Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pizza and Carmignano? No.... Crabcakes and Viognier!

We had planned to finally make it to Il Cane Rosso for their guerrilla restaurant quick-fired Neopolitan Pizza, but Mom called and said she was making crab cakes. 

'Nuff said! 

She does ethereal minimalist cakes! Just beautiful crab meat with just enough mayonnaise to bind. Chill, pack crushed saltines on top of the cake and then into a hot saute pan (crust-side down). While the cakes are browning she packs more crushed saltines on the cakes and after initial browning, she loosens the cakes from the bottom of the pan and lets them finish cooking. Tension is high as she manages to turn them over. I don't understand why in the hell they're not sticking, but the cakes are a little loose and maintenance of shape is somewhat tenuous. Somehow they come out of the pan onto the plates and then it's straight to the table. (I look longingly at the browned stuff in the bottom of the pan and say a prayer for the unborn sauce...) 

Served simply. A little tartar sauce, Meyer Lemon wedges. Crispy potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes and mozzarella.

I took a bottle of Melville Viognier. The wine's rich flavors of honeysuckle, peaches and Meyer lemons set the sweet crab on a pedestal and the long mineral finish let all the flavors fade into a beautiful sunset.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

BT #4: Port-Mortem

I don't think we've had as glorious a day with clear blue skies and warm gentle sunshine since the last gathering back in October. The big windows at Dali Wine Bar let in the sun and gave us a great view of the Dallas Arts District. Thanks to Paul Pinnell and his generous staff for putting up with us for the afternoon. The food was delicious and extremely wine friendly. And, as always, thanks to Scott for putting this event together and coordinating everyone's schedules.

When I arrived the table was jam packed with bottles in brown bags and we jumped right in. Readers of the blog might have noticed a recent tendency to shy away from straight tasting notes, but with a day like today, I will just run through the wines. No back stories today! I made the (seemingly) astute remark that it seems like we never have white wines, but boy was I wrong. The spring like weather brought out some beauties. 

#1   A pale gold with hints of green on the edges exploded from the glass with grapefruit, guava and minerals and shouted "I am Sauvignon and I am New Zealand!" Matt wanted to say with all his heart that it was from somewhere besides Marlborough, but sadly, could offer no alternatives. Spy Valley 2008.

#2   As this pale, copper-tinged salmon wine was first poured, I was writing down Domaine Tempier, but when I felt the tall riesling style bottle, I knew I was sunk. Slightly sweet and redolent of creamy strawberries, floral perfumes and hints of honey, the wine was simultaneously bright, crisp and silky. Guesses start popping: Tavel? Grenache? France? No. Italy? No. Slightly sweet, pink? Bradley isn't bothered. He's just sitting back texting, the rest of us are stumped. The answer? Kessler Spatburgunder Rose 2007. Pink pinot noir rose from the Rheingau? Give me break! Rachelle arrives as we are starting the next wine, takes a sip and says. "Pinot Noir." Just like that.

#3  Yet another pale golden straw colored dry white. Lean, with very reticent aromatics. Slightly salty on the palate, flavors begin to emerge. The wine is getting interesting with very subtle notions of grapefruit emerging both on the nose and palate. Matt makes a bold declaration, "If anyone guesses the variety, I'll buy them lunch here for a year!" The guessing game starts again. France? No. Italy? Much discussion here, but finally, no. Portugal? No, but you're getting there. Finally the salt triggers my brain, "Tchakialokolioli, or whatever!" Close enough. I got the appellation (sorta) but not the variety. Hondaribbi Zurri (Chris forgive me, how could I forget?)  Txakolina is the correct spelling. Itzas Mendi 2007 is the wine.

#4   Pale, golden (what was that I said about no white wines?) but exotic aromatics. The perfume is so intense and so familiar. It's pure honey! Perfumed floral aromatics infuse the honey and the palate shows hints of residual sugar and anise. Italian? Yes! Piedmont? Yes! But not moscato (maybe) or arneis (not so much). Cortese! But this is not the dry, minerally wine of Gavi, it is a light and delicate wine. L'Aurora Cortese 2007,  from Icardi.

#5   The table arrives at immediate consensus on this wine. 2000-01 Left Bank Bordeaux, Saint-Julien or Margaux, a low classified growth. Definite. Final Answer. No discussion necessary. Then the question is asked, "Laura, what do you think?" "I think it's delicious! With long lingering notes of black cherries..." Oops! The wine is revealed. Chianti Classico Nippozano, 2004 Riserva!  Arms jerk to raise glasses in a rush of rapid, rampant revisionism. Damn, scratch that Sangiovese blog I've been meaning to write.....

#6  Deep, dark and redolent with vanilla and smoky blueberry pie, Brad and John both jump on this right out of the bag! Archaval Ferrer? Yes!  "Finca Altamira?" asks Masseto Man. Yes, but this time it's the 2007. The 2006 was one of the crowd's favorite at BT 3. And so this wine becomes one of our first to taste in two vintages!

#7   The light ruby colored wine shows notes of cherries, raisins and prunes with hints of leather. The flavors aren't quite in sync with the color and a guessing game ensues as we chase the wine from Burgundy to the Rhone Valley and Spain, then finally to Italy. But not to the Veneto! Oops again. 2003 Tommasi Amarone.

#8   Everyone breathes a sigh of relief as we have a wine that offers familiar footing. Blackberries and cassis drive this wine with authority. It is Napa Cab 06. We try to get it closer. The intense dark fruit speaks of mountains, the midpalate speaks of Oakville. Were we right? I don't know. The wine is Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2006.

#9   The color moves from brick to pale ruby, aromatics move from tar and creosote to cherries and delicate notes of anise. First ideas start in Burgundy, but as the wine opens in the glass, thoughts go South to the Rhone. I was surprised that it was not an older Chateauneuf du Pape. I was even more surprised to find it was a Cotes du Rhone, it was way too sophisticated and complex. The wine was an intricate jewel box of nuance and delicacy. Oh, but of course, it's Chateau Rayas Fonsalette, Cotes du Rhone 2004.  Old school and spectacular in a very un-modern way.

#10  More big red wine. The onslaught is underway, batten down the hatches, we're back on the highway. Cabernet? Yes! Italy? Yes! Super-Tuscan? Yes! Sangiovese? Yes! One more grape gives us a pause. Finally, petite verdot. But which wine?  Who knows. The answer: Brancaia, Ilatraia 2005.

#11   Wow, the nose is arresting. TCA? Definitely NOT! Brett? Maybe. Menthol? Definitely, Espresso? Definitely. Bordeaux? Yes. Big, gritty tannins. 2005? Yes. Left Bank?  Yes again. Chateau Rauzan-Segla, Margaux, 2005. This wine has a long, long life ahead of it! Mr. Parker suggests that you start drinking it in 2017!

#12   The brick rimmed dark garnet wine offers notes of roses and tar and Brad quickly calls Barolo. The tannins are tight and gripping and the wine is reluctantly giving up intense notions of soy, black cherries and hoisin and more tannins. The youth seals the vintage. Brad calls it one more time. He's obviously feeling it today, the move from amateur to the pro ranks has certainly made a difference! The wine was the 2004 Barolo Brunate from Macarini. Another old school wine that could have lasted for a long, long time, but instead we enjoyed it today.

#13   Wow! Nothing reticent here! Explosive wild cherries, plums and a melange of red fruits jump from the glass amid heady the heady perfume of rich, super-ripe Pinot Noir. Exotics acids, minerals and sweet integrated tannins keep the long finish lingering on the palate. Hirsch Vineyards, 2006 Estate Pinot Noir. A rare treasure from this tiny Sonoma Coast grower.

#14   Ok, get down, bring on the FUNK! This is some dense stuff here!!  There's a touch of amber on the rim to suggest a little bit of bottle age. Some of the funk blows off the glass and layers of soy, spice, black tea grudgingly reveal glimpes of dark cranberries and black cherries at the heart of the tannic core. Older Brunello? Maybe Riserva? Close. La Poderina 2001 Brunello di Montalcino.

#15   Ashland Park, California Red, 2005. I missed the backstory on this low-priced jewel, but I gather it's mainly Sonoma County Cab and Merlot and apparently it is going fast at Binny's in Chicago. I've never seen the label in this market. Some internet sites suggest it has a history as a controlled/private label. This release would fly out of the store at the price John's been paying!

#16  Coho 2007 Napa Red. This meritage blend is big and rich, with with massive servings of rich blackberry cobbler and smoky vanilla aromatics.

Is that all? I don't think I missed a wine this time. As always, a good time was had by all. The evening crowd was beginning to filter in and um, I think we were starting to get a little rowdy. I wonder why?

Time to head to the Ginger Man, where no notes were taken.

OK Masseto Man, I did miss a wine. But I did get to taste it, unlike the wine I missed totally at the last event. And while we have had many bottles of Bordeaux and Pinot Noir and now 6 (count 'em, SIX) Italian wines, Syrah is woefully under represented.

#17   Especially when the wine is like the Rockblock Reserve Syrah 2006. Made by famed Oregon pinot producer Domaine Serene from Walla Walla fruit, this wine had rich full body with deep red and black fruit and just a hint of the dark side. So smooth, so easy to drink yet so complex. Everybody loves Syrah's when they taste 'em, but nobody wants to buy 'em! What a shame.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Delicious Left-Over Riesling

Saturday was BeerFest at the store. A massive tasting with 30 different Craft and Belgian beers featuring a number of new releases and seasonal offerings. It's always well-attended and we sell a lot of really good beer. It's a fun day, but it's a lot of work.

So I went home suffused with notions of hops and malt. Susan had been to the store and bought some pork chops for me (the cook) to fix for dinner along with some apples, potatoes and some brussels sprouts. I'm thinking about how to work some beer into the meal. I was wishing I had some of the new Samuel Adams Noble Pils when I saw the bottle of riesling. More to the point, two-thirds of a bottle of riesling, left from a tasting at the office two or three weeks ago. It's just been sitting in the fridge with just a cork, no vacuvin, no wine-saver, nothing. A long time for a half-empty bottle of wine.

Which was a shame, it was a fabulous wine, a 2007 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling from our new supplier 90+ Cellars. (They buy lots of wine that have been rated 90 points and release them under the 90+ label at very competitive prices.) But surely it would taste great in the bottom of a skillet with browned chops and apples, so I grabbed the bottle, pulled the cork, and took a swig right out of the bottle.

Wow! Fabulous! The wine had changed, but the degree of oxidation had just accelerated the aging curve of the wine. Where it had been sleek and crisp, all apples and green pears, it now showed notes of apricot, brown sugar and baked apple pies.

"Susan! Bring wineglasses, NOW!!!"

Well, some of the wine did end up in the pan and the chops and apples in their riesling/butter pan sauce was quite delicious indeed. And I shouldn't have been surprised at how good the wine tasted. Sugar and acid are both preservatives and really good Spatlese's have plenty of both.

I never did get around to drinking that beer!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Whither Tasting Notes, for Kim

Kim Pierce, a frequent contributor to (and mainstay of) the Dallas News' food and wine coverage called the other day to ask about tasting notes. More specifically to ask about taking tasting notes on wines and keeping track of them. And even more to the point, there are apps for smart phones. Does anybody use them?

I had seen her fishing for information on the subject on Facebook, but had not responded. My answer was somewhat embarrassing. No, most of the time I don't take notes. And at our regular staff tastings, I don't see many of my colleagues taking notes either. Why is it that? (One might ask.)

My first response is my standard line, that if wine guys were diligent organized individuals we would have big jobs making big money. But I think the truth is that one of reasons we are wine guys is our ability to analyze and  remember flavors. Most of our staff tastings are visiting new releases of familiar producers, so there is a context for storing the information. The information has to be in our heads in a fluid system of logic so we can recall the information when talking with customers. NO NOTES ON THE SELLING FLOOR!!!

Where I do see notes being taken and coming back into the store is when guys go to big portfolio tastings where there are wines and producers which are either new or significant. So notes are taken. Are they stored? Well, they're usually on a desk or in a pocket.

Readers might be relieved to know that I have been a little more diligent about note-taking since I started writing this blog. But as far as storage, it's nice that I have the blog! When I started in the industry, my mother (a bookbinder) made a beautiful book for me to take notes. I took copious notes on a trip to France. Some are legible. At Mas Carlot in the Costieres de Nimes, a dog knocked over my wine glass with his tail and spilled wine on my book. From then on I recorded the color of every wine by controlled spillage. Sort of a Jackson Pollock approach to note taking. (Can't do that with an app!)

Alas, diligence flagged on the return home. Every now and then I drag it out and think I will make more notes. Yeah, it's a sad and sporadic journal.

I did tell Kim about a customer who takes pictures on his phone of every bottle of wine he drinks. When he comes into the store he shows me the ones he liked. He's an older gentleman, a friend of my father's. She was going to give him a call.