’m wrong, I fear that combining the two estates may lead to a loss of the individualistic characteristics and expressions of terroir of the old wines. It’s just a hunch, as “FL” seems to have positioned itself more as a brand name than a Domaine. If anyone out there has tasted the new wines, let me know; I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Savennières "La Croix Picot," Domaine Jo Pithon 2005
$25. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Elite Wines Imports, Lorton, VA.

“La Croix Picot” is produced from young vines of organically farmed Chenin, planted in 2000 on a 1.1 hectare plot situated on a hillside overlooking the Loire and composed primarily of decomposed schist, with small amounts of clay, quartz, sand and red volcanic subsoil. As with all of Pithon’s wines, it’s aged in barriques (about 15% new, in this case) and produced with minimal application of sulfur and no enzymes, commercial yeasts or chaptalization.

I’ve heard some complaints about Pithon’s Savennières being dominated by its oak treatment but I didn’t find that to be the case. Perhaps it’s had enough time in the bottle now for the oak to integrate (not something that always happens) with the fruit. What I did find was a wine bursting with intensely ripe fruit, full of varietal Chenin characteristics, but not yet speaking clearly of its geographical origins.

Right out of the bottle, the wine bursts with scents and flavors of green pear – skins and all – and quince paste. It’s a very ripe yet totally controlled style, very textural and powerful but not out of balance. With air and a slight rise in service temperature, overtones of orange and vanilla cream emerged, even riper that at first glance, pushing towards over-ripeness but still contained enough to be quite enjoyable. On its second day, those orange tones were even more pronounced, joined by ripe, fleshy yellow peach. The wine’s power had subsided a bit, bringing the ripe textures and forward fruit more gently to the fore. Day three brought a loss of focus, all apple sauce on the nose and going loose on the palate.

I wouldn’t normally expect age worthiness given the extremely young age of the vines in “La Croix Picot,” but this is still very much in its infancy. It faded on day three, yes, but to be fair, there were only a few ounces left in the bottle…. I’d be very curious to see how the 2005 develops over the next three to five years, and equally curious to find where subsequent vintages lead under the Domaine FL masthead.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Five for Friday, Including Passing References to QPR and the Tyranny of the Tasting Note

For today, just a few notes and pics from a recent Friday get together. It had been too long, so I hope you’ll pardon my indulgences.

Rioja Gran Reserva “Viña Tondonia” Rosado, R. Lopez de Heredia 1998
$25. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: USA Wine Imports, New York, NY.
Drinking like your most comfortable pair of shoes feels, that pair you just can’t bring yourself to part with – soft, supportive, something you’d be happy to wear (or drink as the case may be) all day and just about every day. Showing medium, fully matured acidity, penetrating yet not at all forceful. Say what you will about the subjectivity of tasting notes (see the comments), this wine inspires them. A nose full of maple, orange confit and potpourri leads into a candied pecan driven flavor profile that persists and envelops the palate for minutes. Vanilla, pear, clove, peach, rose petals, winter melon… they’re all there. And the extraordinary QPR for a wine of this provenance and quality continues to astound me. Lovely stuff.

Côtes du Jura, Jean Bourdy 2005
$26. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Thomas Calder Selection, Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
Jean Bourdy’s Côtes du Jura Blanc is varietal Chardonnay, which is aged in old oak tonneaux for 3-4 years prior to bottling, yielding a slightly oxidative style. Bourdy recommends decanting the wine 3-4 hours prior to consumption but we weren’t nearly so patient. In spite of our quick pour and even following a very tough act, the wine was quite subtly delicious, showing an intensely mineral nose laced with apple and pastry nuances. Drinking it, I couldn’t help but ponder whether there are Chardonnay based wines produced anywhere else that show such nervy, crackling, tight wire acidity. Certainly not in Chablis. Maybe, just maybe, in the tautest examples of Côtes des Blancs Champagne. But even then, I’m not so sure. The wine continued to improve as it warmed toward cellar temperature (which is the recommended serving temp, by the way), letting the wine’s inherent core of sweet concentration unfurl.

Sancerre “Clos la Néore,” Edmond Vatan 2007
$55. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Wine Cellars Ltd., Briarcliff Manor, NY.
On this night, Vatan’s Sancerre – only a few ounces remained in a bottle opened the previous day – served as a quick segue before shifting into red gear. Very floral, bursting with aromas of lavender, Queen Anne’s lace and gooseberry pie. Maybe Sharon knows something I don’t (see her comments here), but this is really freaking delicious wine. Worth the splurge and, though I’ve never had what might be considered a fully mature example, reputedly quite worthy of cellaring.

Vallée d’Aoste Torrette “Vigne les Toules,” Les Crêtes 2006
$28. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Domaine Select, New York, NY.
Les Crêtes’ Torrette is a blend of 70% Petit Rouge – an heirloom vine, if you’ll forgive the term, native to the Valle d’Aosta – and 30% “other varieties.” Fermented in steel for a little over a week, the wine is then finished in older casks for about eight months before bottling. The wine reminds me very much of Freisa from the Langhe, barky in its aromas and texture and full of cinnamon, cocoa and huckleberry nuances, finished off with a slightly bitter edge. Very loamy, think of moldering forest floor. Raspy tannins and the slightest suggestion of a frizzante prickle make for a solid, rustic pleasure at the table. The QPR trend falls apart here, though; in the teens this would be a great value but in the high $20s I’m afraid it’s destined to be more of an occasional curiosity than a regular quaff.

Morey-Saint-Denis “Vieilles Vignes,” Jacky Truchot 2005
$45-ish. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA.
My friend Bill seems to have an unending knack for uncovering caches of Jacky Truchot’s Burgundies. This was a glorious bottle, more concentrated than the usual Truchot but that’s no doubt a natural outcome of the ’05 vintage. Loaded with savory, sweetly earthy umami characteristics yet equally bursting with black cherry fruit. Built to last, entirely in the vineyard rather than through any technique; immaculately balanced and, no matter how ripe and forward, entirely old school. Now if only I can convince him to part with a couple of bottles….

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

IDSK Volume 3

After briefly alluding in my last post to a recent IDSK collaborative dinner, I realized I’d been remiss in not posting at least a little detail about the event. But first, for those that missed my report on Volume 2 back in July, a quick injection of background information seems in order. IDSK is an acronym for the recent collaborative efforts between Alexander Talbot of Ideas in Food and Shola Olunloyo of StudioKitchen. These are two chefs – one a long time Philly resident, the other a recent transplant – who both approach their craft with passion and intensity. If you’re into culinary artistry, the nuts and bolts of molecular gastronomic technique, or simply enjoy ogling near daily doses of some pretty high zoot food porn, their blogs both deserve to be on your reading list.

The theme at this recent outing was a combination of the exploration of subtlety of flavor coupled with malleability of form and textural contrast. Though I found the evening’s food somewhat less delicious overall than at IDSK2, there was still no lack of pleasure to be found in the moment. As always, the experience was helped along by a charming cast of dining companions, which by bizarre coincidence on this night included Tesco Vee's old college roommate, with whom I partook in a little reminiscing about the DC hardcore scene of the early-to-mid 80s.

It’s been long enough now (the dinner was held back on October 2) that I won’t belabor this post with intricate details of each course. Instead, I’ll just let Shola’s photos do the talking; you’ll see what I meant by my above food porn reference.

broken icicle radishes, crab applesauce

Peanut Pumpkin
roasting jus, dona engracia

Matsutake Mushrooms and Bartlett Pears
hot and cold, raw and cooked

Chestnut Soup
gala apples, bacon bits

Warm Hiramasa
vadouvan, eggplant

Russet Potato Gnocchi
parsley, tender garlic, powdered raclette

Twice Cooked Scallop
chorizo, black cabbage, beef fat consomme

Whey Poached Beef Strip Loin
braised shank, red cabbage: raw and cooked

Adelegger 17 Month
yellow tomato jam

Apple Pie and Coffee

* * *

In the old days at StudioKitchen – these dinners are BYOB – Shola had always presented a menu long enough in advance to allow for specific wine pairings. He and Alex have more recently taken to fine tuning their final menu right up to the last moment. As such, they encourage their guests to bring whatever they’d like to drink. For me, that means packing up a wide range of wines with an eye toward versatility and food friendliness. Of course, they’re all things I’d like to drink as well. On this night, I ended up sharing just about everything I’d brought with my fellow diners. No pictures to do the talking this time, so some quick notes seem in order.

Jochen Ratzenberger’s 2003 Bacharacher Kloster Fürstental Riesling Sekt showed the ripeness of the vintage in its rounder, bigger mouthfeel than in more typical years but was still a delicious way to start the evening.

As is my friend Bill, I’m convinced that one could very successfully pair Riesling with nearly everything that Shola cooks. So, for the first course or two, Riesling it was. Johann Peter Reinert’s 2005 Wiltinger Schlangengraben Spätlese halbtrocken, to be exact, which showed a whiff of sulfur when first poured but was also beginning to develop some lovely mineral pungency. Great, cleansing acids and lots of yellow plum and green apple fruit, as well. Excellent food wine. As I’ve said here before, Reinert’s wines are super under-appreciated.

That all-Riesling fest will have to wait until next time, as next up was the 2004 Viré-Clessé from André Bonhomme. This was much more developed than I’d have hoped or expected, showing some premox character in its slightly oxidized entry, followed up by poached pear and walnut on the palate. It improved as its temperature rose but not enough to make anything near a full recovery.

A bottle of 2006 Coudert Fleurie “Clos de Roilette” was screamingly good, showing amazing, even atypical levels of richness but still full of focus. Totally on point, though it’s got years ahead of it, and a great match with the garlic-potato-parsley combo in the gnocchi course.

Last up was a 1998 Gigondas from Château du Trignon, which gave the “Roilette” a serious run for its money. I’ve been disappointed with some other ’98 Southern Rhônes I’ve opened over the past year or two, as they’d either not gone anywhere or already begun to fade. This, though, was a lovely expression of Grenache, all crushed red fruits and garrigue, with the elegance that comes to wines like this only with age.

Finally, some music with which to bring things to a close. It’s not quite the same Meatmen mayhem as 20+ years ago but, even if you didn’t follow the link earlier on, I know you were just dying to see Tesco Vee in action.

Monday, October 19, 2009

COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria

I’ve been considering a blog-name change to McDuff’s Food & Cool Climate Wine Trail. Whaddya think? Pretty ridiculous, if I do say so. But if you've been reading here for long, you'll have noticed my consumption of Loire wines outnumbers those from the Rhone and Languedoc by about 10:1. Likewise, in Italy wines from the north outweigh those from the south by damn near 10:none.

Once in a while, though, I do feel the urge to dive into warmer climes. A bottle of 1998 Château du Trignon Gigondas that I opened at a recent IDSK dinner was simply smashing. And here’s a note on something else I’ve wanted to try for an awfully long time.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico, Azienda Agricola COS 2006
$30. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York, NY.
A blend of 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato from the district of Vittoria on the southern edge of Sicily. Okay, I didn’t taste it blind… but this is unmistakably southern wine. I’d even go so far as to say it’s unmistakably southern Italian. Actually, on the nose this could quite easily pass for a feminine, elegant style of Chianti, full of dusty red cherry and tanned hide scents. The deep south comes through in the mouth. You can feel the sun and baked earth in the wine’s fruit approach – warm, supine, even slightly sweaty. The Frappato serves well here, lightening and brightening the usual dark, throaty attack of Nero d’Avola. Transparent, medium ruby and going slightly pale at the rim, the wine displays very fine acidity for a warm climate wine, coupled to an ever so gentle clamp of tannins on the rear palate. Lots of fresh earth and cherry fruit on the palate. On its second day, the wine showed less fruit exuberance but picked up even more elegance, showcased via a lean, pure, clean texture, along with high-toned aromas of mace, molasses and menthol. Quite mellow and very comforting.

If there’s anything lacking here, it’s the energy and crunch more commonly found in its natural counterparts from the northern territories. Here, that cool, snappy persona finds its contrast and complement in warmth, stasis and restfulness. If there’s any gripe, it’s with the price of admission. At $20, this would find a comfortable place in my regular rotation; at $30, however, it will remain more an occasional dalliance, a wine for those days when a needed burst of sunshine is long overdue.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Schiava and Vernatsch: A Double Identity Crisis

I’ve been meaning to try the most recent vintage of Vernatsch from Andreas Baron Widmann ever since it hit the shelves here in the US a couple of months back. There was quite a buzz about the wine during my recent San Fran trip, which happened to coincide with an Oliver McCrum (who is one of Widmann’s importers) portfolio tasting, yet still I didn’t manage to pull the cork until last night. The final impetus? Today’s edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, the monthly wine blogging fest that I’ve more or less neglected since not long after my own round as host.

Dale Cruse of Drinks Are On Me has taken the reins for today’s 62nd edition of WBW. He’s asked participants to taste and write-up a wine based on a grape that goes by its less traditional or less commonly known name. Primitivo in place of Zinfandel, Cannonau instead of Grenache, Rivaner rather than Müller-Thurgau.... Whether these names are truly any less traditional than their better known synonyms is a matter for debate but you get the idea. I think I got under Dale’s skin quite a while back when I called an earlier episode of WBW “Silly” (yes, with a capital “S”), but I have no such compunctions about his own theme of choice. The topic is a bit broad, but that gives everyone some elbow room yet also encourages them to push their own boundaries and learn something along the way. Besides, I’m going for his “extra geek cred” challenge, hoping that my choice may turn out to be the most obscure variety of the day. That, of course, will be for Dale to decide. So, back to the wine.

Südtiroler Vernatsch, Andreas Baron Widmann 2008
$22. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Andreas Widmann's Vernatsch hails from a high elevation (340m) vineyard called "Nockerisch." The wine undergoes alcoholic fermentation in steel tank followed by malolactic fermentation and aging in large oak casks (botti). Vernatsch, marginally better known as Schiava (“slave” in Italian), is not a grape variety that produces wines of dark color. Widmann’s 2008 example is painfully, beautifully pale, even more so than the 2007. Redolent of pure raspberry and strawberry fruit, the wine, as it was in ‘07, is clearly reminiscent of fruity-style Beaujolais or a softly-textured Pineau d’Aunis from the Loire. There’s a sweet-and-sour herbal character of dill and basil on the nose, along with a core of sweet, succulent, almost jammy fruit. The wine’s texture is light and juicy, informed primarily by lively acidity and clean fruit, not by tannins or concentration. For all of that lightness of body and alcohol, there’s a surprising level of glycerol, apparent both in the mouth and in the glass. A sign of chaptalization perhaps? I’m guessing so but, regardless, the wine’s damn tasty.

I love the way Schiava fits into today’s WBW theme, as it carries with it multiple identities both in name and in culture, all within a rather small corner of the viticultural globe. Aside from some plantings in the Württemburg area of Germany (where it’s know by yet another name: Trollinger), Schiava is most widely planted in Trentino-Alto Adige, the far north-northeastern corner of Italy. Here, a matter of just a few kilometers can determine whether the variety is know as Schiava, as it is in the Italian speaking area of Trentino, or as Vernatsch, as it is in the German speaking Alto Adige or Südtirol. You’ll see that identity crisis clearly played out on Widmann’s label, as on other bottles from the Südtirol, where the language often bounces back and forth between German and Italian, usually with German taking the upper hand. Be sure to try it if given the chance; I think you’ll find it worth the confusion.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

NOPA San Francisco

So, you’ve just spent an afternoon, evening or late night at Terroir (or your other SF wine bar/haunt of choice) and you’re looking for some good grub to fill that nagging void in the pit of your belly?

Even with well over 4,000 restaurants in San Francisco (Yelp lists 4,373 and I’m guessing they’re missing at least a few), I can’t think of any reason not to head to NOPA. So what if it’s half way across town? Granted, I’ve hardly put a dent in the SF restaurant scene, and I’ve only been to NOPA once. Sometimes, though, you walk into a place, feel the energy, peruse the menu and wine list… and you just know. When the food arrives and solidifies those first impressions, and when you’re already trying to suss out when you’ll next be able to visit before your meal comes to an end, then everything, at least in the moment, is right with the world. NOPA is that kind of place.

Shortly after being seated we were welcomed by NOPA’s Wine Director, Chris Deegan. It turned out that Chris was the very accommodating soul with whom I’d spoken when I called to change our reservations after our planned quick afternoon break at Terroir turned into a four-hour mini-marathon session. He was keen to get the lowdown on what we’d tasted at Terroir and was equally keen to guide us through the finer points of both NOPA’s menu and wine list.

I settled in with a glass of 2008 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay from Natural Process Alliance, perhaps the greenest orange wine out there. Kind of had to try it after reading about The NPA on just about every Bay Area wine blog at one point or another over the last year or so. It didn’t disappoint; not as tannic or oxidative in style as Paolo Bea’s 2007 "Rusticum," with which I’d started the day at Terroir, but more gently drinkable for it and really quite delicious.

Meanwhile, we all settled in with some apps for the table: warm marinated olives, wood grilled sardines, the flatbread of the day…. As inviting as some of the more creative main courses sounded, I’d already been told by Cory, among others, that I had to – not should, but had to – order the burger. No disappointments there, either. This was not the coarse ground, loosely packed burger so typical back home in Philly but a fine ground, firm, very geometrically correct yet not overworked patty. Perfectly juicy and tender, its real standout characteristic was its high yet perfectly distributed seasoning, as if a little elf in the kitchen had caringly placed a single grain of sea salt on each individual ground morsel of beef. Top it off with melted cheese, pickled onions and a grilled brioche roll… oh yeah.

What to drink with the NOPA burger? The choices were many – Mr. Deegan has put together a very cool wine program – but having chosen comfort food, I kind of wanted to drink something that was a little outside my usual range. Chris steered us toward Spain, into Galicia, and directly to Guimaro’s 2007 Ribeira Sacra “B1P.” Crunchy, juicy and fresh; medium bodied, red-fruited and just a tad on the herby/spicy side. It’s something I really must explore again, just as NOPA is a place that I really must visit again. And again. And again. Problem is it’s 3,000 miles away. Hmmm….

560 Divisadero (at Hayes)
San Francisco, CA 94117
Nopa on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 8, 2009

NorCal 2009, Day Five: The Allure of Terroir

Not having been to San Francisco for the better part of a dozen years, it was eye opening to walk through the Mission District, our first stop upon driving into town, and see just how much things have changed. It’s not that gentrification has put a complete whitewash on the neighborhood. No, it’s still got a certain undercurrent of grunge to it. But it’s become hipster central. Bike shops, record stores, cafés and indie boutiques dot every corner and – just like in Philly – it seems everyone's riding a fixie (or at least a single speed). There’s still quite a divide between Mission itself and Valencia, just one block away, where most of the hipstrification has occurred. But changed it all has. Whether that change is for the better is, I’m sure, a matter of debate among longtime SF residents.

The new development I was really looking forward to, though, was in the pipeline for later in the afternoon. A first time visit to Terroir (aka, Terroir SF), where natural wine, little if any of it from California, is served up by a handful of guys who are passionate about what they’re pouring, what they’re spinning, the vibe they’re making, and how it all comes together in a little storefront spot on a quiet, somewhat neglected block of Folsom Street.

In light of the timing of Eric Asimov’s piece – in which I play a referentially credited supporting role – on New York wine bar The Ten Bells in this week’s New York Times (with a cross-post at The Pour), comparisons between Terroir and The Ten Bells seem only inevitable.

Terroir's by the glass list on the day of our visit.

In one sense they’re actually quite different. The Ten Bells (check out my recent write-up) is a bar that just happens to feature a small but eclectic and fantastic selection of natural wines. Terroir, on the other hand, is actually a wine shop, albeit one that looks and feels much more like a casual wine bar. Their by the glass list is similar in scope to that at TTB, with a dozen or so decidedly natural wines poured by the glass on any given day. The bottle list at Terroir, though, is long and deep, the kind of list that can take an hour to digest if one is so inclined. And every one of those bottles is available for retail sale. For now, the wine bar is the dominant part of the business but that may change as the shop matures, especially if the owners are able to execute their goal of establishing an e-tail presence.

Terroir co-owners, Luc Ertoran and Dagan Ministero.

In a larger sense, however, the two spots share a great deal in common. I’ve found few wine-oriented bars in this country that share a similar sense of spirit, fun, passion and comfort. As dangerous as is The Ten Bells for a certain ilk of wine lover, Terroir might just be even more potentially addictive. It’s warmer, softer or “homier,” as my pal Wolfgang, the “wine writer from San Francisco,” called it. There’s pretentiousness to be found in both, I suppose, if you go looking for it. But at root, Terroir is just a place run by guys who take their wine seriously and want to share the common experience that great wine can evoke with the people who find their way in the door. There’s no guarantee you won’t be greeted with a mild dose of attitude, though that’s perhaps less likely than in the past given the recent departure of founding partner Guilhaume Gerard, who has left Terroir in order to pursue other ventures in the wine world. But you’re much more likely to be turned on to something new and to have fun, whether it’s geeking out or just enjoying the company of friends, in the process. The inimitable Joe D. sums it up:
“The sad thing is that only 10 Bells and Terroir in San Francisco have this ambiance. You would think there would be copycats cropping up all over the place. Part of what makes these two wine bars unique is the owners and staff at both places travel frequently in Europe, meet and make choices in the cellars, and know the vignerons on their list. They are not waiting around to taste wines from importers and wholesalers, but are going out into the vineyards to find wines that they love.”

Joe’s thoughts may be considered a little biased given that his portfolio features heavily on the lists at both Terroir and The Ten Bells, but I think he’s actually pretty dead-on. It’s the clear love of wine at the very root of the shop’s mission that makes Terroir such a fantastic place to hang (though the excellent vinyl collection certainly doesn't hurt).

Our starting pours. Bonus points to anyone who can ID all three. (Hint: they're all from the by-the-glass list.)

In a somewhat freakish twist, it turned out to be an almost all New Jersey affair. At one point or another, just about everyone in the place (Sunday afternoon is a very mellow time to visit Terroir, btw) had lived in the Garden State – my wife and I, our friends Steve (at left, above) and Stacy (far right), their friends Dan and Maria (center), the chef from a local restaurant, another guy who just happened to stop by for a glass on his way elsewhere…. Co-owner Dagan Ministero, it turns out, grew up at the Jersey shore. Only Luc was left out....

Our Sunday afternoon visit, conceptualized as a quick stop for a glass or two before dinner, quite naturally morphed into a four-hour affair. No one wanted to leave, plain and simple, so we didn’t, at least not until the closing bell.

1116 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 558-9946
Terroir on Urbanspoon


Such was the draw of Terroir, and my comfort/fun level once there, that I felt no compunctions about spending a solid chunk of Sunday there even in full knowledge that I’d be right back the next night for a little pre-planned wine blogger mash-up. Monday night’s get together almost had its legs cut out from under it, though, when it was reported that Terroir had suffered water damage late the night before as the result of flooding in the apartments located upstairs. Luckily, things were cleaned up enough for the show to go on, so Joe Manekin of Old World Old School, Cory Cartwright (who now works at Terroir) of Saignée, Wolfgang Weber of Spume (and Wine & Spirits Magazine), wine nut and Disorder man extraordinaire Slaton Lipscomb, Emily Straley, Dagan (who had no choice in the matter), and I all got together to share a few glasses and talk about life, wine and, of course, music. I won’t even attempt tasting notes from the evening’s festivities, as Joe’s already provided the full lowdown at OWOS.

It turns out that the flood damage has taken its toll after all. I don’t have full details on the extent of the damage but I do know that, as of this past Monday, October 5, Terroir has closed its doors for approximately one month to allow for repairs. That’s a long time for a small business to close, but something tells me these guys will come back ready and rarin’ to go, maybe even with a few new discoveries made in the course of their forced vacations.

Be sure to check Terroir's website for updates before planning your next trip and, in the meanwhile, please join me in wishing the guys best of luck with the repairs.

Monday, October 5, 2009

NorCal 2009, Day Four: Carmel Valley and Big Sur

After a few days on the run – working, shopping, cooking and bopping around town – this was our day to relax and truly enjoy Monterey before heading north to San Fran.

Day 4 AM: Carmel Valley.

On to another hike, full entourage this time, to burn off the previous night’s celebrations of the Jewish New Year. Heading south from Monterey toward Carmel by the Sea, a quick turn east took us inland into the low mountains of the Carmel Valley and through the heart of one of the less heralded areas of California’s northern Central Coast vineyards. Not long after spying Bernardus Lodge nestled in the hills to the north, we turned off the main road, bypassed the state park entrance, and headed for a trailhead that promised lighter crowds and the possibility of more than a little elevation gain. Our outbound ascent led us through old redwood groves, scarred by decades of wildfire damage, while the return descent revealed beautiful vistas and the occasional glimpse of late morning fog rolling over the hilltops.

Day 4 PM: Big Sur.

Having missed out on any wildlife sightings on our morning hike, we headed to what our hosts refer to as Condor point –a particular scenic overlook along CA Coastal Highway 1 that they’ve found a near foolproof spot for California Condor sightings. Sur(e) enough, within five minutes or so of our arrival the big birds started to arrive. A red-tailed hawk, several turkey buzzards and then, not long after, the anticipated Condor. A severely endangered species, rescued from the brink of extinction through captive breeding programs, the California Condor is North America’s largest land-dwelling bird. A beauty it’s not but unmistakable it is, dwarfing the other birds of prey and bowing the top of the full grown tree on which it landed. Birdspotting mission accomplished, we lingered cliffside, taking in the breathtaking views of the Big Sur coastline and enjoying the warming setting of the sun.

After all the condor watching, steep trail hiking, whale sighting hoping and twisty road driving? Dinner, of course. Big Sur Bakery’s roadside location – sharing a parking lot with a gas station and its structure with a collection of arsty-craftsy galleries – makes it the kind of place most pass by without a second thought, assuming it’s just another tourist trap or basic greasy spoon. Too bad, as there’s seriously satisfying food to be had. A bakery by morning, BSB opens its doors wider at night to become a full-on country inn, with a menu that focuses on seasonal California cuisine and a daily selection of wood oven pizzas.

Though I’m told the wood grilled steak is damn good, the $35 price tag steered me more toward other options, while our waitress steered me on to the house specialty, the meatball pizza. Well seasoned and ridiculously amply spread meatball slices, fresh mozz and judiciously applied, tangy tomato sauce made for a fun meal, just right to cap off our day. Just a touch more spring and yeastiness to the crust and it would have been dead on.

To drink? Affligem blond with our appetizers, then a bottle of Beckmen Vineyards 2007 Santa Ynez Valley “Cuvée le Bec” red with the ‘za, a good deal at only $32/bottle on the rather sparse wine list. It’s a Rhone-style blend I’ve sold for ages yet one I hardly ever drink for pleasure. In tastings over the last few years, I’ve noticed it getting darker and darker, oakier and oakier, to the point where I’d nearly written it off in spite of the fact that I kind of want to like it (it’s estate grown and biodynamically farmed after all). On this night, though, it was tasting surprisingly good. Fresh, not too big, well-defined fruit, not overtly manipulated and, most surprisingly, barely oaky at all. Not what I’d remembered. So yes, I actually do drink and enjoy Cali wine once in a while. When in California....

Next up: on to SF.

Big Sur Bakery
47540 Highway 1
Big Sur, CA 93920
(831) 667-0520
Big Sur Bakery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago

No time to write or post for the last few days, so I thought I'd at least share some good tuneage for the weekend. Back at it soon.... Until then, get your funky AEoC on.
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