Monday, April 27, 2009

Re-visting an '05 Bourgogne Rouge

2005 Confuron Coteconfused?

So last night I re-visited a humble bourgone rouge from the much praised '05 vintage. It was a 2005 Confuron Cotetidot (a tiny domaine based in Vosne-Romanee), and all I can remember is being somewhat impressed when I first tasted the wine a year and a half or so ago. I bought a few bottles. Though for me to buy anything from Burgundy that's not older is a bit of a rare occasion (much prefer most anything else to young Burgundy). So I looked forward to seeing how these wines would age. Upon cracking the bottle open, the wine was all over the place. Initially very clumsy smelling and tasting. Ripe, four square, coarse. While it opened over the next 20 minutes in the glass, showing a bit more tonal variety, some subtle mineral and floral notes lurking underneath the murky plummy fruit, the wine would unfortunately not improve further. It was slowly degrading further when re-visited tonight, not opening up.

Perhaps of most concern, however, was the lack of acidity from this bottle's start to finish. For those of you who drink more red burgundy than I do, does this lack of acid in the '05's concern you? Balanced (leaning towards higher) acidity isn't always needed to see a wine through mid to long term ageing, but 99% of the time it doesn't hurt. Does acidity go through a latent period during the course of a wine's evolution in bottle? I seem to remember this being a much livelier, higher acid wine. I should mention that the bottle was in no way compromised, corked or cooked.

I look forward to making one of my few young red burg purchases for the year shortly - gonna get some '06 Dom Gabriel Billard Bourgogne Rouge. And I look forward to repeating this experiment 12-18 months down the line with what well might be wine from a vintage that is more my cup of tea (or glass of Burgundy, as it were).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Now on Twitter: My repaired clavicle, with titanium plate, and all things clavicularly and rehabilitationally oriented

For those of you who haven't heard, I broke my collarbone in a bicycling accident last week. Well, Lance got 12 screws, I got seven. They ended up needing to operate, as my fracture is very 'distal,' or distant from the center of the body. Apparently, my best odds for full recovery were not simply a sling, as prescribed as far back as during Egyptian times (and, by the way, still a very reliable way of treating some instances of middle collarbone breaks), but through stabilizing the area with a plate and screws. And then the sling for six weeks.

To update you and all other interested parties on the pain, the drama, the intrigue that my recovery will surely entail, I have set up a twitter feed. My username is collarboneplate, all collarbone all the time! Surgery was on Thursday. Yesterday was at times tolerable, at others miserable. Glad it's over. Fortunately, that should be the worst of it, but follow the twitter feed and find out for yourself....

Monday, April 20, 2009

Le Verre Volé

While I'm still kicking myself for not making a point to dine at Racines, I can at least take solace in the fact that I did eat dinner at Le Verre Volé, near the popular canal St. Martin area in Paris' 10th. The concept at Le Verre Volé (translation: 'the stolen glass') is similar to Racines: sell a focused selection of mainly natural wines (though Racines takes it a step further, sans soufre only), offer access to the same wines during lunch and dinner service (for a very reasonable surcharge of 7.50 euros) and, for people in the know, provide a terrific menu selection of simple cuisine, made from an array of ingredients sourced from top notch purveyors of farm grown food.

Upon walking in to Le Verre Volé, the first thing you might notice is the small size of the place. There are no more than 25 seats throughout, at tables fairly tightly packed together. Then your eyes will likely drift to either wine wall on opposing sides of the room. With prices marked in white chalk on the bottles, there is an excellent spread of mainly natural wines, from the likes of Rimbert's 'Mas au Schiste' St Chinian bottling up to more coveted bottlings such as Philippe Pacalet's '06 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru, and bottles of every conceivable stripe in between, the common thread often being that these are wines produced naturally, in smaller quantities, from grapes grown without herbicides, pesticides or other sprays, and fermented with their natural yeasts and a minimal amount of sulphur (if any) added during the winemaking process. That having been said, there were a few Bordeaux wines, Haut-Medoc bottlings (and definitely not 'natural') as well as a decent single malt selection (Springbank, Signatory) to break up the landscape somewhat, should you be craving something a bit more commercial (bdx) or strong (scotch).

Natalie and I started with an amazing bottle of 2007 Dard & Ribo Crozes Hermitage Blanc. Just the basic bottling, but so delicious. Fresh, a bit floral, with yellow fruits and a hint of a mineral/anise notes adding some structure. The wine improved steadily, especially when accompanied by my first course of pig ear salad with toasted coriander seeds which really brought out the freshness and balance of the wine, the coriander in particular bringing out the floral notes beautifully. I suspect that, like a versatile rhythm guitar player, this wine could have worked great with a number of different styled offerings, adding its own flair all the while.

Then it was on to something a little more readily available in the US, but no less delicious: 2007 Pierre Overnoy Poulsard. Emmanuel Houillon, who worked with Monsieur Overnoy, now runs the estate and is known for delicious, age-worthy sans soufre wines. The '07 Poulsard was bright, energetic and focused, a delicious foil to Natalie's fatty, Touraine saucisson, and to my herbal, savory, slightly sauvage tasting caillerets ardechoise (a very large meatball which, when cut open, unfurled a cloudy pillow of aromatic herbal grey smoke).

We also tasted a tasty St Joseph courtesy of Robert Camuto (who just happened to be in town, dining at Le Verre Volee when we were) - the producer's name escapes me. After our dinner we chatted with another American couple, and were cheerfully urged to share another bottle of wine by one of our kind hosts. We went ahead and followed his rec for a tasty, simple, carbonically macerated cotes du rhones (probably a good pick, as the couple seemed to prefer fruitier, more warm climate type wines). And before leaving, I sprung for that bottle of Pacalet Chambolle, which I drank in Epernay and, while tasty, it's clearly very young and I could not see what all the hubub (and top dollar pricing) is about with dude's wines.

So it was a very satisfying dinner at Le Verre Volé. I'll leave some info here in case you decide to go yourself. Definitely make a reservation for lunch or dinner, even if it's done midday for dinner that evening (which is what Natalie and I did). You won't get a table otherwise.

Le Verre Volé
67, rue de Lancry
tel: 01 48 03 17 34
Métro: Jacques Bonsergent

Friday, April 17, 2009

Me and my fractured clavicle

Here I was all ready to begin posting more about Paris and Champagne this week, when mid-bike commute Wednesday morning I got doored! While it's pretty self explanatory, for those of you not familiar with the term, getting doored is when a driver in their parked car opens their door towards an open lane of traffic at the exact moment a bicycle passes by, hitting the bicyclist and in my case sending him over the handle bars, ricocheting against a stationary vehicle in the right hand lane (smashing their right tail ight in the process) and slamming to the ground. So my left collar bone (also known as the clavicle) is broken. Fortunately, the bike frame and fork are in good shape; only the front wheel and a few other parts need replacing.

So a reminder to anyone who drives, especially in areas populated by many bicyclists (like Mission St btw Valencia and Cesar Chavez where my accident happened): LOOK! in your rearview mirror and behind you before you open your door. Just make it a habit and do it.

And to bicyclists: for me this was further proof that you can never be too careful, especially on busy city streets. Always take your time, know your surroundings and constantly assume the worst of drivers. Expect that they don't see you and ride accordingly. If it means you can't ride as hard on a busy street, then so be it.

PSA over. Back to baguettes, brioche and natural wines in Paris soon. Maybe even later this afternoon.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Brief Piedmontese interlude in the midst of a French focused posting spree

Italian staff tasting at work today. While there were some other wines I thought well-made, one stood head and shoulders above the other 20 or so in the crowd. It is from a producer many of you probably know and respect, though I see a lot about his Lessona DOC wine on the blogosphere and less about this wine below from the Bramaterra DOC.

2005 Tenuta di Sella Bramaterra

The fact that this is still such a pretty, finesse driven and highly nuanced wine in this warmer vintage is clearly attributed to lots of experience (both handed down and lived) as well as a commitment to producing authentic, terroir driven expressions in this cooler climate, northerly zone of the Piemonte. A blend of 70% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina and 10% Vespolina, this wine's pretty aromatics tend towards raspberries and small red fruits growing on bushes, as well as floral notes. Some shades of earthiness come into play as well. Fresh on the palate, with a light touch and again the small red berries. This is my favorite young Piedmontese wine I've tasted in a long time.

Click here for some more in-depth notes on the DOC and the winery from none other than Luca Furlotti, manager of the Sella estate (courtesy of the Bay Area's 'Mr. Piemonte' himself, Oliver McCrum, thanks Oliver).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bread and Chocolate in Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Bread (Poilane)

Chocolate (Jean-Charles Rochoux)

An American Meal, with Americans, in Paris

Researching places to eat prior to traveling to Paris, I thought it might be interesting to book a reservation at the Hidden Kitchen, the 'secret' dining club owned by a young couple from Seattle with experience cooking in that city's better restaurants. 'Secret' implies that a supper club which has had gushing praise from food blogs such as this one, as well as a feature in The New York Times, is in fact hardly known to folks who enjoy travel and food enough to research where they will eat while in Paris. In other words, as it relates to HK, the word is out.

Perhaps that is why our dozen or so fellow diners were all Americans. While I had read to the contrary in the Times, apparently Braden and Laura now book evenings based on nationality. One night might be Parisian night, another one booked for travelers from Singapore, and of course there have been, and will continue to be, many more all American dinners.

Here is how it works. You email HK the date you would like to dine (dinners on weekends only), they let you know if it works, and confirm the date with you the week of your dinner. For 80 euros you get a 7 course meal with wine pairings.

The menu, though it varies somewhat, will probably resemble something like this one (not exactly the same as our dinner, but a few courses match and others are very similar). While I really enjoyed a few courses, particularly the toasted peanut soup with roasted eggplant and red onion salad and the seared salmon with toasted spinach, parsnip puree and watercress chimichurri, the others were not as memorable. There was a poached egg, fava bean and frisee salad with green goddess dressing, a somewhat dry pulled pork dish, pan fried mackerel (a strongly flavored fish best enjoyed as sushi, imo). Wines selected for each course were merely ok, no standouts. The one exception would be a wine which stood out for all the wrong reasons, an Argentinean Malbec paired with dessert (yikes!) which on its own was no good, let alone served with a fruit based dessert.

I was on the fence about writing a critical review of what was ultimately an enjoyable evening spent in the apartment of an adventurous, gracious, young American couple in Paris. However, given the merely decent quality of the meal and not inexpensive price tag, I felt as though some constructive criticism was in order.

Don't get me wrong, Hidden Kitchen is a great concept, and for about $110 is not overpriced considering that seven courses - as well as wine - are included. However, if you want better than average French wine, and food that is a bit more exciting, there are many, many other options to explore in Paris.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Group Home - Supa Star

A classic mix show staple, not to mention a great instrumental track to freestyle over. Thanks to David D for reminding me about this one earlier today.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nas - Illmatic

In 1992 Queens resident and 3rd Bass member MC Serch was busy transforming into EP (executive producer) Serch, having recently undertaken as his newest project a young skinny kid from the Queensbridge projects, located just a short ride across money making Manhattan on the 59th St Bridge, but otherwsie worlds apart. Known as one of the city's toughest projects, QB also has spawned many of hip-hop's elite, starting with the likes of Marley Marl, MC Shan, Roxanne Shante and the Juice Crew in the early 80's, moving through to Capone and Noreaga, Nature, Cormega and Mobb Deep in the '90's.

And then there was Nas, the 19 year-old prodigy who started appearing on tracks, most famously Main Source's 'Live at the BBQ,' and Serch's 'Back to the Grill,' showing that perfect combination of distinctive, instantly recognizable, world weary vocal timbre, narrative talent, and infectious, confident style that only the best MC's possess. Serch had himself a jewel, a once in a lifetime talent (thanks Q-tip) that no doubt would have emerged successfully on his own, but nevertheless was carefully and quickly ushered into the limelight with the success of Illmatic.

Illmatic is a hip-hop purist's holy grail, the ideal synthesis of music, rhythm, and gifted MCing. To make a brief analogy apropos to this site, it was like the perfect combination of terroir, grape variety and winemaking ability. Even further, a vinous equivalent to Illmatic might be putting together and marketing a case of Loire (Loire representing hip-hop here) wine: 3 bottles each of Huet Vouvray, Luneau Papin Muscadet, Olga Raffault Chinon and Clos Roche Blanche Cot.

OK, back to the music. Four of the best producers of the sample based school of hip-hop beat production were set to task to patch together the perfect canvas to inspire and complement Nas. And that they did. Many consider the contributions made by Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Large Professor and DJ Premier to be amongst their most inspired work.

Opening with a brief cinematic interlude, then segueing into the Subway theme from Wild Style, the album begins with Nas and others ad-libbing a hangin' out in the hood type scenario, with Nas' observing that 'Niggas don't listen.' From there, Nas slides into the character of a money hungry, drug dealing resident of a New York ghetto, trying to take care of himself. With lines like 'Beyond the walls of intelligence, life is defined,' and a refrain such as 'I never sleep, 'cause sleep is the cousin of death,' this is some serious, serious writing. Delivered with perfect timing in Nas' inimitable voice, this is MCing of the highest order. Combinining a keen narrative sense with an intensely personal autobiographical perspective, Nas hits homerun after homerun, perhaps culminating with 'One Love,' a letter to an incarcerated friend, updating him on what's going on in the hood, and set to a mellow, jazzy, vibraphone based sample from the Abstract (Q-Tip), who also lends his voice to the chorus.

Never before had a hip-hop record been so anticipated and hyped by the masses as when Illmatic was released. In this rare case, the hype was to be believed and justified. Illmatic is easily one of the three best hip-hop records of all time and amongst the best records released in the 1990's. It remains one of my favorites of all time.

A recommendation

Should you find yourself out and about in the evening, having had only a light lunch, do not start your evening with manzanilla, proceed with a few glasses of other wines, eat some cheese and call it dinner, and then finish the evening off with a pilsner. Even if 1999 Puffeney Vin Jaune is involved, despite it's rare, brilliant combination of nutty oxidization and clear as a bell, bright as the Marfa lights qualities, it is not food and will not protect you from feeling a little bit ragged the next day if you haven't had much of anything to eat. Just some words of advice.

Anyway, my girl just cooked up some delicious scrambled eggs with spinach, and quinoa with toasted coriander, cumin, onions and parsely, so I'm feeling great. I do need to head down to the store to strategize with my man John, though, so this is a short 'sorry for not posting' post. Paris and Champagne adventures to start soon, I promise.

In the meantime, I would look out for the Illmatic review, it's ready to go and scheduled for 4:30pm EDT.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Notre Dame

Louvre on the Lumix

No captions, just photo's, all taken on my Panasonic Lumix LX-3 at the Louvre

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Producers on Nasty Nas

Check out this promo, featuring the big four producers who worked with Nas on his breakthrough record. Any guess on what my next album review will be?

It ain't hard to tell....

Paris/Champagne 2009: Highlights for now and a taste of what's to come

So I'm back, possibly still somewhere between East Coast and GMT time zones, but otherwise doing quite well. Six days does not quite do Paris and Champagne justice; either place alone merits much more time and exploration. Nevertheless, you still can see and accomplish a lot in six days.

One thing I realized is that Champagne just might be the easiest to visit wine region that is proximate to a large city in the entire world. 70 minutes from Paris Gare de l'Est to Epernay. Only 45 minutes if you head to Reims and take the TGV bullet train. Beautiful countryside, picturesque older villages, sleepy towns (even the larger ones like Epernay are really quiet this time of year). And of course there is the champagne. My suggestion is to go. Especially if you're lucky enough to be employed and have some paid time off as I is the time to go. There are probably still great flight deals, and the dollar is relatively strong against the euro. Not to say it's a cheap trip, but if you're smart, stay in modest hotels, eat some bread and cheese occasionally for lunch, you can do the trip for cheaper than you might have thought possible.

I will have plenty of posts to look forward to from this trip, which will most likely including four winery profiles and a few meal re-caps. For now, here are a few trip highlights:

- Berthillon ice cream (pistache and caramel, both excellent)
- Large quantities of delicious, inexpensive cheese
- '07 Dard & Ribo Crozes Hermitage Blanc at Le Verre Volee
- Quite randomly running into Robert Camuto at Le Verre Volee
- Creative cuisine and friendly folks at Le Verre Volee (yes, many highlights from - this terrific wine shop and bistro - thanks Guillaume for the rec!)
- Waiting in line for 30 minutes at La Duree for $3 macarons (ok, one snarky jab allowed)
- Driving in the Marne valley, from Ambonnay in the east to the beautiful village of Oeuilly just west of Epernay

Oh, thanks for your patience with the lack of new stuff up here. To make up for it, I plan a busy week coming up - updates should be fast and furious.

Happy rest of the weekend.