I stopped by NYC's Hill Country Barbecue & Market last night for a semi-impromptu blind tasting of tequilas (no rest for the weary, indeed). The general gist of the thing, concocted by Hill Country bar director extraordinaire Jessica Stone and exec chef extraordinaire Elizabeth Karmel, was to determine whether the tequilas I think of as my default faves were actually that when tasted blind against a gang of other candidates. Not a bad undertaking for a Tuesday night.
Out of the blancos, my top pick turned out not to be my usual El Tesoro but a brand that was new to me, El Mayor (about $40) which combined intense agave character (more on the herbal than vegetal side) with a bit of pepperiness and a sleek finish; no rough edges, but no lack of character either.
From the reposados, my top pick (over some much more recognized brands) was the Siembra Azul Reposado (about $40). It stuck out from the pack partly because the wood notes it had were so gracefully integrated into the spirit itself—several others tasted like wood planks dipped in hooch—and partly because the agave shone through so clear and pure above those wood/spice characteristics. It was eminently balanced, and eminently drinkable as well.
Finally we went through a few añejos. Gran Centenario, usually my go-to, non-crazy-expensive añejo, ended up my number two after the Sauza Tres Generaciones (about $46), which I thought was appealingly un-vanilla/caramel-ish, with an intriguing salty note to it and a lot of aromatic spice. (I'm not, as is probably clear, a big fan of añejo tequilas that taste more like wood than like tequila.)
After that we reached the crucial part of the taste test, which was to determine which of our favorites went best with Bluebell Ice Cream (if you're from Texas, you know how great Bluebell is; if not, go to Texas, or Hill Country in NYC, to find out). The answer? El Mayor Blanco and Bluebell Pecan Pralines n' Cream (think of it as an ad hoc añejo with cream and sugar. Sort of). I admit there might be some skepticism out there as to the wisdom of drinking tequila while eating ice cream, but I'm here to tell you that this particular combination is an all-out party in your mouth.
Wines Above $40
This weekend, Seattle chefs—including F&W Best New Chefs, like Tilth’s Maria Hines, Lark’s Jon Sundstrom and Sitka and Spruce’s Matt Dillon—will head to Smoke Farm for the second annual Burning Beast. Founded by chef Tamara Murphy of Brasa restaurant, Burning Beast is a huge cookout of (you’ll never guess) whole animals, including birds and fish. (For some great photos of last year’s Burning Beast, click here). The event is open to the lucky holders of the $75 tickets, which are, unfortunately, sold out.
If I lived in Seattle, I’d surely be heading out to the gluttonous feast with a tent and sleeping bag in tow. I’d also bring a few of the best wines I tasted at this year’s F&W’s Classic in Aspen. Many of the wines are admittedly out of my price range and hard to get, but this is a fantasy, after all. A few of my faves:
For the salmon Yes, 2006 is a ripe vintage for white Burgundies, but that fullness works with rich fish. The 2006 Bernard Moreau Chassagne Montrachet Les Grandes Ruchottes ($90; find this wine) has a delicious honeyed quality and a mouthwatering acidity. Plus, the little bit of spicy oak would be great with food cooked over open flame. A less expensive alternative: the long-finishing 2006 Manciat Macon-Charnay Vielles Vignes ($23, find this wine).
For the duck With its lightly floral nose, pretty berry fruit and wonderfully silky texture, the 2006 Flowers Pinot Noir Camp Meeting Ridge ($106; find this wine) from the Sonoma Coast is one of the best California Pinot Noirs I’ve ever tried. A less expensive alternative: the earthy 2007 Mary Elke Pinot Noir ($26; find this wine).
For the pork The 2004 Casanuova delle Cerbaie Brunello di Montalcino ($45, find this wine) has gripping tannins that would be great with the meat, as well as pretty red fruit and licorice notes that make it nice to drink now. Plus, for Brunello, this is a bargain. An even less expensive alternative: the cherry-inflected 2005 Mastrojanni Rosso di Montalcino ($20; find this wine).
For the lamb Greg Harrington, one of the country’s top sommeliers, left the restaurant world to start making wine in Washington in 2005. The 2006 Gramercy Cellars Lagniappe Columbia Valley Syrah ($38, find this wine) is a lighter-style Syrah that’s aged in neutral oak barrels to preserve its peppery, herby flavors. A bit of Viognier blended into the wine boosts the floral aromatics. A less expensive alternative: the smoky 2007 Copain Tous Ensemble Syrah ($20; find this wine)
For breakfast The cleansing bubbles of a grower Champagne would be the perfect refresher after the piles of beast consumed the night before. Try the bright, nutty Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru ($70, find this wine). A less expensive alternative: the creamy Paul Goerg Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($30; find this wine).
Wines $20 to $40
The 2009 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen wrapped up this past Sunday, but I figured I'd blog about one or two highlights from it anyway. One of them, not to blow my own horn, was the slightly crazy blind-burger-pairing-old-world-vs.-new-world-wine-smackdown that I ran as one of my seminars on Friday.
What I did was pick three pairs of wines, one from Europe and one from the U.S. in each case, and pair them with a series of mini-burgers prepared by Ryan Hardy, the immensely talented young chef at Montagna at the Little Nell. The audience—more than 120 people; the room was jammed—tasted each pair of wines with the appropriate burger, then voted on which wine worked best. It was a hoot, unsurprisingly, helped along substantially by the insanely good burgers.
The winners? With a crabcake slider served with a tarragon aioli, the fave wine was from Italy: the 2007 Nino Negri Ca'Brione ($35), a lightly honeyed, spicy, richly citrusy blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Incrocia Manzoni (a hybrid of Pinot Blanc and Riesling), and, even weirder, a small proportion of Nebbiolo fermented without its skins so the juice remains white. White Nebbiolo, you bet. Regardless, it was a lovely wine, and if you happen to be serving crabcakes with a tarragon aioli, go for it.
It takes talent to match just the right wine with a dish. Some would also argue that it takes talent to match the perfect handbag or heels with a dress. That makes Elisabeth English, the owner of Nantucket's Current Vintage, super-talented. After selling her interest in Provisions (the island’s beloved sandwich shop) to Amanda Lydon and Gabriel Frasca, English opened this wine-and-fashion boutique. The year-old shop has a tightly edited selection of more than 150 wines with an emphasis on boutique labels and a particularly exciting selection of American Pinot Noirs and Burgundy. English also stocks vintage and designer clothing, jewelry and shoes. Here, she shares her picks for what to wear and drink at quintessential Nantucket summer outings:
Clothes: Vintage 1950s sundress and ankle-wrap espadrille
Wine: Domaine Bart Rosé, Marsannay, France
Madequesham Clam Bake
Clothes: Vintage 1960s Lilly Pulitzer floral maxi and a pedicure
Wine: ’07 Curran Grenache Blanc, Santa Ynez, California
Hulbert Avenue BBQ
Clothes: Vintage 1970s Jordache jeans, embroidered Mexican top and gladiator sandals
Wine: ’05 Kangarilla Road Shiraz-Viognier, McLaren Vale, Australia