As wine connoisseurship evolves, I look toward developing ways to express the aspects of wine I love the most. I recognize that wine is a product of nature and science; my goal is as natural as can be: to help make the connection between joy of taste and the bountiful pleasures of life.”

Thursday, July 7, 2011

my own residual heat

A restaurant that makes its own bread is automatically and respectfully elevated in my mind. A laborious task that even as consumers get to know "real bread" and come to expect something other that an 80's dinner roll, few operators can manage the heaving physicalities or the resultant labor costs. Making bread in a restaurant to be used as the "house bread" is something that like the range of appetizers or small plates an establishment has to offer, remains one of the elements that I critique and evaluate when deciding if I do or do not love the place.

Years ago, I helped open and develop an Artisan bread concept in Colorado. At the time it was the first of its kind and we did great work! The spirit of working with bread is hard to articulate. Its so alive and with each day that you make bread and work through this process, getting to know the ingredients, the starters and various living leveners, your senses of temperature, impending storms, air pressure, humidity and light are all heightened. You find yourself discovering the beauty of culinary preparations that are based in this glorious bread that you raise to loft and little miniature snacks and happenstance combinations of mis en place laying around when combined with the bread become examples of delightful culinary creations.

Yeah, an employee of Fifth Group here in Atlanta and we do make a good bit of bread company wide. While at least in my mind there aren’t a ton of good bread bakeries in this city,.. my love affair and affinity for good, hand shaped freshly baked bread remains an significant undercurrent of foodstuff appreciation. In the morning, if you are lucky enough to find yourself walking down cypress ave between peachtee and west peachtree oh,..say around 10:00, you wont need to try hard or even break your stride to catch a whaft of the nutty, warm ,..toasty,..honey scented aromas of Ecco’s naturally leavened bread that’s carefully and lovingly baked like clockwork each day.

I love the expressiveness that emerges from simple combinations of ingredients but at or just near the top of my list is this sinfully epic combination of Valhrona and warm Ecco levain. Something about a chocolate sandwich that melts its chocolate by itself. Not pressed or grilled, but actually taking a just out of the oven loaf, ripping the end off, spreading its crumb,.. pressing a couple disc shaped nuggets of dark chocolate into the center …and closing the Kermit the frog like edges ..and just waiting,..the bread gods take the helm and have rewarded me time and time again with a residual heat treat that may be one of the best breakfast snacks of all time. Don’t try this at home…instead, me or email me and we can arrange a time to meet in the alley and do this together.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

cold pockets in a warm climate or warm pockets in a cold climate?

What makes Chile the world’s most suitable natural environment for growing wine grapes, how it benefited from its natural barriers and a benevolent Mediterranean climate, and why such a large proportion of Chilean wine reaching us today is crafted utilizing bio-dynamic or low input practices without the producer having to lift a finger.

In most parts of the world, the organic production of wine can be quite labour intensive and there’s a lot of thought that goes into making a vineyard bio-dynamic or organic, and the final product organic for that matter. For some areas, it’s simply not viable to omit the use of industrial pesticides, such is the nature of the environment. So what makes Chile so different?


Chile’s climate is highly influenced by the cooling effect of the Pacific Ocean and the Humboldt Current that begins in the icy waters near Antarctica and flows up the western coast of South America. When the effect of the Humboldt’s cold current hits Chile’s northern coastline it produces clouds and fog, but little or no precipitation, which then contributes to making the Atacama Desert the driest on Earth. Important to note is that there is as much climactic diversity west to east as there is from North to South.

The cool sea air is partially blocked by the Coastal Mountains, although it finds its way inland by following the course of the transversal river valleys. During the day, sea breezes carried by the cold Humboldt Current penetrate inland, and each night, cold air descends from the snow covered peaks of the Andes. The coastal mountains of Chile look like the large Sonoma Coast appellation. While traveling through this coastal area, it’s hard to believe that there aren’t more vineyards in such an apparently ideal locale.

Chile’s geographic barriers - the Atacama Desert to the north, the Andes Mountains to the east, the Patagonian ice fields to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west - make it a veritable agricultural island. Together they help maintain healthy conditions and protect vineyards against pests and disease. Not much if any mildew, no glassy winged sharpshooters, no Phylloxera, cool and dry in general… it’s a winemaker’s paradise.

Soil & Terroir With so much geographic variety, the Chilean landscape also offers a vast mosaic of terroirs and soil types. Soils are healthy, well-drained, and have a variety of origins (alluvial, colluvial, fluvial, etc.) and textures (loam, clay, sand, silt). Despite the relatively dry atmospheric conditions, abundant water for irrigation flows from the ice caps of the Andes Mountains that tower all along Chile’s eastern border.

Altitude -In recent years, more and more vineyards creep closer and higher to the peaks, where the sun is slow to appear over the eastern peaks and makes up for its late arrival with the intensity that comes with altitude. Currents of wind climb and descend over the course of the day to create a daily pendulum of temperatures that swings broadly between daytime highs and night time lows. This is just what rich red grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, thrive on.

Not long, but wide -Curiously, it’s not the distance from the equator that plays the dominant role in the diversity of Chile’s grape growing exploits, but rather the proximity to the Pacific Ocean or the Andes Mountains. Again,..Chile has much greater diversity in soils and climates from east to west than from north to south.

All of this may seem a bit over rated or simply irrelevant to what most of us know and feel about Chilean wines. We’ve come to understand that the country has for years produced a majority of their wines for export and have despite the totally unique and endless viticultural wonderland clearly focused on quantity and not so much quality. Sadly for the looking back but fortunately, as I have recently discovered that the historical presentation and position Chilean wine has taken will likely be the launching pad/ spring board for what I believe is the next greatest and promising global wine producing region. As recently as 7 years ago, a visible paradigm shift in the mentality of the entire industry has spawned an amazing spirit of rejuvenation. We are today witness to export directors, young second and third generation winemakers taking the helm, driving market share, setting new standards of excellence and producing wonderfully crafted, interesting wines that are a pleasure to enjoy, to collect and to ponder. Get in on the map people! Viva Chile! Raise your cup with me and toast to what I promise one day soon will be regarded as the most exciting and rapidly evolving wine production areas in history.

Friday, September 10, 2010

cheese and wine opinions

The other day, Katie Bell, a friend who also happens to be an accomplished food and wine columnist and freelance writer asked me to make some wine pairing recommendations for an article she was working on. I wrote my reply at lightning speed late at night and was in fact a bit tipsy but upon review this morning, while sitting down to make a blog entry, I decided that I should just share the rant with you all. I haven’t had many of the cheeses but I think im familiar enough to take a crack at it...anyway,. here is the letter and reply to her query.

As always, I am flattered that you have asked me to participate and make contribution to your story. It’s a genuine pleasure sharing a perspective on a part of life that I truly love. Thanks again for the opportunity. I find it oddly paradoxical that noshing grubb or what I think of as historically casual nibbling foods have become a cerebral exercise in the wine and food world. For me, in the same way that we drank unpasteurized raw cow’s milk, farmed all our own veggies and drank crystal clear well water, growing up amid a house full of traditionalist foodies took really amazing classical cheeses and meats and made them and the eating ritual common. For years, cured meats and cheeses were always just simply there and available. No hype, no big deal,…it was just the way it was. Wines were had a similar application. Water, juice or wine with your hunk of Wabash cannonball? I dunno,…in any case, my point of all this is that, so many years later…like so many things in the gastro world, we have found a way to bring complexity and exactness to a food and or occasion driven by food that really has always been staple, standard and sort of ordinary. I’ll give it my best crack now that ive had some years to pay attention and have since formed an opinion. Thanks again!

Chapel Hill Creamery's Carolina Moon, a buttery, rich camembert, quite luxurious with a slather of blueberry compote.-
for me camembert, especially domestic camembert with fruit always screams late sunny morning October breakfast barefoot on the patio . I immediately want a warm Parisian loaf like the generic kind you might find in any random corner grocer in Paris. Bromated flour, plenty of commercial yeast, yet still warm enough to get over the generic-ness of it all. If I had to pair wine I might move the setting to après dinner and with the blueberry angle,….well,….id say let’s stick with bubbles and go with a bottle of the NV Langlois- chateau, Cremant De Loire Rosé, Saumur, Loire Valley, France . This and other Loire sparkling rosé have both a textural elegance and serious earthiness balanced by great spicy fruits. Cabernet Franc in this form is a favorite bloomy cheese pairing.

Sequatchie Cove's exquisite Cumberland Cheese modeled after a French Tome de savoie has a melt-in the-mouth smoothness finished with an earthy punch.- TDS is one of my all time favourites! I haven’t seen a domestic version that quite captures that nutty smoothness and deep grassy flavour but it sounds like this might be the one? When I think TDS, I think of white not red. Assuming that this is not as assertive as the Rhone version, id go with a bottle of the 2007 Marcel Deiss, Beblenheim, Riesling, Alsace, France. Alsatian to the core, this friendly wine is loaded with zesty lemon and great minerality that both serves the grassy spirit of the tomme and contrasts the nuttiness to drive the cheeses mouth feel and round comforting character.

Spinning Spider's Stack House is an elegant, soft creamy and luscious young goats milk cheese has an ash coating that imparts a unique minerally flavor.- when I think of ashed goats milk cheeses, I normally think about selles sur cher, or judy Shadd and her Wabash cannonball. I also have been a mega-uber fan of Jeremy and jessicas Lumiere at sweetgrass back when that stuff was around…wow! What happened to that stuff eh? So, while I drink sauvignon as often as anything else with goats milk cheeses, I think the ash sometimes enjoys a white with a bit more oxidative, creamy, almost clotted cream like character with ample levels of minerality to underscore the charred veggies. For this cheese, im going with the Domaine Laurent Chatenay, “Les Maisonnettes”, Montlouis Sur Loire, Chenin Blanc, Sec. Yum!

The bodacious Sweetgrass Dairy's Asher Blue Cheese makes a statement. Its robust personality marry's well with walnuts and fresh, sliced Arkansas Black apples.- I have a serious problem with pairing most reds with blue cheese. I find that disharmony comes to an apex when the molds from the cheese clash with the tannins of a firm red. It’s possible that some late harvest Spanish reds have worked late night with a chunk of cabrales but that stuff needs and deserves a good beating. For something domestic and a bit more tame, as far as the world of blues is concerned, I’m almost always looking for smooth, silky, rich and decidedly sweet. One of my very favourite stickies these days is a little wine from Ken Forrester in Stellenbosch SA. He makes this lovely sauternes rendition called Ken Forrester “T” Stellenbosch from Chenin Blanc. Lush, melons, pineapple and zingy, bright acidity to balance the heft of residual sugar begs for a nip of smelly salt and spoiled cream.

Andouille- like marinara, this stuff can be so many different things. I keep links of the old chef K Paul version in my freezer so ill use that one for this pairing. I also think it’s fair to note that for me drinking wine with Andioullie would be an abnormality. Typically when I find myself eating Creole or Cajun foods, im not in a wine mode. This is not to say it’s never happened but just for the just sayin….In any case,..for this,.. I would pair a thick, oily rich white with this spicy sausage. Immediately, the glorious and often overlooked Rhone blends come to mind. Rousanne , Marsanne, Grenache blanc and viognier all lumped together act more like a pack of wolves in sheeps clothing than they do wine varietals. I’d go with a new Rhone selection from Betts & Scholl,..the 2006 Hermitage Blanc, France

Rabbit Brandy Boudin- I remember eating boudin off a foil wrapped stick purchased from a roadside vendor just over the bridge from Lake Ponchatrain. It was the Wednesday after fat Tuesday, I was 16 years old, driving a Puegeot stationwagon and we had spent the last 200 interstate miles shooting roman candles out of the car window as we drove through the night. The boudin was laced with rice and as such, felt more like encased pilaf than it did sausage. I have loved this stuff ever since. With the added gaminess of bunny and the sweet brandy, im going with the Jorge Ordonez value anomaly du jour,..the 2008 Paso a Paso, “old Vine” Verdelho, La Mancha, Spain. This wine has exotic richness, oodles of plump glyceral fruits, and a good citrus oil backbeat that would provide some reprieve from the certain intensity of the meat and brandy combo while holding its own in terms of intensity and richness.

Petit Sec and Figatelli---salami style pork 'snacks' cobbled together with pork liver, red wine, garlic and fresh herbs, they are air-dried.- this kind of thing just begs for tradition to me. Like I mentioned above, I think a lot of different wines, accoutrement, breads and cheeses work well with this sort of food stuff but in the end, if I must choose, id go with something Italian. Let’s use the wine from the often misunderstood, regionally confused, biodynamic producers, Avignonesi. They plant their vineyards on concentric circles and I think I love this family. This wine and all of their other wines for me are more like elixirs than wine. For this,…lets go with the 2007Avignonesi, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Tuscany, Italy. Exceedingly “old world” in its bowels, the wine is fruity, laden with hippie smoke shop like aromas, and normally has a nip of my favorite barrel infection Brettanomyces, affectionately known throughout the wine world as “brett”. This controversial wild yeast, imparts a gamey quality that just adores cured pork product and also drives a hint of sweetness to the very front of the palate which keeps you coming back for more as the salts and fat from the sausage makes its mark. For me, Sangiovese and salami are timeless and rightfully so.