Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cantonese with Gamay

Gamay is typically not something you will find in my wine cellar. Nor are you likely to see me drinking a young Pinot Noir, as I prefer them older. However, lately my take on Pinot and Gamay (that is reminiscent of Pinot, but makes for a lighter and fruitier wine) has changed, after I started pairing them with Cantonese food. In this video, I pair the super interesting and intense Edmunds St. John's Gamay with General Tso's Chicken -- oooh yummeeee!

Edmunds St. John "Bone-Jolly" Gamay Noir 2007 Eldorado County - $16.
Home-made General Tso's Chicken - $5.
Gamay + Cantonese food pairing - priceless!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Chablis, butter and acid

There are food-and-wine pairings. Bordeaux with steak. Riesling with Sichuan. Sauternes with foie gras. Burgundy with mushroom beef stroganoff. Gamay with Cantonese. Very very good.

And then there are FOOD-AND-WINE PAIRINGS (all-caps!) that produce moments of epiphany that caress your senses and elevate your faith in wine as something much more than a drink - an elixir, a magical potion, a fountain of delight that washes over you like an orgasm and reminds you what being alive is all about.

I was lucky enough recently to receive two such pairings in one dinner cooked up by a friend who has been blessed by the gourmet gods. I will describe the first of those pairings here, and another - in a future post.

Butter-sautéed morel mushrooms and garden peas with lemon thyme with 2002 William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru "Blanchot". Chablis grand cru wines from a good vintage and a good producer (which are all the traits of the wine I drank that night) possess a combination of buttery flavor, a touch of citrus peel, stoniness, along with powerful acidity. Made of the Chardonnay grape and officially a part of Burgundy, Chablis is nearly always lighter and leaner than its more southerly world-famous cousins from Meursault, Puligny and Chassagne villages in Burgundy's Côte de Beaune, not to mention full-bodied examples from California. However, Chablis Grand Cru elevate above most Chardonnays in the world by walking the fine line between elegance and weight. What made this pairing so memorable was the uncanny match of the butter in the dish with butteriness of the wine, and the greenness of the peas with the stony limey tartness characteristic in this Chablis. The combination was ever so clearly so much more than the sum of the parts.

In my mind I could almost hear the wine gods chanting:
Butter to butter
Green to green
Show this mere mortal
A gift he has never seen!
(sorry for a cheesy poem, but I was inspired!)

Perhaps a part of this epiphany came from the fact that the morels were hand-picked by a person who is no longer with us, and whose sister and a dear friend is now fighting a similar affliction. It was only so becoming for this delicious dish to be completed by this grand wine to come together into a never-to-be-forgotten epiphany. We celebrated his life and we cheered to hers!

I stumbled home a renewed man.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Donato is scary................. scary good!

OMG! Last night my wife and I and another couple visited Donato Enoteca in downtown Redwood City for the first time (since the pre-opening party a couple of weeks ago). This was our first opportunity to really experience Donato's (owner and head chef) cuisine and Eric Lecours' (wine director) wine since Donato Scotti left La Strada 2 months ago, the leading Italian restaurant in Palo Alto, to launch Donato Enoteca.

I could write a review ten times longer. But alas, got things to do, places to go, people to see. So I will keep it *relatively* short. Neither myself nor our friend (a CEO and founder of a publicly traded company) are slouches when it comes to food and wine appreciation. From the moment we walked in, we were basked in warmth of the staff and the satisfying deliciousness of the every single item that was served to us - from the (free) pesto dip and bread to the fabulous (and incredibly reasonably priced) Nebbiolo d'Alba that complimented our courses to perfection. I should also mention that this large classy restaurant is so cleverly designed - with separate rooms that give you a feeling of coziness.

Eric expertly suggested a Franciacorta sparkling wine which was excellent by itself and a fabulous match to these savory food delights.

Pesto dip and bread were attention grabbers right away!
Then we had:

Hand pulled braised wild boar, onion, Chianti vinegar on grilled ciabatta

Fresh Monterey Bay calamari with “bianchi di Spagna” beans & mache lettuce

Traditional Emilia-Romagna dumplings with 18 month aged prosciutto

All spectacular. I couldn't decide whether I loved the calamari (it ain't no ordinary calamari!) or the braised wild boar better, while my friend's heart and stomach were won over by the prosciutto.


Housemade small ravioli “del plin” of three meats; sausage, veal, tomato & onion sauce
This was delicious! Eric matched this and the below oxtail with a fabulous and extremely reasonably priced Nebbiolo d'Alba

Braised Niman Ranch oxtail, Sangiovese, tomato, asparagus tips & “bigoli” pasta
This dish was gorgeous - meatier and less zingy than the ravioli, and yet still complemented perfectly by the ever-versatile Nebbiolo.

Spring onion, prawns, Trebbiano wine; roasted garlic “mollica”
My wife couldn't stop eating it (and she is usually not a big pasta person) - she divoured those prawns, heads and all! Once again Eric did a great job pairing this with an Arneis (which tasted of combination pineapple and sea - gorgeous!)

Tomato, basil, oregano & fresh mozzarella cheese -- this is Donato's trademark pizza - perfect crust, perfect balance of flavors - the Pizza alone is worth coming here.


Chocolate souffle with ice-cream - perfectly crumbly outside and gooey inside - that I consumed with the remains of the Nebbiolo (great match!)

House gelato - this sounds simple, but had incredible deep richness in all three flavors - pistachio/vanilla/chocolate, and a Batard-Montrachet-like creamy luscious mouthfeel.

All of the dishes were just the right amount - not too much, not too little. We left full, but not stuffed. I can easily and confidently say that Donato Enoteca is well on its way to becoming my favorite restaurant in the South Bay, sorry Manresa!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Never say "never" to a wine

I am embarrassed to admit that just like anyone else I have my prejudices, and like many, no amount of convincing can change them, until an eye-opening experience happens.

Prejudice #1 - I don't like non-European wine. Speaking of new world red wines, I find them jammy, alcoholic and lacking acidity and complexity - reminding me of fruit pie or yogurt rather than a food drink. When a month ago I was pouring new world Bordeaux varietals (Cab, Merlot, Malbec) at Vineyard Gate, most of the wines were unappealing to me. One in particular - Ghost Pines Merlot 2006 (blend of Merlot grapes from Napa and Sonoma) I actually called a "yogurt". So when yesterday a dear friend brought this wine for lunch at a neighborhood Mediterranean restaurant in San Carlos, I was suspicious. Guess what - the wine matched perfectly with the food - creamy mezzes, slightly sweet ground beef and lamb, eggplant with tomato base - the food was simple, comfortable, and tasty - and so was this Merlot. It tasted of pure ripe plums and cherries, with a hint of chocolate, and great creaminess on the palate. The wine was not hot - 13.9% alcohol, and it had enough acidity to stand up to the yogurt and tomato-based sauces. It lacked complexity, but frankly so did the food! I can't think of any other type of wine that would have matched that meal more perfectly. I kept thinking back to the tasting when I had dismissed that wine and feeling ashamed of my prejudice. It reminded me how careful we must be when we taste wines without food, in a line-up with other wines - always inclined to compare and judge rather than appreciate. It reminded me of importance of the setting in which we enjoy the wine, and the cuisine with which the wine is paired. With the renewed appreciation of a simple $15 (@VineyardGate) domestic Merlot, let's just say my prejudice #1 is "adjusted".

Prejudice #2 formed in my head just a few days ago when I tried an Italian wine I'd never tried before - made from a grape variety called Lagrein, native to the Alto Adige area of Italy. It was a Sudtiroler DOC Lagrein Riserva Taber 2000 made by Cantina Produttori S. Maddalena (13% alc, $42 @VineyardGate). I had this wine at the 4th-of-July party I was hosting at the Domaine du Chevsky (i.e. my house) along with a dozen of other wines, and I was underwhelmed by it, considering the price. Why would I bother with this unknown Italian variety from an unheralded region, if I can spend my $40-$50 on a decent Brunello or Barolo, not to mention many other much less expensive Italian reds with proven reputation like Chianti, Dolcetto, and Montepulciano. This wine tasted vegetal... on Friday. In fact no one seemed to like it, because I had more than half a bottle left unfinished, so I froze it.

On Sunday night, my wife had a craving for cheese and wine. Promptly I pulled out some Manchego and Gruyere cheeses, and thawed the Lagrein, after having warned her several times that the wine is uninspiring. I warmed the bottle up in a bucket of warm water, and once it reached just-below-room temperature, I poured a decent amount into a glass and gave it a sip. Oh my god! - the wine was olive dark color, warm plush texture, and a symphony of flavors from dry Serrano ham to bell pepper to chocolate all over the core of dark berries with very nice balance of fruity sweetness, earthy herbaciousness, spice and acidity. A 2000 - the wine was very smooth and lush, with just a hint of tannin. There could be so many reasons why this wine tasted so much better now. Perhaps it didn't go with the food on Friday? Perhaps it didn't go with the other wines? Or perhaps it needed some time to breathe? Or perhaps I was too busy running around taking care of guests to give this wine its due consideration? No matter! I almost dismissed this grape variety, if not for my wife's Sunday craving - once again the woman saves me!

There is a lesson in there, somewhere :)!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Japanese wine drama Kami no Shizuku: Episode 9

...continued from Episode 8. If you are new to this series, start here.

This is an awesome Japanese Manga-drama about wine. Laugh, cry, enjoy as you watch Kami no Shizuku ("Drops of God").

Episode 9

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

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