Monday, October 1, 2007

Spotlight, Loire Valley: COT vs COT!

Here is the premise for this vinous COT clash, first conceived towards the tail end of last Sunday at the shop (one of the advantages of working on Sundays is that the inevitable down time allows for some inspired moments of genius): Malbec, that increasingly rarely found Bdx blending grape, exclusive component of the formerly distinctive, once impenetrable 'black wines' of Cahors in southern France, and fruity component of many a wine from Mendoza, Argentina, might make some truly interesting wines in the Loire Valley, where it is known as 'Cot.' Why not taste a couple side-by -side, cipha' style, and see what each wine has to say?

Our two competitors are Clos Roche Blanche, probably best known for their delicous sauvignon blanc, and La Grange Tiphaine, a smaller winery whose Loire Valley star status is quickly rising under the incredibly talented Damien Delecheneau. The wines are the 2004 Clos Roche Blanche Cot and 2005 La Grange Tiphaine Cot Vielles Vignes, both produced in the Touraine AOC. Well, the results proved to be very interesting indeed.

Though these are two versions of Cot, from the same appellation, with the only apparent difference being the vintage and producer, the contrast between the two wines is dramatic. Whereas the Clos Roche Blanche is an opaque, dense purple color, the Grange Tiphaine is more violet and translucent, with bright purplish tints along the rim. Clos Roche Blanche smells of cassis at first, but then takes on an aromatic spiciness not unlike a Rhone wine. Meanwhile the Grange Tiphaine is all primary fruit on the nose, leading to a very sappy, '05 styled palate. It is reminiscent of Cab Franc. The Clos Roche Blanche, on the other hand, is darker, with more of a plum skin and dark cherry quality, as well as a persistent spice character. Some mouthfuls are floral, redolent of violets.

While I enjoyed both of these wines, I'd have liked to have had them with some more appropriate food, maybe some duck terrine or at the least some sauteed chicken sausage and fennel pasta, or sumthin'. What I ended up doing was slicing some Acme bread, a bit of Monte Enebro (tasty aged Spanish goat cheese from Avila, just north of Madrid), roasting a few red peppers and making a salad. Oh well, where there is good bread, tasty cheese and distinctive wine, at least there is a nutritious, satisfying light meal, if not the most ambitious or perfectly food-wine matched.

Though I'd have judged this freestyle battle a draw, my roommate Natalie gave the edge to La Grange Tiphaine. All results aside, I'd be interested in learning some more of the differences between these wines in terms of soil and, possibly more importantly, vinification. Yes, '05 and '04 are a world apart but there seems to be more going on here than mere vintage differences.

Sunday night Dinner at Bix

Last night I went to Bix, a jazz themed restaurant tucked away in an alley in North Beach. Posters of Josephine Baker, chalkboard sketches of Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday (that require a flash photograph to reveal their images, gimmicky but also pretty cool), and a bunch of artwork by a guy who did lots of his work in 1940's America (Heinrich something?) Apparently he is a huge influence on many folks, including Marilyn Manson. Bix is a comfortable, cozy yet expansive restaurant, with a handsome bar, baby grand piano, a dozen or so 4-tops on the first level, and another eight or so tables upstairs on a mezzanine level, which was where we sat. We were told by one of the waiters that Sharon Stone is a regular, amongst some other famous San Franciscans. The food was for the most part solid, especially considering the fact that this seemed to be more of a late night and less a fine-dining destination. The fried Bix chicken hash, which the four of us split as an ap, was delicious, as was the tender, flavorful American kobe beef. Maine lobster spaghetti was not as tasty, it was in a simple, overly sweet cream based sauce that wasn't doing it for me. Otherwise, like I said earlier, surprisingly tasty food.

Our (my brother and I) hosts, Harry and Joanie, are ideal dining companions. From hearing tales of hanging out with their son and requesting 'the best stuff they got' in Amsterdam coffee shops, to learning about the advantages of having a regular driver in New York City, to getting a sense of Billy Crystal's routine at Harry's recent ADA conference, there were many great stories told. Harry (aka Harry Lee, aka Henri) and Joanie are without a doubt some of my parents' most hip and fun loving friends - thanks again for a great evening you guys!

As far as wine, I really enjoyed the glass of 2005 Storybook Mountain Zinfandel I ordered at the Four Seasons hotel bar. Dark, brambly, spicy fruit with real grip and length on the palate. Very muscular and well-structured, this is always one of the best CA zins out there. Back to Bix, I started off with a glass of Nino Franco Prosecco, which was was tasty, nothing special, but perfectly pleasant. Theirs strikes me as being one of the more austere Proseccos around, with a pleasant bitter snap to the finish. Dinner presented a challenge as my brother and I were doing the surf and turf thing, Harry ordered lamb chops and Joanie the arctic char. So we got some Bollinger which did the trick. A little disappointing that Bix has not jumped on the grower champagne band wagon, but Bollinger did not disappoint. Great firmness and PN fruit, also austere. Not terribly complex, but consistently one of my favorite medium-large houses for good 'ol NV brut.

Stay tuned for a very exciting Loire Valley show-down in my next post!