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Archive for the ‘Wine & Food Pairing’ Category

Bringing Back the Forgotten

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Posted by Burke Morton On April - 2 - 2010

I just read on a pop culture site that Olivia Newton-John's former boyfriend has been found. Surely you remember that he vanished five years ago?!?! No? Well, I do, if only because I am apparently still holding a little Xanadu flame for ON-J. No, I'm not much of a disco fan, and yes Xanadu was a ridiculous movie (I haven't seen it in about twenty-five years, but I recall Gene Kelly (!) is in it, and ON-J is a Muse who inspires a guy to build a disco roller rink, and there's a whole mortal/immortal love thing, did that movie get funding?), but it was the news story that got my attention in the first place. I realized that I had forgotten that her former boyfriend (one Patrick McDermott, 48) disappeared, and that I actually hadn't cared much. Since I'm a poster child for free-association, I began to wonder what else have I forgotten--and then what have we forgotten--that was once important to someone else. Coincidentally, I had in front of me a bottle of Henry Marionnet's 2003 Les Cépage Oubliés--the forgotten grapes.

There are a slew of forgotten grapes out there, and if we knew something about most of them, we'd probably thank God that we don't have to suffer through a glass of whatever dreck they perpetrate. But you know, these grapes were at one time important to someone, some region, some cuisine. They undoubtedly complimented the cuisine of the region beautifully, but other grape varieties came along that were better (better for whom?). What did we lose? Surely there are some varieties that had some charm, but have been victims of economic viability. Reestablishing some of these has really paid dividends in today's overheated wine market, which is why we can find wines made with grapes like two arcane varieties from Champagne, Arbanne and Petit Meslier; one of the old great rosé varieties from Provence, Tibouren; and the one in the Marionnet wine, Gamay de Bouze.

Gamay de Bouze is a very cool grape, because it has RED FLESH underneath its skin (part of a class of grapes called teinturiers). Most red wine grapes have white flesh and white juice, but Gamay de Bouze has naturally pink juice. Both red and white fleshed grapes depend on the grape skins to become dark red. The wine from Gamay de Bouze is more rustic than the FAR more common Gamay Noir that you'd find in Beaujolais. It's flavors don't suggest a reason for it's obscurity other than a relative lack of refinement. At first sniff I wondered if the vine had taken a bath in apple pie spices, and I loved the wine's intensely dark fruit flavor. These qualities are so ingrained in this's as though some regular Gamay Noir got tattooed with cinnamon and then tarred and feathered with black plums and wild blueberries. Those feathers give it an unbridled, flyaway notion too, both in the aroma and even more so in the mouth--a slightly churlish expression. This fleshy wine might actually be a good Gamay for meat (there are others, but I don't want to crack that encyc-lobe-edia right now), including a seared rare duck breast and even a filet.

So this Patrick McDermott guy apparently doesn't want to be found. Dodging some debts, it would seem. It's arguable that we wanted to find him (although Dateline NBC apparently thought we cared...maybe they should've done a focus group on that one). At least he had an insurance settlement, fraudulent though it may have been, to go to his offspring to cover his encumbrances. No matter how it turns out for him, there's no doubt that we'll be happier ignoring him while more grape varieties rebound, eventually finding a refuge in our glasses.

At least the FBI won't get involved with that...unless we invite them in for a drink.

Popularity: 5% [?]

A Syrah from Dry Creek & a Bowl of Chili

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Posted by Burke Morton On March - 16 - 2010

Ridge Vineyards shipped the 2004 Lytton Estate Syrah as last month's ATP wine. I sat on it for a few weeks before popping one open. The wines from Ridge are the archetypes for food friendly California wine, reminding us that a wine from the Golden State need not be a shameless hussy to be delicious. In fact, non-slutty wine is actually useful for something other than horrendously expensive pancake syrup or an overly sweet and tarry glass of "wine" (which is about the limit of utility for any overtly self-conscious wine). To wit: we were having beef brisket chili with butternut squash (a variation on the one in Bon Appetit a while ago) that I had made last week, before it got warm, intending to have it the following day, but of course it was 65 degrees the next day, so we waited. We had it Saturday night, as the temperature outside dropped. This meeting of flavors in the mouth provided me with an good illustration of the vagaries of wine pairing.

If you stick your nose into the glass, the wine has a heavenly and complex scent dominated by aromas of oranges and blackberries. Ridge's Syrah is comprised of co-fermented lots of Syrah and Viognier, with an addition of Grenache to add some complexity as well as corpulence. As for the chili, its spice is driven by dried ancho chiles with an underlying flavor from puréed oven-roasted tomatoes. The chunks of brisket stand up well with a mighty beefiness. I included accompaniments of diced red onion, cilantro, and chihuahua cheese to finish it at the table.

A taste of the wine after a mouthful of the chili provided a beautiful confluence of flavors--the smokier notions of the wine emerged, the fruitiness lying in the background of the ancho chiles came forward, and the feeling of the two together was very smooth. Yum.

My next bite happened to have no red onion in it, and when I tasted the wine, it had a strong flavor of black pepper, no presence of fruit, with the result of a rather searing quality. Yikes.

I made sure to have red onions in every bite after this.

I've said this a few times in other articles, and many times in other venues: one change can make all the difference in a successful wine pairing. BUT!--if you know your chef (or your own cooking), and you know your wines (i.e., the wines you happen to have on hand), then choosing wine for your meal should be a matter of imagining the flavors in your food (or just taste what you're cooking) and recalling the flavors in your wines and imagine the way they might fit together. This takes some trial and error, but is not an insurmountable problem (this is more about feel than science, so it's accessible to everyone). Besides, as you experiment, you get to drink a boatload of wine (be responsible), so where's the problem?

Popularity: 6% [?]

Moroccan Food and Wine in Paris

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Posted by Burke Morton On March - 12 - 2010

I love Moroccan food. Love it. Exotic, exciting revelatory flavors (for a westerner...) make up the engine of this culinary tradition, and it is indeed a tradition. You quickly form the idea when you read the cookbooks or visit the countries of North Africa that the entire populace is comprised of foodies. In the U.S., it is the foodies who have gotten into Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian cuisine for its fascinating combination of sweet and savory made ever more enchanting by its aromatic glow. Slow Food adherents have also gravitated to North African food, as much of it is cooked in a tagine (pronounced tah-zheen'), a conical cooking vessel in which foods are braised with a small amount of water. I have even found that avowed non-foodies cherish the experience of this food because its charms are so foreign yet undeniably winning (don't think it converts them into foodies, though).

Culinary Responsibility--Putting Moroccan Food on the World Stage
Keeping up with the Joneses--acreage-wise--was a serious, occasionally very bloody European pastime for a few centuries, extending well into the 20th Century, long after imperialism was unfashionable. After relinquishing conquests in India and the Western Hemisphere to other colonial powers (mostly the British), the French needed something else to do. Perhaps they were seduced by the exotic fragrance of the souks (open air markets) of the southern Mediterranean, because one of their first steps was to occupy North Africa. France invaded Algeria in 1830, and within fifty years they added Tunisia as a protectorate, and did the same with most of Morocco by 1912.

Well, ever the epicures, the French were curious about the culinary traditions of the colonially oppressed (such equanimity!), and you the can find the fruits of this in the Vietnamese and North African restaurants that are ALL OVER Paris. I stumbled upon a small Moroccan place on a Paris side street and had a quick lunch of harira (soup) and b'stilla (a filo pastry with a sweet and savory filling--squab in this case), both of which were delicious and well-priced. And they served a Moroccan wine, a Cinsaut-Grenache-Carignan blend, that was very good with the food.

Dinner at L'Atlas
We went to l'Atlas, a serious Moroccan restaurant, for dinner after my day in Champagne. I had heard of the place from an American I met in Paris a couple of years ago. Despite having a somewhat overdone website, it is not a formal place at all, and is an extraordinary dinner experience. Within moments of taking our seats, our server brought out a small bowl of olives and another of spiced potatoes. Add some mint tea with a few dashes of orange flower water and you begin to get the idea of the heady experience to come. I started with a delicious plate of house-made merguez sausages, but when I tasted my wife's harira (the soup), I was insanely jealous. It was cold outside and the soup was not only warming, but exquisitely flavored--balanced and evocative, like the best cooking always is. We decided to split the Couscous Fassi, a fabulous dish of lamb, steamed chicken and vegetables served over couscous. The scent turned heads throughout the dining room as the server brought it to us, and it was as delicious as the aroma promised. The menu said it was for two, but it could have fed four easily.

Yes, yes...but what about the WINE???
Oh yeah, we had some and it was good! The Phoenicians got the ball rolling wine-wise in this region some 3,000 years ago. The Romans (God love 'em) amplified wine making traditions across North Africa 1,000 years later, after they pasted Carthage (for the third time) and decided to stay. As the Romans pillaged their way west from Tunisia to Morocco, they planted more vines (without which they apparently never traveled) in the most ideal locations. No place was more ideal than the foothills of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, where the best wines are still grown today. We ordered a bottle from this region: Zniber Vineyards 2006 Domaine Riad Jamil Rouge, from the A.O.G. of Beni M'tir. (A.O.G. stands for Appellation d'Origine Garantie, of which there are 14 in Morocco, each with its own specified grape varieties. It is intended to be an indicator of location and quality, and but only time will tell if this actually tells us anything meaningful.) The Riad Jamil turns out to be a dynamite wine made of 100% old vine Carignan. North Africa was once the source of an ocean of cheap wine bound for consumption in France, so in a sign of how determined the wine industry in Morocco has become in the last 15 years, the grapes for this wine are hand harvested from strictly limited vine yields. A world away from that bistro plonk of yesteryear, this dark, dark purple wine has intense black fruit oriented flavors, especially in the black plum and black raspberry range. The spicy (cinnamon) aroma is driven by a rich scent of black fruit preserves, and the cinnamon returns on the interminably long finish. By the way, as is common with concentrated (low-yielding old vines) Carignan, the texture is loaded with glycerin--the kind that makes your teeth slick. It's a great feeling. This wine is available in the U.S., but not widely, so check Wine Searcher if you are interested in tracking some down.

Popularity: 27% [?]

Misspeaking & Drinking: Cahors in Paris

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Posted by Burke Morton On February - 24 - 2010

I arrived at Chartier, a classic Parisian brasserie, before my companions. This was our second day in Paris, and my wife had just called to say that some of her co-workers wanted to join us, which suited me fine, because who was I to complain about being the only man dining with four women? Chartier does not take reservations, but they do move fast, so I got in the perpetual line outside the door. I hadn't been in the line ten minutes before the hostess asked me how many were in my party, but in the din of the six languages going on around me (and surely because of my Day 2 French ear), I reacted as though she had said "who" instead of "how many"--so I blurted out, «J'attends que mes femmes. Quatre des eux.»

I immediately realized that I had said, "I am waiting for my wives. Four of them."

The hostess certainly heard it this way, too. She clutched my forearm and doubled over laughing, like an American might. Since Parisians are usually more reserved, I'm hoping that she was seizing her chance to blow off some steam from a very busy evening....

Anyway, once my wives joined me (one of whom turned out to be male), we were seated in a flash, and we immediately ordered some wine. We initially ordered some Rosé and a Côtes-du-Rhône, but when I saw their wine special, a Cahors, I dumped the Rhône in favor of some French Malbec.

Malbec is one of the darlings of the wine world, thanks to its success in Argentina, though it's popularity isn't as robust among retailers as it was a couple of years ago. This is because it is easy to grow weary of a popular wine, and a common sentiment arises..."Oooh, another Argentine Malbec...." Enter Cahors, a region of southwestern France where Malbec is the required principal variety.

Cahors was widely treasured in the 19th Century, in part because of its longevity. The region fell on hard times when the phylloxera louse destroyed its vineyards, and it has taken nearly a century to recover its mojo. Cahors is literally awash in good wine these days, as was evidenced by the very good wine offered as a special at Chartier.

Chartier is a spectacularly ebullient restaurant with an atmosphere so infectious that even a morose teenager would be delighted. Shoehorned onto a table for four, we started off with the bottle of Rosé (despite the 30°F temperatures outside, it was like the sunshine we hadn't seen for a while), the name of which I couldn't tell you, and we continued with the Cahors, which was called Noir de Casteyrac (it is almost certainly unavailable in the U.S.). The Cahors was particularly satisfying, because it was really delicious and complex, and it cost the equivalent of $20! Find me a wine this good in a U.S. restaurant for this price and I'll show you someone who's losing money! It was a hearty, robust, slightly rustic wine that was a fabulous partner for the lamb and rumsteck that we ordered. It overwhelmed the other two dishes, free-range chicken and Choucroute, but no one complained, because the experience of the restaurant itself obscured this small weakness.

If you can't find any Cahors, then get your retailer to order some. Cahors has been on a upward trend in quality for a century, and since at least 1998, early-drinking wines have become commonplace, so really no one has any excuse for not stocking at least one (unless even their wholesalers are afraid to stock it...). It takes a little bit of imagination to sell it, I mean, who the heck has heard of Cahors? Oooh...there's the sales opening right there!

Popularity: 12% [?]

Winter Cleaning

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Posted by Burke Morton On January - 15 - 2010

Dirty Wine CellarIt's time to clean our basement. It is a naturally cool space that is conveniently damp thanks to the hydrostatic pressure applied by the hillside that rises behind our house, so naturally I have stashed my wine there. I have a fair amount of wine, some of which is neatly stored in racks. The rest of it is stacked rather haphazardly in front of the racks, which is sort of impractical, but there's precious little space to choose from, so there they sit.

This is, of course, the problem. The state of our basement--for which my wife (wisely) refuses to take responsibility--has become a 'situation' because I couldn't find the wine that I wanted to have with dinner. This is not the first time this has happened, but the results were certainly the most outré.

Needle in a Case Stack
I had just served linguine with a Gorgonzola cream sauce with peas and figs, and my wife said to me, "It seems like we should have a bottle of white wine with this." Oooh!!! Throwing down the gauntlet! Of course I was embarrassed that I hadn't thought of this, so I headed for the basement to try to regain my dignity. I wanted a Viognier, but the challenge was finding one. I thought I knew where the Viogniers lived, but after digging through 12 cases of assorted wines (food's getting cold!), the only thing I could actually lay my hands on that seemed appropriate was Alsatian Pinot Gris. Despite being the biggest enthusiast of Alsatian wine I know, I just didn't want that (I have had LOTS of it recently...). So I went with a Chardonnay, which might have been okay had it been a Monterey Chard with a butterscotch thing going on flavor-wise, but was Chablis.

Even if You Believe Hard Enough, You're No Less Wrong than "We'll Be Welcomed as Liberators"
It was a bottle of Verget 2004 Chablis. This was wrong. I knew it was wrong. Chablis would never have occurred to me under any other circumstance. Chablis is, by nature, tensile and minerally, which was not right for the Gorgonzola cream. But I suspended my own disbelief and sought some credible way of shoehorning the choice into place by rationalizing that the Jean-Marie Guffens (the man behind Verget) treatment (which yields a cool creaminess) would help it out. Any help this style of wine making may have made was negated by vivid clarity brought by the 2004 vintage, which energized most white Burgundies beautifully (the reds have not fared so well).

It was delicious wine, no question, and it didn't ruin the food, but it didn't really work, either. It became a little black peppery, which was not the flavor I was seeking. My wife put it well: "It's on the edge of clashing, but it still makes my mouth water." Yes indeed--perfect description.

A Viognier, on the other hand, would have really been lovely, and when I finally found one the next day, it provided a delicious lift to the leftovers.

...I Meant to Do that!
Coincidentally AND ironically, the Chablis was a success with our dessert: we had M&M Bars that I made with my children (essentially Toll House pan cookies made with M&Ms instead). The moment I took a bite, I knew that the Chablis would work, and it was indeed an extraordinary companion. Ha! Redeemed right at the end! .

Of course I planned it all along....

Popularity: 8% [?]

Wines for Thanksgiving

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Posted by Burke Morton On November - 19 - 2009

Wild Turkey (photo: Alan_Vernon.)There is only a week remaining until one of the most important events on the food/wine pairing calendar! I have always looked forward to this time of year, and when I was a wine retailer it was especially invigorating, because sales were excellent and it was fun to get excited (and get customers excited) about wines for the holidays. Time to spread the joy once more!

Dealing with Thanksgiving Food
The flavors of the foods on the Thanksgiving table are so disjointed that one would almost be better off having a companion drink for each dish rather than a single libation. Or just have water (which is asinine unless alcoholism is a factor, so we'll set THAT idea aside). Back to the food and what's often on the table...turkey (relatively bland); stuffing (rich taste made all the more intense if sausage or oysters are added); green vegetables (green beans are the norm at my house, typically hard on wine); sweet potatoes (rich flavor and welcoming of many wines); cranberry sauce (exuberant flavor, not all that wine friendly); and these are just the basics! Obviously there are too many dishes to even consider multiple wine pairings, so let's look at this a bit more nonchalantly: if you want to taste your drink with your feast, you'll need something with bold flavor. If you want to taste your feast with your drink, you'll need something with some grace. My favorite wines with Thanksgiving are not-necessarily full-bodied, but are somewhat warming, even if normally served cold.

An Opening Consideration
Let's go ahead and eliminate big, fat, oaky wines (this means Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in their typical guises). Heavy oak treatment generally inhibits a wine's utility with food. There are obviously some Chardonnays and Cabernets Sauvignon that would work fine with Thanksgiving fare, but these will be out of the ordinary. Wines with other stylistic extremes like those with high alcohol levels are fine (as long as they are not too much about themselves (i.e., like the overripe swamp juice out of Australia)), as are those with low alcohol (so long as they still have vivid character). Wines intended for the Thanksgiving table should also have enough zip to pull through the fats in the food, but not so much that your mouth puckers (nor should they be so devoid of "zip" that they seem flabby).

If any of the following suggestions make you think, "What is that wine?", "How can I find that?", or "Now I'm even more confused!", then you should talk to your local retailer. They can help you find the best option for you.

Here are some of my favorite wines for Thanksgiving:

How can you go wrong with rosé? The answer is, YOU CAN'T!!!! If you have any left over from summer, now is the time to drink it, and you'll be glad you did. I particularly like rosés made of Pinot Noir, Grenache, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon (here's a good place for Cab Sauv!). Rosés from the Sancerre region of France's Loire Valley are exceptionally good, as are the famous rosés of the Rhone Valley's Tavel region. I just tried a rosé from Oregon--the Big Fire Rosé from R. Stuart that would be perfect.

The white wines I am particularly drawn to for Thanksgiving include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Grüner Veltliner, but there are many others that I find just as scintillating. Gewürztraminer is a mighty, intensely aromatic wine and it can be like a warm blanket for your palate. In my retail days, I sold more Gewurz at Thanksgiving than at any other time of the year because it is so wonderful with the feast. As for Riesling, if you choose off-dry, I prefer Spätlese or Auslese in ripeness, but there are many Kabinett-level wines that can have just as much depth (this is where you'd ask your retailer). If you want a dry Riesling, a big serious wine from a great growing site works best, and usually these wines get better and better with aeration, so if you don't finish it, drink the rest the next day (there's hardly a more soul-stirring experience than this). Grüner Veltliner is glorious here, and you'll be happy you tried it, because it has the staying power to work with the food (surprisingly seamlessly across the table), and is qualitatively superior to it's peers at a similar price point.

I'll also be drinking some Zinfandel. Skip the White Zinfandel, and go for Red. Some like to point out that this is "America's Grape" and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving? I like to point out that it is genetically identical to European grapes with names like Plavac Mali and Primitivo, so let's drink it for it's merit, shall we? And it has plenty of merit: this year I'll be drinking the Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel, and I drank the 2002 Ravenswood Dickerson Zinfandel last year and loved it. A well-made Red Zin has good balance of acidity and fruit and pulls so much of the food on your plate together that it is in the same league as the whites listed above for harmonious food:wine rapport. Another option--a sensational one at that--is Grenache. I like it in the form that is found in the Rhone Valley regions of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. These velvety wines are so gratifying and emotive that they'll make you think of home, and what could be more appropriate than that for Thanksgiving?

For some other suggestions, go to the Wine Pairing Search and look under "Turkey"

Popularity: 11% [?]

Video Today

You don't need to speak French to know that the iPad can double as a Champagne Sabre.... Happy New Year!

Popularity: 80% [?]


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