Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Incredible Magical Interconnectivity of Wine

It was just a glass of wine.

Nothing  more than that.  Just a glass of wine on a list in a nice little bistro on a rainy evening in Portland, Oregon.  

That’s all.

But as some people know, wine can be magic.  And that rainy night in Portland a magical moment was created.

The place was Allium Bistro, a delightful restaurant in West Linn, the quiet and unassuming little southern suburb of Portland, Oregon, owned by Chef Pascal Chureau, a quiet and unassuming young man who happens to be one heck of a good chef.  You can think of Allium Bistro as a local-purveyor-supplied-with-a-French-Italian-twist kind of place, if you need definitions and niches to put it in…but most of the faithful clientele just think of it as a really great neighborhood restaurant.

The evening was a casual get-together of four friends, all wine aficionados.  Nothing special, really; a night out with good food and good wine.

Things began auspiciously when we stepped out of the cold rain and into the cozy warmth and friendliness of Allium, and they looked even better when we settled in to a booth and perused the menu and wine list---good, hearty, wholesome dishes, the kind you’d find in lovely little neighborhood bistros all over France; coupled with a wine list that was both worldly and locally tuned in to support and enhance the food being served.

Don't think about it: just
order the fries.
Another nice touch was the chalkboard carefully listing all the local purveyors that supplied the viands for the evening---Chef Chureau is manic about locally-sourcing the finest ingredients he can---so not only did we know what we were eating, we knew where it was coming from.

Le G
While we perused the menu, we nibbled on hot-to-the-fingers pommes frites lightly dusted with sea salt, and if there’s a better appetizer anywhere than that, I can’t think of what it would be.

Then my wife and I looked up and at each other at the same moment.  We had simultaneously noted that the wine list mentioned a Chateau Guiraud Blanc 2009.  Or to put it properly,
Le G de Chateau Guiraud.

(Pay attention here: the magical moment is coming!)

When in Bordeaux last fall we had traveled to Sauternes to and had a delightful lunch in the village at.  On a blissfully warm day in November under a cloudless sky, we were seated beside a window looking out over the golden slopes of vineyards leading up to the crest of the hill, where sat Chateau Guiraud in quiet glory.  To complete this idyllic scene, the wine I had selected for our lunch was….the Chateau Guiraud Blanc Sec 2009, the dry white made by this Sauternes producer.

The lunch was exquisite; the wine even more so.  As my wife said at the time, “This is the kind of Sauvignon Blanc that reminds you of everything you could possibly like about Sauvignon Blanc.”  And so it was:  lemon and grapefruit citrus; nervy and aromatic and herbal and fresh; crisp and lively and mouth-watering; a wine that perfumed the air and livened up the mouth and accentuated the flavors of the foods, snapping everything into a sharp, bright focus, just as the sun on the vineyards was doing outside our window.

And months later, here we were in a bistro in West Linn, Oregon, magically reliving all those golden memories and creating brand new ones.  We babbled so much about the wine our two friends made it unanimous and we sat around happily sipping and noshing.

Eventually, the pommes frites ran out and we ordered more substantial fare---rich and meaty boeuf bourguignon studded with carrots and foraged mushrooms and pearl onions on pappardelle pasta; seafood paella; and a magnificent pork chop---more like a lombata di maiale to me---on a bed of cannellini beans.  

A stunning Pinot Noir
For that we popped open a bottle brought by our friend Claudia, a big bruiser of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, the WillaKenzie Estate Terres Basses Pinot Noir 2008 (available only at the winery, so you’ll have to give them a call if you want some, and you probably do.)  

Both the beef and the porkchop needed something substantial in wine to match, and the WillaKenzie did the job handsomely.  It was tightly packed with fruit on a big frame, bold and muscular and acidic and sour-cherry tart.  The foraged mushrooms and the Pinot had a little magic thing going on too.  Made a great combination of earthy to earthy.

During the main course, we had to sneak back to the Chateau Guiraud to pair with the Brussels sprouts—Chef Chureau is renowned for his Brussels sprouts, although he says they’re very simple. He sautés the halved sprouts cut side down until they begin to caramelize and crisp a bit, then dishes them up in a heavy ceramic bowl.  They may well be the best preparation of Brussels sprouts I’ve ever had; and, of course, the magic combination of the Chateau Guiraud was the perfect pairing too.

All in all, a great evening of fun, food, friends, and a little wine magic West Linn, Oregon, courtesy of Chateau Guiraud, WillaKenzie and Allium Bistro.

And a P.S. to Portlanders:  if you're looking for the best meal deal in town...and I mean hands down the best...check out Allium Bistro's "Neighborhood Dinners".  They are family style dinners where you'll be astonished at both how much and how good the food is, with wine included, for only $38 per person (grautity extra).  But be forewarned: these dinners sell out really fast.  Good news is, they have them frequently.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

What's in your 12 bottle case? Miguel Figueredo Lancha of Spain

Miguel Figueredo Lancha is a charismatic, talented, and industrious entrepreneur of the spirits world located in Madrid, Spain, a multinational (Spain and Venezuela) son of a Spanish father and a Cuban mother.  

Miguel is one of those guys so filled with energy and passionate about his knowledge that he fills the room with his presence; he describes himself with some understatement as “kind of extroverted and communicative.”  

He has a wealth of knowledge of spirits and mixology, deals every day with some of the most exceptional spirits in the world, and trains other people about them.  When he’s not teaching he is out in various places---Cognac, Amsterdam, London, New York, the Caribbean---learning more about his profession.

Currently he co-directs the Bar Concept and The Cocktail Room in Madrid, which covers the entire Spanish bartending community, delivering training on spirits, bartending and cocktails; writes for a bilingual blog on the bar industry; and operates a bartending school, bartenders library and store, tasting room and product marketing company.

On top of all that, Miguel is also a very active musician on multiple instruments. Whew.

When asked what his 12 bottle case would consist of, he graciously agreed to take a break from his very hectic schedule and think about it.

This is Miguel’s list:

"This would be my list of the 12 bottles to pick if I were limited to only those ones. As you can see I don't need them all to be the ultimate, most antique, collector bottles, although some nice stuff is appreciated. I thought it was going be a lot easier to pick them, but, wow, it seems I love many other ones... Anyway, I think that with these I could cover a nice session at a party, with cocktails, coolers or neat spirits."

       El Dorado 15, demerara rum
       Fighting Spirit, agricole rum
       Pierre Ferrand Ancestrale Cognac
       Del Maguey Tobala, mezcal
       Gran Centenario reposado, tequila
       Pierre Ferrand dry orange curaçao
       Tanqueray Nº Ten, gin

       Port wine: any ruby or tawny
       Yellow Chartreuse
       Perucchi or Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth
       1 liter of bottled cold beer

Summing it up, Miguel decides on two rums, a cognac, two agave spirits, a gin, three essential liqueurs often used for cocktails, a bottle of sweet vermouth, a bottle of Port---which could be consumed individually or in a cocktail---and a bottle of cold beer.

A closer look would show that Miguel appreciates intense aromatic complexity in his spirit choices.  The omission of anything in the whiskey group is intriguing---although perhaps the wood-aged/grain-based spirit category is simply not one that made the final cut here.  (Miguel later appended that whisky was close, but didn't quite make the cut in preference to other spirits he loved.)

There is wood aging evident in the rum and cognac choices, however…indeed, with the Pierre Ferrand Ancestrale Cognac you have approximately 70 years of aging in barrel and glass demijohns.

In any case, should you end up on a desert island with Miguel, he’d be able to step behind a bar and serve up some tasty libations in short order with his 12 bottle case.