Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

Making PEI mussels like the mussel master

Mussels to steamAs a native Belgian and as the man who launched mussel aquaculture on Prince Edward
Island (see post), Joel Van Den Bremt has eaten his share of mussels over the years. When I asked him how he preferred to cook them, he thought a bit and told me, “steamed, but with the vegetables soft enough to eat. I like the vegetables, too.” I agree with him. Some diners will pass the mussels to someone else at the table and just concentrate on the mussel-flavored broth. I prefer the three-bowl plan: one for the mussels, one of the spent shells, and a third for broth and vegetables. Although you can steam mussels in a dry pan, relying on their own juices, many people add raw vegetables to the pot. But by the time the mussels are cooked, the vegetables are neither cooked nor raw. If you keep cooking to finish the vegetables, the mussels will come out vulcanized. Joel’s solution is to sauté the veggies first.

MUSSELS A LA JOEL

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients
1/4 lb butter, cut into pieces
6 shallots, minced
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 large carrot (2-3 salad carrots), cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 cups white wine
5 lb. (about 3 quarts) live blue mussels

Directions
In large stockpot over medium heat, melt butter, and add shallots, celery, and carrots. Stir steadily and cook until vegetables begin to soften.

Add wine and mussels. Bring to a boil and cover pot. Steam for about 5 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened their shells.

Remove mussels to four bowls using slotted spoon. Ladle broth and vegetables into four smaller bowls.

Portugal: wines from the edge of Europe

Aveleda estate Having just spent a week popping around some of the wine regions of Portugal, I’m struck again at what good value modern Portuguese wines offer and, with the exception of port, how little known they are in the U.S. As noted in my last post (see below) even the port world is trying to catch up with contemporary drinkers, emphasizing cocktails with white port and (I think) somewhat less successful rosé port.

Vinho verde is another category of Portuguese wine that a few Americans know. Certainly the low-alcohol, often bracingly acidic wines of the north coastal region are a perfect fit with summer dining. I stopped at historic Quinta da Aveleda (above), where the venerable low-end Casal Garcia brand with its blue and white lace label has financed more sophisticated wines. Aveleda replantingThe quinta has stunning gardens full of aristocratic follies, but the recent turn toward planting many more vineyards with the Alvarinho grape is no folly at all. The adjacent area in Spain, the Rias Baixas in Galicia, has proven that this noble white grape can stand with any of the cold climate whites in Europe. Aveleda and a few others are bent on proving that the Portuguese-inflected version can be every bit as robust and sophisticated as the Spanish.

With a few exceptions, Portuguese winemakers seem very conflicted about their grape varieties. On one hand, they work with at least a dozen major grapes and several dozen lesser varieties. Traditionally, most wines were labeled by region (Dão, Douro, Alentejo, etc.) or by the house name (Lancer’s, Mateus). But Portuguese winemakers are convinced that modern wine buyers want to know the grapes in the bottle. Personally, I’m not so sure. A concern for putting unfamiliar grape names on the bottles has led to some interesting but not always integrated blends that include Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, both international varieties that grow well in Portugal but often lack regional character.

Quinto do Crasto vineyards But then I visited Quinta do Crasto (above), a Douro producer in one of the hardest-to-reach spots on the north bank of the Douro between Pinhão and Régua. It pays to make the trip because the wines are terrific and they now offer a few rooms where travelers can stay in style (www.quintadocrasto.com, +351 254-920-020), as you can see here. Quinto do Crasto room We tasted our way through the whole portfolio, and it was an eye-opening experience. Hands down the greatest of the reds (Vinha da Ponte) came from vineyards more than 95 years old that were planted in a field blend of at least 30 different grapes.

V_Ponte_2004 Quinto do Crasto is involved in a project to identify each grape by its DNA and plant “ark” vineyards to preserve these varieties—many of which are obscure even to the Portuguese. At the same time, the quinta is also replanting vast areas of vineyards in single varietals. Winemaker Manuel Lobo has produced a series of single varietals, including the noblest of the Portuguese grapes, Touriga Nacional, and the quintessential grape of the whole length of the Douro River, Tinto Roriz (called Tempranillo in Spain where the river is the Rio Duero).

Both wines are pressed by foot treading in open stone vats (lagars) before continuing fermentation in open stainless steel vats. Interestingly enough, the same process was followed for the old vines field blend Vinha da Ponte. All three were aged in 225-liter new French oak barrels—the single varietals for 16 months, the Vinha da Ponte for 20 months.

Bottles_02All three were 2010 vintage wines, and all three are superb. At this stage, they all benefit from decanting (or at least opening) a few hours before consumption, and their firm structures promise a long life in the bottle. Yet I find them ready to drink and true to type. The Vinha da Ponte balances a lot of fresh red fruit character nicely with finely structured tannins that should give it good longevity. The Touriga Nacional is a natural winner, from the violets on the nose to the hints of dark chocolate in the aftertaste. The Tinta Roriz appeals to me because Tempranillo is an old friend dressed in new clothes here. Lobo coaxes out the piney high notes to complement the dark fruit and doesn’t back away from the mineral finish. It’s a great food wine.

But to be truthful, I would base my decision to buy these wines on the quality I expect from Quinto do Crasto, not the name of the grape. I’m delighted to drink the single varietals, but I’m just as happy to drink the Quinto do Crasto name.

08

07 2013

Port opens its collar a bit

vindimando pinhao 2The fourth generation of the Symington clan that came to Portugal in 1882, Dominic Symington is one of a passel of cousins who run the wide-ranging port empire that includes Cockburn’s, Warre’s, Dow’s, and Graham’s, along with Quinto do Vesúvio and Altano table wines. When a group of us touring wine estates in the Douro Valley stopped in Pinhao to see the amazing tile murals at the train station (like the one above), Symington offered to pick us up for lunch – by boat. Dominic

We met him at the town dock, where one of his daughters and a friend were helping him dock his small speedboat. “It’s much faster than driving on the road,” he shrugged, as we sped a half hour upriver to the Quinta dos Malvedos of the Graham’s port company. He was particularly keen to show us the technology – first the traditional concrete lagars in which port grapes are pressed by foot. “This is wine as it was made in Biblical times,” he said. “If Caesar’s legion came marching in at harvest time, they would know just what to do – to climb in the lagar and start marching back and forth.”

There are tremendous advantages to this type of grape treading. The human foot crushes the skins just about perfectly to extract the deep color and the phenolic tannins that a wine like port needs to be full bodied and age well. The system has disadvantages, too, particularly when it comes to temperature control. Over the three weeks of harvest and crushing for port, the concrete warms up a lot from the combination of human body temperature and chemical reactions during the fermentation.

lagarEnter the Symington clan’s robotic treader: The lagars (troughs about knee deep) are replaced with stainless steel trays only slightly larger. Heating and cooling elements in the sides keep the fermentation temperature under control. And a robotic treader – with foot-sized pistons coated with silicon rubber – replaces the grape stompers by providing exactly the same pressure are the human foot (for geek readers, that’s 20 kg per square centimeter).

Symington also noted that almost everyone in the port wine business understands their vineyards much better than 20 years ago. That has meant better port year to year – and a lot more vintage port, which is the fruity version of port that ages in the bottle rather than in the cask. But for all the improvements in high-end vintage port and the older, more complex tawny ports (he poured a 20-year-old tawny port and a 1991 vintage port to illustrate the differences), The Symington brands are “seeking to deformalize port,” as he put it. tawny

It was a blisteringly hot day (not uncommon in the Douro Valley), so he offered an aperitif. Clink-clink-clink went three ice cubes into a lowball glass. Symington filled it half full with white port, topped up with tonic water, and slid a thin slice of lemon into each drink, apologizing that he was out of lime for the moment. The reinvention of the white wine spritzer was the perfect antidote to the heat. With its touch of sweetness and crisp, mouthfilling acids, it was about as far as I could imagine from a ruminative post-dinner glass of tawny port.

“Stick the port in the freezer for an hour,” Dominic said, “and you can skip the ice cubes.”

29

06 2013

Fado in a Douro vineyard

The hotel at Quinta do Vallado (see last post) sits at an elevation of about 450 meters above sea level – a long way up a steep hillside from the Douro River. But the highest vineyards, which are planted with a magical, almost mystical mix of heritage grapes (perhaps as many as 30 varieties) on vines that are close to 100 years old, are way up the hill at around 600 meters. Before we left Vallado to make our way to Quinta do Crasto, one of the staff drove us up to the top to survey the vineyards. On the way back down, around 550 meters, we saw a work crew topping the Touriga Nacional vines and tying them on wires. As we approached, I thought we heard a radio playing fado, the mournful popular music that you could call the Portuguese blues. (It almost always involves some reason why lovers are fated to be kept forever apart.) But there was no radio – just Maria Julia singing as she worked. The songs were sad, but Maria Julia worked fast and with heart. The lovers in the song suffer, and the grapes suffer on this sharp incline with rocky schist. But the wine is as sweet as the song.

28

06 2013

The sweet taste of the Douro

valladoFrancisco Ferreira waxed rhapsodic – and contrary to expectation. One of the original “Douro Boys,” the semi-revolutionary gang who have made Douro table wines almost better known than ports in some quarters, Ferreira got a faraway look in his eyes.

Francisco Ferreira “I still make port because it is a fantastic product, and because, well…” He swept his arms out to gesture at the dramatic hillside, “well, we are in the Douro.” In fact, he makes vintage port (the just-declared 2011 is already spectacular) and a 20-year-old tawny.

orangesWe were having dinner at Quinta do Vallado (Vilarinho dos Freires, Peso da Regua, +351 254 324326, www.quintadovallado.com), the family estate that has also been a wine tourism destination since 2005 – all the more so since the addition of eight more rooms and a full-fledged dining room in a new section last year. So for dessert, he not only brought out the 2011 vintage cask sample, but had the kitchen deliver a stupendous dessert. It consisted of paper-thin slices of oranges from trees that border the hotel with a reduction of white port (his, of course) with dark chocolate sprinkles.

The Douro Boys may have brought some tart ferment to the Douro Valley, but even they love that sweet spot it can deliver.

27

06 2013

Italy #5 — Parmigiano-Reggiano for dessert

Parmigiano dessert plate 1 Leave it to the Italians to keep dessert simple. With its strong umami flavor (second only to Roquefort cheese in glutamate levels), Parmigiano-Reggiano makes everything around it taste better. Following the Italian example, we like to make a plate with a mix of nuts, dried fruit, and fresh fruit. This fall, for example, we paired chunks of a two-year-old buttery summer milk Parmigiano-Reggiano with lightly toasted walnuts, diced apple, and buttered slices of baguette.

Donnafugata passito The extra special touch on each plate was a small cluster of raisins that I brought home from Donnafugata’s vineyards on Pantelleria. The Zibbibo grape (Moscato di Alessandria) is one of the few things that grows on this windswept rock halfway between Sicily and Tunisia. (The other is capers.) The picked grapes are spread under muslin-topped hoops to dry from the heat and wind. Then the Rallo family presses the bunches to make Ben Ryé, an intense passito wine. When I visited the winery, Giacomo plucked a large bunch off the conveyor belt and handed it to me. “For the flight,” he said, but the grapes were so intense that I saved them for months – until the Legends from Europe presented us with all that delicious cheese.

31

12 2012

What to drink at the airport … in Kelowna

No, we didn’t take this photograph in the cute little Kelowna airport, located in the heart of the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia. Once principally an orchard area (the peaches and cherries are incredible), the valley now boasts more than 150 wineries and an untold number of vineyards. It is emerging as one of the hottest new table wine region in the North American west as well as continuing its excellent production of Canada’s best-known ice wines.

We spent a few days touring and tasting and have to admit that it’s hard to beat the striking vistas from the hillside vineyard tasting rooms that overlook the chain of lakes in the Okanagan Valley. Looking down the long green rows to the blue water–and then across to the opposite bank where more vines climb the hills to the horizon is pretty special. The lakes help hold the heat and the high desert climate makes the region nearly perfect for growing grapes organically. We’ve seen few places in the world where organic viticulture (and agriculture in general) was the rule rather than the exception.

To our surprise, the Kelowna airport’s Skyway Cafe & Bar is a fine place for a final glass before boarding a flight, if only to get a last taste of an Okanagan wine in situ (assuming you skip the wine-in-a-box “Premium Red” and “Premium White”). The bar offers selections by the glass from some of the most respected vineyards in the region, including a Mission Hill Five Vineyards cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend and a pinot noir from Grey Monk.

Alas, the bar doesn’t pour any of the ice wines that first made the region’s reputation. So if you find yourself flying from Kelowna, make sure a bottle or two is in your checked bags. If you’re flying nonstop, there’s a wine shop by Gate 5.

26

08 2012

Six things to bring home from Vermont

It’s official. The Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire has shipped to stores and is available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Thanks to our efficient editors, we beat the technical publication date of July 3.

In addition to restaurants, the book highlights great shops and local food producers. Vermont may be best known for maple syrup and cheddar cheese, but there’s a whole lot more. Here are some of our favorite things to bring home from the Green Mountain State.

The Red Bar from Middlebury Chocolates (2377 Route 7 South, Middlebury, VT; 802-989-1610; www.middleburychocolates.com) is the hardcore chocolate lovers’ chocolate. Stephanie and Andy Jackson make all their chocolates straight from the bean. The Red Bar, says Andy, is “a throwback to the earliest known recipes.” It has a wild mix of sour, mellow, toasted, and sweet notes. While the book was at press, the couple moved into spacious new quarters south of town. They re-open for business on Friday (June 15).

Who would expect wine—let alone good wine—in Vermont? But Snow Farm Vineyard (190 West Shore Rd., South Hero, VT; (802) 372-9463; www.snowfarm.com) produces some outstanding estate-grown varietal wines. Many are available all over Vermont, but you have to go to the winery to buy the limited-edition Pinot Noir, American Riesling, and (our favorite), the Late Harvest Vignobles, a lush dessert wine with pronounced apricot notes.

We love the controlled smoke flavor imparted at Green Mountain Smokehouse (341 Route 5 South, Windsor, VT; (802) 674-6653; www.greenmountainsmokehouse.com). Koreen and Jake Henne smoke all their meats on the premises and sell to individuals only at their factory. We like to stop for the bargain-priced bacon ends, which we dice up to use in chowders, stews, and in place of guanciale in amatriciana. (See here for our recipe.)

When we go to the farm or catch them at a farmers’ market, we’ll often buy a young, soft-rind cheese made by Consider Bardwell Farm (1333 Route 153, West Pawlet, VT; (802) 645-9928; www.considerbardwellfarm.com) to eat right away. To take home, we’re partial to the creamy Pawlet aged raw milk cheese from Jersey cows. It’s an Italian-style Toma and multiple award winner from the American Cheese Society and World Cheese championships.

Mark Simakaski and Nichole Wolfgang taught beekeeping when they were in the Peace Corps; now they make mead (honey wine) that ranks among some of the world’s best. Artesano Meadery (1334 Scott Highway (Route 302), Groton, VT; (802) 584-9000; www.artesanomead.com) produces about 1,000 cases a year. We prefer the dry traditional mead without fruit infusions.

Sheep are always grazing on the hillside when you approach Vermont Shepherd Cheese (281 Patch Farm Road, Putney, VT; (802) 387-4473; www.vermontshepherd.com), and the little sales building looks like something out of a fairy tale. You can buy yarn spun from the herd’s wool as well as local honey. But we make a beeline for the refrigerator and pre-cut wedges of the best aged ewe’s milk cheese in North America.

12

06 2012

Three (delicious) flavors of ‘bistro’ in Montreal

Our latest book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Montreal, is finally hitting the bookstores in the U.S. and Canada. The city has always been one of our favorite places for a quick getaway, a winter shopping spree, or a romantic weekend—in large part because the food is so good. We’ve enjoyed watching the Montreal dining scene evolve over the years, and many of our favorite places to eat are bistros—with or without the French ”t” at the end. They tend to be small, casual neighborhood places with hearty food and plentiful drink.

The old-fashioned French bistro persists in Montreal. La Gargote (351 place d’Youville, 514-844-1428, www.restaurantlagargote.com, Metro: Square Victoria) is one of our favorites in this style. The name is French slang for a diner, but this little mom-and-pop restaurant looks, feels, and tastes like a small-town bistro lifted straight from an early 1950s French film. More marvelously bourgeois is Le Paris (1812 rue Sainte-Catherine ouest; 514-937-4898, Metro: Guy-Concordia), which has been serving a homey boeuf bourgignon since it opened in 1956.

Montreal became obsessed with food before most cities in North America, and it has even evolved its own versions of bistro, including bistro-plus. Keeping the casual, almost ad hoc quality of a neighborhood bistro, a bistro-plus gives patrons a little something extra—an unexpected amuse-bouche, some mignardises with the bill, or a surprise shaving of truffles or dollop of foie gras. Le Grain de Sel (2375 rue Sainte-Catherine est, 514-522-5105, www.restolegraindesel.ca, Metro: Papineau) epitomizes the style. We have friends who come to this spot a few blocks outside the Village just for chef-owner Jean-François Bonin’s myriad twists on foie gras. We also love his wine list, where prices are reasonable because he opts for private importing.

Most au courant is the style we call bistro-grunge. Something of an answer to London’s gastropubs and Basque country’s pintxos bars, bistro-grunge places usually have heavily tattooed kitchen and wait staff (and customers). Here’s the kick—-for all the edgy posing, the food is as inventive, locavore and just plain delicious as at a bistro-plus. A bistro-grunge usually has a good beer list and nowhere near enough seats. A perfect example is Le Chien Fumant (4710 rue de Lanaudière, (514) 524-2444, lechienfumant.com, Metro: Laurier/Mont-Royal), or “the smoking dog.” There’s no dress code that says all male diners must wear three-day stubble, but it helps to blend in. From the chalkboard menu to the wide-open kitchen with all its attendant bustle, it’s the dining equivalent of free jazz—it’s hard to predict the next chord change, but you know it will be lively.

As we used to say in those elementary school oral book reports, if you want to know more, you have to read the book.

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25

07 2011

Burgundy eggs in red wine sauce

Of all the wonderful food in Burgundy, I have a special soft spot for the bistro staple known as oeufs en meurette. The dish is hearty and warming on a cool autumn night and it is a classic in the region. Maybe I like it so much because sauce meurette is very similar to the sauce in coq au vin. Despite its rich flavors, French cooks usually pair meurette with mildly flavored proteins, like poached eggs or a poached fish. Restaurants in Burgundy often feature this dish as a first course (one egg per person) because everything but the eggs can be prepared ahead and re-heated, making it a quick dish to assemble.

POACHED EGGS IN RED WINE SAUCE


Most of the ingredients for this dish are readily available in the U.S., though a light pinot noir from Oregon or Washington can be substituted for the Burgundy. And, in a pinch, so-called “Italian bread” will substitute for a pain de campagne. The key, though, is to use great eggs – ideally from free-range hens. The yolks have a deeper color and the eggs are easier to poach without making a mess of them. This recipe serves two as a main dish, or four as an appetizer, with a little extra sauce to go around.

Ingredients

For the sauce
1 bottle (750 ml) light red wine (a simple négociant Burgundy)
2 cups strong homemade chicken stock
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 carrot, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced or grated
a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme, and bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
salt to taste

For the garnish
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/4 pound piece of bacon, diced
12 baby onions, peeled

For the toast
4 diagonal slices of white country loaf
2 tablespoons olive oil

4 fresh eggs

Preparation

1. Add wine, stock, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, bouquet garni, and peppercorns to a large shallow pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer until reduced by half (about 20 minutes).

2. While sauce is reducing, prepare garnish and toast. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in saucepan, add mushrooms, and sauté until tender (about 3 minutes). Remove mushrooms and add remaining tablespoon of butter and bacon. Fry until bacon browns. Remove bacon to drain on paper towels. Add onions to fat and sauté gently about 10 minutes until tender and lightly browned all over. Remove and combine with mushrooms and bacon. Pour off excess fat from garnish pan (used in Step 2), then deglaze pan with some of the simmering wine. Return liquid to the wine/sauce.

4. Meanwhile, trim crusts from bread, making each slice about the size of a poached egg. Heat olive oil in small frying pan and fry bread until browned on both sides (about 1 minute per side). Drain on paper towels and set aside.

4. When wine-stock mixture is reduced, strain and return sauce to pan over low heat. Taste and add salt if necessary.

5. Blend 2 tablespoons each of flour and butter in a small bowl with a fork to form a soft paste. Whisk paste a little at a time into hot sauce. Stir constantly until all butter-flour mixture is incorporated. Bring sauce to boil, stirring constantly, until thickened (about 5 minutes).

6. Poach eggs for 4-5 minutes — until whites are set but yolks are still runny. Place two toasts each in shallow bowls and top with eggs. Spoon on sauce and add mushroom-bacon-onion mixture.

Serve with a glass of Burgundy.

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13

07 2010