Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer's Bounty Part Deux: Upstate NY


New York is known for many things, most of them ironically being on the very edges of the state: New York City, Niagara Falls, Lake George. But what many people don't realize is how beautiful and lush the very heart of the land is. Filled with huge natural parks and tons of villages with small farms, this is a truly beautiful state.


Best of all, the tomatoes in some friends' garden have escaped the blight that has afflicted the crops this year. And I LOVE tomatoes. These were succulent, fresh and with that refreshing tang of good fruit.


These made amazing bruschetta and were great while sitting outside on a cool late summer's evening.


The soils are rich with the bounty of summer, such as these fresh-picked potatoes and carrots. The carrots came home to NYC with me. The potatoes didn't last long. I love potatoes too.


Local farms also offer great meats, such as these cuts that were quickly grilled over a hot flame.


Those fresh potatoes? They went into a Pommes Ana tart that was filled with earthy, buttery goodness.


Everything was fresh, like these colorful flowers picked only a few minutes before dinner.


Apples, picked that afternoon, went into a Tarte Tatin that, unsurprisingly, was full of buttery goodness too. Hmmm... see a theme here?


And with such a rustic, lovely countryside dinner? What would you drink? I grabbed a bottle of 2007 Foillard Morgon Clos de Py Beaujolais, a deliciously earthy yet fruity wine that smells of the French countryside. Even the cat liked it.


I also revisited a place that had really impressed me the first time I was in the area: Swoon Kitchenbar, in Hudson. Like my first time there, the food was amazing, the wine list imaginative and well-priced, and the welcome warm. I even got some house-made smoked bacon from Chef Jeff. For a rustic bistrot, this was pretty cool!

Sometimes, it's nice to get away for a few days.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Say Hola to España's Wines

You didn't think all those trips to Spain this year were for vacations, now, did you? I was working, and working quite hard, thank you very little. In some ways this is a dream job, but in other ways, it's a tough job. I mean, I spent a good 4-5 weeks earlier this year, traipsing through Emporda, Pamplona and Galicia, tasting the local wines and trying to find something, anything, that would be both well-made and well-priced. Sadly, the two rarely come hand in hand.

But after much swirling, sniffing and spitting, I settled on a whopping two, count'em, two, wineries to represent.

The first is Empordàlia, from the hilly Emporda region north of Barcelona. They're a large winery, true, with a whopping 350 hectares (865 acres!) and so my first reaction was to look at their wines with a skeptical eye. But once I started tasting what they were making, I was pursuaded. Then again, they've learned a few things in the forty or so years they've been around.

The Sinols Negre is a blend of 40% Garnatxa, 40% Carinyena, and a balance of Syrah, Merlot and Ull de Llebre (a local variety). The wine is destemmed and cold macerated for 15 days, and never sees any oak. This is a stainless steel beauty, with a lovely perfume of dark flowers, blackberries and plums. The taste reflects the nose, with an elegant mouthfeel that leads to a long finish. Best of all, these wines would retail for around $12 and be delicious.

The Sinols Blanc, an assemblage of Grenache Blanc and Macabeu, is wonderfully aromatic yet carries its hefty nose on a surprisingly elegant frame with refreshing acidity. The finish will leave you aching for more. Seriously, it's delicious, especially on a hot summer's day.

My second choice was a winery called Aroa, in the hills just north of Rioja. Aroa was founded a few years ago through the partnership of two friends who were seeking to make hand-crafted, artisanal wines in the high altitude-foothills of the País de Navarra. They focus on traditional varieties like Garnatxa and Tempranillo to maintain the wines’ historical aspects and ensured the health of their vineyards through the use of organic viticultural methods.

Winemaker Txus Macias

Working with three different vineyards in the high mountains south of Pamplona, winemaker Txus Macías has crafted some lovely wines that proudly represent their terroirs. At Aroa, he uses certified Organic methods and traditional grapes varieties like Tempranillo and Garnatxa, with small amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Low yields and careful filtering mean the end products are unique and distinctive and have a nice rustic feel to them.

Alternating cover crops between rows is standard practice at Aroa

The Aroa Tempranillo Joven is a beautifully expressive and aromatic wine, with an earthy note that is the purest translation of its terroir. The mouthfeel is wonderfully, authentically rustic, with fresh acidity leading to a long, lingering finish. This wine is perfect on its own or with some Jamón Iberico. Then again, what doesn't go with Jamón Iberico?

Where and when can you get them? Soon, very soon, I promise. I am working hard on it even as I write these words. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures I've uploaded to the Vinotas Selections FaceBook Fan Page.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Sir Winston Churchill Comes Alive

No, not that one, of course. Rather, I'm talking about a recent tasting I organized with some friends of Pol Roger's prestige cuvée, the Sir Winston Churchill Champagne. The great man was a big fan and supporter of the Pol Roger house, and of Champagne in general. In fact, he is quoted as having said of it, "In victory, deserve it; in defeat, need it." As someone who enjoys a bubbly now and then, I couldn't agree more!

The line-up awaits: 2000 Rose, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1996, 1998 Sir Winston Churchill

This cuvée was born in 1975, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Winston Churchill's passing. The actual assemblage is a jealously guarded secret, but seeing how he preferred more robust Champagnes, it's likely this is a Pinot Noir-dominant wine.

We started with the 2000 Pol Roger Rose, which was very tight at first, but slowly uncoiled to show lovely flowery notes backed up by soft red berries, and a gorgeous mouthfeel that was both mouthfilling and elegant at the same time. I kept going back to this over the course of the evening and kept getting happier and happier with it. What a great way to start the night.

We had decided to do old to young, and so the first pour was also one of the best, the 1986 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill. It was poured alongside the 1988 Sir Winston Churchill in an attempt to revisit the Eighties. Almost from the start, the 1986 was showing better, with gorgeous notes of dark yeast, apple pie, caramel/toffee, cafe au lait, brioche, and hints of red berries. It also had that lovely musk that older Champagne sometimes gets, but which blows off quickly as the wine breathes. Gorgeous, and it developped nicely over the course of the evening. The 1988, on the other hand, had something weird going on. I thought it might be slightly corked, as I got whiffs of TCA every now and then, but then again I am SUPER sensitive to that (lucky me). Others disagreed about the cork but did agree that there was something off with it. Too bad, as I had been looking forward to trying it next to the 1986.

There were a few other wines too...

Next up came the Nineties, with the 1990, the 1995, the 1996 and the 1998 Sir Winston Churchill. Of the four, my favorite was the 1998 and 1995 to drink right away, the 1990 to hold and watch evolve in the glass, and the 1996 to hold for another ten years. Profile-wise, as expected, they were all relatively similar, with vintage variations coming through in terms of their openness and power. The 1990 was extremely full-bodied, as was the 1996, but the 1995 and 1998 were more (relatively) lean and easy to drink. These last two were also not as complex or promising, IMHO, as the 1990 and 1996, both of which seemed to be teasing us with greatness to come.

Overall, it was a great learning experience. The wines had many similarities as could be expected, but vintage variations really came through. As did storage, of course. But the great man was correct, Pol Roger is making some lovely wines. For a big house, this was a pretty impressive showing.

Oh, and the other wines? Well, the Burgundy was nice, but WOW was that 1937 La Tour Blanche Sauternes fantastic, with the color of Cognac. This was a wine I had to sit with for a while, if only for the history that it represented. It was gorgeous, with lovely aromas of honeyed caramel brule, figs, almonds, with whiffs of herbs, and a thick, slightly oily mouthfeel that covered the palate and then faded slowly away into the mists of time. Fantastic, and extremely generous of my friend to share.

God, I love wine.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Summer's Bounty


Summertime means fresh fruit and vegetables, their odors filling the house with the freshness of life. Even despite a ridiculously rainy season, the farmers markets are full of vibrant colors and odors, all vying for our attention. The fantastic basil, above, has made my fridge smell so good that I want to curl up in it and spend the day there.


The corn is insanely sweet, and what better way to enjoy it than by mixing it with the basil, some lovely shallots, and fresh scallops? Sauteed quickly in a pan, they make an amazing first course.


A young, lively white Burgundy was a perfect match for this, the acidity cutting through the sweetness of the corn and scallops and cleansing the palate.


What of the other vegetables? No, I haven't forgotten them either, they get chopped up into little squares, quickly browned in some olive oil, then tossed into a big pan all together. Simmered for about an hour, they turn into a huge, multi-colored, fantastic-smelling mass of summery goodness. Based on a recipe from Southern France, this ratatouille is a pure definition of summer. As in the movie, the aromas bring back memories of youth and more care-free days.


Of course, I wasn't drinking as well when I was younger. An elegant yet meaty, bacony, olivey 1989 Gonon St Joseph "les Oliviers" was a lovely counter-point to the rustic nature of the lemon confit, olive oil and thyme-marinated rack of lamb and ratatouille. The evening was a celebration of the season and its gifts, a gentle reminder of how generous Mother Earth can be sometimes.