Monday, July 30, 2007

A Kanzemer Beauty

If there is any lingering regret from a brief jaunt into the Rheinland during a wine trip in February 2004, it was our group’s inability to make a detour into the Saar to visit the estate of Johann Peter Reinert. Drinking his 2003 Kanzemer Sonnenberg Riesling Spätlese feinherb this weekend brought thoughts of that missed opportunity right back to the front of my mind. In my experience, Reinert makes some of the most beautifully pure wines of the Saar. From tiny parcels on precipitous hillsides above the Saar and its canal, from villages such as Ayl, Kanzem, Wiltingen, Filzen and Wawern, Johann manages to scrape crystalline beauty from the hard slate earth. Even in a hot vintage like 2003, his wines embrace an icy acidity with delicate, persistent fruit and mineral nuances. The vineyard Sonnenberg – “Sunny Mountain” – tends to give forward, early maturing wines. At four years of age though, this bottle was still a toddler – fresh, vibrant and multi-faceted. Initial aromas of intense stoniness unfurled to give peaches, apple flesh, apple blossoms, orange zest and a light, bright hint of clover honey. Its finish went on and on. It’s impossible to overstate the food-friendliness of his wines. This bottle paired seamlessly with every aspect of a salad of raw beets, goat cheese and arugula, dressed with a splash of red wine vinegar, good olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. If there’s a more recent regret, it’s that there are no more bottles of this in my cellar. I’ll have to sock away some of his wonderful 2005’s… and go back for a visit.

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Recommended reading:

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Blaue Gans

The third and latest wave of Chef Kurt Gutenbrunner’s Austrian invasion of the New York culinary scene, Blaue Gans (Blue Goose) opened in late December 2005 in the Tribeca space formerly occupied by Le Zinc. As he did previously at Wallsé and Café Sabarsky, KG has created an authentic dining experience and deftly presented it with an appropriate balance between formality and ease. The room has a warm, inviting feel, funkified by the walls plastered with gallery, music and theater posters, holdovers from the previous owners. Kurt apparently liked the look and couldn’t bear to part with the cultural history. The restaurant is a single large room, longer than it is wide, the entrance centered in the front wall under a slightly arched ceiling. To the right inside the door, a small zinc bar provides a perch for imbibers, regulars or for those seeking the most casual approach to their meal. Banquettes along both long walls look out over the simple dining room of small café tables and wooden rung chairs. Large mirrors on the wall reflect the riot of artwork, lend brasserie-like writing space for menu additions and provide some extra viewing opportunities for patrons with a face to the wall. The overall feel is less formal and serene than at Wallsé, not as dainty as the traditional Viennese Kaffeehaus aura at Sabarsky. If I lived in the neighborhood, I’d be tempted to eat there weekly.

With proper discipline, one could actually afford to do just that. The menu, though ambitious in some corners, includes a basic array of wursts, salads and simple appetizers. Finished off with a simple glass of beer – Gösser or Bitburger perhaps – one could leave with a full belly and only $25 poorer for the experience. As this was my first visit, I couldn’t bring myself to eat so simply, though. After all, I’m far more likely to cook up some simple wursts and kraut at home than I am to make duck spätzle, kavalierspitz or any of the other more involved dishes on the menu. That said, even with the occasional nod toward the creative, I think it’s safe to sum up the Blaue Gans table as authentic Austro-German comfort food elevated by a well-carried air of sophistication. Let me describe what I mean.

Smoked Trout Palatschinken Torte, Horseradish Crème Fraiche and Baby Beets

An appetizer option from the regular menu, this was essentially a substantial yet delicately textured smoked trout mousseline presented in a quiche-like form with Palatschinken – German crepes – serving as a torte shell. Accompanied by dill and freshly grated horseradish condiments, a trio of lightly pickled red beet wedges and a small salad of radishes and mâche, it made for an ideal summer starter. Its presentation was lovely enough to draw questions from diners at neighboring tables.

Local Green Asparagus, Soft Boiled Egg and Hazelnut Vinaigrette

A daily special, this course was the epitome of simplicity. White asparagus would have been more traditional but, as it’s not in season, locally grown green asparagus was a smarter option. The asparagus spears were blanched for two minutes and then served chilled, their subtly flavored hazelnut vinaigrette dressing enriched by the intermingling of yolk oozing from one perfectly soft boiled egg. A spray of frisée completed the composition.

Natural Raised Suckling Pig, Zweigelt Onions and Brioche Dumplings

The description of this special reminded me of a hybrid between two of the most memorable meals I enjoyed during a trip to Vienna last fall. I couldn’t pass it up. It also turned out to be the dish which most clearly encapsulated the restaurant’s dialog between comfort food and sophistication. Rustic presentation belied the subtle nuances given rise by the skilled hands in the kitchen. The Zweigelt onions were tender yet still toothsome, made just sweet enough by their slow braise. Also tender, the roasted pig’s ample layer of fat, neither over rendered nor over crisped, remained distinct from its flesh and was teeth-sticking good. Even the dumpling – symbol of central European home cooking – was well done, successfully balancing moisture and texture and elevated by a dash of thyme and the use of brioche.

Golden fried “Free Range” Chicken and Potato-Mâche Salad

My dining buddy again opted for simplicity, perhaps feeling the effects of a long day walking the city. A staple on the regular menu, it should be pointed out that this is Viennese fried chicken, a far cry from the crispy, juicy and greasy pleasures of southern fried chicken. If the chicken had been pounded flat or cutlets had been used rather than on-the-bone pieces, Chicken Wiener Schnitzel wouldn’t have been an inappropriate name. The golden crumb breading was the give away; lightly sweet and served with a wedge of lemon, the breading’s flavors clearly derived from the same mother recipe as for schnitzel batter. As moist and well cooked as the chicken was, it was the only disappointment of the evening, if only because it did not hold either the interest or purity of the other savory dishes nor the decadence of the dessert to come. Elevation was there nonetheless, this time in the form of an addictively good potato salad that I’d like to try to replicate at home.

ohr im hemd with Chocolate Sorbet

Here’s where my smidgen of German fails me. I’m sure there’s a more appropriate or clever colloquial meaning behind this dessert’s name, which literally translates to something like “ear in the shirt.” The shirt would seem to be the warm chocolate sauce which blanketed the airy chocolate cake hiding beneath. The interplay between temperature, texture and varying levels of richness was extended by the third part of the trio, a scoop of chocolate sorbet presented in the cradle of a Japanese soup spoon. Gelato may have been too rich in combination with the chocolate sauce; the icy lightness of sorbet allowed for flavor intensity without burying the palate. As at Wallsé, Chef Gutenbrunner has avoided one of the major pitfalls of smaller, chef driven restaurants. The desserts and pastries are not a let down; rather, they’re every bit up to the level of the main menu, making for a complete dining experience.

Wachau Riesling Federspiel “Steinriegl,” Prager 2005

The wine list at Blaue Gans is appropriately scaled to the ambition of the menu and the casual, neighborhood feel of the space. I understand that the list was originally, as at Wallsé, entirely Austrian. Smartly, the decision has since been made to diversify, the end result being a tidy collection of offerings from Austria and Germany with a smattering of choices from France, Italy and the US. However, there are two distinct shortcomings to the list. First, there is not a good value to be found. Prices are not astronomical in plain dollars and cents but the average 3x markup is out of scale to the moderate menu prices, particularly given the simple stemware and casual service level. Second, the list would benefit greatly through the addition of a selection of half-bottles.

As there were no splits in the house and I rarely opt to buy wines by the glass, we settled on a single bottle in the hopes that it would stretch through the meal and work with the wide array of choices we’d made. Weingut Prager’s Riesling Federspiel “Steinriegl” was a solid selection, well balanced by its medium acidity, minerality and clean orchard fruit driven flavors. It was surprisingly fleshy and structured for a Federspiel, perhaps an expression of the concentration provided by the 2005 growing season. The wine, as we’d expected, worked wonderfully with our first courses but was not quite up to the task of the hearty character of the suckling pig dish which would have been more ideally paired with a red such as Zweigelt or Blaufränkisch.

I’d better go back and try again, just to be sure.

Blaue Gans
139 Duane Street
New York, NY 10013
Blaue Gans in New York

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

One Perfect Cocktail

On past visits to Pegu Club, I’ve always enjoyed the beautiful craft and top quality of their specialty concoctions. The Pegu Club Cocktail, Gin-Gin Mule and Jamaican Firefly are all among my most memorable cocktail experiences. Early last Saturday evening, I stopped in for a quickie and decided upon a Whiskey Smash – Rye, muddled lemon and mint with simple syrup, served on the rocks and garnished with a sprig of fresh mint. This took things to a new level. For me, it just might have been the perfect cocktail. Bright, fresh citrus and herbaceous flavors hit right up front, waking up the palate with fresh, lively accents. The follow-up brings home the Rye, with deeper, richer flavors of butterscotch, vanilla, earth and grain, which all develop and change on the palate as the seconds tick by. The simple syrup seems to round out the complete package, helping to smooth the edges between the lighter, brighter front-end and the richer finish. The syrup delivers its sweetness only in the drink’s savored last drops.

Audrey Saunders opened Pegu Club in late August 2005 as a temple to the high artistry of mixology. Its concept and design both hearken back to cocktail culture’s peak era in the far eastern reaches of the British Empire. The vibe is serene; if you’re looking to rollick, this isn’t your place. If you’d like to experience a great drink, made with quality, fresh ingredients and crafted with ritual care, don’t miss it. The 5:00 PM opening hour makes Pegu an ideal spot to grab a drink before an early dinner downtown. Be wary though…. The allure of the mix makes it hard to leave.

Pegu Club
77 W. Houston Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012
Pegu Club on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 23, 2007

Lunch at Landmarc

Hungry after the drive from Philly to New York on Saturday, and having some time to kill in Tribeca while waiting for our knives, we wandered around the neighborhood in search of a suitable spot for lunch. We settled on Landmarc, an inviting spot nestled below a construction site just south of Leonard on West Broadway. We opted for seats in the quiet upstairs dining room, with a view -- over the rebar balcony -- of the street and opposing buildings. The rebar continues a theme, started at the sidewalk café and running up the stairwell to the second floor, which provides a simple expression of the casual, contemporary/industrial aesthetic of the space.

A quick perusal of the wine list yielded an old sentimental favorite, the Côtes de Provence Rosé of Domaine Sorin. Luc and Sergine Sorin, along with their daughter Audrey, are good souls who turn out an unpredictable array of wines from their small estate in St.-Cyr-sur-Mer, one of the districts of the Bandol AOC. Their rosé “Terra Amata,” one of many half-bottles on Landmarc’s list, provided a simple pleasure, uninspiring yet quaffable and well matched to the straightforward lunch to come.

When our first course arrived, we realized in quick retrospect that it probably would have been enough, supplemented by a basket of bread, for lunch for two. The large order of mussels with fries suffered from the common fate of being served in too deep a crock, separating the mussels from the flavorful sauce below. Nonetheless, they were well cooked, tender and pleasingly accented by wilted ringlets of shallots and a sprinkling of fresh parsley. The fries were meaty, golden brown, blazing hot and not at all greasy.

As our appetites had gotten the better of us when ordering, we soldiered on through a second course. My eggplant and tomato tartine again could have stood alone as a full meal. Served atop a slice of grilled bread, the tender eggplant and roasted tomatoes were satisfying if a bit overwhelmed by their topping of crumbled goat cheese. The side salad was a tad over salted but dressed with tasty sherry vinaigrette.

Go with a big appetite and Landmarc provides a solid, moderately priced menu with a comfortably mid-scale, neighborhood vibe. The wine list could use some work, as could the portion control, but I left sated and ready for the day to come.

Landmarc (Tribeca)
179 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013
Landmarc in New York

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Zen and The Art of Knife Maintenance

First stop on a day-trip to New York this weekend: Korin Trading Company. The Knife Master was in the house and we had some steel in need of sharpening.

The shop was under construction so I’m not sure I got the full desired effect. Nonetheless, the dishes and flatware on offer in the front of the shop were clearly just teasers to prepare us for the beauty of the Japanese blades on display in Korin’s showcases. The staff displayed a level of customer service commensurate to the quality of their goods, which is to say very fine. One could spend a ton of money here if judgment were put on hold. I’m coming back when I hit the lottery….

Korin Trading Company
57 Warren Street
New York, NY 10007

Thursday, July 19, 2007

WBW #35 Roundup and #36 Theme Announced

The roundup of wines from the 35th installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday has been posted by Michelle and Kevin at My Wine Education. If you enjoyed my post on the Toro from Quinta de la Quietud, you'll find more than 40 other write-ups of Spanish wines, most of them under $10/bottle, some good, some not so good. Submissions came from all over the globe so you should be able to find at least a few wines of interest that may be available in your area.

Quick on the heels of the roundup came Lenn Thompson's announcement of WBW #36. The due-date for this month's assigment, August 8, marks the three-year anniversary of WBW, so Lenn has decided to host the virtual tasting on his own blog, Lenn Devours. The theme is "Naked Chardonnay." It's a term I'm not a big fan of but a style that I have little problem embracing. Really, it's an about-face response to the overwhelming tendency of California and New World Chardonnays to be stylistically lavished with oodles of oakiness. Though "Naked Chardonnay" is a distinctly New World term, the Old World has a long tradition of producing Chardonnay based wines that see no oak, particulary in the Burgundian regions of Mâcon and Chablis. There's no price limit this time 'round, so have at it.

Wine Course: Mediterranean Musings

Class is back in session. I’ll be teaching my third in a series of regional wine courses on Tuesday, August 7, at Tria Fermentation School in Center City Philadelphia. This time around, we’ll be discussing wines from a wide cross-section of Mediterranean Europe. We’ll be sampling a diverse array of juice – white, rosé, red and sticky – from France, Italy, Spain and Greece. Tria’s lovely classroom space is limited to 24 students and seats tend to sell out quickly so register online now. See you there!

Update: Sorry folks.... Once again, class is booked! If you'd like to give the waiting list a try, please contact the Fermentation School by phone at 215-972-7076.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Eat this, Berlusconi!

In an Associated Press article which appeared in this Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer, we learned of a debate currently raging in Italy as to the appropriateness of garlic in culinary applications. Half humorous, half frightening, the article describes chefs and politicians who’ve started a war against garlic as an overwhelming flavor or as an offender of personal space. Like it or not, garlic has an important place in the traditional cuisines of much of Italy, the entire Mediterranean region, large parts of central and southern Asia and in many other cultures of the world. Of course, too much of anything can be bad. But just try some fresh, quality garlic and you’d be insane to want to eradicate it from the table. Julie Barrett of Willing Hands Organic Farm has produced garlic – grown from seed material provided by Keith Stewart at the Union Square Green Market – that is one of the most pristine flavors to have graced my table all year. Give it up? No way!

Buy Fresh Buy Local: Oakmont Farmers Market Update

As Buy Fresh Buy Local week kicks off in the greater Philadelphia area, I though it would be apropos to give a little progress report on the first season at the Oakmont Farmers Market. Coming into the mid-stretch of summer, all accounts are that the market is alive and thriving. The farmers I’ve had the opportunity to chat with have unanimously expressed their satisfaction and even surprise with the crowd and sales levels at the market. It’s been a pleasant surprise to me as well, as it’s great to see the community coming out to embrace change and to find so many people enthusiastic about locally grown food.

In addition to all of the benefits – economic, social, health, environmental – it helps to build enthusiasm about buying local when the products are just plain good. Quality sometimes does speak for itself. I’ve found it on a weekly basis in the beautiful produce from North Star Orchards and Blueberry Hill Farm, in the delicious raw honey from Fruitwood Orchards Honey Farm, the richly flavored eggs from Lindenhof Farm, the greens from Willing Hands and the ground buffalo from Backyard Bison. It’s also impossible not to enjoy the purity and intensity of some of the more fleeting flavors of the season. You’ll never find black raspberries like those from Blueberry Hill at the supermarket. And to keep things exciting, new produce seems to come into rotation just about every week. White peaches made their first appearance two weeks ago while yellow peaches and sweet corn made their debuts this past Wednesday. The first crop of garlic that Julie Barrett of Willing Hands brought this week, plucked from the ground that morning, was mind blowingly good.

From a demographic perspective, I’m also happy to report that the audience at the market seems to be diversifying from week to week. In an earlier post inspired by a lengthy conversation with a representative of PASA, I had reported rather bleakly on the level of participation by males at the market. I’ve noticed over the last couple of weeks that the male to female ratio seems, indeed, to have rounded out to a slightly more balanced aspect, say 2.5:10 as opposed to the 1:10 ratio I had originally cited. Additionally, more and more parents have been bringing their kids, providing a great opportunity for the younger members of our community to learn about food, to meet real farmers and to have fun in an open environment.

If you’ve been enjoying the Oakmont Market or one like it in your own neighborhood, or if you’d just like to learn more about the benefits of buying fresh, local, sustainable produce, here are some links you may find useful:

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wine Blogging Wednesday #35

Writing is an inherently anti-social endeavor. Whether with pen in hand, a sentimental old manual typewriter, a spiffy computer or an on the go blackberry, writing is a self-absorbed activity. As a guy that some might think displays the occasional anti-social tendency, I take to it comfortably. Blogging though, in particular wine and food blogging, has developed into something of a social community in recent times. One of the builders of that community in wine blogging circles is Lenn Thompson, who three years ago began a group participation event called Wine Blogging Wednesday (WBW). Since its inception, WBW has blossomed into a global event that is hosted by a different wine blogger each month.

This month’s installment, “Passionate Spain,” is being hosted by Michelle at My Wine Education. The goal she set was two-fold. Find a wine, any wine, from Spain, preferably something less obvious than Rioja. And try to spend less than $10 for the bottle.

I grasped the first part of the task with relish. And I decided right away to dispense with the second part. As noble as the intention may be, finding single digit price tags in the wine world today limits one’s choices to wines from large scale if not mass producers and inevitably leans toward non-estate bottling wineries. It’s just a side-effect of global economies of scale. This is magnified currently by the weakness of the dollar; European wines that were priced at $8-10 four years ago now go for $11-15 if not more. There’s also a more myopic reason behind my decision to forego part two of Michelle’s assignment. I work in a wine shop that has only recently dipped its toes into the world of Spanish wines and this edition of WBW presented a perfect opportunity to get to know one of our new bottles a little better.

Toro “Quinta Quietud,” Quinta de la Quietud 2002
Toro is a DO located in the valley of the Duero, southeast of the province of Zamora in western Castilla y León, not terribly far south from the Atlantic and quite close to the border of Portugal. Red wine production in Toro is dominated by one vine, Tinta de Toro, a local clone of Tempranillo. This is the top wine from Quinta de la Quietud, produced from 100% Tinta de Toro from the estate’s best organically farmed vineyards which are cropped to extremely low yields of 20 hectoliters per hectare. After a fifteen day fermentation and maceration, the wine spent 20 months in oak barriques – 70% French and 30% American, 1/3 new, 1/3 barrels of one wine and 1/3 barrels of two wines. The end result is a wine of rich concentration (14.5°), a dark black robe and thick legs. Aromas are of raw and roasted meat, blackberries, black raspberries, cassis and garrigue. The palate is rich, with loads of dark fruit, well integrated oak and a slight alcoholic kick sealed by a firm tannic grip on the finish. An ideal pairing for grilled meats and roasted game, I enjoyed it last night with a simple dinner of bison burgers, roasted beets and grilled onions and zucchini. In spite of its power and backbone, it’s a wine that I feel will be best enjoyed now and over the next 3-4 years. And at around $30 a bottle, it slightly more than triples the suggested guidelines of this week’s blog event. Sorry Michelle….

And what’s that I hear? Today is Thursday… your first foray into Wine Blogging Wednesday and you’re a day late. What can I say? I ran out of steam last night. I guess the Toro took over.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Wine and Cheese Tasting at Domaine Hudson

Next Thursday, July 19, I’ll be tag-teaming with the crew from New York’s Artisinal Premium Cheese to present a wine and cheese pairing happy hour at Domaine Hudson in Wilmington, Delaware. The event is already sold out – sorry for the late notice – but if you’d like to do some shopping, gather some friends and follow along from home, here’s what we’ll be serving.

  • Haut-Poitou VDQS Sauvignon “Marigny-Neuf,” Ampelidae 2006 with Chabichou du Poitou
  • Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Rosé, Château Calissanne 2006 with Ibores
  • Chénas, Domaine Georges Trichard 2005 with Isle of Mull Cheddar
  • Barbera d’Asti “Nobbio,” Roberto Ferraris 2005 with Robiola Bosina
  • Toro, Quinta de la Quietud 2002 with Roncal
  • Muscat de Rivesaltes, Mas Amiel 2005 with Bartlett Blue

Which came first, the cheese or the wine? In the case of this course, it was the cheese. I selected the wines to match each cheese with an eye to regional affinities as well as textural and flavor complements. I’m looking forward to the dialog with the mavens from Artisinal and with the crowd at Domaine Hudson. I hope to see you there!

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Relevant reading:

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Wine and Cigarettes

Let’s start with a full disclosure on this post’s subject matter: I despise smoking. I smoked cigarettes for about two months when I was in the seventh grade. I did it to be cool and, luckily, quickly thought better of it. Against my own better judgment, I’ve also been known to smoke a cigar here and there, say once every year or two. Each time, I regret it for days, which is exactly how long it takes for the burning, dulling effect of the smoke to wear off my palate.

And now for a good non sequitur: I’ve been an undying fan of the films of Jim Jarmusch since the release of his first “major,” Stranger Than Paradise, in 1984. More recently, the 2003 release of Coffee and Cigarettes presented a quirky, edgy yet charming series of vignettes built around the [sub]culture of caffeine and nicotine. It’s up to you to decide whether the film glamorizes smoking or simply depicts it as a natural aspect of social interaction. For me, there’s something dodgily acceptable about the film’s C&C combination, at least in the setting of Euro-cafés, roadside diners and good, old-fashioned coffee houses. However, when the beverage of choice switches from coffee to wine – whether before, during or after a smoke – my acceptance level plunges straight to zero.

What’s my point? I’m not suggesting that the smoking/drinking combination should somehow be banned, the way of trans-fats in New York or foie gras (however short-lived) in Chicago. My point is this: there’s nothing more deadening to the palate, not to mention one’s sense of smell, than smoking cigarettes or cigars. The olfactory senses of taste and smell are the most important tools we have in pursuing the assessment, production or plain enjoyment of wine.

Hey, I’m all for personal choice, but why knowingly handicap yourself? As a casual imbiber or even an acknowledged wine connoisseur, if you choose to smoke, more power to you. Just know that you’re missing out on the full expression that each sip of wine has to offer. At the next stop down the slippery slope, as a member of the wine trade, be it as a sommelier, educator or sales consultant, if you smoke you knowingly diminish your capacity to perform your job functions. I wouldn’t want to take food and wine pairing advice from a smoker any more that I’d ask for music recommendations from someone who is tone deaf.

At the most extreme end of the spectrum, at least to my sensibilities, I am ever and always stunned when I discover that a winemaker smokes. Why is that a problem? As an example, a trained chef, in theory, could follow a recipe and turn out a perfect dish. But if that chef can’t taste the food he’s preparing, how can he be sure it’s at its best, that the ingredients are in balance, that the seasoning is properly adjusted. The same principles apply to the art and science of producing wine. A winemaker could just practice the formulas and principles he learned in oenology school or simply follow the same procedures and traditions that his father did before him. But if winemakers can’t taste every nuance in their fruit, can’t smell the air in their cellars or can’t detect the scent of spoilage yeasts in their barrels or reduction and volatile acidity in their wines, how can they make the best possible produce from what nature has given them?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Le Petit Mitron

A non-traditional work schedule sometimes has its plusses. A day off during the week can be perfect for doing the things that everyone else saves for the weekends. Sometimes though, it can bite you in the ass. Take today for example. It’s the Fourth of July. The whole country is on holiday to celebrate the birth of the nation or perhaps just to worship the charcoal grill and picnic table. It’s also Wednesday. As that’s my regular day off, it’s the (bad) luck of the draw that I miss out on an extra day off. To take my mind off of it and to make the day a little special, my wife and I headed out for a short ride this morning, dogs in tow, to Narberth's Le Petit Mitron.

Narberth is a strange town – its own independent, crunchy little enclave surrounded on all sides by the blue bloods of Lower Merion Township and the eastern Main Line. It seems an odd yet somehow perfect setting for Le Petit Mitron, one of the closest things the Philadelphia area has to a real Parisian pâtisserie. The selection of branded candies and cookies, imported chocolates and an overly ample floor to counter ratio mark the shop as clearly American. But the qualities of the items crafted in-house bring it pretty darn close to the real thing. Proprietors Patrick and Isabelle Rurange and their young, amicable staff produce a lovely array of pastries and artisanal chocolates. Their traditional baguettes, rolls and other loaves are baked daily from dough imported from France.

Grab a proper cup of café au lait (brewed with La Colombe beans) and a buttery croissant – or perhaps the more decadent double almond and chocolate croissant – and your day is off to a good start. Just don’t miss the lovely Napoleons, Opera cakes and fruit tarts for later.

Le Petit Mitron
207 Haverford Avenue
Narberth, PA 19072
Le Petit Mitron in Narberth

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Chinons of Charles Joguet

One of the fringe benefits of teaching classes at Tria Fermentation School is the occasional invitation to sit in as an observer at one of their other sessions. This past Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending a seminar featuring the Chinons of Domaine Charles Joguet. The course was presented by François-Xavier (FX) Barc, winemaker and estate manager at Joguet. Leading up to M. Barc’s program were introductions from Michael McCaulley, Tria partner and Fermentation School Manager, and Matt Cain, regional sales representative for Kermit Lynch, the importer responsible for bringing Joguet’s Chinons into the US market.

FX opened with a cursory overview of the wine traditions of the Loire, beginning from the river’s mouth in Muscadet, running through Anjou and Saumur, leading to the Touraine and ending, from his perspective, in the area around Sancerre. Returning, of course, to the Touraine village of Chinon, he covered a brief description of the major terroirs of Chinon, from the riverside vineyards to the plateau and hillside plantings. Domaine Joguet itself is located in Sazilly, on the South banks of the Vienne, essentially across the river from Chinon’s largest commune of Cravant-les-Coteaux and ESE of the fortress of Chinon itself. With forty hectares under vine – thirty-seven hectares planted to Cabernet Franc, three to Chenin – the estate annually produces seven or eight different cuvées, each representative of a particular style, terroir or single vineyard site.

Francois-Xavier’s first experience at Joguet was as vineyard manager and assistant winemaker from 1998-2000. After a brief stint at other wineries, he returned in 2003, at the request of current owner Jacques Genet, to become the estate’s head winemaker and viticulturist. His rise was capped earlier this year when his role was expanded, upon the retirement of Alain Delaunay, to include managing the commercial aspects of the business. Since his return, FX has carried on with the already established project of moving the property’s vineyards to organic farming practices. Currently, about 50% of the estate is farmed organically with incremental portions being converted to organics each year. He is adamant about carrying the organic practices into the winery as well, seeing little value in natural farming followed by chemical adjustments in the cellar. The young Monsieur Barc is judicious in the use of oak and with stylistic flourishes in general, preferring to let the nuances of each cuvée in each vintage guide his hand with decisions in the cellar.

Winding down with his technical discussions, and as he could see people in the audience beginning to salivate, FX finally moved onto the tasting portion of the seminar.

Chinon “Les Petites Roches,” Charles Joguet 2004
From a typical, elegant vintage, the 2004 Petites Roches showed a bright, transparent ruby tone in the glass, followed by a gentle, medium-bodied approach on the palate. Red currant, raspberry and herbaceous tones followed through on a modest 12.5% alcohol framework. From 30-40 year old vines, culled to 40 hl/ha yields, from six hectares of vineyards planted on gravel and limestone dominated soils near the banks of the Vienne. Made from free-run juice only, this is the most delicate wine produced at Joguet; it is suitable for near-term drinking with charcuterie, chevre and salmon.

Chinon “Les Petites Roches,” Charles Joguet 2005
Much darker in the glass than the 2004, semi-opaque and dark cherry red in color, the 2005 visually showed the effects of a warmer, drier vintage. The generous climate in 2005, combined with a long growing season, yielded more physiologically mature tannins, riper flavor, higher alcohol (13.8%) and a finished wine that will continue to develop over the next 4-5 years. Again, pair with charcuterie or classic Touraine pork rillettes but also consider herb roasted chicken or small game birds.

Chinon “Cuvée Terroir,” Charles Joguet 2005
Terroir is the basic cuvée of the estate, a young vine wine that blends 70% first run juice from fruit grown mostly on sandy soils spread over 10 hectares of the estate with 30% of vin de presse, juice pressed from the grapes from both the Cuvée Terroir and Les Petites Roches. Clocking in at 14.3 degrees, it is more robust than Petites Roches yet less nuanced, showing bolder, forward fruit and more aggressive tannins and herbaceous flavors – natural side-effects of the utilization of pressed juice.

Chinon “Cuvée de la Cure,” Charles Joguet 2005
Bottled in August 2006 following vinification and aging purely in steel, the 2005 Cuvée de la Cure is the first fully organic wine produced at Joguet. It is also a classic example of older-vine, terroir driven Chinon, coming from two single vineyards planted on a soil base of clay and gravel. Displaying a dense, firm structure built on a medium-bodied frame with very linear, pure focus, the wine’s persistent, dusty tannins lend accent to its mineral and red cassis driven flavors. This should keep well for at least 5-7 years, maybe even ten. FX considers it the finest La Cure of the last three decades.

Chinon “Les Varennes du Grand Clos,” Charles Joguet 2005
The big wine of the night, Les Varennes du Grand Clos sees a longer, hotter alcoholic fermentation than the previous cuvées and is the only wine of the evening to see malolactic fermentation and aging, at least partially, in barrels. Pigeage during fermentation added extra density to the wine’s color and structure. The finished product, bottled in March of this year, shows plush texture combined with muscular grip and sweet-fruited flavors of raspberry, blackberry and licorice. This is Chinon to pair with beef or robust stews… or to forget about in a cool cellar for the next 10-15 years.

Chinon “Clos de la Dioterie,” Charles Joguet 1989
If you’ve ever had any doubts about the longevity of Chinon, lay them to rest. At 18 years of age, the ’89 Dioterie is still singing. In the glass, there was no bricking at all, just a pale, limpid ring around the rim of an otherwise translucent ruby bowl. Aromas of clay, red earth and rhubarb were followed by flavors of tobacco, smoke, violets and lilies. These elements combined with silky mouthfeel and still lively acidity to make this the most enthralling wine of the night. No offense to FX of course – he wasn’t involved in the production of this wine – it’s just that every once in a while the beauty and wisdom of age really do outshine the exuberance of youth. Apparently, FX thought so too, as he pronounced it “da bomb.” We were, I might add, privileged that he had brought the ’89 along for the event, as there are only about 20 bottles remaining in the private storage caves at the estate.

FX Barc represents the new generation of vignerons in France. Not born to farming, he is more student, technician, and consultant. Yet he possesses a strong sensibility for the land and expresses it carefully through natural winemaking. Luck has been on his side since taking the helm at Joguet. A string of good vintages, culminating in the exceptional 2005, have brought Mother Nature to his side. The results are promising. I found the wines we tasted together at Tria Fermentation School to be bright, varietally correct and truly expressive of the spirit of Chinon as an AOC and of the potential of Cabernet Franc as a vine. FX seems to be bringing Joguet’s wines out of their slump of the mid-90’s and back to their place among the top tier in Chinon. I’ll look forward to keeping an eye on his progress in the seasons to come.

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