20070129

Spadadora's DiVino at 25% off: On sale and still racy

spadafora divino sicilia 2003 i.g.t white wine chardonnay grillo inzolia blendIffy storage conditions and a wine's eventual oxidation often come to mind at any liquidation sale. The SAQ may be liquidating many bottles, but of all the ones they are discounting and of all the wines I created a handy cheat-sheet for, the most suspect bottle, a Sicilian white blend released a few years ago, ends up as my surest bet.

I say that because I've just checked on it and the Spadafora DiVino 2003 (image at left shows an earlier vintage) is doing fine. And not just fine as in passable, but fine as in status quo. Over the last 12 months or so I tasted it many times and each prior tasting seems to have nothing on the one that follows. I actually had one of these bottles tucked away in my fridge from the last time the SAQ discounted this wine (it was 20% off then but now it's even more steeply reduced). Opening it last Saturday night, I was worried it would be past it but it surprised me. Not bad at all for a style of wine that is without any promise to age and proudly considers itself drink now.

Or at least that's what the experts have said. It is however a blend made up of some seriously consistent Chardonnay grapes, which when handled right can develop nicely with time. But perhaps the consistency comes from another component of the blend. The Chard is added to the regional grape Inzolia (which along with compatriot Sicilian varieties Cataratto and Nero d'Avola are a lot of fun to say). Inzolia typically makes a viscous wine and its flavour profile of nuts and citrus are... yes, in fact they are similar to Chardonnay's as well. The rest of the blend is composed of Grillo, which mostly considered a Marsala grape.

In any case, the wine was perfect. I forgot how good this $20 bottle was. Priced now at only $14, it's showing off its golden-green hue. It's still got the exotic aromatics on the palate. They act as a buffer to its lovely structure and great richness. Don't serve it too cold. There's an edge of raciness too, for it still possesses a crispness -- fresh and dazzling.

Do buy now and do drink now. But clearly, if you do have to hesitate somewhere along the line, you're better off hesitating in opening it, after you've picked it from the SAQ. For though it's clear that there's life yet in this wine, its other shelf life -- its time remaining on SAQ's discount displays -- is clearly limited. This morning there were four bottles remaining in the downtown Montreal area but now as I write this there are none (luckily I got two of them).

So don't wait in buying it. Once store locations lose their stock, the price will eventually go back up. Back up to $19, that is, if the stock ever returns. The winemaker's site makes no hint of continuing to produce it.

Perhaps that's the real reason for the markdown: neither problem storage nor wine in decline, but simply catalog deletion, which is my favourite type. It's not a bittersweet goodbye, I tell myself, it's just "going out in style".

Dei Principi di Spadafora, Palermo, Italia. 13.5%.

20070125

SAQ's 35% discount: Not a sale but a race

saq en vente 35% sale discount vin de prestige wines
And I lost in a sprint to the finish line. But it was a distinguished loss. May you too hang on to your dignity.

The wine shoppers who won know who they are. Their credit card companies know who they are too. Those who don't know the full scoop about the SAQ's "wines of prestige" sale that started today -- people like my co-worker Susan, who emailed me at 2:28 pm...

Marcus,

Have you seen anything about this sale? Got any recommendations?

Susan
...for those people, this news may seem a little late: It's over. You missed it.

I exaggerate. I missed Château Fonplégade Saint-Émilion Grand Cru Classé 2001 after spending practically half the night up, planning my attack on the province's chain of wine stores based on the official SAQ roster of discounted products, which was released on their web site this morning at 12:01 am. Fool am I. I should've been sleeping, knowing that it is the early bird that gets the worm. Especially in sales such as these.

But no, instead I toiled away until the wee hours making a pile of wine crib notes. I came up with a list of the more-budget-minded items (mostly priced around $20 to $30) that intrigued me -- wine bargains all, wine values maybe -- and already I foresaw myself slipping late into work and leaving a trail of ransacked discount shelves in my wake. In the end, I bought nothing. The two main-attraction wines, the Fonplégade Grand Cru Classé as well as a 1er cru Chablis from Domaine Bernard Defaix, were at stores situated at the end of my path into work. Doh! Don't ever save the best for last when dealing with the SAQ!

If you must know the gory details, I phoned one of the two stores with the Grand Cru Classé stock ten minutes after it opened, knowing that getting there in person would just slow me down. They told me their 27 bottles had been sold in minutes.

Then I called the other store carrying the product in much larger quantities. No answer on how many bottles remained on its shelves. I asked if one bottle could be put aside for me until I finished work. They said no, it was their policy not to. That's a unique and trailblazing policy amid a state-run liquor monopoly, I thought. I would know. There's not one store in the greater Montreal area that hasn't assisted me in securing me a bottle or two. All it takes is friendly phonecall. Adding insult to injury this morning, I was especially friendly... for nothing. And this particular SAQ outlet is in the middle of a vast industrial-commercial wasteland that requires a car and an hour and a half of your free time. They expect shoppers to flock all the way there in disappointment. About 30 minutes after they opened for business, moments after I had called, I got confirmation that the store sold out of cases and cases of the stuff -- that's less than the average time it takes to park your car at the Marché Central on a Saleday. Yes, I'm talking about the SAQ Dépôt store. Avoid it!

I wasted about 35% of pillow time cross-referencing reviews on sale items and was about to waste 35% of my evening going cross-town for a Chablis from a winemaker and vintage I've never tasted. Susan, what I have seen about this sale will keep you up at night for weeks.

But not everyone is a crazy doktor. So with sane folks like Susan and her husband Frank in mind I pass along my cheat-sheet to the sale -- a list of the most promising wines, many of which still are available, itemized with Michel Phaneuf's wine guide notation. As I said, I have not drunk many of these wines (actually, none at all from my list). So they're not really my recommendations per se. Cheat-sheet is just the right term.

MY 35% CHEAT-SHEET

There is one bottle on sale that I have tasted and liked, but strangely I didn't put it on the list. It is the Australian dessert wine De Bortoli Black Noble. Heavy, wooded and pungent, this is an after-dinner treat that is not for the faint of heart. A half bottle is down to $28.10 from $37.50.

Here is that listing (click the image at top to search the SAQ and verify availability):

New reduced prices appended to end of each item line
(star ratings and numbered wine evolution scale from Michel Phaneuf's guide)

SYMBOLS
@ = travel to the ends of the earth to find / sold out
Gd'O = Phaneuf's special Grappe d'Or designation
1 = drink now / yesterday
2 = drink soon
3 = drink or keep
4 = keep

DESSERT
Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey sauternes grand cru classé 1996 ***** 2 - 37.00

WHITE
DiVino Spadafora sicilia i.g.t. 2003 **** 1 - 14.15

Château Le Sartre pessac-léognan 2002 *** 2 - 19.45

Chablis Pascal Bouchard 2003 *** - 18.95

Chablis premier cru Beauroy Pascal Bouchard 2001 (7/10, Keep) - 26.25

@ Chablis premier cru Côte de Léchet Domaine Bernard Defaix 2001 **** 2 - 21.70

Chablis premier cru Fourchaume vieilles vignes P. Bouchard 1999 (7/10, Keep/Drink) - 28.85

Chardonnay Vineland Niagara Ontario 2002 *** 1 - 13.40

Chablis grand cru Bougros William Fèvre 2001 **** 3 - 36.25

RED
Tannat Premium Casa Filgueira canelones 2002 ***+ 3 - 20.70

Château Prieuré Malesan premières-côtes-de-blaye 2000 *** - 21.05

Château Plince pomerol 2002 *** 2 - 31.00

Château Lanessan haut-médoc cru bourgeois 2000 *** 2 - 36.00

Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta sicilia i.g.t. 1999 **** 2 - 36.75

Domaine de la Solitude châteauneuf-du-pape 2003 ** - 31.25

Fixin premier cru Clos Napoléon Pierre Gelin 2001 *** - 31.50

Pinot noir Tarrawarra Yarra Valley 2000 ***+ 3 - 36.75

Riserva di Fizzano chianti-classico 2001 **** 2 - 27.75

@ Château Fonplégade st-émilion grand cru classé 2001 **** Gd'O 2 - 34.25

Gevrey-chambertin premier cru Les Champeaux Pierre Bourée 2001 ***+ 3 - 42.75
______________________________________________________________

Addendum:

There are mistakes in the list above that I myself have discovered since sending it out (another reason not to let wine sales keep you up all night). It's a small mercy that my unsuccessful bid for Fonplégade Grand Cru Classé turned out after all to not be a missed opportunity for a bargain-priced Grappe d'Or. I slipped up and confused the $53-a-bottle Ch. Fonplégade with the $52-a-bottle Ch. Fonroque. You would too at 2.30 in the morning -- they are both Saint-Émilion, both Classé, and both are far from the reach of my corkscrew in 2007 -- but only Fonroque is a Phaneuf Grappe d'Or.

Secondly, there's a mistake that I transcribed based on a Phaneuf guide error: The Guide du Vin 2007 includes an entry that reads "Chablis Premier Cru Côte de Léchet Domaine Bernard Defaix 2001". Upon closer inspection, in the tasting notes it becomes clear that Phaneuf is writing about a different vintage, declaring "this excellent 2003". The 2003 is the current vintage already on sale in Europe but yet to arrive at the SAQ. Don't let Phaneuf's seemingly favourable review help the SAQ sweep out the old while they usher in the new -- 2001 is a somewhat shabby year for Chablis, and with 35% off or not, Chablis shabbiness is never smart shopping.

20070124

SNAKSHOT

beef strip loin carrots leeks garlic


Good leekage: For helpful tips, recipe ideas and some very cool leek preparation techniques, check out Brooklynguy's post. He's clever and handy and he's got an anonymous leek-savvy commenter who ain't nothing to sneeze at either.

The feast of Saint David is exactly five weeks away! So start choppin'.

20070123

Timed out: Château Valoussière 2001

Château Valoussière famille jeanjean coteaux du languedoc
In a commitment to balance and honesty, which are two great aspects of fine wine I might add, this post picks up where yesterday's left off. Namely, at the assumption that vintage can tell you more about how a specific sort of classified wine will evolve than the wine's vineyard. Although a valid statement, it could be more balanced and honest. Here goes...

I came up with yesterday's conclusions after taking notes on a 2002 Chinon and a 2002 Chablis, each one produced from a less-than-prestigious (strictly generic) terroirs within their respective appellations.

Drawing these conclusions made me think of my old friend Fred (from France) who smartly announced that he preferred a grand cru as he contemplated the wine list of Villejuif pizzeria in the outlying suburbs south of Paris. You might say, well Fred, who wouldn't prefer a grand cru? But what would you prefer it to? Would you prefer it to an inexpensive Rosso di Montalcino from 1997? After all, it's no 97 Brunello or anything. But going for the greatest prestige does have its downsides.

A) We couldn't afford it, and even if we could, B) would we want grand cru with pizza? Wouldn't a generic bottle from a landmark vintage, say 2001 along the shores of the Mediterranean -- Languedoc to be precise -- be a wiser choice?

Yes. I thought so then and I thought so yesterday. But now today... now I'm not so sure.

I love AOC Coteaux du Languedoc wine and it really shone in the year 2001. I loved the trusty Famille Jeanjean product called Château Valoussière, which is definitely what I would consider a value wine, in practically every vintage I tried. The 1998, 1999, 2000 -- I admired them all immensely. You would assume the 2001 version would be the cherry on top of the cake.

But it wasn't. It was average. Perhaps even below average. As if the winemakers were dealing with yields off a strange new tract of land that made wines paling in comparison to even lesser vintages. It seemed to show that provenance trumps vintage. This wine wasn't necessarily evolving at all, despite its timely credentials. I opened in mid-way through 2006. I likely should've opened it long ago. Vintage chart be damned!

Château Valoussière Coteaux du Languedoc 2001 (pictured above) - Not as memorable as previous vintages which is a particularly disappointing thing to say for any 2001 Languedoc, even one priced at $14. **

20070122

Back in time: Couly-Dutheil La Coulée Automnale 2002

Or, Have you ever wondered whether that wine is good enough to age?
Couly-Dutheil La Coulée Automnale Chinon 2002
I am titling this post "Back in time" for many reasons. One: The title makes an obvious reference to the time and place when grapes are harvested and vinified -- those crucial moments that shape the lifeline of a wine. Two: what follows is an old tasting note that I had written and then put aside. The wine reviewed in my note is one that has not been sold in stores for over a year's time -- you'd likely need a time machine to track it down. Yet I find this old relic of a note -- of little interest to today's wine shoppers -- quite interesting, especially because it says something about the lifespan of wine. I guess the goal of this post is show that history can be very instructive in appreciating wine.

Joe, who writes Joe's Wine Journal, raised an instructive question here about when a wine is ready to drink and whether the auspicious 2002 vintage in Northern France meant that folks should be waiting longer to uncork bottles from that vintage. I was writing about an unclassed 2002 Chablis I had held on to, and he wondered whether the current 2005 vintage of it could come close to going a similar distance.

The answer is a mystery to all but those (not me) who have tasted the 2005. Even then, the answer can only be a prediction on how the wine will mature. Here's what I found out about French wine from the north of France circa 2002.

TIME VS PLACE, VINTAGE VS VINEYARD

Joe's comment first sent me to my Oxford Companion to Wine. There is no doubt that Chablis wines are among the great white wines of the world and as a result, benefit from some ageing. An exceptional vintage like 2002 obviously has a role in prolonging the development of a Chablis, making a fine wine even better. So good advice would be to check a vintage chart to see how long you should wait to open a 2005. (An fine example of one such vintage chart is on the Berry Bros & Rudd site -- it is both user-friendly and useful.)

But once everything is said and done, the vineyard itself is probably is more significant than the vintage. A vineyard that is classed to produce a grand cru or a premier cru makes a wine that is built to last, and in fact, built to get better in the case of Chablis.

For example, the J Moreau & Fils is not a classified growth. I guess that's why my instincts initially said don't wait for the 2005. Yet the 2002 version of it held its own despite being generic Chablis, which means you're back at the vintage chart determining how far you want to gamble with your bottle.

Then I went to the SAQ database, which added to the dilemma. The Quebec wine seller has several Chablis Premier Cru that are actually cheaper than a generic Chablis like J Moreau. The price difference could be the result of various factors but one could only assume that wine quality be one of them. So this makes for yet another reason to defer to someone who's had the opportunity to assess it: Michel Phaneuf; Jancis Robinson, et al -- hey, Jamie Goode has got a scoop on 2005 Laroche on his site today. (I've said it before and I'll say it again, the worldly wine taster whose palate you can relate to is worth more than its weight in gold.)

ENOUGH CHABLIS, WHAT ABOUT CHINON

All this research and musing led me back to this note I took on the Couly-Dutheil La Coulée Automnale Chinon 2002, a Loire Valley Cabernet. When this wine came out at the SAQ, it was not well-reviewed by Michel Phaneuf. I think this is exactly the type of bottle that needs time. A case of its class being trumped by its vintage. This bottle is at the bottom of totem as far as vineyard prestige is concerned, but that didn't stop it from showing a clear ability to develop over time, especially given the vintage. When I tasted it in its fifth year, it modest lineage still had miles and miles in it. Here's that note.

Couly-Dutheil La Coulée Automnale Chinon 2002 - (pictured at top): Though this vintage is no longer available on SAQ shelves, it would be wise to decant it once and then decant it again for good measure. This style of wine can last weeks in the open air and is only supple enough to really show its stuff after a thorough aeration or, even better yet, on the next night (or the night after that). Delicious with earthy dishes, beef medallions, ratatouille pasta. ***
So it appears that vintage is key, vineyard is not. Or is it? Tomorrow: a great vintage lets me down.

20070117

WBW #29 Biodynamic wine: Clos de la Briderie 2005 (blanc)

clos de la briderie vieilles vignes touraine-mesland blanc 2005
Thanks to Jack for organizing a thought-provoking and eye-opening theme for Wine Blogging Wednesday this month. See his site The Fork & Bottle for a host of information on the farm philosophy that is biodynamism and what it means for wine and wine drinkers.

To me, the biodynamic wine I tasted -- a Chenin Blanc-Chardonnay blend from the Loire -- was just another wine. It was a very nice wine, but nothing really set it apart from the other wines I've drinking lately. But what have I been drinking? Surprise! Looking at Jack's master list of biodynamic wines, I see that I've been downing a lot of biodynamic wine this month without even knowing it. Movia and Clos Roche Blanche both use biodynamics. Those two wines, along with the WBW wine I'm submitting from Clos de le Briderie, do seem to offer plenty of lively fruit and expressive personality. Could it be that the biodynamics behind them gives them their kick?

It's hard to say. How many other wines have I been appreciating and not realizing their bio status? Could I see a pattern once I sort out which is which? You'd have to put several similar bottles back-to-back to try and determine how these wines separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

But that's part of the trouble with biodynamics. Right now, it's hard to separate them out at all. Many wine vendors, including the state-run SAQ in Quebec where I shop, don't acknowledge or market these wines. That is to say the provincial wine database only goes so far as to label wines as organic, or agrobiologique in French. The SAQ employee I spoke to said that certification is an contentious issue for biodynamic wines and as a result there is no effort to categorize them at the SAQ (where are known by the French term biodynamique).

During my research and preparation, I bought two other wines. I found these ones first and they both were expensive, which made me think that biodynamic wines are pricier than the average wine. Now I see that that was a bit of a coincidence and that there are mid-range and bargain wines available.

The bottle I ended up opening last night was only $16. It was the Clos de la Briderie Touraine-Mesland 2005 (blanc), which is pictured above. Here is the file offered by the SAQ for this Loire Valley white blend:

This wine is produced at a small nine-hectare vineyard where no herbicides, insecticides, acaricides or chemical fertilizers are used. Made from 80% Chenin and 20% Chardonnay grapes that are picked by hand, the wine is aged partly in oak barrels. Organic.
Tasting Note: The nose is mineral and a little smoky. The mouth is highly expressive, with a sharp, lemony attack that provides freshness and body. Notes of ripe apple create roundness and suppleness in the finish.
Food Pairing: Ideal with mussels marinière or lobster.
Alcoholic Strength 13.1 %
On the bottle label the ABV is actually measured at 12.5%. Additionally, my notes differ on the smoky/woody front: I did not really notice the oak to tell you the truth. But in hindsight I can imagine it there, making this wine one of those really well-integrated whites.

The label also mentions that this wine is from old vines -- Vieilles Vignes -- and that this cuvée garners the Demeter brand, meaning that this wine is made from grapes harvested biodynamically -- vin issu de raisins cultivée en agriculture biodynamique.

On the back label there are two more authentications. One for Ecocert and another for BIODYVIN (Vignoble cultivée en bio-dynamie). It's no wonder the SAQ doesn't know what to do with all these battling certifications.

But never mind that. How did it fare with dinner? It was straw-coloured and had a mineral aroma with a hint of pears and a strong raciness about it. It tasted of exotic fruit -- banana and apple with a touch of honey and endowed with a full body and a lovely finish. It had big acidity but with creamy notes. Overall, a vibrant wine, as it was tingly and fresh on the first and second nights.

I would serve this Chenin with almost anything as it seems to go with both delicate and light dishes as well as robust and heavy dishes. Just don't serve it too cold! Try it at 8 degrees Celsius. I had the wine as a complement to leek quiche with a salad and roasted cauliflower. Then on the next night, I made something recommended by the bottle, which was fish. I had trout with lemon and saffron basmati rice and a side of charred Brussels sprouts with garlic. Very yummy.

This versitile wine handled both, dynamically!

Vincent Girault, Monteaux, France. 12.5%.

20070116

Brooklyn, as good a detour as any

brooklyn oslo coffee company new location on bedfordI finally got around to seeing the latest film by Michel Gondry, who is one of my favourite directors. He did Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and a pile of music videos. Really good music videos. Anyway the movie is not about wine in any way, nor is it about food. It's a bit about Brooklyn, but mostly about hip hop and Dave Chappelle. It is of course, Dave Chappelle's Block Party.

I think this means that yet again Gondry has had to play second fiddle in a major motion picture that he's directed. In ESSM, he was upstaged by writer/producer Charlie Kaufman; in DCBP, he is eclipsed by subject/star Dave Chappelle.

In any case, I chose to see this movie on the weekend because I still have New York on my mind. Gondry did a good job making me fall back in love with Brooklyn, which I reluctantly left on January 2, not having come close to seeing the many faces that the borough proudly shows off.

One face, for example, is Clinton Hill, which I had never even heard about before. In the film, the Clinton Hill district -- with its landmark and recently-in-the-news house called Broken Angel -- was the backdrop for the block party. It surely will be the next neighbourhood on my list of places to visit (and the block party site will be easier to locate than the corner outside Paris that Gondry previously inspired me seek out.)

I REPEAT: THIS IS NOT ABOUT WINE

Really no part of this post has anything to do with wine. This, despite the fact that you are reading a wine blog.

"You're a wine guy," said the man who operates my favourite (as-yet-unlicensed) café. He is quizzical, desperate for an answer when he sees me. "Why you keep blogging about our coffee?"
He asks a good question. Do I know the answer?
"Wine in the evening and coffee in the morning..." I offer him as an explanation.
But that is not it. Is it because you can take tasting notes on both coffee and wine? No, that's not really it either... Is it because there's nothing like following a wonderful wine-filled meal with a good espresso!? No again. Oh, for chrissakes, because it's all snobism! Ahem, no...

I should've just told my coffeeman that I tweaked it. That would be the truth. And to anybody who asks why they're are reading about Brooklyn and coffee in a wineblog: I tweaked it. Yes, I TWEAKED IT!

Tweaking your blog in all its glory was described by David Carr yesterday in his column in the New York Times. NYT blogger Eric Asimov then revisited those themes on his blog. Emails have been sent out all over because of Carr's column and that's because he speaks the truth. Check it out.

Right after I tell you more about Brooklyn...

Initially, I was inspired forced to explore Brooklyn coffee once I realized I was leaving behind my favourite café in Montreal and I would need a replacement. My café, called Caffè ArtJava, has an honourable artisanal approach and -- so my sources had told me -- the approach is mirrored in several coffeehouses in Greenpoint and Williamsburg as part of a burgeoning Seattle-like coffee scene. Translaton: The coffee that has spoiled me and that calls out for me continuously is only an L train away.

First we hit Greenpoint's Café Grumpy, but we could not stay. Next time, Grumpy -- I promise! (Maybe at your new Chelsea location.)

Then we breezed into Williamsburg and the Oslo Coffee Company. Hello! The best coffee in New York! I worship their Odin coffee blend which they use for all their espresso-based drinks. It is light and nutty, with that edge of orange rind flavour I love. It's so different from my darker, more chocolaty hometown espresso at ArtJava, but I loved it without making an effort to compare. It's like making a wino choose between a top Bordeaux and a top Brunello. You simply love them both. Down the hatch, then.

Since August, Oslo has been running another location on Bedford Avenue, not too far from its original location on Roebling Street. This we found out by literally stumbling across it. The Bedford shop does not have a phone. The Oslo people do not have a web site. The emphasis is obviously on pleasing whoever walks in their door. They are very friendly. The photo at top is of their small dining area which shows off their openness to neighbourhood.

macchiato brooklyn espresso williamsburg best brewsAfter that we circled. I wanted to walk by Gimme Coffee! on Lorimer Street (off Grand Avenue), if only to complete the winning trifecta of macchiato-makers. Gimme, as well as being a coffeeshop chain, is the name of an Ithaca-based coffee brand. That meant this Gimme Coffee! coffeeshop possessed the same beans that went into my favourite ArtJava macchiatos -- Gimme Coffee!'s Leftist blend (or Gauchiste, if you're drinking it in Quebec). So in the end this was a detour that required no armtwisting. We got there and it tasted like home, but in a smaller paper cup, as the photo at left shows. My macchiato even looked like home, with its attention to latte art and rich roasted tones.

It was no match for Anthony at ArtJava but it still convinced me that it always is a bit of a comedown when you have to say to Brooklyn.

I never knew how much I would fall in love with the borough.

20070115

SNAKSHOT






Yummy fresh lamb on a tossed green salad may not seem like the kind of dish you'd have on winter-raging day like today is in the province of Quebec. But when paired with a heart-warming Bordeaux, a spring dish can easily become a meal fit for winter's day. It's also good fuel for tomorrow's much-anticipated start to the ski season.

20070111

Movia leads the way for Slovenian wines

Movia Gredic Slovenia Tokaj

For an exotic and flashy start to our New Year's Eve countdown, we opened a Slovenian wine that I had heard about on Eric Asimov's blog. It's from the winemaker named Movia and he posted on it last May. While I was in New York I happened to find it at Martin Brothers on the Upper West Side. (Unfortunately I don't think it is available anywhere in Canada).

Finding any Slovenian bottle is a challenge in this country. Not a one is available in the entire province of Quebec. That's too bad but the situation is likely changing as type this.

sushi lunch with tocaiJust this week two of my regular stops in the blogsphere feature flattering posts on Slovenian wine. Catherine Granger reviews the bottle pictured above which I tasted, and Jamie Goode talks about more white wines from Slovenia -- Simcic whites, which exhibit an interesting tannic quality.

While I didn't take notes, I can say that the Movia Gredic Tokaj (*Tokaj in Slovenia is Tocai Friuliano in Italy) is fresh and delicious, as Catherine mentions in tasting notes on her post. Wines like this aim to change the relative absence of Slovenia in the wine shop, no doubt. While I do recall finding it sweeter than I was expecting, it did remind me of my personal favourite Tocai expression -- actually a unique Tocai blend that I review here. Rather than the notable toast and brioche flavours I was looking for, this 100% Tocai varietal is very much fruit-driven.

All in all, it made for an interesting lunch on December 31, 2006, which was sushi. I wouldn't hesitate serving it again, or trying the next Slovenian wine from the Brda region that I can get my hands on.

In the meantime, here's some *required reading on the giant mix-up that is the Tokaj/Tocai / Tokay / Tokaji name.

20070110

J. Moreau & Fils 2002 is worth the wait

J. Moreau et Fils and sons Chablis 2002
Last month, I paraded on these pages twenty bottles of wine that I wanted to select for opening over the holiday period. I didn't come nearly as close as to polishing them off as I had hoped -- merely ten bottles were opened (half of them). My stamina disappoints.

The ones that didn't get uncorked are not "Drink Now" wines. They can wait for the next special occasion and I'm proud of that: If my stamina is weak, my survival skills are stay strong. See the full list of the wines that I am talking about.

I've got some good notes on one of the bottles that was opened early on in the festive season. It's Chablis from 2002. The 2002 vintage was a great one for Burgundy and the cuvées from Chablis that year are particularly notable. The J. Moreau & Fils Chablis 2002 is no exception. If you click on the bottle image, you'll see that the current stocked Moreau cuvée is the 2005. No one might recommend that you wait four to five years to enjoy the 2005, but I was quite pleased with how the 2002 fared so far along in its lifespan.

To the eye it had developed a golden yellow hue. A sweetish aroma wafted out my glass. The aroma was honeyed with flowers and wet stone. Hints of honeysuckle, white flowers, lychee and lemon surfaced too.

On the palate it was luscious. Flinty, with some discreet fruit, turning back to flinty notes on the finish, which was quite long. If admirable acid carried the back-end of this wine, it was definitely the minerality that bound the entire package together. From beginning to end, a great wine.

For food pairings, I would avoid peppery or spicy foods. Even a salmon and spinach mousse rubbed this fine wine the wrong way. It was too brassy for this elegant wine. Stick to dishes done with a deft touch. White fish or meat in a light preparation. An onion tart with lemon and capers or other similar amuse-bouches.

In addition I found this Chablis was nice with Canadian Riopelle cheese, which was a recent award winner in the cheese world, though I didn't know that at the time. Softer cheeses like a goat's cheese would likely be a smart idea too.

La Croix Saint-Joseph, Chablis, France. 12.5%.

20070108

Clos Roche Blanche makes my favourite wine of the year (at 3 BYO's)

And meals at three worthwhile corkage-free restaurants in New York help prove it!!

Around this time last year, I picked an excellent wine and called it my favourite of the year. Now that the first week of 2007 has already gone by, this post seems a little late. (Almost all of my time blogging has been spent migrating to the new version of Blogger. Though I actually threw the switch for Blogger 2.0 at the end of December, tweaking my new template and labeling 219 blog posts has been a time sink -- I spent the entire first weekend of 2007 on it and will still likely be playing with it for some time to come).

favorite favourite wine 2006 clos roche blanche's sauvgnon blanc touraine 2005Though my brain is currently rather fried, I have notes in front of me taken from clearer-headed days -- days when I uncorked one of the many bottles of 2005 Clos Roche Blanche Touraine Sauvignon that I've been enjoying this year (and buying without a moment's hesitation). Without further ado then is my explanation of why this is a wine of the year, i.e. a wine I could picture drinking virtually every day of the year.

There are three main reasons really, and they apply to last year's winner too. One: it's very affordable so I could actually afford 365 bottles of it. Two is that it has classic lines, and therefore something I wouldn't soon get sick of, whether served as a refreshment or as a complement to food -- though eliminating red meat completely from my diet might be in order should that come to pass. And finally, the third thing is that it is simply delicious. A citrusy, star-anise attack. Herbal and zesty elegance in a bottle. Not only is it a lovely expression of Sauvignon Blanc, but as wine is it is a triumph with nice echoes on the finish and a bouquet of flowers, lemon peel and spice.

Just during my vacation in the second half of December, I opened three bottles of this stuff. I was in New York so I elected to take them to some of the city's great restaurant establishments that charge no corkage fee. Here's how that went down.

ANGELICA KITCHEN

Organic and vegan fare in the East Village (Second Avenue and East 12th Street) with a great ambience and an earnest staff, who kindly open bottles with a smile. Every time I've gone the roomy dining area is tee totaling by a strong majority but that's because people flock there for the sui-generis cooking: intelligent with local ingredients and a keen sense of flavour and balance, and very modern. In this food context (the scrumptious Greek lasagna with "soy" dairy, for instance), a Sauvignon like the Clos Roche Blanche is a natural. If it's lunch, skip over to Ninth Street Espresso (between Avenues B and C) for coffee and a treat.

AFGHAN KEBAB HOUSE

In the heart of the Theatre District dining strip (Ninth Avenue and West 50th Street), a very narrow room serves Afghan cuisine. (Another location does the same cross-town from Hell's Kitchen). In this restaurant, Sauvignon, or in fact any white wine is not exactly wise planning. I brought it anyway I love this juice so much. I order a shrimp kebab, carefully taken off the spit for you, and a simple salad and was happy with that. But bread and appetizers are quite large and indelicate affairs calling out for big reds. Yet some, like the Boulanee, are deep-fried and a smart Sauvignon cuts through the grease nicely.

MÉLI MÉLO (en route to lunch in Greenwich Village Connecticut)

The bright and colourful Méli Mélo at 362 Greenwich Avenue, a block west of the train station in downtown Greenwich (that's the state of Connecticut, not the Village), is just 45 minutes door to door from Grand Central along the New Haven line. This is a wonderfully French crêperie with great coffee and friendly service and despite the cramped conditions (its dining room is even narrower than the Kebab House's). Pre-drinking is definitely in order since there are no reservations and it's a wee spot that's quite popular. Queues form outside. So though we drank Clos Roche Blanche at our Greenwich host's house before setting out for the little resto, it would've fit perfectly on the menu should any Sauvignon have remained by the time they let us in.

C. Roussel & D. Barrouillet, Mareuil-sur-Cher, Loire, France. 13%.

20070104

SNAKSHOT



isha tan truffles chocolate

In case it hasn't hit home with you yet, TruffleMania 2006 is indeed over.

But why not take a moment to brush up on what wine you should open next time you've got a plethora of fine chocolate on hand?

20070101

In the news


noho star restaurant manhattan american chinese cuisine
noho star restaurant manhattan american chinese cuisine
noho star restaurant manhattan american chinese cuisine
The friendly Alice Feiring pointed me and a friend to The NoHo Star, a New York restaurant with a newspaper theme, on New Year's Eve. As a New York Times lover myself, this gave me a kick (especially how the day's paper is mounted behind glass above the urinals in the washroom). I heard that the space used to be a printing press before the restaurant opened 23 years ago.

Newsy items aside, The NoHo Star is a small miracle. I hadn't even heard of it before yesterday. The place is much more than what the diner-like setting promises at first glance. For one thing, this establishment charges no corkage fees on brought bottles. You only need to offer a small gratuity of a couple bucks (things change though if you want to open more than two bottles of wine).

We ended up drinking nothing from behind their spectacular bar -- a showcase of funky mosaic tiling which was a beauty matched only by the restaurant's wraparound paned-glass windows. We didn't drink from the bar because we each had a special bottle of wine to open to ring in the new year. And the food we ordered did not let down.

The Noho Star is real gem. It sparkles and so does its personable and efficient waiting staff. I am so happy we discovered it on a festive occasion like New Year's Eve. Thanks to Alice.

Open (even remaining open all evening on January 1, 2007!)

THE NOHO STAR 330 Lafayette Street (Bleecker Street); kitchen serves up daily until about midnight, weekdays starting at 8 am, 10.30 on weekends