Personally, Yes

A few weeks ago I read a wine list for a new restaurant in LA and I knew it was time to quit my job.

There I was, enjoying my seventh year serving in a deservedly famous restaurant called Slows Bar BQ.

Not only did Slows play a role in saving my life – whatever it’s worth – Slows was also a really fun place to work. I was there, to soak up the lightning.

And then I saw the wine list for Hatchet Hall, and the storm of vitriol and hurt feelings it inspired. As I read the list I smiled. Then I laughed. I was not alone, but nor did everyone get the joke. Someday I hope to explain the comedy in very dry, analytic terms, but for now I am still laughing a little.

There are two dining establishments local to me which are experiencing periods of dynamic innovation. Alphabetically, they are Gold Cash Gold and Mudgie’s Fine Deli-ing. Gold Cash Gold has been open barely a year on a city block shared by Slows. Mudgie’s inhabits a bucolic corner of Corktown where it has recently expanded to include its own wine shop.

As I wrote lists of wine for each place this week I had a sensation of liberation not related to the usual between-job butterflies. The language had opened up. The old rules existed to preserve the feelings of the most uptight of critics, and these were in decline. I hasten to add, I sincerely wish no harm to the feelings of the most uptight of critics, just as I wish no harm to anyone. The problem lies in the fact that these rules can mislead everyone else.

What is Chablis? Is it Chardonnay? Is Raveneau Chablis? Who is ladling guilt over our usage? Who’s language is it? If wine makes people nervous, and O does it, that may indicate a wealth of potential comedy.

Wine lists – besides containing inspiration, value, clarity, focus and comfort – should be funny! If your wine list isn’t funny, it just may be a waste of your time and resources!

I hope to demonstrate in future posts.

Certainly there will continue to be brooding, scrupulously lexical and boring wine lists. And they will tend to be stocked with boring wine, at ridiculous prices, yet not worth the first dollar. But these are on the way out. So I am so glad to be back.

What can you do?

Come to the gala debut of the new wine list at Gold Cash Gold this Monday. Chef Stockton has five courses in store, each of which will be paired with two wines. You can rediscover miraculous coq au vin and drink dry-farmed Pinot Noir from the Cancilla Vineyard. Huet is scheduled to appear as mousse and with mousse. Amphora-fermented Sicilian red wine shall warmly embrace 2015 Pumpkins, and a relaxed group of people who know how to have fun – even with wine! Follow this link.

Do it.

See you there!

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photo courtesy of Jacqueline Dickow

Paleo-Avant Chard

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We live in a bipolar world of Chardonnay.

For most people the grape was once synonymous with a style of wine that tasted like butter and tropical fruits. In recent decades a backlash came and it is now firmly entrenched. It turns out Chardonnay can also be clean and crisp. So now Chardonnay can mean entirely different things to different people. Yet we are stuck with one brand. And modifiers don’t seem to help: oaky Chardonnay; buttery Chardonnay; French style Chardonnay. When it comes to good Chardonnay, these clunky formulations are usually misleading and counterproductive.

I’ll have a Chardonnay.

I’ll have something that is not Chardonnay.

Unfortunately the schism is driving intelligent consumers out of the category, and this is having the predictable effect of improving Chardonnay’s value. Supply and demand seem to have an exaggerated effect on wine markets.

Pair all of this with 1) the grape’s relatively good expression in various wine growing regions of California, and 2) a modern wave of new winemakers who work small and who understand, and this might be the best time in a generation to be drinking wine made from this grape.

Lioco Sonoma County Chardonnay is a natural wine.

Short Name: Chardonnay
Full Name: 2013 Chardonnay, Sonoma County
Producer: Lioco
Geography: Sonoma County, California
$12 glass, $36 bottle
Varieties: Chardonnay
Description: Salted lemons and ripe pears and apples. Silky texture, substantial bouquet and overall elegance.
Comparables: Really no need to compare this to anything other than “Chardonnay.” The terms “White Burgundy” and even “French Chardonnay” might be mentioned, but technically they don’t really mean anything stylistically. Compare Domaine de Bongran, Cordier or Roally in the Macon – unctuous and exotic – to Meursault – chiseled and timbered – to Petit Chablis – sour and mineral, and how does that make a useful antithesis to anything? But yeah, if someone wants to be lazy and describe this as “French style,” ok. Especially if French style means commitment to natural fruit virtues and winemaking humility. Of course it IS a California Chardonnay, and California deserves the credit. We can only hope more winemakers emulate the approach.
Pairings: As a stand-alone drink, with charred octopus, fried chicken, and anything with avocado.

Rhone and Biodynamic

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Short Name: Red Rhone
Full Name: 2012 Le Petit Coquet
Producer: Domaine Chaume-Arnaud
Geography: Southern Rhone Valley, France
$10 glass, $30 bottle
Varieties: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, etc
Description: Spiced berry reductions with silky tannins. Analytically it is perfectly dry; but allow a sample to anyone looking for “sweet red”? Take a poll and share your results.
Comparables: I’ve always thought this kind of wine had something in common with jammy old-school red Zinfandels, though it is more elegant than that. Also there are both organoleptic and deep historical comparisons available to big-ticket biodynamic red Burgundy from a warm vintage (when was the last time YOU drank DRC Echezeaux?) and, by extension, ambitious too-ripe New World Pinot Noir.
Pairings: Forgiving with a lot of foods. It might overwhelm the more delicate and lunchable choices. Stews and meats are the strike-zone, but it works good with the cheese course and fried chicken too.
Interesting Technical Facts: This estate is certified Biodynamic in France. Legalities aside!

Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo is the grape variety that makes Barolo and Barbaresco. Aromatic. Severe. Infectious. There is a mystique about great Nebbiolo. Sometimes it is erroneously compared to Cabernet – if they share an impression of great power then that is all. Nebbiolo is prettier and more detailed than Cabernet. It is more powerful than Pinot Noir. Nebbiolo is Nebbiolo.
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Short Name: Nebbiolo
Full Name: 2011 Nebbiolo d’Alba Perbacco
Producer: Vietti
Geography: Piedmont, Italy.
$10 glass, $40 bottle
Varieties: Nebbiolo 100%
Description: Violets, roses, truffles, poppyseeds. The tannins are pinpoints of fine granularity. Think less of its mouthfilling qualities and more about its perfume.
Comparables: Not really comparable. Sometimes I like to think of it like a tannic red burgundy flavored less on the warm end of the spectrum and more of the cool end – less mulch and more graphite, less black tea and more bay leaf, less red fruit and more black fruit.
Pairings: 1) Beef. 2) Anything with truffles. Garlic, black pepper and herbs, all yes. But avoid cooked tomato sauces.
Interesting Technical Facts: This is farmed and made identically to Vietti’s Barolo Castiglione. The only difference is that Perbacco is a selection of barrels that are judged to be suitable for earlier drinking.
More Infohttp://www.vietti.com/en/wines/nebbiolo-perbacco/nebbiolo-perbacco-2011/

Champagne City

Is the cost of living in Detroit high or low? And compared to what? Living requires shelter and transportation, certainly, but it’s in the specific that these costs are decided. What shelter; what mode of transit; how do these trade off, and how do they trade off with other essentials?

Champagne

Living also requires Champagne. Really. And in Detroit it is sold for a fraction.

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Forty-four dollars a bottle, with good company, a wine that took more than four years of hand work to produce, something impossible to simulate, and the manifested narration of Enlightenment gastronomy. Champagne pervades every great restaurant.

Do you think you don’t need Champagne? True, without Champagne you might wake and sleep, your metabolism might function and you might convert work units at a job. But is that living? What is the cost of not having Champagne? I look at my friends who love Champagne: Jessie, Dave, Lucy, Karla. They each seem to be tapped into some natural force, spontaneous, exemplary, and durable.

When dreams are ordeals, when one’s feet shuffle instead of walk, test this diagnosis: low on Champagne syndrome.

If you got a wish, wish it.

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Cordon Bleu predates Cordon Rouge. This was the same Champagne served with Chef Josh Stockton’s epic charcuterie for the summer 2014 Write-a-House fundraiser @ the firehouse.

Full Name: Champagne de Venoge Brut Cordon Bleu
Producer: de Venoge (de ven OAZHE)
Geography: Champagne, France
Varieties: Pinot Noir 50%, Chardonnay 25%, Pinot Meunier 24%
Description: Dry, biscuit, apple and nougat sensations. Lingering.
Comparables: Champagne, of course.
Pairings: Absolutely utterly everything that is food. Everything.
More infohttp://www.champagnedevenoge.com/english/vitrine.html

Pinot Noir

I started to write about this wine yesterday and instead … tangent!

One test of authenticity is age. And isn’t that true for just about everything? – friends, art, music, etc. – though maybe I’m biased. Sure, there are plenty of real wines best drunk while they are young, but the class of wines that age well excludes ones that are heavily manipulated, cosmetified, or otherwise tortured to resemble something disharmonious with their nature.

Accordingly, there are two Pinot Noirs: the Legend and the Brand. The Legend is often thought to be synonymous with great red Burgundy, but there are exceptions. La Cantera is a vineyard in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. The Brand needs the Legend, even if it can thrive without any tangible connection to it. The Legend, at this point, probably doesn’t need the Brand. The Legend, with its inherent scarcity and power over the imagination, sells itself. This is a wine of romantic contraditions. Fresh and old, powerful and delicate, fruity and earthy.

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Short Name: Pinot Noir
Full Name: 2007 Wllamette – Chehalem Mountain
Producer: Bernard Machado, La Cantera Vineyard (24 acres)
Geography: Chehalem Mountain, Willamette Valley, Oregon
$14 glass, $55 bottle
Varieties: Pinot Noir 100%
Description: Age has a way of shedding force and simplicity in favor of complexity. Gone is the opaque purple of young wine. In its place is a pale rose and dried orange peel colored robe. In a proper wine glass the aromas are complex enough to defy neat lexical summaries. Cranberry, tea, wild strawberries, hen-of-the-wood mushrooms, like a walk through the tall grasses of Wabash and Temple … precise and yet infinite.
Comparables: Pinot Noir, Red Burgundy,
Pairings: Look for umami. Duck above all. And Potatoes are exemplary. Experiment with preparations that include miso, marsala, leeks, and fatty poultry. If its beef let it be either quite aged or slowly stewed without noisy volatile seasoning.

Why are you so into Pinot?

Tech Sheet

Great zoomable map!

Charcuterie Drink

Charcuterie

Among other things, chef Josh Stockton is known for charcuterie – paté, head cheese, confit, and more. These are like the wines of the meat world. Originally the production of these foods were motivated by the need to preserve meat without refrigeration, but today the preservation techniques of charcuterie are valued in their own right, for the flavors they impart.

It’s the same with grape juice and it’s the same with apple juice. Wine and cider are simply farmed juices preserved with antique methods.

Pairing Food with Drink

One way to arrive at a good pairing is to memorize rules. White wine with fish, red wine with meat, Bordeaux with lamb, etc. But it’s more interesting and empowering to examine the principles from which these so-called rules derive. For example, it is established as fact that Muscadet pairs with raw oysters, coq au vin with Burgundy, smoked fish with Riesling, tapas with dry sherry, and on and on. But the principle that unifies these numerous prescriptive rules is this: food and drink of a common origin tend to pair well.

And this makes sense. These foods and beverages are the result of many generations of selection, both natural and artificial. Their existence could only be perpetuated as far as they could have managed to appeal to local markets. In a world without refrigerators and trains, farm-to-table was the only option.

Now look at a map of traditional charcuterie-producing regions. Draw a line around those that produce cooked, pork-based terrines, paté, rillettes, head cheeses, liverwurst, and hams. Southern England, Normandy, Flanders, Alsace, Bavaria, and Switzerland. Ask, what are the traditional locally preserved fruit juices? Here is where the temperature limits of grape growing favor the production of sparkling wine, and here is where pear and apple trees are ideally situated.

Also, hogs and cattle love to eat apples.

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The Manoir de Montreuil is an old domaine that produces cider and calvados. The apples grown here are old heirloom varieties planted on standard rootstock, so they do not require systemic pesticides and sprays. The juice ferments spontaneously and is unfiltered and unpasteurized, resulting in a remarkably vivid sensations of apple harvest time in the country. This is not a sweetened cider. If it leaves any impression of sweetness on the palate these are due to complex unfermented polysaccharides that are a native quality of these apples.

Short Name: French Cider
Full Name: Manoir de Montreuil Cambremer Cidre Pays d’Auge
Producer: Michele Giard – Patrice Giard
Geography: France, Normandy
Varieties: Domaine, Bedan, Fagotier, St. Philbert, Frequin Rouge, Rimbault, Petit Jaune and Blanc Sur
Description: Nutmeg, sage, hazelnuts, apple butter, with a very lofty, light texture – like drinking meringue made of apple juice.
Comparables: Cider, Prosecco, Champagne
Pairings: Charcuterie! Most especially charcuterie using cooked pork. Include any prepared mustard, horseradish, pickles, cheeses and butter.