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