Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve Dinner

Our family gathers together for a late dinner on Christmas Eve. We follow the tradition of noche buena. The food is always a mixed bag, depending on what everyone feels like bringing or cooking.

Last night for starters my cousin brought some devilled eggs sprinkled with crisped bacon, my brother whipped up his tuna poke, my wife seeded some pomegranates, and I had aged Camembert. The combination proved awesome, especially with the very ripe and juicy 2011 Domaine Eden Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir. This is Mount Eden Vineyards' second Pinot Noir made from younger vines. It sells for almost half the price of its big brother but its flavors are anything but little. Immediately, its rich, sweet flavors are all over your mouth, but it never gets tiring to sip as the fruit is bright and vibrant. This Pinot Noir is a crowd-pleaser in the best sense of that term.

While we were enjoying the starters my brother and I were also busy cooking dinner. I demonstrated the magic of cooking with modern pressure cookers by cooking an oxtail adobo in my small Kuhn-Rikon. I left it on high pressure for about 30 minutes, but I think it could have used another 5, but no problem as everyone enjoyed it. The piece de resistance was my bro's roasted crabs in butter. I must've eaten close to a whole crab altogether. The local Dungeness crab this season is the best I can remember. They're hefty and packed with sweet, dense meat.

I opened a special bottle of Jura wine that I brought back with me from a visit there a few years ago. Appropriately enough on this Christmas Eve the wine is named "Jour de Fête." I got it from its producer, Jean-Marc Brignot when I visited him and his Japanese wife at their old farmhouse in the remote village of Molamboz. Soon after my visit they sold the farmhouse and their vineyard and left for Japan where they now live with their young son.

During my visit Jean-Marc opened a few bottles for a small deguastation. All his wines are non-appellation and labeled Vin de France. He doesn't care at all about appellations. As I was about to leave I asked him if I can purchase a bottle as a souvenir. I think at that time he had already unloaded his last inventories in preparation for leaving. But he was gracious enough to search his stash and find me a bottle that I could purchase. It was this Jour de Fête. This is Savagnin from the 2005 vintage aged in old cask for about 4 years without topping up or as they say in Jura sous voile. As in all of Jean-Marc's wines it is vinified in natural yeasts and no sulfites were added at any time. It is drinking fantastic today. Totally fresh and intense, the flavors are thick and alive. On the first whiff my cousin smelled the sweetness of celery and cut cucumber. My brother detected raw almonds. Then as the wine opened up more in the glass I relished notes of pear skin and honey wax. The flavors were piquant but soon smoothed out, tasting more of ripe pears. Thank you and santé Jean-Marc! I hope I catch up with you soon.

What a memorable Christmas Eve dinner. We finished the night FaceTiming with our Mom who's in Manila with my youngest brother and his family. We connected the iPad via AppleTV to a 52-inch TV, sat around the living room and FaceTimed away, joining in a chorus of carols with my Mom and my brother's family in Manila late into the night.

Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir, Domaine Eden (Mount Eden Vineyards) 2011

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Champagne and Oysters

Days before Christmas a few weeks ago Vineyard Gate held a Champagne and oyster tasting extravaganza. The event was festive, educational, and decadent. Champagnes from Barnaut, Lilbert, and Jacquesson overflowed, while equally staggering were three man-piles of fresh, juicy steam boat, kumamoto, and blue point oysters.

The oysters were supplied by long-time San Franciso-based seafood wholesaler to the restaurant trade, Royal Hawaiian Seafood. The company focuses on sourcing high quality seafood that is safe, traceable, and sustainable. It will soon be introducing a consumer-subscription "Fishbox" program, modeled after a CSA, that allows households a steady supply of their highly desirable seafood products. If everything goes as planned Vineyard Gate would be the first pick-up site for the "Fishbox."

Tasting six different Champagnes side-by-side with the three varieties of oysters was an eye-opening experience. Certain oysters paired better with a particular Champagne.

One of the consensus was the sweet and delicate tasting kumamoto was a perfect match with the evolved 2007 Lilbert Brut Blanc des Blancs.

On the other hand, the meaty, mouthfilling taste of the steam boat oysters was particularly suited to the bone-dry, racy character of Jacquesson's Extra Brut 736.

Champagnes featured in the tasting included:

Champagne Brut Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs, Barnaut NV

Champagne Brut Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, Lilbert & Fils NV

Champagne Extra Brut "Cuvee No. 736", Jacquesson NV

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jean-Yves Péron's Natural Cider from the Savoie

Jean-Yves Péron is one of the brightest vignerons to emerge from the Savoie region in recent years. He trained with Thierry Allemand in the Rhone and Bruno Schueller in Alsace.

Péron started his own estate in 2004 working a tiny plot of 2 hectares planted with very old Mondeuse and Jacquere vines dating back to the 19th century. He farms organically and vinifies only with native yeasts and doesn't add sulfites. His wines are radically showing what is possible in the Savoie's alpine hills.

What surprised me about Péron is that  he also makes hard apple cider. The Savoie region is known for its high quality apples. A number of cider producers are around, but I haven't encountered a Savoie vigneron who also makes cider.

Péron's current release of his "Cidre des Cimes" is a blend of apples harvested in 2010 and 2011. He applies the same approach in winemaking for his cider. The organically grown apples are fermented with native yeasts and no sulfites are added. The juice finishes its fermentation in bottle without dosage, thus it's a petillant naturel. He ages it in used barrels for a year before bottling.

I love this cider from Péron. Just 7% alcohol yet it's full of flavor. Bone dry and refreshing, it's great to sip on its own but I find that it's one of the most versatile beverages to drink with any dish, especially with spicy Indian food, Thai cuisine, and garlic fries. I can finish a bottle or two while munching on pizza and watching a ballgame.

Cidre des Cimes Brut Zero, Jean-Yves Péron 2010 & 11

Monday, December 16, 2013

Back to Skool

After some absence I was lured back to Skool a few times last month. Every month the pastry chef and co-owner, Hiroko Nagano, features a new dessert special. The one for November was a real surprise for me as it was a version of ginataan, a traditional Filipino sweet snack of sweet potatoes, purple yam, banana, tapioca, sago, and jack fruit stewed in sweetened coconut milk. Street eateries in the small towns and metropolises of the Philippines offer this sweet treat every day

Hiroko's ginataan had a more refined and elegant presentation compared to what's hawked along the alleyways of Manila. She uses only a few ingredients--sweetened black rice, purple yam, tapioca, and jack fruit--in a pool of medium-sweet coconut milk sauce. This more simple medley nevertheless channeled the soul of this humble snack, bringing food memories growing up when I would have it for merienda. Skool featured the dessert to raise funds for UNICEF to benefit Filipino children who are victims of typhoon Haiyan. One hundred percent of the price were donated to the charity. Way to go Skool!

Skool's uni flan topped with ikura and spread on mini crostini is the most killer app in the city. It's quite rich, so best to have a glass of Champagne or Chablis with it. I tried it with a Manhattan cocktail and it rocked.

It's sneakily listed on the menu as "squid ink spaghettina" but one slurp and you know it's clearly a seafood ramen. And it's terrific! A simple meal for me at Skool would be to start with the uni flan, then this "spaghettina".

I always bring wine to Skool, but one quiet night I went there without wine as their attractive bar has always intrigued me. I ordered a Manhattan, my favorite cocktail. My waitress asked me what Bourbon, but I said I'd have Rye. She suggested Redemption but I opted for Templeton. But where I break with tradition is I like it in a lowball glass instead of a cocktail glass. But this was a very good Manhattan, just a low dose of vermouth so the aggressive taste of the Templeton comes through.

Just a few of the wines I've enjoyed at Skool. After Beaujolais Nouveau Day friends and I opened a couple of cru Beaujolais and Thomas Pico's Pattes Loup Chablis. All wines were gorgeous with the food. Jean-Claude Lapalu's 2012 Brouilly Vielles Vignes showed graceful, rustic charm, while Pico's Chablis never fails to blow me away every time I have it.

Brouilly "Vieilles Vignes", Jean-Claude Lapalu 2012

Skool Restaurant
1725 Alameda Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
Open for lunch Monday through Friday, dinner everyday, and brunch Saturday and Sunday

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hard Cider From Sonoma Apples: Tastes Great, Less Filling

Fall ushers in cold winds, rain, sleet, and hard apple cider. While the weather outside gets nastier, I'm inside a restaurant enjoying a steaming plate of lobster and sipping really good hard apple cider that just arrived in the store.

Troy Carter and Tony Coturri of Coturri Winery together produce a hard apple cider from organic Sonoma apples. It is made at the Coturri Winery in Glen Ellen, Sonoma, using only ambient yeasts for fermentation and without the addition of sulfites.

The latest batch of Troy Cider produced 22 barrels. I'm drinking from a 500ml bottle that came out of Barrel 12. It is delicious. Thirst-quenching. Refreshing my palate after each bite of lobster. This plate of lobster had no chance. Next up is a wok-fried whole Dungeness crab.

After dinner I browsed through Troy Carter's Motorcycle Wineries blog and found this encouraging passage:

I could go on for pages summarizing research at the edge of scientific knowledge of probiotic diets, but instead, I have just one recommendation.
Drink more cider.
Our cider is alive. It has god-only-knows-how-many strains of wild yeast, bacteria and other goodies that make me feel great. That bottom 1/8″ of sediment at the bottom of the bottle? The healthiest sludge ever. Most beverages these days are sterile, dead sugar bombs that is simply artificial industrial homogeneity. So enjoy our booze as wonderfully natural medicine, as an authentically healthy ritual that nourishes your body and makes you smile.

Troy Hard Apple Cider H. Coturri and Sons NV 500ml

Monday, December 2, 2013

Frank Cornelissen 2012 Munjebel Extra Virgin Olive Oil for the Holidays

Based in Sicily's Mount Etna, Frank Cornelissen is known worldwide for his unique wines made in an uncompromisingly natural and artisanal method. Mount Etna is one of the most difficult places in the world to produce wine because of the harsh conditions. Cornelissen succeeds because of his dedication and unique approach.

Cornelissen produces not just wine but also extra virgin olive oil from the few olive trees grown in his estate. His wines are difficult to find but his oils are even rare because of the tiny quantities produced.

A mere 199 bottles in 375ml size were produced from the 2012 harvest for the Munjebel Olive Oil. You can easily imagine that it took no time for Cornelissen's US importer to sell out of these oils, especially because less than 40 bottles were made available to the West Coast! I'm very pleased to offer you our tiny allocation of these delicious, one-of-a-kind extra virgin olive oil from Mount Etna. This very special Mount Etna Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a wonderful treat for the holidays and would make special holiday gifts.

I found that drizzling Cornelissen's Munjebel Olive Oil on lentil salad is a joyous experience. Give it a try.

Sicily Mount Etna Extra Virgin Olive Oil "Munjebel", Az. Agr. Frank Cornelissen 2012 375ml

"For our olive oils, we apply the same high quality standards as for our wines. We farm without any treatments and use of chemicals whatsoever in order not to alter the nature of our environment and the fruit we harvest. For our Munjebel oil, select only the precious varietals  such as Benedetto, Carolea or Frantoiano, producing fruit of great elegance and sapidity. As every year has a different character as well as growing difficulties, we pick the best and most expressive of our olive groves (contradas). We pick the olives manually in various passages, de-selecting in the olive groves, in order to take home only ripe fruit that is undamaged. The same day, the olives are being brought to the press where they are gently crushed under big stone mills. After this crushing, the paste is put on our exclusive estate mats and then vertically pressed. After this cold extraction, the olive oil is then left to settle for a minimum of 2 months before being bottled, unfiltered. This 'liquid gold' carries the name Munjebel for its strong territorial identity: the volcano Etna!" Frank Cornelissen

Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Benchmark Tuscan Red

“I do not want a wine to blow my mind. I want a wine of elegance, perfume, and good persistence in the mouth, that marries well with the food on my plate.” Sergio Manetti, Montevertine

Rosso di Toscana IGT "Montevertine", Az. Agr. Montevertine 2010

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Clos Canarelli's Vin de France From Corsica

Clos Canerelli is a small domaine in the Corsican village of Figari in the southern tip of the island. Production in the dry, poor granite, red alluvial soils at Clos Canarelli is sparse. The weather is harsh, with the constant wind from the Gulf of Figari drying out the soil quickly, though the dry conditions also serve as a natural antiseptic, protecting the vines from diseases such as phylloxera.

Yves Canarelli converted the vineyards to both organic and biodynamic farming, making it possible for his wines to display an unusual freshness, complexity, and aromatic intensity that others in Figari have been unable to achieve. In the cellar, Yves only uses indigenous yeasts, and prefers slow, deliberate, precise fermentations, and leaves his reds unfiltered. Like other natural-wine proponents he also experiments with egg-shaped cement tanks (modern-day amphorae) and whole cluster fermentations.

Yves Canarelli has also championed the planting of old Corsican indigenous varietals. He ripped out entire vineyards of foreign varieties in favor of heirloom Corsican grapes. And in some cases, he has preserved ancient vines of indigenous varieties still planted in his vineyard. However, many of these heirloom varieties are so old that France's appellation system no longer recognize them. Yet, Canarelli has persisted to produce tiny quantities from vines of Carcaghjolu Neru, Sciaccarellu, and Minustellu.

Yves Canarelli defends Corsican terroir and native grapes by classifying its two best wines Vin de France! Both are not easy to find, even in Corsica, as production is tiny. The wines are categorized simply "Vin de France" because both don't conform to the INAO requirement for approved varieties, yet nothing could be more native to Corsica than the heirloom grapes used for these wines. Thus, Canarelli is prevented from printing the vintage on the label. Our current stock are both 2009, and the "L09" code is printed on the label.

Vin de France "CN", Clos Canarelli (2009)

Vin de France "Tarra d'Orasi", Clos Canarealli (2009)

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Beaujolais Day Tasting 21st November and Haiyan Fundraiser

No disrespect to Nouveau, but we are pouring instead some wonderful cru Beaujolais and a delicious Sparkling Gamay this Thursday.
Vin Mousseux Sec "Turbullent", Stephane Serol (Domaine Robert Serol) NV
sparkling rosé from 100% Gamay planted in the granitic soils of Roannais just west of Lyon and almost touching Beaujolais region

Beaujolais-Villages "Vieilles Vignes", Domaine Jean-Claude Lapalu 2012
from Gamay vines averaging 45 years-old, Jean-Claude's most significant early influence came from the writings of Jules Chauvet, France's "Father of Natural Winemaking"

Brouilly "Vieilles Vignes", Domaine Jean-Claude Lapalu 2012
from Gamay vines averaging 60 years of age, this is is a blend of grapes fermented with carbonic maceration and grapes vinified traditionally, and in both cases no sulphites were added during vinification, as Jean-Claude adds minimal sulphites during bottling

Brouilly "Brulius", Raphael Champier 2012
low-key but talented are the words used to describe the young vigneron Raphael Champier, whose Beaujolais are very difficult to find but highly sought-after in the hipster natural wine bars of Paris

To accompany these wines, a taste of delicious pork and duck charcuterie from Fabrique Delices.

We just ask for a donation of $5.00 to give to the American Red Cross to benefit the victims of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. No advanced reservation required for this special tasting. Just come in between 12:30pm and 6:30pm. Don't miss this!!!

Vineyard Gate
238 Broadway
Millbrae, CA 94030

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

White Burgundy of the Year

Unfortunately--truly unfortunately--we're sold out. Good luck finding it, too. Cyril Audoin produced just 3 barrels or 700 bottles of this 2011 Marsannay Blanc La Charme aux Pretres. In the west coast of the United States a mere 180 bottles showed up. At a price of $37 our stock sold out immediately and I could not replenish it.

It is the first vintage for this single lieu-dit Marsannay white. Previously Cyril Audoin blended the parcel into his Marsannay Blanc. But in 2011, he decided to separate out his tiny parcel of La Charme aux Pretres vineyard. This is Chardonnay from the northern end of the Cote de Nuits, yet it seems to channel Puligny down in the Cote de Beaune. Intensely perfumed. Hazelnuts and white stone fruits. Delicious. Its finesse and delicacy imbue class, making it hard not to believe it is not Puligny in your glass. A triumph for both the gifted Cyril Audoin and the marvelous terroir of his vineyard.

I can't wait for next year's release. I already heard 300 bottles were promised for the west coast. I will be waiting first in line.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tasting 2009 and 2010 Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classés

Created in 1955, the Saint-Emilion classification doesn't quite project the same gravitas as the 1855 Medoc classification. The problem I believe is the classification aims ambitiously to be inclusive and egalitarian. There are over 200 chateaux classified Saint-Emilion or Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 58 Grands Crus Classés, and and 18 Premiers Grands Crus Classés. And every ten years the classification is updated to much gnashing of teeth and law suits from those excluded and demoted.

Contrast the Saint-Emilion classification to the 1855 Medoc classification in which only 62 red Bordeaux producers are included and, except for one change, has never been updated.

Despite the controversies the 58-strong Saint-Emilion Grands Crus Classés chateaux represent the sweet spot in top Bordeaux values today. For the most part their wines sell for under $50 in the highly desirable 2009 and 2010 vintages. Yesterday's tasting in San Francisco hosted by the Association of Grands Crus Classés of Saint-Emilion featuring these two vintages attested to the overachieving quality of the wines. But the tasting went beyond showing what everyone already knows. Less expected, perhaps, was the diverse quality from one producer to another and the interesting contrast between the 2009 and 2010 vintages.

Gwendeline Lucas pouring La Dominique, with the 2009 showing a soft, seductive style, whilst the 2010 is fresher though I noted a particular hardness.

I felt Jean Faure with up to 60% Cabernet Franc in the blend excelled in both 2009 and 2010 vintages. Here poured by Fanny de Kepper.

I caught the popular Bay Area-based wine video blogger, Monique Soltani, covering the event, fresh from recent stints in Tuscany and Bordeaux. I can't forget the time she visited Vineyard Gate to do a video blog about the store. It was a lot of fun being interviewed by her.

Tasters crowded the table of Destieux, where I met with Nicolas Dauriac, Anne Marie's son. I was introduced to Anne Marie by a mutual friend during her visit to the Bay Area several years ago. I took us all to a favorite neighborhood northern Chinese restaurant in Burlingame, CA, where we drank her Bordeaux with the Chinese cuisine. The pairing was a hit. The family also owns Montlisse in Saint-Emilion and La Clemence in Pomerol. I like their style, they go more for elegance, instead of power. Nicolas was thrilled to mention to me that at a recent blind tasting Destieux topped both Canon-la-Gaffeliere and Pavie!

Next to Destieux's table was another popular stop for tasters, the wines of Faugeres and Peby Faugeres. This wine-critic-favorite producer not surprisingly makes a modern style Saint-Emilion that tends to be bigger and riper tasting than most. The 2010 Peby, the all Merlot flagship wine from Faugere's oldest vines, clocks in with an alcohol of at least 15%.

Right next to the Faugeres table was another proponent of modern style Saint-Emilion, Fleur Cardinale. Both Faugeres and Fleur Cardinale pay for the consulting services of Michel Rolland. However, for my taste, Fleur Cardinale handles this bigger, riper style much better, particularly in the 2010 vintage. 2010 Bordeaux shows freshness and good acidity but also elevated alcohol. 2009 wines taste softer and sweeter by comparison. From what I've tasted of both 2009 and 2010 Bordeaux, it is not easy to make vintage generalizations. You have to go producer by producer, wine by wine. While many Bordeaux experts and fans have praised the fresh acidity and structured quality of 2010s, and I won't disagree, many of the wines are a touch hard and the ripeness seems forced. I would still put my money on many 2009s over the long run.

One of my favorite wines of the tasting was poured by Virginie Larramona from the Association de Grands Crus Classés de Saint-Emilion. It is the much overlooked Chateau Dassault, which is still owned by the Dassault family. Michel Rolland has also been its consulting oenologist of late. Yet, the wines are a marked contrast in taste and style to those of Faugeres and Fleur Cardinale. They evoke a more classic Saint-Emilion. In both 2009 and 2010 vintage, the balance in concentration, elegance, and structure is really beautiful.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Taste of 132 Year-Old California Vines

At the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers in San Francisco Bay's Carquinez Strait, ancient vines have witnessed California history for the past 132 years. Today, the Evangelho Vineyard, where these centenarian vines are planted, is unfazed by progress. Its vines stand defiantly surrounded by a PG&E plant, a Burger King, and a seedy motel. They don't make vines like these anymore.

The vineyard consists mainly of Mourvedre and Carignan vines, but there is also Zinfandel, Palomino, Alicante, and Mission. These gnarly vines are still planted on their own roots, scoffing at the phlloxera epidemic that plagued not just California but all of Europe. Because the vineyard is dry-farmed (not irrigated), the vines fetch their own water deep underground using their well-established roots. They're happy to grow as bush vines without trellis support, flaunting the zigzag curves of their massive trunks.

Bedrock Wine Co., a Sonoma Valley winery founded and run by the young Morgan Twain-Peterson in 2007, is one of the brightest stars among the new generation of California wine producers. The winery focuses on producing wines from Northern California's heritage vineyards-vineyards that were established in the 19th century and early 20th century whose vines survive to this day.

Bedrock Wine's 2012 Evangelho Vineyard Heritage red is beautifully crafted, deeply flavored, and expressive of the awesome fruit source for this wine.

Contra Costa County Red "Evangelho Vineyard", Bedrock Wine Co. 2012 $31.00

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Not a Trick But A Treat--Devilishly Real Cabernet Franc

"It's better to make small real wines that fake great wines", said the famous oenologist Emile Peynaud. For the past 20 years Christine and Joel Menard of Domaine des Sablonettes have adhered to this principle, lovingly tending their small 13-hectare vineyard. They run their domain to very exacting standards, applying biodynamic methods, and as a result produce stunning, natural wines--vinifying only with wild yeasts and not chaptalizing or filtering. What they make are wines that are devilishly real.

I adore this 2010 Le Bon Petit Diable. 100% Cabernet Franc from 20 year-old vines planted in schist in the Anjou region. It's light, bright gushing with luscious red fruits. This is a most refreshing red to drink anytime of the year, but its bright, vibrant flavors make fall's hearty dishes taste even more delicious.

Vin de France "Le Bon Petit Diable", Domaine des Sablonnettes 2010

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ployez-Jacquemart's Dazzling Champagnes

Yesterday was Global Champagne Day. But here at the store Champagne Day came a day early as Laurence Ployez, proprietor and winemaker at Ployez-Jacquemart in Ludes, Montagne de Reims, stopped by Thursday to lead us, including some very fortunate attendees who signed up, to a dazzling tasting of not 4, not 5, but 7 of her excellent Champagnes, including four different vintage Champagnes. A bravura performance. We pulled out all the stops, and for just a tasting fee of $20! It is the second year in a row that Laurence has graced us with her presence. We are the only wine store in the San Francisco Bay Area where she does this tasting event. I can't wait to host her again in October of next year.

Even among highly touted grower-producers, I don't find one that surpasses Ployez-Jacquemart for quality-price ratio. For example, the basic non-vintage Extra Brut, which now consists of 2008 as the base wine with a dosage of less than 5 grams, is priced at just $43. To find a Champagne of comparable austerity and finesse you would have to spend more. And what about the unique non-vintage Champagne that Laurence makes in very small quantities called the "Passion". The current release consists mainly of 2006 and the rest 2005. The wines are aged in Burgundy barrels for two years before en tirage. This has remarkable richness and complexity for a non-vintage, and at $49 is a stunning value.

Ployez-Jacquemart is based in the Montagne de Reims with vineyards in Ludes and Mailly totaling two hectares. Most of the fruit is purchased directly from growers with long-term relationships. And not just any grower, but only grower-producers that bottle their own Champagne, thus they care about the quality of the fruit they grow. The Montagne de Reims is known for its excellent Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier-based Champagnes. Ployez produces Champagnes of remarkable purity and finesse with very low dosage to highlight the superb base wine.

Champagne Extra Brut, Ployez-Jacquemart NV $43.00 (order)

Champagne Extra Brut Rose, Ployez-Jacquemart NV $49.00 (order)

Champagne Extra Brut "Passion", Ployez-Jacquemart NV $49.00 (order)

Champagne Extra Brut "Liesse D'Harbonville", Ployez-Jacquemart 1998 $135.00 (order)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Congratulations to All Spice San Mateo

News travel fast when it comes to Michelin awards. So today the Twitterati was abuzz with the 2014 Michelin Guide San Francisco Bay Area & Wine Country on the eve of its publication. All Spice in San Mateo, CA received a Michelin Star, the first time I believe a San Mateo restaurant has been given the coveted award.

I find this noteworthy because All Spice is not only in our backyard, but in early 2011, when the restaurant had been opened for just a few months, Vineyard Gate held a wine dinner there featuring the 2008 Domaine Jean-Marie Fourrier red Burgundies.

The refined dishes, French in preparation but Indian-inspired, paired deliciously with the young, fresh-tasting Burgundies. It was an eye-opening kind of food pairing. Everyone who attended had a great time. I couldn't have pulled it off without the help of Shoshana, the co-owner, manager, and wine director of All Spice.

All Spice first received a Michelin star last year in the 2013 Guide, almost two years after opening for business.* Good to see Bibendum continues to toast its excellence.

All Spice
1602 S. El Camino Real
San Mateo, California
Open only for dinner Tuesday-Saturday

*Note: Corrected. 2014 Guide is the second time All Spice was awarded a Michelin Star, not the first, as previously stated.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sève d'Automne

During a trip to South West France five years ago, I woke up near Pau at the foot of the Pyrénées mountains and felt I was in heaven. The cool morning air was still and the view of the snow-covered Pyrénées that rose up to the sky before me was majestic. The only sound breaking the silence was the rushing water from a nearby stream.

I was reluctant to stop my reverie but I had an appointment to catch at Domaine Cauhapé in nearby Monein in the heart of the Jurançon wine region. I was excited to meet the proprietor and winemaker Henri Ramonteu and to taste his wines for the first time.

The domaine is widely regarded as one of the greatest producers in South West France. It is praised mainly for its very affordable sweet wines, which can embarrass more expensive rivals from Sauternes, Alsace, and the Loire. Didier Dagueneau was captivated by the sweet wines of Jurançon, and expanded there before his ufortunate demise.

Despite his lofty reputation, Henri Ramonteu is unknown to most wine drinkers, which really says a lot about the overlooked South West wine region. I spent the entire morning tasting through different vintages of all the domaine's wines, both dry and sweet. The dry wines consist mainly of the Gros Manseng grape, while the sweet wines are made from Petit Manseng. Harvest in Jurançon occurs late in the year, starting in October for the dry wines and continuing through November and December--sometimes up to January (!)--for the sweet wines.

The vineyards face south and southeast, with the vines espalier-trained not only to protect them from the frost in the harsh mountain climate, but also to catch the warm south winds late in the season that dessicate the berries and turn them to raisins for the sweet wines.

Despite his success, Henri Ramonteu is not resting on his laurels. For him, the challenge now is to make equally great dry wines.

The potential was very clear when I tasted a few vintages of his vivid dry Jurançon Sec "Sève d'Automne" (autumn sap). A blend of 70% Gros Manseng and 30% Petit Manseng from vines averaging more than 30 years-old. The grapes were picked at the end of October and the wine was aged on the lees in used barrels for about a year before bottling. Its richness makes it versatile with food, including meat dishes.

By the time I finished the appointment it was early afternoon and I was famished. Tastings make me hungry. Henri Ramonteu suggested that I go check out a traditional Béarnise restaurant in town, L'Estaminet. He called the restaurant to book me and he also took the liberty to order the special plate of the house, which consisted of: friton de canard, 1/2 pied de porc tiède en vinaigrette, ris d'agneau, tomate, salade, asperge et médaillon de foie gras, confit de canard. It was like a heart attack on a plate, but it seemed like everyone in the restaurant was having the same thing. The plate was enormous, but I almost finished it, helped along by a bottle of Jurançon Sec and a bottle of off-dry Jurançon. I wanted to take a nap afterwards, but the next appointment was waiting.

Jurançon Sec "Sève d'Automne", Domaine Cauhapé 2009 375ml $17.00 (order)

Jurançon "Symphonie de Novembre", Domaine Cauhapé 2009 375ml $22.00 (order)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fettuccine and Chanterelles With Amontillado

A favorite mushroom in season right now is chanterelle (girolle). Chanterelles, like porcini, command a high price when out of season, about $30 to $40 a pound. But right now they could be had for the irresistible price of $7 to $10 a pound.

I wasted no time picking up a bagful of chanterelles on sale for $9.99 a pound. My only thought afterwards was how to cook it. There are dozens of ways for sure, many of them with wine, as chanterelle has an affinity with wine. A recipe in the Sunday paper gave me an idea: fettuccine with chanterelles. I'm not fond of creamy pasta but the clincher was it calls for a dollop or so of Amontillado. I quickly envisioned enjoying the chanterelle pasta with a glass of Amontillado. Yey.

Amontillado is basically a Fino Sherry that has aged oxidatively--its color is amber and the flavor is nutty and strong, with alcohol upwards of 17 percent. Old Amontillado is even darker, nuttier, and more alcoholic. I find old Amontillado overwhelming to pair with any dish. For me a young Amontillado, or better yet, a Fino-Amontillado, pairs best with food. But that's just me.

A Fino-Amontillado is not an official category, thus you'll find no designation on the label. But trust me it's out there. It is a Fino that is aged longer, right to the point when the biological aging with the flor stops, thus the oxidative aging begins. I love this kind of tweener Sherry.

Equipo Navazos made a Fino-Amontillado in its "La Bota de Fino (Amontillado) No. 24" from a solera in Montilla-Moriles. The best Fino-Amontillado Sherry that I've tasted is Alexander Jules Amontillado 6/26. Alex Russan, the proprietor and shipper of Alexander Jules Sherries, creates this Amontillado from the solera of Bodegas Argüeso in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, thus, technically it was a Manzanilla. The solera from where this Amontillado was extracted consists of 26 barrels. Alex Russan made a selection of just 6 barrels for the Alexander Jules Amontillado producing a mere 1,300 500ml bottles.

With an average age of 10 years, the Alexander Jules Amontillado has a youthful style, a Fino-Amontillado. A beautiful feminine character; soft, but complex, with a hint of floral on the nose and the pungent salinity of a Manzanilla evident in the intense finish. Perfect with the chanterelle pasta.

Jerez Amontillado "6/26", Alexander Jules NV 500ml $37.00 (order)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

'Tis the Season for Nebbiolo and Porcini

I couldn't wait to rush out and grab some the first fresh porcini (cèpes, boletes) in the market. Porcini prices are more reasonable (about $36/pound at our local market) when it is in season. I love best the milder flavor and meaty texture of fresh porcini tossed with pasta, simply sauteed in olive oil with slivers of garlic and shallots and finished with a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano.

The woodsy, earthy flavors of porcini are a natural match for Nebbiolo. The 2009 Brovia Nebbiolo d'Alba is a sweet, ripe vintage that's juicy on the palate. It's fantastic for drinking now. I can't think of a better wine to pair with fresh porcini.

Nebbiolo d'Alba "Valmaggione", Fratelli Brovia 2009 (click to buy)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Aligoté from the Côte Chalonnaise

The story goes, Martine Saunier, the famous Burgundy importer, noticed that there were still a couple of cases of the 2006 Bourgogne Aligoté from Danjean-Berthoux, a producer in the Côte Chalonnaise, left unsold. Aligoté is a white Burgundy that people usually enjoy young, though it doesn't necessarily mean it can't age. The wine was showing its age but was still drinking great. She decided to blow out the remaining cases. I got the memo and immediately pounced and bought everything left.

I love Aligoté, including ones with age. But's hard to find aged Aligoté as it's quickly sold and consumed on release. Like rosé, no one ages Aligoté. Though its fruit is light and delicate, Aligoté has high acidity that is responsible for its bracing allure. This sharp acidity also allows the wine to keep a bit longer even though the fruit lacks concentration.

Last night I opened a bottle of this 2006 Aligoté at our local sushi bar. Initially it seemed a bit tired, but as I gulped down half a dozen oysters and more sushi, the Aligoté got firmer. By the middle of meal, the Aligoté--by now opened for half an hour--was rejuvenated and full of energy. I was thinking, for $12, what a buy! And I could afford another order of sushi.

Bourgogne Aligoté, Domaine du Moulin Neuf-Danjean-Berthoux 2006 $12.00

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Bones of Paris

Bones Restaurant and Bar in Paris' 11th arrondisement is spectacular in every way. The chef is a young Australian, James Henry, who worked at Spring then was hired as opening chef at Au Passage, where he showed his magic, quickly becoming one of the hottest chefs in Paris. Last January--a year or so after leaving Au Passage--he moved in to a former Irish pub to open his own restaurant. The opening of Bones was highly anticipated and as expected an instant hit. Getting a reservation needless to say is tough, especially from the States. I persevered and got in days before I arrived in Paris.

I read that the name "Bones" is a reference to the old stone structure of the Irish pub. I could easily imagine the name as affirming Henry's ingredients-obsessed cooking and for his emphasis on homemade. Bones churns its own butter, makes its own sourdough bread from a starter, and cures and smokes meat for its delicious charcuterie. I find this practice artisanal, as well as frugal, which I believe is the key to good coking. Minutes after my order was taken, the first of three amuse-bouches landed on my table. Glistening ribbons of housemade pancetta that looked too beautiful to eat and tasted like a dream. I was told the source of the pork was a farm in southern France.

The front half of the space is occupied by the bar à manger and the back is where the dining area is set. If you can't get into the restaurant, the bar looks like an excellent consolation. Although I didn't check the menu, I imagine the food at the bar to be pretty good, too, and very likely the dinner menu is available for the counter seating. Whatever the case might be, the winning wine list makes it all worthwhile to be in any seat in the house, especially if you love discovering obscure natural wines. But more on wine later.

The restaurant offers only dinner service twice a night: 7pm and10pm. Menu is prix fixe at 47 euros for a four-course, including three surprisingly good amuse-bouches. The optional cheese plate is an extra 8 euros. I was told, though, to come in at 7:15-7:20. When I showed up fashionably at 7:30pm there were a few folks hanging out at the bar, but I was the first one to arrive for dinner. The staff is friendly and engaging, and helped me with all my questions about the dishes and the wines. I was seated where the bar and the restaurant separates, right next to the charcuterie station.

The wine list is more compact than I expected, but filled with many wines that I'm not familiar with. I eyed the by-the-glass selections and ordered Emile Hérédia's 2009 Domaine de Montrieux Coteaux du Vendômois. I've had his Le Verre des Poètes, a pure Pineau d'Aunis from the Loire as this one, but this is from younger vines. Simple and not as impressive as the verre des poètes but it is refreshing and fruity.

The second amuse-bouche was just as amazing, grilled crevette impériale from Charente.

I love offal and I've been eating chicken hearts since I was a kid. The third amuse-bouche, either sauteed or grilled duck heart was a bit unsettling at first. It was so rosy red. I ate it in a couple of bites--delicious, especially washed down by the Pineau d'Aunis.

Bones has really good housemade butter and sourdough bread.

When my first course arrived, I realized what a value Bones is as I've already been eating for a while and still there were three more courses to go. The plate was a bonito sashimi, red onions, and prune in a puddle of light sauce. The combination was hard to imagine in my head but it was tasty in my mouth.

Domaine Alice et Olivier de Moor in Chablis produces at least three different kinds of Aligoté, one of them is the "À Ligoter". It is made from young Aligoté vines and is bottled in its youth in April the following year. Crisp and intense, not just for an Aligoté but especially for a young Aligoté. I love it, like all of de Moor's wines. With the bonito and the skate wing and pork to follow, it was satisfying.

The second course was a rich seafood dish of skate, which I always love but seldom get to enjoy. I never see it on menus of San Francisco Bay Area restaurants. The classic preparation is with brown butter. Henry's version is the best I've ever had.

The fried skate floated on a light crab bisque with champignon mushrooms and red basil leaves drifting around it. This was mindblowingly good. The autumnal colors also looked beautiful. My dish of the night. It was like two great dishes combined. The skate by itself garnished with the champignon and red basil would already be pure pleasure. But the soup d'etrilles was to die for. I mopped up the bowl clean with the bread.

The meat course almost sounded American, as the ingredients were pork shoulder, corn, and snow peas. The echine de cochon is a rarely seen specialty pork cut in the States; it is the blade shoulder from the upper end of the boston butt. As anyone who loves barbecue knows the pork shoulder is very flavorful but chewy, so it is tenderized by slow-cooking. I'm not sure what Henry did. At first I thought it was sous-vide because it looked pale and pink, but my waiter checked with the kitchen and said that, no, it was roasted. The echine was tender with a bit of resistance and the flavor with the corn-based sauce was mild and tasty. In the States one seldom gets to enjoy pork prepared with this purity, as it is usually glazed, smoked, braised in broth, or rubbed with spices.

I skipped the optional cheese course as I was getting full. Before the dessert came a little palate cleanser of red raspberry in shaved ice. It was as simple as figs on a plate. For some reason Bones reminded me of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA.

The purity of ingredients of the dessert of roasted peach, almond and peach sorbet, and fresh mulberries was so Chez Panisse in brilliance.

During dinner I've been chatting with the waiter who is also the restaurant's main wine guy (they don't have a somm or wine director), Pierre Derrien. At the end of the meal Pierre asked if I want another glass and challenged me with a wine he picked out to see if I was going to like it. It was the (2010) Vino Bianco Dinavolino from Denavolo in Emilia-Romagna. He wrote down the blend for me: 25% each Marsanne (I didn't know it was planted in Italy!), Malvasia di Candia Aromatica, Ortrugo, and an old native grape variety. The wine obviously had skin contact (4 days according to information I dug up later). I've never had any wine from this producer before but it was certainly quite a jolt at the end after dessert. It's bone-dry, earthy, pear-skin, and funky flavors were so incongruous to everything I've put it in my mouth so far. It was a step in another direction.

The Dinavolino was a great ending as it left me hanging, like a "to be continued" postscript. When would my next meal at Bones be? And where would the wines and food take me next time?

Bones Restaurant and Bar
43 rue Godefroy Cavignac, 11ème
75011 Paris
Tel +33 09 80753208
Tues-Sat from 7pm
Call 2pm-7pm for dinner reservations, bar is open for walk-in from 7pm

p.s. here's an excellent video on Bones on youtube