Thursday, December 18, 2014

Handmade Soba with Sake, Plus Dry Riesling

Back in October we had our first handmade soba noodle making demo with sake pairing. I say "first" because the event was a hit and many interested people missed out due to space limitations. I plan to invite Yumi again to the store see her magically transform mere buckwheat flour and water into tasty strands of noodles with just her bare hands!

The drinks pairing feature was mainly sake. With the appetizers, I poured the Amabuki "Sunflower" sake, a more dry sake made with sunflower yeasts that proved to be everyone's favorite. Another one I poured was the Sohomare Tokubetsu Kimoto Junmai (buy it here), a more subtle and expressive sake with depth in the finish.

While viewing Yumi's noodle making demonstration, I served a glass of Iwate Brewery Japanese Herb Ale Sansho (buy it here), a fun and refreshing beer flavored with sansho. I find this beer's slight bitterness and herbal and spicy flavors attractive to wine enthusiasts.

Finally, with the soba itself, I presented the 2011 Van Volxem Mosel Riesling "Wiltinger Braunefels (buy it here). Earlier this year when I was in Kyoto, I enjoyed drinking this wine so much at Ryuhei, which serves soba-themed kaiseki style cuisine. This mineral, dry Riesling I find has an affinity with soba that's subtle and sublime.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Francis Boulard Champagne Extra Brut Les Murgiers

This is a standout Champagne. Pure and simple. On the tasting table next to impressive and more expensive cuvees from Cedric Bouchard, Jacques Lassaigne, Andre Beaufort, Tarlant, and Benoit Dehu; this Extra Brut Les Murgiers (there's a Brut Nature version) from Francis Boulard stood out for me. I went back and forth, just to be sure.

Francis Boulard is the sixth generation vigneron in his family. He is a tiny producer, with less than 3 hectares of vineyards in the Montagne de Reims area. He is helped by his daughter, Delphine. They farm organically and biodynamically and they make sure they harvest at full ripeness, even if they have to wait late.

This Les Murgiers cuvee is a Blanc de Noir, consisting of 70% Pinot Meunier and 30% Pinot Noir. The grapes are vinified with native yeasts and the wine undergoes full malo, aging in wood--a combination of old barrel and casks. Afterwards the wine is bottled unfined. This Extra Brut sees very little dosage, only between 3 to 5 g/L.

Drinking beautifully, full of energy and luscious fruit. In fact, it's very hard to stop sipping it because of its luscious minerality and depth of flavors. A really stunning grower Champagne selling at a reasonable price. Disgorged October 2012. This recent release was the top choice of the highly respected 2015 Bettane & Desseauve Wine Guide from Francis Boulard, beating their higher end cuvees!

Champagne Extra Brut "Les Murgiers", Francis Boulard NV $56.00 (order here)

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Tilted Shed "Old Orchard" Sonoma Dry Cider

For over a decade, the only ciders we've carried in the store are the ones produced by Eric Bordelet in the Normandy region. He's widely considered the pioneer in reviving production of artisanal ciders.

Lately, interest in making cider the traditional and natural way has spread beyond France and to the US, especially in West Sonoma, the heart of apple country in California. This is where Tilted Shed Ciderworks is based, surrounded by old orchards planted with heirloom apple varieties. They make cider based on Old World methods of manual harvesting, handwashing, pressing, and long, slow fermentations. Tilted Shed ciders take about a year to make.

Tilted Shed's fall release "Lost Orchard" Dry Cider is a small batch dry cider made from various heirloom apples grown in old orchards scattered around Sonoma. Varieties include, Nehou, Muscat de Bernay, Porter's Perfection, Tremlett's Bitter, and Kingston Black. 8% alcohol. Only 100 gallons were made. This has bone-dry, juicy, and refreshing flavors. I love drinking this with Asian food, especially sushi.

Tilted Shed Ciderworks Sonoma Dry Cider "Lost Orchard" NV 375ml $12.00 (order here)

Monday, November 24, 2014

5 Best Wines for Turkey

Turkey can be a bit tricky to pair with wines. So I've short-listed 5 wines that would enhance your turkey meal. Their flavors are intense, but not heavy, with a brightness of fruit and some earthy spice that would make the turkey taste delicious with every bite. Check them out!

San Diego County Red "Grenache Carignane", Los Pilares 2013 $24.00 (order here)

A terrific vintage for this singular blend of 50% Grenache and 50% Carignane from San Diego County. The fruit comes from meticulously farmed vines planted in 1981 in McCormick Ranch Vineyard. The vineyard is farmed sustainably in a cool micro-climate situated at an elevation of nearly 1,000 feet in the backcountry of San Diego County just east of Escondido. This area of San Diego County is ideal for growing these Rhone varieties. Its scrubland terrain and Mediterranean climate allow these grapes to produce intense, flavorful wines. 12.3% alcohol. Just 180 cases produced

Santa Ynez Valley Red "Grande Marque Rouge", Storm Wines 2012 $33.00 (order here)

Winemaker Ernst Storm produced this red blend from Rhone varietals that is balanced, food friendly and uncomplicated. Think of an oak fire, good friends, family, music and laughter! The 2012 Grande Marque Rouge is a luscious blend of 43% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 14% Cinsault, and 14% Syrah from three prime cool vineyard sites in Santa Ynez Valley--Curtis Vineyard, Demetria Estate, and Kingsley Vineyard. Bottled without fining and filtration. 13.5% alcohol. Just 165 cases produced.

Cienaga Valley Trousseau "Siletto Vineyard", Harrington Wines 2012 $33.00 (order here)

Two things that Trousseau love, a warm, sunny exposure and rocky, gravelly soils. Fortunately, the Siletto Vineyard in San Benito's Gavilan Mountains has both, thus Trousseau ripens well here. Bryan Harrington ensures that all that goodness in the vineyard remains intact in the winemaking. He vinifies with native yeasts without temperature control and other manipulations. Addition of sulfites is minimal (20 ppm) and the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered. Bryan's natural winemaking approach results into a wine of fresh aromas and deep flavors. It is a rich expression of Trousseau with good tannins and balanced structure. 14.1% alcohol. Only 53 cases made. If you love Trousseau or if you've never had it before, don't miss this.

Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge "CSG", Autour de l'Anne 2012 $28.00 (order here)

Grapes were grown in France's Languedoc region, but the wine was aged and bottled in a cave up north in the Loire. A blend of Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah from vines averaging 40 to 60 years-old planted in limestone and red clay soils with miniscule yields. Vinified separately before blending in tank for a year in the winery's cellar in the Loire. Gorgeous, velvety, rich red fruit flavors, bitter spice and very smooth tannins. 12.5% alcohol. No added sulfites. A different kind of Languedoc, more delicate and elegant in character.

Beaujolais-Villages "Tracot", Domaine Jean-Paul Dubost 2013 $19.00 (order here)

The Tracot vineyard in the Beaujolais-Villages area is one of the most notable vineyards in all Beaujolais. Over the past century the Dubost family have replanted the Gamay vines, and today they average 45 years-old, with some vines over 50 years-old. It is farmed biodynamically. The wine is vinified in tank and cement traditionally using whole clusters and fermenting with native yeasts. There is a light filtration and a minimal dose of sulphites at bottling. Production was down in 2013 but the quality is amazing. Rich with fruit with zesty acidity and good structure. 12.5% alcohol.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

3 Effective Cab Franc Remedies for the Rougeardless

Around this time of the year a frenzy happens in wine geek nation. A feverish search for elusive bottles of that wine unicorn: Clos Rougeard. I'm at a loss on what spurred this phenomenon. But then again a similar rush used to occur several years ago with Wine Spectator's pronouncement of its Top 100.

If, alas, you happen to come up empty, there's no need to sulk. You are not alone, in fact, nearly all would end up with a Rougeardless search. And so I'd like to step in and offer 3 Rougeard remedies. Though they taste differently from Clos Rougeard, they work for me because they share Rougeard's pure and expressive flavors and natural winemaking approach.

I think these 3 wines should keep things interesting until you get lucky enough to land a bottle of Rougeard. And you might just feel content enough and forget about searching for the unicorn.

Sylvain Dittiere is the new, young rising star of Saumur. He worked closely with Thierry Germain, Anthony Foucault (son of Charly Foucault of Clos Rougeard) and even Marc Tempe of Alsace. He's a micro-negoce, producing small quantity of wines from vineyards that are organically farmed and planted with 30 to 40 year-old Cabernet Franc vines. He applies a non-interventionist approach to his winemaking, vinifying with natural yeasts and applying minimal sulfites. This superb release has a gorgeous concentration. Fleshy and dense, with wild, rustic, flavors of dark berries, earthy, game, mineral, and spice. It is as intense, complex, and expressive as a great Syrah from Cote-Rotie.

Saumur-Champigny, La Porte Saint Jean (Sylvain Dittiere) 2011 $29.00 (order here)

Sebastien Bobinet became the eight vigneron in his family when he took over his grandfather's 2-hectare vineyard, predominantly planted to Cabernet Franc, in Saumur-Champigny back in 2002. Young and wet behind the ears, he befriended Nady Foucault of Clos Rougeard and trained with Olivier Cousin to learn the ropes. He learned fast. Today, 12 years later, he's a rising star and his small production is eagerly snapped up by customers in the few places his wines are sold.

Bobinet's wines are healthy and pure. He farms organically and vinifies with natural yeasts, avoiding additives and the addition of sulphites. He aims to express precisely the excellent
terroir of his wines. The 2013 Saumur-Champigny "Ruben" is 100% Cabernet Franc from a 1.25-acre parcel of the vineyard planted with 25-40 year-old vines. It is aged in larger barrels of 330 liters in the domaine's natural limestone cave. This is a wonderful Saumur-Champigny, floral-scented, juicy, and textured. Very youthful, yet luscious. A few more years and it will even be more irresistible.

Saumur-Champigny "Ruben", Sebastien Bobinet 2013 $23.00 (order here)

Imported by Beaune Imports, the same West Coast agent of Clos Rougeard. This, of course, is 100% Cabernet Franc from organically farmed vineyards in Bourgueil, very close to Saumur. It was the late Didier Dagueneau himself who recommended Pierre et Rodolphe Gauthier to Beaune Imports when they were searching for a Bourgueil producer. Juicy, with intense Cabernet Franc fruit and supple tannins. Well balanced and expertly crafted by Pierre Gauthier, a true master of Loire Cabernet Franc.

Bourgueil Cabernet Franc "Joir de Soif", Pierre et Rodolphe Gauthier 2012 $16.00 (order here)

Friday, November 14, 2014

A 2011 Red Chassagne to Embarrass Them All

I've always heaped praise on the 2011 vintage in Burgundy. If there's a vintage I know well enough in Burgundy it's 2011. I was there helping out during harvest. I walked the vines of Richebourg, Romanee-St.-Vivant, La Tache, Musigny, Chambertin, and Morey-St.-Denis, chewing their berries as I passed by just before they were harvested. The fruit was juicy and ripe, and mostly healthy, with desirable millerandage. I returned to Burgundy the following year, getting a chance to taste and smell the wines from barrel for the first time. Last year I was in Burgundy again, just when the wines were getting ready to be bottled. Finally, since the start of this year and through last week, I've been tasting countless 2011 Burgundies from bottle.

2011 red and white Burgundies are gorgeous. It's an easy vintage to like because there's good energy and balance in the wines. I love tasting them, especially if the producer got it right. Despite the intensity of flavors and the structure, the wines have a delicacy that can easily be marred by heavy extraction and too much oak. The ones I like best allow the purity to express itself. If the wine has too much extraction and too much oak, there's a good chance the producer is covering up for a mistake.

One of my favorite reds from 2011 is Michel Niellon's red Chassagne-Montrachet from the premier cru vineyard of Clos St. Jean. In fact, I love Chassagne reds and whites in this vintage. Michel Niellon, of course, makes one of the most wonderful Chevalier-Montrachets. But if you've never had a great Chassagne red, well, you have to try his. I tasted Niellon's red along with 2011s from Roumier, Grivot, and Courcel and it still stood out. I love the combination of fruit and structure, there is a depth to this.

Chassagne is not supposed to produce red Burgundies of this quality. So the price for this Niellon is much lower than equivalent premiers crus from the typical red wine vineyards of the Cote. But I can tell you, this would embarrass most of them.

Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Clos Saint-Jean Rouge, Domaine Michel Niellon 2011 $58.00 (order here)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Disruptive Burgundy From Sextant

Vin de France is a disruptive designation, especially for Burgundy. I'll take it anytime coming from a producer like Julien Altaber. Vin de France has become a badge for honestly made wines at affordable prices. For Burgundy, VdF is particularly disruptive.

Julien Altaber doesn't come from a winemaking family, but he got started in wine early. He studied oenology in Beaune and worked for the past ten years at a negoce (Champy) and at Dominique Derain in Saint-Abuin before venturing out to establish his own winery, named Sextant, with his wife. He hasn't quit his day-job, he still works at Derain and at the same time he continues to build his own label.

Altaber is a conscientoius Burgundy winemaker. He buys healthy, organicaly grown fruit from excellent parcels and vineyards, mainly from vignerons he knows well. In the the cellar, his work is totally manual--using a hand destemmer made of wicker and doing pigeage by foot.

Vinification is totally natural at Sextant. Altaber ferments with native yeasts and vinifies without corrections or additives. If he thinks it is warranted, he would sometimes add a small dose of sulphites during racking.

Sextant's 2013 Vine France Pinot Noir is gorgeously perfumed, light-bodied, intensely flavored with bright red fruits. So pure and luscious. A steal for a red Burgundy with such charming character.

Vin de France Pinot Noir, Sextant (Julien Altaber) 2013 $25.00 (order here)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Better in Magnum?

I was introduced to Domaine Guion's Bourgueil recently by tasting this magnum of 2008 "Cuvee Prestige" next its younger sibling, the current release 2012. The four-year age gap already shows the difference in maturity. The 2008 has evolved to gain more depth and flavor complexity. I can't wait to see how this magnum develops with some more age, that is if I can resist opening it!

Guion's Cuvee prestige is 100% Cabernet Franc from 40 to 85 year-old vines farmed organically since 1965. Stephane Guion vinifies using natives yeasts, without additives and no additon of sulphites until bottling, when a small dose is applied to safeguard the wine for its journey.

Domaine Guion was established by the Guion family in the 1950s in Bourgueil, in the middle Loire near Touraine. They were a pioneer in converting to organic farming as early as 1965. Today, the 8.5 hectare estate is run by Stephane Guion, who took over from his father in 1994. Their vineyards are all within Bourgueil, consisting of all Cabernet Franc (Cabernet Sauvignon is allowed by the appellation) ranging from 10 to over 80 year-old vines.

As I've discovered with this magnum, Domaine Guion is the source for pure, long-lived Bourgueil Cabernet Franc that age beautifully. Their wines evolve as long as a top Chinon or Saumur-Champigny, but at a bargain price.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Autour de l'Anne: Loire to Languedoc and Back

In Buellton, CA, in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, I thought I'd lug with me a bottle of Anne Paillet's 2012 Autour de l'Anne "CSG" Coteaux du Languedoc to Industrial Eats, a new local eatery that's frequented by local winemakers. The place, owned by New York transplants, specializes in salumi, charcuterie and smoked meats, much of them made in-house. I thought, this is just the perfect spot to drink Anne Paillet's wine, notwithstanding how this place is big on promoting local wines.

Anne Paillet is married to Gregory Leclerc of Chahut et Prodiges, a much praised natural wine producer in the Touraine area of the Loire. Yet, Anne rents a small organically and biodynamically farrmed vineyard in Pic St. Loup in the Languedoc. She vinifies the wine in the Languedoc, then moves them to the Loire to age in a her husband's cave cellar.

The result is that the cuvee CSG--consisting of Cinsault, Syrah, and Grenache from 40-60 year-old vines--seems to be more Loire than Languedoc. It's a juicy, refreshing, light-bodied red with noticeable tannins, bright acidity, and just 12.5% alcohol. Four of us drained the bottle in no time over plates of charcuterie, salumi, salad, and smoked pheasant. We could have easily finished another bottle, or maybe two. The wine was delicious and refreshing, I hardly touched the water during the meal.

Vineyard Gate offers two of Anne Paillet's current releases. Both brilliant. The other one is all Syrah that has northern Rhone-like intensity, but with just 12% alcohol

Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge "CSG", Autour de l'Anne 2012 $28.00

Coteaux du Languedoc Rouge "Syrah", Authour de l'Anne 2012 $35.00

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Extra-Ordinaire Wine Bar

Ordinaire, a wine shop and wine bar in the Grand-Lake neighborhood of Oakland, CA.

By-the-glass wines on the board above the counter. I walked in and ordered a glass of Angiolino Maule's Bianco, instead, Bradford, the patron, treated me and my wife to a lovely glass of Bulles de Comptoir No 2 Extra Brut from Charles Dufour. I don't sell it, unfortunately. A Champagne brought in by Return to Terroir.

Bistro Ordinaire opens Thursday-Saturday. I made friends with the chef recently, Josh Eubank, a young guy with a sharp palate and keen eye for brilliant wines. I'm looking forward to learning from him more. Meanwhile, his cooking is a pleasure. You can't go wrong with anything on the compact menu, as I had everything except for the steak. My favorite this evening was the Stuffed Squid with Romesco.

One of Josh's selections, a 2013 Chenas from Julien Guillot, who's based in the Macon. Very juicy and showing well this evening. I'm not sure if it was made in the traditional Beaujolais way, as it tasted more Maconnais to me.

I grabbed a couple of bottles from my pantry before I headed to Ordinaire. One was this 2012 Le Raisin & L'ange Fable made by Gilles Azzoni in the Ardeche. Mainly Syrah, with some Grenache, maybe other grapes, too. Quite different from a Northern Rhone red; lighter, gentler, softer.

The second bottle I brought is a new arrival at the store, supplied by Fifi. The 2012 Les Vignes Herbel Alfred & Leon is Cabernet Franc from Anjou made by a young couple. Organically farmed with applied biodynamic methods. They took over the house of Jo Pithon. Excellent depth.

Ordinaire offers the Bay Area's best selection of reasonably priced vins naturels (except for Vineyard Gate, of course!) and with Josh's food--at prices that don't break $15 for appetizers and $20 for mains--the place can't be beat for a night out on a tight budget.

Ordinaire Wine Shop & Wine Bar
3354 Grand Avenue
Oakland, CA

Saturday, October 4, 2014

In Shiga, Making Jizake

Last winter I spent a few days in Shiga, Japan, helping make a batch of sake with friends. Jean Marc Brignot, a winemaker from France who now lives in Japan, joined us for the fun and to infuse his wine wisdom to this little project. The two of us were the only non-Japanese in the brewery and both of us had no experience in sake making.

After three days working alongside the brewery workers, I can say that sake making is unimaginably complicated and physically demanding! You wake up each morning at five o'clock in the 40 degree F chill, then start work an hour later through the rest of the day, interrupted by a two-hour mid-day break for lunch and a short nap. For six months straight every year, brewery workers live like this. It's a brutal schedule that, by comparison, makes winemaking, which is tough work, seems like a walk in the park.

My friend, Kei, the brewery's young toji. He's standing next to the special batch of sake we're about help finish. It's never been done, sake brewed and fermented in an amphora-like clay vessel.

The outcome and reward for all these efforts is jizake--artisanal, local, manually produced, small batch sake. It's the stuff of sake dreams. Jean Marc came up with a cool name for this jizake we made: Umami Blue.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

In Praise of Wines We Can Afford to Drink Daily

Most wines that we often enjoyed not too long ago are no longer that affordable. Just check out the inflated prices of familiar brands of Napa Cabs and Pinot Noirs, Chateauneuf du Papes, Northern Rhones, Barolos, Bordeaux, and Burgundies. Yet,  instead of commiserating, it made me look further afield.

Today, I'm discovering  many wonderful wines that are not making me miss those wines I coveted. For example, prices of well-known Priorat brands have escalated way beyond what I'd feel comfortable of paying. But the Priorat from Bodegas La Cartuja is less than $20, not $75-$150. When I tasted the 2012 La Cartuja Priorat, I was impressed and satisfied.

Would buying another Priorat that's quadruple the price deliver a vastly superior experience? In decades of drinking wines I can say, I don't think so. This $18 Priorat hits the spot in every way.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

offaly good cuisine at b.o.s.

I visited b.o.s. in LA's Little Tokyo district during the recent Labor Day holiday weekend not knowing much what to expect. Delightfully, I encountered some very good offal renditions.

The menu at b.o.s. is clearly cow-centric, allowing just a few entries of vegetable and seafood dishes. Such meat-heavy fare sticks out in this district of sushi bars and tonkotsu ramen shops. But then again the Japanese love offal, not just cow, pig, and chicken parts but also innards of fish and shellfish.

Red meat couldn't be more attention-grabbing than in the first appetizer I ordered. The waiter set a hot plate on the table, then proceeded to arrange on it slices of raw beef tongue marinating in tangy lime chili sauce. The tongue hissed loudly, while smoke rushed from the plate carrying the pungent scent of the sauce. Sizzling plates are a cliche but I find this dish a good intro into what this place is all about. It had gyutan's beefy flavor infused with Thai-inspired spicy seasoning. World cuisine in offal form.

I brought my own bottle of wine, a 2011 Pyramid Valley Vineyards Marlborough Pinot Blanc/Pinot Gris made with skin maceration and without any added sulfites. Its wonderful deep amber color could be shocking to the uninitiated drinker of "orange" wine but as you get beyond that the depth of flavors is rich and gorgeous, tingling with energy and with a touch of the exotic. It was perfect with the unique bovine cuisine of this place. I finished the bottle effortlessly during the meal.

I'm sure  b.o.s.'s fried tripe "calamari" and small intestine chicharron is one of the main draws of the menu. Tripe and intestine have been the crown jewels of offal. Deep fried intestine is a natural, but the deep fried tripe, though clever as "calamari", was on the rubbery side. I prefer tripe slow-cooked. I would have enjoyed this dish more if it was all intestine chicharron. Nevertheless, the cool cilantro garlic yogurt dip proved delicious with both.

I understand Chef David Bartnes' background is multicultural; evidently his cuisine is a reflection of his personality. He prepared a plate of calf brains fried in panko presented on a kambocha puree with a side of gremolata arugula and grape compote. Inside its crispy crust, the calf brains was well-cooked, moist and soft, and together with the grape compote, a revelation in flavor pairing.

Throughout the meal I took comfort with the side of curried cauliflower, chickpeas, and potatoes. This alone, perhaps over rice or noodles, would satisfy me. It was also delicious with the Pyramid Valley. I'll remember to recreate it at home.

Finally, I asked Chef Bartnes for a last course to end the meal. I told him I was close to getting full so he suggested uni and lobster pasta, instead of, I guess, a 30 oz prime ribeye. I was glad the portion was modest. The rich and creamy house fettuccine, with morsels of uni and lobster, hit the spot.

A week later after my visit I found out that b.o.s. announced that it is closing its doors on September 27th. The reason cited was poor business: "unfortunately we were not able to generate enough buzz to sustain the high costs of maintaining a nose-to-tail restaurant in this location." It opened on October 2013 so it's been around for barely a year. I was disappointed because I was hoping to return. If the restaurant can't make it in LA's Downtown and Little Tokyo district, then where else can it succeed? I don't know about the East Coast, but it seems that on the West Coast, nose-to-tail fine dining is still struggling to find an audience.

b.o.s. nose to tail
424  E. 2nd Street
Little Tokyo Los Angeles, CA

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Japanese Sansho Herb Ale

At the newly opened Oshinae Japanese-American restaurant in Millbrae I knew I was in for something hot and spicy so I came prepared. There isn't a more perfect beverage to go with hot, spicy pork bulgogi than Iwate Kura Beer's Japanese Sansho Herb Ale. Its bright herbal flavors cool down the burn of this home-style bulgogi. To say this beer refreshes is an understatement. It's a lifesaver. I demolished the mound of bulgogi with gusto and minimal distress.

Vineyard Gate is one of the few sources of this unique Japanese craft beer from Iwate Prefecture made by Sekinoichi Shuzo or Iwate Kura Brewery. Only mountain water from Ichinoseki and locally sourced ingredients (except for the hops which are imported from Europe) are used for its beers. This is not a big beer like an IPA, it's more delicate and offers complex herbal and spicy flavors that I find similar to wine. Make sure to try it!

Japanese Herb Ale Sansho, Iwate Kura Beer Sekinoichi Shuzo 11.5 oz. $7.00

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Château Falfas

Veronique Cochran and her late husband John Cochran visiting Vineyard Gate in 2007. They were one of the earliest to practice biodynamic viticulture in Bordeaux, when they took over the ancient estate of Château Falfas in the Côtes de Bourg in 1988. The vineyards lie on southfacing hillside slopes with a limestone asterie bedrock, longtime recognized as one of the best for grape growing. Vines are quite old, averaging 35 years, with some over 75 years, used for the flagship wine, Le Chevalier.

In the cellar Falfas' work is unmanipulated: fermenting with indigenous yeasts, never adding anything extraneous, not chaptalizing, and bottling unfiltered.

Château Falfas is a source for true Bordeaux.

Friday, August 8, 2014

David Posey Cooks At Commonwealth SF

Commonwealth SF guest chef David Posey at the pass last Monday 5th August. He and the Commonwealth kitchen staff orchestrated a well-timed, compact dinner that featured dishes that were layered and refined and beautifully composed on the plate. Seemingly inspired by the new Nordic cuisine and Australian fusion cooking, the courses highlighted the purity of local ingredients in an intricate composition often inspired by nature's views.

Posey's posse (sorry) of line cooks exhibited a calm energy, executing the dishes with precision.

I brought with me three bottles, all whites, as I anticipated--this being Commonwealth SF--they would go best with the food. One was Didier Dagueneau's 2005 Buisson Renard Blanc Fume de Pouilly. I also deliberately dug up from my cellar a 2001 Meursault from Lafon simply because I'm tired of hearing the shrill premox reports on this wine. More on this later.

To start, an amuse of ratatouile with a spicy kick in a cylindrical toast, and raw albacore with tomato sabayon.

From the Commonwealth staff. The most beautiful dish I've ever seen done with oysters. A marinescape. Devastatingly good as it looks. Sous-vide oysters in cucumber (poured table side) with ice plant and tapioca pearls of coconut water, garnished with borage. Tremendous with Dagueneau's 05 Buisson Renard.

From David Posey. Confit of trout with smoked trout roe, served with zucchini, tomatillo, and purslane. With this dish, the vibrant richness of Lafon's 01 Meursault Clos de la Barre was brilliant.

From the Commonwealth staff. The evening's biggest surprise and most satisfying course . Okra encased in a crispy, thin, filigree crust; with caviar, velvety sweet corn pudding, and whipped creme fraiche, garnished with five kinds of tiny basil leaves. I was so blown away, I ordered this course again at the end of the dinner prior to dessert. Lafon's 01 Meursault worked well with it the first time; while on the second time, another Lafon, his 04 Macon Clos de la Crochette, was equally terrific.

A break. Perfectly timed bread service. Tartine bread, rightfully served on a cedar plank, with butter from Sierra Nevada Cheese Co. The butter knife is Oneida.

From David Posey. Roasted lobster with coffee-braised lobster mushroom draped with thinly sliced gunde's pickles.

From David Posey. Tender aged lamb loin, with turnips and sunflower pesto. The wedges of peaches were brilliant, providing a sweet contrast--a chutney-like effect with the turnips and pesto--and making the dish more lively.

So, as I mentioned, I specifically pulled a bottle of 2001 Lafon Meursault because I'm exasperated by widespread social media premox claims on these wines. I love 2001 Lafons, but then again, I love all vintages from Lafon. I have some 2001 bottles stored in my temperature-controlled storage since release. All imported by Beaune Imports, of course. The bottle I chose to bring was the Clos de la Barre, as this seems to be the main premox culprit. I can tell you that from the get-go and 3-plus hours later, the bottle performed stupefyingly fresh and youthful. I shared the wine with people I was dining with, and I poured a glass for the Commonwealth staff and even gave them the rest of the bottle that still had another good pour left. Everyone loved the wine. Nothing was wrong; on the contrary, it was everything one would expect from Lafon. What can I say?

The other wine alongside the Meursault was Didier Dagueneau's 2005 Buisson Renard. Wow! If forced to choose at gunpoint between the Meursault and the Pouilly, I would choose the Pouilly. The acidity on this wine was numbing at first, but I warmed up to it. Still a very young Sauvignon Blanc at almost ten years on, it offered herbal and spice layers that are a dream to pair with food, especially the kind that Commonwealth serves. If you're wondering what kind of wine to bring at Commonwealth, bring a Dagueneau.

A third bottle I opened was another Lafon, but from south of the Cote d'Or-Mâconnais line. Everyone on our table decided to go for the gusto and order the okra course again, just before the dessert. That was how much we loved this dish. This 2004 Mâcon was a godsend for the dish, as it evoked herbal and vegetal flavors with its fresh citrus and minerality. On a previous visit to Commonwealth I brought a 2003 Lafon Mâcon; what a perfect choice that was, too.

This dinner only bolstered my admiration for Commonwealth SF. The restaurant is usually described by restaurant critics as being "California" and "progressive", which don't really mean anything. But that's the story of Commonwealth, its approach to food defies being conveniently pigeon-holed. You have to go there and experience it. Then you decide if you like it or not. I've already made my mind up on my first visit two years ago.

Footnote: An unexpected bonus when going out in the Mission on a Monday night is running into a brass band. Mission Delirium's klezmer-like thumping and seemingly dissonant beat and the animated energy of its brass players and drummers were electric. They had me shaking and thrashing about late in the night--a great aid for digestion.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Summer Reading

(Here's a notable excerpt from one of my summer readings, "The Island of Crimea" by the late Vassily Aksyonov, translated from the Russian by Michael Henry Heim (Aventura 1984))

Uchan-Su waterfall, Crimea (image from Wikipedia uploaded by Amaga)

The two tall elderly gentlemen--one in his usual faded jeans, the other in the latest Parisian designer overalls--found a table in the shade of the trees and ordered the local specialty, water from the nearby waterfall of Uchan-su.

The sun had almost completed its daily arc above the daily carnival of Yalta. It was nearing the dark-blue side of the mountains and Yalta's glistening climatic screens at their crest.

"What do they put in this water?" asked Baxter. "What makes it so lively?"

"Not a thing. It's completely natural."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Movia Brda Ribolla 2006

Andrew Jefford on today's Weekend FT wrote something nice about Ribolla from Brda like this one from Movia: "the most ancient and most provocatively rewarding of collio's and brda's wines are the golden whites based on the ribolla gialla (or, in slovenian, rebula) variety: they can smell of cheese, fungus, straw or honey, and seem to taste flat and torpid at first. however, then comes a set of compelling aromas and flavours, and great gastronomic aptitude."

if these words don't make you frantically crave for a Brda Ribolla then nothing would.
Movia's Ribolla comes from biodynamically farmed vines that are over 60 years-old. The grapes are vinified with native yeasts, without additives and no sulfites added until bottling. Movia says: "thus the wine has gone through all natural processes and becomes sound and stable naturally, ready to last one lifetime of ours."

The 2006 Movia Brda Ribolla is drinking beautifully, should you decide not to wait a lifetime.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Glou-Glou Summer Tasting: sixth series

Vineyard Gate summer tasting series continue with more gulpable wines.

1 & 2 August, Friday & Saturday. Walk-in tasting from 12pm-5pm. Tasting is complimentary.

Featuring two Georgian wines.

2011 Pheasant's Tears Georgia Shavkapito
Pheasant's Tears makes a 2011 red from the indigenous Shavkapito grape. Intense red, almost Rhone-like in fullness and broadness of flavors. I think it's absolutely marvelous. An enjoyable summer red.

2010 Antadze Winery Georgia Mtsvane
Another Georgian wine that's wowed me is the 2010 Antadze Winery Mtsvane, a native white grape made in the traditional maceration. The luscious flavors and textures are bright and refreshing. A perfect white for the summer

238 Broadway
Millbrae, CA 94030