Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Georges Duboeuf Moulin-a-Vent Oak Aged 2005

Again keeping things gastronomically simple in preparation for visitors, we decided to order a pizza from Father & Son tonight. It was sufficiently yummy, despite being cut into squares. F&S is about the only pizza place that delivers to Chicago's west side hinterland. I wonder if they'd cut it into normal slices if we asked.

In any event, we opened our first bottle of the new 2005 vintage from Beaujolais. It is perhaps worth pausing for a moment to discuss the wines of Beaujolais for those only familiar with its most (in)famous product Nouveau. Beaujolais is a region in the east of France, south of Burgundy proper, and its considerable production of red wines is devoted to the Gamay grape (also occasionally found in the Loire Valley). Gamay produces crisp, light red wines with refreshing berry characteristics and little tannin. This makes it a lovely choice for "Nouveau" bottlings, where the wine is released weeks after being harvested, pressed, and fermented. These wines, while perfectly acceptable for a celebration, are not especially satisfying. The next step up in quality are labeled "Villages" (pronounced vill-ahzj). These are fine table wines for regular consumption, showing more structure than the nouveaux. At the top are the "cru" wines produced from particular sub-regions within Beaujolais. These wines, from crus named Julienas, Morgon, Fleurie, Brouilly, etc., are some of the best values in the wine world. They usually sell for $10-20, and they can be as satisfying as more expensive bottles from Burgundy.

The wine I chose, from Beaujolais's biggest and best known producer, was, sadly, not up to the fine standards of the cru bottlings. It had a lovely violet red color but the oak aging did little more than make the wine taste like a cheap California pinot noir. Perhaps it needs some time to integrate, but the oak covers the delicate floral and berry notes that are so desperately trying to be noticed. In any event, the 2005s promise to be tasty. Just try different bottles.

Domaine des Aubuisiéres Vouvray Cuvée de Silex 2005

I didn't feel like cooking anyting too fancy last night, so I whipped up some pasta and shrimp in garlic and olive oil. It wasn't an exciting meal, but the wine we chose was quite nice.

Regular blog readers will be familiar with my fondness for chenin blanc from the Loire (clearly Eric Asimov has been reading my blog), and I couldn't pass up this Vouvray selling for a few dollars cheaper than the bottlings by Huet and others. I was also attracted to the wine's designation as "cuvee de silex," drawing attention to the predominant soil type in the vineyard (a practice popularized in the Loire Valley by Didier Dageneau).

Made by Bernard Fouquet, this wine showed great minerally balanced by round stone-fruit flavors and aromas. The Loire reds I've tasted from '05 have been uniformly flabby due to the high summer temperatures, but this bottle kept everything in the proper register. While perhaps not as age-worthy as Heut's vouvrays or Baumard or Joly's savennieres, this was a chenin that could stand up to rich fish like salmon or rouget and even to pork and veal.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ch. Malartic La Graviere 2003 & Ch. Pedesclaux 2003

It rained for the 41st consecutive day in Chicago, but this time I was ready for the weather. I braised some beef short ribs and made some lovely mashed potatoes with more butter and cream than Stephanie was aware of. The short ribs were excellent. They may very well be the most naturally flavorful cut of beef.

We paired dinner with a couple of 2003 Bordeauz. The Malartic La Graviere hails from the Pessac Leognan and has a rich floral and hotdoggy aroma. On the palate, the flowers turn to red fruits backed by a solid by unintrusive layer of tannins. The Pedesclaux comes from Paulliac and shows rich fruit and floral aromas and a matching palate. The finish on the Pedesclaux is much longer than the Malartic, but it is also a more extracted and modern wine. Both wines were surprisingly restrained considering that they were produced during the scorching 2003 vintage, and both matched well with the meal. If I had to choose, I'd give the edge in the wine-food pairing to the Malartic and the edge in stand-alone pleasure to the Pedesclaux. But, fortunately, I don't have to choose.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Shellfish Fest

After hearing that co-blogger Jonathan and my Moto dinner companion John had never schucked raw oysters, Stephanie and I decided to invite them over for a lesson in opening the delicious bivalves. Dirk's Fish Market was the source for the oysters, which included Kumomotos, Fanny Bays, Virginicas, and Malpeques. Our guests picked up the technique rapidly despite imperfect instruction. Fortunately, no fingers were lost. Unfortunately, a number of the Fanny Bays were not edible, but the rest of the oysters were delicious. I was particularly impressed by the briny yet clean character of the Virginicas and Malpeques. We drank a delicious 2004 Beauregard Muscadet as we schucked. It's crisp acidity and minerally finish accented the oysters perfectly.

Following the raw fish, we decided to eat something cooked. I smoked Prince Edward Island mussels on the grill with hickory chips. They took a while to open, but they had a splendidly rich flavor tinged with smoke. The obvious wine pairing was a Pouilly-Fume (Fume is French for "smoke"), and we enjoyed an excellent bottle of 2004 Chatelain (it was manifestly better than one reviewed earlier on this blog). It seemed round and broad following the muscadet, but the flinty finish went perfectly with the mussels. Also, following a recommendation from co-blogger Charlie, we tried a bit of peaty Scotch with the mussels, choosing the obviously delicious Johnny Walker Blue Label. If only we had more mussels and more Scotch.

Deciding that we were no where close to full, I grilled a pair of mackerel, seasoned only with salt, pepper, lemon, and Sicilian olive oil. Mackerel is a rich, oily fish (so much so that Stephanie declined to try it), so it was just the thing to follow the smoked mussels.

Jonathan was kind enough to bring by a bottle of grappa, which a welcome resource for continued gastronomic pleasure. It was full, rich, and oily with a delicate hint of plums. Unlike some of the more fruity or restrained grappas on the market now, this one had the heft that signified its authenticity.

With such a wonderful digestif, we were fully prepared to enjoy the wonderful cheese, goose pate, and 2003 Carmes de Rieussec Sauternes that John provided. Although I'm sure I don't even have to say it, the sweet, rich wine paired excellently with the extravagant goose pate and the Rochefort and Humboldt Fog cheeses.

Having plied our guests with enough food and drink to put a horse into a coma, I decided that it was an excellent time to revenge a bocce drubbing that John and Jonathan had given my neighbor Willie and I a few days earlier. Grappa in hand and straw bocce hat on head, we managed to tie the series at two games a piece. It was a fanatastic evening.