Thursday, March 29, 2007

And I would like to Thank Mr. Fender, Mr Gibson… and the guy from GrapeCrafter

It’s nice to be missed, and thanks to all of you who have sent emails inquiring as to wether I was A) Dead or B) Finished Blogging. Well, I hope this post proves unequivocally that neither are true.

While I join people like Tom who champion the exponential growth of blogs as a sign of the democratization of wine journalism, the cold, hard reality is that many are simply not worth reading and simply add to the white noise of excessive information. When there is nothing to say, well, there is nothing to say. I hit that wall and have stopped for a bit, giving me an opportunity to stop and think about many of the important issues facing the wine industry, what this blog should be.... and to learn note for note the lead from the Allman Brothers’ Blue Sky. JJ Cale leads are also proving pretty cool.

But I am not just passing my days in a pot induced haze with the Marshall amped to 10. Yes, it is a lot of fun. I have been reading lots and would like to clap my hands, shake my fists and offer a glass of Metras’ Fleurie to the guy from Grape Crafter.

I have written a number of posts on the subject of manipulations, additives and the role of technology in winemaking and Mr. Smith offers up one of the more interesting and lucid perspectives on modern winemaking that I have read in a awhile. While I don’t agree with everything that he says, he is dead on when he says that the real enemy is not the technology itself, but those many winemakers who are simply not good grape growers, not skilled enough in the chais and thus are forced to rely on “draconian measures’ to finish their wines.

The question still remains however, in the hand of the skilled winemaker, are these manipulations really necessary and how much is too much? The Enologix approach still makes me cringe. Part of the problem is the silence, and the somewhat paternalistic attitude that many in the wine industry have about talking about this issue. Many seem to share an image of the consumer as a half step above a complete moron, and that by divulging information about what manipulations and additives were used in making a wine will somehow scare them off. This is a load of crap. The sky is not falling (I check all the time). Most of the people actually interested in knowing about this are people who want to understand them better and see how they drink. Pure and simple. It does not have to be on the label, but this is the information age, put it on a website. If there is an image problem with their usage, let the people who care about it know more. Let us taste the wines with the full knowledge about what went into making them. Hell, I had breakfast with Peter Gogo (head winemaker from Penfolds) and he was more than happy to talk about how his wines were made. Did it make me like Penfolds any less? No.

Knowledge is always better than ignorance.

More to come … soon.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Confessions of a Stemware Snob…

I come clean in this Saturday’s Montreal Gazette about my affection (affliction) for expensive wine glasses. Check it out in tommorows Weekend Life section…

Have a happy weekend everyone, the cold can't last forever.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Luxurious Mid-Week Meal
Organic Veal and Gaja

The Meal

Veal chop in an Enoki mushroom sauce with roasted Fennel and Balsamically glazed Red peppers and baby Bok-choy

The Weingolber was asking about favourite organic produce and these veal chops are mine; creamy white flesh, delicate flavour and when properly cooked, tender and juicy. The operative word here is delicate, for both the sauce and wine which is why I went with Enoki mushrooms for the sauce. Mushrooms? Veal? Ah, Piedmont!

Langhe Docg, 1996, Sito Morecsco, Gaja (saq.2004....$48)

Few winemakers have attained rock-star status as much as the flamboyant Angelo Gaja. His wines are rich, concentrated, made to cellar and are so expensive that very few wine drinkers have ever even tasted one of his wines. Enter Sito Moresco, stage left. At under $50, it offers us non-millionaires the opportunity to partake, at least in part, of the world according to Gaja.

The Sito is a blend of Nebbiolo, Cabernet and Merlot in roughly equal parts that has been aged for 18 months in French oak. Like all Nebbiolo based wines, it tends to show itself after 5 years and reaches its apogee around 10. For an eleven year old wine, the 1996 was in fine form, with a seductive bouquet of black-red cherries laced with hints of clove and leather. This is old-style wine, with a soft and graceful texture that owes its delicate nature to its perfect acidity combined with patience, the right amount of cellaring to soften up the tannins. The result is pure luxury, a wine that supported without dominating; a character trait that I always appreciate. It reminds me why I seek out these these beautiful gastronomic moments. Ephemeral yes, but if we can string enough of them together….

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Boredom-Breaking Mid–Week Meal

Chicken breasts and chardonnay; few ingestibles strike indifference to my palate as much as these two. Chicken breast is a tasteless source of protein and the mere mention of chardonnay always inspires a trip to the basement, and a search for a viable alternative.

The Meal

Chicken Breasts stuffed with Goat Cheese and Basil and a mushroom wine sauce

I found this recipe on Epicurious and it was quick, easy and yes... tasty! I added some roasted garlic and sun dried tomatoes to the goat cheese stuffing and a good mixed selection of wild mushrooms to the sauce. This type of meal requires a white that on one hand is rich enough for the meat and the cream in the sauce, yet has enough acidity to handle what the naturally acidic goat cheese and sundried tomato bring to the table.

The Wine

Cote du Roussillon 2004, Le Ciste, Domaine LaGuerre ($24...importation)

Yet another Grenache Blanc blend (with marsanne, roussane, rolle and macabeu) and yet another superb, organically grown white from the south-west of France. The Grenache and marsanne bring the necessary richness to the blend while the roussane and rolle come with enough acidity to keep the ensemble fresh. The key here, as so often is the case with white wines, was service temperature. As the wine approached 10C (50F), the balance between acidity and richness was perfect, highlighting a nice mineral character, well integrated notes of oak, and an almost haunting bouquet of a field of white flowers.
Unfortunately this bottle, as are many of the best examples from the southwest, is only available on private import. Here a couple of good selections from the region at the SAQ…

Château Les Pins côtes-du- roussillon 2003 , 21,50 $
Bergerie de l'Hortus Classique vin pays val-de-montferrand 2004, 18,05 $

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mid-Week Meal and
The Benefits of Not Robbing the Cradle

The Meal
Roasted young Guinea Fowl (pintadeau), served with mixed roasted veggies and a roasted garlic, thyme and rosemary cream sauce. The meat of the Pintadeau is dark, lean and a touch gamier than chicken. While I am a card carrying member of WWWeP (White Wine WhEn Possible), because of the Guinea meats color and it’s slightly gamey flavour, I chose to go with a red wine. “Gamier” meats tends to pair well with wines that bring an abundance of fruit to the table (wether it be duck, deer, boar), but since there is so little fat on this bird, I had to look at those wines that have very little tannin and with subtle flavours such as Pinot Noir, Barbera or Gamay.


The Wine

Moulin a Vent 2001, Joseph Burrier, Château de Beauregard ($29...saq)

Few regions of the viticultural world are as misunderstood as Beaujolais. The poor image that they have so deftly cultivated amongst wine connoisseurs has been the result of years of banal “vin de negoce,” and the insipid fruit beverage sold under the banner of Beaujolais Nouveau. But real, properly aged Beaujolais can be a thing of beauty.

Of the ten ‘crus’ of Beaujolais, Moulin a Vent arguably ages best, gaining Pinot Noir like richness and elegance after only a couple of years in the basement. Last nights 2001 confirmed all that is great about Beaujolais. Gone were the slightly one-dimensional candied red-fruits one often associates with young Beaujo and instead, the focus was on kirsch, black cherries, prunes, violets and a seductive aroma of grape jelly (though I couldn’t tell you what kind of grape). The pairing was one of the best I have had in awhile.

We all know the recipe and the stats. People don’t age their wine so winemakers make wine to be consumed almost out of the barrel…Pick late, if it shows any toughness blow bubbles up its ass (micr-ox).. it’s very Rolland-esque. But wine, made in a traditional manner, requires time, and if you allow it to mature, your patience will be rewarded. So, Obama in ‘08? Like any great bottle it’s tempting to go for it now, but he too might need a few more years.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Myth of Port and Cheese

I once suggested to a client that the only reason to serve a port with cheese is if you completely detest the taste of cheese. Port and a very strong blue like stilton perhaps, but even that pairing is not the best that I have ever tasted. Wether this is a marketing coup by the Portugese, or simply a case of people believing that if it works with Stilton, then it must be great with all cheese, the reality is that of the thousands of cheeses available, very few are powerful enough to hold their own against such a powerful and sweet wine like port. This is also true of most ‘blockbuster’ red wines. In fact, and this might come as a surprise, but the majority of cheeses tend to work better with white wines. Here’s why.

Cheese is made with milk and usually not of the skim variety. The cream in cheese coats our tongues with fat which impedes our ability to perceive flavours. As well, the proteins found in milk tend to harden a red wine’s tannin and increases our perception of acidity. The end result is a muted, slightly acidic taste that will in fact ruin many a red wine, including port. White wine on the other hand, with its inherent fruitiness will benefit from the saltiness of cheese and bring refreshing fruit and a welcomed acidity to the palette.

This is not to say that you red wine fanatics are completely out of luck. As a general rule the harder and drier the cheese, the better chance it will work in combination with a red wine, as there is less creaminess to interfere with the wine’s fruit. Which one to choose depends on the strength of the cheese but generally look for red wines that put the emphasis on fruit instead of tannin such as Beaujolais, Dolcetto, pinot noir, or a juicy, sun drenched grenache. If you want to put your taste buds through a work-out and have a glass of Aussie shiraz or Amarone left over after dinner, try them with a Parmigiano-Reggiano, a well-aged cheddar or Gouda, or a Gré des Champs from Québec.

For the rest, break out the white and laugh knowingly as your guests ask wether they will get headaches if they drink white wine after red (and no, they really won’t). Now which one to choose depends on the cheese in question.

In general, fresh cheese like goat with it’s naturally high acidity work best with equally high acid whites like Sauvignon Blanc. I have also had some success serving an off-dry white port. Creamier cheeses like Brie, Camembert and Riopelle do well with a richer wine like a subtly oaked Chardonnay, Pinot gris, or even a good mousseux or champagne. As we move into soft and semi-soft cheese like Oka, Victor et berthold, Kenogami or Pied de Vent (why not go for just Quebec made cheese?), try a Riesling, Viogner or for a fortified wine like a Muscat de Rivesaltes or medium bodied sherry.

And finally for Blues, try a rich dessert wine like a Sauterne, late harvest gewürztraminer or riesling, or perhaps a sweet sherry. I freaked some people out at a previous tasting with a Pacherenc de Vic Bihl (a sweetie from the Madiran area). They will fare much better than a red based wine, especially with creamier blues like gorgonzola and Roquefort. The rich sweetness of dessert wines makes them compatible with a wide variety of pungent creamy cheeses and earthy, extra-strong hard cheeses.

The more that I delve into the subject, the more I am convinced that each cheese has it’s viticultural soul-mate, so when putting together a combination of different cheeses, try and choose similar types of cheese (ie. Brie and Riopelle). This will not only make it easier to choose the right wine, but it is interesting to also compare the subtle differences between the cheeses. But if you are going to serve the ‘surf and turf’ of cheese plates or are invited over to a ‘wine and cheese’ party, the safest bets are mildly sweet wines like those from the Jurançon, Alsace or my personal favorite, a slightly sweet sherry.

Then what about you beloved port? The number one mix with port, and in particular, Tawny port, is chocolate. Combine a couple of chocolate truffles with a sofa and a fireplace and you have the perfect end to any soirée.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Why Biodynamics is important

Yes, it’s no longer Wednesday, so please forgive my tardiness. As a long standing supporter of bio-dynamics, at times I have had to dig in my heels against a tornado of criticism from the more erudite contingent of the blogosphere. But they have reason, and perhaps even an obligation to doubt, and to question. I agree that the idea of using bladder fermented herbs in homeopathic doses as way of ‘energizing’ your compost is weird. You should also know that there is often a ceremony attached to the burying of the cow horn, the vessel of the fermented herb concoction.

What the doubters are looking for is scientific evidence that these bio-d interventions have some sort of effect, wether it be positive or negative. But that basin of knowledge is still relatively small. From what I have read, there seems to be a consensus that the use of bio-dynamics tends to result in slightly reduced yields, but a healthier and better root development which is probably a result from a greater microbial bio-mass, ie healthier soil. After that, not much. From my perspective, until the long term impact of bio-dynamics versus conventional and organic interventions has been studied, we should take an innocent until proven guilty approach. But that is not really the point.

The real importance of bio-dynamics lies in an important paradigm shift, from humans being the masters of the natural world to that of participants. Biodynamic agriculture is not simply about consuming the resources of the earth, but about healing and protecting the very life forces that sustain the Earth. In light of much of the scientific evidence that points to us as being the culprits in climactic shifts, dead or sick water systems, putrid air which sickens us as we breathe, this shift is essential if we are to make the necessary changes to confront these problems. The question is who here are the real fools?

But what of the wines? Many of the very best and unique wines that I have tasted are in fact a product of bio-dynamic farming. The sceptic will say that it is the extra attention paid to the vine that makes makes for better quality fruit, or perhaps it is the reduced yields. Or, that the wines were great even before the switch to bio-d. That might be the case, but they are great wines nonetheless. So, if the result of switching to bio-dynamics means great wines and a healthier environment, I am more than willing to support these winemakers efforts by buying their wines, and telling others to do so as well. Take a look at Jack's roundup for some other bio-d faves from the blogging world.

A Couple of Bio-d faves from 2006

Clos de la Coulee de Serrant 1998, Joly
An eight year old Chenin that required another 3 days in caraffe to show itself, but very much worth the wait. Such incredible length, almost defines minerality with notes of honey and apples

Bordeaux Côtes de Francs 1970, Château le Puy
To buy a the most recent vinatge costs $25! The is how Bordeaux should be drunk. A generous bouquet that combined herbs, tobacco with a hint of leather was followed by a profound fruitiness that evoked the same bright plum and tart cherry of younger vintages but in a richer and more elegant framework.

Vin de Pays de L’Hérault 2000, Mas Jullien
Composed of a veritable salad of indigenous grapes including Grenache Blanc, Viogner, Chenin, Terret Bourret and possibly even some Gros Manseng, this is big wine with a lot of stuff going on. Apparently his buddy Didier Dagneau of Pur Sang Pouilly fame helps Jullien with the vinification. It had a beautiful floral nose with browning apples, peach and vanilla accents. It reminded me of spring. What followed was one of the creamiest and most complex whites that I have tasted in a while. Terret brings the apples, Grenache a hint of oxidized nuttiness, Viogner that allusion to sweet honeysuckle on the finish. The whole package was framed by a wonderful freshness that apparently comes from the Manseng.

Muscat 2004, Franholz, Ostertag
A very dry, and very unique twist on Alsace Muscat. For a grape whose greatest weakness if often its excessive, sweet perfume, this interpretation combines a restrained bouquet with a complex and rich mouthfeel. Ostertag says that Franholz is his ‘enfant terrible,’ … If all women smelled like this I would be in trouble.