Monday, April 28, 2008

St. Michaels Food and Wine Festival: Friday

Had a great time down in Maryland this weekend at the St. Michaels Food and Wine Festival. To start, the weather was sublime. Spring was in full swing, and the scent of honeysuckles and lilacs drifted through this historic little town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
After four hours in the car, I was eager to hit my first class at the festival: The World’s Indigenous Varietals. This class was taught by a handsome wine distributor who really knew his stuff. I appreciated being introduced to varietals I had never heard of, such as a young and eager wine made from the Primitivo grape from Italy’s heel in Puglia (this inky pour really left my braces stained) and the Sylvaner grape (a dense white wine with a unique flavor) from Alsace. Apparently, these both are the table wines of their regions and little known to us outsiders.
Next was the class I had taken a day off to attend: Burgundy: A Sensory Tour. In this class, I met Bobby Kacher, of Robert Kacher Selections. This wiry 56 year old was full of energy and passion as he talked about working with small, family owned vineyards in Burgundy’s prime areas. I was extremely grateful for the selections he shared, all 2005 (touted as a spectacular vintage): two gorgeous white wines showing beautifully at this point, and two more restrained reds that were sure to be wonderful when time had opened them up. All through the classes I was pacing myself, but on these $80/bottle wines, I admit I savored nearly all that was poured.
My final class was a really fun way to end the day. We met the head winemaker from Chateau St. Jean in CA who talked about Cinq Cépages (five grapes). This Bordeaux-style, 75% Cab blend also includes Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. This wine won “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator in 1996. O.K., very impressive, but now it was our turn to create our own Cinq Cépages. We had five wine glasses with all of the varietals from 2004. And we had a cylinder and a pipette. Now we got to make our own Bordeaux-style blend. I tasted all my varietals and decided I liked the Merlot better than the Cab. So I made a blend with about 55% Merlot, 30% Cab, 10% Malbec, 8% Cab Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. To watch a room full of people (who had been drinking wine all afternoon) playing with pipettes and measuring wine in cylinders and all declaring their blend “the best” was hysterical. We were all laughing by the end of this class, which is also offered to groups at the winery. It was a really fun way to learn about the art of wine blending.
After these very educational and amusing sessions, I needed to absorb all I had learned and all I had drunk. In short, I needed a nap.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wining and Dining at The Red Cat

Had a fantastic meal Tuesday at The Red Cat, an upscale restaurant in the gallery district of Chelsea. Starting at the bar, I was thrilled to see their by-the-glass menu included unusual pours like Grüner Veltliner and a Trocken Riesling. Best of all— Proseco "Jeio" NV, Bisol. It was gorgeous and fruity and full of fizz. I adore Prosecco as an aperitif, and it’s far too rare to be able to get it by the glass. One unfortunate evening I ordered a glass at Primavera, an over-rated joint in West Orange. After hounding waiters for 45 minutes, I finally learned they don’t sell it by the glass! But I digress.
The Red Cat is a lovely place. Huge iron lanterns hang along the corridor of the restaurant. My friends and I started with a mouth-watering grilled octopus and an unusual fondue…the melted cheese was served on a plate with chopped salad and bacon on top. The crunch of the vegetables contrasted nicely with the warm liquid cheese.
My main course was sensational: braised shortribs served over polenta. The ribs were amazingly tender. We choose a very affordable ($27) bottle of Petit Chapeau Côtes Du Rhone 2005. It had nice big tannins that worked great with the ribs.
I love the way The Red Cat presents their wine list. They break down the reds into Soft Reds (including Burgundies), Earthy Reds (including our Côtes du Rhone), and Full Bodied Reds (including Bordeaux). For whites, you could choose from Clean Whites (including Sancerre and Chablis), Floral Whites (including Riesling) and Rich Whites (pretty much your oaked Chardonnays).
With aperitifs, wine, appetizers, mains, a shared dessert (Brooklyn blackout cake with heavenly Earl Grey icecream) and even a shared cheese course (divine), this meal was a true indulgence that I whole-heartedly recommend. So wine and food lovers, head to Chelsea and enjoy the gustatory pleasures of The Red Cat.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wine is Bottled Poetry—Robert Louis Stevenson

April is National Poetry Month. The glorious weather we are experiencing here in NJ would make anyone wax poetic. So, here is my suggestion for this 80-degree day in the north east. This afternoon, head to your local wine shop for something chilled…or if there’s nothing interesting in the store’s fridge (too often the case) grab something off the shelf and pop it in your freezer. Then dust off the deck chair, and dig out one of those old college lit books or any poetry you’ve got around the house. Who resonates with you? Dickenson? Frost? Eliot? Or perhaps something contemporary? Poet laureate Charles Simic?

The power of poetry is that its gifts are hidden in the words. Like a good wine, it doesn’t offer everything at once. But with patience, its depths and layers can be revealed.

So go out this balmy evening, and read a beautiful poem. And sip a beautiful wine. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

They Say It's Your Birthday

When your birthday falls mid-week, it’s not a good time to pull out all the stops. This morning, like every other, I was up at the crack of dawn to head into my day job. But a little celebrating is in order. My department is taking me to Dorrian’s and, happily, it’s acceptable to have (just one) glass of wine with lunch. I’ll enjoy a Bosch pear and goat cheese salad and a zesty glass of sauvignon blanc. After work, a spa treatment at Bangz in Montclair: 75 minutes of pedicure bliss. Then I’ll pick up the family and head to a local restaurant where the kids will feel comfortable –Giambotta in Cedar Grove. This warm Italian eatery serves huge portions of delicious food from an extensive menu. There I’ll have a couple of glasses of Chianti and see what surprises my family has for me. I have a hunch my eight-year-old is creating an elaborate gift involving Barbie dolls. And then, full of food, wine, and good wishes, I’ll head to bed early. After all, tomorrow I’ll be up at dawn.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival—Growing Pains at 3

At the first Blue Ridge Wine Festival in 2006 I fell in love with the friendly community, mountain scenery, free wine classes, and fun tasting that introduced me to North Carolina wines.
This year, changes were afoot, such as wine classes charging fees. Good things can’t last forever--and at least you know you'll get a seat--so I didn’t mind paying $10 for Wine and Food Pairing, or even $35 for Vintage Wine Tasting. The main tasting remained an incredible bargain—$25 in advance.
But it was the grand tasting that changed for the worse. This year it was opened to wines from around the world. While it’s nice to try wines from Chile, Italy, or California, the festival lost its native charm. I’m not sure why, but many North Carolina producers we enjoyed previously, such as Rag Apple Lassie, were no-shows. In 2006, I got a good sense of the North Carolina wine industry—where it was at and where it was headed. I met quality producers who were experimenting with different grapes and had begun producing nice reds in particular. This year, the North Carolina wineries were just one more table to get a pour.
The crowd was too dense at the peak of the tasting, leading us to question the layout of tables and the inclusion of a Hummer—yes, a Hummer—within the tent as a promotion. When someone set off the car’s super-loud alarm, the band jokingly played in time.
This year, there was less of a genteel air…cheese platters that had been artfully arranged were thrust onto tables by harried volunteers. Breaking wine glasses were met with loud cheers.
The most noticeable flaw was producers ran out of wine before the end. One distributor grossly underestimated what to bring and was tapped out two hours early. “But,” I, remarked to a friendly southern lady, “An afternoon drinking wine is still hard to beat.”
There were many other events surrounding the weekend that I didn’t make it to: wine dinners, a chef’s challenge, and more. This four day wine festival does have a lot to offer, and the classes, especially the ones taught by Johnson & Wales faculty, are very well run. In addition, my family and I are always charmed by Blowing Rock. This town has a real sense of place. You can feel it in the unique lunch joint Sonny’s Grill: burgers served on wax paper in a tiny, eight stool, three table restaurant. Or strolling down the small main street and chatting with the storekeepers who always have time to talk.
I’ll probably skip this festival for a couple years, but for those who’d like to go I recommend spending more time at the peripheral events and going early to the grand tasting.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Charm of Southern Wine Festivals

I’m packing for a weekend away to head to the Blue Ridge Food and Wine Festival in the charming mountain town of Blowing Rock, NC. I went down with the whole family two years ago and we had a blast. I’m looking forward to seminars on Food and Wine Pairing as well as a Vintage Reserve Seminar. If I make it into town early tomorrow, I’ll try to catch a California Basics class, too. The grand tasting is Saturday afternoon. North Carolina has a fairly developed wine industry. Looking at their terroir, it makes sense. Warm days but cool evenings in the rolling hills. When I visited a couple years ago, I learned that NC was a leading American wine grower before prohibition put the kabosh on the industry.
Two weeks from now, I’ll drive south again, this time to the St. Michael’s Food and Wine Festival in Maryland.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

WBW #44 French Cabernet Franc

2004 Chinon Cuvée des Tireaux
First of all, shout-out to the Wine Library where I bought this wine. Now that WLTV is so hot, being from North Jersey is something to brag about. But onto the wine.
Being a newbie to Cab Franc, I can better describe what this wine isn’t than what it is. It isn’t dark. It isn’t heavy. It doesn’t smell like jam. I drink a lot of French wine and this is a different animal than the Bordeaux/Burgundy/Côtes de Rhône/Beaujolais/Chateauneuf du Pape I’ve had. It seems to have a mineral quality I’m much more accustomed to in white wine. It’s a light-colored red, light bodied as well. It slips over the tongue without packing a wallop of fruit and tannin, unlike many Cabernet Sauvignons (which, by the way, I often enjoy). On the nose, I’m probably picking up something slightly vegetal, as is said about the varietal. I quite enjoyed this wine. There was a nice amount of acid, good balance, and nothing overpowering—very food friendly. I’ll be back to try more.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Raise a Glass

I attended a special celebration last night—a gala for the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School featuring Andre Braugher, Norbert Leo Butz, and Isaiah Sheffer. And what did they pour to commemorate their 75th anniversary? Champagne, of course. I don’t know the producer or the vintage, but from what I could spy of the bottles swimming in silver bowls of ice water, it did look to be French, thank heavens.
Last fall I met a pretty française on a flight from Bordeaux to Paris. She had an enviable lifestyle only suited to the young—work long enough to make money for the next trip, then head off for friends in far flung points around the globe. She always stuffs her luggage with Champagne, Bordeaux, and foie gras to take to her amis, even during a trip to India. As we chatted, she told me about her shock when she discovered that Americans were making wine and calling it Champagne. “But how can they do that?” she asked me. I wasn’t prepared on this six a.m. flight to defend America’s free-wheeling use of the term. I didn’t want to let her know we had also appropriated Chablis and Burgundy. Instead, I told her that I completely agreed with her. We can drink sparkling wine, cremants, cavas, proseccos, but when we drink Champagne, we want it to come from France. We want to know it was made in the méthode Champenoise. No other beverage has its cachet. When the occasion is truly memorable, as it was last night, nothing is more fitting than indulging in the authentic pleasure of a glass of Champagne.