20060530

Guy Crittenden on wine, and the environment

Special edition: Environmental expertise

I am Canadian. I shop at government-run liquor corporations. Finding a bottle of wine depends less on what neighbourhood you are passing through and more on what province or territory you live in. So when there's time, hopping across the Quebec-Ontario border is an opportunity to see how the other half lives.

So I went to my nation's capital (which is Ottawa) for our May 22nd holiday long weekend (which is the one before the Memorial Day one).

Which means... I'm lazy. Here it is practically June and I'm just posting about the trip now.

So here is the deal:
Banrock Shiraz 2004 alternative wine packaging

Ontarians buy wine in boxes that have pictures of bottles on them.

Get it? The idea is that it's still the same stuff inside, kept in the same favourable conditions for ageing, but in more convenient, environmentally-minded packaging. spill test spout trial pouring ease and convenience alternative wine packaging

Well, hold on. Is it convenient? Maybe for mass storage and transportation purposes, but at dinner time...

It was really hard not to slop and dribble (see drips and drops at the bottom of the image, shown at right). And this new kind of packaging takes some getting used to. These juice boxes hold a litre of wine instead of 750 millilitres. And because they are so much lighter than glass containers it can seem like you're serving from a bottomless chalice. Okay, so that might be a plus for some people but I've just perfected evenly distributing a bottle of wine into five glasses.

Before you start thinking me an eco-curmudgeon, convenience is not the only questionable aspect to this kind of packaging. There is some question on its greenness. There's been a lot of words exchanged during the last few months, mainly between the National Post and the LCBO. I defer to Solid Waste & Recycling Magazine Editor Guy Crittenden for what seems to be the required reading on this subject. His piece is a little skeptical (with state-run liquor boards, how can you not be?) but for the most part very perceptive.

Whatever the implications of switching to Tetra Pak packaging, my time in Ottawa was filled with great cooking and good wine. I found a rare 10-year old Muscadet from Le Master de Donatien, tasted the new fantastic new vintage of Perrin Réserve (2004), and ate like a king in the accommodating kitchens of my fantastic hosts Johanna, Cathy and Tyler.

When the three of us finally did taste that box of Banrock Shiraz 2004, it was perfectly delicious with our barbecue fare.

giant barbecued pork chops sauteed peppers asparagus salad
Had the weather been better, the Banrock would've shined as the ultimate outdoor wine. Banrock, which seems to be the creation of fair-weather marketers, is probably best considered fair-weather wine.

20060526

Radical radicchio, add red vino: Argiolas Perdera 2003

Argiolas Perdera Monica di Sardegna 2003radicchio
Ever since I ordered the most delicious grilled radicchio dish at Lupa in Greenwich Village back in the summer of 2001 I've been fascinated by this leafy red vegetable.

RADICCHIO -- A FLASHING RED WARNING

First you must know that the bitterness inherent in radicchio is to be revered. Like the bitterest greens -- chicory, escarole, dandelion, etc. -- it can be part of a well-balanced salad, just remember to dress it with a semi-sweet vinaigrette. But radicchio is also among the stiffest, staunchest and hardiest of this bunch. When you combine its stalky, crunchy texture with its naturally strong flavour, radicchio can overwhelm the senses, your meal, and the nice glass of Italian wine you're drinking, which for me at the moment, happens to be Monica, the lovely traditional red grape of Sardinia.

Monica makes fruity varietals, often spiced and of the dusty dried-fruit nature. This Argiolas Perdera Monica di Sardegna 2003 had the most beautiful nose of roses, and reminded me of a Barolo, which was a good sign: surely the strongest of Italian wines would stand up to the grilled radicchio dish that I would try to copy from Lupa chefs Bartoli and Bastianich.

WHY YOU SHOULD PUT RADICCHIO ON A GRILL

Grilling is a great treatment for radicchio. It solves some of the problems that this assertive vegetable can present. Dousing the charred leaves in a balsamic reduction sauce further softens the potent dish, adding richness and some sugar.

When served with tomato and olive pasta, grilled radicchio is a fine match for a rustic Mediterranean red wine, like this one. My Perdera did not have as much structure as I remembered it having in previous vintages, but it is still a great value wine. It carries a light to medium body, and is reminiscent of Zinfandel. Its smokiness and meatiness was nice, if a bit one-note. The wine presented good grip on the finish.

WHICH WINES ARE COMPLEMENTED BY RADICCHIO

So in the end, this wine's length and my handy cast-iron Creuset kitchen grill harnessed the ever-powerful radicchio and rendered it approachable to shy palates. It's no wonder that radicchio is often paired with big flavours like seared steaks and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Serdiana, Italia. 13%

20060519

WBW #21 Fabulous Favorites Festival: Domaine Magellan Ponant 2003

In which Eric and I join forces to produce a post on this month's Wine Blogging Wednesday theme: take a favourite bottle of wine and create a meal around it.
Domaine Magellan Ponant 2003 Vin de pays des Côtes de Thongue lamb dinner pairing
Alliances can be fantastic things. I'm thinking of WWI, WWII, WBW, and the list goes on. So on this occasion when Wine Blogging Wednesday joins Is My Blog Burning? for a great food and wine installment (thanks to WBW Lenn and Il Forno's Alberto, who are both hosting this joint effort), it seems suitable that my friend Eric and I pair up for an entry to today's event.

And so it began with a bottle of my favourite wine. At 6:30 pm, with bread and wine in hand, I descended upon Eric's kitchen, which was spacious and well-equipped -- as always -- but also stocked with the key components of our meal, courtesy of Eric.

I would do the cooking and plating here. Eric would assume clean-up duties. I would write the notes; he would send me the photos he took. We would both get to eat and drink. It was an advantageous alliance. But the real synergy started when I asked Eric if he could help with the prep.

doktor weingolb cooks up fabulous favourites tom littledeer wooden kitchen utensilsI was chopping green onion for garnish when Eric suddenly started peeling the stalks on the home-grown Quebec asparagus he found, which are currently in season. The peeling idea came from an email I had sent him earlier in the day when we were discussing what we would do for dinner. I emailed it as a bit of a joke because for years we have been enjoying thick, meaty and delicious asparagus with all its skin fully intact. Nevertheless Eric was inspired to peel and he soon uncovered a chartreuse layer of the asparagus. It offset the dark green flecks of tarragon in the sauce I made. This was an interesting development. Our vegetable would now be a beautiful two-toned green. But I knew that this nice visual effect would just be a bonus...

KEY INGREDIENTS

Asparagus with tarragon is a wonderful combination any day. On this night, it was also a complement to the anisé tones of our wine, a typically spicy Syrah-based blend from the south of France. The idea was to have this Domaine Magellan Ponant 2003 Vin de pays des Côtes de Thongueecho the light licorice flavours of the dish.

Since Ponant is a vin de pays, it can, unlike its many of its Midi neighbours with an AOC designation, add some Cabernet to its Syrah. Personally I love the Cab-Syrah combo and could drink it all on its own. But for our dinner's sake, this kind of blend was signaling some serious red meat.

Lamb is ideal. (Says Eric: Quebec lamb is even more ideal -- and not just because it goes with the Quebec asparagus. Locally bred and grown produce is really important to Eric, who has been reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.) quebec lamb cutlets tarragon asparagus long grain rice with peasRich and deeply flavoured, a grilled lamb steak cut from the gigot has an affinity with the darker notes of this Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend: blackened fruits, cedar, earth.

PREPARATION METHOD

Grilled to achieve a wee bit of carbon, the steaks would complement the tobacco finish of the wine. But before the main dish is done, we add garlic, olive oil and savory -- naturals in a pairing that focuses on depth of flavour. For balance, rice makes an appearance at the table. Dotted with green peas, perfectly cooked brown rice emerged from Eric's smart rice-cooker, which is resembles a plastic pig. Oink oink. Dig in.

UN PETIT DESSERT

Eric also picked up dessert from our favourite little neighbourhood bakery in all of Montreal, Boulangerie Les Co'Pains d'Abord, and it was deep and rich too. Keep some vino in your glass for this Far Breton, an eggy but firmly textured treat, filled with oozing and deliciously overripened prunes. I wish we had remembered to take photos, but this little fruit flan was so good and matched so wonderfully our final drops of wine, no such thought went out.

And there you have it. I grilled, blanched and served. Eric planned, shopped, and bussed. By 7.45 pm, we were all done. Our alliance was as a perfect as a classic food and wine pairing, as symbiotic as the legendary convergence of WBW and IMBB.

20060513

Doktor Weingolb goes to Dr. Copti for advice

I forgot to take my pill last night. But that's okay.

aspirin and wine legendary bad pairings at the dinner tableI love French doctors. I love them in the exact same way that I love the French diet.

I had to see the doctor this week for a full examination in a case of momentary visual impairment. During his lengthy consultation with me, my diet was analyzed. Do you drink, he asked. Oh yes, I said.

He wanted to know how much wine I consume every day, how much cheese I eat, and whether I favour sweets. I wasn't expecting to answer all these questions but Dr. Copti's light French accent made it so easy for me to picture myself considering a menu in a Paris restaurant. A very well-lit, and thoroughly sanitized restaurant.

Responding to all his food questions was making me hungry. Doc, any chance we could turn this appointment into working lunch? Finally came his official recommendation and some measured advice. The aspirin I had been taking daily -- I should be careful with that since I regularly drink two to three glasses of wine a day.

I was bracing myself for a slap on the wrist but this is where things got real good. Dr. Copti made his pronouncement:

You got it doc. Folks, email me now if you want a referral.

Related reading:

20060508

Acid test: Matching seafood and Sauvignon (Dourthe No. 1 2004)

Dourthe No. 1 2004
White wine often makes a nice apertif. Sauvignon Blanc is no exception. In fact it is the perfect before-dinner drink. Zippy and refreshing, this grape does a good job at waking up your tastebuds and getting them ready for meal that lies ahead.

There is a reason for this. Sauvignon Blanc can pack dangerous astringency -- both in the form of citrus flavours and heightened levels of acidity. It is the kind of combination that can often grind to a halt the enjoyment of creamy and rich courses. (You'll be disappointed if you blindly pair this wine with fish -- a salmon-based rosé sauce on pasta, for example is a screamingly bad partner for most Sauvignon. I know because I tried it.)

WINE AND FOOD RATIONALIZATION

That does not mean that Sauvignon Blanc should be removed from food settings. There are so many great matches for it. You are just advised not to match it with your creamier dishes. Cheese can work and work well, especially cheese on a pizza. The tomato sauce will complement the acidity in the wine. I recommend a seafood pizza in particular. The crab-meat, shrimp and scallops will make your meal sing.

And here is the song: Dourthe No. 1 2004. From Bordeaux, this wine falls under the general Bordelais appellation (AOC). This means it's a good value (click on the bottle image for retail information).

NO-RISK DRINKING

Vignobles Dourthe has always been a reliable bargain-priced producer of international grape varieties. This 2004 vintage, which for the first time is indicated as a Sauvignon Blanc varietal on the front label, is no different.

The 2004 Dourthe No. 1 is a pale golden colour. On the nose, hints of brioche and yeast emerge while luscious white fruit and a touch of spice are clean and crisp on the palate. There's a slightly racy edge to it but everything remains well-balanced. Its bracing mouthfeel is replete with starfruit banana-like fruit notes. It's got a bit of toast to and a nice even finish.

Parempuyre, France. 12%

Backwash
Blogger's been a bad boy.

Last time it was my own boring drivel that prevented a timely update. This time it was a Monday post turned into a Tuesday-at-two, I'm-at-work-but-now-that-I've-finally-got-a-blogspot-window-I'd-better-upload-on-company-time. Zut alors!

20060504

Who knows the way?

Sometimes I receive fan mail. So far it's all been Kylie Minogue's...
fan mail letter







Dear Matteo,

It's great to get messages like yours that come to Doktor Weingolb all the way from France. France makes me think of so many wonderful things -- wine and food of course making it immediately to the top of my mental list.

But you say you are from Italy originally. I wonder how you find Paris compared to where you grew up. I've never visited your homeland but I can imagine it being a fantastic place, especially if you are into wine and food, like I am.

kylie map of parisIt was food and wine that prompted me to describe how I tracked down the real-life Michel Gondry/Kylie Minogue set in Point du Jour. (Well, perhaps it was mostly the wine that did it.) Either way it was an adventure that occupied an afternoon in a way no form of orienteering could. I used landmarks from video stills and analyzed the angles of 3-way street intersections shown on maps. Needless to say, it would be just as much of an adventure trying to repeat the feat two years later. Which is basically the reason you wrote me. So here goes...

I have a old map of Boulogne-Billancourt. If you click on it, I have marked it up to the best of my memory. (If the circle I've drawn is wrong, then move southwest along Rue du Point du Jour two blocks towards Place Jules Guesde -- I have a feeling that this is the real site and it's tricking me since that corner is not officially in the Point du Jour division of the neighbourhood though it is on the Rue du Point du Jour.)

Kylie Minogue's Come into my worldIt goes without saying that you should avoid taking my route, which as I remember it today, was entirely Kylie-less and meandering until the last moment. In fact, even when I found the intersection it was so unlike the "World" created in the video that it was hard imagining the footsteps Kylie took there. But with any luck you will find it. Perhaps the boulangerie (pictured, right) will still be there -- one of the few buildings that appeared as it was for the video shoot -- and you can confirm to yourself that you've got the right location.

Next time I cross the ocean I will have to ask you to tell me where to find authentic Italian cooking in Paris. I hope you will have simple directions.

Yours truly,
Marcus