September 2010

I had more dough than I needed for last night’s pizza, so I sliced off a hunk, wrapped it and put it in the refrigerator. LL said, “You should make a breakfast pizza tomorrow.” I thought, “O.K., why not? Another first achieved in a lifetime of ever-higher yet moderately attainable goals.”

This morning when I arose from my slab of slumber to make my tea and toast and grab the newspapers from the end of the driveway, I retrieved the bit of pizza dough and left it on a cutting board to come to room temperature. Later, I turned the oven on to heat to 500 degrees and pondered how to make a breakfast pizza. The maxim “Keep it simple” came to mind. So, I diced one stalk (or whatever you call it) of green onion and the same to a handful of fresh basil leaves. We had some Newman Farms country ham in the fridge, so I sliced a small portion and diced that too; this is btw the BEST country ham I have ever eaten. I rolled out the little piece of dough really damned thin and scattered the ham, basil and green onion mainly around the circumference and then dotted that with some ricotta cheese. Carefully, carefully I broke two eggs into the center, grated on some Parmesan cheese and sprinkled on some salt and pepper. C’est tout.

As you can see from the image, the result was as pretty as a picture, and it tasted great too. The eggs had set just into the hard stage, beyond sunnyside up, and there was this conjunction of the solidified egg whites and the ricotta that was not far from sublime. We snacked on the breakfast pizza at about 10:30, so it made a handy brunch, at the time when brunch is supposed to occur. I mean, what’s with this “We Serve Brunch All Day” stuff? Remember, the “b” in “brunch” stands for “breakfast.”

To answer the question posed by the title of this post, what became a breakfast pizza most was a bottle of Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2007, North Coast. This sparkling wine is a combination of 74 percent pinot noir grapes (the noir part) and 26 percent chardonnay (blanc) and is a four-county blend: Napa (32%), Sonoma (31%), Mendocino (30%) and Marin (7%). The color is pale gold; the abundant bubbles surge upward in a constant stream of gold-flecked glints. Lordy, this is a big, dense, full-bodied sparkling wine, yet it has its delicate, elegant moments, too. The bouquet teems with notes of roasted lemon, pears and mango, with a backwash of biscuits, smoked almonds and sauteed mushrooms, all set against a foundation of limestone. In the mouth, it’s nutty and yeasty, with zesty acidity bringing liveliness to lemon peel and lemon drop flavors, with a hint of caramel, ensconced in a chewy texture. The finish brings in spice, limestone and damp gravel. Final call: Delicious, savory, sophisticated. Alcohol content is 12.8 percent. Winemakers were Hugh Davies and Keith Hock. Excellent. About $38.

A sample for review.

We felt ambivalent about the Butter Bean Risotto with Chard and Fried Okra — it’s more complicated than a risotto ought to be and it has, um, okra — but we made it anyway, and after a few bites, LL said, “You know, this is pretty good.” The recipe comes from Cotton Row, a restaurant in Huntsville, Alabama, and was carried in the September issue of Bon Appetit in a story called “Daily Specials.” The recipe calls for a can of butter beans, but I had bought fresh ones at the Memphis Farmers Market, so I cooked those the day before. LL made the risotto part while I fried the okra in a buttermilk-cornmeal crust. As you can see in the image, the fried okra is a garnish, while the beans and chard are in the risotto. It occurred to me later that the dish is an upscale variation of Hoppin’ John, the traditional Carolina preparation of rice and blackeyed peas.

For wine, I opened the fresh and appealing Oberon Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Napa Valley. Made partly in stainless steel (65.7%) and partly in oak barrels (34.3%), the wine entices the nose with scintillating hints of lime and lime leaf, lemongrass and grapefruit, with undertones of dried thyme and tarragon and a powerful current of pungent limestone-like minerality. You may be thinking, “Lime? Grapefruit? Sounds pretty damned New Zealandy to me,” but what the Oberon SB ’09 avoids is the sometimes overbearing Kiwi characteristics of green pea, fennel frond and gooseberry, playing the game much straighter and to better profit. In the mouth, the Oberon SB ’09 retains the grassy lime and grapefruit element but adds roasted lemon, spiced pear and a touch of melon, all swathed and jazzed by crisp, snappy acidity that’s balanced by a tinge of lushness provided by that modicum of oak. Expert winemaking by Tony Coltrin. Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Drink through 2011. Very Good+. About $15, a Raving Bargain.

The truth, however, is that whatever this wine’s myriad virtues, it wasn’t the perfect wine for the risotto. We really needed an off-dry riesling, a Kabinett level wine, say, from Rheinhessen.

Oberon is a label from Folio Fine Wine Partners, the company started by Michael Mondavi and his family after the Robert Mondavi Winery was sold to Constellation at the end of 2004.

A sample for review.

Found primarily in Austria and to a lesser extent in Germany and Hungary, the red — really blue/black — blaufränkisch grape makes a distinctive spicy, peppery, tarry wine that’s not easily forgotten; it’s definitely not cabernet, merlot or pinot noir. In Germany, the grape is called lemberger and, helpfully, limberger; in our own Washington state, the grape has established a toehold, under the lemberger moniker. A small amount of acreage is devoted to the grape in Friuli, where it is called franconia. The “fränkisch” part of the grape’s name means “of or relating to the Franks,” that is, the West Germanic tribal confederation of “barbarians” that was a principle enemy of Rome, conquered great swaths of Gaul and eventually, through alliance with the Merovingians and other convoluted historical developments, became — voila! — French. In Middle Eastern and Asian kingdoms, in those far-off days, all Europeans were commonly called Franks. Anyway,, we can take blaufränkisch to mean “the blue grape of the Franks,” which carries, both in cultural and linguistic terms, implications of superiority.

Blaufränkisch must be grown and treated carefully. The grape is naturally high in tannin and acidity, and it does not take kindly to a heavy hand with oak, a fact that does not prevent many producers in Austria from throwing heaps of new oak at the wine to create something “modern” and “American.” Blaufränkisch grows best in the Mittelburgenland and Neusiedlersee areas of the Burgenland region, in far eastern Austria along the Hungarian border. The wines have the advantage of being not only unique but relatively inexpensive. These three examples of blaufränkisch wines from 2007 that I tried this week all cost under $20 and represent Great Value.

The Glatzer Blaufränkisch 2007 offers a glowing medium ruby hue typical of the wines; despite their air of intensity and earthiness, the colors remain pleasingly moderate yet radiant. This wine hails from Carnuntum — students of history will recognize the formation of the name as a remnant of the Roman Empire –a vineyard region just to the north and northwest of Burgenland and southeast of Vienna. The rooty, earthy bouquet, definitely a child of the loam, is characterized by piercing slate-like minerality, notes of briers and brambles, blueberries and mulberries. In the mouth, the wine is warm and spicy, smooth and mellow, like an autumnal punch, and bursting with flavors of red and black currants and more blueberries. There are no edges here, except for a tingling backbone of clean acidity; the finish brings in hints of nettles, dry leaves and cloves. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Drink through 2013 to ’15. Very Good+. About $15 or $16.

The Paul Lehrner Gfanger Blaufränkisch 2007, from Burgenland, sports a shamelessly radiant medium to moderately crepuscular ruby color, like a bewitching wine in a Dutch still-life painting. The whole effect of the wine is dark, roasted and rooty, with loam and moss, ashes and leather bolstering intense and concentrated scents and flavors of blueberry, black currant and plums. Give this a few minutes as it unfurls layers of spice and dusty tannins, plum dust, a mine of dried flowers, sinews of vibrant acidity, adding dimension as it goes but maintaining a consistently deft, even daringly light-hearted demeanor. Beautifully crafted. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Drink through 2014 to ’17 with wild game, steak au poivre or hearty stews. Excellent. About $15 to $17.
Amazing and rewarding complexity in the Prieler Johanneshöhe Blaufränkisch 2007, Neusiedlersee-Huggeland, starts with aromas of black olive, tomato skin, bell pepper, black currants and mulberries, dusty slate and cedar, bacon fat and black cherry. This panoply of sensation wafts in a strand of singular purpose and confidence; here, one thinks, is a real snootful of wine. In the mouth, too, it exerts true authority without being heavy or obvious, weaving dramatic and spicy black fruit flavors — exotic, wild, piquant — with the grape’s unique dusty, brambly, tea-like earthiness. Nimble and edgy acidity keep one coming back for another sip. Alcohol content is 13 percent. Again, this is a wine for full-flavored game and red-meat dishes. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $19 or $20.
Terry Theise Selections for Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. Samples for review.

Two days late …. sorry, but a good way to launch a new month.

And not actually wine but sparkling cider, and boy is this incredibly pleasant stuff. And it’s nothing like the “sparkling cider” you see in the grocery stores, which is apple juice injected with bubbles.

Duché de Longueville, located in Anneville-sur-Scie in Normandy, where they know something about raising apples, was founded as a distillery in 1925 but in 1950 switched to naturally-made sparkling cider. This is the only — what would the word be? — cidriere? in the world that makes — are you ready? — single-orchard, single-variety sparkling cider. The example that I’m sipping at this moment is made from the Muscadet de Dieppe apple and is a Cidre Bouché de Cru, that is, a cider bottled with a champagne-style cork. It emits a satisfying little pfft when the cork is released.

The color is radiant gold with a tinge of brass. Bubbles are mildly effervescent and form a bit of a frothy head. The stuff smells and tastes like apples: pure, intense, platonically apple-like, a little spicy, a little nutty, even, and with tart acidity and, on the finish, a powerful element of apple skin earthiness and bitterness. The cider is a touch sweet on the entry but from mid-palate through the finish registers as bone-dry. The alcohol content is 2 percent, so the intoxicating factor is almost imaginary. Wonderfully refreshing. Very Good+. I paid $10, which seems to be the price throughout the country.

A Christopher Cannon Selection for Europvin USA, Van Nuys, Cal.

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