FOOD AND WINE IN QUEBEC CITY

 

We recently spent a week eating and exploring new wave French wines in Quebec City. Why? A lot of our idea had to do with the dollar. That $50.00 Canadian bottle of wine is $37.50 on your credit card, or $7.50 a glass. For both quality and curiosity, there can be no better reward than that 25% exchange rate gift.

Chez Jules: A classic French bistro. Décor, waiters, ambience AND all you can eat frog legs special on Monday. Terrific escargot and sweetbreads. A standard French wine list but there are a few gems: Julien Pilon, 2015 Viognier, Rhone . A rich, full bodied, exuberant viognier with great style for the two dishes.

Lapin Saute : All rabbit, all the time. A platter of sausage, legs, confit, pate and those glorious beans washed down with a rare bottle of Dominique Piron Beaujolais Blanc, 2015. It has the energy of a French Chablis- perfect with the white meat, from a 15 generation wine family (only 2% of Beaujolais is white) .

Chez Boulay: The high temple of Nordic natural in the city. The seafood platter with shrimp, salmon, mussels and crab make you a believer in the press this place generates .The entre of game hen was meltingly delirious. He makes his own Jean-Luc Boulay Syrah in the Languedoc that fits well with this gastronomic heaven. It was luscious and silky smooth with the fish and birds.

1608 Frontenac Wine and Cheese Bar: Worth a visit for the interior look, not to mention the gold Rolexes and a smattering of Botox. The viognier by the glass is good, as expected.

Café Du Monde: Upscale bistro with a highly polished moderne look, river view, similar in style to 1608. Salmon tartare two ways (what?) or an astonishing ravioli with shrimp and lobster sauce, you choose. A very corporate wine list that does contain little nuggets that you have to hunt for.  Les Pious Marsanne by Rimi Pouizin. Marsanne (like viognier) has honey suckle, peach and marzipan swimming together as flavors. The grapes and wines from the Rhone and Languedoc are worth the trip to Quebec alone. This is turning out to be a glass by glass tutorial of  modern South of France.

L’Affaire est Ketchup (“everything’s cool”). This is St. Anthony Bourdaines’ favorite in Quebec. The place resembles a flea market reproduced as a restaurant. We had the sweet breads, scallops and mackerel- all excellent. The wine list is both “natural” and obscure. Bourboulenc “Clos des Grillon”, 2014, southern French, herbal and fresh.

Moine Echanson: There is always a restaurant and a person that is the highlight of our trips. Martin, our wait person, came ambling to our outside table holding four opened bottles of wine with that “let’s taste some stuff” look . We ordered oysters and proceeded to our “natural wines” tour. Rkatsiteli ( a Georgian white reputed to be the first grape vine planted by Noah ) made by Soliko Tsais was smokey, earthy and almost a food. Miscela by Lammidia, an Abruzzo stunner from the local malvasia, trebbiano and pecorino grapes was ripe, delicious and featured a red gas nozzle motif label on the bottle.

The entre of rare caribou steak was locavor perfection. The reds were equally edgy and fabulous. Ah!Ramon by the eccentric wine maker La Sorga featured bold white script on a pink label. The grape is a play off aramon, a terrible overplanted, high yield grape of the Languedoc. The winemaker describes it as “greedy, fresh, to gurgle”. I think it is a play off the band the Ramones as well. It was lovingly delicious. Last, but not least, is the red by Soliko, made from an obscure grape, the sapereravi,  with all the biodynamic bells and whistles: wild yeast, natural sulfites, unfined , ancient clay amphora (qveyi) and a grape that is dynamic all by itself. In my over 40 years of tasting and writing about wine I have never encountered anything like this. There are 9,000 acres in Georgia with some in Bulgaria and the USSR. This is one savory grape, redefining in my mind the idea of tannin. This is tannin as a melt in your mouth art form, not an astringent, nail biting form of acidity. And…with rare caribou it one of the great wine and food artforms.

This has been our palate opening plunge into natural wines. I still view them as a tightwire walker over Niagara Falls, operating without a net. There are no commercial yeast or sulfites to brace their fall. If they successfully make the tightwire walk there is unanimous applause, otherwise they are splattered on the rocks.

Quebec has been a great learning  adventure . The people, food, wine and professional service were all there, along with that equally nice 25% gift.

 

 

ZINFANDEL: A PERSONAL HISTORY

ZINFANDEL: A PERSONAL HISTORY

This most mysterious of grapes hasn’t changed much in the past 165 years, but theuses, perception and history of it have. As a student at San Francisco State University in the 70’s I proposed doing my history thesis on the zinfandel grape and was met with the stunned silence that can only mean “you weren’t serious were you”? Well, I was. Off I went to interview the people who knew the grape best in California- the old Italian vintners who both grew and loved the grape. Zin was red, gnarly and delicious,

Zinfandel in the 1970’s had both a mysterious past (it just sort of landed in California) and a very unpredictable future. The grape, depending on how it is grown and harvested can take on a variety of flavors and styles. The popular ones of the 70’s were: the California hearty burgundy (really great zin as part of an anonymous table wine blend- usually cheap). Or it was a high quality wine that was obscured by the fame of cabernet sauvignon (Mondavi, Louis Martini, Sebastiani, were the main practitioners). And last, but not least: the cult zin (Story, Mayacamas, Ridge, David Bruce). The cult zins ranged from elegant to downright experimental. One wag proposed a neck label that read “for competition use only- not for family dining”. Last, but certainly least, there was zinfandel port. The back label always read “age for 20 years”- they fell apart in five.

I drank and experienced them all. Food for zin depends on quality and price. Cheap$5-6.00 burgers on the grill or hot dogs. Moderate $10.00-$20.00 a wide range of meats from barbecue with sweet sauce, ribs, sausage, pork chops, turkey. At $15.00 and up, duck, lamb, prime rib, goat cheese and expensive cuts of meat. Zinfandel is versatile.

In the early 1980’s I was Sales Manager for a small sized fine wine distributor in Portland, Oregon. My favorite sentence was “sorry, it’s allocated”. One of our winery people came in with a request: “we made a few cases of pink zinfandel by mistake, would you please find a way to get some off our hands.” “Sure, why not”. Then KABOOM. Those few cases turned into the whale watching trip where you wound up in the middle of the ocean riding the whale. From writing 3 star restaurant wine lists I was stacking this pink stuff sky high in stores. White zinfandel had taken over the world.

So, for a decade, we suffered through the “I didn’t know it was red too?” question. Fortunately, as with all things that go viral, it spun its course. In the meantime, we found out a lot of cool things: the grape is the tribidrag, arriving in the U.S. from the Imperial vine collection in Vienna in the 1820’s. Researchers found the original 22 vines in a garden in Croatia. It has been a long, strange ride for the zinfandel grape, and I am thrilled just holding a bottle in my hand when I see it in a store. Give me the red stuff from those gnarly old winemakers, please

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Wines of Summer

This title is totally misleading because there isn’t really a summer in New England. Days and nights can range from hot and humid to ” what is that big dark cloud hovering overhead?” So, you can drink whatever the hell you want- just time it so you can bring it inside when that cloud slaps you upside your head.

There are three glorious discoveries this summer. The wines of southern Italy. The new local dining column experience called “bring a foodie celebrity with you” and the old Portland Press Herald standby “I had it and it is so rare you are out of luck”.

We were walking around downtown Brunswick trying to decide about lunch. The Great Impasta is not only a standby, but never fails in quality, service, price and all that other stuff. There was a table tent announcing a little Sicilian white wine at $5.00 a glass. Five Dollars a glass- you know you’re in Brunswick with these reasonable prices. Planeta La Segreta, 2012, Sicilia, DOC. The new Sicily jumps out of your glass to meet and combine with the flavors of your linguini, shrimp and clams. New Sicily rocks.

Fast forward to First Friday. August 1st. Alfresco (love that word) dining at Vignola @ 10 Dana St. Portland. Fish stew with all of god’s little creatures included and a linguini / shrimp dish that you pour your heart out over. I jumped on a wine that I had never experienced : Altadonna Grillo, 2011, $34.00. The grillo grape is like going to a yard sale and finding a copy of that rare book known only to collectors. It is the grape of Marsala! Marsala is used to marinate chicken and, in its funkier form, is drunk by old Italian dudes smoking those little pungent cigars.

Enter Altadonna: traveler, discoverer and inventor, not to mention rescuer. This stuff smells like a glorious white Burgundy and tastes of almonds and citrus, yet is full bodied and doesn’t peel the back off your credit card like white Burgundy. There are dozens of wines like that on their list. Ask Wendy, she knows.

Blending has become a thing in “New Sicily”. Wineries combine things discovered and things recently planted. While Grillo is one grape in the bottle , Planeta is a chopino.

New Sicily combines ancient vines (50% grecanico) with our old fave (30% chardonnay), while combining a splash of (10% viognier) with the very time tested (10% fiano). The result, thanks to a pile of new technology money in a hot climate is a very crisp, lemony, and delicious white wine. You could splash it on your linguini (kind of a waste) instead of a lemon wedge.

Vinland- most hyped new restaurant. Read all of the reviews first. I havn’t been there yet, so I can’t say. Here is your little homework assignment before you go: Read the following- Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point ( the man who invented farm to table before Alice Waters was born). On the wines “Natural wines: Worth a Taste but not the Vitriol” by Eric Asimov New York Times, Jan. 24,2012. Also google up Dr. Richard Smart on the same subject. This is the guy who created New Zealand wines.

Everything that I have ever written about on wine is something that you, the reader, can actually find and drink. I may write about stuff that you need to look up, but the sources are easy to access and are readily available . I don’t like to play the “I had it and you can’t” game. Now, for our next wine. It was brought to me by a friend who made a road trip (a boat trip will work as well) and discovered it at their winery. I called the winery. It isn’t distributed here and can’t be shipped here, but it is well worth the trip.

Luckette Vineyards, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, L’Acadie Blanc, 2011, $20.00 btl. I am enamoured with this wine for two reasons: first- it is damned good. In fact, better than damned good. It is remarkably like those costly and illusive white Burgundies that have become wrenchingly expensive . L’Acadie is a hybridized combo of a wide variety of grapes that both are delicious and survive the winter.

For me, this grape is personal. I ran a winery in Virginia. We lived the impossible climate and the red clay that Thomas Jefferson mapped out for potential vineyards. There are around five of those vineyards producing wines that give the flavor of earth that Mr. Jefferson envisioned. I want to taste more of this wine and get up close to something that could be totally fascinating.

Not too bad for one summer that isn’t even over yet (oh, please don’t say that). Several new Italian wines from grapes and places you may not know. A new restaurant that you can get your wallet flexing for,  and a grape that may be the holy grail- through sunshine and clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wine Lists of the Old Port

Portland, Maine is rapidly turning into a major culinary destination. Sadly, there is no published information about the quality of wines on those lists. Local restaurant reviews rarely mention the wine. The wines presented locally in the restaurants range from the mundane to the sublime; mostly based on the style and vision of the establishment. These are notes are from a talk I gave at Sherman’s Books, 49 Exchange Street, Portland, Maine. Most important; pair the quality of your wines (and budget) with the quality of the foods and expected experience. These are the most interesting wines that I found when researching these lists.

Street and Co. 53 Wharf Street- A great seafood establishment. A destination. Best buys are Adelsheim Pinot Gris, Oregon ($28.00 btl.) and Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc, Napa ($44.00 btl.). Great wines: Chablis “Foret” Raveneau ($95.00 btl.) and Puligny Montrachet , Bernard di Cherisey ($95.00 btl.). A list filled with gems.

Central Provisions 414 Fore Street. Very new and very hip. Their wines are best summed up by a New York Times wine article titled “Thrill of the Obscure” 2/8/11. Yes, the obscure Teroldego grape is a featured wine by the glass, along with lots of others to look up.

DiMillo’s On the Water 25 Long Wharf. The tried and the true, like a stroll through the shelves of a favorite super market. The house wine is Sycamore Lane ($5.75 glass), Sutter Home dressed up in a restaurant package. Too easy to google up. Can you do a private restaurant label in Maine? There is Caymus Conumdrum ($38.00 btl.) and Frogs Leap Sauvignon Blanc ($40.00) for those wanting a bit more adventure.

Portland Lobster Co. 180 Commercial St. As you sit on the pier sheltering your lobster roll from the seagulls you can sip on glorious wines by the glass at reasonably prices. Cakebread Chardonnay, Napa ($12.00 glass), La Crema Pinot Gris ($9.00 glass), Stag’s Leap Karia Chardonnay ($11.00 glass) and Stag’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc ($9.00 glass). These are good size pours, not thimblefulls. They are plastic cups, but hell, at these prices I would slurp them our of the palms of my hand.

Vignola 10 Dana Street. Terrific and fascinating stuff by the plass. Just line up a glass of each: Casata Gewurztraminer ($8.00 glass), Vermintino ($8.00 glass), Bolgheri Rosso ($10.00 glass) and Lagrein (see Teroldego) at ($10.00 glass). Their list is peppered with glorious stuff like Nero D’ Avola “Don Antonio” Morgana , 2004 ($90.00 btl.).

Piccolo 111 Middle Street This is your “act of faith” moment. A 5 course ($55.00) with wine pairing at $31.00 additional. Just an e-mail with no listing. The restaurant is very small and very good.

The Grill Room 84 Exchange Street. Grilled steaks and sea food. With the steak the Stags’ Leap Petite Syrah ($45.00 btl) and with the fish the Flowers Pinot Noir ($90.00). Both of these are seldom seen and are all world. A banker friend took his vacation and interned at Flowers winery. When a banker works for free, you know it has to be good.

Fore Street 288 Fore Street. The destination of destinations in this part of the world. You can get off easy with two wines: Heitz “Ink Grade” Zinfandel ($46.00 btl.), an atypical but delicious zin, especially with their dishes. Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, Napa ($50.00 btl.). Or, you can do the complete tour with Muga Rioja, 2004 ($150.00 btl.). Wine Spectator top ten in 2007. Your bucket list wine is “Clos St. Hune” Riesling by Trimbach in Alsace ($ 230.00 btl.). A bone dry classic from a 4 acre jewel of a vineyard. One of my alltime favorites.

It never hurts to google up the wine list and research from 1-4 interesting wines before you set foot in the door. The old sage piece of advice “quality food and quality wine” is a benchmark of whether you want to spend five bucks or two hundred and eighty. Also, you will learn a little something along the way. With restaurant prices being what they are it is best to have both knowledge, expectation and a budget.

 

 

Goodwill Fundraiser

On the 24th of April Goodwill will be having a fundraising event in Portland to help veterans. I have donated my time and expertise for one of the auction lots. It will be a tasting for ten of three fabulous wines donated from a private cellar. These are my notes:

1995 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc , Pessac Leognan. When was the last time you had a 20 year old dry white bordeaux from a great estate of less than 15 acres? Never. A sauvignon blanc/semillon blend that is smooth, creamy and elegant. This wine is a rare experience.

1995 Chateau la Conseillante, Pomerol. This small, esteemed region in Bordeaux produces the worlds most sought after merlots. The 30 acre estate was first planted in 1735 blending merlot, cabernet franc and malbec into an iron rich cedar and truffle icon. Very full bodied and intense.

1995 Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. One of the classic spare no expense wineries from the famed Napa Valley. This wine bursts of black currents and cassis- even at 20 years of age. This is cabernet fruit.

Contact Goodwill at (207) 774-6323 for tickets and information.

OPUS TEN

The most interesting thing that we discovered about the seven course dinner with wine pairings is that there isn’t a thing that is new. No uni prepared six ways. No sea foam, or deconstructed clam shell mashed potatos- just the classics. But what classics! The food, wine, wine knowledge, service, it is all here.

A little bite of Serrano ham, Manchego cheese, olives and a beginning aperitif of Sandeman Rainwater Madeira. This is the driest and rarest Madeira. It is both a known treat and one you never have. A brilliant start.

Poached oyster and lobster with parmesan-lobster stew shooter. This is lobster reduced to an essence. The wine, again is a classic: Trimbach Reserve Pinot Gris, Alsace. Pinot gris (as opposed to pinot grigio) has more body and tensile strength to work with the lobster, cheese and oyster.

Gnocchi, winter vegetables, bacon, sage and pecans with brown butter. Chassagne- Montrachet is a fabled white Burgundy. I have always paired it with lobster but it worked here.

Magret duck breast,duck and chicken boudin, medjool date, curry and ginger gastrique paired with a cabernet franc- the best wine friend a duck can have. Saumur Champigny, Clos Cristal. The Loire valley is a terrific source for cab franc.

Lamb saddle medallion, Norwis fries, pea tendrils and lapsang souchong- beet “bordelaise” paired with 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape, Vieux Telegraphe. The dark cherry component with the lamb and sauce is a classic of complexity of flavors.

Gianduia crema brownie, homemade hazelnut ice cream, flambeed bananas with Smith Woodhouse 20 year Tawny Port.

$60.00 per person ($55.00 for reserve pairings- highly recommended). The quality of the wine and food experience ranks with Backbay Grill, Fore Street and Hugo’s. There is a single seating, so it is all you and yours for the evening. They could have served lesser quality wines and gotten away with it- but they didn’t. From beginning to end, this is a great dining experience. We’ll head somewhere else for lesser wines, poor service, and uni six ways.