Sunday, June 29, 2014

Al Fresco in Palo Alto

My buddy Dan's pile is a paradise-like pocket-cottage-garden tucked behind a house on a leafy neighborhood street in Palo Alto. He is an intense gardener, as well as a long-time wine enthusiast and food maven. Fortunately for his friends, he loves to entertain at home.

The first time Dan invited me for dinner was several years ago, in the initial phases of his evolving garden that started with heirloom tomatoes. Today, his patio is dense with various edible plants, and his garden empire has expanded to a nearby off-site community garden plot, where he grows a ton of heirloom tomatoes, including rare varieties, even San Marzano!

The cherry tomatoes are still green. A pretty special variety, says Dan.

The padron peppers are also just starting to form.

But the shiso is constantly leafing. Dan served a concoction of infused shiso in water. Wow! Such a refreshing herbal tea.

In the kitchen, Dan and our friend Ash get supper ready. With these two accomplished cooks we are in good hands.

Jazz piped-in at the terrace via blue-tooth Bose speakers connected to a phone, soothing the air.

When night fell pesky bugs started to hover around but there was at least this electronic UV light protection.

Dan sauteed fresh mussels in a mixed chicken broth which was very tasty, especially with the new Champ Rose I brought from Lelarge-Pugeot, an organic and biodynamic producer in Vrigny. It's made with all Pinot Noir with low sulphites and minimal dosage.

I've always looked forward to trying the cuisine of our friend Ash, a skilled and really technical home cook, and I was rewarded. He made a version of gambas al ajillo in thick, garlicky Spanish olive oil sauce which was so good I couldn't stop mopping up the oil in the skillet with baguette!

Dan's homemade pappardelle pasta in tomato sauce (garden grown San Marzano) was simplicity itself but was so intense flavored. An perfect match for the luscious 2011 Massa Vecchia Berace, a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot with a bit of Cabernet Sauvigon made totally naturally, without addition of sulfites or any additives.

Another supper guest, Francisco, whom I met for the first time, turned out to be a Portuguese professional caterer. He brought a tray of tender barbecued pork ribs, which was drop-dead tasty but unlike any barbecued ribs I've had before. It wasn't marinated or slathered with sweet barbecue sauce, like the usual, instead the sauce tasted dry and flavored with peppermint! Terrific with the Massa Vecchia.

Final plate just in case anyone isn't satiated yet, was more pappardelle pasta, this time buttered with black truffles and a drop of lemon juice. Lovely. What else can I say, except, to quote Anthony Hopkins in "Meet Joe Black": I don't want anything more.

Among Dan's legion of friends an invitation for a Sunday supper at his cozy lair is the golden ticket. How could it not be? It's a gastronomic treat with his culinary prowess and the beautiful wines that always flow. Not to mention the serene, jazz-filled, bug-free garden atmosphere. Dan, don't lose my number, dude!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sorting Through Material Other Than Grape

Winemakers take pride in removing everything but the healthiest grapes in the all-important sorting process. Prior to this step, they fuss over growing the grapes to maximize flavor and then picking at the right time. The grapes are collected in shallow trays so as not to bruise them, and are brought in quickly to the cellar.

Given the impeccable provenance, one would expect these grapes not to be sullied hereon. That the wines that they will be turned into would directly impart all their qualities intact with nothing getting in the way.


In fact, winemakers seem to to abandon these cuddled grapes to the wolves. All sorts of chemicals and other additives are applied during winemaking--a total of about 59 are allowed in EU countries and much more than that in the US. Some of the most common are enzymes, cultured yeasts, nutrients. oak chips, tartaric acid, tannin, potassium sorbate, alcohol, water, sucrose, and sulphites.

Why do winemakers do these to grapes they have overprotected since birth? Is it laziness? Incompetence? Greed?

I think the answer is obvious. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

Drinkers don't like to taste anything they're not familiar with. The last thing drinkers need is to be immersed in a new flavor experience. No one seems to have the time or inclination to learn something they don't know in wine. Drinkers want wine to be obedient, to follow its master. Wine should not surprise or be unpredictable. No, we all have enough of that during the day with our tangles with co-workers, friends or partners. At the end of the day, when we're relaxing and having a meal, we want total control over that wine. Dammit, we don't want wine to challenge or question our expectations.

And so winemakers deliver to us wines that we want. Repeatable, with a sameness of character. Yet, they continue to also market to us the notion that wine is nothing more than grapes from these great vineyards, unsullied and expressive of their terroir. Of course, nothing can be far from reality, although that is what we want to hear, but not taste.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

White Burgundy In Which Nothing Was Added Or Taken Away

A native of Burgundy, Frederic Cossard doesn't come from a family of vignerons. His family background is the milk trade. Yet, he grew more passionate about making wine the very old artisanal way, totally natural, without addition of any chemicals, including sulphites, and with minimal intervention. He started Domaine Chassorney in Saint-Romain, west of Volnay, with 7 hectares of vineyards that is farmed organically.

Today, Domaine de Chassorney's wines are much in demand by cutting-edge restaurants, bistros and wine bars in Japan, Belgium, and Scandinavian countries that they are almost impossible to find even in France.

I'm very happy that a few cases of the 2010 Saint-Romain Combe Bazin managed to arrive in the US. I enjoyed a bottle the other day with ceviche. This is incredibly overachieving white Burgundy. It's richness and palate-tingling minerality, density, and precise, high-voltage fruit recalls a Meursault-Perrieres. I'm not kidding! Check it out.

Saint-Romain Blanc "Combe Bazin", Domaine de Chassorney 2010 $58.00

Saturday, June 14, 2014

An Afternoon at Maison Lou Dumont

On a visit to Maison Lou Dumont last fall, I found Koji Nakada and his wife Jae Hwa Park along with their two children very much at home in Gevrey-Chambertin. Koji came from Japan and Jae Hwa from Korea. They met in Burgundy and started their negociant company in 2000. The very first wine they made was a 2000 Nuits-St.-Georges Vieilles Vignes.

Today at their own house and cellar in Gevrey they produce wines from over a dozen different appellations with fruit purchased from well-chosen vineyards with vines averaging 30 to 40 years-old.

In 2012 they were able to purchase a walled vineyard under a hectare in size adjacent to their house no more than 50 feet from a new swimming pool Koji is digging. This first estate vineyard is a lieu-dit named Les Crainelles. It was planted earlier in the year with Pinot Noir and is being farmed organically. Koji expects to make about two barrels of villages Gevrey when the vines mature.

Koji's son (I can't remember his name!) is a delightful kid. He just got back from school soon after I arrived and started to play around us with a football and anything he can grab. Would he develop an interest in wine so he can help Dad and Mom? Koji's not sure but I think he hopes.

The family's backyard swimming pool between the house and the home vineyard was more than halfway finished. I'm sure it's fully operational by now.

The Nakada's house and office and cellar for Maison Lou Dumont was formerly the address of Domaine Fourrier. Not long after Jean-Marie Fourrier took over the domaine from his father, Jean-Claude, he needed more space and eventually sold the house.

It looks like Jae Hwa and Koji have kept the house in good shape. Jae Hwa loves to garden and she has added an Asian touch, planting bamboos and laying a rock garden outside the cellar entrance.

I was glad to be accompanied by my good friend Kei, a Kyoto-native and a brilliant toji for a small sake brewery in Shiga. He was in Burgundy to host a tasting of his sake, mainly for Burgundy winemakers.

After tasting the 2012s, which just just finished malo, from barrel, we headed to the office where Koji opened a bottle of his precious 2010 Bonnes Mares as a treat.

Maison Lou Dumont wines speak of Koji Nakada's traditional approach and minimum intervention. He doesn't overwork the wines, doing minimal pump overs and little punch downs. He vinifies with natural yeasts and adds low doses of sulfites during vinification and a little at bottling--no more than 30 grams/liter for reds and 50-60 grams/liter for whites. He strives for aromatic complexity and fine tannins and above all expressiveness of fruit.

Before I left, Koji handed me a souvenir, their wedding favor, which was a cork puller made by a friend from the barrel of the first vintage he and Jae Hwa made.

On the label of Maison Lou Dumont wines are the Kanji characters for sky, earth, and man. These are the elements that make wine possible.

Note: Maison Lou Dumont wines are not always available, but Vineyard Gate always tries to stock a few. Check the website for availability.