You had me at hello: Cajun-style oysters at Cochon in New Orleans

February 27, 2009

Above: You had me at hello… The oven-roasted gulf oysters at Cochon in New Orleans.

The food at Cochon in New Orleans last night was fantastic. The wood-fired-oven-roasted gulf oysters, sprinkled with Cayenne pepper, paired beautifully with a bottle of Charles Joguet 2007 Chinon Les Petites Roches. The vegetal notes in the wine were perfect for the spiciness that adorned the oysters and the chewy mouthfeel of the wine was wonderful with the sexy texture of oysters. Oysters and Chinon? Call me crazy but the pairing worked brilliantly.

Above: Moon River…. I’ve only traversed the great Mississippi river a few times in my life and its grandeur always impresses me. I’ve read Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn countless times, one of my favorite books.

I’ll be glad to get back home to Austin tonight but New Orleans is a blast — great folks, great food, great wine, great music, beautiful city — but the people down here are still hurting four years after the disaster. Nearly everyone I’ve come into contact with on a professional level has in some way referenced Katrina. Yesterday we visited the warehouse of a major distributor. The warehouse manager told me how he had to destroy everything he had in stock following the hurricane. “We know a lot about destroying bottles,” he said with a sigh. Today, they’re up and running but using a skeleton crew and bare-boned allocations.

If you are looking for a food and wine destination, check out New Orleans. The folks down here need our support and the food and wine scene is great…


Facebook and oxidized stinky Fiano pair nicely

February 26, 2009

Above: Fiano d’Avellino grapes on the De Conciliis estate in Cilento (Campania, Italy).

Isn’t Facebook a trip? It gives us a view unto the personal lives and sometimes very intimate details of people whose lives would not ordinarily intersect with ours in the real-time world (as opposed to the virtual world). The vicissitudes we witness in this strange new medium are sometimes moving in ways — perhaps because of the degree of separation yet lack of alientation — unexpected and often welcome.

I had never met him, save for a phone interview I did with winemaker Bruno de Conciliis many years ago. After I tasted his 2004 Antece last year at Bacaro in Los Angeles, I looked for him on Facebook because I wanted to write him and tell him how much I liked this stinky, oxidized expression of Fiano d’Avellino, one of Campania’s most ancient grape varieties and one that has a enjoyed a renaissance in recent decades: it’s macerated with skin contact for 7 days, he wrote me, and, as he put it in a Facebook message, “we try for oxidation.” His approach is to “let what easily oxidizes oxidize. The rest is welcomed.” The resulting unfiltered wine (aged in large old-oak casks) is delightful, rich and aromatic, with some tannic structure. It’s a great example of natural wine. Bruno rightly calls it Antece or the ancients (akin to the Italian, antici; the penultimate syllable is the tonic): gauging from my knowledge of ancient winemaking (as described in Columella and Pliny), I believe that this wine is very similar to the wine produced in antiquity (and probably until the 18th century in Italy). (It reminds me of IWG’s excellent post, Interview with the Ancients.)

Bruno wrote that it’s his favorite wine he’s ever made and he sent me these photos. Facebook and wine seem to pair nicely together, don’t they?

In other news…

When is Brooklynguy gonna get a Facebook? Fugedaboudit.


Memorial to Baldo Cappellano

February 25, 2009

Franco and I have posted this memorial to beloved winemaker, activist, and Barolo producer Baldo Cappellano (1944-2009) at VinoWire.


From the archives: interview with Aldo Vacca, winemaker Produttori del Barbaresco

February 25, 2009

Fortune has smiled on me lately: I’ve had the opportunity to taste a lot of 2004 and 2005 Barbaresco and 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco side-by-side over the last few weeks and it’s been really great to see how the 04 has been evolving in bottle, to experience the differences between the 04 and 05, and to get a preview of what the 06 will be like by tasting the Langhe Nebbiolo from the same vintage. If you happen to be in Austin today, come by Austin Wine Merchant to taste Produttori del Barbaresco with me. I’ll be pouring all three of the above wines. Click here for details.

Here’s a post from the Do Bianchi archives: an interview I did with Produttori del Barbaresco winemaker Aldo Vacca last year where he gives some notes on the 2006 and 2007 vintages. Buona lettura!

Earlier this year [January 2008], Produttori del Barbaresco’s president and winemaker Aldo Vacca (left) took time out from his importer’s grand portfolio tasting to talk to me about recent vintages and the cooperative’s approach to winemaking.

Produttori del Barbaresco has always stood apart for its steadfast traditionalist approach to winemaking. Where do you see Produttori in relation to the current trend of modern-style Nebbiolo?

You have to understand that the winemaking tradition in Langhe comes from an entirely agricultural mentality, a “farmer” culture. Early on, we were insecure, if you will. We didn’t have enough faith in our land. This insecurity led a number of winemakers to adopt a modern approach. There are also a lot of new producers who have only recently begun making wine in Langhe. Many of them don’t have the respect for our tradition of winemaking. This trend has developed over the last 20 years and has had a big impact. But I also see that many producers are returning to a more traditional approach.

Produttori del Barbaresco has never changed its style. From the beginning, Produttori has always made wine using traditional methods [extended maceration, natural fermentation, and aging in traditional botti, large oak casks]. The winery’s style is very distinct but the wines are always respectful of the terroir.

How are as-of-yet unreleased vintages showing?

Both 2007 and 2006 were very good vintages in Langhe. 2006 saw a warmer summer and it will be a more “fleshy”* wine, with softer tannins, while 2007 is comparable to long-lived vintages like 1996 and 2001.

The harvest came early in 2007, but this was not because of a hot summer. It was due to the fact that the mild, dry winter caused the growing cycle to begin early. As a result, we harvested early. 2007 has intense tannins and high acidity [good signs for long-lived Nebbiolo].

* Aldo and I conversed in Italian and it’s interesting to note that he used the English “fleshy” to describe his impression of the wine.


Produttori del Barbaresco tomorrow in Austin

February 24, 2009

From the “this is my favorite wine ever” department…

Above: There won’t be any pizza (sorry, Franco) at tomorrow’s tasting but there will be 2004 and 2005 classic Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco and 2006 Langhe Nebbiolo. These are some of favorite wines and favorite vintages. (I snapped the above photo last summer at Mamma Mia Pizzeria in Pacific Beach, San Diego.)

If you happen to be in Austin tomorrow, please come see me at Austin Wine Merchant where I’ll be pouring my beloved Produttori del Barbaresco. Click here for details. A vertical of Produttori del Barbaresco? Life could be worse…


Oops I did it again: pizza and Bertani 1988 Amarone!

February 24, 2009

Oh baby
It might seem like a crush
But it doesn’t mean that I’m serious
‘Cause to lose all my senses
That is just so typically me
Oh baby, baby

Above: Charles Scicolone can often be found at La Pizza Fresca in Gramercy (Manhattan), where they allow wine luminaries to bring their own bottles. The list there leans heavily toward modern and the prices are prohibitive. The pizza is good (although not as good as the pizza I recently tasted in San Antonio! I’ll be posting on that shortly so stay tuned).

Franco is going to kill me. I did it again: while Tracie B and I were in Manhattan for the last show in the NN+ tourette a few weeks ago, I paired pizza with an absolutely, undeniably, unquestionably, and egregiously inappropriate wine.

Two inappropriate wines, actually: Bertani 1988 (yes, 88!) Amarone and Cantalupo 1996 Ghemme Collis Breclemae (above).

One of the most important things I learned in college (and one of my favorite mottoes) was “This statement is false.” (It is a classic example of the Russel paradox. The other important thing I learned was that no movie is set in the future: “If the story has been told,” film professor Tinazzi used to say in Padua, “then it has already happened.”)

Above: Charles always orders the Margherita but I am always partial to the Puttanesca there. I never ate anchovies on my pizza until a pizzaiolo wrote the name of my band using anchovies on a pizza many years ago when I was on a summer tour in the Dolomites playing cover tunes (yes, I toured in a cover band in Italy). Evidently, Elvis Presley used to eat salt-cured anchovy fillets to soothe his throat while on tour.

What bearing does the above have on the present post, you ask? In the wake of the brouhaha that followed Dr. V’s post in which he quoted me as saying pizza could not be paired with wine, and my subsequent apologia pasoliniana, I feel compelled to confess that what I did was wrong: one should never pair two such elegant wines with the acidity and saltiness, not to mention the high temperatures, of pizza. At the same time, and here’s where the paradox kicks in, the experience was decadent, sumptuous, utterly delicious, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Above: Tracie B had a pizza bianca with broccoli raab. Also in attendance were friends Frank Butler (who generously brought the Bertani) and Michele Scicolone, who recently launched her excellent blog (definitely worth adding to your feed if only for the recipes that she shares). Charles has also become an avid blogger and I’ve been enjoying his blog and Facebook as well.

Charles’s 1996 Ghemme was earthy and had a crazy eucalyptus note, still very powerful and young, an amazing expression of Nebbiolo (and very definitely Piedmontese despite what Henri Vasnier said the other day on Brooklynguy’s blog). I’ve tasted this wine a number of times over the years and it is just beginning to come into its own.

The 1988 Bertani was sublime: a great vintage by one of the appellation’s greatest producers, very traditional in style, powerful and rich, yet already attaining the ineffable lightness that Amarone begins to achieve in its late adolescence.

Were these wines wasted by a paradoxical pairing? In other words, did we ruin the wines by pairing them with foods that detracted from their aromas and flavors? My feeling is that no, we did not: we experienced them in a new and different way than their traditional pairings. After all, the traditional pairing for an Amarone like that is pastissada de caval, horse meat stewed until stringy in red wine. Where would one find a horse to eat in Manhattan?

Oops, I did it again… Thanks Frank and Charles for bringing such incredible wines!

In other news…

If you’re into Loire and Chenin Blanc, check out Tracie B’s post on our visit to Chaume and her take on Chaume vs. Sauternes.


Memories of Baldo Cappellano

February 21, 2009

Above: Teobaldo Cappellano in his cellar (photo courtesy of Polaner).

I met Teobaldo Cappellano on a number of occasions and enjoyed his wines immensely. He was a staunch, vocal defender of traditional winemaking and his Barolo was aged in large, old-oak casks. He fought tirelessly against the homogenization and over-commercialization of wine and was a steadfast opponent of the use of international grape varieties in Italian wine. His uncle, a pharmacist, was the creator Barolo Chinato, and Cappellano’s chinato was widely considered the best. It was a treat to get to taste with him over the last few years at Vini Veri and I felt honored to report on his contribution to the Brunello Debate in October 2008. If you speak Italian (and even if you don’t), I encourage you to watch the archived stream of the debate at Franco’s blog (just visit the blog and you’ll find it embedded to the right). His cadenced authority is matched only by his emboldened passion.

In his post today at Vocativo, Luigi Metropoli reminded us of Baldo’s motto: io evolvo all’indietro, “I evolve backwards.”

The world of wine has lost one of its great rabbis — if not the greatest.

Today, the blogosphere is flooded with tributes and memories of Baldo, as he was known. I’ve collected and translated some passages below.

The world of wine — and not just Piedmontese wine and not just the Barolo and Langa community (which he represented with authority) — is in mourning today for the sudden and cruel passing of Teobaldo Cappellano. He was a tireless activist and an advocate of lost causes — causes even more worthy for the very fact they were lost — because when you know that you have no chance to prevail, defending your beliefs is even more righteous.
—Franco Ziliani, Vino al Vino

Langa and the entire world of Italian wine are orphans today. Everything will be more complicated now that destiny has shown us high noon.
—Marco Arturi, Porthos

One of those gentle giants, long and weedy, he is winemaker, jokester, philosopher.
—Alice Feiring

The last of the Mohicans.
—Gigi Padovani

Barolo has died.
—Consumazione obbligatoria

Someone like Baldo Cappellano cannot die.
—Divino Scrivere

He was a winemaker philosopher.
—acquablog


In morte di messer Teobaldo Cappellano

February 21, 2009

The great winemaker Teobaldo Cappellano has died. “Barolo has died,” noted one Italian wine writer today.

Memories of Teobaldo and posts in his honor are flooding the Italian blogosphere as I write this. I’ll post some translations later today. Right now, I’m just overwhelmed by the thought of a world without him.


You only live twice: lunch at La Tour d’Argent

February 20, 2009

Above: La Tour d’Argent’s signature dish, duck breast in civet. The duck bones are crushed in a press and their juices are used to make a civet (sauce). Civet is an ancient recipe. In my translation of the 15th-century Ars Culinaria by Maestro Martino (UC Press, 2005), you’ll find an excellent recipe for venison civet, for example.

In all honesty, I’m a little embarrassed by the extravagance of a lunch Tracie B and I enjoyed in Paris a few weeks ago while we were in town for the NN+ tourette France 2009.

Above: We drank a 1991 Volnay Les Champans 1er Cru with the main course. Lunch wasn’t cheap but the list was jam-packed with very reasonably priced “outer borough” Burgundy. I was looking at 1989 Marsannay but the excellent sommelier pointed out that 1991 is drinking better in general and that Marsannay would have been too tannic with our duck. His choice was superb and he kept me well under my price point. Note the dust on the bottle: this is a sign that it has been well cellared in situ and has rested peacefully. (Check out Eric’s cool article on “Those Other Burgundies.”)

Especially in these tough times (and believe me, I am so relieved and fortunate to be busy with work these days, when so many of my peers are having trouble), I couldn’t help but be more than a little self-conscious.

Above: Watching the wine service at La Tour was a thrill. Our sommelier was so friendly and helpful. Frankly, it’s intimidating to approach a wine list like that (check out this pic that Tracie B snapped of me). I knew that I wanted to drink old Burgundy and I told our steward my price point, my preference in style (traditional), and we discussed our menu. The 91 Volnay was fantastic and you’d be surprised at how little I paid for it: because La Tour buys so much wine on release, the prices are actually surprisingly affordable (as long as you stay clear of the heavy hitters).

But, hey, you only live twice: I can’t imagine that Tracie B and I will be back in Paris any time soon and a lunch like this is something you do once in your life (And since we were on tour, we ate mostly ham sandwiches while we were there! And so this was our one extravagant repast. Believe it or not, I actually lost weight.)

Above: For every course, the mise en place was a work of art. I loved how they trimmed the lettuce leaves to match the size of these delicately sliced, raw scallops. We paired this first course with a 4-year-old Savennières.

I’ve read a lot of food and wine bloggers talking about how they are cutting back on and reeling in their wine budgets, these days (and so are we here in Austin). That’s perfectly understandable as well as indispensable in this new “age of responsibility.”

Above: A picture really isn’t worth a thousand stinky flavors and aromas! The cheese course was phenomenal. We paired with an equally stinky vin jaune.

But it is equally important to go out and spend money on wine and in restaurants and support local businesses and merchants. Remember: every time you buy a bottle of wine (even if you’re spending less on wine these days), you are supporting a whole chain of people in the industry — producer, importer, broker/vendor, distributor, and restaurateur/retailer (including the shippers, drivers, delivery people, etc.).

Not that La Tour d’Argent needs any help from me and Tracie B: a pair of bankers sitting next to us ordered two bottles of old Mersault and I can only imagine what they paid (probably in the thousands, gauging from my perusal of the list).

Above: I have no idea what we ate for dessert but it was delicious.

Lunch is certainly more affordable at La Tour than dinner and Tracie B and I stuck to the fixed price menu. You would be surprised at how little we actually spent, considering the venue.

All I can say is that the experience was worth every penny. Tracie B was simply stunning that day, the sunlight reflecting off the Seine and giving her a glow that I will never forget as long as I live.

You only live twice…


Nicolas Joly, Tracie B, and me

February 17, 2009

cellar

Above: Tracie B in the cellar at Coulée de Serrant, the celebrated Nicolas Joly estate in the Loire Valley.

Our trip to the Loire Valley (between NN+ gigs in France) revealed to us just how varied the production of Chenin Blanc really is and how uniquely terroir-driven the appellations. The short drive from Savennières to Chaume, for example, showed us how macro- and micro-climate could change radically after a 7-minute drive at country-road speeds.

Tracie B called dibs on blogging our excellent tasting at Joly a few weeks ago and so you’ll just have to visit her blog to get the low-down (click here) on oxidation vs. botrytis, Les Clos Sacrés vs. Les Vieux Clos, sandy vs. slate, to aerate or not to aerate, and many more mouth-watering, “tongue-splitting” tidbits.

In other news…

Check out this post at VinoWire on a new DOCG: a red Moscato (yes, a RED Moscato) from Bergamo (yes, Bergamo). Turns out that it was once one of Italy’s most famous appellations, Moscato di Scanzo. Franco and I posted about it here.


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