Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

Belfast’s OX treats Irish food with hugs and kisses

canape of butternut squash, onion galette, ricotta, and fennel pollen at OX in Belfast
We weren’t surprised to eat foie gras and truffles at OX in Belfast, which won its first Michelin star last spring after opening in March 2013. (It’s one of two starred restaurants in Belfast.) Restaurateurs believe that foie gras and truffles must appear on a menu before Michelin will award even one star. No doubt there are exceptions, but we haven’t encountered them. What was a delightful surprise was that such highfalutin ingredients were the exception rather than the rule at OX (1 Oxford Street, 28 9031 4121, oxbelfast.com).

interior of OX in BelfastThe truly defining moments in the spectacular autumn tasting menu were those dishes where humble, local ingredients sang. OX aims to serve brilliantly conceived, highly seasonal food. The price is low for fine dining (£50 for the tasting menu) and the dishes are easily understood. There’s no need to brush up on the precepts of Structuralism before making a reservation. Just bring a hearty appetite, an appreciative eye, and an open-minded palate.

Picture perfect


Chef Stephen Toman’s food looks as good as it tastes. The canapés shown at the top of this post were feats of legerdemain. The cracker is an onion galette. Mounted on it are a few dabs of fresh ricotta cheese freckled with fennel pollen. The “pastry” draped over the cheese is perfectly cooked, thinly sliced butternut squash. The whole plate is sprinkled with marigold petals. It is about as sunny looking and tasting a plate as you could find in gray November in Belfast—and it was all accomplished with local ingredients.

550px-ox03-beet-venison-kohlrabi Flowers are one of Toman’s tools to make the dark foods of winter look brighter. After a great celeriac soup (more on that later), Toman lit up a dark dish with pansy blossoms. Called “beetroot, wild venison, fermented kohlrabi, black garlic,” it combined several elements we rarely use at home and often avoid when we go out. We shouldn’t have worried. The beet was rich and sweet, the venison was butter-tender and savory, and the kohlrabi was a truly inspired pickle. It was the ideal foil to the unctuousness of the other ingredients. A glass of pinot noir from Germany’s Baden region (on the border with Alsace) had the austerity and spiciness to bring out the best in the food.

Nuanced wine list


The synergy between the owners—Belfast native Toman and Brittany-born Alain Kerloc’h—gives OX an international sensibility that places it directly between classical French dining and the New Nordic cuisine emanating from Copenhagen. Kerloc’h manages the restaurant and often serves as maitre d’ but his background is as a sommelier. A handful of wines on the list are there for big spenders, but most are food friendly choices from all over Europe, often without regard for prestige appellations. We tasted six with the dinner, and each was a surprise.

Chateaubriand and truffle at OX in BelfastFoie gras appeared in a supporting role in the most classic dish of the night—a slice of Chateaubriand served with foie gras, artichoke, and hop shoot. The dish seemed to be Toman’s nod to his lineage as a classically trained chef who worked extensively in Paris, including at the legendary Taillevent. The accompanying wine—a 2013 Faugères—was fruit-forward and uncomplicated. The inclusion of a small percentage of Syrah gave the Grenache-dominated red a spicy finish. The wine made the steak and liver course actually seem light!

Like Toman, we often exalt vegetables over proteins when we’re cooking at home. We thought we could best replicate his celeriac soup—minus the swirl of black trumpet mushrooms and generous shavings of truffle. (The inspiration is pictured below.) The recipe that follows is our adaptation of a French standard with the addition of diced apple at the bottom—a trick we learned at OX. It’s more rustic than Toman’s version, but it’s a cinch to make at home. If you feel it needs some extra oomph (lacking truffle), try stirring in some crumbled pieces of bacon.

celeriac soup at OX in Belfast

CELERIAC SOUP AND DICED APPLE


Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
sea salt
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
3 pounds celery root, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch cubes
6 cups chicken or mild vegetable stock
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and cut in 1/4-inch dice
crumbled bacon (optional)
extra virgin olive oil to garnish

Directions
In large soup pot over medium heat, melt butter and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add sliced leeks and a pinch of salt. Stir and cook until leeks begin to soften. Add garlic and another pinch of salt. Cook slowly until leeks and garlic are soft but not brown. Add celery root, stock, and ground pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook about 45 minutes until celery is very soft. Using an immersion blender, purée until creamy and smooth, adding extra stock if necessary.

To serve, cover bottom of each bowl with diced apple. Pour in celeriac soup, and add optional bacon. Garnish with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil.

24

11 2016

Bravura Navarra wine hits all the high notes

albondigas de bacalao at Taberna de Haro
Spain’s D.O. Navarra wine district nestles just east of La Rioja like two lovers spooning in bed. With much the same soils, the same Río Ebro influence, and a millennium-long winemaking tradition, Navarra has everything to make great wines. It even has some of the oldest plots of the Garnacha grape in northern Spain.

Eleven Navarra producers came through Boston last night showcasing one wine each at the terrific Spanish restaurant Taberna de Haro (999 South Beacon St., Brookline, 617-277-8272, tabernaboston.com). Chef Deborah Hansen’s crew passed tapas as we tasted. Among them were the stunning deconstructed version of her salt cod saffron meatballs, albóndigas de bacalao, shown above.

We tasted blends mostly dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. A few were jazzed up with Syrah, a newcomer to Navarra still accounting for less than 1 percent of vineyards. Without exception they were well-made wines suitable for drinking with roast meats, dishes full of ripe peppers or mushrooms, and other powerful flavors. Most were retailing at $20-$25.

Tempranillo standout


Beatriz Ochoa with Ochoa Reserva 2009 at Taberna de Haro To our taste, we were most impressed by the Bodegas Ochoa Reserva 2009. It was the only blend that placed the native Tempranillo grape at center stage. It picked up some blackberry notes from 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, and a velvety smoothness aided by 15% Merlot. Of all the wines we tasted, it was the most Spanish and reflective of the terroir.

This family-owned winery, which dates from 1845, was a pioneer in switching Navarra from mass production of inexpensive wines to lower-yield, high quality wines. Javier Ochoa, who just retired with the 2016 vintage, began the switch a generation ago. One of his daughters, Adriana, is the company winemaker now. She and her sister Beatriz Ochoa, who is general manager, represent the sixth generation of the family. That’s Beatriz in the photo above. See their whole line at the web site.

This particular wine spent 18 months in French and American oak and five years in bottle. It is remarkably harmonious, warm and welcoming, and ultimately powerful—a splendid example of fine winemaking where a French supporting cast lets Tempranillo star. It retails around $22.

What food would Beatriz choose if she was opening a bottle of Ochoa Reserva?

“Lamb chops,” she said without hesitation. “From the grill!”

17

11 2016

Bargain reds from Lafite ward off the fall chill

Lafite bargain reds
It’s almost scary how we start craving heavier meals the moment that there’s a nip in the air. With November already hinting of the winter to come, we’re digging into the wine closet for reds instead of whites. Like many wine lovers, we find several massive reds that need more age before drinking and very few wines really ready to drink. Moreover, we’ve learned the hard way that cheap reds usually deliver exactly what you pay for—along with some additional next-morning misery.

Lafite Rothschild (www.lafite.com) has come to our rescue with some superb reds that don’t require a special occasion. Listed at under $20 each, the Légende 2014 Bordeaux, Los Vascos Grande Réserve Cabernet 2013 from Chile, and Amancaya Gran Reserva 2013 from Argentina actually cost closer to $15 at better wine warehouse stores. (Those are Massachusetts prices; your mileage may vary.) We alluded to the quality of Lafite’s secondary lines in a post in May 2015, but we thought we’d put this group of bargain reds to the test with some of our standby autumn meals big enough to cry out for red wine. Because all three wines are on the young side, we double decanted to smooth out any rough edges with aeration.

Légende 2014 Bordeaux


Légende with roast chickenOne of our go-to fall dinners is a simple roasted chicken breast with roasted creamer potatoes and garlicky roasted peppers. The flavors are strong and satisfying, and the dish demands a fruity red. Légende from 2014 has the great blackberry fruit and vanilla/cocoa nose to complement the garlic and sweet red peppers. Purists might pooh-pooh the idea of drinking Bordeaux with roast chicken, but if the bird is mature and of high quality, an unfussy claret is a perfect pairing. Sure, we’d all like to drink Chateau Lafite Rothschild on a regular basis, but sometimes simple country Bordeaux is just right. This example (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot) is nicely structured with generous, rounded fruit and a lip-smacking, spicy finish. The summer of 2014 was cold and wet, but a sunny September and October miraculously ripened the grapes.

For the accompanying dinner, brine a large chicken breast (2 pounds and up) for a day in the refrigerator, then roast it with potatoes at 425°F. Broil the red peppers and peel them, then sauté strips with the creamy pulp from a roasted head of garlic. When the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 145°F, layer the peppers over the breast and return to the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 155°F. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before slicing.

Los Vascos Grande Reserve Cabernet


Los Vascos with arroz con polloThis Calchagua Valley wine was estate grown and bottled, and the grapes were handpicked and sorted. It shows a classic Chilean expression of Cabernet Sauvignon, with dark, plummy fruit notes complemented by cherries and strawberries in the nose. The herbal notes in the mouth make it a nice complement to the saffron intensity of a good arroz con pollo. We published a Super Bowl version of arroz con pollo back in 2010. See this post for the recipe. The dish can be a little overwhelming, so we cut the Spanish paprika in half to let the fruit of this delicious Cabernet come through. This wine has the soft tannins and acidity to age well, but it also drank nicely against the spicy pork of the Spanish chorizo.

Amancaya Gran Reserva 2013


Amancaya with Patagonian shepherd's pieWe’ve been very pleased with wines from Bodegas Caro, which is a joint venture in Mendoza between Lafite and the Catena family of Argentina. This particular wine balances the power and intensity of Argentine Malbec with the refined fruit of Cabernet Sauvignon. The modest price belies the sophistication of the wine. At 65% of the blend, the Malbec dominates. It presents the classic high-altitude Uco Valley combination of cloves and white pepper on the nose and a finish of dry cocoa and cured tobacco. The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes distinctive raspberry and cassis notes to the nose and a supple fleshiness that hangs nicely on the Malbec’s bony skeleton. Double decanting definitely helped this wine. It continued to grow in the glass as we drank it with dinner.

We went with a humble recipe adapted from the great Patagonian chef Francis Mallmann. It’s really just a fancy shepherd’s pie. But just as the French and Argentine winemaking traditions combine in Amancaya, so do the British and Spanish culinary traditions of Argentine’s coldest region. The piquant spices and dark olives completely remake the flavor profile of the pub standard. Mallmann’s recipe in Seven Fires is a little different. It’s also meant to feed four to six people. This version serves two—just right for splitting a bottle of Amancaya.

FRANCIS MALLMANN’S BEEF AND POTATO PIE


Serves 2

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 pound lean ground beef
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet Spanish smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried mustard
1/2 cup dry red wine
2-3 medium salad tomatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
1/2 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
2 hard-boiled large eggs
1 teaspoon white sugar

Directions

In a 10-inch cast-iron skillet, combine olive oil, onion, and carrot. Sauté over medium-high heat until vegetables soften and begin to brown (about 5 minutes). Crumble in the ground beef and cook until it begins to brown. Stir in the bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, cumin, Spanish paprika, pepper flakes, and mustard. Add red wine and let mixture bubble gently a few minutes.

Stir in tomatoes and olives and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, or until the meat is very tender and the liquid is reduced but not completely evaporated. (The finished dish must be moist.) Remove from heat and set aside.

While meat and vegetables are cooking, place potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Add salt to taste and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and boil gently until potatoes are very tender when pierced with a fork (12-15 minutes). Drain the potatoes thoroughly and press through a food mill or potato ricer.

Bring milk to a boil, and beat it into the potatoes. One by one, beat in the egg yolks, and continue beating until well blended, fluffy, and yellow.

Set oven at 375°F with rack in the bottom third.

Slice the hard boiled eggs into six slices each and arrange them over meat mixture in cast iron skillet. Spoon mashed potatoes on top and smooth the surface with a spatula. Use the tines of a fork to create a pattern of narrow decorative ridges. Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until potatoes are nicely browned.

14

11 2016

Ontario wine country becomes a world player

Magdalena Kaiser pours tasting of VQA Ontario wines in Toronto.
Meeting Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario during our recent visit to Toronto was a real treat. She hails from Ontario wine royalty. Her father, Karl Kaiser, was a co-founder in 1975 of Inniskillin Wines, Inc. The first winery licensed in Ontario since 1929, Inniskillin was a pioneer in making world-class wines on the Niagara Peninsula east of Toronto. The area quickly became known for exceptional ice wines but has broadened out to a huge variety of table wines as well.

We started visiting the Niagara Peninsula in the late 1980s. At the time, winemakers were shifting into European vinifera grapes from hardier French-American hybrids. They also launched Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), which oversees quality standards and certifies the origins of the wines in Ontario and British Columbia.

From that base on the Niagara Peninsula, wine-growing has expanded in several choice areas in Ontario. As Kaiser led us through a broad tasting of wines from three main wine regions over dinner at Richmond Station (richmondstation.ca), she seemed to know every pour as if it were one of her own.

Ontario terroir


bottles-1 We were struck by the sudden maturity of the youngest region, Prince Edward County. Located northeast of the other wine regions, it occupies a limestone peninsula on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Lake effect temperatures and stony soils give the wines a profound minerality. We tasted the Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered 2014 from Wellington. The wine displayed pronounced fruit and a supple elegance in the Burgundian style. The fresh acidity made it a perfect accompaniment to a charcuterie tray. This is cold-climate winemaking at its best. Hardie says his vines and barrels come from France, his terroir from Ontario, and the taste and nose from him. Have a look at www.normanhardie.com.

Many Prince Edward County wineries focus on sparkling wines. We sampled several, including Whitecap from Hinterland (www.hinterlandwine.com). Made with the Charmat method, it’s a crisp and inexpensive sparkler that could be Canada’s answer to Prosecco. Hinterland also makes some sparkling wines in the traditional method of secondary fermentation in the bottle. Its best is Ancestral Method Rosé made with the Gamay grape.

The Gamay surprise


Ontario wines have matured to a level that many are ready to compete in the world market—especially if they play up the perfect match of the terroir to the Gamay noir grape. Gamay has been sullied in popular imagination by sour and fizzy Beaujolais Nouveau that typically appears on shelves in the U.S. just in time to spoil Thanksgiving. But real Beaujolais—the French wines sold as Beaujolais-Villages or Beaujolais Cru—is a wonderful wine with bright raspberry or wild cherry notes.

Some Ontario winemakers bleed their grapes for rosés or use early-picked Gamay for sparkling wine. But the best of the Ontario Gamay wines—like the Tawse Gamay Noir Unfiltered (www.tawsewinery.ca) and the range of Malivoire wines (www.malivoire.com) built on Gamay—resemble the Beaujolais Cru wines from Fleurie in France. These wines have depth, utterly delicious fruit, and a rounded acidity. They are great with cheeses and lighter meats such as chicken, turkey, or rabbit. Tawse, by the way, was named Winery of the Year in Canada in 2016.

Exploring the world of Ontario wines


vineyards in Ontario This tasting piqued our interest in Ontario wines, especially since so many wineries have figured out how to ripen Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc to produce wines that promise a future for superb reds. We expect to be heading up to Ontario wine country to explore in greater depth. If you’d like to do the same, start your planning with the Wine Country Ontario web site at winecountryontario.ca. The wineries have put together a comprehensive guide to visits that is one of the best marketing examples we’ve seen for a North American wine region. The vineyard photo above and the map below are courtesy of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario.

Ontario wine regions

09

11 2016

Valori wines show strong organic backbone

Luigi Valori at Boston tasting
“When you grow completely organically,” says Luigi Valori of Azienda Valori in Abruzzo, “an interesting thing happens to the grapes. The skins become very thick.” That’s more than an obscure botanical fact. It completely changes the potential of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape.

Color, tannin, and polyphenols all dwell in the skins of red wine grapes. More of those things make up for the shortcomings of mass-produced wine. Like many Italian wines, the reputation of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo suffers from a tradition of overproduction. Wines can still meet DOC standards while being grown at weights up to 10 kilograms per vine. Since the grape has naturally sweet and soft tannins, overproduction creates wines that are soft, flabby and don’t age well. But properly grown with a limited yield and vinted with care for its peculiarities, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be an elegant, structured, and noble. It is one of my personal favorites.

Valori Sant'AngeloA former professional footballer for Ascoli Calcio, Valori is a botanist by training. His vineyards in the commune of Teramo in northern Abruzzo near the Marche border are certified 100 percent organic. He has been producing wine on the estate since 1996. His yield is aaround 1.5-2 kilograms of grapes per vine/ In keeping with organic regulations, he treats the vines only with copper and sulfur. But he notes that grapevines find the copper mildly toxic. They react to it by forming slightly smaller berries with much thicker walls. By growing organic grapes with skins packed with tannins and polyphenols, Valori gives himself a leg up in the quest to make a great wine from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

He was in Boston recently for an industry tasting of wines distributed by Masciarelli Wine Co. Masciarelli’s property in Abruzzo adjoins Valori’s vineyards. When the American branch of the family began their outstanding boutique distribution of fine wines, Valori was happy to sign on. He would rather grow grapes and make wine rather than make sales calls.

Valori keeps striving for an ever better synthesis of the vineyard and the winery. He speaks of the temperature gradient of the Teramo hills that sweep down to the Adriatic just 30 kilometers away. The wind flows down the hill, then it flows up the hill,” he says. That ventilation eases the job of the organic grower. Late in the growing season (Montepulciano ripens late), he prunes away leaves to expose the berries. “My goal is to grow perfect grapes.”

Taste of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo


Perfection is in the eye of the beholder—or the palate of the taster. Valori harvests entirely based on his subjective taste of the grapes. “You need all the science and stainless steel to make clean wine,” he says. “But you need the human senses to make great wine.”

I’d argue that he does that. His traditional Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is a bargain red with great fruit extraction and enough structure to stand up to light meats and most pastas. It’s about $10.

Valori calls his riserva Vigna Sant’Angelo. The grapes come from a 3-hectare plot of vines that are more than 50 years old. He macerates for an entire month for maximum extraction of color and polyphenols. (“The skins are almost white when it’s done,” he says.) The wine spends 18 months in new French oak barrique, where it undergoes a malolactic fermentation.

The result is one of the truly great Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines at about $30 a bottle. With an almost inky color in the glass, it exudes dry dark fruits, tobacco, hints of vanilla—all complemented by a bright note of tart cherry.

29

09 2016

Christo’s Floating Piers rise like Franciacorta bubbles

Floating Piers by Christo
For 16 days in late June and early July, the artist Christo let art-lovers walk on water. His “Floating Piers” project was his first outdoor installation since 2005 when he and his late wife and collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, installed 7,500 panels to make gates in New York’s Central Park. Like the gates, the piers gleamed with celebratory saffron-colored fabric. Some 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes supported the 53-foot wide walkway.

Christo at Lake Iseo Nearly two years in the making, the environmental artwork connected two small islands in Lake Iseo with each other and the mainland. And now it’s all gone — but not before an estimated 1 million visitors experienced it.

The poignancy of Christo’s works lies in the tension between the heroic scale of their vision and their ephemeral nature. How appropriate that he chose the wine district of Franciacorta, one of Italy’s great sparkling wines! Years of work go into every bottle. When the wine is poured, the bubbles rise and form a delicate mousse at the top of the glass. But they burst, and the moment is gone—just like “Floating Piers.”

Exploring Franciacorta


People on Floating Piers Timed to the Franciacorta Summer Festival in June, Christo’s work brought a million people to the Franciacorta area, about an hour northeast of Milan. Because so much of Lombardy has cutting edge industry, many wine drinkers don’t realize how bucolic the region can be. In fact, the Strada del Franciacorta was established in 2000. The wine road promotes the region for tourism focused on wine and food. More than 100 wineries along the route handcraft their wines in the metodo classico—with a second fermentation in the bottle. The road also details more than 30 restaurants and wine bars and 30 hotels, bed and breakfasts, and agriturismo farm stays. The Cappuccini Resort is a restored 17th century monastery. (For information in English, see the web site: www.franciacorta.net/en/.)

The area is also great for cycling. The wine road association also details five cycling paths. Each traverses a different section of the region, passing through small villages and vineyards. They are named after different styles of Franciacorta.

The fall Franciacorta Festival takes place September 17-18 this year. It features concerts and food and wine exhibitions throughout the region. For complete details, see the downloadable flyer at www.franciacorta.net/en/festival/.

Franciacorta with food


Franciacorta Contadi Castaldi Saten Franciacorta wines are great for celebrating. But given the modest prices (most $25-$40), you don’t have to wait for a milestone or life-changing event. We recently celebrated the annual tomato glut with pasta tossed with chopped basil and peeled cherry tomatoes. (Dip them for 5 seconds in boiling water, immediately chill, and pierce with a sharp knife. The tomatoes pop whole from the skins.) We drank a Contado Castaldi 2010 Sàten. The “silky” style, unique to Franciacorta, emphasizes tiny pinpoint bubbles. By DOC regulations, that’s a wine made only from white grapes. This was all Chardonnay. It has a lot of acidic backbone, so it held up well with the tart fresh tomatoes. Several years of bottle aging on the lees gave it a toasty nose and faintly bitter aftertaste that complemented the food nicely. The yeasty nose was a perfect counterpoint to the spicy, floral notes of the just-picked basil.

For more about Franciacorta, see our post from last September: “Franciacorta: effervescent joy from Italy.”

24

08 2016

Drinks rival meals during Lexus Gran Fondo

Cocktails at Chatham Bars Inn during Lexus Gran Fondo
As wine and Champagne flowed throughout the weekend of the Lexus Gran Fondo, summer cocktails on the lawns stole the spotlight. For the opening night lawn picnic, the Chatham Bars Inn concocted a pair of perfect summer drinks.

The flute (above) contains a Beach Plum Royale. Ingredients include orange simple syrup and a dose of beach plum liqueur. The hotel staff makes the liqueur when beach plums are in season, They lay down the liqueur to age and use it throughout the year. A generous pour of Veuve Clicquot Brut tops the glass. Bubbles buoy up a thin rim of orange peel, keeping it in suspension halfway up the glass.

The deep goblet holds a spectacular ginger-infused version of Sangría. Lillet Rosé forms the base. The rosé version of this old-time favorite aperitif wine is a fairly new product. It is fermented from Muscatel as well as Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes. Just before bottling, a small amount Lillet Rouge joins the mix. Additions of bitter orange distillations and a touch of quinine make it a great mixer. For the party sangría, the Chatham Bars Inn bar staff added ginger syrup, fresh lime juice, and guava juice. They topped each glass with ginger ale and added a blueberry for color. The combination is remarkably refreshing.

Just as Lexus imported some Lexus Master Chefs for the Gran Fondo, it also brought along Lexus Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy, the wine director of Little Nell in Aspen and one of the youngest master sommeliers in the U.S. McCoy guided wine choices at the dinners. But he also shook, stirred, and poured some nifty cocktails of his own for brunch on the day after the big ride.

Carlton McCoy cocktails


Carlton McCoy pours Blood Orange Mimosa at Lexus Gran Fondo At left, McCoy is creating a Blood Orange Mimosa. The gorgeous drink is deceptively simple to make. His mixer contains blood orange juice and a bit of Cointreau, a sweet orange liqueur without the bite of Grand Marnier. For each flute, he poured in a generous shot (about 2 fluid ounces) and topped with Mumm Cordon Rouge brut Champagne. It was such a popular choice that most drinkers didn’t even wait to get the orange peel garnish.

The White Peach Bellini, a similar but less colorful drink, began with a mix of fresh juice from white peaches mixed with lemon juice and sugar. The same Champagne topped off the flute, and if drinkers were patient, they also got a spring of mint as a garnish.

To our taste, the most unusual McCoy concoction was a variant on the St-Germain Cocktail. The base liqueur is distilled from elderflowers gathered in the French Alps in the spring and swiftly rushed to the distillery on bicycles. (This is according to the official St-Germain propaganda.) Nothing quite tastes like St-Germain, though the aroma might remind you of a cross between fresh lilac and freshly cut grass. It is sharp and floral at the same time. Most cocktails drown the liqueur in a lot of wine or Champagne and sweeten heavily. McCoy took a different approach, combining some fresh lime juice with the liqueur and topping it off with a pour of cold Prosecco. With a lemon twist, the drink is light, bright, and surprisingly adult.

26

07 2016

Paso Robles wine comes into its own

tasting at a Paso Robles winery
Paso Robles has a frontier spirit. Located about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Central Coast community lends its name to California’s fastest growing wine region.

wine signpost Paso Robles Known since Native American times for its thermal hot springs, Paso (as locals call it) had only 35 wineries in the late 1990s. But this district of limestone bedrock and huge day-night temperature differential has caught the eye of winemakers large and small. Located in the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountain range about a half-hour drive from the Pacific Ocean, the region boasts more than 250 wineries and 26,000 acres planted in more than 40 wine grape varietals. The power of Paso Robles goes well beyond the numbers. The palpable air of experimentation and possibility is so infectious that even short-term visitors get a lift.

Upscale boutiques, Western-style clothiers, restaurants, cafes, and more than 20 wine tasting rooms give a bustling air to the tidy downtown around City Park. While downtown is the best place to taste across the whole region, many vineyards are nearby. On Highway 46 alone, 25 tasting rooms dot the roadside within a five-mile stretch.

Coy and Sarah Barnes founded the first wine tour company in Paso. Their Wine Wrangler (the winewrangler.com) offers both half- and full-day tours.

“Wine has been grown here for as long as in Napa,” says Coy, “but the area is not as well known. There are only about one-third as many vines as there are planted in Napa. But it is an area that is young, growing, full of people who like to experiment.” Even a short tour gives a sense of the proud history and dynamic growth that give the region its unique character.

J Dusi shows Zin is no sin


Janelle Dusi of J Dusi Wines in Paso Robles Janelle Dusi is the fourth generation of a grape-growing family. She grew up on 100 acres planted in old-vine Zinfandel. “We’re farmers. My great grandfather began growing Zinfandel in the 1920s,” she says. “It’s Paso’s heritage grape and the vineyards are still intact and family-owned.”

Her grandfather taught her the basics of winemaking and she is now both winemaker and proprietor of J Dusi Wines (1401 CA-46, Paso Robles; 805-226-2034; jdusiwines.com). True to her family roots, Janelle makes a medium-body Zinfandel.

“I restrain the jam and alcohol. I’m not embarrassed to do a more restrained style with a little more finesse,” she says. “I don’t need to come out of the gates with a chewy meal in a glass. My wine is more food friendly.”

While she is proud of her Zinfandel, Janelle has become increasingly interested in some of the most full-bodied Rhone grapes. She produces single-varietal bottlings of Grenache, Syrah, and the Rhone-like Petite Sirah.

SummerWood strikes a French pose


Shayne Kline of SummerWood in Paso Robles Shayne Kline, general manager at SummerWood Winery, agrees that Rhone grapes are a good fit for Paso Robles. “This area is known as the ‘Rhone zone,’” he says. He points out that the weather and the soils in the two regions are comparable, while noting that the night-time cooling is the most important aspect of the climate.

SummerWood (2175 Arbor Road, Paso Robles; 805-227-1365; summerwoodwine.com) is known for its limited-production American Rhone and Bordeaux wines and for Cabernet Sauvignon, a favorite of winemaker Mauricio Marchant.

“I’m originally from Chile, and I love Cabernet,” Marchant says, He spent time working in Napa Valley where “it’s Cab and Chard all day long. Here we’re still learning, trying to figure out what will work. Trying new things all the time. I love Syrah—powerful, inky black, manly man wine.” He also makes a huge, intense Rhone-style Mourvèdre.

Villicana shows a spirit of its own


Alex and Monica Villicana of Villicana Winery & Vineyard (2725 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles; 805-239-9456; villicanawinery.com) share that sense of adventure.

Alex and Monica Villicana of Villicana Winery & Vineyard in Paso Robles “We were the 17th winery in the area in 1993,” says Alex. The couple has planted their 13 acres in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot from Bordeaux, and Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah from the Rhone. “It’s Bordeaux meets Rhone,” Villicana says. He could add Puglia as a footnote, since Villicana also grows a lot of Zinfandel.

As winemaker, Alex stems the grapes and removes 30 to 40 percent of the free-run juice. “We change the ratio of juice to skins to get richer red wines,” he notes. In the process, “we stumbled on the fact that you can make vodka out of grapes” in place of the more traditional potatoes or grains. In fact, the Villicanas opened Re:FIND (refinddistillery.com), the area’s first craft distillery.

During the harvest, Alex saves their own free-run juice and buys this “saignée” from other winemakers. He makes vodka and gin by fermenting the juice and triple distilling the product.

“Twenty years of winemaking helped me in distilling.” Alex says. “I use the same sense of smell and taste to decide what to keep and what to get rid of.” He considers the venture to be “the ultimate in spirit-making sustainability.”

12

07 2016

Ocean meets wine country in Pismo Beach

sunset and the pier at Pismo Beach
California beach country is often also wine country. On the Central Coast, wineries nestle in the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountain range only about five miles from the ocean. The San Luis Obispo wine country comprises about thirty wineries squeezed into the hills between Arroyo Grande in the south and San Luis Obispo in the north.

Pelican preens on Pismo Beach pier Over the hills in Pismo Beach, Lissa Hallberg of the Tastes of the Valleys wine tasting bar and bottle shop was eager to introduce me to their products. The coastal village just over the mountains from Arroyo Grande boasts a long strand of soft sand. The town resists modernization, preferring to embody the classic, low-key beach getaway. In the morning, fishermen cast for Spanish mackerel off the 1,200-foot pier where seagulls and pelicans also perch. A gentle surf usually accommodates boarders and everyone can find enough sand to spread out a blanket. Dog walkers and joggers follow the shore south to wander among the undulating dunes. Shorebirds touch down in little lagoons, taking turns flap-flap-flapping to shake out their wings once they land.

Waiting for the sun to go down


Lissa Hallberg of the Tastes of the Valleys purs a sample in Pismo Beach As befits a beach vacation, Pismo Beach boasts plenty of arcades, salt water taffy pullers, ice cream parlors, and retro souvenir shops. But when the sun sinks low in the sky, all eyes turn to the pier. Local custom dictates buying a bottle of wine, pouring some into a Solo cup, and strolling down to the pier before sunset. I selected a bottle of Laetitia Vineyard and Winery Estate Chardonnay. Hallberg grimaced a bit at the thought of the plastic party cup adulterating the honeyed, mineral-driven taste of the wine from the Arroyo Grande Valley. (The region resembles Champagne in its soils and growing conditions, and the best wines are simple and unoaked.) Hallberg needn’t have worried. Watching the sun set, the taste of terroir came through fine without a crystal glass. I could get used to the ritual.

Tastes of the Valleys is at 911 Price Street, Pismo Beach; 805-773-8466; www.pismowineshop.com.

09

07 2016

Endrizzi ecological stewardship inspires great wine

Endrizzi vineyards in San Michele
Vineyards can be some of the most beautiful places on the planet, but few have charms to rival the original family vineyards of Endrizzi. Located in San Michele all’Adige (locale Masetto; tel. +39 0461 650 129: www/endrizzi.it), the winery launched in 1885. Masetto is also the name of the name of the family homestead. In those days, the area was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Endrizzi operated wine shops in Vienna, Prague, Belgrade, and Switzerland. After World War I, Trentino reverted to Italian control. The wine, however, has always been bilingual.

Trilingual, if you count the origin of some of the grapes. Founders Francesco and Angelo Endrici (the Italian spelling of the family name) pioneered Trentino plantings of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Those French grapes complemented their native teroldego and lagrein as well as riesling and gewürztraminer. In more recent decades, Endrizzi has also added chardonnay, pinot bianco, and sauvignon blanc.

The range of grapes isn’t even the most striking thing about Endrizzi vineyards. When I stepped out of the car at the Masetto facility, blooming flowers scented the air. Birdsong was everywhere. Amber sunshine spilled down the vineyard rows, reaching to the Dolomites in the background. Rarely have I arrived somewhere that exuded such health and harmony.

There’s an apropos quote from Goethe near the door of the winery: “Nature and idea cannot be separated without destroying both art and life.”

Lisa María and Paolo Endrici of Endrizzi Dr. Paolo Endrici is the fourth generation to operate the company. His wife Christine, a German architect, designed the winery. Their daughter Lisa María recently concluded wine management studies at Geisenheim in Germany with graduate work in Bordeaux. (Paolo and Lisa María are shown at left.)


The family also operates Serpaia di Endrizzi in La Maremma in Tuscany. I have written elsewhere of the elegance and intense fruit of their Morrelino di Scansano, so it was a pleasure to taste through the Trentino production. For brevity’s sake, I’d like to focus on just a few of the Masetto wines. They are just barely available in the U.S. I’d be thrilled if a broad-based importer were to pick them up, since they offer extraordinary quality at modest prices.

Masetto di Endrizzi


Masetto Bianco from Endrizzi If I had my druthers, I would drink Masetto Bianco at dinner several nights a week. This is a complex white blend of chardonnay, pinot bianco, riesling, and sauvignon blanc. All the grapes come from vineyards that are either biodynamically farmed or tending that way. The traditional pergola vineyards are being retrained to guyot wire. While a tiny amount of phosphate is added in mineral-deficient portions of the vineyards, none remains in the juices. Endrizzi vinfies most of the must in stainless steel, but ferments about 20 percent in oak. The winery employs powerful air-splitting machinery. The nitrogen provides a neutral atmosphere for bottling and capping off fermentation tanks. The ozone takes care of almost all sterilization within the facility, drastically reducing sulphites.

Masetto Nero is the red version of a daily table wine. This blend of native and French grapes spends just a short period in barrels to meld the flavors without adding strong oak flavors. Blueberries, raspberries and cocoa are the dominant flavor notes, with a slight undertone of vanilla.

Gran Masetto

Gran Masetto from Endrizzi The pride and joy of the family, however, is Gran Masetto. This wine shows the potential of the local teraldego grape for making an important wine. The must comes from two pressings. Grapes from a vineyard where the fruit has been reduced 50 percent by a series of green harvests make up the first pressing. The second pressing squeezes passito, or raisined, grapes. These are ripe grapes stored in small baskets under refrigeration until around Christmas. This cold desiccation concentrates the flavor, sugar, and acids. It keeps the aroma intact and avoids the marmalade qualities of grapes dried with sun or heat.

The color is extremely deep—almost black. The wine spends about 18 months in old oak barrels, and often several years in the bottle before release. Paolo poured verticals of the Gran Masetto from 2006 through 2011. Each displayed some caramelized fruit on the nose along with a characteristic teroldego spiciness. The younger wines also showed a hint of black pepper. Consistently ranked among Italy’s top 100 wines, this striking red retails around 45€. It could easily fetch twice the price.

Endrizzi’s Vinoteca is open daily except Tuesday for tastings and sales. Hours are 9am-noon, then 2-7pm. Slightly shorter hours prevail in October and November, when the winery commands everyone’s attention.

07

07 2016