Friday, January 27, 2006

White On Meat Can be Neat
What to drink with Steak Tartare

I love raw things. From seafood to carrots to beef, if I can get it raw I’ll order it. And perhaps my favorite of favorites is the classic French bistro fare steak tartare. I like it spicy, fries and mayo, with a side of cornichons and Dijon mustard. As I usually eat it for lunch, perhaps that is the factor that has led me to look outside of the box for an appropriate wine accompaniment. Afternoon drinking is best with light fruity reds and even more so, white wine. But to drink a white wine with steak tartare? My googling produced a long list of choices of reds, from Cahors to Australian Cabs to my preferred Beaujolais Cru. But not a single white.

I have tried bigger reds with tartare but I found the French (Cahors, Bordeaux) too tannic for the leanness of the beef while the New World’s tended to be too powerful in the flavor department. If I do go red, a slightly chilled Fleurie from Yvon Metras works well, though I found the fruitiness a touch out of place, almost gratuitous.

Great tartare is rich, spicy but subdued. Big, well aged southern whites combine richness with freshness, and display certain fruit overtures (mostly browning apples, figs and the such), that tend towards a spiciness that seems to add more to the plate than the fruitiness of the red. This is not duck, or wild meat, whose powerful flavors invite sharp fruit contrasts. Tartare is soft and rich, a wonderful forum for the oxidative notes and spice of Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and the rest of their southern brethren. So for a walk outside the box, here are a couple of tried and true whites (especially the next time at L’Express).

And don’t drink them too cold!

Vin de Pays de L’Hearault 1998, Les Vignes Oubliées, Olivier Julien
Irouléguy 2001, Hegoxuri, Domaine Arretxea
Vin de Pays des Côtes Catalanes, Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Gauby
Côtes du Rhone 2003, Cuvée Guy Louis, Tardieu Laurent

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The New Cuvée Marie

Just a quick note for all you white wine sharpies, I tried, um…drank, the 2004 version of the Cuvée Marie yesterday. After last years debacle where the SAQ (assholes) decided to pull the bottle off the shelves due to a slight tartaric acid deposit (ooooh my bottle is dirty), it is a welcomed return.

Very few whites at this price have the aging capacity of this Jurançon Sec, indeed I am still drinking my 1999 and 2000 vintages. The Marie is made with 90% Gros Manseng and 10% Corbu and aged in mostly old wood for 11 months. Manseng brings the structure, a bracing acidity, while the Corbu imparts the finesse. I have always found the acidity in new vintages a touch excessive, so if you insist on drinking from the shelves, give it at least 3-4 hours in carafe. But buyer beware, drinking this stuff will be detrimental to your Chardonnay habit!

Jurançon Sec, Cuvée Marie 2004, Charles Hours ($24.85....saq)
The 2004 has heady aromas of white clover, honeysuckle and juniper berries, but is lacking the nutty oxidative notes of aged Jurançon (maybe I should give it some electrolysis). It is also a touch fruitier than the 02 with notes of fig and lychee, and a touch of sweet spice. Length and elegance as well as an exceptional balance between acidity and richness, this is the perfect wine for all that is spicey…Indian buffets, steak tartare, and even Maggie’s tacos puercos.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday Befuddlement
3 Mysteries to Begin my Working Week

#1. Vin de Table, Nature, Marc Pesnot ($20…importation)
Calling all Natural Wine-meisters, I need some more info. What Rezin refers to as the Chapeau Melon comes from Muscadet, is made with Muscadet, but drinks like some far-removed cousin. It is rich, with a hint of sweetness on the finish. The slight 'perlance' is gone after the second sip, it tastes of appeloup, and the red kind at that, with a hint of lemon cream. There is a touch of minerality as well as a hint of scotch, which is expected with a no sulfite wine. No millisème, and except for some heresay about an evening of maceration carbonic, I know nothing. I have already drunk 4 bottles so let me know before they are all gone.

#2. Mark Kramer and the Wine Spec (page 100)
I picked up the Wine of Year issue to research a future post and noticed an article about WS columnist Mr. Kramer espousing Natural Wines and Biodynamics. Comparing the manipulated wines of modernity with a babe who has had too much plastic surgery, and thus becomes painful to look at, Mr. Kramer makes an argument for ‘ ‘real’ ‘wines (extra parenthesis courtesy of WS). Aside from giving exposure to possibly my favorite wine, Deiss’ Schoennenbourg, Mr. Kramer understands the underpinnings of the argument against the overmanipulation of the juice. Maybe there is a ray of hope, but I am still in shock.

#3. Wine of the Year
The only 100 point wine on the list was the Yquem… why did it finish 10th? Am I missing something?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Beauty and the Beast at the Pied
What Exactly does one Eat with Alsace Wines?

For those of you who are not local, Au Pied de Cochon and its chef Martin Picard are the purveyors of what may be loosely termed ‘contemporary cuisine québécois.’ The food, like its chef, is rich and unrefined, sometimes bordering on the grotesque. But at its best, Picard’s food is a salute to both the culinary history of Quebec, the phenomenal quality and variety of its regional ingredients, and of course the extraordinary and sometimes twisted imagination of the chef himself.

Weinbach’s wines are made in the image of co-owner Catherine Faller; Elegant and complex at their best and, if I have a critique to make, a bit manicured at times. 100% organic with half of the vineyard bio-d, they believe in maximum ripeness and reduced yields, indigenous yeasts and low sulfitage in the chais. Just how we like them. In general the Gewurztraminers and Pinot Gris’ are some of the best that Alsace has to offer while I must admit I tend to buy my Riesling from others.

Our lunch at the Pied, in the company of Ms. Faller had as an underlying theme ‘what exactly goes with Alsace wine.’ Special thanks to Pierre and Edith for putting on one of the most orgiastic wine and food events that I have ever experienced.

Lunch began on the raw, a variety of oysters, scallops and live shrimp pulled straight from the aquarium. In the glasses were the Muscat Reserve 2002 ($51…saq) and the line of Rieslings. I found all the Rieslings way too powerful for the delicate flavors and salinity of the raw stuff. The Muscat was very Weinbach, no aromatic explosion here, just beautiful and profound fruit, as if one was biting straight into the grape. It worked best with the scallops, but I think I’ll stick with my trusty Muscadet as my oyster chaser.

Then came the onslaught. Boiled lobster; pan fried bass; deep-fried oysters, scallops and lobster; blood sausage and oysters gratinéed with foie gras. It seemed endless. But here comes the Tokays and Gewurztraminers, and Alsace shone! The best Alsace wines combine richness and spice with an exceptional freshness that can lighten up the most artery-clogging plate. In that vein, the Tokay Pinot Gris 2002, Altenbourg, Cuvée Laurence ($90…saq) is perhaps the finest foie gras wine that exists. A mix of 70% dry and 30% Botrytised grapes, this is refined opulence which can stand up to the richness of the foie gras, while its crisp acidity keeps the palette fresh.

While Weinbach doesn’t come cheap, they are perhaps the best all around vignoble in Alsace. And what to drink them with? At the Pied, at least, all that is either rich or spicy.

The best of the best…
Muscat Réserve 2002 ($51…saq)
Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Ste-Catherine 2002 ($88…saq)

A bit of minerality, a touch of exotic fruit, a hint of herbs (tisane)... great all around Riesling without all that retro-diesel stuff going down
Tokay Pinot Gris 2002, Altenbourg, Cuvée Laurence ($90…saq)
You want floral lushness, or lush floralness...hmmm..power, elegance.. it is all here.
Gewurztraminer Cuvée Theo 2002 ($54…saq)
My favorite all around gewurzt. A touch of sugar makes what is normally a difficult grape quite inviting.
Gewurztraminer Altenbourg Cuvée Laurence 2001 ($92...saq)
Beautiful mouth feel with tangerine zest and loads of spice...a huge gewurz that is actually fun to drink
Tokay Altenbourg Vendanges Tardives 2001 ($132...saq)
Loads of honey but fresh and delicate. All the sweet wines were fantastic but my mouth was in shock at this point.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Planet of the Grapes
Part 1: The Domination

It happened slowly, methodically, and then with machine like precision.

The domination started with corporate consolidation. Vineyards were snapped up and eventually whole regions were divided amongst 4 or 5 companies. Philip Morris had long bought out Constellation, Fosters by Monsanto. Coke, too, had important holdings. Corporate efficiency combined with technological innovation, fastidious marketing and a monopoly on distribution slowly squeezed out the independents.

And the technology had changed. Two hybrid vines, nicknamed the white and red camel were capable of growing in sand, and vast tracts of previously drought-ridden lands were subsequently irrigated and fertilized. The goal was quantity and did they ever produce. China, and a number of African nations had become leading grape juice producers. As arable land was becoming scarce in much of Europe and North America, conglomerates uprooted their local vines in deference to these more cost-efficient camel vines.

While certain aromas, and a variety of fruit and wood flavors had been synthesized in the first decade of the 21st Century, new developments had allowed the wine giants to synthesize varietal characteristics, making the need for thousands of grape types redundant (although in reality 95% of consumers already seemed satisfied by a choice between a dozen varietals).

Thus one red and one white in the field had become the industry standard; the rest of the work was done during ‘conversion,’ where technicians watched over the vinitoriums, home to massive steel fermenting resevoirs. Interspersed amongst these refineries were laboratories whose task was to produce the acids, yeasts, tannins, sweeteners and enzymes necessary to turn the camel juice into wine.

One exciting, recent innovation was the ability to synthesize terroir. Unlocking this mystery had allowed for the marketers to offer the consumer, thirsty for even an implied distinction, variations on the varietal theme that had become the industry standard. Hot selling red brands included both Pauillac and Napa-styled Cabernet, North Pacific Pinot, and of course, the Shiraz ‘Rotie-style.’ Fumé Sauvignon Blanc was quickly surpassed by the fashionable Fumé SB Pouilly (which used 25% less wood essence and 30% more tartaric acid), and the more refined Meursault style Chardonnay quickly outsold the ‘gold label’ yellow penguin and the classic Oaky-Calokey.

Elders gobbled down these new wines, jogging memories of a time when understanding wine meant knowing thousands of grape varietals, when hundreds of thousands of producers and a multitude of producing countries were the norm. To the youth, it seemed so complicated.

Everyone drank the stuff. All the papers hyped it. So much for so cheap. Grape juice was rebaptized ‘kids wine’ in the hope of gaining early brand fidelity. New ’light’ bottlings were all the rage amongst the sports crowd. All was well, except for the rumours that out on the fields people were still producing wines made from bizarre grapes, with labels that spoke of nothing but the place that it was made. The wine tasted different, and remarkably different at that. They had no voice, little access to markets, but they kept on making their wine; waiting for the day when ….

Coming Soon: Part 2, Beneath the Planet of the Grapes

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Kiwi Reds

Being on vacation and about to head off into the un-internettted backcountry, I have to be slack and repost an old review.... happy days to all.

Pinot Noir 2001, Marlborough, Foxes Island ($48… importation)
I have this bottle on L’eau’s winelist, and while I have tasted it on a number of occasions, this was my first opportunity to drink the bottle and see how well it worked with food. Like their Sauvignon Blancs, the Pinot Noir’s of New Zealand have their own unique character, and a style which any European wine lover can appreciate. This bottle is full of dark, almost cooked fruit with just a hint of oak. Much richer than a classic Burgundy but with more acidity than your average American, it had a sweet and spicey bouquet that I have never encountered with a Pinot Noir. It worked nicely with my Sea Bass ‘en papillote,’ which was cooked with beets, sweet potato and carrots.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Top Wine and Food Matches

As wine freaks we tend to overlook that wine is the accessory, not the raison d’être. If there ever was a damning reason for ending the age of the Übertasters, sending them over the cliff with their pockets filled with 88’s, 91’s and the occasional 96, it is the principle that the best wines show their true colors when in harmony with the right plate. Yes, there are those who believe that it is a lifestyle beverage, and some wines are. But the majority of wine was made for the table, and should be judged in that context. This is niether snobbish nor elitist, simply the next step and the ultimate appreciation of a drink that we love. Here are some of my faves from recent memory and happy 2006 to all.

Raw Oysters and Muscadet
God made muscadet for this simple, yet perfect harmony. The Domaine de L'Ecu has the intense minerality necessary to follow the natural iodine character of the oyster, and dry enough not to get in the way of the subtle, salty flavor. Yes, sometimes less is more.

Deer Tournedos and a Loire Red
Surprise, Cabernet Franc can be great. On the table were Deer tournedos, resting on a purée of roasted onion and ratte potato, and accompanied by caramelized cauliflower. The Anjou 2002 from Réné Mosse was an inspired choice, bringing home just enough maturity to bring an impression of sweetness to accompany the roasted and caramelized vegetables, power for the deer, but with the necessary subtlety and hint of green pepper for the cauliflower.

Braised Lamb Ravioli and Wild Mushroom with a Napa Merlot
Fresh made ravioli filled with braised lamb, sitting atop king erige and shitake mushrooms and swimming in it’s jus. Neyer’s Merlot 2000, Napa Valley is for me the summit of California winemaking. The mix of ripe plums and earth notes harken well- aged St. Emilion, but it remains true to it’s roots. Nothing feels fake here, just a perfect harmony between the mushrooms, the earth, the sun, the textures; all with a dash of ripe fruit.

Pan Seared Sable fish with a Pinot Blanc from Burgundy
What? Burgundy? Not Chardonnay? Marsannay is the sole AOC in Burgundy which allows for blending it’s beloved Chardonnay. The 100% Pinot Blanc 2002 from Fougeraie de Beauclair is an extraordinary blend of fruit and richness, anchored by a soft, well integrated oakiness. Sable fish combines the texture of halibut with the finesse of sea bass. Served on a bed of fork mashed ratte potatoes with a salted herb and olive oil sauce, the fish took the heady pear aromas of the Fougeraie like, well, it was Queen Charlotte water.

Boiled Lobster and a Dry Bonnezeaux
It was the end of a long quest to find the perfect match. Corsican winemaker Marc Angeli has installed himself in this central Loire AOC and has set new standards for great winemaking. The review tells all. The harmonies were as complex and beautiful as a grand symphony, the extravagant amplitude and minerality of this great Chenin matched perfectly with the salty, slightly iodined meat of the sea bug. So rich was the wine that I couldn’t remember wether or not I had dipped in the melted butter. But alas, I have only 1 bottle left. Anjou Blanc 2001, La Lune, Ferme de la Sansonnière.... get it, try it, revel in it.

Braised Pork Shoulder with Fennel and a Morey St. Denis
The greatness in Burgundy lies in it’s capacity to morph with respect to what is on the plate. Never the star, but usually an Oscar winning supporting actor, this Morey 1er Cru 1999, La Riotte from Taupenot-Merme handled the cinnamon, star-anise and fennel with fluidity and ease. Earthy, delicate and profound, Burgundy once again proved to me why it is still the paradigm of Pinot Noir.