Rediscovering botanical libations for Spring

Spring has finally sprung in the northeast, bringing the season’s first flowers – cherry blossoms and tulips – and reminding me of our connection to the earth and its bounty. While regular wines are certainly among this bounty, aromatized wines might be an even better reflection of this bond, with their unique blend of botanicals. Fortified wines like Vermouth and Chinato, which are infused with local plants, both of which originated in Italy’s Piedmont region, were initially used for medicinal purposes before becoming an aperitif and digestif, respectively.

Although such wines had fallen out of fashion, they are re-emerging as hand-crafted products, bringing a fresh perspective to an old beverage category. On Long Island, Channing Daughters now produces six, different seasonally-centered Vermouth variations with herbs foraged from area farms. And, closer to their point of origin, these wines are being rediscovered as well, as evidenced by the duo launched in New York by Pio Cesare this week.

As one of the older producers in Alba, Pio Cesare has been making Barolos and Barbarescos since 1881. Today, the winery is in the capable hands of Pio Boffa, a member of the fourth generation, who is also joined by his nephew, Cesare Benvenuto, and daughter, Federica Boffa.

Like many traditional producers, the founders of Pio Cesare used to produce their own Vermouth and Chinato. However, by the 1950s, the market was flooded with poor quality Vermouth and Chinato making it a challenge for the Pio Cesare products to succeed, given their artisanal quality and thus, higher price. Not willing to compromise the quality of their product, Cesare’s great grandfather chose to stop production of them altogether.

But, now, as a demonstration of the winery’s flexibility and talent, Cesare and his cousin, Federica, have decided to relaunch these two classic wines. They have returned to their grandmother’s original recipe, faithfully following her directions in crafting them. They worked closely with a nearby grower friend to find the necessary ingredients. The Vermouth has Chardonnay as its base, sourced from their Piodilei vineyard. The wine is then flavored with 26 varieties of herbs, including Vermouth’s hallmark, wormwood, all of which have been macerated in alcohol for 15 days.

Similarly, the Chinato is based on Barolo from the 2012 vintage and is also made from grandma’s recipe. While it, too, is flavored with aromatic herbs, it’s primary flavor component is chinchona bark, from which quinine is derived, giving it its digestive properties.

These limited production (1,000 bottles each) wines hit the New York market this week, with the arrival of Cesare and Federica and their bottles, which sport updated versions of the historic labels.

The Vermouth, naturally colored with burnt sugar (as is traditional), is amber in hue, with a pronounced nose of orange, anise, dried herbs and spices. The medium-sweet palate is beautifully balanced by the lively acidity, resulting in a complex wine with good depth and long length. As an aperitif, it is a lovely alternative to a pre-dinner cocktail or one’s usual glass of wine given the bright acidity, which wakes up your palate. Moreover, the complexity of aromas and flavors presents a wonderful reminder to slow down and savor what’s in the glass, as you prepare yourself for the meal to come.

As a bookend to the same meal, the Chinato is a perfect after-dinner-drink and would pair well with chocolate desserts, but, of course, can be enjoyed on its own. With aromas and flavors of cocoa, berries, blood orange and dried spices, the Chinato is also medium sweet on the palate, with good acidity and long length.

Should you be in need of a good wine to drink with the meal, the Pio Cesare Barolo 2012, with grapes sourced from five single vineyards, is an excellent choice, given the vintage’s approachability and the wine’s beautiful cherry, mushroom and floral notes.

With its association as a key ingredient in Martinis and Manhattans, there is a tendency to want to use the Vermouth (and the Chinato) as a mixer, but I think that is a bit of a mistake. We had the opportunity to taste two cocktails using the newly launched wines, but their complexity and elegance got lost in translation as they competed against the other ingredients in the glass.

Yes, for many, the pleasures of Vermouth and Chinato are unknown and untried, but they are worthy of discovery (or rediscovery) as we welcome the warmer weather and its promise of abundance in the months ahead.

 

Fullerton Wines, from Scandinavia to Portlandia

Admittedly, when I first received the invitation, I was hesitant. I had never heard of the winery before and the idea of schlepping out to Brooklyn on a cold winter’s night was not very appealing…until I Googled the restaurant. With its two Michelin stars and stellar reviews, Aska was very intriguing and seemed well worth the trip to the outer borough.

As we would discover, this Scandinavian restaurant is run by Swedish chef Fredrik Berselius, who truly redefined our notions of a Swedish chef (especially if the Muppet Show is firmly ensconced in one’s brains) and instilled a wonderful appreciation for this cuisine in us.

Getting off the M train at Marcy Street, we walked toward Manhattan, in the shadows of the Williamsburg bridge. After several blocks, we wondered if we were indeed walking all the way back to Manhattan, but finally we arrived at our destination and were ushered to a private room, which was immaculately set for our group.

Once we were all seated, our winery hosts immediately poured us a glass of their rosé and then provided us with an introduction to themselves: The Fullerton’s. It turned out that there was a method to the madness; the Fullerton’s have a direct connection to Scandinavia, which was why they had chosen this vaunted restaurant for the event, coincident with the winery’s debut in the New York and New Jersey markets.

Patriarch of the family, Eric Fullerton was raised in a Danish family and married a Swedish woman. The couple lived in Scandinavia with son, Alex, born in Denmark. A few years later, the Fullerton’s returned to the U.S. and settled in Oregon. Eric held C-level positions within the communications and security industries, but always had a passion for quality wine.

As a young child, Alex watched his parents enjoying wine at home and carried these observations to school – swirling and spitting out his milk, much to the chagrin of his kindergarten teacher – eventually developing his own vinous interest, which was cemented on a father-son trip to Champagne and Burgundy when Alex graduated high school.

In 2010, Alex was graduating from college with a degree in economics, but with no specific plan for a career or his future. He and dad visited Penner-Ash Wine Cellars together and discussed the idea of Alex entering the wine industry. Alex was keen on the idea and before the day was out, he had secured a harvest intern position at Penner-Ash. Dad sweetened the deal, offering to back Alex’s personal wine venture, if he pursued a degree in viticulture and enology, to which he readily agreed.

Alex followed his time at Penner-Ash with a harvest in New Zealand, before returning to the Willamette Valley and Penner-Ash and, later, a position at Bergstrom Wines. During this time, the two Fullerton men began making wine in the garage and scouting for vineyard blocks throughout the Valley. They also planted 400 vines in their backyard.

In 2012, Fullerton Wines was launched as a commercial venture with two separate lines: Three Otters and Fullerton. The Three Otters brand owes its origins to the three otters depicted in the Fullerton family coat of arms and a portion of the proceeds from each bottle helps to support the return of sea otters to the Oregon coast. The Fullerton brand includes its Five FACES line, named for all members of the Fullerton family: Filip, Alex, Caroline, Eric and Suzanne, as well as several single vineyard Pinot Noirs. To date, the winery produces 4,500 cases annually, but the goal is to reach 20,000 cases in the future.

Alex currently sources Pinot Noir fruit from several vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Both the Three Otters and Five FACES Pinots are the products of blending grapes from various vineyards (and appellations) to craft a consistent wine that marries the favorable characteristics from throughout the region. However, he has also identified a number of distinct vineyards that appeal to him as single vineyard wines. These wines are more expressive of an individual terroir and provide nice diversity within the Fullerton portfolio. As the family seeks to expand its production, they will need to identify other vineyards. Looking ahead, Alex noted that he hopes to focus on Eola-Amity Hills in sourcing additional fruit as he is particularly enamored with this micro-climate and the quality of grapes it produces.

As the meal progressed, we got to know Eric and Alex better, both their histories and their philosophies. There was a genuine warmth to this father and son’s relationship as they bantered back and forth, making jokes and good-naturedly teasing one another. In the end, it was clear that Eric has made a huge investment in his son, not just for their mutual love of wine, but because he is extremely proud of him.

While the wine was understandably the focal point of the evening, the 10-course meal was not to be overlooked. Each course was a stunning presentation of food, plate and flatware. Despite the lengthy evening, the food was engaging and not too heavy; only one course included meat and many were vegetarian. Among the more unique offerings were a crunchy snack of bladderwrack seaweed with a blue mussel emulsion; an earthy bowl of lichen served with chanterelles and a mushroom broth; and an intense pig’s blood pancake with rose petals and rosehip jam.

With the wonderful selection of Willamette Valley wines and the expertise of Aska’s kitchen, it was the perfect way to spend a New York night and definitely merited the journey to Brooklyn. It was certainly much easier to get to than Noma!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NB: Food images courtesy of Jared Skolnick.

TASTING NOTES

Three Otters Rosé 2015, Willamette Valley, OR, $18.00
First conceived in 2012, the Three Otters rosé began as a friendly competition between dad and son over which method to use to produce the wine. Afterward, they decided that a blend of the two methods was best and they have continued to follow this format ever since. The wine is refreshing and dry with bright strawberry aromas and flavors along with a hint of fresh herbs, culminating in long length.

Three Otters Chardonnay 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $20.00
An all stainless-steel Chard, this wine lets the fruit shine through unimpeded by oak. The wine is high in acidity, with citrus and yellow apple notes, as well as a nice richness on the palate due to extended lees contact.

Fullerton Five FACES Chardonnay 2015, Willamette Valley, OR, $33.00
This barrel-fermented wine has only a small (9%) percentage of oak and thus the oak is very integrated, resulting in an elegant and beautiful Chardonnay with good acidity and long length.

Three Otters Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $20.00
A really nice entry-level Pinot Noir, this has no new oak, with the wine spending time in tanks and neutral barrels. Sourced and blended from eight different area vineyards, this wine offers up cherry and berry aromas and flavors with a slightly earthy undercurrent. Overall, it is light-bodied, fresh and approachable.

Fullerton Five FACES Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $33.00
This is the winery’s flagship wine with fruit sourced from several key vineyards. A beautiful wine with an intense and concentrated fruit nose of dark cherry, which persists on the palate and is joined by a hint of herbaceousness. It is rich, yet elegant with long length. Among the diners at our table, this seemed to be a fan favorite given the complexity of the wine and its reasonable price point.

Fullerton Croft Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $45.00
The organically certified Croft Vineyard generates less of a diurnal shift yielding ripe grapes, with slightly less acidity than cooler sites. The result is a plushy, sensual Pinot with good black cherry and spice notes as well as some wet leaves in the long finish.

Fullerton Croft Vineyard Pinot Noir 2013, Willamette Valley, OR, $45.00
While sourced from the same grapes as the 2014 wine, 2013 was a more challenging vintage, marked with rains during harvest. Consequently, this wine has higher acidity than usual and more herbal character than the 2014.

Fullerton Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir 2014, Willamette Valley, OR, $60.00
The Momtazi Vineyard is situated within the McMinnville AVA. With its bright acidity, ripe red cherry fruit, lush herbs and spice, and lovely long length, this was my favorite single vineyard wine of the evening.

Fullerton Fir Crest Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012, Yamhill-Carlton, OR, $75.00
Hailing from the old vines in the Fir Crest Vineyard, this wine possesses an extremely intense, heavy and concentrated nose and palate. It displayed some volatile acidity, along with dark red fruit and firm tannins; a steak-eater’s Pinot Noir. This wine provoked an interesting discussion among Alex and Eric since it is a style that Alex doesn’t enjoy, but that Eric would like to replicate for market purposes.

A Dark Knight on a Dark Night: Castello di Gabbiano

It might sound ominous, but meeting Tuscan winemaker, Federico Cerelli of Castelli di Gabbiano, on a cold winter’s night to taste his new wine was actually quite a warm and welcoming experience.

Its vinous heritage spreads back as far as the Etruscans, but Castello di Gabbiano’s physical history dates to 1124 when its castle was built in San Casciano Val de Pesa. This medieval fortress was among many that were established to fortify the area between Siena and Florence as the two kingdoms fought for control of a region widely known for its wine and olive oil.

With its castle still standing tall nearly 900 centuries later, it is not surprising that the winery takes such pride in its noble estate and has adopted Il Cavaliere – the knight who protected the castle from invaders – as its mascot.

Firmly ensconced within the Chianti Classico wine region, the estate boasts 360 acres of vineyard, planted predominantly to Sangiovese, supplemented with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and several local varieties such as Colorino and Canaiolo. The castle itself has now been converted into a beautiful hotel with 11 traditional guest rooms and five apartments. Adding to the estate’s hospitality, an upscale restaurant featuring local cuisine opened a few years ago.

Although Castello di Gabbiano is presently managed by Treasury Wine Estates, the winery’s previous owner was responsible for making Gabbiano’s American debut in the early 1980s with its Chianti wine.

The winery’s current winemaker, Federico Cerelli, joined Castello di Gabbiano in early 2011. Prior to coming on board, the Tuscan native served as a consultant winemaker to numerous local wineries building a decade of experience. Federico maintains a distinct philosophy when approaching his wines, placing an emphasis on elegance, drinkability and the ability to pair with food over power and polyphenols. Accordingly, the wines spend less time aging in wood and more time in the bottle before release, with the conviction that wines in the past were overly rustic with their tannins and over-extracted.

Moreover, Federico enjoys experimenting with wood and uses a mix of French and Hungarian oak to season his wines. More recently, he conducted some trials with local oak from forests near Florence and has been pleased with the results: more pepper and floral notes. Consequently, he hopes to increase its use in the future.

As the second largest winery in the Chianti Clssico region, Castello di Gabbiano has significant resources to invest in the latest technology and apply it to producing great wines. For example, Federico notes that it is better to pick by machine on time (thanks to sophisticated mechanical harvesters) than to wait and harvest manually, especially with Sangiovese, which could develop rot or mold during a delay. Additionally, he relies on a vibration sorting system to maintain more whole berries and has adopted a more gentle approach to winemaking.

Among its portfolio, Castello di Gabbiano produces a Pinot Grigio with grapes sourced from northeastern Italy. The Promessa Pinot Grigio 2015, IGT delle Venezie (SRP $10.00) sprinkles in a small percentage of Chardonnay to overcome some of the bitterness associated with Pinot Grigio and also adds body and weight to the palate. Yet, it is still fresh with citrus and apple notes, culminating in medium+ length.

The Chianti Classico line-up includes a basic Chianti Classico and a Riserva-level wine as well as the latest addition to the Chianti Classico pyramid – Gran Selezione – with a wine called Bellezza, which was my favorite of the three. Moving up the hierarchy, the wines are aged for longer periods of time, generally with more time in oak, but also time in bottle.

From a cool vintage, the Chianti Classico 2014 (SRP $10.00) was bright and fresh with light tannins, along with an undercurrent of wet leaves and a slight hint of oak. The flagship Riserva 2013 (SRP $25.00) hailed from a warm and dry vintage and displayed darker cherry fruit, firmer tannins as well as woody and leafy notes with long length. The second Gran Selezione vintage is the Bellezza 2012 (SRP $40.00), so called for the beautiful view afforded by the small (less than 20 acres), high elevation vineyard block from which the grapes are sourced. The resulting wine is fuller bodied, with more concentrated fruit and more structure, but is still fresh and lively even though it is five years old.

And, of course, there is the “hero” of our story. The winery’s newest offering is its Dark Knight 2015, IGT Toscana (SRP $17.00), featuring its beloved Il Cavaliere on horseback on the striking label. With the belief that traditional Sangiovese is a difficult wine for nascent drinkers, this red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sangiovese was crafted as an introductory wine for these newer consumers. Taking a modern approach and style, the wine is partially produced with some carbonic maceration with the aim of creating a soft and easy-drinking wine that can be enjoyed with food or on its own.

While it is clearly targeted at a less experienced wine drinker, it is not a fruit bomb or overly high in residual sugar. Rather, it was still elegant and offered up black fruit, vanilla and a hint of floral on the nose, with light tannins, slight vanilla and spice on the medium+-bodied palate.

We concluded with the Alleanza 2010, another IGT Toscana (SRP $35.00), this time a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Of all the wines tasted, this had the most noticeable oak, along with lush red and black fruit, intensity and power.

France and India, A Marriage Made in the Kitchen

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In an interesting twist to the typical press lunch, wine brand Vinadeis presented a subset of its portfolio alongside Indian cuisine at New York City’s Junoon restaurant.  Named for the Hindi word for passion, the Michelin-starred, fine dining establishment fuses together India’s culinary history and the Chef’s modern sensibility. Wine Director, Michael Dolinski carefully curated the restaurant’s existing menu to identify the best pairings to show off the selection of whites, rosés and reds.

Formerly known as Val d’Orbieu, Vinadeis was founded in Corbières back in 1967. The company has now expanded its purview beyond the borders of Languedoc and includes activities in the Rhone Valley as well as in Bordeaux. Today, there are approximately 20,000 hectares of vineyards under its management.

While many of its projects involve bulk wine, large brands and cooperatives, Vinadeis is especially proud of the estates and chateaux under its umbrella. Benoit Roussillon, Head of North America for Vinadeis (pictured above), was quick to point out that behind each estate, there is a family and a story. And, moreover, their aim is to respect the story of those families in pursuit of crafting the highest quality wines.

Held just the week before the Thanksgiving holiday, a time when many consumers panic about the best wine(s) to serve with the cacophony of food on the bountiful table, the Vinadeis event was a unique illustration of how well the French wines lent themselves to an unlikely pairing of the diverse flavors and textures of Indian food. Presented family-style, attendees had the opportunity to sample several dishes with each course, matched with two or three wines.

The luncheon first kicked off with Butter Garlic Shrimp and Saloni Macchi, a salmon dish, served with pickled cucumber, onion relish. These two dishes were paired with the rosé and white.

The dry and fresh Château de Jonquières Rosé Cuvée Cersius 2015 AOP Languedoc, a blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Cinsault, matched nicely with the shrimp with its cherry and herb aromas and flavors. Situated near Narbonne, the Château de Jonquières property was previously a Cistercian granary, which belonged to the Abbey of Fontfroide.

The 100% Chardonnay Domaine de Cazelles Verdier, Les pierres qui chantent 2015 IGP Pays d’Oc, was unusually aged in Acacia wood, given it a woody and spicy, yet not oaky, flavor with lots of cloves, and married beautifully with the salmon. Owned by the Verdier family since 1713, Domaine de Cazelle Verdier is known for its chalky soils.

The Murg Roulade Korma – minced chicken with a purée of nuts – was served with two reds: Château Notre Dame du Quatourze Rouge Nautica 2014, AOP Languedoc and Domaine de Cazelles Verdier, Les pierres qui chantent 2014, AOP Minervois. Both wines are Rhone-style blends with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Carignan.

Presently owned by Georges and Suzanne Ortola, the name Chateau Notre Dame du Quatourze refers to a tax paid to the castle (formerly owned by the archdiocese) by the local farmers. This unoaked red is organic and biodynamic, with nice, bright red fruit.

From the same producer as the Chardonnay, the Domaine de Cazelles Verdier Minervois offers up intense, concentrated red and black fruit.

The third course consisted of Awadhi Raan, a leg of lamb with saffron and nuts; Nadru Matar Makhana with lotus root, English peas, and roasted tomato sauce; and Daal Makhni, black lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas in a tomato cream sauce, as well as sides of Pulao Rice and Butter Naan.

With this last set of savory dishes, we headed to Bordeaux for a trio of reds: Château Valade “Cuvée Renaissance” 2012, AOP Saint-Émilion Grand Cru; Château Brown 2012, AOP Pessac-Léognan; and Prieuré des Couleys de Meyney 2010, AOP Saint-Estèphe.

The Merlot-dominant (90%) Château Valade “Cuvée Renaissance” 2012 was bright with red fruit and slight spice notes. The property has been in the family since 1878, with the current generation Paul and Lorette Valade at the helm for more than 30 years.

With an almost equal proportion of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, the Château Brown 2012 displayed darker red fruit, with a plush texture and firmer tannins. The chateau dates to the medieval period but was named for the Scottish merchant John Lewis Brown, in the late 18th century.

Given its blend of 62% Cabernet Sauvignon and 38% Petit Verdot, the Prieuré des Couleys de Meyney 2010 was the most full-bodied and tannic of the three, with lots of black fruit, herbal, spice and cedar aromas and flavors. Originally built as a convent, the Château de Meyney property dates to 1662, placing it among the oldest in the Médoc.

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Moscato d’Asti: A sparkling wine for the times

2016-11-15-11-20-05Back in the day (1966), Dionne Warwick sang that, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love.” Such words are particularly true today. While not quite love in a bottle, Moscato d’Asti isn’t too far from it with its floral and fruit notes, effervescence and beautifully balanced sweetness. Plus, the Moscato grape has high levels of terpenes, including linalool, a naturally occurring chemical, which is widely used in aromatherapy to reduce stress.

The Moscato (aka Muscat) grape has become quite popular recently, but the denomination of Moscato d’Asti is more than just a grape name and has a history that significantly precedes the current craze. Produced exclusively from the Moscato Bianco de Canelli variety, this grape arrived in the region over 800 years ago. Here, in Piedmont, the same region known for Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera, 52 municipalities are granted the right to craft these special wines.

First designated in 1932, the denomination is carefully controlled with only the best sites planted; planting on damp or shaded slopes is forbidden. Specifically, this means that the vines are grown on steep vineyards and picked by hand. Moreover, the area itself has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.

High in terpenes, the Moscato Bianco grape results in wines with distinct floral and fruit aromas and flavors of apricot, peach and white flowers, tasting nearly the same on the vine as it does in the glass. Thanks to its low alcohol (~5% abv) and softer pressure (2 bars of pressure compared to 5 to 6 atmospheres of many other sparklers), its frothy creaminess lends itself to food pairing and second (and third) glasses.

Lightly sweet, these are the perfect companion to a wedding toast, especially when wedding cake is involved. Yet, due to the diurnal shift and fog, the grapes keep their acidity and freshness, resulting in balanced wines that pair equally well with savory and salty foods.

A recent seminar and tasting included representation from Michele Chiarlo, Saracco, Coppo, Marenco, Ceretto and Caudrina to highlight the characteristics of these wines. At retail, consumers should expect to pay $13.00-$25.00 per bottle for high quality Moscato d’Asti.

While all of the wines showed well, my favorite were:
Marenco Scrapona Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy
Pronounced apricot on the nose, with pear, apricot and slightly candied note on the palate, yet finishing cleanly

Coppo, Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy
With distinct floral aromas, this wine displays great acidity, a creamy mousse and lovely flavors of apricot and white flowers. It culminates with a zingy sweetness throughout its long length.

Michele Chiarlo Nivole Moscato d’Asti 2015, Piedmont, Italy Intense floral, pear and cotton candy aromas greet the nose, giving way to citrus and lemon candy on the medium sweet palate. Good acidity and a nice mousse, with long length.

A Celebration of Love, Life & Bordeaux

It was time. The older Bordeaux wines we had collected were coming into their own and it was time to taste them.

We selected ten wines from the cellar and assembled an equally stellar group of friends for a multi-course dinner at our home in September.

The line-up was impressive, but perhaps the piece de resistance was the Carruades de Lafite 2000, Château Lafite Rothschild’s second wine. Purchased through Sherry-Lehmann back in 2001 through a Future’s campaign*, the wine represented our first major foray into the wine world and marked the occasion of our fifth year of marriage.

The traditional gift for a fifth wedding anniversary is wood and I racked my brain for months on what to get hubby. Finally, I discovered the concept of wine futures: buying wine before it has been bottled and released (and, generally, still aging in oak barrels at the time). Consequently, it was an appropriate gift and one that we would both appreciate as we were just getting our bearings in wine.

We had visited Bordeaux on our belated honeymoon trip in 1999 and very much enjoyed these wines, but still didn’t know a lot about wine in general. Accordingly, we associated much of our love of wine with Bordeaux.

As luck would have it, the object of the Futures were the much vaunted 2000s, which meant high praise and high prices. Getting over my initial sticker shock, I pulled out my copy of Kevin Zraly’s Windows on the World Complete Wine Course (who incidentally teaches his 40th and last class this fall) and read up on the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. I couldn’t afford the top growths; instead, I selected seven different bottles of wine, choosing third growths, a fifth growth, several second wines from top producers and a St. Emilion Grand Cru for a total expenditure of $236.00 – quite pricey for us at the time.

With only a single bottle of each, we had been reluctant to open any of these special wines previously, but with over 40 bottles of Bordeaux in our cellar, the impending arrival of our 20th wedding anniversary was as good as an excuse as any to justify their consumption.

We carefully crafted a menu to highlight the wines and chose pairings from the Left and Right Banks to provide the opportunity to compare Cabernet-dominant and Merlot-dominant wines, respectively.

And, of course, we ended the meal with a lovely aged Sauternes, giving guests the option of finishing off on a sweet or savory note, or both!

Overall, the dinner was a perfect marriage of good food, good wines and good company as well as a wonderful celebration of our continued partnership both in the kitchen and out.

Dinner
Hamachi Crudo
Marinated Yellowtail Tuna with Jicama & Greens
Château La Louvière Blanc 2011, Pessac-Léognan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rack of Lamb
Herb & Mustard-Crusted Islandic Lamb with Zucchini and Carrot Purée
Château La Fleur Peyrabon 2010, Pauillac
Château La Tour Figeac 2008, St. Emilion Grand Cru

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magret de Canard
Roasted Duck Breast with Blackberries and a side of Duck Fat Potatoes
Château d’Armailhac 2005, Pauillac
Château Les Hauts-Conseillants 2005, Lalande de Pomerol

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheese Course
Fort Saint Antoine Comté (Aged 36 mos), Burgundy, France
~and~
Mrs. Quicke’s Cheddar (Aged 24 mos), Devonshire, England
Château Giscours 2001, Margaux
Château Beau-Séjour Bécot 2001, St. Emilion Grand Cru
Carruades de Lafite 2000, Pauillac
Château Certan de May 1998, Pomerol

Dessert
Bloc de Foie Gras
Served with Roasted Figs and Toast Points
~and~
Crème Brûlée
Caramel Custard with Burnt Sugar Crust
Château Doisy-Védrines 1998, Sauternes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*NB: When buying wine futures, it is imperative that you work with a trusted agent or retailer since the company will take your money now, but you won’t receive the wines for two years.

 

Piper-Heidsieck’s Rare Rose makes its NY debut

2016-09-29-19-51-52Régis Camus, Piper-Heidsieck’s award-winning (he has been named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year eight times) Chef de Caves, likes a challenge and apparently has the patience of a saint.

His latest accomplishment? Crafting a high quality tête de cuvée from the tricky 2007 season.

Camus kicked off his Heidsieck career on the Charles-Heidsieck side of the business before migrating to Piper-Heidsieck in 1994. Once there, he devoted himself to ensuring that the Cuvée Brut NV (non-vintage) – the mainstay of the Champagne house – consistently delivered year in and year out.

Then, in 2000, he expanded his purview to include the company’s prestige cuvée: Rare. His first foray was the beautiful Rare Millésime 2002, adding to the previous seven vintages of this wine. But, in spite of all of this success under his vinous belt, he was anxious to create a rosé counterpart, waiting around for the right opportunity to do so.

In 2007, he decided it was time to pursue this dream. Given its name, it should come as no surprise that part of the concept of Rare is to produce a vintage wine when it is difficult. Only a few Champagne houses crafted a vintage wine in 2007. As Regis quips, “You need guts to do it.”

Yet, he was resolved and, thus, brought together three key elements to guide the creation of his new wine: color, nose and palate. For the wine’s color, he envisioned the pink hues in stained glass; for its nose, he sought the subtleness of red fruit; and for its palate, he wanted the exotic nature, minerality, freshness and purity of the Rare Brut.

Once the potential wine had been assembled and sent off to age on its lees, he waited nine years to release it, but, it was worth the wait.

Bringing together an almost equal blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (56% and 44%, respectively), the wine is delicate and elegant, yet exotic with spice and tea along with red fruit notes of strawberries and raspberries. The spice components linger on the palate throughout the wine’s long length.

2016-09-29-19-49-44While not the most commonly connected food pairing, the Rare Rosé showed beautifully against a backdrop of Tamarind’s high-end Indian cuisine; its exotic elements holding their own with the complex flavors and seasonings of the food.

At $450 per bottle, and with fewer than 800 bottles in the U.S., this is sadly not a wine that I (nor many others) will get to enjoy with any frequency, but, it is a remarkable (and tasty) testament to one man’s perseverance and patience. Santé, Regis!

Champagne Fleury is a name to know

2016-09-20-12-59-20Representing the four generation of her family in the wine business, Morgane Fleury stopped by Racine’s to showcase her family’s portfolio of Champagnes for the wine press. Champagne Fleury’s market visit provided an opportunity for me to become acquainted with this winery, which was new to me, despite its long history in the region

The boutique producer has racked up a lengthy list of noteworthy firsts: the first to graft Pinot Noir vines in the Côte des Bar area in 1894; the first Recolant-Manipulant (RM) in the Aube in 1929; and the first biodynamic producer in 1989 (presently certified by Demeter and Biodyvin). Situated in the village of Courteron, Champagne Fleury’s 15 hectares of vineyards are within the southernmost point of the Côte des Bar. Although this area is lesser known than others within Champagne, Fleury is showing that the microclimate and soils are very suitable for producing high quality Champagne.

Building on their ancestors’ pioneering spirit, the company is currently run by Jean-Sebastien Fleury in the cellar, Benoit Fleury in the vineyard and Morgane Fleury in Paris, who owns a wine shop in addition to establishing relationships with local restaurants and promoting the brand worldwide.

2016-09-20-12-08-15I was most impressed with the Blanc de Noirs Brut NV, which is produced from 100% Pinot Noir, a grape variety that does especially well in this area of Champagne. The wine offers up a pronounced nose of floral notes and bright, red fruit, with a lovely intensity on the palate.

The Notes Blanches Brut Nature was also quite interesting. This 100% Pinot Blanc, which has had some wood contact during the fermentation process, is very clean and bright, with high acidity, yeasty, bready, creamy notes and hints of citrus and floral on the palate.2016-09-20-12-56-15

Meanwhile, the Cepages Blancs 2006 Extra Brut, produced with 100% Chardonnay, was weightier with woody, yeasty and brioche aromas and flavors, culminating in long length.

Finally, the 100% Pinot Noir-based Bolero 2005 Extra Brut was essentially sex in a glass with its yeasty, sweaty and earthy aromas and flavors.

Not surprisingly, the Champagnes provided a nice range of food pairing possibilities during the seated lunch.

 

Le Dinner en Blanc: A (White) Night to Remember

It was a magical evening! Admittedly, some people just won’t get it. My sister is still scratching her head wondering why on earth I dragged a table, two chairs and tons of other stuff for an outdoor feast on the subway during rush hour.

But, for those 5,000 of us who made the list, donning our very best white attire, schlepping everything on public transportation and arriving at the secret location is worth all of the time and effort.

Le Dinner en Blanc (DEB) – The White Dinner – started nearly 30 years ago by a group of Parisian friends who met at the Eifel Tower for a picnic and decided to wear white so they could easily find one another. (Of course it was the French; New Yorkers would have definitely worn black!) Today, DEB dinners are held internationally and 2016 marked the 6th edition of the New York-based event.

I had been on the waitlist for four years and, after seemingly almost getting in last year, was able to swallow the bitter taste left by their multiple server crashes to try again this year. I was literally poised online at 11:59:30 AM for my high noon registration opening. By 12:07 it was official – we were in!

We spent the next week in a flurry of activity – tracking down our preferred options from among the strict specifications regarding tables, chairs, linens, etc. – adding to the already near-daily arrival of Amazon.com and other deliveries to our Manhattan apartment. Our house guest was quite amused. I turned to Pinterest and blogs for wisdom and inspiration and scoured the apartment for anything white, finding napkins, plates, bowls and flatware that fit the bill, along with crystal accents (a vase and votive holders) that would grace our table. I grabbed a framed photo of our recently-departed (white) pup; wisely choosing the less creepy option – leaving her white box of ashes at home. I also raided my craft box for silk flowers and silver curling ribbon. Additionally, we turned to our friend Amazon.com for other table décor that caught our eye: battery-operated tea lights (candles were forbidden) and twinkle lights.

While hubby kept adding to the shopping cart – white linen jacket, white satin bow tie, white driving loafers – I fortunately had a beautiful, white Catherine Malandrino lace-embellished dress in my closet, just waiting for an occasion. I tried to purchase a fascinator to adorn my hair, but the vendor couldn’t guarantee arrival in time for the event, so instead, I decorated my hair with white blossoms bought at the local market. I’ve never been a fan of white shoes, so I opted for my favorite pair of silver sandals; while off-white was strongly discouraged, metallic accessories were welcomed. My big “splurge” was new nail polish in a new pearlized white shade from Opi.

As suggested by previous attendees, we practiced putting together our new table and did a dry run with the tablescape. But one final challenge remained: figuring out how and in what to bring all of our gear to the site (yes, very, very First World problems). We settled on a white plastic hamper from the Container Store and a collapsible luggage cart, all of which worked perfectly when paired with a gaggle of bungee cords. We were ready to go.

On the actual day, we were blessed with crisp, clear weather and a stunning sunset (the event runs rain or shine), thanks to a change from previous years from an August to a September date.

In other U.S. cities, guests are often bused to the final destination, but in New York, participants meet up at one of dozens of meeting sites throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn before heading out via MetroCard to the secret location.

Given everything that we had to carry, we decided to purchase food through DEB’s catering partner (Great Performances, in collaboration with Todd English) rather than bring our own picnic. In addition, as per NYS laws, alcohol must be purchased through the caterer, with Apothic and Moet & Chandon serving as this year’s wine sponsors. We picked the Southern cuisine option and chose to kick off our meal with Moet’s Rosé Brut and selected the MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir to accompany our main course of brisket. We somehow managed to remain spotless – no red wine or barbecue stains despite hubby’s disastrous run in with mustard at Nathan’s only a few weeks prior to the event.

While the event technically doesn’t start until you arrive at the site, the fun begins almost as soon as you step out of your apartment. We immediately attracted attention from strangers on our way to the meeting point and then met other diners on the subway.

Upon arrival at the event, it is a bit chaotic as all 5,000 folks must assemble their tables and set up their food and décor before waving their white napkins overhead as a signal that they are ready to dine. Once underway, live music, fire boats and the usual river traffic up the Hudson River provided additional entertainment to the already festive evening. But, the people watching was the number one attraction, with beautiful outfits, over the top tablescapes and lots of creativity evident everywhere. Overall, we found our friend, enjoyed our delicious food and wine, and danced the night away.

The DEB event itself is $80 per couple, but the actual expenditure is much higher, especially for your first year when you must literally and figuratively outfit yourself. I estimate that we spent $558 (Food & Wine: $$223; Attire: $93; Table, Chairs, Linens, Cart & Bungees: $134; Décor: $30; and Uber home: $78). Of course, experiencing a magical meal under the stars: priceless! But, you still may not get it.

Chili with a side of Chile and SW France

2016-09-14-14-21-40With Labor Day behind us and Columbus Day still several weeks away, we are in the last days of summer as we count down to the Autumnal Equinox. With shorter days, cooler temperatures and busier schedules, dragging out the slow cooker is the perfect way to welcome guests for a relatively easy home-cooked meal.

Accordingly, my husband crafted a New York Beef Chili (from a friend’s award-winning chili recipe) for his cycling race team to gather everyone together to talk about this recently completed season and begin planning for next year. Of course, he turned to me for some wine to share with his teammates and I was happy to oblige.

Such a meal cries out for robust reds, the kind I had been avoiding all summer, but am now ready to relish in my glass. I chose two Chilean wines to accompany his one dish dinner, both of which were red blends.

Mayu Carmenere-Syrah 2014, Elqui Valley, Chile, $13.00
Owned by the Olivier family group, Mayu stems from an ancient Inca name for the Milky Way, literally translating as creek of stars. Mauro Olivier Alcayaga was among the pioneers to plant Carmenere and Syrah in the Elqui Valley, first for other ventures and now for his own Mayu project. There are leather, animal, earthy and musk notes on the nose, which give way to bright, ripe red and black fruit, with a hint of iron on the fruity, medium bodied palate.

Erasmo 2010 Reserva de Caliboro, Maule Valley, $20.00
This organic farm is named for a local farmer, Don Erasmo, who shared his wisdom with the current owner and is situated in the oldest wine region of Chile. The wine itself is a dry-farmed blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 25% Merlot and 5% Syrah from a single vineyard on the ancient estate of la Reserva de Caliboro. Blackberry, dried herbs, slight spice and wood greet the nose and persist on the elegant, yet full-bodied palate.

For good measure, I also opened up a wine from southwest France.
Chateau Peyros, Vieilles Vignes, 2011, Madiran, $16.00
This blend of 80% Tannat and 20% Cabernet Franc comes from an organic vineyard that is home to a herd of 300 sheep. Situated on a property that dates from the 17th century, Peyros means “stony place” in Gascon and was acquired by current owner, Jean Jacques Lesgourgues, in 1999. This wine is dark and brooding with baking spice, black fruit and bramble fruit aromas and flavors and an undercurrent of earth and smoke. The full-bodied palate is dry with medium acidity and tight tannins, needing more time in bottle to soften. Buy now, but hold.

The two Chilean wines are among the nine being featured at Whole Foods Market stores in conjunction with Wines of Chile USA. Through this unique retail partnership, the wines will be available at 300+ Wholes Foods stores throughout the U.S. The specific wines were chosen to represent the diversity of Chilean wines – regionally and varietally – and were vetted by Whole Foods Market global wine experts Doug Bell and Devon Broglie MS.

The full list of Whole Foods Market’s featured wines includes:

  • Odfjell Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile
  • Vina Errazuriz MAX Chardonnay 2015, Aconcagua Costa, Chile
  • Autoritas Pinot Noir 2014, Valle Central, Chile
  • Boya Pinot Noir 2014, Leyda Valley (San Antonio Valley), Chile
  • Criterion Carmenere 2013, Colchagua Valley, Chile
  • Mayu Carmenere-Syrah 2014, Elqui Valley, Chile
  • Erasmo Reserva de Caliboro 2010, Maule Valley, Chile
  • De Martino 2014 Estate Organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo Valley
  • Casa Silva 2014 Los Lingues Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Colchagua Valley

On a previous occasion, I had the opportunity to taste two other of these wines:
Odfjell Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $13.00
This winery was established over 25 years ago by Norwegian ship owner Dan Odfjell who fell in love with Chile. The business is presently run by his two sons: Laurence and Dan Jr. With a pronounced nose of grassy notes and tropical fruit, this wine displays ripe citrus and peach fruit on its palate, culminating in a very clean finish.

Boya Pinot Noir 2014, Leyda Valley (San Antonio Valley), Chile, $15.00
Created by the Garcés Silva family, Boya is the Spanish word for “buoy” which makes sense given that the Ledya Valley-based vineyards overlook the Pacific Ocean. This is a very nice Pinot Noir for the price, with notes of earth, cherry, mulberry and dried herbs, along with vibrant acidity on the medium-bodied palate.

Both Chile and Southwest France offer up good quality wines for their respective prices and are generally food friendly options worth seeking out.