IN THIS ISSUE
MORE THAN FINE
WINE IN CHABLIS
By John A. Curtas
NEW YORK CORNER
THE SEA GRILL
By John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
TWO TASTINGS OF NOTE
By Geoff Kalish
MORE THAN FINE
WINE IN CHABLIS
By John A. Curtas
Chablis and I began our lifelong affair in 1988. It was love at first sip.
Like most aspiring connoisseurs of my generation—people who came of age in ‘60s and ‘70s—Chablis was thought of as a cheap jug wine often sold by cooperatives like Italian Swiss Colony or low-end purveyors like Paul Masson and Gallo. It is a reputation, in America at least, Chablis still struggles to live down.
But all of that changed for me at a wine dinner in New York City 30 years ago. It was at an event featuring the winemakers of such esteemed brands as François Raveneau, Vincent Dauvissat and William Fèvre where Chablis first caught my attention. Every food and wine lover likes to point to epiphanies that propelled them forward in their education, and for me it was a glass of Raveneau Les Clos, a Fèvre Bougros and a Dauvissat Les Preuses. From the glint of green in its pale lemony hue, to the nervous acidity, to the beckoning but elusive fruit—these were white wines on a level I'd never before encountered. It was like suddenly finding yourself on a date with Catherine Deneuve after a steady diet of Jayne Mansfield.
There was nothing obvious about these wines; each one represented a different vineyard on a different slope of the same hill. They were all made from the same grape (Chardonnay), but each had its own personality. Some were perfumed and delicate, while others were light and spicy. Still others presented flinty aromas unlike any other white wine ("like a struck match," one of the winemakers remarked), while more than a few tasted like you'd just licked a wet rock. To a neophyte, it was fascinating and compelling. Then and now, I can't imagine eating shellfish or seafood with anything else.
But there is a problem with good Chablis. Over the years it's been maddeningly hard to find. Despite its affinity for food, restaurants seem to shy away from it on their wine lists, while wine stores and web sites probably sell more over-oaked American chardonnay in a week than the Chablis they move in a year.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I traveled to the town of Chablis last December. I wanted to taste those elusive grand crus, where they are made, in hopes of deepening my appreciation for this under-appreciated wine. It doesn't hurt that the village of Chablis is little more than a two-hour drive from Paris, and within no time after landing one morning, we were sipping the full range of wines at Domaine Long-Depaquit (below), which owns plots of vines (within the officially designated climats) on both sides of the Serein River, including vines in five of the six grand cru vineyards, but its crown jewel is Moutonne—a monopole (monopoly) wine made from an area controlled by a single winery. The area designated Moutonne is actually within the Vaudésir vineyard, with some five percent of its vines being in Les Preuses—Vaudesir and Les Preuses being two of the six designated grand cru vineyards. These six also include Bougros, Les Grenouilles, Les Blanchots and Les Clos, and are known for producing the most complex, highest quality wines in the region. As you go up the ladder in Chablis—from Petit Chablis designated from village Chablis to premier cru Chablis—the wines go from tart, thinner and austere to rounder and more complex, with the top premier crus (Montée de Tonnerre, Butteaux, Montmains, Fourchaume) approaching grand cru status in some vintages. I won't get into the oak debate, except to say that the Chablis I taste nowadays (aging small percentages of the wine in oak before blending and bottling) is lusher on the palate than the steely wines I first encountered thirty years ago.
Moutonne sits apart from these other grand crus because of its monopole status. What it shares with all of the best Chablis is crisp, bracing acidity from which hangs the rich, mouth-pleasing minerality of grapes that have grown on ancient oyster beds. (It's no wonder Chablis and shellfish go so well together!) Comparing the full-bodied, ripe, concentrated Moutonne, the finesse of Long-Depaquit's peachy-spicy Les Clos is a treat every white wine lover should give themselves.
After a stroll around the beautiful, manicured grounds of the domaine, it was a short ride into the tiny village (pop. 2,568) that sits at the bottom of a shallow river basin surrounded by vineyards on all sides. Calling the village of Chablis quaint is an understatement. The town square houses a cafe, two very good boulangerie/patîsseries and a smattering of tasting rooms. Branch out in any direction and more tasting rooms and wineries you will find—ranging from big hitters like William Fèvre to tiny producers whose products never reach the States. Everything is very compact, and the grand crus vineyards are less than a twenty-minute walk from the lobby of the stylish four-star Hostellerie des Clos. More budget-minded travelers (like me) will find nothing wrong with the accommodations at the two-star Hotel Bergerand, which is right off the town square and even closer to the vineyards.
The quaintness of older French hotels like the Bergerand (left) is charming, but one must learn to roll with the punches when the modern conveniences are less-than-so. The toilet bowl at the Bergerand was the smallest I've ever seen—somewhere between a small saucepan and a large coffee cup—and the ancient door to my room was a contraption I could never quite decipher. I'm an old hand at toilet-fighting, so that problem was quickly conquered, but another one—sleeping in a strange hotel room without a locked door—took some getting used to. Somewhere around my second night, after hours of trying to sleep with one eye open, I concluded that Chablis, France, in mid-December, in 20-degree weather, was probably not a hotbed of burglaries against hapless American tourists too stupid to figure out how to use a door key. It helped that I was the only person staying in the place, and that the front desk clerk seemed to be on premises solely for the purpose of bidding me "bonjour" every morning. Even with these challenges, I would happily stay at the Bergerand again, as it was a clean and cozy room for 60 euros a night.
Dining, however, was another matter. For that I headed straight to the Hostellerie des Clos (right) to experience the refined cuisine classique of Michel Vignaud. My better-rested friends (who were staying at the Hostellerie, where the doors did lock) swooned over their fricassée of Burgundy snails in garlic cream and eggs "en meurette" (poached in red wine with bacon lardons), while I was revived by oysters swimming in a Chablis cream sauce, flecked with julienne vegetables. The main courses were Burgundian dining at its best: roasted free-range duckling in two courses with baby turnip preserve, and lièvre à la royale (stuffed hare cooked with its own blood, with truffled potatoes). Spoon-tender, gamey and dark as night, it was other-worldly in richness, and a testament to the magic French chefs work with small game. The wine card contains over 400 wines from Chablis, representing every producer in the area. After decades of Chablis deprivation, I couldn't help but giggle as I lost myself in its pages.
For more casual dining, Le Bistrot des Grand Crus fills the bill only a couple of blocks from the hotel. It's three-course, 22 euro special is a flat-out steal, but we opted for more classical dishes such as tête de veau (head cheese) with sauce gribiche, rognons de veau (veal kidneys) and the ultimate test of food manhood: “AAAAA” Andouillette sausage (left). Those five "A's" stand for the Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouilletes Authentiques—the Friendly Association of the Lovers of Authentic Andouillette—and its mission is to preserve the heritage of this most ill-mannered of sausages. To put it mildly (and there is nothing mild about andouillette), it takes a certain degree of intestinal fortitude to consume these intestines, because, well, they taste like intestines and smell like the stuff that moves through them. With typical Gallic insouciance, the French love to toss off that andouillette can be "strong tasting," and indeed they are, in the same way that a hot fudge sundae is "sweet tasting" or a gallon of lemon juice is "sour tasting." What starts out innocently enough with a crackling crisp bite of pork sausage soon fills your olfactories with a scent that is, to be kind, as elemental as anything issuing forth from the bowels of the earth. They are so gamey they make rabbit in blood sauce seem like chocolate cake. Calling andouillette strong is like calling the French Revolution a disagreement.
For elemental eating of a less rugged sort there are the cheese carts of Burgundy. Next to the wine and the gutsy cuisine, the other lure of the area is its wonderful cheeses. Even for a caseophile like me, the selections put forth in restaurants in Chablis (like the Hostellerie des Clos) are simply staggering. Springing forth from the countryside are names cheeseheads live for: Abbaye de Citeaux, Plaisir au Chablis, Charolais, Brillat-Savarin, Chaource, Soumaintrain, and of course, Époisses. Americans tend to think of Époisses as a pungent, rind-washed soft cheese, but in its homeland you find multiple variations in all stages of ripeness and runniness. If there's a better way to polish off the last of a bone-dry Raveneau Montée de Tonnerre than with a slice of intense, decadent, unpasteurized Époisses, I haven't found it. Together they achieve terroir-driven perfection, which is what eating and drinking in Chablis is all about.
45 Rue Auxerroise 89800
Domaine William Fèvre
10 Rue Jules-Rathier
Hostellerie des Clos
18 Rue Jules-Rathier
Les Bistrot des Grand Crus
10 Rue Jules-Rathier 89800
NEW YORK CORNERTHE SEA GRILL
By John Mariani
With its soaring towers anchored by a glowing winter skating rink, circled by flapping national flags and ennobled by a gilded statue of Prometheus, it is one of America’s most beloved Christmas icons with the celebratory installation of the huge lighted tree. It’s been the backdrop for so many marvelous movies—On the Town, How to Marry a Millionaire, Manhattan, The Prince of Tides, Sleepless in Seattle, and, of course, the setting for TV’s “30 Rock.”
A month from now the skating rink will become an outdoor dining area (left), flanked by restaurants that include the glass-enclosed, Caribbean blue-accented Sea Grill. Best thing about its L-shaped layout is that everyone gets a grand view of Rock Center.
Chef Andy Bennett has wisely kept many of the menu’s signature items, which include the best chowder in NYC, satiny, briny, not too thick but teeming with lobster, shrimp, clams and smoked bacon ($17).
The Sea Grill certainly has the clout to bring in the finest seafood from the daily market, so there are seasonal specials like softshell crabs and bay scallops when available. Every night there is a chilled shellfish platter ($48 per person) with lobster, king crab, jumbo lump crabmeat, oysters, clams, jumbo shrimp and ceviche, and the portions are generous.
So, too, there is a section of excellent sushi platters ($39-$42), whose species change, and sushi rolls ($16-$19) that have just the right balance of rice to fish and spiciness, served at the perfect temperature (right). There are, in addition, four crudo items that include salmon tartare with horseradish yogurt, sunchoke and trout roe ($17); fluke with citrus, avocado, and radish ($17); scallops with espelette pepper and yuzu ($18) and striped bass with apple, almond, kale and horseradish. The thick jumbo lump crabcake with stone-ground mustard sauce ($25) makes a fine first course.
Among the main courses are four fish nightly—“simply whole and filleted” (below)—from mahi-mahi ($37) and daurade ($37) to Florida red snapper ($38) and branzino ($41), each perfectly cooked and juicy to the bone. The other mains are more involved, like wild striped bass with miso, pearl barley, mushrooms, and kale nage ($39), and sea scallops with wild rice, Swiss chard kimchi, sweet parsnips and an Asia pear ($42), as well as a chicken breast and filet mignon for those not in the mood for seafood. Side dishes of lobster macaroni and cheese ($18) and crispy fingerling potatoes with a rich garlic aïoli ($12) are meant to be shared.
The Sea Grill’s wine list is of decent size and scope, if not as encompassing as that at Grand Central Oyster Bar, Oceana or Blue Fin. Prices are NYC high.
There are always special celebrations going on at The Sea Grill—upcoming wine dinners and a big Easter Sunday meal—and the restaurant is one that as many out-of-towners and tourists go to for the view as New Yorkers do for the food. It’s an irresistible blend, and one that could never be reproduced anywhere else.
Open all day from 11 a.m.
Mon.-Fri., and for dinner Sat.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
TWO TASTINGS OF NOTE
By Geoff Kalish
Many consumers envy the
“chores” of professional wine journalists
“obligated” to attend numerous wine tastings
each month in order gather information to
expound about. Most of the time, however,
the tastings are less than enjoyable,
especially when the wines are mediocre at
best and the winemaker is face to face with
the writer and asking for an opinion. (Of
note, when this happens and the wine is
below par, my usual answer is “interesting”
In addition, dinner tastings with winemakers and/or winery proprietors can be daunting, especially if the discussion revolves around clones, Brix levels, volatile phenols and other esoteric viticultural matters that rarely provide useful information of interest to most consumers or feature wines that poorly match the fare served. On the other hand, I recently attended two tastings that were very enjoyable, both offering some exceptional wines that are reasonably priced and widely available; one event was even open to the general public for a very modest $10 fee.
Of note, a recent dinner tasting with Anne Bousquet (left), co-owner of Argentina’s Domaine Bousquet, and some other wine professionals at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse in New York’s Grand Central Terminal turned out to be a very rewarding experience in terms of receiving insight into a recent shift in the focus of Argentina’s wine industry and the opportunity to taste some outstanding new releases that perfectly matched the excellent steakhouse fare.
In 1997, when Anne was living in Massachusetts with her stockbroker husband, Labid, her father, a third-generation French winemaker, shocked everyone when he purchased 1,000 acres of desolate land in western Argentina’s remote Gualtallary Valley in the Tupungato district of the Mendoza region. His reasoning was that the area showed just the right combination of factors (soil and climate) to make complex, fruit-forward, high acidity wines. Over the next three years he had a well dug (495 feet down into the alluvial, mineral rich soil) and in 2005 released his first vintage of wine. In 2009 Anne and Labid moved to Tupungato and assumed ownership of the property, which in 2011 was named Domaine Bousquet.
A big part of the estate’s success is because, unlike much of the simple, reasonably priced, easy-drinking reds (especially Malbec) mass-produced in Argentina, the wines of Domaine Bousquet are organic, sustainably grown and show the kind of complex depth of flavor and minerality usually associated with top French reds and whites. Also, even though annual production is currently less than 200,000 cases a year, distribution is quite widespread across the U.S. and the wines are very reasonably priced, usually retailing at $13 to $36 a bottle. Moreover, the success of Domaine Bousquet seems to have spurred on a number of other wine producers to rethink their focus, with higher quality, more complex wares now making inroads in the standard “cheap and cheerful” output.
So, what are some of these Domaine Bousquet wines and how do they mate with food? The 2016 Reserve Chardonnay ($18) is made from 100% Chardonnay grown at an altitude of more than 1,000 feet above sea level, of which 30% was aged in French oak for 10 months, showing a fruity bouquet and taste of ripe apples and pears with undertones of lime and a good amount of acidity in its finish. It mated perfectly with the plump crustaceans in the shrimp cocktail as well as the heady, Asian-influenced flavors of the dewy tuna and creamy avocado in the excellent tuna tartare served at Michael Jordan’s.
Of three wines sampled with perfectly prepared, medium-rare porterhouse for two, I preferred the 2015 Gaia Red Blend ($20) slightly more than the 2015 Gran Reserve Malbec ($25) and the 2015 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($18). Made from 50% Malbec, 45% Syrah and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Domaine’s vineyards, high in the Tupungato hills, and aged for 10 months in 100% French oak, the Red Blend had an intense bouquet of ripe blueberries with a well-integrated taste of blueberries and exotic herbs with hints of pepper in its long, dry finish. In addition to the beef, it would be expected to mate harmoniously with lamb or dark-veined cheeses.
The Grand Reserve Malbec, with its bouquet and
taste of raspberries and strawberries, was a
well-made wine, but in my opinion too fruity to
complement the steak; it would be a better fit
for pasta with red sauce or barbecued chicken.
Another well-made wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon
(85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec), more than
likely needs time to show its fruit, which is
currently quite muted but in fact evolved over a
period of an hour, bringing out its cassis
flavor with some truffle undertones. And the
non-vintage Domaine Bousquet Sparkling Rosé
($13), made by the Charmat method, had just the
right amount of ripe cherry and strawberry
bouquet and flavor to marry ideally with a thick
slab of classic New York cheesecake.
Billed as a casual tasting of “some newly released fun wines,” the offerings at the Naples Wine Collection (right), an upscale retail shop in the Vanderbilt Galleria shopping center in Naples, Florida—which holds two or three tastings each week, with comments by very knowledgeable General Manager Lucas Hampton—turned out to be better than I expected. In fact, for a cost of $10 per person some very “serious” but reasonably priced reds and whites were provided for sampling, all perfect to mate with warm-weather fare.
The 2015 Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis ($21) showed a bouquet and taste of apples, ripe melon, with notes of lemon in its vibrant finish, its aesthetics akin to a more expensive Premier Cru than a simple Chablis. Mate it with grilled seafare or chicken dishes.
A Taka Marlboro Sauvignon Blanc ($16) from New Zealand was redolent with flavors of ripe grapefruit and gooseberries and should ideally match the likes of clams, oysters and mussels as well as lobster.
While I thought that the 2015 Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc ($26) (made of 79% Sauvignon Blanc and 21% Semillon) was too costly for what it offered—rather muted bouquet and taste of oranges, figs and spice—nonetheless it was a well-made wine that helped round out the sharpness of the cheeses offered and would mate harmoniously with most seafood dishes.
On the other hand I did not enjoy the 2016 Mollydooker “The Boxer” Shiraz from South Africa ($26), which I felt was too aggressively fruity, with a fragrant bouquet and flavors of ripe plums, cherries and strawberries, to match with most fare other than perhaps Buffalo wings or barbecued ribs. And finally, three reds were presented, all good choices to accompany a range of fare, especially lamb, veal, grilled duck breasts or steak. A 2014 Limerick Lane Zinfandel ($41) from Sonoma County showed a bouquet and taste of strawberries and earthy spice. A 2016 Boen Pinot Noir ($30) from Russian River Valley had a bouquet and taste of strawberries and plums with hints of vanilla in a smooth finish. And a 2016 Elouan Reserve Klamath’s Kettle Pinot Noir ($48), from Oregon, had a bouquet and taste of ripe cherries, blackberries and plums with a long memorable
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I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." THIS WEEK:
Eating Las Vegas
JOHN CURTAS has been covering the Las Vegas
food and restaurant scene since 1995. He is
the co-author of EATING LAS VEGAS – The 50
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nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; email@example.com; www.nickonwine.com.
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