Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Matching morels

Matching food and wine is where the fun part of this addiction sets in. Of course there are no rules and fashion changes. Before 1900, the British often drank sweet white wine with dinner and claret afterward. In France, even now, Port is mainly a before-dinner drink. The Russian Imperial Court took Champagne with caviar but the Champagne sent to the Czars was sugared well beyond anything available today. Still, there are some combinations that really do seem favored, like raw oysters and Chablis. For years I had convinced myself that Muscadet worked with oysters, and it does, that New Zealand sauvignon blanc’s bright tartness was as flattering to the oyster as a squeeze of lemon, and maybe it is. But when I feel flush enough to spring both for the Chablis and the oysters, I have to face the fact that I have been fooling myself – this is how things are meant to be. Sauternes and foie gras, less predictably, are also a simply perfect fit. In the current fashion, wild salmon (and the Copper River Kings are running this week) and Oregon pinot noir are thought inseparable: I like this match just fine but I am not a true believer here. The great, eternal, one and only, match for good pinot is the wild mushroom. Last week O’Malia’s had morels for $40 a pound. So what could I do but buy a couple of ounces, saute them in butter, reduce a little heavy cream, and pour them over a slice of rare beef? With a bottle of pinot noir from Burgundy (Gros Hautes Côtes de Nuits 2002), what a perfect match. The forest floor undertones of the wine matched the mushrooms and the bright cherry fruit added a new note, almost a new dimension. The same combination of morels, cream and Burgundy would do much the same for a piece of chicken, or, for the fashionable, some roasted salmon, or, for that matter, a piece of ordinary toast. Happily, the morels at O’Malia’s are near their pinots and they have two excellent pinots under twenty dollars at the moment – one from Au Bon Climat in California, the other from Cloudline in Oregon. Sure the morels are expensive but a couple of ounces are only five dollars and they’ll make your $18 pinot taste like fifty bucks.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Shipping now?

The Supreme Court has spoken. It is unconstitutional for a state to allow shipping by in-state wineries while forbidding shipments from out-of-state. States that meet that description will have to make a choice. From my perspective (that of a wine-loving free-market supporter) the choice is not hard. But of course real legislatures don’t necessarily love wine and they rarely see it their duty to promote free markets when there are donors and constituents who would rather make money without competing. So the coming political battle is between wholesalers, who make tons of money providing “services” that are required by law whether you want them or not, and consumers, who want to choose for themselves what to buy and want to look around for the best price. Consumers have the vote and wholesalers have the well-funded lobby. What makes me a little optimistic is that, in Indiana, for example, the farm lobby looks on wineries as a kind of farm – so consumers won’t be in this by themselves. I am also hopeful that responsible state officials will see legalizing direct interstate commerce in wine as a good tax move. I don’t know how many Indiana residents buy wine in person out of state and bring it back themselves. But I do know that none of them, not a single one, pays any Indiana tax on that transaction – because they are not allowed to. Legalizing shipment would mean that Hoosiers who buy wine in Chicago, say, and have it shipped, could be required to pay to Indiana the sales taxes that now go to Illinois. Legislators who turn down this revenue source should be held to explain why. But there is another twist to the tale in Indiana. A state statute (7.1-5-11-1.5) now provides:“(a) It is unlawful for a person in the business of selling alcoholic beverages in another state or country to ship or cause to be shipped an alcoholic beverage directly to an Indiana resident who does not hold a valid wholesaler permit under this title.” This appears to me to be a clear violation of the Supreme Court’s decision. Yet the state alcohol commission argues that other statutory provisions implicitly prohibit instate wineries from shipping as well, because they don't mention it either way. The Indiana statute allows instate wineries to sell their product but doesn't mention that they can ship it to the purchaser (or that they can hand it to the purchaser, or that they can put it in a paper bag). We used to joke that the distinguishing factor of a totalitarian state was that all was prohibited which the government has not specifically allowed, whereas under the principle of legality, everything is permitted unless it has been forbidden. Pretty clear which school the alcohol commission comes from. As one would ask a student in the first year of law school, what statute would one violate by shipping wine instate -- the answer is, the statute that isn't there. I guess this is what courts are for, which is why a group of us, including two out-of-state wineries, have filed suit in Indianapolis Federal Court. See the account in IndyStar

Thursday, May 12, 2005

2004 rosés

Three weeks ago, Robert Parker posted an informal “head's up that 2004 rosés, primarily those I have been tasting from southern France and Spain are very impressive....seems the cooler growing season has given them considerable aromatic dimensions in addition to crisper acid profiles and loads of fruit.” So, as a sometime dutiful lemming, I was off to Big Red, where I found three 2004 rosés, all from France, all modestly priced, and all imported by Kysela. As I was standing in line, a young woman behind me looked casually through my basket and then looked away, I imagine to conceal her little grin of superiority (I had to resist the temptation to peer into her basket competitively, but I bet it held over-oaked and overpriced chardonnay). There seem to be many inconclusive opinions about why rosé wine is so looked-down-on here. Years ago, people said it was because of my generation’s experimentation with Mateus and Lancer’s, sweet bubbly Portuguese rosés that were popular with marijuana. Twenty years later, they said the next generation’s disrespect was due to Sutter Home’s blush zinfandel. My own theory blames the fact that pushy waiters believe that rosé “goes with everything” so diners are fobbed off a bottle when one is having fish and chips and the other a porterhouse steak – guaranteed to disappoint everybody. Or maybe the culprit is the general belief that darker wines necessarily have more flavor. Turley Wine Cellars’ Ehren Jordan is quoted in yesterday’s New York Times about the move to make darker wines: ''There's no doubt that people are fixated with color. People seem to equate darker wines with better wines. For me it always seems odd.” Anyway, I made it home with my three rosés, chilled them and invited my daughter over to taste them with some anchovies, olives, beans and a roast chicken. Our impressions: (1) Beauvignac 2004, from a cooperative in Languedoc, made from 100% syrah grapes for $8. The color is a perfect match for the actual rose flower. The scent is pure strawberry, the flavor a little astringent. Pleasant, good value, but I won’t buy another. (2) Mas Neuf Rosé 2004, a wine made from 45% syrah, 45 % cinsault, 10 % grenache, in the Costieres de Nimes, for $10. The color had a touch of salmon to it, not quite as drop-dead gorgeous as the Beauvignac. The nose had lots of strawberries but other summer fruit as well, peaches and raspberries, a flower or two, and a note Leora called “red licorice.” It was gentle in the mouth, not sweet at all but soft and lovely. This was our favorite. (3) Chateau de Segriès Tavel, the aristocrat of Rhone rosés, 50% grenache and the rest cinsault, clairette and syrah, for $17. The color had a touch of peach, the nose was a sweeter strawberry than the other two, and the flavor a little fuller and more winey. This too was a nice wine and it seemed to complement the strong flavors of anchovy and olive well. I’d be happy with any of these. Just remember they don’t go with fish and chips or porterhouse, they go with summer.

Sunday, May 08, 2005


A lot of the fun of drinking wine is finding affordable bottles you haven’t met before. The days of doing that bumming around Italy or Northern California seem to have dissolved in the glare of globalism. Still, these can be good days for the hunt if you follow small importers with similar tastes. One of these is United Vintners in Cincinnati and its representative, David Schildknecht. Big Red recently got in half a dozen new choices from Schildknecht and I have been having fun with them. One was the Ladoix I talked about in my last post. I have recently had a couple of others. First was Ch. Micalet 2001. This is a wine made in a small Bordeaux village, tucked anonymously between St. Julien and Margaux. The wine is half merlot and half cabernet, purple-black, an aroma of violets and then black currants, with a whiff of tobacco leaf. In the mouth it has a creamy texture, a little vanilla and more black fruit, with sweet tannins and a long finish. My first thought was of a California meritage wine but when I paid more attention there were signs of a complex Bordeaux. All in all, almost a steal for twenty dollars. The second was a white Burgundy, 2002 St. Romain, made by Verget for eighteen dollars. I simply pulled the cork and the scent jumped up to greet me with a mixture of stones, pears and some simple flower. When I poured it, I got a gold color and additional notes of honey and citrus. When I was halfway through the glass, Julia walked in and asked what I was drinking, saying she could smell it from the next room. For some inexplicable reason, the wine kept bringing Cate Blanchett to mind. On an only vaguely related note, during a tasting in Bloomington last year, Schildknecht mentioned particularly a restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky, called Jonathan’s. He liked the food and praised the chef’s palate for wine as well. So we were in Lexington over the weekend and ate there. Jonathan is indeed an imaginative and accomplished cook, whose menu is obviously connected with the South – fried green tomato salad, country ham with asparagus, lobster grits, you get the idea. I had some beef medallions with morels (lots of morels) that made be a happy man. With this I had an Oregon pinot noir (Erath 2003) that was delicious if not complex, and to my delight served in a Riedel pinot noir glass. One of the charms of the wine list is the reasonable markup in price: The Erath was $32.