Blog of Award-winning authors
ANDREW DORNENBURG & KAREN PAGE
Named one of GourmetFood.About.com's "Top 10 Food Blogs"
Named one of The Fifty Best Links for Epicureans
Named to MUG 400 for "distinctive contribution to life in New York"
"Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page monitor the pulse of the food world like nobody's business. There's a fantastic database of restaurant reviews, too."
— Babbo pastry chef Gina DePalma
"If you asked me what I came into this world to do,
I will tell you: I came to live out loud."
— Critic and novelist Emile Zola (1840-1902)
"There is nothing under the sun better for man than to eat, drink, and be merry. Go, therefore, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with cheer.”
— Ecclesiastes 8:15
Credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, April 30, 2008 — As the weather warms and you join us in our craving for crisp, refreshing white wines, you'll want to check out our picks this week. And as for anything you've ever wanted to know about wine but were afraid (or didn't know who!) to ask, ask away — and we just might answer your question in our next Q&A column in The Washington Post. Here's this week's Q&A column:
From a bone-dry Spanish white that can accompany appetizers to a sweet French wine that can take you through a cheese plate or dessert, this week's question-and-answer forum turns up a wine to enjoy with every course. Build a dinner party around them, serve them blind, and let your guests guess which one comes from a box instead of a bottle.
Are there any really good box wines out there? I have tried only a few, without much luck, and it seems that there is a lack of reviews in the wine magazines.
— John W. Copeland, Denver
It's tough enough to convince wine lovers that screw-cap closures are better than the traditional corks; unscrewing a bottle doesn't inspire the same poetry as popping a cork. But convincing them that boxed wines are not inferior is even tougher, which might account for the lack of coverage.
However, because boxed wines are one of the fastest-growing segments of the wine market (up more than 40 percent over a year ago, according to the Nielsen Co.), that should change.
The best we've tasted was at a party in 2005 at the home of chef Daniel Boulud, who was launching his 2004 Dtour Macon - Villages ($37 for a three-liter cylinder, or the equivalent of $9.25 a bottle). We were shocked by the quality that came out of this cardboard tube and the vacuum-sealed bag within it. Later we bought our own three-liter container of the wine, which was still drinkable a good eight weeks after we spigoted our first glass of it.
Since then, we haven't found others of equal quality, but we're sold on the promise of the packaging technology, so we're still searching — and will let you know about any we uncover in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we'll admit we were pleasantly surprised last week by the 2006 Boho Vineyards Central Coast Chardonnay ($24 for a three-liter box, or the equivalent of $6 a bottle), with subtle cinnamon-poached-pear fruitiness accented by rounded lemon acidity and with a notably creamy finish.
The Boho wine comes in an eco-friendly brown box made of 95 percent recycled materials and printed with 100 percent soy-based ink. Boho claims it generates "a 55 percent smaller carbon footprint and contributes 85 percent less to landfill waste." The wine is available now in Maryland and, as of May 1, nationally. It's definitely worth a taste. One sip had Andrew hungering for a fried oyster po' boy and Karen yearning for chicken or pork chops right off the grill.
After reading some articles about the Jura, I was intrigued enough to buy a bottle of Henri Maire Vin de Paille. What would you serve with it?
— Lev Raphael, Okemos, Mich.
Vin de paille, or "straw wine," is a relatively rare, warm-climate sweet wine produced almost exclusively in France's Jura region, between Burgundy and Switzerland. Historically, it was made from grapes that had been dried in the sun on straw mats for at least three months. Today, the grapes are often dried in boxes or while hanging, then aged in oak for at least three years. Its honeyed sweetness is concentrated, like that of an ice wine or Sauternes. Vin de paille often is made from chardonnay blended with local white Savagnin and red Poulsard grapes. It is a cellar-worthy style capable of aging for as long as a decade or even several decades.
Its typical high acidity helps it pair with a variety of foods. On the savory side, consider foie gras, aged and/or blue cheeses, or nuts (such as walnuts). For dessert, choose those made with figs or stone fruits (such as apricots), caramel, dark chocolate and/or walnuts.
The Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli — which per your description combines all of my favorite wines (Riesling, Gewuerztraminer, Gruener Veltliner and New Zealand sauvignon blanc) — really sounds fascinating. Do you have any suggestions as to wine stores in the D.C. area that would stock this wine?
— Lewis Katz, Baltimore
The 2006 ($20) is carried at Chesapeake Wine in Baltimore (410-522-4556). You can find it in Virginia at some Wegmans locations (including Fairfax and Sterling) and at Wine Styles in Chantilly and Fairfax. While in Virginia, check out the alluring Gordonsville-made 2006 Horton Vineyards Rkatsiteli ($15). To find it, visit http://www.hvwine.com/find.htm.
* * *
With the recent warm weather, we crave meals that are much lighter. That led us to salads and seafood for dinner, which in turn led us to two white wine picks this week that pair well with either.
Since eating and drinking our way through Quebec City and Montreal on our honeymoon nearly 18 years ago, we've had a particular soft spot for Canadian wines. Canada's cool climate and melding of the best of Old World and New World techniques produce some of the very best Rieslings in North America. One of the most consistently excellent is Cave Spring, and the 2006 Cave Spring Niagara Peninsula Riesling ($14) is no exception. It wins Karen's nod as her pick of the week. Its ripe white-peach and pink-grapefruit flavors end in a mineral finish that lends it to pairing with pork, white fish and shellfish.
If you are a fan of sauvignon blanc, you'll enjoy Andrew's pick this week: the 2005 Hijos de Alberto Gutierrez Cascarela ($12). This light, dry, yet fruity Spanish white is from the Rueda region, famed for its whites, at the southwestern end of Valladolid on the Duero River. It has more lemon and fewer grassy notes than typical sauvignon blancs and is a 50-50 blend of Verdejo and Viura (Rioja's white grape). In recent years you can see some of the region's new-style wines blending Verdejo with actual sauvignon blanc grapes. Pair it with vinaigrette-dressed salads, white fish and shellfish.
To read more, visit The Washington Post online here.
With as many times as we've been in and out the east and north doors of the Time Warner Center, how is it that before this past weekend we'd never been near the south doors — nor seen Boaz Vaadia's enchanting sculpture "Asaf and Yo'ah" that makes its home there?
It moved us enough to spend 15 minutes circling it from every angle, and to send an admiring email to its creator, who surprised us by writing back:
"Dear Karen and Andrew,
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my work.
It's always a pleasure to hear that my public work
brings pleasure and joy to the people that view it.
I grew up on a farm in Israel and I have always felt that I am continuing the tradition of my father [who] grew food for our bodies. I feel that as a sculptor I create food for our souls.
Boaz Vaadia's Web site can be found at www.vaadia.com.
Spanish chef Paco Roncero served Lyo-Niro and Melon Caviar
Lyo-Niro turned out to be a Chinese spoon topped with a
pineapple-flavored chemical-soaked substance
were instructed to eat with our mouths closed...
...which caused vapor to shoot out our noses. (Toro!)
Paco's chef colleague makes melon-flavored caviar before
our eyes, demonstrating the process of spherification
Melon-flavored liquid drips into a chemical bath, forming
caviar-like balls that are served on a Chinese spoon
Chefs Pedro Larumbe and Jesus Almagro prep their dish...
...Low Temperature Roasted Egg with Potatoes and Chorizo,
served in a martini glass with tiny silver spoons
Cooking demo-meets-science fair project at Del Posto lets
out periodic clouds of vapor during preparation
Sunday, April 27, 2008 — It's been a few years since our last visit to Spain (which was also our first!), but last night we experienced a taste of it at Del Posto. As we were two of the first American authors to write about the cuisine of the world's most globally influential chef of the moment Ferran Adria of El Bulli (in our 2001 book CHEF'S NIGHT OUT), we've had more than a passing interest in how Adria and his chef-colleagues in Spain have been pushing the boundaries of culinary techniques.
Last night's party drew an interesting array of food writers (Gerry Dawes, Mimi Sheraton, ourselves) and TV personalities (Ted Allen, Mariska Hargitay) to watch and taste the creations of some of Madrid's leading chefs. Host Turismo Madrid describes the event:
NEW YORK, April 21 -- World-renowned Chef Mario Batali and Turismo Madrid will host a tasting reception on April 26th at 8:30 pm in honor of the Spanish, culinary-themed film "The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab" debuting this year at New York's 7th Annual Tribeca Film Festival. Celebrity Chef Mario Batali is opening the doors of his award-winning restaurant Del Posto for this special evening to celebrate Europe's best kept secret of true Madrid hospitality and charm.
"The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab" is a satirical documentary featuring Chef Jesus Almagro's adventure throughout the Bocuse d'Or, a bi-annual European cooking contest where each country chooses their top chef for a live competitive cook-off preformed at a stadium in Lyon full of noisy, cheering fans.
Turismo Madrid will be flying in four of Madrid's best 'Michelin Starred' chefs Pedro Larumbe, Alberto Chicote, Paco Roncero, and of course, the star of the film, Chef Jesus Almagro, who was voted Spain's best chef in 2006. These chefs will be recreating the competitive, celebratory, culinary experience featured in the film by setting up four separate cooking stations where each chef will perform an interactive 'cooking show' for guests.
Madrid is known for being the home of some of the world's most distinguished designers, chefs, actors, and filmmakers, but above all, Madrid is about sharing a good time with local Madrilenos. Unlike Paris or London, Madrid thrives on embracing foreigners and showing them their love for good food, good conversations and good times. Turismo Madrid will virtually transport guests back to Madrid, Spain, treating them to the finest Spanish wines and olive oils flown in directly from the Madrid region, where they can be enjoyed in a recreated Spanish atmosphere filled of energetic and vibrant fun.
As always, this special reception will be strictly guest list only and made available by the generous compliments of sponsor, Turismo Madrid. Guests will also be treated to the Tribeca Film Festival's premiere screening held just before the reception at the AMC 5 Village VII (theater 3) located at 66 Third Avenue.
While we found the demos interesting, Andrew put things in perspective at the end of the night when he commented of the Melon Caviar, "I had more delicious melon flavor in my $2.50 cantaloupe agua fresca over lunch at Tulcingo [del Valle, on Tenth Avenue near 47th Street]."
Turismo Madrid hosts its English-language site at www.turismomadrid.es.
Albert and Ferran Adria's Web site has more info on some of these techniques.
Karen's favorite photo from our 2004 trip to Spain,
which Andrew uses as his laptop's screen saver:
When we're mostly glued to our computers on deadline,
the next best thing is living vicariously through our friends....
From our emailbox:
LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, LAPD supporter Sir Elton John,
and Rikki Klieman Bratton
(Photo credit: Cornel Panov)
Bratton presents Sir Elton John with a vintage LAPD car
(Photo credit: Cornel Panov)
Pouring our 2004 Albert Boxler Cremant d'Alsace at EMP
Garden Peas & Coconut Pana Cotta with Spring Vegetables
Red Snapper, Potato Mousseline and Lobster Foam
Herb Roasted Suckling Pig Loin with Spring Pea Puree
"Root Beer Float" / Sassafras and Vanilla Ice Cream
Vacherin: Lemon and Basil Parfait, Strawberries, Meringue
Chocolate and Peanut Butter Palette, Popcorn Ice Cream
Saturday, April 26, 2008 — "When shall we live, if not now?" asked M.F.K. Fisher. It was the principle that explains why Karen chose to escape pressing deadlines for a few hours the other day to honor the annual ritual of a spring lunch with her dear friend Kathy to celebrate their respective birthdays. Karen let Kathy pick the restaurant, and when Kathy announced their 12:45 pm reservation at Eleven Madison Park, Karen was elated, having looked forward to returning for ages. And with good reason, she soon learned.
Chef Daniel Humm is making magic in EMP's kitchen, which was the source of several celebratory meals we'd enjoyed under previous chef Kerry Heffernan. His culinary inventiveness and artistry were never at the expense of its exquisite flavor. And the familiar face on the dining room manager turned out to be (small world!) that of former Beckta manager Paul Quinn.
If getting older enables Karen to be treated to such a magnificent lunch by such a magnificent friend...well, bring on her next birthday.
Eleven Madison Park is at (you guessed it!) 11 Madison Avenue (at 24th Street), Manhattan. (212) 889-0905.
Credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, April 23, 2008 — We're often asked if we always agree on our taste in wine. As we confess in our column "Sometimes, Love Means Cutting the Grass" in today's Washington Post, it's a lot more similar than it used to be:
For as long as we've known each other, we haven't always seen eye to eye when it comes to wine. More than 20 years ago, not long after we met, Karen took a sip of a light-bodied dry white wine we were poured at a party and winced. "Sauvignon blanc — ugh!" she whispered to Andrew. "It's like trying to drink a glassful of grass." A California native, Andrew found the same wine's boldly grassy aromas and herbal flavors delightful, and a welcome taste of home. Could this relationship survive?
Personal chemistry overcame that rift, and three discoveries salvaged Karen's relationship with sauvignon blanc.
* Discovery No. 1: Sauvignon blancs from various parts of the world taste very different. From France's Loire Valley, 100 percent sauvignon blanc-based Sancerre is crisp and steely, with minerally aromas and flavors, making it a perfect match for raw oysters.
In Bordeaux, sauvignon blanc is often blended with Semillon's more-honeyed fruit to round out its sharpness. We were wowed recently by an unusual example from Gascony made in that style (85 percent sauvignon, 15 percent Semillon): The 2006 Domaine La Hitaire Hors Saison ($11) is like sniffing a wet stone, and its flavors include nectarine fruitiness, mineral notes and a long, lemony finish. It's fantastic for the price.
Karen's first taste of aggressively fruit-forward New Zealand sauvignon blanc also won her over. Its zippy tropical fruit and grapefruit flavors were nicely balanced by rounder, peachy notes. A delicately finessed version can be found in the 2007 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($25), a single-vineyard wine from Martinborough whose elegance and captivating lime-meets-nectarine flavors make it perfect for special-occasion sipping on its own or for pairing with food.
* Discovery No. 2: Sauvignon blanc pairs amazingly well with food. It would not be our first choice for a cocktail party, especially without food, since its strong aromatics and flavors are not guaranteed crowd-pleasers on their own. But just try to find a better partner for white fish and shellfish dishes. And it's absolutely magical with all manner of goat cheese, especially fresh chevre, on its own or atop a summer salad.
In fact, spotting a goat cheese and leek tartlet with a baby organic green salad on the menu at Seasons restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown inspired us to split a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc to go with it. What turned out to be one of the best goat cheese tarts we've ever tasted was enhanced by both the minerally 2006 Domaine Vincent Delaporte Sancerre ($13 a glass) and the citrusy 2006 Hanna Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($12 a glass).
That tasting inspired Karen's pick this week: The 2007 Hanna Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($18) is an impressively well-balanced wine, with even brighter citrus fruit than the 2006 vintage. About a third of this unoaked wine underwent malolactic fermentation, resulting in a slightly rounder acidity while retaining the grape's characteristic spirit.
* Discovery No. 3: Though some California winemakers celebrate sauvignon blanc's grassiness (Andrew loves the 2006 Diogenes Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, $18), many have been taking steps to deemphasize such overtly green flavors. Robert Mondavi went so far as to age his in oak, which brought out softer, more melonlike fruitiness in the wine. He even re-christened it fume blanc, suggesting the smoky flavors that sometimes (but not invariably) result. California's 2006 Meridian Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($10) isn't marred by grassiness, and it paired surprisingly well with lemon-sauced veal and shellfish and with green salads and other vegetable dishes. Keep an eye out for Meridian's other well-priced wines; we've previously recommended the 2006 Meridian Santa Barbara County Chardonnay ($10), which has flavors reminiscent of Key lime pie, as an "affordable weeknight wonder."
Andrew's pick this week, the 2006 Benziger Family Winery North Coast Sauvignon Blanc ($13), is a crisp California wine that accompanied pasta with white clam sauce beautifully. Benziger is as proud of the methods used to farm its grapes as it is of its wines, and it intends the 2007 vintage of its sauvignon blanc, due out in August, to be "certified sustainable." The 2006 has peach-meets-grapefruit flavors and such subtle grassy and herbaceous notes that even Karen can't deny the attraction.
On that note, we couldn't agree more.
To read more, visit The Washington Post here.
Footnote: Karen's rationale for her Pick this week unfortunately didn't make it to the printed page, but was submitted as “An elegant Sauvignon Blanc bright with ripe pear fruitiness and grapefruit-like acidity, with a long, intriguing caramel-noted finish.”
From our emailbox:
"Nice article about Sauvignon Blanc [in The Washington Post]....The different regions make such different
wines, so many customers have strong reactions to the grape. Some hate the
grapfruit of New Zealand, others love it. I myself prefer Bordeaux Blancs and
Loire wines. I remember in the early 90's when Robert Mondavi's Fume Blanc was
popular on winelists...."
—Jimmy Carbone, owner, Jimmy's No. 43 in New York City
WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT
Alain Ducasse's new Benoit
is at 60 West 55th Street
The extraordinary charcuterie and pate at Benoit
The rustic cassoulet and addictive shoestring fries at Benoit
Mimi Sheraton's vanilla millefeuille at Benoit
(Thanks for letting us shoot your dessert, Mimi!)
Our waiter tops Tarte Tatin with super-rich creme fraiche
Fantastic dark chocolate petit fours at Benoit
The dining room at Benoit
on opening night, April 21st
Wait — could that be New York Times critic Frank Bruni?
(Alas, this man led us to believe he was not....)
Tuesday, April 22, 2008 — Monday nights are typically low-key around our apartment, as we're usually exhausted after finishing our weekly wine column. Last night we were particularly so, having spent the previous week or four racing to meet important publication deadlines for our next book. So, after we pushed the "send" button on our latest column and met a few other pressing deadlines, we contemplated dinner.
After going through the usual Monday night run-down (Any leftovers from the weekend to finish? Any cravings we might have delivered to our door? etc.), we ended up on OpenTable.com to see what tables might happen to be available — and were shocked to find a table for two at Alain Ducasse's Benoit.
"It's opening night!" one of us cried. "We have to go," the other insisted. "It's history," the first agreed.
So, we booked our OpenTable reservation, and off we went.
As fate would have it, we were seated next to The New York Times' former restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton [dining with a distinguished looking gentleman, who turned out to be her husband Richard Falcone]. We reminded Mimi that we'd had the pleasure of congratulating her on being honored as one of 30 "culinary pioneers" in Washington, DC, earlier this month at The Inn at Little Washington's 30th anniversary celebration. "A wonderful evening," she agreed.
If we were going to splurge by having dinner at Benoit, we weren't planning to count calories. We wanted to sample the classics, starting with the massive charcuterie and pate selection, which included pate en croute (that had minutes earlier earned Sheraton's praise), along with cooked ham, prosciutto, dry sausage, the extraordinary Lucullus-style Langue de Veaux (which Karen described as a veal tongue mille feuille, as it seemed to have a thin layer of foie gras mousse between every thin slice of tongue), and pate.
As if we had room for anything else after that, we shared the "Cassoulet, J.J. Rachou recipe," a tribute to former La Cote Basque chef-owner Jean-Jacques Rachou (who is said to stop by to visit Benoit's kitchen) as well as the addictive French fries "L'Ami Louis style."
Mimi Sheraton had ordered the vanilla millefeuille along with the Tarte Tatin, not realizing that the latter portion is suggested for two (although, especially topped with the world's richest creme fraiche, it could easily serve four). Since we had our hearts set on Tarte Tatin, we knew we wouldn't be ordering the millefeuille until next time. Would Mimi mind if we shot hers? She didn't.
In explaining the language of food, we often describe chocolate as "the period at the end of the poem," as it signifies the ending of the reverie. Ducasse's creamy dark chocolate petit fours did so beautifully.
Having taken a shot of the dining room to suggest its mood on our Blog, we noticed our camera lens had captured two men in the corner, one an Eric McCormack ("Will and Grace") lookalike, and the other with a very familiar, yet unplaceable, face. Alain Ducasse himself graced the room on opening night, stopping to share warm hellos with only two tables that we noticed — Mimi Sheraton's and that of the unidentified gentleman in the corner — so we assumed he might be a fellow food world colleague. Perhaps it was WOR Radio's "Food Talk" host Mike Colameco? No.... Wait...didn't he bear a striking resemblance to the photos we'd seen of New York Times critic Frank Bruni? Hmm....
He obviously wasn't dining at Benoit anonymously, so it seemed kosher to try to find out. A well-known actress friend of ours had dined with Bruni, so as he was leaving, one of us discreetly approached him to mention the connection. "Who?" was the gist of his reply.
So, the photos above are apparently not of Frank Bruni. Our mistake!
Benoit is at 60 West 55th Street (bet. Fifth and Sixth Avenues), New York City. (646) 943-7373. Web: www.benoitny.com.
From our emailbox:
"What a lively, interesting blog...."
—Mimi Sheraton, author and restaurant critic at The New York Times from 1975-1983
dell'anima chef Gabe Thompson behind the line in January
Sunday, April 20, 2008 — We returned to dell'anima, which we first visited in January, the other night — and have to congratulate owner Joe Campanale (ex-Babbo) and chef Gabriel Thompson (ex-Del Posto, Le Bernardin) on the gem of a restaurant they have created in New York's Greenwich Village. Of course its small size and its growing popularity make it unlikely you'll be easily able to snag a seat with any ease, but we urge you to persevere!
dell'anima is at 38 Eighth Avenue at Jane Street in Greenwich Village. (212) 366-6633. Don't miss the bruschette — or the bittersweet chocolate gelato.
From our emailbox:
"...Thank you for coming in again. I
have to say that CULINARY ARTISTRY was a big book for me as a young cook. It was
a parting gift from my first kitchen job and I ran that book in to the ground...."
—Gabe Thompson, chef, dell'anima in New York City
"...We were so delighted to have you come, and the students, guests, faculty and parents were all thrilled with the presentation and your ability to share interesting, thought-provoking and timely information touching on the wide variety of areas that the hospitality 'business' encompasses. I look forward to seeing the next book, and will of course be turning to WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT for useful pairing notes and ideal marriages of the food and wine we enjoy. Thanks again, happy spring, and a votre sante!"
—Anthony P. Cawdron, MHCIMA MSc., Westwood Events Coordinator & House Manager, Purdue University
Credit: Julia Ewan
Thursday, April 17, 2008 — When "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" was released in 2004, we almost skipped it. Jim Carrey? We immediately pictured the star's over-the-top, cartoonish persona and had a hard time believing he could credibly play a dramatic role. But he surprised us — pleasantly.
Some winemakers are even more typecast than Hollywood actors. Say "Georges Duboeuf," and it's hard to think of anything other than Beaujolais, even though the leading exporter of French wines makes a wide array of both whites and reds.
At a recent preview of the Georges Duboeuf 2007 vintage wines, to be released in September, we dove into the reds almost instinctively. But when we went back to taste the whites a couple of hours later, we were surprised at how impressed we were — and said as much to the "king of Beaujolais" himself and his son, Franck, who oversees operations for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf.
"I don't know why people are often so surprised to find how much they enjoy our whites," Franck Duboeuf responded with a laugh. "Our family has been in the [Pouilly-Fuisse] region for more than four centuries."
It shows. Although the 2007 Pouilly-Fuisse was still very young, it already exhibited great promise of rounding out into a beautifully elegant wine, much as the 2005 and 2006 Georges Duboeuf Pouilly-Fuisse ($24) have done. Those crisp, full-bodied, fruity yet well-balanced wines with notes of almond and vanilla were Karen's food-friendly find of the week. We plan to keep a bottle or two on hand all spring and summer to pair with chicken, fish, pork, veal and turkey.
Later, curiosity about what other overlooked treasures we might be missing out on led us to sample whites from Jordan Winery, which makes a celebrated cabernet sauvignon. Andrew especially loved the rich complexity of the 2006 Jordan Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($30), which is fermented in French oak. Jordan's executive chef, Todd Knoll, who devises dishes to pair with the wines, recommends a potage Saint-Germain (pea soup) with Atlantic lobster with this one. But we enjoyed this creamy-bodied white with sauteed chicken in a lemon-butter sauce and with cheese ravioli in basil pesto sauce, the latter of which brought out some nice herbaceous qualities in the wine. (By the way, both of our picks this week were acidic enough to pair well with salads. Our secrets for a better pairing are to dress your greens with a softly acidic — thus more wine-friendly — champagne vinaigrette and to shave a little Parmesan cheese on top.)
Here are some other discoveries that play against type for each winemaker:
Beringer Vineyards: This Napa Valley winemaker is much better known for its cabernet and chardonnay table wines, so we were surprised to be charmed by its 2004 Beringer Nightingale Botrytised Napa Valley Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc dessert wine ($40 for 375 ml). Its lighter-bodied (as opposed to syrupy) weight and honeyed apricot flavors lend themselves beautifully to either a cheese course or pâté.
Bernardus Winery: Better known for its cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, the winemaker also boasts an impressive grapefruity and grassy sauvignon blanc in the 2006 Bernardus Monterey County Sauvignon Blanc ($15), which is rounded out by the addition of 4 percent Semillon.
Blackstone Winery: We both like its ubiquitous merlot, but even more so its 2005 Blackstone California Zinfandel ($12), which is full-bodied with cooked-plum fruitiness and notes of white pepper. It's a good choice with barbecued ribs or lamb, as is the next wine.
Cline Cellars: It is best known for its zinfandel, but don't overlook the winery's 2006 Cline Syrah ($12) from Sonoma County, a rich expression of the syrah grape with its red-berry fruitiness and hints of spice.
Domaine Chandon: Its lovely sparkling wines made in the traditional champagne method from chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes are much better known, but the 2005 Domaine Chandon Pinot Meunier ($35), with flavors of cherry and a touch of cinnamon, is enjoyable in its own right. Pair it with duck, lamb or pork.
Dr. Konstantin Frank: Best known for its Riesling, Dr. Frank makes other crisp, refreshing whites ideal for spring sipping, including the unusual 2006 Dr. Konstantin Frank Rkatsiteli ($20), which tastes like a blend of Riesling, Gewuerztraminer, Gruener Veltliner and New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
Iron Horse Vineyards: Iron Horse makes our favorite domestic sparkling wines, but its full-bodied chardonnays have their own appeal. You'll find rounded flavors of pear and a hint of grapefruit curd in the 2006 Iron Horse UnOaked Chardonnay ($26). The French-oaked 2006 Iron Horse Estate Chardonnay ($28) features exuberant coconut on its long finish. The latter employs water-bent (as opposed to the usual fire-bent) barrels, which winemaker Joy Sterling characterizes as "more flattering to our fruit."
Kendall-Jackson Winery: K-J is almost synonymous with chardonnay, but it has a terrific syrah in the full-bodied 2005 Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve California Syrah ($12), which is ripe with blackberry fruitiness and notes of black pepper.
Morgan Winery: Best known for its pinot noir, Morgan is well worth checking out for its refreshing, light-bodied and tropical-fruity 2006 Morgan Sauvignon Blanc ($15), composed primarily of sauvignon musque (a sauvignon blanc clone) with added Semillon and sauvignon blanc.
Penfolds: Penfolds may make the single best shiraz on the planet, but it would be a shame to miss sampling its racy, bone-dry and mineral-laden 2007 Penfolds Bin 51 Riesling ($20), especially with oysters.
Shafer Vineyards: The maker of one of our very favorite merlots turns out to have a special way with chardonnay, too. Its 2006 Shafer Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay ($48) is made without malolactic fermentation, the secondary fermentation process that results in softer lactic acidity and, often, a buttery aroma. This beautifully balanced chardonnay exhibits a lively natural acidity and minerality along with bright apple and apricot flavors.
If you still have your doubts, give a few of these a try anyway. You might turn up some delicious surprises.
For more, click through to our column "Some Makers Can't Be Labeled" at www.washpost.com.
Credit: Julia Ewan
Wednesday, April 9, 2008 — Kosher wines are achieving their own deliverance. If your idea of wine for
Passover stops with Manischewitz — or if kosher wines don't typically cross
your mind at all — think again. Now coming into their own globally with quality
never before imagined, kosher wines are being made in such places as Israel, the United States, France, Argentina, Chile and South Africa.
The rise of a new generation of wine drinkers has helped increase sales in the "kosher sophisticated" category by 15 to 20 percent annually over the past five years, according to Martin Davidson of Royal Wines, a leading wine importer and winemaker. "We are finally overcoming reticence from the Jewish community toward wine and spirits," Davidson says. "The older generation knew them as sweet and syrupy wines for sacramental occasions, while today the younger generation recognizes wines as something to be sipped and appreciated." Today's discerning and demanding palates and adventurous spirits are spurring the production and sale of a wide range of increasingly high-quality wines.
At the second annual Kosher Food & Wine Experience in New York City in February, we were among 800 attendees tasting more than 200 wines. Among them was the 2003 Barons Edmond Benjamin de Rothschild Haut-Médoc ($30-$32; kosher for Passover). Rothschild is celebrating its 20th anniversary of producing a kosher Bordeaux, a pioneering move that inspired other top French wineries (including Malartic and Valandraud) to follow suit and helped bring attention to changing kosher wine options. The 2003 is a blend of 60 percent cabernet sauvignon and 40 percent merlot, aged for a year in French oak. Re-tasting the wine at home, we found that decanting opened up its rich, jammy, red-fruit flavors, spicy notes and long, luscious finish. It was a peak pairing with brisket.
Jewish custom calls for drinking four cups of wine at the Passover Seder, each representing a promise from God. Although red wine is traditional, many believe any "fruit of the vine" is acceptable. "So, it's a wonderful opportunity to taste four different wines," Davidson says. After discovering so many that we look forward to tasting again, we heartily agree. We paired this week's recommendations, all kosher for Passover, with some common Passover food:
Gefilte fish: Pop open a bottle of 2000 Yarden Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine ($27) from Galilee, and enjoy the refreshing lemony acidity on the front and blueberry finish of this delightful bubbly. Or go straight for the perfect match in the 2006 Goose Bay Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($20; mevushal, see this tip). Its bright pear and lemon-peel flavors replace the usual New Zealand grapefruit zing, and it sang with gefilte fish, as we imagine it would with many lighter seafood dishes.
Chopped liver: Forget foie gras and Sauternes for a moment. The combination of chopped liver and the 2007 Yarden Gewurztraminer ($18) from Galilee is just as great a match in its own way. This 100 percent Gewurztraminer's spicy floral nose gives way to honeyed peach fruitiness, and serving it very cold heightened its refreshing acidity, complementing chopped liver beautifully. (We polished off our bottle with Indian curry.)
Roasted chicken or turkey: Either is nicely paired with a medium-bodied 2005 Yarden Odem Organic Vineyard Chardonnay ($18-$21) from the Odem Vineyard in Galilee, which has been farmed organically for the past decade. It features an oaky, vanilla nose reminiscent of a classic California chardonnay with buttery pear flavors and refreshing acidity. Almost as enjoyable was the 2006 Baron Herzog Central Coast Chardonnay ($14; mevushal); its prior vintage deservedly won a spot on Consumer Reports' list of top 10 chardonnays. It's a fantastic wine: light- to medium-bodied and refreshingly lush, with the best of the grape's characteristic flavors of apples, pears and vanilla. It pairs just as well with fish and veal dishes.
Beef brisket: Luscious red wines can do justice to all manner of beef and lamb. Winemaker Joe Hurliman has described his syrah as the closest to his heart from the line of award-winning wines he has made over the past decade for Herzog, which has a state-of-the-art winery in California. The 2004 Herzog Special Reserve Edna Valley Syrah ($30-$34) won our hearts, too, with its tart black cherry and cooked-plum flavors, distinctive white pepper notes, soft-to-medium tannins and balanced acidity. We also enjoyed the 2006 Galil Mountain Shiraz ($14) from Galilee, with spicy, cooked-red-fruit flavors that are balanced by what Andrew describes as a "tree bark" kind of earthiness.
Flourless chocolate cake: Made in Israel from 100 percent pomegranate (known as rimon in ancient times), the unusual, quite full-bodied (at 15 percent alcohol) and deeply flavored Rimon Winery Black Label Pomegranate Dessert Wine ($36) has tart, cranberry-like fruitiness balanced by its own natural sweetness that contrasts perfectly with a rich, dark-chocolate dessert.
Macaroons: Coconut cookies will find a lively pairing in the 2005 Carmel Winery Shaal Single Vineyard Late Harvest Gewurztraminer ($18-$20). This sweet, luscious wine with the flavor of honeyed apricots also pairs well with creamy desserts and is the perfect example of a kosher wine worth seeking out no matter what your religious beliefs.
Tips: Finding Kosher Selections
Often a wine bottle's label will indicate its kosher status:
Kosher for Passover: Often indicated by an encircled letter or letters such as "U," "K" or "KA" with a "P" next to it. This indicates that the wine has passed the even stricter kosher standards for Passover.
Mevushal (pronounced meh-VOO-shell): Mevushal wines are those that have been pasteurized via flash-heating. These can be handled by non-Jews (such as caterers or waiters) and remain kosher.
Kosher winemakers to keep an eye out for: Capcanes (Spanish reds), Carmel, Castel (100 percent chardonnay "C" blanc and cabernet-based Grand Vin), Covenant (cabernet sauvignon), Galil, Golan, Goose Bay, Herzog Wine Cellars and its value-priced Baron Herzog line, Psagot (Edom), Rothschild and Yarden.
To read more, click through to our column "Kosher Choices for a Pleasing Passover" at www.washpost.com.
Thursday, April 3, 2008 — We look forward to discussing some of our favorite wine and food pairings — plus our latest book WHAT TO DRINK WITH WHAT YOU EAT — with Mike Colameco, host of "Food Talk" on WOR Radio, later this morning. Listen in to his show, which starts at 11 am, either in New York City on 710 AM or via the Internet. Want to call in with a question? The number is (800) 321-0710.
We're planning to bring Mike some wines from the winemaker that's been named the #1 winery in the Atlantic Northeast by the Wine Report for the past four years: Dr. Konstantin Frank, located in the Finger Lakes region of New York State.
One taste of Dr. Frank's unique and delicious Rkatsiteli ($20), and you're already 1% of the way to membership in the Wine Century Club, an elite (but not at all elitist!) organization of wine drinkers who have tasted more than 100 different grape varieties. Its annual meeting is being held on Monday, April 14th, in New York City at one of our very favorite East Village restaurants: Jimmy Carbone's Jimmy's No. 43, at 43 East 7th Street.
One of our favorite restaurants in Murray Hill pours the Rkatsiteli by the glass: Wild Edibles, located at 535 Third Avenue between 35th and 36th Streets. (212) 213-8552.
If you'd rather buy it by the bottle, you can find it throughout New York. While it can often be a struggle to locate which retailers carry a particular bottle of wine, there's a useful online resource to make it easier: www.winesearcher.com.
Another great online resource for tips and one-of-a-kind entertainment for wine lovers is Wine Library TV. The irrepressible host of this addictive weekday wine vlog (video blog), Gary Vaynerchuk has been described as the second most influential wine critic after Robert Parker, and his loyal followers (known as Vayniacs) are said to number in the tens of thousands. Don't miss his hilarious stint on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show"!
P.S. What a great surprise that our favorite East Village restaurateur Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy's No. 43 was able to call in to "Food Talk" today! And were happy to run into Tom Geniesse of Bottlerocket Wine (which is a fabulous food-oriented wine store at 5 West 19th Street) and restaurateur Jacques Capsouto of the Tribeca bistro Capsouto Freres in the hallway as we were leaving and they were heading to the studio to speak with Mike Colameco themselves about kosher wines for Passover!
Wednesday, April 2, 2008 — At the Inn at Little Washington, the renowned Virginia country inn celebrating its 30th anniversary this month, wine has always played an important role. But in its early days, chef-owner Patrick O'Connell wasn't in a position to afford a full-time sommelier. So O'Connell got creative: He commanded each member of his dining room staff to become "the world's greatest expert" on a particular wine. After overcoming their initial intimidation, staffers would write or call the winery to consult with the winemaker about how "their" wine was made, and would taste "their" wine with different foods to determine its unique affinities.
Then, whenever a guest asked about "their" wine, that staff member would fly to the table to discuss it with pride. "And of course, each sounded like a genius," O'Connell recalled, "because they could talk about the grapes, the climate, the pebbles...whatever you wanted to know."
Now the inn boasts a 14,000-bottle cellar, and wine director Tyler Packwood estimates that fully half of the red wine served to guests is pinot noir. So we want to encourage readers to rise to O'Connell's challenge, starting with the most revered and food-friendly red grape around.
Your journey to become the world's greatest expert on pinot noir might resemble this path:
- Taste a bunch of pinots. Get familiar with that stereotypical pinot noir style: beguiling fragrance, elegant silkiness, lush fruit (especially cherries, raspberries, strawberries and plums), balancing acidity and soft (sometimes chocolate-like) tannins, even in pinots made in different parts of the world.
Note the different sense of place you taste in Old World pinots (those from fickle-climated Burgundy can taste of earthy cherries with mushroomy notes) vs. those from the New World (such as California's Carneros region, where you're more likely to find spicy, cooked red-fruit flavors). In addition to Burgundy and California, seek out examples from Oregon, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany (where it's known as spatburgunder).
Where to start? Andrew's pick this week, the 2006 Chateau St. Jean Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($20), provides a pleasing, classic example of New World pinot noir, with cooked cherry and plum fruitiness and soft tannins. From California's Russian River Valley, the flavors of the 2005 Lynmar Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($36) were reminiscent of cherry cobbler, with bright, tart cherries and distinctive cinnamon spice. This cool-climate region also produced the delightful 2006 Freeman Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($44), lush with the slightly tannic flavor of plums. For an Old World taste of Burgundy, open the 2005 Maison Chanson Bourgogne Pinot Noir ($25), a lighter-bodied wine with tart cherry and strawberry fruitiness balanced by an earthiness that makes it an ideal match for mushroom risotto.
- Pair them with food. As the single most food-friendly red wine, pinot noir has many compatible matches, but be sure to experience its amazing affinity for salmon, tuna, duck, lamb and mushrooms. "I love morels, and I hike the coastal hills searching for chanterelles, which are not as earthy as shiitakes or portobellos," says winemaker Jon Priest of Etude Wines, which is renowned for its pinot noir. "They have a fruitiness that helps bring out the body of pinot noir."
- Pick a winery. Ideally, choose one that produces several different pinots, so you can taste the differences in wines made from fruit that has been grown in close proximity. We chose California's Etude for this exercise; see this week's Tips box for other notable producers of pinot noirs.
- Start modestly. Sample the winemaker's style with its entry-level (often its most gently priced) offering. The first wine we tasted was Karen's pick, the 2006 Etude Carneros Estate Pinot Noir ($42), to appreciate the balanced smoothness of a wine that results from a blend of grapes from different vineyards. It had bright red and black cherries on both the nose and the palate, with captivating minerality.
- Compare vineyards. How does a pinot noir made from the grapes of one vineyard compare with one made from grapes of another vineyard just a few yards away? In the case of the 2005 Etude Temblor Pinot Noir ($60) and the 2005 Etude Deer Camp Pinot Noir ($60), both exceptional wines are from the same vintage and from vines that grow just 20 feet apart, yet each is a clearly different expression of the grape. The former exhibits hints of herbaceousness that led us to crave it with herbed lamb or pork, while the latter's tart tannic cherries and plums inclined us toward game birds such as quail or duck.
- Think long-term. Enlist your wine-loving friends to join you in this: Invest in four bottles of the same vintage of a cellar-worthy pinot noir. Drink one now and the others exactly one, two and three years from now. Take notes of your impressions at each tasting. How has age affected the wine?
Having tasted the already extraordinary, richly full-bodied 2005 Etude Heirloom Carneros Pinot Noir ($90) — various vintages of Heirloom have appeared on the Inn at Little Washington's wine list — we're eager to re-taste it in a year or two to see how time brings out its aromatics and mellows its boldness. A wine like that would be ideal for celebrating your own next big anniversary.
For more, visit The Washington Post Food section here.