Monday, March 31, 2008

Saturday Night Champagnes

Well, after 10 days of destruction/reconstruction in my apartment, I needed some wine. I had opened a few non-descript bottles at various restaurants since I can't cook at home, but Saturday I was at a dinner party with a private chef who also turned out to be a wine geek.

And he loved old Champagne... Yay!

-1990 La Grande Dame (from magnum)
Oooh, wow, this smells so young! A bare hint of oxydation/caramelization added depth to the minerally pears and apples and yeast that filled the nose. Some bread and dough aspects filled out the palate, with a shockingly crisp finish, especially for something this old and from this year. This really lived up to its name, a Grande Dame who's ageing with grace and dignity. Lovely.

-NV Jacquesson 731
Vive la Difference! Completely different from the Grande Dame, with riper pear and apple notes on a rounder structure, with some slight disjointed acidity at the back. While this was nice on its own, it seemed to fill out with food and come into balance. I feel this needs some more time in the bottle to really strut its stuff. The ripeness and rounder mouthfeel could be coming from the 2003 vintage in the assemblage.

There were a few other bottles, including a 2006 Prager Riesling which was shockingly good and a 2004 Chateau de Maligny Chablis Montee de Tonnerre which was quite nice, with chalk, seashells and lemons on a tight frame.

In any case, it was such a pleasure to drink well after a long week of kitchen reconstruction.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Day Five (1st Signs of Progress?)

The entrance

Day Five ended with a shocker: visible signs of progress throughout the kitchen. Granted, going from the utter destruction and devastation that had been present to something slightly better wasn't difficult.

Filled in electrical trenches

How awesome, rough corners had been plastered over, and holes in walls had been filled in. Electrical boxes were in place and wires were capped, awaiting the appliances and lights I had bought.

Sketches of the once and future kitchen

Best yet, the guys had laid out in pencil where everything was going, and this allowed me to get an idea of what the kitchen would look like when finished. Grantd, I do have an active imagination, so that helped with the process: the sink would go there, the range here, and the dishwasher right there.

The dry bar begins to take shape

And look at that, the dry bar's drop-ceiling is almost done, the walls smoothed out. How cool!

I was so happy at the progress that I didn't mind finding out that my case of Champagne was on back-order...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Day Four

Trenches for electricity

Day Four of the Great Kitchen Renovation of 2008.

Despite the crew's best efforts, a thin veil of dust covers everything in the living room and bathroom, though our bedroom is thankfully unaffected (seemingly). Dust quickly clings to every inch of exposed skin the moment one ventures from the haven of the bedroom, and seems to slip stealthily into the mouth and eyes.

There was a lot of sawing and hammering and banging, and by the end of the day it seemed like several more trenches for electricity and electric boxes had been dug. In addition, the first tangible sign of progress on something that will be visible after all is said and done was apparent: the drop ceiling for our closet dry bar.

The drop ceiling in the dry bar

Is this a sign? Are things heading in the right direction? Could the dust storm be over soon?

God, I need a glass of Champagne! Where the f*!k is that damned case??!!!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Day Three (the Dust Storm)

Day Three and now things got messy. The crew showed up around 10:15am (a bit late, grrrr...) but nonetheless they quickly erected big plastic sheets, opened the windows and installed fans to suck out all the mess they were making. Today, they'd be digging channels in the concrete for electrical wires as well as enlarging the entrance to the kitchen. There had been a doorway and French doors there, but these were quickly torn down, making the entire apartment look HUGE.

The Kitchen Entrance, 5pm

Amazing how a little tweaking can affect the visual effects...

Trenches in the walls

More trenches in the walls

What I hadn't anticipated was the amount of dust and the mind-bending smell of plaster that permeated the place. Well, at least I slept well and had very, very, very interesting dreams...

At least I am seeing major progress. Only 2-3 more weeks, I've been assured...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Day Two (or dude, where's my kitchen?!)

The Work in Progress, 9am

Day Two of the Great Kitchen Renovation of 2008 dawned cold and windy. Thirsty for my espresso, I stumbled blindly into the kitchen, or where the kitchen had been. Damn, forgot, I'm in the midst of a reconstruction. Luckily, my beloved Francis Francis X5 espresso machine was plugged in, but in the living room.

After a few shots, the General Contractor and his crew returned, and their first question took me by surprise. "You're tearing down the wall today?!" I had been told this wouldn't happen until Tuesday, so I'd have the weekend to evacuate the tiny space I call an office.

So, another round of moving, shoving and dissassembly ensued. The phone, the Wifi modem, the answering machine, the desk, the computer, pretty much anything that has to do with an office was shoved into the living room in the space of a few minutes. I'm not even sure why we call it a "living" room, there's so much stuff in it that one would be hard-pressed to actually "live" in it.

The crew sealed off the space with plastic and supports, to keep the dust out of the rest of the apartment. Supposedly.

There followed a rapid-fire exercise in rewiring, as I struggled to get the Internet and my phones back up and running. As I sat down to work, the hammering started. Rather, the sledgehammering. And the sawing. And the cracking. And breaking. And smashing.

OK, I need some peace and quiet, so I left the house. When I returned, the kitchen and office had merged into one huge space. The fridge and the oven were in the space once occupied by the office.

Kitchen, Day Two, 5pm

Where the wall stood

No more office

So now, as I wend my way through the maze of stuff that my "living" room has become, I wonder, sometimes aloud, "What the Hell did I get myself into????"

And more importantly, where the Hell is my case of Champagne?!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

And so it begins (again)... Day One

The Old Kitchen, 2pm

Well, after four months of delays and and false starts and waiting for permits, we finally got the go-ahead to start the Great Kitchen Renovation of 2008. It had begun four months earlier, when the first new appliance was installed, a Bosch Evolution 700 Series Range (which I have come to love). I was so happy that if I'd had some Champagne in the fridge, I'd have popped it (or better yet, sabered it). I know, I know, it must be a sign of the Apocalypse that I've run out of Champagne. But fear not, a delivery of life-saving bubbles is on its way.

Anyway, the OK was a sudden avalanche of permits and licenses and exhiliration, so we began a rushed evacuation of the cabinets and drawers. Wow, I've got more wine glasses than God! Hey, that's where those things went... Within an hour 14 years of accumulated stuff was in the living room, and soon after our General Contractor appeared. His crew arrived moments later and began ripping out the old cabinets and countertop.

As I worked on my laptop, I could hear banging, crashing, sawing and all sorts of horrendous sounds. The floor vibrated, the walls shook, wait a second, were they digging their way through to my next door neighbor's place? Not such a bad proposition, he's got a really nice terrace after all... My downstairs neighbors must have thought the Cloverfield monster was stomping its way through my apartment. What a whirlwind of activity!

The Not-Quite-New Kitchen, 5pm

Before I knew it, the kitchen was nearly empty. This tiny New York kitchen, which had taught me how to cook, which had seen countless cooking experiments, which had seen me discover my love of Burgundy, and which my suburban friends had constantly mocked (yet had enjoyed on their rare visits to the city), was almost completely empty.

Goodbye, old friend.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Saturday Night Bubblies & Burgs

It's always a treat when friends from out of town visit. What better excuse to open some Champagne and Burgundy? Granted, I've been known to open both at the drop of a hat, so it's not like I really needed much of an excuse... So we welcomed our travelling companion and a few other friends with open arms and open bottles on Saturday night.

We began the festivities with some NV Champagne Chartogne Taillet, a lovely and elegant wine with tiny prickly bubbles that starts off shy but then builds on the palate with some lemony toast and light nuts to a great finish. This was so good, it disappeared rather rapidly. I was thrilled to try this producer as I'd heard very nice things about them.

When that bottle disappeared, I grabbed the next available (and last! Sacre bleu!) Champagne in the fridge, a half-bottle of NV Nicholas Feuillate Rose. This too was delicious, with light cherry and berry notes mingling with toasty aspects and good acidity to firm it up. Nice if a bit light, I prefer my Roses to have some more "oomph" to them but this does nicely when I'm in a bind.

So we sat for dinner, and the two roast chickens I'd made were carved and presented, alongside roast potatoes and onions (which had been under the chickens to soak up the fat and butter drippings), and a sautee of wild mushrooms and garlic. What better to drink with such a meal than Burgundy? Actually, that shouldn't be a question, it should be a fact.

I poured the 1993 Ampeau Volnay Santenots, a wine that I'd enjoyed several times in the past. To my horror, the smell of funk filled my nostrils, and we realized that this wine was corked. TCA had reared its ugly head. Damnit!

OK, the next wine looked and smelled OK, a 1998 Mongeard Mugneret Echezeaux Vieilles Vignes. Beautiful color, lovely smell, ooooh that's good. Big on the palate, with tons of dark but elegant Pinot fruit and slight hints of sous-bois and some bracing acidity, this would end up putting on weight and becoming more and more complex as the night wore on. Yummy!

The second flight arrived, a duo of 1985s, a favorite vintage of mine in Burgundy: 1985 Prince de Merode Corton Bressandes and 1985 Dubreuil Fontaine Corton Bressandes. Both were delicious and showed well, however the Dubreuil definitely had more going on, was more complex, and carried itself with more vigor than the Prince. It was definitely the better wine this night.

Our third flight would be a single bottle, generously offered by one of our guests. The 1964 Domaine Gros Frère et Soeur Clos de Vougeot "Musigni" was beautiful to look at, to smell and to taste. This wine, from a small parcel of the huge Clos de Vougeot vineyard which abuts the fabled Musigny vineyard, filled the nostrils with spicy, dark berries interlaced with hints of mushrooms. The bottle had been topped off at the winery, which explained why it sometimes seemed so young and vivacious despite its age. The mouthfeel was pure velvet and silk, a real joy to have roll over the tongue.

After "ooohing" and "aaaahing" over these wines, it was time to serve the next dish: the cheese course, of course! Out came our cheese platter, with 3-year old Comte, a Chablis-finished Epoisses and some Ossau Iraty from the Basque region of France. Man, that Epoisses stank!

Not one to serve reds with cheese, I grabbed our two whites, which had been open and breathing for several hours: a 1999 Domaine Chantemerle Chablis Fourchaume and a 2000 Pernot Bienvenues Batard Montrachet. These two could not be more different, but I say Vive La Diffèrence! The Chablis had those classic iodine, seashell and crisp lemon flavors, on a vibrant structure that had minerality to spare, and was lean and precise. The Bienvenues, on the other hand, just filled the mouth from the get-go, a huge wine that offered tons of white flowers, lemons, and almond notes on a massive frame that was both sensuous and powerful, whose finish went on and on and on and on... Oh, wow, I can still taste it...

Tarts appeared for dessert, and we poured a half-bottle of our visiting friend's wine, the 1983 Chateau Gillette Crème de Tete Sauternes. A sweet wine from Bordeaux, it was fantastic, with sweet honey and lemon and pear and hazelnut vying for my attention, all balanced out with a bracing acidity.

We took our time eating and drinking the wines, laughing for many hours, and ending in the wee hours of the night. But it's times like these when you realize that wine is truly a bonding agent. It isn't just convivial. It has brought me together with a diverse group of fun individuals from all over the world and all walks of life, whose over-riding similarity is their unbelievable, and sometimes truly obscene, generosity. This evening was a perfect example of this.

And it has made our lives that much brighter.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

40 New Communes Added to Champagne!

Picture courtesy of Steve Charles

Well, it's official, 40 new communes have been added to the Champagne AOC (Appelation d'Origine Controllee), the largest single change in the history of the AOC system. What does this mean?

Well, for one thing, Champagne production will increase. Is that bad for quality? Maybe, it will depend on the various growers and producers, and how they tend their vines and make their wines.

Does that mean that prices will drop? Hell no! In fact, more than likely they'll increase, especially with the rise in the Euro in the past few weeks. So basically we'll see a lot more bottles at a higher cost. Yay.

Of course, anyone planting new vines will keep you waiting about 10 years before their wines are available. So don't get too impatient or thirsty...

That said, the one real positive point is that there will be wines from new villages and areas, places we haven't tasted yet. A whole new world of Champagne is about to open up to us, so bubbleheads around the world should rejoice at exploring new regions and towns.

Who knows, the next Clos du Mesnil might be hiding somewhere within these communes... (I doubt it, but miracles do happen)

Friday, March 07, 2008

MarketWatch: Beaune

The Historic Hospice de Beaune

This past week was extremely busy, I had a ton of work and didn't taste enough wines. In fact, I barely had any wine at all (shocking, I know). But I promise I am not slipping into any sort of abstinence. To let off steam, I went to the Greenmarket in NYC to grab some supplies for a cassoulet I am making this weekend. While the market's a great resource, it pales in comparison to what you can find in even the tiniest towns in the French countryside.

As an example, I offer here some pics from one of my last trips to Burgundy, to the small city of Beaune. On Saturdays, farmers and merchants from all over the region congregate in the main square, offering a veritable cornucopia of sights, smells and sounds to tickle the senses.

Again, why can't we get something like this in New York? Feel free to drool...