Category Archives: Wine

The French Kiss

There’s no Bread

By the turn of the 19th century the effects of the “Little Ice Age” was beginning to ease in northern Europe but the residual struggle for the people of France was about to explode. As the monarchy and the church used its resources to settle vendettas against the English crown by funding a bunch of long hair dreamers an ocean away the people of France were ready for their own revolution though this one would be much bloodier then anything we would see in 1776. They were poor, they were hungry and this northern freeze that was perpetuated by a series of volcanic eruptions made the availability of wheat in sparse. As a result King Louis XVI, foreseeing an angry population began importing potatoes to feed his starving subjects. But this did not entirely entice or appease the common woes. By the time  the benefits of potatoes were realized it was too late for the monarchy. It was with vengeance that this substitute for the famous French bread was rejected although it is funny that the hamburgers best counterpart bares the name of the country that most likely did not create it. These events would unwittingly turn the wine making world on its ears and give rise to what in my mind must be the most gracious and beautiful French word… Terroir

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As Napoleon  Bonaparte’s army marched through the region of Burgundy he began to take land from the papacy. Some of the world’s most famous vineyards had already developed a reputation as he started to divide and sell these holdings to various countrymen. This redistribution of wealth enabled villagers the right to control the vineyards as they saw fit without the church telling them who was holy enough to drink their wines. What sets Burgundy apart from most wine regions is this attention to the vineyard. The land is to have a voice rather than be a blank canvas for a winemakers dream. In fact there is no term for winemaker in France. The person in charge of the growth of the wine is called the elevage. This is the person who raises the wine as a parent would a child. I personally take pride in knowing that the greatness of my children grows from within them. I am only here to guide and help in finding the right direction. This is how the elevage will approach his or her technique in the vineyard, winery or the tasting room for that matter. They are there only to guide the wines growth and try not to get in its way. This adherence to viticultural integrity is a religion in Burgundy. Now, I am not saying that this does not happen throughout the rest of the France or any wine growing nation for that matter but when I began learning wine some 20 years ago it was in Burgundy where this passion for the all encompassing terroir held the greatest transparency. 

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Deconstructing Reconstruction

Burgundy is divided into 5 different regions. Each one with a different climate or micro climate and soil content. The majority of her great wines are based ultimately on two varietals Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Anyone who thumbs their nose at a California Chardonnay and believes that this specific style quantifies the reality of what the grape is has never tried Christian Moreau Les Clos, Grand Cru Chablis which is one of the greatest wines in the world. To get the best sense of terroir, Burgundy’s northern most region of Chablis will be our home and the misunderstood Chardonnay our muse. Burgundy holds the concept of terroir in her soul. Terroir is the all encompassing idea of earth, wind and fire i.e. the soil, the weather and the sun. It is also a cultural understanding of the grapes evolution in the earth and how the aroma and structure this localized world imparts from the blood of her vines translate into our glass. No other region exemplifies this to me more the Chablis.

 Chablis  should not be confused with a  boxed wine or a big jug with a screw cap that has some old dude awkwardly smiling. These jug brands from Gallo and Carlo Rossi were made to fool a growing wine market in the United States and Canada as the lyrical names of Chablis and Burgundy began to captivate returning GI’s after the second world war. 

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The history of Chablis and its importance goes back about 1500 year when a band of monks settled the area after fleeing marauding Vikings. I’m sure it wasn’t the climate or weather that drew the monks but what soon became apparent was how well white grapes thrived here. Brooklyn_Museum_-_Monk_Testing_Wine_-_Antonio_Casanova_y_Estorach

 

 

 

Due to the high mineral deposits from upper Jurassic limestone and glacial soils the wines50b80032a24bc.preview-620 of Chablis have an intense flinty character.

 

The downright cold climate forces the grapes to really struggle on the vines.

The summer sun can be warm, promoting healthy ripening but the frigged nights will give the wine an acidic backbone and lay the ground work for a mineraly palate with a creamy finish. The idea that Chardonnay smells like oak is highly misguided. Oak smells like oak, Chardonnay smells like its environment. When forced to struggle and compete with other grapes the strongest will have the richest dynamic and character. If left basking in the sun which in the case of California is ample and planted on the valley floor which in California is standard, the grape in the end may have little personality. Think of the tough kid who has had to struggle his whole life and makes good in the end. They tell the story we want to hear. In the new world it is often the wine maker who will have to create the story with malolactic fermentation (a secondary fermentation where the malic acids which we find naturally in grapes and apples are converted to lactic acids that you would find in dairy) and a generous helping of well toasted new oak barrels. Enter your oaky, buttery California Chardonnay. oak

Let me be clear that there is nothing wrong with these wines and some of them are outstanding like the great wines from Sonoma’s Hartford Court but the point of Chablis is to give a sense of place. A pin prick if you will on the map of the wine world. It is not the custom of Chablis to use oak and if it is used it is there to soften the wines harder edges. When this is done it is typically older oak barrels which impart little to no flavor but give the wine a rounder, honeyed aroma. It is not there to smell like oak. This is usually done for wines from the best vineyards where the acid is high and more concentrated sugar levels develop. chablis-grand-cru-les-clos-soil-257

 

What makes the best vineyards you ask? Good question. The vineyards aspect to the sun, the height above sea level and the soil content are a part of it. There are 7 vineyards in Chablis that have been given the status of greatness. These are known as Grand Cru or Great Growth and they reside in the heart of Chablis. They all rest along les Serein River which helps regulate their micro climate. The elevation is slightly higher so after it rains gravity will naturally pull water down to the bottom of the vineyards or to the river. Because of the drainage and rocky soils that we typically do not associate with fertility, the struggling vines higher up the slope will have a richer concentration like espresso to coffee. This will give the grapes a bolder level of sugar and acidity, both vital ingredients for the survival of these great wines. The sugar gives body and alcohol, the acid its life line. This is what makes your mouth water when drinking wine. It is essential when pairing with food. This will help breakdown fats, open your taste bud and promotes healthy digestion. This is why wine dances best with food and in a way no other beverage can compare.

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One reason why Burgundy and its Grand Cru vineyards stand alone is that no one person owns the vineyards. I suppose this is where I should make a distinction. The vineyard is where the grapes are born and mature, the winery is where these healthy little fellas are turned into wine. When Napoleon strutted into Burgundy and started to redistribute vineyards the most important where offered not to a single person or family but to the community. Within each of the Grand Cru vineyards or the next level down called Premier Cru or 1st growth which can be equally as stunning, a winery may only own a small parcel of the vineyard so Les Clos Grand Cru vineyard for example, is roughly 60 acres but a winery may only own 1 or 2 acres of it. Some parts are owned by a grower who makes no wine at all but sells his fruits to smaller wineries that have little to no land holdings. This is where the idea of terroir really holds true. The difference between each single vineyard or parcel of said vineyard can be striking. Often times I am offered a taste of a wine from one vineyard only to taste a wine of the same winery of a vineyard sight that is just across the road that is made in the same manor and the wines can be subtly or completely different. In my experience (which is not expertise) Chablis holds this to be her backbone, her blueprint and her legacy. 

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Read the Fine Print

Here is a breakdown of the labels. As you will notice the winery is hard to find and the grape not even mentioned. One should assume white Burgundy is always Chardonnay. This allows the grower and producer to focus on terroir. Burgundy is all about either the village or vineyard. You need to read the fine print. Here the elevage plays second fiddle to the land.

 

Lets do a little rundown of Chablis’ vineyards status. Of the nearly 7000 acre of Chablis only a handful have a designation beyond the humble name of Chablis. For the Grand Cru vineyards there is Bougros, Vaudeseir, Valmur, Blanchots, Les Preuses, Grenouilles and Les Clos. Each of these sights are literally rubbing elbows. There are another 40 vineyards that were granted Premier Cru status but only about 15 of them hold as much providence as the great ones. Many of them share the same attributes as the Grand Crus but if there is one phrase that suits Burgundy to a tee it is location, location, location. Nothing can top a Grand Cru. These wines are rare and can be pricey but thankfully Chablis still is uncharted territory for many wine connoisseurs and collectors as the winery names or vineyards don’t hold the distinction Burgundy’s southern vineyards do, or Bordeaux, or Napa, of Tuscany for that matter. There is still relative obscurity to Chablis, it vineyards and its eliveges and for this I am thankful. A  Petite Chablis will cost about $15, basic Chablis may set you back about $20 to $30 but its Premier Crus will only set you back about $40 and its Grand Crus, maybe $80. Yes, this is good money but when other wineries or vineyards demand sometimes outrageous prices a few extra bucks to be on the right side of history is a pretty nice high.  703917471

 

 

 

Applied Alchemy

So for this section I will not talk about making a cocktail. Not just because it is wine as I once made vermouth using a red Burgundy to finish a cocktail I had for a Burgundy dinner back in the summer but because the elegance and graciousness of these wines should be enjoyed with food so today I give a recipe for my dinner tonight. When I was at my local wine store, I picked up a couple of bottles of Domaine Chenevieres. Knowing the basic flavor profile of the vineyards and grower I headed on over to the grocery store and started assembling my menu for the night. 

 For the 1st wine I bought Cheneviers Petite Chablis which are wines grown just outside of the district where some of the more famous vineyards lie and can be a tremendous value. The minerality is not as complex with less concentration but it is a perfect introduction into wines that can demand top dollar. With this bright citric wine I opted for New England’s best, Wianno Oysters. With these I made a mignonette of lemon and tangerine juice (1/2 of  each) diced shallot (1 whole) diced pink lady apple (1/4) a dash of freshly crushed black pepper and a tough of maple syrup (1/8 oz) to draw out the tangerines flavor and finished them with Lemon Thyme. 

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For the main course I purchased some local cod (I love highly acidic whites with the delicate yet buttery flavor of cod) and poached it in a tomato and fish broth which I added thinly sliced spring onions, watercress, baby potatoes and white asparagus. I completed the dish with a pat of butter to give it a rounder finish. With this I paired the Chenevieres Fourchaume Premier Cru. Fourchaume is one of the most famous Premier Crus. Just a one minute drive from its more prestigious cousins Fourchaume holds a similar aspect to the sun as do the Grand Crus, the micro climate is also similar with the same soil content but this is the beauty and mystery of great wines not just held to Burgundy because although the wine is well made it does not hold the acid as do the great growths of Chablis. In the end it hits just a tad short in length. Not that I am complaining as it was generous, racy and bright with a viscous buoyancy on the palate. This is a fantastic wine but does not have the longevity as the great ones. But that is why there are only 7 Grand Crus in Chablis. 

The wine itself has an aroma of toasted almonds, tangerine, silt, clay and toffee with a salty edge. The mouthfeel it is bright, and focused with a ton of limestone on the mid palate and round sweetness on the finish. The bottle really opened up with the richness of the finishing butter.

 Ingredients

  • 5 oz cod
  • 1 whole spring onion
  • 1 cup fish stock
  • 1/4 cup tomato puree
  • 4 white asparagus
  • 1/2 lemon (the squeezed out body of the fruit used for the mignonette)
  • 1/2 tangerine (the squeezed out body of the fruit used for the mignonette)
  • baby potatoes
  • lemon thyme

The Process

  • Boil your potatoes
  • once boiled but them off to the side until you are ready to plate your dish
  • Bring to a slow boil the fish stock and tomato puree
  • season with salt and pepper to taste
  • add one lemon thyme sprig and the lemon and tangerine rinds
  • as this heats add the spring onion bulb thinly sliced
  • in a saute pan add evoo and a pinch of chili flake
  • once the oil heats on a medium heat add the white asparagus
  • once they start to sear which will encourage a slight caramelized flavor add a ladle of the broth
  • lower the heat to medium low and let the asparagus lightly steam with the broth
  • remove the asparagus and add your cod.
  •  add enough broth until it almost covers the fish.
  •  plate your potatoes at the bottom of a bowl with your asparagus on top
  • once your fish is cooked gently remove it from the broth and place it on the asparagus
  • add you watercress to your broth with a pat of butter and reduce until the butter is melted
  • as always taste as you go and season accordingly
  •  once the butter is melted spoon over the fish until it fills the bottom of the bowl
  • add finishing salt, a drizzle of evoo and thinly sliced spring onion greens

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Over the years of drinking with a purpose (maybe I’m just fooling myself) there have been a handful of moments that have given my path not just direction but momentum. Like great Single Malt Scotch Whisky which is all about terrior, nothing plays with my heart strings like the zesty and toasted aromas of Chablis. This really is the standard I hold all other beverages to and thankfully, although Chablis is a tough act to follow, many of my favorite spirits, beers, wines and cocktails take it in stride.

Amen Napoleon, Amen.

ND

 

 

Should Old Acquaintance be Forgot

Yes, we all know that line, the first verse to Auld Lang Syne by the Scottish Poet Laureate Robert Burns. And even though the poet is credited for the work of every corny New Years Eve cliché it was inspired by James Watson with his poem Old Lang Syne which loosely translates to Once Upon a Time.

Regardless of the meaning, the song and sentiment seem an appropriate means to a toast at the dropping of the ball when we drink some bubbles and make ourselves promises that we will never keep. But I was wondering the other day why January 1st when almost every ancient culture celebrated their new years on any date but.

 

Ball Drop

 

Once again we have to thank the Romans for this. Yes the folks that brought you planet names, the calendar and plumbing. It’s incredible to me that a culture so far removed from us today still makes our cultural world go round. The name January comes from Janus, the two-faced god of beginnings who had one face looking to the past and the other looking forward. Our New Years stems from his celebration. Symbolically this seems apt but I’ve been wondering why not the Solstice which marks the 1st official day of winter. The shortest day seems like a great starting point to me. Or, how about the equinox that awesome day when you can balance an egg on its side. These days seem more magical as well as scientific and universal. No one is excused from the rational of science no matter how hard they try.

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Or we could shift our New Year’s around like the Chinese. Perhaps it can reflect our position to the sun. Our next closest pass to the sun will be January 4th. Maybe this is too much for our tweeted generation #Jan4#close to sun#still cold. But no matter when or how we celebrate there are traditions that transcend a date. It could be eating grapes in Spain, lentils in Umbria, crowding into a tiny bar while kissing a perfect or not so perfect stranger or running around the block with luggage in tow for a Colombians hopeful wish of travel. These traditions seem to feel hard wired in our emotional past but whatever they are they always feel like a doorway into another sense of being where anything is possible.

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Tiny Bubbles

When we think of the New Years Eve we think one drink and one drink only, Champagne. This is another puzzle to me. Champagne is truly one of the greatest gifts we have ever given ourselves. It is a perfect match for food pairings and yet it is one that we ignore until a toast is in order. Could it be the toasty quality due to the bottle conditioning? Coincidence perhaps. I am no exception to this however and when we say good bye to one of our Friends in either Saloon or Foundry on Elm I am more than happy to open a bottle of Perrier Joulet Belle Epoque and even though I know how these flavors delicately pair with food I only seem to open them when it’s a special occasion. Perhaps it is the labor and time that goes into Methode Champenoise that makes me reluctant to pop a bottle while eating a ham sandwich (If the bread is toasted it makes be a bangin’ pairing). The story of Champagne goes back to another age millions of years ago.  Old Lang Syne there was an ocean over the region we now call Champagne that left intense calcium deposits and fossilized sea anemones. This gives the wine an immensely mineral backbone with a subtle smoky and saline finish.

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Because it is so cold in Champagne the grapes never ripen like they would elsewhere. The Chardonnay grown here is not the sweet, juicy, tropical flavored profile found in Sonoma, nor is it not the creamy, apply brightness you find in Chablis. Here it is lean, highly acidic and minerally. Pinot Noir, the star of Champagne does not carry the same weight and fruity aromas that it would in warmer climates where it is widely planted either. Yes, I said Pinot Noir. The famous black grape made more famous by a silly movie of two friends in Santa Barbara gives Champagne its sophistication. Why a red grape in a white wine? Bill Russell of Westport Rivers Winery some 40 miles south of Boston once told me “Pinot Noir wants to be a white wine and has all the flavor components of one.  Every now and again it’s willing to be red and when it is it can be the greatest red there is.” I tend to agree with him on this as there is nothing like great burgundy in a great year by a great producer but it is constantly a perfect fit for Sparkling wine. Westport Rivers is nestled close to the shoreline of Horse Neck beach. Not only is this one of the best beaches in Massachusetts with water you can actually swim in but also has some of the geologic compounds found in Champagne. If you ever take a trip down you may notice all the sea shells on the driveway. I would say that he is one of the best sparkling wine producers in the country. He also makes some great beer too.

 

Contrary to popular belief, it was not the famous seventeenth century Dom Perignon who created bubbles in wine, it was actually the simple process of fermentation. When yeast eats sugars they poop alcohol. If stored in an enclosed space the alcohol being a gas has nowhere to go thus Carbon Dioxide is born. What the famous Dom did was understand wine making techniques within the cool climate of Champagne. Like Bill from Westport, Dom Perignon believed that Pinot Noir wanted to be a white grape. He lightly pressed his grapes to have little to no color extraction with the run off juice. These delicate, sparkling wines developed their finesse and elegance with the intuition and foresight of the Monk

 

The most plausible story was told 100 years prior to the most famous Dom’s legend in the Pyrenees region of Limoux (Lee-moo) with once again a group of monks. In 1531 there were detailed descriptions for the production of Blanquette Limoux (little white of Limoux). These wines which are now always frothy were said to have cork stopped flasks’ which was not the common practice of the time, in fact wine was often consumed in a sheep’s bladder. Once bottles became more prevalent the use of cork was the next step to make wine as we know today. Cork itself was easy for the monks to obtain as they bordered a cork forest. Once that piece to the puzzle was solved secondary fermentation that makes what we call sparkling wine would have been easily achieved.

Leave it to the monks to make the best of anything. They truly were and are the keepers of culture, I mean what else is there to do other then make bread, cheese, beer, wine, spirits, cordials, write books, create art and learn. This is almost selling point to me.

 

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Applied Alchemy

Most of the Champagne cocktails we drink today are only sour cocktails finished with a bit of bubbles. I prefer the simplicity of a sugar cube and bitters. The true toasted quality of the wine remains a prominent fixture in the glass. This is a simple play on the classic Champagne cocktail coming from a Foundry/Saloon alumni Tracy Witkin.

The Opening Act (this is an apt name for a New Year’s cocktail)

This is built in a Marie Antoinette rather than a mixing glass

1 sugar cube

3 dashes of Peychauds bitters

3 dashes of Fee Bros. Rhubarb bitters

¾ oz Dubonnet rouge

top with sparkling wine

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Whatever your New Years Eve tradition is and whichever resolution you break I wish you all a prosperous and happy 2015 and beyond

Cheers ,

Manny