Last Thursday, my very good friend Paula was in town so we decided to convene at Restaurant Iris for dinner. For those of you who haven't dined there yet, you are either living under a rock or you can't get a reservation. Trust me, make a reservation. I started with a French 75 cocktail, they do it seasonally so for the time being it is Hendrick's gin, simple syrup, lemon juice & sparkling wine. Quite possibly the best aperitif I have had. It's refreshing, delicious & gets your mouth ready to eat. Aside from the food, decor, service & overall atmosphere of the restaurant, I really love that they offer a wine list that is left of the norm. Anyone can slap a wine list together, but they take pride in offering wines that not only complement the food but are also interesting, unique & good values. We ordered a bottle of the Lachini Vineyards Pinot Noir Family Estate 2006 Willamette Valley, OR. What first struck me was how much of a departure the '06 was from the '05. Where the '05 was masculine & up front, the '06 was elegant, restrained but not subdued. This pinot was a gorgeous translucent ruby color (exactly how a pinot should look!), with aromas of forest floor, red cherry, tea, cola & black raspberry. It was very silky on the palate, so caressing & elegant but still giving great mouthwatering acidity. Go order this next time you dine there or pick up a bottle at Joe's Wines.
Kelly & I went to see Vicky Christina Barcelona late Saturday afternoon with Justin & Amy. It was absolutely FANTASTIC. I would see it again which is strange considering that I don't particularly like Woody Allen's films. But the best part of the evening was dinner at Justin & Amy's. We started with some olives & Manchego that I paired with a CantinadelTaburnoFalanghina 2006 Campania, Italy ($18.99 at Joe's). The briny quality on the finish of the wine paired perfectly with the olives & the wine's fruit matched up well with the salty sweet nature of the cheese. At that point, Amy pulled out a surprise...Marimar Torres Chardonnay 1999 Russian River Valley, CA ($?). Wow! It was rich & unctuous with a slice of bittersweet fruit & almond on the finish. This wine had balls! The aroma leaned toward dried apricot & pineapple with a sprinkling of clove & some luscious vanilla. Yes it was cellared well, otherwise it wouldn't have lasted but more importantly it started its life as a truly exceptional wine. If you don't begin with great wine, you can't age it into being great.
I just finished reading "Adventures on the Wine Route" by Kermit Lynch. This man alone is responsible for introducing true expressions of French wine to the U.S. market. Luckily we are able to find some of his wines here in Memphis (check out Clos la Coutale Vin de Cahors of Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape). I will admit that this book is more for a wine lover. However, anyone who is remotely interested in wine & loves a good read that is informative & entertaining should pick this up. His prose is so laden with romance that I easily could mentally teleport myself to the regions he discussed. Ugggh I long for the Rhone Valley! It also made me even LESS of a fan of Bordeaux. Lynch really sums up why I loathe that region. They are money hungry, concerned more with pomp & circumstance & all about the facade. I want honesty of expression in my wines & he does a marvelous job of hammering home why that is so important. Maybe one day I'll be able to see that firsthand in the vineyards of Cahors or Cote-Rotie.
So one of my all time favorite wines has to be the Stadt Krems Sandgrube Gruner Veltliner 2006 Kremstal, Austria. Tragically, the Sandgrube Vineyard was annihilated by a hail storm late last year. Oh the horror! All those beautiful old vines destroyed! Well, there is nothing to be done now but move on. I grabbed a bottle of Stadt Krems Kremstal Gruner Veltliner 2007 ($18.99 at Joe's) to see if it could carry the torch of the Sandgrube. At first taste, it seemed a little limp, tasty but limp. So I had a glass or so & moved on. The next day I went back to it again & found something totally different. This wine had fleshed out & gained the body it lacked the day before & the balls it didn't have. It was not the flaccid wine from the day before, it was firm, full of life & ready to please! The acid was a clear beam throughout, the citrus, peach & white pepper spiced up the palate. Again, it was a revelation to see that whites can take a day to develop much like reds. I should re-think the way I look at white wine & a little thing called time.
When it comes to red wine I always think about if it needs to breathe & for how long. But when it comes to white wine that's not always the case. I tend not to think about how much or even if it needs to breathe. Why not? I don't know really. I've had 2 recent experiences that have made me re-evaluate the way I look at white wine. A few weeks ago, Justin & Amy brought a 2000 Chappellet Chardonnay from Napa Valley that they scored from the 'rents cellar. Thank god for relatives with collections that have given up drinking!!! To be quite honest, I was skeptical that this bottle was even still alive. An 8 year old California chard?? What??? But I'm always up for a new experience. The wine poured golden in color & had a very reserved almost hushed aroma. It was as if the wine was whispering. The palate was reserved as well, but there was something there...it was just hiding. Then something amazing happened. It blossomed into something I've never experienced before. Only after the wine sat in my glass for awhile & came to room temp did it flesh out into a robust, nutty, round & succulent wine with dried citrus, dried apricot & hints of mango with a superlong finish. I never, ever thought of Napa Valley chardonnay (or any new world chard for that matter) as being something to age. This was something new & exciting. It was a revelation. I know, I know. Chardonnay, a revelation? Well yes. But its because it began with the stuffing & quality to age & then was loved & cared for in a perfect cellar. Wow. Thanks Justin & Amy!
I just read an article in the New York Times magazine about a bakery/restaurant in Big Sur. After you read it you'll see that I'm missing the point by not touching on the focus of the article, but I wasn't struck by that. What struck me was the groundswell that was occurring around a bakery that essentially was serving croissants, jelly doughnuts & pizzas. Now granted they are making exceptional versions of these classics, but it got me thinking. That is the type of food that seems to strike me the most....well except for that incredible meal at Cyrus on my 30th & our recent best lunch ever at Jean-Georges (foie gras brulee WHAT THE F***!) What I love to eat the most are simple dishes that are made with excellent ingredients & prepared with love. Pizza at Justin's or Jeff & Kristy's or Kristi & Warner's. A beautiful ribeye steak with sea salt & pepper drizzled with olive oil & grilled to medium-rare. Pasta with sauteed tomatoes, garlic, onions & parmiggiano. For breakfast Kelly & I had simple slices of bread toasted in butter out of a skillet. Granted, it was Sheri McKelvie's cranberry walnut bread (the best EVER go get some at the Memphis Farmer's Market next Saturday) & organic butter but it was simple nonetheless. I guess I'm getting all "Alice Waters" up in here, but its true what she says. If you start with the best organic & preferably local ingredients & prepare them simply it will be an incredibly delicious meal.
I don't have a large cellar by any stretch of the imagination, more like a small gathering. I do, however, have some gems that I'm curious to pop open. I'm thinking these little babies might be ready to go:
Tenuta Frigiali 1997 Brunello di Montalcino
Paterno II Toscano Rosso 1997
Cayuse Syrah Cailloux Vineyard 2001 Walla Walla, WA
Tinto Pesquera 1995 Ribera del Duero
Pierre Andre Gevrey Chambertin 1998
Clos Erasmus 1997 Priorat
I need a good meal & good friends to pop these beautiful little children open.
Okay, yes, I'll admit it. When I heard that River Oaks was offering their wine list at 50% off on Monday I got excited. They have a pretty good wine list so I took this opportunity to try out some outstanding wines for a reasonable prices. I say REASONABLE because most restaurant wine list markup in this genre of restaurant are just offensive. Restaurants that don't markup in an unreasonable way: Napa Cafe, Majestic Grille, Restaurant Iris, Cafe 1912, Tsunami, thank you for that guys! But, I also know that restaurants do pay a ridiculous liquor/wine tax (24.25%) to the state. So anyway, yesterday we went out to River Oaks for a little vino & a snack. We started with a Rochioli Pinot Noir 2005 Russian River Valley. It had a beautiful translucent ruby color with aromas of black cherry, tea & hints of earth. The palate was delicate, medium bodied with ripe red cherry & bright acid. Our next bottle was the Carpineto 2001 Brunello di Montalcino. This is why I love Italian wines with a little age. The wine poured dark purple with a black core, aromas of barnyard, funk, forest floor, mushroom & black fruits. The palate was rich, dense, velvety & gave a long, long finish.
Two things are inexcusable when it comes to wine service at this level, or rather the level that River Oaks is portraying themselves to be at. One is improper temperature of the bottles. Both reds were served way too warm & required chillers, which I asked for. If they are going to serve warm red wine they should purchase more chillers or ask the table if they would like their red wine chilled down for them. I shouldn't have to ask, they should know better. Second, is a dirty wine glass. All three of our glasses that we were given with the first bottle were dirty. Not just "the dishwasher left some residue" dirty, I mean, greasy thumbprints & lipstick dirty. Again, a restaurant that wants us to see them of a certain caliber shouldn't allow this to happen. Eww.
Okay, I admit it. I'm a little mad about rose. With the disgusting, appalling, oppressive & downright hellish heat & humidity of Memphis, how can I not be? Last night I popped a bottle of In Fine Rose 2007 ($12.99 at Joe's) from the Cotes du Ventoux. It is a lovely little quaffer with nice pink hue, aromas of fresh berries with a little spice & a refreshing, fruity & dry palate. This isn't meant to be contemplated, its meant to be drank. Sometimes I don't want complexity, I just want refreshment & this wine offers it in spades. Drink up!