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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Restaurants

Drinks at Drink

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I finally made it to Boston this weekend so that I could grab a stool at Barbara Lynch's newest spots, Sportello and Drink. The dishes at bright, modern Sportello was the sort of homey, upscale comfort food found at all of Lynch's restaurants. A simple salad of thinly shaved fennel and batons of celery was fresh and crisp and all of the pastas were expertly cooked-the highlight of which was the rich, sweet pantacce (a wide, short noodle) with pork cheeks, parsnips and quince.

But the real standout for me was a wine that we had. Our server steered us towards the 1998 Martilde Ghiro d'Inverno Bonarda from northwestern Italy's Lombardia region, and I'm glad we followed her lead. Its black fruit had mellowed nicely thanks to its age, but what was particularly striking was its distinct earthiness—flavors ranging anywhere from soil to mushrooms—which also made it perfect match to a bowl of pasta made with toasty chestnut flour with whole roasted chestnuts strewn throughout.

After dinner, we headed downstairs to Lynch's enormous—and packed—bar, Drink. It was rather astounding to watch three bartenders expeditiously serving excellent cocktails to 90-some thirsty guests. For our part, we probably enjoyed a few too many of the cocktails, but we ended the night off with a liqueur glass of and exceptionally intriguing Chartreuse Milk Punch called Vert Poinçon de Lait, developed by Drink bartender Scott Marshall. Marshall was inspired by a recipe he found in a cocktail book published in 1827 for "Oxford Nightcaps." The original recipe calls for rum and cognac, but Marshall traded those for viscose Batavia-Arrack and spicy green and yellow Chartreuse. Since the drink's complicated to make—and the recipe makes a gallon at a time—it's worth a detour at Drink to try it. It's a terrific digestif, or, as a nightcap, will ensure sweet or possibly surreal dreams.

Pairings

Red Wine & Fish, or Why I Love Science!

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So it seems that researchers in Japan have determined the cause of that horrible metallic super-fishy taste that occurs when some red wines are paired with fish. It's iron. Specifically, the amount of ferrous ion present in the wine. You can read all about this discovery here in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Admittedly, you'll have to be willing to plow through sentences like "Metal ions were analyzed by a postcolumn reaction with 4-(2-pyridylazo)resorcinol reagent combined with spectrophotometric detection," and "Total phenolics of wines were estimated according to the Folin-Ciocalteu method expressed as gallic acid equivalents," but what the heck, it's Wednesday afternoon and you're probably bored at work anyway, right?

If you do manage to wade through the article, you'll hit the payoff which is that tannins—long the scapegoat of bad fish-and-red-wine pairings—are entirely innocent. Yes, tannins are the Dreyfus in this whole fishy affair; blame not the tannins, friends. Instead, stick the onus on iron. Of course, there is one small hitch. As Mssrs. Tamura, Taniguchi, Suzuki, Okubo, Takata and Konno put it with appealing delicacy, "In daily life, it is difficult to predict the iron content in a bottled wine without opening it."

And, one might add, without subjecting it to a postcolumn reaction combined with spectrophotometric detection—but then, who doesn't do that sort of thing, these days?

Wines Above $40

NYC Wine & Food Festival: Beaucastel Tasting

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Over the weekend I had the good fortune to introduce (and then sit on a panel with) Marc Perrin of Château Beaucastel, as eighty or so equally fortunate people got to taste through a vertical of Château Beaucastel going back to 1988. The wines showed gorgeously and reaffirmed—not that there's much doubt about it—Beaucastel's place in the top ranks of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape heirarchy.

Perrin was adamant about the benefits of organic viticulture, though in an effortlessly charming way: "When my grandfather decided to use organic viticulture in 1950, people thought he was crazy. But we think it is absolutely the only way to go to make wines that express a sense of place," he stated, adding later, "Industrial yeasts are good for industrial wine. But when you are talking about the identity of a terroir, natural yeast is the only option." 

Beaucastel bottles

Of the vintages we tasted through ('07, '06, '98, '94, '90, '89, & '88), these were my highlights:

2007 Chateau de Beaucastel, a powerful wine with creamy black raspberry and licorice notes, hints of toast and berry skin, and lots of fine-grained but substantial tannins—though still extremely young, it promises to be fantastic over time. This hasn't been released yet, but will be soon; it would be an outstanding cellar purchase.

2000 Château de Beaucastel, which had shifted toward more secondary characteristics of earth and loam under its dark cherry fruit, with a touch of tobacco on the end and a velvety texture. Perrin said it reminded him of "when you go into a forest after it rains," which struck me as just right.

1990 Château de Beaucastel, an extraordinary CdP with lots of life left in it; the aroma was all exotic spice, a hint of bandaid box (i.e. brett, which Beaucastel was known for in the past, & which did not come up during discussion) and dried herbs; the fruit suggested kirsch and raspberry liqueur. Stunning wine. Wish I had a case of it, rather than just a memory.

There was plenty of debate—as there has been over time—about the '89 vs. the '90. Both were terrific—or somewhere beyond terrific, actually. Perrin preferred the '89 this time, which was rounder and more generous, with more dark chocolate than spice notes. I went for the '90.

He also said this about Grenache in general: "For me a great Grenache wine, a big part of the experience, is the texture. It's like eating a cherry—that juicy, fleshy character of a ripe cherry."

Thirsty now?

Wines Above $40

Revisiting a Classic Chianti

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In my October column on 50 of the classic wines of the world, I singled out Castello di Monsanto's renowned Il Poggio bottling as a defining example of Chianti. So it was good fortune, or weird coincidence, or something, that Monsanto's Laura Bianchi happened to swing through town today to do a short retrospective tasting of three decades of Il Poggio.

I'll give her the prefatory remark: "What's important is that the style of the wine does not change. We believe in what my father started forty years ago, and we always try to improve the quality but not change the style."

That seems to me a good approach, if you've got a wine in your portfolio that is as exemplary as Il Poggio. It comes from a single five-and-a-half hectare vineyard on the Monsanto property, and is a blend of 90% Sangiovese with roughly equal parts Colorino and Canaiolo, aged for 18 months in new and one-year-old French oak. And, as this tasting proved (yet again; I've tasted this wine a lot over the years) it ages beautifully.

We tasted five vintages—2004, 2003, 1997, 1982, and 1977—and all of them were in admirable shape, with the '04 and the '82 the standouts of the group. 1997 and 2003 were both hot years, and that showed in both wines' black cherry fruit (more dried black cherries in the '97, and shading to plum paste in the '03) and a dark-roast coffee character in the '97 as well. Yet, even in vintages like these, it's worth noting that superripe for Chianti would still be considered somewhat astringent and austere in, say, Napa or Barossa. That's one lovely thing about good Chianti—even from a hot year it retains a cracked-twig crispness to its tannins and general character that makes it a fantastic partner for food.

The '82 was vividly aromatic, full of floral, leather and black tea. In the mouth it showed game and truffle along with sweet dried raspberry and cherry, and, as it opened up, distinctly fresh mint notes. If you can find this anywhere, and it's been stored carefully, buy it. It's drinking beautifully, and should continue to do so for some time.

The '04 is the current release (it's the one I wrote up for my column) and it's a great vintage of this wine. Dark cherry and raspberry aromas with a slight caramel hint from oak, lightly gamy and intense, loads of black cherry fruit, tea leaf suggested both in the taste and in the tactile tannins, an alluring note of violets... It's young, but after about two hours open it was terrific, and if you're hunting for a top-notch Chianti to cellar for—well, pretty much as long as you'd want to cellar it—this is a great choice.

 

 

Winemakers

Wine Week, Part Three

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Obviously, last Wednesday was an epic day (as evidenced by the fact that it's taken me three days to blog about all of its goings on). The day began with New Zealand Riesling and Pinot Gris, shaded into Sauternes and then was pleasantly capped off with a tasting with Tuscan winemaker Duccio Corsini of Principe Corsini.

Corsini was a great surprise at the end of the long day. He's supremely laid back and a terrific storyteller. His account of his time as an exchange student in Utah during high school—in which he seemingly did nothing but ski—was quite funny. And his lineage, which includes a saint and a pope, provided good fodder, too. Not only were his wines good but he kept me entirely enthralled for well over an hour talking about his olive oil production, his picturesque properties in Tuscany and even his love for hunting wild boar at his Maremma estate. Another amazing thing he told me about was how he puts the olive pits from making his oil to good, sustainable use by burning them to heat his entire Chianti estate.

Now about those wines: Corsini's family has two properties in Tuscany. Le Corti, in Chianti Classico, produces Sangiovese-based wines, and the Marsiliana estate turns out reds blended from Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. He also uses the Marsiliana property for testing out other varietals like Petit Verdot, which apparently does particularly well on the property, and Syrah, which Corsini said unfortunately produced bizarrely generic juice. A few highlights from our tasting:

2006 Le Corti Chianti Classio ($21, find this wine) This earthy, tart cherry-flavored Chianti is from Corsini's Le Corti Estate just outside Florence. The wine sees no oak, but rather is aged in cement and concrete.

2005 Cortevecchia Chianti Classico Reserva ($35, find this wine) Also from the Le Corti Estate, this Reserva bottling is smooth with silky tannins and juicy black cherry notes.

2004 Marsiliana ($54, find this wine) This blend comes from Corsini's estate in the coastal Maremma region of Tuscany. The wine is bold with spice and cassis flavors, but is mellowed by well-integrated oak.

White Wine

Today Show: End of Summer Drinks

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I was on the Today show this morning (check out the clip here), recommending a few summer's-almost-over-don't-miss-them beers and wines to Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. It was, as usual, a slightly crazy affair, but a lot of fun.

Beer-wise, I suggested people track down New Belgium's Skinny Dip, a light beer (114 calories) that doesn't taste like a light beer—i.e., doesn't taste like watery dreck. I'm not quite sure how the New Belgium brewers manage that, but if you're inclined toward light beers, you could do far, far worse. I also mentioned Hoegaarden, a classic Belgian witbier, faintly flavored with coriander and orange peel. The cloudiness (which is natural) seemed to worry KLG and Hoda, but in the end they seemed to like it; personally, I think the stuff's a no-brainer on a hot summer day. 

In terms of wine, my recommendations included the 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay ($13, find this wine), an unoaked Central Coast Chardonnay with crisp tree-fruit notes and impressive intensity; the 2008 Crios de Susanna Balbo Malbec ($15, find this wine), which for the price provides a lot of smoky blackberry fruit and works well as either a summer-grilling or winter-warming wine; and 2008 Saracco Moscato d'Asti ($15, find this wine), which is perfect for summer desserts—lightly sparkling, low in alcohol, with pretty tangerine and floral notes. 

I also got to walk down a set of stairs next to George Foreman, who was on the show, too, and looking mighty dapper in a striped, off-white suit. I have to say he drew more attention than I did.

 

Winemakers

Argentina’s Great Imported Winemaker

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Alberto Antonini is one of the world's most influential winemakers, consulting on wines everywhere from his native Italy to Uruguay, California and Portugal. I recently sat down with Alberto to taste through a selection of wines he's consulting on for Bodegas Nieto Senetiner in Argentina's Mendoza region. We had a fascinating conversation about the importance that he places on making each wine specific to the place it's from, rather than aiming for a broad international style. As winemakers become more international, this ongoing discussion of terroir will become increasingly interesting.

Philosophies aside, the Bodegas Nieto Senetiner wines are standouts, with gorgeous, concentrated flavors thanks to the grapes' growing conditions: very warm days and cool nights. Here's what we tasted.

2008 Reserva Torrontes ($11, find this wine) Argentina's top white, Torrontes, has inherent floral notes, but this bottling has a tremendous white-flower aroma of orange blossoms, jasmine and magnolia alongside bright citrus flavors. This is the perfect wine for these hot summer days. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it.

2007 Reserva Bonarda ($30, find this wine) Alberto told me that Bonarda has a particularly long growing season and needs lots of sunlight. Extra time on the vine gives this soft, rustic red its spicy black fruit.

2007 Reserva Malbec ($11, find this wine) Alberto ferments this juicy, cherry-scented Malbec in concrete tanks, because he thinks it gives the wine fuller flavor.

2006 Don Nicanor Malbec ($17, find this wine) This deeply colored Malbec is loaded with black cherry and blackberry, plus a refreshing menthol note that keeps it from overloading the palate.

2005 Cadus Malbec
($45, find this wine) This single-vineyard Malbec is surprisingly fresh, even though it's also quite structured. It's long and elegant with pretty, spiced-cherry flavors.

Wines Under $20

Opened Wines that Stay Fresh in the Fridge

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In a staff meeting recently, we talked about whether there are clear ways to predict if a wine will be just as good, or even better, on the second day after the bottle's been opened. In general, young wines do better than old wines. But young wines that are meant to be consumed, well, young, lose their freshness quickly. (New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, I’m looking at you.)

Last Thursday, I opened a 2008 Gamay from Clos Roche Blanche (find this wine), a culty natural wine from France's Loire Valley. It’s made from the same grape used in Beaujolais, and it’s a decidedly cerebral version with complex minerality, a great earthy funk and tart berry flavors. Put it this way: If most Beaujolais-Villages is like Vampire Weekend (an immediately likeable band), then Clos Roche Blanche is more like Wilco (a band that initially seems weird, but breeds curiosity and eventually love—or hate).

After a glass or two, I corked the bottle and put it in the fridge…and accidentally forgot about it until Monday night. By then, the wine was softer, more gulpable, with ripe strawberry flavors. It was very much alive. I shouldn’t have been surprised: I’ve heard rumors that this wine can last for over a week in the refrigerator. Extraordinary for a $17 bottle.

Wines Under $20

Today Show: Made in America Wines

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I had a good time appearing on Today this morning, recommending wines for their "Made in America" Friday whip segment. (On the whip they run through four or so variations on a topic in a speedy way.) In this case "made in America" meant not made in California—which was a great chance to highlight some of the other great wine regions in the country. I brought along:

• The NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blancs ($12), a nice, creamy and fairly full-bodied sparkler from Washington State

• The 2008 A to Z Wineworks Rosé ($12), a fragrant dry rosé from Oregon made with (oddly enough) Sangiovese grapes

• A terrific, crisp, Kabinett-style Riesling from the Finger Lakes, the 2007 Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard Dry Riesling ($17), which will also age beautifully if given the chance

• And one of my favorite Texan wines, the 2006 Flat Creek Estate SuperTexan ($19), a juicy, robust Sangiovese blend that I first ran into while touring around the Hill Country with my father, doing some barbecue research.

Plus, I got to see Al Roker sing part of "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from on top of a crane, which was definitely the sort of experience you don't get every day.

Winemakers

Is Malbec Next for Long Island?

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People have come to think of Long Island for good Merlot and perhaps to a lesser extent, Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc is also getting a bit of buzz. In new wine regions, producers and wine writers love to proclaim the new hot grape variety every few years, but in truth, it takes many generations to truly find what works best. After visiting Shinn Estate Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island this weekend, I'd like to submit another potential for the future king of the region’s grapes: Malbec.

Far from a climate like Argentina, you say? Absolutely correct. But not so far from that of the Loire Valley and Bordeaux, where Malbec grows quite successfully as a minor grape variety. It’s no surprise that 2007 vintage—Shinn’s first for Malbec—was successful: It was a banner year for Long Island with a nearly perfect, very dry growing season. It resulted in a rather plush wine with the scent of violets and blue/black fruit.

Was 2007 a fluke? After tasting a barrel sample of Malbec from 2008—a more typical LI vintage—I think not. The wine was leaner, with lots of bright acidity, but it was still floral with lovely fruit. Plus, it had an appealing meaty quality, as many good Malbecs do. It reminded me of versions made in the Loire Valley, where the grape is known as Côt.

In all honesty, Malbec will probably never reign on Long Island the way Merlot does. Co-owner and vineyard manager Barbara Shinn has to devote more than twice as many labor hours to Malbec compared to other grape varieties—it needs all that love and care to ripen properly. That extra labor doesn't come cheaply: Shinn will be selling the small amount of Malbec they made in 500ml bottles for $35 upon release this fall, but the wine is delicious nonetheless.


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