Monday, June 28, 2010

Donato Enoteca celebrates 1-year anniversary

On Tuesday last week, June 22, Donato Enoteca - my favorite restaurant - celebrated 1-year anniversary. This place boggles my mind - it's not that it's the most haute or has the most exquisite wine collection or the most illustrious table cloths - there are others than will exceed it in all those categories - but it's the feeling I get when I go there. The combination of being welcome like family, the airy space, the always delicious, reliable, fresh, seasonal, extremely satisfying food, the wines selected with careful thought and respect for all parties involved, and the value offered at this place! It's the total package. Obviously, I am not the only one who thinks that, as the place was packed on Tuesday night. In the restaurant business, surviving a year is a major milestone. Not only is this place surviving, it's blooming!

Chef Donato offered a fixed menu for such a low price, it was practically a give-away ($34). I asked them why - Eric said "last year we served the food for free!" Live music was playing, Prosecco on the house, the food was amazing yet again. I brought in a bottle of 2000 Moccagatta Brin Balin Barbaresco that I bought in Denver and was curious to try. I had had an intense, truffly 1999, and the blockbuster 2001. This 2000 is not sold in California, and 2000 was a much more highly rated vintage by Wine Spectator (which usually means the wines will be riper and more alcoholic). I was curious to pair it with the meal and to share with the gang at the restaurant. Consensus: it was nice, but not great, a bit pruney and not as nuanced as either '99 or '01. Of the three, the 2001 is definitely the one to stock up on.

As for the food, the mouth-watering 4-course menu hit the spot so right!
It tasted as good as it looked:


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Crab Imperial Gratin with Dujac White Burgundy

What inspires me? This!...
A dinner with friends, a glass of white Burgundy paired with Crab Gratin, made from scratch from a live crab purchased straight off the boat in Half Moon Bay during crab season. Not grand cru Burgundy - that would be too rich for a crab, but a 1er cru or a regular village Burgundy from a great producer like Domaine Dujac or Domaine Leflaive - this pairing is bliss, which I pass on to you.

In the upper reaches of Burgundy elite, few can touch Dujac. While better known for his Bonnes Mares - a red Burgundy grand cru, the owner/winemaker's Jacques Seysses makes classical, pure, crystalline white wine from the village of Morey-Saint-Denis for which a crustacean is an ideal culinary complement.

Note from the dinner host, and his marvelous recipe:

The dish that I served last year at the dinner was a variation of a recipe by Mark Franz of Farallon. His recipe (Crab Imperial Gratin) uses Crème Fraîche, mine does not.

Primary Ingredients:
red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 live dungeness crab (cooked in court bouillon, see note below)
1 - 2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn
lemon zest
chopped tarragon, chive or Italian parsley
white or black truffle oil (if you want to be decadent, add fresh truffle shavings)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black or white pepper

Bread Crumb Topping:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup bread crumbs
chopped fresh thyme

Court Bouillon:
lemon wedges
white wine
black pepper corns

Special Equipment
1/4 quart Staub Cast Iron "Oval or Round Cocotte" - One per person (shown on the photo)

Fill a medium to large stock pot with water and court bouillon ingredients. Bring to boil. Once boiling, place the live dungeness crab in the pot and boil for five minutes. Turn off heat and let the crab soak in the hot court bouillon for an additional thirty minutes. Remove the crab let cool. Clean the crab and pick all the meat from it legs and body. Set aside.

Cook the diced potatoes in salted boiling water for about 5 minutes. Cool in an ice bath, drain and set aside. In a sauté pan, melt butter and cook the corn kernels, about 3 minutes. Place in ice bath, drain and mix with the crab meat. Add the potatoes, lemon zest, herbs (either tarragon, chives or Italian parsley), truffle oil, salt and pepper to the corn and crab (mix thoroughly). These steps can all be done well ahead of time (up to one day).

If using fresh truffles, shave them into the crab mixture up to an hour before finishing the dish.

To finish: preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the crab mixture in the mini Staubs. Fill about half way and add some butter (you can even use truffle butter). Finish filling and add a little more butter. Combine the bread crumbs and thyme with a tablespoon of softened butter. Cover the crab mixture in each mini Staub with the bread crumbs. Cook in the over for 10 to 15 minutes until the crab mixture is heated throughout and the bread crumbs golden brown. Serve immediately using caution due to the heat of the mini Staubs.

Live dungeness crab can be obtained in season (late November until about April or May) off the boats at Pillar Point Harbor. Here is a link: They have a fishfone: 650.726.8724.

I don't know why it took me half a year to post this. Maybe it's because the warm summer days that finally arrived to the Bay Area make me yearn for a glass of cool white Burgundy. Thanks Scott for giving me an evening of inspiration that lasted for 7 months.

For another of Scott's culinary exploits, check out this post on paella.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Joseph Phelps - blending 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia (and another killer Napa Valley day-trip)

10:40am on Saturday morning, we made a brief pit-stop at Oakville Grocery for a croissant and a coffee. The place is a classic - the original Oakville Grocery on highway 29 (now there is another store in Healdsburg in Sonoma County) is a charmer, from their fleshy croissants to filling chimichangas to their cool Napa Cabs cave. Outdoor tables behind the store present a view onto the vineyards and mountains. This is a nice picnic spot when you are in the mood for something quick, cheap-n-good.

15 minutes later, Dan, AC, JJ, and yours truly IronC were greeted at Joseph Phelps with open arms for what was to become yet another great day in Napa Valley. We were here to attend an Insignia blending seminar, a rare opportunity to taste through the portfolio of component vineyard lots that never get bottled individually, and attempt combining them into a winning Bordeaux blend against the masters at Joseph Phelps.

Insignia is world famous. Its 2002 bottling was Wine Spectator's #1 wine of the year. New vintages of the high-scoring wine have continued to command commensurate price tags, now $200 a bottle. I always recommend Joseph Phelps winery to Napa Valley visitors for their enjoyable walk-about tasting and captivating views from the elevated veranda behind the winery, an excellent spot to sip, slow down, and maybe have a picnic at one of the wooden tables overlooking the valley.

But this time, we were there to focus and learn. In my last post, in preparation for this one, I discussed the merits and de-merits of blending - a rather complex but interesting subject that generated some insightful reader comments. This time, it was my chance to dig into the matter hands-on. For an hour and a half, we endeavored to identify and rationalize differences between 4 Cabs, 1 Merlot, and 1 Petit Verdot from different vineyards, pick most and least favorite, conjecture the blending strategies. The instructor Mary Sugrue (WSET Advanced, Certified Wine Educator & Advanced Sommelier) suggested combining the majority of the most favorite wine with a small amount of the least favorite one - a technique aimed at adding to wine's complexity. The individual Cabs were quite so good that we wondered why not bottle them on their own?! Considering that in reality Joseph Phelps work with a number of additional vineyards (total of 7 estate-owned in Napa Valley), the exercise undoubtedly gave me a sense of appreciation for the challenge and mastery of the wine-maker, because my final product was nowhere near as good as the reference 2006 Insignia we tried afterwards, which was also quite a bit better than the already good single-vineyard wines. Normally the single-vineyard wines are matured on their own until about half-way (about 12mo.) through the barrel aging process, and afterwards get blended together for an additional ~12mo aging in oak before they are bottled. So, to some extent I am being unfair to my own blend, which should undergo more aging before being fit for a real contest with Insignia. Plus, comparing 2007 single vineyards with 2006 blend is somewhat circumspect anyway, but since there is no 2007 Insignia yet, this was the closest we could come to an apples-to-apples. Be that as it may, I was humbled nonetheless...

Enlightened, we bid our thanks and farewell to the friendly staff at Joseph Phelps, and headed to downtown Napa for lunch. Even if my palate gravitates toward old world (decidedly not Napa) wines, when it comes to food - Napa is my mecca. I feel like a kid in a lolly pop shop every time I find myself there. The array of mind-boggling restaurants along the short stretch of highway 29 between Napa and Saint Helena (via the venerable downtown Yountville in the middle) is enough to turn a hardcore foodie into a weeping mush. And no matter how much I am drawn to my all-time proven favorites, there is a always a new kid on the block that is even more amazing.

This time we headed to Ubuntu (the name that has a special meaning for me as a software guy, since it's the name of the computer operating system that Google runs on). Normally I would not be caught dead in a vegetarian restaurant, but let me tell you - Ubuntu is the Google of restaurants. That place knocked my socks off, no pretense, no fuss, only effortless perfection - just look at the pix (mouse over the photos to see descriptions)! And these were just the "appetizers"!

Not that we were still hungry... for mains, we walked another block to Bounty Hunter, for their famous pulled pork sandwich (finally, a non-vegetarian's revenge!) Oh baby baby! No sauce, no fancy fixins on them sanwiches - just perfectly slow bbq'ed mouthwatering pork on a perfect bun, 3 sauces on the side, along with fresh, crunchy coleslaw. Man oh man! When you have it, you have it! No need to hide your meat in greasy bbq sauce - at Bounty Hunter it's naked, right there atop of the bun for all to see, staring back at you as if saying "Here I am, just slooooooooow roasted pork, lots of it, nothing to hide, come-n-get!" I hear their ribs and beer-can chicken are fantabulous too!

As usual with the best of summer days in California, a late lunch unhurriedly turned into early dinner. Afterwards, AC and JJ wondered off to explore antiques. Dan and I, wined, dined, and totally satisfied, packed ourselves in for a 2-hr ride back to Palo Alto, just enough time to digest and deliberate what's up for the late night snack!

Monday, June 21, 2010

To blend or not to blend... that is the question!

I read a book recently - Bordeaux vs Burgundy, Vintage Rivalry. It got me thinking about wine blends.

Ding ding ding... Ladies and Gentlemen!
In the red corner, we have Burgundy, Barolo, Hermitage, Vouvray, Mosel.
And in the blue corner - we have Bordeaux, Southern Rhone, and an army of Super Tuscans.

The wine world is divided. Mono-varietal and multi-varietals.

Every self-respecting wine region aims to produce flagship wines of great complexity. Complexity is the key word. The more different and non-straightforward aromas, flavors, textures, sensations a wine brings, the more interesting and enjoyable it is. Not to everyone, of course. In my opinion, as with most things in life, as we get older and more experienced, we evolve from simple to complex, we appreciate things that have more facets to them, more than what initially meets the eye, more...

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gaja meets pork at the Village Pub

A quick tribute to Nebbiolo is in order. Absolute killer combo: pork - courtesy of Village Pub in Woodside (home of the rich & famous), and Gaja Barolo - courtesy of Iron Chevsky. Juicy pork chop with sautéed cherries, and cherry-loaded 2003 Gaja Barolo “Dagromis”. Oh yeah baby!

The much-maligned 2003 (due to extreme heat wave in Europe) nonetheless yielded some decadent wines in the hands of competent producers, and there are bargains to be had! (Just ask Jeremy Parzen over at DoBianchi blog.) After an hour of decanting, this rich 2003 was bursting with intense aromas of pure concentrated cherries jumping out of the glass, balanced by requisite acidity and soft tannins, the wine drinking superbly, while your 2004’s and 2001’s are tucked away aging in the cellar. This Gaja will undoubtedly get more subtle and complex with a bit more age (~3-5 years), but it’s a knock-out right now.

Gratuitously, I felt compelled to post the photo of the truffle decadence (shown below). The wine worked ok with the ravioli and black truffles, but not quite with the green peas. A more earthy Nebbiolo with more age on it would have been better, such as perhaps '99 Moccagatta Bric Balin or 2000 Malvira Roero, both loaded with truffley classical Nebbiolo goodness (both producers highly recommended).

Killer wine. As for the Village Pub... the dishes looked fantastic, but taste-wise, they were more aspiring than inspiring, missing a little something that separates the men from the boys. We got friendly with the som, shared our Burgundy and Barolo, and at the end got the $60 corkage bill - that ain't cool in my book.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Friuli wines of Silvio Jermann - evviva l'Italia!

"What are you seeing as far as wine sales?" I asked Enzo.
"People buy more, but expensive wine doesn't sell." he said. "From producers to importers to distributors, all the way along the supply chain, prices are reduced. Good wine stores and restaurants pass the savings to the consumer but make up in volume."
"What about all those expensive Barolos and Super Tuscans on the shelves of Beltramo's and K&L then?"
"There are always people who buy them, but it's a very small percentage", sighed Enzo. "That's why Italian whites are such a great value, like these ones from Friuli made by Jermann."

In early 1970’s Silvio Jermann instigated a revolution in Italian white wine-making. It happened in Friuli, the northeastern corner of Italy, next door to Slovenia. Jermann, a young man at the time, educated in not one but two renowned wine academies in Italy, defied the practice of making dull, uninspiring wines, and was amongst the first to introduce stainless steel tanks in Italy. For the first time since 1881 when Jermanns moved from Austria to Friuli and founded the winery, the cleanliness and control afforded by stainless steel tanks allowed Silvio to make a totally different breed of white wine, to this day considered by many the best in Italy. Jermann’s iconic Vintage Tunina is often referred to as the first Italian “Super Friulian” (in the same sense that Super Tuscan reds broke tradition and combined multiple grape varietals into tremendously successful blends). Vintage Tunina debuted in 1975, and today, even in this economy, it carries an unusually high price tag ($60-75) for an Italian white wine in the US.

Over the past 40 years, the quality of Italian wine has continued to advance due to oenological research, improvements in sustainable viticulture, and better equipment. It doesn’t mean that wines are “engineered”, quite the contrary. The many different wines Jermann makes, express themselves uniquely in the Friulian terroir, from native varietals such as Ribola Gialla, Tocai Friulano, and Picolit to international varietals such as Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc. These wines speak of transparency, purity, authenticity, and unmistakably, Italy. Come California’s balmy summer time weekends, I linger over mid-day meals outdoors with friends and family, as hours roll on by, with a bottle (or few) of these Italian beauties.

Last week, I sat down with Enzo D., a regional manager from Empson USA, the exclusive importer of Jermann wines, to taste the latest releases of four of Jermann whites over lunch at Donato Enoteca. Eric, the restaurant’s wine director, joined us for an insightful conversation. We tasted through 2008 Vinnae (majority Ribolla Gialla, with a bit of Riesling and Tocai Friulano), 2008 Pinot Grigio, 2008 Chardonnay, and finally 2007 Vintage Tunina (blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Ribolla Gialla, Malvasia, and Picolit).

Refreshing, minimally if at all oaked, the wines offered great purity, juicy, tasty citrus flavors, minerality, and zippy acidity. I particularly enjoyed Ribolla Gialla, a grape I’d come to appreciate through the wines of Movia. Vinnae had all the characteristics I just mentioned, plus nice weight and oily texture which made it feel luxurious on the tongue. The unoaked Pinot Grigio was very tight aromatically but blossomed on the palate with its tangy citrus peel and penetrating acidity. The unoaked Chardonnay was clean and simple, and hardly recognizable as Chardonnay. Eric suggested: “without oak, Chardonnay doesn’t taste like Chardonnay.” True. Enzo lovingly called it a "very Italian Chardonnay". Aromatically a fairly restrained grape, Chardonnay achieves its heights in Burgundy. The unoaked examples do best in Chablis and Macon, particularly when paired with oysters and shellfish. But it’s the oaked ones (notice “oaked", not "oaky”) that allow Chardonnay to truly shine in Cote de Beaune (Meursault, Puligny-, and Chassagne-Montrachet communes). Honestly, I’ve had Italian Chardonnay on a few occasions, and I struggle to see the reason for them. They tend to be weak aromatically and simple in flavor. With so many more interesting white wine varietals, why do Italians insist on making Chards? The answer may become apparent as you read on...

Finally, Vintage Tunina – the Super Friulian – was a bigger, fuller, more exotic wine – viscous and ripe (it’s made out of late harvest grapes), slightly more alcoholic than the others (by .5%, but perceptibly so), and seemingly with higher sugar content, though it was a dry wine. Enzo explained that the delicate and finicky native Picolit grape imparts sweetness into the wine. While Vintage Tunina seemed closer to a California palate in terms of volume and richness, it still managed to maintain great acidity and minerality, without butteriness or oakiness. The wine was perhaps akin in stature to Campania's Marisa Cuomo Fiorduva - another white occupying the upper echelon of Italian gastronomy.

Before we dug into the prosciutto with Grana Padano cheese tart, grilled calamari with white Spanish beans, oven-baked milk-braised salt cod puree, and summery shrimp risotto with garbanzo beans, I had a hard time forecasting which wine would be the best match. It was quite a sommelier challenge to choose among Italian whites, because they share many of the same refreshing qualities, not just within Friuli, but across the entire country. Many are tasty and bright, and often interchangeable. Yes, flavors do vary, but the acidity, citrus, and minerality permeate through and through. My recommendation to the consumer – when picking Italian whites, $15-20 range offers great value, occasionally stretching to $30, and there are not many whites in Italy (unlike France) worth paying more for. Don’t be shy to try unheard-of regions and varieties, rather than always picking the same old same old. Enzo shared that he sells twice as many bottles of Pinot Grigio (~$18-20) as the next most popular bottling – Chardonnay (~$23-30). Considering that the Chardonnay was my least favorite wine in the line-up, I asked why it sells so well. According to Enzo, the reason is that consumers recognize the name of the grape variety, even if the Italian version tastes nothing like the California or the French. Vinnae (~$30) and Vintage Tunina (~$60-75) sell about the same (amazing feat for the much more expensive Vintage Tunina) and at about half the volume of the Chardonnay.

Funny, without food, Vinnae was my favorite, but with food it was Jermann’s zingy good old Pinot Grigio that beat out the rest of the pack. Vintage Tunina needed richer dishes, and the other two just seemed more muted. While many poopoo Pinot Grigio as “uncool” (just like Merlot), that is unfortunate – Jermann’s version is simply an excellent wine, especially with food. To those fashionable wine lovers who shun Pinot Grigio, take this – “uncool is the new cool”. Now go get some. Got it?

Note: an abridged version of this article is published on

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Technology Innovation + entrepreneurship + food + wine + Tuscany

I am a Silicon Valley exec by day, and a wine nut by night. A friend, Tanya Noel, a professional event organizer and a fellow Palo Alto resident, is launching a new tech conference called Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital - Europe & Silicon Valley, with a twist that suits the Iron Chevsky blog just fine - to combine technology & entrepreneurship with celebration of food, wine & life. As someone who has spent his professional career pushing the edges of technology innovation, and along the way learned that enjoying life goes far beyond C++ and IPO's, I find her cause inspiring and unique. Her inaugural conference takes place in the end of June in Tuscany in a small town of Viareggio, located on the coast of Ligurian Sea next door to the more famous city of Lucca whose surrounds include two fairly obscure and undoubtedly charming Tuscan appellations (DOC's) - Montecarlo and Colline Lucchesi. Chianti and Florence are within an hour's drive, and the legendary Montalcino, where Brunello is made, is about two hours away.

Conference proceedings will be interspersed with and followed by food & wine banquets, culinary school visits and winery tours. How awesome is that?!

Here is some more info on the conference from the official website.

Who is this conference suited for?
Partners for Growth & Innovation is designed not just for CEOs, CMOs, Venture Capitalists, developers or designers. We’re looking to reach out to everyone, including those interested in technology – CTOs, Angel Investors, academia and government employees. If you’re involved in any type of work designed to “build a better mousetrap” using technology, then we think you’d really gain something from this conference.

Why start another tech conference?
It’s not going to be a technology conference. Yes, you’re going to be meeting people in the startup field and maybe even see a few company product demonstrations, but the goal behind Partners for Growth & Innovation is to help you get connected with people. We all have a common bond – we’re ecstatic about technology and these days we’re more swept up with talking to people through tools like Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging and email, but we’re not connecting face-to-face to help make our connections stronger. That’s what we’re trying to do with this conference.

Prepare yourself for an incredible week of entrepreneurship, technology, innovation, inspiration, culture, food, wine, and adventure, in Tuscany!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

40 year old Bordeaux from Chateau Latour

How old is the oldest wine you've ever had?
Serious collectors will eschew a 40 year old wine as nothing extraordinary, but for a semi-regular joe, this is quite a rare museum item.

So, what's so special about old wine and what did 1970 Les Forts de Latour taste like?

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Paella with Tavel - Spain meets France

Yours truly was hosting a barbecue for Memorial Day at Domaine du Chevsky last night. Meats were marinading, wines chilling. Massive food & wine debauchery ensued, and one pairing stood out above all, courtesy of Scott H., chef and wine guru extraordinaire. Before the meat hit the grill, Scott's prawn paella with chorizo sausage filled the perfect spot of the hungry crowd of gourmets! Accompanied by a lovely bottle of Tavel. Rosé! Yes, gents, you can get off your high horses and stop poopooing the pink.

Tavel, of course, is the only appellation in the world dedicated solely to Rosé wine.

...We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to make an annoucement.

The rest of this article now appears on Gary Vaynerchuk's, where I debut today as one of the select group of wine bloggers. Corkd editorials are geared towards wine education of wine drinkers of all (beginner?) levels. Jon Troutman, the chief editor, oversees all corkd posts, whereas this site - Iron Chevsky wine blog - is all about lifestyle with (food &) wine. It is my unfiltered personal expression aiming at perhaps a more advanced wino. I will attempt to write for both publications! And with that, here is the rest of the article...

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