One of the most inspirational people in the culinary Illuminati of Memphis is closing up shop. My friend Alyce Mantia is shuttering her eponymous gourmet deli & restaurant, Mantia's. Its almost TOO sad to report. Over the 8 years I've been in Memphis, Mantia's was the place that would inspire me to prepare some of the finest meals I've ever experienced. She became my friend, sometime employer, & over all culinary guru. Every time I would even think about heading over to Mantia's I would become giddy with excitement. What better way to pass the time than to purchase exotic cheeses, oils & spice blends? This shop wasn't just a retail store it was a destination. I could always count on Alyce & Joanna to be there with smiling faces & a recipe idea or story. There is nowhere in town to buy Jamon Serrano, which I think is VASTLY superior to Prosciutto di Parma. Nowhere. She kept a leg of this jamon to slice just like it should be done in Spain. I'm going to miss this place. I'm going to miss seeing the duck fat in the freezer next to the Buerre d'Isigny. I'm going to miss my favorite tuna salad in town. I'm going to miss the giant wheels of Humboldt Fog. I'm going to miss the way Alyce would pronounce French perfectly. Her Cassoulet was the most amazing dish I have ever tasted. Whatever Alyce does next I'm sure will be excellent. I love you Alyce!!
Christmas has come early. This past Monday we tasted through a slew of reduced priced wines at one of our wholesalers. There were a couple dogs yes, but what I found were some truly exceptional gems. Sadly, not every wine is appreciated when it is brought to market. Some of them are misunderstood, unappreciated or disregarded for reason or another. Many wines just aren't ready to be drunk upon release. Not every buyer in town understands these things. Fortunately, we get to reap the benefit of these poor bypassed wonders (such as the Papapietro Perry Pinot Noir from the previous post!). One such standout was the Gregory Graham Syrah 2000 Napa Valley. 2000 was not necessarily considered the best vintage in Napa, but if there is one thing I've learned its to not always listen to the critics. This dark, blue velvet toned wine was rich & unctuous but a little closed off at first taste. I went back to it after tasting through another 20-some wines & this second time it seemed almost awkwardly pungent. But I just knew something was there, I could feel that it was going to blossom.....& did it ever. After work the next day I poured myself a glass from the open bottle & took a big whiff. The nose had developed into a thick perfume of smoke, bacon fat, drying blueberry, beef jerky, fennel & clove. The palate was fleshy, rich & dark with a round unctuous texture that still displayed some bright acid. Bright enough for the rich dish it would need such as lamb with black olives, peking duck or braised pork tagine. There are next to no bottles left so the minuscule amount that we get in at Joe's will surely go quickly. I know I'm going to grab a couple for my cellar!
Well its not as if this is a news flash or anything, but smaller producers just seem to make wine that is so much more expressive, beautiful & emotional than the big guys. Today I had a 375 ml bottle of Papapietro Perry Elsbree Vineyard Pinot Noir 2005 Russian River Valley. Not only was it a rich, luscious, velvety, silky, expressive pinot but it also had presence. That certain something that instantly registered as...well, special! The range of food pairings immediately ran through my mind. Duck with cherries, jamon serrano with manchego & olives, lamb shoulder in a red wine glaze, figs & goat cheese. Mmmmmmmm.
We were lucky enough to score some Novy Family Winery Blanc de Noir 2007 Willamette Valley $26.99. It may sound like it but it is NOT a sparkling wine. I know, I know wines designated a Blanc de Noir are typically sparkling but this (as my post title states) is something.....different. 2007 wasn't necessarily the best vintage for Oregon. Therefore, Siduri/Novy wanted to make the proverbial lemonade from lemons. Winemaker Ryan Zepaltas crushed their pinot noir grapes & immediately ran them off their skins so as not to pick up any color. Hence the Blanc (white) de Noir (from black grapes). The wine does have a slight flesh tone to its hue, but this beauty is all about the aroma & texture. The nose gives off aromas of star fruit, passion fruit, clove, white raspberry & a hint of soil. On the palate is a ripe viscous texture that is not overwhelmingly heavy (think of a balanced viognier or grenache blanc something Northern Rhone) or weighted. Its balanced with a bright acidity & a somewhat lanolin-esque finish. My immediate thoughts when tasting this was that it would be perfect paired with all the upcoming holiday dishes. Turkey, dressing, ham, even lamb! Find this at Joe's, I'm not sure if anyone else got any. Yours truly had them send a sample bottle in since this market wasn't slated to receive any of this wine.
My friend The Chubby Vegetarian has prepared countless delectable, meat-free meals in his kitchen. One of the many things I love about him is his love of butter. Sorry vegans but you are only depriving yourself of soul-enriching goodness by avoiding butter so just get over it. His tomato-leek confit is simply sublime. He has made his own vegetarian sausage, roasted hen of the woods (tasted like a fresh seared halibut...so GOOD!) stuffed morel mushrooms. I could go on but I'm suddenly STARVING. He has inspired me to explore more vegetarian focused cookery. Yesterday I prepared a baked pasta to serve for lunch or dinner, busy week. I mixed organic whole wheat shells with sauteed onions, garlic, wild mushrooms, Field Roast's Italian Sausage, Oregon brandy, cream & some cheddar. There's some veggie love for ya!
Given that Obama won the election, I think its time to celebrate early rather than wait for New Year's. When it comes to celebrations I reach for Champagne. I know, its kind of cliche but I use any excuse to pop the bubbly. My current favorite is Chartogne-Taillet NV Brut, $53.99 at Joe's. This is a family owned Champagne house, a real farmer fizz. I can truly taste the love & affection that goes into this bottle. Unlike the industrial river of never ending, one-dimensional bubbly (Clicquot anyone?), ChartogneTaillet is complex & expressive. On the nose are aromas of toast, orange marmalade, mushroom & preserved lemon. The palate is creamy, bright & citrusy, with hints of earthiness, a luscious texture & a long, lingering finish. Maybe President Obama will pop a bottle on his first day in the White House!
No secret. I love Italian wine. Love it. Love it. Delicious juice. This little beauty is an amazing score. Villa La Selva Felciaia 1998. With 10 years in the bottle this wine is fleshed out with a luscious texture, aromas of fennel blossom, dried cranberry, earth & a bit of barnyard. On the palate are tannins that are still very pronounced with a rich texture, dried cranberries, dried raspberries & a lengthy finish. I'm drinking it by itself but I think it would blossom with a braised beef dish, grilled lamb or even a plate of salami & olives. Sorry about the picture, it just wasn't turning out the way I wanted it to look. Find it at Joe's.