Saturday, February 7, 2009

Value on a relative scale...a weighty Hermitage

Tom Gannon is the playwright in residence at Rothmann's Steakhouse in New York City. He is also the sommelier and serves as America's Host.

The wine list at Daniel evokes Spaulding Gray's Monster in a Box. More DRC than you could buy with all the bailout bonuses in New York, leather bound with a fighting weight of about three pounds this is one to peruse at the bar or online a few days before a romantic or otherwise strategic meal. Because with lists like these you go back and forth, get lost in Alsace, resurface for conversation after eight minutes spent in Bordeaux and then wander about the rest of the world until they lay an amuse bouche in front of you that would easily pass for a $20 app at many other much less heralded dining rooms.

I had not been in Daniel since a lunch for 50 NY sommeliers five-six years ago to launch the joint venture between Mondavi and Rosemount. Remember those wines? I don't even know if they wound up in the market as it happened shortly before the unraveling of the Mondavi empire. The wines were unremarkable but being in Daniel never is. The man himself came out to thank the attendees as they left, most of us impressed to see a high profile chef actually in the restaurant that bears his name.

Frank Bruni is not the best food critic the Times has had on the payroll but I think he is right on with his recent four star reassessment of Daniel. Three courses for $105 is expensive, but amuse-bouches, petit fours, level of service and being in the room (go on ladies take off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the carpet under the table). The place is a splurge for most of us, but it over delivers on almost every level.

I am not employed by the Times I'll let the man work and Daniel doesn't need me to tell you that the experience is sumptuous, or any other Gael Greene foodie orgasmic sputterings. But I was surprised to find wines that are pricey but...especially in a place like this, worth it. I did not expect to find much in Burgundy that I was prepared to pay for and knew that Daniel, being from Lyon would probably have a few things kicking around from the Rhone. I went back and forth between a couple of things but could not get away. I was caught and $300 was going to the Jean-Louis Chave 1998 Hermitage. The Chave family has been producing wine as they proudly list on the label since 1481. His wines are life changing, both the white Hermitage and red.

Again, relative value. To buy this wine at auction would be in that neighborhood with added on taxes and buyer's premiums and the usual worry about provenance...we're talking around $300 anyway, so for such profound syrah...

Jean-Louis Chave Hermitage 1998
Decanted, beautiful dark red no sign of age at the edge, blackberry with spearmint, sage, bacon fat, leather, earthy and rich texture with even black pepper popping in and out with both dried and lightly jammy red fruit. The finish lasts for well over a minute, was still tasting the tingle of spice in the cab twenty minutes later. The impression had not left me this morning (although I did have a half bottle of Bollinger shortly after getting up and even still my mind goes back...) Classic Hermitage, one to prowl the auctions or fine wine stores for. Like all auction/grey market buyer beware. This wine appears to be at it's peak where it should stay for another 3-6 years. It may go much longer. If I can get my hands on it I will not have that kind of will power.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Tandem Porter-Bass Chardonnay & roasted lemon chicken

Chard, schmard… if you think all California Chardonnays taste like Kendall-Jackson’s, you’re missing out on many of the world’s greatest wines, my friend. There’s a reason why, for instance, those French judges rated Chateau Montelena’s Chardonnay better than the finest of France way back in 1976, re the in/famous Judgement of Paris (recently part-fictionalized in the film, Bottle Shock): simply put, the Chardonnay grape excels in Californian terroirs.

California vintners have advanced viticultural and oenological light years since 1976. They’ve gone so far, so fast, in fact, that the best of them today are back to where the grape started: with more authentic clones, more sustainable vineyards in cooler climates, and barrel fermenting as naturally as possible in ways pretty much like what’s been done in France for centuries.

Winemakers like Greg La Follette of Tandem Winery are highly regarded among other California winemakers precisely because he takes so many “natural” risks: starting with pristinely grown fruit, and doing as little to it as possible to extract levels of viscosity, muscle, and terroir related minerality many connoisseurs thought possible only in Burgundy where the grape originated.

Behold, the 2005 Tandem Porter-Bass Chardonnay from a mature site (planted over 100 years ago) in the coldest, far western section California’s Russian River Valley, meticulously tilled by both organic and biodynamic standards to yield wines like this: unusually floral (like white ginger and citrus blossoms) fragrances mingling with aromas of wet stones, crème brûlée, honeyed almonds and baking brioche; the creamy, mineral and citrus flavors riding on a tart edged, silken body that is neither light nor heavy, but dense, steely, sinewy in texture.

In other words, absolutely nothing resembling the soft, fluffy, weighty style of wine associated with 99% of other California Chardonnays. Okay, Tandem Chardonnays are rare and pricey ($35-$40), but it gives me an excuse to talk about how Chardonnays like this (producers such as Littorai, Au Bon Climat, Keller and DuhNah make similar Burgundian style wines) match food like nobody’s business. A French sommelier might recommend sweetbreads or chicken like Bocuse’s poulet de bresse or à l’estragon (Julia Child has the best recipe for the latter, the whole chicken rubbed inside and out with butter and stuffed with tarragon), but what about us American philistines?

The idea behind sweetbreads or roasted chicken is to give an oaky, full alcohol Chardonnay a white meat fatty or oily enough to grip. Herbs like tarragon and dill amplify the sweet, creamy notes of well oaked Chardonnays, and sage helps define both fruit and stony qualities of the grape itself. But the one recipe I’ve always found to work best with more crisply acidic Chardonnays from both France and California is Marcella Hazan’s classic Roasted Chicken with Lemon – simple, satisfying!

Handcrafted Pinot Noir

“David Grega is a certified sommelier and wine consultant living in the Napa valley. In addition to consulting and wine writing David made wine for his own label “Bellum Cellars” in 2008. E-mail for more information."

Winery: Sojourn Cellars

Vintage: 2007

Appellation: Sonoma Coast

Vineyard: Sangiacomo

Varietal: Pinot Noir

Winemaker: Erich Bradley

Average Price: $48

Winery Notes: Sojourn Cellars is not interested in making anything but the most expressive and well rounded wines they can produce. Specializing in Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, Sojourns careful attention to detail starts in the vineyard. Only fruit from unique and expressive terroirs is aloud to be cultivated and carefully crafted into beautiful wines that everyone should have the pleasure of enjoying.

Tasting Notes: Bold and rich aromas of fig, black cherry and apricot give way to an alluring spice and ever so intriguing mint. The palate boasts more of the expressive fruit flavours promised on the nose with an absolutely stunning round and structured approach. Lively acidity and extremely refined tannins give way to a long and satisfying finish. This Pinot Noir is truly art in a glass.

Overall Rating: 97 points

Food Pairing Suggestions: Try this wine with your favourite poultry or pork dishes. I would especially love to see this paired with rosemary lamb chop and Pinot Noir reduction. Delicious!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Alion 2004 Ribera Del Duero

Rasmus Amdi Larsen is a 21 year old sommelier. He is currently working as head-sommelier and Restaurant Manager at the restaurant Le Sommelier in the centre of Copenhagen. Administrating the 1600 bottle wine list, one of the largest in Denmark, this young sommelier is showing a lot of potential. Rasmus is also educating at the Hospitality College in Copenhagen, competing in sommelier competitions - and in the limited free time, golfing is a huge interest. To get in touch with Rasmus email him at

Winery: Alion

Vintage: 2004

Appellation: Ribera Del Duero

Varietal: Tinto Fino (Tempranillo)

Oak: 15 months in oak (100% new)

Average Price: $80.00

Tasting notes: This is a untraditional Tinto Fino. The pale almost tawny color is not normal for a Tempranillo this young. The nose is covered with red fruits and floral hints. Strawberry, redcurrant and light red cherries. The nose develops as the hours in the glass go by, so the list is very long. The palate is fruity and has a extraordinary depth. This is one red to decant when the snacks is served - and to enjoy when Dean Martin is playing and your love one is around you.

Food Pairing Suggestions: Let’s grill a chop of lamb! Let’s serve lamb shoulder with courgettes, white beans and truffle sauce. Fried Foie gras (Yes, try something else than Pinot Noir) with beetroot, mandarin and port sauce.

Winery Notes: Maybe some of you guessed that this is a very special Tempranillo. Alion is owned by the winery Vega Secilia – which needs no further introduction. Vega Secilia makes, in my opinion, the absolute best, most delicate Tempranillo in the whole of Spain. Alion is physically separated from the Vega Secilia winery, but it is the same hands that make these golden wines. Alion is simply the best value for money in Spain. Try to open a bottle and drink a glass every hour to see it develop. Thats my favorite Sunday!

Vintage Notes: 2004 was a good year in most of Spain. Despite high temperatures in September the harvest was plentiful, and the best producers made wines to store for many years.

The Young Connoisseur…part 2

“David Grega is a certified sommelier and wine consultant living in the Napa valley. In addition to consulting and wine writing David made wine for his own label “Bellum Cellars” in 2008. E-mail for more information."

A sommelier! “What an important and official sounding title” I thought to myself as I was introduced to Jeff, a sommelier at a newly opened wine bar in my home town of Sacramento, California. I knew right away that I wanted to be able to call myself a sommelier. That summer I frequented the wine bar whenever I could, asking Jeff questions, trying to learn everything I could about the world of wine. Because I was a struggling student just out of the military, I focused on the wines that I could afford. Rose wines and whites were generally less expensive than reds, so that’s where I began my wine experience.

I learned about the impact that geography and climate have on wine through tasting these types of wines. A white wine, for example, tends to be more honest about where it’s from or just easier to discern a style and location. I quickly learned that flavor profiles in white wines were prone to quick and drastic changes as a result of climate, whereas red wines were less obvious. Think of the change in flavor and smell of a white wine as a light switch where there is simply off and on. The change in a red wine is more like the track lighting in an art gallery with a slower progression from off to on. I learned about the difference between new world and old world white wines. Wines from cool old world regions tended to have more muted, mineral, or even green tones. Compared to white wines in warmer new world regions the flavors and aromas are much more intense and fruit oriented. Many white varietals and roses are un-oaked, or are at least oaked far less than reds. This allowed me get to know the flavor profiles of white varieties quicker and easier when I began tasting. That being said, there are certainly discernible differences in cool old world red wines and warmer new world red wines, but the whites helped me hone in on just how much climate and geography affects a wines’ flavor and aroma.

I’m not sure how I understood this so early on in my wine adventure, but I believed that there was something more to wine than just tasting and drinking. Each time I visited the wine bar, I made a real effort to get to know the people working there. Through my interactions with people at the wine bar and the new wines I experienced, several things became crystal clear to me. The enjoyment of wine, that is, drinking or tasting, is only half of what wine is all about. The other half is rooted in the human spirit. Wine is as much an act of the heart as it is of the senses. The context within which we all enjoy wine is truly the most important part. Only when one can grasp this concept can he or she unlock all the joys that wine has to offer. You, the reader, will come to find that my blogs are as much about what is around the glass as what is in it. Once I understood the bigger picture of wine I also knew, without a single ounce of doubt in my heart, that a life of wine shared with family and friends, meant a life of stimulation and happiness, of loving and being loved in return. There is no better time in our history than now to incorporate these ideals into our lives. There is no better way to live life.

One beautiful afternoon I was sitting enjoying a glass of Cremant d’ Alsace when a few well dressed people walked into the wine bar for what seemed to be a business lunch. I noticed that throughout their lunch there was one gentleman in the group who would wax poetic about a wine they were drinking or about a recent soiree in Napa Valley. It was obvious that he had a decent knowledge of wine. Shortly after his party finished their wine and food, they picked up their brief cases and whisked back to the “real world” far away from the fantasy I seemed to be enjoying. There it was -- the epiphany I was waiting for. I knew then, as the businessmen walked out the door, exactly what I needed to do. In order to truly understand the world of wine, I had to dedicate 100 % of my time to it. I couldn’t have a day job, my focus had to be on everything wine. I knew that this would require sacrifice, both financially and in my personal life. What was more important to me was finding what would get me to where I needed to be. I would find my way into the wine industry through the sommelier program at the Professional Culinary Institute (PCI) in Campbell, California. What took place over the five months I spent at PCI would change my life forever and propel me head on into the world I live in now….Part 3 to be posted next week..

Organic wine & food matching: Ceago Merlot & chicken paprikas

California biodynamic pioneer, Jim Fetzer

Randy Caparoso is a longtime wine journalist and restaurant wine professional, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to his daily
Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit Denver Wine Examiner.

Despite what that fellow Miles might have said about it, there is still a very good reason why you should drink ultra-premium California Merlot, which is the same reason why some of the state’s most prestigious winemakers – like Bruce Neyers and Selene’s Mia Klein – still specialize in the grape: it makes wine that can enthrall the senses the way Keira Knightley eats up a camera. Resistance is senseless.

Here’s another reason: the 2006 Ceàgo Camp Masut Merlot (about $25) is biodynamically grown, on top of being totally delicious; its classic red berry/black cherry Merlot aromas enhanced by pretty, floral, violet-like perfumes; and on the palate, round fleshy, finely polished textures punctuated by the luscious berry flavors and buoyed by soft yet sturdy tannins. Textbook.

Ceàgo, as it were, was founded by Jim Fetzer, former president of the same Fetzer Vineyards that was among the pioneers of organic grape growing in California. After the Fetzer family sold their winery and vineyards in 1992, Jim immediately set out to establish vineyards in Mendocino falling within even stricter biodynamic guidelines monitored by Demeter International. In fact, one of the best explications of the why’s and how’s of biodynamics can be found on the Cèago Vinegarden Web site.

Chicken Paprikas

“The ‘perfect marriage’ of food and wine,” said the late Roy Andries de Groot, “should allow for infidelity.” While the standard choice is red meat, my all-time favorite match for a full, lusciously fruited Merlot is something white (or rather, reddish): the classic, Hungarian style of csirkepaprikas, or chicken paprikas. Mr. de Groot (the blind Esquire food and wine author who, incidentally, was also the first critic to use a 100 point wine scoring system – not Robert Parker! – in the late 1960s) once proclaimed his recipe for paprikas – browned with goose fat, then braised with onions, garlic and, finally, a sauce pigmented by generous doses of the mildly spiced paprika chile before thickened in the end with sour cream – as one of the most glorious dishes in the world, and I cannot disagree.

Over the years I have taken some liberties with de Groot’s original recipe (I don’t, for instance, usually have the goose fat on hand); and of course, the variations come every time the bird hits the pot. This is, however, a close approximation:

1 whole 4-5 lb. chicken, disjointed (thighs and back necessary for flavor)
3 tbs. unsalted sweet butter
1 lemon
2 large sweet onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
6 large white mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 thin slices pancetta (or two strips thick bacon), sliced in squares
½ cup white wine
¾ cup chicken stock
Half bunch Italian parsley, chopped
Hungarian sweet paprika
Olive oil
Ground peppercorns and salt to taste
1 pint sour cream
10-12 oz. wide egg noodles

Rub chicken pieces with salt and juice of halved lemon, and set aside. In a large pot (preferably cast iron or Le Creuset), brown pancetta or bacon with drop of olive oil over medium heat. Add butter, and when melted sauté the onions and garlic until wilted. Add paprika (2 to 3 tbsp.) and stir into onion mix until it attains a fiery red color. Immediately add chicken pieces two or three at a time, browning them until both sides are impregnated with the paprika. Add sliced mushrooms, followed by white wine (burn off some alcohol), and then chicken stock. Lower temperature, cover pot with lid, and let it simmer for about 45-60 minutes, smelling the wafting perfume while enjoying your glass of Merlot and some sensuous vocals like Diana Krall or Madeleine Peyroux.

Remove chicken pieces, and stir in sour cream until the sauce reaches a creamy consistency, adjusting seasonings to taste. Add back chicken pieces, stir in most of chopped parsley, and over low temperature let pot stew for final ten to fifteen minutes while egg noodles are boiled al dente.

When noodles are drained, place in large, wide bowl and coat with half of paprika cream sauce; lay chicken pieces over noodles and top with rest of sauce. Garnish with rest of chopped parsley, and serve.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Blason D'Issan 1996

"Wilfried Sentex is born in Bordeaux, France and for sure his passion for wine comes from his home country. At present he is working in New York at Bar Boulud, Daniel Boulud Wine bar. For more information you can reach him at"

Winery: Blason D'Issan

Vintage: 1996

Appellation: Margaux

Varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon (70%), Merlot (30%)

Oak: 16 months in oak (35% new)

Average Price: $35.00

Tasting notes: A intense ruby color (red cherry), with a beautifull nose but unfortunatly not too long. You will get some plums, oak, rose and spices scents. As the taste, you will discover a light acidity, high tannin and full body wine. The black fruits (cherry, blackcurrant) are well balanced with the oak flavours to finish with a nice earthy taste with a touch of spices .

Food Pairing Suggestions: Definetly this wine will have been better a few years earlier but is still really good and interesting to pair with some game paté to start your dinner, followed by a coq au vin, an Ossau Iraty (sheep cheese from the basque area in France) with some cherry marmelade will be perfect before finishing with a chocolate soufflé .

Winery Notes: Blason D'Issan is the second wine of Chateau D'Issan which is a troisieme cru (third growth) of the Medoc from the 1855 classification. Some of the Chateaux of Bordeaux have insured the quality of their house wine by selecting the best grapes. But what happens to grapes that the winemakers think that are not good enought? They decide to use them to make a second wine under a second label. Those wines do not have the same quality, but are still great as they are made by the same winemaker, and come from the same terroir. The good point is those seconds wines are cheaper .

Giorgio Quinto Olmo Antico 2005

Federico Vincenzi is an Italian sommelier and a wine writer with the Masters Degree in Economics. He has been consulting top restaurants in Italy and Switzerland and has received many awards, including ‘Sommelier of the month’ and 'Meilleur Formateur en Vin de Champagne'. Federico lives in Milan where he founded OENOGOURMET



Vintage: 2005


Varietal: 100% Merlot

Winemaker: Alberto and Paolo Baggini

Oak: maceration and fermentation in 50 hl steel vats. It rests in 35 hl bay oak barrels for two years, only 10% of it is transferred to barrique for 12 months. Then the assembling in big barrels takes place and it stays there for another 12 months
Alcohol: 13,5%
Average Price: € 20

Tasting Notes: From the Oltrepò Pavese district – quality growing in the last few years – “Giorgio Quinto” has a deep and concentrated ruby red on the eye; still purple highlights. The olfactory analysis brings us scents of red fruits (blackberry, strawberry and plum), plus balsamic hints. After few seconds of oxygenation, aromas of juniper and liquorice.
On the palate it is definitely a Merlot: nicely fresh, harmonically balanced by alcohol. Tannins are not aggressive, giving a feeling of smoothness, elegance and persistency.
Drink now through 2015.

Food Pairing Suggestions: Marrow-bone with risotto is very typical. Try it also with medium matured cheese, and red meat in general.

General rating: 92 points
Vintage Overview: Merlot from Oltrepò Pavese (Lombardy) saw a very interesting season in 2005; never excessively hot, it gave wines with the correct level of acidity and great opportunities for the aging.

Tasting date: January 28th 2009

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Vertvs Tempranillo & Hawaiian beef stew

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner. Contact Randy anytime at

There’s a memorable story in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, told by the faithful Sancho Panza, of the great wine judges in his lineage; particularly, two on his father’s side who were once challenged to identify a wine from a barrel. The first one brought the wine to the tip of his tongue, and declared the flavor of iron. The second one just needed to pass it under his nose before declaring a stronger flavor of cordovan leather. The owner of the wine protested, however, saying his wine was perfectly clean, with no trace of iron or leather. Days later, though, after the wine was sold and the barrel emptied, cellarers found a small iron key at the bottom of the barrel, hanging by a thong of leather.

The story of these men from La Mancha took place at the start of the 1600s, during the same period of time Cervantes wrote his epic tale. Sometimes we forget how old the fine arts – like literature, wine judging, and great winemaking – really are.

There are written records from the court of King Pedro I of Castilla in Spain, for instance, dating Bodegas Iranzo back to 1335. Evidently, the family of Iranzo Perez-Duque is still going strong after over six hundred years, as our organic wine of the day – Iranzo’s 2003 Vertvs Tempranillo Crianza (about $14) – is as bright, rose petal fresh, raisiny ripe and round as any red wine in the world. Doing justice to the Spanish connoisseurs of olde, Doug Frost MW/MS goes further by describing it as “layered and vibrant… soft… a little grippy… red raspberry, cooked cranberries, blueberry hints…” and whom, bodacious mis amigos, am I to argue?

The vineyard plantings of Bodegas Iranzo – in the region of Utiel-Requena, made up of lime-crusted sandy soils in hills some 2,700 ft. in elevation, just off the Mediterranean coast near Valencia – are also fortunate enough to be located in the middle of a National Reserve Park, and for centuries were cultivated naturally, without the use of modern day chemicals or fertilizers. So it was simply natural for this estate to attain, in 1994, one of Spain’s first EU/Agricultura Ecológica certifications; and the first in all of Spain to receive USDA National Organic Program accreditation as well.

Bodegas Iranzo’s fertilizers, as it were, are derived from sheep manure from extensively farmed flocks within the district; and the family has encouraged further biodiversity, since the 1950s, by maintaining a program of reforestation on some 75 acres of surrounding land with native woodland species, as well as the establishment of a nearby flora micro-reserve.

Hawaiian Beef Stew

But all this is beside the most important point for us: the wine makes damned good drinking; full flavored, yet soft and warming on the palate. It’s this kind of wine, in fact, that always makes me think of soft, warming dishes like Louisiana style red beans and rice, or Mexican machaca (shredded beef). But since I’m from the Islands, I have to say that it may be even better with a luscious tomato, carrot and beef studded Hawaiian beef stew, which comes in as many variations as Islanders who cook. This recipe -- adapted from Muriel Miura and Betty Shimabukuro’s What Hawai’i Likes to Eat -- is pretty much basic, but guaranteed deliciousness:

2 lbs. lean stewing beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ cup flour
¼ cup canola oil
2 medium sized sweet onions, wedged
1 clove garlic, pressed
5 cups water
2 bay leaves, broken in half
½ cup red wine (or dry sherry)
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 cans (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (13.5 oz.) whole or stewed tomatoes
4 carrots, about ¾ inch chunks
4 potatoes, pared and quartered
1 cup sliced celery

Dredge beef in flour; brown lightly on all sides in hot oil. Add onions and garlic; brown lightly. Add water and bay leaves; simmer 1½ hours, or until beef is tender. Add remaining ingredients; simmer additional 30-60 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. If desired, thicken stew with flour water mixture. Serves 6-8, and strongly recommended with steamed white Japanese rice.