Friday, July 31, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

My version of the French culinary master's take on an Italian dish, with an Italian red and a French white

'Italienne Macaroni' From the Escoffier cookbook:

"Cook the macaroni in boiling water; completely drain it; put it into a saucepan, and toss it over the fire to dry. Season it with salt, pepper and nutmeg; combine it wth five oz. of grated Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, in equal quantities, and two oz. of butter, cut into small pieces, per lb. of macaroni. Saute well to combine, and serve in a timbale."

This is about as simple a recipe as one could hope for from Auguste Escoffier. Which was perfect a few nights ago, when I was looking for a quick mac and cheese recipe to try. That having been said, I had gruyere but lacked parmesan, so I substitued cheddar cheese. I also had a head of collard greens I needed to use, so I chopped that up and sauteed it in olive oil. Then I combined it with the cheese coated macaroni, put into a round cazuela, grated a little extra cheese on top and put underneath the broiler for several minutes. I did not serve in a timbale.

The results were quite delicious if I say so myself. My girlfriend agreed.

As for the wine, I had a delicious bottle of 2007 Grange Tiphaine Montlouis Sec - a dry, rich chenin with tell-tale quince chenin flavors, as well as intense citrus oils, ripe acids, and a bit of a fat, ripe fruited style which really worked quite well with the richness of the pasta. Less successful: a 2007 Ruggeri Corsini Barbera d'Alba. On its own, the wine showed really sweet red pitted fruit flavors, foursquare, new oak. Doesn't sound like a good pairing, right? Well I suspected this would be the case, so I happily drank chenin throughout dinner. Next time I'll need to try gamay, poulsard, or maybe Les Cretes Tourrette if I want to keep things Italienne.

In fairness to the Corsini, it has opened up considerably in the past two days. I'm drinking it now, and though it's oakier, fatter, and less cutting than I would prefer my wines to be these days, the acidity is showing more prominently than on Friday night. There are slight floral and mineral components, and I guess that I don't mind the wine; otherwise I'd cork it up and wait another 2 days.

Hope it's a great week for everyone out there in food and wine land.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Beastie Boys - Hey Ladies

Here they are, them Beastie Boys, showing their trademark sense of humor and pushing that 70's aesthetic a good five years before it became fashionable. 'Hey ladies' is a classic jam, guaranteed to turn any tiny nook or corridor in a city apartment into an impromptu dancefloor.

The primary motivation for posting this, however, was to wish Adam Yauch a speedy recovery. We all hope you heal up quickly, MCA!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I'm posting on a Sunday (yeah that's right, I did it)

It was another wine filled evening last night at Terroir with a few 31 Days of Natural Wine contributors, 31 Days planner Cory Cartwright, Spanish importer José Pastor and assorted other fans of the fermented grapes of the world all in the house. We enjoyed a good variety of wines, some of them humble and tasty, others of fancier pedigree and unmistakable quality. Here's a rundown:

Equipo Navazos La Bota de Fino No. 15

I've been meaning to try one of Equipo Navazos' sherries for a while now, and thanks to José Pastor I had the opportunity to do so last night. Likening it to the Jacques Selosse Cuvee Substance of the sherry world, José explained to me how this is a negociant selection of a few of the finest barrels (averaging 10 years of age) of Valdespino Fino. It is bottled unfiltered, a rarity in Jerez. Think of your favorite fino. Intensify and amplify the unmistakable sea salt, nuts and fruit aromas. Add a significant amount of weight, richness and texture to the palate, but do no subtract any of the grace and elegance which typify good Fino. There you have it, my new favorite fino sherry. Rare and tough to find, though I have every intention to track some down to have around home. It's that simple, I got to have it.

2007 Becker Landgraf Riesling Feinherb

Satiny texture, bright and clean stone fruits, well made Rheinhessen riesling. This is a great accompaniment to most (if not all) of the Chinese dishes at Heaven's Dog, where José and I loaded up on some tasty veges and a bit of pork prior to drinking.

2006 Les Cretes Petite Arvine 'Vigne Champorette'

Waxy textured, with plums, yellow fruit skins, and a ripe, plump, juicy yet still fresh flavor profile. Fun.

2006 Franck Peillot Bugey Mondeuse

Gritty cherry fruits, with some minerals, moderately assertive tannins and a bitter snap to the finish.

1978 Lopez de Heredia Viña Bosconia Rioja Gran Reserva

Soft, very savory, earthy, slightly smoky and reminiscent a bit of aged Cote Rotie. If this bottle is any indication (and given the variation, this is not necessarily any indication) then this wine should probably be drunk within the next several years. It's very good, for sure, though not nearly as wound up, high toned and high acid as the '81. While I really enjoyed this '78, it did not really remind me of Bosconia's typically Burgundy-like flavors and textures.

2000 Pierre Overnoy Arbois Pupillin Blanc

The unbelievably high acidity in this wine made up for what I perceived as an acid deficit in the Bosconia drunk before this. For a grape I love so much, I have such a tough time describing savagnin sometimes, especially when it's as piercing, cutting and chiseled as this. At this moment, the only thing I can liken the sensation to is listening carefully to how the high hat cymbals were mixed in many mid 70's Jamaican recordings.

Big thank you to Cory for organizing the party. It's always fun to see familiar faces while meeting some new folks as well.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Organized Konfusion

A co-worker and I were talking about Pharaoh Monche a few days ago, and it dawned on me that I've yet to post any Organized Konfusion. Well, the situation has just been corrected. A distinctive and tasty throwback, this.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In a Foul Mood

I had every intention to write a brief, informative post tonight, but I must admit I'm not up to the task. At the moment, writing is boring, discussing wine seems dull, and doing anything remotely related to wine blogging, twittering, and other assorted web 2.0 platforms sounds about as appealing as drinking a 3 oz glass of 2006 Agostina Pavia Barbera d'Asti Bricco Blina. It's a wine that unfortunately is all too present in my sensory memory as I just drank it 20 minutes ago. It smells like Manischevitz fermented to dryness, and tastes like a cheap, acidified central valley cab/merlot/whatever else is on hand blend.

Why am I in a rut? Was it the 30+ bottle line-up of primarily California wines I was subjected to earlier in the day that has soured my mood? The rigors of a weekly schedule which typically includes 1.5-2+ hours commuting, as well as a three hour evening class twice weekly? Maybe it was the strange dinner of unrelated vegetarian side dishes? Who knows. I'll be back when I'm back, ideally with more inspiring words to put to screen.

At the very least, hopefully you enjoyed the wonders of the iMac photo booth effects. If I were you, I wouldn't mess with that dude right now....

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In Search of Traditional and Natural Spanish Wines in Spain

This is part of Cory Cartwright's 31 Days of Natural Wine Series on his blog, Saignee. Follow it here.

Old fermentation vats at R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia, amongst the most successful producers and marketers of traditional Spanish wine

For a country that boasts more land under vine than any other, with a variety of terroirs, climates, winemaking traditions and styles that is only surpassed by France and Italy, Spain has a long way to go in the natural wine world.

The definition of natural wine has generally come to encompass organic or biodynamic vine cultivation in the vineyard, fermentation with native yeasts, minimal intervention in the cellar, and significantly lower doses of sulphur at all stages of the winemaking process. Another classification of this sort of farming and winemaking could be 'traditional.' In other words, the way that conscientous, quality oriented winemakers made their wine before the advent of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides in the second half of the 20th century, and prior to the emergence of the new French oak barrique, lab made yeasts and assorted heavy handed cellar methods.

If natural wine means wine made traditionally with the fruit of well tended vines, why would Spain - a country steeped in wine tradition and covered (to the tune of 1.16 million hectares) with vines - be lagging far behind Italy and France in the production of natural wines?

"The Spanish are very attracted by a modern attitude towards winemaking and keeping up with the trends as they perceive them in the world," says Spanish wine importer Andre Tamers of De Maison Imports, a company which focuses on small production, traditional, natural Spanish wines.

"They have been very influenced by wine critics and styles that are pervasive today as a way to differentiate themselves from their past."

That past, up until fifteen or so years ago, usually involved picking grapes that were not super-ripe, and aging for longer periods of time in larger vessels, often times made of American oak, or perhaps concrete. Some of the wines which resulted from this practice tasted oaky and dried out, lacking vibrancy and fruit. Often times they were also oxidized. Many of these wines, however, were distinctive and delicious, as Santo Domingo and New York based wine blogger Manuel Camblor recalls, "[the late 80's-early '90s] was a time when five bucks could still buy you a wonderful bottle, if you had your head on straight."

Of today's similarly value oriented bottles from Spain, Camblor is far less enthusiastic, decrying most of them as 'homogenized and globalist' with 'zero soul.'

'Zero soul' wines sure are popular with the vast majority of discerning Spanish wine critics in the US, abroad and even in Spain. There are countless examples which score 90-92 pts on a 100 pt scale, and cost a mere $15 or less. While those who value consumer reports may be elated, others with more drinking experience, or even those who are relatively new to Spanish wine and have tasted the real thing, tend to look for authenticity.

Bodegas R. Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia, in Rioja, is that rare Spanish wine that appeals to a cross section of new Spanish wine drinkers, seasoned Spanish wine afficionados and even the hypercritical, generally French leaning tastes of natural wine fans. They farm organically, harvest by hand, allow fermentation to take place naturally in huge, very old American oak vats, and in many respects make wine in a manner similar to how it was made in the early years of the bodega in the late 19th century. As staunchly traditional as the wines are, Maria José Lopez de Heredia is far from critical of more modern efforts being made elsewhere in Rioja and throughout Spain.

"Spanish palates have evolved with the progressive integration in the European Union," says Lopez de Heredia, "and have become more international in the acceptance of styles and flavors. Also all palates get adapted to the products that exist on offer."

So are Spanish palates becoming more international, appreciating the same sorts of richer, heavier, higher alcohol wines which have sold so well in the US? Not necessarily so, according to Andre Tamers:

"Spain is still a very classic wine drinking nation and many of the wines that show up on our shores are expressly for a foreign market very similar to the way Sherry was sold two hundred years ago to the British (sweetened)."

Another importer who has been seeking out authentic, traditional Spanish wines is Jose Pastor, who imports properties such as Señorio de P. Pecina in Rioja and the unusual, but rewarding Monastrell based wines of Primitivo Quiles outside of Alicante.

"I would say that it is getting harder to find honest [Spanish] producers," says Pastor.

Neatly summing up the current lack of conviction plaguing Spanish winemakers, as well as importers and retailers, Pastor observes:

"The problem that I see here, is that we are trying too hard to please other people when we should first learn how to please ourselves."

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

07 Do Ferreiro Cepas Velhas and Leftover Chicken Tacos

What a terrific way to spend time on a Sunday (or any day off, or for that matter any day you spend partially at home): cook lunch and take your time eating it with a glass or two of wine. Americans need to drink wine more frequently with their lunch!

I sauteed red onion, diced cherry tomatoes and fennel leaves together with some leftover roasted chicken in a pan, and then placed a large spoonful over top a warmed corn tortilla.

The 2007 Do Ferreiro Cepas Velhas had been opened for 5 or so days. What started as a fairly rich, intensely flavored, fleshy stone fruited wine with a touch of smoky mineral transformed into a more tense, more mineral, less fruit driven albariño. That's what 200 year old albariño vines will do for a wine. Was it worth the extra $15 (we sell for $40) compared to the regular '07 Do Ferreiro? Maybe not for a regular go-to, but as a splurge or an aging experiment (both wines, by the way, will be better in a year and still very drinkable in another 4) I would say yes.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday PM Hip-hop returns with Pete Rock

I'm going to do my best to get back on track programming real hip-hop every Friday afternoon, just like I did back in the day, circa '07. Pete Rock, one of hip-hop's greatest producers, proves here that he's also got some mic skills. He's accompanied by one of the most promising MC's at that time, Inspectah Deck along with west coast by way of Philadelphia rapper Kurupt. From the 1998 album Soul Survivor. For the record, a 10 year-old record in hip-hop definitely qualifies as OLD SCHOOL.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In an Euskadi state of mind

This evening, on the train ride home from work, my friend Chiara and I shared some txakoli (alternatively known as txakolina, maybe it's a declension thing - Basque language majors?) There's nothing better than drinking on Caltrain, especially if you're drinking Basque wine. Xarmant, our Caltrain txakoli for the evening, is the largest producer in the Arabako Txakolina D.O.

Let' break it down first with some Txakoli (-na) basics.

There are 3 sub-regions, differentiated by place and levels of dissolved CO2. Here they are from fizziest to least fizzy:

Getariako Txakolina(Ameztoi, Talai Berri, Txomin Etxaniz and I believe 9 other producers) - these wines are produced in the area just outside of San Sebastian
Arabako Txakolina (Xarmant, plus a few other very tiny estates (?) ) - from the Basque province of Alava, a bit further south than the other two D.O.'s
Bizkaiko Txakolina (Uriondo, Gurrutxaga, Gorrondona, Berroia) - Centered around Bilbao.

Since my work pays me to be geeky (for those who know me, easy on the comments, bitches!) I decided to taste the remaining Caltrain bottle of Xarmant side by side with the famed fizzy Ameztoi and the Uriondo. At the expense of preparing/eating a proper dinner, I did this.

Xarmant Arabako Txakolina- Green fruits, especially lime. Simple but very thirst quenching and satisfying.
Ameztoi Getariako Tkakolina- Also green fruited, but noticeably fizzier. Mineral, tighter, more complex (but it's txakoli, after all, so not too complex)
Uriondo Bizkaiko Txakolina - This was my clear favorite. It's the least fizzy, but also the most textural and distinctive. Slightly underripe Anjou pear flavor, excellent purity and mouthfeel, and a faint suggestion of white pepper on the finish. Txakoli 'gastronomique,' if you will.

Off to eat some cheesy toast and salad for dinner; hopefully this has been of interest to one or two people....