Monday, August 31, 2009

A Sunday of Julia, French Bistro food, Wine & Friends

Yesterday we went to see Julie & Julia, finally! I've wanting to see this for quite some time now. "My Life in France" is one of the best books I've ever read & I had heard that all the Julia Child scenes were based off that book. It was thoroughly entertaining & I believe I had a smile on my face for the duration of the film. Why don't I have a fabulous Paris flat where I throw fantastic dinner parties?? Oh well...

After the film Kelly & I joined Elizabeth, Steve, Richie, Meagan, Becca, Lee, Lance & Fiona at Cafe 1912 for a little French bistro fare & some ridiculous, ridiculous wines. Each person brought a bottle that they've been wanting to share.

We began with a crisp, nutty, glycerol Etude Pinot Gris 2006 Carneros courtesy of Lance & Fiona.

Next up was the Andrew Rich Roussanne 2006 Columbia Valley, WA from yours truly. I picked up this Rhone varietal yummy at Un Cork It in Chicago. While in Oregon I sampled a few Andrew Rich wines, including a juicy sauv blanc, but not the roussanne. This baby was loaded with passion fruit, & a luscious waxy texture.

Up next was Elizabeth's Caves des Papes Oratorio Gigondas 2000. Oh my goodness...Really. I heart the Rhone Valley. The wine was earthy & spicy with plum/blackberry compote & hints of lavender/rosemary. So delicious.

Elizabeth has my heart for many reasons but most of all because she loves Rhones even more than I do. Her next little gem was Perrin & Fils Reserve 2000 Cotes du Rhone. Again, sorry, no pic. The nose was super stinky! Horse paddock, barnyard...straight up poopy! This might turn some off but thats exactly what I love about a Rhoney with some age on it. The palate was silky & sensual with beautifully integrated tannins that had a nice chewy, chalky nature.

Get a load of the braised shortribs with red wine demi glace & mashed potatoes. Oh, man, so heavenly!

Lance & Fi's second wine was a very interesting little vino. Dominio Dostares 2006 Castillo y Leon. The grape variety, prieto picudo, was something I had never had before. It was so dark & brooding on the nose with a violet laced, spicy & wild fruit expression. De-lish. Kind of reminded me of a mix between cab franc & barbera.

Richie & Meagan's first wine was next. Carrefour Cabernet Franc 2004 Napa Valley. This super expressive baby gives me hope for Napa Valley. I'm kinda over Napa as a whole but this wine makes me reconsider. It had traditional notes of violet, pepper & red fruit with a round, supple body. Sorry, no pic.

My last wine was a little baby that I brought back from Washington State in April. Cavatappi "Maddalena" Nebbiolo 2003 Red Willow Vineyard, Yakima Valley. It had the brickish color that I expected from a Piedmont nebbiolo which really really pleased me. The nose was deep with tar, rosewater & a blueberry note. The palate was full & round with a velvety, sensual texture. Ahh the beauty of Washington. Am I getting a little repetitive by saying that? I can't help myself! I truly believe that Washington is producing the best wines in America! Save for the pinot noir coming from Oregon.

Becca & Lee brought an outstandingly delicious Bordeaux style blend from the Galilee region of Israel, I can't quite remember the wine label. Becca? Help? It was sooo good. For those of you who haven't had a good Israeli wine (or any for that matter) history, climate & topography collide to create a perfect growing site for wine grapes. This wine had a dark purple/red color in the glass with a nose of currant, clove, tobacco & earth. The palate was rich & bold with a supple tannin, layers of black fruit & spice & a leathery quality that was lovely.

Last up was something I was looking so much forward to. Corliss Estates Syrah 2004 Columbia Valley. Corliss is a very new winery that has just sprung up in Washington in the past few years. They source their grapes until their own estate vineyards are ready. When Richie poured the wine it was a black/blue color in the glass. The nose was brimming with blueberry, dried meat, pork fat & star anise. This wine had deep flavors of blueberry, a creamy sumptuous mouthfeel & a finish that lasted & lasted....& lasted.

Thanks for a wonderful Sunday you guys!!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Day 3

Yes I know that it's almost September & I went to Oregon Pinot Camp a few months ago but I just realized that I didn't post about my third day of OPC. All the campers had their choice from about 25 different events to attend on the 3rd day. The problem was that we could only choose 1!! I just went with my first gut instinct....Oysters, Pork & pinot noir. Oh.....yeah. After an incredible, & incredibly exhausting, past few days & nights I got to sleep in a bit. At about 8:30 a.m. I arose in my hotel bed took a nice hot shower & grabbed a cup of coffee at the bakery next door. With a nice caffeine boost I hopped in my rental car & sped off towards Adelsheim Winery in the Chehalem Mountains AVA. I arrived a bit early so I drove around a bit & stumbled on one of my absolute favorite wineries!

I've been a huge fan of Lachini Vineyards ever since my very good friend Elizabeth brought them back from HER OPC trip a few years ago. These wines are elegant, expressive, untamed, silky, luscious & just really really damn delicious. I unfortunately didn't have enough time to stop at their tasting room, bummer. Being the punctual man that I am I arrived at Adelsheim just in time to explore the estate.

Adelsheim is set amidst beautiful rolling hills that are lush with vines & a large hazelnut orchard. I did not know this but Oregon is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the world. This little baby hazelnut was illuminated in such a beautiful light that I was compelled to snap a photo of it.

I hiked my way back down the hill to the winery to indulge in some a bevy of bivalves & some porcine delicacies. Along with a little vino of course! Portland restaurant EAT provided the oysters & a bit of oceanic farming education. I was intrigued to find out that there are only 2 different species of oysters. What gives each type its unique flavor & texture is where it is grown. It's "terroir" so to speak.

They had hot sauce & lemons to put on the oysters but C'MON! These are super fresh, incredibly delicious oysters. Why in the hell would I want to sully them with anything?? They are swimming in their own super flavorful liqueur so why screw with that? All I accompanied my oysters with was a glass of Elk Cove Brut 1999, a creamy but brightly acid driven sparkling wine that was a seriously welcome surprise.

Aside from the bubbly (I just love me some bubbles) the two standout wines for me were the Cooper Mountain Tocai Friulano 2008 & the 2007 Chehalem Winery Gruner Veltliner. I just absolutely love the unique wines that are a little different & super tasty. Oregon Tocai? What? Gruner? Seriously? I was in heaven, literally. The tocai was nutty & aromatic with a hint of ginger & the gruner had spicy white pepper & notes of white peach. D-Licious. After about 7 different types of oysters we adjourned to the sun drenched patio for a lunch of locally sourced pork. The pig farmers were also on hand to discuss why they started farming & what breeds they farm (the pigs are a hybrid of berkshire & another breed that I can't quite remember....too much wine.) During lunch reps from each participating winery (Bergstrom, Cooper Mountain, Chehalem & Adelsheim) poured back vintages, reserve bottles & large formats. It was one of the most exceptional days of my whole life. If that wasn't enough, after lunch Josh Bergstrom gave me a ride through David Adelsheim's vineyards in his Mini Cooper.

David specifically asked Josh not to drive into his hazelnuts but as you can see above he neglected to heed that request.

As you can see the weather was perfect. If you look closely you might be able to see the large crack in his windshield. Obviously he's rough on that poor little Mini.

At one point Josh slowed down, reached out the window & snatched a bunch of baby grapes off the vine. He said that these had grown so quickly that they were twice the the size they were just the day before.

I can't believe I got into that little car & went tearing through some of the best vineyards in the U.S. with Josh Bergstrom.

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Biodynamic Gem Without the High Price Tag

I just tasted through a lineup of wines from Cooper Mountain Vineyards
& Winery. This producer really stood out from the vast array of wines
I tasted out at Pinot Camp. Not only for their quality but for their
prescence. These wines have life & personality unlike many others of
their kind. On top of that they are farmed biodynamically & Barbara
Gross is really cool & fun to talk to. The 2007 20th anniversary
Reserve Pinot Noir $25.99 is made entirely from estate fruit grown in
the Chehalem Mountains. It's laden with mushroom, truffle, cola &
cherry liquer notes. The texture is silky smooth but with a gripping
interest & a luscious texture. This baby is uber-delicious & will
make any pinot lover swoon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Jancis, my dear...

Check out this link to a post by Jancis Robinson. I just adore her. She is funny, witty, incredibly well spoken, intelligent & sharp as a tack. Her palate is second to none & her writing is some of the most entertaining & smart that I've ever seen. Ok, I'll stop gushing now.

For The Love of Mencía

Just tasted the Cuatro Pasos 2007 Bierzo, Spain $16.99. If you haven't
had the mencía grape before, imagine the love child of pinot noir,
grenache & cabernet franc. This yummy little bottle has an earthy,
spicy, dark plum & brambly note on a moderately full body. The tannins
are dark & gripping. They grip softly but grip nonetheless. This is
something different & damn tasty!

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, August 17, 2009

Service? Ummm...Hello? Anyone?

So I was just in Chicago recently & I visited a couple wineshops. It's a disease really. Every time I go anywhere I have to do a little...ok a lot....of vino shopping because I'm curious what's out there that I wouldn't have access to in my shop. Since Kelly was with me I did my best to restrain myself & didn't spend too much time in both stores. My first experience was great. We went to UnCork It downtown near the lake. Its a relatively small store but considering that its downtown (expensive leases!) its pretty good size. They had a nicely eclectic selection & I wasn't there five minutes until I had 3 bottles in my hand. Soon thereafter a nice woman walked up to me & asked if I needed any help. She was very friendly & knowledgeable & led me to a bottle of Andrew Rich Roussanne 2006 Columbia Valley, WA $18.99. She also suggested some winebars we should visit while we were in the 'hood. All in all, a perfect example of Customer Service...good customer service.

The next day we went to Binny's, it is the leading wine/liquor retail company in Chicagoland with locations all over the city & suburbs. As soon as we walked into the South Loop location I knew that this place was something different. It had a deep selection & a clean, sleek, well labeled sales floor. There seemed to be a small handful of salesman milling about the front & one that was helping a well dressed man in the Champagne section. No one said hello or greeted us in anyway or so much as gave us a second glance. Was it that we weren't dressed in a tie & slacks? Did we look like we weren't going to spend some serious $$? Regardless of what it was there is no excuse for not at least saying "Hi! Welcome to (blank)." or "Do you need any help today or have any questions?" Ridiculous! I don't care how much a customer spends. There is no excuse for not greeting them or asking them if they need any assistance. After 15 minutes of being there, & not getting so much as a glance in our direction, I asked a salesman if they had any Txakolina. He took me over to the Spanish section & showed me 3 bottles. He didn't offer any information at all & was about to walk away until I asked him "Well which one do you like the best & why". He said "Uhh I like this one" as he pointed to the most expensive one. I ended up buying it but C'MON! That's all you got! Just point your stubby pale finger at the most expensive bottle? Ridiculous. Its obvious that this guy didn't even know anything about these wines otherwise he would offered a little more information. Or maybe he thought "ehh whats the point of wasting my time with these two? They don't look like they're going to spend any $$." It makes me so freaking mad just thinking about it! The woman at the checkout was the only bright light. She was nice, friendly, smiling & sweet. I want to call Binny's & tell them to put that woman on the floor, I don't care if she knows anything about wine they can teach her. It's painfully obvious that their level of service is SEVERELY lacking. What a shame, all that wine deserves better stewardship.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Always With Me

I've been thinking a lot about my grandmother lately. She passed away near my birthday 12 years ago. A lot of times when I'm cooking a really great dish, tasting a wonderful wine or sampling some outstanding food I'll think about her. I'll think "what would she think of this dish I just cooked? Will she like it? Will she want to add something to tweak it in some way? Will she be proud of what I just made?" I'll wonder if she'll think I made the right choice with the food/wine pairing. I wonder if she would be proud of me & what I've done with my life. Sometimes I'll just wish that she could be there to enjoy it with me. Whatever it may be. I wish that I could go back to Spain, Bolivia & Peru with her to have her show me through her neighborhoods & show me her favorite restaurants. Then I would reciprocate by taking her around Memphis, San Francisco, New York & all my favorite places in various wine countries. But I would settle for just one thing. I wish I could cook just one last meal for her. We would start with a vintage grower Champagne like Benoit Lahaye or Chartogne Taillet. First course would be a simple platter of aged Manchego, Jamon Serrano, Marcona Almonds & manzanilla olives. Next I would prepare her a grapefruit & avocado salad & I'd pair that with Cantina del Taburno Falanghina 2007. Then we would have my seafood stew with fennel, pernod, grouper, cod, scallops & shrimp & crispy garlic croutons. We would drink Domaine des Baumard Savennieres with this course. Then I would serve her lamb shanks braised in red wine, garlic, onions & oregano over truffled parmiggiano mashed potatoes...or maybe risotto. I would pour a 1997 Pertimali Brunello di Montalcino & a 1998 Torre Muga with this dish so I could give her a little bit of Italy & a little bit of Spain. For dessert we would have some of my homemade bacon chocolate truffles with a McCrea Ciel du Cheval Syrah 2002. And then we would have cheese, glorious glorious cheese. Sottobosco al Tartufo, Humboldt Fog, Point Reyes Blue, Fromager d'Affinois, Cabrales, with quince paste & fig bread. With the cheese we would drink Cabernet Franc Icewine from Magnotta & a #10 TBA from Alois Kracher. After all that deliciousness we would polish off the leftover wine & talk until the sun came up. I miss you Ta!

Sunday, August 09, 2009


My friends Lance & Fiona have been collecting Turley Zinfandels for quite sometime. Enough in fact that they amassed quite a village of delicious zinfandel. They were kind enough to invite me over for a comparative tasting of 2004-2006 vintages of Dragon Vineyard, Rattlesnake Ridge & Dusi Vineyard. Needless to say I was on the verge of spontaneously combusting at the mere thought of trying some of these gems. Kelly & I were on our way back from my folks' in Illinois so we hit Memphis just in time for me to rush to Whole Foods to gather provisions for a dish to pair. I also had in my possession a fresh summer truffle that I purchased at Fox & Obel in Chicago. I was racking my brain on what to use it on. With truffles you have to be careful not to use to much or to overwhelm itself. Also, this was a summer truffle so I knew that it would be more delicate & milder in flavor than winter truffles, also $1000/lb less than the winter ones! I decided to go with seared ny strip over arugula with shaved parmiggiano & grated truffle. Mmmm, perfect with the big reds.

We started the evening off with every evening should begin in my opinion! The bubbles of the night were from L.Mawby from the Leenalau Peninsula in Northern Michigan. I know what your thinking..Michigan? What? Bubbly? No! Yes, actually this producer does a very good job with methode champenoise wines. I was very very pleased with the quality & complexity of the wine. Biscuity, yeasty, orange peel, some chalkiness. Yum!

So it begins...we dove right into the much lauded Turleys with gusto. They didn't disappoint. Each vineyard site showed its own personality & characteristics. I was partial to Rattlesnake & Dragon, both were wild & a little foxy with brambly fruit & a jammy juicy quality that wasn't overwhelming.

Lance was very organized & tagged each one with info on a drinking window.

About 3/4 of the way through the Turleys we took a breather & Fiona served up the most sensually spiced curry mussel soup I've ever had! It was smoky, sweetly spicy & just heavenly. Luckily, I had brought along a Ridge Chardonnay 2003 Monte Bello Vineyard that paired seamlessly with it. The poached apple/pear/apricot & pie spice notes matched well with the soup.

At the end of all of this, as if it wasn't enough already, Michael B brought along a 24 year old port to finish us off. See below to see how much crazy sediment was dropping!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Inspired to Pop A Little SB

So I was reading my friend Sam's blog yesterday. I love how she does, for lack of a better term, tells it like it is. Unfiltered & raw. This latest post was about how sauvignon blanc is a bit...maligned shall we say? I've enjoyed many a sauv blanc over the years & think that this grape produces quite lovely wines. I don't really care for the New Zealand versions so much but they have their place. It inspired me to pop open a little SB myself. I have a glass of Leeuwin Estate Siblings Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon 2008 Margaret River, Australia. Right off the bat I get aromas of fresh cut jalapeno & tomato vine with a hint of a citrusy, creamy note. The palate is lithe & clean with bright, but not overwhelming, acidity. The finish is moderate & leaves a pleasant mineral note behind. I wish I had some oysters or fresh clams with this little gem.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Soil Seminar at Penner Ash Cellars

Ok, so be warned this post is kinda geeky. I completely understand that most people just want to sip on wine & don't care to know about where it comes from much less the kind of DIRT it grows in. However, for me, this is just so freaking cool. It would be like.....meeting the star player of your favorite athletic team...I guess.

Anyway, so the final seminar of OPC 2009 was a soil seminar at Penner Ash Cellars. Not only is Penner Ash special because of the incredible pinot noirs that Lynn Penner Ash makes but also because it has two distinctive soil types on the estate. These two soil types, volcanic & sedimentary, are within oh maybe 100 yards of each other on the Penner Ash grounds. That fact alone shows how diverse the Willmette Valley is & how this affects the pinot noir grape.

My group was sent inside first to blind taste through a series of wines that were grown on the two different soil types up above us in the vineyard. I would have PREFERRED to have gone through the soil trenches first to feel the dirt in my hands & smell the soil types before tasting but...oh well.

It was shocking the difference between the two. The sedimentary soil wines were firmer & had a gripping tannin to them. Amazing, a real "lightbulb" moment for me.

After the glasses were drained (I mean C'MON! It was the last day of OPC & the last seminar so I wasn't spitting as much but I still had a clear head) we donned our sunglasses & headed back up to the vineyard. The OPC staff had dug a trench in to the soil in a staircase sort of way so that we could walk down into the ground & run our hands through the soil. The volcanic soil was gritty & rust colored & felt like large pieces of red rock that were hollow. On the other side the sedimentary was striated down in the ground with alternating layers of dark & chalky white soil. About 10 feet down I could see the layers of soil were saturated with moisture, so much so that the water was running out of that layer in rivulets.

At the end of it we climbed out of the dirt made our way to the big tent, popped open a very much needed cold beer & sat down. Lynn Penner Ash, Sam Tannahil (of Francis Tannahil & A to Z) & Leigh Bartholomew (vineyard manager of Archery Summit) fielded a few questions as we drained our cold brews. I kept looking over the treeline telling myself NOT to break out in a sprint no matter how close Shea Vineyard was. But mostly I was just soaking it all in & not wanting OPC to end. I was becoming nostalgic for it as it was happening.

Oregon Pinot Camp day 2

I've been out of town since last Saturday so I'm just now getting back to posting.

On day 2 of Pinot camp we began at Torii Mor Vineyards for a tasting seminar on Vintages. . We tasted through 9 different wines all blind in three different sets. We discussed their textures, weight, acidity, alcohol & fruit. One of the panelists, Louisa Ponzi, explained that she goes to great lengths in the vineyard to ensure that the wine is the best they can produce regardless of the vintage. Now she by no means meant manipulation through chemicals or synthetic fertilizers. One thing I had been pleasantly shocked by was the widespread mindset of sustainability in Oregon. Lynn Penner Ash remarked that OPC used to hold a seminar based entirely on sustainability. They did away with that because that mindset permeates throughout everything almost all the winemakers do. It seemed as though every winery was certified in something & truly believed in it.

Like in any marginal climate, Oregon is very much effected by vintage. Viticulture in marginal climates can have it very rough but can obviously produce beautiful wine.

Next we boarded the red bus & barreled down the two lane road back down the mountain & over to Argyle Winery for a seminar on Cool Whites. Of course Oregon is well known for its sublime pinot noirs but this marginal climate is also perfect for riesling, pinot gris, pinot blanc & to some degree chardonnay. I'm not much of a fan of chardonnay for the most part....unless we are talking about Chablis but CMON that's Chablis! Anyway, they served us a lineup of these dynamic varietals from the top producers in Oregon.

The First Flight: Chardonnays
Domaine Drouhin Arthur 07
Bergstrom Old Stones 07
Stoller JV 08
Bethel Heights 07
Belle Pente 07

Flight 2: Pinot gris
King Estate Signature 07
Anne Amie 08
Willakenzie 07
Adelsheim 07
Benton Lane 07
A to Z 08

Flight 3: Fruit Salad
Elk Cove Estate Riesling 07
Lemelson Riesling 07
Montinore Riesling 07
Maysara Pinot Blanc 08
Penner Ash Riesling 07
Amity Pinot Blanc 07

The standouts for me were:

Domaine Drouhin Arthur 2007 had aromas of apple, pear, chalk & lemon curd. It didn't knock me over the head with oak or butterscotch like some sickly sweet CA chard. The palate had notes of cooked granny smith apple, toffee, lemon curd & a nice weighty texture that wasn't too rich & heavy. Lovely.

Bergstrom Old Stones 07 gave me aromas of sandalwood & spice box with a piquant bittersweet quality on the palate & a luscious medium bodied palate.

Penner Ash Riesling 2007 was filled with bright lime zest, mandarin orange & floral aromas with a racy, zesty palate. Nice long finish too! I wanted to keep sipping on it but with another seminar lined up for the day I thought I better lay off.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

My parents opened up a bottle of Miraflores Syrah 2005 El Dorado, CA for us. It was black as night with aromas of licorice, blueberry, smoke & a hint of soil. The palate was rich but not heavy with nice sweet fruit in the palate & a moderate finish. Thanks Mom & Dad!