Restaurant Reviews

Frank Cornelissen’s Volcanic Reds

20 November 2013

Munjebel 8MCAs I wrote in this post, “non-interventionist” winemaker Frank Cornelissen isn’t afraid to break a few rules. He refuses to add preservative sulfur to his wines, he refuses to filter them, and he even ferments the juice of white grapes with the skins, resulting in the startlingly tannic Munjebel 9. It is a wine I’ll never forget.

After tasting that incredible oddity, I couldn’t wait to wrap my palate around some of Cornelissen’s reds. All his grapes come from the slopes of Mount Etna, an active volcano in eastern Sicily. But “It’s a good volcano,” Cornelissen contended, and about as ancient as wine regions get. The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia notes that “this is the wine that Ulysses used to intoxicate the Cyclops,” in Homer’s Odyssey.

On the higher elevations, where The Oxford Companion to Wine says vineyards “show great promise,” Cornelissen asserted it’s not the stereotypical southern Italian landscape. “We’ve got lizards, we’ve got snow — it’s completely different from people’s idea of Sicily,” he explained. And he’s convinced it’s one of the world’s great wine regions. “To be honest, I think the greatest terroirs are in Italy,” Cornelissen confided, “but people don’t necessarily understand it.”

He certainly has worked to understand his terroir, altering the environment as little as possible as he tends to his vineyards, eschewing even organic additives and biodynamic preparations in all but the direst circumstances. And as noted above, his hands-off philosophy continues into the winery, resulting in unusual and controversial wines absolutely packed with flavor. In addition to the Munjebel 9, we tasted three of Cornelissen’s exciting reds at Autre Monde‘s Sicilian themed-dinner:

Pasta al FornoRosso del Contadino 10: This big, barely-in-control wine blends several white and red Sicilian varieties, including Nerello Mascalese and Carricante. It smelled of enticingly of violets and tight, dark-red fruit, and my goodness, what a slap in the face of flavor: big, red, aromatic fruit; big, tart, mouth-puckering acids; big tannins. Kabam! It made for a seriously gutsy pairing with some perfectly tender octopus with potatoes, olives and sun-dried tomatoes. The touch of brininess in the dish brought out a little something extra in the wine.

MUNJEBEL 8 MC: The “MC” stands for “Monte Colla,” the name of the recently acquired vineyard from which this wine comes. According to distributor Cream Wine, the steep, sandy-clay vineyard dates to 1946, and the vines produce very low yields of Nerello Mascalese (a centuries-old crossing of Sangiovese and an as-yet unknown variety). Vineyard sites are of paramount importance at Etna, according to Cornelissen, who likens the area to Burgundy. This single-vineyard Nerello Mascalese had a dark cherry aroma and appealing flavors of tight red fruit and smooth, dark chocolate, followed by a very tannic finish. We tried the Munjebel 8 MC with some savory pasta al forno (baked pasta, photo above) with tomato sauce enriched by various cheeses and mortadella. It became noticeably more powerful and intense. My dining companion remarked that “the dusty-musty Parmesan goes really well with the dusty-musty aspects of the wine.”

Caponata and pickled onionsMUNJEBEL 8 VA: Another 100% Nerello Mascalese, this wine comes from four different vineyards averaging 80 years in age, according to Cream Wine. Even more unusual is that approximately 90% of the vines are ungrafted, meaning that they grow on their own rootstocks. Almost all European vines were regrafted onto American rootstocks in the wake of the phylloxera epidemic, but because of the high altitude of these vineyards, regrafting was unnecessary. This expression of Nerello Mascalese had a more subtle aroma of dark fruit, and my dining companion noted a floral quality as well. It tasted less tannic than the MC, with dark fruit, notes of mocha and big, bold acids. First we sampled it with some delicious caponata and pickled onions (photo right). “This is just what the wine needed,” my dining companion remarked. “Pickled onions. It’s just so much more calm.” Paired with an exquisite dish of fork-tender braised lamb and pearl cous-cous, the wine became even bigger and spicier. A magnificent match.

Cornelissen’s wines can be difficult to find because of the small production. Restaurants are apparently your best bet. Those in Chicago should check with Autre Monde to see if they have any in stock (or just go to Autre Monde regardless, because the food was superb). Alternatively, pizzeria Spacca Napoli is a good bet, along with Spiaggia, Trencherman and Telegraph.

If you see one of his wines on a menu, it might be a pricey by-the-glass option, but don’t hesitate to order it. It’s sure to be worth every penny.

Autre Monde Cafe on Urbanspoon

Cool Cocktails At Taverna 750

9 November 2013
Taverna 750

Taverna 750

One problem with my closest neighborhood cocktail bar, Marty’s, is that their fishbowl-size martinis warm up well before I finish them. I don’t go to Marty’s because I never enjoy the second half of my drink (and because I once caught a bartender substituting Razzmatazz in my cocktail for the Chambord listed on the menu). Oversize cocktails just aren’t for me.

Or so I thought until my visit to Taverna 750 in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Here they’ve devised a simple and elegant solution for keeping that last half of your martini ice-cold: storing it on ice in a little glass pitcher until you’re ready to drink it. Each cocktail comes with this sidecar, whether you order off the menu or not.

But I do recommend ordering off the cocktail menu — we tried three different cocktails over the course of our shared small-plate dinner, and each was thoroughly delicious. I started with a Blood & Sand, a concoction which dates at least as far back as Bill Boothby’s 1934 cocktail guide, World Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em, which calls for scotch, Cherry Heering and fresh-squeezed orange juice. Taverna 750 gooses up that simple recipe by mixing together Glenmorangie Single-Malt Scotch, sweet vermouth, Cherry Heering, housemade orangecello, lemon juice and simple syrup.

Blood & Sand

Blood & Sand

A waiter placed the drink in front of me, sidecar and all, and asked, “One Colonel Gaddafi?” I must have had a pained look on my face as I chuckled. “Too soon?” Well, at least it wasn’t a Syria joke. In any case, I loved the Blood & Sand. My dining companion had a taste of it, rolled his eyes with pleasure and ordered one of his own. It had a creamy bitter-orange aroma, a profile carried through on the palate: rich, sweet and bitter, undergirded by orangey acids. The sidecar kept the second half of my drink ice-cold, with no loss of integrity as I finished the first.

My dining companion’s second drink — a classic Aviation made with Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin, Crème Yvette (a violet-infused liqueur), Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur, fresh lemon juice and simple syrup — was just as good, if not as deeply complex. It looked pink and tasted purple, with an appealing floral/citrusy character.

I kept things on the bitter side of the spectrum with my Toronto, another classic (if unfamous) cocktail mixing whiskey, Fernet Branca (a very bitter amaro) and simple syrup. As with the Blood & Sand, Taverna 750 took this recipe up a notch by combining Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey, Fernet Branca, maple syrup and orange bitters. It smelled pleasantly green and bitter, and it presented a startling flavor profile of bitterness, then mint, and finally rich caramel. This Toronto packed a seriously boozey punch, but it felt remarkably smooth on the tongue. An excellent digestif.

We should have been finished at that point, but our personable waiter Chris asked if we would be interested in a complimentary shot of one of Taverna 750′s housemade ‘cellos. The most common of the ‘cellos is limoncello, made by steeping lemon zest in vodka and mixing in some sugar. I’ve also had ‘cellos made with the zest of other citrus fruits and even fennel, but never pistachio or espresso. Taverna 750′s unorthodox pistachiocello had a wonderful nutty thickness balanced out by some pointy citrusy notes, and the espressocello combined rich coffee flavor with the dense, sweet texture of a ‘cello. Both were delightful.

Marty’s and Taverna 750 both offer a stylish atmosphere, and they would ostensibly appeal to the same type of patron. But make no mistake: Taverna 750 is much better suited to cocktail connoisseurs. Marty’s, with its oversize and oversweet martinis, is for amateurs.

Taverna 750 on Urbanspoon

Galicia’s Answer To Sauvignon Blanc

2 March 2013

She crab soup with sherryUnadventurous wine lists at corporate parties and weddings tend to read something like this: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon. Sauvignon Blanc tops the list so often because it tends to be fruity and very food-friendly, with fun, juicy acids. But if you’re itching to get out of the Sauvignon Blanc rut — and if you’re reading this, I suspect you are — I’ve got just the white for you: Godello.

This variety indigenous to Spain’s northwestern Galicia region almost became extinct thanks to Phylloxera, and it languished in obscurity for years. It was only “recently re-discovered,” according to the 2001 edition of André Dominé’s Wine, and the Galician region best known for producing Godello, the rainy Valdeorras D.O., now “regularly hits the headlines of the Spanish trade press.”

All my wine books speak highly of Godello grown in Valdeorras. The World Atlas of Wine argues that it “can yield extremely fine wines worth ageing,” and The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia notes that “The best [Valdeorras] wineries have now been modernized and are even better than they used to be, particularly for white wines made from the Godello grape.”

Even so, it can be hard to find this “fine white grape variety” (The Oxford Companion to Wine), because Galician vineyards and wineries tend to be small, with necessarily limited production, and much of what is produced is consumed locally. The Galicians know a good thing when they taste it. I felt very lucky, therefore, when I spotted it on the wines-by-the-glass list at Carter’s Kitchen, a delightful casual restaurant tucked away in Mount Pleasant, a suburb of Charleston, South Carolina.

Carter’s Kitchen offered the 2011 Valdesil Montenovo Godello for $8 a glass, one of the least-expensive wines on the list. I needed something with some serious acids to compete with the decadent seafood I’d just ordered, and the Godello proved up to the challenge. It started with some sweet, apply fruit, but this was quickly overtaken by focused, limey acids which carried through to a white-peppery finish. The wine cut right through the richness of a creamy and thick she crab soup (pictured above), and it kept its laser focus against some beautifully fresh fried “doormat flounder” as well.

I wouldn’t hesitate to order it again with seafood, pork, chicken, pasta with cream sauce, risotto… Its juicy fruit and tight acids ensure that it can stand up to all sorts of rich foods, clearing the palate to prepare for the next bite. Keep an eye out for Godellos – if you like Sauvignon Blanc, a nervy Godello from Galicia will be right up your palate.

SUMMARY

2011 Valdesil Montenovo Godello: Fruity but focused, with tight acids that can shine right through a host of rich foods. An excellent escape from a Sauvignon Blanc rut. Chill well before serving.

Grade: B+

Find It: Williams-Sonoma sells this particular Godello for $15, but don’t worry if you can’t find this specific label. Binny’s, for example, lists nine different Godellos on its website ranging in price from $10 to $50 a bottle. Also check out my review of this Godello from Galicia’s Monterrei region.

 

Unusual Pairings at Urban Union – Part 3

9 January 2013

MorgonI must admit no small amount of surprise at this three-part post — I had no intention of rambling on so about the wine I had at Urban Union. If you’re just joining us, you here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2, both of which are pregnant with tales of odd wines such as Jacquère from Savoie, Rkaciteli from Macedonia and rosé from Beaujolais.

Speaking of Beaujolais, we returned to that southern section of the Burgundy region with a 2010 Jean Foillard “Cuvée Corcelette” Morgon, which sommelier Andrew Algren praised as “a mind-numbingly beautiful Beaujolais.”

Now this, of course, is not to be confused with the infamous Beaujolais Nouveau, that sweet, light, and generally overpriced red released around Thanksgiving. And Beaujolais can be confusing. Beyond the Nouveau, there is basic Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages which comes from the more desirable hills in the north, and finally cru Beaujolais.

This last category comes from one of ten different communes, each of which produces wine considered to be of such character that it deserves its own appellation. A cru Beaujolais likely won’t even say “Beaujolais” on the bottle (see above right); it will simply say Fleurie, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Juliénas, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Chiroubles, St-Amour, Regnié, or Morgon. Don’t worry about trying to memorize these names (not that you were). In a wine shop of any size, they’ll all be grouped together in the Beaujolais section. And cru Beaujolais wines are worth the hunt.

Duck and ParsnipsThe Jean Foillard Morgon, imported by Kermit Lynch (a sign of quality), lived up to its cru designation. The nose had exciting dark fruit, black pepper and tobacco notes. The rich fruit continued through on the palate, where the wine exhibited significant but very controlled, focused power, like a semi-truck on a well-paved highway. Paired with a course of rich and tender duck breast with parsnip purée, crispy parsnip strips and cranberry gelée, the wine became even bigger, with black pepper and green peppercorn notes zinging to the fore.

While many start dinners with a glass of sparkling wine, Algren chose to finish this feast with one. He poured us each a glass of NV Bortolotti Lagrein, a brut rosé spumante from Valdobbiadene, that town in the Alpine foothills north of Venice famous for its Prosecco. Lagrein is the variety, which is grown on only about 750 acres nowadays, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine. It produces “fragrant yet sturdy” sparkling rosé (or “rosato” in Italian), the Companion notes, and the Bortolotti certainly had an aroma. It reminded me of cherry Robitussin. But it tasted bright and fun, with lots of red fruit and zippy acids.

DessertPaired with a delectable dessert of apple cake with quince, cinnamon chips, cinnamon ice cream and a square of flourless mint-chocolate cake, the Bortolotti was “great.” Sorry. By this point, my writing had degenerated into the shaky scrawl my notebook has come to expect towards the end of these sorts of dinners: “Salty, min-t (sic), choc (sic) – geat (sic) w/Lagrein” is all I’ve got for you.

Algren also gave us a second dessert pairing, a small glass of Carpano Antica, a sweet vermouth with an almost cult-like following among many bartenders. You can drink this vermouth straight, certainly. It tasted “Sweet, biter (sic), warming — fun!” And with that, Algren wisely cut me off.

It’s a shame Algren has departed Urban Union, but I have no doubt that the restaurant’s adventurous wine program will remain intact. Chef de Cuisine Joshua Marrell continues, as of this posting, to helm the kitchen, and if this dinner was any indication, he’s a talent worth watching.

Note: The Urban Union staff was aware that my dining companions and I were food/wine bloggers, and we did not pay for our meal.

Unusual Pairings At Urban Union – Part 2

5 January 2013

We drank so many tasty and unusual things at our dinner at Urban Union, I couldn’t possibly fit them all into one post. To read about some fine unfiltered/unpasteurized sake, a bright wine from France’s Savoie and a truly odd selection from Macedonia, follow this link.

To venture yet further into the obscure, read on!

Mushrooms and Domaine FilliatreauWhen most people think of wines from France’s Loire Valley – if they think of them at all — they think of crisp, minerally whites like Sancerre. But the Loire produces robust reds as well, most notably from the Cabernet Franc variety. Ex-Sommelier Andrew Algren (he left Urban Union just days after our dinner) selected a wine from the Saumur-Champigny section of the Loire, which produces “one of Cabernet Franc’s most refreshing expressions,” according to The World Atlas to Wine. According to Algren, it’s “like grabbing a handful of French forest floor and chowing down.” I was intrigued.

To me, the 2010 Domaine Filliatreau “La Grande Vignolle” tasted eye-poppingly tight, especially after smelling its deep, enticing, meaty aroma. It was very acidic and tannic, with a finish of black pepper. It screamed for food. In keeping with the French forest floor theme, Chef de Cuisine Joshua Marrell presented a course of trumpet, chanterelle and maitake mushrooms foraged, reportedly, by a local comedian. This rather daringly simple dish smelled appealingly like mushroom-topped pizza. Its earthy flavors tamed the punchy acids in the wine, resulting in positively delightful combination.

Domaine RomyBucking convention, Algren moved from a red to pink, pouring a highly unusual Beaujolais rosé (not to be confused with Beaujolais Nouveau, that fruity but usually over-sweet red released around Thanksgiving). Made from Gamay, the variety used in all red Beaujolais wines, the orangey-pink 2010 Domaine Romy Beaujolais Rosé tasted of juicy strawberries, with a firm structure and ample minerals and acids. Delicious. Served with a wonderfully garlicky dish of tender charred octopus, confit of potatoes in beef fat and scallion purée, the wine’s flavor didn’t seem to change all that much. Instead, the wine enhanced the flavor of the food, bringing its savory richness to new heights.

Algren pouring UlaciaAnd then we were back, oddly enough, to a white. Poured theatrically from overhead, as is traditional in Spain’s Basque country, Algren presented a 2011 Ulacia Getariako Txakolina. This tart, apply, slightly fizzy wine comes from near the town of Getaria, a region of cool, rainy summers which The Oxford Companion to Wine calls “hardly ideal grape-growing country.” Nevertheless, the whites, mostly made from the Hondarribi Zuri variety, have “noticeably improved” in the last couple of decades. (Incidentally, there’s a nasty rumor going around that Hondarribi Zuri is a hybrid of a Vitis vinifera variety and some other species of Vitis. Scandal!)

Algren paired the Ulacia with a dish of prosciutto from black-skinned pigs, pickled mustard seeds and crunchy celery root, to marvelous effect. The tart wine cut right through the fat of the prosciutto and became a bit sweeter in the process. A hearty, zesty combination I wouldn’t hesitate to order again. (Marrell graciously credited the inspiration for this dish to Marco Pierre White’s cookbook “White Heat.”)

Good heavens, there’s yet more to come? Loosen your belts, ladies and gentlemen; we’ve got three courses left to go.

Up Next: A stellar cru Beaujolais, a Lagrein from Italy, and for dessert… vermouth. Hey, this is Odd Bacchus, folks. Were you expecting Port?

Unusual Pairings At Urban Union – Part 1

2 January 2013

Chef de Cuisine Joshua MarrellEvery now and then, an invitation to attend a special dinner will waft my way, and though I do my best to avoid overindulgence (ahem), I feel it is my bloggerly duty to accept whenever possible. And so,  immediately following my office’s Christmas party, at which much pasta and red wine was consumed, I headed to Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood, home to cozy and stylish Urban Union.

A handful of other food/wine bloggers gathered at the communal Chef’s Table, “where diners are served customized and unique creations, along with expertly selected wine pairings by the two sommeliers on staff,” according to the invitation. I felt a bit apprehensive, hoping that the pairings would be unusual enough to suit this blog, but as soon as I walked in, I knew it would work out just fine. A large chalkboard listed the “Wines on Tap,” starting with a Greek Moschofilero and a Californian Arneis. Yeah!

We started with a relatively conventional but undeniably delicious pairing of sake and ahi tuna sashimi with ponzu, basil and almonds. The Narutotai Ginjo Namagenshu, an unpasturized, unfiltered sake that continues to condition in its can, tasted fruity and a bit yeasty before driving to a clean, spicy finish. Paired with the sashimi, it seemed surprisingly less spicy; it became smoother, duskier. (You can read more about sake here.)

Domaine GiachinoThings started to get more unusual and exciting when General Manager and Sommelier Andrew Algren brought out the next bottle, a 2009 Domaine Giachino Abymes “Monfarina”.Very little wine escapes from France’s Alpine Savoie region, so I always feel delighted when I have the chance to taste one. This wine comes from the Abymes cru, about 100 kilometers south of Geneva, Switzerland, and it’s made with Jacquère, a white variety obscure to us but relatively common in Savoie. The wine smelled of rich green apples, and it tasted light-bodied and rather tart. The acids cried out for food, and a delightful winter beet salad with pancetta chips mellowed them nicely.

Chef de Cuisine Joshua Marrell kept things seasonal with his next course, a lush sunchoke purée topped with roasted sunchokes and sunchoke chips. Its deeply satisfying flavor worked marvelously with Algren’s most daring pairing yet: A 2011 Tikveš Rkaciteli from theSunchokes pureed, roasted and in chip form Republic of Macedonia (not to be confused with the Greek region of the same name). If you’ve encountered the incredibly ancient Rkaciteli variety at all, it was probably spelled “Rkatsiteli” and it probably came from Georgia (the country) or perhaps New York. It’s the most widely planted variety in the ex-Soviet republics, which isn’t necessarily a ringing endorsement, but it can make some excellent wines.

Macedonia, for its part, has a climate “extremely favorable to vine cultivation,” according to The Oxford Companion to Wine, and I was excited to see what this little country would do with one of the world’s oldest wine varieties. The Tikveš Rkaciteli fascinated me with aromas of bright pear and a bit of tar. It proved to be very acidic, oily and minerally, which sounds terrible, but I found it oddly enticing. The rich sunchoke dish balanced out the acids, making the wine rounder and fuller.

Up Next: The meal continues with an unexpected rosé and a wine that tastes like “grabbing a handful of the French forest floor and chowing down.”

Urban Union on Urbanspoon

Drink the Brown – Part 2

26 September 2012

Madeira, a fortified wine produced on the tiny Atlantic island of the same name, ages in an equally odd fashion as sherry (see the previous post). The best madeiras end up ageing for years, usually decades, in the attics of lodges in Funchal, cooked by the warm Madeira sun. This method is called canteiro, as opposed to the less-time consuming estufagem process which involves artificially heating the wine.

Exposing wine to high heat and wide temperature swings for decades at a time is exactly the opposite of how I was taught to treat fine wine, but it seems to work quite well for madeira. In fact, after suffering through summer after summer in a semi-tropical attic, Madeira becomes quite resilient. After all, what else can you do to the stuff? It can last in the bottle for decades or even centuries.

You’ll see standard madeira blends classified by flavor profile (dry, medium sweet, etc.), but if you’re going to buy some madeira, spend a bit more and go for one with a more specific classification, such as Sercial, Verdelho, Bual and Malmsey, which indicate the predominant grape variety as well as the level of sweetness. Sercial is the driest, and Malmsey the sweetest (you can read more information about these styles here and here.) These categories are then further subdivided by age.

At Stella! in New Orleans, I had a Rare Wine Company “New York” Malmsey Special Reserve, produced by Vinhos Barbeito. “Malmsey” on a madeira label indicates that it’s made from Malvasia grapes, and the words “Special Reserve” guarantee that the youngest wine in the blend is at least 10 years old. Although this is among the sweetest styles of madeira, I didn’t have it with dessert. The creative sommelier, Marc J. Doiron, paired it with some crispy veal sweetbreads with andouille sausage, turnips and egg yolk.

Good heavens, what a marvelous pairing! The madeira smelled rich and woodsy, with some wheat toast in there as well. It tasted predictably sweet and caramelly, but amazing bright acids kicked in on the finish, ensuring that it would be food friendly. It complemented the delicate sweetbreads but stood up to the andouille and turnips as well. Quite the balancing act! I don’t often write “Wow!” in my notebook, but write it I did.

I don’t currently have any madeira at home, but you can bet it will be on my Christmas list. I could imagine it pairing well with some roast pork with sweet potatoes, or perhaps turkey with stuffing. Indeed, madeira was quite popular in colonial America, making it a thoroughly appropriate choice for Thanksgiving. Get a bottle now, give it a try, and if you can manage to avoid drinking the whole thing, you can serve the rest to the more adventurous palates at your Thanksgiving table, assuming you have a few.

If you don’t, then I say forget hosting dinner and head to Stella! instead. It’s not inexpensive, but my goodness, the food and wine is sheer delight.

Stella! on Urbanspoon

Drink The Brown – Part 1

22 September 2012

When considering what wine to pair with a meal, most of us consider whether a red or white would work best. A smaller percentage also toss sparkling and rosé wines into the mix. But precious few of us, myself included, give even a fleeting thought to “brown” wines, such as sherry or madeira. If any of you happen to own a bottle of one of these fortified wines, it’s likely standing next to some seldom-poured liqueurs, collecting dust, waiting to be sipped with a slice of fruitcake or something. That’s the sad state of my nine-year-old bottle of Pedro Ximinez, certainly.

A dinner at New Orleans’ fabulous Stella! showed me that it need not be so. I ordered the four-course tasting menu with the accompanying wine pairing, and I must admit it came as a bit of a shock to see a sherry paired, not with dessert, but with my first course of octopus, and then a madeira paired with my second course of veal sweetbreads. And by golly, they worked pretty darn well!

Both sherry and madeira require rather unorthodox production methods. Sherry, produced in and around the southern Spanish city of Jerez, ages in barrels, like many wines. In the case of Fino-style sherry, these barrels aren’t filled to the brim. Partially filled barrels allow “flor,” a layer of yeast, to form on top of the wine. This flor protects the wine from oxidation and also changes its flavor profile. (More strongly fortified Oloroso sherry is vinified without flor, but that’s for another post.)

The particular sherry I tasted was a Manzanilla Pasada produced by Bodegas Hidalgo from a single vineyard called Pastrana (one of the best sites in the Jerez Superior District, according to the Hidalgo website). “Manzanilla” indicates that the sherry was produced in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, a seaside town cool enough for the flor to flourish all year long. “Pasada” indicates that the sherry has been aged longer than a Manzanilla but not as long as an Amontillado.

A straw/gold color, the Hidalgo Manzanilla Pasada “Pastrana” had enticing aromas of caramel, pear and a little funk. It tasted dry as a bone, with a nutty flavor, some eye-opening saline notes and prickly acids. The acids and the hints of salinity were what really made the pairing with the rich octopus work. My stars and stripes, I could practically feel the sea spray on my face! This wine won’t appeal to everyone, but if you do like the nutty flavor of sherry, this startlingly dry version would make a great choice for an autumn dinner of fish with root vegetables.

UP NEXT: Aging wines in a sub-tropical attic instead of a cellar? It should be a recipe for disaster, but it works for madeira.

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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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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