Archive for June, 2009

Half Bottles of Wine – Great Source!

June 23, 2009

Everyone needs a good resource for half bottles. Bob Shannon in Albuquerque sent this note along the other day.

Found one of those great wines at great price for the group. Go to and click on “Half-bottles “. Then on “Specials” . There you will find Domaine Etienne Sauzet village and premier cru from 2005 at an unbeatable price. This is an excellent producer by both Clive Coates and Remington Norman’s standards as well as Tanzer. I have had some of their Puligny and also found it excellent particularly at this price. Bob Shannon

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Organic wine & food matching: Beckman Purisima & summer grilling

June 14, 2009

I could see for miles and miles at the top of the Purisima Mountain Vineyard, owned and farmed by Steve Beckman of Santa Barbara’s Beckman Vineyards. But the “truth,” according to Beckman, is not “out there,” but in the soil, the grapes, and in the resulting wine; no matter what you may think of the Biodynamic® practices they have been practicing full-on since 2006.

The Beckmans (Steve the vigneron, with his parents Tom and Judy) purchased their 365 acre mountain estate in the mid-section (unofficially called Ballard Canyon) of Santa Ynez Valley in 1996, just a couple of years after establishing their winery on a 20 acre vineyard parcel just over the hill, a couple of hairpin turns away. Vintages from the late ‘90s, produced from grapes from neighboring properties (like the prestigious Stolpman Vineyards) convinced the Beckmans that Syrah and Grenache – yielding ultra-deep and concentrated wines when grown in the shallow, sandy clay layered over mounds of calcareous rock, surfacing towards the tops of these hillsides — were the way to go with their own plantings.

Steve was first exposed to biodynamics by a college friend and backyard gardener in 1995, but it would be another four years, after meeting a Frenchman named Philippe Armenier (of Domaine de Marcoux in Châteauneuf-du-Pape), before his own skepticism turned the corner to healthy curiosity. The initial decision, according to Beckman, “was the hardest.” But with Armenier’s advisory, 17 trial acres of 100% biodynamically farmed Syrah, planted on Purisima in 2001, turned up “immediate results.” Beckman saw “plants that wanted to grow straight up to the sun instead of in all directions,” and “when we brought in the fruit, we saw increased nutrients in our musts and healthier fermentations.”

But above all, when comparing their Biodynamic® vs. conventionally grown wines, Beckman discovered “wines that I loved… wines that I thought expressed what the terroir of Purisima was about: rich, ripe wines that are balanced and elegant.” Thereafter, the decision was easy; and the Beckmans converted all 125 of their planted acres on Purisima to Biodynamic®.

As we drove by his home in the middle of vineyard, Beckman stopped to give his four year old son a hug, and related this story: “No question, our soils our richer, our roots are growing vertically, and earthworms are a lot happier with what we’re doing. But what really reinforced our conviction that we’re doing the right thing is when my son recently saw some workers in a nearby vineyard wearing chemical suits, and he turned to me and asked, ‘Dad, why are they spraying poison on their grapes?’ So you see why, to me, it’s not biodynamics that are out of whack. It’s the industrial, chemical-based concepts that make no sense at all.”

The Rhône inspired wines of Beckman Vineyards have always been top-notch; and with the recent return of Hawai`i born winemaker Mikael Sigouin (who also produces his own outstanding Rhône style blends under the Kaena label) after a brief hiatus with another winery, this brand is now truly rocking and rolling; as evidenced by a tasting of their top-of-the-line Grenache/Syrah (60%/40%) blend, the 2005 Beckman Santa Ynez Valley Purisima (about $75). Purisima is produced only once every two or three years, when vintage conditions are optimal; and I can see why the ’05 made the cut: it’s massive – a burly yet round, sleek, fleshy concentration of red berries and pomegranate, spiked with smoke and peppercorn; and despite a monumental structure of meat and tannin, the sweet sensation in the middle and finish is very much of dark chocolate covered strawberries, consumed with long, supple, black leather gloves. Capisci?

Doesn’t take a culinary genius to know what food matches this kind of sick bruiser: grilled meats, especially strewn with cracked pepper and sweet/spicy seasonings or rubs. But don’t limit yourself. I like what William Lengeman III says in this intro to Grilling 101: summer grilling often conjures images of testosterone-addled men wrestling slabs of meat, but let’s consider another eminently grillable foodstuff… the vegetable. That’s pronounced VEJ-ti-bal, boys (“veggies” always sounded prissy to me); and when you apply marinades and foils, even pedestrian mushrooms and root vegetables can be hot.

… or in the immortal words of The Who: this is no social crisis, this is you having fun.

Organic wine & food matching: Tres Sabores Perspective and gnocchi with pig’s feet ragout & chanterelles

June 10, 2009

I spent more time with Julie Johnson at her CCOF certified Tres Sabores than any other single winemaker during a recent three week swing through the West Coast this past spring. Why? Admittedly, because I can drink her wines all day or night, everyday. Also, because everything she does, as a grower and winemaker, just seems to make sense. My vinous sensibility is simpático with Tres Sabores.

Johnson farms a 32 year-old vineyard in the heart of the Napa Valley’s famed Rutherford AVA; originally planted to Zinfandel (making killer reds), but to which she added two acres of Cabernet Sauvignon (yielding no more than a couple hundred cases a year) after first acquiring the property in 1987. As a former partner at Frog’s Leap, her instincts were, and still are, organic, but for all the right reasons: this vineyard is also her home, her refuge, her sustenance, and an extension of herself – everything in its place, but in the opposite of a contrived, unnatural fashion.

“The essence of sustainability,” she says, “is that no part of what you do is wholly separate from the other.” So, through Johnson’s windows, you see old, gnarly trunked vines, but also stands of walnut and 150 year old olive trees, zinnias and cosmos among the buckwheat and wild grasses between the rows, tangled blackberry patches around the edges, hummingbirds, bees, sheep, and furtive jackrabbits and noisy, wild guinea hens nesting or scrambling hither and yon.

The active wildlife, according to Johnson, “makes us laugh,” but they also play their part. “Organic farming is not just about not using chemicals… spiders and ladybugs keep pests at bay, cover crops keep weeds in check, but without the wild olives on the hill and the guinea hens and rabbits making their homes, the owls and hawks would have little incentive to stick around and help out when the swarms of starlings come around in the fall.”

Then wherefore the amusing flora and fauna? From our perspective, it’s what comes out in the wine that counts. Indeed, the newly released 2006 Tres Sabores Rutherford Perspective (about $65) is not only an unmitigated masterpiece of a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is tres Tres Sabores: powerful yet with a natural, organic sense of balance and buoyancy. The fruit expression: black purplish; dusty blackberry and dried plum aromas tinged with cedar and red rose/star anise-like spice; medium-full (not gigantic), dense, chocolaty rich on the palate, with a plush velvet feel rounding out wild, ferocious tannins.

Diving further in, it’s the sense of restraint, significant layering of velvet over tannic muscle, and the sweet plum and almost Chinese-y spice that identify the Perspective as a classic Rutherford style (as opposed to that of, say, Napa Valley’s Oakville or mountain AVAs) Cabernet Sauvignon; and it’s probably the slightly wild, bucolic edge that specifically makes it “Tres Sabores.”

Ah, perfection. Wait a sec, why not make a meal of it? If you’re up to a challenge, an equally perfect combination of earthy, fatty and creamy sensations that a wine like Perspective can sink its teeth into, here’s a recipe recently shared by Chef John Broening of restaurants duo and Olivea in Denver for

Gnocchi with Pig’s Feet Ragout and Chanterelles (serves 4)
Advisory: best to do this dish in three stages, starting with the pig’s feet, as they need to soak overnight. The next day, make the gnocchi and set them aside. Then bring it on home with the chanterelle laced ragout.

Pig’s Feet
4 pig’s feet, soaked in water
1 tablespoon canola oil
salt and pepper
1 onion, sliced
1 carrot, sliced
2 cups white wine
4 cups chicken stock

Remove pig’s feet from the water and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper. Brown thoroughly in ½ the canola oil and remove to a baking dish. Preheat oven to 300 F. Sweat the onion and carrot in the remaining canola oil. Add the wine and reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Pour the chicken stock mixture over the pig’s feet. Cover with foil and bake about 3 hours, or until the meat starts to fall away from the bone. Remove the pig’s feet from the liquid. Strain and degrease liquid. Pick the meat off the pig’s feet (you should get about ¾ cup of meat). Return the meat to the liquid and refrigerate.

4 Yukon gold potatoes, cleaned, unpeeled
1 cup (about) kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Heat oven to 350 F. Spread about 1-3/4 cups kosher salt on a small baking sheet. Place the potatoes on top of the salt. Bake about 2 hours, or until the potatoes are soft and cooked through. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk 2 cups of the flour with 2 teaspoons salt, the pepper and the nutmeg. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place a wire pasta basket in the water, and add about 4 tablespoons of salt to the boiling water. Cover the pot until ready to use.

Working while the potatoes are still hot, peel them with a paring knife (holding the potato in a kitchen towel makes this a little easier.). Using a food mill with a fine disc or a potato ricer, pass the potato onto a work surface that is at least 2 feet wide by 2 feet deep (wood and marble are the best for this).

Make a well in the potato and break 4 eggs into the well. Place the mixture in a circle surrounding the potato mixture. With a fork, whisk the eggs together. Using a bench scraper, cut the egg mixture into the potato and flour and gentle knead the mixture until it comes together. Using a little additional flour, knead the mixture an additional 20 seconds.

Cut off a few ounces of the gnocchi dough with the bench scraper and with lightly floured hands roll into a rope about 12″ long and 1/2″ around. Cut off into equal sized pieces about 1/2 square, pinching each piece at the same time. Roll each gnocchi off a floured gnocchi board (or the back of a fork), and using an offset spatula carefully transfer to a floured baking sheet.

Cook the gnocchi in several batches: using the spatula, carefully lower the gnocchi into the boiling water and cover. When the water comes back up to a boil, cook the gnocchi about 2 minutes, until they puff slightly, and immediately shock in ice water. Repeat the process for the remaining gnocchi. Drain the gnocchi well (make sure they are completely cool in the center before you remove them from the ice water). Place the olive oil in a mixing bowl, toss the gnocchi in the oil, then transfer to baking dish (they should be in a single layer), cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound chanterelle mushrooms (other wild mushrooms okay), cleaned
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 shallots, minced
1 cup dried sherry
3 ounces grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

In a large sauté pan, heat half the olive oil to smoking and add the chanterelles. Toss well and add half the butter. Cook until lightly caramelized. Season with salt and pepper and add the shallots. Sweat 30 seconds. Add the sherry and reduce until thick. Add the pig’s broth and meat and reduce by half. Check for seasoning and set aside.

To assemble dish: In another large sauté pan, heat the remaining olive oil. Brown the gnocchi on one side, in batches when necessary. Add the pig’s feet ragout and bring to boil. Whisk in the remaining butter. Garnish with grated Parmigiano and parsley, and serve immediately.