Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Domaine Moureou Madiran 2000

Sorry for the significant blogging hiatus lately. No real excuses; just postprandial laziness. Tonight, I grilled lamb rib chops and asparagus and served them with new potatoes. It's nice when I can prepare everything on the grill; it means I don't have to scrub any pots. Todd at Sam's recommended this Madiran to match the lamb, and it performed admirably enough.

Regular readers of the blog (I'm looking at you, Charlie) will notice that we have been drinking a lot of wines from Madiran and its neighbors in southwest France. These wines tend to be an incredible source for good value wines made in the traditional, old world style. Madiran wines are primarily made of Tannat grapes, which sound like what they taste like, i.e., tannic. This one was no exception.

Unlike a similar wine from neighboring Irouleguy, also made of tannat, the Moureou was pleasantly drinkable when complimented by the fat from the lamb. It was a full-bodied and well-extracted wine, with enjoyable fruit and nut flavors.

Stephanie says: Almonds and woodiness on the aroma. The tannins made reaching the flavor difficult, but I thought I detected black cherry and blackberries, and more woddiness.

The tannins were certainly present, but they were the kind of tannins that could be moderated either by age or rich foods. We tried the latter, and given the wine's price (~$14), we might toss a few in the cellar.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Chateau Caronne Ste. Gemme Haut-Medoc 2000

"Man Alive!," as Fukui-san used to say. Stephanie and I celebrated our -1st Anniversary (we hope to be married a year from now), and I created a tasting of beef short ribs. I purchased short ribs from both the Paulina Meat Market, a fancy butcher shop that carries lots of wonderful meats, and from the local produce market, Farmer's Pride Produce, on the corner of Chicago Ave. and Western Ave. The former cost $8.50/lb. and the latter $2.20/lb. They were cooked identically - simmered for two hours in a braise of onion, leek, carrot, garlic, red wine and chicken stock - but they were butchered differently.

Stephanie and I both agreed that while the farmer's market beef was fattier, it was much tastier and more tender. So much for the extra $6/lb. To compliment the short ribs, we roasted some asparagus and Stephanie prepared her new favorite side dish, fingerling potatoes steamed over thyme then smashed and fried like platains (from Lora Zarubin's cookbook, I'm Almost Always Hungry..

Stephanie chose this bottle of Bordeaux last week, and I thought it would go very well with the short ribs. I was correct. For a "cru bourgeois" level wine (this means that the property is not considered to be as good as those labeled "grand cru" and thus costs much less, ~$18), this one was remarkably well-balanced and structured. A blend of 60% Cab Sauv, 37% Merlot, and 3% Petit Verdot produced a medium-full bodied wine that balanced the sweetness of the ripe 2000 vintage against modest tannins and acidity. The nose offered the slightest hints of herb, prune, and fig. Although the finish was not especially long, as one might expect from such a wine, it was well-built and perfect for beef. Not a long-lived wine, this is a gem to buy by the case.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Chateau Fort de Roquetaillade Graves 2004

Tonight I prepared my first dish from Paula Wolfert's amazing cookbook, the Cooking of South-West France. First published in 1983, Paula's book will likely become one of my favorites, with its recipes for boudin noir, daube of oxtail, and cassoulet. As an initial attempt, I tried her Basque-inspired recipe for pork braised in milk. A boneless center loin of pork is slowly cooked in milk, seasoned with leeks, onions, and carrots. It is served thinly sliced with the reduced cooking liquid. As I side dish, I prepared Thomas Keller's fancy version of a ratatouille, with squash, zucchinie, and tomatoes over onions and bell peppers. While the pork was a touch on the dry side, it was perked up immensely by the sauce and nicely balanced by the rich vegetables.

Paula recommended a white Graves to match the dish, and we just happened to have one chilling in the cellar (actually I chose the dish knowing that we had a bottle of Graves). Graves is a small region in southeast Bordeaux that gets its name from its gravely soil. While the red wines of this region are some of the biggest names in Bordeaux, many of the whites are overlooked. The whites are made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, and they tend to be drier and more minerally than their cousins from the Loire, California, or New Zealand.

Tonight's Roquetaillade was a characteristic example, offering notes of citrus and white peach, backed by an acidic, minerally core. As Stephanie mentioned, the fruit was in perfect balance with the acidity, making for a delightful sipping wine and one that worked especially well with our dinner. Like many of the great white wines of France (from Burgundy, Alsace, or the Loire), those from Bordeaux are capable of aging nicely. And for less than $15, this is one that could be stashed away pretty easily.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Domaine Ricard Le Vilain P'tit Rouge Touraine 2002

Stephanie and I spent a lovely late summer afternoon enjoying the nice weather outside while our chicken stock simmered away on the stove. I used some of the stock to produce a lamb stew with fingerlings, carrots, and turnips. Stephanie prepared a mixed green salad with scallions, heirloom tomatoes, and parmigiano. We chose this Cabernet Franc from the Loire to pair with the lamb.

I was a bit surprised by the heft a cool-climate Cab Franc showed, and I suspect that there might have been a bit of viticultultural tomfoolery going on (i.e., winemaking methods may have been applied to enhance the wine's extract and potential alcohol beyond its natural development). It was meaty and tight, with a medium-full body. To my palate, it seemed more like a California wine than one from the Loire.

This much ripeness and strength would have been more appropriate with grilled beef than it was with stewed lamb. It overwhelmed some of the lamb's subtlety, but I would expect better results with a nice tri-tip.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Chateau d'Aydie Ode d'Aydie Madiran 2001

One of our local wine shops had a big Labor Day sale on French wines, so we picked up a variety of bottles that we wouldn't normally select. Last night, for example, we drank a white wine from Gascony that proved too sweet for a delicious tuna "nicoise" prepared by Stephanie. Tonight we tried this Madiran with smoked ribs, Stephanie's famous cole slaw, and ciabatta with goat butter, hoping that the smoky Tannat grape would pair well with the ribs.

Madiran, located in southwest France, has been gaining more public attention as the region's wine makers strive to tame the tannic Tannat, often by blending it with Cab Franc. The folks at d'Aydie were sadly unsuccessful in 2001, though. The wine's tannins were softened by the fat in the meat, and there was some characteristic smokiness. But in the end, the grip from the tannins proved too strong, to the point where they completely masked the fruit. If you're so inspired, feel free to lay a few bottles down for a while and see what happens. For only $12 or so, you don't have much to lose. But if it's enjoyable Madiran you're after, try the wines of Chateau Laffitte-Teston.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Lunch at Blackbird

I spent the better part of last night on the phone with our financial adviser guy discussing all of the possible bad things that could happen to us. To repay me, Stephanie invited me to join her for lunch at one of Chicago's finest restaurants - Blackbird. This was particularly special no only because Blackbird was the 2004 James Beard Award Winner for the best restaurant in the Midwest, but also because Stephanie took an hour-and-a-half lunch break (75 minutes longer than her normal lunches).

To say that the food was exquisite would not do it justice. I should start by mentioning all of the things I passed up on the menu: gazpacho with tuna, confit of sucking pig, skate wing and jonah crab, croques madame and monsieur, bouillabaisse, and lamb t-bones. You get the point - deciding what to eat was incredibly difficult. Stephanie, devoted fiance that she is, made my task easier by ordering two items that I would have ordered instead of the ones I ultimately chose - "seared maine diver scallops with new crop fingerlings, scallions, guanciale and uni vinaigrette" with two enormous slices of truffle that were not listed on the menu and the "braised prairie gove pork belly sandwich with spicy coleslaw, bread and butter pickles, dijon, and arugula salad." Both were phenomenal. The former was perfectly prepared, with layers of delicate, contrasting flavors and a powerful aroma of truffle (it reminded me of the time that Charlie and I deep fried scallops in truffle oil). The pork belly sandwich was also superb. The meat was unimaginably tender, the slaw was great, and the bread was perfect. There were, perhaps, too many pickles on the sandwich, and the salad left something to be desired (although it was no doubt intended as a palate cleanser between bites of the very rich pork).

By now, you must certainly be asking yourself what I chose. No more delays. I selected two appetizers. First, the "charcuterie plate with country-style pate, boudin blanc, pickled spring salad, and walnut mustard." What a choice! The pate was just lovely - an fine blend of meat, fat, and savory herbs - and the sausage was great, perhaps the best I've ever had. The salad included pickled leeks and haricot verts. I followed this with "sous vide greengold acres farm chicken breast and sauteed sweetbreads with braised baby leeks and gribiche." These were, without question, the best sweetbreads I've ever tasted - a perfect blend of crisp coating and rich inside. I have been waiting to try some "sous vide" something after reading about it in all of the magazines (it requires vacuum-sealing foods in plastic for slow poaching at low temperatures), and the chicken certainly lived up to my expectations. Although the two small slivers didn't provide much opportunity to think about the flavors, they were amazingly tender.

Lunch prices are decidedly reasonable at Blackbird, although dinner gets a little more expensive. The wine list is impressivly stocked with cult cabs and big name burgundies (and they even had 5 chenins), but the wine prices are high - more than 100% over retail. The by-the-glass list could also have been more substantial and offered more playful wines to match the clever food preparations. Our service, by a young lady named Meredith and her crew was exceptional. They were all friendly and helpful, and Meredith made all the right recommendations. We shall return soon.