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More recent writing, Part IV

15 May

In which I demystify legs, rosés, how long to keep a couple of Aussie wines, prosecco vs. Champagne.


Sandrine’s: the fourth time’s the charm

26 Feb

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.

Artichoke Flammekuche at Sandrine's

Artichoke Flammekuche at Sandrine's: a great way to kick off the meal. Or be a meal itself.

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.


Mussels not from Brussels.

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.

Decadent butter-to-meat ratio? Check!

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.

Spaeztle to me tastes best when it looks like a four-year-old made it.

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.

Gratuitous wine porn shot, since this is a wine blog

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.

Chocolate Kugelhopf: a decent dessert

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.

Don't let this one get ordered by someone else. You'll regret it.

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!

Bad procrastination technique: counting up all the wine in my house.

13 Feb

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.

Random wine tasting notes

24 Jan

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
100% 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.

My year in wine, the summary

27 Dec

So 2011 was a bit of an important year for me, wine-wise because I

• Joined the Boston Sommelier Society after a whole lot of trepidation about not working in the industry for reals
• Got a subscription to Wine Spectator and didn’t open a damn issue
• Took the Australian Wine Immersion Program course.
• Started working with a startup wine site (more about this at some later point when appropriate)
• Tried Penfolds Grange
• Tried Nicolas Joly
• Spent about $2800 on wine
• Met Jean-Luc Thunevin
• Housed 150 bottles in my apartment
• Passed the CSW exam.
• Checked out Virginia’s vineyards
• Got my own personalized wino tour of Austin
• Led about two dozen wine tours in Boston for my new part-time job with City Wine Tours
• Had a bunch of fun with Red White Boston
• Tasted over 400 wines.

All that kept me busy, for sure. So expect a bunch of back-filled posts one of these days.

Domaines Ott? I think not. Seriously, the only freaking rosé(s) you need this summer.

18 Jul

Not quite a bouquet , but these are the rosés you should be drinking.

Maybe it’s me, but if I’m going to be sacrificing precious brain and liver cells this summer, I want something more than Commanderie de Peyrassol pale lavender-colored water passing itself off as rosé. Here are my highly flavorful, brilliantly colored, conveniently priced picks:

1. Rene Couly Dutheil Chinon (Winestone <$20). 100% Cabernet Franc and the most atomically-packed flavor of any rosé this summer. And you cannot beat that color. Strawberries, red berries and a hit of pink grapefruit up the ying-yang. Crisp without feeling like you have to scrape your mouth out.

2. Alois Lageder Lagrein rosé
(various places, $13-21). My summer standard and the one everyone I pour for loves.

3. Brana Harri Gorri 2010 (Wine Bottega, $19). Dark pink dusty sour cherry from the French side of Basque country and the Irouleguy appellation. I drank 7/8 of this all on my own during a Harry Potter marathon. Better than Polyjuice potion.

4. Schloss Schonborn Pink 2010 (Blanchard’s West Roxbury, $17.99),is way too cool for school and like biting into sweet wax flowers and orange blossoms–even though it’s dry pinot noir from the Rheingau. I know it sounds weird. But trust me on this. Highly unusual and unforgettable.

I won’t say “blech!” if you pour these for me:
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#70 Fer Servadou

22 Mar

Ignore the messy kitchen table.

I had to ask the sales associate three times to repeat the name of this grape. Never, ever heard of it before. She said it was one she was currently enjoying herself at home, especially with lamb.

Gaillac is in southwest France, and supposedly was the site of the oldest Roman vineyards back in the Asterix et Obelix days it was called Gaul. They have their own spin on Beaujolais Nouveau that they release in November as well, called Primeur, and is, hopefully, less galling.

I found it like a mildly spicier Pinot Noir: peppery and briny, yet eminently drinkable and friendly. It matched up well with blue cheese shortbread, and cheese and saucisson sec avec herbs de Provence. Yeah, I’m throwing in dime-store French since I never get to use it anymore. Fer also means iron, and that comes from the wood’s toughness, not the wine’s drinkability. This was tres bien.

If you can pick some up, do so.

Domaine Philemon Croix d’Azal 2008, Gaillac
Urban Grape, $12 (the orphan shelf. All gone. Sorry.)

Le beaujolais nouveau est arrive.

18 Nov

I’ve literally gotten six email newsletters and 12 tweets about this.

Je ne pouvais pas moins de soins.

Saint Jean du Barroux L’Oligocene 2004

22 Oct

From the Cotes du Ventoux, this organic mostly-Grenache blend (with a little Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault) springs from Cenozoic-era soils (37 to 24 million years ago) which means they’re crap: stony and poor, and the vines themselves are at least 25. The good news is that the harder the grapes are to grow, the better wine they make.

Gorgeous herbs de Provence aroma–my favorite part of the wine, along with sticky, smoky deliciousness. Definitely a wine for grownups.

Verdict: like a slinky, sexy Bryan Ferry song, all bespoke suit and unbuttoned white oxford (before he fell victim to Dylan-idoltry and was still cool).Or maybe haggard like Jagger these days, but the moves are still sending the pretenders to school.

BRIX on Broad, $30