July 2010


As faithful readers of this blog know — bless yer little pointy heads! — every feasible Saturday night it’s Pizza-and-Movie Night in the FK/LL household. This has been a steady occurrence for 15 years or so, and for most of that time I adhered to pretty much the same routine in making the pizza. Recently, though, I radically changed the way I make pizza, in terms of basic ingredients and technique.

The first inspiration was an article that ran in the food section of The New York Times on May 18 (and available online), called “The Slow Route to Homemade Pizza,” by Oliver Strand. Following the advice of a number of professional pizza-makers, the story advocates making the pizza dough and letting it rise at room temperature for 24 hours or at least overnight. Now I’ve always indulged in what I thought of as a slow rising of the dough at about eight hours, but overnight was new to me. I tried the technique soon after I read the article, making the dough on Friday night and leaving the bowl on the counter until the next morning. About 11 o’clock, I punched the dough down, kneaded it a few times, put it back in the bowl and set it out on the back porch. By the time I was ready to make the pizza at 6 p.m., the dough has been working for about 20 hours.

What happened next was remarkable. Usually, when you roll out the dough, you have to have do it a couple of times because the gluten is still elastic, so it has to rest for a couple of minutes and then be rolled again. With the new technique, I rolled the dough out and it immediately spread across the edges of the wooden paddle and onto the counter. Whoa! I actually had to trim the circumference because the pizza would have been too big for the stone. (Sorry I don’t have images of the process.) When we ate the finished pizza, the crust was thinner than I have ever achieved before, yet still chewy, not cracker-like, with a texture that had a little give and a rim that was slightly puffy. Fabulous, yes, but for me anyway, this technique is a little tricky, and over the past two months or so, I have had — it seems to me; LL is more generous –about a 25 percent failure rate, by which I mean that the crust was not up to a fine standard. I think I just have to keep trying to tune the method until I get it right.

The other change is that I began buying, at the Memphis Farmers Market, the hard white whole grain wheat flour from Funderfarm, a milling operation run by a young couple in Coldwater, Miss. The flour is not cheap — $8.50 for four pounds — but it’s ground the day before I purchase it, and it contributes wonderful texture and flavor to pizza. Now I can’t make a pizza with only the Funderfarm flour (the result is rather heavy), so I worked out a formula of about 40 percent Funderfarm hard white whole grain flour, about 50 percent King Arthur Bread Flour and about 10 percent rye flour from Whole Foods. All of these flours are organic.

We have also benefited from a bumper crop of local aubergines, including little globular eggplant; slim, tender baby eggplant; and pale lavender eggplant with faint white stripes. I slice these thin, marinate the slices in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, thyme and oregano, salt and pepper and then grill them briefly over hardwood charcoal. This is great on pizzas, especially in conjunction with pepper-cured bacon (as in the image above), and what’s interesting is that usually I can’t stand eggplant, it sort of
hurts my stomach. Ratatouille, yuck! I also like combining fresh tomatoes and marinated dried tomatoes on the same pizza, dribbling on a bit of the marinade as the final touch. (This image is of a small vegetarian pizza I made one Saturday when LL was traveling.) And recently I’ve been using four cheeses: mozzarella, feta, parmesan and pecorino.

Anyway, that’s what’s happening in My Pizzaworld. As far as wine is concerned, here are notes on the variety of wines we’ve had with pizza over the past few months. These were all samples for review.

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When Easton says “old vine,” they’re not kidding. The grapes for the Easton Old Vine Zinfandel 2006, Fiddletown, derive from the Rinaldi-Eschen Vineyard, some of whose vines date to the original planting of 1865, up there in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley. Can there be an older vineyard still producing grapes in California? This is a beautifully balanced and integrated zinfandel, with loads of poise and character. The color is rich dark ruby with an opaque center and just a nod to cherry-garnet at the rim. Scents of macerated and meaty plums and red and black currants are permeated with smoke and cloves with a touch of leather and briers. In the mouth, the wine is rich and warm, displaying an intriguing combination of the savoriness of ripe, fleshy black fruit flavors with a sweet core of spicy oak and a touch of the grape’s brambly, black pepper nature. It’s quite dry, though, gaining a bit of dignified austerity and mineral presence on the finish. Nothing jammy, nothing overdone, and surprisingly elegant for an “old vine” zinfandel. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Winemaker was Bill Easton, who also makes Rhone-style wines under the Terre Rouge label. Alcohol is 14.5. percent. Excellent. About $28 and definitely Worth a Search.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Merlot 2006, Napa Valley, asserts an individual character, unlike so many merlot-based wines that just taste “red” or like an imitation cabernet. From the winery’s Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyards, this intense and concentrated merlot delivers a bouquet of ripe black currants and black cherries etched with smoke and bitter chocolate and hints of lavender and Damson plum. A few minutes in the glass bring on a slightly roasted element, with flavors of black currants and blackberries permeated by cedar and dried thyme, all of these sensations cushioned by gritty, velvety tannins and fairly militant dusty, gravel-like minerality. The wine aged 18 months in a combination of French barriques and casks (that is, small and large barrels), some 30 percent of which were new. Such a regimen lends the wine shape, tone and seriousness without the frippery of toast or overt spiciness. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Winemaker is Ivo Jeramaz, nephew of the winery’s co-founder and winemaker emeritus, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich. Alcohol is 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $42.
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The winery was founded in Australia’s Barossa Valley as Karlsburg Wines in 1973 by Czech winemaker Karl Cimicky; his son Charles changed the winery’s name to Charles Cimicky Wines when he took the reins. The blend in the Cimicky Trumps Grenache Shiraz 2007 is 55 percent of the first, 45 percent of the second. The wine spends 15 months in two-year-old French oak barrels that lend subtle spice and suppleness. This is a big, dark, rich and, yes, jammy red wine that bursts with aromas of ripe black currants, blackberries and plums swathed with licorice and lavender and crushed gravel. Despite the intense black fruit nectar-like ripeness, the wine is completely dry, even austere toward the finish, but it also just rolls across the taste-buds like liquid velvet couched in furry, chewy tannins. A little swirling unfurls notes of clean earth, new leather and smoke. This was terrific with the night’s pizza, but Lord have mercy, would it ever be great with a medium-rare, pepper-crusted rib-eye steak. Alcohol content is 14 percent. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Very Good+. About $15 to $18.
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La Mozza is jointed owned by Lidia Bastianich, her son Joe Bastianich and his partner is the restaurant business, Mario Batali. None of these celebrities — especially Batali — needs an introduction. (Mother and son also own a winery, launched in 1997, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in the Colli Orientali Giulia D.O.C. region.) La Mozza was founded in 2000 and is located in Tuscany’s southwestern Maremma area. La Mozza Aragone 2006, Maremma Toscana I.G.T., could be called a combination of Italy and France; on the Italian side we have 40 percent sangiovese and 25 percent alicante grapes, and on the French side, specifically the southern Rhone Valley, we have 25 percent syrah and 10 percent carignane. The wine aged 22 months in 500-liter French casks; the standard French barrel is 225 liters, so theoretically, because of the greater mass of wine in proportion to wood, the oak influence with a cask is less, or at least more subtle. Not that the point matters tremendously for this dark, robust and vigorous red wine. Scents of red and black currants (and a touch of mulberry) are permeated by elements of graphite and potpourri, moss, briers and brambles and a bass note of mushroomy earthiness. Yes, there are intriguing, seductive layers in the bouquet, and if the wine is a bit more brooding in the mouth, that’s nothing that a little bottle aging won’t ease. The wine is well-balanced, but the emphasis is on dense but smooth, almost sleek tannins and rich, smoky black fruit flavors that need a year or two to develop. Try from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Alcohol content is a comfortable 13 percent. Excellent. A few months ago, the price range for this wine was about $38 to $42; today it’s about $28 to $35.

Dark Star Imports, New York.
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Yangarra Estate Vineyard, located in Australia’s McLaren Vale appellation, is part of the Jackson Family Wines empire. While the Yangarra wines are promoted as “100% estate grown,” the federally required designation on the back label mysteriously does not say “Produced and Bottled by …” but “Vinted and Bottled by …”; the implication is that the Yangarra wines (at least the ones shipped to the U.S.) are not made at the estate. Whatever the case, the Yangarra Mourvèdre 2008, McLaren Vale, is a wonderful, I’ll say it again, a wonderful expression of the mourvèdre grape. While a traditional component of the blended red wines of the Rhone Valley, Provence and Languedoc in southern France, mourvèdre is seldom bottled on its own except for a few instances in California and Australia. At first, this is all black: Blackberry, black currant, black plum, black pepper, black olive. Then a touch of dried red current enters the picture, along with sweet cherry and sour cherry, red plum, new leather. Give the wine a few more minutes and it turns into a glassful of smoldering violets and lavender, with overtones of bitter chocolate, espresso and dried thyme. The mineral element expands into layers of dusty granite and graphite that permeate the bastions of polished, chewy tannins. The wine aged 18 months in French oak barrels, only 15 percent of which were new, so the wood influence is sustained yet mild and supple and slightly spicy. This could mature for a year or two, so drink from 2011 or ’12 through 2016 to ’18. Production was 500 six-bottle cases; winemaker was Peter Fraser. Alcohol content is the now standard 14.5 percent. Excellent. About $29.

Sovereign Wine Imports, Santa Rosa, Cal.
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Just as the Yangarra Estate Mourvedre 2008 mentioned above represents a Platonic embodiment of the mourvedre grape, the Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2007, Russian River Valley, performs a similar service for syrah. Syrah was planted in Darien in 2000 and 2001, so the vines have reached a point of development that should lend rich character to the wine and continue on a plateau of quality for 50 or 60 years. There’s a whole truckload of crushed thyme, marjoram and Oolong tea in this wine, as well as baskets of blackberries and blueberries imbued with hints of prunes, plums, lanolin and leather and an all-over sense of ripe fleshiness. The color is inky with a faint violet/purple rim; the granite and shale-like mineral element feels/seems inky too. So add the caprice of lavender, licorice, bitter chocolate and potpourri crushed by mortar and pestle and scattered on a smoldering field of wild flowers and herbs. Yes, I’m saying that this is a syrah that reaches a level of delirious detail, depth and dimension, and the deeper it goes, the darker and denser it gets, until you reach the Circle of Austerity and the Chamber of Tannins and the Rotunda of Oak. (The wine aged 14 months in French barrels, 42 percent new.) Despite those fathoms, the wine is surprisingly smooth and drinkable, huge in scope yet polished and inviting. Production was 974 cases. Alcohol content is 14.9 percent. Drink from 2011 or ’12 through 2018 to ’20 (well-stored). Winemaker was Darice Spinelli. Exceptional. About $48.
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Desiring something probably less complicated and certainly cheaper on a subsequent Pizza-and-Movie Night, I opened the Estancia Zinfandel 2007, Keyes Canyon Ranches, Paso Robles. Estancia was founded in 1986 on the old Paul Masson vineyards in Soledad, in Monterey County. The winery is now owned by Constellation. Keyes Canyon is in Paso Robles, down south in San Luis Obispo. The wine is touted on its label as “Handcrafted” and “Artisan-Grown,” whatever those nebulous terms mean. As is the case with many of the products from wineries purchased by Constellation, this wine says on the label “Vinted and Bottled … “; check your bottles of Mt. Veeder and Franciscan, also owned by Constellation. Actually what the complete line on this label says is “Vinted and Bottled by Estancia Estates, Sonoma Co.” So the question is: Where the hell was the wine made?

Anyway, I didn’t like it. I tried manfully for 15 or 20 minutes to coax something out of the glass that might resemble anything to do with the zinfandel grape, but all I got was a generic sense of smoky, toasty red wine that could have been cabernet or merlot. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Winemaker was Scott Kelley. Avoid. About $15.

Finally, LL said, “Oh, just open something else. Something better.” So I went looking and found the next wine.
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Yes, as you know, I’m the kind of guy who will open a Jordan Cabernet to go with pizza, but, damnit, the movie was going and we were chowing down and I had to grab something. And of course I’m not implying that a wine that costs $52 is necessarily better than a wine that costs $15; the case is simply that every wine should perform up to or better than its price range, and the Estancia certainly didn’t do that.

Anyway, the Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Alexander Valley, offers lovely balance, integration and harmony. The blend is 75 percent cabernet sauvigon, 19.5 percent merlot, 4.5 percent petit verdot and 1 percent malbec. Aging was 12 months in French (67%) and American (33%) oak barrels, of which 33 percent were new. The bouquet is first a tangle of briers and brambles, cedar, thyme and black olive with a background of iron and dusty walnut shell; a few minutes bring in the notes of black currants, black cherries and cassis. The wine is intense and concentrated, dense and chewy, with finely-milled tannins and polished oak enfolding flavors of spicy black currants and plums and a streak of vibrant acidity contributing a sense of purpose. A model of the marriage of power and elegance and a delight to drink. Try now through 2015 or ’16. The alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Winemaker was Rob Davis. Excellent. About $52.

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O.K., on the left side of the plate, a slice of olive-oil toasted bread piled with marinated red onions, roasted red peppers, roasted eggplant, roasted Portobello mushrooms and arugula; on the right side of the plate, another slice of olive-oil toasted bread with match-stick slices of hard salami and shredded feta cheese. Slap ‘em together, hold ‘em with both hands, and dive it! I think LL and I each said, practically simultaneously, “This is the best freakin’ sammich in the universe!” It was; they were. We had all these marinated and roasted vegetables on hand because we had arranged for the catering of a reception last week and brought home a tray of leftovers. I used some of the stuff on Saturday’s pizza, and more went into a simple pasta dish.

Still on the theme of Prosecco sparkling wines from the Cartizze region, with these glorious sandwiches I opened the Bisol Cartizze Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore, non-vintage; the producer also makes a vintage version. Again, as with Le Colture Cartizze mentioned a few days ago, the Bisol Cartizze is an extraordinary effort, especially compared to all the soft, sweet, vapid Proseccos that dominate the market. This is a very pale straw-gold color. Pungent aromas of ripe peaches and pears, orange zest and lime peel make an immediately impression, followed by a subtle strain of almond skin and apple skin, all making for a super-seductive bouquet. A touch of sweetness entices the palate, but this is a sparkling wine largely about structure framed by steely acidity that gives you a taste o’ the lash and limestone that sings the highest poignant notes of minerality. What’s so intriguing about the Bisol Cartizze is a paradoxical quality that combines slightly sweet lip-smacking “drink-me” viscosity with a spare, bone-dry savory character. As always with sparking wines, the alcohol level is low, about 11 percent. Excellent. About — ahem — $43 to $48.

I’ll admit that I would feel more comfortable with the Cartizze category of Prosecco if the price range were $25 to $30 instead of $35 to $45 or so. When the cost of these (granted) superior sorts of Proseccos crosses $40, then we’re in the realm of non-vintage Champagne, and comparisons may start to falter.

Vias Imports, New York. A sample for review from a trade group.

Let’s just get this said right up front: Frostie Root Beer is terrible. Certainly it’s a well-known brand, with its jolly, frosty little elf on every bottle. The brand was created in Catonsville, Maryland, in 1939. It was sold to Monarch Beverage Co. of Atlanta in 1979, purchased by Leading Edge Brands of Temple, Texas, in 2000, and bounced to Intrastate Distributors of Detroit in 2009. Frostie is like the foster-child of root beers.

The ingredients: “Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, sodium benzoate (a preservative), citric acid, natural and artificial flavors.”

As far as the impression goes, the emphasis is on the adjective “artificial,” because Frostie is the most artificial tasting of the root beers I have tried since I began this root beer journal. However one wants to say it, artificial, synthetic, plastic, chemical, take your pick, but such terms as natural, delicious and appealing don’t apply. And it’s pretty damned sweet. A high note of vanilla packs no root beer punch and leads to no real character. There are too many better root beers on the market to bother with this one.

How much would you pay for a bottle of Prosecco? You’re thinking, $18, $20 tops, right? Or even less?

What if I told you that there is a segment of Prosecco that is positioning itself to compete, price-wise, with sparkling wines in the $30- to $45-range? These products are from a small area within the Valdobbiadene D.O.C. region (north of Venice) called Cartizze; examples are allowed the designation Superiore di Cartizze. How small is Cartizze? Within a triangle of steep hillsides defined at its points by three villages, the vineyard area amounts to 108 hectares, or about 277.5 acres. (In comparison, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, one estate in Bordeaux, covers 247 acres.) It is here that the Prosecco grape reaches (or supposedly reaches) its apotheosis. All right, perhaps that’s too strong a word for what’s going on, but I’ll admit that over the past few days I’ve tried several Prosecco Valdobbiandene Superiore di Cartizze, to give the full name, and they were miles better than 90 percent of the Proseccos I have had in the past.

One of these was Le Colture Cartizze, a non-vintage spumante made from an estate in Santo Stefano, one of the trio of villages mentioned above. The winery belongs to Cesare and Renato Ruggeri, whose family has owned it since 1500. Le Colture Cartizze opens with scintillating aromas of lime and pear with hints of lemon balm and jasmine, these strands resolving to steel and cloves. Myriad tiny bubbles are like feckless glints of silver in a pale gold column. The wine is crisp and lively, taut with steely acidity; this is not a creamy, dreamy Prosecco such as may come from further east, near the town of Conegliano, but an edgy, nervy thing inspired by the soil and exposure of the hills around Valdobbiadene. It’s pure lemon in all that fruit’s manifestations in the mouth: Spiced, macerated and roasted and charged with a tinge of tangerine and almond, yet these delights bow before the stark elegance of limestone and shale. No, readers, this is no ordinary Prosecco. Excellent. About $30 to $35.

Imported by T. Edwards Wines, New York. A sample from a trade group.


We continue to work our way through one of our favorite cookbooks, Jamie’s Italy (Hyperion, $34.95), by British chef and cooking personality Jamie Oliver. Many of the dishes he presents are eminently suited to the ferociously hot weather we’re enduring, that is, cooking is at a minimum (well, risotto takes some time at the stove) and the effects are light and delicious. We prepared these two meals on consecutive nights this week.

First was the Fennel Risotto with Ricotta and Dried Chili. This is basically a risotto, made the usual way, with minced onion and garlic (or shallot), white wine, a little butter, but halfway through, you add the thinly sliced fennel that you’ve slowly sauteed with pulverized fennel seeds, garlic and olive oil. You add ricotta, Parmesan and lemon zest before the cooking is finished and at the last minute sprinkle on the crushed — or “bashed up,” as Oliver says — dried red chilies, fennel tops and more Parmesan. This was a seriously tasty dish, bursting with sweet, earthy flavor and heat but not heavy or too spicy.

With the risotto, I opened a bottle of the Graham Beck Gamekeeper’s Reserve Chenin Blanc 2008, from the Coastal Region of
South Africa. Traditionally, the chenin blanc grape is called steen on labels, but that usage is becoming rare as the country’s wines are imported more widely into the United States. What a beauty this is! Scents of quince, yellow plum and pear are wreathed with crystallized ginger and cloves and a touch of honey. There’s more of a citrus tang on the tongue, like lime peel and grapefruit, with a hint of mango. The wine is notably crisp and lively, yet the lovely texture is neatly balanced between spareness and almost luxurious lushness. This aspect is tempered, as the minutes pass, by a tide of piercing minerality in the form of limestone and damp shale. At a bit more than two years old, the Gamekeeper’s Reserve Chenin Blanc 2008 offers an alluringly mature example of the grape. The winemaker was Erika Obermeyer. Alcohol is 13.5 percent. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $16, representing Great Value.

The wine was terrific with the risotto, the richness and fruitiness of the chenin blanc working well with the sweetness and richness of the risotto yet playing off the heat from the dried chilies.

Imported by Graham Beck Wines, San Francisco. A sample for review.
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The next night, we tried grilled swordfish with salsa di Giovanna, which could also be done with tuna. Giovanna sauce is really just a vinaigrette, but in addition to the olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper, it contains finely sliced garlic and chopped fresh mint and oregano. I mean, that’s it, but, mama mia, what a sauce it made for a wonderful, thick swordfish steak LL bought at Whole Foods. You just grill or saute the fish, and when it’s on the plate, dribble the sauce over it. Oliver gives credit to Giovanna, a cook at an estate in Sicily for teaching him this method. We tend to under-cook swordfish, so this was incredibly moist, tender and flavorful in the way swordfish can be when it’s not over-cooked, as it almost always is in restaurants. LL made roasted potatoes and bok choy sauteed in olive oil and garlic to go with the swordfish.

On this occasion, I opened the Margerum Klickitat Pinot Gris 2009, which carries a designation of “American.” That means that the grapes were grown in one state, in this case Washington, and the wine was made in another state, in this case, California. According to the TTB — Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — you can make a cross-county wine and list the counties on the labels –as in, say, 65% Napa 35% Mendocino — but not so with an interstate wine; those have to be called “American.” “Klickitat” is a county in southern Washington named for a Native American tribe of the Yakima group. The winery is in the town of Los Olivos, in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley.

The Margerum Klickitat Pinot Gris 09 is a super-attractive wine on the model of the versions of Alsace, where the pinot gris grape can reach its apotheosis. Apple, lemon and pear aromas are woven with apple blossom and jasmine that develop, after a few minutes, lovely notes of tangerine and orange blossom. Plenty of flowers, yes, but the bouquet remains charming, balanced and compelling and not overwhelmingly floral. Spicy and herbal elements — spiced pear and lemon; dried thyme — make themselves known, both in the nose and mouth, and they increase their effect at the same time as the wine takes on more damp gravel-like minerality; while delicate in its constituent parts, the wine adds up to a substantial presence in its weight and lively, slightly lush texture. This all went down so easily, and it paired beautifully with the swordfish and Giovanna sauce. Winemaker was Doug Margerum. Production was about 1,450 cases. Drink through 2012. Excellent. Suggested retail price is about $16 (I mean at the winery), but here in Memphis, I paid $22.
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July 14 being Bastille Day, we went out to eat steak frites. Completely logical, mais non? Somewhat illogically, the restaurant which we went to, while having a French chef and serving mainly Euro/bistro-style fare, features almost all California wines on its list. The chef told me, in an interview at the beginning of this year, that he would like to have French wines on the list but that he couldn’t afford them. The thought-cloud hovering over my head pleaded, “Let me do your list!” Anyway, that’s not the point.

We ordered our steak frites and two glasses of Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel 2008. Our waiter was a cheery, eager young woman, what my mother would have called “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” an expression that always puzzled me when I was a child; I got the bright-eyed part, but bushy-tailed? Was she talking about squirrels? The waiter brought the glasses of wine, and here’s where the problem started. Now I haven’t tasted a Lyttons Spring Zinfandel in a while, but over the years I have tasted and consumed many examples of the zinfandel wines, including Lytton Springs, that emerge from the Ridge winery. After a few sniffs and sips of this wine, I was convinced that, unless Paul Draper and the team at Ridge have completely changed the philosophy and methodology of their decades-old practice, this was not a Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel. What I was smelling and tasting seemed to be the super-ripe snap and spicy toasty overlay of an over-oaked merlot or cabernet sauvigon.

Of course I couldn’t prove my theory because, as happens in about 95 percent of the cases when one orders wine by the glass in a restaurant, we didn’t see the bottle from which the wine was poured. I could have asked the waiter to bring us the bottle but we have to remember that it’s usually not the waiter who pours the glass of wine, it’s the bartender. So the waiter could have been completely innocent.

So, we chowed down on our delicious, medium-rare strip steaks and terrific frites and so forth and mutely drank the wine. The waiter came back to the table after a while and asked if we would like another glass, and LL said yes she would and I said no, not for me, but I reminded her that we were drinking the Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, and she was like, well, yeah, duh, of course. Still, the waiter misunderstood and brought two glasses anyway, and I thought, swell, O.K., this will give me a chance to compare the wines, but before I could say, whoop-de-doo — and I have never seen this before in a restaurant but perhaps I live a protected life — she took the old glasses and poured the remaining wine in them into the new glasses of wine. So much for comparison.

Here’s the point.

Anything that happens to the wine that diners order in a restaurant, whether full bottle or by-the-glass, should happen in front of the customer. A bottle of wine, it should go without saying, should be opened at the table. Is the wine a precious bottle that the wine steward or sommelier thinks he or she should taste to see if it’s up to standard? All right, fine, but only with the permission of the diner and done at the table. Does an older wine need to be decanted? Sure, go ahead, but decant the wine at the table or at a nearby waiters’ station in view of the patron. And if wine is ordered by the glass, the waiter or wine steward should bring the bottle to the table and pour the glasses right there in front of the customers.

Such transparency can only promote the sense of goodwill and trust that form the bedrock of excellent service.

Judy Jordan, daughter of Tom and Sally Jordan, owners of the well-known Jordan Vineyard & Winery in Alexander Valley, could have stayed in the family business, but elected to start her own winery in 1986. While Jordan concentrates on cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, Judy’s idea was to stay in Sonoma County but focus on the Russian River Valley and its potential for pinot noir, chardonnay and sparkling wine. This vision succeeded admirably; while I have not tasted the full range of pinot noirs, certainly the J vintage Brut is one of California’s best sparkling wines. J’s winemaker is George Bursick.

It would be easy to assert that J’s venture into pinot gris is a side issue, except that it’s such an appealing rendition. The J Pinot Gris 2009, with a California designation, draws upon grapes from Russian River Valley (43%), Clarksburg, in the Sacramento Delta (50%) and Monterey County (7%). Made completely in stainless steel, the wine offers hints of apple and apple skin, baked pear and tangerine with undertones of almond and almond blossom. In the mouth, the fruit aims more toward the citrus direction. with slightly spicy, slightly creamy lemon and lime highlighted by crisp, tingling acidity and a touch of earthy limestone. A model of delicacy and decorum, lightly yet inextricably woven, and incredibly attractive, 14.3 percent alcohol. Drink through 2011 as aperitif or with light snacks and appetizers. Excellent. About $20.

A sample for review.

LL visited one of our favorite restaurants last night, sans moi, but with colleagues from the university and a visiting curator. So, left to my feeble devices, I conjured an omelet aux fines herbes, with minced fresh oregano, thyme and tarragon and two chopped black olives. I dribbled olive oil on a couple of slices of whole-grain bread and grated on a little Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses and ran them under the broiler. Voila! My dinner, which I ate out on the screened porch as a gentle rain fell and dusk deepened to the point that I could no longer read.

One of the so-called truisms of wine and food pairing is that it’s difficult to match wine with eggs. Zut alors! All sorts of wines go with eggs, but they cannot be big, heavy or obvious wines. With omelets before I have consumed rosés, particularly the pale, delicate rosés of Provence and Languedoc (or on that model), rieslings and lighter pinot noirs. Last night, however, I took a chance on the chardonnay grape in the form of the Rully “Chatalienne” 2007, from the house of J.M. Boillot, and was happy that I did.

Jean-Marc Boillot worked for the Burgundian family domaine, Henri Boillot, from 1971 to 1984. After some disagreement with the family on philosophy and methodology, he went to work for Olivier Leflaive, while making wine from five acres under his own label. He set up business, based in Pommard, in 1988, benefiting from inheritances, in the form of exceptional vineyard acreage, from his paternal grandfather and his maternal grandfather, the renowned Etienne Sauzel. The firm of J.M. Boillot owns about 11 hectares — just over 28 acres — in Volnay, Beaune, Pommard, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, mainly in Premier Cru vineyards. J.M. Boillot’s wines from Rully, just south of Burgundy proper, at the top of the Côte Chalonnaise, are made from purchased grapes or wine that Boillot “finishes.” As with many houses in Burgundy that are both property owners (“proprietors”) and negociants (“negotiating” for grapes and wine), Boillot distinguishes between such wines on the labels; wines from the domaine are listed as “Domaine J.M. Boillot,” while those from the negociant side merely say “J.M. Boillot.”

Whatever the case, J.M. Boillot’s Rully “Chatalienne” 2007 is an exquisite expression of the chardonnay grape. The color is radiant medium gold; the bouquet is a subtle amalgam of lemon and baked pear with a hint of honeysuckle and spiced peach. These aromas grow more pure and intense as the moment pass, becoming almost deliriously attractive. Flavors of roasted lemon and milder pineapple take on a circumference of quince and crystallized ginger. The wine is quite dry, vibrant with burgeoning elements of limestone and damp shale and with crisp acidity, though the texture deftly balances leanness with talc-like lushness. A trace of mature earthiness joins a touch of apple custard on the long, lovely finish. Drink through 2011, well-stored, and consume it nicely chilled to keep that acidity high. Excellent. About $19 to $23, Great Value.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. I paid for this one.

Last night we made one of our favorite warm — make that brutally hot — weather dishes, the pasta with cold tomato sauce from a book we have been using for years, Sally Schneider’s The Art of Low-Calorie Cooking (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1990, large-format paperback edition, 1993). Our well-used copy of the book is thoroughly stained and grimy, surely a testimony to our affection.

Nothing could be simpler. While the pasta is cooking — last night it was fuselli farfalle (see response in comments below) — you strip the skin from fresh tomatoes by holding them over a flame for 30 seconds (Schneider’s method) or just hold them, one by one, in a slotted spoon in the boiling water for a few seconds (LL’s technique) and slip that skin off. Squeeze some of the juice out and then chop the tomatoes and put them in a bowl. Add chopped fresh basil and two tablespoons of a mixture of fresh chopped herbs such as thyme, oregano and tarragon, our choice last night, some minced shallots, salt, pepper and splashes of balsamic vinegar and olive oil and mix together. When the pasta is ready, drain it, divide it among the bowls and spoon on the sauce. Schneider doesn’t call for cheese, but we usually add some shaved salada ricotta and maybe a little grated Parmesan and Pecorino. The hot pasta gently warms the sauce. That’s it, and it’s incredibly refreshing and delicious!

I opened a bottle of the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages 2009, from an exceptional vintage for that region, as indeed it is for much of France. Beaujolais-Villages is a designation and geographical area that lies between the more generic Beaujolais appellation, in the lowlands to the south, and the upland cru Beaujolais further north, where 10 villages or communes (the crus) are entitled to have their names alone on labels. All wines from Beaujolais, whatever the category, are made from 100 percent gamay grapes.

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages 2009 is rapturously pure and intense. The color is dark bluish ruby-purple with a black cherry-magenta rim. Penetrating aromas of spiced and macerated black cherries, mulberries and currants are touched with briers and brambles and a hint of shale. The segue to black cherry and currant flavors is seamless, and after a few minutes in the glass, the wine expands with elements of dusty leather, damp shale, violets and potpourri while vibrant acidity keeps the wine lively and attractive. In terms of structure and personality, this is clearly the best Beaujolais-Villages I have tasted from Georges Duboeuf. Now through 2011. Very Good+. About $10 to $12, a Raving Bargain.

Imported by W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review. Despite the date on the bottle in the image, the wine under review is the 2009. Why can’t companies keep their websites up-to-date? It’s so freaking annoying!

Many issues confront writers about and consumers of fine wine at this point in space and time, shifting entities worthy of debate themselves. The very concept of writing about wine and the differences among writing, criticizing and reviewing are subjects of a great deal of discussion on the world’s wine blogs, along with the efficacy or necessity of various rating systems. The newest buzz topic of “natural wine” — even attempts simply to categorize or define it –generates clouds of sound and fury that seem to have obscured such previous bones of contention as terroir and biodynamic philosophies. People who write about California’s wineries and wines expend generations of electronic capital on the matters of high alcohol and the overuse of oak barrels. In the rarefied echelons, auction houses, wine collectors and their attorneys are atwitter about what appears to be a proliferation of fake prestigious bottles that are apparently strewn about the landscape like squalid pretenders to the throne.

And then there are the millions of consumers who, far from these controversies and disputes, just want a decent glass of wine with their dinners.

I thought about these themes recently when I was down in Vicksburg, Miss., for my grandson’s second birthday party. The historic river-town, the upside-down apex of the Mississippi Delta, is a four-hour drive from Memphis if you take I-55 to Jackson and turn west. My son told me that he would be cooking hamburgers, hot dogs and sausages on the grill outside, and I told him that I would bring some red wine fit to accompany such hearty, smoky, meaty fare. I rummaged through the wine rack and chose six bottles, two each of some pretty damned big cabernets, merlots and syrahs. As it happened, I misread the audience.

People assembled for the party that afternoon — neighbors, friends, the parents of my grandson’s daycare compadres — good, kind folk who have been helpful and generous to my son and his little family since they moved to Vicksburg about 18 months ago. I was introduced, inevitably, as a wine expert who had brought special wines to the party, but when I offered my wares, the questions repeatedly put to me were these: “Do you have anything sweet?” and “Do you have anything that’s not too heavy?”

Stop, readers, before you say, “Oh, those kinds of people.” Those kinds of people comprise most of the wine consumers in America, and I promise you that they’re completely unconcerned about notions of place and terroir, of natural wines versus manipulated wines, of auctions and ratings and in what forests deep in France’s heartland the mighty oaks grew that provided the wood for the barrels that aged whatever wine you and I might be having with dinner tonight. No, those kinds of people desire a wine that’s not substantial, not shaped by oak or laden with tannin, not complicated or multi-dimensional, but rather a wine that’s pleasant, easy to drink, flavorful and, yes, it’s true in many cases, a little sweet. A friendly electrician at the newspaper where I used to work told me once that nothing in the world made him happier than going home to a plate of spaghetti and meatballs and a glass of port, and he didn’t mean a glass of port after dinner, he meant with the spaghetti, and who was I to say “Gack!” (I assume he meant a glass of non-vintage ruby port, not, you know, Taylor-Fladgate ’66.)

It’s a commonplace saying of the wine industry and wine commentary that what we call “fine wine” — intended for cellaring and aging –occupies about five percent of the wine made in the world, while the other 95 percent consists of everyday wine meant for fairly immediate consumption. In terms of writing about wine, of course, that five percent has traditionally received about 95 percent of the attention, though the proliferation of blogs dedicated to inexpensive wine may have changed that estimate to some degree. Of course fine wine is far more interesting to taste and write about than everyday wine, just as Philip Roth is more interesting to read and write about than Nora Roberts (though as a model of industry she should be an inspiration to us all). Everyday wine, however, is important enough as a huge market for American consumers that as a product it should be better than just serviceable.

I certainly understand the desire to own a winery that produces, say, a thousand cases of exceptional cabernet sauvignon or pinot noir that commands a dear price and garners glowing reviews and awards. How many people do such wines affect, however? Perhaps a few hundred collectors and restaurants in New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Isn’t it a nobler endeavor to produce 100,000 cases of a well-made, dependable, delicious wine that costs $12 a bottle and that will bring pleasure to millions of people in their homes and favorite bistros? I recently interviewed the wine manager for a small, well-run restaurant in Memphis who said that he can’t offer Napa Valley wines by the glass or bottle for a reasonable price, even though he would like to. The reason? “They’re not good enough,” he said. That’s an assessment borne out by my experience, though I would expand the criticism to California as a whole. Generally speaking, wines in the $10 to $15-a-bottle range are better from Spain, Italy and Argentina (not so much Australia anymore) than from West Coast producers.

There’s not a thing wrong with making simple, decent, palatable wines that display enough personality that one would want to drink another glass and buy another bottle. And of course there’s nothing wrong with making superbly nuanced, elegant, deeply layered and profound wines for those who can afford them. I think, though, that a great segment of the wine consuming audience — an audience that wants good wine, not plonk, not dreck — exists only at the margins of the wine industry’s consciousness, like my son’s neighbors down in Vicksburg. They tried the full-bodied, tannic wines I poured for them, were polite about them, and then went looking for the beer.

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