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.
You know that I'm joking. If I were to list 25 wines that I want to drink in hot weather, I cannot imagine that Cornas would appear. Who wants to drink rustic and earthy northern Rhône Syrah when it's very humid and 94 degrees outside?
But the other night I had dinner with a good friend who is somewhat of a short rib master. I wanted to show off a new short rib recipe I've been working on, and so that's what we ate. Heat and humidity be damned.
I braised short ribs (Slope Farms, of course) with Chipotle peppers inflected liquid. Nothing complicated - here's the recipe:
Salt and pepper the short ribs a day or two before cooking. Brown them well over high heat on all sides in a heavy bottomed pot. Remove the ribs, pour out the fat from the pot, lower the heat to medium, and add some oil. When it is hot, add chopped onions and a clove of lightly crushed garlic and stir, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add salt here, and then a 28 oz. can of tomatoes - I like to use whole plum tomatoes and crush them with my hands. Add some chicken stock, about 2 cups let's say, stir well, and then add two chopped Chipotle peppers.
I used La Morena brand peppers in adobo sauce. The peppers aren't very big, so you might be thinking "Wow, only two peppers for all of those ribs and sauce?" I want the smokey spicy Chipotle aromas and flavors to be present, not to dominate, and you're going to braise this for a long time. I put a tight lid on the pot it in a 225 degree oven at about 9 at night and don't take it out until the kids wake up at 6 AM.
This dish is good no matter what, but there aren't many ingredients. If you use really good tomatoes and home made stock, it makes a big difference.
After the braising is done I remove the ribs and pour the fat off the top of the cooking liquid and purée it. Now comes the creative part. You can shred the meat and serve it with the sauce over pasta or use it as part of a taco.
But these are short ribs, after all, so I do the shredding with the leftovers. I like to serve them as is, over the sauce, which I like to reheat with a little bit of cream to make it feel more luxurious, topped with a scattering of cilantro and scallions. If you eat a small portion, it works even in the heat of summer.
But what to drink with this dish? Probably beer, but I'm stubborn and we wanted wine. I remembered my friend Peter telling me a little while ago that Syrah is very flexible and can work with dishes like this. So Adam dug around in his cellar and produced a fantastic bottle of wine, the 1997 Auguste Clape Cornas.
This is totally unlike the 2000 I had not too long ago, which was delicious and compelling, but much more rustic. The 1997 Clape is without question the most elegant Cornas that I've had. Intense with black olives and earth, but focused and narrow on the nose. And perfectly balanced on the palate, great intensity of flavor, but nothing juts out, not remotely clunky. Very elegant, pretty wine. It worked very well with the smokey spicy meat, assertive enough to hold its own, but graceful too. A completely lovely and delicious Cornas. And somehow it felt like good summer eating and drinking.
I recently did some of my best cooking of the year. It's tomato season here. I started with a few Maxwell's Farm heirloom tomatoes.
Beginning at 12 o'clock and moving clockwise, that's a Brandywine, a Purple Cherokee, and a Green Cherokee. The Brandywine is the sweetest of the three, the Purple Cherokee the most deeply tomato-ey, and the Green Cherokee the brightest and most acidic, and my personal favorite.
This is a recipe that you definitely can do yourself - do not be intimidated by what you're about to see. It's a lot of work, but the end result is worth it.
1) Select ripe but not mushy tomatoes that appeal to your eye.
2) Store them on the counter - never in the refrigerator.
3) Slice the tomatoes and if you wish, sprinkle them with salt.
4) Using a knife and fork, and perhaps a piece of bread, eat the tomatoes.
The problem, I think, is figuring out what to drink with this lovely summer treat. I have arrived at only one pairing that really makes me happy - I need more options. So please, you be the sommelier - what would you open with a plate of heirloom tomatoes?
I've been thinking a little bit about birth year wines lately. I'm going to be 40 years old not too long from now (absurd, as I still like to think of myself as a 27 year old) and I hope to find a special bottle from 1971 to share with friends on my birthday. 1971 was a good vintage in Burgundy and also in Piedmonte, so it shouldn't be too hard to find something interesting and delicious.
What do you do, though, if your birth year was a bad vintage? It's fun to drink birth year wine, and I think it's worth trying to find something anyway. But it's not so easy to find a bottle of wine that's in good condition after 35 years, even from a good vintage. An off vintage makes it that much more challenging to find something delicious and expressive, not merely a wine with the correct vintage number on the label.
A good friend had a birthday recently, and later this month he will very generously share a bottle of wine from his birth year with me. His birth year is 1973, not a great vintage in most places. But he knows enough about wine so that his search was very specifically directed, and he found something from the Loire Valley that should be fantastic - I'll let you know how it goes in a few weeks.
I've been having a lot of fun thinking about and slowly accumulating birth year wine for my daughters. They are 23 months apart in age, born in 2007 and 2008. I want to save wines for them that are meaningful to me in some way, and also wines that are great wines, wines that should be beautiful and moving in 16 or more years. Here's what I have for them so far:
Older daughter - 2007:
Domaine Jean et Gilles Lafouge Auxey-Duresses 1er Cru La Chapelle, $27, Imported by Fruit of the Vines. BrooklynLady and I visited the Lafouges in 2006 when she was 7 months pregnant with our daughter. Okay, it's not Roumier or Lafarge, but I'd say that it's more meaningful. The daughter was there in the Lafouge cellars, inside her mommy's belly, when her mommy tasted this very wine (and spat, thank you very much). Middling vintages can sometimes be surprising, by the way. I recently had a 1995 La Chapelle and it was fantastic.
Domaine Michel Lafarge Volnay 1er Cru Clos des Chênes, $120, Becky Wasserman Selections. For our 1st anniversary dinner, BrooklynLady came home with a bottle of 2001 Lafarge Volnay. So this producer is meaningful too. And it's Lafarge Clos des Chênes, it should be darn good when she's old enough to drink it.
I've had a harder time with the whites. I've chosen wines that I think should age well. I'm waiting for vintage Champagne to be released, as 2007 is supposed to be a pretty good year. So far I've saved these white wines:
Domaine Huët Vouvray Sec Clos du Bourg, $29, Robert Chadderdon Imports. BrooklynLady and I love Loire Valley white wines, particularly Huët - who doesn't? This one should be great when she gets home from her prom.
Pierre Gonon St. Joseph Blanc Les Oliviers, $32, Imported by Fruit of the Vines. A weird one, in a way. A white wine from the Rhône Valley - do they age well? A lot of the time, no, but I think this one will. It's so intense and well balanced. We'll see what happens...
Gilbert Picq Chablis 1er Cru Vogros, $29, Polaner Imports. I love Picq's wines, I think they were great in 2007, and Vogros is their old vines 1er Cru that ages very well. I have high hopes for this one.
I would have saved something by Paul Pernot, who we also visited on that same trip, but his wines weren't supposed to be so great in 2007.
If you have more than one kid you'll know what I mean when I say this - the second child often gets the short end of the stick. I have hours of video of my first daughter. My second - perhaps 45 minutes. It's terrible. And so far, I have only one wine for her. I'll find more, but the 2008 Burgundies haven't really been released yet in NYC, never mind things like vintage Champagne. So far from 2008 I have:
Domaine Huët Vouvray Sec Clos du Bourg, $29, Robert Chadderdon Imports. There is going to be some overlap here. Younger daughter gets Huët Clos de Bourg too. And she could do a whole lot worse.
I was in Burgundy when BrooklynLady was pregnant with our second daughter, but I didn't go back to Lafouge. I visited Dujac, Roumier, Mugnier, Pierre Morey, Arlot, Rousseau, Pacalet, Le Moine, and Des Croix. 2nd daughter will definitely get something interesting from one or more of these producers.
Have I missed something? Was 2007 or 2008 fantastic somewhere and I should save the wine? What do you think about all of this birth year wine stuff. Please, share your thoughts.
The other night a friend and I unexpectedly wound up at Lupa for a light late night dinner. We ordered a few little things to start, Romano beans with ricotta (good), house cured tongue (ridiculously delicious), and clams with Fregola and basil. We then had the best Spaghetti alla Carbonara that I've ever eaten. A cloud of earthy pungency from the guanciale in every bite.
As good as everything was, it was the Fregola that I was thinking about the next day, a dish that had great potential but, if I may say so, was not perfectly executed. At Lupa the clams are very salty, I would say too salty. And the Fregola are perhaps cooked too long - they offer no resistance when chewed. Or perhaps they are using a brand that doesn't toast the pasta long enough, as they didn't have that nutty taste that I like. It didn't matter much because the dish tasted great - salty clams, Fregola, and the surprising lift of fresh basil. I decided that I had to try to make the dish at home.
I started with some Maxwell's Farm basil - very pungent. I salted and boiled a pot of water and cooked the Fregola for about 20 minutes, not longer. I like them to be just a little bit chewy.
I scrubbed a dozen Blue Moon clams and cooked them in a covered heavy-bottomed pot with butter, lemon, and a glug of white wine. I took the clams out of their shells and saved them and their cooking liquid.
I have no idea how they prepare the dish at Lupa. Onions? garlic? Neither? I decided that I wanted a little garlic and crushed red pepper as the flavor base. There was no red pepper in Lupa's version, but I wanted it. You got a problem with that?
Then I added the cooked Fregola and spoonful of their cooking liquid, then the clams and their cooking liquid, and simmered for a few minutes on very low heat, to try to marry the flavors and extract any remaining starch from the Fregola to get a little sauce. At the last moment I added the chopped basil and tossed the dish.
It was really quite good, and because my wife doesn't like clams, I got to eat the whole thing. One thing - the basil was not as lively and pungent in my version and I don't understand why. Should I have added it earlier and simmered it a bit?
What to drink with this dish? At Lupa, I was charged with selecting a wine and I tried to get something that would go with everything we ordered. I chose what I hoped would be a light and snappy red wine reminiscent of a Beaujolais, the 2007 Luigi Giusti Lacrima di Morro D'Alba, a wine from the Marche. It was fine, but not so great with the Fregola dish. At home I wanted a white, something saline and brisk.
I chose a Spanish wine (sorry MicheleColline, but I am not currently in possession of a bottle of Italian white wine), the 2009 Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina, $20, De Maison Selections. This is made from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape, from very old vines - maybe 80 years old. It is only 10.5% alcohol, and it is dry as a bone. There is a little effervescence and the wine is crisp, salty, and absolutely refreshing. And if you step back and stop gulping it, which isn't easy to do, the old vine intensity and depth are unmistakable. It was a great match for the Fregola. The only problem was that although I got to eat all of the Fregola, BrooklynLady does in fact like this wine, so I had to share. I assure you that I will come up with some sort of scheme to avoid that in the future.