20060928

And then Nero d'Avola gets into the mix: Tenuta Rapitalà Nuhar 2003

Tenuta Rapitalà Nuhar Nero d'Avola Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 nu har
I've had tasting notes for a Silician red blend that I've been meaning to put up for some time (and I've alluded to this fact in my last fan mail entry). Just as I was uploading said notes this morning, the annual Tre Bicchiere Italian wine awards began making news. The announcement is important for several reasons, but since we're on the topic of Sicilian wine, I will highlight one significant point that on this day Jancis Robinson reacted to in particular: Sicily is getting more recognition than ever.

While Tenuta Rapitala -- producer of the wine that I'm reviewing today -- does not get recognition this time around, Corvo (Duca di Salaparuta), Planeta, Tasca d'Almerita and Donnafugata all do. These four producers make cuvées that round out a list of 15 honoured Sicilian wines, a number that is up three from last year's list. All four that I've mentioned, as well as Tenuta Rapitala, are available in Quebec.

Tenuta Rapitalà Nuhar Nero d'Avola Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 nu harThe bottle that I'm writing about and that you see pictured here, was a prezzie I picked up in New York this summer. Tenuta Rapitalà Nuhar Nero d'Avola Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 is the bottle. (Nuhar appears as two words "Nu har" but apparently nuhar is the arabic for flower.) It's an affordable quaffer, but the nearly as much as its little brother is. That one is strictly a Nero d'Avola varietal and it is both less expensive and more expressive (a swell combo) and on sale locally (follow the link). The Nero d'Avola varietal from Rapitalà makes for a very enjoyable, distinctive wine, but I think I gravitate more to Rapitalà's Nero d'Avola blend. I love Nero d'Avola to be sure, but it can hit rough patches and end up lacking some smoothness.

Corvo seems to approach this by blending the variety with regional grapes Perricone and Nerello Mascalese. The resulting wine is supple and ripened and retails for a similarly inexpensive price.

But back to big brother Rapitalà I got in New York. It takes takes on Cabernet Sauvignon to add great suppleness and deep structure to the Nero d'Avola. This really makes it sing, and I would be so bold to suggest that it's this kind of fine work that is getting Sicilian winemakers noticed so nicely at this point in time.

NOTES FROM MY TASTING

Rich magenta tinge with a sweet and supple aroma. On the palate, there is a brightness to it and definite lift. Buzzy mouthfeel. Loads of gorgeous fruit though not jammy; smoky notes, though not too woody. Grenadine up front and blacker fruit on the finish. Full and luscious with nice balance and some smoothness, if a bit rustic overall. Good with a hearty lasagne.

NOTES ON THE LABEL

Two wine varieties: the Nero d'Avola rich in tannin and body and the Cabernet Sauvignon which responds to the heat of Sicily with colour, softness and depth unlike elsewhere. A wine with strong notes of fruit, warm, full, balanced and mellow tannins achieved from barrel ageing.

Camporeale, Sicilia, Italia. 13.5%

20060927

SNAKSHOT


salmon herb blini pumpkin reduction

PHOTO: BARBARA TOIVANEN / FOOD: JOHN COOMBER

20060926

Getting down to specifics when wine prices go up

Following the price of wine in Quebec this year has been a rollercoaster ride. The province runs a monopoly on wine and spirits so prices are steady across the land, no matter if you are in Montreal or Les Îles-de-la-Madeleine. But despite this regulation, Quebec prices have been in flux more then Fundy tides during a full moon.

I'm no economist so I'll just tell you it as my wallet saw it.

The year started off with a bang. The SAQ's price-fixing scandal rang in the new year and by February, there were calls for class action suits as the inflated prices were removed. Effectively this meant consumers were saving a dollar or two on many of the bottles in the general repertoire, though they were definitely overpaying before. Wallet likes it

This wobbled into stores gradually making the total charges on wine a bit of guessing game, but at least a fun one, since the cash register always gave you a lower figure than the one tagged on the bottle. Wallet continues to like it

At the same time as all this provincial craziness was going on, Canada did one better and elected a conservative government into power. They would, many weeks later, usher in changes to the national sales tax. Prices would go down once again, but ever so slightly. Wallet feels patronized

Finally this month, prices were raised with the usual boring explanation of world currencies and the European market, yadda, yadda. Wallet is not liking it at all

What my wallet is telling me is that consumers never seemed to have much time to enjoy their low low prices on wine. So I took a small sample (32 different gen-rep bottles) of the wine that I often buy and I charted out their cost histories.

Result: Not much to complain about! My first random selection actually shows a September price that is a further decrease from the February price. The cost of American wine best captures this quirk. On average, however, Quebecers will be paying about 35 cents more per bottle.

Here's the list (note that the first price is from February, the second is from 2005 year-end, and the current September price is appended with a long dash; my notes are inserted where they exist).

ALSACE EST BLANC 134635 SPARR PINOT BLANC ALSACE 750 mL 13.75 15.15 -- 13.65
AUT. REG BLANC 484139 DOMAINE TARIQUET COTE GASCOGNE 750 mL 13.70 15.10 -- 14.05
AUT. REG BLANC 855171 IDYLLE CRUET V.V. VIN-SAVOIE 750 mL 16.50 17.95 -- 16.80
AUT. REG ROUGE 517698 DOMAINE LABRANDE CAHORS 750 mL 13.30 14.65 -- 13.65
AUT. REG ROUGE 605287 CH. LA LIEUE COTEAUX-VAROIS 750 mL 12.45 13.65 -- 12.75
AUT. REG ROUGE 875146 MOUREOU MADIRAN 750 mL 18.70 20.55 -- 19.05 Notes
AUT. REG ROUGE 10281598 CH GALOUPET COTES-DE-PROVENCE 750 mL 18.10 19.80 -- 18.40
BEAUJOLAIS 961185 MORGON CHARMES LOUIS TETE 750 mL 17.65 19.30 -- 17.95 Notes
BORDELAIS BLANC 83709 CH. BONNET ENTRE-DEUX-MERS 750 mL 15.45 16.45 -- 15.85 Notes
BORDELAIS ROUGE 369405 CHRISTIAN MOUEIX MERLOT BDX 750 mL 15.90 16.30 -- 15.65
BOURGOGNE BLANC 179556 MERCUREY CHAMIREY 750 mL 28.35 36.25 -- 28.95 Notes
BOURGOGNE ROUGE 573402 MICHEL JUILLOT MERCUREY 750 mL 24.95 28.50 -- 25.50
CHAMPAGNE 578187 NICOLAS FEUILLATTE BRUT RESERV 750 mL 44.00 48.50 -- 47.00
ESPAGNE ROUGE 928036 DEHESA LA GRANJA VINO DE MESA 750 mL 21.95 24.35 -- 22.40
ESPAGNE ROUGE 978866 CONDADO DE HAZA RIBERA-DEL- 750 mL 23.65 26.35 -- 24.15
ETATS-UNIS BLANC 354282 GALLO CHARDONNAY SONOMA 750 mL 22.45 22.50 -- 22.40
ETATS-UNIS ROUGE 606814 STONE CELLARS MERLOT 750 mL 15.40 15.45 -- 14.95
ITALIE AUT.REG BLANC 742114 BUCHHOLZ ALOIS LAGEDER 750 mL 21.35 23.50 -- 21.75
ITALIE AUT.REG BLANC 972877 MASTROBERARDINO LACRYMA 750 mL 19.25 21.15
ITALIE PIEMONT ROUGE 356105 LE ORME BARBERA D'ASTI 750 mL 15.55 16.95 -- 15.90 Notes
ITALIE TOSCANE BLANC 731570 ROCCA DELLE MACIE VERNACCIA 750 mL 14.05 15.50 -- 14.40
ITALIE TOSCANE ROUGE 269589 ROCCA DELLE MACIE VERNAIOLO 750 mL 13.60 15.00 -- 13.95
ITALIE VENETIE BLANC 741058 PIEROPAN CALVARINO SOAVE 750 mL 25.05 27.85 -- 25.55
ITALIE VENETIE BLANC 908004 INAMA SOAVE-CLASSICO-SUPERIOR 750 mL 18.35 20.10 -- 18.90
ITALIE VENETIE ROUGE 537316 TEDESCHI VALPOLICELLA-CLASSIO 750 mL 13.80 15.25 -- 14.40
LANGUEDOC 913491 SYRAH L'HERAULT PETIT ROUBIE 750 mL 16.00 17.15 -- 16.20 Notes
VAL DE LOIRE 10273256 DOM.BELLEVUE ST-POURCAIN 750 mL 14.25 15.75 -- 14.60 Notes
VALLÉE DU RHONE ROUGE 726984 ANTIQUE SENIMAROS CAIRANNE 750 mL 21.25 23.50 -- 21.65
BOURGOGNE BLANC 10327939 212 ST-VERAN GRANDES VIGNES 750 mL 21.95 23.50 -- 21.75
ITALIE AUT.REG ROUGE 927533 LA VIS PINOT NERO TRENTINO 750 mL 17.50 19.00 -- 17.30
VAL DE LOIRE BLANC 10222088 CLOS DE LA COULEE DE SERRANT 750 mL 103.00 126.00 -- 102.00
VAL DE LOIRE ROUGE 857391 VIEILLES VIGNES DOM. LANGLOIS 750 mL 22.65 25.95 -- 22.45
VIN DE DESSERT 866236 CAUSSE MARINES GRAIN FOLIE 500 mL 21.75 21.90 -- 21.55

20060921

What's a wine blog good for anyway?

According to Google, which kindly supplies me the majority of this site's visitors, Doktor Weingolb is worth checking out if you're looking for any of the following things:


  • driving distance from pauillac france to saint martin la caussade france

  • boy lovers québec

  • proper temperature for manischewitz blackberry wine

  • de state eye doktor

  • ass tasters

  • what does quiche lorraine, spaghetti marinara, pizza and bread have in common

  • Oaked
and, perhaps most instructively of all...

  • wedding photos by a lake

When I see that I get hits from web searches like these it causes me some wonder. I wonder what my sidebar would look like if I redesigned it. A new design that would emphasize key words like the ones above? Hmmm....

doctor weingolb doktor weingold dr wine blog
OK bad idea. I'll try not to rely on search engines for the focus and design of Doktor Weingolb in the months to come.

The fact is search engines have got a strange way of funneling Internet surfers to these pages. Perhaps I can imagine some of these search terms -- when taken in a different context of course -- getting Weingolb listed in people's Google results. But I mean really, folks searching for "Oaked" and being sent to my site? That's beyond the pale. Landing here in the hunt for some "ass tasters" -- well, at least that's a notion I can entertain. (I bet Jancis Robinson and her newly redesigned site can only wish that she was getting just a piece of the ass-tasting traffic flowing through these parts.)

BUT WHAT IS A WINE BLOG REALLY GOOD FOR?

Right. About my point. I'll tell you what a wine blog is good for: wine reviews and food pairing profiles.

It's a been a long summer of drinking and eating without much discipline and now I am returning to my journalistic ways. I've got more tasting notes already in the bag plus copious amounts still on the way, all carefully recorded and lovingly typed up to share with the world, including all you boy lovers and ass tasters out there. C'mon, don't be shy, I do know you're out there and want to take a peek at what Weingolb's got.

Stayed tuned.

20060919

Eric's Trip

When Eric went away for a week, he left me in charge of his farm-fresh organic food basket. It was filled with peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, leeks, and many other vegetables, as well as some fresh-cut herbs and fruit.

It was a plethora of delicious local produce so I wasted no time in organizing a vegetable-themed dinner with as many friends as I could find. The food and wine menu was:


Aperatif: Château Bonnet 2004 (Sauvignon Blanc)
Poached yellow and red tomatoes with oregano and savoury in olive oil
Sunflower seed and squash sourdough bread, served with soft cheese

Cauliflower and caper gravlax in dill and shallots

Choucroute Alsacienne
(simmered in and paired with Hugel Riesling 2004)

Zucchini Flan served with sweet hot peppers and cherry tomatoes
Sparr Réserve Pinot Gris 2004

Wawel cheesecake served with fresh cantalope and ground cherries

When we weren't savouring every morsel, we managed to take a few pictures...

poached yellow red tomatoes oregano savoury olive oil
zucchini flan sweet hot peppers cherry tomatoes
Wawel cheesecake fresh cantalope ground cherries
local sustainable organic ground cherries
Oh yes, those ground cherries are quite a trip. They come with their own paper-skinned packaging. That's what we call sustainable. Thanks Eric!

zucchini flan

Zucchini Flan from Meg


Meg says this recipe originally appeared in an old copy of the New York Times food section (that's where I first saw a great recipe for my choucroute, but more on that in a later post). So I got the flan details from her site and then made sure I added the optional nutmeg as well as the leek I had on hand. These two additions add extra depth to the dish. Here's how I adapted the rest of the recipe.

megs zucchini flan recipe thyme garnish3-4 medium zucchini
a leek, chopped into discs
3 cloves garlic
5 eggs
¼ cup sour cream, thinned with whole milk
salt, pepper
dash of nutmeg
sense of humour (just kidding)


You will need: a sauté pan, mixing bowls, a loaf pan, a baking dish large enough to put the loaf pan in, and a kettle of boiling water.

Slice the zucchini thinly. Heat some olive oil in a pan and sauté it over medium-high heat. Sprinkle with salt. When zucchini releases some liquid, add the leek and the garlic, also sliced thinly, and reduce heat. Continue to toss until all the zucchini has softened and the bottom of the pan is covered with liquid. Take off heat and let cool. Cover it if you have half an hour to let it rest and reabsorb its juices.

When you’re ready to assemble the flan (about an hour and a half before you want to serve it) pre-heat oven to 350F and set a kettle of water to boil. Beat the eggs and sour cream/milk mixture lightly in a bowl with some salt and coarse pepper. Add a generous dash of nutmeg. Stir in and thoroughly coat the cooled vegetables (must be cool or else it will cook the eggs prematurely).

Set up the Bain Marie. Pour the mixture into a lightly buttered loaf pan. Place the loaf pan in the baking dish and place in oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the baking dish so that water reaches at least half way up the sides of the loaf pan. Bake for about 30-40 minutes.

The flan is done when the whole thing is set but still slightly jiggly but not runny in the very middle (check by gently shaking the loaf pan -- carefully, mind you, so as not to scald yourself with the hot water).

Remove the loaf pan from the Bain Marie when set and let the flan cool. When you are ready to serve, run a knife or spatula gently around the sides of the pan. Then put a serving plate on top of it and invert forcefully to un-mold the flan. Serve cut in thick slices.

What has actually been determined in that screwcap study making the rounds in the media

jamie goode's wine blog

20060915

Robert Parker, or Mother Parkers?

I encountered an interesting tasting note while hitting my usual stops online. It is a very accurate description of something I've drunk a lot over the past year. So I am quite pleased that the guy who wrote this really nailed it like he did.

Can you identify what he's drinking based on his description below? (I've edited it slightly, leaving out the key words so as to not give too much away.)

It feels richer, fuller and more viscous in your mouth. The acidity of the ------ is balanced; the tannins contribute shape, not sting.

The aroma is nuanced — with suggestions of scents like jasmine and orange — reflecting the pedigree of the ----- it’s made with, and the care and precision with which it was ------
It's a tricky one to answer indeed. Give up? The kitty shown below knows the answer. Click on it to have it revealed.

pet animals coffee foam design caffe artjava latte art

Yup, the above is actually a tasting note for a cup of coffee, not a bottle of wine. The missing words were: coffee, beans, and brewed, respectively. You can find the article this excerpt came from at NYT Dining & Wine.

"It's coffee in a culinary context. It's not just a fix anymore." That's the good word from Café Grumpy, the artisanal coffeeshop from New York profiled in the article. Agreed!

They also serve artisanal coffee at Montreal's Caffè ArtJava, which is a restaurant café much closer to where I live. The ArtJava Macchiato made it onto my Top Five Things to Eat in Montreal.

Yes, of course something like coffee was one of my top tastes for The Foodblogger's Guide to the Globe. Drink it or eat it, this is serious stuff. When it's rooted in a real culinary craft, why shouldn't a great cup of joe get the respect it deserves?

new york times dining in out photographerClearly a lot of effort and precision goes into a good artisanal espresso. Just ask the baristas who make your artisanal latte. They typically favour roasts that are medium-dark (the "medium-rare" of of the coffee gourmand's world). J.D. Merget, owner of Oslo, which is another New York joint, explains this in the article: "It’s like grilling meat; if you char it but don’t burn it, you get to taste both the meat and the char. If you burn it all the way through, you’re just tasting char."

And the feathery fern-like pattern the NYT reporter writes about is depicted in the design of the red ArtJava sugar packet in this photograph. If you watch this NYT video you can see how it all comes together.

The hypnotic milky topping created on top of your espresso shot is really quite an art. It's easy to be beguiled by it. But I also recognize that it's the craft behind these fantastic coffees that achieves the gastronomic success, and that is always the bottom line.

In the end, I guess no one should be surprised a quality espresso gets the wine tasting note treatment. After wine, there's no other part of my daily intake that I find is as enjoying or rewarding.

That said, I know there are some beer lovers who think their drink of choice is just as worthy of the tasting treatment. Perhaps writing a tasting note for beer compares more closely to one done for coffee. They're both "brews" and it's said that espresso's luscious crema can appreciated like the head on a stout beer.

I'll drink to that.

20060914

Get your best bubbly and more on sale until Oct 1: Lanson Black Label Brut

It's always nice when someone hears your complaints.

Yesterday I was eager to link to Wine Blogging Wednesday #25 - Champagne at Becks & Posh yet I regretted that I had decided not to fork over the money for a bottle of Champagne of my own.

I did however manage in my last post to talk in passing about the Lanson Black Label Brut I saved up for last year. We uncorked it on Easter. I had recently returned from Paris with some of the local delicacies including goose liver pâté, which I knew I wanted to serve on toasted brioche bread and then accompany it all with a choice sparkling wine. I ended up splurging on real Champagne. The pairing was fantastic -- everyone loved it -- and we eased our way into a glorious Easter Sunday dinner.

becks and posh blog wbw 25 champagne becksposhnosh.blogspot.comI think the pairing of foie gras and bubbly is among the very best because it is both a complement and a contrast. The texture created by the tiny soft boules harmonizes with the fluffy creaminess of the pâté while the flavour profiles of the two provide a nice zippy contrast. The yeasty brioche under the foie gras then proceeds to echo the toasty notes of the wine. It really is pairing perfection.

Almost nothing beats Champagne. History, legacy, elegance. And you never forget the occasion when you drink it. That's because it's a celebratory drink and rare ritual rolled into one, at least for me. Or anyone who lives in Quebec. Which brings me back to my complaint again...

The price of Champagne in Quebec is high. Too high. You can't get a bottle until you've handed over $45, minimum. Ouch. I'm already reading much more affordable prices in the reports of WBW 25 participants. I have to say I'm a bit jealous these folks can get a fine bottle for $25 and I can't.

Because beyond the grand ideas of ceremony and celebration in Champagne, there's some real interesting gustatory experiences going on that I'm quite keen on sampling. Champagne aficionados describe three main styles for these wines. The styles are usually are divided along the same lines that separate the grandes familles des vins de Champagne.

1 OF 3: WHICH CHAMPAGNE STYLE ARE YOU?

Michel Phaneuf writes that the first style of Champagne is complex and generous and these are embodied by the wines of Krug, Bollinger, Veuve Clicquot and Roederer.

Secondly, there are the fine, dense, heightened experiences of Champagnes made by Pol Roger, Charles Heidsieck, Bruno Paillard, Taittinger, Piper-Heidsieck, Salon and Ruinart.

Finally, the third grouping, and the only style I have ever tasted, is the light, floral and easy-drinking style of Champagne, typified by Pommery, Perrier Jouet, Mumm, Moët & Chandon, Lanson, Nicolas Feuillatte, Duval Leroy, Jacquesson, Laurent Perrier, and De Saint Gall.

Ah, if only I had the means to celebrate all the styles! Grumble, grumble. But wait. Today I find my complaints have been answered, if only in the form of a $5 rebate on Lanson's Black Label Champagne -- my go-to brand.

Yes, it's true. Inexplicably, SAQ, the state corporation that sells wines and spirits across Quebec, has come out just today with one of their grander campaigns, dubbed the Foire aux vin français, and it includes a sale on Lanson Champagne. What power and influence Weingolb must have! If that influential edge is still sharp, I won't stop now: here some other wines on sale now that you should buy. Go!

WHAT TO BUY AT THE FRENCH WINE SALE

20060913

What wine do I give as a thank-you gift?

Sometimes I get fanmail. This one, containing a reader's query about giving wine as a gift, came in at 12:59 am this morning marked urgent...

A question for you, and I may as well ask now, so as to give you plenty of time to ruminate. Well, actually you have until Thursday afternoon. I'm staying with my cousins in Long Island, and it'll be like two weeks I've been here before I finally move out on Friday (Hurrah! I found an apartment in Soho!) so I was thinking I need a really nice bottle of wine or something. I was even thinking Champagne, but maybe that would seem cheesy... no? Thoughts? All in all, they're not picky, really... something nice enough to say "Sorry that turned into two weeks, but thanks." Suggestions?

Not Itinerant Anymore along the Long-Island Line
Dear NIALL,

Thanks for writing. I hope you don't mind me reproducing the question you pose in a forum like this. What do I give? It's an often anxiety-inducing question that we all ask ourselves at one point in time. So thanks for letting me put it out there.

Of course, choosing the wine you give as a gift depends on the recipient. Sure the thought counts, but it doesn't count for much if you haven't thought about the person's preferences. Red or white, light or heavily extracted expressions, drinking with meals or as escape? These are all questions to try an answer before you buy.

NIALL, you are lucky that some of these key questions have already been answered for you. You've been an observant houseguest and noting your cousins' preferences should not be undervalued. On top of that, it always helps to take a bit of the pressure off when your wine is a gift for a couple or a group of people. This means you are aiming to please a collective palate, and in so doing, your wine can act more as a fun suggestion that a hard-and-fast prescription. I'd say you've got lots of leeway here and you should not be daunted by the task at hand.

Since your first thought was Champagne, let's not ignore that and take a look. Hmmm... I've had but one or two bottles of real Champagne in my entire life. Lanson's Black Label stood out in my mind last Eastertime -- that's especially because I bought the bloody thing, hoping to settle my uneasiness with the high cost of Champagne when other sparklings seem just as good. Yup, Champagne is expensive stuff, but it does come complete with a grand sense of ceremony and this Lanson was indeed elegant.

But you could buy a dozen boxes of wine and for the same price get only a fraction of that volume in actual bubbly. Also, I might ask, are you really anticipating that much of a celebration once they see you walk out the front door with your bags in tow? Other than that, Champagne is worth looking into, and I would direct you to Becks & Posh, the site hosting today's Wine Blogging Wednesday which just happens to be on the topic of Champagne. They'll have an informative roundup posted, hopefully before tomorrow afternoon.

Their site is great and, my, Champagne is a worthy topic isn't it? But let's face facts. You wrote to me. So enough beating around this bush, I'm going to give you an answer. You suspected Champagne might be a cheesy gift but I'm going to suggest to you something even cheesier: A three-pack of wine wrapped up in a bow. Yes, I know, one white bottle, one red bottle and one rosé bottle screams cliché (and total lack of discernment). But like I said before you are offering something to please the entire family. Why not pick three $15 wines. They don't have to be red, white and pink (in fact, with fall around the corner you might want to rule out the rosé entirely).

Here are two reds and a white I advise you give to your generous and kind cousins:
  • PWG Vintners USA imports Wynn's Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Pick up the 2001 vintage of this full-bodied Australian Cabernet. It shouldn't be at all hard to find in Soho, but maybe check with the importer if you get stuck. Guaranteed enjoyment for your host family's barbecues or tv time either this year or for the years to come. Approachable, impossible to be perceived as haughty or snobbish, and a very pretty label too, which really cannot be undervalued when selecting a gift bottle.

  • Frederick Wildman and Sons Ltd of New York City carries a fun twist on Cabernet Sauvignon. It's the Tenuta Rapitalà "Nuhar" Nero d'Avola & Cabernet Sauvignon. Nero d'Avola is a Sicilian grape, and blended here with Cabernet, it might convince your cousins to start thinking outside of "the box" which is always a good thing. You're not being pushy, just offering a friendly alternative to the straight-ahead Aussie bottle mentioned above. Great with anything from Italian cuisine to steaks. I had the 2003 (and will be uploading my review of it soon) but if that year is hard to locate, go for the 2004 or check the importer web site for help.

  • For a white, I'm not going to suggest anything in particular accept to say that Manhattan wine shops typically have an outstanding selection of Italian whites. That to me would be impressive. Perhaps ask your wine seller for an outstanding Falanghina or well-made Tocai. Those are two types of varietals that I enjoy drinking when in the big city. Or why not write down the grape written on the side of the cellar cask they've got parked in the fridge and seek out a special bottle of that?

NIALL, I wish you good luck with your search and hope you'll let me know how it went.

Cheers!

20060911

Anything But Sangiovese: Tomato sauce + a couple of savoury (and non-Italian) reds

Nothing against Chianti. I love those lusty Sangiovese-based wines, especially when it complements rich Italian sauces or other wonderful regional dishes that are centred around the tomato. It's just that no one ever seems to think it's desirable to serve other wines with tomato sauces. I'm here to say you can. In fact, sometimes you should.

Especially when you've got local superfresh tomatoes to work with -- like now, in September. Then you get the urge to make a cruda-inspired tomato sauce. Cruda style means minimal oil gets integrated into your farm-fresh vegetables. The veg cooks in its own natural juices and intensifies itself while it cooks (see my recipe at bottom). Naturally, cruda makes me think of a lighter-bodied, less opulent wine than the Sangiovese that a fine Chianti often features. Also, I think cruda sauces are less acidic than others. To be enjoyable, wine always has to have at least as much acid as your food. Since the acid in the sauce is going down, you can also scale down the acid content and choose a less acidic wine. Being low in acid is not something Chiantis are known for.

casa de santar dao portuguese red blend domaine ruault saumur champigny cabernet franc 2003So I dropped the Chianti Classico and instead served my fresh tomato sauce with a Cabernet Franc varietal from Saumur-Champigny and the regional Dão grapes of Portugal's Casa de Santar, which in 2003 produced a surprisingly sauve and smooth cuvée, made to order for a tomato sauce topped on a fresh white fish like tilapia. In the end, that's exactly how I decided to serve my sauce.

THAT'S ITALIAN?

Here's how my homemade tomato sauce paired up with these two decidedly un-Italian wines. The 2003 Domaine du Ruault from the Loire was light but it still had very full flavour profile. I opened it first, so we drank it next to the appetizer course: homegrown orange cherry tomatoes (yes, more tomatoes!) on a garden salad. The Cabernet Franc lended the starter notes of licorice with vegetal and herbal underpinnings. It had some sharp edges, which made this wine coarser than the Chiantis I often drink. Nevertheless, with its tannic punch, it went on to measure up against the tomato sauce.

It was not long at that point until we opened the Dão. Casa de Santar Tinto 2003 had more body and was welcome as we continued on our main course. This Portuguese wine harmonized with the sauce well, supplying rounder fruit than the first and a lot more spice too. To me, this wine approximated a Chianti in an interesting way. Nice acidity. Definitely showing the rustic charm of Portugal yet conveying an Italian savouriness and an earthiness. Stewed prune notes harmonized with the tomato-bathed fish, which I served with a side of leeks and long-grain rice medley.

These two wines were prezzies from Ontario. The LCBO stocks them both and you cannot get either one in Quebec. Neither is in the general repertory section of the LCBO so you may need to research their availability a bit before you come across one. Locate Casa de Santar Tinto 2003 or Domaine du Ruault Saumur-Champigny 2003 before they sell out.

If you are successful, why not try them, especially the Dão, with my sauce. Here's the recipe, as promised.

Fresh tomato sauce


a half dozen large locally-grown tomatoes, the more bumps and surface blemishes the better
several sprigs of fresh garden basil, roughly chopped
an onion, in fine dice
three bay leaves
one tablespoon olive oil
sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
capers (optional)
chopped kalamata olives (optional)

Fill a very large sauce pan, deep pot or dutch oven two-thirds full with salted water and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and immediately blanch the tomatoes: Over a period of no longer than thirty seconds, submerge the tomatoes one-by-one and then fish each back out again.

Set aside the tomatoes, green stem side down while you discard the water from your pot and return it to the stove. Add the tablespoon of olive oil to the pot and then begin to soften the diced onion. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Reduce temperature further and stir if onions start to brown.

Using a sharp blade, score a small cross at the blossom dimple. Peel back the skin at each of the four corners you've created (While your tomatoes will already be in position to do this easily, you will find they are not too hot when handled carefully -- many cookbooks instruct that a bowl of ice cubes and water are necessary but I do not do this. As a result, you may get a bit more of the tomatoes on your fingers in peeling off the skins. This is because the internal cooking of the tomato was not halted by dunking it in cold water; however maintaining internal tomato structure is not important since we're making a sauce. And you'll love licking the delicious -- magenta, you'll notice -- and suddenly heightened-in-colour tomato goo off your fingers once you're done peeling anyway.)

Over a bowl or the pot, halve or quarter your peeled tomatoes so that they are easier to hold. Then pick up and thinly slice each tomato directly into the pot. Add any juices you've accumulated in your bowl to the pot. Bring it to a low boil and simmer for about 30 minutes.

After simmering the sauce, taste it to see how naturally sweet it is. Add the chopped basil, along with salt and pepper to taste. Optionally, add capers or kalamata olives to inject some savour and enhance the complexity of your sauce. Stir. (At this point, many cooks taste the sauce and then add more oil or red wine vinegar to give greater balance to a sweet sauce. Since fresh tomatoes we used give out more liquid -- and since we have plainly refused to waste the jelly, seeds and ribs that are often scooped out from the tomato and discarded...why? -- adding more liquid ingredients at this stage will create the need for further reduction and dull the fresh basil flavour. As a result, I opt here for olives, instead of olive oil and capers instead of wine vinegar.)

Pour the sauce atop pasta, fish filets (tilapia, halibut, cod, wall-eye, etc), or grilled eggplant slices and serve.

QUICK FIX: If ever the sauce is still too liquid.
Sometimes presentation is important to the dish you are serving your tomato sauce with. Sometimes you just can't wait for thickened sauce. Don't use a slotted spoon to let the runny juices behind. Strain the entire pot through a fine mesh. Then use the remaining bright rust-coloured juice instead of a water bath to cook your fish filets. Or reserve it for boiling pasta on another night when don't feel like making a sauce but still would like a treat.

20060907

Have wine caddy, will travel

marc gill professional wine caddy glass to go in montrealAcross town by bus to Italian food connoisseur Michael, whose dinner party had but two wine glasses...

Until he picked up the phone and called me.


My wine caddy is built to hold six wine glasses of virtually any size and shape: tall flutes, wide Barolos, outsized Burgundy fishbowls.

Its collapsable and padded section dividers also make nice compartments for bottles as well. On this particular occasion I was packing a bottle of Soave-type white wine called San Vincenzo from Anselmi and the deliriously wonderful Passito-di-Pantelleria, a Muscat dessert made in Sicily.

That still left room for four Spiegelau glasses, which would round out the stemware in Michael's kitchen to six. Six was a good number; no one would drink from the tumbler tonight.

I have to say that I ran for the bus with my caddy slung over my shoulder and the heavy wine bottles, still full, pressed up against the delicate glasses with no problem. It's a sturdy product I picked up from Ravenscroft, my crystal manufacturer of choice. (The reason I didn't fill the caddy with my precious Ravenscroft Hermitage glasses was not due to a lack of faith in the bag, but rather because I wanted to bring stemware that were styled more like Chianti glasses.)

As you can see in the photo of the caddy as it waits for the bus to pull up, there is a built-in retractable handle and wheels at the rear. The unit is fully mobile just as a travel bag is. What's more, not only do the interior dividers -- secured snuggly in place by velcro -- detach for cleaning, the whole bag can collapse and flatten when emptied.

Why would you ever want to break the caddy down into pieces? One reason is storage. I slip my caddy right underneath my tiny wine fridge for easy storage.

Another reason is that it does make things easier to clean after you have reloaded your caddy with the used glasses, dribbles of wine, lipstick traces and all.

Here we see my assistant the lovely Johanna demonstrating the wine caddy to our host upon our arrival.
johanna coutts fabulous assistant johanna couts fabulous assistant wine glass caddy padded adjustable compartments
So, is your stemware in a bad way? Just dial my number or call my name.

20060905

Five Things to Eat in Montreal, Canada

I would never put eating on a list of things to do before I die. (Before 90 minutes passes is a more likely timeframe for that.)

Carré aux pommes from Première Moisson on Avenue Mont-RoyalYet foodbloggers around the world are doing this very thing: enumerating memorable morsels for all to see. I got passed a meme that invited me to do the same. Before I even knew it I was biting...

1. Carré aux pommes from Première Moisson on Avenue Mont-Royal Wait till fall starts and you'll get local Montérégie apples sliced in a perfect pastry made with 100% real butter. Or don't wait. These squares are excellent year-round and are made on the premises seven days a week. They are $1.95 each. I think two bucks is amazing deal for something that will give your entire afternoon a lift.

2. Chocolat noir (84-99%) French dark chocolate, sometimes in its darkest forms referred to as noirisme, is easy to locate in Montreal, especially chocolate in the top 15 percentile (in terms of pure cocoa content). I wrote about Poulain's dark tasting chocolate in the past, under the guise of things to pair with robust red wines. Bottom line: take a taste of this, vino or no. Buy the Poulain Noir Ultime 86% from the pharmacy in the train station and pay just $2.99 for 100 grams, which is definitely more than one serving.

3. Caffè ArtJava's Macchiato Caffè Art Java cafe Macchiato coffee cafe artjava caféA feast for the eyes and without a doubt the best espresso in the city. This item, which achieves a perfect balance between bitterness, consistency and richness, should certainly be at the top of any bean lover's list. Only $2 and change. I'd pay twice that for the sense of anticipation you get as your server brings you your latte or allongé -- the awesome foam designs that are melded into the crema run the gamut from flowers to hearts to the intricate kitty-cat shown here. You never know what you're gonna get. Find Caffè ArtJava in the Plateau Mont-Royal district or downtown adjacent to the McGill métro and university campus at a soon-to-be-opened location.

4. Alati-Caserta lemon ice I know so very little about Pasticceria Alati-Caserta. It is a frilly Italian pastry shop that faces one of Little Italy's most ornate churches. But the no-frills homemade lemon ice they serve up in the summer is a simple shot to the heart. It was the first thing that entered my mind of when I thought of Montreal tastes that transport you. Alati-Caserta is definitely a subject for further research on these pages. Until then, rush up to Danté Street before summer ends. Take a twoonie with you -- this treat cost me $2 even.

5. Tim Hortons Snack Pack of 10 Sour Cream Glazed TimbitsTim Hortons Snack Pack of 10 Sour Cream Glazed Timbits Doughnut holes are not for foodies. And Tim Hortons is definitely no place for foodies. The service staff is routinely shocked when someone like me walks in. I ask for some Sour Cream Glazed, and when they announce they are all out, walk right back out the door. "Don't you want a coffee? An old fashioned timbit at least?" they shout out, startled that I would come in and leave empty-handed. Tim Hortons locations are strewn across the land, and it's true that my behaviour is considered quite odd at any of them, but take it from me, for best results (and handfuls of timbits), take a trip to Tim Hortons de l'Église in Verdun. Share the $1.50 price tag on the Snack Pack with a friend. After all, ten of these suckers is overkill. Three or four does the trick.

Wow! Montreal's best gastronomy for $10! Picking $2 treats was not exactly my aim. While it is a bit of a coincidence, I did have a bit of a method to my madness that encouraged bargain bites.

HOW I DETERMINED MY FIVE THINGS

In my mind, the goal of this online project is to encourage people not only to explore the world, but a world of flavours. Previous listings of "things to eat" operated more like polls or surveys. This one started by The Traveller's Lunchbox wants to act a bit more like a gourmand's guide to travel. So indeed, I considered it an offer to do my part for my city: to give readers a few good arguments for tasting what I'm tasting in Montreal, Canada.

I selected small delicacies -- finite and chartable tastes that hit your tastebuds and then leave you longing for more. But perhaps more important than being small, these picks are also pretty much constant and unchanging items, unlike a chef's dish, let's say, which may change from night to night or season to season. My treats, even with repeat business, have yet to disappoint.

By the way, The Foodblogger's Guide to the Globe does not actually require an invitation to participate. As a result, I'm not re-enacting the unfortunate chain mail aspect of the project by sending this to five other people. Chain mail is wretched. Read this and instantly consider yourself worthy!

Create your own list or add a comment below to record an idea on what needs to be eaten, in Montreal or beyond.