Yeah, hi. It’s me. Again. Still here. I’ve been writing for a local startup wine site that actually pays me money to be mouthy about wine stuff. That’s where I’ve been, including a few other places, otherwise known as getting paid to be a professional wino. (My poor life choice has been validated!) My latest is about how that alcohol by volume percentage can help you understand better what’s in that bottle you’re downing. Check it out here.
Specializing in the cuisine of Alsace, a historically contested hotbed between France and Germany, Sandrine’s outside Harvard Square has always been one of those places that ought to be on the radar of more foodies. There’s a dearth of German/German-style food in Boston, which is inexplicable, considering how its immigrants played a huge role in Boston’s history, specifically the development of Jamaica Plain and the breweries that used to line Stony Brook. (Without Heffenreffer, there wouldn’t have been Sam Adams. I’m not really exaggerating when I say that).
But I hadn’t been there since 2005: my two most lasting impressions from my three visits were food that was overly burned (I have no idea if that’s an Alsatian culinary practice) and incredibly rude behavior and a lack of accommodation when one of my party (a.k.a. me) visited with a broken leg.
Well, there was a lot to like when I was there last month. (Disclosure: I was invited for a bloggers’ night. My meal was paid for, not my opinions. Ok, good? Still friends?) First, the service: we were attended to by the debonair Alex, a native of Lorraine (historically linked with Alsace) who exhibited that kind of mind-readery solicitousness that only Frenchmen who have truly made a profession of waiting–instead of a stopgap until the acting/art/grad school boat comes in– seem to hold. I don’t know if the ESP or the pride to wait tables comes first; definitely a question to ask him next time.We started out with the hallmark Alsatian tart, flammekuche, served two ways: vegetarian with artichokes, and traditionally with bacon and caramelized onions. They looked so perfect, I almost thought I had wandered on to a photo shoot. Where I’d been served flammekuche that had been overly flambeed in the past, these came out with complexion perfection. I’ll admit I always grab the version Trader Joe’s hucks, but nope, not any more. Next, moules marienieres, steamed in Riesling, were also perfectly done to a textbook turn. I like my broth with a little more presence, but I readily admit I always choose German Rieslings’ weight and aromatics over the lean steeliness of their Alsatian cousins. While I prefer them Parisian-style, with a drop of Pernod in the garlic butter, escargots were on point: thick meaty morsel the proper non-rubbery consistency and garlic-to-butter ratio that sent me scrounging in the bread basket to get every last drop. Trying to stick with an authentic meal, I went with the braised rabbit leg with Alsatian spaetzle. I did not realize it was different than German spaetzle. Where the latter is toothy–nubby and chewy like a child squeezing a wad of Play-Doh–the former had the appearance and texture of small pieces of broken spaghetti, which made it difficult for the sauce to cling to the noodles. Rabbit is not usually my thing, but this was dark and aromatic like game almost. Each course was accompanied by wine, of course: Trimbach pinot gris, which is anodyne enough to go with most dishes; I would have loved to have tried the Pierre Sparr blend or Alsatian gewurtztraminer, since we don’t see a lot of those around here. Alsatian reds are pretty near non-existent, but the Vacqueyras blend (most likely grenache, syrah, mourvedre or any of the other 13 grapes allowed in Chateauneuf de Pape) was smooth and efficient enough to usher us through several courses. For dessert, I kept to the “authentically Alsatian” theme and went with the Kougelhopf, chocolate cake with caramel, gancahe and ice cream. It was delish, but not nearly as divine as the chocolate pot de creme with peanut butter mousse, which one of my companions kindly allowed me to sample. The fear of being a gauche Americaine required that I not abscond with the whole thing (hey, there’s a historical political statement in there somewhere!), but it was tempting. Still dreaming of that one.
Mercis et dankes to Chris Lyons, and mes amis, Meghan Malloy and Brian Knowles, plus nouveaux copains William Macadoo, Martini Severin, Bianca Garcia, and Emily O’Donnell. Their blogs rock, so check them out!
146. Plus three opened bottles at half capacity or less.
Ninety are in my hallway. Sixteen are for a Jura party I keep planning to have, but the winter hasn’t been cold enough for rillettes.
Four are from a half-case of white Bordeaux I adore and am saving for as long as possible.
Twenty are in my “blind tasting box” I put together so the Gin Savant could test me on my paperbag ID skills.
One is to test the progress of a three-case purchase of 2005 Bordeaux currently housed at chez parents who actually have a decent cellar. (Only one of those cases is mine. One each is for La Niece and El Neffy come
2021 2026, if they stay nice to me and don’t grow up all rednecky.)
One is a 1983 5 putt Tokaji. One’s a Corton Charlemagne. I lost count of the Rieslings, the Aussies, and the ones made from obscure grapes. One was made by a high school friend of mine. One’s from England. Only three cost me more than $90. Four are before 1999.
Ok, I’m still procrastinating. Gotta stop or I’ll catalogue everything.
A little background: I don’t understand the readiness of the American public to act like Tijuana crack whores at the mere mention of Girl Scout cookies. If I’m going to destroy my arteries on cookies, I’m going to pick those with real caramel and damn well call them Samoans. But I bought 20 boxes this year, like I did last year, to enable a certain member of a Brownie troop to earn a penguin necklace and puffy sticker pack. Said boxes get sacrificed in a crazed coworker orgy of Thin Mint grabs on par with a Filene’s Basement Running of the Brides.
La Niece (age 7): Why does Auntie Mel need all these cookies?
El Neffy (age 7, know-it-all): For all her wine parties.
I’m running a tasting later this week for one of my side editorial projects. Here’s my take on some of what we’re having. They’re all available locally, and all are in the $10-$15 range.
Domaine Lafage Cote Est
A blend of grenache blanc, chardonnay and marsanne.
Located in southwest France, Roussillon borders both the Mediterranean coast and the Pyrenees Mountains separating it from Spain. As the sunniest part of France, it’s able to produce very juicy wines. You’ll notice aromas of honeysuckle, cantaloupe, iris, lime and cilantro, and flavors of ripe lime, guava, watercress, apricot, peach, tangerine rind, sea salt and white flowers. Even though this is 13% alcohol by volume, which puts it almost in full-bodied wine territory, it can work with many salads and lighter fare. For best results, pair it with rustic French or Spanish dishes, cod, grilled bruschetta, or ratatouille.
And if you close your eyes and imagine that you’re sipping this on the rue d’Antibes on the Cote d’Azur, we wouldn’t blame you.
Susana Balbos Crios Torrontes
Though it’s a white, this is the little black dress of wines: versatile, ideal for any occasion, and dang sexy (well, it is made by an Argentinian woman).
This wine is widely considered to be the epitome of Torrontes, a native Argentinean variety. It’s, simply, an irresistible tease: dry and acidic like Sauvignon Blanc, yet full-bodied, fruity and floral, with lushly perfumed aromas of peach, white pear, flowers, and orange. Rather beguiling.
Pair this baby with smoked meats, mild to medium cheeses, seafood (particularly crab and sushi). Or drink it our favorite way—by itself. Once you taste it, you’ll want to make this your house wine.
Li Veli Primonero
50% primitivo, 50% negroamaro
If this Puglia wine brings back memories of your post-college trip to Italy and a certain local attraction named Stefano, we certainly won’t tell.
Negroamaro is earthy; primitivo (depending on who you talk to, either an ancestor or twin of zinfandel) is more refined. Combining the two balance out the rougher and softer edges into a wine you can take a lot of places.
Dark, intense and plummy, with hints of black cherry, licorice, pepper and mocha, the tannins are softer than you’d expect and the nose is more floral. This is a wine that lingers nicely. It’s great for your heavier winter meals, or even for grilled foods in the summer.
Ironically enough, I will be giving less booze for Christmas this year. No real reason, other than I think people are starting to expect it from me.
Mexico doesn’t export a lot of their wine–and it’s not like Sicily that specializes in crazy obscure grapes. Nope, they’re growing lots of known names like Chardonnay, Tempranillo (that’s for you Rioja-heads) and Italian hits like Barbera and Nebbiolo. And here’s another shocker: they make even more of it than Canada does, although most of it’s to make brandy. A lot of it is produced in Baja California, since there’s high elevation and it’s close to those cooling Pacific breezes to keep the grapes from getting more baked than the Ei Felta Thi fraternity on spring break.
L.A. Cetto Wines from Guadalupe is one of Mexico’s leading wineries. Their Petite Sirah was full of red strawberry/cherry flavors, which was interesting since the grape when grown in more traditional areas has more inky blue and black berry flavors. The L.A. Cetto version definitely had a sharp acidity to it that Petite Syrah tends to have.
It would probably make an okay sangria, though you’d have to hold back a little on the hard alcohol you used in order not to overcome the wine. Not particularly complex, but it was drinkable enough and definitely showed a lot of its rustic peasant Italian heritage.
Mohegan Sun Sol Toro restaurant, $8 by the glass