Cooking at Home

I smoked a filet of some kind of wild salmon from Whole Foods on the top of the stove, over alder wood chips, and made a classic Sauce Gribiche, with chopped eggs, capers and cornichon. LL served it simply with boiled new potatoes and a salad of butter lettuce, tomatoes and radishes. The whole ensemble was harmonious and delicious, the way food ought to be.

Additional enhancement came in the form of The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012, Dundee Hills, Oregon. By “Original Vines,” the winery means that the grapes for this wine derive from the vineyard that the pioneering David Lett planted in the Willamette Valley in 1965; yes, those vines are 49 years old. Lett and his wife Diana — who must have had a great deal of faith in her husband’s vision — founded the winery in 1966 and produced the first wines from the 1970 vintage. Lett’s approach was always deft and minimal, with the goal of the wines, especially pinot noir, being elegant and expressive. Lett died in 2008; his son Jason is now the winemaker for Eyrie Vineyards.

The Eyrie Vineyards Original Vines Reserve Pinot Gris 2012 offers a medium gold color and intriguing aromas of straw, mango, tangerine and melon, with notes of jasmine and camellia, smoke and loam; after a few minutes in the glass, it unfolds hints of crystallized ginger and candied quince. The wine is supple, almost lush with slightly roasted and quite spicy stone-fruit flavors, tempered by star-bright acidity and a faceted limestone element. The finish brings in some chastening grapefruit astringency. I employ no hyperbole in saying that this incredibly vibrant and resonant wine is one of the best pinot gris I have tasted, as in ever. A wonderfully sane 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 261 cases, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Exceptional. About $33.

A sample for review.

Sunday night I cooked the Smoked Catfish with Sweet-and-Sour Fennel and Kumquat Sauce from Charlie Trotter’s book The Kitchen Sessions (10 Speed Press, 1999), in which the recipes are more manageable for home-cooks than is the case with his earlier series of large-format, full-color manuals. I’ve done this dish three times for LL and me and once for a dinner party, and like most of Trotter’s recipes it involves a sequence of different preparations with all elements assembled just before serving. And speaking of serving, what wine did I choose for the dish? One that was not a review sample but rather purchased at a retail store: the Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011. Those of you who are fanciers of Burgundy wines will say, “Mâcon-Verzé? But Leflaive is one of the greatest producers of white Burgundy. Why would you bother with Mâcon?” Well, My Readers, Leflaive is indeed among a handful of the greatest producers of white Burgundy at the Grand Cru and Premier Cru levels in Puligny-Montrachet, but quantities are minutes and prices high. This Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 was there, on a shelf at a retail store, and I bought it.

The chapter on Domaine Leflaive in Clive Coates’ Côte d’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy (University of California Press, 1997), is unsurpassed in its research, acumen and judicial enthusiasm. In quick summary, the family traces its origin to the 15th Century, and the beginning of the domaine to 1717. In accordance with French law, though, with the death of each patriarch, the vineyards were divided among the heirs, until all that remained to the family by 1905 was two hectares of vines (5.14 acres). Joseph Leflaive (1870-1953), a mechanical engineer — he helped design the first French submarine — saw opportunity in the depression that followed the phylloxera disaster and started buying tiny portions of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards in Puligny-Montrachet, totaling about 20 hectares (some 51.5 acres). Proprietorship passed to brothers Joseph Leflaive (1908-1982) and Vincent (1912-1993), and then, when Vincent retired in 1990, to his daughter Anne-Claude and nephew Olivier, who now operates his own negociant company. Anne-Claude Leflaive began experimenting with biodynamic methods in selected parcels in 1990, and now the entire domain is operated on those techniques.

In 2004, the domaine acquired five sections of vines in the Mâcon-Verzé appellation. These vineyards are farmed biodynamically, and the wine is made by Eric Remy, Domaine Leflaive’s estate manager. Fermentation is in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts; the wine spent 15 months in barrels. The vines are 26 years old.

The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 displays a clean light gold color and offers exceedingly attractive aromas of jasmine and lilac, talc, roasted lemon, yellow plums and lemongrass; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of lime peel, grapefruit and limestone. This is a wine — 100 percent chardonnay — of tremendous tone and presence that still embodies all we desire in the way of harmony, delicacy and elegance. The lovely texture is almost powdery in effect yet enlivened by bright vibrant acidity and scintillating flint-and-limestone minerality. The finish — very dry, a little austere — delivers spare elements of cloves, lemon balm and shale. 12.5 percent alcohol. The Domaine Leflaive Mâcon-Verzé 2011 is drinking beautifully now and will through 2016 or ’17 and perhaps go longer. Excellent. I paid $50, the full asking price, but the wine is being discounted around the country to $35 or so as the 2012 version becomes available.

Imported by Wilson Daniels, St, Helena, Calif.

Casting about for a wine to consume with Jamie Oliver’s Pasta alla Norma — a concoction primarily of tomatoes, basil, garlic and eggplant — I opened the Allegrini Valpolicella 2012, made in stainless steel from a blend of 65 percent corvina Veronese, 30 percent rondinella and 5 percent molinara. The term “Veronese” is a signifier; the Valpolicella area lies to the northeast of the lovely ancient city of Verona that stands almost halfway between Venice and Lake Garda in the Veneto region. Allegrini is a family-run estate that was established in 1858; Franco Allegrini is winemaker. This wine, the Allegrini Valpolicella 2012, is basically a Valpolicella Classico, but the Allegrini family decided to finish the bottle with a convenient screw-cap; Italian wine-law does not permit a “Classico” designation on the label of a screw-cap wine. You are getting, then, a lot of complexity for the price. The wine is a dark ruby color with a touch of violet-purple at the rim; this is incredibly fresh and appealing yet with intimations of dark ripeness and spice, of an earthy, graphite-flecked nature that provides some depth and layering. Don’t get all het up though; the Allegrini Valpolicella 2012 is primarily a delicious and deeply berryish wine meant for drinking over the next two years. Aromas of red and black cherries and a touch of blackberry are tinged with tar and rose petals and some sandalwood-inflected rooty tea. The texture is easy on the palate, and acidity makes the wine lively and quenching; black and red fruit flavors open to hints of dry and moderately grainy tannins, while a few moments in the glass unfold just enough briery,brambly, granitic character to give the wine a bit of gravity. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $17.

Imported by Winebow, Inc., New York. A sample for review.

We continue Italian Wine Week on BTYH with a superb food and wine pairing. LL and I made the Orecchiette Carbonara with Charred Brussels Sprouts a couple of nights ago, and to sip with it I opened the Manincor Réserve della Contessa 2010, Terlano Alto Adige, a blend of 60 percent pinot bianco, 30 percent chardonnay and 10 percent sauvignon blanc. I had not heard of this producer or wine, nor had I heard of the wine’s importer, Angels’ Share Wine Imports, nor of Adrian Chalk Selections. The wine came to my threshold courtesy of FedEx or UPS with no letter or technical material included, so I have no idea who actually sent me the wine. A little consultation with my research staff, Miss Google, revealed that the currant release of the wine is the 2012, so why was I sent the 2010? And why does the label use the French Réserve instead of the Italian Riserva? I was provoked almost to a state of existential quandrariness by these imponderables, though whatever qualms and questions weighed my spirit down were eased somewhat by the terrific quality of the wine, which, I think, at not quite three years old is drinking perfectly. The color is medium golden-yellow; super attractive aromas of roasted lemon and jasmine, orange blossom and wild thyme — “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows” — yellow plums and orange blossoms are highlighted by a sort of mountain meadow freshness and rosemary/pine resinous quality. The wine is sleek, spare and elegant, savory and saline, woven of citrus and stone-fruit flavors heightened by baking spices and limestone, lilac and flint, all shot through by crystalline acidity. Wonderful personality and presence. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About — close as I can figure — $28.

The pasta dish is from the September issue of Bon Appetit, and my advice is to get the ingredients and cook it right now. Here’s a link to the recipe. It’s from the restaurant Rolf and Daughters in Nashville. The wine was a sample for review.

The history of Youngberg Hill is as complicated as such things often are in the West Coast wine industry. This land in Oregon’s Willamette Valley was farmed by a Swede named Youngberg until 1987, when Norman Barnett, a financier from Boston, rolled in, bought the acreage and built an inn. In 1989, the legendary Ken Wright planted two vineyards here and used those grapes for his Panther Creek pinot noirs. The first time I visited Willamette Valley, in 1993, Wright was making the Panther Creek wines as well as the wines of Domaine Serene; he launched Ken Wright Cellars in 1994. Anyway, Wayne Bailey, originally from Iowa but nurtured on the wines of Burgundy and his work there, bought the property in 2003, and 10 years later he is still the owner and winemaker of this family owned business, which includes the inn — now renovated — that Barnett established 26 years ago. The winery has practiced organic methods since 2003.

So, the Youngberg Pinot Blanc 2012, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, is the wine I opened with last night’s dinner: smoked salmon with a coffee rub; sugar-snap peas; boiled and bashed new potatoes. This is a wine of lovely purity and intensity, offering a radiant medium gold color and beguiling aromas and flavors of roasted lemon, peach and yellow plum, with an almost tea-like and rooty kind of earthiness combined with an elegant, spare, ethereal structure; a few minutes in the glass add hints of cloves, quince and ginger. Lip-smacking acidity and a burgeoning element of limestone minerality balance the wine’s moderately lush texture, while the finish brings in a savory, tangy note of grapefruit and a touch of the woody bitterness of the peach stone. The wine fermented half in stainless steel tanks, half in neutral oak barrels. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015. Production was 160 cases. Excellent. About $18, an Astonishing Bargain, though obviously, with its small production, the wine also Merits a Search.

A sample for review.

Actually, “shrimp pasta” is a simplistic term for the dish LL concocted last night. She took large shrimp bought at the Memphis Farmers Market, doused them with pepper and smoked paprika (we’re still cooking without salt) and grilled them in the cast-iron skillet. The marinara was left over from a meal I made last week. Notice in the picture that there’s just a dollop of the marinara with the shrimp, so the flavorful tomato sauce is a presence but doesn’t dominate. Finally, she cut a bale of herbs from the garden we planted last month — thyme, oregano, chives, basil, also sorrel — and scattered them over the pasta. Not simplistic but simple perfection.

So, I had to make a choice. Was this a red wine dish because of the marinara or a white wine dish because of the shrimp? I went with red, and after a few sips, LL said, “Uh-uh, this needs white wine,” and she was right; the red just didn’t feel like a comfortable fit. Then I opened the wine under consideration here, the Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio 2011, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, made by the Giovanett family of the Castelfeder estate. The Dolomiti — the Dolomites, in English — are the dazzling white mountains that separate Trentino Alto Adige from Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia in Italy’s Northeastern wine regions. Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio 2011 is not complicated, but it offers a sense of purity and intensity too often lacking in the vast area’s bland, generic examples of the grape.

The color is pale straw-gold with faint green highlights. The wine is brisk and saline, gently spicy and floral, a font of limestone and oyster shell minerality; there’s something of the mountain valley slopes here, a quality that combines a bit of austerity with the winsomeness of shy flowers and herbs. Roasted lemons with hints of lime peel and grapefruit are chief in aromas and flavors, with touches of almond and almond blossom and backnotes of dried rosemary. Like the clever label illustration of a delicate “naked” moon composed of stars, the Luna Nuda Pinot Grigio 2011 displays a lacy, almost transparent feeling of glittering clarity. Quite charming and an appropriate foil to the pasta, serving to balance the richness of the shrimp and the sauce and the hints of bitterness from the herbs. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $14. representing Good Value.

Imported by Winesource International, Hilton Head Island, S.C. A sample for review.

Last night LL made fish tacos, a filet of trigger fish, to be precise, purchased at the Memphis Farmers Market, lightly dredged in flour and sauteed to golden brown. Accompanied by diced red onion, chopped radicchio and baby spinach, fresh thyme and oregano from our new herb garden, with excellent store-bought medium-spicy salsa. No added salt, which we are trying to avoid. Now, what wine to drink with these fish tacos? Taking a risk, I withdrew the Balthasar Ress Schloss Reichartshausen Riesling Spätlese 2009, Rheingau, from the white wine fridge, thinking that its presumed touch of sweetness would balance the mild spiciness of the tacos, assuming that this was not a terrifically sweet Spätlese, as they can be, and hoping for the balancing power and energy of acidity and mineral elements. The year was nearly perfect in weather and ripening in Germany’s wine regions, but the crop was smaller than any of the preceding five years, with the harvest in Rheingau less by 22 percent compared to 2008. The intensity such conditions can supply shows up in spades in this medium-gold-colored, ripe and spicy riesling that offers fine purity of peach, pear and roasted lemon scents and flavor with tantalizing hints of jasmine, lychee and petrol. On entry, the wine is slightly honeyed and only moderately sweet, feeling more floral, ripe and spicy (cloves and allspice) than definitively sweet; that effect modulates nicely from mid-palate back as the bristling, lip-smacking acidity and scintillating mineral character takes hold, leading to the sense that you’re drinking the essence of limestone and flint minerality. Balthasar Ress was founded in 1870 in Hattenheim and is now run by the family’s fifth generation in the business. Schloss Reichartshausen, an ancient site once owned by the Cistercian monastery Kloster Eberbach, is an independent community rather than an individual wineyard and is wholly owned — a monopole — by the Balthasar Ress estate. 10.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2020 to ’22. Excellent. About $22, representing Good Value.

A sample for review.

It has not been Spring-like at all, these days after that buoyant season should have sprung, but a couple of days ago I really wanted to cook something Spring-like, so I concocted a risotto with fresh English peas, shiitake mushrooms, prosciutto and basil, using whole-grain or brown rice, which takes about an hour to cook, stirring, stirring, stirring, adding broth, stirring, stirring, stirring, but one can get a lot of the New York Times read, one-handed, while that’s going on. (You have, of course, already shelled the peas, blanched them and given them an ice-water bath to retain the bright green color and sauteed the onions or shallot.)

So, what to serve? An equally Spring-like wine, the Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc 2011, from Alsace. Something about pinot blanc reminds me of Spring, and not just the name, which could be construed as colorless but I perceive as delicate and inviting; there are many pinots, but this is the white one, not so much a blank as filled with sunshine and light. And there is about the wines made from this grape a similar sense of sunlight, rare understated elegance and innate decorum and delight. That delight was manifest in the pairing of the risotto and the wine, and while it may have been chilly and blustery outside, in our house it felt like a far more balmy and bountiful season.

Such a one is the all stainless steel Paul Blanck Pinot Blanc d’Alsace 2011, from an estate that traces its history to the 17th Century — not unusual for Alsace. Naturally there are holdings in Grand Cru vineyards and wines made from other single-designated vineyards, but the wine we look at today falls under the “Classique” rubric of everyday table wines, “everyday” but not ordinary. The color is very pale straw-gold; the bouquet blithely blends notes of lime peel and roasted lemon, honeysuckle and lilac, a touch of quince and a hint of cloves, this panoply of effects set neatly into a background of slightly earthy minerality in the limestone and damp shale range. Juicy and cloud-like lemon and yellow plum flavors are bolstered by fleet acidity that keeps the wine crisp and lively and a vigorous yet quicksilver mineral element that never asserts too much gravity on what is essentially a ripe luminously tasty wine. A refreshing 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, meaning Excellent Value.

Imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review.

Sometimes that’s just the way it works out. Some foods and dishes reject wine as a companion — or certain wines — no matter how good the wine is in favor of beer. I’m thinking particularly of Indian and Southeastern Asian cuisines, which with their combination of spicy heat and intensity and often exotic flavors defy a pairing with wine, unless it’s a moderately sweet riesling, pinot gris or gewurztraminer whose keen acidity cuts through the richness of the dish and whose delicate sweetness balances the spice. Such a match is a cliche of the wine-and-food-pairing cohort, but as is the case with many cliches there’s a great deal of truth to the assumption. Unfortunately, the night that I prepared the assertive Chicken Khao Soi, a recipe derived from north Thailand sources — it’s the cover recipe for the March 2013 issue of Bon Appetit — I didn’t have an appropriate riesling on hand, so I tried beer and a sauvignon blanc from California. It’s not the wine’s fault that it couldn’t stand up to the intensity of the Chicken Khao Soi — I did ask a lot of it — but beer just did a better job here.

The beer was Pistil, a unique seasonal product brewed with dandelion petals (as well as hops, malts and oats) by Magic Hat Brewing Company in South Burlington, Vermont; Pistil is available from January 15 to March 31. Magic Hat was founded in 1994; in 2010, it was acquired by North American Breweries of Rochester, N.Y. — my home town! — which in turn was acquired in 2012 by Florida Ice & Farm Co., of Costa Rica. Globalization moves on apace, and while it’s not entirely relevant to this post, I’ll mention that the Brewers Association, a nonprofit advocate for craft brewing in this country, offers as one of its definitions of a craft brewery a restriction of 25 percent ownership or control by “an alcoholic beverage industry member not itself a craft brewer.” In other words, a craft brewer that is wholly owned by a large company or conglomerate has lost its hallowed independence and is, by definition, no longer a craft brewer, even if production remains at or below six million barrels. Anyway

Delightful isn’t a word one finds often in reviews and commentary on beer, but I thought that Pistil was delightful in its light, slightly brassy gold color; its mildly creamy but not prominent head with a good formation of what beer tasters call “lace”; and its aromas of orange peel, lemongrass, slightly sour wheat and an earthy element that really develops in the mouth, along with some bitterness and a fairly leafy, spiced tea-like flavor. 4.5 percent alcohol (by volume). Neither too heavy nor too light, this was excellent with the complex flavors of the Chicken Khao Soi. Magic Hat Pistil is about $1.79 for a 12-ounce bottle.

So, what about the wine that bravely held its head up like a good soldier? The Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, is always one of my favorite sauvignon blanc wines, and for 2012 — that’s right, the wine isn’t even six months old — it shows itself in fine fashion. The color is a very pale straw hue; snappy yet stylish aromas of grapefruit, lime peel and limestone, fig and tarragon, thyme, sage and bay tantalize the nose; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of fresh-mown grass and gooseberry. The whole enterprise is lively and vibrant, energized by crisp, finely-etched acidity and scintillating, crystalline elements of flint and steel. The 98 percent sauvignon blanc portion, fermented in stainless steel, is supplemented by two-percent barrel-fermented semillon that contributes just a touch of spice and a bit of suppleness to the lovely, slightly powdery texture. As you can see, a great deal of the success of this wine lies in its precise balance between the energy of the acidity and mineral elements and the ripeness and moderate lushness of its texture and fruit. After a few more moments, the Silverado Miller Ranch Sauvignon Blanc 2012 unfolds hints of tangerine and jasmine, pear and caramelized fennel, all of these qualities expressed with delicacy and finesse. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through Summer 2014. Excellent. About $22, representing Great Value.

The wine was a sample for review; the beer was a purchase.

I made a Salade Lyonnaise one night, and to drink with it pulled out a bottle of Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2011, Napa Valley. That worked intensely well.

The essence of Salade Lyonnaise, or salad in the style of the city of Lyon, is the combination of strong bitter greens, typically frisée, a type of chicory; pieces of bacon — what the French call lardons; and a poached egg, dressed with a warm vinaigrette. I have seen versions that include potatoes, which is how I made the dish, with new potatoes segmented into small pieces and roasted. And I fried my egg instead of poaching it. I know; purists weep. My greens were spinach, red and green chard and baby kale.

The Grgich Hills Estate Fumé Blanc 2011 was made from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes grown in certified organic and biodynamic vineyards in Napa Valley’s American Canyon and Carneros regions. Eighty percent of the grapes were fermented, using indigenous yeasts, in 900-gallon French oak casks, the rest in already used 59-gallon French oak barriques; after fermentation, the wine aged six months in neutral barrels. No fetish for new oak here! This Fumé Blanc — a name invented by Robert Mondavi almost 50 years ago to indicate a sauvignon blanc wine supposedly modeled on those of the Loire Valley — is beautifully and subtly balanced and integrated, yet feels poised with energy and purpose. The color is pale straw-gold; aromas of roasted pears and lemons are woven with tangerine and lime peel, a touch of tarragon and caramelized fennel, and, with a few minutes in the glass, a whiff of quince and ginger. Those elements segue seamlessly into the mouth, where the wine is quite dry yet engagingly juicy and flavorful and bolstered by an almost powdery texture enlivened by scintillating acidity that cuts a swath. The spice-packed finish brings in a burgeoning limestone and flint quality that provides a poignant snap of mineral potency. Alcohol content is a blessed 13.2 percent, thanks to a cool growing season. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $30.

A sample for review.

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