Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An "Exceeds Expectations" German wine dinner

The room was dimly lit, and my camera's flash was misbehaving, so I didn't get any good pictures of food or wine that night, but I would be remiss if I did not mention what a fantastic wine dinner I had the opportunity to co-host last Friday evening.

The dinner took place at a restaurant in Long Beach, a terrific owner-operated place with class and elegance, Delius Restaurant. Owners Dave and Louise are among the most generous and fun hosts I have ever met. They were turned on to German wine years ago by my former boss, Randy Kemner of The Wine Country. They became fans of the Rudi Wiest portfolio ever since.

And, for the past 5 years, or maybe more, they've hosting a German wine dinner once a year in their elegant "prix-fixe" dining room, matching some of the most luscious German wines with their eclectic and well-executed cuisine.

And, very importantly to me, the setting is so perfect. Dave and Louise already feature prix-fixe dinners every evening, with special themes that change weekly, featuring seasonally fresh ingredients, and taking diners through 5 or more courses of delightful, exciting fare.

So what did we have that was so wonderful? We started off with some refreshing and minerally 2009 Wirsching Iphofer Kronsberg Silvaner trocken from the traditional Franken bocksbeutel, which was paired with a pickled trout done in-house and served delicately upon a slice of cold Yukon gold potato that had been roasted to al dente, and topped with some creme fraiche. Perfect. An appetizing dish, not a hint of grease, a fun and stimulating way to start the meal.

The second course was a sauteed sweetbreads served with cauliflower and salsify - as if the sweetbreads themselves were not interesting enough, I thought the menu tacticians were taking great care to serve interesting vegetables as sides, too, like salsify - which was very salsifying! The sweetbreads were meaty and nicely done to a golden brown, and the entire dish went nicely with 2008 Pfeffingen Estate Riesling Kabinett (a.k.a "Pfeffo") which is a medium-dry style Riesling with nice body and weight, owing to the fact that it is from the Pfalz, a warmer growing region than say, the Mosel, and also owing to its vinification style, which is toward the drier side vs. a fruity Kabinett. I thought the pairing was nice - it was the wine recommended by my boss Rudi Wiest - though Randy mentioned that he wouldn't mind something with a bit more residual sugar (read: sweeter) with the dish. I could see his point. For someone who doesn't mind a well-made German Riesling with residual sugar - or someone like me who likes a fruity Spatlese with dinner - a fruity Kabinett or Spatlese would have been fine, even delicious, with the meal.

The next two courses were paired with German red wines. People were pretty excited to hear that, I'll tell you what! And I was pretty excited too. First, we had the 2008 Becker Estate Pinot Noir paired with the duck course. Now, Pinot Noir & duck is a natural perfect pairing, so this was a no-brainer in the planning department. But little did I know how AWESOME this was until I tasted it. Seriously, I'm not just pumping up the wine right now to sell it - it was terrific and showed beautifully that night - I'm not sure if the Becker is just at a really perfect stage right now, or if the duck dish brought out all its wonderful cherry fruitiness. Wow. The duck was no ordinary duck, but it was a Muscovy duck breast, thick, tender, rich, cooked just perfectly, ie. medium-rare, and served with black beans (the menu said "black bean and pear chutney") and it was supposed to be cinnamon scented. I didn't notice the cinnamon accent when I ate the dish, but then I was pretty distracted by the lovely wine. Wow.

The final savory course, after that generous slab of duck breast, was a pan roasted veal loin paired with 2007 Schnaitmann Lemberger from the Wurttemberg. Now, I won't lie to you - I have trouble selling this wine. One restaurant buyer summed it up most succintly in this way: "Look, I can't sell a wine with three words on it that no one knows what they mean: Schnaitmann, Lemberger, and Wurttemberg." So there you have it - no one knows what Lemberger is, and if they had a guess, it would be a stinky cheese. Well, it isn't "limberger" - the stinky cheese, but instead, it is the same variety as Blaufrankisch, the name the Austrians give to this grape. But in Germany, the wine is called Lemberger. As soon as this wine was poured into the glass, its aromas made themselves known to our noses. Yum! Enticing blackberrry and blueberry lept from the glass, but on the palate, we didn't get gloopy Shiraz, but instead, elegant, structured, fruit-forward yet not jammy Lemberger, a delicious and satisfyingly rich red that is unlike anything else I represent. Oh it was tasty, and it was so fun to introduce it to a roomful of people who had never tasted Lemberger. This wine would fly off the shelves if only it didn't say Lemberger!

Finally, we came to dessert. There was no dessert wine, just coffee with it - a chocolate mascarpone cheesecake baked to perfection, light as a cloud and not super sweet - very nice, with a side of blackberry gelee. No dessert wine to compete with that lovely ending.

In all, I was super impressed with the caliber of the Delius kitchen, the fantastic culinary adventure, the way the wines performed, and the mood of the entire dining room. Everyone was pleased. And I got requests to do another wine dinner this fall at another local restaurant that I've done a wine dinner at before - Fora in Naples... two years ago we did a hunter's wild game dinner with German red wines. We've been asked for an encore, and that's now in the works. Stay tuned...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Week without Wine (almost!)

Wine has its place, and can add so much to an experience. But there are also times when it is not much missed. Last week, when I was on vacation in Vancouver, B.C., that was one of those times, a non-wine-focused holiday.

Not to say that British Columbia doesn't have some great wines. It does. In fact, my sister brought me back a couple of bottles from her trip out to Burrowing Owl, and I do look forward to tasting those (Pinot Noir & Meritage). It is just that I prefer to drink wine when it is a wee bit cooler outside.

The weather, was for the most part, sweltering hot. I was happy guzzling my B.C. tap, some bubble tea, and some good beer.

But most of all, it was a time to spend with family. And re-acquainting myself with the city. The city in its summer self, when lawns were yellowy-brown and parched, unaccustomed to being so starved for water in a city known for its plentiful rains.

The days were so hot at one point, that I thought I was visiting my family in Vegas or something - I couldn't sleep at night, and complained that it was so much hotter than in L.A. Then one evening, before sunset, I declared that it was enough, I had to get out of the house, so my sister took me and my husband down to the beach. English Bay. And it was gorgeous.

We had front row seats for the sunset. Literally, a great park bench that no one else had claimed. The sun took its sweet time descending from the sky to tuck in behind the mountains. I even heard myself complaining that it was taking too long to descend. "Why isn't it going down already??" I am cranky when hot and the sun is in my eyes. But then I learned that the farther one is away from the equator, the longer it takes for the sun to set. In the Caribbean, it would dive down in a minute, I was told.

During the week, we even went to a concert - Michael Buble - a veritable Vancouver boy - 34-3/4 years old, crooning the oldies. He was opened by this group, Naturally 7, who did "voice play" - a version of a capella, except not only do they use their voices to sing, they used them to simulate instruments. Sometimes, they even became their instrument. They were cool. One group member reminded me of Barack Obama. He was the double bass, I think.

Then came Buble. He sang for a solid 2 hours. By himself. No back-up singers. No duets. Just himself. He sang lots of oldies. I enjoyed it but didn't go crazy over it. Being at this concert at Rogers Arena (formerly GM Place & Canada Hockey Place) made me feel nostalgic for a George Michael concert I attended maybe 20 years ago, when I really went nuts for all the songs.


Now, for my next post, I'll share with you the one wine-inclusive evening that I did have in Vancouver...

Monday, August 9, 2010

A tale of Oliver Haag in Two Cities

When I first learned about German Rieslings, then later about the subcategory of Mosel Rieslings, I began to learn from Randy, owner of The Wine Country, about how special the Rieslings of Fritz Haag Estate were. These Rieslings always seemed the most pure, the most classic, the most full of stuffing while still delicate on their feet... full of mouth-filling flavor and crystalline beauty. In a quest to find out more about these beautiful wines, I learned that they were made from a site called Brauneberg, a wine village dating back to Roman times, when it was called the Latin name Dusemonde or "sweet mountain." It was later named a more Germanic sounding Brauneberg, or "brown mountain," which, while being less poetic, was an accurate description of this site which, unlike other hills covered with vineyards, Brauneberg was not topped with a rich forest of trees which served as a sponge for rain water, but instead was topped by an almost bare hilltop, with little to no water reserve. This hillside vineyard is therefore dry and brown.

Aside from the legend of the wine village and hillside vineyards Juffer and Juffer Sonnenuhr was the legend of the man, the winemaker Wilhelm Haag, whom I met the first time I attended a Rudipalooza tasting with Randy, back in 2006. Wilhelm Haag is a legend because he has worked his family's winery from the age of 20 to the age of 70, 50 years of winemaking, while being, I believe, the head of the VDP at some points..... the details of which I am unclear about, but I do know he was a major advocate of quality wines in the Mosel region. I also know that as a person, he is very kind, generous, open, and hilariously funny. In my various meetings that I have had with him since that first time at that tasting in 2006, he has told some funny jokes with great delivery - charm, I think it is called - for example, he said of his wines from the vineyard Juffer ("virgin" in German), "it is the only virgin that gets better with age." Guffaw guffaw...

Anyhoo... approximately 5 years ago, Wilhelm Haag did retire and pass on his estate to his son, Oliver Haag. Oliver Haag worked for years for the Wegeler estates, and finally, he had returned to run the family estate and carry on the strong tradition on great winemaking in the Mosel. I had met Oliver Haag on several occasions going to taste in Germany, but I didn't really get to know him as a person until in July this year when he came to work with us in California, and I got to work with him in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.

And here's what I found out about Oliver Haag - he is a terrific person, super smart and knowledgeable, generous and great to work with. In San Francisco, we dashed from one restaurant to another - Slanted Door, RN74, Vanessa's Bistro & from one wine store to another - Wine House, Wine Club, and many others...

In Los Angeles, similarly we hopped from account to account - starting with a breakfast meeting at 9:30 am at Starling Diner in Long Beach (pictured above with owners Ed and Joan), then to The Wine Country to see Randy (top), then up to picturesque Santa Monica, and ending the evening with a wine dinner at 3 Square Restaurant in Venice, where chef/owner Wolfgang Gussmack orchestrated a 4-course meal replete with savory dishes that went beautifully with the Fritz Haag wines.
Working those long days in SF and LA with Oliver were hard and tiring - I won't lie to you! - but he made it worthwhile by being a wonderful person to work with, confirming to everyone, me included, that behind the delicious Mosel Rieslings of Fritz Haag Estate is now yet another terrific and genuine Haag leader and winemaker.