Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Southern Rhônes À La Château Rayas

Emmanuel Reynaud took over Chateau Rayas in 1997 after his uncle, legendary vigneron Jacques Reynaud passed away. But well before that, starting in 1989, Emmanuel was already doing much of the work alongside his uncle at Rayas, and he was also operating his own estate, Chateau des Tours in Vacqueyras (just east of Chateauneuf du Pape), which passed on to him after his father died.

Thus, for the past 15 years Emmanuel Reynaud has been in charge of both Chateau Rayas and Chateau des Tours. The viticulture and winemaking approach of both estates are the same, with Reynaud applying the technique and philosophy he learned from his uncle. In both estates Grenache dominates, with vines ranging from 30 to over 50 years old that are farmed organically. As with his uncle, grapes are harvested only when they are fully mature, no matter what. "That is the game we've always played in the family: we want ripe fruit, and we'll pick late if necessary," Emmanuel says. "You must know how to take risks to win. You must be ready to lose."

Every year for the past ten years I taste the wines of both Chateau Rayas and Chateau des Tours together prior to release. The wines are always presented together. Last February was the most recent tasting, which included these two stunning, newly released Chateau des Tours wines. The rest of the Chateau des Tours and the Chateau Rayas wines will be released later this fall.

I can't tell you enough of how wonderful these two wines are-they were two of my top favorites in the tasting, with the others being the Chateau Rayas wines-and how amazingly seamless their style to Chateau Rayas. Of course, Chateau Rayas wines cost hundreds of dollars, while the price of these two Chateau des Tours wines is not even close to that.

Vin de Pays de Vaucluse Rouge, Domaine des Tours-Chateau des Tours 2009 $21.00 (Click to buy!)
A spectacular wine that is outstanding in every way. Luscious ripe fruit backed by smooth tannins that glides on the palate. Aromatic cherries and garrigue scents. Beautifully balanced wine. A blend of mostly Grenache with some Cinsault, Counoise, Syrah, and Merlot farmed organically in estate vineyards. As in Chateau Rayas, each variety is vinified separately and aged in oak casks, with the blending or assemblage done before bottling.

Vacqueyras, Chateau des Tours 2006 $55.00 (Click to buy!)
This is being released presumably because it is the right time. Who's to argue? This is a phenomenal wine! The extended aging has integrated the flavors and appears to have achieved lovely finesse. Completely Rayas-like in every way, except for the price. The nose is seductive and complex with mingling scents of honeysuckle, cherry, and raspberries. The color is as light as Pinot Noir or Chambolle-Musigny. Pure, delicate Grenache flavors of light reds fruits, sweet spices, and a hint of smoke. Sexy and charming. The finish is long, and there the rich tannins make their presence known as the fruit recedes gradually. A blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah from organically farmed vines that are 30 to over 50 years-old. Each variety is vinified separately and aged in oak casks, with the assemblage done before bottling.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

At The New Hutong SF: Food and Graffiti Art Vie for Attention

Hutong in San Francisco's Cow Hollow district is a terrific restaurant. There is only one problem: it opened in the wrong place. The very concept of "hutong"--gritty, crowded alleyways in old Beijing--goes against the vibe in the safe, affluent, Tommy Bahama chic of Union Street. I don't think it would even occur to my 22 year-old nephew, who eagerly joined me in one of my two trips, to wander into this neighborhood had it not been for Hutong. Not since Pane e Vino's heyday, maybe 15 years ago, have I found a reason to come to Union Street. Kudos to Hutong for breaking my Union Street MIA streak.

Hutong's ownership and crew were bold to kill the popular Betelnut after an 18-year run and replace it with an edgy, graffiti-inspired look. Unless you've been under a rock for the past ten years, you would find the food familiar--the cuisine succeeds in being tasty but doesn't really break new ground, as it consists of takes on popular Asian dishes refreshed and refined in hip small plate presentations. What steals the show is the graffiti decor that exudes a shadowy, gritty vibe. If Hutong's look from the signage to the interior offends the genteel Union Street crowd, then the restaurant has hit the mark. A particular treat are the paintings by Banksy that adorn the walls here, here and here.

Cutting-edge cocktail selections are de rigueur in the city these days so Hutong's cocktails are up to speed in being exotic and fun--a lay-up given the hutong theme. But what delighted me was the cocktails paired well with the food, though I'm not sure if this was by design or purely accidental. For one, the Fu Dog--Stoli vodka, St. Germain liqueur, Maraschino liqueur, grapefruit, egg white--was a fruity, refreshing start, making my palate water before I started drinking wine. On another visit I tried the ginger flavored Beijing Mule--Buffalo Trace Bourbon, ginger, lime, ginger beer--which pairs as good as any sparkling wine or white wine with the spicy dishes. Unless I missed it, what I'd like to see on the drinks menu are good shochu (soju) and sake offerings, perhaps even exotic Asian spirits like Maotai and baijiu--that would complete the hutong picture.

I brought a wine that I haven't had in a while, Andre Ostertag's 2005 Alsace Pinot Noir "Fronholz. Andre Ostertag makes serious Alsace Pinot Noir as he studied winemaking in Beaune and trained with Dominique Lafon. Enjoying an Alsace Pinot Noir doesn't happen often, as few are made and it's not a wine one thinks of drinking from Alsace, but opening one with some age is an even rarer treat. This '05 Fronholz was an eye-opener, proof that Alsace Pinot Noir can age beautifully, gaining finesse after several years. I was reminded of a Chassagne rouge. It is drinking fresh and youthful, with a lovely concentration; its soft, dark, earthy fruit flavors proving versatile with every dish.

On another visit I brought a white Burgundy, the 2007 Philippe Colin Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Clos Saint Jean. The mineral, almost Chablis-like sharpness of this Chassagne was fantastic with many of the the dishes, especially the Raw seafood section of the menu. We gulped down the bottle well before we finished eating everything.

The stone pot noodles is mixed by the server tableside and is one of my favorites on the menu.

A dish that is reminiscent of sisig is the oxtail hotpot. What a tasty concoction! Very much in the street food, hutong spirit.

2030 Union Street
San Francisco, CA 94123