Saturday, June 25, 2011

What they call al fresco

Epic drinking in the garden

Look how epic this looks. I've made it a point to eat outside at least once a week. And it's been going well. My appetite always seems to be more energetic if I can hear the birds and the horny squirrels as I eat.

This? We were having a riesling tasting. Only three people, but yes, we did need that many glasses. And can you believe it, I didn't break a single one.

DF

Friday, June 24, 2011

The noisy fume hood

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I consider myself pretty handy. But this was not pretty. When the hole doesn't line up . . . no amount of squirming and swearing will work. Why did we decide to change out our fume hood?

DF

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Petit ange pianiste

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Petit ange pianiste

Our apartment in Paris was on Rue de Seine, a narrow street full of art galleries. What a pleasant surprise. And right next door, a gallery run by the most amazing lady. In her 90's bent over but still healthy and quick as can be. She showed us some of the artwork from the artists under her, and one stood out. By Aniça Marini, this is Petit ange pianiste, a work under the collection La musique. Absolutely beautiful, especially after the matting was put in.

DF

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Paris, in perspective

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And so a walk through Paris and Reims was over just like that. I still don't know how to answer people who ask, what was your favourite thing about Paris? It's a personal thing, traveling, isn't it. Don't you feel like it's wrong if you can summarize everything you've experienced? Anyways, back to work.

But not before a final look at The Sleeping Satyr. Penis.

DF

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Singularity in wine

2010 Marcel Lapierre Morgon

It feels like joining an exclusive club. I dream, vividly, about tasting this wine again.

What is it about a wine that makes it singular? Surely, it's more than bouquet and flavours . . . experiencing wine must be much more than just those two taste perceptions. I don't think we pay enough attention to how wine makes you feel. Not the effects of alcohol, but how the wine feels as it passes through you, as odd as that may sound.

I had a bit of an epiphany as I was drinking my first Lapierre Morgon. Maybe it's the way it was farmed (biodynamically), maybe it was the way it was handled in the cellar (indigenous yeasts, minimal oak, no sulfur), but the wine passes through you effortlessly. It's like that first, deep breath of salty sea air you inhale after a 2 hour drive to the Atlantic coast. It's a wine that is utterly in tune to the energies of your body and with nature and with this earth.

Crazy? Most definitely, but this wine evokes something much deeper than just a cursory palate experience. If a fucking bottle of Beaujolais can do it . . .

DF

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Up in smoke

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Ugh. Look at that ridiculous hair.

I find it outrageous that my cousin has been smoking cigarettes with his friends. And as for myself, well, this. I'm full of shit, but at least I don't pretend to be anyone's moral compass. You know what upsets me? When people smoke to get attention but really have no clue how to handle a cigar, making all the rest of us look like jackasses by association. Yeah, you're such a playboy, bragging about sucking on a $100 stick - get a grip.

It's all supposed to be a ritual, really. A private, contemplative ritual of cutting, lighting, and drawing out the essence of the smoke. We were sitting in the Jardin du Luxembourg and everyone was smoking something. The French apparently love pipes and hand-rolled cigarettes. So I had to fit in. My mother's banned me from showing this photo to anyone in my family. So naturally I'm sharing it here.

DF

Philou, and the bottle of Morgon

2010 Marcel Lapierre Morgon, Paris

The rarest of instances, when something you've hoped and dreamed about becomes a reality and the experience is more profound and extraordinary than you ever imagined? If there was only a way to distill and bottle that.

Better (and more important) wine people have written so admiringly about Marcel Lapierre - what more can be said than the fact that he made stunningly singular wines so achingly beautiful as to truly leave you speechless. I finally had the opportunity - the honour, rather - of drinking his Morgon. Completely unexpected, and absolutely over the fucking moon.

Right, the restaurant. A little bistro called Philou, fairly new, definitely local, and frightfully French. Met the arrogant Frenchman I was waiting for my entire trip, but by the end of our meal, I won him over with my charm, enthusiasm, and a good tip. Love the French. The food was just stunning, fresh and vibrant, a beautifully modern interpretation of French food yet staying authentic to tradition. The white asparagus, the seared cod, the huge chunk of pan roasted veal, the poached rhubarb - all a dream come true. And then the wine.

Really, what more can be said about 2010 Marcel Lapierre, Morgon? Truly a singular wine experience, much more than just a simple Beaujolais - it is that, but there's a textural quality to the wine that is very interesting. This is a rustic wine in every way, but the incredible focus and precision of bouquet and palate flavours make it more than its pedigree would suggest. The way the wine goes through you - it must be the absence of sulfur - feels like the wine is at once weightless yet voluptuous in texture. It's been a long time since I've been so excited about a wine. What a treasure.

The food was extraordinary too.

DF

Restaurant Da Rosa

Restaurant Da Rosa, Paris

Restaurant Da Rosa, Paris

Restaurant Da Rosa, Paris

Restaurant Da Rosa, Paris

Restaurant Da Rosa, Paris

Restaurant Da Rosa, Paris

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If I don't spend my vacation eating myself silly, what's the point then?

I have simple tastes. All I ask for is food that's fresh, seasonal, and authentic . . . that's not too demanding, is it? And I found it not a block away from our apartment. Tapas, for heaven's sake . . . in Paris! Da Rosa carries the most amazing selection of jamón ibérico; beautiful hams carved by hand, distinguished by even the variety of pig it's made from. I went to town. From the bellota Unico hams to the Serrano de Trevelez, I devoured each plate like it was my last meal. The chorizo was just indescribably delicious, just happiness and absolute pleasure on a plate. They serve spring vegetables too - a simple salad and baby artichokes slathered in the most lusciously raw olive oil were a dream. Sigh. I can still taste those paper thin slices of Unico, the sweetest, richest meat I've ever tasted - almost hard to believe that it's pork.

For our last meal in Paris, I ordered a tableful of meat and artichokes. Oh yes, I was going to fill up because we're on the wrong side of Spain. With it all, a bottle of 2009 Filippo Gallino Roero Arneis. Fresh, clean, structured - infinitely satisfying.

DF

L'Escargot

L'Escargot, Les Halles

We were in Les Halles looking for a place to eat, when I noticed this restaurant called L'Escargot. You can't call yourself that and not serve the most amazing escargot. Fresh and delicious, these are a far cry from the nightmarish butter/parsley mess everyone associates this dish with. The little tongs they give you to hold onto the snails are pretty cool too.

DF

Ham in the window

Da Rosa chorizo

2009 Albet i Noya Penedes

Almost serendipitously, walking down the street from our apartment, we found Da Rosa Restaurant. The most amazing jamón ibérico, including a selection of different breeds as well. And what to drink with the most perfect expression of pork in the world? A Spanish white wine, bien sur, 2009 Albet i Noya Lignum, Penedès. The wine did turn out to be 50/50 chardonnay and sauvignon but it was cheap, fresh, and cheerful. And I toasted to the wonderful black pigs that make me so, so happy.

DF

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Le Grand Cerf

Le Grand Cerf

Le Grand Cerf

Le Grand Cerf

Le Grand Cerf

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We had one more big meal planned the next day. Lunch at Le Grand Cerf, Michelin-starred and decidedly more rustic, with all the charm of the French countryside. Again, we ate what the chef pleased to cook. Fresh, vibrant, and singing of spring - particularly delicious was the John Dory soufflé, so wonderfully textured and rich, and the white asparagus was a revelation.

With lunch, a bottle of nonvintage rosé, NV Legras & Haas Rosé Brut, from the Grand Cru village of Chouilly. Very agreeable indeed, fresh, with lovely red berries. After a morning of tasting Champagne, a bottle at lunch, and then more tasting in the afternoon, I stumbled back to the hotel a little unsteady on my feet. But there's no shame in that. There are worse things to be fucked up on than a bit of Champagne.

DF

Le Parc Les Crayères

Le Parc, Reims

Le Parc Les Crayeres

Le Parc Les Crayeres

Le Parc Les Crayeres

Le Parc Les Crayeres

Le Parc Les Crayeres

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Luxe, calme et volupté. Fine dining, particularly in France, centres around this concept. Gastronomy, after all, is the art and science of good eating, and that very definition entails more than just the food.

Les Crayères is the Michelin-starred restaurant of the hotel Le Parc, on the outskirts of Reims. The absolutely stunning dining room opens up to a garden; the maître d’hôtel was a lovely young lady, dispelling the idiocy that professional women have to dress and act masculine. Being spring, we went off menu and I asked for the chef to prepare something seasonal for us. And it was certainly an experience. Course after course of the most intricate preparations, the highlight being a spider crab dish, indigenous to the Mediterranean. He does love his emulsions, maybe a bit too much, but the flavours certainly make an impression.

With dinner, the most amazing bottle of grower Champagne from the Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger - 1996 Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs. From such a blockbuster vintage, the chardonnay really starting to show mature character. Bubbly, fresh, with an amazing contrast of freshness and density on the palate. Creamy and rich, but so focussed and very, very long.

I left stumbling into the night satisfied and smiling, having experienced for the first time what grand French cuisine is like. Luxe, calme et volupté.

DF

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Visiting Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin

I'm not going to even give a tasting note, because Veuve Clicquot's nonvintage brut is utter shit. But this is pretty cool - on the stairs coming out of the cellars, there is a placard showing every single vintage produced. There's only a few empty steps left. Someone remind me why I agreed to this appointment?

DF

Visiting Moët & Chandon

Moet & Chandon

Moet & Chandon

Moet & Chandon

Moet & Chandon

2002 Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage

Onto the big boys. Not by choice, but what do you do. It felt like we were visiting, in equal parts, a spa and a corporate office. This is not so much a working wine producer as it is a capitalist distributor of luxury. We were taken through the cellars, which admittedly is pretty fucking impressive. Nearly 28 km of tunnels winding underground, housing untold tens of millions of bottles. And can I say this - the tasting, in the absolutely beautiful English garden, was one of the most uncomfortable tasting experiences I've ever had in my life. They were nice people, all of them, and utterly professional . . . but you can't help but feel that Gallic arrogance of prove you're fucking worthy of drinking my wine. I'm not going to argue with a sommelier, but I was informed that you can keep the wine after release for after 7 years. But you should drink it immediately because once it leaves our cellars, it won't develop further.

I'm reminded that the French like them young. In this case, before-the-age-of-consent young.

2002 Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut

The two new vintage releases. Absolutely no indication that I was going to receive the honour of being anywhere close to a bottle of Dom Perignon. Pale yellow in colour, and showing lots of toasty, custardy aromas. Citrus as well, very rich. High dosage on the palate, but finished fresh, linear, and quite firm.

2002 Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé

Copper in colour, with lots of dried leaves and roses on the bouquet. Restrained fruit, with reductive flavours on the palate. Finishes candied, slightly smoky. The dosage is bothering me, and yes, this wine needs at least a decade of bottle age. Won't develop after disgorgement - utter and complete nonsense. But they offered to start the tour by showing me the latest Scarlett Johannson tv ad. That should have told me something.

DF

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tasting at Philipponnat

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And it was time to taste the wines. The bottles were chilled, which always presents Champagne in the best way. I was so excited - my first real look at the wines of Philipponnat. This is the entire product line, comprising of 5 distinct wines. What stood out across all them were the reductive characters, which should be expected for such young wines. These are firm, structured wines, which almost demand bottle age. Dosage is quite elegant, and well integrated. We won't ever see them here, but European consumers are provided with very detailed back labels showing such critical information such as disgorgement date and amount of dosage.

NV Philipponnat Royal Réserve Brut

Toasty, mineral aromas. Restrained fruit, slight spice on the palate. Very primary at this stage, a useful aperitif.

NV Philipponnat Royal Réserve Non Dosé Brut

A lot of houses are turning to these type of wines, with no dosage. The argument is that these wines are more indicative of terroir. The truth is that these are incredibly difficult to get right. The great challenge is to balance the acidity, and ensuring that the wine has enough body. Tough, tough to get right. This is immediately fresher, more floral. Incredibly sharp, steely spine of acidity. I'd be very interested to see how these wines age, but this is something that needs to be served with food.

NV Philipponnat Réserve Rosé Brut

Being served after, the dosage in this wine almost sticks out as sickly sweet. Very pale in colour, with light berries. Very fresh, needs time to develop some complexity. A clean, simple wine.

2004 Philipponnat Grand Blanc Brut

Toasty, with a richness in the aroma. Wafts of of what reminds me of the wonderfully semi-firm cheese from the Jura we ate the previous night. Very linear acidity, elegant.

2000 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses

And now to the granddaddy of them all. We fulfilled our obligation - walking the vineyard was amazing. To high expectations, I finally tasted Clos des Goisses. Rich on the nose, toasty and buttery autolysis. Ripe marmalade of fruits, fresh and youthful on the palate, with reductive characteristics. Really needs time to flesh out and develop. Long. A refined wine of great breeding.

DF

Monday, June 6, 2011

Champagne Philipponnat - Domaine du Clos des Goisses

Philipponnat Clos des Goisses

Philipponnat Clos des Goisses

Philipponnat Clos des Goisses

Extraordinary. Simply extraordinary.

We arrived in the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ on our final day in Champagne, to meet with the regal Nicoletta de Nicolo, Brand Ambassador for Champagne Philipponnat. I've never tasted Clos des Goisses before, and was eager to get out to the vineyard. Nicoletta, in no uncertain terms, told us there was an unbreakable rule of the house that if you want to taste Clos des Goisses, you have to climb Clos des Goisses.

It was uncharacteristically warm and sunny in the Vallée de la Marne for early May, and the vines were developing about 2 weeks early. Look at this vineyard. It's adjacent to a canal, which offers a stabilizing influence over the sometimes adverse weather conditions of the area. Clos des Goisses is incredibly steep, which is only appreciated once you climb on top and look down - the workers nearly have to crawl to move up and down the vines. Bark is used as a mulch to prevent the topsoil from tumbling down, and in the event that a storm washes it down, workers must bucket it back up. Facing south, the vines are able to soak in sun the entire day. The parcels are clearly delineated - the top two being Petits Cintres and Grands Cintres.

Only about 20,000 bottles of this wine are made every year, with more than half of the vineyard delisted into other cuvées - certainly maintaining that only the best of the best are presented. Much like still wines, Clos des Goisses is made every year, counter to everyone else in Champagne who pick and choose their vintages. I love this approach. Today's viticulture and winemaking practices insure that bad vintages are non-existent. Producing Clos des Goisses every year gives an invaluable, true look at what this terroir can achieve.

Back in the cellars, the equipment is certainly state of the art. Oak casks are still used, with long aging given to the wines. Also made in a reductive style, malolactic fermentation is stopped, and dosage quite low. And then, we followed Nicoletta into the tasting room . . .

DF

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tasting at Ployez-Jacquemart

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NV Champagne Extra Quality Brut


Fairly typical nonvintage brut, showing citrussy, custardy fruit. Toasty, creamy, with a good freshness on the palate. Momentum drops off, and at 22.50€, you could be doing better.

2000 Extra Brut Vintage Blanc de Blancs

Creamy, rich nose, nutty with restrained fruit. Youthful, with an extracted palate. Very primary, needs time to integrate a bit more.

The cards showing the wines on release and their respective prices were a classy touch. About 8 or 9 wines listed . . . absolutely no indication that you'd be given a chance to taste any more than 2. But I was a bit silly to expect otherwise - they do run a B&B here. After a day of tasting Champagne, and another full bottle at lunch . . . I was completely wasted out of my mind. Collapsed into bed back at the hotel. Champagne coma.

DF

Champagne Ployez-Jacquemart

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The tasting at Ruinart took much longer than scheduled, so we missed our appointment at Verzenay. Off to Ludes instead, to visit Ployez-Jacquemart, a smaller operation that has just begun running a bed & breakfast. Ran into a group in the middle of their tour - our entrance seemed a bit ominous. Two Chinese visitors climbing out of a black Mercedes, the driver giving instructions to the owner. There was a really hot looking tanned Australian beauty, but the lowbrow group from Manchester was just the worst.

You don't think of oak having a big role in Champagne, but many of the producers still rely on large casks to ferment and age the wines. The micro-oxygenation of the wood still gives you a roundness to the wines that stainless steel can't achieve. The cellars were finished quite nicely; not as deep, still impressive. A quick tasting of the wines, and then we headed back to Reims.

DF