At St. Vincent (San Francisco), David Lynch is a Dædalus among sommeliers

Our meal at the amazing St. Vincent in San Francisco — conceived and directed by Daedalian sommelier and wine writer David Lynch — began with two eggs: one bathed in beet and horseradish, the other in curry and turmeric. If only for their Technicolor, I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed by the food and wine that would follow.

Had I the means, I would gather all the young wine and restaurant professionals in the U.S. and take them to San Francisco to see how it is superbly done by David Lynch, one of the leading sommeliers in the nation right now (as always), veteran of some of the most storied venues in the contemporary history of American restaurateurship.

Granted, David knows me and my palate, and so when I asked him to pick out a wine for us, I wasn’t surprised when he swiftly delivered the Clos du Papillon Savennières above, “not as extreme” as our beloved Joly, he noted, but no less nuanced or thrilling (and perhaps more graceful and focused).

I was equally impressed by the deft hand of chef Bill Niles, to whom David graciously attributed sole authorship of the menu. The “She Crab” (actually lobster in the current season) was adorned with a dollop of sea urchin liver, Carolina rice, and corn chowder. I ate every last drop.

The eggplant roulades, alone, would be worth a return trip. I loved that chef Niles peels his tomatoes for this dish and I’d be remiss in not noting that this was possibly the best tomato I’ve tasted all year.

Chef Niles may draw from a Technicolor palette of culinary experiences and techniques but he also seems to love some of life’s simplest “street-food” pleasures, like this classic pretzel. I dug the juxtaposition of the elegance of his eggplant and the sheer pedestrian delight of the pretzel.

David named his new restaurant (opened just a few months ago) after St. Vincent of Saragossa, one of the patron saints of grape-growers, often invoked by wine- and vinegar-makers.

(Of course, I couldn’t help myself from reading up on why St. Vincent is considered patron of wine and vinegar.)

He is often depicted (St. Vincent, not David) with vines or grape bunches. Although there’s no element in hagiography that would associate him with grapes or grape-growing, his feast day, January 22, is celebrated in wine-growing France as the beginning of the vegetative cycle.

There are a number of French sayings uttered on that day, like quand Saint Vincent est beau, abondance pour le tonneau (when [the weather on] Saint Vincent is fair, there will be [an] abundance [of wine] for the casks).

Like so many examples of pseudo-Catholic folklore, his association with wine is purely arbitrary and can be attributed to the date of his commemoration (in the Greek Orthodox Church, he is remembered on November 11).

There’s nothing arbitrary about the way David runs his new restaurant and it was fantastic to watch him in his habitat (as the Italians say), greeting a guest, explaining a menu item, and serving a Savennières to a very happy wine blogger…

Image via La Chouette.

Guest blackberry blogger: David Lynch at 3,251 meters a.s.l.

Check out these canederli, consumed at 3251 m atop “piz boa” high above Corvara!
A presto

If anyone would appreciate the attached photo of truly ridiculously good AA porcini, it’d be you — last night we had these bitches every which way!!!!

Canederli (knödel in German) are bread dumplings, typically stuffed with speck, traditionally served in South Tyrol.

Fungi porcini (Boletus edulis) or swine mushrooms are so-called because in antiquity they were not prized as they are today.

David Lynch is one of our country’s top sommeliers and wine writers and just one of the nicest (and funniest) folks I know in this dog-eat-dog business. His intro to Italian wine seminar is one of the most popular at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. Check out this preview of David’s new book, The Wine Snob’s Dictionary (Random House, October 2008). Whatever David is pouring, hey, I’m drinking…

Colorado Day 5: Aspen Celeb Watch! (or my new career as paparazzo)

paparazzo (1961), the name of the character Paparazzo, a society photographer in F. Fellini’s film La Dolce Vita (1960).

The selection of the name Paparazzo (which occurs as a surname in Italy) for the character in Fellini’s film has been variously explained. According to Fellini himself, the name was taken from an opera libretto; the comment is also attributed to him that the word “suggests a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging”. It is also used as the name of a character by G. Gissing in By the Ionian Sea (1909), which appeared in Italian translation in 1957 and has been cited as an inspiration by E. Flaiano, who contributed to the film’s scenario. (For further possible expressive connotations of the name, it has also been noted that in the Italian dialect of Abruzzi, where Flaiano came from, paparazzo occurs as a word for a clam, which could be taken as suggesting a metaphor for the opening and closing of a camera lens; the Italian suffix -azzo).

Oxford English Dictionary, online edition

Sommelier Carlos “Charlie” Arturaola and celeb Chef José Andrés at the “must be seen at” Wines of Spain party.

Chef Andrés made a pork sausage paella for the overflowing crowd at the party, held this year in a private home (chef Andrés was assisted by chef Terri Cutrino).

Culinary legend Jacques Pepin looked fabulous as always at the Food & Wine Classic welcome party. How do the French do it?

Celeb Chef Tom Colicchio kept a lid on it as he did an interview.

Importer Bartholomew Broadbent and tele producer Josie Peltz (the better half of celeb sommelier and wine writer David Lynch).

American Express head honcho Ed Kelly and my buddy Ray Isle, Deputy Wine Editor at Food & Wine, on the other side of the velvet rope.

Restaurateur and wine world star Brian Duncan and winemaker Danilo Drocco lunched in town yesterday.

Life isn’t treating this paparazzo so bad: I drank a 1990 Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande at a private dinner last night.

I’m Drinking What He’s Pouring (or This Ain’t Circe’s Wine)

Above: despite his modesty, wine writer David Lynch is no second-string sommelier (center, with enologist Antigoni Karamvali and marketing director Valerie Tsakiris of Boutari).

It seems that Greek wines are in the air: Eric included a wine from Santorini in a post and column this week and I recently learned that the 2008 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen will include a seminar on Greek wine led by David Lynch — wine writer, top-flight sommelier, and all-around good guy.

Week before last, David and I attended a tasting of wines by Boutari (whose website is written entirely in Greek). Besides Boutari’s winemaker and marketing director, we were also joined by Mitch Frank of The Wine Spectator, a former political writer (whose insights into the current campaign were fascinating).

David likes to joke that he’s a “J[unior] V[arsity]” member among NYC’s top sommeliers but, let me tell you, this guy really knows his stuff: few can rival his knowledge of Italian wine and he’s tasted and poured with the best of them.

“95% of the value of a wine in a restaurant,” he said, “is the serving temperature and the stemware. Serve a $35 bottle of wine at the right temperature and in the right glass, and it’s worth twice that much.”

Above: of the whites, I really liked the Moscofilero (left) but the Santorini (center) blew me away.

While the higher-end blends of native Greek varieties and Bordeaux grapes were international in style and heavy on the wood, the lower-end bottlings were fresh, clean, and delightful. The Moschofilero (white) was distinctive, slightly musky, and delicious with grilled octopus and I really liked the Santorini, made from Assyrtiko grapes, a white with balanced mineral and fruit flavors.

As Eric mentions in his post, the vineyards on the volcanic island of Santorini are a sight to behold (I’ve never been but have seen photographs): the vines are trained in “bushes” (or baskets, as enologist Antigoni Karamvali called them). Bush training helps to protect the vines from strong winds (the same training methods are used in Sicily and Apulia). The bush training also allows the vine to “migrate”: Antigoni showed me images of vineyards originally planted in perfectly straight rows, where the vines had crept — at slightly different rates — to more humid parts of the vineyard. Drinking this wine, you really get that sense of place, that sensation that this wine could have been made no were else in the world.

The wine that surprised me the most, however, was the Nemea (a place name), made from 100% Aghiorghitiko (also known as Agiorgitiko) grapes: the wine was light in color and in the mouth, with wonderful red berry flavor, a perfect wine to serve slightly chilled on a summer’s eve with filleted branzino (otherwise known as Mediterranean sea bass). From what I understood, the price-point for this wine should weigh in under $20.

This was no wine of Circe.* And, hey, if David is pouring, I’m drinking.

In other news…

Thanks to everyone for the messages and positive vibes for VinoWire, which launched this week with a scoop about the changing of the guard at the Bruno Giacosa winery. I am proud to report that VinoWire was the first publication — Italian or English — to to break the story and to reveal the name of the new winemaker. Stay tuned to VinoWire for more…

* For [the painting] “The Wine of Circe” by Edward Burne Jones.

Dusk-haired and gold-robed o’er the golden wine
She stoops, wherein, distilled of death and shame,
Sink the black drops; while, lit with fragrant flame,
Round her spread board the golden sunflowers shine.

Doth Helio here with Hecatè combine
(O Circe, thou their votaress!) to proclaim
For these thy guests all rapture in Love’s name,
Till pitiless Night give Day the countersign?

Lords of their hour, they come. And by her knee
Those cowering beasts, their equals heretofore,
Wait; who with them in new equality
To-night shall echo back the sea’s dull roar
With a vain wail from passion’s tide-strown shore

Where the disheveled seaweed hates the sea.

— Dante Gabriel Rossetti