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A Facelift for Fabrice Gasnier

Date: Mon, Aug 23, 2010 Wine Tasting

When last I wrote about the Chinons of Fabrice Gasnier at any length, it was at such length (three long posts — not quite King Lear but close enough) that I've not returned, at least not in writing, at any significant length since. Fabrice's wines, nonetheless, have remained stalwart on my home table, finding a spot in regular, relaxed rotation, much akin to wines like those I wrote up last week: familiar, enjoyable and solid, even if not the most remarkable of their kind. Given that some subtle but meaningful changes have been afoot at the estate over the last year or two, I figured it's about time for an update, something I've been meaning to do for some time now.

In the years since Fabrice's father, Jacky, gradually but surely began to step back from his roles in the farming and wine making practices, the estate has seen two corresponding facelifts. First was the Vignoble Gasnier label (at left, above), from the years when I first got to know the Gasniers' wines in the 90s, followed by the switch to the Fabrice Gasnier label of the early Naughties. Both earlier versions, if you take note of the fine print, gave credit to Jacky and Fabrice.

More recently, as of last year (vintages '06 - '08 depending on the bottling), it seems that Fabrice decided to take primacy, reincorporating as Domaine Fabrice Gasnier and replacing his père's name with that of wife, Sandrine. The label above is from the 2008 vintage of Fabrice and Sandrine's Chinon "Vieilles Vignes" bottling, number two in their four-level hierarchy of red bottlings. Supple, ripe and forward, well-balanced and expressive, the wine's drinking easily right now, delivering warm red fruit, delicate tannins and gentle acidity across the palate, but should continue to age gracefully for some years to come.

Along with the new front label came an updated rear etiquette, displaying the realization of ambitions that Fabrice had hinted at when I last saw him back in 2004. He and his father had already farmed organically for many years, and Fabrice had begun conversion to biodynamic farming practices just a year or two prior to our visit. As you'll see, he's now gone whole hog, taking on the onus of bureaucratic responsibilities necessary to obtain and maintain both organic and biodynamic (Demeter) certification. It matters not to me — what's important is what's in the bottle, not what's on it — but I hope the step proves beneficial to the reception of his wines on his home and away markets.
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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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SF Natural Wine Week Starts Tomorrow

Date: Sun, Aug 22, 2010 Wine Tasting

The second annual running of San Francisco Natural Wine Week kicks off tomorrow, August 23, 2010, with a bevy of events running through to its August 29 finale. I could tell you all about it but why, when Wolfgang Weber is doing such a smash-up job with the SF Natural Wine Week blog. Don't miss it if you're anywhere near the SF Bay Area this week. Whether you're the biggest natty wine geek on your block or just a flat out lover of honest vino, it looks like there'll be plenty of good juice flowing with great food dished up, to boot.

I'd love to put together something like this in Philly. Question though: is my fair city ready for it?

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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Underground Wine and the Fête de Ploussard in Pupillin

Date: Sat, Aug 21, 2010 Wine Tasting

This weekend, several wine growers in Pupillin are opening their doors to the public in celebration of both their local specialty — Ploussard (aka, Poulsard) — and the 40th anniversary of Arbois Pupillin as an officially AOC-recognized sub-district of the Arbois.

Image courtesy of affaire-de-gout.com.

Wishing I were there to aid in the festivities aside — and heck, even wishing I had a bottle of Pupillin Ploussard in the cellar with which to celebrate from afar — I thought I'd at least share a video clip from today's proceedings for your viewing enjoyment.

It seems that eight years ago, a group of those very same vignerons buried a cache of their Ploussards underground as an experiment in aging. Today, up came those bottles and out came the corks. Aside from a complete lack of convenience, I've often thought this would be the ideal solution for long-term cellaring. Why have all that wine you don't want to open for, say, eight or more years taking up space in your modest wine fridge? All you'd really need is a spot in the ground, a metal box and some plastic wrap to protect the bottles, and a shovel (not to mention a strong back and plenty of time), though a backhoe would certainly appear to make the job easier.


The video is not embeddable, so you'll have to visit Info Franche-Comté at France3.fr to check out the clip. Aside from footage of excavating the buried treasures, the video includes interviews with Pierre Overnoy and Jean-Michel Petit, among others. (Thanks to Wink Lorch for the heads-up.) The commentary is in French without subtitles, but even without any grasp of French it should be relatively easy to follow along and get the gist of things. Enjoy the view, and bonne fête!
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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Name That Wine

Date: Fri, Aug 20, 2010 Wine Tasting

There's been a rather long hiatus since the last episode of Name That Wine. Today seems like as good a day as any for a rekindling and, hopefully, a little fun for all. Just to make things a little more challenging, I've doubled the trouble. So bring it on: What've I been drinking?

And for extra credit: The Ps abound. Is there a connection?

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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Grüner Veltliner mit Wurst

Date: Thu, Aug 19, 2010 Wine Tasting

As a general rule, I'm all for diversity when it comes to putting food on the daily table. After the better part of ten years as a strict vegetarian and another five as a vege-pescatarian, I've been an enthusiastic omnivore (some might say over-enthusiastic) for the last ten or so. I've been an equally enthusiastic culinary explorer, always willing and ready to try something new.

All of that said, there are certain dishes I'm happy to return to time and time again. That's especially true now, during my local growing and farmers market seasons. Just for instance, I'll happily eat blueberries every day when they're in season locally — and I've been doing just that, pretty much every morning, thanks to the folks at Blueberry Hill Farm, participants in my home farmers market. Same goes for the chicken pot pies from Lindenhof Farm; they may not be all that summery but they're delicious, easy for those nights when you're not up for actually preparing anything, and very wine friendly. The most recent addition to my regular rotation has been Birchrun Hills Farm bockwurst — mild yet intensely flavorful white sausages, a side project from one of my favorite local cheese producers. I wrote about them here not long ago, in the context of pairing them with a Cheverny Blanc from Thierry Puzelat. And I enjoyed them again just a few days ago — simmered in Guinness then finished on the grill, along with grilled onions and zucchini. This time I matched them up with...

Kammern Kamptal Grüner Veltliner "Heiligenstein," Weingut Hirsch 2006
$20. 12.5% alcohol. Stelvin. Importer: Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, NY.

There were some interesting parallels between Puzelat's Cheverny and Hirsch's Grüner Veltliner "Heiligenstein." Both showed slightly cheesy/yogurty aromatic character when first opened. In the case of the Puzelat, the lactic nose blew off; with the Hirsch it stayed. It's a trait that I've often found tends to appear when a white wine, particularly a higher-acid white wine, is beginning its downward spiral. I'd wondered, in fact, if I might not have forgotten this in my cellar for a year or so longer than ideal. That first sniff suggested that might have been the case. There was still plenty of life on the palate, though, where there was vibrancy in the acidity department along with a very appealing citrus-and-cream element — another similarity to the Cheverny, though this time it was lime rather than orange.

As borderline underwhelming as the wine was on its own, it was a completely different story when paired with dinner. One of those matches where the wine plus the food combined to give a heightened experience on the sum side of the equation. Subtle when served solo, in the presence of the sausages, dabbed with a little coarse ground German mustard, the wine really came alive. The acids electrified and danced, the fruit came out of hiding and that slight onset of cheese went into complete remission. So much for the wine being on the down slope; it just needed a willing partner to bring it back to full blossom.

The sausages may have come from Pennsylvania, the wine from Austria, but there's little question in my mind that this one goes down as a check in the column in favor of the success and importance of regionally inspired, traditional wine pairings.

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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Bubbles 'n' Cheese and Roamin' the Rhone at Tria

Date: Wed, Aug 18, 2010 Wine Tasting

After a professorial sabbatical spanning most of the summer months, I'll be back with a vengeance in September. Philadelphia's little treasure, Tria Fermentation School, has just rolled out their September schedule of classes and I'll be there on back-to-back days in the beginning of the month.

First up will be an event I expect to be as fun as its subject matter will be delicious — a seminar on the pleasures of, as my co-instructor Erin McLean of Tria has coined it, Frizzante and Formaggio. I'll be pouring a selection of Italian sparkling wines, each of which will be accompanied by Erin's choices from the world of Italian cheese. When: Thursday, September 2, 2010, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM.

Twenty-four hours later, I'll be back at the podium with an overview of the wines of France's Rhône Valley. You can count on a selection that showcases the diversity of the region, from white to rosé to red; from South to North; and from fun and funky to deep and serious. The date: Friday, September 3, 2010, from 6:30 to 8:00 PM.

The place:
Tria Fermentation School
1601 Walnut Street, Suite 620
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 972-7076

As always, the seats in Tria's intimate classroom space go fast, so don't delay. Hope to see you there.

Update: Well, don't say I didn't warn you. As of Wednesday at 5:15 PM (less than two hours after the new schedule was announced), both classes are sold out. The folks at Tria do keep a waiting list and have even been know to add SRO seats if demand is high enough, so give 'em a call.

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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Uncomplicated Pleasures

Date: Mon, Aug 16, 2010 Wine Tasting

If you read enough wine blogs, especially at the more geeked-out end of the spectrum, or just here for that matter, it may sometimes seem as if there's a constant march forward, ever seeking out something more complex, something more obscure, more I-drank-it-first than yesterday's experience. There's no question that those pursuits do keep wine blogging fresh and help to keep the love of wine alive. But I also expect that the people doing all of that exploring and writing are still drinking simple wines, too, and continuing to find pleasure in them even if at a more quotidian, less rarefied level. I know that, for me, there are plenty of nights where I actually don't want something challenging or provocative, instead preferring to sit down with something simple, straightforward and just plain old easy drinking.


Saumur Champigny, Domaine Joulin (Philippe Joulin) 2008
$18. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Oslo Enterprise, Takoma Park, MD.
Sometimes that wine comes unexpectedly, in the form of something that's not familiar. I'd never had the Saumur Champigny rouge from Philippe Joulin so opened it on a night when I was up for anything. Something complex or challenging, something easy, maybe even something not so nice. This came out on the simple, straightforward point of the spectrum -- fresh, lively and supple; well balanced and direct. None of the gut, crunch or intense energy of, say, the Chinons of Bernard Baudry or the Bourgueils of Catherine and Pierre Breton; nowhere close to the depth and complexity of the Saumur Champigny's from Clos Rougeard, nor the richness of those from Thierry Germain. The only thing complicating this picture is the question of quality-to-price ratio. If this were three or four bucks less per bottle, there would be a good argument for slotting this into regular rotation for just the kind of nights I described above; at $18, though, it under delivers.



Barbera d'Asti, Roberto Ferraris 2009
$14. 14% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
At the totally expected end of the spectrum sits the Barbera d'Asti of Azienda Agricola Roberto Ferraris. I've been selling Roberto's wines for well nigh ten years and enjoying them for several longer, although oddly enough I've only written about them once before, for my guest contribution to the Barbera 2010 blog. Ferraris makes a couple of wines of ambition but the wines in his portfolio that I most enjoy drinking are his single vineyard "Nobbio" bottling and this, his Barbera d'Asti "normale." The 2009 just came ashore in the last few weeks and is already drinking great. Less dark, rich and jammy than the iterations from 2007 and 2008, the '09 epitomizes what I like most about good, straightforward expressions of Piemontese Barbera: it's juicy, snappy, full of blueberry and black cherry fruit, completely soft when it comes to tannic structure but alive and zingy on the palate thanks to Barbera's naturally high acid profile. Barbera also has natural tendencies toward giving high potential alcohol and, at 14%, this is indeed "stronger" than I normally like to go for everyday enjoyment. In this case, though, the 14% alcohol is completely balanced and integrated, showing up only via the pleasantly warm glow the wine delivers in the belly. Perfect Monday night pizza wine and, as long as we're talking QPR, a spot-on value at its price point.

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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Exploring the Côtes du Vivarais

Date: Thu, Aug 12, 2010 Wine Tasting

It's been over for a little more than two weeks now but I'm still missing my daily dose of Le Tour de France. As my cycling crazy brother-in-law — who was up with my sis, niece and nephew for a visit this weekend — said, "This year's race was too short." I doubt if any of the racers would agree (aside perhaps from Andy Schleck who I'm sure would like to have had another couple of chances to recoup those lost seconds), but true fans, true lovers of the sport, are always left wanting more.

Aside from the excitement of the race itself, and this year's edition was nothing if not exciting, I always enjoy seeing the event pass through various parts of the French countryside. Some spots are very familiar — I still vividly remember Kirsten Gum's interview with Prince Philippe Poniatowski several years back when the route passed through Vouvray — while others are new discoveries.

One such spot that was a horizon opener to me this year was the Côtes du Vivarais, through which the Tour passed on Stage 12. I've never traveled through the Vivarais and have drunk wines from the region only on rare occasions, as little seems to make its way overseas. My daily coverage of the 2010 Tour provided the impetus to get to know the region a little better, and to taste something along the way.

Technically part of the Southern Rhône, though actually just as close to the southernmost reaches of the Northern Rhône, the Côtes du Vivarais is something of a nether region, forgotten in between its two more famous neighbors. The region is rugged and — judging from the photos I've seen and the footage of the Stage 12 climbs — sparely beautiful, defined by the range of old mountains that roll across the landscape as well as by the Gorges de l'Ardèche that traverse the area.

The view to the south from the summit of Mont Mézenc,
the highest peak in the Vivarais at 1,753 meters.


Viticulturally, the Vivarais is also something of a transitional zone. Syrah is more important there than in the heart of the Southern Rhône yet, unlike in the Northern Rhône, Grenache is also a key player. First recognized as a VDQS zone in 1962, the Côtes du Vivarais was granted AOC status in 1999. There are roughly 550 hectares under vine, tended by nearly 140 different farmers; yet with only 22 independent producers/bottlers, a great quantity of the zone's wine is produced in regional caves coopératives. As in the overall Rhône region, red wine is the heart blood of the zone, constituting about 80% of total production, with the remainder split between rosé (15%) and white. Per INAO guidelines, the reds must constitute a minimum of 30% Grenache and 40% Syrah, with both Cinsault and Carignan allowed as minor blending partners.



Côtes du Vivarais, Mas de Bagnols (Maria et Pierre Mollier) 2005
$13. 13% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Free Run, Seattle, WA.
According to the importer/E-tailer that brought this into the country, Maria and Pierre Mollier's expression of Côtes du Vivarais rouge is a blend of 80% Syrah and 20% Grenache. While that would appear at face value to go against the INAO's requirement of 30% or more Grenache, it's entirely possible that the discipline refers to the plantation in the vineyards and that the winemakers then have the flexibility to blend as they see fit in the cellar. Of course, it could also mean that the Molliers simply make wine as they see fit. Whatever the case, what's truly important is whether or not the wine is good and expressive – the raw materials are only a means of achieving that end. It is, both good and expressive.



What it's expressive of is exactly the kind of dichotomy I've already talked about in geographical terms above. It shows some of the sun-baked, garrigue-scented red berry fruit typical of the Southern Rhône, offset by the kind of meaty, floral, blue-fruited characteristics I associate with the more approachable side of Northern Rhône reds. It's low alcohol, bright framework, too, evokes the North while there's a baked-fruit character more reminiscent of the Mediterranean. I'd not go so far as to say it reminded me of Saumur rouge, nor of the Northern Rhône reds from Gonon or Dard & Ribo, as suggested by the above-referenced E-tailer. I would, however, heartily concur that this is solid juice, showing some lovely bottle development, and a pretty tremendous value at its $13/bottle tarrif. Definitely worth the exploration.
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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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A First Look at Adsum

Date: Mon, Aug 9, 2010 Wine Tasting

"I am here" (or at least I was a few nights ago). That's the chosen name, in its Latin form "adsum," for the new Queen Village/Southwark-based bistro owned and operated by Chef Matt Levin. The moniker seems not so much a statement of hubris as it is a conveyor of personal space. Levin has moved away, at least in part, from the intensive molecular gastronomy approach that earned him accolades during his stint as top chef at Lacroix, moving more toward, as he suggested in an interview with Meal Ticket earlier this year, food he'd actually take comfort in eating himself.

Beyond the obvious shift toward simplicity relative to the Lacroix days, Levin's new approach begs a simple question: does the food at Adsum actually deliver on the promise of comfort? Let's take a look.

Foie gras poutine
This dish would seem a sure hit on the comfort scale, in spite of the PETA-pounding, haute-cuisine knock up added by the fatted liver. The idea was right, and the combination clever, but the execution could use some work. Bordering on being both overcooked and under-seasoned, the duck-fat fries were tepid when delivered to the table. The rest of the elements — foie gras, cheese curds and gravy — were right on, though there wasn't quite enough gravy to go around.


Grilled rock octopus, black pepper caramel
This sounded much more unusual on paper than it was on the plate, as the "black pepper caramel" essentially boils down to being barbecue sauce — and very tasty, I might add. The octopus was cooked perfectly, ever so lightly crisped by the grill on the exterior but tender and just a wee bit snappy, not at all tough or chewy, at its core. The char from the grilling combined with the caramelized sauce to form a granular texture that didn't really bother me but was slightly off-putting to my dining companion.


Fried chicken, collards, ham hocks, hot sauce
Along with the FG poutine, the fried chicken seems destined to be the signature dish at Adsum. Philadelphia Inquirer food columnist Rick Nichols has already deemed it the best fried chicken in the city. While I can't say I've eaten my fried chicken way around town to the extent that Rick has, I can certainly see why he liked it so much; the chicken itself was drop dead delicious. The battered skin was ightly crisped and crunchy without being at all overbearing or greasy while the meat was juicy, moist and almost flaky in its delicacy.

More crumbly than flaky, the biscuit, a clear nod to the dish's southern origins (as if the chicken and collards weren't clear enough) was flavorful but too dry, needing either a dose of gravy or a more breakfast-oriented slathering of butter and jam to render it less palate parching. And the ham-hocked, hot-sauced collards? At first bite they were a revelation — surprisingly tender yet toothsome, highly caramelized yet still delivering the requisite kicks of vinegar and porky goodness. As the bites continued, however, the red pepper hot sauce driven heat built and built, eventually to the point that it was robbing the dish of its otherwise nuanced flavors.


Whole fish, shrimp salt, popped wild rice, green sauce
Popped rice – little more than a gimmicky distraction adorning the corner of the plate – aside, this was the most completely satisfying and well balanced dish of the night, helped along no doubt by the first appearance of any seasonal ingredients. Though the skin on our black bass could have benefited from just a bit more pan-crisping, the fish itself was moist, flavorful and cooked to a tee, with a welcome brightness provided by the tangy spice of the green sauce, a sort of guacamole/tomatillo salsa hybrid.


The real star of the night.

Mama's Little Yella Pils, Oskar Blues Brewery, Lyons, Colorado.
Much like at nearby Southwark (one block due east at 4th & Bainbridge) and Chick's Cafe (two blocks west at 7th & Kater), the primary focus of the beverage program at Adsum appears to be cocktails. There's a list of six or seven house concoctions that looked not only quite creative but also quite inviting, enough so that I'd happily venture back for a drink at the bar sometime. I'm not a fan of cocktails with food, though, so it was on to the wine list I went.... And then, quickly, on to the beer list, which thankfully included several things I'd actually opt to drink, regardless of circumstances. "Mama's Little Yella Pils" actually struck me more like a kolsch, round, clean and less bitter than the classic Pilsner profile. Just the refreshing kick needed for a hot night in the city, and a fine accompaniment to the broad spectrum of flavors and textures that crossed our plates.

There's some dialing-in to be done in the kitchen at Adsum. The wine list needs major improvement, or at least corkage needs to be allowed. But overall, there's plenty to recommend and, certainly, plenty of potential.



Adsum
700 South 5th Street
(at Bainbridge)
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(267) 888-7002
Adsum on Urbanspoon
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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Les Chevaux de Christian Ducroux

Date: Sat, Aug 7, 2010 Wine Tasting

More on the lovely 2008 Régnié from Christian Ducroux and the horses that help(ed) make it happen. French fluency couldn't hurt but the video speaks for itself.



(Subscribers may need to click through to the blog to view.)

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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Oh Marcillac, How I Miss Thee

Date: Thu, Aug 5, 2010 Wine Tasting

Man, do I miss me my Marcillac.

When I say "my," I mean the Marcillacs of Philippe Teulier at Domaine du Cros. I sold them for many a year but that was, likewise, many years ago now. It's not that they're not still available out there somewhere; it's just that I liked having them immediately at hand. The regular bottling from Domaine du Cros, called "Lo Sang del Païs," used to sell for around $10, even less, and was hands-down one of my favorite everyday wines. Still would be if it were still more easily obtainable, as it's still priced well under $15. There are other Marcillacs, certainly. Jean-Luc Matha's is plumper, easier, more accessible. And I hear tell of a Marcillac from Domaine Causse-Marines, but I've yet to see it, much less try it. But when I think of Marcillac, it'll always be the wines from Domaine du Cros that first come to mind.

Marcillac "Cuvée Vieilles Vignes," Domaine du Cros (Philippe Teulier) 2002
$16 on release. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Wine Traditions, Falls Church, VA.

The inspiration to open this bottle came easy. Stage 13 of the 2010 Tour de France began in Rodez, less than 25km from M. Teulier's estate, which is located just east of the village of Goutrens. Had I been covering that stage, this would have been my featured wine of the day, sans question; however, guest blogger Ben Wood was at the reins that day. Ben chose to focus on Gaillac, a perfectly appropriate choice given that the half-way point of the stage route passed quite close to Albi, center of the Gaillac region. Through happy coincidence, Ben wrote about Gaillacs from Domaine des Causse Marines, also a producer of Marcillac as mentioned above, and Domaine des Terrisses, whose wines happen to be brought into the US by the same importer — Wine Traditions — as Domaine du Cros.

Now, back to my Marcillac.... I had the pleasure of meeting Philippe Teulier, all too briefly, when he visited my workplace back in the early '00s. One of the questions I remember asking him about was his views on the age-worthiness of his wines. His simple answer: "Lo Sang del Païs" is best drunk young, in its first two-to-three years, though it might go five; the "Vieilles Vignes," on the other hand, comes into its own at five and has the capacity to last for ten years in good vintages.

Opening this bottle of '02 VV on the night of la trezième étape reminded me, in beautiful terms, of why I go to the trouble of cellaring wine. Still vibrant in color, its aromas have developed, since its more prickly, peppery youth, to something that is more closely evocative of an old school Médoc wine with some bottle age under its belt. There's something about this old Marcillac, though, that's much more enjoyable – and joyous – to drink than equally old Bordeaux. Maybe it's that component of blood and iron, expressions of both terroir and the aptly named Fer Servadou so inimitable to good Marcillac. While there's great bottle development here, there's also plenty of fruit – blackberry and cassis, in particular – and a vitality of structure that suggests the wine could easily go another couple of years without losing stride.

Alas, this was my last bottle of the 2002. Now I'm missing it even more....

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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Sunday Suds: Dogfish Head "Namaste"

Date: Mon, Aug 2, 2010 Wine Tasting

There's a whole lotta mashing up going on around the craft beer globe these days. Brewers are teaming up in twos, threes and tens to ply their trade, flex their creative muscle, share techniques and no doubt learn a few things along the way. Sometimes its happening right around the corner, sometimes its bringing together brewers from oceans away.

One of the most active progenitors of this collaborative craze has to be Sam Calagione, founder, owner and head brew cheese at Delaware's Dogfish Head.

Now in its second year as a summer seasonal, Dogfish Head's "Namaste" was originally conceived in 2009 via a four-way, intercontinental team-up between Sam and his wife Mariah, Dogfish Head lead brewer Bryan Selders, and Leonardo DiVincenzo, owner of the central Italian craft brewery Birra del Borgo. There was an aspect of charitable giving in the mix, too. Part of the proceeds for the first-year sales of "Namaste" were donated to Armand Debelder of Drie Fonteinen, who lost about a third of a year's production of his lambics and gueuzes due to a thermostat malfunction in the storage area at 3 Fonteinen. In that first year, "Namaste" was available only on draft and only at the Dogfish Head brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, DE. This year, Sam, Mariah and Bryan brewed a bit more, enough to to pour on draft as well as to allow for a limited bottling in crown-sealed 750s.

"Namaste" is brewed in the tradition of Belgian white ales. Given the wheat, coriander and citrus elements in the mix, Hoegaarden would seem the most obvious point of comparison; "Namaste," however, is a touch rounder and broader in texture and also a tad darker in both its color and flavor profiles. Whether that's the result of the use of entire slices (dried) of orange rather than just the zest or whether it's just the Dogfish Head signature showing through I can't say. What I can say is that the brew is refreshing and very easy going down, a bit short on the finish but very tasty up front. At only 5% ABV, it's also quite light by the standards at Dogfish Head, a brewery best known for its over-the-top, hop monster and ancient recipe inspired creations. You can read more about it at the Dogfish website as well as on Sam's blog.

If the info on the DFH site is correct, "Namaste" may not be available outside of the state of Delaware. I enjoyed this bottle, shared over dinner with friends, at Wilmington's Domaine Hudson. Whether there's any still available there I don't know but, if not, there's plenty of other great stuff to choose from on the restaurant and wine bar's recently expanded and quite adventurous list of 120+ bottled beers.

Oh yeah, as for the title of today's post, I know it's not Sunday but, in homage to the crazy cats at Dogfish Head, so what? I drank this on Saturday and wrote about it on Monday, so Sunday it is. After all, it's my blog and I'll do what I want.

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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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A Lovely Beaujolais from a Difficult Vintage

Date: Sat, Jul 31, 2010 Wine Tasting

Those that visit here with some passing regularity may recall me occasionally pronouncing about the importance of not pronouncing about vintages. Sometimes, though, doing so is not only inescapable but can also serve a purpose more meaningful than selling magazines or over-simplifying the never ending process and deeper intricacies of trying to understand wine. So, with that in mind...

2008 was a difficult vintage in Beaujolais, with more rain and less sun than usual through much of the summer as well as hailstorms in late August. Many wines, even from top notch producers, show some of the effects of the growing season. The Fleurie "Clos de Roilette" from Coudert Père et Fils is a good deal more austere than usual, though still very fine. Georges and Jean-François Trichard, who produce lovely fruity-style Cru Beaujolais in more generous years (think 2005 and 2007) turned out leaner, tarter, less giving wines than usual in 2008.

Régnié (Sans Soufre), Domaine Christian Ducroux 2008
$16. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Fruit of the Vine, New York, NY.
Another producer whose wine, like that of Coudert, shows the challenging character of the vintage but is still delivering substance and pleasure is Christian Ducroux. His 2008 Régnié displays some stemmy, green aromatic traits but integrates those with lovely fruit vibrancy and focused structure. Its slight leanness is actually welcome this time of year, rendering it quite refreshing, and also quite at home at the table, providing the requisite cut and freshness for a dinner of roast salmon or grilled chicken thighs. Day two brought a slight loss of focus but a very pleasing development of textural richness and mineral concentration.

Ducroux's vineyards are certified organic (Ecocert) and biodynamic (Demeter). The "label talker" on his '08 Régnié speaks clearly of a man proud of his land and farming practices. When's the last time you saw someone name his horses (Ewan and Raïna; work, not race) right on the bottle?

The fine staff at the shop where I purchased this bottle told me that this particular cuvée is produced without the addition of any sulfur. I can find nothing on the bottle, not even in code, to indicate that's the case, but I have no reason to doubt it. There was actually another bottling, one where Ducroux had added a little sufur, for sale at the shop. Had I been more on my game that day I would have procured some of each, to facilitate a side-by-side comparison. That, my friends, will have to wait for another day.
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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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Buon Appetito, Piemonte

Date: Thu, Jul 29, 2010 Wine Tasting

The latest edition of Bon Appetit (August 2010) includes a neat little feature on traveling to — and eating and drinking in — Piemonte. Included among its short list of eight highlights, I was very pleased to see two places that I visited on my most recent trip to the Langhe. The first of the two, staking down the second spot on the list, was Centro Storico, a place I'd like to see replicated, at least in spirit, in every town I have occasion to visit. It's that solid a recipe: great wine (and really great Champagne!), comforting food, no nonsense service and a friendly, makes-you-want-to-stay-there-all-day kind of vibe.

A big congrats to Alessio "Ciccio" Cighetti and his wife Stefania for the recognition in such a major mag. I barely recognized Alessio in the "sultry-style" photo in Bon App (besides which, it's not available in the online version), so I'll stick with my own shot, taken in situ back in May.

When you go... notice I say "when," not if, and use "you" in the universally inclusive sense, not in the one-or-two-folks-who-I-know-are going-to-go-anyway sense. When you go... it'll be fine if you mention the Bon Appetit spot to Alessio, but make sure to tell him you read about it here first! I really do love that place.

Anchoring the B.A. list in the #8 spot is a restaurant of another sort, one that I couldn't imagine succeeding, if duplicated exactly as is, in any city in the United States. And yet, set just off the corner of a beautiful old square in Pollenzo, on the grounds of Slow Food's University of Gastronomic Sciences, it seemed perfectly at home (aside, perhaps, from the gate at which guests have to be buzzed in to gain admittance).

That place is Ristorante Guido. It may be a Michelin one-star, with the white tablecloths, polished service and the ambition to prove it, but one dish in particular that I ate there was among the simplest expressions of the beauty of Piemontese cuisine that I encountered on the entire trip.

Photo courtesy of Viaggiatore Gourmet.

I wish I'd taken notes that night, or asked for a copy of the menu, so that I could tell you the "official" name of the dish; agnolotti al tovagliolo will have to suffice. Meat filled agnolotti. No sauce whatsoever. Nestled in a folded over napkin to absorb any excess moisture and keep the pasta firm. Revealed table-side. And relished for their unabashed, unadorned, purely simple delivery of the art of deliciousness.

To the first: go and go often. To the second: go, it's worth the splurge.
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Original content published at McDuff's Food & Wine Trail. All work copyright David McDuff and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NC-ND Works 3.0 Unported License.

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