Sunday, August 31, 2014

Arinto Who?

As many of you know, I am a tireless booster for the wines of Portugal which offers some of the best values  in the world, and even their high end wines are a fabulous bargain compared to what you will pay for similar quality wines from California, France and Italy.  What I especially like is that not only do they offer great values, they also present opportunities to sample varietals that you will not encounter elsewhere as they are indigenous grapes that are not found or cultivated outside of Portugal.

One of these varietals is a white grape that I believe will appeal to all you Sauvignon Blanc aficionados out there, and it's called "Arinto".  It can be found in either single varietal issues or blends with other native grapes.  Most recently, I sampled a 100% Arinto (2012) from the Quinta da Romeira estate, produced in the Bucelas (DOC) region.  This is an absolutely delightful wine, bursting with citrus aromas (orange and lime), backed up with tropical and mineral undertones. It has a fresh, crisp acidity along with a powerful intensity that lingers well on the mouth. Though somewhat similar in profile to Sauvignon Blanc, it does not carry any of the grassy or boxwood ("cat pee", in the vernacular) notes. At 12.5% alcohol, it's beautiful summertime refresher that will not knock you down.  It's a natural complement to fish, seafood and grilled vegetables.

This particular bottle from the Lisbon Wine shop in Newark retails for about $9 (an exceptional bargain), but you should be able to find Quinta da Romeira wines or other estate wines featuring Arinto or Arinto blends in the tri-state area. Do yourself a favor and don't pass up on this wine if you come across it. You may find yourself another favorite, like I did. Saude!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bullish on Muscadet?... Mais Oui!

This post features another often maligned grape/wine that deserves greater attention these days, especially in light of a new generation of vintners and viticulturists who are, in a sense, taking back the reputation, quality and potential of a very regional varietal and promoting its long lost lustre by employing organic and biodynamic wine-growing methods, reducing production and allowing the soil composition to bring out the special qualities of the wine.  We're talking about Muscadet (aka Melon de Bourgogne), that white wine from the western edge of the Loire River Valley, bordering the Atlantic coast that imbues the wine with the minerally, sea-spray and grassy notes that make it such a natural accompaniment to oysters especially and shell-fish in general.

Once again, I'm pleased to find myself ahead of the curve, as it were, (it was a highlight of my Loire wine tasting class in March - see my post of April 7) in touting an under appreciated and misunderstood wine, and invite you to read more about the history of this varietal and the new generation of producers in Eric Asimov's most recent article in the New York Times: 

For those of you who attended my Loire wine class and were taken with this delightfully refreshing and very modestly priced wine, I encourage you to seek out the other Muscadets recommended in the article and enjoy with a selection from the raw bar - a perfect way to celebrate the fine, late summer weather we're experiencing. A votre santé!

Top Muscadet Producers
Here are some of the best producers of Muscadet available in the United States.
ANDRÉ-MICHEL BRÉGEON Rich, substantial, precise, textured wines. (Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, Berkeley, Calif.)
CHÉREAU-CARRÉ A good range of wines, particularly those labeled Comte Leloup du Château de Chasseloir. (De Maison Selections, Chapel Hill, N.C.)
DOMAINE DE L’ÉCU Excellent Muscadet cuvées, along with some experimental whites and reds. (Polaner Selections, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)
JO LANDRON/DOMAINE DE La LOUVETRIE Wines of great purity and expression. (Martin Scott Wines, Lake Success, N.Y.)
DOMAINE PIERRE LUNEAU-PAPIN Wide range of fine wines, particularly L d’Or and Terre de Pierre. (Louis/Dressner Selections, New York)
MARC OLLIVIER/DOMAINE DE LA PÉPIÈRE Exceptional wines, especially the structured Clos des Briords and the vivid Clisson. (Louis/Dressner Selections)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Summertime, and the Sauvignon Blanc is flowing!

On a recent cloudy, coolish and calm Saturday evening on a Southwest Germantown backyard porch a group of friends - assorted wine aficionados, geeks and connoisseurs - gathered together to enjoy each other's company and a sample a few wines ... well, make that a lot of wines! All together the count totaled 19, and nary a sip remained at the end of the confabulation.  Provenances were worldwide - from New Zealand to California to France. It was an opportunity to appreciate the beautiful subtleties of this noble grape varietal and remark on the difference that terroir and winemaker bring to their cuvées.

In no particular order, here is the list of wines:

1. Domaine de la Potine, Touraine AOC 2013 (Fleet Street)

2. Le Bouc, Touraine AOC 2013 (Fleet Street)

3. Lassalle, Pays d'Oc IGP 2013

4. Director's Cut, Alexander Valley, Sonoma, (Francis Ford Coppola) 2012

5. Natura, Valle de Casablanca, Chile 2013

6. Whitehaven, Marlborough, New Zealand 2013

7. Clotilde Davenne, Saint-Bris AOC 2010

8. Fire Road, Marlborough, New Zealand 2013

9. Cuvaison, Solitaire Sauvignon Blanc, Carneros, Napa Valley 2012

10. Joel Gott, Napa Valley 2013

11. Nobilo, Marlborough, New Zealand 2013

12. Siblings (Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon) , Margaret River,  Australia, Leeuwine Estate,  2012

13. Oberon, Michael Mondavi, Napa Valley 2013

14. Villa Maria (Private Bin), Marlborough, New Zealand 2012

15. Martin Ray, Russian River Valley 2013

16. Courtney Benham, Napa Valley 2013

17. Frisson, Russian River Valley 2011

18. Chalk Hill, Sonoma 2011

19. Meridian, Napa Valley 2011

Numberwise, Marlborough, Sonoma  and Napa were all represented equally at 4 bottles a piece, perhaps reflecting the prominence of these regions in the market for availability and quality.  (There was one outlier that escaped the thirsty wine tasters: an Aveleda Vinho Verde from Portugal, but we'll try to catch that next time, Pedro!  And if your eyes are really sharp, you'll notice that someone (I'm looking at you, Ian!) sneaked in a bottle of suds, Freigeist Pimock Rhineland Weize - top photo).


As this was not a "formal" tasting, I will dispense with the tasting notes, except to say that among the crowd's favorites were the Saint-Bris, the Fire Road, the Chalk Hill (see my blog post of June 19), the Joel Gott (see my blog post of January 4 ) and the Domaine de la Potine. 

Checking that wine app!

The rain held off so guests could chill in the backyard without cover.

That's a Joel Gott Chris is showcasing.

Pedro' s (left)
Pastéis de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Balls/Fritters) were a big hit! See below for recipe.
Wine expert par excellence Max and his wife Vanessa make a toast for the photographer.

Discussing the finer points of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc!

Night descends on the happy crowd.
Many thanks to the guests for all the great wine selections and delicious food!  Looking forward to meeting up with you at the next wine event.

Pastéis de Bacalhau (Salt Cod Balls/Fritters)

1/2 pound of dried salt cod (baccalà, in Italian - ideally not the already skinned and deboned type, but that will do if the real stuff is hard to find)
2 medium Russet or Eastern potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1-2 eggs, separated
Quarter cup (approx.) of all-purpose flour (optional)
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
vegetable oil for deep frying

Soak the salt cod for about 24 hours in several changes of cold water. (Put it in the fridge overnight.) Drain and rinse well.

Place cod in a saucepan, add enough cold water to cover, bring to a boil, and then gently simmer over moderate heat for 15 to 20 minutes (NB: some foam/scum will be a normal and innocuous side-effect of boiling the cod; skim it, as you go along, if you feel the need to go through the trouble).

Meanwhile, boil the potatoes in enough water to cover for about 20 minutes (until soft); drain well and set aside.

When the cod is tender, drain well and let cool.  Carefully remove all the bones and skin from the cod. Flake/break up the cod with a fork and/or fingers (while continuing to be on the lookout out any remaining bones).  Set aside.

(Tip: you can boil the cod and potatoes together, at the same time, if you like; since they take roughly the same time to cook.)

In a small heavy skillet set over moderate low heat, gently sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil for about 5 minutes (until limp, not browned).

Mash the potatoes, then mix in the reserved minced cod, onion mixture, parsley, cayenne, and black pepper.  Before adding the eggs, check if the mixture needs some extra salt (it may do so!), then stir in the egg yolk(s, one at a time) and mix well.  Whisk the egg white(s) to soft peaks, then fold into the cod mixture.

Heat the vegetable oil in a good-sized frying pan (or deep fryer) over a moderate high heat.

Using two soup spoons (one in each hand, held firmly), shape a spoonful at a time of the cod mixture into 1-to-1.5 inch thick balls (the shape of American footballs or Rugby balls!).  Then, as soon as the oil is hot enough (i.e. has reached about 370 degrees F), gently plop each ball in and fry in batches (about 4 at a time) until golden brown (1 to 2 minutes each).  You might need to place the shaped balls on a floured surface until you’re ready to place them in the oil. Raise and lower the burner heat/flame as needed to keep the temperature of the oil as near to 370 F as possible.

As the balls brown, lift out with a slotted spoon to drain over several thickness of paper towels.

The trick is to have the oil temperature just right – too low and the balls start to break apart (which will mess up your oil!); too high and the outsides cook before the insides…  I’ve found adding a little sifted flour to the mixture helps hold the mixture together a bit better.  Trial and error…

Garnish with parsley, lemon wedges, and serve with a nice, cool, crisp vinho verde (or other libation of choice)!