Thursday, April 27, 2006

Terredora Dipaolo Falanghina Irpinia 2004

Our fiddlehead fern and ramp dinners continued last night with confited ramps and chicken breasts in fern sauce. I love spring. After tasting a wine made from falanghina at Spiaggia last weekend, I picked up another bottle from a different producer and served it with this light meal. It performed admirably, again tasting much like a chenin blanc. Unlike the great chenins from Savenierres, however, this bottle sells for about $10. Medium-bodied and ripe without being sweet, it would pair well with a variety of lighter pastas, meats, and fish. It's a trememdous way to break away from chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and the like.

Ramp Confit recipe:
Clean as many ramps as you care to eat and remove leaves from bulbs. Reserve leaves. Place bulbs in an overproof dish or small saucepan and cover with your lipid of choice. I recommend a blend of clarified butter and canola oil. Place in a 200F oven for 45 minutes until cooked through. Allow to cool in oil. Remove bulbs from the oil and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange a few leaves on a plate and place bulbs on top. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. To eat, wrap bulbs in leaves.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Chateau La Graviére Cotes-de-Bourg 2003

As you will have noticed, our yearly delivery of fiddlehead ferns and ramps arrived yesterday. We will be enjoying these delightful vegetables at every meal until they run out. For the initial offering, we decided to keep things simple - Stephanie pan roasted pork chops and we prepared a delicious ragout of ferns, onions, and garlic in a natural jus. The ferns are rich and fragrant, tasting of the earth and of life itself (well maybe that's going a bit far, but they're really good).

We paired the dish with another installment of our Bordeaux 2003 tasting, this time from the lowly Cotes-de-Bourg region on the north side of the Gironde. Not to be confused with the wine of the same name made in Lalande-de-Pomerol, this La Graviére is made by Jacques Rodet and is the second wine of his also-unknown Chateau Brulescaille estate. For the low price tag (~$10), it was passable, owing to decent concentration of fruit and a reasonably harmonious balance. The nose and palate were dominated by raw green bell pepper and cracked black pepper notes coming from the healthy percentage of cabernet franc in the blend. Good, but certainly not the wine to introduce the ferns with.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

They're Here!!!

The anticipation!!!

What Joy!!!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Taurino Notarpanaro Salento 1999

Stephanie had to work most of the day on Sunday so we ordered a New York style pizza and opened this bottle of southern Italian wine. Made from Negro Amaro and Malvasia Nera, the grape names in no way imply the color, a shimmering garnet. I'm not certain, but I would guess that at least a portion of the grapes used were dried on mats prior to pressing as is done in the Veneto's Amarone wines. Here the aromas were of dried fruits and berries. It was medium-bodied on the palate, with a dry finish. If you are a fan of flashy Aussie shirazs, avoid this wine like the plague. On the other hand, if you are adventurous and are planning a meal of veal, chicken, or pasta in red sauce, it's worth seeking out.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Wine Label Zoo

The New York Times has an article on its website now about the increasing percentage of wine labels depicting animals. Infamous recent examples include Yellow Tail, Goats du Roam, etc. While most of these wines are inexpensive, there are a number of more expensive and established wines that use animals on their labels. Excellent California wineries like Frog's Leap, Stag's Leap (Winery and Wine Cellars), and Screaming Eagle all have animal labels, but what about Old World wines? French wines are much more likely to have images of chateaux, crests, or portraits, but there are a few that use animals. Here are a couple I can think of. Please post others in the comments.

Domaine de Baumard Clos du Papillon Savennieres (butterfly)
Ch. Mouton Rothschild (ram)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Les Heretiques Vin de Pays de l'Herault 2004

We have been shopping for a new home in the neighborhood and last night we reached an agreement to buy a lovely gray brick building on an extrawide lot right next to the park. We're very excited. Of course, this means we'll be pretty poor for a while, so it was only appropriate that we celebrated with a $7 bottle of wine.

This wine comes from the VdP de l'Herault region of the Languedoc in southern France (the same place as the more famous Mas de Daumas Gassac). Presumably, it is some blend of caringan, grenache, syrah, and possibly cinsault, mourvedre, and countless other varietals. Medium-bodied, dry, and earthy, it is a great example of my argument that the best value wines actually come from France and not, as many in the wine press would have you believe, from Australia, Chile, and Argentina. Unlike most of the value wines from the latter group, the wines of this region tend to balance ripe fruit (in this case, plums) with clear tannins and an acidic backbone, making them much better accompaniments to food. I suspect we'll be drinking a lot of this wine for the next few months.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Happy Easter-versary

On Sunday Stephanie and I celebrated the anniversary of our engagement. I proposed last Easter (you can see pictures on her blog), and rather than remember the exact date, we decided to celebrate the anniversary on Easter each year. My present from her was brunch at Spiaggia, Chicago's top Italian restaurant. They don't normally do a brunch, so we didn't know what to expect. Of course, it was fabulous.

We arrived for our 11:30 reservation, dressed to celebrate the season. I wore a tan and white seersucker suit with a light purple shirt, yellow tie, and purple pocket square, and Stephanie wore a pretty blue striped top with white linen pants. She looked lovely, if a little embarassed to be seen with me.

We chose the four-course prix fixe menu, which gave us choices of antipasto, primi, and segundi followed by dessert. Stephanie started with roasted lobster tail, and I had olive oil poached scampi with micro cilantro and coriander. Both were excellent and accentuated by celebratory glasses of Prosecco, Italy's most famous sparkling wine. My second course was a rich, dense lobster claw with homemade spaghetti and a deep sauce made from lobster stock. It paired excellently with a glass of Sannio Falanghina, a white wine from Campania that started with a pit of piquancy and ended round and rich like a great chenin. Stephanie had perfect gnocchi in truffle sauce that, we had to admit, were better than those served at Tru. It was matched with a glass of Grignolino from Heitz Vineyards in Napa, CA. I, like most of the world, am an admirer of Heitz's classic Napa cabernets, but I was not familiar with this bottling of a red Piedmont varietal. It was highly aromatic, with perfumey floral notes and a medium body. Stephanie compared it to the Guigal Hermitage Blanc we had at our first date at Five and Ten almost three years earlier.

Stephanie ordered a roularde of guinea hen with a different, yet equally enjoyable, truffle sauce for her main course. It paired very well with a Sicilian wine from Cerasuolo di Vittoria. I chose the beef tenderloin, crusted in marrow with purple potato puree and hen of the wood mushrooms. The beef was fine, if a little mild, but the combination ended up tasting distinctly and unavoidably of deep-fried corn tortillas. I can't explain it, but it's true. The aglianico from Terradora di Paolo, with its powerful pipe tobacco aroma, was, at least, an enjoyable match. We finished with excellent desserts of hazelnut gelato and moscato sformatto but passed on the grappa as it was only 3pm. It was a great meal and a perfect way to celebrate.

Legal Regulation of Food

I know I owe the world an entry on our wonderful Easter-versary brunch at Spiaggia, and it's on the way, but I wanted to briefly mention a couple of interesting items on law and food. My university is particularly involved in these issues, and I thought it would be nice to bring them to your attention.

First is a column by William Saletan on "The War on Fast Food," where he predicts the development of a crusade against the fast food industry. Saul Levmore, the dean of the UofC law school, has been blogging on this topic recently, and both are worth reading.

Also on the Chicago Law Faculty Blog, Jeff Leslie and Cass Sunstein have been posting on animal welfare regulation. In short, they propose the adoption of labeling standards indicating the level of animal cruelty involved in the production of meat for food. As with Free-Trade coffee and free-range chickens, consumers can make their preferences felt through their buying habits since the treatment of the animals involved would be more salient. It's an interesting proposal, but it seems to raise some of the same concerns that I have written about regarding the moral indignation accompanying "organicism," i.e. the potential for poor people who chose to purchase the presumably cheaper meat from cruelly treated animals to be viewed with disdain and disgust by those capable of paying the cruelty-free premiums. Such people will be forced to choose between providing for their families or following their moral disinclination to eat meat from cruelly treated animals.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ch. Duhart-Milon 2003, Ch. d'Armailhac 2003, and Ch. d'Issan 2003

Sadly today marks the end of our Bordeaux 2003 tasting. Of course, we'll be sampling many more in the future (at least if we don't buy a house), but this will have been our most systematic endeavour. We finished with a meal of grilled Italian sausage with peppers and onions and a side of Stephanie's indescribably delicious cole slaw.

The Duhart-Milon was the first of two wines from the Paulliac region on Bordeaux's left bank, home of some of Bordeaux's greatest chateaux (Latour, Mouton Rothschild, and Lafitte Rothschild - the last of which is responsible for this wine). It was a pleasure to drink, with bold fruit and very fine tannins. The mid-palate was expansive, spreading through the mouth softly but with a purpose. It gave off a hint of alcohol (not surprising from such a warm vintage), but it only served to highlight the character of the fruit and wood. I only wonder if a wine as supple as this will fair well over the long haul.

Chateau d'Armailhac is associated with the other great family of Bordeaux Rothschilds, the Moutons. Like the Duhart-Milon, it is not a second wine of the "grand vin" but rather an independent estate bottled under the auspices of its more famous uncle. Oak and dark fruit predominate on the nose, with a candied cherry burst through the mid-palate. The tannins here are firmer, but the finish in decidedly shorter.

The Chateau d'Issan is a delightful wine with an unfortunate label. Although a 3rd Growth in the 1855 classification, this chateau was not performing well in the wine press. The 03 is, as I said, delightful, and as the only Margaux in the tasting, it proved an excellent representative of its appellation. Soft in texture and fruit, the wine was silky on the palate with round raspberry and dark cherry notes. Stephanie compared the aroma to the ocean. Tasted blind I would have thought that it came from one of the predominantly merlot growing regions like St. Emilion or Pomerol.

After a week of new vintage Bordeaux, I think it's time to drink some light white wines and hope my tooth enamel will regrow.

Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte 2002 and 2003

We broke from the strict Bordeaux 2003 trend last night to compare the 2002 and 2003 vintages of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte's red wine from the Pessac-Leognan appellation. I recently tasted the 1995 and found it a little lacking in stuffing, but the newest vintages were firmer and rounder. Known as a graceful wine, neither overwhelmed with fruit, earth, or tannin. Not surprisingly, the wines were very similar with complex fruits and spices combined with a long, tight finish. The most notable difference was in the mid-palate, where the 2003 flowed over the tongue while the 2002 barely paused. This difference made the 03 feel fuller and more coherent from the front to the back of the mouth. While the 2003 was certianly better, the difference will only be meaningful for most drinkers (myself included) in the long term. Over the next few years, those looking for a ready to drink Bordeaux would be advised to purchase the much cheaper 2002.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ch. Sociando Mallet 2003 & Ch. d'Aiguilhe 2003

Our 2003 Bordeaux tasting continued tonight alongside grilled Praire Grove Farm pork tenderloin, white rice, and delicious braised kale. To match, I chose the two wines with the highest percentages of merlot in their blends, the Sociando-Mallet from the Haut Medoc region on Bordeaux's left bank and the d'Aiguilhe from the promising Cotes de Castillon appelation on the right bank.

Sociando-Mallet has been a favorite of mine for a while. It's status as a "cru bourgeois" wine means that its price remains low, but the its quality is simply superb. This vintage is classically structured, with a deep, oaky aroma matched by complex earth and spice notes on the palate. The tannins are substantial, but they don't prohibit enjoying the wine even in its infancy. In fact, its mature profile would suggest that the wine is at least a decade old already. I consider this a benefit. Unmistakably bordeaux.

The d'Aiguilhe is owned by the impeccably dressed Count Stephan von Niepperg, who also owns Canon Gaffeliere and La Mondotte in the St. Emilion region of Bordeaux. The beverage sub judice is his version of "slumming it," as he ventures into the much less fashioable Cotes de Castillon region. Predominantly merlot, this wine is modern in style with soft curves and ripe fruit. Regular readers will assume that such a description amounts to a death sentence on this blog, but the d'Aiguilhe is an exception. Whatever it lacks in tannin and acidic structure it more than makes up for in complex fruit aroma and flavor. Rarely have I tasted a wine with such a deep and sophisticated fruit profile, such that a mere listing of the detected scents would only diminish the wine's appeal. Although perhaps not classic bordeaux, the world would be a better place if American and Australian merlot vintners would make wine like this.

Tomorrow we'll taste either a pair of Pauillacs or an 02 vs. 03 showdown of Smith Haut Lafitte. Tell your friends.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ch. Branaire-Ducru and Ch. Lagrange 2003

I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a hefty stash of 2003 Bordeaux half bottles at the local wine shop, so we'll be offering some notes on them for the next few days. According to most authorities, 2003 promises to be one of Bordeaux's better vintages (although it seems like they are saying this more and more lately). The weather in France was incredibly hot, so most of the wines are ripe and well-extracted.

Both of these wines come from the St. Julien appelation on Bordeaux's left bank. This means that they are composed of primarily Cabernet Sauvignon with additions of Merlot, Cabernet France, and possibly Malbec and Petit Verdot. The Branaire-Ducru was exuberant and fleshy, with a smoky, toasty nose and a round mouthfeel. The tannins are firm, but reasonably well integrated with the fruit and acid. I found it a bit overdone at this stage in its life, but I suspect that the oak will mellow nicely, producing a rich, complex wine in a decade or so.

Chateau Lagrange is an up-and-coming estate, whose 2000 wine was very well received in the wine press. It too had a smoky aroma that I found a bit sweeter and baconier than the Branaire. The heat from the vintage shows in the significantly alcoholic aroma that detracts from the wine's overall impression. We both found it more fruity than the Branaire but offering less character, complexity, and substance.

Look forward to notes on the Smith Haut Lafitte, Duhart-Milon, and others in the next few days.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Fayolle Crozes-Hermitage Les Pontaix 1998

Stephanie had a particularly awesome day at court yesterday (and a dreadful salad for lunch), so I decided to grill up a nice piece of beef and pair it with an older wine. I grilled a bone-in ribeye and served it with Stephanie's carmelized onions and a red wine sauce. We had roasted red potatoes and roasted yellow and red belgian endive with chevre. Everything was fabulous, and it matched well with a seven year old wine from France's northern Rhone valley.

Crozes-Hermitage is one of the "lesser" regions of the northern Rhone, but it's wines are excellent values, and in good vintages, they can stand a bit of bottle age. Presumably 100% syrah, this bottle showed excellent mature flavors and aromas of earth and dried fruit. It really came around after being open for a while, and it's medium-full body and refined tannins played well off the steak. Although most people won't be able to find this one still on the shelves, Chicago readers can locate it at the House of Glunz on Wells Street.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Beaujolais Tasting

Stephanie and I enjoyed a roast chicken dinner last night with scallion and sour cream mashed potatoes and individual terrines of creamed spinach. I had been saving a couple of half bottles of beaujolais for such a dinner. The wines, from the 2001 vintage, were produced by Alfred Gino Bertolla at Domaine du Granit, and they both come from the smaller appellation, or "cru", of Moulin-a-Vent. Although most Americans are familiar with beaujolais only for its mass-marketed, quickly made "nouveau" released in the Fall, this region on the south side of Burgundy produces a number of excellent wines that are capable of significant aging. And they all cost less than $20. Interestingly, as a marketing ploy, whomever labeled these bottles called them "Red Burgundy Wine," eschewing the association with beaujolais all together. Like all beaujolais wines, however, these were made from the gamay grape, rather than burgundy's pinot noir.

The only difference between the two wine labels is that one reads "La Rochelle" and the other "Les Caves." I initially thought these represented different vineyards, but now I believe they are just different winemaking styles. The La Rochelle was a fairly classic beaujolais - red cherries, with a touch of sourness, some oak but fairly restrained, and of medium body and extraction. Its sister, the Les Caves, was far more modern, with a rich aroma of spicy, smoky oak and a broader and riper fruit profile. It bordered on Aussie shiraz. Regular readers of this blog will of course anticipate that I preferred the former, as it matched my expectations and complemented the food better.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Food and Society Conference

I'm excited to announce that I have been invited to present a paper at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Food and Society. The conference is meeting in Boston, on June 7-11. I will be presenting my work on the copyrightability of recipes currently titled "On the Legal Consequences of Sauces: Should Thomas Keller's Recipes be Per Se Copyrightable?" The first part of the title is derived from Lancelot Sturgeon's 19th century "stomachical" essays, and the last part is a lame play on the name of Keller's NYC restaurant. Check out the society's website. They have lots of interesting information.

Fiddleheads and Ramps!!!

Spring is in the air - well, at least it was last Thursday - and you know what that means - FIDDLEHEAD FERNS!!! The world's greatest vegetable begins its incredibly short growing season in a few weeks, so now is the time to place your order. Stephanie and I first tasted these wonderful delights at Hugh Acheson's Five & Ten restaurant in Athens, Ga a few years ago, and we have been ordering them from Earthy Delights ever since ( They're not cheap, but they're absolutely worth it.

Fiddleheads are the shoots of the ostrich fern. They are harvested a couple weeks after breaking through the soil when the plant is curled back on itself like the head of a violin. Their flavor is deep and earthy, and they are best quickly sauteed in olive oil with a bit of lemon. Or you can do like we do and order three or four pounds of them and try to invent new combinations. They're only around for about a month, so don't miss out.

And while you're at it, buy a pound of ramps, i.e. baby leeks, for grilling or pickling.

A Visit from Sir Jeffington

Stephanie and I welcomed a visit from her cousin Jeff this weekend. He stopped off in Chicago for a few days on a cross-country (car) trip to Montana after graduating from medical school. Stephanie had to work, so I had the pleasure of showing Jeff around Chicago's many gastronomic hotspots. He arrived late Wednesday evening and was greeting with grilled Praire Groves Farm pork tenderloin and a bottle of Vino Nobile. The pork was the most tender I have eaten at home. Although twice the price of the grocery store brand, the added flavor was worth it.

Thursday began with a carbo load of bagels before a bike ride to the Loop to meet Stephanie for lunch at PotBelly sandwich shop. Jeff and I then toured Millennium Park and stopped off at Up Down Tobacco for some pipe tobacco and a gorgeous 100th Anniversary Davidoff cigar. I smoked the Davindoff last night with some Lagavulin 16, and it was divine.

But back to our trip. From Up Down we rode to the Goose Island Brewery. Jeff is a beer aficionado and wanted to sample the local suds. Everything was solid, but the highlight had to be the Barleywine brewed to celebrate their 2000th batch. It was excellent with a platter of sausages. We wobbled across the street to Sam's (the wine shop not the big-box store, although you'd never know from the size of the buildings) to admire the beer selection. We chose some unusual bottles to sample at home and I got into a heated debate about Trappist ales with the beer specialist (it turns out we were both right but I was more right than he was). After a wobbly bike ride home, we settled in for some Chicago-style pizza and a fabulous bottle of Rodenbach Grand Cru. There was some risk of this Flemish brewery going out of business, but they seem to be doing well. Michael Jackson, the beer writer not the pop star, once called this sour red ale the most refreshing beer in the world, and he couldn't be more right. What a treat!

Friday also began with bagels, but our butts hurt too much to try to ride bikes again. We drove to lunch at the infamous Hot Doug's (previously mentioned on these pages). Jeff had his first Chicago-style dog, and we added a smoked pheasant sausage, a ribeye sausage with roasted garlic cloves, and an unbelievably delicious toulouse sausage with saffron rouille. Jeff was sure getting his fill of encased meats. That night Stephanie made reservations at the Green Dolphin Street jazz club. Dinner was fairly good - grilled meats with a la carte sides - but a bit overpriced. The free admission to club softened this blow, however. The wine list was very strong in American reds, and there were even a few unusual deals. The music was superb and tremendously entertaining, as was the Ardbeg 10 I drank while enjoying it.

On Saturday we met some friends for a late breakfast at Lou Mitchell's, a Chicago landmark diner. The sausages and bacon were some of the best I have eaten, but this may have been due to the free doughnut holes they used to quicken our appetites. We then went to a vintage poster show ostensibly sponsored by Wine Spectator. Although the posters were amazing, WS had no perceivable presence. That was the only disappointment in an otherwise fascinating exhibit. By mid afternoon we were running out of steam, so we lounged around the house watching the rather boring basketball. Appetites were again whetted, however, by a couple dozen kumomoto oyster and bottles of stout. Stephanie insisted that we keep dinner light, so I made linguine with mussels washed down with a bottle of dry Aussie riesling. Very satisfying.

Jeff visit was a great pleasure. I was glad to introduce him to some of Chicago's best culinary offerings - mostly charcuterie and alcohol - and I was glad that he reacquainted me with pipe smoking. I purchased a new one, and I look forward to learning to smoke it.