Thursday, March 25, 2010

Robert Eymael is coming to town

The man behind the Monchhof label is coming back to Southern California in May, I just heard last evening.

He'll be bringing the spirit of his steep, slate-covered vineyards perhaps to a store or restaurant near you. Stay tuned...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Church on Sunday

Yes, more gratuitous food & wine pics!

So, dinner was at Church & State on Sunday evening with good friends.... Sunday is a prix fixe menu only at Church & State, and no access to their normal menu, so that was a bit rigid. But we tried not to let this affect our evening, and with the exciting wines and fun people that were present, it really didn't.

First off, the 2007 Burrowing Owl Chardonnay was opened and it was a beauty. Bright fruit, with very good acidity coupled with some oakiness which did increase as the wine opened up - still, it was very well balanced - yes, a bit more oaky than I normally prefer, but still very well done given the style. Not super buttery. More like crisp apple and pear-type fruits with good concentration and some new oak. Very easy to drink and good with our amuse bouche and appetizers.

Our other wine was what friend Bennett chose from his cellar - 1971 Cheval Blanc, a Bordeaux from St. Emilion on the right bank, a wine made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

Movie afficianados will recognize Cheval Blanc as the wine that Miles was hoarding in Sideways, and ended up drinking by himself out of a styrofoam cup after his friend's wedding ceremony. Bennett reminded me that was the 1961 Cheval Blanc that Miles was drinking, and the wine geeky irony was that while Miles ranted that he would not drink Merlot, his favorite Bordeaux wine is actually primarily made from the grape variety Merlot (along with Cabernet Franc).
The 71 Cheval Blanc was pretty spectacular - did not taste a day over 20 - it was not old-tasting, instead it was spicy, rich and flavorful, in a French wine sort of way, not a California wine sort of way, but it still had plenty of fruit, plenty of bright purply red color in the glass, and delicious nuance. Drinking this 39 year old wine made me understand why Bordeaux is collected and revered. It holds up! That was an awesome treat.
Onto the food pics.
The amuse bouche was a cheesy ham tarte, like something you might enjoy in Alsace (though I have never been to Alsace, people just tell me that Alsacians like this sort of thing):
We ordered an extra a la carte appetizer to share, this tarte flambe, which was also could have been from Alsace. Delicious cheesy goodness, went really well with the Chardonnay, actually:

The fixed menu had these two appetizers for the table to share, a Thon (tuna) Bourgignon (with a beef jus sauce):

And a salad, which was quite simple but nicely fresh:

There was a choice of main dishes; hubby and I both chose the veal tenderloin filet topped with forest mushrooms, fresh peas, and carrots:

It was a nice piece of veal, very rare, though most of the flavor was in the mushrooms on top - the veal could have been made more flavorful, just my opinion, but it was very tender and good.
Finally, there was a dessert platter to share - some basic things on there, like a orange sorbet-type thing, a creme brule, and some dried fruits and brandy on a crisp.
In all, the food was rustic, nicely flavored, very rich, with plenty of cheese and cream (especially the potatoes au gratin, which I have not photographed, but they accompanied the main course - they were super creamy, cheesy and salty). What we had was definitely enjoyable and tasty, however, not as refined as say the mysterious birthday dinner I wrote about a couple of posts ago. Church & State has a regular menu that we would like to check out sometime, which has some more daring items like crispy pig ears, pieds de cochon (pigs feet) and other interesting delicacies, and its casual, hip-bistro-like atmosphere does have its draw if you are in the area (and don't mind driving through skid row to arrive to its slightly gentrified block).
To conclude, Church & State is a cool place, and I had a great time. They don't mind if you bring your own wine, and they know how to take a cork out of an old bottle without breaking it into bits. And that'll bring me to Church on Sunday, no problem.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Domestic Wine, if you're in Canada....

When I was in Canada last, I rummaged around my newly married sister's place, and found that she and new hubby had started a bit of a wine collection.

Most of the wines in their wine racks were not really recognizable to me, except the wines from this winery - Burrowing Owl - a winery in Oliver, British Columbia. Oliver is a very small place in the interior of B.C., far away from Vancouver, and is north of what I believe is the hottest place in Canada, Osoyoos. This is a part of B.C. which I believe has the climate you would find in the Washington State wineries which are located inland.

I have never been to this winery, or to the town of Oliver, for that matter, but I had heard of the winery, read about it, and knew of its reputation. So I enquired about the wine, and my sister informed me that these are limited release wines, which was information consistent with what I had read. I asked her to let me know the next time there is a release, so I may purchase some, both their reds and their whites.

Long story short, she gave me a bottle of their Chardonnay, and I brought it back to California, and I have been looking for the opportunity to open it.

I took a picture of it tonight before I popped it into the fridge. No, I didn't have it tonight, but I will have it tomorrow evening when we bring it to downtown LA French hip bistro Church & State, where we will share it with folks who are into that sort of thing - wines from different places in the world, including B.C!

I'm looking forward to the experience on a few different levels. First, I'd like to know what I think of the wine, and if it is to my taste. This will interest me because I'm not a big "domestic Chardonnay" drinker. Which is funny because last evening at a wine tasting, someone asked the dreaded question which it feels like I am asked often by people not in the wine business (and this is probably asked of wine business people), "What is your favorite wine?" and I ended up answering that I like Champagne.... and then someone said "Blanc de Blancs - and that's Chardonnay!" which is to suggest that my favorite wine is Chardonnay - and I had to think, is my favorite grape Chardonnay?? Champagne is so different from how still Chardonnay usually tastes..... but it is still the Chardonnay grape...

It won't be Champagne, but here's what I hope this 2007 Burrowing Owl Estate Chardonnay will be like:

* not oaky

* not pineapply

* not sweet

* balanced

* flavorful

* rich but not too much so

* like apples and pears

* having some structure and acidity

In other words, I want it to taste like a good Burgundy, but not an oaky one. One aged in old barrels okay fine, but not bristling with toothpicks and splinters of new oak.

Ahhhh....yes. I might get it too, you never know. On the other hand, it might be horrible, who knows. I don't. I have only been to B.C. wine country once since it has become wine country - that's the Okanagan. I have been there far more times before it became wine country, back when we were kids and it was peach land.

So I'm very curious about how highly regarded B.C. wine tastes. We don't get any down here in California. Except when sisters give them to you.

Report to follow.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Memorable orange colored delicacies in Germany

Once in a while, when in Germany, I have a memorable time at the food and wine table. One of those times in February was when we had lunch at the Hans Wirsching Estate in Iphofen, in the region of Franken.

After an extensive tasting of gorgeous dry Franken Silvaners, Scheurebes, Rieslings and Rose, we were treated to a simple but very satisfying lunch at the winery.

It all started off with one of the best soups I've ever had: pumpkin soup - with an intensity of flavor and balance of spices that was pretty awesome:

Followed by a platter of assorted meats:

And a platter of assorted cheeses, along with delicious dark breads:

All washed down with some tasty Franken wines, even very old ones, like this 1969 Hans Wirsching Iphofer Julius-Echter-Berg Silvaner Trockenbeerenauslese - rich and long in mouthfeel, with brown sugar, caramel, orange rind, cinnamon, dates, almond marzipan, apple cider flavors all intermingling in that way that only a 41-year old TBA can. 120 grams residual sugar, 13.5% alcohol. Yum.

Who knew that Germany was known for their delicious homemade pumpkin soup? And Silvaner TBA in a bocksbeutel?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Birthday dinner with hubby & a great Merlot! Who wuddah thunk it?

So, after I returned from Germany, I looked forward to my birthday dinner with my husband, and I got to choose the restaurant. I decided not to name the restaurant here, this time (I usually do, but this time, I'll just review and leave the name out, even though I really enjoyed it).

The restaurant is one that I have read good things about in websites about fine dining. It is very beautiful, with muted tones, mostly shades of brown. We were seated in a very comfortable booth, and the maitre d' took our coats, which was a very nice touch.

Soon after, we were presented with menus and wine lists. The menu featured a truffle tasting menu with 5 courses that each had truffles. Then there was a choose-your-own 4 or 5 course menu. The truffle menu looked intriguing, but I wasn't sure I would enjoy 5 courses with truffles - I worried I would have truffle overload. So, I opted with the 4 course menu, which had an appetizer, an in-between course, a main, and a dessert. I was disappointed that they did not have a cheese cart (I love cheese carts), but one of the dessert choices was a cheese plate, so that was good.

As for the wine list, I found the prices to be exorbitant. There were tons of Burgundies and Bordeaux wines, California Cabernets and Pinot Noirs, all in the up-market direction. Hubby asked me for my wine suggestions, and they were: Merlot. I saw a couple of Merlots that I felt were undervalued, a Trefethen Merlot and a Paradigm Merlot, both looked intriguing, like stocks that took a dive for no reason other than general unpopularity among the lemmings. We have always liked the Napa winery Trefethen, but we didn't remember what their Merlot tasted like. When we asked the server what he recommended, he seemed to like the Paradigm, so we went with it - the 2006 Paradigm Napa Valley Merlot.

I admit, I also have not drunk a Merlot for ages; in fact, I do not remember the last one I have had, though I have had plenty of Pinot Noir the last few years, so I, too, am a lemming, drinking what everyone else has been drinking. So this evening was an eye opening one for me, in that I asked myself, why wasn't I acting the contrarian that I claim to be?

I thought that even more when I tasted the wine and it was delicious. Bright raspberry-like fruit, brilliant and vibrant, not heavy nor oaky, it was my kind of wine. It had backbone but not too much of one; it didn't try to claim its seriousness with too much tannin, oak, acid or any of those things - it was simply charming and fruity without being sweet. It was the wine I was looking for to sip ahead of the meal and with the dishes we chose. I was really happy with it!

On with the food - we had three courses, followed by dessert or cheese. For my first course, I chose the beef carpaccio. It was wonderful - flavorful and the texture was melt-in-your-mouth:

Hubby opted for the seared foie gras, which also melted in the mouth:

My next course was a monkfish with a rice pilaf under a red pepper:

See how when you break open the red pepper, the rice is beneath. I wasn't aware from the menu description that the fish would be fried. I prefer a roasted or pan sauteed fish, and I probably wouldn't have ordered it if I knew it would be tempura battered and fried:

Hubby ordered the quail, which I tried, and it was awesome, very flavorful - I should have gotten that!

For my main course, I had the duck breast, which was very nicely done. Though it was not imaginative, it was enjoyable, and went very well with the Merlot.

Hubby had the buffalo steak with a terrine of buffalo pot roast, which I thought was quite unique and nicely done.

Dessert, for me, was a cheese course - funny, but I used to love dessert; now I love cheese. I had an Epoisse, a Roquefort, and a Tome de Savoie. Everything was super ripe and rich and absolutely delicious. I love cheese!

Hubby's dessert was a combination of milk and dark chocolate mousses with some orange sorbet and candied mandarine orange slices.

All in all, a superb dinner with great company, terrific wine, and 4 courses that one could get used to having........ the service was perfect. Can't wait till the next time we have an excuse to celebrate!

Geburtstag! at the Joh. Jos. Prum Estate in Wehlen

So this year, I had to work on my birthday, even though it was a Sunday... but I spent it with folks I enjoy working with, and best of all, I had dinner in a foreign country where I was treated like family at an estate many wine enthusiasts have heard of, the estate of Joh. Jos. Prum in the town of Wehlen in the Middle Mosel.

Not only was Manfred Prum there, but also his wife Amee, and his daughter Katharina, and Manfred's eldest brother Echart, who was in from Frankfurt.

I've had the pleasure of tasting wine and dining here in the J.J. Prum dining room two times before, and always, one is treated like honored guests, and that's really a lot of fun.

First off, we tasted the 2009 vintage wines from the vineyards of Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Bernkasteler Badstube, Graacher Himmelreich, and Zeltingen Sonnenuhr. I won't go through the individual tasting notes of all these Rieslings, but I will say instead that the 2009 wines were very easy to taste, as the wines were very open and expressive, crystalline pure and succulent. Balanced and not too acidic nor sulfury. Great wines that Manfred compared to the 2005 vintage.

After that, a beautiful home-prepared 3-course dinner that showcased how delicious German cuisine can be, and how well German Rieslings pair with such dishes.

The first course was a foie gras served on a slice of sauteed apple with a side of toasted brioche. This was paired with a Goldkapsel Auslese from J.J. Prum, though the exact vintage and vineyard I did not note (too busy taking the night off and enjoying).

The second course was a smoked local fish purchased nearby... the name of the fish I was not certain, but I was sure that this was very delicious, as was the mustard sauce that accompanied it. This course was paired with a drier J.J. Prum wine, not bone dry, but drier than the previous Goldkapsel (proof that you can start with a wine with more residual sugar, then go on to a drier wine, especially when food is involved).

The final main course was most intriguing. First off, when it was being served, we weren't sure what it was. Bright red in color, with a creamy sauce underneath, it could have been steak tartare - we didn't know. But soon we learned that it was Red Spatzle with a Gorgonzola Sauce. The red spatzle was made with beets in the dough, giving it a delicious naturally sweet flavor and that vibrant, striking color. Along with the blue cheese sauce and diced tomatoes on top, the dish was amazing, savory, with explosive flavors, the sweetness of the beets playing off well against the intense flavors of the blue cheese. And needless to say, the dish was perfect with another one of the J.J. Prum Rieslings.
After a meal like this one, it would be so difficult to deny the draw to German cuisine. It is just too much of a shame that this type of German food doesn't often make it to our neck of the woods. If only there were fine German restaurants here serving such homemade delicacies instead of the too often touted sausages and schnitzel.
There is, though, one restaurant I know of in Los Angeles that does have some menu items such as these and that would be 3 Square in Venice. I've had spatzle there with morels that was quite spectacular. I'll have to go back there sometime soon.
But I digress. After our dinner, we tasted more wines from older vintages, with much guessing of the vintages and the vineyards, a game I didn't do too well at this year. We did, however, end on a very special wine, a 1971 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel, brought by Manfred's eldest brother Echardt (how special is that?) and enjoyed by us all. What a lovely treat! And Manfred's wife saved me the label, which I kept and brought back with me as a souvenir.
In summary, I had a very pleasant birthday in Germany in the middle Mosel. My coworkers and bosses were awesome, I got a German birthday card signed by all, and the food and wine experience was one of a kind. Life is good!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Spontaneous Fermentation

It was my third trip to the German wine regions, and it was a personal challenge for me to figure out something new I could learn on this particular trip.

As it turned out, I learned quite a lot. I learned that I could order fish and salad at most German restaurants and get a really good meal without a lot of heavy, rich meats and sauces. I learned that I could go for a run through the vineyards in the Rheinhessen and run along the Mosel river, even in February. And I learned that I can tell when a wine has been fermented with naturally occuring wild yeasts, a process also called spontaneous fermentation, and I learned that I actually like these wines.

First, some definitions (from a non-winemaker, essential lay-person):

Spontaneous fermentation, a.k.a. wild yeast fermentation or natural fermentation is method of wine production which does not use the addition of yeast to start and control fermentation of the grape juice. Instead, grapes are crushed and allowed to ferment on their own. Grapes have yeasts living naturally on their skins. These yeasts can begin to go to work on the grape juice when the conditions are right, ie. they have a nice warm temperature, plenty of food, that sort of thing. They stop working when the alcohol (which they produce from the sugar in the juice) eventually kills them, or the temperatures get so they can't live or reproduce very well (when it gets too cold).

Cultured yeast fermentation is the usual, conventional way of making wine now, which is where you add some purchased yeast and add it to your grape juice after crushing the grapes. This reminds me of making bread. When you open that package of Fleischmann's yeast and add it to warm water and sugar, and those dried yeast guys suddenly liven up and start eating the sugar in the water and make bubbles.

In the Rudi Wiest portfolio, there are several producers that are known for using wild yeast fermentation on their Rieslings, as opposed to cultured yeast fermentation. They are: Joh. Jos. Prum in the Mosel, Schloss Lieser also in the Mosel, and Schafer-Frohlich in the Nahe.

In the past, before this most recent trip, I admit that I actually did not like Rieslings made with wild yeast - I found their aromas to be muted, slightly beer-y and sometime sulfury, instead of what I expect Rieslings to smell like - fruity, floral, and everything nice and clean and bright.

However, this time, in tasting the 2009s - and this may have been because the 2009s were so expressive - I found that I really enjoyed the Rieslings fermented with wild yeasts.

The reason for using wild yeast fermentation is to show the terroir of the vineyard in the wines not only by using all that is in the grape - the juice, the skins, the seeds, but also using the organisms living on the grapes - the yeasts - to do the work of making the wine, instead of adding cultured yeasts to do the job. The idea is that the wild yeasts are different in each location, and they taste different, whereas cultured yeast give you good, clean, predictable results, leading to the assimilation of wine - ie. your wine ends up tasting like your neighbor's wine and everyone else's that uses that yeast. With natural yeast, you get more variation between wines.

And with it, you get more yeasty aromas - aromas of beer, bread, sometimes reminiscent of sulfur too. But this year, when I smelled and tasted the wines made through spontaneous fermentation, I found depth, intrigue, delight. Instead of polished clean, fruity clear Rieslings, I found Rieslings with soul and depth, interest, and character. Like a person who has not a perfectly symmetrical face and a 36-24-36 body and perfectly straight teeth and flawless skin, but a person you don't think is beautiful initially until you get to know her, then you see how different she is from the others. You get a sense of where she comes from, what she's done, what she's been through, and how she got there - the hard way, the patient way, the right way, on her own, without guarantees of success, with more danger and risk. That's a Riesling fermented spontaneously.

The wines from Joh. Jos. Prum, Schloss Lieser, and Schafer-Frohlich were among my favorites this year, and that is a first. I admit to not having given enough credit to these wines because they aren't obvious supermodels evident to everyone at first - they take time to appreciate. I've been working around these wines for 3 or 4 years and it is only now that I would reach for one of these instead of their simpler, cleaner cousins.

Who knows what will happen next year? Perhaps next year I'll prefer the more minerally ones..... wonders never cease when learning about wine.