Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chauvet, Néauport and the Question of Terroir

Jules Chauvet
"Does method trump terroir?"

That was our gracious host's question, her introduction to the formal segment of the evening for our gathered gang of eight.  In the moment, no one seemed inclined to answer.

We'd all been invited to taste a group of wines that had been produced according to the methods described by Jules Chauvet, widely considered as the progenitor of the natural wine making movement in France.  Or was it really the Jacques Néauport method?  That question was left hanging, but no matter....  Without any absolute control or doctrine, there was still a reasonably clear focus: we'd be tasting wines fermented using carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration and made without the use of added sulfur dioxide (other than in the vineyard and, in some cases, in small doses at bottling time).

Seventeen wines later, our rather tight-lipped, largely poker-faced gathering didn't seem any more inclined to voicing a conclusion to our convening question, either en masse or individually, than at the outset. But never fear, dear reader, for I am here to give you an unequivocally clear answer.

Yes and no.

Actually, the only unequivocal answer is that there is no clear answer.

Does method trump terroir?  When it comes to the Chauvet/Néauport method in particular, yes, in at least one sense.  Nearly all of the wines we tasted showed the aromatic stamp, to varying degrees, of carbonic maceration.  No, in at least one arguably more important sense.  The best wines, even just the good wines, we tasted showed not only their varying levels of carbonic nature but also a definite sense of both varietal character and place, that is to say a taste of the vine and of the soil.  It would appear that, all else being sound, method and terroir can indeed be happy bunk mates.

All seventeen wines, by the way, were tasted in a single-blind format.  Specifically, we were provided with a list of the wines but all bottles were brown-bagged and poured in randomized order. The wines were revealed only after all had been tasted.  In addition to the big picture assessment made above, here are some other observations I'd like to (or at least am willing to) share:
  • It's a bit of a no-brainer but it still bears saying: while method doesn't necessarily trump terroir, an unacceptable level(s) of faultiness does.  By my reckoning, two of the wines in the lineup (not counting one that was eliminated because of cork taint) were flawed to the point of eradicating any clear sense of variety or terroir.

  • The Chauvet/Néauport approach is generally considered to be best suited to Gamay, particularly to Gamay grown on granitic soils.  It also appears to meld quite nicely with Ploussard in the Jura and, based on our lineup, to hold promise for Grenache based wines from the Mediterranean regions of France.

  • One of my favorite wines of the night turned out to be a varietal expression of Cinsault from the Languedoc, the Vin de Table "Pitchounet" from Domaine Mouressipe.  It leaned toward the method end of the aromatic spectrum but it's a wine I'd happily return to for sheer enjoyment.

  • Our host for the evening associates a certain baking spice with the aromatic signature of Chauvet-esque carbonic maceration.  The aroma that struck me, though, in wine after wine, across regions and varieties/blends, was of pickling spices, dill in particular.  Perhaps a better wine scientist than I could explain that; I can only say that I noticed it — and took note of it — in many of the wines.

  • The wine that showed the least facet of carbonic character was a Bordeaux, a 1998 Saint Emilion from Château Meylet.  I did get some of that dill/pickling spice on the nose, but that's not atypical of Merlot grown in SW France.  This begs a couple of questions.  Most obviously, do the darker, bolder character of Bordeaux varieties assert themselves over the character derived from (semi)carbonic maceration?  Secondly, and more subtly, what happens to carbonic character with age?  Does it perhaps fade?  The next oldest wine in the lineup was eight years younger and it was shot, one of the two overly faulty wines mentioned above.

  • I've written here before about my general dislike of blind tasting.  Tasting wine without a sense of what it is or where it comes from, not to mention without a sense of enjoyment, strips the soul away from what wine truly is about.  That said, as a technical exercise, there's plenty to be learned from blind tasting.  First and foremost: humility.  Out of seventeen wines, I completely nailed the identity of only two — and I'd hazard an educated guess that they're the same two that every person in the room also ID'd: the aforementioned Bordeaux and Marcel Lapierre's 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau.  I hit correctly on the terroir/regional origins in about half of the cases and I was wildly off in more than one instance.  Always a good reality check.

  • Going back to the issue of  "control" (in the statistical sense) that I referred to in opening, it was quite rightly mentioned by many in attendance that, while all of the wines we had tasted were made with some degree or another of carbonic maceration, there were also any number of variables in play.  Variety and region aside, carbonic vs. semi-carbonic maceration, the duration of skin and stem contact, pressing or the lack thereof, barrel aging (or not), yields — and other things I'm probably forgetting — were all discussed as likely variables in the mix.

  • Just as good a question as that we began with is this: Does over-ripeness obscure terroir?  One of the wines I missed on most egregiously was the 2009 Fleurie from Yvon Métras (the regular cuvée, not "L'Ultime").  I pegged its big, ripe, kirsch-like flavors as a Rhône or Languedoc wine.  So much for my Gamay sense....  There was much discussion later in the evening about the freak show of a vintage that was 2009 in the Beaujolais.  While I'm hardly about to jump on the vintage hating bandwagon — I've had plenty of gorgeous 2009 Beaujolais — I will say that the Métras was startlingly rich and bold, at the expense of sense of place.
I think that's enough for one post.  I've intentionally chosen not to bore you with an exacting list of all seventeen wines (though I'd be willing to oblige if anyone feels it necessary).  And I've intentionally opted not to name the other seven members of the gang.  Suffice it to say that it was an honor and pleasure to taste, eat and drink with — and be humbled by — all of them.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Suds: Drie Fonteinen Beersel Lager

Brouwerij Drie Fonteinen is best known, I think it's fair to say, for its lambic and gueuze — by and large spontaneously fermented, sour, and often fruit-infused styles of Belgian beer.  It's certainly fair to say that's what I know them for best.  Their Oude Kriek, in particular, is a benchmark for me.  As much as I like Cantillon's Kriek, the version from Drie Fonteinen is less savagely tart but every bit as complex... and more downright drinkable.

It's that drinkability that draws me to their slightly more mainstream line of beers, as well.  Called "Beersel," after the town of Beersel where the brewery is located, the lineup includes a Belgian blond ale, an organic ("Biologisch") version of the same beer, and a lager.  I've seen the Beersel Lager, the topic of today's post, alternately referred to as Czech pilsner in style.  From my palate's perspective, though, I'd put it firmly in the classic lager camp — light amber in color, round and crisp yet fairly soft in mouthfeel; less bright and herbaceous, more malt-rich than what I think of as a classic pilsner.  While its carbonation level is higher than in the gueuze from 3Fonteinen, it would be considered low-carbonation by American standards, an attribute that adds to the beers easy drinking character.

Reasonably low-alcohol at 5.2%, straightforward up front, very gentle and open on the mid-palate, and just a wee funky on the finish, it goes down easy.  That bit'o'funk, meanwhile, makes me know I'm drinking not just any lager but a lager from Drie Fonteinen.  Not surprising, I suppose, given that it's brewed with the same basic ingredients used in the brewery's lambic production; selected bottom-fermenting yeast strains and a higher original gravity are the key differences.  If only it weren't so pricey (a single bottle averages around $6 US), I'd be happy to make a place for it in my regular, go-to rotation.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Red Bourbon and Breton: Brief Scenes from a Thanksgiving Table

No notes to speak of today. Just some pictures from yesterday's holiday feast, this short intro and a few quick captions. It was Thanksgiving, after all. And yes, there was food. Trust me... there was food.

Had to borrow an old shot (different vintage) as I didn't take one of the 2000 Ratzenberger Sekt that served as our aperitif. I didn't even realize it until now but we started with the same wine at Thanksgiving last year; this year's showed even better.

That's a "full bottle" (1.5L) just in case it's not clear, complete with etched glass in lieu of Gasnier's regular label.  Showing great.  Makes me wish I had more space for magnum storage... and that I had another.

The '96 was full of dark earth and animal character.  The '85 was all elegance, completely resolved.

One tough customer.

One lovely vino de la meditación.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson, RIP

As long as we're all giving thanks tonight, it's important to remember to give thought.

Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson died yesterday. I never met Peter, never even "saw" him. But I sure did listen to his work. Played the hell out of it on the radio in the mid-80s, too. From his formative roles in Throbbing Gristle, to Psychic TV, to Coil, Christopherson was instrumental in producing some of the most influential pieces of industrial, electronic and trance music of the late 1970s through the mid '80s. Looking back, it might be all too facile to write off the canon of those bands as oh so much pretentious oozing. To each one's own, though, as I'd counter that all three of those bands were at the forefront of their respective moments, releasing music that got under one's fingernails and invaded the listener's thoughts then, and that continues to stand as meaningful, individualistic and anachronistic thirty years later.

Coil's 1984 12-inch single "Panic," along with its B-side cover of "Tainted Love," was among the first ever (if not the first ever) records released specifically to benefit HIV/AIDS programs. All profits from the sale of the single were donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust. The video for "Tainted Love," directed by Peter Christopherson, now resides in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Watch it. Like it or not, give a thought tonight to the memory of the man who made it. And going forward from Thanksgiving toward the year-end holidays, give thought to making a difference, or simply making a contribution, to a local charity, be it for HIV/AIDS or whatever cause is most meaningful to you.

Again, Happy Thanksgiving to all.

May Your Thanksgiving be Drip Free

Artwork courtesy of my friend (and brother in law's brother—not entirely clear on the official term for that), Patrick "Mole" Garner.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ma Fête, À la Maison

It's my party and I want to drink bubbly...*
Something of an occasion today, smack up against the Thanksgiving holiday, prompted a relatively impromptu and, as it turned out, quite civilized lunch.  The festivity, the time of day and, most importantly, my craving all called for something sparkling.  It turned out to be a great choice.

Crémant du Jura, Domaine Jean Bourdy N.V.
$21.  12% alcohol.  Cork.  Importer: Potomac Selections, Landover, MD.
This was my first time drinking Jean Bourdy's Crémant du Jura. It won't be the last.  Produced in the méthode traditionelle, it's a non-vintage cuvée based purely on Chardonnay.  A lovely nose of lightly toasted hazelnuts, brioche, pear and marzipan led do a palate much racier and brighter than aromatically suggested, all of which was finished off with a vaguely Chenin-like note of honey and beeswax.  Coursing through it all was a core of almost sweet minerality, with a tang to it that made me think there might be a little Savagnin at play.  The wine blossomed with food, yielding some of the generosity to which its aromas had alluded.  What became crystal clear as we drank the bottle with lunch is that we were enjoying an excellent Jura wine, one that spoke clearly of its place, that just happened to be sparkling — not a sparkling wine for sparkling wine's sake.

The soupe a l'oignon served at À la Maison, the bistro we'd chosen for our mid-day repast, proved a natural match with Bourdy's Crémant du Jura.  Though Gruyère, the cheese traditionally used for French onion soup, may technically be of Swiss origin, it is of very much the same style and proximal place as Comté, arguably "the" classic match with the white wines of the Jura region.  You won't find me arguing.... The sweet nuttiness of the cheese, the deeply caramelized onions and rich broth all brought out the earthy, round aspects of the Crémant.  Truly a lovely match.

The poulet vol au vent at À la Maison, even though the dish was arguably a bit under-seasoned, also worked wonders with the wine.  Between the light cream sauce, buttery accents courtesy of puff pastry, earthy mushrooms, the delicate protein of white meat chicken, and fresh herbaceousness via tomatoes and asparagus, we were again in a sweet spot when it came to the meshing of wine and food.  I'd like to try the dish again, at a time when tomatoes and asparagus are actually in season (and when the person in the kitchen has a freer hand with the salt and pepper ), but even now it was a lovely foil to the wine, not to mention quite a comforting meal on a chilly November afternoon.

À la Maison
53 West Lancaster Avenue
Ardmore, PA 19003
A la Maison bistro on Urbanspoon

* * *
* To be sung to the tune of:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Vertical Tasting of "Torbido!" with Peter Weimer and Romy Gygax of Cascina Ebreo

As if last Friday's dinner at Alto wasn't serendipitous enough for the gathering it afforded of the "Mt. Rushmore of wine bloggers," it also gave me the chance to catch up with a couple of folks I'd last seen when in Piedmont earlier this year.  Did I mention they just happened to be the evening's guests of honor?

What we'd all convened for was the opportunity to taste a vertical of every vintage yet bottled of "Torbido!," the signature wine produced at Azienda Agricola Weimer-Gygax Cascina Ebreo, and to do so in the company of Cascina Ebreo proprietors, Peter Weimer and Romy Gygax.  This was my first time joining company with Romy but I'd had the unexpected pleasure of meeting and tasting along with Peter Weimer when he was invited by his friend, Federico Scarzello, to present Torbido! to a small group of journalists, myself included, who had signed on for a vertical tasting of Scarzello Barolo that had been officially organized as part of the Spring 2010 edition of Nebbiolo Prima.

Peter Weimer, in the Scarzello tasting room in May 2010, and his wife, Romy Gygax.  I somehow neglected to snap a photo of Romy on Friday, so I've borrowed her pic from elsewhere; hope you don't mind, Romy.

Peter and Romy purchased the property known as Cascina Ebreo ("Jew Farm," as DoBi so succinctly translates it), situated next door to Elvio Cogno in Novello, in 1991.  Two years later, they left their home and former careers in Swizerland — Peter, who is German, was an engineer, and Romy, of Swiss descent, a banker — to take up permanent residence at their estate on the Ravera hill above Barolo.  What vines already existed on their property were in such neglect that they saw no choice but to grub them up and plant anew.  Peter, I think, looked at this as a positive, as he would be able to work with his own vines, his own babies, to learn how they grow and behave from youth onward to maturity.  What the couple chose to plant, on their 2.1 hectares of vineyards, were Nebbiolo (1.1 ha), Barbera (0.6 ha), and, nontraditionally for the area, a little bit (0.4 ha) of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

1999 and 2001 Torbido!, tasted in Barolo in May.
In 2006, their first vintage, only a Barbera was produced.  With the 2007 vintage, "Torbido!" was born.  Produced entirely from Nebbiolo grown on the Weimer Gygax estate, the wine sees a vinification and aging regime that, in combination with its origins, should by all rights lay due claim to the title of Barolo.  When Peter submitted a bottle of his 1997 Nebbiolo to the tasting panel for DOCG approval, the panel deemed his wine of very fine quality but too cloudy/muddy (torbido) to meet with the "typicity" for Barolo.  (Peter, who bottles his wines without filtration, thinks the panel members must have shaken the bottle prior to pouring.)  Though given the opportunity to submit another sample, Weimer rebelled, instead personally choosing to declassify the wine to Vina da Tavola status and to name it "Torbido!" — a snub of the nose to the tasting consortium and a statement of pride regarding his own farming and production techniques.  Peter and Romy have stuck with the decision ever since.

Though Peter does not consider himself part of the "natural wine movement," or of any movement for that matter, he does consider his wines to be very natural.  Farming on the estate is entirely organic, with application of some biodynamic practices as seen fit.  Aside from two pumps that are used to move the wines from place to place, no technology is utilized in the winery.  All of Peter and Romy's wines are fermented on their native yeasts and bottled without fining or filtration; the only thing ever added throughout vinification,  elevation and bottling is a small quantity of sulfur dioxide.

Torbido! is produced only in what Weimer and Gygax consider to be excellent years.  The wine — again, it's always and only Nebbiolo — is fermented without temperature control and typically undergoes a maceration of 14-18 days (up to 25 in some years) in tank, with a floating cap and occasional pump-overs.  The wine is then aged for three years in 600 liter tonneaux of French oak, in which malolactic fermentation naturally occurs during the summer following harvest.  After three years, the contents of the tonneaux are blended in inox tanks, where the wine is allowed to harmonize for six months prior to bottling.  Finally, the wine ages in bottle for another two years before being released to market

Weimer and Gygax release "Torbido!" only in what they consider to be high quality vintages.  The wine dinner at Alto presented us with the opportunity to taste every single vintage of Torbido! thus far released: 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2004.  I had tasted the 1999 and 2001 vintages during that surprise meeting with Peter earlier in the year and had enjoyed them both for their combination of power and clarity of expression, so was looking forward to revisiting them in the mix with their older and younger siblings.

All of the evening's wines (including a spectacular bottle of 2002 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva "Monfortino") were provided from the personal cellar of Dino Tantawi (at left above, with Peter Weimer), owner of Vignaioli Selection, Cascina Ebreo's US importer.  Dino offered the Monfortino as counterpoint to Peter's "Limpido!" — his doubly-declassified Nebbiolo from the difficult 2002 vintage.  Though the Monfortino was fabulous (no problems for Roberto Conterno in '02), Dino's demonstration wasn't without merit: the 2002 "Limpido!" was showing very well, and a case of it can be had for about the same price as, maybe even less than, a single bottle of Conterno's Monfortino.

The wine of the moment, and my favorite Torbido! of the night, was the 1998, open-knit and giving, all elegance and prettiness, an excellent expression of the sometimes delicate, feminine side of Barolo from the Novello district.  If I were to look at a vintage to lay down for the long haul, it would be the 2004; all primary fruit and coiled up muscle now, the wine shows excellent balance and a fine integration of fruit and wood components, tannin and acidity.  Both the 2001 and 1999 were showing well, very much as I remembered from this spring — the '99 riper and more opulent (and apparently Peter's favorite), the 2001 more tannic and classic in style.  The 2000 Torbido!, though not among my favorites of the evening, was a pleasant surprise; not at all overripe or nearly so developed as many other wines from this dry, hot (and initially severely overrated) vintage, it showed surprisingly bright acidity and chewy tannins.  The only weak point in the lineup, though I didn't find it anywhere near as objectionable as did Brooklynguy, was the 1997.  A tough year for a first release, '97 was another hot, ripe vintage and this, unlike the 2000, has developed notes of advanced maturity and fading fruit along with a corpulence of texture not quite supported by its lower-acid structure; that said, it was the favorite of at least two other guests.

Federico Scarzello, at left, with Alto owner/operating partner Chris Cannon.

In a reversal of good fortune, Federico Scarzello was also in attendance at the Torbido! dinner.  It was no fluke, though, nor entirely a surprise; Scarzello's wines are also imported by Vignaioli, and Federico had led a group through a retrospective tasting of his family's Barolo over lunch at Alto earlier that day.

Federico Scarzello and Peter Weimer in the Scarzello cellar, May 2010.

Though it didn't come up over dinner, Peter told me earlier in the year that, beginning in 2011, he will be handing over farming and winegrowing responsibilities at his estate to Federico Scarzello.  Peter no longer feels up to the rigors of working the fields and cellar on his own.  He now prefers to hand over the reins to a friend — he's known the young Scarzello since 1986, when Federico was still a teenager — rather than to sell to an unknown quantity.  It seems likely that Peter's label and the Cascina Ebreo name will be maintained, with an indication that the wine is produced and bottled by Scarzello; however, the finer details have not yet been determined.

What's most important to Peter is that respect for his land and vines be maintained,  That's something, in turn, I think we can all respect.

Az. Agr. Weimer Gygax, Cascina Ebreo
Località Ravera, 3
I-12060 Novello (CN)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

More Deliciousness from Florian and Peter Lauer

Here's a not-so-little something I've been wanting to try ever since first drinking its "junior" brother last winter.

Just as the lead-in sentence above is a riff on the opening line of last year's post on Weingut Peter Lauer's Riesling "Senior" Fass 6, I could almost get away with copying and pasting in the note from 6 for its big brother, Florian and Peter Lauer's Riesling "Unterstenbersch" Fass 12. The two wines share more in common than they do in the way of difference.  That's not to say there aren't differences, though, significant ones at that.  Besides, you knew I wouldn't take such an easy way out, no?

Saar Ayler Kupp Riesling "Unterstenbersch" Faß 12, Weingut Peter Lauer 2008
$36. 11.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Mosel Wine Merchant, via USA Wine Imports, New York, NY.
Florian Lauer's '08 "Unterstenbersch" brims with pungent aromas of slate and apricot kernel, backed up by accents of white asparagus and yellow apple skins.  The overall aromatic sense of the wine suggests richness and at least a little residual sugar, both of which are confirmed as the wine makes its first impressions on the front palate. From there on, though, the wine's fairly muscular acidity and minerality drive that almost opulent opening on through an unctuous center before ending with a quite dry-seeming finish.  To put it into quantifiable qualitatswein terms, it feels to me like a Spätlese feinherb up front, closer to a Spätlese trocken on the finish.

If he could, that's exactly how I think Florian would choose to label his Unterstenbersch bottling; he categorizes it on the winery's website as "trocken bis feinherb" (dry to medium-dry, roughly translated).  However, the German wine authorities tend to frown on such things, so the Lauers omit any dryness designation from their label and simply let the wine speak for itself.

There's a pungency to the wine, as mentioned earlier, that to me is classic to the best wines from the Saar, a saturated mineral character, redolent of the slate from which it stems, with a subtly sour twinge. Drinking the wine makes me want to work a harvest in Kupp, just so I can taste the fruit of the vines in situ and get an even truer sense of the wine's place.

Discipline alone allowed me to save a couple of glasses for a second day, when the wine took on a more relaxed stance, its round, creamy core coming more to the fore.  What it may have lost slightly in nerve , it more than made up for in the aroma department.  Buttercups, golden raisins, golden pear, golden apples... it seems the color choice for the Fass 12 label is quite apropos — even if it is meant to signify "Unterstenbersch" as one of the Lauers' alte reben (old vine), top cru bottlings, rather than to symbolize its flavor palette.

Buried beneath all that mineral depth and fruit intensity was a subtle yet telltale whiff of sponti character, the aromatic signature that confirms that Florian ferments his wines on their native yeasts.  It's very inconspicuous, though, noticeable, if at all, only as an added nuance, not as a primary signature.  And lying on top if it all, equally quiet in demeanor, was just the slightest whiff of sulfur.  Far from enough to be off-putting, I expect it should pass even further from notice with more time in the bottle.

As long as I'm dabbling in technical info here, it bears pointing out that Florian has a relatively light hand with sulfur, especially when compared to more typical levels used for off-dry wines in Germany.  Dan Melia, the US-based half of the Mosel Wine Merchant team, tells me that Lauer sulfurs only once, a few weeks prior to bottling, adding about 45 ppm of SO2, in the case of Unterstenbersch, to help ensure stability on the bottling line and through the rigors of shipping and storage.

And as long as I'm dabbling in over-the-top tasting notes, I'll add that as the wine opened even further, as that last glass took on air, I picked up a delicate spiciness together with a marmalade-like flavor that made me wonder if there might not have been a small percentage of botrytis influenced fruit in the vats.

Lest you think all this detail somehow sucked the joy out of the experience of drinking the wine, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.  The wine showed all of these things to me, compelled me to sniff, taste and feel them.  As murky or convoluted as my notes may seem, the wine itself was sheer transparency, totally clear in its expression.

Where it differs from "Senior" most is in the scope of that expression.  Where "Senior" was forward, Unterstenbersch was more reserved.  Where the former was more immediately generous, the latter proved just as rewarding and will likely pay greater dividends further down the road.  I'm sure that the 60 year-old vines in the Unterstenbersch parcel play a role in the wine's stature, but then "Senior" includes fruit from even older vines.  Perhaps the aging regime for Unterstenbersch — 100% in old oak fuder as opposed to the mixture of oak and tank employed for Senior — lends it some of its greater impenetrability and inner density.  Most importantly, though, the wine reflects its site.  Unterstenbersch, as Lars Carlberg tells us on the Mosel Wine Merchant blog, is local dialect for unter dem Berg (“at the foot of the hill”), and an old, unofficial name for the plot at the base of the Ayler Kupp from which this wine is produced.  The Lauers consider it a grand cru site and, to me at least, that stature of character speaks through their wine.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Meeting of the Mentshes

Just a quick post this afternoon, as I'm still working on shaking off a food coma, the result of two back-to-back days of fantastic dining and wining, Thursday in Philly and Friday in New York. There should be more details on the people, meals and vini involved in the days to come. For now, I just want to give a shout out to some friends and a nod to the serendipitous occasion that brought us all together.

Just look at those mugs!  From left to right, that's me along with Jeremy Parzen of Do Bianchi, Neil the Brooklynguy, and Lyle Fass of Rockss and Fruit, all gathered under one roof.  Can you believe it?

I don't know about you but I can still hardly believe it.  In the years that the four of us have been doing the wine blogging thing — I'm the junior member of the bunch in blog days — last night was the first time that we'd all convened.  Even harder to believe, as it feels like I've known him for years now, was the fact that it was the first time I'd ever *actually* met Mr. Parzen, an occasion long past due.  I think it's fair to say that we're all big respecters of each others work, and I know it's fair to say that Jeremy, Neil and Lyle are my three most linked-up fellow bloggers in the history of MFWT.

The man responsible for our meeting was Levi Dalton (busy at work in the photo at right), crack sommelier at New York restaurant Alto and an all around super good guy.  In two days flat, Levi had put together a very special dinner featuring the wines of Cascina Ebreo.  It was through his genius, generosity and, as our collective bunch might say (and forgive me for saying), mentschlekhkeyt, that we were all finally able to break bread together.

If only I hadn't had to rush off so quickly to make, just barely, the late bus back to Philly.  I jumped up from the table in such a flash that I somehow managed to leave behind my notes for the night.  Not to worry, though, the details are fixed indelibly in my mind.  As threatened above, I'll have a full report on the wine side of our repast in the days to come.

It was an honor and a pleasure, gentlemen!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Northern Rhône and the December Schedule at Tria Fermentation School

The good folks at Philadelphia's Tria Fermentation School have just announced their schedule of classes for December 2010.  In addition to such highlights as sessions with Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and a beer and fudge pairing seminar with Tom Kehoe of Yards Brewing Company and Liz Begosh of Betty's Tasty Buttons, I'll be leading a seminar on the wines of France's Northern Rhône Valley on Wednesday, December 15.  I can't yet give away what I'll be pouring but I promise it will be an interesting line-up and a thorough overview of the region. Hope to see you there!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Festa di Friulano at Osteria

As my pal Jeremy might say, mimetic desire kicked in big time last week. As much as I've been enjoying Jeremy's steady output of highlights from the sommelier and restaurateur junket to Friuli that he and Bobby Stuckey organized back in September, there's been one thing missing: actually getting to taste some of the Friulano vino e cibo of which Jar's been writing.

To the rescue last week came Stephen Wildy and Joe Campanale (pictured at left and right above, respectively), two of the members of the Parzen/Stuckey band of gypsies. I was jazzed when I first learned that Steve, who is the beverage director for the Marc Vetri restaurant group (Vetri, Osteria and Amis) here in Philadelphia, was along on Jeremy's trip, as it's always good to see a hometown boy getting the chance to unwind and spread his wings. And I was doubly jazzed when I heard that Joe Campanale, sommelier and owner of New York restaurants L'Artusi, Dell' Anima and Anfora, was making the two-hour trek down to Philly to team-up with Steve for a recounting of their adventures in Friuli.

Steve and Joe chose wines from some of the producers they visited on that September trip. On the docket for the evening were selections from Plozner, Scarbolo, Venica e Venica, La Castellada, and Livio Felluga, each poured to accompany a dish (or dishes!) inspired by traditional Friulano fare.

Osteria executive chef and co-owner Jeff Michaud put together a fantastic five course meal, all of it served family style. The duo of rambasicci (a Friulano specialty of pork-stuffed cabbage) and venison "muset" may just have been my favorite of the evening's courses. It was arguably one of Joe and Stephen's more challenging matches of the night but they rose to the occasion with a surprisingly fine pairing in the form of the 2009 Collio Sauvignon "Ronco del Cero" from Venica e Venica.

My shoddy picture doesn't do it justice but Chef Michaud's next dual course, gnocchi stuffed with prunes (top) and porcini cialzon, nipped closely at the heels of the previous course in the running for most memorable of the evening. I've always really enjoyed the pasta at Osteria — pizza and pasta definitely seem to be the sweet spots at Vetri's "middle" child — and tonight's iterations were no exception. I was a little less enthusiastic with my first pour of the wine that Stephen and Joe chose to pair with the dish, the 2004 Ribolla Gialla from La Castellada. I thought it was suffering from a very subtle case of cork taint. Steve, on the other hand, thought it was the wine, chalking up what I found to be muted, slightly stale/musty character to bottle variation, an omnipresent aspect of so-called orange wines — white wines fermented on their skins — like the '04 La Castellada. It's always fun when a couple of "wine guys" can agree to disagree, all the while respecting each others opinion... even though I was right! A second pour from a different bottle offered redemption and again worked very well with the food it was chosen to accompany.

Forza Friulano? From left to right, that's Joey Campanale; a certain un-photogenic, bespectacled wine blogger; Stephen Wildy; and Aaron Tallon, the sommelier and beverage manager at Osteria, who did a great job overseeing the wine service for the Friulano dinner.

Steve and Joe are both super sweet guys. Both of them had nothing but praise for the acumen, enthusiasm and scholarly depth of knowledge of Professore Parzen. The two of them good naturedly forced me into the above photo opportunity, citing it as a perfect moment of what Steven later called, in tribute to Jeremy, supercalifragalisticextrablogaliciousness (okay, the "ness" is mine). As much as the curmudgeon in me would like to have ducked out of the frame, there was nothing doing. Joe and Stephen's enthusiasm was infectious. As if hanging out with them wasn't pleasure enough, I even got to spend a little time with Joe's equally sweet mother, Karen Campanale, the PR-natural and micro-blogger extraordinaire known in some circles as Dellanimom. Like mother, like son....

Big kudos to Steve, Joe, Jeff and Aaron for a job well done. I think it's fair to say a good night was had by all in attendance.

610 North Broad Street (at Wallace)
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Osteria on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lopez de Heredia Comes to Philly (Both Literally and Liquidly)

For those, like me, who have been foraging on "foreign" markets in search of the traditional Rioja wines of the venerable R. Lopez de Heredia estate, there's some good news. The wines will very soon be available right here in the state controlled market of Pennsylvania, courtesy of the folks at Vine Street Imports — a major score for them, I must say. The good news comes with qualifications, of course. I seriously doubt you'll see any Lopez de Heredia showing up on the shelves at your local state store; as of now (and most likely in perpetuity), the wines are all being treated as special liquor order (SLO) items. While that's not very friendly to consumers who would like to purchase a bottle or two for enjoyment at home, it at least means that the wines will be available to restaurateurs around town. I, for one, will be more than happy to see them show up on lists and, more importantly, to be able to drink them at non-BYOB spots.

To help usher in the new era in style, Maria José Lopez de Heredia came to town. I made it to last week's evening session at Tria Fermentation School, where Maria expounded upon the history of her family estate and poured one or two of their recent releases. Here's what we tasted:
  • Rioja Crianza "Viña Gravonia" Blanco, R. Lopez de Heredia 2000
  • Rioja Reserva "Viña Tondonia" Blanco, R. Lopez de Heredia 1991
  • Rioja Gran Reserva "Viña Tondonia" Blanco, R. Lopez de Heredia 1987
  • Rioja Gran Reserva "Viña Tondonia" Rosado, R. Lopez de Heredia 2000
  • Rioja Crianza "Viña Cubillo" Tinto, R. Lopez de Heredia 2004
  • Rioja Reserva "Viña Tondonia" Tinto, R. Lopez de Heredia 2000
  • Rioja Gran Reserva "Viña Tondonia" Tinto, R. Lopez de Heredia 1991
  • Rioja Gran Reserva "Viña Bosconia" Tinto, R. Lopez de Heredia 1991
Not too shabby, eh? For those reading who might not be completely familiar with the wines of R. Lopez de Heredia, neither your eyes nor my words are deceiving you. Those are all current — not all new but definitely all current — releases, from the 2004 red Crianza right on back to the 1987 white Gran Reserva and including the ten year-old Gran Reserva rosado, which is indeed a new release. While the white and red Gran Reservas aren't inexpensive, all of the wines represent pretty tremendous value given their combination of quality, age, provenance and flat-out deliciousness.

Rather than loading up on tasting notes or recreating the wheel by recounting the history of the estate, I'm just going to share some of the points that captured my attention (and/or made me smile) during Maria José's presentation. "Quotes" are her words, at least as close as my note-taking allowed; [brackets] are my interpretations/adjustments as deemed necessary, content in (parentheses) is just me adding my own peanut gallery comments.
  • "Wines should talk by themselves" [speak for themselves].
  • "I'm famous in the Rioja for talking too much." (Indeed, she barely came up for air during her 90-minute presentation. And yes, that was a good thing.)
  • "We consider ourselves vinemakers, not winemakers."
  • All replanting and cloning at the estate is done via selection massale.
  • Maria José's great-grandfather was born in Chile and left for Spain in 1870 to attend Jesuit school.
  • The casks used for fermentation at the estate are as much as 140 years old. Rarely if ever replaced, they are maintained and repaired as necessary by the estate's team of three coopers, who also build all of the aging barrels used at the winery.
  • All of the wines are fermented on their native yeasts.
  • 730,000 kilos of grapes were harvested at Lopez de Heredia in 2010. Maria considers it a great vintage. "It will be 20 years before we release this year's Gran Reservas."
  • Wines are racked two or three times per year, and never filtered. Egg white fining (heads-up, vegans!) is used only when necessary.
  • The burgundy-style bottle used for Viña Bosconia is meant to signify a wine of more body, less finesse, but based on the idea of body, Maria was careful to point out, of 100 years ago, when Burgundy was often richer than Bordeaux.
  • "Do you say toponomia?" (I'm not poking fun, far from it; I loved the question and wish more people would.)
  • The name Gravonia comes from Graves, in Bordeaux. In the early history of the estate, many of the wines were named or labeled using toponyms and terminology borrowed from Bordeaux.
  • All of the white wines begin fermentation with the skins and pips in the vat for a period ranging from 24 hours to 2-3 days, sometimes even 5-6, depending on the vintage.
  • The Viña Tondonia Rosado is made with spicy foods in mind. (Think chorizo.)
  • Likewise, the Viña Cubillo Tinto was born specifically to accompany tapas.
  • Only 31 vintages of Gran Reserva have been released in the 130-year history of the estate.
  • A library of old vintages is maintained at the winery but bottles are never re-corked. "Wine is not meant to last forever."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


A couple of old friends (both ex-coworkers of mine) and I finally managed to get together a few nights ago. Given our disparate labor schedules, not to mention other requirements in life, such meetings have become far too few and distant between. When the stars finally do align, though, you can pretty much count on both wine and food being involved. One can also depend on all of us bringing along a bottle or four that we want to share with each other, often something that we suspect the others may not have had in a while, maybe even something that holds a little in the way of sentimental value. On most such occasions, contributions are pretty evenhanded; on this night, though, I took all but total control of the wine corner, as I was in the mood not just to drink some cool stuff but, more importantly, to turn my buds on to some wines I was pretty sure they'd never had the chance to experience.

An aperitif started things rolling right, a glass for each of us of the second oldest wine yet "newest" vintage of the night, the 2000 Rioja Gran Reserva Rosado "Viña Tondonia" from R. Lopez de Heredia. I'd actually tasted the '98 rosado with one of my cohorts a few months earlier but, as fate would have it, it wasn't a stellar bottle. This one I really wanted to be right and it was, really lovely stuff, oxidative at first whiff but still very young, full of potpourri, wood spice and coconut oil aromas and an overall impression of warm, sun-baked sands.

The scene of the crime, by the way, was Fond, a BYOB spot in the burgeoning, cultural polyglot of a neighborhood that is South Philly's East Passyunk Avenue corridor. I'd eaten at Fond once before with satisfying enough results but on this night chef Lee Styer and crew were cooking at another level.

To a man, we started with Fond's veal sweetbreads, fried to a fine balance between external crispiness and internal creaminess, seasoned just one stop short of the end of the line, and very nicely appointed with the sweetness of wilted onions and rich simplicity of a sunny-up egg. Radikon's 2002 Venezia-Giulia Ribolla Gialla, poured from its signature thin-necked 500 ml bottle, proved not only surprisingly primary, predictably golden and snappily tannic, but also a more than admirable match with our salty, savory plates of ris de veau. Proof aplenty that orange wine really isn't just for uni.

My dining companions both opted for the squab, the chef's special for the day. A killer choice, I must add — one of my buddies, an alum of Le Bec Fin, where squab was a signature dish for many a year, proclaimed it the best he'd ever had. I, however, couldn't pass up on the hangar steak, which was cooked pretty much to perfection and finished with a damn tasty sauce Bordelaise.

Here, I "let" the guys slide in a sentimental choice, a bottle of 1999 Valtellina Superiore Sassella from La Castellina della Fondazione Fojanini. This is a wine we all once sold and that, I believe, its owner had hoped to share with a recently departed friend. It was richer than I remember but otherwise as expected, just barely softening and inching toward some signs of bottle development, a great-value example of how age-worthy, not to mention compelling, the wines of Nebbiolo-based wines of Valtellina can be.

I think we were all in agreement, though, that the youngster in the bunch turned out to be the wine of the night. Bernard Baudry's 2007 Chinon "La Croix Boissée" was drinking beautifully. Disgracefully young as it was, the Baudrys' wine, like the food that night, was firing on all cylinders, showing richness aligned with grace and displaying all the classic traits of Chinon grown in Cravant les Coteaux — floral, herbal and grassy, full of cassis and blueberry fruit, all seasoned with a liberal sprinkling of mineral extract. Ten more years should do this one much, much good. No matter, though. It provided a long overdue introduction to Baudry for a certain member of the Chevaliers de Chezelet, paired wonderfully with my steak, and made for a great way to wrap up and savor an evening among friends.

1617 East Passyunk Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19148
(215) 551-5000
Fond on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 5, 2010

Molière, Poquelin, and the Beaujolais That Isn't

Though the professor's name has long since escaped me, I still have quite concrete memories of a course in Comparative French Literature that I undertook during my years as an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland. While all writing in the course was conducted in English, students in the class were expected to be conversant in French and to read, wherever possible, in the original French. I managed to scrape through the class somehow, but I was in way over my head. It's as close as I ever came to having a relationship with the works, whether tragedy or farce, of Molière.

Now, fast forward abut 25 years, to the context of wine rather than 17th Century French literature.... If my understanding is correct, the estate owned and farmed by Isabelle and Bruno Perraud, the Domaine des Côtes de la Molière, takes its name not from any literary reference. Rather, it comes from the name of the small village of Molière, just outside of Vauxrenard, about nine kilometers west of Chénas, six north of Chiroubles, where the core of the Perraud family's vineyards are located. There's no question, though, that the literary history bound up in the name of Molière does not escape them, for the name of the wine I write about today, the Perrauds' "Côte de Poquelin," plays on the name of their town, the name of their estate, and on the more widely known history of Molière, the stage name assumed by the famou playwright and actor who was born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin.

Vin de France "Côte de Poquelin," Domaine des Côtes de la Molière (Isabelle et Bruno Perraud) 2009
$15. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Jeffrey Alpert Selections, New York, NY.
2009 is the first-ever release of "Côte de Poquelin." Popped and poured, it was surprisingly dark in the glass, purplish-red, fading to pale violet at the rim. Initially, its aromas were somewhat subdued, giving hints of black cherry, spice and a suggestion of stems; correspondingly, its textures were somewhat stern, albeit quite nicely structured and pleasantly energetic, carried along by a firm acid attack and fresh, ever so slightly green tannins. If I didn't know this were a varietal expression of Gamay, I would have guessed there was some Pinot Noir in the mix. With time in the glass, though, the wine found greater clarity, with black cherry lightening to raspberry and indefinite spiciness focusing to a distinct streak of white pepper. Definitely a nice food wine.

Re-extracting the cork on day two yielded a pop that had me thinking a little overnight fermentation may have occurred but a quick sniff and taste proved that not to be the case. (In retrospect, I'm sure the pop was simply the result of my enthusiasm.) In fact, that quick sniff and taste revealed an even purer expression of Gamay-Beaujolais than in evidence the day before. Cutting to the chase, sometimes you just have to sit back and say, "Okay, this is delicious wine." Pure and simple.

If you caught my references to Beaujolais above, you may be wondering why this wine, produced in the Beaujolais-Villages, is not labeled accordingly. I pondered that myself, wondering if the wine had been declassified by the INAO, or perhaps produced in some way outside of the appellation regulations. Not wanting to guess and not finding much in the way of answers available in the public domain, I went straight to the source.

Isabelle Perraud, vigneronne and co-proprietor at the Domaine des Côtes de la Molière, confirmed that the INAO had declassified one of the estate's wines in the past, their 2005 Moulin à Vent, which the Perrauds subsequently renamed and released as a Vin de Table called simply "Côte de la Molière." The decision to release "Côte de Poquelin" as a Vin de France, though, was made entirely and voluntarily by Isabelle and Bruno. The pair views the wine as their Beaujolais-Villages but, along with an increasing number of artisan vigneron(ne)s, have opted for the greater flexibility, perhaps even the more individual expression, offered under the aegis of the Vin de France designation. (If your French is up to speed, or if you're willing to muddle through a somewhat awkward Google translation, you can read about Isabelle's take on the matter via her blog.)

Speaking of individual expression in the context of wine growing, you'll find it, worn like a badge, right on the label of the domaine's wines. "Wine made from organically grown grapes, un-filtered, not chaptalized, raised and bottled at the estate without use of sulfur or any other additives." And on the side of the label (out of view in the above photo), "Raisins cueillis sur une vigne en harmonie avec la nature" ("grapes picked from a vine in harmony with nature"). Presenting such information so plainly, in so forward a manner, with more words given to the approach, one could argue, than to the wine itself, might strike some as natural-wine marketing. However, I get the sense that it's just the Perrauds' way of expressing pride in their work and their wines. Their family has been farming vines in the Beaujolais for six generations, with Bruno and Isabelle taking the lead in 1988. Ten years later they made the decision to stop using conventional farming techniques. Six of their ten hectares were certified organic in 2002 and the rest of the farm is under conversion. Their wines, like "Côte de Poquelin," farmed at minuscule yields, fermented on native yeasts, made with no nonsense and nothing added, are like their new babies. Pure and simple.

Allow me to end, if you will, by saying that I'm indebted to my friend Bill for passing this bottle along to me. Without such generosity, I most likely would have tasted this wine, at some point in time and in one vintage or another, but I'm glad to have gotten to know it now.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Giovanni Pasquero-Elia of Paitin, at Tria in Philly Next Tuesday

To be filed under a little help for my friends... I just wanted to let all of my Philadelphia-area readers know that Giovanni Pasquero-Elia, vigneron (to borrow from the French) and current head of the wine growing family at the storied Barbaresco estate, Paitin di Pasquero-Elia, is coming to town. Next Tuesday, November 9, 2010, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM, Giovanni will be leading a tutored tasting of his wines, from Arneis, Dolcetto and Barbera, on through Nebbiolo and Barbaresco, at Philly's Tria Fermentation School. As of this moment there are still eight tickets remaining, so jump on board if you'd like a chance to taste and learn about some excellent Piemontese wines under the guidance of the man who helped bring them to life.

The Sorì Paitin vineyard, at the heart of the Paitin estate in the hills above the village of Neive, as it looked in February 2006.

If you need a little more convincing or would like to brush up on a little background before jumping in, check out the winery profile of Paitin that I wrote last year based on my visit to the estate back in early 2006. For those that place themselves firmly on one side or the other of the old-school/new-school stylistic divide when it comes to the wines of Piedmont, Giovanni's wines are neither devoutly traditional nor extremely modernistic. Rather, they draw tools, techniques and ideas from both sides, with excellent results.

If you go, be sure to tell them I sent you. And please do stop back to let me know what you thought of the wines and the experience.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Two Bruts from the Touraine

There will be no intensely detailed tasting notes here today. Friends and I recently drank these two sparkling Loire Chenin Blancs. We were having a good time, I didn't take detailed notes, and the intricacies are no longer fresh in my mind, just the overall impressions, the broad strokes.

I'm intentionally writing them up in reverse order: oldest to youngest, pricier to less so, opposite to how we experienced them. You'll see why soon enough.

Montlouis-sur-Loire "Almendra" Brut, François Chidaine 1996
$42. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, NY.
It's kind of funny, you know, in that way that makes you say, "What the hell...?" I've visited the Chidaine estate in Montlouis, formerly sold their wines for several years, and have been enjoying drinking them for well over a decade. Yet it was only recently that I learned that François makes a sparkling wine called "Almendra," only in the best vintages or so I'm told, that spends 10+ years on its lees before disgorgement. This was my first time trying it. One of my favorite wine blogging buddies, as it turns out, drank and wrote-up the very same vintage of "Almendra" well nigh on three years ago. Turns out our reactions were very much the same, despite the three year and 3000 mile distance between them.

There was an intense mineral character, along with the mushroomy, toasty character that often accompanies sparkling wines that have seen extended lees-aging. The developed Chenin character of the wine sang loud and clear — wool, quince, dried honey, again, some pretty concentrated mineral character. It's that intense Chinin-ness that made appreciating the wine a complicated venture for me, almost as if the sparkling character was sitting off to one side, the Montlouis/Chenin character to another, not quite harmoniously joined. I enjoyed it in the general sense, but not as much as I normally do Chidaine's non-sparkling examples of Montlouis.

The experience made me think about something I hadn't considered in a while. As much as I enjoy sparkling Vouvray and Montlouis from producers such as François Pinon, Foreau, yes, Chidaine, even Poniatowski back in the day, and, more recently, Jacky Blot, I sometimes wonder whether there's any real benefit to be gained from producing Méthode Traditionelle examples of Loire Chenin, other than to satisfy market demand or to yield a product from slightly under-ripe fruit.

Then I drink this and the question again recedes...

Vouvray Pétillant Brut, Domaine Huet 2005
$26. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: The Rare Wine Company, Sonoma, CA.
Technically speaking, Huet's Vouvray Pétillant is not made according to the Méthode Traditionelle but rather via the Méthode Ancestrale, in which primary fermentation is stopped before completion (usually by dropping the temperature to a point where the yeast go dormant) and the wine is placed in bottle where fermentation will continue to completion, trapping CO2 in solution (bubbles!) along the way. I'm given to understand that Huet's winemaker, Noël Pinguet, adds a dab of yeast at bottling to ensure that the bottle fermentation goes smoothly, and that he finishes the wine with an small addition of one of the estate's off-day wines in place of the typical dosage used in the traditional method. For the 2005 Pétillant, that finish came courtesy of a soupcon of Huet's 2002 Le Mont Première Trie. (Check out The Wine Doctor's exceptional report on Huet for more details on this and the rest of the wines produced at the estate.)

Technical stuff aside, the Vouvray Pétillant Brut from Huet is consistently delicious wine. As much as I do like the others I mentioned above, I'm really not sure that Huet has a true peer in this context. The 2005 is still a baby, showing nowhere near the nuance of the best bottles of the 2002 I've drunk over the last few years but, like I said, it's still a baby. The wine is showing beautiful fruit, balance and structure, and complete integration between the sparkling and serious Vouvray sides of its personality. Given its balance and purity, I expect the wine to develop quite nicely over the next several years and will certainly enjoy exploring its evolution. I'll be sure to tell you if I was wrong....

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Brunch at North Third

With no offense intended to our eventual destination, when we set off toward Northern Liberties at midday, it was a late breakfast we had in mind, at the downhome/Jewish all-day mash-up that is Honey's Sit 'n' Eat. Oddly enough, I've only been to the breakfast-centric Honey's for dinner. Now I know why I've been avoiding it at breakfast/brunch time, at least on weekends. Apparently it's the NoLibs equivalent of Morning Glory. The thirty-five minute wait the host cited looked, from the mass of humanity lined up on the "payment" (yeah, I know, it's not South Philly), more like it would be an hour and thirty-five.

So on we went. Heading east along Brown Street it wasn't long before North Third came into focus. Not having eaten there in ages, we figured it was due for a spin. Not a bad decision in any respect as it would turn out. Though things were bustling here, too, we were able to snag a couple of prime seats at the bar. After a scan of the menu and a quick glance at the taps, I suddenly found myself craving something more savory than I'd been thinking when we set out earlier in the day. Turns out my dining companion was thinking along the same lines. Having a hard time deciding between the two most appealing items on offer, we realized there was no need to choose. Just order them both, and a couple of pints (it was after noon by now, after all) to wash them down.

Apparently a new addition to the menu for the Halloween weekend, North Third's breakfast cassoulet was quite satisfying, definitely deserving of a regular spot in the rotation. At the dish's core was a tender yet still toothsome combo of white beans and black eyed peas, slow cooked and deeply infused with the woodsy, porky influence of double-smoked bacon. A generous dusting of toasty breadcrumbs was a nice touch, traditional yet also working in the breakfast theme, especially in company with the two over-medium eggs that topped the dish. My only gripe? If you're going to list duck confit and polish sausage among the cassoulet's ingredients, then there should be some confit and sausage; I was hard-pressed to find any evidence of either. That said, it was an $11 dollar brunch plate, not a $20 pièce de résistance, and the dish was tasty enough to please without them.

Chili and eggs holds a regular place on the brunch menu at North Third, and represents a repurposing of one of the more popular items on the dinner menu at this comfort-food-centric spot. The serving size made the cassoulet seem petit in comparison but that's okay; it meant we had leftovers to take home for lunch the next day. Working from the bottom up, we're talking about a generous portion of moist, honey-sweetened corn bread, followed by a couple of over-medium eggs, then a generous ladling of meaty chili, topped off with a little melted cheddar, and accompanied by some pretty well executed roasted potatoes. The pile of condiments (jalapeños, salsa, sour cream) seemed unnecessary to me given the ample flavor of the chili. Again, just one gripe: rosemary is a good seasoning choice for chili, but either put a whole sprig in the pot and then remove it before service or chop the needles; unexpectedly chawing down on a whole needle really isn't all that pleasant.

The bar was decked out for the halloween weekend, which, along with the natural light flowing in from the windows along Third and Brown, made it the most inviting (to me, at least) spot in the restaurant. Though my pint of Victory Festbier was a bit imbalanced toward the sweet malt end of the spectrum for my tastes, it worked fine with the hearty fare and seemed too appropriate not to drink given the October-ending occasion.

Is North Third a destination restaurant? Nope. But it, or a spot like it, would be a welcome neighbor in most any hood.

North Third
801 N 3rd Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123
(215) 413-3666
North Third on Urbanspoon
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