Thu 29 Oct 2009
The demise of Gourmet after 68 years as America’s high-toned food and cooking magazine — the November issue will be the last — is sad, though some would say, I among them, that while Ruth Reichl brought a new, contemporary sensitivity and sensibility to the venerable publication, under her editorship the line between editorial and advertising blurred shamelessly. And despite Reichl’s important concerns for sustainability and local products, such articles as the one in the October issue in which restaurant critics were asked how they would spend $1,000 going out to eat in their home cities, when many Americans would love to have $100 to eat out, reveals a tone-deafness inspired, perhaps, by the free-spending attitude at Condé Nast.
Still, one is sorry to see it go. LL and I cooked from the recipes in Gourmet fairly frequently, and when we recently purchased the new Gourmet Today cookbook edited by Reichl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40, but with a deep discount at Costco), we were disconcerted to see a sticker on the cover that said “A subscription to Gourmet magazine is included with the purchase of this book.” Um, Big Oops there.
We cooked, in elegiac mood, from Gourmet Today, which offers more than 900 pages of recipes, two nights in a row.
First comes what the book calls “Garlic Shrimp,” but is much more complicated than that brief description. The dish involved, well, yes, shrimp and lots of garlic, but also dried guajillo chilies, onions and tomatoes. As is typical with dried chilies, you heat them in a skillet, pressing them down, until they darken a bit and turn a little smoky. Then you add the garlic and onions and after a few minutes the tomatoes; it’s important to let the sauce stand for 30 minuts or so, so that the cut up chilies soften, otherwise they’ll be pretty darned chewy. After that, you heat the sauce again, add the shrimp and let them cook briefly. This is incredibly smoky, intense, heady stuff, spicy but not hot-spicy, to be eaten wrapped in warm tortillas or with rice, which is what we did, along with sauteed kale.
For wine, I opened something rather unusual, a vermentino from Corsica. This was the Clos Teddi Patrimonio 2008, a really lovely vermentino that incrementally built character in the glass as moments passed. Sporting a radiant straw-gold color, the wine offers scents of roasted lemon, yellow plum and ginger, with touches of almond and verbena. It’s quite spicy in the mouth, brisk with acidity and a hint of limestone, yet with a beguiling texture of talc-like smoothness, softness and density. To roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors, it adds glimpses of grapefruit and spiced pear and dried thyme. Not wishing to romanticize the wine too much, but it struck me as the essence of a Mediterranean white wine. Very Good+. I paid $26 for this wine, but prices around the country start at about $20.
Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, Swannanoa, N.C.
The knock-out of this duo of dishes was the Wine-Braised Chuck Roast with Onions. For a four-pound boneless chuck roast, you use two pounds of sliced onions, and as the meat slowly braises in the oven for three hours or so in wine and water, the onions almost melt into the sauce, creating a texture and flavor of incomparable richness. We altered the recipe, which curiously calls for no vegetables, by adding chopped carrots, potatoes and turnips. Boy, oh boy, after emerging from the oven after that long cooking, the meat was supernaturally tender and succulent! By the way, everything on the plate, except for the carrots, came from the Memphis Farmers Market, including the chuck roast and the green and yellow beans.
Clearly something big, rich and succulent was called for to march hand-in-hand with this dish, so I opened a bottle of the Benovia Zinfandel 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Now some commentators assert that no table wine displaying an alcohol level over say 14.5 or 15 percent can be balanced, that the presence of that much alcohol overwhelms all other aspects and automatically precludes an integrated and palatable wine. Certainly I have railed against the upward creep of alcohol levels in California and have criticized wines that flaunt their gonzo alcohol for sake of sheer size and power. So, I hope you will believe me when I say that despite sporting an alcohol content of 15.8 percent, the Benovia Zinfandel 2007, while, granted, a powerful and intense expression of the grape, is completely balanced and integrated, a sort of marvel of risky engineering. Black as the night that covers us from pole to pole (with a violet-purple rim), the wine bursts with notes of blackberry, blueberry and cranberry (with cranberry’s pert edge) infused with baking spice, licorice and a scent of damp shale. Terrific presence and substance without being weighty or obvious; lush and ripe, yes, but tempered by the rigor of brushy, briery tannins and slightly smoky oak, all this wrapped around an intense core of lavender, licorice and gravel-like minerals. Tremendous with the braised chuck roast. 197 cases made, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Excellent. About $38.
Tue 27 Oct 2009
I don’t mean that the Two Angels Divinity 2006, High Valley, is an “anti-Wine of the Week” — those do occur — but that because its production was limited to 500 cases, I couldn’t, in good conscience, make it an official Wine of the Week. I try to be nice that way and not, you know, piss off My Readers.
The Two Angels Divinity 06 is a Rhone-style blend of 52 percent syrah, 22 percent grenache, 20 percent mourvedre, all traditional grapes in France’s southern Rhone Valley, with the additional fillip of 6 percent petite sirah. I wanted to feature this wine today not only for its delectable qualities but for the part that texture plays in its compelling character.
First come aromas of lavender and licorice and leather, with hints of some beefy element, and then spiced and macerated black currants, blackberries and plums. Then — we’re still at the nose — dusty potpourri, damp slate, dried porcini, something rooty and brambly. There’s plenty here to entice and beguile. In the mouth: Black and blue fruit flavors — there’s a hint of blueberry — cushioned by moderately chewy tannins and suave oak in a package that’s more drinkable than austere. The oak regimen was a reasonable 10 months in French (70%) and American (30%) barrels, only 35 percent of which were new, so the oak component is balanced and does not deliver the toastiness and overt spiciness that can come when new wood dominates.
What I really want to mention, though, is this wine’s texture, that is, how it feels in the mouth, on the tongue and palate. It’s easy for reviewers to toss off “dense and chewy texture” — and I am guilty too — rather than explain, or try to explain, how the wine actually feels. In this case, therefore, in terms of weight, the wine is neither heavy nor obvious; its size and substance do not demand attention — it helps that the alcohol content is “only” 14.1 percent — and there’s even something fleet or deft about the texture. This quality is aided, no doubt, by the brisk acidity that lends the wine liveliness and elan. To further note, however, there’s a quality to the texture that you feel as if you could roll on your tongue, an amalgam of powdery elements as if ground in a mortar, an alchemical transubstantiation of crushed gravel, exotic barks and dried flowers into form, dimension and body. Zowie!
It will be no surprise that I thought that the Two Angels Divinity 2006 was a terrific wine. It would be great with grilled red meat, game birds — think quail or pheasant — or pork chops. We drank it with cold leftover pizza and chocolate cake, but that’s another story. Excellent. About $25 and Worth a Search.
High Valley, by the way — you expect Barbara Stanwyck to come riding down the valley to stirring music — was approved as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2005. It’s in the eastern part of Lake County, just north of Napa County, and encompasses about 15,000 acres, of which some 700 are planted to vines. These are high-elevation vineyards, extending up the hillsides to 3,000 feet. Probably the most familiar producer in High Valley is Shannon Ridge, and indeed, the grapes for Divinity 06 come from the Shannon Ridge Vineyards.
Mon 26 Oct 2009
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Wine of the Week  Comments
When I read the name “Neprica,” I thought that it sort of looked Italian but didn’t exactly sound Italian. I mean, it could be the name of a medicine: “Ask your doctor about Neprica,” followed by a long list of dangers and side effects. (“May cause permanent sleeplessness … “) BUT, “Neprica” actually stands for NEgroamaro, PRImitivo and CAbernet sauvignon, the blend of grapes that makes up the Tormaresca Neprica 2008, from the Antinori estates in Pulgia.
Neprica 08, seeing no oak, is a bright, fresh appealing red wine that’s robust in structure and slightly rustic in effect. Black currant, black raspberry and plum flavors are infused with a grind of fresh black pepper and, after a few moments in the glass, hints of dried violets and cloves, with a touch of fruit cake and granite-like minerality for depth. Tannins turn barky and brambly but remain soft and pliable, enlivened by clean acidity. Lots of personality for the price and easy to drink. We consumed this with pizza, but it would be good with burgers, full-flavored pastas and grilled red meat. Very Good. About $12.
Naturally, I can’t help conjuring other names that could be derived from the three grapes that go into this wine. How about Gropronon or Arovonet? Marvovig? Negmiber? Please stop me.
Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Washington.
Sun 25 Oct 2009
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Champagne
, The Chronicle  Comments
Continuing the Chronicle of the 100 Most Interesting or Important or Educational Wines I tasted in my fledgling years as a wine writer, we’re still in 1984, when I launched my wine career with my first column in The Commercial Appeal newspaper in July. Within two or three months, I was being invited to public and private tastings and had begun to receive press releases and even a sample wine or two. Wow, doors were opening! As I mentioned in a previous post in this series, by this time I had met two people who were very important in my wine education and who became valuable friends, Shields Hood and John Grisanti, both of whom figure in today’s post about the first great champagnes I encountered.
On Sept. 17, 1984, Shields held a tasting of 17 champagnes and sparkling wines at the warehouse of the wholesale distributor for whom he worked. Most of the people at the event worked in retail. This is the day on which I first tried Dom Pérignon.
Dom Pérignon, the flagship champagne of Moët & Chandon, fills a hallowed niche in the pantheon of highly recognizable and heavily marketed grandes marques that includes Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, Veuve Clicquot’s Grande Dame and Perrier-Jouët’s Le Belle Époque. Founded in 1743, Moët & Chandon is owned by LVMH, the giant luxury goods conglomerate. Cuvée Dom Pérignon, as it is properly called, is named after the legendary monk who is supposed to have claimed “I’m seeing stars,” after drinking the sparkling beverage that had accidentally re-fermented in the bottle. I’m no monk, but I make equal claim after drinking too much champagne. The special label was introduced with the 1921 vintage and was produced in 1928, ’29 and ’34, but it was the 1943 vintage that was fermented inside its own bottle, according to Tom Stevenson in World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, revised edition, 2003).
My reaction to Cuvée Dom Pérignon 1976 was the succinct “Wonderful champagne!” To which I added in my notes, “Yeasty, dry, nutty, well-balanced. Very elegant.” The price? (If you have tears, etc.) $67.
We’re getting out of sequence with the Perrier-Jouët Blason de France Rose, but I wanted to present this trio of champagnes together. So … quite a few months after the Dom Pérignon encounter, my first wife and I were invited to a small Perrier-Jouët dinner at a long defunct restaurant here, The Palm Court. The national sales rep for the importer, which then was Stacole (I think), was at the dinner to talk about the champagnes and to present the Palm Court’s chef-owner, Michael Cahhal, with the Perrier-Jouët Award, whatever that signified. (Perrier-Jouët was founded in 1811 and is now owned by Pernod Ricard.) Anyway, I was enthralled by the Blason de France Rosé, the color of which the sales rep described as “the blush on the thigh of an aroused nymph,” a line, with a whiff of Fragonard, that will never be bettered and which, I confess, I have borrowed several times over the past 25 years. We were told that the P-J Blason de France Rosé was the house champagne at Chateau Mouton-Rothschild; I wanted it to be the house champagne at my house. My note offers one word: “Divine.”
Not long after that occasion, a group of gentleman gathered in the wine cellar — an actual cellar, as in below ground — at John Grisanti’s house, to taste this thing and that. These were collectors, all far more experienced than I at the tasting and assessing of older vintages of Bordeaux and Burgundy and vintage champagne. Anyway, Big John opened a Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1961, a 24-year-old bottle. While the others present were sagely exclaiming over its irresistible qualities, in my little notebook I was writing, “Stinky, caramelized, oxidized.” Now I know that the British have this thing about old champagne, or are reputed to, but this ’61 seemed way over the hill to me.
Fri 23 Oct 2009
With a roasted chicken, I want a classic pinot noir — lithe, sinewy, elegant, discreet — and I got what I wanted with the Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir 2007, Napa Valley. As I mentioned in my review of the Rossi Wallace Chardonnay at the beginning of this month, the owners and winemakers here are Napa Valley veterans (and married couple) Ric Forman and Cheryl Emmolo.
The color of the Rossi Wallace Pinot Noir 07 is a limpid medium ruby with a touch of magenta; the bouquet abounds with black cherry and dried cranberry woven with cola and sassafras and baking spice (but no yucky brown sugar). The wine is beautifully balanced and finely knit, a seamless melding of pert acidity, mellow fruit, moderate tannins and supple, subtle oak. After half an hour, notes of melon ball and rhubarb creep in, and after a few more minutes, the tannins exude a sort of old papery dryness and briery earthiness, rounding the package out with a bit of graphite-like minerality while never losing a grip on a lovely, macerated red fruit character. The grapes for this beautiful pinor noir come from Antinori’s Atlas Peak Vineyard. The gentle oak treatment consisted of 11 months aging in Burgundy barrels, only 30 percent new. Production was 399 cases. Excellent. About $35.
LL is out of town, and last night I wanted to sit right here at the keyboard and work through what would have been the dinner-hour, so I thought — or perhaps even said aloud to the unavoidable audience of dogs that inhabits our domicile — “Oh, what the hell, cheese toast will be fine.” I have discovered over the last six months that great pinot noir and simple cheese toast share a remarkable and unexpected affinity, and on that premise I opened the Eddy Family Wines Elodian Pinot Noir 2007, from the Yamhill-Carlton District of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Here is a wonderful example of classic, old-fashioned pinot noir, one in which lightness of color and delicacy of structure do not imply blandness or lack of power. Indeed, the wine is powered by electrifying acidity that cuts a swath on the palate and brings into sharp focus flavors of sour cherry, melon ball, cranberry and cloves. These aspects are borne on layers of brambles and some mossy, root-like tea, all wrapped in a texture that combines satin with sinew. The wine grows increasingly austere as the moments pass, and its spicy nature turns from baking spice to woody spice. Balance and integration here, dimension and detail are perfect in poise and nuance. Completely lovely. 580 cases. Excellent. About $45.
Thu 22 Oct 2009
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Wine lists  Comments
Eric Asimov had an interesting column in The New York Times yesterday and a follow-up on his blog about how few restaurants in San Francisco, located at the nexus of several of California’s best vineyard regions, focus exclusively or even half-heartedly on California wines, and this in a city where many restaurants take locavorism to Puritanical levels. The argument is often made, with some accuracy, that California’s typical rich, ripe high-alcohol red wines and over-oaked white wines do not make good matches with food and that the more elegant and restrained European wines, for example, Bordeaux and Burgundy and German rieslings, are better suited to the dining experience.
What fascinates me is the idea of a local wine list, a notion which, philosophically, seems pretty attractive. After all, when you’re at a restaurant in Burgundy, all the wines on the list will be Burgundies; if you’re in Bordeaux, the restaurant wine lists will carry all Bordeaux wines. That’s basically the situation in any wine region. I ate in many restaurants in Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz back in July, and not a single wine list offered anything but German wines and mainly of those areas. One could call this approach parochial, but the food and wine heritage of a region grows and evolves together over centuries. To experience that entwining of place, history and taste is one reason why we travel to foreign parts.
Outside of wine regions, of course, restaurants have to depend of the wines that are available in their cities through the local distributors. And while wine is produced in all the contiguous 48 states, I’m sorry to say, but I must, that in many of those states you would not want restaurants to feature local wine. On the other hand, it boggles my mind that so few restaurants in New York City feature any wines from the wine regions that lay closest to them, that is, Long Island, Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes. Restaurants, of course, are dependent on the selections carried by local wholesale distributors, and they must choose wines for their cellars based on need, style of cuisine, customer preference, price, storage capacity and so on.
In other words, a purely local or regional wine list may be a fine ideal, but depending on where the restaurant is, it can also require a lot of work of the strenuously wonky sort.
Thinking about this topic allowed me to contemplate what sort of list I would conjure for a restaurant, so here it is, my notion of an ideal wine list. Half of these wines, by the way, should also be available by the glass and perhaps one-third of them in half-bottles. As you will see, I prefer a short, purposeful wine list to one that tries to have All The Big Names and All The Kinds of Wine.
>Five sparkling wines, i.e., two Champagnes, a sparkling wine from California, a Crement de Bourgogne and a Prosecco.
>Two dry roses, say Prieure de Montezargues, from Tavel, and Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Los Carneros.
>A dry Sherry.
>Fifteen white wines: three chardonnays; three sauvignon blancs; three rieslings; a Rhone-style white (not necessarily from the Rhone); a gruner veltliner; a pinot blanc or pinot gris; three whites from Italian and Spanish, like vermentino and albarino. The chardonnays could be, perhaps, a Bourgogne Blanc or Macon-Vire, a Chablis Premier Cru and an example from California; sauvignon blancs could be represented by the Loire Valley, California and New Zealand; rieslings by Germany, Washington state and Australia.
>Fifteen red wines: O.K., three cabernet or cabernet-based wines (Bordeaux, California, perhaps Chile); three pinot noirs (two Burgundies at different prices and one from California or Oregon); a merlot from Long Island or Washington state; a cabernet franc from Chinon; a cru Beaujolais; a malbec from Argentina; a grenache (garnacha) from Spain; a Cotes-du-Rhone Cairanne or Rastau; a (non-blockbuster) zinfandel, like the Ridge Three Valleys: a Barbara d’Asti or Dolcetto from Piedmont; an aglianico from Campania.
>Five dessert wines, including a 10-year-old Tawny Port, a Beaume-de-Venise, an ice wine from Ontario, and, uh, two more.
There you have it, 43 wines, easily manageable, easy to change as vintages come and go or supplies dwindle, easy to work with on the computer and printer. Each wine should be accompanied on the list by a brief description (not cute or pseudo-hip, I hate that crap) and a recommendation as to some dishes on the menu it might match; the list should be user-friendly without being condescending. The idea is to keep 30 of the wines priced at $50 and under, 10 between $50 and $75, and three special occasion wines that go up to $100. It’s very important that people not open a wine list to be stunned with horror and dismay at rows of wines they could not afford without taking out a second (or third or fourth) mortgage or to be presented with a telephone book’s worth of daunting choices. Having only 43 wines, or say up to 50, on the list provides plenty of diversity for the diner and plenty of flexibility for the wine manager.
If I really were developing this list for a restaurant, I would hunt first for wines from small, family-owned and operated properties. I would try to have half of the wines come from estates run on some degree of sustainable and organic principles. I would want to offer diners wines of individuality but not so unusual that eating out was like going to school. I mean, it’s supposed to be about pleasure, not guilt.
Image of the vintage railroad wine list from A Taste of Wine and is copyright by fw190a8.
Mon 19 Oct 2009
Posted by Fredric Koeppel under Wine of the Week  Comments
This morning’s weather map indicates that a general chill is settling over these United States of America, with the exception of the Southwest, where it’s going to be 97 in Phoenix. Otherwise, if you’re thinking of piloting your stove toward the refuge of beefy autumnal comfort food — braised short-ribs, pot roast, barbecue brisket — turn to the Morgan Syrah 2007, Monterey County.
Propelled by a solid (but relatively mild these days)14.3 percent alcohol and lithe, lively acidity, the Morgan Syrah ’07 is a dark, earthy and spicy wine that bursts with scents of intense and concentrated black cherry and black raspberry with fleshy, meaty overtones. That black fruit feels more macerated and roasted in the mouth, where it takes on hints of leather, black pepper, violets and tar, with a core of cocoa powder and spicy cranberry. A few minutes in the glass bring up touches of lead pencil and granite-like minerals, a natural segue into briery, brambly tannins and a slightly austere, foresty finish. The overall impression is of dynamic elegance, a sleekness slightly roughened by tannin and 14 months in French oak, 25 percent new barrels. Very attractive, but with an afterburn of power. Excellent. About $20, Great Value.
Sat 17 Oct 2009
When producers send their wine children out into the world, how do they anticipate that people who purchase the wines will drink them? Sipped as an aperitif? (“No, no,” sobs the winemaker, “it’s too good for that!”) Consumed with an inappropriate dish? (“No, no,” sobs the winemaker, “not the chili-mac!”) Splashed into a plastic cup at a tail-gate party? (“No, no,” sobs the winemaker, “at least use a water-glass!”)
Above all, what amount of time do they intend for us to spend with a bottle of wine?
If you have been at the wine-writing game for a while, you have doubtless attended trade tastings where dozens, if not hundreds, of writers, retailers, restaurant wine managers and such flit from table to table sampling dozens, if not hundreds, of wines and spending about two minutes, tops, with each one. Now that’s the way we pros assess wines! Truly, though, one skill that writers and other wine-tasters must acquire is the ability to make these lightning (and enlightening) judgments; star-power tends to make itself known immediately. Sometime in the Fall of 2003, I was in New York to attend a mammoth tasting of the 2000 vintage from Bordeaux, an event conducted in a circus-like atmosphere of competition that amounted to desperation. It was like running a gantlet where people not only hit you but spit red wine on you. Fun! And even amid the many great wines on display that hectic, arduous afternoon, when I took one sniff and one sip of Chateau Pavie, it felt as if the heavens had opened and the secrets of gravity were revealed. (I guess Einstein already did that, but you know what I mean.) That’s the stunning effect of perfection, instantly perceived.
But wouldn’t it have been better to have a whole bottle of Ch. Pavie 2000 at dinner — yeah, right — and taste it throughout an evolution of an hour or so?
This theme arose last night during an autumnal meal of braised pork shank (with porcini mushrooms and prosciutto), sauteed potatoes and green beans with apples. LL and I shared duties: I did the pork shanks, which turned out to be fairly labor-intensive for a weeknight, and she did the potatoes and beans. Whatever the work involved, the shanks turned out to be a terrific dish, and the dinner altogether was filling and warming on a chilly evening
I took the opportunity to open three cabernet-based wines from California. I have been working for weeks — it feels like months — on a post called “Old School California Cabernets,” about, well, I think it’s up to 30 now, current releases of cabernets from wineries founded in 1980 or before. That’s enough examples that I may have to break the post into two parts so it won’t be too long and unwieldy. Anyway, this trio, one from Napa Valley and two from Alexander Valley — prices ranged from about $45 to $65 — felt bruisingly unfathomable when first encountered, but since we sat at dinner for more than an hour and went back to each wine many times, we had a chance to see how they evolved as they loosened and unfolded in the glass.
One of the Alexander Valley examples I summarily dismissed as “too typical, too much oak, too toasty.” Half an hour to 45 minutes later, however, the wine, while retaining an almost crisp oak character and formidable tannin, had opened beautifully, showing ravishing floral and spicy aspects and intense, ripe black fruit, all wound in vivid acidity. I went back to the wines the next morning and in terms of tannin, they were still hard as nails.
I wonder, though, if consumers who bought these wines and sat down to dinner with them would react the same way, or would they say something like, “Wow, pretty darn tannic,” and go about the business of eating and drinking and then in a few minutes say, “O.K., that’s smoothing out nicely,” and just leave it at that. I mean, it’s my chosen task to be an explicator of wine, just as when I taught English in college it was my task to explicate, say, a poem by Robert Frost — and when you think about it, both woods and wine can be “lovely, dark and deep” — but most wine-drinkers, I think, don’t conceive of wine as a beverage to be explicated, just consumed and enjoyed.
Would their enjoyment be greater if they paid more attention? It’s difficult to say. I spent 20 years writing about art and reviewing exhibitions for the newspaper where I worked, and I feel certain that my experience at an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art or the Metropolitan is not the same as the experience of the thousands of people who traipse dutifully through the galleries. There are many levels of discernment and pleasure, in art or music or literature or wine. Knowledge and experience expand our range of discernment and pleasure, but such procedures are neither within the ken nor the desire of everyone.
Still, I would encourage my readers to spend more time with and expend a little more attention on the next bottle of wine they open. Give it a chance to open up and express its character and individuality, if it’s the sort of wine that manifests character and individuality. Not all wines do, nor is that their purpose. On the other hand, if you spend some time savoring a $12 cabernet and it turns out to have a surprising amount of nuance and dimension, then you have profited in pleasure and wisdom, and the wine has been allowed to do its job.
Thu 15 Oct 2009
We don’t buy catfish often. In fact, the last time we cooked catfish was probably 10 years ago for a dinner party, and that was a Charlie Trotter recipe for Wok-Smoked Catfish with Sweet-and-Sour Fennel and Kumquat Sauce, a terrific dish from The Kitchen Sessions (Ten Speed Press, 1999), one of the “easy” Charlie Trotter cookbooks, as opposed to the “really hard” original series of Trotter’s cookbooks. Anyway, the truth about catfish is that you can raise them in man-made ponds and nurture them on the most nutritious food, but the bewhiskered little fuckers still taste like bottom-feeders. Which, of course, is part of their unique charm. Which people north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi River probably don’t get.
Anyway, the fishmonger at the Memphis Farmers Market had catfish last week, and we thought, “Oh, what the hell.” So, LL dipped the catfish fillets in milk and then panko bread crumbs and seared them in a hot cast-iron skillet, and when they were nice and crusty and brown, she took them out and fried some slices of onion. I sliced a couple of ciabatta rolls, smeared them with remoulade sauce and put a slice of tomato on each. The catfish fillets went on top and then the fried onions. Definitely catfish and definitely delicious, though, yep, a little funky and earthy as only catfish can be. As LL said, as we were eagerly chowing down, “You wouldn’t mistake this for anything but catfish.”
I opened a bottle of the Clayhouse Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Paso Robles. Made almost all in stainless steel — a whisper of 2 percent is barrel-fermented — this wine is fresh, clean and lemony, through which qualities are woven hints of almond and almond blossom, quince and jasmine. Yeah, it’s pretty darned pretty. Totally dry, crisp as the click of a finger-snap, the Clayhouse Sauvignon Blanc 08 offers pear and melon flavors with a touch of leafy fig and lemon curd, whatever richness it shows off-set by the presence of some astringent floral aspect and the slight bracing bitterness of a finish infused with grapefruit and limestone, all of this wrapped is an appealing, close to talc-like texture, balanced, again, by that vibrant acidity, and could this sentence possibly be any longer? Real class and breeding for the price. Excellent. About $14, a Great Bargain.
The remoulade sauce on these catfish sandwiches was fairly spicy, and this wine handled that spiciness and the earthiness of the catfish handily.
The next morning, while LL was at work, I made a white bean and turnip greens soup, using a recipe from a book we have leaned upon for years, Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1996). The cannellini beans had already soaked overnight. It’s a fairly standard procedure, with garlic, onions and carrots, a piece of prosciutto, tomatoes, chicken stock and so on. You add the chopped greens about 20 minutes before serving and then garnish the soup with fried sage and shaved Parmesan cheese. It made a delicious lunch — we ate outside though it was a bit chilly — and finished the bottle of Clayhouse Sauvignon Blanc 08 from the previous night, which provided a satisfying accompaniment to the hearty, flavorful soup, particularly as a foil to the earthy, slightly bitter greens.
Wed 14 Oct 2009
Q. You are on record as despising Twitter, Facebook and other social-networking devices, yet you recently signed up for Twitter. Que pasa?
A. I signed on to Twitter because everyone said that I should use it as a marketing tool to bring traffic to this blog. More traffic may lead to more advertising. No, wait, make that some advertising, any advertising, at least something more than Google ads, which I assume that everyone regards as annoying to the point of invisibility. Those Google ads net me all of $100 annually. Whoa, bring up that Wells-Fargo armored truck now!
Q. And has Twitter brought you more traffic?
A. Not noticeably. Of course I only have 34 followers, so I guess it will take time, you know, slowly building the Irresistible Momentum of a Force of Nature.
Q. We notice that you aren’t following anyone on Twitter. Pour quoi?
A. I tried that for a few weeks, but found the suffocating inanity intolerable. It’s amazing what intelligent, college-educated people will reveal about themselves or the trivialities they so breathlessly report. It’s like reading a Freudian treatise on the madness of crowds via telegraph.
Q. On another subject, do you accept wine samples for review?
A. Let me say this about that. The whole reviewing apparatus — wine, books, music CDs (what’s left of them), household products — depends on review samples. Rare is the publication or writer who possesses the fiduciary prowess to afford paying for the items he or she reviews. Probably 80 percent of he wines I review come as samples from wineries, producers, importers and wholesalers; some of these are sent with prior notice, some I solicit, to fit into a particular theme or post, but most just arrive at the door. Another 10 percent I encounter at trade tastings or similar events, and the remaining five percent I buy.
Q. That being the case, would you state your policy about accepting samples and reviewing the wines for this blog?
A. Of course I will. Let’s practice full disclosure. As I said in the previous entry, yes, I accept wine samples for review, but I accept them on no assumption on the part of whoever sent the sample that I will give a positive review or even any review at all. While it gives me great joy to recommend wines to my readers and share my enthusiasm with them, I am obligated, both by conscience and professional considerations, to dole out negative notices when necessary. I also reserve the right to make fun of, parody or downright deride — without being a total asshole — press releases that are badly written, deficient, vain, pompous and utterly fantastical. You would be amazed how many press releases embody all of those fatal flaws.
Q. On another subject entirely, is it true that when you were a child in Rochester N.Y., you and your older brother were a Cossack-dancing team and you performed on local television?
Cool question mark image from verticalmeasures.com. Cossack-dancing kid from Koeppel Family Archives.
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