Friday, November 27, 2009

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

2007 Sebastiani Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($18). This has the taste of a wine suffering from too much tinkering in the cellar. There is a nice touch of ripe Pinot Noir fruit in the beginning, but the finish has a rough, chalky minerality – it just doesn’t knit. On this one, take a Pass.

2008 Coltibuono Cancelli IGT ($11). This is a great little food wine, Italian-style, from a noteworthy Tuscan estate. Sangiovese (70%) gives a crisp cherry rasp at the front, while Syrah (30%) provides an earthy, gamy finish. Try.

2006 Montes Napa Angel “Aurelio’s Selection” ($90). The Montes brand appears to adapt seamlessly to terroir – first in Chile, then in Argentina and now in the U.S. It seems they do everything well. In this case, using all Cabernet grapes from the south valley, they have constructed a full but not too-powerful wine that features a rising cream of dark blackberries enveloped in a cocoon of somewhat assertive tannins that provide good drinking now but promise even better times a few years down the road. This is one of those “not” wines – modern and New World but not overly fruit forward, not too tannic and not too alcoholic, even at 14.8. If you have the cash, a definite Buy.

2007 Michel Tete “Domaine du Clos du Fief” Julienas ($20). In most cases, “serious” Beaujolais comes off like a precocious teenager trying to dress up in adult’s clothing. But that isn’t the case here. This is a lovely wine with considerable sophistication, the Gamay appealingly playing to its Pinot Noir side – ripe cherries and a good touch of balancing tannins. If you’re thinking about an everyday Bourgogne or a Macon rouge, try this one instead. Buy.

2008 Jackson Estate “Shelter Belt” Marlborough Chardonnay ($22). Don’t look at the label and you might mistakenly be talking about what a great "Chablis" this is – firm red apples, a minerally backbone and a pleasant chalky finish. Quite a bargain price, too. Buy.

2006 Z52 “Truchard Vineyard” Napa Valley Zinfandel ($24). People who teach creative writing often have problems explaining to students why their work didn’t get better marks – nothing wrong with it, but just not that “creative.” This wine is a little like that – it’s dark, olivey, rooty, medicinal flavors are fine, though a little heavy on the palate. It speaks to me, but I wish it would sing. Pass.

2007 Va La Vineyards “La Prima Donna” Pennsylvania white blend ($35). You could be forgiven for not being interested in trying an expensive blend of Malvasia Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Viognier, Petit Manseng and Tocai coming from Avondale, PA – but you would be missing something special. Proprietor Anthony Vietri keeps getting better with this blend – exotic spices and floral notes with a minerally, savory, tangy finish. It went perfectly with our Thanksgiving pheasant with an apple cider sauce and spicy couscous. Buy.

2007 Chateau Lafon Sauternes (375 ml/$19). We also had this little sweetie with the pheasant as a continuing exercise in testing Sauternes as a table wine. It’s a nice pour – though more sturdy than elegant – with the requisite cane sugar, beeswax, candied fruit flavors matched by good acidity. It also went quite well with the bird, though neither the pairing nor the wine were as impressive as the Prima Donna (op. cit.) A Possibility.

2003 Ceretto “Zonchera” Barolo ($47). This is the most accessible of Ceretto’s fine line of Nebbies, and its mix of dried and fresh dark cherries, smart tannins and savory/spicy notes provide good drinking now and promise for the future. I thought my notes might have been influenced by tasting this wine at the truffle festival this fall, but a re-tasting this week convinced me I just wasn't being a tuber. Buy.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Colman Andrews' Irish Country Cooking

Colman Andrews is literate, he loves food and the people who grow and prepare it, and he is inquisitive and thorough. Is it any wonder that he is perhaps the most highly regarded food writer and editor by America's cooknescenti?

It's Thanksgiving morning, just after daybreak. Fog lays thick in the denuded woods outside my window, Lyle Lovett the cat is purring in my lap, and a Bloody Mary is at the ready beside the keyboard. Could there be a more-ideal setting to again leaf through Andrews The Country Cooking of Ireland (Chronicle Books, $50) which arrived at my door a couple of weeks ago?

Even before getting to the chapters and the recipes, it's fun to rummage through the front of the book. Andrews' "A Note on Ingredients" is like a mini-seminar on foodstuffs. Witness, "Sugar is standard granulated sugar, unless powdered, superfine (known in the United Kingdom as "castor sugar"), or brown sugar is specified. Brown sugar should be unrefined, like Demerara or turbinado." Makes you want to see what he says about bacon and butter.

But the meat and potatoes are in the chapters that are arranged basically by foodstuffs - soups, eggs and cheese, savory pies, potatoes ("the definitive food"), breads, puddings and confections; there are 17 in all. Most of the text is in the hundreds of recipes, although there are fascinating sidebars on topics such as "How to Serve Irish Smoked Salmon" and "Sir Walter Raleigh and the Spud." The recipes are mostly within the reach of those of us who like to dabble in the kitchen without worrying about speed or technique - the tin chefs - but they are not dashed off, instead each considered as carefully as an Irishman would a simple glass of whiskey.

Photography is by Christopher Hirsheimer, in her own way as well-regarded as Colman, and is a proper mixture of dishes, people, and scenery.

There are almost 400 pages in all, as thickly larded as Ulster Fry (page 149) with thoughts and information, yet I emphasize that it is not heavy slogging but instead a delightful meandering as across a stone-rimmed meadow. Buy this book, and, on a cold winter's morning, pull it down from the shelve and get settled in front of a hickory fire with a cup of percolated coffee. Find a recipe that will define your noontime dinner or an evening supper - it won't take long - and, as the sun rises and begins melting the rime, start laying out the ingredients on the wooden sideboard.

Until next time...

A personal note: I loved writing for Colman when he was founding editor at Saveur, and I always looked forward to his commentaries on restaurants in the late, lamented Gourmet (a subject for an Irish wake, that).

Roger Morris

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Friday Lineup

A weekly commentary on selected wines tasted.

2004 Tomaresca Bocca di Lupo Castel del Monte Aglianico ($36). Wow! This is a gorgeous wine – generous, but with good structure, complex with moderate tannins, but easy to drink. From a grape indigenous to this region of Puglia, it carries none of the rustic qualities often associated with Italian native reds. Buy.

2007 Liberty School Central Coast Syrah (about $12). The Hope family for years supplied grapes for the Caymus brand, and now that they are teaching the School, they have added Syrah to the Cab and Chard selections. This is a solid one, not fancy or complex, but with firm flavors and a finish of Paso Robles neighborhood savory funk. Consider.

2006 Rocca Family Cabernet Sauvignon ($75). This wine didn’t knock me out, but it gave me a strong kiss on the cheek. It’s dark and murky the way Silverado Trail wines can be with a finish of Bakers chocolate and blackberries left to shrivel on the vine. It’s almost Syrah/Shiraz-like the same way some Barossa Cabs are. It has some rough edges when poured directly from the bottle, so decant a couple of hours before, not for accessibility but for table presence. Strongly Consider.

2008 Hess Select Lake County Sauvignon Blanc ($12). Although I’ve found the Hess line to be uneven in recent years, this is a nice, fruity but balanced Sauvignon in the California style. I liked the fact that when I went back to it a day later, then 2 days later, it held up quite well. In a crowded category, I would consider it A Possibility.

2006 Castellroig “Terroja” Penedes ($40). I wanted to like Chris Campbell’s line of C&P Spanish wines better than I did during a pairing this week at Domaine Hudson in Wilmington with Jason Barrowcliff’s cuisine (splendid again). But I did like this one. It’s a style that’s not in vogue – lots of mellowing oxygen as compared to crisp fruit freshness. It has that floral flavors coming from lees, and there’s melon rind in the finish. It’s not up to me to tell you whether it’s worth 40 bucks, but my feeling is that rank-and-file winos won’t think so. A Possibility.

2008 TempraTantrum Malpico ($10). The Osborne family has spot- marketed this line of Tempranillo blends in the U.S., and they should be coming to a wine shop near you soon. There are four Tempranillo blends – with Cabernet, Merlot, Shiraz and Grenache – and I found all of them fresh, flavorful and good food wines. Definitely Try.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sauternes for Thanksgiving? A Pheasant Idea!

For my late mother-in-law, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without roasted turkey and baked ham, both of which tended to be on the bland side. She also demanded I bring to the table each year my sage-flavored sausage stuffing that had the requisite number of calories and fat grams. For wine, I would try to overpower the lifeless white meat by pairing it with a big California Chardonnay or a white, earthy Rhone and then match the ham and dark turkey meat with a Pinot Noir.

This year, I’m going to try some rather different.

My bird of preference is not turkey but pheasant (I get the game-farm variety at Country Butcher in Kennett Square), sometimes with sliced apples in a light Calvados or cider sauce, sometimes with savory spices cooked in its own juices on top the stove in a Dutch oven. And to drink with it, I’m having a chilled young Sauternes. Yes, an elegant sweet wine instead of the traditional dry table wine.

I made this decision a few months ago while I attended a Sauternes and Barsac tasting in New York at the Latin/Indian fusion restaurant, At Vermilion. The point of the tasting, led by a bunch of young owners of these classic Bordeaux estates, was that Sauternes is not just a dessert wine or something to have with rich foie gras. Rather it could work quite nicely as a table wine to go along with spicy foods.

So the restaurant prepared hot but elegant dishes with oysters, shrimp and lobster, and the young Bordelaise were right – Sauternes worked. Usually, we try to match flavors of food and wine, but it’s also enjoyable to balance, in this case, hotter foods with sweet sauternes having good acidity and soothing fullness. I became an instant convert.

Then Aline Baly, the American-educated proprietor at Ch√Ęteau Coutet, explained how her mother wanted to eat like the Americans when the family relocated temporarily from France to Boston, so on Thanksgiving she fixed a turkey but paired it with the family’s Sauternes. It became their standard.

So I’m now contemplating the bird and the bottle. I’ll probably go deep savory with the pheasant, perhaps with a touch of truffles or nuts (roasted chestnuts, toasted pecans?) along with some rosemary and black pepper. I’m still open to suggestions, but nothing fruity or sweet. The Sauternes will be a young one that emphasizes the citrus elements of the wine and its refreshing acidity.

Of course, there is always a Plan B. I’ll have some late-disgorged, yeasty champagne at-the-ready in the fridge just in case.

(This column also appears in The NewsJournal.)

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Monday, November 16, 2009

Brandywine Book of Food. Available by Mail, but not on Amazon.com.

Update on prior postings: The Brandywine Book of Food has now been published, is getting great pre-holiday sales, is available on line and at many shops and signings are now taking place. But it will NOT be available on Amazon.com. Go to www.brandywinebookoffood.blogspot.com. for info.

Until next time...

Roger Morris

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

10 Things I Love About Rioja: Harvest 2009


Rioja 2009 - Racking at La Rioja Alta (top) and grape sorting at Dinastia Vivanco (below).
It is always nice to return to Rioja. It had been three year since I lasted visited - the fall of 2006 for the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed Marques de Riscal Hotel in Elciego - and I was fortunate to be able to come back this October as the 2009 harvest was wrapping up.
About 16 wineries later, I was on the flight home and made some notes about why I love the area so much:
1. Rioja's traditional wines - the reservas and gran reservas - continue to improve, and most are still great bargains. For those attracted to food-friendly, Bordeaux-style wines at affordable prices, stock up here.
2. But along with the old, new red wines are blossoming. Even traditional wineries are making fruit-forward, single-varietal wines from such grapes as graciano and garnacha which flourish in the warmer Baja region. Some of them are stunning and, as Spaniards still love the traditional wines, many of these newer-style wines are available in the U.S.
3. Rioja has the food to pair with the wine, and tapas-hopping along Logrono's Calle del Laurel is a great way to spend a weekday evening.
4. No wine region has better architecture. Everywhere you look, wineries are trying to out-do each other with eye-grabbing building styles for their cellars and tasting rooms.
5. The Dinastia Vivanco Museum of Wine Culture is worth a trip alone. It is simply fascinating and huge in its size and range of coverage. Most wine museums consist simply of some old presses and tractors, and there is no way that I can describe this one and do it justice.
6. Rioja has great old wine towns. If you get a chance, walk through three - Elciego with its Gehry Hotel and ancient churches within a hundred yards of each other, Laguardia with its hillside fortress outlook and narrow streets where cars are banned, and Haro, which is where the industry once did, and still does, bustle.
7. The winemakers are fascinating. Get into a conversation with the eponymous Telmo Rodrigues, the equally eponymous Jorge Muga, or La Rioja Alta's Julio Saenz and you'll understand what winemaking is all about.
8. The scenery is fascinating, regardless of the weather. The broad sweep from mountains to mountains across the broad Ebro valley and its tributaries wears equally well the moodniess of rain or the exuberance of sun.
9. The white wines are getting better, as new grape varieties are being allowed. At least you're no longer tempted to order a crianza with poultry.
10. The entry point to the region is Bilbao. Bilbao will never be San Francisco (Napa's entry point) or Adelaide (SE Australia), but it combines a cosmopolitan air (the Guggenheim region) with a lot of rough port-town edges that always make it alluring.
I'll be back.
Until next time....
Roger Morris