Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Gravel = Good

One of the things that surprised me when I started learning more about what makes for great growing conditions for grapes is that you can almost always say: "The poorer the soil the better the grape".
Think about why we don't have great wines being produced in Iowa, Kansas. Climate and especially soil conditions play a huge role in what grapes can grow well where.
Last week I had a chance to sample 10 wines from the Graves region of Bordeaux. If you are unfamiliar with this area all you really need to know about the potential quality of the wines made there is that Graves is the appellation of Chateau Haut Brion (this is a great site that really deserves some time). "Graves" essentially describes the soil of this area (Gravel). In fact, the gravel is so prominent that you would swear they had planted these vineyards in a gravel pit. Fortunately Cabernet Sauvignon loves these well draining, poor nutrient conditions and the wines are unlike those of anywhere else on the planet (at least planet Earth). The Graves also happens to be part of suburban Bordeaux as well and this lends a strangely residential feel to the area. I had a chance to visit Haut Brion in the Spring of 2001 and the Chateau, the grounds and the wines (barrel tasted 1999) were spectacular. Haut Brion has been owned by an American family since the 1930's (Dillon) and the Chateau has historic ties back to Thomas Jefferson (who loved this wine). Even today a portrait of Thomas Jefferson hangs in the vestibule of the Chateau and Jefferson is given much credit for helping Haut Brion obtain 1st Growth status in the 1855 Classification. While we were not able to sample Haut Brion itself, we did have a very nice lineup. The following gives the wine , my notes and my ranking.

1983 La Mission Haut Brion: Slight brickish color, licorice, graphite and smoke on the nose. Concentrated, tart cherry fruit, good structure and a nice long finish. 1st

1983 Bahans Haut Brion: Earth nose, sweet fruit with a hint of smoke on the palate. 5th

1983 Domaine De Chevalier: Savory nose with tart cherry fruit. 4th

1985 Chateau Bousaut: Fennel seed on the nose, soft cherry fruit. 6th

1986 Chateau Pape Clement: Graphite and fennel on the nose with an earthy component, astringent palate. 9th

1983 Chateau Olivier:
Floral nose with a soft fruit palate, almost no finish. 10th

1990 Chateau La Louviere:
Smokey nose, with tart cherry fruit. 8th

1990 Chateau De Chevalier: Leather nose, soft, sweet cherry fruit. Good body and a long finish. 2nd

La Chapelle Haut Brion: Perfumy nose, leather and purple fruit on the palate followed by a slight green bell pepper aftertaste. 7th

2001 Smith-Haut Lafitte:
Bright garnet, tart fruit with great structure. 3rd

This was a nice line-up and I wondered out loud if my appreciation for the last wine was due to my having a tendency to drink wine before maturity? Also, I cannot overstate how wonderful of a wine experience I had on that April day in 2001 when I visited Ch. Haut Brion. Please, if you are going to Bordeaux, make every effort to contact the Chateau in advance (6 weeks) for a tour.
Also we had a guest bring a non-Graves wine:

1993 Leoville Las Cases: Brilliant garnet color, very concentrated fruit melded with asian spices and great structure. This showed like a 2nd Growth should-gotta love that!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Chicks dig Champagne

If I could give my son (age 12) some advice that I thought he might remember and actually use in later life it would include the following:

1. Never play cards with a man named "Doc".
2. Never eat at a place called "Mom's".
3. Eat what is fresh, local and in season (and never eat anything that weighs more than your head).
4. It is never too early to start a 401(k).
5. Follow your passion & the money will follow.
6. It is also never too early to start a wine cellar.
7. Stash away a case of NV Veuve Clicquot every year (to drink the following year).

I am sure this list could grow if allowed to, but we need to stick to the basics and lets face it, if you stick to these seven you just about have all the big stuff whipped. This last item on the list took me until I was about 46 years old to understand that not only does French Champagne "kick ass" but, that aged champagne "REALLY kicks ass". During the holidays my friends and I get together to celebrate the season with good food, friendship and a big dose of Champagne.
Since most this group doesn't have jobs in commercial real estate (okay, none of us are in commercial real estate) we stick to Non Vintage Champagne. For a quick lesson on what Champagne is follow the link. For now, all you really need to know about Champagne is that in this context it is referring to the sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France.
Sparkling wines are produced all over the planet, but if you are going to use the term "Champagne" correctly, then we are talking about these wonderful wines from Northern France.
These wines tend to have a great acidity (so they go well with food) and often there is a yeasty/ bready/doughy component as well. As I noted above, aging a non-vintage Champagne will be rewarded. With some bottle time these wines develop complexity in the nose and palate and you can serve wines that taste expensive, but were less the result of a large wallet and more the result of planning ahead (stock that cellar now!)
I had a chance to taste 9 Non-vintage (NV) Champagne recently and I am sharing the notes of that evening. One last thing. Champagne in general is produced in two different styles. One style is crisp, tart and almost minerally and the other style could be called "creamy". Personally I prefer the creamy style and my rankings will reflect that, the second number denotes the group ranking of these wines.

Bollinger NV: Green apple nose with a doughy/yeasty palate, nice finish. 8/3

Gosset NV: Earthy nose, creamy mid-palate. 3/9

Drappier Cote d'Or NV:
Earthy nose, sweet upfront fruit, lead pencil, rose petal, lasting finish. 1/2

Jacquard NV: Bread yeast on the nose with a creamy palate. 6/5

Prevoteau Perrier NV: Yeasty nose, not much character. 7/6

Domaine Michel NV: Bread dough nose, licorice, short mid-palate, no finish. 9/8

Beaumont du Craymont:
Yeasty/earthy nose, apple fruit/cider. 5/7

Yeasty nose with balanced tart apple fruit. 4/1

Duval Leroy: Hint of earthiness on the nose creamy mid-palate with a long finish. 2/4

A final note, the reason that vintage Champagne is so expensive is that it is rare and only made in years where the fruit is deemed "perfect". The NV Champagnes are made in what is called a "House Style". These wines are meant to be consistent from year to year and they may include wines that have been blended from multiple vintages.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Cocoa and spice slow-roasted pork with onions

Photo: Kana Okada
Recipe: Michael Chiarello & Bon Appetit

This needs a long, lazy six-hour roasting, so enjoy the aromas as you get ready for the party.

Servings: Makes 8 servings

Usually I can tell just by the description how a dish will turn out and this one proved me right once again. This is a very easy to prepare main course that would be great for company and you could serve it as a holiday alternative to Turkey or Roast Beef. The roast has a great spice and smoke component and though the recipe in Bon Appetit pairs this with a domestic Sangiovese, I think that breaking out a Cote du Rhone or pulling out all the stops with a Chateauneuf du Pape ( a 2003 Vieux Telegraphe would be nice ) would make this a truly special meal to remember.


Spice Rub:

1/2 tablespoon whole white peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons plus 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt (preferably gray crystals)
1 tablespoon plus 2 1/4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Pork and Onions:
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 3/4 to 4 pounds onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1 1/2 cups water
1 5-pound pork shoulder butt with bone

For spice rub:
Stir peppercorns and coriander in small skillet over medium heat until spices are darker in color, about 5 minutes. Transfer to spice grinder; grind finely. Place in small bowl; mix in remaining ingredients. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

For pork and onions:
Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sage; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté 10 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups water; cover and cook until onions are soft, about 15 minutes. Uncover; continue to cook until onions are beginning to brown and water has evaporated, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300°F. Sprinkle spice rub on large sheet of foil. Roll pork in rub, pressing to coat. Set pork on rack in large roasting pan. Top pork with 1/3 of onions; scatter remaining onions around pork in pan.

Roast pork until very tender and thermometer inserted into center registers 160°F, stirring onions in pan occasionally, about 6 hours. Transfer pork to platter. Season onions in pan with salt and pepper; spoon around pork.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Oregon Chardonnay Alliance

When it comes to Chardonnay, there seems to be two camps. One camp is squarely onboard with the big, ripe, oaky California style and the other camp appreciates the French White Burgundy style that focuses on a crisper, more minerally style that has a restrained hand when it comes to oak.
To fully understand how the wine gets from vine to glass you need a basic understanding of the grape. As with many grape varietals there are multiple Chardonnay vine clones used to grow the Chardonnay we drink.
In the early days in Oregon the clones selection used was referred to as "Selection 108" (UCD 4 &5). These clones did well in California, but with the cooler Oregon climate the ripening time of these clones lagged into October and getting the grapes fully ripe was a problem.
In 1974 David Adelsheim went to Burgundy and observed first hand that the Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay grapes ripened at the same time. Adelsheim realized the need for this clone type in Oregon and he began the 2 year process of importing, evaluating and quarantining that would be required to get this clone selection into Oregon. In 1977 those first clones were planted in Oregon and now are collectively referred to as "Dijon Clones". Today a group of dedicated winemakers have formed the Oregon Chardonnay Alliance. This group shares information and provides valuable feedback with the goal of taking Oregon Chardonnay to new heights and to help people understand that this "new world" Chardonnay is in a class of its own.

I had a chance to sample 8 Chardonnay wines recently. We had 6 wines from Oregon that would fall into the "Dijon clone" category and then we tossed in a French Burgundy and a California Chardonnay for fun. We blind tasted the eight wines together and below are my tasting notes and my group placement.

2005 Argyle Nuthouse: Slight green apple nose that continues to the palate. Creamy and crisp with a nice roundness. Fermented in neutral oak. #6

2005 Domaine Drouhine "Arthur":
Green apple nose with a very bright, crisp, green apple palate. Nice mineral character with a very small touch of toasty oak on the finish. #3

2004 Hamacher:
Apple pie spice on the nose. A softer rounder style wine with good balance and an earthy character that I liked very much. #1

2004 Chateau Montelena:
An earthy nose and a hint of smoke (oak?), tart green apple fruit with a grassy edge. This wine had no malolactic fermentation. This was the California ringer and as a side note their 1973 Chardonnay placed first in the 1976 Judgement of Paris (and basically put California on the world wine map). #2

2004 Domaine Fichet:
This was our French ringer. The wine showed crisp green apple on the nose and it had a fat mid-palate. #4

2005 Adelsheim -Caitlin's Reserve: Creamy nose and a round,fat, slightly buttery body. Just a hint of oak on the nose and finish. #7

2004 Domaine Serene: Prominent oak on the nose a short mid-palate and a funky, earthy, caramel finish. I felt this wine was WAY over oaked. #8 (note, the remainder of the group scored this 1st).

2004 St. Innocent "Freedom Hill":
Spice on the nose, nice apple/pear fruit with a flabby body (if this were a celebrity it would be Britney Spears). #5

What impressed this group was the approach these wineries are taking with their Chardonnay.
Oregon Chardonnay wines are never going to show the exotic fruit profiles of their California cousins and the move towards climate specific clones has done wonders to improve the quality of the wines produced. If you take a look at the links provided above you will see the the winemakers are starting to let the grape "speak" for itself and they are using less and less technology in the processing of these wines.
In learning from the French in regard to clone selection, I believe that Oregon is starting to get its footing in establishing its own style. That is a good thing