Thursday, April 22, 2010

My, my, my...what a lovely little wine this is.

Foradori Teroldego Rotaliano 2006 is the kind of wine that, if you haven't had it, you should have. Quickly.

This northern Italian variety, related to Syrah, is a remarkable food wine. In the hands of Elisabetta Foradori, it's a spectacularly good wine.

Plump, but not fat; fruity, but never gobby; rich, but not over the top; perfectly, precisely balanced with nice long acids and lovely soft tannins and not overly evident wood, this is a succulent wine in every way.

Gorgeous aromatics and supple, velvety black fruit, with a little chubby blueberry showing at the bottom, this was a textbook example of a wine that could easily handle whatever food was matched with it.

We were in the new and uber-trendy Gruner restaurant in downtown Portland, noshing on some 'pan-Germanic' fare, and each of us had ordered differently. One had the classic Kavalierspitz of Austria, sort of a pot roast in a fragrant broth kind of thing; another had spaetzle with mushrooms (yum!); another had roasted quail with rabbit boudin; and I had mixed house-made wurst with choucroute-style sauerkraut, boiled potatoes, and sweet-spicy mustard.

The Foradori handled it all without a problem. It accommodated itself to the different foods and spices, and kept its style throughout, simply enhancing anything that came its way.

Even after the meal was over and we sat and dawdled and talked, the Foradori was a great after-dinner tipple too, just smoothing out the evening.

Lovely, lovely wine.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Little Five Points

Drinking with a friend at one of my favorite---okay, my favorite---watering holes in Portland, Clyde Common, where the bartenders keep a well-stocked bar and know what to do with it.

These guys are on my wavelength, and they always mix up a topnotch cocktail. They have a good feel for whipping up drinks with character and style, and usually without too much frou-frou---this is not where you want to go for your Chocolate Fudge Martini Drop with multi-colored sugar icing.

So on this night, I yielded to Andrew's blandishments and went for the Little Five Points.

Little Five Points:
Bulleit bourbon, peach brandy, sweet vermouth, allspice dram,
Angostura bitters, lemon peel

Pretty good. Nice and warming, without being sticky about it. I would have backed off on the sweetness just a tiny bit, and added a touch more bitters to balance out the heavy spices, but all in all it was a delicious concoction. Maybe Carpano Antico instead of sweet vermouth?

And one of the pleasures of a fine bar is to watch the people at work behind the stick. They do a combination of dancing and acrobatics, and they do it gracefully in a very small space.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Mature Burgundy and Bordeaux at Spann Vineyards

Down in Sonoma and Napa for a few days, and had a chance to stop by the mountain retreat of Spann Vineyards and see old friends Peter and Betsy Spann.

The tiny vineyard and winery are tucked way up in the Mayacamas Range between Napa and a road, then off another road, then off another road, as it were. It is an idyllic place, both for its natural beauty and the art-collecting penchant of the owners. In a tiny mountain meadow in the hills next to the winery there are dynamic sculptures besides other more whimsical touches, such as the vast array of swag lamps in a dizzying collection of shapes and colors that adorn the gnarly old tree next to the terrazzo patio. Add to the scene the happy, bounding 100 pound sleek Rhodesian Ridgeback, Bruno, the winery character, and you've got a classic California winery scene.

Betsy and Peter had whipped up a simple 'California Rustic' meal of chicken with polenta, and with that Peter had pulled from his cellar a Mongeard-Mugneret Vougeot Les Cras 1er Cru 1995.

This lovely silky Burgundy was fully matured, and I doubt it will improve over the next few years. On the other hand, it is holding steady, and I doubt it will decline either, for it still shows some sturdy fruit. Fully matured Pinot Noir from Burgundy is a lovely creature; there's no spectacle, no showiness, no shouting about winemaker style or flair, simply a lovely, resonant, warm wine with cherry fruit and soft tannin and balanced acidity all wrapped up in a mushroomy, earthy, wet-forest-floor package.

And for all the collectors' frenzies and exalted acclaim and shouting of points, we sometimes forget that a simple dinner with friends in a warm house on a chilly night with honest, simple food is still the perfect occasion for a wine like this.
But there are other treasures in Peter's cellar, and we are honored by yet another of them, a Chateau Talbot Saint-Julien 1970. This storied vintage hearkens back to some glory years---both for Bordeaux, and for Peter and me as we labored in the wine biz in Dallas, each in a different part of the biz, but both of us consuming and collecting as much Bordeaux as we could afford (and sometimes couldn't afford)---so it was interesting to see how the wine held up.

Apparently, better than we and our now decrepit bodies, although it too is beginning to show its age.

I've always been fond of the Saint-Julien wines of the Haut-Medoc, as they seem to typify a gentle, supple quality that ages relatively quickly (well, relatively for Bordeaux anyway). And Talbot under the Cordier family has always represented a sturdy workhorse of Saint-Julien: always dependable, predictable, and conservatively reliable.

The floral bouquet is still there---but now it's faded, dried flowers with echoes of youth. And the Cabernet cassis/blackcurrant-verging-on-dried-herbs is there as well, albeit faded into the background. Still, the wine is like an aging but still game gentleman (somehow fitting for Bordeaux claret), meticulously dressed, if not in the current fashion, and just a bit faded from the years. It is a quiet pleasure to drink---and not least because Peter acquired it so long ago the cost was a pittance of what it would cost now if it were commercially available.

In this age of excess that the estates of Bordeaux are going through, where the wines are fatter, sleeker, glossier and riper than ever before (and that's in the off vintages!), it is a pleasure to sip the '70 Talbot and remember what the classic style of Bordeaux was then. It was a style I vastly prefer to the present.
And one more liquid shout out: Betsy served up an olive oil we'd not seen before. It was fruity, buttery and insanely delicious drizzled on our bread (which Betsy bakes herself), and we asked what it was. Turns out it was a local producer, Bertolino, and this was their Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Bertolino is located in Santa Rosa, CA. Couldn't find a website, but did notice they had won a Gold Medal in the State Fair Competition, so I tracked them down. Their address is Bertolino Olive Oil, 3015 Santa Margarita Court, CA 95405, phone 707-321-8055
It's worth seeking out, or picking up a bottle if you see it around. Great stuff!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Kesslers Cassoulet Dinner: The Main Event

We were quiet as we gathered at the table and found our seats, with Lou presiding at one end and BettyLu at the other, and I suspect others were doing the same as I, remembering the cassoulet dinners past, and all the great wine, sumptuous food, and wonderful companionship we had enjoyed over the years.

Most faces were familiar, of course, but this year there were new acquaintances to welcome as we caught up on the year gone by. As we talked, sotto voce, Lou had us pass the first wine around, William Fevre Chablis Les Clos 2002.

I had been fortunate to share other bottles of this with the Kesslers before, and knew there was potential variation lurking...and so it was here, for of the two bottles one was crisp, bright, citrusy and mineral-laden and the other more restrained, with a definite toasty, nutty character most prominent. Interesting to see such differences, especially in that none of us suspected or discerned the dread premox. But there was variance, and it was not subtle. Loose cork? Different bottling sequence? Who knows.

Lou chose to highlight the differences even more by pulling out another Fevre---but this time a 2002 Bougros! I was delighted, because this is probably the plot I am least familiar with in Chablis. It was exceptional: a testament to what Chablis can achieve, with the pure, austere, crisp minerality, the intense citrus oil, and the shivering acidity one longs for.

Curiously enough though, I thought the Les Clos did best with the first course. BettyLu had done it again, of course, with plump, firm, sweet Diver Scallops lightly laced with a tangy Tangerine sauce. The buttery/creamy texture of the sauce was a lovely foil to the firm, meaty scallops, and the Les Clos supported the flavors beautifully, then refreshed the palate for the next bite. I love scallops, and this was one of the best scallop dishes I've had the pleasure to linger over---and I noticed that not one morsel of scallop remained on the other plates. And there were few traces of that lovely tangerine sauce either.

Then, after the setting was cleared and we began to anticipate the imminent arrival of the cassoulet, Lou brought out two bottles of Cote-Rotie Michel Ogier 1998. Still young, still bright, still tightly wrapped with tannins and humming with tension, this was old-school Syrah, with lean, tightly bound blackberry and dark, intense oven-roasted plum, and that intense smell of red meat. Stern stuff, this wine, not yielding a bit to its age, and grudgingly releasing its treasures. (And for those with hoardings of this wine: don't worry, and don't be impatient. Wait. Wait. It has years to go yet.)
And then there was cassoulet.

BettyLu's intense labor of love had arrived. She had the wisdom and taste to make a simple presentation, with just the cassoulet, unadorned except for a small serving of haricots vert to the side of the plate. The rich, shimmery orange of the sweet carrots, the shreds and slivers of glistening confit, the smaller morsels of red andouille, and the dark nuggets of Toulouse sausage were amply mixed with the tender and perfectly textured beans---not the least bit mushy or soupy, but al dente, and richly infused with flavor.

I don't know how she does it, but somehow BettyLu manages to surprise me each year with her cassoulet. She puts in so much time and attention and thought and care, and tries so many variations (for which I'm sure Lou is the happy beneficiary during the year), that each year there is a slight difference, a subtle nuance, an interesting variation that makes it that tiny bit better than the year before. This time, I think it was primarily in the sausages; specifically, for me, the andouille was chewy and zesty (but not at all hot, for this is French andouille, not the Cajun style, which would be out of place here), and the remarkable Toulouse sausages were more dense and more dry than before, and more herbal in nature, and truly delicious.

When cassoulet is this good, and the wine is so perfectly matched to it, it simply can't get any better, I think. It's my meal of the year. But then, it always is.
As if this weren't enough, for the second go-around of the cassoulet, Lou pulls out another Cote-Rotie, a 1999 from Burgaud. Wow! As different as possible from the Ogier, this wine is lively and open and effusive with brambly fruit jumping out of the glass. Mind you, there's nothing gobby or overdone here, simply rich, intense fruit in harmony with the tannins, and at that point where it all shines forth with exuberance. This is a great study in contrast between two very different styles and expressions of northern Rhone Syrah.
Jason Brandt Lewis asked for Lou's indulgence here, and received permission to introduce a special wine, a Pro-Yeck-Toh...actually, a Projecto, a special project introduced just the week before by Niepoort of a very different Vinho Tinto: a 2006 Vinho Regional Douro Pinot Noir.

According to Jason, only 36 bottles of this had even come into the country, all destined to show around to interested wine geeks. Of course, Jason had already helped consume five of these at different tastings, so we were finishing off the sixth. It received mixed reviews. Some people simply said, "Why do Pinot in the Douro in the first place? What, they don't have enough grapes there already???" Others said, "It's interesting, sure, but other places make it better." And still others said, "It's Pinot in the nose, but doesn't come across as Pinot in the mouth; more like Syrah. And who needs more Pinot-Syrah?" It was a tough crowd.

And then, replete with slightly too much cassoulet and probably slightly too much red wine, we slowed down slightly, and let our conversations amble pleasantly. Except for when the rich, chocolate and berry laced cheesecake came out. And of course we were all circumspect and, minding our waistlines, decided to pass. Yeah, right. Uh huh. Fortunately, the slices were small.
And the final wine of the night came out, and BettyLu passed around small glasses to each of us. What better way to end the evening than with Huet again. But this time with a Huet Clos du Bourg Moelleux Vouvray 2002. Soft, mellow, golden brown in color and almost chewy in texture, with that peculiar and particularly delicious flavor of Chenin Blanc in all its sweet/sour, quince paste and melon and orange peel charm.

And so another monumental night of cassoulet at the Kesslers ends. All the months of planning and experimenting, of preserving, and sampling and sampling again, of tinkering and tweaking to make every small detail absolutely spot on perfect has reached its lovely culmination with us.

As Lou said---and says each time, wise man that he is---all honors to the Chef. So here's to BettyLu. (And to Lou, for being smart enough to marry her and to stock all that great wine in his magic cellar.) Better hosts, and better friends, there never were.