© Kristin Donnelly
© Kristin Donnelly
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
As I seem now to do every year, I stopped last week in Boulder before heading up to the F&W Classic in Aspen for the annual pre-Aspen wine dinner that Travel & Leisure's contributing wine editor Bruce Schoenfeld throws. As usual, it was a crazy grab-bag of wines (and people), many of them extraordinary (both the wines and the people).
Among the standouts? First, a 1982 Associated Vintners Dionysus Vineyard Riesling, notable partly because it was the first single-vinyard Riesling bottled in Washington State—or so I was told—and partly because it was actually still quite alive, with appealing lemon and stone notes. Later, a 2000 Contino Graciano had aromas of earth, leather and ripe black raspberries and was lush and inviting; an interesting development from a wine that's always quite tart, tannic and palate-zapping on release. I loved the 1982 Giacosa Barolo Falletto that came my way—hazy red in color, smelling of licorice, roses and caramel, with flavors that recalled dried spices like cardamom and cinnamon—though for some reason not everybody did. (Go figure. Lunatics, the lot of 'em.) And a 1999 Yarra Yering Dry Red #1—from a winery that made news lately by getting sold—had aromas of tea leaves and kirsch, then luscious berry fruit poised on the edge of age but not quite there. A very pretty wine.
The wine of the night, though, by general acclaim, was a 1991 Ridge Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, which was just fantastic. Aromas of forest floor, spiced currants and graphite led into layers of soft cherry-currant fruit, silky tannins, and more lingering graphite notes. It had aged gorgeously and was in perfect condition, and isn't even Ridge's top Cabernet (Monte Bello is). The current vintage will set you back $40. Not bad. And I like the fact that Paul Draper, on the back label of the wine, suggested that it would age only five to ten years. As it turns out, a very modest prediction.
© Photo Courtesy of Alyssa Faden
Giving Through Growing
I’m in the midst of a wine tasting marathon. I’ve gone from the elegant, aromatic red Burgundies of Domaine Dujac to the weightier, more fruit-driven Pinot Noir from Sonoma County. Next up: A flight of Barolo from legendary estate Giacomo Conterno. More details will come on all these wines later, but one of the most fun parts of my day was learning that winemaker Jamie Kutch proposed to his wife, Kristen, in 2005, during their first harvest, after eight years of dating. He set the ring on the sorting table and sent it down her way. Luckily, she found it and the rest is history. Actually, the young couple is just at the beginning of something exciting: The 2007 Kutch Pinot Noirs are exceptionally balanced, pure, fresh wines with relatively low levels of alcohol (below 13.5%). Perhaps it’s because Jamie honed his palate in New York City with some of the East Coast’s most vocal wine geeks who champion finesse over power (including Lyle Fass of RockssandFruit fame and a former coworker of mine). Jamie makes a very small amount of wine but is hoping to eventually amp up his production to 2000 cases. I encourage any Pinot lover to get in on these wines now--before they're even more impossible to get.
Chefs all over the world are creating empires comprised of both white-tablecloth flagships and casual restaurants. On my recent trip to Belfast, I discovered Northern Ireland's chef-emperor, Michael Deane. I had an exceptional lunch at his Michelin-starred Deanes, featuring pan-fried wild halibut filets held together with edible glue (a trick Deane's executive chef, Derek Creagh, picked up during a stint at England's pioneering Fat Duck). Later, I stopped by the casual wine bar for the first of its new Friday night happy hours. The space—half wine shop, half restaurant—has live music from 5 to 7 p.m. every Friday, as well as a fantastic (and free!) spread of tapas—Irish cheeses, cured meats, olives, homemade breads and spreads. It's a Northern Irish take on Italy's aperitivo, and the best dining value in Belfast.
I had the opportunity to attend the 29th annual Auction Napa Valley this past weekend, which is definitely one of the more hifalutin' wine events I've ever run into. Held at Meadowood in St. Helena, it featured the requisite huge tent, some mighty nifty chandeliers made out of grape vines (designed by Erin Martin), a multi-course dinner prepared by big name chefs such as Joachim Splichal, Dean Fearing & Meadowood home talent Christopher Kostow (an F&W Best New Chef 2009, and an incredibly nice guy, too), and a whole bunch of bidding on extravagant auction lots.
Was the money down from last year? Sure. But, as someone mentioned to me in passing, $5,700,000 is still a lot of cash, especially when it goes to folks who really need it (the auction earning go to local youth and health charities, primarily).
On Friday, before the big shindig, the annual barrel auction took place. Top lot honors there went to Shafer Vineyards; but for my money, the real payoff was getting to taste barrel samples of a huge array of 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons. Anyone interested in Napa Valley Cabs should start saving up now, because '07 is clearly a fantastic vintage: impeccably balanced, gracefully structured wines with great aromatics and flavor. Favorites for me included the Realm Cellars Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard, Cliff Lede's Poetry bottling, and Shafer's Hillside Select. These won't be on the market for quite some time, but they're worth noting down now. —Ray Isle
Murphy-Goode Winery’s search for the ultimate social networker has received a ton of attention. So far, more than 250 videos have been submitted by prospective wine country social media whizzes hoping to become Murphy-Goode's “lifestyle correspondent.” The job description in a nutshell: Move to Sonoma for six months to promote Murphy-Goode’s wines via blogs, Twitter and Facebook, and get paid $10,000 a month plus free vineyard digs. I’m shamelessly promoting my favorite video, from former Food & Wine intern extraordinaire Nick Pandolfi. Check it out here and place your votes. The winner will be announced July 21.