Saturday, November 27, 2010

Clos des Pape's 2008 White Châteauneuf-du-Pape

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White Châteauneuf-du-Pape is that rare white in an ocean of red wines in the southern Rhône. Few producers make it, and the ones that do only devote 10% or less of their production to it.

Clos des Papes, the superstar producer of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, makes only one red and one white Châteauneuf--no special cuvées. Their wines are highly sought-after and can be very hard to find, particularly the white, as it accounts for just 10% of the wines made at the domaine. Out of the 32 hectares of vineyards it farms, just 3 hectares are planted to white grape varietals--Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Bourbolenc, Clairette, and Picpoul.

The last 3 vintages--2007, 2008, and 2009--produced terrific wines for Clos des Papes. And though both 2007 and 2009 get the hype and acclaim, it is the 2008 vintage that produced the most balanced and precise wines for the domaine. One of the keys to the quality of the wines of Clos des Papes is the low yields. Among these last 3 vintages, 2008 had the lowest yield, at 17 hl/ha, while 2009 was 19 hl/ha and 2007 was 25 hl/ha.

The 2008 Clos des Papes white Châteauneuf was vinified in stainless steel and aged in cask for 6 months, with lees stirring, and did not go through malolactic to retain good acidity. A rich wine with amazing depth of flavors and structure, this is capable of aging for over a decade like white Burgundy. It's enjoyable year-round for its freshness and versatility, but particularly great in the fall with rich dishes, especially those with wild mushrooms or truffles.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Favorite Kitchen Tool

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"Scissors are an underrated kitchen tool", tweeted Chef Daniel Patterson of Coi, and I couldn't agree more.

My kitchen scissors are the Joyce Chen 6.25-in with red handle. I've been using them for the past 20 years to cut whatever needs to be cut in the kitchen--anything from meats to vegetables and packages that need to be opened. I trim poultry skin with it, shear off ligaments and bones, snip off the stems of tomato, parsley, and basil from my kitchen garden, and cut pieces of parchment paper. I make sure these scissors are always handy in my kitchen drawer. And though I've used them constantly for two decades, they've kept their edge without any sharpening.

These Joyce Chen scissors are still being sold for $19.95, but I think I paid much less than that for mine.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fine Dining at Commis

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Commis is a fine dining place that makes do with less. In that sense it is quite au courant. Foodies may be in a frugal state of mind these days but some still look for a fine dining experience occasionally, though not at French Laundryesque prices. Commis provides the answer.

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The $115 nine-course tasting menu I had at Commis delivered the kind of eats that felt almost double that price. How is this possible? The restaurant has a Zen-like economy and simplicity. And most of all Chef James Syhabout’s skill and imagination transform modest ingredients into sublime dishes.

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Mr. Syhabout (see-ha-boot) serves up his refined, conceptual cuisine in a spare, gallery-like space. Everything is casual and relaxed. The restaurant's bare walls and plain black-and-white décor—broken only by the blonde wood table-tops and counter—create a contemplative atmosphere that is conducive to the compositions that the kitchen presents.

Each of the dishes is a delicious sketch of a scene. The halibut tartare floats below kelp and sea plant-like flowering coriander. A salad of green tomatoes is a verdant vista with twin upright basil leaves standing like trees in the middle of a garden. The watercress soup appears like a tide pool hemmed by the rocky edges of shaved shiso ice complete with a growth of colorful nasturtiums and sorrel.

My senses are totally engaged by the dishes, and my mind is as well. The experience is like gastronomic meditation.

Mr. Syhabout runs a neat, efficient kitchen. Aside from just two cooks, a pastry chef works alongside him. They operate together harmoniously without fuss and in silence.

Not knowing what menu to expect, I was fortunate that the two wines I brought matched the food marvelously. Both bottles were 1969s kept since release in cold storage. One was a Burgundy, a 1969 Domaine Coron Beaune Clos du Roi 1er Cru. It drank fresh and clear, filled with red fruits and subtle spices, still dense and powerful. But the other bottle qualifies as one of the most amazing wines I've ever drank, a 1969 Beaulieu Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon "Georges de Latour Private Reserve". It had stunning finesse and complexity, and a most surprising delicacy. It was hard to believe this was a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, much less from forty years ago. Its persistence and length was very satisfying. Wine is indeed full of surprises.

Commis Restaurant
3859 Piedmont Avenue
Oakland, CA 94611