euro scribbles: amuse my bouche at l’arnsbourg.

Bordeaux, food pairing, french wine, French Wine Travel, travel, Uncategorized

On Terry Theise’s recommendation (and Bobby Stuckey’s reaction to this recommendation), we took a detour and found ourselves in the middle of nowhere north in the Vosges for a night. Here, hidden among the the thick deciduous trees and trout streams is a Relaix & Chateaux harnessing one of the most famous culinary gems on the planet: L’Arnsbourg, a Michelin-3 rated restaurant. Translation: a highly rated Michelin restaurant (3 being highest) is a place where the food is imaginary, thoughtful and globally influential in shaping taste and culture. L’Arnsbourg was that… and more. This is my first time to a rated 3, I believe, but I have been to a couple others that are executed in the same fashion. When you sit down you are greeted with an aperitif. For us, it was a dry Grand Cru Speigel Muscat from Dirler-Cade while we decided our meal plan. There were essentially 2 choices: expensive 7 course and more expensive 9 course. We were going all out for 29 euro more.

And so, the parade began!

Every time I sit to a meal of more than two courses, I get a wave of excitement when it is just the beginning! There is an evening ahead that promises enlightened cuisine, fanciful art, and new potential for flavors. I am assured that my senses will be saturated. And that is indescribably exciting.

One after the next amuses de la bouche (amusements of the mouth) were brought to our table. I always think of these one-bite wonders as thoughtful considerations for new flavor possibilities. One was a raspberry condensed square with a gritty gel-like texture and salmon aftertaste. Another was a light, icy yet frothy vermouth meets rum concoction. A golden egg came our way with yet another foamy whipped egg with a deep yolk to find at the bottom as well as fresh chives. What looked like ice cream tasted rather like corn on the cob cream. It was smooth, savory and absolutely divine.

Corn was an inspirational feature for them, as in fact we had an entire course devoted to many variations of this seemingly simple, midwestern delight– a pasta of corn paired with cilantro, black sesame and coconut, for example.

We had goose liver in a the shape and design of an Olympic medal as well. I thought perhaps this place could change my mind, but no… I just can’t do it.

Our favorite course was right in the middle of the parade, a seabass bathing in a pond of lemon butter alongside a potato puree (that was really butter puree with potato) and a  thick smear of the best hollandaise you might ever taste. I could have died in that bite. It was so unbelievably good, especially when paired with our 2007 Billaud-Simon Montee de Tonnerre Chablis 1er Cru. This dish was so delicious, I actually became unfull. I had been teetering before this course, but it actually energized my palate and got me back on the saddle! Seriously!

The next act was what I like to call Surprise Tomato! But they call it ‘All Around the Tomato’. Here, were presented with a white bowl and drainer dish, upon which are about 7 variations of the most wonderful summertime fruit: the tomato. Various colors and textures complicate the sweet delicacy. And just when we think we are done? Voila! the drain dish is lifted and below is a vegetarian lasagna made of tomato! Our eyes lit up, and we were all quite amused at their stunt. It was unusually similar to real lasagna. Uncanny, really!

We switched into another wine, a red: the 2001 Le Dauphine Fronsac. This and the Chablis were both quite affordable in comparison to the rest of the list (roughly 70 euro each). Both were fantastic. If you are looking to pinch in a coupe areas, trust that this sommelier knows what he is doing. Even if less expensive than some others, these more affordable options do no lack thoughtfulness or complexity. They were perfect.

Next were lovely large lumps of blue lobster and what they call ‘carrot bon bons’–essentially pureed balls of carrot. I like to think of it as the best baby food ever! I admit, however, the pairing with lobster didn’t quite work for me. Separate they were lovely, though.

At this point, I am nearing pain. Though portions are small, they are never-ending. We are delivered the pigeon, and I am least thrilled by this course. It is similar to duck, an animal which I am pretty fair-weathered. I eat it anyway, of course–each bite represents a couple euro. My spirits are revived, however, with the final savory present: a frothy, delicate ‘cappuccino’ or soup with black truffles and bits of potato. I nearly lick the teeny bowl, as though I hadn’t a meal for days and finally sit back, reflecting on the evenings series of events in my mouth.

An equally impressive array of desserts march out of the kitchen, but I am entering comatose at this point. As I shut down, I am again reminded of how lucky I am to be here, in the woods, at a restaurant that might dictate the coming flavors in restaurants around the world in the next couple years. To be apart of art and culture in the making is almost surreal… and so tasty.

another side of napa at the 2012 wine festival.

california wine, cheese, colorado wine, food pairing, Uncategorized

I admit. I went in with my biases at this year’s 21st Annual Wine Festival of Colorado Springs, put on by our sister store Coaltrain with the Fine Arts Center. Every year they knock it right out of the park with incredible speakers, winemakers, demonstrations and pairing seminars. This year’s focus was Napa. I assumed they might cater towards an audience who was seeking to glorify their beloved Cabernet, a varietal that is so inextricably linked to this American viticenter’s image. But I was wrong. And that shouldn’t surprise me. Year after year, whether women winemakers, South African wine, Spanish or whatever the theme might be, never do the organizers for this event shape it around a collective imagination of what a region, grape or style should be. They quite intentionally push the limit of a region’s character and emphasize its diversity, intrigue and potential, exposing evidence of a truly influential and great wine region.

And so, this time it was Napa.

In the two seminars I attended, I was able to taste through an array of grapes and sub-regions within Napa. From the floor to the high points of Spring Mountain, we tasted the difference a stone’s throw makes in the land of milk and honey.

Bright and early, it began with a wine & cheese seminar–without a doubt one of my favorite seminars they put on if you think to go next Spring. Whereas many tasting seminars expose you to tons of components and flavors, making it difficult to discern a direct connect between elements, this tasting is just you, the wine and the cheese. The influence of one on the other compounded by winemakers there discussing their viticultural and vinification techniques on each particular wine while a cheese expert does the same for each selection really allows you to sit and get to know your tastebuds in depth.

We tasted through a Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc with a classic chèvre, a Chardonnay from Keenan with a Triple Creme, a rose from Bouchaine with some salty year old Manchego (an excellent pairing, as the wine really had some Spanish rosado flare), a hearty Bouchaine Syrah, a Keenan Zinfandel and a Cabernet paired with a blue. The most charming red we saw had to be the Flora Springs Sangiovese. Had I been blinded, I may have gone Tuscan, but that ripe forward fruit really is Cali’s thing. The most stunning and surprising red I tasted was Keenan’s Zin. It had the finesse, balance and complexity to force me to throw everything I thought I felt about Zin out the window. I thanked him for that. I come across people daily that get fixated on hating particular wines or grapes (Merlot and Riesling come to mind immediately). There are good versions of just about everything out there! Or, I should say, a version that you are more accustom to liking. That’s what I learned Saturday morning. I was not much different. Even I can get a little judgey. This wine reminded me to just keep an open palate…

The next seminar was a luncheon I had been excited to sit in on for weeks. Chef Soa Davies from New York’s Le Bernardin was there to lead each exquisite course. And so, below is a synopsis of each memorable bite…

#1 ’10 Robert Sinskey Abraxas: sashimi-style salmon, green apple, jalapeño cream sauce, micro green salad

When Sinskey took the floor, he kind of lit up the room. Here he was in a nice flannel shirt, thick black frames, and white hair. He had an air about him. A confident yet humble presence. A calm demeanor. A kind smile. His success has come from hard work, patience and a very calculated intention. I realized this when he spoke.

His Abraxas, named for the Egyptian god whose letters stood for the 365 days in a year.  In the same way, each day that went into this wine was weighted and meaningful. He pulls from four Alsatian varietals: Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Blanc–an ode to his wife in a way, though both are fond lovers of this French region. His fear was that Napa might be too warm to grow these grapes independently, when it occurred to him, he didn’t have to. Though harvested and fermented separately, they share a bottle and meld together beautifully. Faint orange blossom on the nose, lime zest on the palate. Bone dry. Sensational white. It was good with the salmon, but slightly too dry perhaps for the heat. It kicked up a lot of citrus on the palate.

#2 ’09 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay: Caramelized Endive, Caramelized spicy shrimp, bouillabaisse

The winery that helped put Napa on the map in a big way back in 1976 when their Chardonnay took gold at the Judgement of Paris tasting against some of the finest burgundies in the world, Chateau Montelena was an incredible addition to this event. Vineyard manager Dave Vella has been at the winery since the early ‘80s keeping it honest and consistent. Even in the height of buttery oaky blockbusters, they have chosen to remain true to their style. This wine shined with the dish, complimenting its richness and inherent acidity, elevating notes of lemon curd, pineapple and caramel.

#3 ’08 Robert Sinskey 3 Amigos Pinot Noir: Roots Vegetables

This was my favorite course hands down. The flavors Davies teased from these roots had me liking parsnip (and that never happens). Though earthy veggies seem like a logical match for lighter pinot, I didn’t realize just how incredible they could be. The carrot lit up the spices, the parsnip pulled out a creamy texture to the wine, and the beets turned up the volume when it came to that earthy, cherried sandalwood one seeks in a Cali Pinot. It is a grape that mesmerizes but is possibly the hardest to articulate. Sinskey likens it to a marriage… you never quite figure your partner out, but they will always have you happily guessing.

#4 ’09 VGS Chateau Potelle The Illegitimate Red: Chicken deboned and cured, herbs

Jean-Noel is perhaps the most fascinating winemaker I have ever met! He stands today with one kidney and one lung. He recently climbed Annapurna. He is French. Incredibly French. But he absolutely LOVES California wine. Not long after the 1976 Paris Tasting, while he was working as a critic in Bordeaux, sniffing around to be sure quality was up to standards, he was sent on assignment to America as a spy of sorts. He was to report back what they were up to in Napa. As he says, he called them and stated simply, “It’s good. I stay!”

Illegitimate is a throw-back to his French roots, when you couldn’t mix your Bordeaux grapes with your Rhones and slipping in a varietal that wasn’t French might have you arrested! He is exploring the wild west attitude of blending with this red, combining Cab, Merlot, Syrah and Zin. On the nose, Syrah wins with its peppery, floral, wow factor. On the palate the Cab fights to dominate. It is a fun wine, intriguing and bold.

#5 09 VGS Chateau Potelle Zinfandel: Braised short-rib, pickled onions

For too long, Jean-Noel feels Zin has been treated as a second class citizen. I think he said this about five times. Insisting on its relevance, he has dedicated himself to making some incredible, food-worthy wines of the Zinfandel variety. Though Croatian-born, this grape has become, in many ways, the ‘American’ red. Here it gained recognition, much like the French-born Malbec in Mendoza. Just before we were left to enjoy the spot on pairing, his final words were, “If you like it, I was responsible. If you don’t, you have bad taste.” He was such a treat with his thick French accent and smiling eyes.

#6 ’09 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon: Bittersweet chocolate mousse, sea salt, caramel puff, brandied cherries, ice cream

In Soa’s words, to pair a dry acid Cabernet with such a decadent dessert, it was the brandied cherries that for her bridged the two worlds. I was impressed, I admit. No offensive, bitter flavors arose. It was smooth and enticing. More than anything, surprising and bold. Were I to have this heavenly dessert again, I think I would reach for a tawny port, however, to really elevate the caramel undertones, play with the saltiness and magnify the mousse.

Two Cabernets out of twelve wines. That’s it. That’s Napa. With every passing year, innovative folks and adventurous vignerons see the potential beyond Cabernet in this exquisite region. Don’t get me wrong. I just sipped through a vertical of Mondavi Reserve last year form 1991-1996, and they are nothing short of breathtaking right at this very moment. Those age, man. They have guts. But tasting everything from Sangiovese to Alsatian blends, I was convinced there is so much more to wow the world from this corner of the world.

Keep an eye out just after Christmas for next year’s lineup. There are a number of events and seminars that range in price. Whether a wine newbie or a wine nerd, you are certain to learn something new with every sip.

euro scribbles: parisian bites, bottles, beds and other bits.

food pairing, french wine, French Wine Travel, travel, Uncategorized, Wine Education, Wine Travel

I couldn’t miss an opportunity to share the foodie details, so it might help you plan your next trip to Paris…

Cafe de Flore:A tad bit overrated? Sure. But worth it at least once? Definitely, at least if you are someone like me who likes to imagine what it was back in its prime for the best writers of the early twentieth century. Keep it to a bowl of French onion soup at 8 euros, and you can escape without having to wash dishes. It was perfect in the late afternoon with a damp, drizzly chill outside.172 Bld Saint-Germain. Tel  33 1 45 48 55 26.

Chez Dumonet: My second time here, it is still our favorite spot in all of Paris for an old school, bistro meal. Here, the wine list is jacked, the waiters are high-strung (but so incredibly accommodating) and the food…incomparable. Don’t even try to understand the carte du vin (wine menu). Just tell them what you want. For us: nothing over 150 euro with age and complexity. The result: a ’99 Lalande Borie Saint Julien Bordeaux. It was drinking perfectly! Rich black cherry and currant fall from the rim as an uplifting trace of tomato leaf brightens its dense demure. The acidity still rippin’, the tannins taut and the integration beginning to works its magic from the core of the sip to the finish. A dramatic wine from beginning to end, it is powerful showing the softness and self-confidence of age.

This carried us through one of the best gazpachos I have ever held on my tongue, a tray of langoustines to share (a kind of lobster that looks like a shrimp), steamed artichokes with mixed greens, a healthy dose of boeuf bourguignon, my partner’s omelette with fresh black truffles and a dessert of Chantilly cream cuddling with fresh rasberries in a pastry shell. Not recommended for those on weight watchers. This restaurant is oh so decadent… oh so French. 117 Rue du Cherche-Midi, 6th. Tel: (1) 45 48 52 40. Closed Sat and Sun.

Le Cinq: Because we have always wondered what went on behind the curtain at this swank restaurant at the Four Season/George V, we just went for it. When better than just after a huge feat, like coming in first as a team for the Tour de France? This hotel has one of the grandest entrances I have ever seen. Thousands of dollars worth of massive floral arrangements nearly overwhelm your eyes. This time it was several varieties of purple flowers. If for no reason other than to grab an overpriced drink at their bar, you simply must visit this hotel.

Billecart Salmon rose in hand to start our great feast at Le Cinq (within the Four Seasons/George V Hotel), we toasted to Paris, to the team…and to us. Seven courses later, after a pricey bottle of ’99 Meo Cazumet Vosne-Romanee, odd experimental nouvo cuisine and a very strange, strange sommelier that reminded us of someone from Tales of the Crypt doing a radio show, we weren’t convinced that it was worth the hype. For one thing, tomatoes should not be made into a mid-meal ice cream, random droppings of wasabi and goat cheese should not just show up on your plate with no purpose, and foam…is getting kind of old, right? Although the cold avocado crab lasagna and olive oil ice cream was delish, it was a high price to pay for a moment on the lips.

In a stately, ornate, high-end restaurant that carries with it the monarchial grandeur of its namesake and a crowd that is best described as ‘stuffy’, it is no time for chemistry and pop rocks in the cuisine. The plates lacked synergy with their environment. And as such, tasted incomplete and out-of-place. Duck confitwith a gold lined cloth to dab on the corners of my mouth may have seemed a little more genuine. 31, avenue George V, 75008.Tel. 33 (0) 1 49 52 70 00

Les Ombres: An absolutely stunning venue for which to have the Tour de France dinner party. At the base of the Eiffel Tower, there is no closer place to see this phenomenal structure over an upscale meal at Les Ombres. Knowing that they prepared this 3 course meal for over 180 people, I can only imagine the quality of a small intimate affair. 27 Quai Branly, 75007. Tel. 01 47 53 68 00. Closed Sundays.

La Romantica Caffe: You know, this place was not fancy, nor really worth going out of your way. But if you are in the Place Vendome area of Paris and not sure where to start, you’re just getting in from a long travel, this is a little place that has dependable, good Italian food. Here, I ate one of the best versions of caprese: a delicately peeled whole tomato stuffed with burrata and basil. I know, I know, but you are in Paris! Well, then I suggest you head straight to Willy’s Wine Bar. Grab a cab and go! It’s open late and they will scratch your itch for French food. 96 Boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg, 75007. Tel. 01 44 18 36 37. Closed Sundays.

O-Chateau Wine Bar: An impressive wine program… a shame it doesn’t totally come together. Their idea? 40 wines by the glass, kept ‘fresh’ with a system that gasses the wine, allowing them to taste the same for days, even weeks… or so they claim. I get asked about this a lot. Do I think it works? I never say never, and with wines like ’81 Petrus and ’91 d’Yquem Sauternes on tap, I figured it was worth a try to check it out. Had I 68 euro, I may have tried the Petrus, instead I selected a more humble flight of ’07 Chabloz-Champs Gain Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru, ’02 Landmann Grand Cru Riesling from Alsace, ’10 Domaine de la Garenne Sancerre, ’05 Domaine Courtade Cotes du Provence, ’98 Lynch Bages, ’99 Chateau Cure Bon St. Emilion, ’96 Berthaut Fixin and ’10 Marcel Lapierre Morgon.

The Sancerre, Puligny-Montrachet and Riesling were off the hook. They expressed their individual terroirs perfectly, sang notes of minerality and were incredibly balanced. Everything one could want from these regions’ best. The reds, sadly, were less than lovely. Their structure seems compromised, their bouquets rather volatile showing notes of acetone and mildew, and their overall character was not correct. Some of it blew off, but they didn’t seem…right. The servers seemed insulted when they asked my honest opinion after seeing that I wasn’t finishing my 2 oz pours, and I mentioned that they may be a tad bit off, but I wasn’t sure. Well, they were. I couldn’t have been made to feel more like leaving any faster had they grabbed the broom and swept me out the door. Ah well. The whites were worth it, if you are ever in the 1st and want a place to chill for an hour. I have yet to research more about reds on tap. I am definitely suspect now. 68, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau – 75001. Tel. 33(0)1 44 739 780.

Kinugawa Japanese Restaurant: The best in town, or so the rumor goes. I am not a huge sushi freak, as so many of you know (though I strangely like the occasional sushimi toro), but my partner in crime was certainly satisfied. Though he claims it is no better than the best in Denver (Sushi Sasa, in his humble opinion), he was by no means disappointed. They have an extensive list, including non-fruits-des-mers options (non- seafood). I had seared salmon, which was done perfectly with a side of some of the best textured pearly white rice I have honestly ever had! Seems silly to wax poetic about, but if ever grains of rice deserved it, theirs would be ones. Plus, their ‘simple’ house white by the glass was no less than the ‘02 Latour 1er Cru Beaune ‘Les Aigrots’ at 9 euro. Not that I typically get into this negociant’s products, this selection was rockin’ right now, and only that much better at a steal of a price! It demonstrated the briny, nutty, textural similarities to a Lopez white. For a restaurant that by no means seems to put their wine program as a number one priority, they know what they are doing for sure. 9,rue du Mont Thabor, 75001. Tel. 01 42 60 65 07

Le Chardenoux: Our final evening was reserved for a recommendation. A very fine one at that. A hop, skip and 34 euros later in cab fare we found ourselves in a Parisian pocket we had never been before. Or so we thought. It wasn’t until after dinner that it occurred to JV that not only had he been here before, but there was a restaurant he completely forgot about that I would love. We stopped in on the way back to the hotel to glance at the wine list, and he couldn’t have been more right. It may have been the most exciting wine list I had yet seen in a Paris eatery–stocked with traditional, stinky backvintages of Chateauneuf, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Loire.

Les Chardenoux was the real deal. Inside were real people–Parisians having a night out. The was classically prepared to perfection. I settled on an heirloom tomato salad followed by a rib eye with béarnaise sauce, while Jonathan got the tartare. We couldn’t have been more satisfied, washing it down with a ’04 Leoville-Barton St. Julien Bordeaux. It was a big, fat wine, bearing copious cocoa notes, dark black berries and a ton of tannin. It hit the spot, and couldn’t have been better with the meat.1, rue Jules Vallès, in the 11th Arrondissement. Tel. 01 43 71 49 52. Lunch and dinner every day.

Restaurants/Wine Bars I still really want to go to:

Helene Darroze- 4 Rue D’Assas, 75006, Tel. 01 42 22 00 11

Bistrot Paul Bert- 18 Rue Paul Bert , 75011 Paris,Tel : 01 43 72 24 01

La Tour d’Argent15,quai de la Tournelle, 75005. Tel. 01 43 54 23 31

La Verre Vole- 67, rue de Lancry, 75010. Tel: 01 48 03 17 34


Great places to lay your head:

Renaissance Parc Trocadero (Marriott)–A bit more removed from the bustle, here you are right next to a bunch of great museums and lovely strolls. A bit harder to maneuver for runs, but walking is great. The homes here are reminiscent of old wealth aristocracy. A fabulous boutique across the street by Bonpoint (a children’s French couture shop) for adults called Yam. The breakfasts at the Parc Trocadero will quench your thirst for an American coffee fix–one pot per person.

Renaissance Place Vendome (Marriott)–Modern and chic, this happening hotel gives you the feeling of the top luxury hotels in the city at half the price. So close to the Seine, you are steps from major museums, shops, plazas and outdoor recreation. A first class spa awaits you if you seek decadence.

Castille Hotel–A bit more classic decor, this place is quaint, central and full of character. Great service and extremely comfortable beds. I have seldom slept so well. Next door Chanel and zillions of other top notch brands and boutiques await your pocketbook. Be sure to check out my favorite shoe shop: Michel Perry. Just a few steps from the Seine for some great running.

seeking perfection in pairing: a night with frasca and kermit lynch.

cooking, denver restaurants, food pairing, french wine, Kermit Lynch, Uncategorized

White knuckled up 36 north to Boulder, I wonder sometimes what provoked me to be a stagiere at Frasca Food & Wine. I didn’t have much intention to ever work the floor as a practicing sommelier, but what I knew was that this restaurant would be the best place to improve my skills regardless. To become better at a job, even off the floor, as a writer and retailer, one must push him/herself into scary territory–territory that seems daunting, foreign… even humiliating at times. Every time I ate at this phenomenal restaurant, I cowered under the knowledge of the somms who direct the program. They truly know so much. And anyone who knows me know that once I locate a fear on fire within, I relentlessly seek to extinguish it.

Frasca has been a pinnacle for me. My fear told me that I needed that instruction, despite the humble pie I’d be fed (whether it was the best pie in the state or not).

Seven months later, nights like last Monday remind me that this apprenticeship of sorts is not finished. I have much to learn and gain from this experience.

We were pouring some of my favorite wines–those of Kermit Lynch. He is an important figure if you are just getting into wine. The concept of ’boutique’ or ‘small grower’ farms may not carry the intrigue or novelty it once did, as more organics and local goods are made available to an ever-curious, aware public. But this was not always the case. Back in the ’70s, a man named Kermit went to France with this mentality, shook the leather-worn hands and drank the wine of those farmers who were engaging in an honest days’ work, preserving the terroir of their land in the grapes they cultivated, and he brought a bottle of that work home with him to share. He now has one of the most successful wine importing companies in the USA, and works with many of the producers that so inspired him to begin this journey.

These wines have integrity. They have a soul. A story. A reason. Placing them alongside food that mirrors this intention just felt right. They were at home with one another.

The first wine has long since been a favorite of mine: the 2010 Hyppolyte Reverdy Sancerre. A wine whose label seems to have been designed by a team of hobbits, it recalls the lore of the Loire, medieval castles and the dense history that is so entrenched in this particular parcel of France. The wine region here is among the oldest  in terms of documentation, as it is so close to Paris, and therefore has had a prominent place in culture for centuries.

A smattering of likely scents greeted me: a sure squeeze of grapefruit, lime zest and the pure cold stony, steely minerality of a wet canyon. There was a curious hint of honeydew in there to soften the edges as well as that dependable note of fresh cut grass. The acid was rippin’, and its lean balanced structure spoke to a classic, satisfying vintage. 2009 may have gotten some high marks for its ripe, opulent bodice, but 2010 was a winemaker’s year–a true wine connoisseur’s vintage. That perfect balance of acid and body, minerals and fruit. Summer snap peas fell on the tongue. And God… did I mention that minerality?

This Sancerre couldn’t have been paired better, as it was met with the ‘Verdure d’Estate’–a field blend of mizuna/arugula lettuce, fresh radishes, carrots, peas and mint.

The next wine was a 2009 Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes— a term that translates to ‘old vine’ in French. If I had known nothing of this wine and had tried it blind, I would not have hesitated to think it Premier Cru quality. The wine was astounding for its (not so) ‘simple’ village status. Its brighter, youthful qualities were the first to jump the rim: green apple, yellow pear, lemon curd and the smell of sidewalks after a heavy rain. Seashells were prominent. The mushrooms subdued but persistent. There was a nuttiness about it that was confirmed by the leesy finish on the palate. This wasn’t your typical Chablis that sees stainless steel alone. It spent time in 20% neutral barrel on top of the lees ageing.

This wine was sexy as hell. A superb example of poetry bottled. It has been so long since I have had a pairing so exquisite, as they delivered up royal red shrimp and scallop sauce abed fettuccine to compliment this gorgeous selection.

Olivier Savary was a neighbor, friend and colleague to the famed Jean-Marie Ravenaeu, who introduced Savary to Lynch. Raveneau is known as one of the top producers in all of Chablis, another gem Kermit brought to our palates. Chablis is a question I can never answer–so saturated with surprises and missing words, these wines confound me.   I am endlessly intrigued.

And finally, last but not least, a lovely red to end the evening meant to accompany the ‘Agnello’–a lamb shoulder upon rancho gordo beans and mustard greens with pepper. The wine was no other than the well-known Vieux Telegraph ‘La Crau’ (2008) by the Brunier family. Established in 1898, this elevated site in Chateauneuf du Pape, known as ‘La Crau,’ has its history as being the site where the first telegraph was built to communicate messages between Paris and Marseilles in the 18th century. It still has a role in communication, as it has since then come to be one of the most revered vineyard sites for its ability to tell the story of the soil through wine.

Monday night this wine spoke of alpines, liquorice root, wet violets, cracked peppercorns both white and black, anise and garrigue. It spoke of sunshine, warm pudding stones and layers of stratified soils: limestone, silica, red clay and alluvial deposits. An almost silky wine on the palate, it managed to maintain the force these age worthy wines contain, whilst dancing with delicacy on the tongue. It carried a smoky, gamey scent so as not to blow its cover through purely soft-spoken attributes.

It’s incorrect to say the wines just got better and better. They were all so remarkably different from one another. What they shared was integrity and an honest sense of self. These wines were exactly what they should be considering their variety and terroir. And they all really showed themselves in their best light when paired with their soul mates.

That is what makes Frasca so distinctive–their ability to find a way to allow food and wine to realize their greatest potential. They put both into context. They make meals inspiring, meaningful and relevant.

And that, my friends, is why I will continue to drive up 36 north, white knuckled and ready for more.

Love, New York and a one night stand.

food pairing, Lopez de Heredia, NYC, Spanish Wine, Wine Blog

Anyone who knows me, knows I like to kid about how Sutter Home White Zin was the wine that started this great love affair. But it’s not really true. No, White Zin–along with just about every other wine I indiscriminately placed in the cart– was just that wine I had late night rendezvous with, the one that looked ‘good enough’ when my beer goggles were fully in place. The cheap, available vino that made me feel temporarily good (if I plugged my nose) and absolutely awful the next day. It was just something that tasted better than beer and liquor, to be honest.

It wasn’t until I was well into undergrad, maybe twenty years old, that it was less about getting loaded with my friends (a very brief phase thankfully) and more about appreciating wine itself. And as I got more into cooking, wine pairing naturally became a great hobby. I met a few wines with great personalities, but seldom went out with the same one twice. I was a player. I wanted to know them all! It seemed silly to grab the same wine when there were thousands out there. I still feel this way. I had never taken a formal wine class, but I would pore over the labels, note which I liked more than others and flip through a Speculator if I was at a magazine rack. It was just so much information. Navigation was daunting. How does one ever really get into this?

Then one evening, in our teeny apartment for four (I literally slept in the closetless family room for a year and a half…for $1k a month), we crammed about twenty people inside to listen to our friend discuss Spanish wines. He worked a Sherry-Lehmann, a well respected shop in the city. I could scarcely follow his instruction, but I could tell I was way more interested than the other twenty-somethings. As they slugged down their garnachas and albarinos, I struggled to fight the urge to grab my notebook. I sipped slowly, so as to really understand the nuances he described. And for the first time, it honestly made a little bit of sense. The subregions, soils and styles were just a lot to take in all at once. The wines became a blur, and the night took on the jovial, antique hue of a lifelong memory.

It was this night that I was introduced to Lopez de Heredia–the whites and reds, various vintages and vineyards. I had absolutely no clue what I was sipping. It was unlike anything I had ever had. I was not familiar with aged wines, let alone one that was simply dripping with terroir and history. I was enamored… It was the first wine that proved my one night stand theory for wine wrong, for it became true love for life. I have enjoyed Lopez many times since then. Those wines may be the reason I fell so hard for this career in the first place. Wine is so mysterious, so enchanting and so utterly dynamic in its geographical versatility, personality and overall capacity for prose.

So what is the point, anyhow? The topic of true love from a one night stand is very relevant for me as I board this plane to New York City for the weekend to celebrate two dear friends as they embark on that fabulously challenging journey called Marriage. I lived with one, I worked with the other. I introduced the two one hazy pub crawl kind of a night. The next day, he was making coffee in my kitchen. I smiled politely, went back to bed and proceeded to text my friend: wtf? Several months later, they shacked up. About a year later, they were engaged. And now, I get to witness one of the more curious miracles ever: how the one night stand became a vow for lifelong love.

This weekend is particularly special to me, as I return to the City that parallel miracles have happened for me. It was the scene of my first love: New York City itself. I had never stepped foot on NYC until I moved there. It was the place that brought me to my first sip of Lopez, still my favorite wines in the world. It was here that I had my first date with Jonathan… two years ago, hand in hand and all smiles as we bopped around the Village (I know what you’re thinking…and no, don’t draw TOO many parallels. Dirty minds. Shame…). It was here I shrugged so much of my girlish naivety, shed some tears but ultimately crafted my adult sensibilities and armour.

I am returning to a place so familiar. A place that is so inextricably linked to my person. I am returning to me for a few days. The place where I got to know her best. And luckily, a place that let me take the important parts of her with me when I left.

5280 Week: Picking a Restaurant by the Wine List.

denver restaurants, food pairing, Wine Blog

5280 Restaurant week. Foodies and food novices alike love it. Servers dread it (tip well folks!). So many restaurants, so little time. How do you decide where to go during 5280 week, a fourteen day foodie fair that makes a 3-course dining experience at even Denver’s most expensive restaurants accessible to anyone with $26.40 in pocket (or, $52.80 if you’re pairing up)? Some go to the fanciest, like Kevin Taylor’s at the Opera House; some want a safe, classic upscale American meal at Elway’s; others want hip, so they take it to the Highlands’ Root Down or Venue; still others pick a culture or region and go for a traditional meal at Bistro Vendome for French, Carmine’s on Penn for Italian or Cafe Brazil for a string bikini (and fabulous Brazilian cuisine).

Regardless of the location, the majority considers the quantity per dollar and how much it would cost if this were any other night outside the two-week promotion. For those like myself, though, I don’t think about how much less I am going to spend for multiple intercourses upon courses for two weeks straight. I think about how I will redistribute the funds for a really nice bottle of wine. So for me, the restaurants with the most impressive wine lists in town are the ones grabbing my attention.

Use this time as an excuse to live it up. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a 3-course fine dining experience. Support Denver’s burgeoning gastronomical scene. Here’s where I would go with $26.40 for food and maybe $20-40 more bucks to split a bottle of wine with a friend or a loved one:

Firenze a Tavola: Osso Buco was the dish that drew me to this quiet, Tuscan-inspired eatery tucked beneath the ever-bustling Parisi Euro market and casual eatery. The food is authentic, generously portioned and consumed amidst a simple room that is lined with (empty) bottles of collector wines: Gaja, Giacomo, Borgono, Conterno… More impressive than anything else, though, even moreso than the hilariously accurate ’80s Euro ballads that sang from the speakers (that is so Italy–love it), was the wine list. For those of you who think you have had some of the most esoteric Italians in the market, you haven’t seen anything yet. Extensive, comprehensive and peppered with so many back vintages it will make you giddy!

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Carciofi al Forno (wood oven baked artichoke), followed by the Paparedelle sul Cinghiale (rich stew of boar meat and vegetables) and finished with the classic taste of tiramisu on the tongue. If I had my way I would start with a funky fun Falanghina with an 03 Fattoria Paradiso Barbarosso from Emilia Romagna (if they still have it!).

Indulge French Bistro: This was my first choice, but my sister was intimidated by the menu. They won’t let you pomme frite your way through the experience without taking a couple French indulgences like tartare, mussels or  duckling. But really, there are so many choices, even for the faint of heart. It truly offers some of the best French food in the city in a diner-like, humble setting that is cozy, endearing and reinforces their serious focus on the food rather than the tablecloths. Plus, they work with small farmer wines that you won’t find in many other restaurants let alone shop shelves.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Cream of Roasted Butternut, followed by Boeuf Bourguignonne and a sweet finish of Pear ‘Belle Helene’ all washed down with 06 Domaine de la Boutiniere Chateauneuf du Pape.

Olivea: I first went here not long after a trip to Barcelona and Southern France. I was not only impressed by their culinary accuracy, but it had an upbeat vibe, a pulse if you will, that metered the meal with optimism and good energy. The wine list is limited but thoughtful. Daring for the novice, but engaging for the seasoned wine drinker.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Arugula salad with beets and pistachios, followed by Gargagnelli with white beans and tomato, finishing off with Pistachio Nougat with sour cherries. The wine(s): 08 Droin Chablis, 07 Tempier Bandol (decant it!) and/or 03 Marting Cendoya Rioja Reserva.

Table 6: Always been my favorite go-to restaurant in Denver, especially in winter to justify their hearty, decadent dishes. Everything from the front of the house to the back emanates friendly, comfortable yet upscale neighborhood dining. They are creative and playful with their food, recalling old childhood favorites and provoking nostalgia with every bite (on that note, don’t miss the tater tots!). Their wine list is always changing and, in my opinion, the most inspiring yet still affordable in town.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Asparagus, Lamb Loin Lomo, followed by the Shrimp Risotto and sweetening up the finish with the Meyer Lemon Cream Cake. As I said, the wine list always changes. If you can, grab Aaron Forman, the manager/sommelier. Tell him what you like, don’t like and price range. He has never steered me wrong.

Colt & Gray: I find myself going here way too often. Is it the burgers? The sticky toffee pudding? Kevin Burke, the incredibly talented mixologist that is single-handedly transforming Denver’s cocktail scene one concoction at a time? Regardless of the fact that I am not always wild about their wine list, the place has a happening feel. The food is sensational, daring and downright disgusting sometimes if you, like me, are not used to seeing head cheese, blood pudding and roasted bone marrow on menus (see my old blog entry). But I love it anyway and can’t get enough.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Winter Vegetable Salad, followed by the White Bean, Sage and Fennel Ravioli and made complete with Minced Meat Brioche Bread Pudding (oh yum). Wine list varies, though if you have the dough, they often carry wines by Bedrock and Smith-Madrone for an agreeable nod to new world wine. Otherwise, have Kevin mix up something special for you… and prepare to be amazed.

OTOTO: I am going to go ahead and say it. This is my favorite new restaurant to hit Denver in a long time! From the meticulous build-out of copper ceilings, Rejuvenation-style lighting, iron spiral staircase, wine crates and eye-catching oyster bar, OTOTO has done the Sushi Den family proud in its sophisticated fare and impressive aesthetic execution. Restaurants like these make me excited to be a part of the culinary scene in Denver. My only fear? Will their high end ingredients and brave global cuisine be understood enough that they can sustain such a vision? I have been there three times now, each seeming to demonstrate growing popularity as evidence by the patron numbers. I have high hopes for this Spanish/Catalan-inspired eatery.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: Mussels, then the Daily Vegetarian Tasting Dish (he is so creative with this) followed by one of my favorite desserts in town right now with the Pear Almond Cake with Salted Caramel Ice Cream. I am really digging on their whites by the glass, but already they have had to remove a couple ridiculously awesome values (Ladoucette and Domaine Ott for under $12/glass), because they couldn’t go through the open bottles fast enough. So go in and show some support!  They have a passion for superior ingredients.

Barolo Grill: When I want a classic fine dining Italian experience, Barolo is where I go. The wait staff is informative, the wine list epic and the menu never ceases to make my eyes grow larger than my stomach in minutes. Luckily they have pared it down for you for 5280 week so decisions won’t be so difficult. As for the wine, why bother doing it yourself when you have one of the most talented sommeliers in the state to do it for you? Ryan Fletter is my go-to guy for unforgettable Italian wine. Plus, if I interpret correctly, you get 4 choices at this restaurant. Score!

My Ideal 5280 Menu: KISS method. Start with the Prosciutto con Parmigiano-Reggiano and Balsamic, followed by the Tagliatelle al Bolognese, the Brasato al Barolo (Barolo braised beef short ribs) and the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Winter fruit compote.

Squeaky Bean: If you haven’t checked out this hip Highlands full service daytime/nighttime coffee shop/lunch/dinner/bar crowd eatery, you are missing out big time. The perfect balance of serious food under a not so serious roof. For instance, you will find the dish ‘Parts and Pieces’ under the TV Dinner portion of the menu, which is a meal of marrow custard, Vitello tonnato sweetbreads, chicken liver meatballs and beef tongue ‘bourgignon.’ You can take down duck confit and seared hiramasa, all while staying in your jeans and Chuck Taylors, as most of the diners do when paying for their $100+ bill for two after cocktails and wine. The beauty of their menu for 5280 week? You choose the most ideal bites. Whatever you fancy, they have a pretty comprehensive list from their regular menu to choose from, which you can find on their website under ‘Restaurant Week Menu.’  Their wine list is small but their reserves wines are, as they call it, ‘geeky’ and therefore right up my alley.

My Ideal 5280 Menu: If it were me, I would start with the Italian Wedding Soup, followed by the ‘No Bake’ Shepherd’s Pie, finishing with the Bourboned Apples. I would have the 08 Venica and Venica Friulano, or, quite honestly, who am I kidding… just about any of their many Lopez wines will do. Lopez de Heredia is one of my favorite producers in the world.

Mind you, these are the ones I have been eyeing for myself. There are so many more restaurants that are worth it! Freshcraft (for the beer geeks), Arugula and Salt (if you’re from or willing to make the trek to Boulder), Venue, Il Posto, Mizuna, Duo… But these are the ones whose wine lists captivate me most. I am anxious to hear what you all think of the restaurants you decide to try. Ring in on the Comments and tell me all about it!

For the record… young Bordeaux does pair well with some cheese.x

Bordeaux, cheese, food pairing, french wine, Kermit Lynch, Wine Blog

Preparing for my in-store tasting last night featuring Bordeaux, I thought to pair them with a few cheeses, when it occurred to me that I had no idea where to start.  Nothing came naturally to my palate’s memory that quite made sense.

I apparently was not alone, as I learned when I decided to ask Google, an exercise I often perform when I am confused (Dear Google, What is nucleosynthesis? What is the meaning of life? And where did I leave my keys, yet again?).  I garnered a few ideas. Though it seemed this was no cinch for anyone, rather an experiment with significant trial and error.

I picked up one cheese that many chimed in was decent: a youthful Gouda. I also grabbed a salty, hard Parrano by Uniekaas, a Ptit Anjou (ironically, a variety that Google actually needs its own Google for—does anyone have information on this stinky little cheese that is reminiscent of Epoisses, just a touch less gooey?), and believe it or not Bucheron—a semi-hard, yet still soft goat cheese that gets quite dry as it gets closer to the hardened rind that surrounds it. I had this with a cru Beaujolais last autumn and thought it would probably have great potential with other lighter, tannic fruity reds.

My theory proved correct with the 2007 Chateau Lagarde St. Emilion ($17)—a musky scented, friendly sipper from the Merlot-dominant right bank.  Without any cheese, this wine was very earthy, almost moldy, with dried plums, cherry and wet forest floral notes. Spice was singing on the palate and the tannins were getting much smoother after slumbering all summer in the bottle. Paired with the Bucheron, it was a young spritely thing, boasting ripe berry fruit, cranberries and juicy cherries.

The Parrano deepened its voice a bit with chewy cherry tobacco and moist soil. It was a suddenly Bordeaux with the change of a cheese. This Dutch gouda-style cow’s milk cheese is much like parmesan in its nutty, salty elocution.

They young Gouda, however, was a disaster. It made the Bordeaux taste thin, almost watery, and weightless (damn Google).

And the imitation Epoisses with no identity? It overwhelmed the wine a bit much, making the flavors more pungent and tangy.

The same drill was applied to two other wines: a white 2007 Chateau Thieuley ($17), a sensational terroir driven blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (50/50) as well as a red with Kermit Lynch’s hand-picked 2005 Chateau Aney Haut-Medoc ($32). I wasn’t surprised that the former did so well with many of the cheeses. Whites often do fare better with cheese pairing as it is.

On its own, the Thieuley smelled of just snipped asparagus, sweet peas, fresh green herbs and a twist of lemon—no grapefruit as you might find in several other Sauvignon Blancs. The Semillon does a lovely job of softening the acidic edges and delivering a sweet tune.

The Parrano dampened the fruit on the nose but sent a surge of zesty citrus racing to the sides of my tongue once on the palate. The reaction actually made me crave the Bucheron which then, as expected, calmed down the acid a little bit and zeroed in on the rich, creamy texture of the dry goat cheese.

The young Gouda once again…failed.  It caused all the citrus as found in the Parrano, but didn’t feature the zesty acid that so stunningly held the backbone securely in place.

And finally, the most complex wine of the night taken from the famed ’05 vintage, the Aney alone was the most severe in temperament. It held a high chin and spoke in austere, hushed tones.  I was able to extract some earthy elements of bark, cedar, tobacco anise, savory herbs, cherries and raspberries, but they were hardly audible and properly buried as good Bordeaux will do when not ready to drink.

With the help of cheese, it began to speak up a bit.

The Parrano stole some of the earthiness from the nose, although it managed to kick up very loud notes of fennel, wet violets and blueberry.

The young Gouda, which was such a miserable fail in the last couple, reclaimed its name with this one, as it managed to restore the dirty terroir that makes a Bordeaux so singular in scent.  It was back to its musky old self.

And the Ptit Anjou?  Surprisingly, this stinky old, rotten piece of cheese gave the Bordeaux a facelift.  It was a toddler, really.  It shouted with ripe berry fruit, vanilla bean, oak and ‘drink me now!’ demands. The old Bordeaux funk was hardly to be found, except on the finish when olives on the dirt-encrusted rocks came through.

I was amazed at how much these wines changed with a little fromage. I actually made thin k of a decanter differently.  Maybe all a youthful Bordeaux needs is the right pairing in order to coerce its character a couple years before its optimum suggested debut?

This tasting also demonstrated to both my customers and me how un-prohibitive some Bordeaux can be. We were all very impressed by these selections, two under $20 and one just around $30 (which, I might add, seems highly capable of ageing a good 15-20 years—not a bad investment for someone looking to start a little cellar on a budget).

unapologetic: barolo grill and the need for criticism to promote culture.

denver restaurants, food pairing, Wine Blog, wine news

It was brought to my attention that not everyone follows Denver’s Westword publication–a free journal that explores local events and issues.  Just a couple days ago, I was thrilled to finally have my 2 seconds of famed and was featured in their ‘Comment of the Day’ section online. It was in response to their food editor, Laura Shunk’s, article on Barolo Grill. I would read that first, then mine and feel free to voice your opinion…that’s the point afterall!

“In the entire, albeit short, history of my time living in Denver, I have never experienced such a stir in reaction to a food review such as the one that appeared a couple of weeks ago when Laura Shunk — food critic for Westword — put her opinions on Barolo Grill in print.

As a fellow writer of a local wine blog, The Persistent Palate, I was deeply intrigued by the conversation her candid criticism gleaned. In so many words, she decided that Barolo — once pinnacle of Denver’s culinary scene — had fallen short in recent visits. It didn’t deserve the accolades, or credit card transactions, it had graciously gathered in the past. To put it simply, for Shunk, it was no longer the cat’s pajamas in a city of ever-blossoming burrows of memorable bites.

But not everyone agreed with Shunk. In fact, the majority of those I spoke to and the evidence on Westword‘s online commentary were proof that her insights were not only ill-received but they actually left people downright incensed. I get it. I even honestly found myself immediately defensive of my beloved Barolo Grill — the first place that really caught my attention when I moved to a gastronomically deprived Denver six years ago. But then I thought of Shunk, as a fellow writer, as a commentator of life’s leisurely sector, and I wondered how she was handling the criticism. Would she have changed how she wrote that article now? Would she have kept it exactly the same? Are there better ways to execute the same opinion in a less touchy manner? Would it have ultimately been as effective?

It wasn’t long ago that I received my first official bad review to one of my blog entries. I envisioned the day that it would come — promising myself I simply could not take it personally. But it didn’t matter. Reading that your writing is “superfluous,” “‘pretentious” and hardly worthwhile in a world where there are more relevant events taking place outside of improper glassware for a bottle of liquid, it is difficult not to move outside oneself and evaluate one’s meanderings as petty and annoying. Who am I to critique another person’s hard work in the fields? Who am I to say Sauvignon Blanc is rubbish with beef tenderloin? And if writing isn’t always consequential, is it merely self-motivated scribbling? Amidst a spiral of such centrifugal force, I am near quitting a career in wine altogether with the dash of an unapproving pen, it takes a more positive comment — the nine in ten I typically receive — to remind me that I am exactly where I need to be.

It is the positive note that compels me to stay at it. That’s for sure. However, it’s that one in ten negative review that propels me to improve the way I shape my opinion.

At a very basic level, wine, food and really all things art and entertainment are hobbies. They are the particles of life that make the moments more enriching…more meaningful. Most of one’s life is spent sleeping, while on the other side of the sun it is spent working, stressing and making ends meet. How often do we treat ourselves to a good meal? A special bottle of wine? Hours to do nothing but read? A three-hour play? An overnight in the mountains? A concert in the park? A movie? A croissant?

When I signed up for working in a wine shop and writing on the side, I decided to do so because I realized something: I had passion. Such passion, it was contagious. Such passion, it was wrong not to share my enthusiasm and curiosity for the hard-grown grape. It becomes those comments nine times of ten where someone discovers a fabulous pairing for the first time or the comments where people relate to a story that compels me to produce yet another portrait in prose.

At first glance, I admit, I was defensive of Barolo Grill — one of my near and dear eateries in Denver, regardless of how many sensational spots are opening every couple of months. I mean, it was only a couple of months ago I actually gave it a very glowing review myself, so good my experience had been one crisp autumn night — a setting that makes it impossible for me to stay away from its cozy, comfortable ambience. I adore so many of those who work there, not the least of them Blair, Fletter and Burch — each of whom make it so special every time I drop in for a bite. But I realize, too, that my lens is biased; I know these guys professionally.

From Ms. Shunk’s perspective, there were very concrete and critical levels of service that lacked for her — from wine service that neglected the fact that she was the person who ordered a bottle and not her male counterpart, to some of the dishes that appeared to have slumbered under the heat lamp a little too long before stumbling to her lips.

In the end, the point is that she, too, is allowed an opinion. In fact, it is precisely opinions such as hers that push art, food and entertainment forward as a whole. It is irrelevant whether her opinion is correct, for subjective input can never be by nature. However, what is a fact is that her words ruffled more than a few feathers. Whether Barolo Grill likes it or not, patrons will have their eyes (and taste buds) on them over upcoming months, anxious to prove her wrong…or confirm her premonition that Barolo Grill needs to “try a little harder.”

Like any criticism, this is a perfect opportunity for Barolo to take it up a notch, prove Shunk wrong and reclaim its position as one of Denver’s most essential restaurants.

Likewise, Shunk herself will be under closer surveillance in the next several reviews. She has inserted herself in the public’s eye, and it is up to her how she will shape her restaurant critiques. I know for myself, there is always a silver lining of truth in every negative review. I strive to not take it personally and learn from its intended message. As a result, I am learning to find my writer’s voice — a voice that remains true to my ultimate motivation for the article, but a voice that is a little more palatable to the everyday consumer/reader.

Personally, I cannot think of a culinary scene in Denver without Barolo Grill, but then again, I have a soft spot for its mid-’90s decor and traditional execution. As we move forward and continue to impress the country with our culinary capabilities in this one-horse metropolis, places like Barolo will increasingly become a rare commodity — an esoteric gem in its rigidly classic way.

Criticism, whether good or bad, breeds response, conversation and the evolution of culture. It gives purpose and meaning to life’s superfluous moments. Criticism gives us the language to discuss and contemplate life’s purely poetic parts. But it is difficult. I do not envy Shunk’s newfound audience — many of whom are quite angered by her unapologetic review. She has remarkably held a tight grasp on her words and intentions. In the end, I believe the key is balance. A healthy dose of positive criticism with a dollop of the murkier matter are the ingredients to forming well-received insight. That, compounded with several more years and articles proving one’s ability to maintain that balance over time, will eventually prove the worth of one’s words in a world where people are skeptical of a writer’s experience, skill set and credibility. It is unfair to disregard Shunk, or me for that matter, until we have rightfully developed and earned a pertinent place within the food and wine writing community.

And like a left bank Bordeaux… that may take some time.

— Ashley Hausman



Roast beast and friends: A global guide to pairing wine this holiday.

cooking, food pairing, Holiday Pairing, Wine Blog

And so it begins, with the passing of the bird at Thanksgiving, the advent of the holiday season. Already a volunteer for Salvation Army was ringing the bell outside the grocery, and Bing Crosby blared from the speakers as I sifted through dented apples. My calendar is slowly filling with bonfires, festivals and parties of good cheer.

This is my absolute favorite time of the year.

But as I get older, it’s less about the presents and Santa Claus… it’s more about friends, family…and food. More provocative is the knowledge that people everywhere share this same sentimental ritual. Whether Jewish or Christian, Chinese or Chilean, old or young, people around the globe pause this season to share a meal, wine and time together.

Food and wine are so central to culture. During a time of such universal celebration, it’s difficult to focus solely on American traditions, particularly given that globalization has never been so extensive. Having a shop so close to a university, this becomes even clearer just how many people are away from ‘home’ for the holidays. Not only that, America truly is a melting pot of cultures. There are many people that adhere to their ‘motherland’ rituals around the holiday. Therefore, instead of merely pairing the roast beef and turkey with wine this season, we’re going to step outside and look to traditional fare consumed ‘round the world for bottled inspiration.

In Denmark, they begin the meal with rice pudding followed by a roasted goose stuffed with prunes and apples, sides of brown potatoes and red cabbage. Germans, too, love a chubby goose on the table. A good match here respects the gaminess of geese and pierces through the oh-so-succulent fat that makes it so yummy. So keeping in mind something medium bodied, with a quirky attitude and generous acidity, go Chinon with the 08 Baudry ($18), Burgundy with the 05 Audoin Marsannay Cuvee de Demoiselles ($34), new world Pinot with the full fruited yet earthy tones of JK Carriere’s 08 Provocateur ($23), the painstakingly traditional 02 Lopez de Heredia Bosconia ($38) that proves vintage is irrelevant when the winemaker kicks ass, or the more modestly priced 08 Chateau d’Oupia Minervois ($12) which expresses both savory spice and floral notes, a sensational combination to give this goose a gastronomical glow.

Italians begin their 2-day feast with seafood on the eve of Christmas and regional pastas and appetizers on the actual day. You can experiment with reds—typically those with very little weight and tannin—however, with seafood, have fun with bubbles and obscure Italian whites. For the former, consider Emilia Romagna born Lambrusco Bianca with the fresh zippy Lini 1910 ($17). You can’t go wrong with a well made Cava like the lean 05 Juve y Camps Brut Nature ($18), equally dry Finca Labajos Brut Nature ($13) or the 07 Gramona Gran Cuvee ($21) if you like a creamier, rich style. But if you wanna go big, go Champagne. Particularly the more linear styles of Vilmart and Cie ($75), Gaston Chiquet ($47), and Marc Herbart Rose ($45), though the quirky, mineral-kissed, slightly oxidized notes of Aubry ($37) would leave a tasty impression as well with a variety of fruit de mer.

If you want to try out some funky regional whites from Italy, start with the floral, herbal youthfulness of the 07 Sergio Mottura Orvieto ($18) or the equally floral but more honeyed 07 Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino ($24), which also boasts tropical notes of papaya. Many wine connoisseurs believe that

Verdicchio is the most complex grape in the country, and a fine example of such would be high acid, food friendly 08 Le Vaglie ($23). Finally for something a little nutty with soft citrus tones, reach for either the 08 Bastianich Friulano ($18) or 09 Picollo Gavi ($14).

As for the Christmas Day feast, go for just good, solid reds from the northern regions of Tuscany, Piemonte and the Veneto. If hosting a party, stay with some of the lesser expensive options. One of my new favorites is the fruity, smooth yet still distinctly Italian 08 Ca’ del Sarto Barbera d’Alba ($10).

Others that don’t break the bank are the 07 Mazzi Valpolicella (dusty and rustic with notes of pie cherries and licorice) and the 08 Roagna Dolcetto d’Alba (sweet yet surprisingly tart cherry with rockin’ acid)—both$18. Taking it up a notch, some lovely, well-structured reds are found in the 06 Villa Cafaggion Chianti Classico Riserva ($26), the contemplative 04 Fanetti Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($28) and the Nebbiolos from northern Piedmonte in the 06 Proprieta Sperino ($37) and Valtellina in the 06 Triacca ($28). As opposed to Langhe, where most Nebbiolo is found, these are a little more elegant, restrained and beaming with higher floral tones and pie spice. If what you desire is splurging for the big day, consider such reputable, cellar-worthy producers as Cigliuci, Moccagata, Cavalotta, Brovia, Giacosa, Conterno, Montevertine, Paolo Bea, and Borgogno. Several of which you can find at Little’s. Of these, most are under $60. All of these wines mentioned can be tracked down and special ordered and shipped to the Italian wine lover on your list.

The Brazilians come together over pork loin (lovely with Riesling). The Japanese oven-roasted chicken. The Peruvians oven-roasted turkey. Both made more interesting with Alsacian whites and Beaujolais. And the French, of course, settle for nothing second best as they slurp back oysters and gelatinous Foie Gras. The former is sensational with Sancerre, like the 08 Crochet Croix du Roy ($34), or a mineral loaded Muscadet like the 08 Chauviniere Thebaud (Champagne without bubbles at $21). The latter, fatty foie is ethereal with Sauternes—like Raymond Lafon—though a demi-sec Vouvray would work as well.

If you celebrate Hanukah, try a beef brisket bathed in red wine. A perfect complement to this would be a fruit forward Syrah from California, like the 08 Barrel 27 ($19), or one from down under, such as the 08 Eagle Vale Shiraz ($20) from Margaret River. For yet another option, maybe give Spain a chance with the 06 Pesquera from Ribera del Duero ($34).

Of course, coming from all corners of the earth, Americans have come to make other meats part of their festive meal. From pheasant and venison to oxen and duck. Pheasant will typically pair similarly to the goose. With braised red ox cheeks, reach for that Bordeaux you’ve been waiting to find an occasion to sip. With venison, cozy up to a big ol’ Cabernet from Cali. And for the duck, don’t settle for anything other than a fine Syrah from the northern Rhone in France or a Chateauneuf du Pape from the South.

Finally, welcome the New Year by honoring the current one with a memorable feast. If going with classic prime rib, have a soft, Merlot-based Bordeaux from St. Emilion, like the 03 Galius ($23) or the 98 or 00 Bellevue (both about $40). For a step outside the box, try a Cab/Merlot blend from New Zealand in the 01 Hans ($27). If having a fondue party, what better than wines from the region where this tasty dish was born—the Savoie of France. Whether the crisp whites of Apremont and Montmelian or the red grapes like Mondeuse and Pinot Noir, all find their place when paired with the regional cheeses from this Alpine corner of the world. Breakfast after bars at 3 am?  Yes, you can pair it!  How better than bubbles. Any bubbles!  Especially forgiving with a wide variety of morning food if you transform it into a Bellini or Kir Royale.

Finally, if you want to twist the traditional ‘surf’ portion of the night, as I will, try making a Lobster and Saffron risotto. I am imagining a white Burgundy or Rhone Grenache Blanc (Oh, Fonsalette, I love you—why do you have to be $70!) to snuggle nicely with this earthy, decadent dish.

Cooking up something else?  I’d love to hear about it and help you make some memorable pairings this holiday season.

what to pair with marathon training?

food pairing, Italian Wine, Marathon Running, NYC, Wine Blog

As some of you know, I am nearing the end of training for the New York Marathon on November 7th.  This week marks the last gruelish of runs (21 miles)—three weeks from the big day.

Training has been rough.  I still haven’t found the right shoes, since my favorite kind no longer exists.  I have been fighting with allergies and asthma for the first time in my life (thank you Albuterol and my chiropractic brother’s magic pill supplements—if you live around the twin cities, check him out: Chaska Lakes Chiropractic).  And finally, I just can’t stand thinking about my ‘self’ so damn much.  Every cough, ache and bout of fatigue has me worried every day that I won’t do well on my long run, and then what?  Knowing full well I am far from competitive material, a marathon brings out your most competitive self, even if directed at no one but you.  Goals suddenly manifest, whether the intent was to keep it light and fun or not.  The closer you get to the start line, the more invested you become.  The more every sniffle and sneeze worries you.

Some things you cannot control, like the weather on race day.  Other things, you can, such as nutrition, hydration and recovery.

Personally, one of my favorite parts throughout this whole process has been the pre-run dinner.  I have learned that the best way to prep for these never-ending runs (and they are… I may never stop to walk, but I give new meaning to ‘casual stride’) is to make a delicious, simple meal paired with the perfect wine (oh, hell yes…I still have a healthy glass the night before my long runs—isn’t it actually sacrilege to eat pasta without the accompaniment of wine?).

This year, I have created a little tradition to make a clean, pure pomodoro sauce on the eve of runs over 10 miles long.  Not to get too symbolic here, but there was a little more logic beyond the mere carb-load aspect of this dish.  Pomodoro may be the simplest preparation of tomatoes in sauce form.  I love uncomplicated, unadorned recipes like that.  Don’t get me wrong, I like the occasional duck three ways as well.  But simplicity—minimalism—has its own appeal to me.  I discovered this interest in high school, drawn to Mark Rothko and Piet Mondrian paintings.  I find I am compelled to the same purity in winemaking.  Growers who take it back to traditional methods—who try to get by without machines, pesticides and gadgets.  Finally, to get to the point already, it is for this reason—simplicity—that I am so into running.  I love all kinds of sports from rock climbing to kayaks, cycling to volleyball.  Running, however, only requires shoes, mental endurance and perhaps an ipod shuffle.  You can run anywhere, anytime, and any season.

And so, with purpose, I eat pomodoro.

First, I grab fresh pasta, a head of garlic, a bunch of basil and the highest grade imported chopped tomatoes (San Marzano or Pomi, for example).  Note: Chopped. Not crushed or diced.  If no chopped option, buy the best whole tomatoes you can and clumsily chop them yourself).  I also like to carb it up a step further and bathe some fresh sliced boule in a layer of butter and garlic for the side.  Just throw it in a preheated oven at 375 for about 10 minutes.

To make a classic pomodoro, cover a heated pan with good olive oil over medium heat.  Add 3-4 cloves of finely sliced (not chopped) garlic to the oil until they become quite soft (maybe 5 minutes).  Try not to brown them, unless you are a fan of ‘fire-roasted’ flavors in your sauce.  After the garlic is softened, add the tomatoes, a liberal dose of red crushed pepper and some salt (you can add more later to taste once the sauce is more evolved.  Let it simmer for a good 20 minutes before you add anything else.

After it’s had some time to become, add some chopped basil (I don’t know—a couple tablespoons?).  Add salt, pepper and more red crushed to taste.  Let simmer a few minutes longer while you boil up the pasta and bake the garlic toast.  Serve with some fresh sliced basil.

Oh yes, and for the wine.  It is my humble opinion that a simple, rustic Italian dish be paired with a traditional Italian wine.  Sure, you could revel in Brunello and Barolo, but remember, if this is for training, you shouldn’t have too much vino the night before an important run.  That’s why I reach for the Chianti.  Not only is it considerably less expensive than some other Italian options, but it truly is a perfect match in acidity, weight and fruit to tomato sauce.  Particularly, I find that younger Chiantis that show a bit more fruit and a little less oak tend to shine when singing a duet with spaghetti.

It’s not the most imaginative pairing, but my God it is good.

A few I love to sell:

-2007 Fattoria di Lucignano Chianti


-2006 San Felice Chianti Classico


-2007 Poggerino Chianti Classico


-2007 Cavallina Chianti Classico


-2007 Poggio Bonelli Chianti Classico


-2005 Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico.

So wish me luck.  After this Sunday, it’s a lot of rest, a lot of recovery… and a bit of wine for my spirit.