Friday, August 31, 2012

BT #9. Number 9. Really?

Blind Tasting # 9. Core group at Cafe Urbano, 5 guys, 11 wines (most tasted double blind) at Mitch Kaufman's fabulous ode to BYOB tucked in behind Jimmy's Italian Deli in deepest Old East Dallas. Find it if you're able.

We paid homage to Jimmy's great selection of Italian wines with a bottle of Prosecco. Nino Franco Rustico. Crisp flavors, bone dry, this is prosecco to get excited about rather than the readily available slightly sweet, frothy concoctions that dominate the market place. (Major cloying brands, you know who you are!)

With appetizers of caprese 'smores and bacon wrapped figs, we moved onto the first wine of the evening. The color was deep gold. (Funny how details like color in the glass are admired with the first wines of the evening...) The rich wine was showing smoky oak, butterscotch, caramel, and rich tropical fruits. Grilled pineapple and cajeta added complexity.

"Must be chardonnay, but, but old!" The group was definite as to varietal, but split as to origin.

"Not quite enough acid, must be domestic!"

The consensus was in, but no, it was not chardonnay. It was a white Bordeaux. 2003 Ch. Monbousquet Blanc. WOW! Most of us were not aware the Monbousquet even made white wine. The extreme heat of the 2003 vintage accounted for the pronounced tropical fruits and lower acid levels.

Scott also brought the second wine, and it was another white, even older, even a darker burnished gold than the first. "Darker than a pilsener!" Bradley exclaimed! However it was fresher, less sunken, with less buttercotch than the first, with a definite waxy feel. Must be Graves, with a lot of Semillon, suggested Sepi. John came in late, took one smell, one taste and declared, "Nice Chard!" The wine reacted quite differently to the food on the table.It head-butted the risotto balls with their slightly spicy sauce but was an extension of the bacon wrapped figs. "You know, Sigel's used to carry wines from Kalin who aged white wines forever before releasing them," Dave remembered. And that was it. 1997 Sauvignon Blanc Reserve from Kalin Cellars. I just checked. The 1997 is the CURRENT RELEASE.

Both wines were out-there selections. Much discussion of the slippery slope of aged wines ensued. Both wines showed significant levels of oxidation especially when compared to the current standards of fresh, crisp wines produced by cold fermentation and limited exposure to oxygen. Kalin's website has an interesting discussion of umami and wine. Oh to be a student of aesthetics!

Brad brought out the first Red of the evening. "Wow, that's Kosta Brown!" Sepi exclaimed, before everyone had even poured a glass. And correct he was.2006 Kosta Brown Russian River Pinot Noir. Everyone agreed. That was the fastest ID the group has seen. Faster even than John's Massetto call back in BT #3. Sepi's point was taken. The Kosta Brown does not jump out of the glass like most Pinot Noirs. It just sinks. But sinks with lightness, not heaviness.

Brad also brought the second red. Obviously Pinot Noir, but totally different from the Kosta Brown. Intense red mystery fruit, driven by acids, the wine was elusive and powerful. To get that much power and liveliness it had to come from the Santa Rita Hills. Scott nailed it. Sea Smoke 2005 Botella. The mystery fruit was rhubarb.

At this point in the evening we were somewhat in awe of the power of the wines we had experienced as we realized we were under wine's "Cone of Magic" that descends over a group of good friends enjoying good food and good wine.We all could pinpoint times when the magic of wine made its impact on our lives.

John brought wine number 5. Ripe cherries and neutral tobacco were the initial notes, followed by darker fruit flavors and an earthy note of gorund expresso. Raspberries morphing into blackberries. Shiraz? No, the black pepper signature was missing entirely. The wine was in a lush, new world style, but the acids and red fruits were not Californian. "Chile?" ventured Dave. "Yes." "Carmenere?" "A high percentage." "Clos Apalta?" "Yes, 2005. The Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year." Awesome. New World extraction in an Old World framework.

Sepi brought out wine #6. Earthy mushrooms with a beautiful perfumed violet aromas and delicate kisses of cassis poking though the edges, this red could only come from Bordeaux. "I didn't want to bring this because I new Dave would just nail it," said Sepi. Pichon Lalande? Almost. Pichon Baron. 1995.

By now I had a filet on a bed of mushroom risotto. Life was looking pretty good!

And Sepi brought out #7. Brad was ecstatic. "Rounded out like a natural breast that fills the hand. No silicone. I could drink this every day." Silky floral perfumes, sweet caramelized oak. Ripe, balanced fruit. Napa Cabernet, no question. 2001, a great vintage coming together perfectly. Spottswoode.

And that's the end of my notes. I won't mention the under-performing 2008 Flor de Pingus. It didn't seem to be corked, but the color was bricked and flavors were underwhelming. Most of us had had the wine before and this bottle was definitely way off its peak.

Dessert followed, along with more wines tasted non-blind. The half bottle of Krug was brilliant, with its rich honeyed notes of toast points and baked apples as was the half bottle of 2007 Petite Giraud Sauternes. No one drank it because none of us drink sweet wine. Or white wine for that matter. Right.

Thanks again to Mitch Kaufman and his wonderful staff at Cafe Urbano for a relaxed evening. It is a real treat to be able to be so relaxed, eat such great food and drink our own wine.

While we leaving, Mitch was talking about terroir of beef. He did a dinner last week with Uruguayan beef producers. "Local is relative," he said. He'd love to do a dinner showcasing beef from different sources.

As we were getting into the car, he was pushing a garbage cart across the street. "Local is seeing the restaurant owner taking out the garbage," I said.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thanks Julia. Sunday Dinner with Mom

Three weeks ago my mother learned that her lung cancer has returned and that the new tumors are inoperable and in her weakened condition, untreatable. Sixty plus years of determined tobacco use are taking their toll. Two weeks ago, she enrolled in hospice and the direction of her thinking is starting to change. Susan and I went by to fix dinner Sunday night.

Comfort food in our family has always revolved around rice. When my or my sisters were sick as children, Mom would fix us a perfectly broiled ground beef patty with just enough jus to color the bottom grains of the buttered rice. Grandine might bring an covered enamel ware pot with her legendary chicken and dumplings. (It was Atlanta, after all.)

When our children were sick, Susan and I fed them tender chicken breasts and, you got it, buttered rice. Every so often when we celebrated I would fix butter poached chicken breasts with aromatic vegetables and what the recipe called Risotto, but it was closer to a Pilaf. But it was good, so that is what we took to fix for my Mother.

When we arrived, the question was whether she would leave the tranquil, leafy quiet of her bedroom and come into the dining room, but after the aromas started filling the apartment, the question was answered.

She and Susan were sitting at the table and Dad and I were bringing out the plates when I asked who wanted wine. Then it came to me. I brought out glasses for all and served everyone a glass. "I'm sorry," I said in my best Claude Rains, "But I'm afraid I must insist!"

And I proposed a toast to Julia Child in honor of her 100th birthday.

Because someone gave Susan a copy of Julia Child's The French Chef Cookbook when we got married. This was the first recipe I tried back in the summer of 1976 and have used it countless times since. Supremes de Volaille a l'Ecossaise with Risotto and Buttered Summer Vegetables.

"Serve the supremes with a chilled White Burgundy," Julia directed and I did.

The 2009 Bourgogne Blanc made by the young Christophe Cordier.

Everything was delicious.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tasting on a Sunday

Every year the Texas Package Store Association holds its annual convention and on Sunday, they have a tasting. Wines, liquors, beer, mixers, software systems; anything that has anything to do with a liquor store is there. This year it was held at the Sheraton in downtown Dallas. I always go with the intention of tasting a few products, but mainly seeing people I know that I don't see everyday. I always seem to taste a few more items than I planned. Here's the list from this year in the rough order of tasting.

Prichard's Double Barreled Bourbon
Prichard's Crystal Rum
Prichard's Private Stock Rum
An organic reposado Mezcal that was quite delicious and reasonably priced.
Armand d'Brignac 'Ace of Spades' Champagne
Brennan Texas Viognier
Lone Oak Texas Syrah
MacPherson Texas La Herencia Rhone blend
MacPherson Sangiovese
Duchman Family Texas Vermentino
Duchman Family Texas Viognier
Duchman Family Texas Montepulciano
Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais
Carpano Antica
Templeton Rye
Carpano Antica mixed with Templeton Rye
Bergstrom Pinot Noir
Buccella Cabernet
Paul Hobbs Cabernet
Brunello Ciacci Piccolomini
Orin Swift The Prisoner
Orin Swift Papillon
Orin Swift Abstract
High West Double Rye
High West Son of Bourye
High West Campfire
High West Vodka 7000' Peach
Brunello Bondi-Santi
MacPhail's 8 yr Tamdhu
MacPhail's 8 yr Highland Park
MacPhail's 8 yr Bunnahabhain
Gordon MacPhail 15 yr Mortlach
Gordon MacPhail 11 yr Scapa
Gordon MacPhail 10 yr Glenburgie 
Gordon MacPhail Smith's 21 yr Glenlivet
Speymalt 2002 Macallan
Speymalt 1990 Macallan
Gordon MacPhail 21 yr Old Pulteney
MacPhail's 30 yr Glenrothes
Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac
Del Maguey Tobala Mezcal
Clement Rhum Agricole VSOP
Clement Rhum Agricole Cuvee Honore
Clement Rhum Agricole XO Rhum
Clement Creole Shrubb
Clement Rhum Agricole Sirop de Canne

I think that's it! The tasting took about 3 1/2 hours and much more liquid went into trash baskets and spit buckets than was swallowed. Some of the Scotches and Rums blend together, but the best products stand out. The Tasmanian Single Malts came highly recommended, but they remained elusive.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Tasting at the End of Vacation

On his travels this summer my son Travis discovered an unsold cache of Ardbeg's legendary Airigh Nam Beistie. The 'beastie' was a blend of barrels of old Ardbeg whisky distilled in 1990 before the distillery was mothballed. The first release in 2006 was followed by bottlings which were produced and released in 2007 and 2008. Sadly, there is no more whisky to be released. So when Travis found some for sale, it was the latest, the 2008 release. And he bought. At least one.

Back in Dallas, I had the remains of a bottle of the 2007 release and one of the goals of the last couple weeks of vacation has been to do a serious comparative tasting. And tonight we finally did.

The evening started with a couple of beers and hamburgers as we watched the packaged Olympics. Even though we knew the result, the watching was better then the Texas Rangers baseball game. The Rangers were down 4-0 to the Angels and Jarod Weaver was pictching. So the results were known there as well.

One of the beers was BRUX, a limited release collaboration between the renowned Russian River Brewing and the well known Sierra Nevada. It was a "domesticated Wild Ale. A dry and complex Belgian style ale refermented in the bottle with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis." 'Brett' is considered by many to be a flaw in table wines, as it imparts an earthy, barnyard flavor. The beer was reminiscent a of red Scotch Ale, but had the perfumed aromatics of the Belgian yeast. The gaminess of the 'Brett' was subdued and in the background, though that could change if the beer is aged as recommended by the brewers.

For a nightcap we turned to whisky. 2007 and 2008 Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beistie, to be precise.

Initially the two whiskies seemed quite different. The 2008 was yeasty, peaty, tarry and smokey with grace notes of honey, with a long dry finish. The 2007 was much more waxy and floral, with much louder notes of spicy, rich honey and a sweeter finish. The complex smokiness of the peat was a common bond between the two whiskies.

Both bottles of Ardbeg had yeasty floral notes similar to the beer. Which makes sense. The Ardbeg stills are  famous for their low, fat columns which let the flavor of the fermented beer come through the distillation process. They both had a salty, mineral flavor that spoke of  bog myrtle, pounded for centuries by the Atlantic Ocean.

Next I pulled out a bottle of Lagavullin. It was the 12 year old limited release bottled in 2009. My memory of it had been of the peat and honey, similar to the 2007 Beastie, but the younger whisky was characterized by white pepper and yeasty floral notes of freshly cut aloe. The honey seemed sweeter than the Ardbegs  and floated on top of the dark peaty flavors which were there in ample supply.

The Lagavulin made the Ardbeg whiskies taste more similar, althought all three bottles were easily differentiated in the glass.

The combination of white pepper, smoke and honey led me to throw a couple of bottles of Mezcal into the tasting arena. First was El Senorio Reposado. My wife had sourced from a bookseller in Oaxaca who bought it from a friend who produced it. While it had the flavors I was looking for, it was much too smooth and refined to join the conversation.

So next I brought out a bottle of Del Maguey Minero Mezcal. Minero is an artisanal mezcal produced in a small village high up in the mountains outside of Oaxaca. The wild, indigneous, local agave is smoked by hot stones in dugout pits, crushed by giant milling stones pulled by donkeys and fermented in clay pots with bamboo piping.

Amazingly complex and powerful, here was a spirit that could converse with the Scotch whiskies. Except that where the Scotch spoke English, the Mezcal spoke a completely foreign language. The Mezcal was complex and smoky with vague suggestions of agave, the salty minerality spoke of sweat and dirt, where the whiskies spoke of peat bogs. The Mezcal spoke of desert sands, the Scotch spoke of the ocean.

Yet, in many ways they were very, very similar.