Food

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Olives in Napa

The Matthiassons harvesting olives in Napathe Matthiasson crew harvesting olives for milling, Napa, Oct 2014

Olives are ripe in Napa Valley. Their harvest has begun. Yesterday, the Matthiassons harvested olives and brought them to the mill to press into oil. They use the oil for personal consumption, and also make it available to their wine club members as an option to add to club shipments.

I’ve always wondered how olives were harvested — surely they weren’t hand-picked one at a time from every tree. For the small-scale farmer, hand rakes are brushed repeatedly through the tree pulling the fruit off its branches onto a waiting tarp below. Then the tarp is gathered and its contents dumped into a bin.

After loading the bin, Steve took a quick break to offer each of us a bit of burrata on baguette topped with their previous years oil, and a touch of smoked sea salt as a toast to their days work, and the olives heading off to the mill. Yum.

Olive Oil Quality Designations: Extra-Virgin versus Virgin (vs Refined, or Pomace oil)

The term Virgin in olive oil refers to the means of production. When oil is extracted through only mechanical means the oil classifies as Virgin oil. An olive mill essentially presses the fruit causing it to release its oil without heat, and so is considered mechanical production. What is important here is that no chemical, or heat has been applied to oils classified as Virgin. In that sense, Virgin oil production preserves the purity and freshness of the fruit.

There are two types of Virgin olive oil — the basic Virgin classification, and a higher quality of the style. When an oil has been made mechanically, and is of the highest quality it is considered Extra-Virgin.

It is also possible to produce Refined olive oil through chemical means, or Olive Pomace Oil through heat extraction. These are both considered food grade, but are of far lower quality than Virgin style oils. Additionally, there is lamp grade olive oil, which is made through methods considered unsafe for consumption.

In Portugal last month I was lucky enough to learn more about olive oil blending, and how oils are assessed for quality. Harvest there will begin late this month, likely extending into January. Because olive harvest occurs over two calendar years, what would be called vintages in wine is instead referred to as the campaign in olive oil. For example, the upcoming olive harvest in Portugal would count as the 2014-5 campaign.

Olives in Portugal

Ana CarrilhoMaster Blender, Ana Carrilho, Alentejo, Portugal, Sept 2014

Portugal is unique in its oil production in that its regulatory system has chosen to keep the focus on small production, high quality oils, rather than allowing bulk oil production, or multi-country blending as occurs in much of the rest of the Mediterranean. For Portugal, the origin remains important. One of the impressive elements of all of this is how affordable Portuguese olive oil remains internationally. The quality-to-cost ratio for Portuguese oils is some of the best on the market.

Upon arrival in Alentejo last month, we were invited to meet the Master olive oil Blender, Ana Carrilho, who leads the team for Esporão. Carrilho studied, and taught olive growing and quality in Portugal, Spain, and Italy before then returning to Portugal to help develop the industry in her home country.

Many of the regions in Portugal that support viticulture also grow quality olives. As a result, many estates host both plant species, and when large enough also produce both. Esporão was able to reach a sizeable enough production level of olive oil to begin releasing their own oils in 1997.

Portuguese DOPs for Olive Oil

Olive oil in Portugal originally included much smaller production than today. Historically the oil from the region was produced and exported as lamp oil. However, after the phylloxera decimation of the 19th century, the country replanted many of the former vineyard sites to olive trees in order to supplement lost income. A shift to olive oil as a quality food product began as a result.

Today, the country has 6 controlled regions for olive oil production, also known as DOPs. Oil within the DOPs must originate within its area, and also be tested for quality designation between Virgin and Extra-Virgin.

As Carrilho explained, unlike wine, olive oil is not meant to be aged. How long it keeps freshness in bottle depends partially on olive variety, with heartier varieties lasting up to two years, and more delicate ones being ideally consumed within six months of bottling.

In tasting oils, like wine, aroma, palate, and finish are all considered. It is actually possible to do varietal identification tasting for oils like doing blind tasting in wine (how fricking cool is that?). As Carrilho explained, in tasting for quality, and varietal or blend expression what is being looked for is fresh fruit character.

Because most consumers in the United States are actually used to consuming old olive oil, many of the characteristics we are used to expecting are actually the notes of expired oil. Still fresh oil offers the kinds of floral and fruit notes that lift from the glass with a sense of lightness and life, rather than carrying the heavier and darker notes of mustiness, wet paper, or biscuit of oil that’s gone bad.

Esporão Olive Oils

Portuguese Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting w Ana CarrilhoCarrilho guided us through a tasting of four Esporão olive oils, each of which is available in the United States, as well as one specialty oil only available in from the best campaigns within Portugal.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Galega, Ageite-Portugal $16 500mL
(the green band on the far right of the photo above)

The Portuguese olive variety Galega produces one of the more stable, as well as fruitiest of olive oils. It keeps well up to two years after bottling. In Portugal, consumers tend to like sweet (that is fruit focused) olive oils, and are less used to bitter or pepper flavors of some varieties. As such, Galega serves as a great base for Portuguese olive oils offering a clear fruit focus, and a lot of longevity in the bottle.

The Esporão Galega olive oil offers subtle while pure fruit notes with green apple lift, almond accents, and a lightly spicy, pepper finish. This bottling is made entirely of Galega. Good for all around use, and can hold up to stronger flavors without being over powering itself.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Organic, Ageite-Portugal $18 500mL
(2nd bottle from right)

The Organic olive oil from Esporão offers a blend of the varieties Cobrançosa and Arbequina. (Arbequina is one of my favorites, and as a side note goes great with chocolate.) Varieties are milled separately and blended after. Cobrançosa forms the majority of this campaign, with accents of the floral Arbequina for delicacy and lift.

The Esporão Organic offers a softer, slightly sweeter presentation than the Galega giving notes of fresh banana, mixed nut accents, a creamy palate, and long light pepper finish. This oil good for use on vegetables or fish after cooking for an accent of creamy fresh flavor.

Azeite de Moura DOP, Ageite-Portugal $16 750mL
(2nd bottle from left with the black band)

The Moura blend is an official DOP designate olive oil made to offer taste consistency from year to year. While the other oils vary in presentation to some degree by campaign, the Moura blend strives to offer a product recognizable by consumers with each bottling. As such the blend proportions shift from campaign to campaign. However, the varieties include Galega, Cordovil, and Verdeal. This is also the most widely available of the Esporão oils within the United States.

The Esporão Moura gives stronger aromatics with distinct herbal elements, green fruits, and green almond. The palate follows with a smooth presentation followed by a slightly sharp, bitter-spicy finish. As this oil has more intensity it works well on simple foods for additional flavor, and can hold up to spice as well.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Seleçção, Ageite-Portugal $18 500mL
(bottle on the far left with the gray band)

The Seleçção olive oil is made from a blend of the best, most mature varieties of each campaign. As such it is a special bottling that changes from year to year, and is the first of the blends made for bottling.  We tasted from the last campaign, that of 2013-4. For that bottling the varietal make-up included Cobrançosa, Picual, Galega, and Frontoio.

The Esporão Seleçção carries the greatest intensity, and also purity of precision of these four bottlings tasted. There is a greater sense of freshness, and persistence to this oil from aromatics through long finish. Look for grassy freshness, green almond, and a lightly buttery mid-palate, with a beautifully focused finish carrying bitter spice. Use as accent on dishes with otherwise simple flavors to allow the flavors of the oil to show, or enjoy simply with bread.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Portugal: A Day in Alentejo with Esporao

After a day of travel, we arrived to Lisbon early morning, then drove southeast, checking into a hotel in UNESCO World Heritage site, Evora, Portugal. The city stands within a 15th c. outer standing wall, with the center including portions of an 11th c. fortification. Ancient megolithic monuments, 3rd century B.C. archaeological sites, and hints of Moorish architecture dot the countryside. Mostly it is the sky. The region of Alentejo, in which Evora sits, is known for its clarity of light, its pure wide open skies.

A look across AlentejoAfter checking into our rooms, we immediately drove another 45 minutes south to Reguengos de Monsaraz, “the people’s town,” a settlement outside a castled hillside where the nobility used to live. Reguengos de Monsaraz proves the heat of Alentejo, bringing August and September grape harvests (early for much of the Northern hemisphere) of primarily red wine grapes. Esporao hosted our first day of travel through the region of Alentejo.

Ana Carrilhoolive oil master blender Ana Carrilho

Olive oil proves to be one of Portugal’s treasures. While olives grow well throughout the Mediterranean, most countries have few controls on its growth, production, sourcing or labeling. While Italy is recognized as home for Extra Virgin Olive oil, for example, much of the fruit in such bottlings does not come from Italy, but instead elsewhere where farming can be done at higher volume for less. The country does not place very strong legal controls on one of its iconic exports. Portugal instead has taken the slower path keeping its focus on smaller production, higher quality oils with DOP controls.

Portuguese Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting w Ana CarrilhoMaster blender Ana Carrilho studied olive agriculture, and blending while also teaching the subject in universities in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Today she creates high quality blends from three DOP regions of Portugal using a range of varieties. For quality olive oils the focus rests in freshness. The best oils are consumed immediately after bottling, with ideal age being within a year to three years after depending on variety. Galega, for example, tends to last long in bottle, while Arbequina keeps less well.

Winemaker David BraverstockEsporao chief winemaker, David Baverstock, hosted lunch for us enjoying several of the wineries wines including a beautifully crisp 2012 Bruto Metodo Classico sparkling wine made from Antao Vaz, and Arinto, and 4, a red blend offering a combination of fresh red and dark fruits on a backbone of structure with satisfying acidity.

Herdade Do EsporaoWe were talked into changing clothes for a ridiculous while fun grape stomping session in Touriga Nacional fresh from the region.

Stomping Touriga NacionalI’m such a joiner.

Verdelho in the Experimental BlockOne of the coolest elements of the visit included a walk through a ten hectare experimental vineyard where each row grows a different variety. The site offers local producers, and universities alike insight into the growing potential and constraints of the region.

Alicante Bouschet in the Experimental BlockCuttings for the experimental block were optained from nurseries and vineyards throughout Europe and showcase not only indigenous, but also international varieties. Alicante Bouschet, for example, a French variety known for its exquisite color, was found to be quite expressive in the region, and is now more common in red blends throughout Alentejo.

Alicante BouschetAmong red varieties, Alicante Bouschet proves unusual in that its juice and meat squeeze red while other dark grapes retain white insides.

The gardens from the top of a 15c Historic TowerIn the midst of Reguengos de Monsaraz structures from the 12th and 15th centuries still stand. From the top of a 15th c tower originally built for Duchess Catarina de Bragança, who went on to marry King Charles II of England, there remain beautiful views of gardens and countryside,

The Historic Church, Alentejoas well as a historic 15th c. church that once stood in the center of the local village.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Attending a Paris Popup at Penrose in Oakland

Laura Vidal

Laura Vidal preparing the team on wine selections, Penrose, Oakland

Last week Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins were kind enough to invite me to their Paris Popup at Penrose in Oakland. The duo began the events while working together in Paris at Frenchies, taking over restaurants around the city. What would be a regular night off for the business would become a special treat for the owners — seeing their facility through the eyes of another team. The Paris Popups would open for one night only to a range of guests within an already established restaurant space, and provide dinner to the owner in exchange for using the space.

Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins

Laura Vidal and Harry Cummins

Originally from London, Cummins had returned home to visit friends and saw that a new style of food event — popups — were happening around the city. Returning to Paris he realized he hadn’t heard of them taking place on the French side of the Channel. He and Vidal decided to design their own, and Paris Popups were born. The venture developed organically. After their first successful occasion, restaurants around Paris began reaching out to the team offering to host. Paris Popups popped up all over the city, until the pair decided to take a year to both share and learn food and wine culture all over the world, beginning what would become a Popup world tour.

Harry Cummins

Harry Cummins

Unleashed from the team that was integral to their work in Paris, Cummins and Vidal have found their world tour defined by collaboration. The duo selected their route, then reached out to venues, wine distributors, and chefs in cities around the world. In each location they have sought to work intimately with area chefs to develop the menu with consideration for local ingredients, and bring in winemakers or distributors whose work they wish to support. Part of the point is to celebrate the unique offerings of a particular area. In selecting wines too, the people behind the wines are invited to participate, offering guests direct contact not easily afforded elsewhere. Evan Lewandowski of Ruth Lewandowski wines, Raj Parr of Domaine de la Cote, and Anthony Lynch of Kermit Lynch wines all poured, for example, in Oakland.

Paris Popup

Halibut, clams, blood oranges

The menu development occurs as a kind of ongoing conversation. Vidal selects wines in advance allowing for a progression through a multi-course meal. By this point, the chefs have already begun to brainstorm ideas, but now coordinate in concert with consideration of the wines as well. Vidal’s and Cummin’s expertise shows in listening to their process. Their skill in designing a meal in advance of an event reflects their experience with flavor and pairing. For the Penrose event, Cummins and Vidal were able to work with Bones Restaurant’s James Edward Henry and Austin Holey, as well as Charlie Hallowell, the chef of Penrose in the kitchen and to develop the menu.

Paris Popup

Sweetbreads, poached egg, Périgord black truffle

Each city’s food culture comes with a different infrastructure and dynamic. Where New York relies on ordered formality in a restaurant team, California’s Bay Area approaches evening meals with a more relaxed service style. Recognizing and working with the different styles of service for each location, then, becomes integral to the world tour.

Paris Popup

Uni, fermented squash, kumquats

The Oakland popup included two nights in Penrose, serving a seven course meal including wine pairings. The team accomplished an impressive, and well-executed menu showcasing the experience of pairings at their best. My favorite of the night rests strongly in the second course. We were greeted with a glass of Raveneau 2001 1er Cru Chablis then coupled with a dish of Dungeness crab, grapefruit, and artichokes. The pairing gave a beautiful example of how flavors can synthesize. While one of my favorite wines, Raveneau carries incredible strength, approaching the edge of pleasurable intensity on the palate. Similarly, the dish carried a strength of flavors with the richness of the crab absorbing the force of the grapefruit. The food followed by the wine, however, created a sense of elegance through the mouth that was truly beautiful.

Paris Popup

Oysters (served alongside the Rib eye)

Paris Popup

Rib eye

My other favorite pairing brought Les Palliéres 1999 Gigondas alongside a course of Rib eye with a side of oysters, and a green salad of citrus dressing. Rib eye is a classic suggestion for Gigondas, but the oysters nicely celebrated the sea-air freshness I find in the nose of older Les Palliéres, and the citrus note brought out the bright red elements of the wine on the palate, showing off the youthful vibrancy of the 1999. The combination was beautifully done.

Paris Popup

Apples, Penrose tonic ice served with Neige 2011 Apple Ice Wine

The other pairings throughout the night showcased differing approaches to marrying food and wine. Where the two courses mentioned celebrated an approach of complementing flavors, others focused on contrast. The sweetbreads, poached eggs, and black truffle dish brought a real richness to the palate that was cut through, and refreshed by the red fruit and black tea spine of the Domaine de la Cote 2011 Bloom’s Field, an elegant expression of what Sashi Moorman calls the Heart of Sta Rita Hills. Throughout the courses, I was impressed with the focus on texture. Each dish showcased a blend of varying levels of firmness, and push so that the pleasure of the palate was more than just taste. Such attention to texture showed in the way the wines paired as well. The light grip from skin contact maceration in the Ruth Lewandowski 2012 Fox Hill Vineyard Chilion Cortese Zero, for example, brought a vibrant citrus flavored texture alongside the slippery give of the uni and fermented squash with kumquat dish.

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The Penrose Paris Popup had a collaborative menu developed by James Edward Henry, and Austin Holey from Bones, Harry Cummins from The Paris Popup, and Charlie Hallowell from Penrose. Wine Selection was done by Laura Vidal.

Rajat Parr, Eric Railsback, Anthony Lynch, and Evan Lewandowski helped with wine service, while the Penrose team provided floor service.

La Face Cachée de la Pomme has sponsored the Paris Popup since its arrival in Montreal.

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All photos in this post are the work of Diane Yoon, and used with her permission.

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Thank you to Laura Vidal.

Thank you to Anthony Lynch.

Thank you to Diane Yoon.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Dinner at Mattei’s Tavern

On Sundays we’d go for pastry. In the 1980s, a small rush of French émigrés made their way to Anchorage, Alaska and started a revolution. They opened bakeries for breads, cakes and delicate sweets.

My family attended Sunday service at the stone chapel downtown. We’d don our best clothes, with long winter coats, and simple shoes then duck-walk across the icy parking lot to keep from falling. After the hour-long service, longer with communion, we’d pile back in the car and stop half way home to pick up Napoleon, Éclair, and cheese Danish when my dad was in town.

He worked every other week at the North Slope of Alaska building and maintaining the electrical needs of arctic oil feeds. On alternate weeks he was home.

Sundays, then, began with a sense of grateful reverence, recognition of how we were blessed. Celebration came through simple silence, moments of prayer communing with god. It continued with simple sweets. The warmth of the prayer coupled with the prickling joy of delicate French sugar. The entire day given a feeling of bright gratitude with the pastries a symbol of the gifts we gained.

Alaska’s food revolution came eventually to include more variation in foods, and my mom’s love for pastries evolved into my parents’ love for bistro fare. Bistros for them a perfect restaurant balance — good food touched by congenial service — hospitality with conversation.

My sister Melanie and I inherited our parents’ love for food. She (along with my friend Fred) sparked in me more than anyone my original love for wine. We found together our enthusiasm first and foremost to bubbles. Together we have devoted ourselves to restaurants around the United States and Canada looking always for food with a deft hand, a delicate intricacy of flavors paired with beautiful wines, in a forum that celebrates warm hospitality.

At its best, eating meals with Melanie feels of succulent revelry — that original sense of simple gratitude our parents gave us through Sundays of church and pastry blooming into a kind of reverence for the beauty of flavor, time together, and relaxing service. Some of my happiest moments have come from these meals.

In the last year, Los Olivos has opened a new restaurant, Mattei’s Tavern, bringing together the history of place — the venue opened for the first time in 1886 — with the intricate freshness possible in today’s farm-to-table restaurant culture.

Chef Robbie Wilson offers a seasonal menu designed to showcase, on one side, foods that might have carried that original 1886 menu elevated with a gentle lift — schnitzel of flatfish kept away from the heavy side, accented with the crunch of pickled mustard seeds and calabrian chiles. On the other side, he offers too foods carrying the cultural flavor fusion that so clearly speaks of now — short rib pot roast put along side lightly cooked vegetables and poured over with fresh made ramen broth. On both sides, the flavors are rich, layered, with a light bite of surprise.

The Mattei’s team also hosts the expertise of wine director Stephane Colling. His wine list shows smart devotion to Santa Barbara wines. He seems to select labels that consistently give clean fruit expression with the juicy and often mineral length that works so well with food. The list treats local wines seriously, however, by offering more than merely what comes from Santa Barbara County, offering too worldwide selections.

The current by the glass iteration, for example, mixes local jewels with worldwide gems. It’s possible, for example, to taste Goodland Wine‘s Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc, then follow it with Mulderbosch‘s South African iteration. The intent seems less about comparing the county’s wines to wines from elsewhere, however, and more about selecting beautiful wines for a range of palate interests that can be poured at a range of price points.

Visiting Mattei’s Tavern the thread that winds through the decor space, the menu, the wine list seems to parallel my description of Chef Wilson’s food — layers of interest, warm expression, and bites of surprise. The approach to service and overall presentation bring together the heritage of the place with modern flare. The salumi plate, for example, Felix Mattei’s Dirty Laundry, literally hangs prosciutto (my favorite) and coppa with clothespins over a board carrying pickled vegetables and mustard. One of my favorite details houses the children’s menu within the slides of a working View Master, giving kids their own visual treat for the meal.

Throughout the meal, server Jenny Mitchum offered a comfortable touchstone. She hit the balance I enjoy of showcasing the food as it arrived, checking in to track our needs, and giving us space to enjoy our conversation.

I appreciate the revitalization of the historic Mattei’s Tavern space. Partners Robbie and Emily Perry Wilson, plus Charles and Ali Banks, have navigated the challenge of utilizing a historic landmark in a manner that honors its heritage while celebrating fresh new flavor for the region.

I can’t wait to meet my sister there for dinner.

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The Mattei’s Tavern Website: http://www.matteistavern.com/

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Thank you to Robbie Wilson and Stephane Colling.

Thank you to Jenny Mitchum.

Thank you to Jason Smith.

Thank you to Charles Banks.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

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The cooler waters of the R-months in North America mean prime time for eating oysters. As some of you know I did a post over at Serious Eats on drinks to pair with oysters. I also promised to take a look here at one way we get that shellfish. Here’s a look at a tidal-influence inspired oyster farm from the Languedoc. It was a ton of fun. I love being on boats as I grew up on the water, and am generally fascinated to know how almost anything works. I really enjoyed getting to learn through the stages from alien-like oyster reproduction to growth, to monster size gonna-getcha growth.

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Visiting Tarbourich, an Etang de Thau Oyster Farm

the Etang de Thau oyster farms

looking into the Etang de Thau oyster farms

In the Etang de Thau, an oyster rich pond where the Languedoc meets the Mediterranean, the Tarbourich family farms what are considered to be some of the highest quality oysters in Europe.

Driving out to see the oyster farm

driving into the oyster beds of Tarbouriech-this is one of my favorite photos that I’ve ever taken from a trip. Such a nice group of people too.

Thanks to the organizing efforts of Domaine Paul Mas, a few of us were able to take a tour of Tarbouriech in September. The family facility utilizes their own patented system that mimics tidal influences, which facilitates both growth and quality of the shellfish. With older (though still used) systems, on the other hand, oysters simply remain in the water continuously.

Entering Tarbouriech

entering Tarbouriech

The Tarbouriech facility includes a casual dining space offering oysters fresh from the water, and wines to accompany. Tours of the farm itself can be arranged.

Driving towards the farm on the boat

driving to the farm on the boat

The Tarbouriech family hosted our small group, bringing us out to the farm itself by boat to explain how their tidal system works.

The new oysters

New oysters are bred at an oyster nursery, then purchased by oyster farms around the world to be grown into edible size.

Stage 1 of the oyster bed

Young oysters small size demand them to be grown in sets within a series of hanging baskets initially. In the Tarbouriech system, the baskets move in and out of the water at changing intervals to imitate the impact of tidal movements on the shellfish. Oysters within the water develop their shell, while the shellfish out of the water develop their meat. As the animals tumble in the water their shells round and deepen.

Stage 2 of the oyster bed

Once the oysters are large enough, they are glued to ropes that then move up and down through the water in similar fashion as the baskets. This allows them greater space for growth, and more direct contact with the water.

our host

Romain Tarbouriech guided our tour, as the third generation, along with his sister, of the Tarbouriech family oyster business.

Stage 3 of the oyster bed

When the oysters have grown large enough on the rope in the second stage, they are gathered and affixed instead to a net that allows more room for the oysters to grow for the third stage. Mature oysters are gathered from this third stage for eating.

Huitre Seven

The Tarbouriech family is known too for their older, larger sized oysters, like their Huitre Seven, an oyster grown over seven years and featured in restaurants most especially in Paris. (Looking at the thing was intimidating–it was as big as my hand and several inches thick. We didn’t get to see inside to the meat of one, but I admit, I scare.)

Eating oysters

After touring the farm on the water, we were able to come back to shore to enjoy oysters on the beach with a bright Vermentino made by Domaine Paul Mas that matched the freshness of the food. The Etang de Thau also sits beside the famous Picpoul de Pinet region, a wine full of pert acidity that pairs beautifully with oysters, and that I like to drink on occasion for its aggressive (at its best nervy) zing.

Oysters on the Etang de Thau

The oysters were beautiful. Being on the water is my favorite thing. Eating beside it as lovely.

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If you want to read more about possible oyster pairings, check out a previous post that links to a write-up I did on Serious Eats, as well as posts on pairings by both a cocktail-tender, and a beer lover: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2013/11/11/oysters-slurp-zing-omnomnom-wine-and-beer-pairings-over-at-serious-eats/

Thank you to Michelle McCue, and Anne Alderete.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

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Carmenere Wine Characteristics

Carmenere Grape Characteristics

click on image to enlarge

The History of a Variety

Though originating as part of the Cabernet family in Bordeaux, France, Carmenere barely grows today in that region. After phylloxera decimated vineyards through Europe, a changing of the guard occurred with varieties taking ready home to grafted vines stepping to the fore. Carmenere was one of the hardest hit grape types when phylloxera landed in Europe, leading people to believe the variety had become extinct.

Enter Chile.

Prior to the phylloxera epidemic, cuttings were taken from top vineyards in Europe to establish wine in the immigrant settlements of South America. Among them was included a softer tannin, medium bodied crimson juiced grape treated as Merlot in the vineyards for its shared characteristics in the glass.

One hundred years after import to Chile, Carmenere was discovered interplanted to Merlot vineyards. Chile, then, became one of the few places on earth the grape had survived. Through the research on quality done by a few producers from the 1990s forward, Carmenere has become a flagship grape of Chile.

Today small plantings of Carmenere have also been discovered in Northeastern Italy, where it snuck in as misidentified Cabernet Franc thanks to their shared vegetal-herbal tendencies. Though not common in Italy, Carmenere has begun in small quantities to be labeled under its own name. Among the few regions to intentionally plant Carmenere from the beginning, Washington, and California also house the variety.

Vineyard Character of the Vine

On vine, Carmenere ripens at least one month later than Merlot, and gives a characteristic copper colored burst to its buds, plus copper striping on the shoots.

The grapes also differ in Carmenere’s tendency to produce distinctive vegetal characteristics depending on crop management and vintage duration. In hotter shorter vintages where clusters ripen faster, the fruit is more likely to show bell and hot pepper notes. Thanks to the varieties later ripening tendencies, crop management proves crucial to flavor development of the grape.

The larger the crop, the harder the vine has to work to ripen its fruit. The less ripe the grape, the more vegetal its profile. Thus, intentional crop size decisions can help determine the fruit to pepper notes in the final wine. How this balance is struck depends on producer, as some prefer a touch of pepper as part of the fruit’s character, while others wish to highlight the fruit elements.

Allowing for crop size decisions, Carmenere can do well in a range of climate conditions showing a greater structural focus with long juiciness when grown in cooler climates, and more fruit expression when grown warmer.

Thanks to the softer tannin of the grape, canopy management is less essential than on a variety such as Cabernet Sauvignon, where some sun exposure helps tannin to soften to the benefit of the final wine.

Wine Characteristics of Carmenere

Once brought to glass, the crop conditions of the fruit heavily influence the fruit and spice components of the wine. Warmer temperatures encourage more apparent fruit notes with a mix of dark berries and pert red fruit being typical. As the climate of the vineyard cools, the juiciness of the wine tends to increase, with a greater overall focus on structure and leanness brought to the wine. To take advantages of these differing characteristics, many producers blend fruit from multiple vineyard sites, offering structure and acid from cool spots to the fruit of warmer locations.

Carmenere’s fruit readily carries its own spice elements too, however, with vegetal aspects being influenced by crop conditions, as already mentioned, but red spice, smoke, and earth readily coming with the crop. The wine can also easily deepen into tobacco, cocoa, and leather depending on the handling of the fruit in the winery.

More on specific examples of Carmenere in future posts, and also in the previous post on Root: 1 wine.

Pairing Food with Carmenere

I’ve become obsessed with a Chilean dish, Pastel de Choclo, that the wine pairs beautifully with. It’s a corn and meat pie that would serve as the perfect means to talk me into almost anything. While you argue your case I’ll happily nod again and again trying to listen while actually losing myself in deep-deep choclo love. (Potato will always hold the deepest place in my heart (and gullet–I could accidentally die eating unbridled potato) but choclo comes next. Love me anyway, dear corn?)

Carmenere is classic paired with lamb, and does well with smokey notes of grilled lamb.

I can also imagine Carmenere’s spice and cocoa combo doing well with molé, though I haven’t gotten to try this yet.

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Thank you to Sergio Hormazabal.

Thank you to Francisco Matte, Gonzalo Badilla, Juan Carlos Castro.

Thank you to Marilyn Krieger, David Greenberg, and Alfredo Bartholomaus.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

 

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Welcoming Austrian Wine Month

Austrian Lunch Wine Itinerary

the official tasting itinerary, with a few extras included along the way

Austrian Wine Month began last week with a series of focused lunch and dinner “Master Classes.” The meals brought together Importers, Retailers, and a few writers in discussion of Austria’s wine regions, terroir, and food pairings. The purpose is to bring attention to wine retail, with the goal of extending enjoyment of Austrian wines at home. To do so, shops across the United States (and elsewhere) have organized tastings integrated with wine education.

Willi Klinger

Willi Klinger

I was lucky enough to attend one such lunch at San Francisco’s The Slanted Door restaurant, affording the opportunity to witness the brilliance of Austrian wines with Vietnamese food. It was delicious. Willi Klinger, the head of Austrian Wine Marketing, facilitated discussion throughout.

The Austrian Wine Marketing Board operates as an umbrella group, not promoting any one wine or label, but instead working to increase awareness of Austrian wine in general. Klinger speaks passionately about his work, with a commitment to not just spread the word but “connect with people and share what wine is and can be.”

Sudsteiermark

one of my top favorites, the Sattlerhof Sudsteiermark 2010 Sernauberg, rich and fresh aromatics, brilliantly textural with vibrant acidity, and rich, fresh flavors of citrus and blossom

Cabbage Citrus Salad

Klinger wants to increase the accessibility to Austrian wine on a day to day basis, as well as overall interest. But the country is also small, with small volume produced. The reality, then, must keep Austrian wine focused not on expanding everywhere, but only in viable markets. Wine education, then, becomes a central goal.

Stadlmann Rotgipler

In considering wine education, Klinger comments, “We don’t want to simplify wine too much.” He continues, “Great wine can never be simplistic. Like Classical music, you have to dive in and you have to work to understand it. It is not just an easy going category.” Asking Klinger the best means to shift public understanding of either a challenged, or underrepresented wine category he responds, “First you must give dignity to the grape itself.”

Curried Halibut

With Austrian wine in general now being a recognized source of quality wine, the shift of attention can turn to sharing particular regions in Austria, as well as consideration of its particular terroir. As discussion moves through lunch, focus turns from the grapes unique to the country, to International varieties.

Der Ott

Bill Mayer, Importer for The Age of Riesling/Valley View, turns to Riesling as an example. In Mayer’s view, Riesling gives terroir’s most transparent presentation among white grapes. In comparing Rieslings of Germany, Alsace, and Austria, not to mention Australia or the United States, distinctive character presents region to region. The distinctions grow complicated when the question of sweetness is also layered into the equation.

Spicey Tofu

Klinger agrees. He describes the particular characteristics that Austria has to offer. He first emphasizes the significant diurnal shift the country carries. “We have cool wines, in cool climate viticulture, but with good grapes,” he says. The temperature shifts “allow maturity of grapes without getting wines too heavy.” Multiple growing regions are established within the country. Steiermark he presents as an example.

Nikolaihof Gewurtztraminer

In Klinger’s view, Steiermark offers a unique microclimate that is good for cooler climate grapes, and sparkling wines. But, he explains, it also banks steep hills of limestone that generate precise linear wines, and great fragrance. The Sernauberg from Sudsteiermark, a wine we drink alongside fresh yellowtail, and cabbage-grapefruit salad, is my favorite wine of the meal. It’s a Sauvignon Blanc that must be named by region rather than grape, as it bears no obvious resemblance to the New Zealand or French examples that dominate the fruit’s stereotype.

Motic Red

Claiming the Sernauberg wins my favorite is no small feat, as each of the wines presented are pleasing. Austrian whites consistently show me a textural complexity I appreciate. We enjoyed too several examples of the country’s classic, Gruner Veltliner, including a sparkling version that was wonderfully fresh and crisp. The most surprising wine of the afternoon was a 2009 Nikolaihof Gewurztraminer, a wine so rare many of the other attendees had not seen it before. It is imported exclusively for The Slanted Door, and Gus offered it as an apt (though unusual) pairing for our final lunch course before dessert, un-spiced, ultra lean, red meat. (I like meat.) We enjoyed too here two reds. The reds gave a pleasing mid-weight with a focus on freshness. They were a nice affirmation of Austria’s relationship to red wine improving, as it has perhaps struggled with oak in the past.

Enjoying Dinner

Klinger discusses Gruner Veltliner briefly, pointing out its incredible flexibility in food pairings. But he then turns to considering the current state (success with quality whites) and next step (continuing to grow the reds) for Austrian wine. “It is important to think of established wine culture as a process,” he says. In succeeding at one step, you must still be striving for the next. “This is a process that never ends. If it ends, we have lost.”

The final wines

***
Thank you to Willi Klinger.

Thank you to Chaylee Priete and Gus Vahlkamp. Thank you to Michael.

Thank you to Dan Fredman.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

The Iron Chef Morimoto, Ruinart Champagne Cooking Demonstration

This recent weekend, I was lucky enough to attend a cooking demonstration with Master Chef Morimoto including perfect pairings with Ruinart Champagne and the house’s Chef de Caves, Frédéric Panaiotis held at Pebble Beach Food & Wine.

Morimoto preparing

Master Chef Morimoto on stage alone, selecting his perfect tools in preparation for the demonstration

I was grateful to be included, knowing he is held in high regard for his sushi, good nature, and cooking talents. What hadn’t registered, however, was that he is held in high regard partially because he is on television showing these things. He is, in fact, one of the original Iron Chefs, and for many the favorite. The truth is, I haven’t had a television hook-up since 1996 (except for one brief stretch in 2000, when Jr. was only a year old and I watched all 10-years of Beverly Hills, 90210 (the original series), skipping the trashy season 8, in 4 months). Some of the heights of fame, as a result, allude me.

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis

Master Chef Morimoto and Ruinart Chef de Caves Panaiotis prior to the demonstration

What hadn’t alluded me is Morimoto’s positive reputation. The fame part hit when at the start of the demonstration the audience curtain was opened, and a beautiful, very small, older woman ran across the room ahead of everyone to ensure she got her seat with the best view.

The scene in the mirror

Morimoto’s cooking area set up in advance of the demonstration, as seen in the demonstration mirror

The event, as they explained, was a marriage of two cultures–Japanese and French. The demonstration, then, brought together an account of Japanese sushi tradition, with insights into French wine culture, and advice on how to enjoy the two together in a meal.

The team preparing

the team works on final preparations prior to inviting in the audience

Ruinart’s Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis opened the event explaining, he is happy to give us the chance to enjoy champagne sitting down, with a meal so that it may be more closely appreciated. Also, by drinking bubbles in a wine glass, rather than a flute, the aromas are more accessible. In describing his own history with sparkling wine, Panaiotis explained he’s been drinking champagne pretty much all his life. In the region it is common to place a finger dipped in the wine on a baby’s lips after birth, the first offering to a new life. He also joked, “Champagne is what my grandmother used to drink when she was not so happy.” He went on, “but it is also a beverage we know is not just for special moments. It is for anytime. Champagne makes the moment special.”

Ruinart and Sushi

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, and sushi pairing

In thinking about food and wine pairing, Morimoto offered insight in relation to how he also flavors the fish itself. When preparing sushi he has four different levels of tamari, four different densities of sauce. Seafood with no fat–octopus, shrimp, as examples–does well with lighter flavored sauce, lighter tamari. Fish with more fat, mackerel in winter, perhaps, take double the flavor needed as mackerel in summer when there is less fat in the meat. The more fat on the fish the more soy and wasabi you use. Similarly, when thinking about the wine, Panaiotis offers, a clear fish pairs with a really clear wine. The flavors accented on the fish, then, or added to a dish, can echo the flavors of the wine.

Morimoto explains fish quality

Chef Morimoto introduces the first course, explaining the differing cuts on a single fish

The Ruinart blanc de blanc is served to us alongside a Japanese white fish that is unique to the region but resembles an American Amber Jack. The Ruinart rosé, on the other hand, comes in a bit more savory, and is thus paired with preparations that have hardier flavors, such as fried dumpling in tomato, salmon, and uni. The team offers too that it would work with lighter meats, such as duck.

Big screen helps the audience see details

the demonstration included large screen close ups for the audience

Both wines, however, are delicate, all about subtle layers of rich flavor. It is here that Panaiotis gets excited about his wines with Japanese food. Morimoto’s preparations resemble a description of the wine–simple, clean food with rich flavors and freshness.

Panaiotis discusses the history of Ruinart w Morimoto's help

Morimoto and Panaiotis worked together. As Morimoto prepared more intricate cuts, Panaiotis was able to discuss the food and wine. Morimoto also offers insight on the champagne along with Panaiotis.

Chef Morimoto has been studying and developing his cooking techniques for well over 30-years, and offers tips to the audience on how to choose the best fish. First, he explains, his favorite knife is any knife that is sharp. The best cuts of fish have not been sitting directly on the ice–the cold damages the meat over time. When eating sushi, place the wasabi directly onto the fish, not into the soy, and put the fish side of a nigiri role down onto the tongue, with the rice side up. This gives the purest flavor.

the audience

a glimpse of the audience

The team explains that this demonstration is a proud moment. Chef Morimoto is honored to be included in a prestigious food & wine event. Wine is an established, and respected culture. Twenty years ago seeing an Asian chef on the itinerary for such a demonstration would have been unheard of or un-thought. Panaiotis, likewise, is pleased to see Ruinart alongside Japanese food, where he thinks it can pair so well.

Morimoto puts the final touches on Panaiotis's sushi

Morimoto puts final touches on Panaiotis’s sushi

In considering his Iron Chef reputation, Morimoto explains that even there he is not cooking for the judges, or cooking to beat the other competitor, but instead cooking to improve himself. With each ingredient challenge the approach is similar. “I cannot do same, same, same.” He says, “So, I have to create a new thing. Every single time, I’m shaking when I hold the knife, then I have to ask myself, what am I making? Each time, I’m challenged. I’m shaking.”

Chef Morimoto Sings

After the demonstration was complete, the audience was invited to propose questions. An audience member asked if Morimoto would sing. Bashful at first, he offered what he called “a fisherman song from Japan.”

***
Thank you to Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis.

Thank you to Mark Stone and Nicolas Ricroque.

Thank you to Sarah Logan, and Vanessa Kanegai.

Thank you to Bettye Saxon.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Pebble Beach Food & Wine

One of the great annual food and wine extravaganzas on the West Coast United States occurs each Spring in Pebble Beach. The town becomes host to the best chefs, wines, and sommeliers from all over the world, as well as the folks that want to be there to drink in their offerings.

Here are photos surveying some of the activities I was lucky enough to attend over three of the four days (it begins Thursday but I arrived Friday).

Friday:The Grand Tour: European Continental Cuisine Lunch, featuring Wines of Portugal

Pebble Beach

Garden lunch reception begins at Pebble Beach

Salmon Cavier Popsicles

appetizers are served on the lawn, Chef Roland Passot’s Salmon Lollipop, w Quinta da Raza, Raza 2011 Vinho Verde

Cassolette des Fruits des Mer Printaniere

Inside for a seated lunch: Chef Johan Bjorklund’s Cassolette, w Companhia das Quintas, Quinta da Romeira 2011

Duck Charcuterie & Traditional Garnishes

Duck Charcuterie & Traditional Garnishes by Chef Michael Ginor, w Esparao Reserva 2008

Patisserie Chef Francois Payard

Patisserie Chef Francois Payard

Sommeliers

World Class Sommeliers serving at lunch

Sommeliers

World Class Sommeliers serving at lunch

Wines of Portugal

Portuguese wines from lunch

Ruinart Private Dinner

The Ruinart Table

Nicolas, Michelle, and Frederic

Nicolas Ricroque, Chef Michelle Bernstein, and Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis discuss final dinner preparations

Ruinart

welcome with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs

Ruinart Dinner Setting

Ragout of spring vegetables

Ragout of spring vegetables, seared foie gras, truffle vegetable nage, served w Dom Ruinart Rosé 1998

the brilliantly improvised skatewing and uni course

beautifully improvised dish of Skatewing w fresh Sea Urchin, Sourdough Bread, paealla, open clams, and fresh peas, served w Dom Ruinart 2002, and 1998

Dom Ruinart Rose 1990 and 1996

Dom Ruinart Rosé 1990 and 1996

Saturday:
Chef Morimoto Master Cooking Demonstration w Ruinart Champagne

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Frederic Panaiotis preparing for the demonstration

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis prepare before the demonstration

The preparations

the view before hand in the demonstration mirror

Chef and Chef de Caves

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis

The demonstration tent

Panaiotis discussing food pairings as Morimoto preps

the event begins. Frédéric Panaiotis introduces Ruinart Champagne

The crowd

Offering sushi

Chef Morimoto gives sushi for Chef de Caves Panaiotis some final touches

Fans with Morimoto

the audience excited for pictures after the demonstration

Fans for Morimoto

Ridge Monte Bello Panel at Spanish Bay

View from Spanish Bay

the view at Spanish Bay

Flowers seaside

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical

Nine vintage vertical of Monte Bello–1984, 1995, 2006-2012

The Ridge Panel

The Ridge Discussion Panel preparing

Ridge Monte Bello Barrel Samples

2011 and 2012 are still in barrel

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical

Battle of the Coasts: WEST Dinner

Starting dinner with Dom

beginning with Dom Perignon 2003

Opening Course

Uni by Chef Dominique Crenn, served w Grieve Family Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc

Black Cioppino

Black Cioppino by Chef Thomas McNaughton, served w Clendenen Family Chardonnay “Le Bon Climat” 2008

Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake by Pastry Chef Lincoln Carson, served w Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto 2003

Sunday:
The Grand Tasting

Food at the Grand Tasting

Grand Tasting

Pouring Wind Gap

Pax Mahle pouring Wind Gap Wines

Chris Williams

Chris Williams, Brooks Wines

Brooks Riesling

Brooks, Willamette Valley Riesling and Pinot Noir

Chef preparing food

Chef projector

The Lindt Chef Projector (This image talked about the chocolate while the real her was standing 5-ft away talking about the chocolate. It was a trip.)

Pouring Palmina

Steve Clifton pouring Palmina Wines

***
Thank you to Sarah Logan, and Vanessa Kanegai.

Thank you to Nicolas Ricroque, and Frederic Panaiotis.

Thank you to Mark Stone.

Thank you to Bettye Saxon.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Tasting Vivier Wines with Stéphane Vivier

I’m allergic to shellfish. The trouble is, I don’t know which shellfish I’m allergic to and when the allergy appears it’s threatening, and uncomfortable. So, by now I simply avoid all shellfish. Today, however, I was lucky enough to share lunch with Stéphane Vivier and two of his Pinot Noir based wines–a rosé, and a single vineyard red. We met at an excellent, ultra fresh oyster house to taste his wines outside, and after a while to share lunch. The wine project he’s started with his wife, Dana Sexton Vivier, carries with it a simple, elegant integrity I greatly appreciate–the wines taste with it too. So, when Stéphane asked if I’d like to start lunch with oysters. I honestly thought, you know, this whole meeting so far has been simple and lovely. If I have to die from shellfish, lord, let it be now (though I’d have to ask god to extra apologize to Stéphane for me if I did). This moment is so lovely, I figured, closing with it… what a way to celebrate life, you know?

Gratefully, I don’t seem to be allergic to oysters, and those were three of the best foods I’ve ever had. (Katherine, let’s come back here. We’ll bring our sisters with us.) Here’s the big truth though–I want to drink Vivier rosé as often as possible, and the Sun Chase Vineyards Pinot is some of the best California Pinot Noir I’ve ever had.

Write up to follow.

***

Stéphane, thank you for taking time to meet with me.

God, thank you for keeping me alive.

Dan Petroski, thank you for making the connection with Stéphane.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com