Wines and Wineries Archives – Eat Till You Bleed

Damn you Pigeon. I wanted to hate you, but instead I ended up loving you.

– Me, drunk sexting Le Pigeon at 2 am.

After 30 years on the front lines of many restaurant kitchens I can smell bullshit and phoniness in overhyped dining spots 100 miles away. I am an opinionated diner, OK a very opinionated diner. I know exactly what I like and exactly what I hate.  I have a hard time with cutesy food lacking flavor and soul, needlessly decked out with puree swirls and edible flowers. Done right it can be fantastic. Done wrong it is just another horrid food fad I wish would disappear. I saw the same phenomena occur when molecular cuisine arrived on our shores. Soon every chef had a larder full of chemicals and syringes. Incanting Ferran’s magic spells while attempting to transform ordinary food into flights of whimsy. Diners were awash in egg shaped mango spheres and bacon foams. At the same time arose the proliferation of social media. The cyberworld became cluttered with too many yelpers lacking a firm foundation of culinary knowledge and an independent perspective. The adherents of popular restaurants began to sound more like reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Moonies….

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Good full red. Captivating aromas of ripe red cherry, mocha and violet complicated by an herbal nuance. Sweet, dense and juicy in the mouth, displaying bright flavors of dark cherry, flowers and spices. Finishes very smooth, savory and spicy, with outstanding energy and focus and plenty of early appeal. This complex, multilayered wine strikes me as the best I have ever tasted from Feudi del Pisciotto.

93 points Ian D’Agata, Vinous Media

Cerasuolo. If I had to use one word to fully describe Paolo Panerai’s excellent wine ‘Giambattista Valli’ that would be it. Cerasuolo means cherry like. This wine is so chock full with bright cherry, pomegranate and strawberry flavors I had to wonder if my wife didn’t swap the wine with fresh cherry juice to fool me….

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Founded by Russ Raney in 1986, Evesham Wood is based on the idea that small is beautiful. To maintain a high level of quality, we rely on two basic principles: obtaining optimally ripe low-yield fruit from the best possible sites in the Willamette Valley, and using minimal intervention in the winemaking process. That approach is alive and well today, and is evident in every bottle we produce. – Winemaker/Owner Erin Nuccio

The Evesham Wood 2014 ‘Blanc de Puits Sec’ was a wine I had a preconceived notion about. When I looked at the label I fixated on it being a Gewurztraminer rather than the beautiful, dry Pinot Gris it is, or at least mostly is. In addition to the 85% Pinot Gris, there is about 15% Gewürztraminer and a smattering of Kerner, Rieslaner, Traminer and Pinot Blanc blended in. One deep smell of bright jasmine tea, roses and honeysuckle and I knew I was holding a winner….

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One of my favorite regions in America is Northern California. In a lot of ways, the picturesque Anderson Valley of Mendocino County reminds me in spirit of the South of France and Italy, though perhaps in an obscure kind of way. The sun-kissed rocky hills and foggy valley floor are home to thousands of acres of grape vines, small organic farms and herds of goats and sheep. Its bucolic small towns nestled among towering redwoods and craggy coastlines bathed in the golden California sunshine are a photographer’s wet dream. Like Peter Mayle’s biographical series ‘A Year in Provence’, Mendocino boasts a unique rhythm governed by its own cast of colorful characters that people the region. Artists, musicians, farmers, brewers, and vintners shape and enrich the colorful tapestry woven from a strong sustainable, organic and independent fabric….

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I recently returned from the 11th annual Alsace Festival in Northern California and wanted to share my speech about food and wine pairing I gave before a sold out crowd at the technical conference. The following is a slightly revised version.

Good Morning, I’m here to speak about Food and Wine, or more specifically, how food impacts wine and vice versa. Matching food and wine is about marriages and contrasts. We will explore taste to see how food and wine work together from a chef perspective. I am going to begin with a brief history of myself, followed by general food and wine pairing tips, then figuring out what taste is from a chef’s perspective and finally tasting some wines together….

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Apple Creme Brulee Tart

What could be more soothing and comforting than a warm apple tart lovingly baked by your own sweet maman? It is the French equivalent to still warm and gooey chocolate chip cookies served with a cold glass of milk. My maman had a natural talent for making delicious tarts and would bake them often. Everytime I eat one now it brings me back to my childhood. It’s like a warm embrace from my maman on a cold, dreary Portland afternoon. …

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Flutes of Champagne lined up like soldiers waiting to be deployed

Day Four: More Champagne, Can my Liver Survive this Onslaught?

“If you don’t have passion, you won’t make very good Champagne.”

Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy

We arrived back in Epernay with a sense of foreboding a soldier must feel when returning to the scene of a particularly horrendous battle fought only the day before.  I had imagined Epernay’s streets haunted by the ghosts of empty bottles from yesterday’s excesses.  The bright, relentless sunlight bore a hole through my aching brain….

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Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them.

~ Dion Boucicault

Time and tide wait for no man. Another year has shot by and I have grown even grayer.  A good friend has a theory that we are passing through life on a constant paced conveyor belt with events quietly passing us like an endless stream of billboards on a cross country road trip.  As a Chef, I used to measure time by the expiration dates on heavy cream cartons.  Each container was good for a month and it just seemed a relevant measurement of time given my occupation.  As I grew older, my father actually stopped lying about his own age and started lying about mine. Somehow thinking if I was younger he would be younger. Time never slows, it just keeps going on.

February is rapidly approaching and with that comes the annual International Alsace Festival held each year in the scenic Anderson Valley of Northern California.  Winemakers from across the globe gather at the Boonville Fairgrounds to share their mostly white varietals with hard to pronounce names like Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Cremant d’Alsace with wine enthusiasts.  Lisa and I make the trip to participate in the fun and festivities by conducting a food pairing demo then serving 300 guests bite sized portions of whatever I make.  My demo falls during the break between the end of the technical conference and the beginning of the Grand Tasting on Saturday when people’s hunger is peaking….

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Admittedly I am not a huge proponent of California wines.  Both my wife and I worked for wineries in California for several years and have drank our way through many greats.  I enjoy them.  Yes, there are great California wines, but if you asked me what my last drop of fermented grape juice to pass thru my lips would be, I would answer a great Bordeaux or Burgundy.  Please do not say anything about elitism.  It simply is preference.  I just wish those wines would be friendlier on my pocketbook….

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If you have never been to a Terry Theise tasting than you never have experienced a great Champagne tasting.  Terry has been described as several things but I like best what wine importer Michael Skurnik had to say “The Man, the Myth, the Legend! If it is true that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, Terry Theise has been there and back. A brief perusal of his writing makes it quickly apparent that the man has no reservations about conveying his thoughts and feelings on wine, life, sex, philosophy and general cosmology. In Terry’s world, it’s all inter-related. So, without further ado, we encourage you to jump headlong into the wonderful world of Terry Theise German, Austrian and Champagne Estate Selections. Prepare yourself for a psychotropic experience.”

Wow!  I think Terry kind of covers his philosophy on his own.  Needless to say the event is simply amazing.  Lisa, Frederic and myself drove to Los Angeles to attend the tasting at the Roosevelt Hotel.

The Roosevelt is a historical hotel near many Hollywood landmarks.  Here is a history from their website: “Bringing glamour back to the Boulevard, Thompson Hotel’s Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel reincarnation resonates with the opulence of its fabled past. The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel has a long history of catering to the show business elite. The hotel was founded in 1927 by a syndicate of Hollywood luminaries (including Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Sid Grauman, and Louis B. Mayer) to house east coast movie-makers who were working on the west coast. Hollywood Roosevelt hotel’s “Blossom Room” hosted the first-ever Academy Awards ceremony, on May 19, 1929. That was also the shortest Oscar ceremony ever, lasting just five minutes, as Douglas Fairbanks and Al Jolson helped give away 13 statuettes. Marilyn Monroe was a resident at the Hollywood Roosevelt for two years when her modeling career took off. Her first magazine shoot was taken on the diving board on the pool behind the hotel, which was recently removed. The hotel’s remodeled pool contains an underwater mural painted by David Hockney.”

The Roosevelt is slightly faded from it’s former luster years but still worth visiting.  The tasting was in their Public Kitchen and Bar (http://www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/la/hollywood-roosevelt/eat/public-kitchen-and-bar)

The Champagne tasting itself featured 105 great sparklers.  The standouts for me included a simple and inexpensive Greek organic sparkler called Karanika.  Here is what Tom Stevenson had to say about the domaine  “I shall be keeping a very close eye on Laurens Hartman in the future. He has the potential to produce a world class sparkling wine and of all the budding new sparkling wine superstars I am currently following, Hartman is the only one not using classic Champagne grape varieties. Xinomavro’s naturally high acid and intrinsically low colour makes it the obvious choice for anyone trying to craft a sparkling wine that is expressive of its Greek roots, but seldom have I come across any artisanal sparkling wine that is as polished as Hartman’s 2010-based second release of Domaine Karanika Xinomavro Brut. It has a silky-smooth mousse that most champenois would die for. Okay, I could quibble about the wine, and I did face to face with Hartman, but it is already the best sparkling wine produced in Greece. With his 2011 on yeast and 2012 still base wine both show promise, it is only a matter of time and experience before Hartman crafts something truly world class.”  A decent bottle worthy of a spot on our by the glass offerings at Figue.

Frederic was simply gaga over a Portuguese sparkler whose name eludes me.  The jewel of the tasting, however, is the offerings from Vilmart et Cie, an absolutely stunning grower/producer.  Here what Terry had to say In the early days when I first approached Vilmart and started working with Laurent Champs, I had mixed emotions about some of the Champagnes. Please note what “mixed emotions” actually means. It doesn’t mean I doubted the worthiness of the wines or thought they were mediocre. It means I had different opinions about different aspects of the wines. I was thrilled with some, intrigued with all, and wondered whether a couple were too oaky.

Earlier in his career, I think Laurent was flying blind on the matter of oak, and his recent Champagnes have wisely—presented a more integrated and elegant  profile. Yet he is adamantly a vintner first, before he is a maker of Champagne: “We do wine first, then afterward we do Champagne,” he says. Every base wine, without exception, sees at least ten months in casks of  varying size and newness. Once in a while there’s a brief disconnect between fruit and wood immediately after disgorgement, but 2-3 years on the cork make for a dramatic metamorphosis. Matter of fact, I’ve found Vilmart among the most food-friendly of all my Champagnes, because they’re so gracious, so vinous, so lordly in their carriage. It’s clear to me Vilmart is a Champagne estate of unassailable consequence, a must-have for anyone Interested in the possibilities of this most suavely powerful and graceful of all wines. Casks are hardly the point anymore. Organic viticulture, (truly!) low yields, remarkable polish of fruit, and the deliberate patient pursuit of a vision of perfection make Laurent Champs’ estate a gemstone gleaming among the chalk. ”

The tasting is amazing in many respects like you pour your own pours for all the wines except Vilmart.  Last year, Lisa and I resorted to donning costumes and adopting strange accents in our vain attempts to fool the pourer into giving us more.  The 2004 Coeur de Cuvee was absolutely stunning in it’s elegance.  Probably one of the best Champagnes I have had the privilege to drink.  The 2005 was amazing too but lacked the strength of vintage that 2004’s presented.  Other notables from Vilmart et Cie included the NV Grand Cellier brut and the magnum of 2006 Grand Celler d’Or.  I strongly suggest visiting their property in Champagne and drinking their wine whenever the opportunity presents itself.  http://www.champagnevilmart.fr/

The other stars of the show included NV Cuvee Julie from grower/producer Henri Biilliot (beautifully floral fragrances),The rose brut from Chartogne-Taillet; the 2008 Millesime brut from Vallee de la Marne and the 2006 Grand Vintage Blanc de Blanc from Varnier Fanniere.  I want to thank George Pavlov of Wine Wise for the invitation.  It truly is a spectacular event.

We arrived back in Epernay with the same foreboding feeling my friend and Vietnam vet buddy Jim Groeger must have felt when returning to the scene of a horrendous battle a few days later only to retake the same hill again.  I imagined the streets littered with empty bottles from yesterday’s excesses.  Thank god the ghosts of bottles drank were gone and the streets clear. Whew!

Looking at road signs in a wine region is a bit like reading a great wine list. Every direction offers great possibilities.  Which way to turn, towards Bollinger or Rene Geoffrey?  Today we headed to one of the best small producers in the region at the behest of my friend Peter Zitz who works for America’s foremost distributor, Michael Skurnik.

Rene Geoffrey is one of the superstars in this neck of the woods, and one of the few who does no malo fermentation and actually makes rose champagne the way rose champagne ought to be made.  Trivia tidbit, only two percent of rose Champagne is made saignée.  In short, saignée is one of the methods of making rosé wines, along with blending white and red wine.  It is simply macerating (allowing contact with skins to leech out color and flavor) the wine with the skins for a short period of time.  98% of rose Champagne is made by adding red wine.

Jean Baptiste Geoffroy started making Champagne closer to his vineyards with part of the production occurring at his, his father’s and his grandmother’s houses.  Life was chaotic and confusing and spread out.  Luckily he found a building an old cooperative had operated that he modified with an ingenious gravity fed wine making system and moved his production there.  The size of the building allowed grapes to be trucked to a higher street where his two huge wine presses are located.

The grapes are pressed and the juice passes through a series of pipes that go down one level, deeper into the caves.  Using gravity rather than pumps is gentler on the wine and therefore preferred.  Everyday each and every bottle is given either an 1/8 or 1/4 turn.  Every one of his 10,000 bottles he makes each year.  Some of this is mechanically done and some by hand.

After the tour we tasted three different Champagnes and a rustic still wine he makes using solely Pinot Meunier grapes.  We were excited because we had never tried one.  Look at the crazy stairs between levels of his cave.

After the tasting and a prix fixe lunch at a non-descript brasserie we headed back to the Chateau with high hopes of napping.  Eating and drinking takes its toll on your body.  Please, no tears for our excesses.  Upon arrival, Beaumont decided he would torture us by carting him around the property for a survey of the fountains and moat.  That boy is single minded…

The Chateau was originally built in the 12th and 13th century and received many notable members of the French royalty including both Louis the XIII and Louis the XVI (obviously before he and his head became separated during the revolution).  Parts of the castle crumbled with time and some, such as the original bridge, crumbled under the weight of royal carriages.  Parts were added throughout the centuries and parts faded into memories.  Beaumont is related to the Louis line through my father’s side of the family.

Dinner brought us back to the city of Epernay and onto what seems to be the only street we drink and eat on.  We arrived promptly on time for our 7:30 reservation at Caves du Champagne for a bit of local cuisine and more Champagne.  The tiny storefront restaurant was packed and the guests looked decidedly unhappy to see a 15 month old boy enter.  Thank god Beau did not let the crowd down with a rare performance that hurls this tiny gourmand into the annals of terror with his ear splitting screaming and chucking of water glasses.  Times like this make me want to crawl under the table and curl up in fetal position sobbing incoherently.  As a parent you quickly realize who has had children and who hasn’t.  Other parents look at you with sympathy, kindness and understanding.  Non parents shoot visual death daggers at you.  We ate three delicious courses and drank Champagne quicker than you can say “ah”.  Lisa started with a terrine of foie gras with Ratafina Gelee, a local sweet aperitif while I inhaled six oysters gratinee.  I ate them so quickly I didn’t notice they  scorched my throat till later.  For our main courses, Lisa had a wonderful Magret of Duckling with Green Grapes and I sautéed Sweetbreads with Girolle Mushrooms.  Beaumont paused his tantrum long enough to eat most of my sweetbreads.  As a parent, you learn to give whatever petit Satan wants just to quiet him long enough to recoup.  Both courses were very very good and complimented the champagne well.  I must admit the small amount of sweetbreads Beaumont let me eat really brought out the apple flavors of our R. Pouillon Cuvee de Reserve.  Slight reprieve before Beaumont’s act two began.  Somewhere during dessert Lisa fled under the table and tossed Beau at me.  Everything was hunky dory till he grabbed a small water glass and doused me with holy water as if to exorcise the demons from within.  This actually brought the Chef owner out who clearly was not a parent.  With Lisa now trying to speak French and pretend neither Beau nor me was related I fled the dining and escaped to the technological world of our über modern Peugeot.  In retrospect I think the dining room was too small and crowded and offered too much stimulation for Beau.  One day we will return, though I probably will wear a fake set of glasses with a plastic nose…  For those keeping score I believe it is Christians 0, Lions 1…

bon soir and bon nuits and tomorrow brings Burgundy in all her splendor!