Sunday, November 11, 2007

Chevaliers Lagrazette Cahors 1997

We picked up a Bell & Evans duck from Whole Foods this weekend and found this interesting 10 year old wine to pair with it. Since I believe that duck legs and duck breasts require separate cooking methods, I chose to sauté the latter tonight and save the legs for a braise later in the week. I also made some wild rice with roasted chestnuts.

This is one of those wines that reminds me of Robert Ulin's book Vintages and Traditions. Ulen suggests how important the 1855 classification was to distinguishing and promoting the wines of Bordeaux from those of the rest of southwest France. Had the government not paid special attention to Bordeaux, we might all be drinking a lot more Cahors and Madiran and be no worse for it. Wines from Cahors are made mostly of Malbec (a grape that has reclaimed some notice thanks to Argentina), and, as this bottle demonstrates, they can often rival those from Bordeaux. Here's a decade old wine with plenty of grace and sophistication showing signs of maturity but still indicating a number of fruitful years ahead. It's medium-bodied and deep garnet. The classic signs of bottle age - leather, earth, wood - are still in balance with hints of red fruit and citrus and a tight but palatable tannic core. At $17, it would rival many classified growths.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Ridge Geyserville 2005

Stephanie had a stressful week at work, so I tried to help her take the edge off with an excellent meal and a nice bottle of wine. The meal included braised country-style pork ribs in natural jus, potatoes sauteed in goose fat, and green beans. The wine was one of my favorite American bottlings, Ridge's Geyserville zinfandel blend.

The 2005 vintage celebrates the wine's 40th anniversary, indicating just how long Paul Draper has been exploring zinfandel's possibilities. The zin is blended, as usual, with small amounts of carinagne and petite sirah which, to my palate, make the wine more earthy and food friendly than most American zins. Looking back at my review of the 2004, there seems to be considerable similarity between vintages, although the newer wine has less tannin and acidity at its core. Look for big yet balanced dark fruit flavors and a controlled ripeness that always ensures the wine will go well with game, pork, duck, and Thanksgiving turkey.

Ridge Geyserville 2005

Stephanie had a stressful week at work, so I tried to help her take the edge off with an excellent meal and a nice bottle of wine. The meal included braised country-style pork ribs in natural jus, potatoes sauteed in goose fat, and green beans. The wine was one of my favorite American bottlings, Ridge's Geyserville zinfandel blend.

The 2005 vintage celebrates the wine's 40th anniversary, indicating just how long Paul Draper has been exploring zinfandel's possibilities. The zin is blended, as usual, with small amounts of carinagne and petite sirah which, to my palate, make the wine more earthy and food friendly than most American zins. Looking back at my review of the 2004, there seems to be considerable similarity between vintages, although the newer wine has less tannin and acidity at its core. Look for big yet balanced dark fruit flavors and a controlled ripeness that always ensures the wine will go well with game, pork, duck, and Thanksgiving turkey.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Argyle Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2006

This wine has been one of the few reasonably priced American pinot noirs that I have consistently enjoyed. The current vintage, however, was something of a disappointment. In preparation for Thanksgiving, I cooked a bone-in turkey breast with mushroom gravy. It was really tasty. We should eat turkey more often. The wine actually went well with the dish but not in the way that I anticipated. Normally, the entry-level Argyle pinot, which sells for about $18, is reminiscent of many lovely, well-structured wines from the Cotes du Beaune in southern Burgundy that sell for $25 or more. This vintage, however, more closely resembles a Beaujolais cru wine - perhaps a Julienas - with fruity, sweet cherry notes. Beaujolais crus are great with turkey, but many of them are available for less than the price of the Argyle, making it a less attractive alternative. But if you insist on drinking American wine on this quintessentially American holiday, pick up the Argyle. N.B. Start your Turkey-Day dinner with a bottle of the same winery's sparkling brut.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Domaine Labranche Laffont Madiran Vieilles Vignes 2003

I have been told that last night's blog post was entirely nonsensical, so I'll try to do better tonight. Despite my rather hectic life these days, I managed to find the time to braise some oxtails. I served them with mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus. I had chosen this Madiran specifically for the oxtails, and it didn't disappoint. The region of Madiran is in southwestern France near the Armagnac region. The local grape varietal is called Tannat, and as its name suggests, it can be pretty tannic. Modern bottlings like this one have managed to tame the grape's tannins, producing ripe and fleshy wines that still have a rigid structure. Deep purple, it displays characteristic lead and earth aromas and a medium-full body.

Monday, October 29, 2007

René Favre & Fils Dole Chamson-Valais 2006

I'm watching Monday Night Football, and Brett Favre just threw a long touchdown pass to tie the game so it seemed appropriate that I blog about this wine. While the quarterback comes from Mississippi, this wine hails from southwestern Switzerland. Dole, so I'm told by Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine, is a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay. This wine exhibits the characteristic flavors of neither varietal. It is, nevertheless, a lovely, medium-bodied wine with bracing acidity and a gamey finish. Perfect with coq au vin.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Food, Law, and Culture : The Second Season

I am organizing another series of panels devoted to Food, Law, and Culture at the annual conference of the Association for the Study of Law, Culture, and Humanities to be held in Berkeley, CA next March. We have another wonderful batch of panelists. See their abstracts below:

Food, Law, and Culture Panels
Law, Culture, and Humanities Conference 2008


Christopher Buccafusco
University of Chicago


Peter Huang
Temple University Beasley School of Law

Legal Responses to Mindless Eating

Brian Wansink in his books: Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More
Than We Think & Marketing Nutrition: Soy, Functional Foods,
Biotechnology, and Obesity describes his own & related
psychological & marketing research about mindless eating &
possible responses. This paper analyzes legal & policy
implications of this research. It also connects this
research to recent research about mindfulness, meditation, &

Charlene Elliott
School of Journalism and Communication
Carleton University

The governance of taste: Food marketing, food law and childhood obesity in Canada

Food marketing comprises a core part of the current food environment and is routinely identified as a main contributor to childhood obesity. Excess body weight affects over 26% of children in Canada—prompting a range of interventions to address the problem.
Studies dealing with the socio-cultural aspects contributing to childhood obesity, for example, tend to focus on the same line up of ‘suspects’ when it comes to food—the sale and consumption of sugary sodas, ‘junk’ foods and fast foods, and the food-related media messages (particularly on television) which encourage the consumption of high-sugar, low-nutrient foods. Such studies pertain to what Brownell and Horgen (2004) christened the “toxic environment” or what Swinburn et. al. (1999) call the “obesogenic environment”. Whether toxic or obesogenic, this environment is one which promotes an excess of calorie consumption over calorie expenditure, generally through the over-consumption of poorly nutritious foods.

Food policy and regulation form a key strategy in current attempts to combat the toxic environment, and this paper outlines the various modes of regulation that work to govern children’s “taste” in Canada. In particular, it details some of the promising, and problematic, aspects of seeking legal solutions to public health problems, especially when it comes to children and children’s food marketing.

Doris Long
The John Marshall Law School

Patenting Mother Earth: Food, Famine and Intellectual Property

Food security may be one of the most significant issues the global community faces today. Despite advances in genetic modification of foods to combat diverse diseases, as well as soil and climate conditions, the threat of the 21st Century equivalent of the Irish Potato Famine remains a powerful reminder of how insignificant man’s technological achievements may be when faced with the practical problem of how to feed the world’s growing population on increasing smaller percentages of arable land. At a time when biodiversity is critical to assure sufficient food security, the recognition by the United States that modified plants themselves may now be the subject of utility patents (as opposed to plant varieties) threatens not only access to critical food reserves, but the diversity which traditional knowledge protection may assure. By granting utility patent protection, US law has removed food security safeguards contained in plant variety protocols, including the benefits of “fair use” for farmers and other critical experimenters in the area of food innovation. Utility patents have already largely replaced plant varieties as the approved method of protection for modified plants in the United States and threatens to do so globally. Worse, the exclusivity concepts of utility patenting threatens to derail diversity efforts based on university research of traditional indigenous agricultural techniques. Unless steps are taken soon to remedy the situation on a global scale, propertized “food” may replace indigenous staples, leading to increased incidents of localized famine in the future.

Jennifer Schulz
Faculty of Law
University of Manitoba

Food Films: Successfully Subversive Mediation in the Movies

Law & Film scholars have noted the many things lawyers can learn about themselves and the legal system through an analysis of the trial genre of films. My paper analyses what we can learn about mediators and mediation from the food genre of films. Food films suggest the nourishing metaphor of the mediator as cook, to be contrasted with trial films which generally use battle metaphors and depict the lawyer as warrior. I will explore the vitality of the metaphor of cooking and how it relates to the work of dispute resolution. I will trace the metaphor of the mediator as cook through several films, explore what it reveals to us about mediation methods, and describe at least five mediation styles depicted in the food genre of films. Importantly, I will highlight how film depicts a subversive mediation style, that while contrary to classic dispute resolution teachings, is successful.

Donna Byrne
William Mitchell College of Law

Organic junk food and cloned meat: mandatory and permissive food

Summary: Food labeling laws require certain bits of information and
prohibit others. A product is "misbranded" when required information is
missing, when label information is false, or when label information is
true, but misleading. For example, to label applesauce as "Fat Free"
would be misleading because applesauce is generally fat free anyway.
This paper explores the implications of voluntary, mandatory,
and "misleading" label information in several contexts, most notably
milk from cows not treated with rBST, meat or milk from clones and their
progeny, and organic fish and vegetables. When voluntary information is
allowed and consumers care about the information, labeling is
essentially provided by default for non-labeled products (de facto
labeling). This paper argues that de facto mandatory labeling exists
when consumers care about the information provided, and that consumers
are better served by explicit label information than by implicit
information. In other words, "they" should tell "us" what we want to

Ernesto Hernández-López
Assistant Professor of Law
Chapman University School of Law

A free-trade "Tortilla Discourse" ? : NAFTA corn tariffs and Mexican food identity

This presentation analyzes NAFTA's corn tariff regime from a food studies perspective. Mexican food offers a rich history, ripe for analysis. In 2008, NAFTA requires Mexico to completely eliminate corn tariffs, which protected the important cultural item of corn. What will be the national identity impact in Mexican food posed by these changes?

Historical negotiation between indigenous, european, traditional, and modernization influences produced Mexico's current cuisine. The choices people make on what to eat and the socio-economic forces providing these items are mutually influential. Dishes such as tortillas, tamales, mole poblano, and chiles en nogada are served after history prepared them as central to national identity. This is exemplified in a "tortilla discourse" (labeled by Jeffrey Pilcher) when "modern" justifications attempt to eliminate corn. Popular forces have resisted these impositions. Currently, US exports provide cheaper corn for Mexico. Reacting to global demand for ethanol, corn and tortilla prices have increased. Popular forces now seek political relief. NAFTA cements these changes to the national menu.

Doris Witt
University of Iowa
Department of English

Food Rules for the World?
The Codex Alimentarius and the Project of Culinary Harmonization in Public International Law

The Codex Alimentarius was established in 1963 as a joint venture of the
Food and Agriculture and World Health Organizations. This formerly
obscure regulatory food code has become since the mid-1990s a site of
increasing contestation because nations whose food regulations conform
to Codex standards are largely insulated in the WTO from charges of
economic protectionism. As a result, the pro-industry bias of the Codex
Commission membership and the lack of democratic accountability in its
procedural mechanisms have given rise to arguments by legal scholars for
reform, such as subjecting Commission decisions to review by an
independent dispute resolution body. Without denying the political
utility of these reformist efforts, I argue in this paper for the value
of cultural theory in helping us understand not only the aesthetic
strategies through which the Commission has attempted to legitimate its
existence but also the divergent interpretive modalities-ranging from
consumer rights and conspiracy theory to post-colonialism and
neo-agrarianism-through which Codex critics have framed their discontent
with the project of culinary harmonization in public international law.

Alois Lageder Lagrein Alto Adige 2004

Alois Lageder makes lovely white wines from the Alto Adige in Italy's northernmost wine region. When I saw this red wine available at Binny's for $17 I jumped at the opportunity. It's a beautifully lucid garnet color with a slightly pink rim. The aroma is peppery and leathery, while the palate presents a tightly integrated, medium-bodied selection of dried fruits and refined tannins. It's somewhere between a Beaujolais cru and a sophisticated Barbera. It is, however, distinctly Italian.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Krug Clos de Mesnil Blanc du Blanc 1992 and some other really delicious wines

It is unusual for me to blog the same night as a meal (often the wine consumption makes me less articulate than usual), and it is unusual for us to entertain on a week night. But night was an enormous exception.

John and Jonathan came for dinner tonight to celebrate fiddlehead fern season. We have all had a lot to celebrate lately (our wedding, Jonathan's job offers (which were celebrated by both Jonathan and John)), and John decided to surprise us all with a celebratory gift. Of course by now you know that it was the world famous Krug Clos de Mesnil Blanc du Blanc 1992 Champagne. What an incredible wine! At a decade and a half, it was still light and fresh. The nose showed true aromas of toast and bread dough. It was rich but balanced, fragrant and restrained, wonderful and delicious. Krug's standard wine is so much better than most producers' tete de cuvee, and this wine, made entirely of Chardonnay grapes from a select vineyard, really sets the curve. Thank you John!

As it happens, we also had a number of tasty wines this evening. The Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2004 was full-bodied yet balanced with notes of lychee and well-integrated oak. It paired well with roasted beet soup with Cypress Grove chevre and beet chips. And the Chateau Lafon-Rochet St. Estephe 1996 was in perfect harmony with NY strip steaks a la Colicchio, fiddlehead ferns, and new potatoes roasted in goose fat. It was medium-full bodied, with roasted red pepper and graphite notes (Jonathan declared it really, really good). We finished the night with the near-profound Jasper Hill Farms cloth-bound cheddar and a decadent bottle of Chateau Saint-Amand Sauternes 2000. I detected ripe pineapple at the core of its penetrating sweetness.

It was a wonderful evening, never to be forgotten. Thank you all.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dinner at Everest

This will be the first review of the restaurant Everest not to open by mentioning its "soaring views." We had received some gift certificates for dinner at any of the Lettuce Entertain You restaurants, and they were set to expire this week. I mentioned this to Stephanie and listed our choices, and to my surprise and immense delight she chose Everest for our destination. Everest is a world-renowned home of Chef Jean Joho, although given the considerable amount of time he spent schmoozing with the patrons, I doubt he does much cooking these days. Chef Joho hails from Alsace, France, and his cooking New French cooking is inspired by that region.

The restaurant offers 3-course menu ($79) with choices of appetizer, main course, and dessert, a 4-course menu ($96) with the same choices plus an additional appetizer from the same list, and a 7-course degustation menu ($120). We selected the 4-course menu since many of the most attractive dishes weren't available on the degustation menu.

Dinner began with a trio of amuses, including an indescribably fluffy brandade, a surprisingly deep and earthy watercress soup, and a truly amusing fried halibut cheek with a touch of slaw. Stephanie began the meal with raw oysters (Wellfleet, I think) with horseradish, cucumber, and melfor fleurette (whatever that is). She loved them, and I pronounced them the best "dressed" oysters I had ever tasted. Despite the powerful flavors, the briny oyster really showed through. I ordered the boneless rabbit presskopf but sadly was never given the opportunity to learn what kind of preparation this entailed, as the waiter misheard or misremembered my order and brought "Vintage Carnaroli Risotto, English Peas, Roasted Quail Breast." My disappointment at not getting to taste the rabbit didn't last long; the risotto was delicious (if occasionally verging on excessively al dente) and the quail was beautifully cooked.

For our second course, Stephanie ordered the "Line Caught Black Cod, Pumpernickel Horseradish Crust, Pickled Cucumbers," and I chose the "Casco Bay Sea Scallops, Potato Mousseline, Alsace Tokay Jus de Poulet." Stephanie preferred the scallops, and after I ate one, we switched. The scallops were rich and succulent, balanced with the unique oceaney flavor of sea beans and magnificently creamy potatoes (which I suspect were made of equal amounts of butter and potato, if not more of the former than the latter). Although the scallops were delicious, I found myself enjoying the inventiveness of the cod more. The cod itself was rather mild, but when combined with the pumpernickel and pickles, the resulting dish was an excellent example of the art of contemporary cooking, marrying traditional flavors in unexpected and thoroughly satisfying ways.

Everest boasts of having the largest collection of Alsatian wines in the world. The winelist is magnificent, reasonably priced, full of old treasures, and superbly managed by the sommelier. My knowledge of French wine is weakest for Alsace, and I was glad to have the help of sommelier. He directed us to exactly what were looking for - dry, old, and unusual wines. He matched the first two courses with a half bottle of Lorentz Riesling Altenberg de Bergheim 1989. After 17 years in the bottle, its color had matured to a deep honey tone. The aromas were initially muted, but over time and with the food it showed a complex density of fruit and a backbone of petrol (a common descriptor for rieslings and one that sounds so much more appetizing that "gasoline"). The palate was expansive and more than made up for a noticeable lack of acidity on the finish.

Returning to the food, Stephanie ordered "Slow Cooked Salmon Confit Medium Rare, Swiss Chard Gratin, Jus de Pinot Gris." It was an interesting dish, evocative of the still-yet-to-arrive spring. The fish was cooked beyond the advertised medium rare, but it remained delicate. When tasted with the the not mentioned accompanying ramps, it filled the mouth with bright and happy flavors. Stephanie wasn't pleased, but I enjoyed the concept.

My choice of main course was an unqualified success. The "Filet of Wild Sturgeon Wrapped and Roasted in Cured Ham, Alsace Cabbage" was the essence of Alsatian flavors prepared in a traditional yet thoroughly modern tasting manner. The fish was meaty and rich, the ham was crisp and smoky, and it was all covered with a syrupy reduction of pinot noir. The three generous slices of fish were accompanied by mixed spring vegetables (including the most profound beets I've ever tasted) and a dish of the same potato mousseline from the scallop dish. The dish was, without question, the best thing I have eaten (except perhaps for Stephanie's fried chicken) at least since the lamb trio at Cafe Boulud and maybe dating further back.

As fantastic as the dish was alone, it was further improved by a half bottle of Leon Beyer Pinot Noir Reserve 1990. Alsace is known more for its white wines than its reds, which is produces in much smaller quantities. The sommelier directed me to this bottle following my request for old and unusual wines. He warned us that of the six previous bottled he'd opened, three had been excellent but another three had been undrinkable due to oxidation. At only $38, it was worth the chance (even if he hadn't offered to not charge us if it was bad). After much anticipation, he finally presented the bottle to us, declaring it the best of the bunch! It was gorgeous - light brick colored, light-medium bodied, and a mesmerizing aroma of dried cherries and earth. It was sophisticated and satisfying while remaining restrained. With the pinot reduction on my sturgeon, it was the ideal mate.

After this experience the desserts simply couldn't hope to complete. Stephanie had a disappointing lemon cheesecake that came with seriously delicious accoutrements, including a pear sorbet. I had a cleverly prepared apple beignet, and we were compensated for the waiter's mistake on my appetizer with a tasting of chocolates. Frankly, I would have rather had a bowl of soup or a glass of Vendage Tardives. At the end of the meal there was some problem with their credit card machine, and we waited half an hour after giving them our card and receiving the printout. Late on a Tuesday night while American Idol and House were on, this was more than Stephanie could stand.

In sum, the meal was delicious - absolutely competitive with the other "temples of gastronomy," to borrow Gary Fine's phrase. Chef Joho's staff produced a successfully modern but fundamentally traditional meal that tasted really really good.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The restaurant time forgot

We celebrated John's birthday on Friday night with dinner at one of Chicago's long-standing French bistros. John had indicated his desire for old-fashioned French bistro fare, so I suggested this restaurant (which shall remain nameless for its own protection). The cafe was not affected by the 1970s culinary revolution of Nouvelle Cuisine. It seemingly broke all of the rules established by Gault and Millau for contemporary cooking - there were heavily reduced sauces, well-done vegetables, identical side dishes for all entrees. But this isn't to say that it wasn't delicious. As John rightly anticipated, there should always be a niche for classics like these.

John and I started with "sauteed duck liver." The duck liver (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) was served with a unctuous port and juniper reduction that was perfect for sopping. This cafe is one of many in Chicago defying the ban on foie gras by calling it something else or selling bread appetizers for $15 and giving away free sides of liver (the ban only prohibits selling it). Jonathan wasn't feeling well and opted for the mushroom soup. He then had the filet au poivre for his main course, while John and I stuck with the duck theme - a l'orange for him and rabbit stuffed with "duck liver" for me. We each enjoyed creme brulee for dessert. All of the food was quite good and tinged with a bit of nostalgia, even for diners like us who've lived entirely in the era of nouvelle cuisine.

The cafe's wine list is certainly its best feature. It consists almost entirely of French wines from obscure regions and producers. Among its three "New World" wines is a California zinfandel from 1993, presumably from purchased during the restaurant's first year in operation. Passing up a number of interesting wines most of which were well-priced and well-aged (7-10 years), we chose wine that had recently been brought up from the cellar - a 1990 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru rouge from Gagnard-Delagrange. 1990 was perhaps the greatest vintage the world has ever seen; every major northern hemisphere wine-growing region from California to Germany was warm and dry. Chassagne-Montrachet is in the southern portion of Burgundy and is better known for its white wines, but this 16 year old pinot noir was really fantastic. Perhaps not as symphonically complex as its northern Burgundy brethren, the one chord this wine struck was beautiful and satisfying. Age had dampened almost all of the wine's fruit, but it was replaced by a pervasive and endless bouquet of truffles, mushrooms, and earth, but mostly just truffles. It was medium bodied and an excellent companion to the rabbit. It was also a great value. And very truffley.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ridge Geyserville and Lytton Springs - 2 Zins from '04

I roasted a new brand of organic chicken tonight. It was good, but perhaps not worth twice the price of our standard Amish chickens. We located a pair of half bottles from Ridge and decided to do a Zinfandel tasting. These are two of my favorite zinfandels; they are consistently well made. Paul Draper, the owner and winemaker, deserves credit for popularizing zinfandel and exploring its manifold possibilities through single-vineyard bottlings.

The Geyserville is the fuller-bodied of the two, with considerable structure and an oaky, bacony aroma. It's a bit stronger than the Lytton and spends more time in the barrel. Its texture is denser and the flavors tend more towards dark fruits. The Lytton Springs bottling is softer, fruiter, and more accessible. Like the Geyserville its full-bodied and tannic. Both wines are complex, well structured, and the perfect match for game, lamb, and spicy foods.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Domaine Lignéres Notre Dame Corbieres 2002

Having enjoyed the first two wines I tasted from this estate, I decided to purchase the single-vineyard "notre dame" bottling. It is 100% syrah and a few dollars more than the other selections, at $30. I prepared grilled bison strip loin with asparagus and fingerling potatoes roasted with bacon, blue cheese, and sage. The bison was surprisingly moist and tender, and the potatoes were delicious.

The wine is the most dense of the three I've tasted and clearly syrah. Its flavors are round and supple, similar to an Aussie shiraz. Like its companions, it's a little shorter on the finish than I would prefer, perhaps owing to the domaine's preference for fruitiness over acidity. Nonetheless, it is a pleasurable wine and the ideal companion for grilled red meat.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Domaine du Dragon Cuvee Saint-Michel Cotes de Provence 2003

I pan roasted Bell & Evans game hens tonight and served them with oyster mushroom ragout and roasted baby beets and carrots. It was all quite tasty. Particularly so when accompanied by this wine from a dreadfully named domaine. It's a medium-full bodied wine with a deep purple color and a rich integrated finish. I tend to like my wines a little "bigger" than the accompanying dish, and this one was just that. For twelve bucks or so, it's a really nice wine and great wine a variety of dishes.

Congratulations Chef Hugh Acheson

Congratulations are in order for Chef Hugh Acheson of 5&10 restaurant in Athens, Ga. He has been nominated for the award of Best Chef: Southeast by the well-respected James Beard Foundation. (Click here for a list of other nominees, including blog-favorite, Paul Kahan of Blackbird.) Chef Acheson's work in Athens is truly extraordinary, from his selections of raw oysters and cheeses to his interpretations of classic regional dishes. I will always remember the porcini risotto I tasted on my first trip for a Luna wine dinner. Its delicacy is unparalleled. Rarely is such talent found in a metropolis, never mind a college town like Athens. Congratulations Chef!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Domaine Lignéres Cabanon de Pascal Corbiéres 2002

Last week I blogged about the excellent "Aric" from this producer. Tonight I tasted the single-vineyard bottling named "Cabanon de Pascal," named for the vineyard manager not the philosopher. This wine sells for a few dollars less than the Aric but exhibits all of the flavor and depth (although it has no connection to obscure legal historical figures). The aroma is floral and pleasing, leading one to expect a delicate wine. But on the palate, it's expansive and well-structured, showing layers of red-fruit, tannin, and acidity. Lighter bodied and more accessible than its sibling, this wine displays beautiful provençal herb notes and an assertive finish.

We tasted it with grilled flank steak and red potatoes sauteed then roasted in goose fat. They were, without question, the best roasted potatoes I have ever eaten. Stephanie admitted the same, although she didn't know about the goose fat (if she reads this, it may be the last time I make them). The outsides were crusty and golden, and the insides were as delicate and creamy as mashed potatoes. The wine was a lovely match, although perhaps better suited to lamb dishes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

New Wine in Old Bottles

Eric Asimov has a nice article in the New York Times today on the recent increase of counterfeited or otherwise fraudulent wines. With the escalation of prices for coveted older wines, it is not surprising that some folks have attempted to trick purchasers by counterfeiting labels or refilling wine bottles with inferior wine. In an attempt to determine whether some recently purchased bottles were legitimate, Asimov reports, the buyer invited a number of wine experts to taste samples and give their opinions.

Asimov suggests that concerns about wine fraud are fairly recent, and at least in the narrow circumstances of faking individual bottles of expensive wine, he may be right. (Of course, folks have been passing off counterfeit Cuban cigars to unsuspecting tourists for decades. Check out the excellent collection of counterfeit bands on Cigar Aficionado.) But fraudulent wine has been a problem for a long time. Burgundian winemakers were recently exposed when they used wines from southern France to bulk up their pinot. I am particularly interested, though, in the buyer's decision to convene a panel of experts to sort out the legitimate wines from the frauds. This practice actually has a considerable history itself. Since the 19th century, courts in England and America have admitted testimony by wine experts in cases of alleged fraud. It certainly seems like the kind of subject where an expert could aid the jury in an area outside the competence of most folks. So anxious wine investors of the world, please email me if you'd like my services as attorney or expert.
(For the sake of attorney ethics regulations, the previous sentence was intended as a joke and not as an advertisement for services.)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Domaine Lignéres Aric Corbiéres 2002

We may have found a new house wine. I'm very excited about the possibility.

Last night we drank this charming bottle of wine from France's Mediterranean coast. It's a blend of Carignan (60%), Mourvedre (25%), and Syrah (15%). The Lignéres family owns the property associated with Chateau La Baronne, and they now produce a number a single-vineyard bottlings. (Check out their website. It's fantastic.) The "Aric" is named for the Visigothic king Alaric, for whom the local mountain range is named. I couldn't pass this wine up, knowing how important Alaric II was for European legal history. His 506 A.D. Breviary (also known as the Lex Visigothorum) was a compilation of contemporary Roman law for his Roman subjects in Spain and Gaul. Works like this were valuable in keeping Roman law learning alive after the fall of the western empire.

But naming a wine after an obscure legal figure isn't enough to make it our house wine. It must, of course, taste good. This one certainly did. It showed heady aromas of violets, berries, and oak. It was medium-bodied and delicious to taste. It could have used a longer finish, perhaps with better developed tannin or greater acidity. Although the bright, artistic label (depicting antique winemaking tools) looked more New World than Old, the wine was pure Provence. At $20 a bottle it may be a bit too expensive for a house wine, but it was certainly worth the price and more.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Valentine's Day Eve Dinner

The weather in Chicago has been pretty brutal lately, but I decided to warm things up with a special Valentine's Day meal. Two years ago, I produced an all-red meal for V-day, with rare beef, Red Mule grits, and red wine. I couldn't do that again, so I needed a new tack. A few days ago, I experienced a culinary stroke of brilliance.

It occurred to me that a whole boneless chicken breast is vaguely shaped like a heart. I realized that I could poach the breast in some red liquid, and produce a red chicken "heart." Red wine might have worked, but I figured that nothing stains a better red than beets. Charlie, always there to encourage a foolish idea, suggested that I could produce a sauce that would serve as an "ink" to write a message on the heart. I then chose a message.

First, I roasted some red baby beets in the oven and sauteed the beet stems with shallots, garlic, and chicken stock. Then I pureed the whole thing in the blender to produce the most beautiful magenta sauce.

Next, I butchered a whole chicken to remove the breast intact. The grocery store didn't have any whole breasts, so I had to do the butchering myself. I heated the beet puree to 165F (the desired final temperature of the chicken), and submerged the breast in the puree for about 20 minutes, flipping it half way through. This is essentially the same technique used in sous vide cooking, where the meat is cooked in liquid held at the target temperature so it cannot possibly be overcooked.

When the chicken was done, it had picked up a gorgeous pink color and was meltingly tender. I then added some of the puree to a plate in the shape of heart and placed the chicken in the center. Finally, I prepared an herb with basil, spinach, and parsley, and wrote my Valentine's Day message to Stephanie - "Beet Mine."

The chicken was delicious; the sauce was sweet and rich but balanced by the addition of some vinegar. I made a side of Calasparra rice and paired the meal with a delightful Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs nv. A bit gimmicky and not perfectly executed with the saucing, the dish was a fabulous success and will be worth repeating on normal evenings.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Lunch at Cafe Boulud

Most of this blog's readers have either heard my report of lunch at Cafe Boulud in New York City or were there in attendance. To celebrate the end of my qualifying exams (recall that dinner at Jean Georges was to celebrate our birthdays), I scheduled a lunch for Saturday at 1. Marty and Andi agreed to join me, and my great friend Charlie offered to take the train into the city to meet us. Charlie is a devoted gastronome and a new father, so it was especially nice to be able to celebrate his good fortune as well.

Like Jean Georges the night before, the decor at Cafe Boulud was rather modern and sparse. The days of elaborate French designs appear to be a thing of the past (Le Bec Fin certainly stands as a hold out). The waiters, however, were as classically French as ever. That is to say, they were snooty, really snooty.

Nonetheless, lunch began delightfully with cocktails of Lillet blanc. These were important, because the menu offered dozens of different choices for appetizers and main courses, all of which promised to be tasty. Despite the myriad options, however, we all ordered fairly similarly. The meal proper began with an appetizer of grilled sardine fillets for the table. They were served with crunchy greens and tasted great. Marty and I chose the cornish hen pate with foie gras, which was delicious but the latter ingredient was no where to be found. Charlie selected and enjoyed a frisee salad with duck egg, lardons, and sauteed chicken livers. Andi had a pasta dish with, I believe, truffles. All of the appetizers were excellent and paired well with glasses of Mas Amiel Le Plaisir Cote de Roussillon Rosé 2001. It had a deep pink color, the color of rose petals, but it was not as full-bodied as the color might suggest. The light red fruit flavors were balanced by moderate acidity, all of which helped with the fairly rich dishes.

I cannot now recall what Andi ordered for her main course. Perhaps someone will remind me in the comments. Recalling what the gentlemen ate, however, is quite easy - we all had the lamb served three ways. I would like to rank the different lamb preparations according to flavor, but each was so delicious and so different from its companions that the task is impossible. Instead, I will list them in the order I tasted them. First was belly of lamb minced and breaded as large piece (I have forgotten the name of this technique). The crunchy, caramelly outside was perfect with the moist, tender inside. Next was grilled lamb loin which, if simple, was perfectly done and divine with a drizzle of lamb jus. Finally, we had red wine braised leg of lamb. It was satisfying and comforting and superb with rosemary polenta.

The wine we selected with the lamb course really made everything special. Perhaps the best value on the list (with the exception of a bottle of chinon that was out of stock) was the Mas de Daumas Gassac Vin de Pays de l'Herault 1997. It is rare to find wines with substantial bottle age on the lists of most restaurants. The older wines that are available tend to be the stratospherically priced great growths. Here, instead, was a wonderful wine, great with food, and with almost a decade of age. Viewers of the movie Mondovino may recall its winemaker as the grumpy Frenchman who got pissed off when Mondavi tried to buy the vineyard next to his biodynamic land. His wine at first seemed equally grumpy to be disturbed from its nine year slumber, but it soon came to life when paired with the different lamb preparations. It was fully mature at this point, but from the excellent balance of tannin and acidity, it promised to last another decade or so. Some red fruit and spice were apparent on the palate, but these were slowly giving way to the signs of wine maturity - earthiness, leather, complexity. Perhaps not a profound wine like some of the great growths, it was a perfect example of a winemaker allowing the wine to express the terroir.

A quick word about cheeses and dessert wines before I have to put a chicken in the oven and pick up Stephanie. Charlie and I chose to have the cheese course for our finale and selected what appeared to be a promising 13 year old Coteaux du Layon from the menu. Upon hearing our request, the waiter barely managed to stifle his displeasure with our choice - well, frankly, he didn't stifle his displeasure. It was open and obvious to everyone. Fearful that the man was going to be ill, I asked if there was anything wrong. He not so politely indicated that our wine choice was foolish and that we would be much better off with the Les Clos de Paulilles Banyuls 2003. We actually had glasses of each, and I am willing to admit that his suggestion was indeed the proper one. Nonetheless, he could have learned some manners from Sommelier Scott Tyree at Tru who, as faithful readers will recall, steered me to a superb wine in a delightful and non-condescending fashion.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Mount Langi Ghiran Langi Shiraz Victoria 1998

Sorry, faithful readers, the Boulud post will have to wait. Stephanie and I have been drinking some excellent wines that I've wanted to add to the blog. I learned that I passed one of my qualifying exams today, so I picked up this bottle of Australian Shiraz to celebrate. I prepared pan seared skirt steak with red wine sauce and roasted baby red beets, and Stephanie made carrot and potato purees and an arugula salad.

The Langi Shiraz, the top bottling of this excellent winery, is a classically styled wine offering the best of the New and Old Worlds. While the fruit has the ripeness associated with internationally styled wines, the alcohol is restrained, and the balance between fruit and acidity is nicely maintained. Reminiscent of a top St. Joseph, it offers compelling red fruit flavors and a rhone-y citrus-y minerality. Already eight years old, it could easily last another decade.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Two Burgundies from Bouchard

For those looking for my review of Jean Georges, scroll down. For those looking for my review of Cafe Boulud, be patient - it should be up tomorrow. In the meantime, here are a couple of red burgundies from Bouchard. Stephanie and I purchased a beautiful new kitchen table, and it was delivered today. To celebrate, I made a beef stock and prepared oxtails with celeriac puree and a watercress salad. As I should have guessed, we ended up eating in the living room as usual, watching a tivo'd American Idol.

I knew that the burgundies wouldn't be perfect for the rich oxtails, but since the 2003 vintage was so hot, they managed to hold their own. First was the Mercurey 2003. It was the lighter of the two, with sour cherry flavors and bracing tannins. For about $14, it's tough to beat this with an American pinot noir. I'd probably reserve it for pork and game birds in the future, though. The 2003 Santennay was a rather more robust wine. The color was a deeper shade of garnet, and nose showed a greater complexity of fruit and even nutty aromas. The tannins were in better balance with the sweeter fruit on the front of the palate. (Whoops! I just overswirled it onto the mouse!) This wine would be right at home with duck in a non-sweet sauce or even lamb. Priced similarly to the Mercurey, the Santennay is a superb value.

Dinner at Jean Georges

I traveled to New York City last weekend to attend an academic conference and visit with my brother Marty and his girlfriend Andi. Each of us had celebrated a birthday during January, and my parents offered to buy us dinner together in New York as a gift. I chose the Michelin three-star restaurant Jean Georges. It is owned by chef, restraunteur, and food-emperor Jean Georges Vongerichten who became famous for blending traditional French food with Asian influences before it was cool.

We were offered a four-course prix fixe (or as I saw it listed at another New York restaurant, pre-fix) menu and two seven-course tasting menus. One of the tasting menus was what appeared to be a "Greatest Hits of Jean Georges" menu, composed of the classics that made his name. We each opted for the seasonal Winter Tasting Menu.

Dinner began with three amuse bouches, the best being a warm sunchoke puree with black truffle shaving. The first course was made up of thin slices of scallops, topped with a frozen cranberry "popstick" and arranged with different garnishes along the top. The idea was to eat the scallop and popstick with a different garnish for each bite. Our favorites were the fresh wasabi and the mixed herbs. The second course may have been the best of the evening. It was a piece of foie gras resting on top of a delicious toasty brioche and topped with dried cherries and pistachios, all surrounded by a white port gelee. The foie was, of course, perfectly cooked, and the brioche bottom and fruit/nut topping made for a little sandwich with jelly. It was beautiful and sublime.

The next course, "Wild Mushroom Tea," was poured into a bowl containing parmesan cheese, thyme, and a sliver of chili. The soup itself was a bit muted and oily. I ate the chili towards the end of the course and only then did things brighten up. The chili was very hot, and as the heat dissipated, it mingled with the earthy mushrooms and cheese. Had we been instructed to eat the chili with the first bite, this would have been a more successful course.

Next we had a pair of fish courses. First was crispy red snapper topped with slivers of radishes, sea beans, and sesame. It was excellent, particularly the combination of mild fish and deep sea beans. It was, to my mind, visually flawed, however. The radishes had little slivers of red on the edges, and when consumed with the mild white fish, they tricked the mind into thinking it was eating imitation crab meat. I love ICM, so it wasn't a big deal, but it seemed a bit unusual. The second fish course was a beautiful lobster dish (claw and tail) served with chestnuts and espelette pepper butter. The sauce was spicy, almost like Japanese chirashi, and it paired well with the nuts. This was the second time the chef used seasonal nuts in an interesting and unusual manner during the meal.

The meat course was a roasted loin of venison, served with quince-madiera sauce and cabrales foam, and topped with broccoli rabe. The latter seemed like an afterthought and was not well-integrated with the dish. The blue cheese foam, however, provided an excellent saltiness for the meat. We finished the evening with dessert tastings (I had the citrus-accented tasting, but the best item was a cold beet puree that Andi had) and petits fours.

With help from the sommelier, we selected a number of delicious wines for the evening. Most of the first courses were consumed with a fantastic Trimbach Pinot Gris Hommage a Jeanne 2000. It was sweet and rich, but it had a beautiful minerality running through the mid-palate that lifted the flavors of the food right off the tongue. At six years old, it was beginning to show signs of maturity that paired nicely with the foie gras (although at times the port gelee was a bit too sweet for the wine). With the snapper, we enjoyed glasses of the racy and acidic Joseph Drouhin Chablis Vaudesir Grand Cru 2001. Its white fruit flavors and delightful minerality were excellent alongside the crispy fish and deep sea flavors of the beans. Our venison course was accompanied by a wine bottled exclusively for the restaurant, Kamen Claret Sonoma 2003. Like the best reds from Sonoma, it was well-balanced and generous, not overly extracted and demanding like its Napa cousins. The slight sweetness in the wine was matched by the meat and the quince sauce. Finally, the bright flavors of my citrusy dessert were gorgeously paired with a Tokaji Aszu 6 Puttonyos 1997 from Tokaj Classic. For an old, amber-colored wine, it offered the backbone of acidity that was necessary for the desserts.

Service, on the whole, was professional and accommodating, although occasionally our server spoke too softly. The couple seated next to us got engaged at dinner and were, accordingly, granted the privileges of talking on their cellphones all night and groping each other between bites of food. Otherwise, the meal was excellent and fit for our celebration. Although the food was less often profound than at The French Laundry or Tru, it was absolutely delicious.