Friday, April 11, 2008

The week in wine

April 11

I went to a couple of very different wine dinners this week. The first was at Bar Blanc in the West Village, thrown by the Loire Valley Wine Bureau and focused exclusively on Muscadet sur Lie. I ended up sitting with MSNBC columnist Ed Deitch, southern food writer etc. extraordinary Matt Lee, and a very nice wine distributor from Nantes named Claudine.
Matt is the older brother of Ted Lee, and the two share bylines in classy publications all over the country. They also won last year’s James Beard Foundation Award for the best cookbook. They are brilliant and engaging, perceptive without being condescending, and really nice.
In the past I’d had longer conversations with Ted, and they would often go in directions I wouldn’t expect. Ask Ted “How are you?” and he’ll actually tell you. It’s a nice quality, actually, at least the way he does it. The last time I spoke with him was at the announcement of this year’s Beard Award nominees — Matt and Ted announced some or all of the cookbook nominees (I don’t really remember; it was first thing in the morning), and I ended up chatting with Ted about the G train, because he lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He insists that the G has the potential of being the greatest subway line in New York City. I don’t completely remember his line of reasoning (as I said, it was first thing in the morning) but it made perfect sense at the time.
Matt always seemed quieter or more conventional or something. He’s super-polite in that southern way (he leaps up to pull out chairs for women, for example), but also socially astute, so that if Ed or I brought up topics that might be too parochial for Claudine to be completely up-to-date on, he’d briefly explain them to her. Simultaneously genteel and down-to-earth.
Ed seems like a good guy too. He was sure we’d met before and I trust him. It was probably at another wine dinner. Both he and Matt know a lot more about wine than I do (although I imagine they know less than Claudine). I had learned previously (at another Muscadet sur Lie lunch — at BLT fish, where we ate lobster rolls), that Muscadet is made with a grape called Melon de Bourgogne, but I had forgotten. So when I asked if it was made with Sauvignon Blanc, like Sancerre is, they both jumped in to instruct me that it wasn’t.
So now I’ll remember.
On the topic of Sauvignon Blanc, neither Matt nor Ed like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. As Matt described it, that wine seems to shout at you. He said he doesn’t mind what it says, he just wished it would say it more quietly.
I like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, in case you were wondering, but it is really different from Loire whites, which are more subdued, indeed almost austere. Ed loved — loved I tell you — the 1995 Luneau-Papin Muscadet, because despite its age, it still tasted so bright and young.
Indeed, it did. I noticed that even before Ed said so (once someone I consider more knowledgeable about wine than I do says something about it, I, like pretty much everyone else, tend to just go ahead and believe him). But if 13-year-old wine tastes like a two-year-old, why not just drink a two-year-old? Surely it’s cheaper.
Then again, the ’95 Luneau-Papin certainly had more soul than the 2006 Sauvion et Fils we sampled at the same time, sort of like a sophisticated, good-looking, in-shape 42-year-old compared to a healthy 22-year old who still has a lot to learn.
So that was fun in the highbrow sort of way that wine dinners can be.
Then the next night I was on the Lower East Side at Stanton Social for a wine dinner thrown by Crush, Drew Nieporent’s wine shop, featuring the wine of The Scholium Project, a California winery run by crazy Abe Schoener. And he is crazy. He is. And some of his wine does shout. Some of it screams.
Abe makes wine like a cook cooks, rather than in the more precise, anal-retentive way that pastry chefs perform their craft, or the way winemakers normally perform theirs. He experiments. Some years he ages things in old barrels, sometimes in new ones. He uses all sorts of different techniques, just for fun, and is completely uninterested in consistency from one year to the next; he says that would be boring. He only makes small productions — and he charges for them — so he doesn’t have to appeal to a mass market.
So that was already interesting. Mix into that the fact that most of the people at the table were simply enthusiastic amateur Crush customers, and you have a fun evening.
Andrea Strong was there, too. I learned from her that she and Bullfrog & Baum publicist Katherine Bryant are getting married on exactly the same day. What is particularly interesting about that is that Katherine and Andrea worked together at Restaurant Business magazine.
But my favorite people at the table were Jason and Ryan, two young financial types. Jason develops financial instruments for mortgage securitization and Ryan works with him, but I didn’t ask in what capacity.
But what I liked about them was that they just loved food and wine. They loved it. It was all so much fun for them, especially Ryan, that it was like watching four-year-olds discover pieces of the world for the first time.
Abe came by and chatted and Ryan was in heaven, to be speaking to a genuine wine maker. And then, then, Abe said, “Let’s try a barrel sample,” and I swear Ryan’s happiness level was raised permanently.
Personally, I don’t feel a need to try barrel samples. I’d just as soon let the winemakers hold onto the juice until it’s ready to be drunk. Let them taste it.
But that’s what happens when you meet winemakers all the time and become bitter and jaded. Ryan drank it all up. He loved it.
Then on Thursday I had lunch at Graffiti, Jehangir Mehta’s shoebox of a restaurant on E. 10th St., where he was celebrating his new cookbook, Mantra. I sat next to my friend-in-law Liz Forgang (her niece Jennifer is married to my good friend Matt Shapo). She caught me up with her grand-nephew Evan while we ate Jehangir’s food and sampled the Garnacha from Hi. Wines, which are intended to be casual, friendly social wines that retail for about $10 a bottle. No pretense, just fun, easy-to-drink fermented grape juice.
It takes all kinds.

What I ate (and drank):

At Bar Blanc:

hors d’oeuvres:
ravioli of salmon with avocado, tomato and basil gelée
mushrom schnitzel with tartar sauce
sardine beignets
chicken sausage with crispy sage
Marquis de Goulaine Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2006
Domaine de la Quilla Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2006

live scallop carpaccio with champignons de Paris and lemon-olive oil dressing
Domaine de la Landelle Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Jeune Vignes 2007
Domaine des Hautes Noelles Serge Batard Muscadet Côtes de Grandlieu Sur Lie 2006

stew of Burgundy snails with razor clams, mussels and baby leeks (Matt loved the snails so much, he ate one of Claudine’s — with permission, of course).
Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2006
Guy Bossard Domaine de l’Ecu Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Expression de Granite 2005

gently confit wild striped bass with porcini and oyster mushrooms in beurre blanc
Sauvion et Fils Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Haute Culture de Cleray 2006
Luneau-Papin Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie Le L d’Or 1995

At Stanton Social:

sashimi of tuna with pickled jalapeño and wakame salad
Beef carpaccio with whole grain mustard crème fraîche, crispy capers and arugula
2007 Naucratis tank fermented Verdelho

thin crust grilled pizzetta with caramelized peaches, Humboldt Fog goat cheese and crispy Serrano ham
2006 La Severita di Bruto barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc
and the same wine but from 2005, which tasted extraordinarily unlike the 2006

“purple haze” goat cheese croquettes with raspberry, chile and honey jam
and 2006 The Prince and His Caves tank fermented Sauvignon Blanc

petit pan roasted red snapper with caramelized leeks, littleneck clams, chorizo, garlic, tomato and black olives
and 2004 Scheria Hudson Vineyards Syrah

ancho caramel glazed pork tenderloin with barbecued black bean créma and vidalia tempura (which is to say, onion rings)
and 2004 Babylon ex 3 liter, Tenbrink Vineyards Petite Syrah (Ryan just about lost his mind over this one, which he described, not inaccurately, as “brambly”)

wood grilled hanger steak with crispy potato cakes, blue cheese “fondue” and double-smoked bacon glace
and 2005 Babylon, Tenbrink Vineyards

Cheese plates and chocolate tasting plate
and 2002 and 2005 Oro Puro

And at Graffiti:

green mango paneer with asafoetida, turmeric and chile
salad of beets, olive, feta, almond and grapefruit, which Jehangir serves as a dessert
pistachio-crusted foie gras that had been marinated in Riesling and flavored with whole mustard seed, served with toaste and raspberry jam
seared scallop with pickled ginger, dehydrated lentils and Thai “long chile” jam (presumably prik chee-fah)
pork dumplings with grapefruit confit, topped with fried semolina
pork buns with apricot chutney, cornflakes and peanuts (Liz, who doesn’t eat pork, had one made with eggplant)
black pepper ice cream with panko crumble
chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the oven, served with hot chocolate flavored with Cointreau, cinnamon and a little orange zest.

lychee martinis
Hi. Garnacha — just a taste, because we were curious


Anonymous said...

Since the category of wines rated 88pts is referred as "easy-to- drink fermented grape juice", how would you call the majority of wines you find in a liquor store, and below that category? Just curious. I too pay attention to wording and taste. True I am also a journalist.

Bret Thorn said...

I don't know from points, and I don't think how someone else regards a wine should have any effect on what I think about it. Of course, it does, but it shouldn't.
I think wine generally is easy-to-drink fermented grape juice. I don't mean that as an insult; even very complex wines whose nuances invite discussion (among a certain small group of people who like to discuss such things) are still easy-to-drink fermented grape juice. If thinking more about it enhances your enjoyment of it, great. If it doesn't, just drink up.