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David McDuff

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  1. I had a really satisfying, promising first visit to Bibou recently. Some highlights: An early season amuse of chilled cantaloupe soup made for a great taste bud teaser, sparked with strips of savory duck prosciutto and a generous twist of black pepper. Escargots seems poised to be the signature appetizer; on our visit, though, it was the only somewhat disappointing dish of the evening, the richness of a mushroom demi-glace and slightly heavy-handed seasoning obscuring the flavor of the snails themselves. I found no such issues with our other starters. The decadence of seared foie gras was balanced by the sweet and sour tang of plum chutney and the tannic earthiness of toasted walnuts, while a terrine of quail mousse set aside a simply dressed salad and pickled red cabbage provided rustic satisfaction. The manageable scope of the menu helps Bibou escape the pitfall of far too many restaurants, where small plates all too often outshine the main courses. Here, the plats principaux are the stars, with Chef Calmels displaying a deft hand with proteins and bringing out the best in the innate flavors of market fresh vegetables. Hanger steak, the beef course on our visit, was spot-on medium rare, spiked by an assertive yet delicious green peppercorn sauce. Meltingly tender duck confit sat atop a warming, soulful tousle of linguine – slightly overcooked in the French fashion – sauced with duck jus and a fricassee of artichokes and sweet cherry tomatoes. As good as were the meat dishes, the flétan may just have been the star of the night, a perfectly seared fillet of halibut set atop a bed of lemon-poached cauliflower couscous played very well with the pungent sweetness of curried butternut squash and raisins. Aside from the sorbet and ice creams, which are sourced from nearby Anthony’s in the 9th Street Market, desserts are made in-house. Both chocolate cake, based on a recipe from Charlotte’s grandmother, and peach pie were well executed and made for a comforting, unostentatious finale to our meal. You'll find a bit more detail, along with some photos, at: Bibou.
  2. I'm a little late to the game, but here are my quick notes from night one of last week's StudioKitchen/Ideas in Food tag team match. Mango-Yogurt Sorbet wild char roe, arugula If the idea of fish eggs paired with ice cream seems strange, just pare it down to its base elements: salty and sweet. And really tasty. A real jump-start for the palate. The cured wild char roe is produced by BLiS, the same company that makes some of the most hedonistically delicious maple syrup on the market. Corn Pudding smoked sea urchin Santa Barbara uni, gently smoked over cherry wood. Corn shoot garnish. The corn “pudding” was seasoned with ginger, celery, onion and lemongrass, and thickened with carrageenan. Shola made corn soup at the first StudioKitchen dinner I attended, many moons ago; it’s been a constantly evolving staple in his arsenal ever since. Goose Egg Yolk chorizo-chanterelle hash, garden herbs The goose egg was slow-cooked in its shell for two hours at 65 degrees F. Served with chorizo from Despaña and topped with a nasturtium. Like I said, beautiful and delicious. And a fantastic pairing with Huet’s 2002 Vouvray Brut Pétillant. Foie Gras Marble blueberry, pistachio, cantaloupe PB&J for grownups. (I see Percy and I were in the same camp....) Softshell Crab Tempura old bay, honeydew raita A tiny crab so late in the season for softshells… a testament to working with a good fish monger. Delicate and perfectly cooked, accents courtesy of garlic scapes and borage flower. Ramp Top Cavatelli geoduck clam sauce Ramp season may be gone but blanched ramp greens apparently freeze very well…. I’m in complete agreement with Shola, who likes to eat this by the bowlful; unquestionably the comfort food dish of the evening. Sweetbreads lemon verbena, pickled watermelon rind The sweetbreads were brined overnight in a bath of buttermilk, salt, sugar and verbena. No crusty distraction here, all organ-y goodness, with balancing brightness and snap provided by the bed of pickled watermelon. Pig Cheek cornbread, collard greens, red cola sauce The only dish of the night that didn’t entirely excite me, perhaps better scaled toward a stand-alone main course than as a small plate. The collard greens in particular didn’t seem to sync with the rhythm and vibe of the rest of the meal. Sangria Squab berbere potsticker, kohlrabi Startlingly gamy at first bite but deeply satisfying at the last. Squab from Central New Jersey’s Griggstown Farm. Delice de Bourgogne Burrata fennel, green olive oil The decadent richness and creaminess of Delice de Bourgogne, adjusted to show the fresh, slippery, bubble tea-like texture of burrata. Dressed with the delicious Olio Verde of Gianfranco Becchina, produced at Antica Tenuta Principi Pignatelli in Castelvetrano, Sicily. Carrot-Bacon Cake blood orange marmalade ice cream, maple vinegar Just as savory – if not more so – as sweet. Many at the table agreed that this could work just as easily as a stuffing for game birds as it could dessert. Lovely with a little taste of PX – and a fine way to savor the end of the evening's adventures. You'll find my further commentary, along with scaled down versions of Shola's fantastic pictures at: StudioKitchen meets Ideas in Food.
  3. Love the Edmunds note, Jim. As for the Paitin, I'm curious as to why you were warned off... too young or something more pervasive?
  4. Rheinhessen Riesling trocken “Von der Fels,” Keller 2002 $20 on release. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. In a really good place right now, just starting to bridge into the development of some tertiary characteristics. Very fresh and prickly, still showing some residual carbon dioxide when first opened. It quickly rounded out and took on depth and richness with aeration. White peaches laced with lime zest, orange oil and honeysuckle hit the front palate, while a touch of oiliness and salinity follow. This is bone dry but completely physiologically ripe Riesling, loaded with palate staining fruit that shoots sparks across your tongue. With yet more air, rainier cherry fruit and intensely concentrated, almost sour minerality develop. Tremendous length. Lovely wine. Arbois Pupillin Chardonnay, Emmanuel Houillon (Pierre Overnoy) 2006 $28. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. This showed big time sulfur/struck match aromas when first opened. After a quick and vigorous decant, it became clear that the wine was in a pretty severely reduced state. It showed much better on the palate, though, where I was initially struck with flavors of apple cider and an element that reminded me of Junmai Daiginjo sake. Coming back to it fifteen minutes later, the nose was still totally reductive funk. But the wine had gotten even tastier, showing ripe red apple fruit and notes of cinnamon dusted pastry dough. I still had a hard time getting past its nose. Maybe it’s just too young yet, or needs a few hours (or days?) in the decanter. Nahe Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Kabinett trocken, Emrich-Schönleber 2001 $15 on release. 11.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Our brief detour into the Arbois didn’t prevent us from taking pleasure in trying this alongside the Keller. The eye alone, given its deeper golden appearance, was enough to show that this has traveled further along its path of development. But it’s still got plenty of stuffing and potential. Can there be such a thing as hedonistic Kabinett trocken? This would seem to suggest so, as it offered up voluptuous scents and flavors of clove-poached pears, fresh baked apple pie a la mode and peach cobbler. Did I mention that this is completely dry? And that it paired seamlessly with saba (mackerel sushi)? Barolo “Cerretta,” Germano Ettore (Sergio Germano) 2000 $50. 14% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Though showing just the slightest hint of its alcohol on the nose, this is nonetheless in a fine place right now. It’s still quite youthful in the fruit department but is soft, round, exotically spicy and sweetly scented. Enjoyably pondering a glass, I was struck with the thought that I’m not sure there’s any vine that takes to oak quite so well as does Nebbiolo. I find the aromatic fireworks that result when it’s done right really hard to beat. Here, it results in classic oak-derived spiciness and warm red floral aromas and scents of rooibos tea intertwined with red licorice and sassafras. The 2000 may lack the acid/tannin profile of a more classic Piedmontese vintage but firm, well-balanced grip still presents itself on the finish. Gevrey-Chambertin, Sylvie Esmonin 2005 $60. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. A bit clumsy right out of the gate, the sweet red fruit immediacy of Sylvie Esmonin’s Gevrey was marred at first by slightly disjointed alcohol. It didn’t take long for its grace to emerge, though. Definitely lots of red fruit, both fresh and caramelized. A campfire set in a forest clearing on a nippy fall day comes to mind, not through any reductive characteristics, just through the wine’s overall expression of brambly fruit and energy. Esmonin gets her knocks from some quarters for the concentrated, forward nature of her wines but I dig them. This has a wonderfully barky, sinewy character that helps to back up its boisterous, spicy red fruit. It’s slightly lean yet sappy and generous all at once, topped off with a beguiling nose of sandalwood. Photos, additional detail and other fun stuff at: For No Particular Reason.
  5. I headed out to dinner (with Philadining) at Cooper's Brick Oven Wine Bar earlier this week. Even though the wine bar and pizzas both left something to be desired, there's still a decent vibe at the place and a sense of potential in the kitchen. The duck confit was pretty damn good and the brussels sprouts were nothing to sneeze at (though they could have used some bacon!). My full write-up is a bit too detailed to re-post here, but you can find it -- along with some more photos -- at Cooper's Brick Oven Wine Bar.
  6. Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie “Le L d’Or de Pierre Luneau, Cuvée Médaillée,” Domaine de la Grange (Pierre Luneau-Papin) 1995. $25. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. This was fantastically fresh. Drinking it gave me the sense of cool rain water leaching through the limestone and schist soils in Le Landreau. Marrowy and broad, intensely mineral, slightly saline and hinting at its age only via its dark aromatic profile, it was naturally stellar with oysters. Vouvray “Clos Baudoin,” SARL Vallée de Nouy (Poniatowski/Chidaine) 2004. Around $20 on release. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Produced during the period when Chidaine was farming and making the wines at Prince Philippe Poniatowski’s estate. (The “Clos Baudoin” now belongs to Chidaine). Fully sec in style and medium golden in color, its richer flavors were not as automatic a pairing with the oysters, but the match created some finishing flavor combinations that were really magnifying and haunting. And its pear nectar and sunshine-laced fruit worked handsomely with sweet, juicy mussels picked straight from the fire. Palette, Château Simone 2006. $70. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Neal Rosenthal, New York, NY. My first experience with wine of any color from this tiny AOC located just southeast of Aix-en-Provence. I’d never thought Provençal white wine could be this good – sweetly herbal, dry but generous in its texture and braced by clean, refreshing acidity and apple tinged fruit. Poured alongside a Vietnamese preparation of pan seared scallops and a slaw of napa cabbage and mirin-spiked shiitakes, the wine did far more than stand its own. Its price, though, forces the wine even further into the realm of curiosity than does its obscure AOC. Alsace Grand Cru Wiebelsberg Riesling “La Dame (Partager Avec Toi),” Domaine Marc Kreydenweiss 2004. $20. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Wilson-Daniels, Saint Helena, CA. This was the only dim bulb in a lineup of otherwise luminescent whites. The wine was perfectly sound and palatable but more or less bereft of any liveliness or depth, not living up to its Grand Cru status or to my hopes based on a positive write-up of the Domaine in Monty Waldin’s Biodynamic Wines (Classic Wine Library). I suppose there’s a reason why it was on closeout at the PLCB for $20…. Meursault “Clos des Mouches,” Domaine Henri Germain 2002. $46. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Not to be confused with Beaune “Clos des Mouches,” the Clos des Mouches in Meursault is a monopole vineyard owned, farmed and planted to Pinot Noir by Domaine Henri Germain. This took the honors for red of the night (yes, there were others), at least in my book. Its nose of macerated cherries and white truffles was followed up by silky, lithe red fruit, with flavors of buttery lucques olives, vanilla-laced cherries and sweet English thyme all dancing across the palate. Firm of texture and fresh in acidity but delicate, delicate, delicate, through and through. Really lovely red Burg. Photos, introductory info and shorter notes on a few of the other wines tasted on TG can be found at: Food, Wine and Friends at the Thanksgiving Table.
  7. I've gotta say I'm a bit stunned by this one, Jim. I was looking for the satire, for the wink, but not finding it. I've tasted some pretty good CA Barbera but nothing with that kind of age... and nothing I'd put ahead of G. Conterno or a good vintage from Elio Grasso (among others). Please do illuminate.
  8. The early winter menu started up at Talula's this Tuesday but I had a chance to sneak in a short while ago for a late look at their autumn tasting menu. Standouts included a really subtle duck consomme, Alaskan halibut with a piquillo sauce and venison tenderloin with cocoa roasted beets. Full details and photos can be found at: Autumn 2008 at Talula's Table.
  9. Muscadet Sèvre et Maine “Amphibolite Nature,” Domaine de la Louvetrie (Joseph Landron) 2007. $14. 11.2% alcohol. Importer: Martin Scott, Lake Success, NY. Jo Landron’s “Amphibolite Nature” spends minimal time on the lees, thus delivering a purely fruit-driven expression of Muscadet that’s perfect, particularly given its low alcohol, as an aperitif. That’s exactly how we treated it. The bottle had actually been opened the prior day. What was left was showing quite nicely, with pretty lime pith and mineral scents followed by melon, crisp peach and a dash of white pepper on the palate. Very refreshing. Bourgogne Aligoté, François Mikulski 2006. $20. 12% alcohol. Nomacorc. Importer: Elite Wines Imports, Lorton, VA. Right up front, this delivers a nose of sour rocks and pear skins, aromas that eventually become riper and rounder. Nice front palate flesh is contrasted by bracing acids and grippy texture on the finish. In the big picture, it’s a simple wine. But it’s a pretty serious Aligoté, one that delivers admirable concentration, balance and ripe lemon-lime fruit. Bourgogne Rouge, Domaine Chevillon-Chezeaux 2006. $22. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA. A touch tighter and tangier than the handful of other basic ’06 Bourgogne from the Côtes de Nuits I’ve tasted thus far but delicious nonetheless. Griotte and lightly brined green olive scents follow through in the mouth, carried along on a light-bodied, brightly acidic frame with silky texture and measurable persistence. This was my first encounter – and a promising one – with the wines of Philippe Chezeaux. Fleurie “Les Garants,” Domaine du Vissoux (Pierre-Marie Chermette) 2007. $25. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA. I sold Vissoux’s wines years ago and now terribly miss having convenient access to them. Pierre-Marie Chermette makes some of the most fruit-rich, concentrated Beaujolais out there. They tend to show tons of primary fruit on release, sometimes tight, sometimes forward, but take time to really blossom. This is on the forward side of the curve right now, explosively fruity – crushed raspberries, violets and blueberries – on the nose, round, vibrant and juicy in the mouth. But it’s painfully young, both grapey and chalky. The pieces are all there – excellent balance and fine bones. It just needs to be forgotten about for a few years. Fleurie “Clos de la Roilette Cuvée Tardive,” Coudert Père et Fils 2007. $26. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. The differences between the Fleuries of Coudert and Vissoux in ’07 (as in most years, I expect) are like night and day. It was a treat to taste them back-to-back. “Cuvée Tardive” is already showing much more serious, vinous character than Chermette’s wine. Earthy, pale ruby red in color, its nose, which is really lovely, hints of wild red berries, fresh thyme and black pepper. It’s even lovelier in its impact on the palate, tense and serious. Absolutely spot-on with flank steak sandwiches topped with caramelized onions and red peppers, served on onion rolls. This too is built to last, but it’s going to require serious willpower not to drink it now. Carema “Etichetta Bianco,” Luigi Ferrando 2004. $37. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Rosenthal Wine Merchants, New York, NY. This was the rollercoaster of the night. Tight, closed, even a little musty when first opened, after about an hour it blossomed into a fantastic expression of high altitude Nebbiolo. Leather, herbal red fruit, vanilla and rose petals, none of which were apparent at first, came out of hiding. Aromas of drying cigarette tobacco followed, even a touch of sweet seaweed flavor. Another thirty minutes, though, and it clamped shut again, tight, tangy and wacky. Whether drunk now or later, coming to grips with this will take a patient temperament and an open mind. Photos and a short intro can be found at Notes from Fright Night.
  10. Finally managed to post some first impressions of Parc at my site a couple of days ago and am headed back for dinner tonight. As per buckethead's news above, does anyone have any insight into why Chef Filoni has already parted company?
  11. Quick notes on a few wines enjoyed over the course of a recent week at the beach. A touch more detail can be found at: Wines at the Beach. Traisental Grüner Veltliner “Hugo,” Weingut Huber 2007 $10. 12% alcohol. Stelvin. Importer: Boutique Wine Collection, Philadelphia, PA. Certainly the beachiest of the bunch. Relatively generous yields show through in Hugo’s relative lack of concentration but I challenge you to find another $10 Grüner Veltliner that shows as much quality as this. Crisp, fresh and light, it bursts with flavors on the citrus and grassy side of the GV spectrum. Not at all vinous or serious, just a good, refreshing quaff and a worthwhile alternative for anyone tired of drinking inexpensive Sauvignon. Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese, Carl Schmitt-Wagner 2005 $17. 9% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Terry Theise Selection, Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY. It was hard to pass up at the price but this is the second ’05 from Schmitt-Wagner that I’ve been a little under whelmed with in recent months. A soaked through cork hinted at the possibility of poor provenance, which may explain the dulled flavors of the wine. It wasn’t without appeal, showing pleasant, baked apple fruit. But its length was shorter, its acidity softer and its minerality less pronounced than I would have hoped. More than drinkable but less than memorable. Touraine “Cuvée Gamay,” Clos Roche Blanche 2007 $16.50. 12% alcohol. Neocork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. After reading rave reviews about this on a couple of my regular wine blog reads recently, I expected to be wowed. Instead, I was a little let down, a particularly coincidental experience as I’d just defended Clos Roche Blanche on one of those sites. High expectations are always hard to meet, so I should say that this was far from bad wine. It was just a touch flat, showing hints of the aspartame character I sometimes find in direct, simple Gamay as well as a touch of the plastic flavor I’ve found in some wines – is it just my imagination? – sealed with Neocork/Nomacorc. An off bottle? I’m not sure, but I’d love to see CRB (and other producers) switch to screw caps instead of synthetic stoppers. Champagne Verzenay Grand Cru Brut, Jean Lallement & Fils NV $40. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: A Terry Theise Selection, Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY. Without question, this was the wine of the week. Even though the price has crept up closer to $50 in some markets since I purchased this, it’s still a damn good value in grower Champagne. Creamy, succulent and showing lovely phenolic concentration up front, it finished with a grippy, pithy twist of the tongue, showing fantastic acid backbone, even a suggestion of a little tannin. Flavors of yellow peaches led into fresh raspberries and cream. The finish brought a return to peaches along with red apples – the skins rather than the flesh. Really compelling bubbly. Chinon “Les Picasses,” Olga Raffault 2002 $20. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. We took this and the Lallement to dinner at a Rehoboth restaurant called Nage. My wife summed it up something like this: “That Champagne was delicious. This is… hmmm… hmmm… this is good wine.” The young sommelier, who had never tried Chinon before, found it sour. You know what? They were both right. Leaner and quieter than I expected and, yes, even a little sour on the finish but an excellent food wine. Red currant, black tea, thyme and olive characteristics were carried on a narrow frame. Delicate tannins, high acidity and a little on the austere side, albeit quite supple in feel. This one requires some devotion but is worth the effort.
  12. Agreed, Craig. I'm glad to hear you like them, as Vajra really seems to be a sleeper when it comes to vinocentric attention. I mentioned elsewhere that I really miss the days, not all that long ago, when the Dolcetto retailed for around $15 and the Nebbiolo for about $20. Even in the high 20s as it is now, the Nebbiolo is still a really solid value.
  13. The following notes are pulled from the context of a recent tasting with Giuseppe Vajra, son of Aldo Vajra and heir apparent to the Barolo estate, G. D. Vajra. More detailed background information and photos can be found at: Catching Up with Giuseppe Vajra. Langhe Rosso, G. D. Vajra 2006 (13% alcohol) To some, the idea of a blended wine being produced in the Langhe district of Piedmont automatically equates to modernism. Vajra’s Langhe Rosso, though, is far from a “Super Piemontese” red. Instead, plain and simple, it’s the most basic, casual wine produced at the estate. A young vine cuvée destined for youthful drinking (although it does age surprisingly well), its blend varies from year-to-year based on the natural production cycle of any given vintage. The 2006 Langhe Rosso is a blend of Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Barbera, plus very small amounts – about 5% each – of Pinot Noir, Freisa and Albarossa. The latter vine, Albarossa, was originally created by Professor Giovanni Dalmasso when, in 1938, he crossed Barbera with a local mutation of Nebbiolo called Chatus. Albarossa turned out to give less elegant wines than hoped for on its own but serves as a useful blending agent, providing violet color and crispy texture. The wine? Full of bright red, punchy fruit. Lively mouthfeel and a slightly sweet/tart/tropical nose. Delicate tannins, refreshing acidity and easygoing light-to-medium body make it a versatile pour. Dolcetto d’Alba, G. D. Vajra 2007 (13.5% alcohol) Radiantly violet/purple in the glass. Lovely, crunchy tannins follow a mouthful of dark red cherries, plums and inky minerality. One of the most fruit-forward expressions of Dolcetto I’ve had from Vajra, although it almost always does start out fruity in its youth and then develops subtlety with age. In the winery, it is put through a very quick cold stabilization to fix its vibrant colors and to partially forestall Dolcetto’s tendency to throw high quantities of sediment. If you’re a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc fan, you owe it to yourself to try this. Barbera d’Alba Superiore, G. D. Vajra 2006 (14% alcohol) Bottled just a couple of weeks ago, this is a brooding, muscular style of Barbera, with tannic extract playing against Barbera’s natural acidity and showing off the vine’s balancing act between rusticity and refinement. Tautly wrapped blueberry and blackberry fruit, touched by a bit of wood spice. Aged in old tonneau and 2500-liter casks. Giuseppe Vajra described it as less juicy than the 2007 and less classic than the 2004 but perfectly balanced. At seven to ten years of age, he thinks this will become more mineral, floral and herbal in character. For now, it’s a mouthful of intensity that would pair well with braised meat dishes or perhaps a dish of beef cheek ravioli. Langhe Nebbiolo, G. D. Vajra 2006 (13.5% alcohol) A great food wine. Although in my experience this wine can age better than most “basic” Langhe Nebbiolo, Vajra recommends drinking it in its first three-to-four years for maximum enjoyment. This is Nebbiolo fermented and aged only in steel, produced primarily from fruit grown in a southwest-facing parcel called “Gesso” located at the foot of Bricco delle Viole and from the young vines in the Vajra’s recently acquired property in Sinio, just outside of the Barolo zone on the outskirts of Serralunga d’Alba. The wine is in a great spot right now, full of violet, rose petal and red licorice aromas. Finely detailed and long on the palate. No lack of nuance. Every bit a fine example of a “poor man’s Barolo.” Barolo “Albe,” G. D. Vajra 2004 (14% alcohol) “Albe” is Vajra’s young vine Barolo, produced from 20 year-old vines in the vineyards La Volta, Coste and Fossati, all on the hillsides in Vergne, perched above the town of Barolo itself. After a 20-day fermentation and maceration, the wine is aged in traditional botte of Slovanian oak along with a small amount of tonneau and 50-hectoliter barrels. Bottled only two months ago, it’s very tight, with a firm tannic structure and a nose full of tar and black earth. It needs about a year before it starts to show its real stuff. Barolo “Bricco delle Viole,” G. D. Vajra 2004 (14% alcohol) The Bricco delle Viole vineyard was planted by Aldo’s grandfather (Giuseppe’s great-grandfather) in 1949. 1978 was Aldo’s first vintage. His 2004 is already beautiful wine, showing more forward, elegant aromas than “Albe” but with much greater structural intensity, balance and finesse on the palate. Really beautiful wine. Drink it now for contemplative study if you will, but better to save it for a rainy day some year in the future. The ’04 Bricco delle Viole went through a 30-day fermentation and maceration, followed by aging primarily in 2500-liter casks. 8700 bottles produced. Moscato d’Asti, G. D. Vajra 2007 (5.5% alcohol) What better way to refresh after tasting a bunch of tannic, high-acid reds? Beer maybe? I’m not so sure. Vajra’s Moscato is a benchmark – joyously fruity and damn delicious year in and year out. In 2007, it was Giuseppe’s baby to tend to in the winery. It’s the quickest job start to finish but the most labor intensive in terms of the amount of attention required. Giuseppe spent at least one night in the winery after staying so late that he was inadvertently locked out of the house. I’m betting he drank some for breakfast the next morning, maybe with a little zabaglione.
  14. I hit Ansill for their Sunday night "Pif Prix Fixe" on Sunday. Here's a snapshot of what we ordered and (mostly) enjoyed: The signature dish from the days of Pif – escargots plump and redolent of butter and Pernod, served alongside a head of sweet, nutty roasted garlic – practically disappeared before it even hit the table, certainly long before I could train the camera and snap a picture. The salad of red beets, first roasted and then marinated, delivered a nice sweet and sour contrast that paired well with its topping of fresh goat cheese. The only slightly ill conceived dish of the starters was the mussel soup. It’s not that it lacked flavor, just that it lacked depth. A spike of red pepper was the predominant flavor in the broth and soggy croutons did little to help, though freshly sliced scallions livened up the dish a bit. For shits and giggles, and for added insurance against leaving without full bellies, we supplemented our orders with a couple of small plates from the regular Ansill menu. Roasted mussels turned out to be an interesting preparation take on a bistro classic. When the little mollusks were just right, they were tender, savory and intensely infused with the aromas of the fresh rosemary sprig included in the roasting pan. The technique, though, did seem to result in less even flavor distribution relative to steaming or sautéing, and a few of the mussels were a little on the fishy side. I had no compunctions, however, about the deliciousness of our roasted bone marrow crostini, full of rich, zesty flavor and topped off perfectly with a sprinkle of smoked sea salt and a tousle of fresh greens. Our main courses delivered the most uniformly successful round of dishes. The sweetbreads – ample, tender and meaty – may have been the showstopper, their perfectly cooked accompaniment of sliced shiitakes providing icing on the cake. Not lagging far behind were two petit filets of branzino, pan-seared to a perfect level of exterior crispiness and interior moistness and set atop sautéed greens, all surrounded by an intensely citrus yet light-footed beurre blanc. A duo of richly meaty lamb chops, seared just barely to the medium side of rare, matched nicely with crispy potato gaufrettes and roasted artichokes. Those artichokes, I’d swear, tasted like they’d been infused with lemon and pekoe tea. An otherwise perfectly nice if somewhat perfunctory cheese plate was marred by the inclusion of Époisses that had gone to ammonia. I know it’s supposed to be pungent. And I know it’s expensive. But come on, sniff it – better yet, taste it – before you serve it. Our desserts, on the other hand, showed that the folks at Ansill don’t treat the final course as an afterthought. Both the pot au crème and bread pudding were delicious enough that I could envision stopping by late-night and ordering either of them just to top off the evening. Photos and additional details can be found at: Pif Night at Ansill.
  15. You might also consider Teresa's Next Door in Wayne. The food is solid enough and the beer selection is top notch.
  16. Minor correction: Hours are 3-7 until Autust 27, 2008. Hours shift to 2-6 (to take advantage of daylight) after August 27 and through final market day on November 26.
  17. Understood, my friend. Understood.
  18. Thanks for the input, Jim. It supports my feeling that the wine was not flawed but is just in a bad spot of bother, at least for now. To clarify, my bottle wasn't oxidized to a fault but was showing some of the oxidative notes that Loire Chenin often takes on after a few years in the bottle. Sometimes that can be very pretty. In this case, it was not.
  19. Great notes, Jim. I've been intrigued by the Scholium Project wines ever since reading Asimov's piece on them a few months back. Not intrigued enough to buy them, mind you. You're commentary has brought me much closer to anteing up to try them. cheers, McDuff
  20. Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie “Clos des Briords” Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Pépière (Marc Olivier) 2005 (from magnum) Classically saline, with a burst of lemon zest on the front palate spreading into a broad, creamy mid-palate, finishing with a knife’s edge of acidity. No surprise, it rocked with mussels steamed in the same wine, richened up a bit with just a few pats of butter. Why isn’t there more Muscadet available in magnum? $30 (magnum). 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. Vin de Table Mousseux “Le Vinsans Ricard,” Domaine Ricard NV More fun with words from young vigneron Vincent Ricard, whose estate is based near the Touraine village of Thésée. To borrow from his own text on the label’s sidebar, this is naturally pétillant Gamay, made without dosage and only lightly filtered. Exuberant and direct, bursting with fresh raspberry and strawberry fruit, accented by a dash of watermelon and mint. Served chilled, on the porch, with barbecued chicken thighs. It’s hard to imagine a better match. $22. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Touraine Pinot Noir Rosé, Domaine des Corbillières 2007 “Le Vinsans” was a tough act to follow, a challenge made tougher by this rosé’s almost total lack of aroma. In the mouth, however, it gave a pleasant enough display of watermelon fruit and mineral character, combined with a vegetal hint that reminded me of boston lettuce. Surprisingly long on the finish and a reasonable match with a very tasty bowl of gazpacho. $12. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Robert Kacher Selections, Washington, DC. Moulin à Vent Vieilles Vignes “Réserve d’Amélie,” Domaine Gérard Charvet 2004 I was really pleased to see this make an appearance as it had been a couple of years since my last taste. Not as altogether happening as I hoped/expected but there was definitely nothing amiss; the wine’s just in a bit of a dumb phase. Still, it would be a fine antidote for anyone who is still a nonbeliever in the joys of Beaujolais. Granitic minerality layered atop briary, black cherry pit flavors. Lighter than I remembered up front but with a depth of flavor that belies its weight. $16 on release. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA. Montlouis-sur-Loire "Les Choisilles," François Chidaine 2002 Another wine I hadn’t visited in a while and this time I was very surprised. Much more evolved and oxidative than I would have expected and really not showing very well. Intense grip and some sense of remaining muscular anatomy on the finish but all cobwebs and moth-eaten clothes up front. Wool clothes, that is, given its intensely lanolin nose. I’m still holding a couple of bottles so I’ll have to hope it’s just going through an awkward phase. $23 on release. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Savennières "Clos de Saint Yves," Domaine du Baumard 1997 This provided an interesting contrast to the Chidaine, at once more evolved in its overall state yet still in possession of greater freshness of feel. Frail, lacy and pretty, with aromas of almond cookies and chamomile tea. To continue the funereal metaphor, more like a well-preserved skeleton, dressed in a silk chemise. $25. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Ex Cellars, Solvang, CA. Saar Kanzemer Sonnenberg Riesling Grösses Gewächs, Weingut Johann Peter Reinert 2005 This was opened, in spite of its painful youth, as recompense for the lackluster showings of the two Chenins. My note taking dropped off at this point, so I can only offer some basic, instinctive impressions. Pure nerves of steel, with Reinert’s typical touch of grace and expressive fruit maintained, even given the physiological intensity of what equates to an Auslese trocken from the Saar. Wine to hold and savor. $48. 13% alcohol. Vinolok. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. A wee bit of additional background info and accompanying photographs can be found at: Notes from a 50th Anniversary.
  21. Headed back to Maia recently for a second look at the bistro menu. This time it was for dinner rather than brunch, with a focus on the Alsace-influenced aspects of the menu. Results were mixed again, which may just be an inevitable side-effect of the sheer scale of the place. Photos and details are available at: Maia Revisited.
  22. It seems this thread is about due for a kick-start, so here it is. I ventured out to TT for a look at their new Early Summer menu recently. Snapper Crudo, Cucumber, Olive Oil, Exotic Pepper With its light, crisp and refreshing interplay of textures, the first dish of the night highlighted Sikora's gift for crafting beautiful expressions of seasonality. Watermelon radish, watermelon gelée and citrus accents brought a shower of summer flavors to play. Summer Squash Tart, Buttery Lobster, Lobster Emulsion and Fennel Jam Another perfect expression of the season. The simplicity of squash played off against rich, tender morsels of butter infused lobster, while a jam of diced, braised fennel brought out the best in both. Piquant and rich, yet still light on its feet. Organic Local Mushroom and Goat Cheese Papusa "Authentique," Wild Epazote and Sweet Corn Smoked whiteheat and bell peppers brought an unexpected, haunting finishing flavor to the soulful earthiness of local mushrooms, all grounded by the starchy sweetness of fresh corn. Warm Tartine of Smoked Alaskan Sable, Whipped Turnip and Chorizo Oil A much more subtle dish than the description had me thinking; again, it's all about interplay, discourse and depth of flavor. The smokiness of the chorizo and sable were brought to earth by a creamy purée of turnip and potato. Barbecued Squab, Creamy Squab Risotto, Quick Pickle Summer Vegetable Salad One of the most memorable dishes of the night, the squab's gamy flavor profile was offset by spice imbued during a slow turn at the barbecue. Bryan's risotto is always a treat. This version was enriched with cheddar and squab broth, with palate refreshing zing provided by the bright snap of quick-pickled kohlrabi and carrots. Beef Tortellini, Early Girl Tomato Sauce, Fried Eggplant Even with hearty ingredients, the kitchen always seems to deliver delicacy and a light touch. There was amazing depth of flavor here, with the braising liquid from the beef shortribs added to enrich the tomato sauce, which was in turn brightened by oregano and basil fresh from Aimee and Bryan's garden. World of Cheese... Seven Countries, Seven Tastes, Talula's Charcuterie and Condiments Dinner is never complete without a sampling from the cheese monger's case. Aimee and her staff have cultivated close relationships with some of the best small dairies and specialty distributors in both the neighborhood and across the country. The selection for the evening included: Old Kentucky Tomme from Indiana's Capriole Farm; Tomme Crayeuse (Savoie, France); Comté (from the Swiss side of the border); Manchego (La Mancha, Spain); Testun al Barolo (Piedmont, Italy); Isle of Mull Cheddar (Scotland); and Stitchelton, a raw milk blue in the style of Stilton (England). Vanilla Crepe Terrine, White Chocolate Granite and Cherry Coulis The dessert course was ethereal, even after all that preceded it. Truffles from West Chester chocolatier Éclat put the finishing touch on a great meal. If you'd like to see/read more, there are photos of most of these goodies plus some additional background information at: Early Summer at Talula's Table. The wine pairings for the night can also be found at: Wines at the Summer Table.
  23. My dining companions and I enjoyed the following during a recent dinner at Talula's Table (BYO) in Kennett Square, PA. Mosel Riesling QbA trocken, Freiherr von Heddesdorff 2006 This was the first bottle to hit the table, instantly becoming our de facto aperitif. Von Heddesdorff’s basic QbA’s may not win awards for complexity but they make for an inexpensive and fairly solid introduction to the world of trocken and halbtrocken German Riesling. Though still lean, this was a good deal less austere than when last tasted and carried a refreshing little trace of CO2. Clean, minerally and simple – in a good way. $14.50. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. “La Cravantine,” Domaine Fabrice Gasnier NV This we paired with our first course, snapper crudo, as the idea of bubbly with just a whisper of rose to its color seemed tailor made for the pink hues and cool textures of the dish. If you missed the AOC designation in the wine name, that’s because there isn’t one. Fabrice Gasnier’s estate is located in Chinon, an AOC district that allows for red, white and rosé but not bubbly. Fabrice makes “La Cravantine” anyway. It’s a Blanc de Noir bubbly, made entirely from Cabernet Franc. And though it’s not vintage dated, it is a single-year wine, this lot being from 2007. A tad softer in acidity and, arguably, a bit simpler than the last couple of versions, its raspberry and floral nuances still make it pretty darn tasty. And it worked, though it’s one of those wines that will work with just about anything. $22. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Muscadet de Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie “Clos des Allées” Vieilles Vignes, Domaine de la Grange (Pierre Luneau-Papin) 2005 Pure mineral springs. There’s a limestone and saline quality at play, but really, really subtle. Crisp up front and surprisingly creamy on the finish. A very pretty wine, one that asks you to tune in rather than shouting for attention. This was one of my favorite pairings of the night, matched to a buttery lobster and summer squash tart. A bigger, richer white would have blown the delicacy of the lobster out of the water. $14. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Louis/Dressner, New York, NY. Viré-Clessé “Vieilles Vignes,” Domaine André Bonhomme 2004 This is in a really good place right now. Smelling it, at least initially, reminds me of fresh, dry dirt, kicked up in the infield of a baseball diamond. Bonhomme’s ‘04s were initially a little plump but this has clearly shed some fat and taken on a greater depth of minerality since last tasted. Hallmark to his wines, there’s a creamy core of yellow peach fruit and a taut finishing grip. This wine and the next were sampled back and forth with two dishes: a mushroom, goat cheese and corn “papusa” and a tartine of smoked sable. No match was spot-on but both wines provided points of interest with each dish. $30. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Brda Chardonnay, Movia 2000 I’ve yet to taste a wine from Movia where an oak influence wasn’t present and detectable. What I like about Movia’s wines, though, is that they’re not o-a-k-y. Instead, the oak is integrated, eaten up by and at one with the wine. That’s a good thing, exactly the intention of Movia winemaker Aleš Kristančič. I’m not sure this was a perfect bottle (it was picked up at risk, a back vintage at closeout pricing at a local PLCB shop). Run-up on the cork suggested the likelihood of some heat damage, as did a slight disjoint in the wine’s alcohol profile. Nonetheless, it came alive with the food, applying a fine balance between muscle, acidity and mellow fruit, in spite of its tarnished condition. There’s a more in-depth tasting of Aleš’ wines lurking somewhere in my future. $16. 13.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York, NY. Burgenland Zweigelt, Paul Achs 2006 I first had Paul Achs’ Zweigelt at a restaurant in Vienna a couple of years back. My memories of it were fond and this bottle didn’t disappoint. Achs makes real Zweigelt. Not oaked up or adorned with an international gloss, it’s chunky, spicy and exuberant. Think of loganberry and blueberry fruit and a dash of cinnamon along with a meaty rusticity, good acidity and just enough tannin to make your mouth water. This bottle was a bit short on the finish but that’s my only complaint. A solid match, it echoed and complemented the gaminess of the barbecued squab with which it was served. $26. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Vin DiVino, Chicago, IL. Crozes-Hermitage, Domaine Combier 2000 In spite of the Italianate nature of the final savory course of the evening, the thought of beef tortellini with fresh tomato sauce and fried eggplant somehow cried out to me for Syrah. It was only in the 2000 vintage that I laid Combier's wines down in any quantity. This bottle not only reminded me of why but made me wish there was more left. Heady scents of olives, macerated red berries, cedar and spice. Impeccable balance. The kind of wine that tends to raise eyebrows and result in scratched heads because it’s so different from what many people anticipate. As my instincts told me to expect, it was great with the food. $20 on release. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Sancerre, Domaine du Carrou (Dominique Roger) 2007 At this point, I suppose we could probably have gone back to the other open bottles for some small tastes to accompany the cheese course. But there it was, a bottle of Sancerre, just asking to be opened. Sauvignon Blanc does offer versatility with cheese, after all. Dominique Roger produces, year in and year out, a pretty straightforward example of Sancerre from Bué, crisp, limestone-driven, relatively elegant and without any of the catty or clumsy characteristics that SB often packs as unwanted baggage. His ’07 is light, fruity and typical. A touch meek for many of the evening’s cheese selections but refreshing nonetheless. $25. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Moscato d’Asti, G. D. Vajra 2005 The combination of fizziness and loads of residual sugar makes it easy for Moscato based stickies to mask flaws. When they’re done right, though, as Aldo Vajra’s always are, they can be downright delicious. It makes sense, as Aldo farms biodynamically and harvests pristine fruit. And his winemaking staff watches the Moscato non-stop during its short fermentation cycle to ensure that everything is just right. Common wisdom suggests that Moscato d’Asti should be drunk as young as possible. While I don’t disagree, this bottle was still quite good, even after getting lost in my cellar for the last two years. The intense floral and grapey characteristics inherent in its youth had morphed into a rounder, subtler creature. Yet it was still undeniably good. $16 on release. 5.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. “Nocino,” Fattoria Cescona One of my dining companions makes a homebrew of sorts, a digestivo he calls “Nocino.” Based on organic green walnuts, along with a proprietary list of herbs and aromatics (a little bird told me that espresso, clove, orange peel and cinnamon may play a role), it put just the right finishing touch on a great meal and a slew of good wines, enjoyed among friends. 70 proof. Photos of all these goodies plus a little in the way of additional prelude and context can be found at: Wines at the Summer Table.
  24. Bourgogne Chitry Blanc, Alice & Olivier DeMoor 2006 Light to medium in color, this Chitry Blanc – that’s Chardonnay from the northern reaches of Burgundy in case you weren’t sure – smells much leaner and flintier, more Chablisien, than it feels in the mouth. Fruit forward and refreshing. If it were a bit less pricey it would make for a very good every day white Burg. Quince and crisp d’Anjou pear fruit are carried on a medium-acid, medium-bodied frame. $27. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Vintage ’59 Imports, Washington, DC. Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits Blanc “Cuvée Prestige Le Prieuré,” Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret 2005 Decent wine, from an estate known much more for its reds than its whites. Smells like nougat and apple pie à la mode, though it also shows some disjointed alcohol and slightly acetyl character on the nose. Wood is well integrated, adding a bit of tannic astringency that complements the wine’s structure without dominating its flavor. There’s some complexity and interest here but not enough to offset the flaws or to justify the near $30 price. $28.50. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: J.A.O. Wine Imports, McLean, VA. Rioja Crianza Blanco “Viña Gravonia,” R. Lopez de Heredia 1998 Now we’re talking. This was stupendously good, certainly the white of the night. Concentrated, firm, youthful and beneficially touched by its time in old wood. Spot on with simply grilled scallops, where the Rioja bumped up and focused the natural sweetness of the shellfish. This could easily pass for white Burgundy crossed with good Touraine Chenin. But it’s clearly all its own. Almonds, stones, golden apples and a touch of caramelization, all accented by a Scotch-like brininess. Fantastic wine with great QPR and a long life ahead of it. $28. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Polaner Selections, Mt. Kisco, NY. Rioja Gran Reserva Tinto “Viña Tondonia,” R. Lopez de Heredia 1987 At twenty years of age, there’s bound to be a bad bottle once in a while, no matter how storied the producer. This was just barely alive, with only some dull, leathery notes and vaguely sweet red fruit emerging with air. It could have been heat damaged somewhere along the way, as there was a bit of run-up on the cork. Bummer. $94. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Polaner Selections, Mt. Kisco, NY. Langhe Nebbiolo “Il Favot,” Poderi Aldo Conterno 1998 You lose some and you win some. With more recent releases going for upwards of $60, the $20-ish price tag – I picked up the last bottle on the shelf at a PLCB specialty store a while back – seemed more than worth the old bottle/questionable retailer gamble. The gamble paid off this time. “Il Favot” is the only wine that Aldo Conterno ages in new barriques; while it has a reputation for early accessibility, this bottle was singing in its tenth year. The toasty oak is still there but has been incorporated. Licorice, dried raspberries, roofing tar, saddle leather and floral herbs all come out to play. Nervy acidity and gentle yet fully articulated tannins. The aromas and flavors just keep coming and developing with time in the glass. Rose petals, toasted almonds and sandalwood galore, along with sweet spice, natural perfume and animal intensity. $23. 14% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Vias Imports, New York, NY. Photos and additional information can be found at: Wines on the Fourth.
  25. Vouvray Pétillant Brut, Domaine Huet 2002 The wine’s mousse is sparse, to be expected of the lower pressure of the Pétillant style, yet I found its bead to be finer than in most Vouvray Pétillant. Poured in a white wine glass, the bubbles dissipate and the wine quickly becomes still to the eye. Aromas are of blanched nuts, lightly baked apples, cinnamon, mace and brioche. Behind that come some of the hallmarks of Vouvray: a telltale note of beeswax followed by the springtime scent of yellow daffodils and ripe pear fruit. A honeyed note emerges on the palate, yet the flavor and structure are completely dry. Limestone and clay minerality are submerged in the lingering finish, all wrapped up in a blanket of toasty goodness. There’s nerve enough to make this a fantastic food wine – I enjoyed it in particular with a simple dish of scrambled eggs and sautéed asparagus – yet it’s ample and forward enough to function as an aperitif. In other words, I’d be more than happy to drink it just about anytime. $34. 12% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Robert Chadderdon Selections, New York, NY. Saint-Joseph Blanc “Ro-Rée,” Domaine Chèze 2006 The oak is immediately apparent in Ro-Rée, not just on the nose but even to the eye. Its color is a shimmering gold in the glass, richer in hue than would be typical for a young un-oaked wine. Yet the barrel influence does not subdue the natural aromas and flavors of golden apples and raisins, honey and honeysuckle, acacia and fresh pineapple, quince and fig gelée. It’s quite round in the mouth, even slightly oily in texture, yet it stays clear of overtly buttery, over-handled characteristics. Medium acidity and firm texture keep it balanced. The oak influence broods but is well integrated, supported by the sweet, nutty concentration of the wine’s fruit. On day two, my notes remained fairly consistent, though an additional nuttiness emerged – pecans I think – along with dark, stony minerality and a touch of wood tannins on the finish. This is not my everyday cup of tea but it’s definitely well made wine that would be well suited to fish and white meats with rich sauces. $35. 13% alcohol. Natural cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ. Paso Robles Roussanne “Tablas Creek Vineyard,” Edmunds St. John 2004 Considerably paler in the glass than Chèze’s Saint-Joseph, this is akin to the color of dried hay. Initial aromas are rather neutral, with just a suggestion of beeswax and a saline, seashell quality. It’s texturally lean, even a little jagged, and just slightly oxidative in style. In that sense, I found it somewhat reminiscent of a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc – Savennières perhaps – when caught in its dumb phase. The wine has intense length though, with hazelnut and lanolin tones emerging in the mouth. There’s high-toned acidity and a vaguely vegetal hint (no, vegetal is not always a bad word) on the mid-palate. This is built for food and is solid, very interesting wine, at once muscular yet crisp. The only problem is its high alcohol, which doesn’t quite burn but does create disjointedness in the wine’s overall harmony. On day two, it became more aromatic, with a nose of potpourri, lime zest and peach blossoms emerging and then giving way to intense minerality. I’d like to look at this again in another couple of years. $26. 14.5% alcohol. Natural cork. Photos and additional background information can be found at: Vouvray Pétillant Brut, Domaine Huet 2002 and Whites à la Mode du Rhône
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