On new year's eve a good friend took pity on me, alone in the house with my very young and very wonderful daughters, and he decided to come over to hang out and have dinner. We of course opened some special wines on that night, one of which was a bottle I brought back from Jerez in October, Emilio Hidalgo Especial Amontillado Viejo El Tresillo 1874. I was very excited to drink and share this wine. The solera began in 1874 when the Hidalgo family purchased the bodega and the wines in the bottle are an average of about 50 years old. This is special wine - very little is bottled every year and it is not imported to the US. When I visited the bodega in October they were generous enough to open a bottle for us to try, and the wine was amazing. I bought one to carry home in my suitcase.
So, on new year's eve at some point, I went to the back room where my wine fridge sits and retrieved this bottle and proudly strutted into the kitchen where my friend stood and showed it to him. "We're going to drink this now," I said. And I told him about the wine and how good it would be and he was impressed, or at least acted like he was impressed.
Seven friends and I pool our money every year to buy about 8 bottles of Burgundy wine, wine that we wouldn't buy individually because of the high cost and the risk of bad bottles. Every year at around this time we get together over dinner and share the wines. This year the theme of our dinner was the great vineyards and producers of Pommard.
Pommard is not the most glorious of Burgundy appellations, not by a long shot. In my somewhat limited experience, the wines can be rustic and are not as pretty as the wines from neighboring Volnay, for example, or even compared with wines from "lesser" appellations such as Savigny-Lès Beaune. To continue with Pommard generalizations, the wines do not offer much value or particularly high quality at the villages level, unless the wine comes from a specific vineyard. For example, although I would not buy a straight villages Pommard, I might buy a bottle of Pommard La Chanière by Maréchale or Pommard Chanlins by Lafouge (although I don't buy those wine anymore either, but that's more about my own buying strategy than about the quality of those wines).
People sometimes compare Pommard with Volnay, its neighbor to the south, and they say things like "Pommard is muscular and brawny, and Volnay is elegant and pretty." This is probably true as a generalization, although there are of course exceptions. People also say, when they talk about 1er Cru vineyards in Burgundy that should be elevated to Grand Cru status, that both Clos des Epenots and Rugiens in Pommard are deserving. For me, this is part of the point of selecting Pommard as the theme for our dinner. I wanted to drink wines that are considered to be among the very finest of the appellation, to experience Pommard at its best, to build the foundation of my own understanding of the character and potential of Pommard.
Any list of the finest wines of Pommard would include Comte Armand's Clos des Epeneaux. Epeneaux is a monopole of the Domaine, a walled vineyard of over 5 hectares within the larger 1er Cru vineyard called Epenots. There are two climats that make up Epenots - Grands Epenots and Petits Epenots, and Clos des Epeneaux is almost all within Les Grands Epenots. It's interesting to think about the fact that the previous owner of Clos des Epeneaux, the Marey-Monge family, actually owned all 30 plus hectares of Epenots in the early 1700's, and sold all of it off except for the Clos des Epeneaux, around which they built an 8 foot high wall and kept. Obviously they must have thought that it gave the best wines within the larger vineyard. Clos des Epeneaux wines comes mostly from old vines and, according to what I've read, need more time than most 1er Crus to arrive at maturity. We were all excited to have three examples of this wine to drink at our dinner, wines that could not be considered old, but would hopefully be mature.
I also wanted to drink wines from the Rugiens vineyard at this dinner, and there are several producers who make good examples - Domaine de Courcel, Domaine de Montille, Aleth Girardin, Joseph Voillot, François Gaunoux, and Michel Gaunoux all come to mind. I chose two bottles from the late 1990's by de Montille. I've read that Rugiens is the richest, the most muscular of the Pommard wines, and that Clos des Epeneaux would be more mineral driven and elegant (although one experienced drinker at our dinner raised an eyebrow suspiciously when I mentioned this, saying that he would hardly call Clos des Epeneaux a wine of elegance, that is is still brawny Pommard).
We rounded out our lineup by including bottles by two other producers whose wines I wanted to drink, as I read that they are made in a style that I would appreciate - Clos des Epenots by Domaine de Courcel and 1er Cru Pezerolles by Domaine Billard-Gonnet.
First, the good news: we had a great night and I love Burgundy Wine Club. Such a great group of people, a pleasure to be with them and to look forward to this experience each year. We had a wonderful long dinner at the very lovely Rosewater in Brooklyn, where owner John Tucker serves thoughtfully sourced and prepared food, and has a very well selected wine list.
Now, the bad news: the theme of this dinner was Pommard, and everyone agreed that the wine of the night was the 1989 François Jobard Meursault 1er Cru Charmes. The reds were absolutely underwhelming as a group - I was very much uninspired. That said, the one that perhaps on paper should have been the best, was corked. Another that should have been great was probably flawed. Still, this dinner was not a great advertisement for Pommard. Some notes and thoughts (I'll share the prices I paid when I bought the wines last year - none were purchased upon release):
1989 François Jobard Meursault 1er Cru Charmes, $100. We drank this with a salad of grilled calamari with frisée, clementine, and bacon. The wine of the night without any question whatsoever. A fabulous showing for a wine that is drinking perfectly right now. Pungent and fresh at the peak of maturity. The nose at first has a roasted sense to the pear fruit, but the roastiness vanishes after a half hour and the wine becomes linear and focused with a perfect melange of fruit and mineral. Elegant, plush while remaining entirely in control, and great acidity - just a mouthwatering wine that reminded everyone at the table to drink more old white Burgundy.
With sautéed wild mushrooms and a fried quail egg on toast we drank 1996 Domaine de Courcel Pommard Grand Clos des Epenots, $54 and 1999 Domaine Billard-Gonnet Pommard 1er Cru Les Pezerolles, $48. The Courcel was very tight still, constricted, the acidity almost too much, but still pretty, with dark fruit and floral aromas. In the mouth the stony mineral streak prominent. The wine is very good, but probably needs another five years or so to unwind. The Billard-Gonnet wine was just not good. Rich and ripe to the point of being syrupy, maple on the nose. The acidity is raspy, the wine is rustic and just doesn't seem very well made. Not harmonious, not complex, straight forward fruit that is borders on syrup. Not a good advertizement for this producer...
With grilled pork belly, apple, and pickled cabbage we drank a magnum of 1993 Comte Armand Pommard Clos des Epeneaux, $325. Oh, how I wanted this wine to be great. I knew that it would probably need a couple hours to open up, and we opened it at least 90 minutes before we began to drink it. It was dense and impenetrable for most of four hours, and never really opened up. There are hints of something lovely, but the wine is simply not ready, in the magnum format anyway. Some perfume emerges after while, but the wine is tight, inward. Time brings some animale undertones, but this bottle was in a disjointed state, with acid and alcohol not well integrated. There were questions from some drinkers about whether or not the wine was too cloudy. Some one poured a glass through a filter and the wine brightened some, but to me the smell and taste was unchanged. If I had another magnum I would leave it alone, honestly for another 10 years.
With smoked quail, grilled radicchio, pinenuts, and currants we drank 1989 and 1991 Comte Armand Clos des Epeneaux, $200 and $168 respectively. The 1989 was corked, and this was crushing - on paper this wine should have been great. The 1991 could also have been flawed. There were clear signs of rot or mildew on the nose, which was musty and inexpressive. The wine was better with food, but the finish was cropped, stifled. Unsatisfying, not delicious, a big disappointment.
With braised shortribs, parsnips, shitakes, and mustard greens we drank 1998 and 1999 de Montille Pommard 1er Cru Rugiens, $133 and $185 respectively. The 1999 was delicious, but a bit too simple to be intriguing. It showed the ripe character of the vintage (one that I am learning to be skeptical of) with plush sweet fruit, not entirely enough structure, and very little complexity. Not compelling, I'm sorry to say, and a very poor value at that price. The 1998, however, was a very lovely wine. There were complex aromas of dark fruit, brown sugar, musk, and flowers. Lovely on the palate with pretty fruit and complex secondary flavors, and a long finish that pauses and then sneaks back up. In this wine I could feel the muscularity that people speak of regarding Pommard. To me, this wine was exactly what it should be - complex, muscular, mineral driven, and it was delicious.
Okay, not every bottle and not every wine dinner will live up to expectations. Still, it was a great night with friends. And there's always next year. I have some ideas for an interesting lineup of wines...
Here is an article about Pommard from Burgundy Report.
And here is the report from last year's BWC dinner, if you're interested.
I was given an amazing birthday gift in November, an old bottle of wine by Produttori del Barbaresco, the 1959 Riserva. This is very exciting - how often does one get to drink a bottle that old? In my case, not very often. I've had a few old wines, but with the exception of a few cases, I haven't opened them myself. A more experienced friend or a sommelier typically has handled that part.
How do you open an old bottle of wine?
I knew that I wanted to drink the '59 Barbaresco over the holidays with friends. I asked Jamie Wolff, partner at Chambers Street Wines, what to do with the bottle (which was purchased at his shoppe). He told me to stand it up a week in advance, not to move it at all during that time if I could help it, as it would probably have a lot of sediment.
"But my wine fridge won't accommodate a standing bottle," I said. "How do I keep it at the proper temperature?" Jamie suggested finding the coolest spot in the house and standing it there. "And when you serve it," he said, "open it up four or five hours in advance and decant it carefully off the sediment."
As the Barbaresco evening approached, I began to wonder if an old wine like this would die with four or five hours in the decanter, so I asked another friend about how to deal with it, and his answer was entirely different.
That's when I realized that there are a lot of way to do this: to handle, open, and drink an old bottle of wine. And I don't know what I'm doing in this area at all. So I thought I would ask a few friends who are wine professionals what they do with old bottles. I wanted opinions from a variety of viewpoints, so I asked a great sommelier, a great wine buyer, and a great wine thinker and writer with a load of personal experience opening old wine. I'm talking about Levi Dalton the great sommelier, Joe Salamone the great wine buyer at Crush, and Peter Liem of broad and varied greatness. I wrote to them with the following questions:
1. How do you prepare an old bottle for drinking?
2. How far in advance of serving do you open the bottle?
3. Do you decant or not, and why?
4. How do you open an old bottle when the cork might be likely to crumble or break?
5. What should we look for when the bottle is first open - how can we tell if the wine is good or not?
6. Any general thoughts on evaluating an old wine - for those of us who don't often drink old wine, it can be confusing.
7. Do your ideas about pairing wine with food change if the wine is old?
8. Any other advice most appreciated.
And now, patient reader, I will share their thoughts with you (and I hope you're sitting comfortably, because this is a long post):
1. How do you prepare an old bottle for drinking?
Levi - Bottles should be left alone for as long as possible before opening. If you know in advance that you will be opening a bottle of wine a few days from now, I suggest standing it up vertically in the cellar to let the sediment fall to the bottom of the bottle. If you are storing the wine horizontally, I recommend not moving the bottle much while it is in storage. This usually becomes more of a problem with double deep bottle racking, where you have to move one bottle to get to another. Bottles can get moved a lot. I recommend putting the older wines in the back, so that they bottles that are getting jostled in the front are the younger wines.
If you are removing a bottle from horizontal racking, I recommend either using a bottle cradle or I recommend holding the bottle near horizontal, keeping the bottle in the same way as it was in the rack. In other words, don't spin the bottle around as you move it. The aim is to keep the sediment in the same place without moving it around into the liquid. I also recommend taking an elevator, if available, rather then walking with a bottle up stairs.
Joe - Stand it up in the morning if you’re drinking it at night. Let the sediment sink to the bottom.
Peter - It depends on what it is. If it's an old red wine with sediment, you ideally want to stand it up for several days, sometimes even a week, before opening it, to allow the sediment to settle. It's not just an aesthetic issue—the sediment can be bitter, and its presence definitely changes the flavors of the wine. You can decant a wine that's stored on its side if you need to (in a restaurant setting, for example), but you have to be careful. (I'll always remember drinking a 1964 Bartolo Mascarello at Valentino in Santa Monica that was virtually opaque with sediment due to utterly incompetent wine service.) If it's an old white wine or champagne, you need to chill it, of course. I have no scientific basis for it, but for whatever reason, I don't like shocking an old wine in an ice bath or the freezer or whatnot. I prefer to bring it down to temperature slowly in the fridge, which takes time. Maybe it's just a question of respect.
2. How far in advance of serving do you open the bottle?
Levi - Some cowboys, especially in the Nebbiolo set, open bottles way far ahead. I generally don't. I like to see how the wine changes in the glass.
Joe - It really depends on the bottle. A few years ago I had a 71 DRC Grands Echezeaux with questionable storage. It was popped and poured and it was glorious for fifteen minutes. After that, it faded hard. Someone at the table was smart enough to say that we should pop and pour. Otherwise, we would have missed out on it totally.
Peter - This is a tricky question, and one with no right answers. I've seen old wines continue to develop for three days, and others that have crashed within 15 minutes. It's true that old wines need time to emerge (you'd be out of sorts too if you'd been trapped in a bottle for 50 years), but personally, I tend to err on the side of caution, not because I'm afraid that the wine will die, but because I like to experience the evolution of the wine from start to finish. For a grand old bottle, I prefer to open it, take a small glass, and decide from there what to do with it. Having said that, I tend to do this in the afternoon, if I'm serving old red wines at dinner. But then afterwards, I'm always the guy who has like 12 glasses in front of him at the end of a dinner party, because I've been saving all these wines to watch how they grow over the course of several hours.
3. Do you decant or not, and why?
Levi - Old wines are candidates for decanting when they have thrown a good deal of sediment. But if you are dealing with a low tannin grape, I usually don't decant, even if they are throwing sediment. That is to say, I generally don't decant old Red Burgundy, I pour carefully from the bottle instead. Pouring into a decanter should be low, slow, and steady. This is not the "splash decant" that you might use for a younger wine. Do the decanting all in one go, with no fits, starts, or interruptions. Hopefully you won't sneeze during the operation. If you do stop and start the liquid will become muddy with sediment before it leaves the bottle. That being said, it is a great idea to "season" the decanter you intend to use with some of the wine in advance of pouring the rest in. Do this by pouring in a bit of the wine, swirling it around in the decanter, and then discarding. You can taste the discarded wine and test for TCA before pouring out the bottle as well. When you do decant the bottle, keep your light source behind the bottle neck, not behind the decanter lip. You want to stop pouring before the sediment leaves the bottle. Keep in mind that with sediment, there are many variations of the beast. Some are sludge like, some are flaky, some are like fine pebbles at the seashore. Each will move differently as you pour the bottle out.
In practice, I usually do not double decant old bottles of wine. Some people do this however, especially if they are attending a BYOB dinner. They double decant the bottle in their home beforehand and then bring the decanted wine in the original bottle to the dinner. If you do want to double decant a bottle, I recommend using hot water to clean out the sediment in the bottle. This is because hot water, unlike cold water, evaporates. Thus you will have less water to drain out of the bottle later, before you add the original wine back into the bottle. It is worth keeping in mind that hot water will make the bottle's glass warm, and that you should wait until it cools down before adding the wine back in. Also, very old bottles of wine may have thinner glass than is common today. In which case you might be careful about extremely hot water and the possibility of cracking glass as well as fragile bottle lips.
Say you don't decant the bottle of wine, but it has sediment on the bottle, what then? Well I recommend either pouring from a cradle, or holding the bottle by the bottom, with your fingers underneath. When you go around to the different glasses to pour, don't move the bottle up and down a lot. Try to keep the bottle neck at the same level. This is counter to what usually happens when pouring at a table, where the bottle gets raised back vertically a lot, and generally requires going slow and being careful. Sometimes it is easiest to pour all of the glasses away from the seated table, and then to hand the glasses out once poured. This eliminates moving the bottle between people at the table. If you are pouring from a cradle, which can be helpful, just remember that it is easy to bump someone with the cradle when you are pouring. Which defeats the purpose, really. Keep in mind that "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" was a scary movie.
Joe - There are no hard and fast rules, but typically I would only decant to avoid sentiment. Otherwise, I have a sense that decanting is too aggressive for many old wines and would prefer to just pull the cork and let them aerate slowly. If I tasted an old wine that felt particularly tight, I would decant.
Peter - I decant less and less now. I almost think I decant more young wine than old wine nowadays, which is sort of ironic. But it depends. You decant for two reasons, right? It's to give the wine air and to take it off of its sediment. In the first case, as I said before, I prefer to watch the wine evolve slowly, so I don't really care. I'm patient. With regards to the second, it depends on the situation. If we're serving an old bottle in a restaurant to eight people, then yeah, it needs to be decanted. If it's just two of us drinking it at home, maybe, or maybe not. A friend and I have been thinking over the last few years that we like opening old bottles, say a 50-year-old Barolo, hours ahead of time but not decanting, just pouring a small glass at first to taste it, then letting it hang out all day until it's time to drink it. I feel that it preserves a silkier texture and better clarity of flavor than if you subject it to the oxidative shock of decanting. But that could just be my imagination.
Summer is officially over, and although I love autumn, I do feel gloomy about it. I love summer, just love it. I love how long the days are, all of the great things to eat at the market, the feeling of sitting on the deck at 9pm bathed in 72 degree warmth.
The thing is, summer is actually about to begin again. Think of it this way - it's almost Halloween and then before you know it, it's Thanksgiving. And then it's the end of the year holidays. Okay, there's tough stretch in January-March but then it's spring, and we all know how quickly spring flies by. Then it's summer again. So actually, it's almost next fall.
In this time of year, I like to make use of things that we won't be eating for a while. On Saturday I got what might be our last corn of the season, and made a simple corn pudding:
Beat 2 eggs, and whisk them with 2 cups of some combination of milk and or cream. I used a cup of each, and it was almost too rich. Whisk in some salt, a bit of sugar (which you can omit), 3/4 cup of flour, and corn. I used the scraped kernels from 5 cobs. You can use less or more depending on how corny you want your pudding to be. I like a lot of corn in there. Here you can add chopped basil, grated cheddar, whatever else you like. I kept it plain with the little daughters in mind, and added only a half stick of melted butter, spread the mixture in a pan and bake at 350 for an hour and a half or until the top is golden brown.
That's it, that's the dish. There are many things that would be great to drink with this. Please, you be the sommelier. What would you open with this corn pudding?
Cellar space is at a premium in NYC. I can't save all of the different wines I would like to age. There are many different wines in my "cellar" (read: wine fridge), things that most anyone would agree should be left alone for years before drinking. It's the little wines that I never seem to make room for, and we drink them up when they're young.
There's nothing at all wrong with that - if a wine is expressive and delicious young, why not drink it? Some humble little wines, though, can improve dramatically with even short-term cellaring, and I wish that I had more space/self control to give them that extra year or two in the bottle.
A couple examples. I never manage to hold any Coudert Fleurie. The old vines Cuvée Tardive I'm good about, but the regular wine...as much as I'd like to sock a few bottles away, the wine is always delicious young, and so we drink it. Another example - all Bandol rosés. As committed as I am to holding a bottle or two, I seem to find excuses to open them.
This is all too common with me. There are so many wines that I'd love to put away, but don't. Such is life - there are choices to make and one cannot cellar every interesting bottle of wine. I drank a few things recently that reminded me of the rewards of storing the humble wines even for just a year or two.
2006 Bernard Baudry Chinon Cuvée Domaine, $18, Louis/Dressner Selections. I've always enjoyed this wine but I never managed to store any until the 2006 vintage. It's just so good, even right out of the gates. Some folk, like the Vulgar Little Monkey, figured out long ago that there are several Baudry wines worth cellaring, the humble Cuvée Domaine included. It's not Baudry's top wine and it will never be earth shattering, but Cuvée Domaine is a great wine that in most vintages is even better with a few years in the cellar. The tannins have rounded a bit in the 2006 and the wine flows freely across the palate. The fruit is rich and the body lean and muscular, the sensibilities of gravel and flower coexisting harmoniously. You will be proud of me when I tell you that I still have another bottle of this. And a few of the 2007's too. I need an underground cave.
2006 Jacques Puffeney Arbois Trousseau Cuvée les Bérangères, $30, Imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Again, this was always an attractive wine. But I managed to hold this last bottle for merely one year and the payoff was huge. The slight astringency that I was always happy to work with is gone now, and so is whatever else that is not essential to the purest of cool red currant and leafy raspberry, the gamy undercurrent, and the stony finish. So agile and energetic, such a compelling example of cool climate mountain wine from the Jura. I hereby renew my commitment to the 2007's.
2007 Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol Rosé, $25, Kermit Lynch Imports. I won't lie to you - I didn't cellar this wine. I drank all mine last summer and loved all of it. But Chambers Street came across a small bit recently and I bought a bottle from them. Wow - the wine is even better. It takes a while to open up, but when it does it really sings. Peach juice, spices, metal, and stone, pure as can be and perfectly balanced. The gamy streak that was there in its youth was not here a year later, but I loved how there is a new dimension to the texture. There are layers on the palate now, and there is a tactile sense to each flavor. I bet that this is just the beginning for this wine, actually. Bert Celce of Wine Terroirs has written about the aging potential of Bandol rosé, Terrebrune's in particular.
I hate traveling for work because it means being away from the wife and kids, but New Orleans is really fun, I must admit. This week I spent another few days there and I ate some tremendously delicious things.
Fried Boudin Balls at Boucherie. These were better than any others I've had, including those I had during my recent visit at the otherwise fantastic Cochon. They were great with the 2009 Ameztoi Txakoli which was only $33 for the bottle.
Chicory coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde. I understand now why people wait on long lines.
Herbsaint was again fantastic. Instead of wine, I drank their Sazerac, which is perfectly balanced and delicious, and very aromatic. It was nice with their chicken and Andouille gumbo. The jumbo gulf shrimp were just excellent too. In the high-end category, this is a don't-miss place if you visit New Orleans.
I saved the best for last. I ate two of what honestly were the very best sandwiches that I have ever eaten, anywhere. Yes, I've had wonderful Banh Mi, and other great sandwiches, but these both hold their own against anything that's out there. The Muffuletta is a tricky thing, but Mahoney's Po'Boy Shop does it right. The bread is thick but pliant and there is a perfect amount of cured meat and cheese. But it's the lovely variety of pickled vegetables that steal the show. They are perfectly done and plentiful and they remind me of the pickled daikon and carrot strips in a Banh Mi sandwich - they provide acid and texture and balance the richness of the meat.
Mahoney's was so good that I went back and had a different sandwich. Would you believe me if I told you that it was even better than the Muffuletta? Roast beef n' gravy is a traditional New Orleans po'boy and it was ridiculous. The beef was more braised than roasted, it seemed to me, and it was tender and just a bit chewy, well seasoned, and with the dressing of lettuce and a light gravy, it was simply delicious. Possible-to-eat-a-couple-times-a-week delicious. I haven't yet tried the fried oyster po'boy, or soft shell crab po'boy being eaten by the wise old gentleman sitting next to me. I considered grabbing his and fleeing the shop, but then I remembered that I have to visit New Orleans again for work and I'll go back to Mahoney's.
I ate a plate of beef tongue recently at Tsukushi, a small Japanese restaurant in midtown. It was part of long lineup of dishes that the chef served to us, and it was one of the best things I've eaten in recent memory. The meat was sliced into very thin, perfectly round circles, and served warm on a bed of fresh greens. It was moist, as if it had been swirled in its cooking juices right before serving. The taste was definitely beefy but in a gentle way, and the texture was a miracle of melt-in-your-mouth silkiness.
So when I saw a Slope Farms beef tongue the following week at the Food Coop, I had to try making this at home. And by the way, it's not easy to find a Slope Farms beef tongue. Slope Farms sells only the whole animal - no parts, so the Coop gets one tongue every week or two. There are 13,000 members of the Coop, and all of them are always on the lookout for the tongue. Okay, even if it's only 10% of them, that's over 100 people I'm jockeying with.
Let's not tell each other lies. Tongue, before it's cooked, is simply is not terribly appetizing to look at. I have absolutely no idea how to make tongue, but one must try new things in the kitchen from time to time, mustn't one? I figured I'd boil and simmer it, take the outer membrane off, cool it so it would slice easily, and then re-heat it by swirling it in its own reduced and hot cooking liquid.
I used about 1 part soy sauce, 1 part chicken stock (didn't have beef stock), a half part sherry vinegar, and 2 parts water for the cooking liquid. I seasoned the liquid with a crushed clove of garlic, a sliced medium onion, a thickly chopped stalk of celery, a star anise pod, 6 black peppercorns, and a large bay leaf. Brought it to a boil and then simmered for three hours. Once it was cool enough to handle, I removed the white outer membrane, wrapped the tongue tightly in plastic, and tucked in the fridge overnight.
The next evening I reduced some of the strained and skimmed cooking liquid, seasoned with salt and a bit more sherry vinegar, and swirled some thin slices of tongue. Tossed some fresh lettuces in the same cooking liquid, and finished with a few drops of sesame oil and a bit more salt.
My version of this dish tasted fine, the seasoning was good and the meat pleasantly beefy. But this was nothing that would inspire anyone to run out and look for tongue to make in their own home. How did the Tsukushi chef get his slices to be so perfectly round, and the texture so incredibly silky? There is no higher quality beef out there, so the issue is technique, not ingredients.
Some of you know how to cook tongue - so tell me, what went wrong with my tongue?
My pal Deetrane showed up at our poker game the other night with a bottle of Armagnac and an interesting story. Many years ago his grandmother was given a bottle of Armagnac. This was in the late 1950's, early 1960's - Deetrane will correct me if my dates are wrong. She put the bottle in the closet and forgot about it.
Recently she dug it out and gave it to Deetrane. Many people would think about the perfect time to open the bottle and who to drink it with, and that's fine - that's probably what I would have done. But Deetrane's impulse is always to share, and with many people. So he brought the bottle to our poker game. He had already opened it, but there was plenty of 40-50 year old Armagnac in there when he came by, let me assure you.
The label reads "Ch de Malliac," and under that it reads "Hors d'age 12-5617." And to the upper left of the 12 there is a circular symbol like the one used to indicate degrees when writing the temperature. My guess is that this brandy was made in 1956. Perhaps the 12 refers to the barrel number? I really don't know. Chateau de Malliac is a well established Armagnac producer, but I couldn't find any information on old bottles when poking around the web.
Deetrane's grandma's Armagnac was fascinating. If it were a person, it would be a handsome logger who lives in the forest, and who cleaned up and shaved for dinner. The alcohol was quite prominent on the nose, and it wasn't easy to get a clean read on other aromas. Overall, it reminded me a bit of an Oloroso Sherry - walnuts, very complex. Dark and earthy on the palate with rich tones of burnt orange peel and coffee. And I was surprised to find some fruit too - something fleshy that made itself felt here and there.
What is really old Armagnac supposed to taste like? I really like Armagnac - from what I've tasted, I prefer it to Cognac. But I've never had an old Armagnac and I have no context whatsoever for tasting. If you've had old Armagnac before, what did you find?
I hung out with Peter Liem for a lot of the past two weeks. It's weird - when I spend time with Peter I find that I drink a lot of Champagne.
-- Warning -- Laundry List to Follow --
Here are the amazing Champagnes I drank in the past few weeks, along with a few notes, and I will tell you now that with the exception of the Larmandier-Bernier and the 2000 Tarlant, I drank these wines solely because of the generosity of others.
NV Franck Pascal Cuvée Tolérance Brut Rosé, price unknown, no longer imported (JD Headrick was the importer until recently, as I understand it). As reported in ChampagneGuide.net, Franck Pascal is a rising star in the northern part of the Marne, in the village of Baslieux-sur-Châtillon where the soil is especially friendly to Pinot Meunier. This rosé is mainly Meunier, based on the regular NV cuvée with still red wine (both Pinot Noir and Meunier) blended in. I loved this rosé. Fresh and bright with fruit, and it really showed what to my taste is typical of Meunier - a round and fleshy, very broad character with something sweet and nutty like marzipan or cashew under the fruit. And despite all of that, the wine retained a classy sense of control and finesse. Very impressive, very delicious, I hope not too expensive when it makes it back to the States so I can buy some.
(2002) Larmandier-Bernier Vieille Vignes de Cramant Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs, $70, Louis/Dressner Selections. Some say that this wine does not benefit from long aging. The precious few bottles I'm glad that I saved this for at least a few years (2005 is the current vintage), as it seems to be in a particularly sweet spot right now. Laser-like focus, delicate aromas and flavors but with great intensity. Much more about salt and rock than about fruit, and the chalky finish is graceful as it stains the palate and goes on forever. To me, a truly great Champagne.
NV Jacques Selosse Champagne VO, about $165, Imported by the Rare Wine Company. This particular bottle actually was purchased in France and traveled here by suitcase. I've had this wine once before and the two bottles were quite different. This one was probably a blend of wines from 2003, 2002, and 2001, and was aged on the lees for five years. It showed less of the oxidative character that has (quite beautifully) run through the few Selosse wines I've drunk. This one was lithe and stony, with bright and ultra-clean lemon fruit. Three of us drank this bottle and I don't know about you, but it's hard to go slow with Selosse. We may have sucked it down right as it was ready to fully show itself.
(1999, 2000) Tarlant Champagne La Vigne d'Antan Extra Brut Non-Grefée Chardonnay, $65, $60, 1999 imported by JD Headrick Selections, 2000 Imported by Jandell Selections. Here is Peter on this wine, in ChampagneGuide.net:
...a blanc de blancs from a 40-are parcel of ungrafted chardonnay vines in a vineyard called Les Sables, planted between 1951 and 1960. The soil here is very sandy and siliceous, preventing phylloxera from penetrating it, and these vines have thrived on their own rootstocks, although attempts at planting vines in other areas of the same vineyard have failed. The idea of this ungrafted cuvée is to reflect the personality of the terroir as expressed by these special vines, and it’s not necessarily intended to be a vintage wine: “The character of the site is stronger than that of the year,” says Tarlant. “This parcel isn’t always necessarily representative of the vintage.” The first release was based on the 1999 vintage, blended with roughly 25 percent of 1998, while the follow-up version was made entirely from the 2000 vintage.
My good pal Adam recently opened a bottle of the '99 and it was utterly gorgeous. The essence of the wine is this sandy brown mineral tone that permeates everything else. There is some fruit, but it is part of the supporting cast. Such intensity and focus, such wonderful balance. What I remember best about this wine is the way it unfolded in the nose and mouth - layers of aromas and texture, always crystalline and pure. Peter and I drank the 2000 two weeks later and I was struck by how similar the wines are. The 2000 is a bigger and richer wine, but that warm sandy brown mineral tone still suffuses everything. The flesh of the wine tastes like marzipan here, and it shows remarkable grace and class for a big wine. La Vigne d'Antan has become one of my favorite Blanc de Blancs.
2004 Louis Roederer Brut Blanc de Blancs, $60, imported by Maisons Marques & Domaines USA. Okay, stop right there if you're thinking "Wait, Roederer? Isn't that the huge négoce wine that Jay-Z likes?" Well, yes and no. Roederer does buy a lot of grapes, but only for their basic non-vintage Brut. All of the grapes used to make the other wines are estate grown. This is a wine of delicate subtlety and great finesse. There are no fireworks, there is no flash. There is chalk infused lemon fruit and a remarkably fine texture - that's what stayed with me, the pillow-y texture.
2002 Louis Roederer Champagne Cristal Brut Rosé, about $575, imported by Maisons Marques & Domaines USA. The first thing that struck me is the continuity in style between this and the above wine - we drank them on the same night. Both wines are honestly marvels of texture, well structured but cloud-like. It is hard for me to describe a wine like this, but I will say that it was as close to perfect as any wine I've had. How can so much intensity, detail, and raw material be packed into such a refined and elegant package?
2000 Dom Pérignon Brut Rosé, about $320, Imported by Moët Hennessy USA. Richness and density, but still elegant and vividly detailed, kind of an amazing thing to have rolling around in the mouth. Hard to describe this one too - just an amazing wine. Funny how this and Cristal seem to both have sacrificed their credibility among wine aficionados by allowing their brand to be portrayed as the ultimate in over-the-top luxury wines. They are stratospherically priced and out of reach of most of us. But if these bottles are representative, and I was assured that they are, they are finely crafted and exquisite wines, among the very best Champagnes.
In the past week I had the opportunity to drink several Amontillado Sherries. That's because I've been hanging out with Peter Liem and he likes to drink Sherry a lot. I know essentially nothing about these wines - everything that I'm going to tell you from here on is me paraphrasing some of the things he said during several conversations.
I enjoy Sherry and I drink more of it than ever before, but I've pretty much limited myself to Fino, Manzanilla, and the occasional Fino de Puerto - Sherries that are aged under flor for something like 5 to 8 years and then wine is drawn from the solera and bottled. Amontillado Sherries begin as these same wines, but they continue to age after the flor dies - flor lives for about 8 years and then it kind of expires. As there is no longer a protective flor coating, the wine continues to oxidize, taking on a lovely dark color and a new set of aromas and flavors.
One interesting way I've been learning to think about Amontillado is to consider where it might be on the flor - Amontillado continuum. Peter said that it is, in fact, a continuum. It's not as if there is some exact day upon which a Fino becomes an Amontillado. Amontillado can show more or less flor character depending on the wine maker's choices.
Here are the Amontillados I drank recently, along with a few thoughts on each:
Valdespino Tio Diego, price unknown, not imported to the USA. This is made from Palomino grapes grown in the upper portion of the great Marchenudo vineyard. In fact, this is Valdespino's Inocente, as Amontillado. It is completely delicious wine, with a graceful and elegant tone, and a quiet intensity. Peter says that it is unique in the world of Amontillado in that is is actually very close in character to Fino. The solera that contains the wines used to make Tio Diego also contain Sherries with live flor, an unusual decision. In fact, of the 11 or so criaderas used to mature Tio Diego, perhaps 7 of them contain wines with live flor. Peter can sense the flor character in the Amontillado. I could not, but that's because I am not sensitive to it yet. But after drinking several more Amontillados over the next few days, I get it. Now, will some one please import this wine?!? I mean seriously, people...
Lustau Almacenista Amontillado Sherry Matured by Jose Luis Gonzales Obregon, price unknown but I think around $35, Christopher Cannan Selections, Michael Skurnik Imports. We had this by the glass at Terroir TriBeCa and it was simply excellent. Obregon makes both this wine and a Fino del Puerto that goes into Lustau bottles and at this point I will buy and drink wither of them at any chance I get. I found this wine to be just as graceful and elegant as the Tio Diego, but richer and darker, further away from flor on the continuum. I must have it again, and someday I want to drink it next to Tio Diego to better understand the differences between the two wines.
Gutierrez Colosía Amontillado, $32, Bon Vivant Imports. This is a very fine wine that is further still away from flor than the Gonzaled Obregon Amontillado. And still, it shows great freshness, clarity, and focus. A great example of how a wine can be very rich and with all of the deeply nutty character that one would expect from Amontillado, but can still maintain an elegant lightness in mouth feel and aroma. Delicious wine, highly recommended.
Bodegas Tradicion Amontillado, price unknown but I think around $60, Steve Miles Imports. I drank this near the end of a wonderful Sherry dinner put on by Levi Dalton and Dan Melia. I must say that at first, I didn't get the wine - I thought it was all caramel. But maybe that's because drinking small glasses of about 20 Manzanilla and Fino Sherries with dinner can result in mild intoxication. I was lucky/crafty enough to take the bottle home after the dinner and the next day, I found the wine to be staggeringly complex , silky smooth, very rich, and very well balanced. This is made from wines that average 50 years of age! Yes, there is a caramel nuttiness to the wine, but I was getting fresh fruit, like quince and apricot on top, and the texture was really lovely. If I remember correctly, the word that Peter used to describe this wine was "profound," and I would agree.
A good friend who called me last night to ask me how I make a Negroni. I told him how I make mine, and in so doing, I thought about how tragic it would be if there are others like him out there - otherwise very intelligent people, worldly people who are great in the kitchen and who have a lot of experience making food and drink, but do not know how to make a Negroni. So please consider this as a public service announcement.
Let me start by telling you that I have never been a bartender. I have no piercings, I am not now, nor have I ever worn a bowler hat. Same goes for arm gators - never. I have not yet planted a vegetable farm on my roof, and I have never raised and then butchered a pig. I have, however, seen many western movies in which men wear mutton chops, bowler hats, and arm garters while tending bar, and I hope that the viewing of those films, in conjunction with the tattoo that I got in college 20 years ago, will convey upon me sufficient mixology street cred.
The first time I had Negroni it was served to me after dinner in a Martini glass. I loved it immediately - bittersweet, perky, complex, just delicious. I asked how to make it and the bartender said that the owner of the restaurant wants the Negroni to be served as an aperitif over ice, but he prefers it straight up after dinner. His recipe: 3 parts gin, 2 parts sweet vermouth, 1 part Campari. I made mine that way for a while and enjoyed every one of them.
That said, the classic recipe for a Negroni is equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Nowadays I use basically equal parts, but I like to use a little bit more gin, say a 3 and a half count pour instead of 3. And these days I prefer a Negroni as an aperitif on the rocks, and I like a thin slice of lemon that I massage with the ice cubes before I pour the drink in the glass. I know, an orange slice is more typical, but I like the bite of the lemon.
The point here is that I make it the way I enjoy it. If you're curious, play around with the ingredients and find your own favorite Negroni. Here is my current favorite:
3 and a half count pour Plymouth Gin
3 count pour Dolin Sweet Vermouth
3 count pour Campari
3 or 4 ice cubes in a shaker, add the above ingredients, shake vigorously while envisioning a frontier days bartender in Cheyenne. Press a lemon slice between ice cubes, pour the drink, have fun.
If you have a favorite Negroni recipe, or know of a good tattoo removal service, please share in the comments.
I was in New Orleans recently and I had the opportunity to try out some of your recommendations from a while back. Very impressive in general, the eating and drinking in the Crescent City, but you already know that. Just a couple of things to share, almost all of them great:
It is commonly said that 2004 is the worst recent vintage for red wine in Burgundy. The weather was not good - lots of rain and a lot of rot. But that in itself is probably not the biggest problem with the 2004's. As Bill Nanson of Burgundy Report first wrote about, ladybugs were all over the vineyards in 2004. I heard that they were released to combat some or other aphid, but I cannot substantiate that claim. In any case, when ladybugs are trying to attract a mate or are under duress, they release a chemical of a class called methoxy-pyrazines. This chemical can cause off aromas in wine that are often described as green. But not in the unripe sense, in otherwise ripe wines, it is a vegetal, raw cedar, seaweedy, unpleasant aroma and taste. Anyway, the ladybugs, and if not the bugs then the chemicals they released, ended up mixed in with the grapes as they fermented. Not in every wine, obviously, but in some - perhaps as many as 30% of total red wines were affected.
I bought some 2004 wines. I was feeling rather pessimistic about their potential until a few months ago when Peter Wasserman told me that the wines are improving, losing the smell. I decided that I wanted to explore the 2004's - are they really as bad as they're supposed to be? So I got together with a group of Burgundy loving friends who all dug deeply into their cellars and we drank a load of wine - top producers, from villages to Grand Cru.
Here are the wines we drank, in the order that we drank them with our dinner:
Jean-Marc Morey Beaune 1er Cru Grèves.
François Gaunoux Pommard 1er Cru Rugiens.
JF Mugnier Chambolle-Musigny.
Ghislaine Barthod Chambolle-Musigny.
Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Cherbaudes.
Sylvie Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin Vieille Vignes.
Robert Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots.
Mugneret-Gibourg Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots.
Sylvain Cathiard Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Aux Murgers.
Robert Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Pruliers.
Robert Chevillon Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Saint-Georges.
Hudelot-Noëllat Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaumonts.
Hudelot-Noëllat Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Suchots.
Hudelot-Noëllat Vosne-Romanée Grand Cru Romanée St. Vivant.
Jean Tardy Echezeaux Vieille Vignes.
I have no tasting notes to share with you because I didn't take any, but you can read Keith Levenberg's notes here. I want to share some thoughts, though.
People generally agreed that the wines showed better than expected. There were a few that I would call excellent wines, wines that lived up to their potential in a difficult vintage. At the same time, people said that they wouldn't run to the stores to buy them. There were some delicious wines that seemed to me to be in perfect place for drinking. The Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin, for example - I thought it was great. I liked its clarity and purity, its clean and very pretty fruit. I thought it showcased Fourrier's sheer and elegant style. I also thought Morey's Beaune Grèves was in a good spot for immediate drinking. And although the oak was more prominent than I might like, I thought that Mugnier's Chambolle was a lovely wine.
And the thing is, some of the others at the table experienced those wines completely differently. I didn't hear anything negative about the Fourrier wine, but I did hear some say that the Beaune was too oaky, and that the Mugnier wine was clunky, that they preferred the Barthod Chambolle. Hmmm, I found the Barthod wine to be essentially undrinkable. The roasted seaweed and vegetal aromas were just too much for me. But others liked the wine, and I love the fact that this whole thing is complicated enough so that a group of people sharing the same bottles could have such a diverse take on them.
Some of the wines showed the off aromas and flavors that 2004 is accused of. I found the Barthod Chambolle to be the greatest offender, but the two Chaignots and Hudelot-Noëllat's Beaumonts also showed green to me. I thought the Pommard was affected too, but others disagreed, saying that it was just the odd expression of minerality in a good young Pommard Rugiens. I was not convinced. Until I drank the leftovers on day three and the wine was absolutely lovely - crushed stones and flowers, with no traces of green. There may have been others that were affected and I missed them - not everyone agreed with me when I thought a wine smelled or tasted green.
Some of the wines greatly improved over the course of a few days, shedding bulk, gaining definition. For example, I wasn't moved by Sylvie Esmonin's Gevrey Chambertin during our dinner. I found it to be a big wine that didn't show much other than ripe fruit. But on day three it was far more articulate, showing intensity and detail, and a lovely earthy finish. The wines that initially showed green aromas and flavors, however, did not lose those aromas and flavors over the course of several days. Perhaps the 2004 green wines will not lose the green?
The group seemed to agree that 2004 is a vintage in which the quality of the wines very closely adheres to the relative nobility of terroir. For example, as good as the Fourrier villages wine was, its 1er Cru counterpart showed that much more nuance and distinction. I thought this wine was just excellent, and if I owned any I would cellar it for another 8 years or so, the way I would any good 1er Cru from a good producer.
Similarly, Chevillon's 1er Cru Pruliers was good. But Les Saint-Georges was a great wine, a wine that in my opinion was everything Les Saint-Georges is supposed to be - full of ripe and rich dark fruit, perfectly structured and balanced, and with lots of depth and complexity that is just beginning to hint at itself at this early stage in its life.
Hudelot-Noëllat's 1er Cru Suchots was good, especially on days two and three, but the Grand Cru was a very big step up. I thought that it, along with Les Saint-Georges, were the two finest wines on the table.
So, 2004 Burgundy Red Wine - How Bad is it? At this point I would say this: not as bad as you might think. Focus on the wines from the best terroirs. Give the wines time to develop like you would in a typical vintage. And if you have a wine that was affected by the greenies, it might be a simple case of bad luck - doesn't seem like the green aromas are going anywhere, not any time soon, at least.
To celebrate a good friend's birthday, the other night we shared a bottle of wine from his birth year, the 1973 Château de la Roche-aux-Moines Clos de la Coulée de Serrant. This wine was made by Nicolas Joly's mother Denise - for a succinct history of the vineyard take a look at the Wine Doctor's profile.
We decanted this wine and drank it slowly over the course of the evening. A wine like this provides pleasure on many levels. There are obviously the sensory pleasures of smelling and drinking the wine, but there is perhaps even greater pleasure in doing so in the company of another person, particularly one who knows and loves wine as much as Peter does.
The wines of Nicholas Joly are quite controversial and I have absolutely no desire to engage in that debate. I've had very good bottles, and not so good bottles, and I've not had enough examples of Coulée de Serrant to say anything. Drinking this particular wine provoked some interesting conversation (I was part of it, so grain of salt necessary) and I want to share some of the issues we discussed.
--This isn't a Nicolas Joly wine. It was not made using biodynamic farming principles, and I have no idea what Denise Joly did in her cellars. Peter suspects, actually, that this wine is was made under what were standard practices - pesticides galore in the vineyards, who knows what in the cellars.
--Coulée de Serrant is one of France's and the world's greatest terroirs. It is the apex of Savennières, and some would say, of the potential of the Chenin Blanc grape (although many Huet lovers would argue for Vouvray).
--The wines of Savennières and of Coulée de Serrant are made differently now. The wine we drank does not list the alcohol level on the label - that law wasn't yet in existence. But it felt to us that it was 12%, maybe 12.5%. Joly's wines from the same terroir are higher in alcohol now, and I do not know of a Savennières producer whose wines are routinely under 14% in alcohol.
--Is it a drive for phenological ripeness in Savennières that fueled this uptick in alcohol? Is it the changing climate? Even Damien Laureau, currently my favorite producer in Savennières, who in fact has a plot of vines that are adjacent to the Coulée de Serrant, his wines are 14%. Is this a stylistic preference or a climatic necessity?
--If it is stylistic, it would be a shame that everyone in Savennières bought into the notion that bigger and more powerful is better. And obviously I'm not limiting that to Savennières...
--What happened to quality in Savennières? That is a rhetorical question. As recently as 5 years ago I loved wines made by Closel and others. I've had nothing other than Laureau's wines in recent years that I like. And as good as Laureau's wines are, they require more thought than other wines regarding pairing with food. Why have the great wines of Savennières become not as great?
--Will these higher alcohol wines be as long lived as the leaner wines from the '70s and '80s?
--The wine we drank was amazing, one of the greatest white wines that I have ever had. It was a distilled rendition of the rocks and soil of Coulée de Serrant. It had nothing whatsoever to do with fruit - there could not have been any less fruit in this wine. 0% fruit. It was pure mineral with amazing intensity and focus, driving throughout and after the finish. And with nothing extraneous, only the vital components present - lean and muscular. Shocking to me too was the vibrancy - this wine is 37 years old and it had great energy and vitality.
--I wish I could have tasted it when it was young to understand its progression. Will any of the Savennières I have sleeping in my cellar become wine like this in 30 years? I don't know, obviously, but I would say that sadly, it is not likely.