Niagara cheese assumes a local accent

Vivian Szebeny of Upper Canada Cheese Company in Niagara
Niagara College has played a big role in the Niagara peninsula blossoming as a foodie destination. The school is turning out talented graduates with a commitment to making the most of the region’s bounty. The college’s offerings run the gamut from culinary and hospitality programs to winemaking, viticulture, brewing, and distilling. The college even operates a teaching brewery as well as Canada’s only commercial teaching winery. As we traveled through the region, we met many of its talented graduates and interns who intend to make their careers in the region.

But in the pantheon of food and drink, one thing is missing. “There are no courses on cheesemaking offered in the area,” Vivian Szebeny of Upper Canada Cheese Company told us.

Szebeny is a partner in the operation that was founded in 2005 and calls itself “the first small, modern Niagara creamery in generations.” Upper Canada Cheese Company (uppercanadacheese.com) makes and sells its cheeses from a modern building with retro train station style in the town of Lincoln. They also stock other artisanal cheeses and local products such as honey, pickles, preserves, and maple syrup that offer an overview of the local food scene.

Guernesey cow in NiagaraSzebeny learned her craft in France and Quebec and now trains the company’s other cheesemakers. They are fortunate to start with an extraordinary ingredient—milk from a herd of Guernsey cows. The brown and white cattle graze contentedly at Comfort Family Farm, about a 20-minute drive from the facility. The protein- and cream-rich milk “is more flavorful,” said Szebeny, “and we can make more cheese per liter.” Upper Canada makes cheese every second day, starting with about 2,000 liters of milk.

Variations on a Guernsey theme


Upper Canada Cheese Company cheeses in NiagaraThe company first introduced Niagara Gold, a washed-rind semi-firm cheese that is aged four to five months. Modeled on Port Salut from the Loire Valley in Brittany, it has similar buttery flavors, a nutty nose, and earthy flavors in the mouth. Comfort Cream, a Camembert-style soft cheese, was “named after the farm,” Szebeny said. Intensely buttery, it has a long tangy finish with an air of fresh mushrooms.

The Guernsey cheeses have been very successful, but the cheesemakers wanted new challenges. “If you are a cheesemaker you like to experiment with different milks,” Szebeny explained. “So we got some goat milk.” And the result is Nosey Goat, a semi-firm washed-rind goat cheese and Nanny Noir, a Camembert-style cheese rolled in vegetable ash before aging.

Szebeny also developed a fresh cheese that the company calls Guernsey Girl. It’s a cheese style particularly popular in eastern Canada. With a nice salty flavor and a squeaky bite, it holds its shape when fried or grilled. “Grill it and it becomes caramelized and brown on the outside and gooey on the inside,” Szebeny said.

When we visited in May, Upper Canada was close to releasing its first cheddar, which had been aged for eight months. Clearly excited about the release, Szebeny noted that “it’s the only Guernsey cheddar that I am aware of.”

We look forward to what they’ll do next.

23

07 2017

Inniskillin icewines hit the sweet spot

Debi Pratt at Inniskillin in Niagara
Like many wine drinkers, we’ve always thought of icewine as an after-dinner treat. But if Inniskillin (www.inniskillin.com) has its way, we’ll be drinking it with dinner as well. As Debi Pratt told us when we toured the property, icewine makes an excellent, if somewhat extravagant, table wine.

Inniskillin is another pioneer in the Niagara wine region. It was founded in 1975 by Austrian-born Karl Kaiser and Canadian Donald Ziraldo. “Karl said, ‘If I’m going to live in a new country, I’m going to drink the wines of my new country,’” Pratt told us.

Ziraldo had actually planted Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gamay vines the year before at his commercial nursery. But when Inniskillin launched, the winery relied heavily on two winter-hardy French hybrid grapes, Vidal Blanc and Maréchal Foch. The early Vidal plantings survive for icewine, but nobler vines have displaced the old red hybrid as well as the original Gamay. Today’s Inniskillin Niagara table wines lean heavily on Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. (Inniskillin also has a branch in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.)

When cold is cool


Inniskillin icewine vineyard in NiagaraBut Inniskillin electrified the wine world with its distinctive New World icewines. Winemaker Kaiser produced Niagara’s first icewines in 1984, using the thick-skinned Vidal grapes. Familiar with German and Austrian icewines, he suspected that the climate in Niagara should be perfect to produce icewines in most harvests. Subsequent years proved him right, and the consumer response to the once-exotic product was strong.

“Donald and Karl are pioneers of Ontario icewine,” Pratt said. Today, Inniskillin reserves 5 percent of its grapes for icewines. They hang on the vines until at least early December and sometimes aren’t harvested until early March. The optimal temperature for harvesting is -10°C (14°F). VQA regulations state that the harvest must be carried out at -8°C (17/6°F) or lower.

Thick-skinned Vidal grapes last longer on the vine than other varietals. As a result, the grape accounts for about 85 percent of Canada’s icewine production. But Inniskillin and some other Niagara wineries have also had good luck with Riesling and Cabernet Franc. They also have thick enough skins to become desiccated on the vine without rotting.

Icewine with food


icewine glass at Inniskillin in NiagaraYou can taste icewine flights at the dedicated Icewine Tasting Bar. We headed instead to the Riedel Room, which is named for the premium maker of wine glasses. After Kaiser’s prompting, Riedel developed a specific glass for tasting icewine. “It evolved from an aromatic glass, a port glass, and a Sauterne glass,” said Pratt. “The shape maximizes the layers of aromas in icewines.”

Food, we were to quickly learn, also brings out the nuances of the wine. We sampled three dishes prepared by chef Tim MacKiddie to pair with Riesling, Vidal, and Cabernet Franc icewines.

icewine and food pairing at Inniskillin in Niagara

Riesling pairing

In the Riedel icewine glasses, the Riesling icewine showed a lot of flowery notes and citrus that ranged from Meyer lemon to bergamot. MacKiddie served a goat cheese croquette with a fennel salad lightly dressed with a cumin-lime vinaigrette. The citrus notes balanced the ashen cheese nicely, while the bright anise of the fennel echoed the aromatics of the wine.

Vidal pairing

The Vidal icewine was rounder and more luscious, tasting of apricots and gooseberries. MacKiddie explained that baking spices pair nicely with Vidal, which tends to preserve its fruitiness even as an icewine. He then proved his point by serving a rhubarb tart with cinnamon butter pastry and a crumble topping.

Cabernet Franc pairing

The “dessert” course among the icewines was reserved for the Cabernet Franc, which displayed a luscious concentrate of blackberries and elderberries spiked with black pepper. MacKiddie offered a “Canadian s’more.” It consisted of a block of chocolate ganache with a few toasted homemade marshmallows, all sitting in a small pool of Cabernet Franc syrup. “A match made in heaven,” he called it—and we agreed

We were convinced: Icewine can pair nicely with food. Pratt pointed out that Inniskillin’s sparkling icewines—either Sparkling Vidal or Sparkling Cabernet Franc—might be even more food friendly. “The bubbles cut the sweetness,” she said.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to give up the sheer indulgence of simply sipping and enjoying icewine as a special pleasure all its own.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

20

07 2017

Château des Charmes: French connection pioneers

vqaontario.caChâteau des Charmes from York Road, St. David's
We couldn’t visit the Niagara wine country without paying homage to Château des Charmes (fromtheboscfamily.com/chateau-des-charmes). In 1978, founder Paul-Michel Bosc planted the first all-vinifera commercial vineyard in the region. He was determined to prove that the grapes of Burgundy and Bordeaux could flourish in cold-climate Niagara.

Bosc represents the fifth generation of family winemakers. Raised in Algeria, he earned a degree in viticulture and oenology from the University of Burgundy. After evacuation to France at the end of the Algerian war in the 1960s, he took his young family to Canada.

Château des Charmes vinesUnlike some Niagara pioneer wineries, Château des Charmes remains a family operation. It has expanded to four vineyards covering 280 acres (110 ha). They lie in the Four Mile Creek and St. David’s Bench sub-regions of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The handsome château-style winery sits just west of the village center of St. David’s, about 8 miles (13km) south of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The impressive family home sits across York Road—an estate winery in the French tradition.

Château des Charmes makes more than two dozen wines, most of them single varietals. They range from a fresh and cheeky Aligoté (a Burgundy white grape) to several sparkling wines to a very rare Cabernet Sauvignon botrytis red and an equally pricey Cabernet icewine. But the winery’s strength lies in outstanding table wines and that’s where we focused our tasting.

Château des Charmes "Four at Four" tasting

French grapes, Niagara tastes


Several tasting options are available at Château des Charmes. One of the most interesting is the “Four at Four” option. Offered weekdays at 4 p.m.. it includes a tour of a vineyard, the winery, and the aging cellars before heading upstairs for a tasting of four wines with food pairings. Our guide, Galina, a winemaker in the Republic of Georgia before moving to Canada, brought a wealth of technical expertise.

Our particular lineup started with a 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($15) paired with Douanier, a mildly pungent Quebec cheese with morning and afternoon milk separated by a thin line of ash. Made in a cold-climate style akin to those from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, the wine has an intense concentration of fruit with pronounced notes of lychee and pineapple petrol. The acids cut through the unctuous mouth-feel of the cheese in a perfect pairing.

Chardonnay has long been a flagship wine of Château des Charmes. The 2015 Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay ($15) is a real steal. It’s an homage to Paul Sr.’s Burgundian roots. A nicely balanced wine with a good fruit expression and just a touch of oak, it could easily pass for a Macon-Villages. The pairing with ginger shortbread helped to bring out the vanilla and the round fruitiness of the wine. It is notable that the winery also makes a stainless-steel Chardonnay Musqué, using the extremely aromatic 809 clone of the grape. The winery also produces two more complex single-vineyard selection Chardonnay wines.

Real reds from 43°N


We also tried a 2014 Cabernet Franc ($30) from the St. David’s Bench vineyard. This is a stellar Cabernet by any standard. The vineyard nestles against the chalk hill of the Niagara escarpment far from Lake Ontario, so it retains a lot of heat late into the fall. The wine is hand-crafted in the vineyard throughout the growing season, with a lot of attention to pruning and tying up vines to guarantee maximum sun exposure. As a result, the grapes achieve both very ripe sugars and very ripe tannins, avoiding the green pepper flavors of lesser Cabernet Francs. Judicious aging in French oak extends the complexity. It was paired perfectly with dark chocolate, but we think it would be spectacular with Mexican mole poblano.

For the love of Gamay


We had expressed a particular interest in Gamay Noir, as Château des Charmes was a pioneer in the varietal. We’re already on record saying that Niagara may be better for Gamay than its home in Beaujolais. We tried both the 2015 Gamay Noir ($13) and the 2015 Gamay Noir “Droit” ($18) paired with prosciutto. The regular Gamay was typical of the region—full of bramble fruit (especially blackberries). It’s a perfect barbecue wine.

But the “Droit” is an extra-vigorous clone isolated in the Château des Charmes vineyards and registered as Canada’s first native vinifera grape. This is the wine that the big guns of Beaujolais-Villages wish they could make. Intense elderberry fruit on the nose and in the mouth is matched by fully ripe tannins that give the wine some significant body. This Gamay drinks like a light Burgundy. We have set a bottle aside for later next month when the yellowfin start running off Cape Cod and we can get local tuna steaks to toss on the charcoal grill.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

18

07 2017

Niagara Peninsula: the next great foodie destination

Red rose and white on the Niagara Peninsula
We went for the wine, but we stayed for the food. Serious winemaking with vinifera grapes began in the Niagara Peninsula in 1975. When we last visited about 15 years ago, Niagara icewines were world class and table wines were making tremendous strides. An Ontario wine dinner in Toronto last fall (hungrytravelers.com/ontario-wine-country-becomes-world-player) convinced us that Niagara has matured as an important producer of good wines. So in late May we packed up the car and drove across Massachusetts and upstate New York. We spent a week exploring this bucolic peninsula that sits about an hour’s drive east of Toronto.

Niagara wine region map
Most of the wineries lie in a band of soils and climatic conditions between the limestone ridge of the Niagara escarpment and the south shore of Lake Ontario. As the map above shows, the main communities in this region are (from west to east) Lincoln, Beamsville, Vineland, St. Catherine’s, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and St. David’s. (You can download a full version at mtc.gov.on.ca/images/regions_maps/Region02.pdf.) The fertile wine country barely extends more than a dozen miles south of the lake. The great tourist destination of Niagara Falls lies a few miles farther south.

wine route sign in NiagaraBlue roadside markers with a stylized cluster of grapes seem to beckon: “This way to the wine!” If there were any doubt, they’re labeled “Wine Route.” Come to a crossroads in wine country, and the signs may not tell you the name of the road. But they will tell you which wineries are somewhere along the route. According to the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca), more than 90 wineries fall within the Niagara Peninsula appellation. Most of them encourage visitors.

Tasting and grazing through Niagara


The rural area is so compact that you can pick a base anywhere and drive everywhere else. We spent our time partly based at Inn on the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com) (right). room at Inn on the Twenty in NIagara
It’s in Jordan Station, a village of Lincoln. We spent another segment at the swanky Prince of Wales Hotel (vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And, we must admit, we also visited Niagara Falls because, well, it is one of the seven wonders of the world. And the Canadian side is one fabulous linear park on the high embankment. For full details on lodging and information on other attractions, see visitniagaracanada.com.

Sculpture at Good Earth in NiagaraThe eating is usually good in wine country throughout the world. It’s better than good in Niagara. This region is so rooted in agriculture that we wondered if some locals possess the DNA for chlorophyll production. From farmers to chefs to servers, Niagara folk have a profound appreciation for the gifts of the earth. Chefs fully embrace the trend toward local sourcing, and some of them go a step or more beyond. At the best restaurants, dining is so purely local that it’s almost like eating on the farm. A few places, in fact, are surrounded by fields, fruit trees, and grapevines—as this whimsical 2011 Fork in the Road by Floyd Elzinga attests. It sits at the edge of a vineyard at the Good Earth Food & Wine Company (goodearthfoodandwine.com) as you enter the wine shop and bistro.

Just as Niagara vineyards have perfected the art of making cold-climate wines (citrusy Chardonnay, berry-licious Gamay, red-pepper ripe Cabernet Franc, and honeyed Riesling), the chefs welcome the challenges of indigenous cold-climate cuisine. Despite global warming, periodic visits by the polar vortex keep Niagara honest. The food speaks of the lower Rhone valley in summer, but it shares more with Copenhagen and Dublin the rest of the year.

Watch this space for details.

15

07 2017

On a hot day, good Vouvray lifts a salade Niçoise

Marie de Beauregard Vouvray at backyard picnic
The mercury was pushing 95°F (35°C) and the dew point was well into the sticky zone. When we brought a chilled bottle of Vouvray to checkout at the wine shop the clerk sighed. “Hooray for Vouvray!” she said. To which we could only add, “Amen.”

Chenin Blanc doesn’t get a lot of respect in the wine world. It makes naturally sweet, loosey-goosey wines that go well in picnic baskets. But a good Vouvray, like the 2015 Marie de Beauregard from Saget La Perrière, shows how polished Chenin Blanc can become. The chalk and flint of the soils from the vineyards in La Roche Corbon outside Vouvray city come through quickly on the nose. Pears and acacia honey dominate the first tastes, followed by a hint of candied fruits and a spicy lemon zing. The intense acidity of the wine carries all those sweet fruits nicely. The finish is soft and almost yeasty, like a good champagne. We suspect that comes from fermenting with the natural yeasts after chilling the must to precipitate out the pectins and solids. The wine retails at $13-$17, depending on your local merchant. Suggested retail is $20, and it’s worth it.

SALADE NIÇOISE


Serves 4

It was too hot to cook indoors, so we settled on a salade Niçoise. Our favorite local fishmonger, New Deal Fish Market (www.newdealfishmarket.com), had just cut up a nice bigeye. We bought about 12 ounces of trim for half the price per pound of steaks and cut them into 1.5-inch cubes. Lightly painted with a little olive oil, they grill up nicely over hardwood charcoal at 20-30 seconds per side. (There should be four sides if you cut them correctly.) We have evolved our version of this classic summer salad from a 1972 kitchen bible called Charles Virion’s French Country Cookbook. It’s worth seeking out in used bookstores. Or you can go with an Amazon merchant.

salade Nicoise to accompany Vouvray

Ingredients


3 cups diced cold boiled potatoes
3 cups haricots verts, blanched 3-4 minutes and chilled in ice water
16 pitted Niçoise or Kalamata olives
1/2 cup simple French dressing (see recipe below)
Boston lettuce leaves
4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and quartered
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
12 ounces fresh tuna, cut into cubes
olive oil to brush kebabs

Directions


tuna kebabs for VouvrayLight charcoal grill.

Mix potatoes, green beans, olives, and French dressing together.

Line serving platter with lettuce. Pile potato-bean-olive mixture on top. Ring with tomato and egg wedges.

Place tuna cubes on bamboo skewers that have been soaked 1 hour in water. Brush with oil.

Grill tuna skewers 20-30 seconds per side, turning gingerly with tongs. Place skewers atop salad and serve with glasses of cold Vouvray.

BASIC FRENCH DRESSING


Makes 1/2 cup

Ingredients


1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and grated
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon water
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaf
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions


Line a small saucepan with a dish towel. Place small nonreactive bowl in pan. (This stabilizes the bowl so you can whisk and pour at the same time.) Place all ingredients through vinegar into bowl and whisk thoroughly to mix. Drizzle in olive oil while continuing to whisk. Mixture should emulsify and become thick. Recipe can be scaled up proportionately but becomes tedious to whisk as volume increases.

13

07 2017

Harvest brings Battersby’s big tastes from small kitchen

Walker Stern of Batersby signs cookbooks at Harvest
A few times a year our neighborhood restaurant in Harvard Square, Harvest (harvestcambridge.com), holds a Sunday supper in its “The Book & the Cook Series.” These 6 p.m. suppers remind us of being back in Europe, gathering for a less than formal meal at the end of the weekend, often around a big table.

Tyler Kinnett, Harvest executive chefMind you, the meals are far more elegant than our Euro repasts. They invariably feature a cookbook author who is also a chef. With input from the author, Harvest’s executive chef Tyler Kinnett (right) and pastry chef Joshua Livesay oversee a meal compiled (or sometimes adapted) from the cookbook. Their realizations are invariably spot-on. They demonstrate both the skill of the Harvest staff and their willingness to step into the background and let the visiting chef take the spotlight. Dinners usually include a signed copy of the book and some fascinating wine or beer pairings at a very reasonable price.

This most recent dinner featured Walker Stern (at top) from Battersby (battersbybrooklyn.com) in Brooklyn. The cookbook is called Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen (Grand Central, $35). The so-called ordinary kitchen is not much bigger than our own galley setup. Two or three cooks work in a tiny spot with a six-burner stove, one oven, and a narrow prep counter. They serve 70 covers a night. We never manage more than four.

unloading fish in San SebastianThe secret of that productivity is extreme prep. The cookbook reflects that. Recipes are divided into two parts: “To Prep” and “To Serve.” Frankly, it’s the way we love to cook. More to the point, the food is what we like to cook and like to eat. Stern and co-chef Joseph Ogrodnek were CIA classmates who trained with a number of top chefs, most notably Alain Ducasse. Their taste palate skews Mediterranean, with a stronger French accent than Spanish or Italian. But one of the dishes served at the dinner was a purely Basque bowl–seared tuna served on a stew of red peppers and onions called a piperade. As the Battersby cookbook points out, Basque chefs take great pride in their idiosyncratic recipes for piperade. The Battersby version juices the pepper trimmings and adds them to the stew, which intensifies the sweetness. The flavors catapulted us back to San Sebastian. The picture at left above, in fact, shows fishermen unloading the ground fish catch at the San Sebastian docks.

Battersby tuna piperade at Harvest

GRILLED TUNA WITH PIPERADE AND SPANISH HAM


Serves 4

TO PREP

Ingredients


6 red bell peppers
1 medium Spanish onion
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 thin slice Iberico ham (or prosciutto di Parma)
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Directions


Trim off the tops and bottoms of the peppers, reserving them. Peel the peppers, cut them in half, and remove and discard the seeds and ribs. Cut the peppers into julienne strips.

Peel the onion and cut it into julienne strips. Set aside.

Juice the tops and bottoms of the peppers. If you do not have a juicer, put them in a blender, blend with just enough water to engage the blender’s blade, then strain through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. You should have 1/2 cup pepper juice.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a pot that will hold all the ingredients comfortably. When the oil is just shimmering, add the onions and ham and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook over very low heat, stirring often, until the garlic and onions are very soft but not browned, about 15 minutes. Add the julienned peppers and season with salt and paprika.

Cover the pot and continue to cook over very low heat. After about 5 minutes, check to see if the onions and peppers have given off a lot of their liquid (if not, continue to cook a few minutes more), then remove the cover, raise the heat to medium, and bring the juices to a simmer. Cook until the juices have almost completely evaporated, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the reserved pepper juice, and cook, uncovered, until the peppers are very soft and the mixture is saucy, about 30 minutes.

The piperade can to used right away or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

TO SERVE

Ingredients


4 (6-ounce) tuna steaks, ideally 1 1/2 inches thick
Kosher salt
Korean chili powder
Sherry vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
8 thin slices Iberico ham (or prosciutto di Parma)

Directions


Heat a gas grill to high or prepare a charcoal grill for grilling, letting the coals burn until covered with white ash.

Season the tuna with salt and chili powder. Grill the fillets until the bottoms are lightly charred and the fish is just starting to turn opaque on the bottom, 2-3 minutes or a bit longer for well-done. (The Battersby chefs like the fish rare in this dish.) Turn the fillets over and grill until cooked on the other side, 2 or 3 minutes more.

Meanwhile, gently reheat the piperade. (You can do this in a pot set on the grill.) Freshen it with a drizzle of vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Divide the piperade among four plates or wide, shallow bowls. Top each serving with a tuna fillet and finish by topping each fillet with 2 pieces of ham. Serve.

02

07 2017

Zucchi oils exemplify art of blending EVOOs

Francesca Tiberto and Giovanni Zucchi

To blend or not to blend? We’d like to believe that the world’s best olive oil is pressed in Jaén province in Spain from Picual olives. That’s the oil we like on a Caprese salad made with fresh mozzarella and garden tomatoes. But more than a thousand cultivars of Olea europaea trees grow around the Mediterranean basin, and most are used for making oil as well as for cured and brined olives. Which really are best?

Every Spaniard, Italian, Greek, or French person believes that the best oil comes from the family olive grove. They are right because it’s a matter of taste. Surprisingly, most olive oils are blends. They might be blended at harvest from groves with many cultivars. They might be blended after pressing. They might be blended from pressings of green and ripe olives picked from the same trees at different times. Or they might be blended from oils made in many different countries.

Learning to blend

Blending setup at Zucchi workshop

Historically, the master olive oil blenders have been Italian. One of those great companies, Oleificio Zucchi (zucchi.us), launched in 1810. Finally bringing its line of extra virgin olive oils to the U.S., the company is holding blending workshops to demonstrate its approach. We joined one last week at Mamma Maria restaurant (mammamaria.com) in Boston’s North End. Francesca Tiberto (top left), Zucchi’s taster and blend master, led the session. Giovanni Zucchi (top right), managing director and author of Olive Oil Doesn’t Grow on Trees, provided technical details.

The point of blending is to produce a consistent product with the same flavor profile year after year. To get a feel for the artistry involved, we tasted four samples of extra virgin olive oil from four different cultivars and three different countries. With Tiberto’s guidance, we scored each sample on its intensity of fruitiness, bitterness, and spiciness. We also ascribed other taste overtones—flowers, artichoke, green grass, apple, ripe fruits, sweet and bitter almond, and so on.

Al proprio gusto

pouring olive oil after blendingIn a more challenging test, we then used a graduated column to make individual blends of the samples. By blending small batches to start, we could experiment until we found a blend that suited us. Our final 250ml bottle contained 50 percent Cerasuola oil from Sicily, 20 percent light Koroneiki oil from Crete, 20 percent soft Arbequina oil from Cordoba province in Spain, and 10 percent sharp Hojiblanca oil from Estepa in Spain’s Sevilla province.

We like the blend just fine, but we tasted Zucchi’s line of oils with Mamma Maria dishes, and all four (Sinfonia, 100% Italian, Sweet and Fruity, and Organic) were more nuanced than our product. The lesson here is that it takes a master blender to make a master blend. At this point, Zucchi oils are available at Big Y supermarkets (bigy.com) in the Massachusetts and Connecticut, King Kullen markets (kingkullen.com) in New York, and Dave’s Fresh Pasta (dfp.website) in Davis Square in Somerville, Mass. Retail is $11-$12 per 500ml bottle. When our garden tomatoes arrive, we plan to try the Organic Extra Virgin on a Caprese salad—the ultimate test.

Zucchi olive oils

27

06 2017

Finca La Beata shows Bobal at its meatiest

Finca la Beata Bobal with oxtail burger

Regular readers know we’ve been doing a survey of Bobal wines from the Utiel Requena region of Valencia. As we contemplated a dish to eat with the 2013 “Finca La Beata Bobal” from Dominio de la Vega (dominiodelavega.com), we faced a quandary. The sheer weight of the bottle signaled a Very Important Wine. (Empty, it clocks in at 1.2 kg/2.7 lb.) When it arrived at our door, the weather was cold and dank; now it’s hot and steamy. Based on the other Bobal wines, we suspected that it would cry out for very beefy beef.

Manzanilla oxtail burgerBut steamy summer is not the time for rabo de toro, the classic Spanish braise of oxtail. Then we remembered that Andalucían superchef Dani García used oxtail in the scrumptious burgers that we loved to eat at the bar of now-shuttered Manzanilla in Málaga (at right). These days the burgers at Bibo in Marbella and Madrid (www.grupodanigarcia.com/en) are made with aged beef loin. We look forward to trying them.

We always suspected that García’s rabo de toro burger was a mixed grind of oxtail and some part of the shoulder clod, since Spanish beef is often too lean to make good burger. So we followed suit with a rough mix of about 60 percent blade steak (part of the chuck muscles) and 40 percent oxtail meat. It was a perfect match for the big red wine. For a side, we figured a Catalan-style potato salad made with garlicky alioli would do the trick. Directions for making both are below. But first, more about the wine.

Pure concentration of old Bobal

Finca la Beata Bobal 2013Dominio de la Vega makes a lot of cavas that help pay the bills. But winemaker Daniel Expósito is a true believer in the potential of Bobal. He makes three wines entirely from the grape. Dominio de la Vega’s signature is the single-vineyard “Finca La Beata Bobal.” In 2013 (the current release), Expósito made just 3,000 bottles. The winery owns 60ha (150 acres) of vineyards, but the Finca La Beata concentrates the oldest Bobal vines—most more than a century. The vineyard workers keep the bush-style vines pruned to produce only a kilo of grapes each.

Given the natural softness of Bobal’s tannins, Expósito does everything he can to extract maximum structure in the wine-making. The hand-harvested and hand-sorted grapes macerate in 700 liter barrels for at least three weeks. They are stirred by hand to express the skins gently and tasted daily until judged to have the optimal skin extraction. The wine is transferred to French oak barriques (225 liters) for a malolactic fermentaton. It is then finished for 18 months in mild new French oak before bottling in those massive pieces of glass.

Finca la Beata Bobal in glassThe results are spectacular. Poured into the glass, it sparkles with a deep black cherry redness with violet tinges at the surface. The nose is full of warm cinnamon and resinous Mediterranean scrub—especially lavender and rosemary. In the mouth, Finca la Beata drinks with silky smooth tannins and bright notes of cherry and red raspberry. The finish is a little short for such a delicious quaff, but there are just enough tannins to provide a grip on the tongue and back of the throat. It’s a spicy, elegant example of a “big” Bobal—just right for the beefiness of an oxtail burger.

OXTAIL BURGERS

Ingredients


1 1/2 lb. fresh oxtail
1 lb. blade steaks
1/2 pound Jarlsberg cheese, sliced
4 brioche buns
alioli (see below)
fresh leaf lettuce

Directions


oxtail and blade steakStart at least two hours ahead. Using a sharp-pointed filet knife, remove exterior fat from the oxtails and discard. Working carefully, remove meat and tendons from oxtail and reserve. Cut out the gristle that runs up through the middle of the blade steaks and cut into pieces the same size as oxtail meat.

Spread the meat pieces on a baking sheet and place in freezer for about 30 minutes. Grind with a meat grinder (we use an old fashioned hand-crank variety), passing first through the coarse holes, then regrinding through the finer plate. You should have about a pound and a half of premium ground beef. Using a scale, divide into four equal piles. Gently shape each pile into a patty. Sprinkle with kosher salt and coarse black pepper. Grill over hardwood charcoal, only turning once. Move burgers off direct flame and top with cheese. Close grill for 60 seconds to melt cheese. Remove burgers to a warm holding plate.

Lightly toast buns on grill (10-15 seconds over coals). Slather with aioli, add burger and lettuce.

Don’t forget to pour the wine.

BASIC ALIOLI

Ingredients


2 egg yolks
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons water
1 cup olive oil
pinch of cayenne
juice of 1 lemon

Directions


Add egg yolks, garlic, salt, and water to a metal bowl. Whisk together until well-blended. Slowly drizzle in oil, a few teaspoons at a time, while continuing to whisk. Continue until oil is incorporated. Add cayenne and lemon juice and whisk smooth. This basic alioli is often further seasoned with smoky Spanish paprika and a few grinds of black pepper.

Use in place of mayonnaise to make potato salad with capers.

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06 2017

Venusto infuses Bobal charm with modern discipline

pouring Venusto Bobal to accompany steak salad
As we work our way through some exciting wines from D.O. Utiel Requena in Valencia, Spain, we were pleased to try the flagship red from Bodegas Vibe called Venusto. Early in 2015, this new winery took over the land and facilities from a previous winery heavily invested in international grapes. Winemaker Juan Carlos Garcia changed that focus immediately. His attention is riveted on Tardana, a local white grape, and Bobal, the red signature of the D.O. Judging by the 2015 Venusto, Garcia found the sweet spot with his first release. He is making an intense, spicy, well-structured Bobal that is extremely food-friendly.

Bobal growing in red clay vineyardFermented on the skins for four days to pick up saturated color, it pours as deep black cherry liquid with a nice viscosity that displays long legs in the glass. The red clay soils (right) in which these vines were planted in 1960 provide a haunting spiciness to a wine rich in fruit. The nose is a mix of strawberry and black cherry with herbal mint notes. In the mouth, dark anise flavors fill out the palate. Despite four months in American oak, Venusto is blessedly free of the strong vanillin aroma and green astringency that so many soft reds pick up as a bad habit from their American cousins. Tannins are soft and round, and the finish lingers with fresh notes of mint, anise and cherry. Garcia has achieved a lovely balance of Bobal fruit with freshness and structure.

Last we heard, Bodegas Vibe (www.bodegasvibe.com; tel +34 653 964 158) was looking for American distribution. Venusto would make a spectacular red for many restaurants. We found it especially nice with a salad of garden lettuce, roasted and sliced red peppers, and about a quarter pound of medium-rare boneless ribeye per person cut matchstick size. Dress with this very garlicky dressing that is somewhere between a Caesar and Catalan-style aioli.

STEAK SALAD DRESSING

Ingredients

3 cloves garlic, grated
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 lemon, juice and grated rind
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup olive oil

Directions

Combine ingredients through salt in small food processor. Mix well. Add mayonnaise and mix again. With motor running, drizzle in the oil until incorporated into a thick dressing. Use sparingly.

16

06 2017

Biserno wines burnish the potential of Cabernet Franc

Marchese Lodovico Antinori at Tenuta di Biserno wine dinner in Boston.

As a young man, the Marchese Lodovico Antinori (above) helped revolutionize Italian winemaking with his Bordeaux-blend powerhouse wines from Ornellaia. But he had more surprises in store. After selling Ornellaia, he became intrigued about the potential for Cabernet Franc in the region around Bolghieri. So he acquired a 99-year lease on land that had been growing wheat and olives in nearby Bibbona. Here, he and his brother Piero, established the Tenuta di Biserno estate (www.biserno.it/tenuta-di-biserno/).

The unique microclimate and mixture of clay and stony soils at the property let the brothers concentrate on different Bordeaux varietals than Lodovico had at Ornellaia. Between 2001 and 2005, the Tenuta di Biserno planted more than 120 acres. Cabernet Franc was the principal grape, but more than 10 percent of the vineyards contained Petit Verdot, the often silent sister of the Bordeaux grape family. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon—usually the dominant grapes in Bordeaux blends—made up the rest.

Patricia Harris and Lodovico Antinori discuss Tenuta di Biserno wines.

“My daughter Sophia was was born in 1999,” Lodovico Antinori explained last week at a dinner in Boston. “For my last project, I wanted her to have a high quality estate that she could continue.” We guess that people who hail from illustrious wine families think in generations and centuries. As Sophia enters college in England, Tenuta di Biserno is also maturing. It already ranks as one of the most remarkable wine estates in Tuscany, even though the wines are identified by only as Indicazione Geografica Tipica di Toscana, or “guaranteed Tuscan wine.” Tenuta di Biserno wines have too high a percentage of Cabernet Franc to be sold as Bolghieri DOC. But the Marchese is undaunted. The Biserno wines, he believes (and we concur) prove the potential of the Cabernet Franc grape to produce not just good wine, but great wine. As the years pass, Tenuta di Biserno could become one of the most remarkable producers in Italy.

Steak dinner at Grill 23 Tenuta di Biserno dinner.This wine dinner at Grill 23, one of Boston’s most illustrious steak houses, was a showcase for the winery. A classic three-course steak dinner paired 2012 and 2014 selections of Pino di Biserno with a Caesar salad, 2010 and 2012 selections of Biserno with a spectacular boneless ribeye, and the rare Lodovico 2011 with a selection of French, Swiss, and Italian cheeses. All the wines were opened four to five hours before dinner began. The Marchese hosted the dinner and introduced the wines as representatives from Kobrand, his importer and distributor, poured.

Pino di Biserno


Pino di Biserno Typically made from grapes from younger vines, Pino di Biserno is designed to be accessible and ready to drink when still young. The differences between the 2012 and 2014 were fascinating. The younger version was a typical Biserno blend with Cabernet Franc and Merlot taking the lead on the nose and the palate respectively. Big and juicy with intense blackcurrant and black cherry notes in the nose and warm spice flavors in the mouth, it is a model of accessibility. Of the two, the 2012 is more elegant and velvety than the 2014. It has just a hint of slightly green Cabernet Franc on the back of the palate. The Marchese noted that some of the top grapes that might have gone into Biserno were reserved for the Pino in 2012 to ensure that it would be a good vintage. Delicious with the pungent anchovy of the salad, it would be equally special with dark chocolate. List price at release is around $85.

Biserno


Biserno bottleThe flagship wine of the estate, Biserno is produced with grapes hand-selected on the sorting tables for optimal ripeness. It is a wine made principally from Cabernet Franc with varying degrees of the other Bordeaux grapes in the blend. Merlot is always present for a juicy body, and Cabernet Sauvignon content varies from year to year. Color in the glass is a deep ruby red. Once the wine opens up, the nose is dominated by blackberries, anise, and the toasty notes of freshly ground coffee. Tannins are considerable but well balanced and mature, with a strong backbone provided by ripe Petit Verdot. The 2010 was a classic Bordeaux-style wine from a nice, sunny year, and it is a perfectly balanced and powerful wine. The 2012 is already the more interesting wine with tremendous complexity from a very stressful early growing season with scant rain. Delicious with food, it’s also a wine for contemplative sipping. List price at release is around $180.

Lodovico


Lodovico from Tenuta di BisernoWith only about 6,000 bottles per vintage, Lodovico is the jewel of the Biserno estate. It is made entirely from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from a single small individual parcel—and only in years with optimal harvest. The 2011 Lodovico in current release comes from a spectacular season that concluded with a warm and dry September. Cabernet Franc makes up 90 percent of the blend, and the wine is evidence that this parent of Cabernet Sauvignon can hold its own with its more prestigious offspring. In the Upper Maremma, Cabernet Franc ripens more completely than it does in Bordeaux, producing not only fully ripe sugars but also optimally ripe tannins. In the right hands, it produces great wines of resonant power and elegant sophistication. For the record, Tenuta di Biserno’s winemaker is Helena Lindberg, while Lodovico’s long-time collaborator, Michel Rolland, serves as consultant.

This Lodovico 2011 reminds us of a champion thoroughbred racehorse. It is silky and muscular, with beautiful deep violet tones in the glass. It possesses striking grace, poise, and barely restrained power. The tannin structure is very refined, letting the blackcurrant and spice notes come forward in lockstep. The finish goes on forever. The 2011, the Marchese says, finally represents the maturity of the vineyard. It is a great wine with a long, long future. List price for the 2011 is $500.

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06 2017