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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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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.

Pairings

Fonda del Sol: Smart Pairings, Terrific Food

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I've been to Fonda del Sol a few times now—it's just down the street from our office, conveniently—and it seems to be on an ever-inclining curve towards extreme tastiness. That's not a surprise to me. When I first met the restaurant's chef, Josh DeChellis, at the culinary festival Madrid Fusión a few years back, he was wandering around gnawing on a black truffle the way one might an apple (the thing was about the size of an apple, too). To my mind, any chef who eats truffles as if they were apples is a man after my own heart. At FdS, DeChellis is channeling his inner Spaniard, perhaps aided by the fact that he was born in Colombia, with impressive success.

The other night I particularly liked a silky scallop tiradito—disks of sweet scallop with shards of hot chilies, dabs of briny sea urchin, and grace notes of cilantro—which wine director Nicholas Nahigian paired with a sympathetically citrus-minerally 2007 Do Ferreiro Albariño (one of the better Albariños around, in fact). Later on, I also enjoyed an incredibly tender Colorado lamb chop aromatized (as it were) over toasted hay and served with tangy sheep's milk yogurt and a lovage puree. In an earlier incarnation of this dish, the lamb was cooked in an earthenware vessel over the hay, the vessel sealed with a bread crust—in that case, the hay, lamb and yogurt were all from the same farm. With the newer version, a 2004 Fratelli Revello Vigna Conca Barolo, surprisingly generous given its intense concentration, and somehow elegant despite that, tasted great.

The pairing that may have worked the best, though, and that was certainly the most surprising, came when Nahigian brought out glasses of Victory Brewing Company's Prima Pils (which, oddly enough, I just used for my 4th of July segment on summer beers for the Early Show) to pair with DeChellis's Alaskan rock fish a la plancha with salsa moluscada de verano, a Catalan (I think) sauce involving surf clams, mussel jus, squid, octopus, tomato water, clam jus, basil and cherry tomatoes (whew). The fish was expertly cooked, the sauce something between a light seafood stew, a sauce, and a sublime essence of ocean, and the crisp, gently bitter Pilsner was perfect with it—and also extremely refreshing, sandwiched as it was, course-wise, between a fairly substantial white Rioja—a 2003 Marqués de Murrieta Capellania—and the even more substantial Revello Barolo.

And there was dessert. But by then, do you really expect I was taking notes?  

Winemakers

Friday Night Tribute to Alice and Olivier de Moor

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Friday evening found me hanging out at the Lower East Side wine bar Ten Bells with a couple of friends who were in from Paris and with the wines of Chablis producers, Alice and Olivier de Moor. This pair has been making wine together in Chablis since 1994, striving to makes wine in the most hands-off way possible by using organic grapes, pneumatic presses to squeeze the grapes, gravity to move juice from one phase of winemaking to the next and without the addition of sulfur. Strangely enough, we didn't try any of their Chablis, but ordered three of their other wines, which led to an impromptu investigation into what else they can do. Each was dramatically different from the next, but all had clean, driven acidity and graceful balance, as might be expected from people who are experts at Chablis. Here was the line up:

2006 Alice & Olivier de Moor Bourgogne Aligoté ($23; find this wine)
In Burgundy, the grape variety Aligoté is often overshadowed by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but this wine, with its ripe green-apple zip and stony minerality, shows that it has some potential of its own.

2006 Alice & Olivier de Moor Bourgogne Chitry ($25; find this wine)
The de Moor's Bourgogne Chitry comes from a region just beyond the Chablis appellation. This chardonnay is long and streamlined with delicate sweet citrus fruit and peppery baking-spice notes.

2007 Alice & Olivier de Moor Sauvignon de Saint-Bris ($22; find this wine)
This region to the southwest of Chablis produces old-vine sauvignon blanc that tends to be much fuller and more lush than in other regions like the Loire. This vintage from the de Moors keeps giving and giving bright candied lemon flavors with intriguing salinity.

These all were nice accompaniments to the garlicky baby eel salad, thick brandade, salty boquerones, and grilled octopus and potato salad that we had with them, making for not only a study in de Moor wines, but in all things seafood, as well.

White Wine

Riesling Goes Punk

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© Kristin Donnelly

Late-night memories from Aspen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wines $20 to $40

Aspen Recap 2: Burger Bonanza Wines

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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.

[More]

Wines Above $40

Masseto Wine Dinner at Bouley

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Last week, I attended a dinner at Bouley, where winemaker Axel Heinz presented four vintages of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia’s Masseto (the highly acclaimed Merlot-based Super Tuscan), including the not-yet-released 2006 as well as the 2005, 2001 and 1997. Heinz invited everyone who attended to bring a bottle—one they felt was iconic in some way, from a producer who had “stood the test of time.” Unfortunately, I have no cellar to pull such a wine from, so instead I opted for the 1998 López de Heredia Viña Gravonia ($28, find this wine), a white Rioja from a traditional producer who holds wines at the estate for years—even decades, for its top wines—before releasing them. (1998 is the current vintage of this wine.)

As the sommelier poured me some 1988 Dom Pérignon, he set my bottle down next to a 1970 Château Margaux and a 1990 Ridge Geyersville, which made me feel more than a little sheepish. Thankfully, my humble bottle—one that at eleven years old tastes fresh and, in some ways, even too young to drink—provoked a great discussion about López de Heredia’s iconic status. I said I chose the wine because I admired the producer for sticking to its traditional-winemaking guns. In Rioja, many producers have embraced a more international style of wine: The whites are aged in stainless steel (instead of old oak barrels) and are often crisp but unmemorable. The reds are highly extracted and aged in new oak barrels for a richer, more polished style. Everyone agreed that López—with its elegant reds that age wonderfully and its extraordinary whites that often last even longer—has become an icon, but some people at the table wondered if it's simply because the López is the "last man standing" in a sea of producers who have modernized. Whatever the answer, I was happy it that it paired beautifully with Bouley’s porcini “flan,” an egg white–thickened dashi broth studded with meaty chunks of Dungeness crab. Better than the '06 Masseto, I must say.

And what about the Massetos? I found it fascinating to taste how all of the vintages had a distinctive (and wonderful) combination of mouth-filling fruit, terrific structure and a luxuriously long finish. The 2006 was much more opulent than the 2005, which was a tougher year in Tuscany; the ’05 seemed a bit closed. The sexy 2001 and 1997 were both noticeably silkier, thanks to their softening tannins, but had little in terms of secondary notes; I imagine more will start to develop as they continue to age. These wines have a lot of extraction, yes, but their balance across the board was impressive. In summary, the wines were correct—impeccable, even. It was hard to find a flaw. But does being flawless make something inspiring? Does flawlessness make a wine an icon? Perhaps. But is it worth paying upwards of $250 for that?

I'm not so sure. But I'm grateful to have tried them, and if you ever get the chance to taste Masseto, I would say definitely do. —Kristin Donnelly

Wines Under $20

A Tasty Springtime Wine

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Despite the dreary weather here in NYC, it is Spring, so I'm going to operate under the delusion that if wine glasses are filled with lively springtime wine, then the sun will emerge, birds will chirp, fluffy clouds will drift in the cerulean sky, and all that sort of pastoral folderol will mark our days for weeks to come.

To that end, I'd suggest going out en masse and depleting stores of their stocks of the 2007 Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner ($14, find this wine). It's a bright, vibrant white, with the pea tendril-pepperiness that Grüner often has, fresh grapefruit acidity, and a briskly herbal finish. Loimer makes a variety of higher-end estate Grüners that are impressive as well, but for the cash, this one's a no-brainer. —R.I.

Wines Under $20

Sancerre Alternative

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Starting this time of year through the fall, New York City's eternally crowded scenester restaurant, Balthazar, goes through something like a billion cases of Sancerre a week. This minerally French Sauvignon Blanc is intensely refreshing on a hot day, but thanks to its popularity, good, cheap Sancerre is a rarity. So I was thrilled to find another, equally satisfying Sauvignon Blanc from France's Loire Valley: the gulpable 2008 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny ($15). It's got that telltale Sauvignon grassiness along with ripe yet tart apple flavors. There's a slight richness (thanks to the touch of Chardonnay in the blend) along with plenty of snappy acidity and clean minerality. In other words, tough wine not to like... — Kristin R. Donnelly

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