Monday, December 26, 2011

Baby vino

Evan is now 8 months old. I am happy to report that he shares my interest in fine drinks!

2009 Burgundy, 2001 Priorat, and 2011 Breast Milk - he is clearly getting the short end of the stick (and not happy about it!)

Sipping a Rioja on Halloween

A little Riesling for Thanksgiving

Some fine Burgundy is not wasted on the Iron Chevsky Jr.

Occasional bubble tea

And always salivating for more

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Enoteca 100 2011 impressions

Following up on the previous post, I am happy to report that Donato Enoteca remains not only one of my favorite places to eat, but amongst the top two best Italian wine tasting venues of the year (along with the venerable Tre Bicchieri). And when you factor in the laughable admission price for this caliber of food and wine, and the convenience of being able to order anything you taste at or under retail (rather than restaurant) prices, this is by far the best quality and the funnest Italian wine tasting event of the year in the Bay Area that I know of.

Here are the highlights and faves:

Note #1: For the first time, I tried La Fiorita Brunello 2006 - never heard of it before - delicious, with hints of strawberries, and relatively approachable at this young age, very pretty wine, although I didn't dig the label (but who cares!).

Note #2: Produttori del Barbaresco, though missing a photo above, was excellent and IMHO is probably the best value (under $30) from Piedmonte in 2006.

Great job Eric and Donato for putting together yet another killer shindig!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Enoteca 100 2011

I never used to love Italian food as much, until I started loving Italian wine. That love affair with vino drove me to explore and appreciate Italian cuisine, which in turn nudged me to explore even more of Italy's wine regions and varieties. No other place has helped open my eyes to all that more so than one of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area - Donato Enoteca. Not only do they serve great food and wine all year around, they also feature some of my favorite winemaker dinners. And once a year, Donato Enoteca throw their annual Enoteca 100 Italian wine extravaganza. This year, it's on December 3. I documented this event in the past -- highly recommended for sheer joy of living!

Taste 100+ fine Italian Wines & Donato's Creations


Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Franciacorta, Amarone,
Valle d'Aosta, Piemonte, Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli, Toscana, Sicilia and Sardegna,
Festive Sparkling wines from all across Italy!


Prosciutto, Speck, Grana Padano, Asiago cheeses,
Wild Boar Bruschetta, House-made Sausage, Risotto Nero,
Porchetta (whole roasted pig),
Grilled Wild Prawns, Agnolotti del plin, Milk Braised Baccala.

Saturday, December 3, 1-4 p.m.
VIP Preview: 12-1 p.m.

Donato Enoteca
1041 Middlefield Road
Redwood City, CA 94063
Note: Caltrain Redwood City stop is across the street from the restaurant.

VIP Preview - $65
General Admission - $55
Early Bird General Admission - $45 (limited)
Note: as a reader of this blog, you may use "ironc" discount code to save $10 off the ticket price. Enjoy!

TICKETS: here.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of 2011

Third year in a row I attended Wine & Spirits Top 100 Wineries of the Year event, and it always strikes me in one peculiar way -- if you want to know which profession all the pretty ladies go into, look no further - wine trade clearly. Not sure if this attracts me to the wine or distracts me from it... But W&S Top 100 has got to be the best looking assembly of well-dressed, super-friendly female professionals in the Bay Area!

Now, as far as wine, a lot of tasty treats await one here, accompanied by mouth-watering bites from the best eateries from around the Bay. This is where I confirm my perennial faves, and open my buds up to new ones. This time around, I really enjoyed Diamond Creek - one of the oldest and best regarded wineries in Napa (since 1968) focusing exclusively on Cabernet Sauvignon, with the delightfully sprightly founder-owner Boots Brounstein (see in the photo below). I had tried their cabs once or twice before, and I was impressed with almost an old-worldly class of these mountain cabs. Next to Diamond Creek, Ridge and BOND (covered abundantly on the pages of this blog) evidenced different but equally impressive profiles of the best of California winemaking.

Iron Chevsky with Boots Brounstein of Diamond Creek

However, it was the two reds - the 2006 Chapelle-Chambertin Grand Cru Burgundy from Louis Jadot and the 2001 Tondonia Rioja Reserva from Lopez de Heredia - that reminded me why old world touches deep, with elegance, aromatics, and sheer aristocratic class. The 1993 Tondonia Rioja Reserva Blanco too was an amazing white wine - full-flavored, in a slightly oxidative style, elegant, balanced, intellectual, at almost 20 years old - utterly infatuating. Prices on Lopez de Heredia are still within reach. The wines are legendary. Learn about them, taste them, get 'em!

Here is the montage of my favorites of the tasting.

A special mention goes to Movia's Ales Kristancic - an imposing chick-magnet and a man of vision from Slovenia. I've enjoyed his Ribolla on more than one occasion.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Iron Chevsky on TV - pairing wine with Chinese cuisine

This interview conducted by Millbrae Community TV with yours truly at the Millbrae Arts & Wine Festival aired live on September 3, 2011 on local Bay Area cable. The topic of conversation was "Pairing wine with Chinese cuisines".

Friday, October 21, 2011

1992 and 2008 Ridge Monte Bello

This is a guest post by my friend, wine and food gourmand - Dan Snyder, from his September 2011 visit to Ridge.

A gorgeous September afternoon in the Santa Cruz mountains, fall releases, two great vintages of Ridge Monte Bello, wood fired organic pizza, and Paul Draper mingling with his huge snowball of a dog. There was a lot to like about the Ridge fall release party!

The highlights were the 1992 and 2008 Monte Bellos side by side. '92 is of course a legendary vintage and kinda kicked off the "new age" of sought-after California cabs. Kudos to Ridge for keeping pricing in line and sticking to their style. The similarities were striking in the wines -- although sixteen years apart. Good earthy, loamy, mushroomy minerality are threads throughout. The '08 of course being younger, wilder and sexier. The '92 was still absolutely gorgeous and at a great balance of fruit and development.

  • 1992 Ridge Monte Bello - 80% cab, 11% merlot, 9% PV. Effusive nose of crushed stone/charcoal, tar and mushroomy loamy earth. Some of that dried berry, dusty cavey goodness. Tannic and still youthful. Nice.
  • 2008 Ridge Monte Bello - 72% cab, 28% merlot. Wonderful, youthful nose -- spices, cherry, loamy minerally earth, thyme... oak present but not intrusive. Juicy and unctuous yet balanced.

I’ve tried several Monte Bellos over the years, including a ’91 out of half bottle recently that was still youthful even out of .375. If there’s a California red you can chalk up to ageworthiness it’s Monte Bello for sure. Like older Dunn cabs, it ages beautifully. And I remember tasting the ’08 Monte Bello at Ridge at their barrel tasting a few years back. 2008 was a very dry year (remember the Bay Area water warnings?) and yields were low but quality was good. Out of barrel the ’08 was sexy and wild, with good spicy oak used judiciously. Interesting how after three years all the components have settled and mellowed some, but the juicy unctuousness is still there. These wines are almost in slow-motion how they age, if this is sixteen years!

For the complete account of the event and detailed tasting notes, check CellarTracker here.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Little Evan enjoys Rosh Hashanah with Franciacorta

For Jewish New Year a couple of weeks ago, Evan (5.5mo old) and I got into our newly renovated hot tub and celebrated with a glass of the always reliably delicious Ca'del Bosco Franciacorta - one of Italy's top sparkling wines. The little one approved. Salute!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Top Champagne Tasting of Year in the Bay Area

The Institute of Masters of Wine Annual Champagne tasting event comes to San Francisco each year in September. Hosted in the beautiful Ferry Building at Embarcadero, with an eye-popping view of the Bay and the Bay Bridge, for $50 it is one of the greatest values you can find of any wine events in the Bay Area. You get to taste hundreds of Champagnes, many costing in triple digits, poured by Masters of Wine, the rare and highly respected breed of only 300 in the world, who can answer any wine questions you can ever think of (although asking them for a champagne recommendation can be exercise in futility). Starting at 5, the room stays relatively light until about 5:30, when crowds rush in. If you are able to navigate your way through until about 7:30, the place lightens up again, and you get unobstructed (and repeated, if I might say so) access to most of the wines. Needless to say, my friends and I take full advantage of the opportunities and delights this event affords us.

Each year's tasting helps me with buying decisions, particularly because I can re-taste the same Champagne multiple times without rush. I typically do three rounds to confirm the favorites. While a couple of last year's heavyweights were absent this year (vintage Krug and Henriot Enchanteleurs), the lineup was impressive nonetheless.

Note: This year was the first time I'd ever seen spittoons placed on separate tables in the center of the room away from the tasting tables, very smartly forcing the hordes to clear the path to Champagne in order to relieve themselves of their mouthfuls.

My favorites of the tasting were (in this order):

1. Veuve Clicquot Brut "La Grand Dame" 1998 - I've been tasting the 1998 for the past three years, and it just gets better every year. Wine of the tasting for me.

2. Henriot Brut "Millesime" 1998 - in the absense of 1996 Enchanteleurs, this one really stood out.

3. Gosset Brut "Grande Millesime" 2000 - I've been impressed with the 1999 vintage of this wine, and the 2000 is just as good if not better.

4. Krug non-vintage Brut - always reliably excellent.

5. Bollinger "La Grand Annee" Brut 2002 - delish.

6. Charles Heidsieck Brut "Millesime" 2000 - very toasty.

I didn't like many rosés, but these two stood out:

7. Perrier-Jouet Brut Rosé non-vintage - delish.
8. Bruno Paillard Brut Rosé non-vintage.

Many others were noteworthy (Philipponnat, Pol Roger, Ayala) but not as memorable as those listed above. But hanging out with Liz Thach - the first female Master of Wine on the West Coast - more than made up for any forgettable bubblies.

That's me with Liz Thach - the first female Master of Wine on the West Coast.

As tradition would have it, my buds and I headed downstairs to the best fast-food burger joint in the Bay Area (IMHO) - Gott's (previously called Taylor's Automatic Refresher). While slightly overpriced, their Texas burger and garlic / parsley fries are all-so-satisfying.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Maiden of Harlan Estate

I tasted in quiet contemplation, taking time to explore every reflection of the light, every smell, every sip. Fourteen wines in front of me. Most mere mortals never experience any of them... it was a privilege.

I talked a lot about Bill Harlan and his vision in a recent BOND article. To sum it up, in Napa, it doesn't get much "cultier" than Harlan Estate. In its rarified stratosphere of wine prestige only few others make it - Screaming Eagle, Araujo, Harlan's other great label BOND, a handful of others. These are the American "first growths", with mad following to stalk their wait lists and price tags to match. "First growth" may be a French concept, but to me, Harlan tastes nothing like its famous Bordeaux brethren. Distinctly new-world, Harlan is a wine of decadence, perhaps the most hedonistic, luscious, richest red wine I've ever had.

I asked the director of Harlan Estate - Don Weaver, who has been with the estate for 26 years, that if I were to make a trip all the way to Oakville, it had better be something that's never been done before. And he obliged. Thus, one fine recent afternoon, two of my wine compadres - Dan and Scott, and myself, landed on the steps of the gorgeous Harlan Estate villa overlooking Napa Valley from 450 feet high, wondering what's in store.

First, all class, we were greeted by a bottle of Krug. Always a fine conversation starter, Krug never disappoints. Overlooking the famous Martha's Vineyard on the valley floor just beneath, Don updated us on the stats. 240 acres of hillside, almost 40 acres under vine, encircling the estate: cabernet sauvignon (70%), merlot (20%), cabernet franc (8%), and petit verdot (2%), which after ruthless selection produce only 2000 cases of Harlan Estate ($500 pre-release), and 900 cases of the Maiden ($150). The wines are allocated to loyal subscribers, and after a release, nothing is left, even at these prices. The good news, said Don, even the first year subscriber typically gets at least a bottle of The Maiden, no wait required.

View of Napa Valley from the terrace of Harlan Estate.
Marquee vintages and 100-point Parker scores virtually guarantee long-term appreciation and speculation, which further reinforce the epic image of the estate. If it seems that with a brand name and a following like that, Harlan has it "easy", consider this. The winery was founded in 1984 - there was nothing but forest. The first 3 vintages (1987-1989) were bottled but never released, as Bill Harlan and his team deemed them not quite up to par. All still safely tucked away in their coffers - away from the raving fans. Something I plan to examine more closely on my next visit perhaps. The first releases of Harlan - 1990 and 1991 - were only made available to the public in 1996. The first Maiden was a 1995, when Harlan, as many other top wineries of the world, realized that much of the material that may not make it into their first wine was still very similar in character to the flagship wine and high in quality. They labeled it as The Maiden, and it's been one of the most sought after second wines in California.

After an overview of the estate which took our breaths away, we headed to the winery's Flag Room for the reveal. In front of us we had the latest vintage (2007) of Harlan Estate, and then a row of every vintage of The Maiden released to-date - all thirteen - from 1995 to 2007 - an incredible lineup, first ever, as proudly emphasized by Don Weaver and the winemaker Cory Empting who joined us to educate himself on the evolution of the Maiden. Cory has been working at Harlan since 2001, and as a winemaker for both Harlan Estate and BOND Estate since 2006.

Three hours later, it was clear that there was great consistency among the wines, regardless of the vintage. Dominant characteristics ran across: chocolate-covered berries (blueberries?), spice, echos of mushrooms, nutmeg, truffles and forest floor, wrapped by incredible sweetness that hid powerful tannins. Cashmere textures, luscious, glycerous mouth-feel. Sweet but not jammy, acidity hardly perceptible. The oldest - 1995 - just started showing secondary characteristics - still incredibly youthful. The power and sweetness of the '95 had subsided a bit, revealing more complexity. It was my favorite of the tasting, betraying my personal disposition toward restraint. Clearly these wines can age and will be very interesting to try again in 10 years. The 2007 Harlan Estate was more refined and multi-dimensional than The Maiden. The flagship routinely earns high points from Robert Parker, including five 100-pointers (1994, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2007). Antonio Galloni who has taken over from Robert Parker as California's taster for Wine Advocate is yet to rate these wines.

Here is how the wines struck the palates of my friends and I:

  • 1995 The Maiden - Showing signs of color change/development. Color turning from purple to red. Good musky dusty "damp cave" elements, much more so than the younger vintages. "Great vintage" says director Don Weaver, and he said Parker went gaga when he tried it. Loads of violet/cherry, dried herbs, and almost a touch of a heady Calvados aroma. Higher percentage of Cab Franc (over 50%) in '95/'96 Maidens. My favorite of the tasting.
  • 1996 The Maiden - Beautiful drinkability window, jusssst starting to show hints of development. Higher percentage of Cab Franc (over 50%) in '95/'96 Maidens. Sweet and sexy chocolate meets oak, with a dollop of pencil lead and loamy mushroom. Spice and higher acid than most others. A "landmark" Maiden says director Don.
  • 1997 The Maiden - A hot year says director Don Weaver. Very spicy, tannic, and quite sweet.
  • 1998 The Maiden - Challenging year says Don and winemaker Cory. Cooler year, harvest later in November. Some discussion of whether this is flawed or not. Ok to my taste. There is still some nice fruit and hints of goodness. Very thick, tea component, a bit plummy.
  • 1999 The Maiden - A step up in decadent sweet oozing chocolate covered cherry. Director and winemaker loved how this was showing today. They called '99 a "B- vintage" but punching above its weight now for sure. Very spicy, sweet, very blueberry, nice complex mint, eucalyptus, one of the top 3 for me (along with 1995 and 2001).
  • 2000 The Maiden - A vintage "maligned by all" says director Don Weaver, but we agreed altho not the best on the table of '95-'07, it still has some nice qualities. Some sweet, plump character, maybe a bit much there. Mineral + spice
  • 2001 The Maiden - A classic restrained Napa year, a "landmark for Harlan" says director Don. This Maiden has a sweet and sexy disposition, yet retains balance. Loads of the classic dusty chocolaty black cherry + blueberry goodness. Velvety. Softness & finesse.
  • 2002 The Maiden - A hot hot year in Napa, '02s are super forward and can be overripe. This one came across super smooth and unctuous, with loads of bursting sweet fruit. "The asterisk vintage" says the winemaker. A few overripe elements swirl in and out, but still pretty classy for a hot year. Plum, mocha, sweet & tasty.
  • 2003 The Maiden - "This was a B- vintage" say the winemaking staff. One of the more funky/coppery noses of the '95-'07 bunch. Oak is more noticeable. Palate still OK tho, with some good fruit and oozy goodness. Soft, spicy, blueberry liqueur pie, a bit much.
  • 2004 The Maiden - Densely packed with minerals, chocolate, fruit, and spice. A "more classic Napa" vintage, lotsa glacee fruit altho a touch of a vegetal note swirled in and out as it aired in the glass.
  • 2005 The Maiden - A wine "punching above its weight, at the 'seven year itch' stage" says Don. Agree that it is showing well -- sweet and unctuous on the palate, soft yet refreshing, lotsa spice and dark inky fruits. Intense, even mor eso than 2006.
  • 2006 The Maiden - Showing very flamboyantly with loads of bitter chocolate, chocolate covered cherry, Indian spices and almost a cola note here and there. A "slightly above average" vintage and showing youthfully well now. Intense, spicy, chocolate blueberry, and tannin.
  • 2007 The Maiden - "Landmark Harlan vintage" say the winemaking and management team. Huge fruity dusty chocolatey bomb today for sure. Sweet and spicy. Like a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and coconut, yet bone dry.
  • 2007 Harlan Estate - A step up in elegance and complexity from the Maiden. Loads of smoky, licoricey, sweet cherry milk chocolate goodness -- yet bone dry of course. Crushed minerals and a dollop of a sweet dustiness add to the package...

The tally:

Don's faves: 2005, 1999, and 1995
Cory's: 2001, 2005, 1999
Dan's: 1999, 1996, and 2005
Scott's: 2007, 2002, 2000, 1995
Gary's: 1995, 2001, 1999

That makes the 1999 the group's favorite, 2005 the second favorite, and 1995 the third.

With a disclaimer that he is no master sommelier like Paul Roberts (of BOND), Don recommended some food matches: "Pair these with mushrooms, truffles, ragu, birds with legs up in the air, gamier meats, things that have some smoke..."

"So you have Harlan Estate, patterned after a Bordeaux estate, and BOND, patterned after a Burgundian domaine. Both tremendously successful. What else is Bill [Harlan] up to?", I asked. "Well, Bill is still involved in various ventures, particularly Meadowood, but he lives here on the estate, and this is where he heart is. In Bill's vision, it's a 200 year project. We are still in the first act. But maybe, just maybe, there could be a third winery in the works...", hinted Don. More to be revealed, as the Harlan juggernaut marches on.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rayas elixir of blood

Yesterday I had the pleasure of drinking 2001 Chateau Rayas, paired with bbq ribs expertly made by my friend Chris B. Chateau Rayas is considered by most winos I know the best winery of the Southern Rhone. Located in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, it is as close, in my opinion, as Rhone comes to Burgundy. Color - translucent blood. Velvety texture and light body - so Burgundian. Flavor - Southern - spice box, berries, and a hint of veggie. Mezmerizing. Unusual for Southern Rhone where GSM (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre) blends rule the reds, Rayas is 100% Grenache. The best expression of Grenache in the world. I don't even like Grenache - it tends to be alcoholic, soft and low-acid. That's why it's usually "strengthened" by Syrah and Mourvedre. But not this wine. At 10 years of age, Rayas was an amazing elixir for those who look for both elegance and adventure in their bottle. Somehow images of classy vampires (from the movie Underworld) come to mind. Just look at the color - it's majestic! I paused, I looked, I smelled for minutes, I sipped. Repeat. The bad news? Recent releases of Rayas retail for over $200 a bottle... if you can find them. For those able to appreciate it, I think it's worth the price. Hell of a treat!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Heirloom tomato taste-off of 2011

AC Joseph's annual tomato taste-off comes around in September. For the past two years, I have attended and documented this event not just for fun but also for my next year's pick of heirloom tomato seedlings. AC and her friends, myself included, take tomatoes quite seriously. Come August-September, we enjoy Palo Alto nature's bounty with fresh buffalo mozzarella or burrata, fresh olive oil from Sigona's, fresh basil, and various other herbs and greens from my garden nearly every single day. And a basket of them makes a great gift. The rainbow of flavors, shapes and colors of heirloom tomato beauties are a feast for the senses; and they go well with a variety of summery white and rosé wines on a warm Palo Alto weekend.

It seems that 2011 has been a great vintage for tomatoes in the Bay Area. The warm, dry weather cooperated, and there are more flavorful darlings this year than in the last two. Out of 3-4 dozen varieties in the contest, I found at least a dozen that I would welcome any day. Some of the past winners were retired this year. You can see last year's results here. There were also new varieties that came to the scene for the first time and immediately stood out.

After hours of chopping, tables was finally set, and 33 scorers armed with sheets, pencils and toothpicks progressed through the heirlooms with all the seriousness of an Olympic panel. I thought this year orange and yellow tomatoes particularly excelled, while cherry tomatoes bursting with concentrated flavors were a hit as always. Some heirlooms tasted exotic, reminiscent of citrus, apricots, apples, and even carrots. As in wine, when evaluating tomatoes, I look for visual appeal, texture, and complexity and balance of flavor - a combination of tartness, sweetness, and juiciness.

Here is the list of varieties at the competition: Japanese Black Trifele, Chocolate Stripes, Morado, Gypsy, Blau Kazakhstan, Purple Calabash, Black Sea Man, Black Ethiopian, Costuluto Genovese, San Marzano, Bloody Butcher, Zapotec Pleated, Taraschenko, Pink Accordion, Red Boar, Dr. Wyche's, Lemon Oxheart, Golden King, Peppermint, Beauty Queen, Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge, Marvel Striped, Amana Orange, Orange Icicle, Phantom Du Laos, Great White, Ivory Egg, Principe Borghese, Black Cherry, Green Grape, Sunsweet, Yellow Pear, Emerald Apple, and Aunt Ruby's German Green.

Group's favorites in their respective categories were: Chocolate Stripes, Pink Accordion, Amana Orange, Great White, Sunsweet (cherry) and Aunt Ruby's German Green. Most overall votes went to Sunsweet cherry.

My faves were: Green Grape (cherry), Golden King, Emerald Apple, Sunsweet (cherry), Chocolate Stripes, Red Accordion, Phantom Du Laos, Red Boar, and Peppermint.

And after the scoring was all done, as the sun set and the weather cooled, the party kicked into another gear, with AC's husband JJ and his honky-tonk band putting the groove on to the cheer of the adoring tomato fans.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tango tasting #1

Last week was the inaugural wine tasting at my new company - Tango. The place is so cool, the head of HR actually asked me if I would conduct wine tastings! All I have to do is come up with a theme, bring wines, whatever I decide, and talk about them. For a relatively small startup, more than twenty people signed up for the "Tango Winos" wine group, the execs jumped in too - why not?! - three of them are French! The company paid for nice Riedel glasses and for the food. At Tango, we get breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, catered from popular local restaurants, suggested by the employees. But the cost of wine for the tasting group is shared among the participants. (It's a good tactic to discourage frivolous "drive-by" drinkers, even if the company were willing to pay for it.)

I arranged the wine tasting to go with the dinner on Wednesday at 6pm. Since so many people told me how much they loved big, thick, juicy Napa Cabs (and on the flip-side, how they were suspicious of Merlot), for the first wine tasting I elected to do Bordeaux varietals from around the world, paired from the food from Left Bank, dutifully delivered by our super-nice office manager Yaacov. There are, of course, five principal Bordeaux varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Carmenere is also allowed but I never see it used in Bordeaux blends. Similarly, Malbec is hardly ever used in Bordeaux anymore - it has found a new home in Argentina. You can also see Malbec still in major use in Cahors, France (known as Auxerrois) and Loire Valley, France (known as Cot).

The roster:

  • 2003 Napa Cab ($80, Cabernet Sauvignon, Paul Hobbs)
  • 1997 Bordeaux from Left Bank ($40, Chateau Langoa-Barton, 3rd-Growth from Saint-Julien, Cabernet Sauvignon based wine from the real Left Bank, not the restaurant)
  • 2005 Bordeaux from Right Bank ($36, Merlot based wine from Cotes de Castillon, Chateau d'Aiguilhe)
  • 2009 Chinon ($17, Cabernet Franc based wine from Loire Valley, Domaine Grosbois "La Cuisine de ma Mere")
  • 2007 Super-Tuscan ($25, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and a splash of Syrah from Bolgheri DOC, Antinori "Tenuta Guado al Tasso il Bruciato")
  • 2006 Malbec from Argentina ($20, Carmello Patti)

It was largely a beginner crowd. The group's faves were the 97 Langoa-Barton and the 2003 Paul Hobbs, but the Super-Tuscan did well too. Surprisingly, some folks really liked the Chinon, even though it was the most herbaceous of the bunch. The Chinon was definitely made more approachable by the generous 2009 vintage.

I thought that the 2005 Chateau d'Aiguilhe showed very well - lifted by the great 2005 vintage - still young, dense, very balanced, and tasty. The 1997 Langoa-Barton was a wine of restraint, elegance, and contemplation - at the height of maturity, showing nice combination of fruit, leather, and Autumn leaves, a classical Bordeaux, though not a great wine, a bit light and muted - a lovely product of the weak 1997 vintage in Bordeaux.

Paul Hobbs was raisiny, and many people obviously liked that. Not me.

I spoke of the grapes, regions, and flavors, and got applause in the end. What more can one want?! Tango rocks!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Manresa delights

Manresa - my favorite Bay Area gastronomic restaurant south of San Francisco, two Michelin stars well-deserved. The garden freshness of their dishes seems to represent a style perhaps slightly less fancy and lighter on its feet than French Laundry. Rona and I used to come here for anniversaries until we had a baby. Recently remodeled into a more modern feel, prices notched higher, a 15-course chef-menu dinner ensued. The wine director suggested a tasty bottle of Blanc de Noirs Champagne (100% Pinot Noir) by a relatively obscure producer Barnaut. At under $50 retail ($125 at the restaurant) this is a good value. Then Dan and I pulled out our own suave 2004 William Fevre Chablis Bougros Grand Cru and the mesmerizing Domain Jacques Prieur 2001 Clos Vougeot Grand Cru Red Burgundy. The latter was in the early stages of its adulthood, starting to show incredible secondary notes, satiny texture, and all the elements that kept me glued to the glass until the wine was gone - reminding why red Burgundy rules the world of fine wine. Exquisite, focused masterpieces by Iron Chef winner Chef David Kinch were weightless yet packed with flavor. Nearly 5 hours later, cookies in hand, we left giddy of gastronomic delights and many hundreds of dollars lighter, no regrets, just happy smiles, as we picked up a healthy handful of the most delicious salty caramel candies from the host on the way out! Bon Appetite!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Quiet weekends in Palo Alto - with white Burgundy, Chianti Classico, and a great VT CdP blanc

Baby Evan is now four months old, and Rona and I are starting to get out for an occasional picnic or lunch, while enjoying simple yet delectable food and wine pairings from local foodie joints that we've been missing. Here are a few photos from the past two weekends, taken with my trusty iPhone4 camera.

Enjoying 2009 white Burgundy from Domaine Jacob (under $17, courtesy of Garagiste) at the Old Port Lobster Shack in Redwood City (the corkage is only $5) - excellent, lively, mineral-infused, flavorful, Chardonnay with no new oak. I expect value-driven red Burgundies to do well in 2009, across the board. But the whites in 2009 may be hit or miss. This one certainly hit the nail on the head. Fantastic with New England clam chowder.

Below is the same wine, equally excellent with fish and chips, and Maine lobster rolls, and fries!

Then an excellent Chianti Classico from a very solid producer Il Molino di Grace from the very good 2006 vintage. Got this wine for under $15 from Vinopolis in Portland, Oregon. Excellent bargain - and a very substantial Chianti, combining earthy black cherry and tar. This could age a few more years. Fabulous with a Blue cheese burger with crispy bacon (yum!) from Oasis in Palo Alto. Enjoying by the Boronda Lake at the pristine Foothills Park (exclusive for Palo Alto residents only!).

And finally, one of the best whites I've ever had - and it's not a white Burgundy. This 1998 Southern Rhone Chateauneuf-du-Pape from Vieux Telegraphe was not a beginner wine - incredibly complex, with scents of herbs and honey. Savory and dry yet full of sweet ripe fruit, satiny texture, and freshness unexpected of a wine with 13 years of age. Enjoying with Krishna after a tough (20-min :)) tennis "battle"!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Some whites get fatter not better with age

Two of the white wines I was very excited about, are not tasting so good anymore. I had stocked up on 2008 Bruno Giacosa Roero Arneis (from Piedmonte, Italy) and 2007 Chante-Perdrix Condrieu "Authentic" (from Northern Rhone, France). 1-2 years ago they tasted great (see my old raves here and here), but in the past year, they have fattened and lost some of their freshness. I am glad I am down to my last bottle of each, while they still taste okay, especially when paired with just the right food.

This is a reminder that stocking up on wines to keep them for years is not always a good idea, particularly when it comes to Arneis (the white grape of Roero) and Viognier (the white grape of Condrieu) grape varieties. You've been warned!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sushi at home with Riesling and Red Burgundy

At our local Japanese supermarket - Mitsuwa - located off of Saratoga exit off of 280 in San Jose, you can buy great quality, sashimi-grade raw fish and have your own sushi feast at home. We buy probably 10 different kinds (total about $50-60), and it's enough to stuff four people until they can't eat anymore, at about a quarter of what it would cost at a restaurant. And it's so much more fun to DIY! No fancy rolls, just sashimi, nigiri, and handrolls. Get a pack of dry nori (seaweed sheets), some shiso leaves, sprouts, cucumber, and avocado. Steam rice, add rice vinegar. Slice the fish. And sculpt your own sushi masterpieces to your heart's and stomach's content. Yum!

Always perfect with Kabinett (slightly off-dry) level of German Riesling, as the elements in the wine complement the umami elements in the fish, soy sauce and wasabi. I also like an entry level red Burgundy, the lighter the better, such as from the light 2007 vintage, with good acidity. It goes really well with heartier fish such as tuna and unagi.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Kumeu River Chardonnay

The Wine Spectator's #41 in The Top 100 of 2009 wouldn't normally mean much to me. But when a wine shows up at a weekly Burgundy vs. New Zealand line-up at the staunchly old-world wine shop VinVinoWine in Palo Alto, I know there is something interesting going on. New Zealand's Kumeu River Chardonnay is starting to get reputation as more "burgundian" than a typical new-world chard.

From the first sip of the 2007 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay, I tasted the unmistakable acidity I'd come to expect from New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, with a kiss of oak of a Chardonnay. 100% barrel fermented, 100% malo-lactic, 11 months maturation in small oak barrel (20% new wood) imparted no heaviness or butteriness of a Napa Chardonnay. I appreciated a relatively low level of alcohol - 13.5%. Some even ascribe Premier Cru status to the winemaker's Mike Brajkovic' finest cuvees. With a body somewhere in between a high-end Chablis (such as from William Fevre) and a white from Cote d'Or, to my palate it didn't have as much minerality as a white Burgundy. The wine's high acid gave it incredible precision, energy and brightness, atop of juicy grapefruit, citrus zest and touches of tropical fruit. With acidity like that, it should develop more complexity with age. It would pair with variety of foods - from cheese and charcuterie to salads to fish and so on. (I had it with pan-seared wild salmon sprinkled generously with high-quality extra virgin olive oil, served with a side of green salad from my garden - an easy and enjoyable combo.) 2007 Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay - quite a bargain at under $20 at K&L (elsewhere at $30-35).

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Giacomo Conterno Barbera with cheeseburger

I mean, what DOESN'T go with a juicy cheeseburger?! - IMHO, the greatest creation of American gastronomy! To continue his annual tradition of pairing vinous greats with burgers, Dan pulled out Giacomo Conterno!

Conterno is one of the top three names in traditional Barolo - the other two are Bruno Giacosa and Bartolo Mascarello. Yes, there are many others, commanding great respect and high prices. But you mention the name of Giacomo Conterno, and drooling starts. Barolo is Conterno's top expression, but the winery also make impressive Barbera - structured, deep, balanced, and not cheap. Now, of course I have asked in the past - why should Barbera aspire to greater heights than an everyday drink that Piedmontese have traditionally taken it for? But be that as it may, this year my friend Dan "the gour-man-d" served his fantastico garlic shiso burgers with two 2008 Conterno Barberas d'Alba - Cerretta (new vineyard) and Cascina Francia (venerable old vineyard). Cascina Francia which spends two years in large Slavonian oak barrels is even more serious than Cerretta. Excellent wines, especially for those who want to see how high a Barbera can climb, figuratively speaking. (For another example of spectacular, high-end Barbera, check Vietti's Barbera d'Alba "Scarrone Vigna Vecchia").

Dan's half-pound cheeseburger was amazing as always - juice-dripping hunk of melt-in-your-mouth ground cow, accentuated by shiso in place of lettuce. With burger though, a heartier wine such as Tuscany's Sangiovese (Brunello) or Cab-based wine (Bordeaux, Napa Cab, Super-Tuscan), or Umbria's Sagrantino or Veneto's Valpolicella, in my opinion, probably would have worked even better!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Paella at Scott's with Marisa Cuomo, Bandol, and Marqués de Murrieta Rioja

These days with baby Evan, I find less time to get out for fancy dinners, much less document them. Fortunately, I found a few minutes to sit down and rave about my friend Scott's mouth-watering paella feast from Friday night.

The dinner started with tapas, which paired well with one of Italia's top white wines - Marisa Cuomo "Fiorduva" 2006 - a supreme expression of three (unheard-of) indigenous grapes (30% Fenile, 30% Ginestra and 40% Ripoli) from Furore on the Amalfi Coast of Campania. A fitting description from K&L website: "Fresh, like the sea, the wine envelops with lemony zip on the nose and notes of apricot and tropical fruit with hints of ocean air that continue from the bouquet onto the honeyed and floral palate." There is plenty of acidity and body. Italy's answer to white Burgundy? (How dare I?!!!) The 2006 is drinking with elegance, matching well the gorgeous tapas - padrons, red peppers with fried garlic vinaigrette, shrimps with lemon and garlic, and the intriguing toast with melted mozzarella, prosciutto and butter-fried sage - an unexpectedly flavorful and harmonious combination! Scott tells me that the secret of the garlic is to fry slivers just enough that they brown but don't turn bitter - a few seconds over, and you might as well throw them into trash! The time between golden brown and burnt / bitter garlic is very short. This step usually takes some practice with the timing.

And then onto the main course - paella with chorizo sausage, shrimp, and peppers. Finished on a grill! A couple of key steps to making the successful paella are building flavor into the the rice and using warmed chicken stock that has been infused with the saffron threads. Scott starts the paella on the stove top. Once all ingredients are in, he stops stirring the dish and finishes it on the grill over mesquite lump charcoal. On the grill he no longer stirs the paella but turns the pan to insure even cooking. As soon as the chicken stock is absorbed by the rice, a crust should start to form and the the paella is ready to serve.

The paella was perfect with 2001 Marqués de Murrieta Rioja Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva Especial - a wonderfully deep, mid-weight Rioja that has entered into its adolescence with a complex combination of primary and secondary fruit flavors and hints of leather of aged tempranillo. The classical 2010 Tempier Bandol Rosé was a lighter, zingier alternative to the more robust Rioja.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ladies going gaga over my baby

Oh, and that's Delamotte Champagne (Champagne Salon's little sibling) in a Ridge glass - high-acidity refreshing pleasure for a hot summer afternoon in Palo Alto.

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