Wine&Dine: Giovanna’s Gift

I sometimes remind myself, or Spouse does, that ‘Giovanna was a most original and gifted pasta cook’. I don’t know Giovanna, nor do I know anything about her apart from the scarce details Elizabeth David shared with her readers: that she was young and worked in a country restaurant in Tuscany in the 1970s (An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, p. 107 [Dutch edition]). And that she could make a mean spaghetti.
The combination of ingredients may seem a bit unusual, and the amounts rather odd (only a 100 gr of liver and no less than 200 gr of parmesan) but do stick to the recipe as much as you can. Giovanna is, after all, an original and gifted cook. (I must confess that I am not always that obedient, being more generous with some ingredients and less with others, and turning to bacon if per chance the fridge does not provide me with coppa. The result is still tasty, but not as good as it could have been.)

What to drink with it? In my opinion a light red wine would be best. A fruity Cabernet Franc, for example, that pairs a certain earthyness with freshness, as does this dish.

Dine: Spaghetti with chicken livers and lemon (serving 4)
Cook the pasta al dente. Sauté finely chopped chicken livers (100 gr) with 4-5 gloves of chopped garlic (better still: rub garlic with coarse salt into a paste), 100 gr coppa, and the grated peel of 1 lemon in olive oil for ca. 3 minutes (be careful not to overcook). Beat 1 egg and 4 egg yolks with 200 gr of grated parmesan or pecorino. Pour egg mixture into the pan with the livers (heat off) and mix thoroughly. Drain pasta and add to the mixture. Keep stirring and mixing till sauce and pasta are amalgamated.andides

Wine: Les Andides Saumur Champigny
Les Andides Saumur Champigny 2013, 12.5%vol, € 6 (sale price at Albert Heijn)
Fruity with earthy tones, soft tannins, easy. Good value for money. Cave de Saumur is part of the cooperative Alliance Loire, a big player in the region. The same wine may be found with other retailers under a different name. Serve slightly chilled.


Alsace Pinot Noir Grand Cru?

Good tidings were brought by a few Pinot Noir makers in Alsace. Now that quality and quantity have improved, they will apply for the grand cru status for this noble grape, the official noble grapes at this moment being Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat, Gewurztraminer and Zotzenberger Sylvaner. Though Alsace is perceived as a dominantly white wine region, which is hardly surprising, reds have always been made and were sometimes highly valued. Documents have been digged up by the initiators that state that in the 15th and 16th centuries the reds from Rouffach were more expensive than the whites, which we obviously should recognize as proof of their superior quality.
Past performances can have a long influence, as the Bordeaux classification shows, but at the time the Alsace classification was established Pinot Noir was not deemed worthy. The grape was used only for Crémant or for light rosé-like summer wines.
My first encounters with Alsace Pinot Noir were in that area: light-bodied, sometimes greenish, at best served slightly chilled with a plate of charcuterie. That is okay, but okay does not nearly qualify for grand cru.
IMG_1452968318924Nowadays some vintners have made serious work of this difficult variety and are trying a more Burgundian style. More skin contact, (old) oak barrels. I would say they are successful. Last summer I visited Cave de Turckheim. Their Pinot Noir was a revelation, showing it can be done, making high quality Pinot.

Pinot noir fût de chêne 2011, Cave de Turckheim, AOC Alsace, 13,5%vol, ca. € 12
In the nose red berries, a little vanilla. Relatively full-bodied, cherries, spices. Very tasty.

So who says: ‘Lack of acidity and complexity often prevent Alsatian pinot noir from achieving anything more than pleasant, easy drinking, quality levels’? Wikipedia does. About time to edit that piece of information, wouldn’t you say?


Foreign Affairs

While visiting the Ardèche, René van Heusden of Perswijn, a Dutch wine journal, is asked if he’d like to taste something special. Wine journalists usually answer that with an eager ‘Well, yes, of course’, hoping for, if not downright expecting a rare vintage or a wine of exceptional quality. His verdict on the Clinton he was then presented with: ‘Wine of a very peculiar taste. Or rather: weird. Interesting, we say,’ thereby crushing some vintners’ hope of finding a supporter of releasing the French government’s prohibition of American hybrids.
An American Grape, from Husmann's book

An American Grape, from Husmann’s book

And that is what the Clinton is: an American hybrid, ‘vigorous, hardy and productive; free from disease (…) juicy; somewhat acid; (…) brisk vinous flavor, but somewhat of the aroma of the frost grape; makes a dark red wine, of good body, and much resembling claret (…). Although safe and reliable, I think it has lately been over praised as a wine grape (…)’, as George Husmann writes in his The Cultivation of the Native Grape, and Manufacture of American Wines of 1866.

Husmann (1847-1902), a pioneer grape-grower and winemaker of Hermann, Missouri, dedicated this standard work ‘To the grape growers of “our country, one and indivisible,” as their friend and fellow-laborer’. In his book he not only went into great (technical) detail on the various grapes, the winemaking process, the costs and benefits, he also shared his missionary vision of America as a true ‘Wineland’ where men and women of all social classes will be able to enjoy a glass of native wine. For the southern states to accomplish that, they would need to free themselves from the demon of slavery.
It was not only Americans he granted a glass of wine. After the destruction of France’s vineyards by the phylloxera, it was Husmann and two fellow Missourians, who shipped American vines to the old continent. A few of them exist until today.

A Taste of 2013

After seeing or reading about the sports(wo)man of the year, the books of 2013, the most embarrassing TV fragments, several news overviews, much lamenteds and where to buy 2013s best deep-fried solid doughnuts (a somewhat longwinded translation of “oliebol”), I feel compelled to share my “outstanding wines of 2013.” That is what they are: standing out. Presented at random. Happy New Year.

Riesling Grand Cru Vorbourg 2008 (Domaine Muré, Alsace), 12,5%
Well-known winery where the kids (12th generation) just took over. This Riesling was made by René père. Golden-yellow colour. In the nose dried apricot, honey, and a whiff of petrol. Good acidity combined with voluptuousness and minerality. Can age for some more years.

Les Cormiers 2011, Vin de France (Christian Venier, Touraine), 12,5%, € 9,95
A Cabernet Franc that brings a smile on one’s face: redcurrant, wild strawberry, juicy. A perfect wine for a summer’s day.
Christian Venier is a natural wine maker who learned the trade from Thierry Puzelat of Clos du Tue Boeuf but is said to be less experimental (according to his distributor). No filtering, no sulphites, indigenous yeasts.

Viña Gravonia Crianza 2004 (Bodegas López de Heredia, Rioja), 12,5%, € 12 (ad loco)
Golden colour, deep honey-like, sweetish smell, in the mouth dry, full-bodied, complex, honey, sourish apricot, mandarin, almond, freshly-cut herbs (the latter to my astonishment), long aftertaste.
See my earlier posting.

Blanco 2012 (Luis Cañas, Rioja), 13,5%, ca. € 7
A barrel fermented blend of 85% Viura and 15% Malvasía from vines of over 50 years old. Well-balanced, medium-bodied, ripe pear, apricot, minerality. Maybe not spectacular but more than enjoyable till the last sip and rather good value for money. My applauded house white.

Château Lestage-Darquier, Moulis Cru Bourgeois Terra Vitis 2010 (Brigitte and Francois Bernard, Bordeaux), 13,5%, ca. € 13
Soft-spoken, fruity, refined Bordeaux that can age for some more years, but I am not sure it will.


Anyone for Pudding?

In Perswijn 2, 2013 Lars Daniëls wrote on Grenache, a grape with a bright future. Not only because it loves high temperatures and isn’t bothered by fierce winds but also because it comes in three varieties (Noir, Gris and Blanc) and makes different styles of wines. To name but a few: the red one is the first grape in Châteauneuf-du-Pape (along with many others), loves to share a bottle with Syrah and Mourvèdre (the so-called GSM-blends), goes rosé in Provence, plays a prominent part in Rioja, has a solo in Sardinia’s Cannonau and has crossed the oceans to California and Australia. It’s white brother is a popular grape in Spain and the South of France, is allowed in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape too and blends well with Rousanne and Marsanne. Their natural high sugar levels and lack of tannins have led to extensive use in fortified wines, for example the Vins Doux Naturels (VDN, see also my previous posting). Daniëls admits he hardly ever drunk a VDN before, but that has changed.

He doesn’t tell if he always keeps a bottle of VDN in the fridge, as Carlos Badia of Arnaud deVilleneuve does. “You never know what happens,” he says, suggesting that beautiful brunettes knock on his door on a regular basis.

I know, Badia works for Arnaud de Villeneuve and had he worked for Veuve Clicquot his fridge would have been filled with yellow labelled Champagne bottles, as you never know what happens. Still, I think it’s a sound advice as these VDN are truly incredible. For pudding, definitively, but also as an aperitif.

These are fortified sweet wines, yes, but they are not sticky and as fortified wines go, not very alcoholic (16%). Think ripeness, nuttiness, dried fruit (dates, figs, raisins), orange peel. They go well with chocolate, old yellow cheeses and dried fruit. The older they are (and they should be), the softer the tones.

The 1969 (bottled three years ago) is the oldest one I tasted, and the most expensive (ca. € 70; the 80s are around € 20). Matureness is its middle name. This one doesn’t need any accompaniment. Just some attention.

catalogue_1969Rivesaltes Ambré 1969
Made of Grenache Gris, Macabeu, Grenache Blanc and Muscat. Pardon my (i.e., Arnaud de Villeneuve’s) French: Vinification traditionnelle des blancs mais seul les jus de gouttes sont sélectionnés. Longue maturation en cuve, puis élevage en barriques et petits foudres. Mis en bouteille en 2010.

You can keep it open in the fridge for a few months. But you won’t.

The wines of Caves Arnaud de Villeneuve are for sale here.

(Previously posted on my blogspot site, April 2013)

Pink for Grown-Ups

I don’t know about other countries, but here in the Netherlands little girls wear pink dresses, have pink toys and ride pink bicycles. Till they are 10 years old. A few years later they (boys too now) start drinking pink breezers. The wine trade has realized that from breezer to Bordeaux is too big a step for this generation. They need an in between, affordable wine-like sweet and pink drink. Different wine regions come up with different answers. Pink port, served chilled, preferably with ice or as a cocktail or long drink, is one I have heard of. Another, one that I have actually tasted, comes from the Rivesaltes.

catalogue_rivesaltes-rose-instant-plaisir_4f885e6618d76_VLast March Carlos Badia of Caves Arnaud de Villeneuve, a big cooperation of 350 farmers in Rivesaltes, hopped over from Düsseldorf (ProWein fair) to present his wines to a small group of Dutch connoisseurs. The Caves’ problem is not so much ‘from breezer to Bordeaux’ as ‘anyone for pudding?’, as their traditional sweet wines (Vins Doux Naturels, VDN) are less asked for nowadays. Dry whites and reds (Chardonnay, Grenache) have become more important but they have not forgotten to ‘Think pink’ either, judging by their Rivesaltes Rosé Instant Plaisir 2011. This step-in Vin Doux Naturel of 100% Grenache Noir tastes of strawberry and raspberry sweets. It’s not my style (nothing pink is, really), but I can imagine drinking a small glass on a hot day with a piece of strawberry cake. You could also pour a little over a bowl of red berry fruits and let it chill for a few hours. Some icing sugar to taste and lashings of whipped cream to top it off (not my style either, but that shouldn’t stop you).

Pink is in the air, it seems. Enjoying a delicious dinner lately at Vandemarkt’s, we were poured a sparkling Muscador rosé (Muscat grapes grown in the South of France, made into wine in Alsace at Cave de Wissembourg) with our starter of pâté de foie gras. The sommelier called it a little joke, but it’s a nice one: the soft sweetness (roses) of the wine paired quite well with the pâté, pieces of beetroot, streaks of (farmed!) eel and apple compote.

I’m almost convinced now.

(The wines of Caves Arnaud de Villeneuve are for sale here.)

(Previously posted on my blogspot site, April 2013)

Wine&Dine: Loire Cabernet Franc & Bavette

I love red Loire wines, be they made of Gamay, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc. They often combine a pleasant fruitiness with soft earthy tones, representing a certain light-heartedness, without being unserious. Of these three the Cabernet Franc is the more full-bodied and a bit sterner.

Though Cabernet Franc can be harsh and green, certainly if harvested too early (it’s a difficult grape), Jean-Noëlle Millon’s La Source du Ruault 2007 offers softness and ripeness. This unfiltered and un-fined Saumur Champigny has a fruity and herbal scent, a fruity palate and ripe tannins. It contains some depot (as an unfiltered and un-fined wine should), so you better leave the last sip in the bottle.

The website tells me Jean-Noëlle shifted to biodynamic wine making in 2007 (some years after taking over the business from Millon père) and has been certified since 2010. Grapes are hand-picked, fermentation takes place in concrete vats with natural yeasts, maturation in ‘barriques’.

La Source du Ruault 2007, Saumur Champigny (AOC), 12,5% alc. I was able to buy it at a discount (€ 7,60 instead of € 10,80) as the distributor needed space for new vintages.

We paired the Cabernet Franc with bavette, zucchini fritters, slow-cooked tomatoes from the oven and unmucked-about-with rocket. Having enough tannins for the bavette, fruitiness for the tomatoes and lightness to never overshadow the zucchini fritters, the La Source du Ruault proved to be a good choice.

Bavette? Yes, one of the cheaper and tastier steaks (popular nowadays in restaurants—crisis?). Maybe not to be found in the supermarket, but on offer at any decent butcher’s. Cut into small slices (0,5-1 cm) across the grain (otherwise the meat will fall apart), heat a frying (or even better: grill) pan till it’s very hot, fry a minute or so (no need to cook them through) on each side, sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper (and if you like a few drops of lemon juice).


(Previously posted on my blogspot site, April 2013)


Bordeaux Tasting

Bordeaux tastings have magic around them. And why shouldn’t they? The ‘fine fleur’ of wine journalism and wine trade from around the world gather in this château-studded area to taste and judge new vintages. Being the world’s most famous wine region, its blends imitated by many a New World wine maker, where the best wines are only affordable to the (nowadays increasingly Chinese) rich and famous, pension funds, and insurance companies—a bit of magic comes natural. Even more so as the wines are tasted (and sold—this is not a charity event) ‘en primeur,’ as cask samples, i.e., as unfinished wines. A true surprise party.

I am not eabordeaux 005sily scared off, so I boldly accepted an invitation for a Bordeaux tasting last November. Of course it did help that the tasting didn’t take place in Bordeaux, that it wasn’t ‘en primeur’ and that the invitation came from Gommers, a trusted, sympathetic wine retailer. No Pétrus here, nor a Haut Brion, but then the wines didn’t cost one a month’s income (per bottle, that is).

Magic was there all the same: 42 red Bordeaux wines of sometimes lesser, sometimes better known châteaux, elegantly presented in a renovated coach house. That was more Bordeaux than I had ever seen in my life. What to choose, where to start, especially if one is fairly unfamiliar with Bordeaux wines? Spouse and I had done some homework, thought it better to skip the wines under € 8 and kicked-off. We tasted lots of blackcurrant, leather, vanilla, remnants of cigar box, a dash of stable, harsh and soft tannins. Each wine, each vintage different from the other (with 2009 acknowledgedly sticking out as pretty near-perfect).

Here are a few of our favourites.
2009 Château Croix de Rambeau, Lussac Saint-Emilion, a 90/10% Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend. Though I noted a floral nose, lots of fruit and soft tannins, the tasting comments of the French cellar master—and who am I to think differently—tells me that, I quote, ‘the mouth is very pleasant from the attack.’ For sale at € 15,50, and well worth it’s price.
2009 Château Saransot-Dupré, Listrac Cru Bourgois, a classic Bordeaux blend of Merlot (56%), Cabernet Sauvignon (24%), Cabernet Franc (15%), Petit Verdot (3%), and Carmenere (2%). Dark fruit, cigar box, leather, laurel. Friendlier and fresher than the 2006. At € 16,25.
The 2009 Château de Pez, Saint-Estèphe Cru Bourgeois Exceptionnel was the most expensive, selling for € 45 a bottle, and to my taste also the finest. Blackcurrant, vanilla and leather in the nose; soft, full-bodied, fresh; balanced. Yummy indeed, but three times as yummy as the Croix de Rambeau or the Saransot-Dupré? I didn’t think so.