Friday, May 30, 2008

Wine Dinner at Brandywine Prime

Michael Majewski, Sommelier, General Manager and Partner at Brandywine Prime, and I have been cooking up plans for our next wine dinner since not long after our last event, back in September of last year. Now that Brandywine Prime's new chef, Daniel Marcantuno, is on board and fully established in his new kitchen, we figured it was high time to bring the food to the table. Formerly Chef de Cuisine at Philadelphia's Brasserie Perrier, Chef Marcantuno has put together what sounds like a fantastic menu. I'm looking forward to it myself.

Dinner will be served on Friday, June 6, 2008 – that's one week from today. The opening reception begins at 6:30 PM. The menu, along with the wine pairings I've selected, appear below. Cost for the evening's festivities is an obscenely reasonable $75, including tax and gratuity. Reservations can be made online or by phone at (610) 388-8088.

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Hors d’oeuvre
Saucisson and Buffala Pissaladière
Halibut and Granny Smith Apple Salad, Country Baguette
Vietnamese Vegetable Spring Roll, Soy Ponzu Dipping Sauce
Prosecco Montello e Colli Asolani, Bele Casel NV

1st Course
Maine Lobster Salad, Citrus Crème Fraiche, English Cucumber
Sancerre “Clos de Chaudenay,” Étienne Daulny 2006

2nd Course
Crispy Black Sea Bass, Creamy Morel Mushroom Risotto, Provençal Sauce
Coste della Sesia “Rosa del Rosa,” Proprietà Sperino 2007

3rd Course
Oven Roasted Rack of Lamb, Herb Orzo, Black Truffle Sauce
Coteaux d'Aix-en-Provence “Clos Victoire,” Château Calissanne 2001 (from magnum)

Local Artisan Cheeses

Profiteroles with Caramel Ice Cream, Crème Anglaise
Pedro Ximenez "Selección de La Cosecha," Solera Bodega San Telmo

Brandywine Prime Seafood & Chops
1617 Baltimore Pike
(Route 1 at Route 100)
Chadds Ford, PA 19317
(610) 388-8088

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Notes from a Sunday: Memorial Weekend Edition

In between the two sessions of grilling covered in my last post, I accepted an invite from friends for a slightly different vein of Memorial weekend dining. Bill was planning to roast a leg of lamb from the highly acclaimed Jamison Farm. I was only too happy to oblige in helping to put a dent in said leg. As it turned out, he also had his mind set on pulling corks from a few heavy hitters and some bottles with sentimental associations. We actually dove straight into a Grand Cru Chablis. After a cursory taste, however, we opted to retreat temporarily toward something simpler, certainly of interest but a touch less daunting as an aperitif – and no cork involved.

Pfalz Weißer Burgunder Kabinett trocken, Weingut Münzberg (Lothar Kessler & Söhne) 2006
Along with their full range of other specialties, the Kessler sons, Gunther and Rainer, turn out pure, vibrant examples of Pfalz Weißer Burgunder (aka, Pinot Blanc) from their family estate, Weingut Münzberg. There’s an aspect right up front in this wine that The VLM and, apparently, David Schildknecht, writing about Weißer Burgunder in general, both nailed: creamed corn. While I’ve cited that flavor in a negative context in a past tasting note (on Tocai, not Pinot Blanc), here it’s an integral part of the wine, forward at first but eventually fading and intertwining with the wine’s more elegant facets. Those facets of elegance are expressed by the white peach and yellow apple fruit and the fine mineral character that emerge with aeration. There’s an overall impression of medium acidity and clean, crisp framework. The integrated nuance of corn adds freshness as well as a sweet, starchy flavor snap, which is finished off by a tactile suggestion of white grape skins. A good quaffer and quite food friendly, it’s only a shame that it no longer sells for the $15 price tag of a couple of years ago. $20. 12% alcohol. Vinolok. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Chablis Grand Cru “Les Clos,” Vincent Dauvissat 2005
Right out of the barrel, so to speak, this showed classic Dauvissat flavors of lemon rind dusted generously over white river stones that have yet to be polished to complete smoothness. Along with good persistence, there’s a very sapid wood element, already well integrated. In fact, as far as integration goes, I was surprised at how well this terribly young wine was showing already. Plenty of lime pith and mineral laced fruit on the palate. I got the sense as the wine warmed and aired a bit that, wrapped up by its currently gripping acidity, there’s a richer, more voluptuous wine waiting to emerge. At this point in its evolution though, I was surprised by its overall lack of concentration and muscle. Very good wine but not clearly elevated above or differentiated from Dauvissat’s Premier Cru offerings. Price unknown; currently sells online for $125-225. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, AL.

What goes well with purple fingerlings? Truchot's Gevrey-Chambertin worked out quite nicely.

Gevrey-Chembertin Premier Cru “Aux Combottes” Vieilles Vignes, Jacky Truchot-Martin 2003
Even though I sold Truchot's Burgundies for a short period many years ago, I owe the majority of my more recent experiences with Jacky Truchot’s wines to Bill; he’s got to be one of the now retired producer’s biggest fans. This one was a showstopper. Say what you will about the ripe-fruited or even atypical aspects of 2003 Burgundy, here the quality of the vintage brought sheer loveliness into play. Immediate impressions were of pickled plums and Christmas spice cake, with signature Truchot aromas of wild cherries and clay lurking beneath. There was another element that took me a few moments to nail down: sarsaparilla (sasparilla, if you prefer). Really beautiful wine. Silky, fine tannins, balanced acidity, sweet, nuanced fruit; it had the whole package and then some. I hope, for Bill’s sake, not mine, that he has more of this stashed away for another day. Price unknown; most likely $70-100. 11-14% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Weygandt/Metzler, Unionville, PA.

Sancerre “Clos la Neore,” Edmond Vatan 2006
After the Gevrey-Chambertin and a wonderful plate of roast lamb, fingerling potatoes and sautéed chard, I’ll admit to having a hard time giving Vatan’s Sancerre the attention it was due. Good company and good food put it into perspective as something that was opened just for pure enjoyment – not that the other wines weren’t as well. What I can say is that Vatan’s Sancerre is like few others. It lacks the fresh, fruity attack of lemon and grapefruit tones of much other Upper Loire Sauvignon. However, it makes up for that with intense stoniness – more round than racy – a highly perfumed aspect of lime oil and muscular, fleshy acidity. The wine’s intense physiological extract suggests both very old vines and very low yields. Though I’ve never had a mature bottle, I expect that this could get very interesting with age. Regrettably, if my understanding is correct, 2006 was Vatan’s last vintage. It’s not cheap for Sancerre but, if your budget allows, it would be worth snagging a bottle or two while the possibility of doing so remains. $49. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Wine Cellars Ltd., Briarcliff Manor, NY. “Acquired from a Private Collection.”

Loazzolo “Piasa Rischei” Vendemmia Tardive, Forteto della Luja 2003
Given that fresh berries are coming into season, it seemed to make sense to open something sticky as accompaniment. Mr. and Mrs. Bill visited Forteto della Luja on their honeymoon and haven’t stopped raving about the Scaglione family’s wines. Loazzolo is a small DOC zone situated in the Langhe hills near Asti, Alba and Acqui Terme. The single vineyard “Piasa Rischei” is a blend of 95% Moscato and 5% Passula, one of several wines produced at Forteto della Luja but the only one that falls under the Loazollo DOC. It’s not just a late harvest wine but also a long harvest wine; picking begins in late September and continues into November. At each tri, harvesters select only fruit that is showing early signs of being affected by botrytis. About 15% of the fruit goes through the passito process, being partially dried on canvas mats.

The end result is a still wine with surprising density and concentration. Given the relatively dark flavors and lower than typical frizz of their Moscato d’Asti, which I’d tried on an earlier occasion, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Ripe, musky melon and honeyed peach fruit intermingle with the golden aromas of autumn leaves in a dry forest. Sweet, loamy and spicy, this was as contemplative as it was easy to enjoy at the end of a lovely evening. Price unknown. 11.5% alcohol. Natural cork. Purchased in situ.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Two Under $15: One for the Grill and One for the Leftovers

The long Memorial Day weekend brought with it two welcome things: a much needed (and all too rare) two consecutive days off and perfect grilling weather. For the advent of warm weather and simple food, it was time to reach for a couple of quaffable, good value summertime wines.

Vin de Pays des Coteaux de l’Ardèche “Vin de Pétanque,” Mas de Libian 2007
The Thibon family has been farming organically in the Ardèche since the 1960s. Young Hélène Thibon took over the viticultural responsibilities a few years back and has since begun conversion to biodynamic principles. As of 1995, she is also the first generation of the family to estate bottle their wines, most fruit previously having been sold to négociants or taken to the cooperative. “Vin de Pétanque” is the basic red produced at the estate; it falls under Vin de Pays guidelines rather than being designated as Côtes du Rhône like most of Hélène’s other reds. As its name implies – pétanque is a Provençal lawn bowling game, sort of a cross between bocce and horseshoes – it’s a wine perfectly suited to casual drinking. A blend of young vine Grenache with a dash of Syrah, this is best served immediately upon opening, when the primary aromas of fermentation on the wild yeasts are still vital. Serving it with a slight chill, say at cellar temperature, helps to brighten its low acid profile and enliven its dark, spicy red berry fruit. Lower alcohol than Mas de Libian’s bigger reds, it’s a solid choice for summer entertaining and a great choice for burgers – we were flipping bison patties – or grilled sausage and peppers. $12. 13% alcohol. Nomacorc. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Beaujolais-Villages, Domaine des Pierres (Jean-François Trichard) 2007
Roast chicken is a cold weather kitchen staple at the McDuff household, at least for the omnivorous member of the family. When putting a bird in the oven, Beaujolais or Cru Beaujolais, from a good producer of course, is one of my go-to wines. This time of year, when the cooking often moves outdoors and the chicken takes on the more intense flavors brought by grilling, a sturdier red could be called into action. My call often stays with Beaujolais though, as its textural freshness marries well with the warmer weather. Like the Ardèche wine above, most Beaujolais also shows well with a light chill, helping it to stay refreshing and making it a good alternative to a crisp white on a hot night on the porch.

At Domaine des Pierres, Jean-François Trichard took over winemaking responsibilities from his father Georges as of the 2006 vintage. His wines continue to show the purity of fruit that was a trademark of his father’s style, while also bringing firm structure into play. The estate’s 2007 Beaujolais-Villages, still very young, is perfectly balanced and already showing lovely aromatic purity and clean, vibrant fruit. Not only did this show better on day two, when its raspberry and strawberry laced aromas became more focused and its tannins more resolved, it also paired better with cold, leftover chicken than it did with chicken fresh off the grill. Translation: a great choice for your next picnic. $15. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

For more information on pétanque, visit the Official Website of Pétanque America and the Pétanque America blog.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Blogs of Note: European Edition

I’m way overdue for a trip across the pond. The problem is, given the deplorable condition of the dollar, I’m not sure when my next journey will be fiscally possible. It’s only natural, then, that I do a good bit of vicarious living, a.k.a. reading, in the European theatre of the blogosphere. Here are a few of the English language sites I find myself going back to time and time again.

Peter Liem brings a wealth of experience to his work at Besotted Ramblings and Other Drivel. While years of trade experience and his position as Senior Correspondent for Wine & Spirits Magazine bring serious credence to his writing, it’s the portrayal of day-to-day experiences living and tasting in Champagne that make his work so compelling. It doesn’t hurt that he cranks out some of the clearest and crispest tasting notes I’ve encountered. His site provides a great mix of vicarious experience, educational depth and jealousy-inspiring Champagne tastings.

I’d have to put Red Burgundy on my short list of wines I wouldn’t want to do without. It’s a category, right along with Champagne, that only the few can delve into deeply and daily. It’s also a category that seems to inspire more obsessive behavior – and obsessively focused blogs – than any other. Of those that I’ve encountered it’s Bill Nanson’s Big Red Diary that keeps me coming back for more. Bill’s blog details his succinct tasting notes and the occasional trade news on a more timely, less formal basis than his quarterly e-zine, The Burgundy Report. For those like me who aspire to drink more Red Burgs but can only manage the occasional few, it’s a pleasurable and informative way to keep up with what’s out there.

A couple of decades ago, my short stint as a hobbyist photographer came to an end with the theft of my Canon AE1 during a summer-long trip to Europe. After that, I spent many a year taking trips to Europe and elsewhere and justifying my lack of photographic record keeping with the idea that picture taking was just a distraction from more immediate experience. It made sense at the time. But looking back on it now, it’s a bit of a bummer. That’s especially true when it comes to past wine trips. For my own winery profiles, I’ve luckily been able to rely on the occasional photo taken by a fellow traveler. I’ve since remedied the situation and will be well armed for my next trip.

When it comes to recording his own journeys, Bertrand Celce knows how to do it right. While it’s fair to call Wine Terroirs a wine blog, it would be just as appropriate to look at it as a photo-journalistic blog that just happens to be based around the world of wine. His own producer profiles are both well written and beautifully photographed. And his ongoing series on Paris wine bars is an indispensable reference for anyone planning a trip to The City of Light.

The last site on my short list is also the newest. The brainchild of bloggers Franco Ziliani and Jeremy Parzen, VinoWire focuses on breaking news in the world of Italian wine. As such, it takes a very different approach than the authors’ individual blogs – less personal, more journalistic. The recent spate of controversy in Brunello has provided them with a wealth of politically charged topics. Peppered with occasional editorial articles and tasting notes, it’s a great way to stay on top of what’s happening in the world of vino italiano.

Given the number of great European wine blogs, it was tough to winnow this list down to just four. If my French were better (and my Italian, Spanish and German existent) the job would have been even tougher.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A New Season at the Oakmont Farmers Market

Ah, Spring. Among other things of beauty, it brings the return of fresh local produce along with the farmers who grow it. To my undying happiness, after a long winter of relying on the local supermarkets for produce, my local neigborhood source has returned. The Oakmont Farmers Market celebrated opening day on Wednesday, May 21. Crunched for time -- I was teaching a class on Loire Valley wines a few hours after the market's opening bell rang -- I was only able to make a quick run of it, snapping a few pictures and picking up a small supply of fruit, vegetables and eggs. Based on my quick visit though, all signs promise a great season to come.

In spite of blustery winds and intermittent rain showers, there was a respectable turnout out at opening time.

Peg Dearolf was back, taking her work seriously as always, with strawberries, snap peas, asparagus, lettuces and a variety of other fresh veggies from Blueberry Hill Farm.

The Linde's of Lindenhof Farm have also returned for the market's second year, replete with their farm fresh eggs and pasture-raised chickens.

Bud Wimer of Wimer's Organics is the one new producer to the market this year, providing welcome added depth to the range of vegetables and herbs available at the OFM.

The Strawberry, by Blueberry Hill Farm.

Oakmont Farmers Market
in the Oakmont Municipal Parking Lot
2419 West Darby Road
Havertown PA, 19083

The 2008 season:
Wednesday afternoons
3:00 PM - 7:00 PM from May 21 through August 27
2:00 PM - 6:00 PM from September 3 through November 26

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Late Night at Southwark

If you caught my post about dinner at Cochon a few days back, you’ll understand why my friends and I were not in search of food when strolling a few blocks up Passyunk Avenue to Southwark later that evening. As good as is the French bistro influenced and locally grown fare served up by Southwark’s chef/co-owner Sheri Waide, it’s the old school cocktail menu, developed by Sheri’s husband Kip, that has garnered the most attention over the last few years. The bar does sit front and center at Southwark after all. And we’d come to heed its call.

The Manhattan, as crafted by Kip and his crack bartending staff, was enough to make Dana Cowin, Editor in Chief at Food & Wine Magazine, reconsider Philadelphia’s standing as a culinary destination. Even if it should have been stirred, not shaken, I have to say the Manhattan I tried was spot-on and complex, full of brooding flavors – a real thinking person’s cocktail. The deep selection of bourbon, rye and vermouth stocked at Southwark’s bar makes for near endless possibilities for variations on the Manhattan theme.

Relative to the contemplative nature of the Manhattan, the more forward flavors and hint of sweetness delivered by the Sazerac were pure creature comfort.

The men’s room features work by local tattoo artist Troy Timpel. Between this and the pig prints at Cochon, I think I feel a new theme coming on. Or is there something strange about carrying a camera to the loo?

Southwark Restaurant & Bar
701 S. 4th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19147
Southwark on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Announcing WBW #46 and WBC #3

Included in the action around the vinternet over the last week, the hosts and themes have been announced for the next iterations of both Wine Blogging Wednesday and the Wine Book Club.

The honorable Dr. Debs, blogstress behind the double AWBA winning Good Wine Under $20, will be our host for WBW #46. For the theme, she’s chosen White Rhônes (no, those aren’t ponies). Given her inclusive nature – and perhaps influenced by the recent Los Angeles heat wave – she’s allowing for a pretty open playing field, as the wines need not actually be from the Rhône. They just need to be based on one or more of the traditional white Rhône varieties, such as Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette… the list goes on and on. She’ll be awarding bonus points to those who write up wines from multiple growing regions. Check out her post for more details, procedural info and some helpful links. Your notes are due on Wednesday, June 11.

After hosting the first edition of the Wine Book Club and then proceeding to totally miss the boat on the second edition, I figure that spreading the word about the next session might help to get me back on track. The third meeting of the Wine Book Club will be hosted by none other than Wine Blogging Wednesday founder Lenn Thompson at his semi-eponymous blog, LennDevours. The selected book will be George Taber's recent release, To Cork or Not To Cork: Tradition, Romance, Science, and the Battle for the Wine Bottle. I’m asked about the whole cork vs. screwcap issue at just about every tasting and class I conduct these days. Between that ongoing dialog and my keen interest in wine science, I’m hoping there will be some good, substantive content – something to really sink my teeth into – in Taber’s text. Visit Lenn’s post for the full details. Book reports are due on Tuesday, June 24.

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Related and required reading:

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cochon BYOB: First Porcine Impressions

I finally paid a long overdue visit to Cochon last week, along with a friendly pack of rabid food geeks. Between the number of people, the number of plates being passed rapid fire around the table and the social focus of the evening, there’s no way I could do the meal justice with a full restaurant profile. So I figured I’d just write up some basic impressions, post some pictures (which were tough in Cochon’s low light) and save a more focused look for another day.

As its name suggests, Cochon – French for “pig” – is not safe haven for vegetarians. It’s clearly a carnivore’s delight, focusing on robust, French bistro cuisine and occasionally venturing into the realms of offal and the unusual. One could safely say it’s stepped into the once local shoes of now defunct Pif even more clearly than has Pif’s reincarnation as Ansill Food & Wine.

Our appetites were kindled by a couple of surprises from the kitchen: a fried terrine and grilled pâté combo (at left) and fried frog legs.

The food at Cochon is not subtle. Flavors are not delicate. Portions are not dainty. Yet, aside from one slightly overcooked slice of pork belly, just about everything we ate last week was well executed, cooked to perfection and loaded with hardy, soulful flavor. Service was tight, casual and well paced, befitting the clean lines and open, easy feel of the room as well as the good-value menu. First courses are priced between $8-12 with mains all sitting in a narrow band between $20-24, very fair prices for the quality of cooking and ingredients as well as for the generous quantities being served.

First courses included (clockwise, from top left) fried oysters; frisée salad with blood sausages; sweetbreads; and seared scallops. There was another salad course, featuring pork belly and garlic sausages, but my photo stunk so you'll have to use your imagination.

A pair of Rieslings, the "Reserve" from New York State's Red Newt Cellars along with the "Tradition" (not pictured) of Alsace producer Domaine Barmès-Buecher, stole the show for the evening. As good as are Heidi Schröck's wines, her 1999 Cabernet rosé was definitely past it. The Faiveley was over-extracted and over-oaked and the Clos du Val just plain dull, while Latour's "Morgeot" lived to see another day.

Portion control may have been an issue for a less zealous crowd. Second courses included (clockwise, from top left): the veal chop special; baby rack of lamb; pork shoulder over lentils du Puy; and duck breast.

Non red meat eaters need not despair as the daily fish special – sea bass on our visit – was up to the standard set by the rest of the offerings.

Between the five of us, we ordered just about everything on the menu, enjoyed a couple of off-menu surprises and pulled a few corks. Based on the descriptions of the few options, sweets sounded like they might be a bit of an afterthought. I can’t say though, as we never made it to dessert. That too will have to wait for a more restrained (or hungrier) return visit, one I’ll be sure to make based on the quality of my first.

Cochon BYOB
801 E. Passyunk Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 923-7675
Cochon on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Pair from the Rhône, Ten Years After

Eight or more years ago, I was still buying a lot more Rhône wine – and California wine, for that matter – than I do today. It’s not that I’ve lost my taste for the Rhône; in fact, I still really enjoy the wines of southeastern France that show the character of their place without being buried by today’s prevailing trend toward higher alcohol. But I digress. Today’s topic is not a slamming of high-octane wine but rather a look at a couple of wines that have had some time to grow.

One of the benefits of the contrast between my old shopping habits and current drinking patterns is that I have a decent handful of Rhône wines stashed away that are now coming of age. The picture tells part of the tale; as one wine was pulled from my cellar, complete with scuffmarks that bear witness to its rubs with other bottles over the years.

Gigondas “Le Grand Montmirail,” Domaine Brusset 1998
I bought several bottles of Brusset’s 1998 “Grand Montmirail” on release, opened one immediately and the others at progressive intervals. Sadly, it wasn’t until the last of my bottles, enjoyed recently, that it started to show much of its potential. Earlier bottles had always seemed ungiving. Not hard or tight, just mute. Finally shed of its baby fat and showing its inner structure, this was a good example of the elegant side of Southern Rhône wines. Medium bodied and supple, with subtly spiced red berry fruit, gentle tannins and a well-developed bouquet of bacon, dark spices and garrigue. Its overall impact conjured images of a smooth white rock, like the galets in the Gigondas vineyards, covered by spiced raspberry confiture. Warm and reservedly fruity on the exterior, cool and stony at the core. $23 (on release). 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: New Castle Imports, Myrtle Beach, SC.

While there’s always the chance that the time and space devoted to cellaring won’t pay dividends, it’s a much greater risk to buy old wines on the standard retail market – especially when they’re on closeout. Nonetheless, I’ll occasionally run into just such a wine that presents a combination of factors that will make me, even if against better judgment, pick up a bottle or two on the off chance that I’ll land on the up side of the risk/reward spectrum.

Cornas “Cuvée des Coteaux,” Robert Michel 1998
I do still look for and buy a reasonable amount of Northern Rhône wines, so when I spotted this Cornas recently, tucked away in an odd corner at a local shop, I did a double-take. It passed my usual visual inspections: clean labels, a capsule that spins freely, no sweet or sour aromas emanating from under said capsule, a good fill level – in short, no outward appearances of abuse. It also passed the rear label test: a Rosenthal Wine Merchants selection, one of the members on my short list of “just buy it” importers. When a quick price check came up $17, I did a triple-take. Immediately suspicious of malfeasance, I nonetheless found it hard to pass up the prospect of mature Cornas for a mere pittance relative to its usual price point, which starts at around $40 for current releases of most producers’ regular cuvées.

Closeouts like this are risky. In many shops, they’ll indicate a wine that’s been collecting dust on the shelves, ignored, unwanted and – most significantly – abused for years until, after repeated markdowns, they finally beckon to unsuspecting bargain hunting, price driven shoppers. Equally likely, it’s been lost in the corner or under a pile of other wine at a distributor’s warehouse. The chances of abuse are just as high there as at your corner liquor store, so buyer beware. Worse yet, and this happens regularly, the wine could have been returned by one shop, where it languished through a hot summer (or five), only to be re-inventoried and resold to another retailer at rock bottom prices. The apparently pristine condition of this bottle, however, suggested that it had most likely been lost in the shuffle at its original US source, Rosenthal, and then sold at significant reduction to the PA system just to move units out of inventory. This still begs the question as to why it hadn’t sold upon release. But all things considered, I was willing to chance it.

The bottle turned out to be in solid shape. Fully mature but not at all tired or worn, its tannins had softened to yield a wine of gentle texture and developed aromas. That said, it wasn’t very exciting, which may help to explain why there were bottles left unsold ten years after its vintage date. Shorter and simpler than I would have hoped, the main flavor impression it left was of a red berry fruit rollup that had been used as a saddle blanket during a warm day’s horseback ride. A minor issue with brettanomyces might be another reason for its remainder status. Given the mere $17 chance, this was a risk well played. It didn’t leave me entirely disappointed, as I drank it happily with a simple dinner of grilled sausage and peppers over brown rice. But I won’t be rushing back for the remaining bottles. $17 (closeout). 12.5% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchants, New York, NY.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Notes from a Sunday

The first wild salmon of the season, from the Columbia River I believe, provided ample reason to get together with some of the usual suspects last Sunday to enjoy a meal, watch the finale of the first road stage of the Giro d’Italia, see the Flyers lose to the Penguins in NHL playoff action, and pull a few corks along the way. A mostly unplanned Pinot Noir theme turned out to pay dividends at the table.

Marsannay Rosé, Domaine Collotte 2007
Salmon pink, with just a tinge of copper and rose petal at the edges. Clean and fruity in style, with aromas of spring peas and strawberry. Simple, feminine, very pretty and eminently quaffable, this bears – not surprisingly – more in common with other cool climate rosés, such as Sancerre and Chinon, than with the more herbaceous and often sturdier rosés of Provence and other sunnier climes. Choice as an aperitif, I could also see this pairing nicely with a picnic of cold chicken and crusty bread. $18. 12% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA.

Arbois Pinot Noir, Jacques Puffeney 2004
Though I think any of the evening’s wines would have worked well with the dee-lish dish of wild salmon, braised corn and shiitakes served up by my generous host, Puffeney’s Pinot Noir was serendipitously perfect. Twangy, edgy and full of savory acidity, with cherry pit and mineral elements on the palate. Initial aromas of wintergreen and sous-bois led with aeration to sweeter aromas of strawberry-rhubarb crumble, all finished off by a hint of seashell, solid mid-palate feel and pretty decent length. Excellent food wine and, while not inexpensive, a pretty solid value as it stands right up to most red Burgundy at the same price point. Plus, it’ll earn you more wine geek bonus points. $25. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchants, New York, NY.

Nuits-Saint-Georges “Vieilles Vignes,” Domaine Robert Chevillon 2004
Some of the foremost authorities on the wines of Burgundy write of Chevillon with words of reverence. To quote just one, Matt Kramer writes:
“Simply put, this is the supreme domaine in Nuits-Saint Georges…. This is Nuits-Saint Georges as it should be but so rarely is: concentrated, tannic, almost painfully intense, yet with no apparent winemaking signature.”
- from Making Sense of Burgundy, 1990

That the painful intensity and tannic structure have already subsided in this ’04 from Chevillon – if they were indeed there earlier on – goes hand in hand with my other immediate impressions. This is delicate, graceful and deep, far less dark and brooding than I would normally expect from Nuits-Saint-Georges, even in a lighter, livelier vintage. It is indeed free of discernible signature. Medium garnet color, with a nose of cloves and brambly wild blackberries. Fine, gravelly tannins provide lovely texture that, along with excellent acid balance, shoot sparks of red and black fruit across the palate. Another excellent food wine. Lovely contrast between precocious fruit and accents of sweetness. If only I had a few more for the cellar. $50. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Wine Cellars Ltd., Briarcliff Manor, NY (“acquired from a private cellar”).

Coteaux du Layon “Carte d’Or,” Domaine des Baumard 2004
While the prices of Baumard’s Savennières and Quarts de Chaume have crept up steadily over the last few years, his Coteaux du Layon wines have held relatively steady. Like those of Château Soucherie, one of which I wrote up in the last installment of Notes from a Sunday, they remain solid values. Its aromas include peach blossoms, mango and clover honey. Scintillating acidity delivers waves of intensely concentrated pear fruit across the palate. Very primary at first, only with substantial air did the expected minerality emerge, accompanied by an accent of miso. Paired admirably with strawberries macerated with fresh mint (as did the Puffeney, oddly enough). $20. 12% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Ex Cellars, Solvang, CA.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Beer. Wine. Food. What More Could Next Monday Offer?

If I had the ability to be in two places at once, this coming Monday would present a no-brainer of an excuse to exercise the power. Trappist beers in Philly and Piemontese wines in Wilmington – two of my favorite things, one in the town I call home and one in the town where I work. Since I can’t be in both places at once, work will most likely win out. But you have a choice….

The last time I attended a beer tasting at Philly's own Chick’s Café & Wine Bar, importer Dan Shelton was pouring French farmhouse ales. The evening was a blast. And I was introduced to some new brews that have since entered regular rotation, like Gavroche and Thiriez Extra. Mr. Shelton will be back at Chick’s on Monday, May 19th. The proceedings kick off at 6:30 PM. This time around, he’ll be expounding on the history of monastic brewing in Belgium and pouring examples from every single one of the country’s true trappist breweries, including Westmalle, Chimay and Orval. Between Dan and the crack staff at Chick’s, I’m sure there will be some other goodies in store. In spite of Shelton’s predilection for beer, there may even be a taste of wine thrown into the mix. Sound like your speed? Check out the details.

At the same time, not much more than 25 miles to the south, Wilmington’s own Toscana Kitchen + Bar will be hosting a Piemontese wine dinner featuring the Monforte d’Alba wines of Elio Grasso. Gianluca Grasso, son of Elio and co-winemaker at the family estate, will be in the house greeting the guests, expounding upon the vinous wonders of Piedmont and pouring some of his own wines along with those from a friend or two. The full write-up of my visit with the Grasso family in February of 2006 has yet to see the light of day. To whet your fancy though, please do check out my old post on the virtues of Elio and Gianluca’s Baroli from the difficult 2003 vintage. (That’s the beautiful Grasso estate and their Rüncot vineyard in my profile picture, by the way.) The event, also on Monday, May 19, begins at 6:00 PM. Check out the menu. Or just dive right in and make a reservation.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More on Auxey-Duresses and the Question of Premature Oxidation

Much has been written over the past few years about premature oxidation of White Burgundies. The phenomenon seems to have been particularly widespread among wines produced in the second half of the 90s and early into this decade. I’ve been lucky enough to encounter the issue on only a few occasions. Whether that truly is luck or just a sign that I haven’t been drinking enough White Burgundy is a question for me to ponder. In any event, when I last wrote about the issue, it was in the context of an episode of Exploring Burgundy, focusing on Auxey-Duresses Blanc.

The wine in question was the 2002 Auxey-Duresses Blanc “Vieilles Vignes” of Domaine Diconne. Based on tasting it upon release, I’d cellared a half-case for future enjoyment and to track its development with age. So it was with dismay that I indeed found that last bottle, at least at first glance, to have suffered from early oxidative decay. As that August night wore on though, the wine seemed to recover some of its freshness and structure and ended up being fairly pleasing, if not quite what I’d hoped.

After tasting through most of Diconne’s 2005 lineup at work a few days back, it seemed like the perfect time to revisit the 2002. This time, the first glance was of somewhat muted aromatics and tight structure. But, lo and behold, there was not a hint of oxidation in evidence. As the day wore on, more and more aromatic depth was revealed while the wine’s textures and flavors unwound. Lemon custard, green apples white stones and chalk all showed up on the palate, layered atop aromas of blooming forsythia. Oak had been entirely integrated. There was loads of grip and bracing acidity, not just linear but full and mouth filling in its liveliness. The wine was at once light, lithe and airy yet had tremendous presence, with both textures and flavors lingering for minutes on the finish. As the liquid in the bottle dwindled and its temperature warmed, coconut cream and key lime emerged along with something primal, like fresh sweat after a good workout. Final impressions were of the skin of a perfectly ripe d’Anjou pear. Just brilliant. One of the most compelling wines I’ve had this year.

I could call it a happy day and leave it at that but this shift in fortunes raises a question. Was this simply a matter of bottle variation or had the wine somehow recovered, moving through and beyond an oxidative adolescence? My first thought went to the former. However, especially after looking back at my notes from the previous bottle, I wonder more and more if there’s any credence to the latter possibility. There’s a known tendency for Chenin Blancs from the Loire, for instance, to show early oxidation but then continue to live on and develop for years. But there, the oxidation seems to become an integral part of the wine rather than integrating or disappearing entirely.

I’d love to hear from others on this. Personal, anecdotal experience is more than encouraged. I’d also be particularly interested in hearing thoughts from the scientific perspective and/or from anyone with a winemaking background. Just hit the comments with your feedback. Maybe we can all learn a little something.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Talula's Table PR Train Keeps a Rollin'

"Build it and they will come" may be a haphazard marketing approach – or just a mantra for dreamers – but it seems to have worked magically for the crew at Talula's Table. They’ve gotten more mileage out of good work and good will than most small businesses would with a million dollar PR budget. Rave reviews in local and regional papers, a recent spot on NPR, features in various food and lifestyle magazines, as well as plenty of attention in the blogosphere and on the foodie bulletin boards, have all come to them with apparent natural ease.

The latest layer of icing on the cake appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times. Hell, I’ve been pretty happy with just making it onto Asimov’s blogroll at The Pour. Talula’s Table shot straight through to a two-page feature in The New York Times Magazine, arguably the most influential special feature supplement in arguably the most influential newspaper in the world.

What’s my point? Basically, it’s just to congratulate our local kids for doing such good work and getting recognized for it. But I also particularly like this piece, beautifully written by Nathalie Jordi, the blogstress behind Eating With Strangers (aka, Can I Buy You Lunch?). I think it captures, with incredible word economy, the heart of the market’s charm and success, without just focusing on the impossibility of attaining a reservation as have most other recent features. Check out her article, which, as a bonus, comes complete with recipes for both “Asparagus Carbonara With Pancetta and Spring Onions” and “Chickpea-Crusted Halibut With Rhubarb Vinaigrette,” a dish that's featured in the current menu at Talula's Table.

Congrats, guys, and thanks for sharing.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ace of Spades

Can't say I ever really got into "The Young Ones." I did happen to see Motorhead at around this same time period (1984ish) though, at the Ontario Theatre in DC. One of the loudest shows I ever saw. My ears were still ringing two days later. Anyway, 20+ years on, it was a bit odd to hear this same tune being played during a time-out in tonight's game in the Flyers v. Penguins NHL playoff series. Not your usual intermission ditty.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Dueling 2005 Auxey-Duresses Rouges

Along with lots of wines from Germany and the Loire, I’ve been on a wee Burgundy kick of late. That’s a good thing in my books, as Bourgogne, both white and red, can be some of the most compelling juice out there. It can also be a dangerous passion to pursue, as bargains are hard to come by in the wake of the currently dreadful performance of the US dollar. Luckily, there are still a few relatively obscure villages capable of producing solid values in both red and white Burgundy. One such AOC is Auxey-Duresses, a small commune located in the shadows of Meursault on the Côte de Beaune. As an increasing number of basic Bourgognes Rouges are breaking the $25-30 price barrier, it’s refreshing to find village level Burgundies available at that same price point. I checked in on a couple recently – one an old friend, one a new find.

Auxey-Duresses Rouge, Domaine Diconne 2005
I’ve been a fairly regular imbiber of the wines of Jean-Pierre (père) and Christophe (fils) Diconne for many years now. Both their rouges and blancs from Auxey-Duresses are typical expressions of their terroir. The red is usually pale to medium rosy red, lean and taut, with fine acidity, soft tannins and elegant perfume. When the 2005 first came ashore several months back, its darker than typical color bespake the generous climatic conditions of the 2005 vintage. Nonetheless, the wine was drinking well right off the bat, with silky, supple textures and fruit concentration to match its darker colors. Several months on, the wine seems to be going through a clumsy phase. The dark color and fruit are still plain to the eye and mouth but the wine’s acidity has become more jagged and frontal in its assault. Tannins, too, are more in evidence than earlier. A gravelly, wild black cherry character dominates but aromas have shut down and the fruit and overall balance are a touch disjointed. I think things will come back together with some time but this is definitely not giving the early drinking pleasure that it often does in more typical vintages. $26. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Auxey-Duresses Rouge “Les Jonchères,” Domaine Billard Père et Fils 2005
I’d not had this in the past or heard anything about it for that matter but was comfortable in selecting it as I’ve had excellent success overall with the wines in the portfolio of its importer – Wine Traditions. If you’re looking for drink me now satisfaction, this delivers. Its color in the glass is more typical to Auxey, bright, pale and shimmering. Aromas of pure red cherry, red cassis and ripe raspberry are followed by similar flavors on the palate. Silky texture and graceful, medium acidity bring it all home. Excellent balance. This would work at the table with anything from baked salmon to roast chicken to simple pork chops. Nice stuff. I don’t think it will have the lifespan of Diconne’s A-D but it’s delivering far more immediate pleasure today. I’ll be headed back for more. $24. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Shot Heard Round the Beaujolais

I’m a little late to the game on this, as I’ve already read commentary about it at Rockss and Fruit, Burgundy Report and Manuel Camblor’s La Otra Botella (ok, I could only sort of read that one...). But I expect that there are at least a few readers here that might not regularly peruse those great sites. In any event, intrepid importer and occasional blogger Joe Dressner recently broke the news that Jean-Paul Brun’s entire 2007 production of Beaujolais “Cuvée L’Ancien” has been denied AOC status by France’s INAO tasting authorities. In other words, this wine, which has rightly been called “Beaujolais” for years, can’t be in the 2007 vintage.

This is not a new phenomenon. I’ve mentioned its occurrence before in the context of a piece on the wines of Domaine Ricard. It also seems to happen with alarming regularity to Thierry Puzelat in the Loire. Like those producers, I expect Brun will weather the storm based on the strong reputation and large following that he’s developed over the years.

The gripe expressed by the INAO in these cases is consistent: atypicity. In the context of Beaujolais, I could see a wine being dismissed if it were treated to lavish new oak, saturated and black in the glass, or pumped up to 15% alcohol. Brun’s wines are not. They’re natural, pure and mighty enjoyable expressions of real Beaujolais. I have yet to taste the 2007 but I can’t imagine it’s a total Mr. Hyde to the previous years’ releases.

Bill Nanson at Burgundy Report soberly points out that the explicit reasons for Brun’s demotion are unclear and that Dressner, as he is Brun’s main importer for the US market, may be biased. However, if Joe D. is right, it’s the commercial interests of the big shippers that dominate the Beaujolais market that are behind the INAO’s decision. For a region that already suffers from declining sales and widespread misunderstanding, that can only be bad business.

Again, I’m confident that Brun and other natural and quality conscious producers like him will weather the storm. But what will it mean for the future of Beaujolais?

Update: Apparently, the denial of AOC status applies only to a portion of Brun's 2007 “Cuvée L’Ancien,” even though all of the wine comes from the same production. Check out Dressner's blog for the details. (Image courtesy of JD.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Old World Riesling for WBW #45

Call it cheating if you will. I prefer to think of it as synchronicity. Today’s edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted by Tim Elliott at Winecast, follows just one day after my class on German wines at Tria Fermentation School. And this month’s theme – Old World Riesling – falls right into the core of last night’s curriculum. So, as much as I was tempted to go for the relatively obscure and track down an Italian Riesling or two, it seems much more appropriate to answer the call of chance and write up the German Rieslings that I selected for yesterday’s course.

My objective for the class was to showcase the diversity of wine styles, vines and regions of Germany, and to provide a basic foundation for understanding the terminology found on German labels as well as the regulations that govern and influence contemporary German viticulture. All, mind you, within the context of a 90-minute class. We started off with a Spätburguner from the Mittelrhein, a Rheinpfalz Weißer Burgunder and a Scheurebe from Baden. The rest of the evening was spent exploring the beauty of what I consider to be the world’s most noble white vine – Riesling – grown in the country where it reaches its pinnacle of quality and expression.

Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Kabinett trocken, Weingut Emrich-Schönleber 2006
Werner Schönleber and his son Frank are widely considered to be, along with Dönnhoff, at the top of the game in the Nahe. In recent years, the portfolio of wines they produce has been in constant evolution. At the dry and off-dry ends of the spectrum, they’ve been reducing their number of bottlings and instead focusing on fewer but stronger statements about the terroir of their two estate vineyards: Halenberg and Frühlingsplätzchen. The Kabinett and Spätlese halbtrockens from both vineyards, as well as their basic QbA halbtrocken, already went by the wayside a few years back, replaced by a single wine called “Lenz” (archaic German for Spring). And it appears that 2006 was the last vintage for this, the Kabinett trocken from Frühlingsplätzchen. Going forward, at least for now, they’ll continue to produce their basic QbA trocken, adding a trocken wine called “Mineral” and further consolidating their vineyard designated dry Rieslings. The Pradikat (Kabinett, Spätlese), and presumably the QmP designation, will be dropped and they will produce Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling trocken and Halenberg Riesling trocken. Großes Gewächs wines will continue to be produced from both vineyards, vintage conditions allowing. Confused yet? Or beginning to understand the challenge of cramming an overview of German wines into an hour-and-a-half?

Now, on to the tasting note: this was the most challenging wine of the night, as it is clamped pretty tightly shut at the moment. Lots of lemon zest and grapefruit, along with bright, tingly minerality and a hint of green apples, are carried on a bone dry frame. High acidity is at the forefront, decidedly making this a wine for the dinner table – or for holding for a couple of years. Experience with past vintages has shown this cuvée to evolve positively with a few years in the cellar, unfurling to show broader texture and finer balance. However, the 2006 may be a bit narrower than other recent vintages. $28. 12% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Riesling trocken “von der Fels,” Weingut Keller 2006
This was one of two non-QmP wines and the only wine from the Rheinhessen included in the lineup. Keller and Schönleber are both members of the Verband Deutscher Prädikats (VdP), a quality, peer-based organization that’s focused on changing the German wine laws of 1971 and returning to the importance of site. Its members are simultaneously working within the QmP system and selectively eschewing its definitions and its prioritization of ripeness levels over vineyard sites. “von der Fels” – literally, from the rocks – is Klaus-Peter Keller’s statement name for this wine, which is meant to reflect the limestone rich terroir which he seeks out and farms. It is a selection of fruit from the lower slopes of all four of his Großes Gewächs (great growth, Grand Cru) vineyard sites, generally harvested at ripeness levels equating to Spätlese. It is fermented to dryness and labeled simply as Riesling trocken, along with Keller’s “von der Fels” designation.

In contrast to the Kabinett trocken from Schönleber, Klaus-Peter’s 2006 “von der Fels” is all about generous fruit and round, polished texture. Partly, that stems from the wine’s greater degree of ripeness. There’s also a difference in terroir at work, as Keller’s flatter vineyard and slightly warmer setting yield consistently different textures than wines from the steep slopes in the Nahe. But my mouth tells me there’s something else at work: a subtle touch of sweetness. This year’s iteration of “von der Fels” would seem to run toward the upper half of the trocken scale, which allows for up to nine grams of residual sugar per liter. Peach, golden apples and unmistakably limey minerality abound, supported by medium-acidity and some serious flesh on the palate. Nice long finish, too. $30. 12.5% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Bacharacher Kloster Fürstental Riesling Sekt Brut, Weingut Ratzenberger 2003
This is the other non-QmP wine of the night and the one and only sparkling wine. I waffled with where to place it in the progression, considering it as an aperitif, as the first Riesling and even in the final position, as a palate cleanup hitter so to speak. I finally opted to slot it in between the dry and fruity/noble style Rieslings, as a wake-up call and to demonstrate another element of Riesling’s versatility. Jochen Ratzenberger is also a member of the VdP. His Sekt is a long standing favorite of mine. It’s made in the Méthode Traditionelle – Traditionelle Flaschengärung in German – and entirely by hand, right down to the remuage. Many of the bottles bear a brushstroke of white paint in the punt, a marker used by Ratzenberger to remember where he left off when called away from his duties as riddler.

2003 was a hot year, even in this normally chilly area of the Mittelrhein around the town of Bacharach. The extra degree of ripeness fostered by the growing season shows, as this is richer, riper and creamier in flavor and texture than in typical years. That doesn’t stop it from being terribly tasty. It’s also more intensely fruity, less noticeably yeasty than in cooler vintages. Yet it’s still a great food wine, though I might be more inclined to pair it with a richer, mid-meal course rather than serving it with more delicate dishes. A fine mousse lights up its medium-golden color. Peaches and cream, a hint of apricot and slate spiciness linger, buoyed by medium acid and fine balance. The down side is the dollar. This baby’s price is up over 25% since the previous vintage. $32. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Kanzemer Altenberg Riesling Spätlese “Lot 1902,” Weingut Johann Peter Reinert 2001
If the Kabinett trocken from Schönleber was the most difficult wine of the night, this just may have been the biggest “Wow!” wine of the night. Classic, fruity style Saar Riesling. Low alcohol, totally delicate and graceful, yet profound in its depth of flavor. White peaches, baked apples, mace and an intense slate minerality all last for ages on the palate. It was the nose, though, that first got everyone’s attention, redolent of the bouquet that comes to German Rieslings, particularly from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, only with age. Call it what you will – diesel, kerosene, petrol – but, combined with the wine’s beautiful fruit and nervy acidity, it makes for an intoxicating little package. I’d pour it as an aperitif just as happily as I’d pair it with poached salmon or pan seared scallops. Reinert, a member of the Bernkasteller Ring (his area’s answer to the VdP), makes some great, unknown and underappreciated Rieslings, in dry, off-dry, fruity and nobly sweet styles. This Spätlese should continue to develop in interest for at least another decade and then hold steady for another. At its price, it would be more than worth stowing away a few bottles for a rainy day. $25. 8% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

Bacharacher Wolfshöhle Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, Weingut Ratzenberger 1997
Even though he’s increasingly recognized as one of the best producers in the Mittelrhein – if not the best – Ratzenberger does not get the same level of global buzz as producers like Keller and Schönleber. One of the lucky side effects of that relative obscurity is that he still has some old wines to sell. And he’ll release some of them to the market, in small lots, as he feels they’re ready to be appreciated.

At a little over ten years of age, this is definitely ready to be appreciated. Jochen’s plot of the Wolfshöhle vineyard is perfectly suited to the production of Spätlesen, Auslesen and, when vintage conditions permit, Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen. As with many other producers, Ratzenberger uses a Goldkapsel to indicate a very special bottling, most likely a declassified Beerenauslese in this case. The tropical and musky characteristics of this Auslese – pineapple, citrus confit, orange oil, clove and mango – definitely suggest at least a moderate percentage of botrytis affected fruit. An intense flavor of apricot preserves, a signature of the Wolfshöhle terroir, is present from start to finish. 1997 was a relatively low acid year, which shows in the wine’s fairly rich, somewhat oily texture. However, its texture also has a crystalline character that, along with the wine’s racy, confectionery sweetness, helps to keep things alive in the mouth. It lacks the structure and acidity for long term aging, but it’s easy to like now. So drink. And enjoy. $40 (500ml). 8% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.

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