Friday, November 19, 2010

 OK, so it's been a good wine week but I have to either get to the gym (not my first choice) or my new skates have to arrive so I can get on the ice and burn some calories, or I am going to have to fast until Christmas! Last nights dinner at the Mockingbird Cafe in Basking Ridge (Tom and Kathy West who had the Limestone Cafe for years in Peapack/Gladstone now own it) was truly amazing. Food was great - perfect with the wines, understated, nicely prepared and presented, complimenting perfectly without upstaging at all. But as good as the food was, the spotlight was on the wine. I daresay it will be a while before this casual neighborhood Bistro sees the likes of what we drank again. Here is the line-up believe it or not!

Corton Charlemagne 2000, Bouchard Pere et Fils - Lovely, solid and complex, just beginning to develop some bottle age characteristics. Delicious now, even better with 4-6 more years my guess.

Fontaine Gagnard Batard Montrachet 2004 - Way too young, a great wine that has lost its initial tight, linear and closed in character but is still all primary. Beautiful definition, balance, and harmony with all the parts in the right places. Needs 7-10 more years is my guess to really develop its full potential. Would love to be around to try it then!

Dom Perigon 1985 - Medium straw gold and just a hint of amber. Lovely nutty nose, fullish, mouthfilling - dryish and showing some age, this has been cellared here rather than held and late disgorged at the winery. A bit more evolved than those examples but still a complex, lovely old bubbly!

Joslyn Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 - Poor wine! Totally unfair in this mixed company - solid new world dark fruits, sweet oak, good depth, plush, supple and approachable. Outclassed tonight but a very nice wine in its own right.

Cheval Blanc 1949 - Drinking Cheval in almost any vintage is a pretty good time, but to have this benchmark wine was really a treat! Still very fresh, dark earth and plum, mature notes, with tea and smoke. Seamless and silky on the palate, it actually kept filling out and putting on weight as it aired in the glass. Beautiful, elegant and fine. A great experience!

Mouton Rothschild 1966 - No doubt over-achiever of the evening, this was solid, dark and brooding with earth tones - the word merde was thrown around, but duly noted it was good merde! Classic Mouton cedar and cassis, #2 pencil! Solid, still fresh, in great condition and a powerful delicious wine.

Chateau Latour 1982 - Solid and dark still in color, big boned, lovely concentrated, dark earth tones, hints of cedar, earth. Complex, layered, long and drinking beautifully. At some point in time the superlatives become superfluous - let's just say these last few were all monumentally great wines and forgoe arguing about which is best - all great!

Chateau Climens Haut Barsac 1959 -  Evolved nose of Creme Brulee, caramel; mid weight, classy and fine on the entry with moderate sweetness and good flavors - finishing drier and very long. Balanced, not quite delicate but reserved in style - very pretty and drinking very well. 

Warres Port 1970 - A bit spirity on the nose, certainly mature but still holding very well. A fairly dryish style, mid weight, lovely Port and a great way to end the evening!

Thanks all for a great evening, great wines and especially to Chip for digging deep and providing some truly great wines! Let's do it again!

Weingut Carl Schmitt-Wagner: Transported in Time

The 1937 Schmitt Wagner - Photo by John Osborne
In June of 2000 I spent an incredible week in Germany with importer, wine guru, and German wine evangelist Terry Theise. For those who don't know him, he is a legend in wine circles, having almost singlehandedly built a market in the US for high quality German wines, and then, as if that wasn't challenging enough, did it again for Austrian wines and grower Champagne. No small feats, he has earned the respect and admiration of many a fellow geek, this one included. Traveling with Terry is an exceptional experience. There is his deep knowledge of his growers and their wines, his wicked sense of humor,  one might say it's punishing, and his unfiltered opinions to keep you occupied while your gums recover from tasting the hundreds of high acid, youthful wines you taste on the trip. (Sensodine toothpaste is officially recommend as a salve and must have item for your travel kit.) And then there is the fact that the growers open their hearts, homes and cellars when Terry comes to call. Along with the new releases from the previous year, we tasted countless old vintages, many times blind, in an exercise that pretty much humbled us every day. We'd guess "old, perhaps 1985?" only to have the wine revealed and find we missed the mark by a mere 10 or 15 years. I was already drinking the Riesling Kool-aid, having started my career in wine with a trip to Germany in 1979, but it was this trip where the age worthiness of this oft unsung grape was made crystal clear in my mind.

But in a week of great wines, no moment was more special than the tasting we had at Schmitt-Wagner. Quietly and without fanfare after a tasting of multiple wines including 1983, 1979, and 1976, Bruno Schmitt brought out a bottle of 1937 Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Auslese - one of only a handful of bottles he had left. He was seven years old  that year, and he told us how he remembered picking the grapes with his grandmother because his father had been conscripted into the German Army, and how they hid the wine during the war so the soldiers wouldn't take it. My notes began with "deep caramel color, earthy and caramelized on the nose - still with hints of orange blossom and baked apple pie. On the palate, still very much alive, with sweetly concentrated baked apple, spice....."  and then just trailed off.  All of us tasting were left in a moment of silent, thoughtful,  almost reverential reflection, lost in the aromas and flavors of the wine and the haunting images of a dark time in Germany just before the outbreak of the Second World War. What more could you say? This wine and the experience were beyond words. It was the sense of history, the passion of Herr Schmitt whose eyes had the tell-tale signs of deep emotion as he recounted the tale, and the ability of this miraculous beverage to capture a place in time and transport us back so many years ago. 

The Schmitt-Wagner winery has a long and storied history that makes the 1937 date seem like yesterday. The first mentions are in the 12th Centry as part of the Benedictine Abbey in Trier, with the actual property dating from 1714. Around 1804 when Napoleon secularized the vineyard holdings of the Church the Schmitt Wagner family bought some of the best vineyards that had been owned by the clergy at the Benedictine Convent of St. Maximin in Tier and began their Estate.

The vineyards are on two steep slopes on the Mosel River across from the village of Longuich. The Maximiner Herrenberg vineyard has a south-southwest exposure and is over 60 degrees steep. The terrain consists of a very deep weathered slate soil over Devonian slate. The Longuicher Herrenberg vineyard is above the Maximiner Herrenberg in the middle of the slope, with deep soils partially filled with Devonian slate, and it is slate that is the story here, imparting an unmistakable stony/mineral character to the wines that supports their lovey apple fruit tones and sweetness. Wine making is old school and traditional, fermentations are with all natural indigenous yeasts, and the philosophy is that the wine is made in the vineyard, not the cellar. The results are brilliant, understated, elegant wines that capture the essence of the Riesling grape and their particular terroirs. Lovely and fresh in their youth, they age in a way that belies their purity and elegance. To purchase Schmitt Wagner wines visit us at 56 Degree Wine.

For more information about Terry Theise click here (it's a great site, click on Terry's squawk box for some great reading). For a visit to the Schmitt Wagner website and more detail on this excellent producer click here. For more photos from the trip click here.  Watch the interview with Terry Theise below - video from Michael Skurnik Wines and Thames River Wine & Spirits in New London, CT !

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

An Incredible Evening at Cafe Matisse

Had an awesome evening of food and wine at Cafe Matisse in Rutherford with delicious cuisine prepared by Chef and owner Peter Loria who came out from the kitchen and joined us from time to time with details of each complex and delicious dish he prepared. Food great, wines outstanding, company terrific - thanks everyone for bringing such great wines! We started the evening with a selection of delicious amuse, then each chose 3 selections from the tasting menu of about 12 or so offerings - a nice way to be able to graze through the creative menu.

Champagne Blanc des Blanc "Substance" Disgorged October 28th, 2008, Jacques Selosse . When will we ever learn??? Never, ever serve this as the first wine unless you have about an hour to spare because in my opinion that's how long it takes this mind blowing bubbly to show its true colors. Best advice: open a Sancerre or crisp white for apps, the open the Selosse and decant, wait about 15-20 minutes, pour into a good sized wine glasses, no wimpy flutes, and it will finally give you a full view of its extraordinary complexity. Not that it's not good right out of the gate, it's fresher and more lively in a way, still showing hints of its unique elevage both in its slightly amber hue and its lovely evolved and aromtic bouquet. But with a little air this wine unlocks grilled almonds, pain grille, hints of sherry, and a mouthful of complex, layered, flavors. It has a solid core, hard to call it "fruit" because this is different, transformed from raw fruit to something altogether more multi-faceted,  mineral and focused and weathered. The background information below is from the Rare Wine Company, importers of this outstanding Champagne Domaine:

Established: 1950-1960
First Vintage Bottled: 1960
Proprietors: Corinne & Anselme Selosse
Since assuming control of his father's estate in 1974, Anselme & Corinne Selosse have redefined Champagne with fastidious viticulture, innovative élevage, and intensely vinous Champagnes.

Soils: classic chalky marls
Vines: Approx. 0.85 hA of Pinot Noir, and 6.65 hA of Chardonnay in the elite villages of Avize, Cramant, Oger, Le Mesnil, Aÿ, Ambonnay and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ.
Appellation: Champagne
Harvest: by hand

Selosse features some of the lowest yielding vines in the region - leading to the region's ripest, most expressive fruit.
They encourage the natural growth and evolution of the soil so that it may express minerality in the wine.
Primary fermentations occur in a mix of pièces (228L), fût (400L), and demi-muids (600L).
Malolactic fermentations are free to occur (or not) as each individual lot evolves.
Wines are held for one year in barrel, with 16% new barrels added to the rotation each year. Reserve wines spend a year in foudre before being moved to INOX.

The winemaking notes included here are only guides. Because the Selosses' raw materials vary according to vintage conditions, they adapt their techniques each time they craft a cuvée. Their goal is always to maximize each wine's expression of identity and terroir.

Cépage: Each year, 22% is withdrawn from a solera (started in 1986) of two Avize parcels; a south-facing slope and an east hill-base.
Bottle Aging: The wine ages a further 5-6 years in bottle before disgorgement.
Dosage: 0-4 g/l
Production: 275 cases" Notes quoted From The Rare Wine Company.

First Course: Pan Seared Scallops and Foie Gras with Wild Mushroom Ravioli, Gingered Butternut Squash and Dollop of Mascarpone, Drizzled with Sage Pesto Topped with Apple Relish, Spiced Walnuts and Dusted with Star Anise
Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 1992, Paul Pernot - Youthful color, very fresh, better than a bottle of the same I had back in September, this was in positively perfect condition. Lovey, stony, cool mineral nose with hints of lemon creme - a wine in its prime and simply drinking great. Little cold at first, this opened and developed complexity for the entire evening - mouth filling, layered, beautiful white Burg! 

Vouvray Clos du Bourg Moelleux 1985, Huet - Pale straw color that looks more like a wine bottled in 2005 offers a hint of the character of this nearly perfect example of Chenin Blanc. A lovely nose, perfumed, wet stones, hints of Irish wool, citrus blossom, quince, tangerine and white flowers. Comes in elegant, sanftig - pure and seamless and finishes clean as a whistle and leaving the impression that this ethereal wine could last another 20+ years and still only just be coming out of its shell. Pure, mineral, with sweetness to start and then almost dry into the finish that goes on and on. Could be wine of the night, and in this line-up, that's saying something! $80? Ridiculously cheap!
Second Course: Osso Bucco - didn't keep good notes here but a creative take on the classic.
Barolo Monfortino Riserva 2002, Giacomo Conterno - Potentially one of the great Barolos of all time? We shall see but this first taste since the impressive barrel sample I had back in 2007 shows a huge, promising future. Could it be that its struggle in the difficult conditions during the 2002 vintage has added a strength and complexity not found in perfectly sunny and more benign years? Spiced red fruit and spice on the nose at first, it developed a darker more brooding tone as it opened up - Cardamom and exotic spice hints follow., hint of that tarry petrol note Nebbiolo can have. On the palate it is mouth-filling and elegant at the same time, with a framework of very fine tannins, ample yet not harsh at all,  supporting a compact, intense yet elegant. For more about this wine or to buy it, if any is left, read my previous entry here.

Third Course: Pan Charred Filet Mignon Medallion over Garlic Potato Confit with Beef Chili and Roasted Potato Cheddar Jalapeño Broth Topped with Sautéed Jalapeno, Onions and Cheddar Glazed Shrimp Finished with Black Pepper Demi.
Hermitage 1989, J.L. Chave - Absolutely classic with perfumed cassis, bacon smoke and white pepper,on the nose and an elegant lovely reiteration of these notes in the fine, silky and perfect palate. Evolved and ready to drink. How many wines of the night am I allowed?

Barolo Monprivato  Castiglione di Falletto 1984, Giuseppe Mascarello -  14%. Tar. Black fruits. Old school. Grippy. Firm.  Solid old school Barolo that needs another 5-8 at least to shed its framework of tannins that surround the intense core of tarry, black earthy fruits here. Barolo for the purists, and while it could use some more time, I think it is a tremendous wine.

Brunello di Montalcion 1981 Soldera - Only dissapointment of the night, Bit long in the tooth.
And finally, we ended with some excellent desserts including a house specialty called Belgian White Chocolate Lattee - an off the charts, rich concoction of strong coffee, white chocolate, decadent whipped cream, shaved white chocolate and who knows what else - should be serve dwith digitalis and a nitro-glycerin pill but what a way to go!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Giacomo Conterno Barolo and Barbera

I had the pleasure of visiting Roberto Conterno at his family winery a couple of years ago and was, as always when I taste these wines, blown away by their sheer quality. It was my first visit, and I had a sense of reverence as we met and wondered around and took it all in. While he spoke, I began to see a little of what makes these wines what they are. There is his quiet intensity, with a humility that comes out when he speaks about the history, his father, grandfather and family, the land, and the resulting wine. You get a sense that he sees his role as  guardian of something precious, and when you taste the wines you can see clearly that this is true. The winery, like the wines, is clean and perfect - nothing extra, nothing flashy - immaculate, well ordered and to me very much in synch with what I perceive as a style that while traditional, is not rustic or funky in any way. The wines are pure and focused, with the sheer essence of the grapes and the excellent terroir where they are grown conserved  and encouraged to brilliantly shine through. And they are superb!

I also got to taste what I believe will become one of the legendary Barolos of our time, the amazing 2002 Monfortino. In a vintage plagued by rain, hail, cold, and rot, the weather conditions in 2002 decimated the harvest. But it brings up a good point for discussion, what do winemakers do when confronted with such awful conditions? For many, despite their best efforts in the vineyard to eliminate rotten or damaged fruit and lower yields to give the grapes a prayer of ripening, many were simply overwhelmed. Once the nature of the fruit was evident in the cellar, more tough decisions had to be made. At Elio Grasso, in easier vintages with more healthy fruit, they typically make two Barolos from single vineyard sites (Gavarini and Ginestra) and an excellent Nebbiolo d'Alba from younger vines or parcels they feel aren't quite up to the Barolo level. Vinification is different than for the Barolos, shorter, with more emphasis on freshness and fruit notes and resulting in a wine that has Nebbiolo character but is a bit lighter and ready to drink earlier. In superb years, they make a third wine called Runcot, that is a selection of the best parcels of Gavarini at the heart of the Estate. In 2002, they declassified to only a singe Barolo, made in a style that had definite Barolo character, but a tad lighter and earlier maturing, and released it a a fraction of the normal price. The rest they declassified into Nebbiolo, and may have sold off the rest. Production was tiny, but what they offered to us was delicious, affordable and actually quite a great buying opportunity, which "off vintages", if you do the research and taste, often tend to be.

The Conterno story was the opposite - the same miserable growing conditions, but when they got to the end there was so little fruit left that Roberto simply decided to hang on and see what happened. The weather finally cleared, and what was left was a minuscule crop of superb, ripe, beautiful fruit. In an  opposite tack to Grasso (both excellent options and the right thing to do in each case),  Conterno also made only one Barolo, but in this case the Monfortino, a wine from humble and challenging beginnings and now destined to become a legendary wine. Two different outcomes to the same problem, but they both illustrate that wine making is not a rote process, and that even in difficult years there are opportunities and producers who shine. 

For a little history and background on this terrific winery the following quote is from the excellent website of, one of our favorite Importers and Distributors. The site is excellent, with loads of information about their portfolio of small family owned artisan growers. On Conterno they write: 

"One of the greatest names in all of Piemonte, Cantine Giacomo Conterno was formed in 1908 when Giacomo’s father, Giovanni Conterno started a wine bar in the village of San Giuseppe. Giovanni made Barolo from purchased grapes and sold whatever was not needed at the tavern in barrel at this time, as was the custom throughout the region in the early twentieth century. Their flagship Riserva Barolo, Monfortino, was first conceived as a means of showing off the quality of their best wine, and was first bottled on its own in either 1912 or 1920. There are reports that a 1912 Monfortino was made by Giovanni, but the family members cannot recall if this was indeed the case. In any event, after his return from World War I, Giacomo Conterno and his father Giovanni certainly made a 1920 Monfortino, and a legend was started.

Giovanni Conterno passed away in 1934 and his son Giacomo took over running both the tavern and the winery. Giacomo had two sons, another Giovanni and Aldo, who were given the reigns of the family business in 1961. Giovanni (grandson of the estate’s founder) had vinified the 1958s with his father, and was responsible for the estate’s wines from 1959 onwards. Younger brother, Aldo Conterno was interested in experimenting with a more modern style of Barolo, and the estate was split between the two brothers in 1969. Giovanni continued on making wines as his father and grandfather had done before them, making great, traditional Barolo of uncompromising quality. The Conterno style of Barolo is ultra-traditional, with a long maceration followed by extended aging in large, old oak casks (botti) for anywhere from four to ten years prior to bottling. The regular Barolo is aged for four years before bottling, and the Monfortino used to be held in a single 4,000-5,000 liter botti for a minimum of ten years prior to its bottling (the 1970 Monfortino was not bottled until 1985). Today the Monfortino now stays in its same old oak botti for seven years before its bottling- the only modernist concession in the entire vinification and aging process! 

For many, many years, the Conternos made their Barolo from purchased grapes, produced by some of the best growers in the commune of Serralunga d’Alba and surrounding villages. The 1920 Monfortino was made from purchased grapes from the Le Coste vineyard in Monforte d’Alba. Since 1920 there have been two bottled versions of Barolo produced by the estate, a “regular” (an oxymoron when used here if ever there was one!) bottling and a Riserva Monfortino. Not every year produces grapes of sufficient quality to make a Conterno Barolo, and some years there is only a regular Barolo, some years no Barolo is sold under the Conterno label, and occasionally there is only a Monfortino made. Up until 1974 these bottlings were always made from purchased grapes (primarily from Serralunga), but in this year the superb 16 hectare vineyard of Cascina Francia in this same commune was purchased by the Conternos. Since that year both Barolo bottlings have hailed from the Cascina Francia. Interestingly, while the 1978 “regular” Barolo was made from grapes in Cascina Francia, it was not until the 1980 vintage that the name of the vineyard appeared on the label of the regular bottling. 

The two Barolo bottlings from Giacomo Conterno are earmarked while the grapes are still on the vine. In years of outstanding quality, a selection is made of the very best grapes in Cascina Francia, and these are then destined to become Monfortino. Fermentation of both bottlings is identical with the exception that the Monfortino witnesses no temperature control; no matter how high the fermentation temperatures may go, there is no intervention on the part of the Conternos. The wines are then racked into their respective botti for elevage, and as noted above, the Barolo “Cascina Francia” destined for bottling after approximately four years in wood and the Monfortino at age seven. In addition to the two profound bottlings of Barolo made by Giacomo Conterno, there is now only a Barbera d’Alba produced and an occasional Nebbiolo d’Alba from declassified Barolo in lesser vintages. This was a decision that was undertaken by Giovanni’s son, Roberto Conterno, who now runs the estate. Roberto worked for many years at the side of his father, until Giovanni’s recent passing in 2003. Roberto has budded over all the Dolcetto and Freisa vines that was previously planted in Cascina Francia to either Barbera or Nebbiolo, as he feels these are the most noble varieties in Piemonte. 

The producer Giacomo Conterno is clearly one of the two greatest names in all of Piemonte (the other being Bruno Giacosa), and each and every wine that bears the Conterno label is a profound example of its varietal and underlying terroir. While Monfortino is justifiably celebrated as one of the world’s very greatest red wines, the Barolo “Cascina Francia” is often very close to the quality of the Riserva, and is also one of the finest bottlings in all of Barolo. The Conterno uncompromising commitment to quality does not stop with Barolo, as their Barbera is one of the most age-worthy and brilliant examples of this underrated grape to be found in Piemonte. And on the rare occasions when one can find a bottle of Conterno Nebbiolo d’Alba, rest assured that it is a lovely bottle of lighter styled and complex nebbiolo that would outclass many another producer’s Barolo."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thanksgiving - Food, Wine, Family

One of my top choices - old vintages of Olga 
Raffault Chinon
One of the things I have noticed over the years is that, at our house anyway, it seems to take a lot of wine to cook a turkey dinner. Not so much for the food, but for the chefs, helpers, and guests! The pre-dinner line-up generally includes a few bottles of bubbly to start, then moving on to a crisp racy white or two such as a Sancerre or Chablis. We have some German Riesling lovers too, (including me), a few of whom will stay with that through the dinner. A perfect match it turns out! We serve all kinds of appetizers: nuts, a cheese or two, crackers and crusty baguettes, cured meats, olives, cornichons, chilled shrimp, oysters on the half shell, and a pate or two - tough to save room for dinner though! A good Fino sherry sometimes makes its way into the cue - another great aperitif. (For a list of my favorite Thanksgiving wines click here to go to 56 Degree Wine - updated daily!) 

With us, cooking the feast is almost as big a part of the experience as the actual dinner itself. It starts the day before, when some of the prep work is done including starting the home made stock that cooks for hours, simmering and reducing to finally become the savory, rich, naturally thickened gravy that will find its way onto the mashed potatoes, stuffing and of course, the turkey. But it is in the latter part of the prep, after the obligatory kick-ball match on Thanksgiving Day, that the celebration really gets underway.

Traditional Turkey dinner is a fairly food friendly affair, with the bird itself a pretty neutral palette onto on to which many wine styles and flavors can be added. Matching the various sides can be more of a challenge than the main attraction of the turkey, but unless you have a special family dish way outside of the usual cast of characters, the wine choices are pretty broad. And let's face it, nothing goes with cranberry sauce - it's a palate cleanser to cut through all the mushy stuff on your plate, so let's all get over it and focus on the pairings that have a chance!

My only hard and fast rules take out wines on either end of the spectrum. For whites, wines that are too crisp and acidic just clash. The savory richer flavors need fuller wines with some body - and that being said a little acidity is a good thing, needed to cut through all of the richness of the meal. Good white Burgundy from the villages of Chassagne, Puligny or Meursault work well - even better with some bottle age please if it's not too much trouble! California Chardonnays, with their rich, buttery, Rubenesque body work fine here too, their heft and fruity/oaky components standing well with the meal, although the zip of the white Burgs' might give them the edge for my palate. Pinot Gris from Alsace is a good, eclectic option. German Rieslings, at Kabinett or Spatlese level, are an excellent choice. While this may seem to break rule number one, their acidity is tempered by fruit, and they work well with the turkey and the trimmings too - the sweeter styles may even be the best chance for the dreaded cranberries! Again, if you have some with a little bottle age, all the better. Many Rieslings, despite their innocent first blush can age incredibly well, taking on weight, richness and body and becoming broader, more complex, seeming a little less sweet as they fill out.

But after dabbling and tasting my way through the aforementioned, I almost always go with red. I prefer medium-bodied, less inky, less extracted, less tannic styles on this occasion. Young, full-bodied reds like Bordeaux and California Cabs, as well as Rhone reds (both Northern and southern), can definately overpower the meal, but as these wines age, their tannins and power become tempered by time. Dried fruits, earth tones, autumn leaves and elegance replacing their once youthful intensity, and in their more advanced age, these wines can all join the fray on our table. Zinfandel gets a lot of press as the "all American" choice, but since we all know it is really from Croatia and Italy, that story has run its course. It can work well despite it's Euro origins, especially the more elegant styles - not the 16.5 alcohol brutes. Brambly red and dark fruits, a suggestion of sweetness and spice all pair well.

Old Burgundy - Hard to beat if you have'em!
My first choice however are mid weight reds - Riojas, especially traditional styles like Lopez de Heredia, are perfect in weight and acidity, and are available in older vintages too. Some Cotes du Rhone, Beaujolais, especially from one of the Cru Villages, are very good options as well. But Pinot Noir, with its elegance, balance, sweet cherry tones and wide range of variations on that theme, is my #1 choice. New world versions from Oregon and cool parts of California are typically more forward, ripe and plush, softer and fuller especially in their youth, than their nervier and more reserved Burgundian relatives. If you have some access to older Burgundy, this is a great time to break them out, unless you don't want the relatives knocking out your DRC's! Their elegant, old school finesse and complexity hit the spot for me, but even younger Burgundies from good sites strike the right balance. A few other off the path options could include Austrian reds, or more familiar Tuscan reds, or even an older Nebbiolo from Piedmont, all of which can match the meal. After dinner a little something dolce is perfect with dessert, and Ports, Madeira, Sauternes and a host of sweeties are all in play. And apres the feast, perhaps a little Cognac or Armagnac in front of the fire?

The main thing at the end of it all is to drink what you like, have something on hand to please your guests, and most importantly, to share some time and good food and wine with family and friends, and celebrate a great American tradition of thanks for all we have. 

For a list of my favorite Thanksgiving wines click here to go to 56 Degree Wine - Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Domaine Albert Grivault - Precision, Elegance and Respect

Last evening we had an excellent dinner at the Pluckemin Inn with a menu created by the uber talented Juan Jose Cuevas to match the stunningly pure Burgundies of Domaine Albert Grivault. More than just a wine dinner, this was a study in all the things that make Burgundy so intriguing and so complex at the same time. There was plenty of discussion around M. Bardets presentation, some great questions, and of course a phenomenal sensory illustration of the influence and importance of terroir. While to me this is the driving element here, there is no doubt that its impact can be tempered by the effects of bottle age, vintage variations, and grape growing and wine making philosophy. Give ten chefs the same ingredients and they will make 10 different dishes, but they will all agree that great ingredients are a key, much as grapes grown in great terroirs have inimitable qualities that are an intrinsic component of so many great wines. This dinner, created from excellent ingredients respectfully prepared, matched with the wines made with the same humble approach, was truly a special event.

The Pluckemin Inn provided a cozy setting, fire glowing warmly on a cold fall night, and we began with a selection of delicious passed appetizers  (loved the chestnut soup hand warmers!) accompanied by the Bourgogne Blanc 2007, and continued with that wine as we sat at the table with a tuna tartare amuse. A perfect way to start, the wine is showing the unmistakable Grivault style of elegance and purity. It is from a small parcel behind the Domaine at the foot of the hill and another behind the Perrieres. Understated and classy, it opened an improved as it swirled in the glass, showing hazelnuts, soft fruits and persistent minerality and balance all the way through to the long finish. No new oak here, only barrels in sixth year or older. One of the best buys in white Burgundy on the market - Merci M. Bardet!

1st Course was a Catskill Brook Trout Confit in "Beurre Noissette", Uni, Local Apples with the  2007 & 2008 Albert Grivault Meursault VIllages. These two wines, while both expressing the Grivault elegance, could not have been more different - both also showing true to vintage. The 2007 was more reserved, focused, its mineral tones and lively cool acidity pairing perfectly with the delicious trout, delicate and nicely matched with the savory earthy uni and balanced by the crisp zip of the apples. The 2008, also typical of its vintage, is a bigger boned wine, with more depth of fruit and weight, yet still with lovely underlying acidity. It is a wine that is still youthfully opulent and a bit powerful with this particular dish, but bodes extremely well for bottle development over the next 4-10 years. With another dish this could easily have been the preferred wine, its weight and concentration really only showing so dramatically as a result of its contrast with the dish and the focused intensity of the 2007.
2nd Course - Wild Alaska halibut, Comte Viennoise, Braised Organic Mushrooms, Jus of Herbs with the 2007 Albert Grivault Meursault Perrieres 1er Cru. A big shift of gears here - more depth, more complexity, still brilliant underlying acidity, minerals and elegance. According to Henri Marc, Michel Bardets son, the soils here are a bit finer, more friable, whereas the Clos Perreres is a bit darker and more dense, evident when after a rain the Perrieres remains crumbly and friable (its not sand but fine with a similar texture) while the Clos soils clump together, in part resulting in the stylistic differences in the two parcels. This dish was spectacular from the minute it arrived: perfectly prepared cut of Halibut, seared and tan on the top, and meaty flakey and perfectly cooked, set in a vibrant herb sauce with little mushrooms. The aromas of the dish were mouthwatering, and the taste only confirmed it - more than one of us was sopping it up with bread! Wine was a perfect match, enough richness and layered flavors to match the fish, enough acidity to set up the next bite. Bravo!
3rd Course - Poularde, Breast Poached in Buttermilk, Roasted Leg, Potato Butter, Roasted Shallot, Liver Toast with both the 2003 & 2007 Albert Grivault Meursault Clos des Perrieres 1er cru (Monopole) - What a dish! Amazingly tender Poulard, rich and decadently creamy potatoes, the shallot, sweet and caramelized, the gamey dark leg meat and the liver toast adding intense bursts of liver-y and chicken-y flavor - sensational! The wines were another incredible duo, both again showing a familial resemblance but also their own very unique expressions of vintage. I gave the nod tonight to the 2003, an amazing wine from a tough, hot vintage. How one coaxes such elegance and balance from this year, still showing fresh and rich and lovely when many an '03 is fading into ignominy, is a testament to the ability of the Bardets. It was a perfect match. The 2007 to me is a solid, youthful wine with a tremendous future. A beautiful core of mineral laden concentrated stony fruit, excellent acidity - one I would like to have a case of in the cellar to drink in 15-20 years.  
4th Course - Artisanal American Cheeses similar to Comte, Epoisses, Cantal & Reblochon with 2007 Albert Grivault Pommard Clos Blanc 1er Cru. Loved this wine, always good to be the lone red at the end of a great meal, but this showed extraordinarily well. Spice, dark fruit and a gamey note, it is never the less quite elegant for Pommard showing breed and class and elegance along with its slightly Pommard-esque edge that has definately softend since I last tasted. A lovey finish to a beautiful night!

I want to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who put this together: Joe and the team at 56, Brian Hider, Chef Cuevas and the entire staff at the Pluckemin Inn, and Olivier Daubresse for sharing his expertise and stable of great growers with us. Most of all, a warm and heartfelt thank you to Michel and Henri Marc Bardet for their dedication and passion to their lovely parcel of vines, and for taking the time to travel all the way here to share that passion with us! Nous vous remercier!