Monthly Archives: May 2009

Hermann the German

Yesterday, I visited:

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Hermann J. Wiemer purchased 140 acres on the west side of Seneca Lake (Finger Lakes, upstate NY) in 1973 and released his first vintage in 1979.  He’s originally from Bernkastel, in the Mosel region of Germany and his family has a winemaking history of over 3oo years. 

He’s considered one of the pioneers in this region and was one of the first to focus on planting vitis vinifera grapes – this is the species of all the wine grapes you’ve heard of before; Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc.  Previously, most plantings in this area had been vitis labrusca – think concord grapes and Welch’s grape juice. 

The cool climate and gravelly soils in the Finger Lakes reminded Wiemer of his family’s vineyards in the Mosel.  His dedication to old-world style winemaking and the quality of the wines he’s produced have not gone unnoticed – just this past week was a great mention in the New York Times where Eric Asimov focused on Complex American Wine at an Easy Price to Pay. Click here to see what I sampled

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What a gal

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) was an author, poet, screenwriter, humorist, critic and defender of human and civil rights.  In her time, she was published in Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker.  Not bad considering her formal education ended at the age of 13.  She was also a thirsty spirit.  Here’s what she had to say about martinis:

I like to have a martini,

Two at the very most.

After three I’m under the table,

after four I’m under my host.

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Go go jasmine ginger

I was introduced to a new beverage this week – sparkling white jasmine tea. 

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The Golden Star Tea Company takes jasmine silver needle tea, a rare white tea from the Fujian province in China, and puts it through a controlled fermentation with Champagne yeast – controlled to produce only trace amounts of alcohol (less than 0.5% abv) but to still capture the brioche, tropical fruit and floral notes created by the action of the yeast. 

Some of the bubbles are from the fermentation process and some have been supplemented.  There’s a touch of caffeine as well as a touch of sweetness from raw sugarcane juice. 

They recommend serving it well-chilled and straight up, in a Champagne flute. But, as is usually the case when I’m introduced to a new beverage, I decided to make a cocktail out of it.

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The tea had lots of stone fruit and honeysuckle notes, which I thought would pair nicely with the fiery earthiness of an unaged tequila.  I wanted to add a little spice to the mix, so I chose Domaine de Canton, a ginger-infused Cognac. 

Go Go Ginger Jasmine
1.5 oz. white tequila (I used Sauza Blanco)
.5 oz. Domaine de Canton
1 oz. Golden Star Sparkling Jasmine Tea
splash of simple syrup
juice of 1/2 lime, 1/4 lime to finish
pinch of salt

Combine tequila, Domaine de Canton, simple syrup, lime juice and salt in a shaker with ice, shake vigorously, strain into chilled martini glass, top with sparkling tea and squeeze the juice of an additional 1/4 lime on top.  Candied ginger or an edible flower would make a nice garnish.

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Booze of the nation

Last night was Share our Strength’s Taste of the Nation NYC 2009 event, a walk-around tasting to fight childhood hunger.  It was held in the cavernous Roseland Ballroom and featured over 50 top restaurants as well as plenty of alcohol. 

Lots of heavy hitters from the city bar scene were there hawking specialty cocktails.  My favorite was the Talbott Leaf, which was personally served to me by Jim Meehan of PDT.

The name comes from the Talbott Tavern, an 18th century public house in Bardstown, KY.

2 oz. Woodford Reserve Bourbon
.75 oz. fresh lemon juice
.5 oz. green Chartreuse (French liqueur)
.5 oz. strawberry preserves
.25 oz. Cynar (Italian bitter)
4 mint leaves

Add mint and lemon juice to a mixing glass.  Muddle, then add the rest of the ingredients.  Add ice, shake, strain into chilled serving vessel and garnish with mint.

Granted, I love bourbon, but this cocktail was really well-balanced; a touch of sweetness from the strawberries, nice smokiness from the bourbon and some herbal undertones from the liqueur and the bitters.  I’m also a nerd who reads Jim’s monthly column in the Sommelier Journal, so I was tickled to see him do his thing.

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Tiny bubbles take two

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Last week I explained how Champagne is made, but not all producers of bubbly follow the traditional method.  There are a few other ways to go.

1. Transversage: a twist on the traditional method.  Think about all those different sized bottles that Champagne comes in – half-bottles, the adorable splits (187 ml) and the big boys with fun names like Methuselah (8 bottles) or Balthazar (16 bottles) – going through the strict tradtional method with all of these would get out of hand.  Instead, immediately after disgorgement, the sparkling wine is put into a pressurized tank where it receives its dosage and then gets transferred to different sized bottles.

2. Transfer Method: a combination of individual bottle fermentation and bulk clarification.  This process follows every single step of the traditional method up to and including the liqueur de tirage, individual bottle fermentation and bottle aging.  There is a period of lees aging, too.  Instead of riddling, however, the bottles are chilled and their contents are transferred (get it?) to a bulk pressure tank where sediment is removed.  The bottles are washed and refilled with the newly filtered sparkling wine.  It may say “fermented in the bottle” on the label, but the kicker is that it wasn’t necessarily that bottle.  Producers will save some time and money by nixing the riddling process.

3. Continuous Method: was developed in the USSR and is now used in Germany and Portugal.  A network of (usually) five tanks are under five atmospheres of pressure – the same level of fizz in most sparklers.  At one end, the base wine together with sugar and yeast is pumped in and the second fermentation begins.  As you know, this second fermentation will create additional pressure (from released carbon dioxide) in the tank, but the yeast cannot thrive under this pressure, so additional yeast has to be added continuously.  The second and third tanks are partly filled with something like wood shavings to provide some surface area for the dead yeast cells to accumulate.  This is where autolysis (the breakdown of the yeast cells) occurs, giving us that toasty, nutty bouquet.  The fourth and fifth tanks don’t contain any yeast cells.  The wine comes out pretty clear, having spent an average of 3-4 weeks in the system.

4. Charmat process or tank method: If two names weren’t enough, you may hear it referred to as cuve close (French for sealed tank) or bulk method.  Eugene Charmat developed it in the early 20th century in Bordeaux.  It’s cheaper, faster and less labor-intensive than anything we’ve discussed so far.  It’s best suited for wines not intended for aging.  The base wine is held in a pressurized tank where yeast and sugar are added to provoke the second fermentation.  There’s no lees aging here; instead the emphasis is on the youthful, floral and primary fruit aromas – think Prosecco. 

5. Carbonation: yup, just like Coca-cola.  Also carries the charming names injection and bicycle pump method.  Carbon dioxide is pumped from cylinders into a tank of wine which is then bottled under pressure.  Since the carbon dioxide is not created within the liquid, it never really integrates – the bubbles are bigger and dissipate quickly.  This is the cheapest method of all, but fear not, it only accounts for about 10 percent of sparkling production.

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Calling all coffee freaks

Want to serve better coffee at your restaurant or café?  Wish you could enjoy a better cup at home?  I’ve got the class for you! 

The International Culinary Center has partnered with illycaffè to offer their renowned coffee “sommelier” training program.  Ten years ago illy began Università del Caffè at their headquarters in Trieste, Italy as a way to train their employees, purveyors, distributors, retailers and consumers and now we’re launching the first one in NYC.  

Join us starting June 1 for an intensive two-day course where we’ll cover everything from the history of coffee and its cultural significance to how it goes from being fruit on a tree to part of your morning routine.  We’ll also feature several tastings and interactive discussions and you’ll get hands-on training on the Ferraris of the espresso machine world. 

You’ll pick up some pretty nerdy trivia, too.  Like, did you know there are 50 beans in a single espresso and that if just one is not perfect, the flavor in your cup will be off?  I’ll be there leading some tastings and I’ll be joined by some very charming Italians.   For more details and to sign up, go here.

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Never been done before?

Ferran Adrià, Juli Soler and the elBulli sommeliers in partnership with Estrella Damm have created Inedit, which means “never been done before”.  Quite a bold claim for a beer. 

If you follow the food scene, you’ll recognize these names, but if not, here’s a little background.  Adrià and Soler are partners in elBulli – named for some French bulldogs, which is a restaurant in Catalonia, Spain, where the chef is known for his work with molecular gastronomy.  The restaurant has been named the best in the world five times by Restaurant, holds 3 Michelin Stars and is next to impossible to get in to (2009 is fully-booked).   Adrià’s put out many books and is also quite popular on the foodie lecture circuit. 

Anthony Bourdain, on one of his No Reservation shows mused about Adrià’s techniques, “Pastry chefs everywhere—when they see this—will gape in fear, and awe, and wonder. I feel for them; like Eric Clapton seeing Jimi Hendrix for the first time, one imagines they will ask themselves ‘What do I do now?’”

Estrella Damm is an independent Spanish brewery established in 1876 and their pale lager is known as the “Beer of Barcelona”.

The NYC launch of Inedit was last week and there was a to-do at the River Café in Brooklyn, with Adrià himself in attendance.  I couldn’t make it, so a friend picked up a bottle for me.   Isn’t it pretty?

Inedit full bottle

So, what is special about this beer?  Well, first you’ll notice that it’s 750 ml – same as a standard wine bottle.  They claim that it’s intended for sharing, which I did, reluctantly.  Secondly, it’s a combination of barley malt and wheat, with coriander, orange peel and liquorice, that undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle. 

The seeming driver behind “never been done before” is that it’s been specially formulated to accompany food.  I guess the Egyptians, Bavarians and Belgian monks didn’t eat.  To be fair, they probably didn’t eat anything close to what comes out of Adrià’s kitchen.

When most people think of food and beverage pairings, I bet wine comes to mind.  I even teach food and wine pairing classes, but there are times when a beer simply works better.  Where wine can fall short: citrus and oil notes, like salads and vinegar-based sauces; bitter notes that you might find in asparagus, artichokes or arugula; oily textures in fattier fish such as salmon or tuna.

I decided to put this beer to the test with a meal full of tricky items: a bibb lettuce salad with apples and goat’s milk feta, topped with a dressing containing wine unfriendly things like apple cider vinegar, soy sauce and parsley; a warm sandwich with mozzarella and arugula; and spaghetti with broccoli and garlic oil. 

I’ve never seen a beer come with so many instructions.  The accompanying documents beseeched me to serve it in a white wine glass, which we did (shame on the man for spilling):

Pouring IneditIt was also recommended that we keep it chilled in an ice bucket as we were enjoying it.  Getting ice out of the freezer seemed like a big chore, so we opted for the wine chiller instead:

inedit in chiller

Now, for the important part – yes, it was delicious and it worked with the menu I concocted.  Bright gold and slightly opaque, it smelled of citrus, yeast, flowers and sweet spice.  And it drank like a wine – it was lightly carbonated and had a rich, creamy texture with great acidity. 

The finish went on and on, sadly outlasting its wine-sized bottle. 

I’ve only found it in two places in the city so far.  I hope to add L’Ecole to the list soon.  As more people try it, I bet it will become more readily available.

So, never been done?  Perhaps not this tastefully.

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