© Photo Courtesy of Restaurant Margaux
Chef Michael Hoffman
© Photo Courtesy of Restaurant Margaux
Liz Caskey of the Santiago-based tour company Liz Caskey Culinary & Wine Experiences —who just launched an insidery food and wine e-travel guide, Eat Wine Santiago —sent me an update earlier this week on the effects of the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated parts of Chile on Saturday. Wineries in key regions like Colchagua Valley and Maule are scrambling to rebuild damaged facilities and equipment right before harvest. Miguel Torres estimates that his winery lost thousands of bottles and 100,000 liters of wine from a single cracked vat.
Caskey is doing her part to help by donating a portion of the profits from Eat Wine Santiago toward reconstruction efforts. She's also urging people to buy Chilean. I'm planning to host a Support Chile dinner party and wine tasting with dishes like these and these and wines like these. And I'm swapping out my Sicilian olive oil for this great new Chilean brand.
As everyone knows, Chile was recently struck by an immensely powerful earthquake. Among other devastation, the country's wine industry was hard hit, with some wineries nearly leveled, and many others reporting massive losses of wine and equipment, as well as damage to buildings.
Various people in the wine world have been chronicling the results—there are some vivid images on Jancis Robinson's site here—but it seemed also worthwhile simply to ask people to help support everyone down there by going out and purchasing a bottle or two of Chilean wine. To that end, here are a few good ones I've tasted recently:
2008 Maycas de Limari Chardonnay ($23) This new project from Concha y Toro is located in the Limari Valley, about as far north as you can go in Chile and still produce wine (and probably one of the areas least affected by the quake). Befitting its cooler-climate origins, this is crisp and zesty, with a distinct citrus-lemon character—it would be a great wine for wild salmon, for instance this recipe from Restaurant Eve's Cathal Armstrong.
2008 Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenère ($11) There's a lot of spicy depth to this red, especially given the moderate price, and to my mind it has a bit more personality than the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from the same range. Concha y Toro, I've been told, effectively lost three of the eleven winemaking facilities they own (the company is vast); nevertheless, they still plan to start harvest next Monday, bringing in white grapes from their vineyards in Casablanca.
2007 Chono Reserva Syrah ($14) This is a small, artisanal producer whose winemaking is headed up by Alvaro Espinosa, one of Chile's top winemakers as well as the country's foremost proponent of biodynamic viticulture. Dark, sleek, and spicy, it's an impressive bottle for a modest price; also look for Chono's equally good Carmenère-Syrah blend, which unfortunately is made in much smaller quantities.
2008 Veramonte Ritual Pinot Noir ($18) California winemaker Paul Hobbs consults on this substantial, dark berry-fruited Pinot. Veramonte sources the fruit from the Casablanca Valley, a cool, breezy region close on the Pacific Ocean.
2009 Viñedos Emiliana Natura Gewurztraminer ($10) Made entirely with organically grown grapes—Alvaro Espinosa consults here as well—this is a dry, intensely spicy Gewurztraminer, showing a lot of the grape variety's floral/dried rose/jasmine character but without at all going over the top.
2009 Apaltagua Reserva Chardonnay ($13) Cool climate Casablanca Valley fruit defines this appealingly non-blowsy Chardonnay: it has a pleasant citrus peel and pineapple character, with lively acidity and not too much oak.
© Hospiz Alm
The cellar at Hospiz Alm is reached by slide.
In Austria the fun starts long before après-ski, as people break for leisurely two-hour lunches at excellent on-mountain restaurants. My favorite find was a rustic, ski-in, ski-out chalet in the tiny hamlet of St. Christoph called Hospiz Alm.
I knew we were in for a surprise when I saw a Godzilla-size, blow-up bottle of Dom Pérignon marking the turn downhill to the restaurant. Waiters wearing lederhosen and wooden bow ties serve chef Gunnar Huhn’s hearty dishes like Tyrolean potato soup with smoked bacon rinds and croutons and braised oxtail with fried butter dumplings and pommes frites. The restaurant claims that its Bordeaux-heavy cellar holds the world’s biggest collection of large format bottles. I was certainly impressed by the variety of rare vintage magnums and jeroboams, but even cooler was the spiral slide that takes guests down to the cellar.
Anyone in the NY area and inclined to buy Bordeaux might want to check out the Union des Grands Crus tasting tomorrow, held at The Four Seasons restaurant, a few blocks away from Sherry-Lehmann, which is presenting the event (tickets $75/$125). I stopped by today at the trade version of the same tasting to get a read on the 2007 Bordeaux vintage, which seems to be neither as dire as some reports would have nor as wonderful as the chateau owners might prefer we all thought.
Basically, the sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac are lovely in '07, with layers of nectar-like flavors and distinct botrytis character (that distinctive honeysuckle-to-bitter-honey note). Standouts at the tasting included Chateau Coutet, Rayne-Vigneau, and Doise-Daëne.
The white wines of Pessac-Leognan also show well in '07, at least more consistently than the reds. Standouts at the tasting included Domaine de Chevalier, Château de Fieuzal, Château Larrivet Haut-Brion, and Château Smith Haut-Lafitte.
The '07 Bordeaux reds that I tasted were a mixed bag. The best—Domaine de Chevalier and de Fieuzal again, Pape Clément, Pontet-Canet, Léoville Poyferré, Lynch-Bages—weren't flashy, but were balanced, appealing wines supported by ripe tannins, with a kind of sneaky depth to their flavors; the not-so-good were marred by green notes and an hollowness in the midpalate that isn't particularly pleasant now and seems unlikely to improve with age, too. Of course, I tasted only a percentage of a percentage of the '07 Bordeauxs as a whole, so take any broad generalizations cautiously. Or, even better, go to the tasting and see what you think.
On Jan. 23 in New York City, Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, presents the Union Des Grands Crus Bordeaux Tasting. This is a rare opportunity to sample the 2006 and 2007 Vintages from more than 80 of Bordeaux's greatest châteaux. Winemakers and châteaux proprietors themselves will be pouring the wines. VIP ticket holders will be entered into a Special Raffle in which 6 Signed Magnums from a selection of featured Châteaux will be awarded to 6 lucky winners (Raffle Commences at 2:30pm). For VIP tickets ($125pp before Jan. 20; $150 after) and Grand Tasting tickets ($75pp before Jan. 20; $95 after); sold online at: http://www.sherry-lehmann.com/events; 212-838-7500. Event takes place at 583 Park Avenue in NYC.
© Max's Wine Dive
Fried Chicken and Champagne at Max's Wine Dive.
It’s frigid here in New York City, and with the long holiday weekend ahead, I plan on holing up and cooking my favorite comfort foods, drinking some great wines and watching a lot of college football. I recently heard about a new wine bar in Texas that combines all three things. Max’s Wine Dive opened in May in downtown Austin with the philosophy of "Fried chicken and champagne? Why the hell not?!"
With its local team, the University of Texas Longhorns, playing for the national championship on January 7, the bar should be packed with fans eating not just fried chicken with Champagne but kobe burgers with Cabernet and oyster nachos with premier cru Burgundy.
Until I find my own NYC version of Max’s, I’ll be replicating their comfort-food-and-wine pairings with ideas from Food & Wine.
Midtown Manhattan this time of year is one of the more frenetic places one can find oneself, but I've found an excellent escape hatch. Go to the I. M. Pei-designed Four Seasons Hotel on 57th Street, go through the revolving doors, up the stairs, to the right, and you'll find yourself at the hotel's new Garden Wine Bar. It's an oddly serene space—you know you're in a hotel, but because the wine bar is elevated above the main entrance, the main thing you perceive are the enormously high ceilings of the marble-pillared lobby and the leafy branches of the trees that decorate the bar; what you don't perceive is the bustle of people entering and leaving the hotel.
That would be nice but not worth a mention except that the Garden also has a terrific wine list, with almost all of the 200 selections available by the glass or by the bottle. A few examples: at the low end, a crisp 2007 Pra Soave Classico ($12 glass/$48 bottle); in the high-middle range, Slovenian cult producer Movia's fantastic 2003 Veliko Bianco ($25 glass/$97 bottle); and at the truly high end, a gorgeous 2006 J. M. Boillot Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Champ Canet ($40 glass/$150 bottle). Also, unfinished by-the-glass bottles are passed along to other venues in the hotel, which means that once something is opened, it's effectively guaranteed to be poured through within a day or so, an important consideration when you're talking about $40-a-glass wines.
Admittedly, those prices aren't bargain basement, but this is the Four Seasons, hardly known for a bargain basement sensibility. Throw in impressive cheese and charcuterie offerings—including some terrific, spicy Nduja from Boccalone in San Francisco—as well as a good small plates menu, and you've got an ideal place to take a vinous break before heading out into the maelstrom of last-minute shopping again.
The Garden Wine Bar
Four Seasons Hotel
57 West 57th Street
New York, NY
I was thinking through what I'd tasted, and read, and heard about, and so on through the course of 2009, and it seemed like a good idea to recap a few highlights as possible gift ideas. After all, there's still time left—and even if the holiday season passes, why not give a few more gifts to people? The wine business—in fact, the entire U.S. economy—will thank you!
10. Evan Williams Three-Ounce Flask ($13.50) Long flight? The cagey folks at Evan Williams are there to keep you from having to drink rotgut from a cart; this stainless steel flask holds only three ounces, which makes it OK for airport security. You could fill it with, just on a whim, the latest release of Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon ($26), the lightly spicy, supple 2000 vintage. As usual, it's a great deal in a single-barrel Bourbon.
9. Wine from Italy's Lazio region I had the interesting pleasure of running a tasting recently of wines from Lazio, the region that surrounds Rome and is bordered by Umbria and Tuscany to the north. Lazio tends to get overlooked, because the vast majority of the wine it produces is utterly forgettable white Frascati that flows in a vast river into the glasses of Rome's countless trattorias. But there's a hidden realm of ambitious small producers in the region, making some fantastic wine. I'm particularly fond of the in-your-face fragrant 2008 Cantina Sant'Andrea Oppidum ($24, try contacting the importer), a dry Muscat that smells like a fistful of flowers and tastes of citrus fruit with a nut-skin edge, as well as the dark cherry-and-silk 2005 Damiano Ciolli Cirsium ($40, ditto), made from the local Cesanese grape variety. Cool wines. Unfortunately, both a bit hard to find.
8. Easier to find: The 2007 Twenty Bench Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($19, find this wine). This is a stupidly good deal in Napa Cab, so much so that when I used it in a blind tasting on the CBS Early Show the other morning, it bested a 2006 Bordeaux from a second-growth property (admittedly a bit unfair, as '06 Bordeaux aren't exactly user-friendly at the moment).
7. Even easier to find: The 2008 Foxglove Chardonnay ($16, find this wine) I don't know what sort of deal Jim & Bob Varner cut with the infernal forces to be able to keep producing such a good Chardonnay for such a modest price, but whatever it was, wine drinkers owe them some thanks.
6. The One wine glasses ($50 for four) Andrea Immer, Master Sommelier & general wine-authority-about-town, designed these glasses with the specific thought in mind that (a) you would only need one red and one white glass, and (b) you could dishwash the darn things without breaking them. I've tested them out; they work. Nice glassware is a good thing. Alternatively, you could buy someone the Riedel stems that I've always used as my go-to all-purpose glasses, the Riedel Vinum Chianti/Zinfandel glass (model 6416/15, about $40 for two). I know, doing this defeats the whole point of Riedel glasses, but hey, I'm a journalist, not a millionaire.
5. For Pinot Noir fanatics, winemaker Ross Cobb is making some of the best Sonoma Coast Pinot I came across all year. I didn't get a chance to write about them in the magazine, because they're small production and fairly expensive, but they're truly impressive wines. My favorite was his 2007 Cobb Coastlands Vineyard ($68), which had lovely floral and balsam aromas, gorgeous wild berry fruit with a hint of white pepper, an orange peel note to the acidity, and a taut, streamlined structure. Just terrific stuff. You have to sign up on the website to receive an allocation, but from what I can tell it's not sold out yet.
3. What the heck. While I'm at it, why not give someone a gift from the Food & Wine Wine Club.
2. The Macallan 57 Year Old ($15,000) OK, it's a little pricey. But I did get a chance to taste this stuff, and, whether it's worth fifteen grand or not, I can definitely say that it's truly gorgeous whisky. It isn't remotely dried out (a common problem with extremely old whiskies), gives off whiffs of caramel, sweet spice, tobacco and peat, and tastes of orange rind, spice drop, rancio, and dried fruits; it's tremendously complex and also lovely, with a rich viscosity. Plus, it's bottled in a fancy-pants Lalique decanter, of which there are exactly 400 total for the world. But, if you don't feel like trading your child's college fund for a bottle of hooch, you could instead pick up the nifty new half-bottle size Macallan 18 ($80), which is exactly the same Macallan 18 as in the traditional 750ml bottle (extremely good, in other words) but smaller. Really great stocking stuffer.
1. Champagne The Champenoise are having a tough time this season, people are holding onto their shekels & not shelling out for the pricey tête-de-cuvées they once did, but hey—as far as I know, no one is ever unhappy to be given Champagne. Why would they be? It's festive, it tastes great, it's fun, and even if you're one of the weird anti-fizz minority and don't like the stuff, it's eminently regiftable. There's plenty of good Champagne out there, but I'm particularly partial at the moment to the chalky, aromatic NV Henriot Blanc Souverain (about $50, find this wine), a graceful—and findable—blanc de blancs bottling not to be confused with the similarly named (and also quite good) Henriot Brut Souverain.
© Random House
Had a fun time today, as usual, on the Today Show with Kathie Lee & Hoda. This time around the subject was wines to pair with takeout food, part of my secret plan (actually not so secret, given I'm blogging about it) to convince the world that wine (a) doesn't have to be fancy/elegant/effete and (b) that it goes with almost everything. You can see the segment here, but to give a quick rundown:
1) Unoaked Chardonnay with Sushi: 2008 Spring Seed Wine Co. Chardonnay ($15 or so, find this wine). My experience is that oaky whites don't do well at all with raw fish (or with shellfish, for that matter) but unoaked ones do. I could have used a Sauvignon Blanc, but from experience I know that Kathie Lee is not a fan—to say the least—of Sauvignon Blanc, so I opted for this tasty Australian Chardonnay.
2) Gewurztraminer with Kung Pao Chicken: 2007 Hugel & Fils Gewurztraminer ($22 or so, find this wine). The oil and heat of some Chinese dishes can make them tough to pair; I find that Alsace Gewurz's substantial body and spicebox character works pretty well, especially drier versions like Hugel's. For even hotter dishes I'd turn up the sweetness on the wine, maybe to something in a Zind-Humbrecht style.
3) Champagne with French Fries: NV Henriot Blanc Souverain ($42 or so, find this wine). Basically, if it's salty and fried, Champagne is a good bet. And what's more fun that eating French fries and drinking Champagne? Only eating French fries and drinking Champagne while lounging in a bed in a stupidly expensive hotel room with a fantastic view of Paris.
4) Chianti with Pizza: 2007 Antinori Pèppoli ($22 or so, find this wine). Well, Chianti and pizza, right? But there's legitimacy to this beyond the sort of no-brainer cultural connection, which is that with something cheesy and oily (yep) like pizza really needs a red with firm tannins and a nice cut of acidity—which Chianti supplies quite well.
5) Pinot Noir with Tacos: 2008 La Crema Monterey ($19 or so, find this wine). I owe my sommelier pal William Sherer for this one. The reason it works so well is that Pinot's bright fruit can hold up to all-over-the-place flavors in something like a taco; but also, when you've got hot peppers/jalapeños/hot sauce, what you don't want is a particularly tannic red—tannins tend to amplify heat, rather than subdue it. Though, if you're one of those lunatics who likes chewing up scotch bonnets for fun, hey, pour a Barolo with your Mad Dog 357-smothered wings and go to town.