September 2008


I apologize for the absence of new posts lately. I’ll be posting something soon, but in the meantime I’ll refer you to David McDuff’s post about grower-Champagne, and specifically the house of Diebolt-Vallois. It’s an excellent introduction to the topic, and to the house itself.

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My ears always perk up when I notice wine mentioned in music and movies. It is an interesting way of seeing what people were drinking at the time. For instance, in “Touchez pas au grisbi“, when Jean Gabin’s character orders champagne in a nightclub, I was fascinated to see that it was Lanson brand, if only because it isn’t such a popular brand anymore. Anyway, I was just listening to Judy Collin’s song, “Tom Thumb’s Blues” and this lyric in particular:

“I started off with Burgundy but soon hit the hard stuff.”

Burgundy gets mentioned frequently in music from the 60s and 70s, and I’m so curious whether they are taking about actual Burgundy — wine, either simple or fine, made from Pinot Noir in the Burgundy region of France — or “Burgundy” — jug wine from the least special vineyards in California, made from god knows which grapes, but most likely not Pinot Noir.  My suspicion is that Collin’s was drinking the latter, but who knows? Real Burgundy was cheaper back then, and she was rock star of sorts.

 

It is with deep sadness that I report the death of one of the most celebrated winemakers of France, Didier Dagueneau.  He was only 52 when he died yesterday in plane crash. As you can see from the photo he was not your typical vigneron, but instead a unique winemaker whose wines were bigger than their appellation.  Working in the Pouilly-Fumé district of the Loire Valley, he made a name for himself by calling out the slobbish practices of his neighbors and for making Sauvignon Blanc in a riper creamier (while still mineral) style during a time when many Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs were imitating New Zealand’s harsh vegetal style. This article by Loire expert Jacqueline Friedrich is an excellent summary/introduction to Dagueneau. She has also posted the first of many memories of him on her blog.

I first read about The Scholium Project, a Suisun Valley -based winery in a Chambers Street Wines newsletter. I was very intrigued at the time because Chambers isn’t the type of store to promote California wine, and the names of the wine, like “Elsa’s School of the Plains” indicated that they were doing something unusual. Unfortunately, by the time I became aware of them, winemaker Abe Schoener and his wines had already reached cult status, and thus the wines were expensive and more importantly, too scarce to get my hands on. I forgot about Scholium until now — Eric Asimov, of the New York Times has written about the winery in his column and on his blog. I hope to have a chance to taste these daringly made wines some day soon.

This weekend we spent a day in Sebastopol, a lovely Sonoma County town that specializes in apples and antiques. The day culminated in an early dinner at the two-month old Restaurant Eloise. The chefs, Ginevra Iverson and her husband Eric Korsh were recently at Prune in New York, relocated to California to open their own place. They began by planting a garden to supply their new restaurant. We had rutabaga and grapes from the garden and those two things were delicious. The meal wasn’t quite perfect, partly due to a mistep in ordering on our part, and partly due to poor service. Service is not something my husband and I complain or care about, we are generally happy to be ignored. The exception is when it interferes with the flow of the wine and food. Twice we found ourselves waiting while our food sat there trying to flag down someone to order another glass (the second time my husband went straight to the bar, which caught our waiter’s attention). It turns out that it was the first truly busy night they’d had — it was packed to the gills — and our server apologized by comping us a couple glasses of wine. We started with a trio of housemade charcuterie — trotter torchon, head cheese, and veal tongue — and the head cheese was the stand out dish of the three. We ordered this off the bar menu, and it didn’t translate well to the dining room for various reasons. In retrospect I wish we ordered the roasted bone marrow and parsley salad off of the dining room menu instead, which is the one menu item the chefs brought with them from New York. The wine, 2006 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc, was a great match for the mix of rich meat, not interjecting too much personality of its own, yet full and round enough to match the range of flavors and acidic enough to meet the pickled onions (which accompanied the veal tongue) head to head. My rabbit papardelle was delish, and my husband’s lamb chops (accompanied by the rutabaga and grapes) were wonderful. But what was truly delicious and wonderful was the 2005 Domaine Olek-Mery Chinon “Cuvée les Tireaux”! I can’t express how excited I got about this wine! Often one settles into a contentedness with wine, which is a happy place to be. This Chinon re-ignited a spark in me, moving me out of contentedness and back into love! I’m actually having trouble describing the wine while still doing it justice. Let’s just say it was refreshing and earthy and everything I wanted it to be. And with a little time to work out the kinks, I’m sure Restaurant Eloise will warrant the same description.

I recently had a Swiss dessert wine called Amigne de Vétroz, and paired with an apple tart. It was my first encounter with the grape Amigne. The Vétroz is an appellation within the Swiss wine reigon of the Valais. This is in the western, french-speaking part of Switzerland and they make a wide variety of wines, from Fendant to Dole. The Valais contains all the Amigne planted in the world, and most of that is in Vétroz. I had a half bottle of Jean-Réne Germanier’s 2001 “Mitis” bottling, and it had an apricot and rhubarb smell, was off-dry with lively acidity and a honeyed texture. It went very well with the apple tart, which was from a recipe in Richard Olney’s Simple French Food, a cookbook my husband loves, but occasionally intimidates me. I’d say only about half the recipes are actually simple — the apple tart was one of them. The crust was different from the paté brisée I usually make, it was more cookie-ish. After making the crust you spread the apples in the middle, fold the crust around up around the sides and bake for 40-50 minutes. Afterwards, spread a little bit of puréed fruit jam or butter on the top. I used Rigoni di Asiago’s Apricot fruit spread and it worked very well. Delish!

Have you have noticed the little warning symbol that is a crossed-out circle containing a pregnant woman drinking wine that’s appeared on French bottles in the last year or so? Its a strangely charming design, something you’d never see on a U.S. product. It is a relatively new law in France, mandating that either the symbol or a written warning must be on the label. Apparently the instances of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome are many, with mothers reporting ignorance in regards to the affect of alcohol on their fetus. So, the legislation was put in place to mandate the warning symbol. Now the United States, not to be outdown, has a placed ban on wine with that symbol! I can’t find much information about it, but I’ll link to the blog that alerted me to the ban. According to the Washington Post article I linked to above, “bottles with the logo have been turned back at the U.S. border because liquor imported to the United States requires warnings to be in English.” Hmmm. So that graphic symbol is in French, huh? “We do prohibit the French (or any other country’s) government health warning,” Arthur H. Resnick, spokesman for the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau said in an e-mail. “We feel that consumers are likely to be confused and possibly misled by a proliferation of government warnings.” Obviously some bottles are making it past the border, as I’ve seen quite a few. However, for those producers who don’t want to risk their product being turned away, they have a big, expensive job of replacing the labels of the bottles headed for the U.S. market ahead of them.

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