October 2008


David Lett, a pioneer of the Oregon wine industry, died Thursday. He was only 69. He went to Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1965, convinced — against all the advice he had been given — that this would be fertile ground for pinot noir and pinot gris. The wines he produced at The Eyrie Vineyard proved him right. david_lett.JPG

While a later generation or two of winemakers moved toward ripe, dark, heavily extracted wines, Lett continued to make pinot noir on the Burgundian model of spare elegance and delicacy, with spicy red fruit flavors and whip-lash acid. Delicious in youth, the wines, especially the Reserves, aged beautifully for 10 to 15 years. His chardonnays were wonderful too.

By happenstance, I spent an afternoon with David Lett during the International Pinot Noir Conference in 2003. A friend and I hitched a ride with him in his Jaguar, we visited the winery (in an old turkey warehouse) and drove out to his house. It was a beautiful, still afternoon. We wandered through his old vineyards, not even talking most of the time, not that he didn’t love to talk. That night, at the big banquet and salmon cook-out, Lett brought some old bottles of his pinot noir and chardonnay. They were lovely, the pinots taut and vigorous, yet satiny and flavorful, the chardonnays seamlessly layered with minerality.

The younger winemakers I talked to at the conference were clearly fond of Lett, but he was also clearly regarded as eccentric, old-fashioned and stubborn. Subtlety, he was condescended to. I tried the pinot noir wines concocted by these young winemakers, these pinots that burst with ripe black fruit flavors, that seethed with spice and smoke, that felt plush and velvety, and I made notes on them. The wines I kept going back to, however, were David Lett’s pinot noirs.

His was the vision at the beginning; his will be the vision at the end.

Image of David Lett from Wikipedia.

My salmon omelet in the pan
Taking some of the leftover salmon from a post two days ago, I flaked some off into three eggs whisked with salt, pepper and fresh thyme. I briefly sauteed in butter some chopped red onion and tomato, and when those had softened, I poured in the egg mixture. Now, I don’t care for a runny omelet — and you purists will say, “You don’t like omelets!” and that’s O.K. — and I know that what I get in the end is really a stove-top frittata thin enough to fold over on the plate, leaving room for a couple of pieces of toast and a spoonful of salsa verde, which is exactly what I did have, and the whole ensemble was incredibly satisfying.

For wine, I chose something unusual, the Bouké White Table Wine 2007, from the North Fork of Long Island, one of the first bouke_07white.jpg releases for this young winery; the other is a rosé (sold out) and a soon to be released red blend. The Bouké White 2007, which sees no oak, is a blend of chardonnay (40%), pinot gris (32%), sauvignon blanc (18%) and gewurztraminer (10%). This is a clean, fresh and brisk white wine, drawing on its constituent elements for character and yet expressing a seamless personality. There’s ripeness and smoothness from the chardonnay, and touches of pineapple and grapefruit; the pinot gris and gewurztraminer contribute racy spiciness and subtle. slightly astringent floral notes; the sauvignon blanc adds pear and melon, hints of dried herbs and a layer of minerality. All of these factors add up to an attractive quaff that was delicious with my omelet and also as an aperitif. Of course the wines from Bouké are primarily available now in Long Island and New York and Westchester County, but, untypically for a winery on Long Island, Bouké is trying for a national presence. We’ll see how that goes. Very Good+. About $18.

I borrowed the label image from lenndevours.

To Dr. Johnson’s pithy statement that there is no end to the making of books — little did he know! — I will add that there is no end to the making of lists.

Sent to me in an email message by My Foodservice News is this “Omnivore’s 100,” a list of foods that British writer Andrew Wheeler thinks every well-schooled gourmet or gourmand or diner or serious eater should try in his or her lifetime. Apparently, this list has been all over the Internet, but its recent appearance in my inbox marks the first spam.gif time I saw it.

It’s an interesting, goofy and ultimately bizarre list, and you’ll see what I mean because, bless my little pointy head, I’m going to reproduce the whole thing for you. I mean, this is billed as a challenge, yet some of the items are no challenge at all (peanut 180px-scotch-bonnet.jpg butter and jelly sandwich) and others are if not impossible at least downright self-destructive (eating a whole Scotch bonnet pepper raw); some of the recommendations seem so obvious they shouldn’t be mentioned (gumbo) and others are plain dumb (will eating wasabi peas really broaden your culinary horizons?). Pistachio ice cream seems incredibly arbitrary; why not butter pecan or Rocky Road or rum raisin or Chunky Monkey? The problem is that anyone with some knowledge of world cuisine could probably make another list of 100 items and not repeat Wheeler’s list. In fact the whole enterprise smacks of pretension and sensationalism, as by including S’mores (#61) and Roadkill (#75) Wheeler tries for a Soccer Mom meets Anthony Bourdain effect.

So, here it is, the “Omnivore’s 100″:
1.Venison
2.Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwish
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephants ears or funnel cakes
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouilette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

It would take Claude Levi-Strauss to elucidate some organization or innate structure within this list. Scotch whisky and Scotch Bonnet pepper. Cheese fondue and head cheese. Root beer float and curried goat. How could Wheeler have resisted the binary opposition and resolution of Porterhouse steak and Toll House cookies? Of Hoppin’ John and johnnycakes and John Dory? Of peaches Melba, potatoes Anna and steak Diane? Of King crab claws, Queen Mother cake and Veal Prince Orloff?

Spam advertisement from nicktingle.com. Scotch Bonnet pepper from Wikipedia.

BTW, I said in the post above that Claude Levi-Strauss was deceased (now corrected), but alert reader Robert K. Bleckman pointed out that the pioneering structuralist and philosopher is alive and well and perhaps even kicking. Thanks, Robert.

A filet of Coho salmon, sprinkled with salt, pepper and lemon juice, briefly sauteed and then roasted at 450 degrees, all this adding up to no more than about four minutes, so the fish is rare inside but not raw and slightly crusty outside. Kale sauteed thelanechard.jpg with shallots and then steamed in white wine and agrodolce. (Yes, we’re all about omega-3!) Brown rice. A simple and utterly satisfying dinner.

With some trepidation, I opened a bottle of The Lane “Beginning” Chardonnay 2005, from Australia’s Adelaide Hills. With trepidation, I say, because the label description uses terms like “opulent,” “slippery and sensuous,” “evolutionary new style,” typical code-words, in my sensibility, for “over-oaked” and “undrinkable.”

Fortunately, the wine is anything but over-oaked and undrinkable; it is, in fact, not only compulsively drinkable but is one of the most elegant, high-toned, mineral-dominated chardonnays I have ever tasted. It’s like a great Chablis elevated to the nth power. The first impression is of steely leanness, as if you’re drinking cold metal. It’s amazingly clean, quickly turning floral, but in an austere, almost astringent manner, like some tailored cologne, and then it picks up notes of lime-basil and roasted lemon. As the moments pass, the wine adds some heft, a little fatness to its seductive texture, but it never becomes powdery or opulent, despite what the label states. It retains its ripe and blossomy nature — and there are touches of lime peel and crystallized ginger — but any stab at sensuous qualities is balanced by electrifying crisp acid and a limestone element that seems rooted in the very bedrock of the Cambrian period. This chardonnay, well-stored, should develop power and intensity for six or seven years. Bottled with a screw-cap for easy opening. Exceptional. About $45.

Imported by Tom Eddy Wines, Calistoga, Ca.

This brief foray into the white wines of the venerable house of Louis Latour scarcely taps into the long list of products the company produces. Not counting Beaujolais, but counting Chablis, the Côte de Nuit and Côte de Beaune of Burgundy proper and the Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise, Louis Latour produces 64 whites wines and 82 red wines. Of course some of these, from the Grand Cru vineyards and some of the Premier Crus, are made in minuscule quantities and are correspondingly expensive.

Louis Latour was founded as a négociant-éléveur in 1797 and 10 generation later is still owned and run by the Latour family. The company owns 125 acres in Burgundy, of which 71.6 acres are in Grand Cru vineyards, the largest amount of Grand Cru acreage owned by a single house.

If 2005 in Burgundy produced chardonnay-based wines of immense power, dynamism and intensity, the whites of 2006 are more subtle and supple, generally, more crystalline is structure and acidity. Let’s say that the 2005 whites exude glamour, while the 2006 whites are lovely.
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Le Chardonnay de Chardonnay 2006. Here’s a fresh, clean, well-structured expression of the chardonnay grape, originating from the village of Chardonnay in the Mâconnais; apparently, this is where chardonnay was first planted. Made completely in stainless steel, the wine combines crisp acid, a limestone element that feels lacy and almost transparent and spicy citrus flavors; the bouquet includes an afterthought of orange blossom and honeysuckle. This would be a terrific house wine, whether for your house or for a bistro-style restaurant. Very Good, and Great Value. About $16.
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Red wine accounts for about 95 percent of the production of the Beaune appellation, but Louis Latour’s inclusive philosophy practically dictates an expedition into the white wine side. Latour’s Beaune 2006 is an elegant and at this point, almost two years old, a nicely developed chardonnay. The enticing bouquet offers smoke, jasmine, lemon curd and lots of spice, while in the mouth, the wine is quite dry, minerally, vibrant and lavishly oaky; fortunately, there’s also a full complement of buttery, roasted pear and citrus flavors. Drink now through 2011 or ’12. Very Good+. About $25.
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The Louis Latour Meursault 2006 is a “village” wine, meaning that the grapes come from the vineyards of Meursault that are officially designated but not Premier or Grand Cru vineyards. In difficult years, producers will sometimes de-classify their Premier Cru wines and bottle them as village wines. Ideally, a village wine will embody the typical character of the appellation. This Meursault 2006 certainly captures the richness of typical Meursault, with its buoyant, deep, spicy bouquet and its generous, ripe almost savory fruit, but the wine is also searingly steely and minerally, dry and austere. It could use a year to mellow and then should drink well through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $39.
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Chateau de Blagny is a monopole for Louis Latour, that is, a rare instance where a producer in Burgundy owns an entire vineyard; usually vineyards are divided among many owners, who sometimes own as little as two or three rows of vines. The Meursault-Blagny Premier Cru Chateau de Blagny 2006 is impressive for its firm structure, its richness and expansive spicy quality and the depth of its fruit, but I found the wine not merely influenced by oak but downright woody. I wouldn’t touch the wine until 2010, hoping it will mellow and find some balance. Very Good. About $55.
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Yes, friends, we have come to a time when a Premier Cru white wine from Burgundy can cost upward of a hundred smackers and more, so let’s have no more of that “what ever happened to the $40 Premier Cru” nostalgia, and anyway, in the case of the blatantly wonderful Louis Latour Meursault-Charmes Premier Cru 2006, let’s pretend that the recent world-wide financial melt-down dealt no fatal blow to our fiduciary prowess. My first note is: “Oh wow!” This is an absolutely lovely and expressive chardonnay, deep, resonant, vibrant and complete. Roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors are imbued with smoke and hints of ripe pear and peach. The wine slides across the tongue in a self-confident display of satiny opulence, but chiming acid and an almost plangent limestone element keep any extravagance in check. Spicy oak comes through on the finish, though ultimately the wine is beautifully balanced and integrated. Drink through 2016 to ’18 (well-stored). Excellent. About $90.
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Louis Latour’s stylish Chassagne-Montrachet 2006 manages several paradoxes with the handiness of Ricky Jay shuffling a deck of cards while juggling three bowling pins. The wine seems woven of tissues of delicacies that add up to firm size and dimension; it feels weightless at first, but it gathers ripeness and substance; the wood influence is subtle, supple and almost subliminally spicy, yet the wine openly declares its richness; clean, crisp acid and a powerful mineral factor round this impeccably-made village wine off with a touch of austerity. Well-nigh irresistible. Drink now through 2013 or ’15. Excellent. About $46
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The Louis Latour Chassagne-Montrachet “Morgeot” Premier Cru 2006 offers a generous, seductive bouquet of roasted lemon and lemon balm, jasmine, baking spice and super-clean limestone. This is a graceful wine, substantial without being obvious, dense, supple and silky, and perfectly balanced among ripe, sweet citrus flavors, subtle oak, bright acid and a steely mineral element that deepens as the moments pass. A lovely wine with a hint of seriousness about it. Drink now through 2014 to ’16. Excellent. About $81.

(more…)

The Sebeka Chenin Blanc “Steen” 2008, Western Cape, is the best wine I have tried from this South African producer marketed sebeka.jpg by E.&J. Gallo. 2008? Right, remember, South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, where harvest usually occurs in April. “Steen” is the name the chenin blanc grape goes by in South Africa. Made all in stainless steel, this clean, fresh version offers a fruit cocktail bouquet of quince, kiwi, lime and ruby grapefruit woven with limestone and gunflint. There’s more lime and ruby grapefruit in the mouth, with hints of lemon and pear and a trace of grapefruit bitterness on the stony but not austere finish. The wine is bright and lively with crisp acid. We drank this as an aperitif for a couple of nights and enjoyed it thoroughly. Very good. About $10 and a Great Bargain. I have seen the wine discounted as low as $6.25.

I came upon a term in a press release: bar chef. WTF, readers, does the world need this?

At first I assumed that the author of the press release made up the term, but no, some Google research revealed it in Moi widespread use.

A bar chef, if I may interpret for the naive, is not a person who cooks for the bar menu, it’s the bartender under a new guise. Even the hideous “mixologist” isn’t enough anymore. I mean a mixologist could be the guy at Sherwin Williams who blends the paint for your living room walls.

Jonathan Miles, author of the “Shaken & Stirred” cocktail column for The New York Times, informed us in his last column that “bar chef” was concocted eight years ago by Albert Trummer, now the, um, barkeep at Apotheke, a recently opened joint in Manhattan. Trummer indeed takes an almost pharmaceutical approach to making a drink, utilizing as well as the typical ingredients like vodka, gin and rum an array of 80 house-made herb and flower infusions and oils; a drink he made for Miles included oils of elderflower, hibiscus and verbena. Permit me to say “Yuck.” Trummer is the sort of fanatic that disdains using the traditional simple syrup; no, he has a sugar cane press in the back room and when a cocktail calls for simple syrup, he cranks out a little pure sugar cane juice.

Bartender, could I just have a martini, please, up with one olive? And hold the hibiscus. Behind your ear.
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Nothing is too trivial to carp about, so I’ll mention that I deplore the use of “luxe” instead of “deluxe” to describe objects “of special elegance, sumptuousness, or fineness; high or highest in quality” (as The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged defines “deluxe”). Not that “luxe” is not a word; it’s just a pretentious, trendy, hipper-than-thou word, which must be why writers for food and travel magazines use it so often. You know, “luxe ingredients,” “luxe accommodations”, “luxe light fixtures.” In terms of etymological history, “deluxe” follows “luxe” by about 250 years. “Deluxe” was coined or first came into common use around 1810 or 1820; it’s French, of course, and meant simply, “of luxury.”

“Luxe,” on the other hand, goes back to the middle of the 16th Century, and while it conveys much the same meaning as “deluxe,” it has a Latin root, luxus, which means “excess.” So if words remain true to their roots, and in some sense they always do, just as our hearts remain true to our schools, using “luxe” instead of “deluxe” implies a hint of cloying extravagance and annoying over-striving.

So don’t do that again.
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The trouble with “fun” wines is that they’re not very much fun. I mean, for me a wine is fun when I pay $10 for a bottle and it’s so good that I wouldn’t have minded paying more, say $15. Now that’s fun. The wine industry and its marketing pink.jpg arms, however, mean by a “fun wine” something you don’t have to worry your pretty little head about; the implication is clear: “Let’s bottle some anonymous wine, pump it up with a cute name, label and back story, charge $10 for it and hope that people who don’t actually care anything about wine with make it popular.” Cue photos of great-looking babes and hunks having a wonderful time in hip surroundings drinking fun wines.

Riesling is regarded as the fun wine of the moment, replacing pinot grigio, which was getting weary of the responsibility. Remember Pink Pinot Grigio, the vinous equivalent of chick lit? That was fun! Now it’s not!

A primary promoter of riesling as a fun wine is Schmitt-Sohne, owner of several fine labels (Schloss Vollrads and Markus Molinar) but a company that doesn’t mind tapping into the nether reaches of the common denominator. One of the firm’s fun wines is funf.jpg Fünf, a non-vintage Tafelwein from the Rhine region. In Germany’s complicated hierarchy of wine classifications, Tafelwein is the bottom rung, though less than 5 percent of the country’s wines are thus categorized. In German, fünf means “five,” the idea of the wine being that fun starts at 5 in the afternoon, and how convenient that “fun” is the first three letters of fünf. What’s the wine like? It’s unobjectionable, it’s palatable, and it would do in a pinch, depending on who’s doing the pinching and where. Fünf sells for $7 and is available only in the United States of America. It gets a Good rating from me.

Schmitt-Sohne also markets the “Relax” label, of which I have tried the Relax Riesling 2006 and the Relax Cool Red 2006, and the reason why the name of the grape does not go on the label of the Relax Cool Red is that the grape is the dornfelder, a cross-breeding of — are you ready? — helfensteiner and haroldrebe. The creators/marketers for this wine wisely understood relax.gifthat nobody is going to say, “Oh, honey, while you’re at our friendly neighborhood wine and liquor store, would you pick up a bottle of Relax Dornfelder.” That would definitely not be fun. The Relax wines are QbAs, which put them a rung below QmPs, which is where the fine German wines actually start, theoretically. Relax Riesling 2006 is identifiably riesling; it’s clean and crisp, just off-dry, with hints of pear, quince and lychee bolstered by vibrant acidity. It’s not all that much fun, but I’ll go up to Good+. The price is about $11. Relax Cool Red ’06 isn’t quite as much fun. Other than a rather startling color of intense ruby-purple and an aroma of crushed wild berries, well, that’s about it. Good enough, I suppose, but good enough for what, I don’t know. I didn’t find the wine very relaxing. About $10.
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The New York Times tells us this morning that the very wealthy are economizing by selling their private jets and drinking cheaper wine. Well, drop a tear and all that, I suppose. The best-selling wine at white-glove Sherry-Lehmann, purveyor of wines to Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is a $20 Medoc 2005. What surprised me, though, was Sherry-Lehmann’s price for a bottle of ausone.jpgChateau Ausone 2005 — are you ready? — $4,500. Now Ausone is at the top of the best wines of St.-Emilion and is one of the top wines of a spectacular year for Bordeaux, but $4,500 for a single bottle of this wine? I mean, back in March the Wine Spectator listed the price for Ausone ’05 as about $2,000 a bottle. Has the situation changed so much in six months? The answer is “No shit, Sherlock,” and Sherry-Lehmann’s price turns out to be fairly, um, reasonable. A check on wine-searcher.com produced prices of $4,595 (Manhattan Wine Co.), $4,800 (Morrell & Co., Manhattan), $5,525 (Wine Commune, Berkeley) and an astonishing $6,000 at Zachy’s (Scarsdale). Does anybody have to be told not to make that drive to Scarsdale?
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Splendid image of Rodin’s “The Thinker” from yamabushi.com.
The Fünf image, much modified, is from flickr.com and was taken by “onthetower.”

When I wrote about cabernet sauvignon wines from Napa Valley and Sonoma County last week, I omitted one because I thought it deserved mention by itself.

The first vintage from this new winery, the Phifer Pavitt “Date Night” 2005, Napa Valley, made from cabernet sauvignon grapes pp_gs5.jpg with a touch of petit verdot, is a dark, heady, smoky, exotic scrumptious wine, and before you say, “Oh, right, typical modern California,” let me add that it is not over-opulent, not overdone’ it’s stylish but not mannered. Yes, the black currant flavors, threaded on a line of mulberry, are rich and ripe, fleshy and meaty — and deepen as moments pass into platonic plums — but the wine is kept taut and controlled by chastening elements of mocha powder and dried ancho chili, by an immense mineral character, and by polished tannins that lend some earthy austerity to the finish. Seventeen months in French oak, 65 percent new barrels, provide firm, close to formidable, foundation and framework. Almost the most notable aspect of this wine is its complete sense of confidence and presence, its liveliness and vitality, its supple expressiveness, its dark and statuesque charisma; there’s something of the ultimate reaches of the cabernet sauvignon grape about it, it’s that pure and intense. We drank this with a medium rare strip steak, grilled outside over hardwood charcoal, and the match was pure delight and gratification. We nibbled some exquisite dark chocolate to finish the meal, sipping the rest of the wine, and the synergy practically blew our heads off. This is one of the best debut wines I have ever tasted from Napa Valley. Drink now through 2015 or ’17. Production was 300 cases. Exceptional. About $75.

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