Monthly Archives: July 2012

Philadelphia Degustation – Part 2

28 July 2012

COURSE 3: Costières de Nîmes rosé

I had a very relaxing lunch one day at Parc, a resolutely traditional French brasserie on Rittenhouse Square. Perhaps it’s a silly way to choose a pairing, but when I eat salmon, I tend to pick a wine equally as pink. Dry rosé and salmon just seem made for each other.

As I was waiting for my Provençal-style baked salmon with ratatouille and cous-cous, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of the well-dressed young ladies at the table next to me:

“Your dog doesn’t have a middle name?”

“Well, I think it’s normal for a dog not to have a middle name. But can I just say, I would never hire a dog walker as hot as yours.”

It would take a wine of great interest and vivacity to draw my attention away from such an exchange, but the 2011 Mas de Bressades, a rosé blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault from the Costières de Nîmes, succeeded in doing just that. Sandwiched between the southern Provençal cities of Nîmes and Arles, the Costières de Nîmes appellation produces wines “closer to those just over the river in the southern Côtes du Rhône” than in adjacent Languedoc, notes The Oxford Companion to Wine. The rosés in particular tend to be “good-value dry wines with a delightful color and ripe fruit,” according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia, and so it was with this excellent example.

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Philadelphia Degustation – Part 1

25 July 2012

Philadelphia may mix a mean cocktail, but the wine scene isn’t too shabby either. I was delighted to discover that most restaurants I visited had something unusual on their wine-by-the-glass menus, and I availed myself of the opportunity to try a number of deliciously odd vintages.

For your vicarious pleasure, a six-course tasting menu complete with wine pairings:

COURSE 1: Languedoc Blanc de Blancs

To start, a non-vintage Jean-Louis Denois Brut Blanc de Blancs from France’s Languedoc region, sampled at Le Bec Fin. A wine from this rather humble region seemed almost out of place at this relentlessly formal restaurant, where a bust of Marie Antoinette peers unironically at diners through cascades of crystal chandeliers. Even today, inconsistent Languedoc produces vast seas of boring vin ordinaire as well as exciting terroir-focused varietals (unusual in a country known mostly for blends).

In keeping with Languedoc fashion, this varietal sparkling wine is 100% Chardonnay, as indicated by the words “Blanc de Blancs” on the label. My initial feelings of suspicion were quickly assuaged. The wine had a rather green aroma, and it started tight and tart on the palate before opening up into flavors of apples and yeast. Bubbles felt prickly but elegantly small. Delicious. It cut right through the richness of some seared Hudson Valley foie gras, making for an excellent pairing. Even so, it’s hard to get over the eye-popping $19 per-flute price tag. That’s the average price for an entire bottle, according to Wine Searcher! Well, I suppose Le Bec Fin has to pay for all that gilt somehow.

COURSE 2: Grüner Veltliner

Next, a refreshing glass of Austria’s most famous variety, Grüner Veltliner, sipped at farm-to-table sensation Talula’s Garden. This food-friendly variety has a murky and fascinating history. Genetic testing revealed that one of its parents was Traminer, but the other parent remained a mystery for some time, until (at least according to Wikipedia) its other parent was found in the year 2000. Only a single vine of this parent variety remained, barely clinging to life in an overgrown pasture. Apparently, there are plans to try cultivating this mystery variety in the near future, and I can’t help but feel pretty darn excited about that.

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My New Favorite Bar In The World

21 July 2012

I’ve had a lot of cocktails in my day — a lot. A lot a lot. But I can count on one hand the drinks that make me long to return to the place where I first sipped them. At the very top of that list is not the Pomada in Menorca, nor the Kir Royale in Burgundy, but the Bijou Cocktail in romantic, exotic Philadelphia. This jewel of a drink was served to me in a bar down an unpromising alley, tucked behind a Mexican restaurant. Not even the concierge of the nearby Rittenhouse Hotel had heard of it.

It’s called The Ranstead Room, and though I’ve only had one drink there, it’s currently my favorite bar in the world. To reach this cocktail hideaway, turn west down Ranstead Street from 20th, and look for the black door with the two R’s on your left. The door person may request that you wait a little while, but these cocktails are worth it.

Once inside the atmospherically dim space, you might not feel surprised to see Don Draper with his mistress in one of the intimate red leather booths. In the center of the room, a striking black and amber crystal chandelier illuminates a series of gilt-framed pin-up paintings around the wall, covered in a black and cream damask wallpaper. Faux snakeskin-upholstered chairs line the bar, staffed by true cocktail craftsmen.

The retro cocktail menu had an enticing list of vintage cocktails, all priced at $12. How could I choose among a Roman Highball (amaro, ginger, lime, soda), an Arsenic & Old Lace (gin, vermouth, violette, absinthe) and an Antilles (Cognac, vermouth, orange flower water)? Fortunately, I didn’t have to.

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St. Laurent In Chicago

18 July 2012

I sampled an array of fantastic wines at the “Austria Uncorked” tasting held in Chicago this past April, but nothing impressed me so much as the luscious red wines made from St. Laurent. This relative of Pinot Noir originated in France centuries ago, perhaps in the Alsace region, but it grows particularly well in eastern and southeastern Austria. Not that we would ever know.

This variety, despite “producing deep-colored, velvety reds with sufficient concentration — provided yields are limited — to merit aging in oak and then the bottle,” remains essentially unknown in the United States (source: The Oxford Companion to Wine). Precious few restaurant wine lists have a St. Laurent on the menu. Indeed, it’s still rare to see many wines of any kind from Austria, despite the rising popularity of Grüner Veltliner, that tart, peppery white for which Austria has become well-known.

We’re really missing out. After tasting several excellent St. Laurents at Austria Uncorked, I was hooked. Determined to add a few St. Laurent varietals to my wine rack, I paid a visit to Binny’s. Although the service is laughably awful, the selection of wine is unequaled in the city (or almost anywhere, for that matter). Binny’s even boasts an entire “Austria” section. Unfortunately, it’s dominated by Grüner Veltliner and Riesling, with barely a red in sight.

(UPDATE: Binny’s happened to see this blog post and took pains to find out where their service went wrong. Our correspondence gives me great hope that their customer service has markedly improved.)

I found but one lone St. Laurent, a 2010 Sattler St. Laurent from Burgenland, a large wine region along Austria’s Hungarian border. It cost $18, which is honestly a little more than I usually spend, but I had a feeling it would be worth it. And in any case, what choice did I have?

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The Best Exotic Mango Martini

14 July 2012

With some delicious Thai delivery coming our way, and no Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Torrontés or even Moscato chilling in the fridge, I had but minutes to come up with a cocktail pairing. Something exotic and aromatic was called for, and in this heat, something very refreshing.

I took stock. Just as home chefs sometimes create something delicious out of various bits of leftovers, so I hoped to craft a cocktail from ingredients readily at hand that needed to be used up.

The coldest thing I had was a mostly empty bottle of Sobieski Vodka which had been cluttering up the freezer for months. Time for a little housecleaning. Vodka may not exactly be odd, but it works as a wonderful base on which to layer other more unusual ingredients. What else did I want to get rid of? Perhaps that half-finished bottle of mango juice… Ah — and that box of fresh basil leaves that have but a day or two left before they turn black. Fresh herbs can really kick a drink up to the next level. And how old was that bottle of lychee liqueur in the refrigerator door? A cocktail began to take shape.

I tried combining the ingredients listed above, but the resulting concoction ended up to be too sharp, too astringent. Fortunately I had a lemon in my fruit bowl, and a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice really helped round out the flavor. It tasted sweet, tart and vaguely exotic, with whispers of the basil and lychee. It was just the thing to pair with the Thai food as we huddled around our air conditioner.

While it can be great fun to experiment with leftovers, there’s something to be said for making a recipe that’s tried and true. Here’s what worked for me:

The Best Exotic Mango Martini:

2 parts vodka (I like Sobieski — it’s an excellent value for the money — but use whatever brand you prefer)

1 part mango juice (100% juice if possible)

1/2 part fresh-squeezed lemon juice

2 or 3 fresh basil leaves, depending on their size

Small splash of lychee liqueur (I used Soho Lychee Liqueur, which is available at Binny’s for $25)

Juice a lemon, and use that as the measure of one part (one lemon will make two cocktails). Add all the ingredients above to a shaker with several cubes of ice. Be sure not to add too much lychee liqueur — it can very easily overpower a cocktail. Just a tiny splash should do the trick. Shake vigorously, so that the basil leaves bruise and release their flavor. Strain into two martini glasses, and if you want to get really fancy, garnish with a basil leaf.

 

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