ANDREA’S A-LIST NOVEMBER 2006 Have you gotten your truffle fix yet? It is a wonderful season for white truffles in terms of quality, but they are pricey as ever. We had a dinner at Cru Restaurant in New York City and decided to “go for it” and have a truffle and risotto course. It was happy next ten birthdays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in one meal, but so worth it. So is Cru when you are next in New York. I must admit that even I felt pretty intimidated when we got not just one phone book wine list but two – one for whites and one for reds. You see a lot of zeros in there, but the truth is, if you know what you are looking for, they have some great deals in Rhone and even Burgundy, and Italy. Of course knowing what you are looking for from a 65,000 bottle wine collection is a big “if” for most anyone, yet happily I can say this of Cru: don’t sweat it. The sommeliers there will truly take care of you without making you feel bad that you are looking for bargains. They have learned the lesson that surprisingly few restaurants do: you will come back and you will tell others to go, if they treat you right. And these guys really take pride in finding you the values in their collection. They also do something else that’s quite wonderful that very few fancy-list restaurants do: they offer superb wines by the glass. So, you don’t feel you are compromising at all on the wine selection if you go with glasses, and vary them by course. What better way to showcase the great food anyway, especially if you are just two, as we were. On top of all that, glasses were a must as my husband is once again “tasting for two” – tough work, right? – because I am again expecting. Due in April! Do I miss wine? Only a little – I still get to enjoy smelling it and that’s 90% of the pleasure for me anyway. Back to truffles. In searching for a way to get something of a truffle fix without laying waste to the soon-to-be-three kids’ college nest-eggs, we found a real winner of a product – black truffle butter. It is absolutely wonderful stuff with lots of truffle flavor and scent. Not cheap as butter goes, but a little goes a long way: we have been using it in scrambled eggs, with pasta and with sautéed mushrooms. Pan-seared scallops and of course popcorn are next on the list to try. Two brands that I have seen in gourmet markets are D’Artagnan and Fabrique Delice. Enjoy! This month’s wines – Some of you may know, I love Krug Champagne. In fact, I am dreaming in 3-D/HD/Technicolor/Dolby Surround-Sound of that first new-baby Champagne toast. And if we were all on Champagne budgets, Krug would be an A-List wine. This month’s bubbly selection, which I was thrilled to discover last spring, is slightly different in style but every bit as complex and exciting. I know you will love it, and I did get a bit extra for those who wish to order more after tasting it. At this price, you can afford to do the “research” (meaning, open and drink the bottle) without a special occasion. That way, if you like it, there will be time to get a few backup bottles before New Year’s. Our favorite Russian River “garage” winery, Inspiration Vineyards, makes a return engagement this month with an extraordinary Zinfandel. And, as I was picking up blueberries (in November!) at the grocery store this morning, I was reminded of how lucky we are to have both the food and the wine of the Southern Hemisphere to grace our tables with delicious variety. If your market doesn’t have any blueberries from Argentina, this month’s Bianchi Malbec will help you get a little bit of that flavor fix. (Just don’t pour it over your cereal.) Happy Thanksgiving!
CHAMPAGNE DRAPPIER BLANC DE BLANCS, FRANCE NV “Wow - what is this stuff?” I’d have never thought I’d hear those words from my husband about a Champagne – the thing he loves most about bubbly is how happy it makes me (he’d always rather be drinking Pinot Noir). One of my favorite things to do when working at Windows on the World was to greet guests just as they were seated with a taste of something they’d probably not tried before, and this glass is how we were welcomed to our first dinner at the newly-opened Redd restaurant in the quaint little Napa-foodie town of Yountville. It’s just as distinctive as it is impressive. Typically a blanc de blancs-style bubbly – made from 100% Chardonnay with none of the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier on which most Champagne is based – is notable for its racy delicacy and jolt-of-lightning acidity. This has that, but also a rich toasted hazelnut quality that I associate with vintage-dated, top-of-the-line Champagnes at once-in-a-lifetime prices. The lingering flavors are of cinnamon French toast (but without the sugar and fat – yay!). In our blind tasting it blew away brands that we all think of as the big guns of Champagne. There’s so much rich flavor that the wine makes an incredible toast to sip on its own. Having said that, just toasting doesn’t even begin to tap its potential. The complexity of this wine makes it an ideal pairing for a huge array of sophisticated flavors – mushroom dishes (think risotto), roasted poultry, cream and butter sauces, sweet-fleshed shellfish like lobster and scallops, and corn dishes such as polenta and chowder. The sesame crust of these oysters showcases the wine’s nutty toastiness to perfection, while the bubbly’s acidity sets off the oysters’ brininess and crunch. And if you’d rather toast than cook, the easiest pairing of all is also one of the tastiest and most fun: buttered popcorn. Here’s to yum. Champagne Drappier Blanc de Blancs, France NV $36.99 (drah-pee-YAY) Pan-Crisped Oysters with Sesame Seeds Makes 24 oysters
1/2 cup sesame seeds 2 tablespoon black sesame seeds 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs) 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more if necessary 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more if necessary 2 dozen oysters, shucked Place the sesame seeds in a large dry skillet and cook over medium-high heat, shaking the pan frequently, until they are golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and cool completely. Combine the toasted sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, salt, and panko in a medium bowl. Roll oysters in the crumb mixture to coat. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet on medium high until the butter foams. Add the oysters in a single layer and cook until golden brown and crisp, turning once, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. (If the oysters won’t all fit in a single layer, cook in batches, adding more oil and butter to the pan as necessary.) Transfer the cooked oysters to a paper towel-lined plate to drain briefly. Serve warm.
INSPIRATION VINEYARDS OLD VINES ZINFANDEL, RUSSIAN RIVER 2002 The legions of A-List members who tasted and bought more of Inspiration Vineyards’ Chardonnay from the September club shipment will no doubt be thrilled to taste this encore performance from vintner/proprietor Jon Phillips. Much is made of California Old Vine Zinfandel, and it’s true that when you see the nubby vines that look as stooped and gnarled as old men you somehow sense that their grapes would have a unique flavor story to tell. That said, many of the old vine bottlings I’ve tasted just screamed “alcohol,” and fell short on complexity. This bottling expresses the true glory of great old vines Zin, with an added and very thrilling twist of bottle age. On the one hand you get the amazing layers of black raspberry and cherry compote fruit flavor with cardamom, clove, white pepper and teriyaki sauce that are typical of classic old vines Zin as it is often encountered. “Field blend” just means the vines are randomly inter-mixed with other hodgepodge European grapes – in this case Carignan, Alicante, Palomino (a white grape!) and Petite Syrah. The bottle age yields added layers of leather, tobacco and potpourri. This is a wine that’s ready to drink now and will be incredibly enjoyable over the next two years or so. It is so complex and detailed on its own that I recommend putting it with simple, earthy fare that won’t compete with all that’s going on in the wine. My family really went ape over this basic recipe that was inspired by a friend’s cooking school trip to Tuscany. She described a “mirepoix sauce” that they made by cooking down classic French mirepoix (carrots, onions and celery) plus zucchini into a sauce. Well, when I did it the result wasn’t a sauce but more like a tender veggie ragu. So delicious with just about any red wine, as the bed for any simple seared protein – chicken breast, pork chop, shrimp, steak. Inspiration Vineyards Old Vines Zinfandel, Russian River 2002 Tuscan Vegetable Ragu Serves 4 $20
¼ c olive oil, plus more for drizzling 3 cloves garlic 1 large onion, cut into large chunks 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced in 1-inch pieces 4 large stalks celery, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces 4 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces 1 T chopped fresh rosemary In a large heavy skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil on medium heat. While oil is heating, pulse the garlic cloves in a food processor to mince. Add the vegetables to the processor and pulse to a slaw-like consistency, working in batches if needed to process all the vegetables. (Alternatively, the garlic may be minced by hand and the remaining vegetables may be shredded on a box grater.) As they are processed add the vegetables to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, to soften and lightly brown the vegetables. Add the rosemary and the additional 2 tablespoons olive oil, cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally for another 10-15 minutes until vegetables are very soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve. Can also be prepared ahead and refrigerated, then reheated when needed.
VALENTIN BIANCHI PARTICULAR MALBEC, MENDOZA 2003 Since the beginning of my wine career fifteen years ago it has been exciting to watch many of the temperate countries of the Southern Hemisphere forge identities as wine regions. And not since Australia’s ascendance in the late eighties has there been a story of such quality and potential as in Argentina. There are lots of reasons why, I think. For one, it is a story of immigrants from Europe’s great winemaking countries – France, Spain and in the case of this wine, Italy. So a natural winemaking tradition and culture gained a foothold early on. And then there is the land – ample acreage of fantastic soils at perfect latitudes for winegrowing, with two advantages over nearly every other wine region in the world. First, the vineyards are often situated in the Andes foothills and thus at high altitudes that provide cool nights, for great acid retention and structure. Second, there is nearly limitless irrigation water from rivers fed by the Andes snow-melt. The result is grapes like these, of such high quality that they are vinified with all the painstaking attention to detail of a cult wine. They don’t quite sing them to sleep at night, but it’s close because they: hand harvest into 30-40 lb picking lugs (so the grapes don’t crush and oxidize under their own weight), sort twice to remove any leaves or inferior or damaged clusters or berries, macerate and ferment for 20 days on skins, then age 14 months in all-new, mostly French oak. It is a “cult red” A-List style, with the big flavor but not the big price. Get ready for an all-around “big” drinking experience – smoky vanilla, cinnamon and black plum nose; thick-and-velvety blueberry and chocolate palate; tobacco-cinnamon finish. This recipe pairing will have you doing a double-take. It was inspired by a signature dish we had at the absolutely wonderful, hole-in-the-wall tapas eatery in New York called Tia Pol (go early, it is tiny and everyone loves it – but by all means, go). It is something you’d never think to try but once you do – wow. The contrast of the spicy chorizo and bitter chocolate are amazing, and what a great combo with this wine! Valentin Bianchi Particular Malbec, Mendoza 2003 (val-en-TEEN be-AHN-kee) Bitter Chocolate-Chorizo Bites Serves 6 or more $30
8 oz bittersweet chocolate ½ cup heavy whipping cream ½ vanilla bean One baguette, sliced thin and lightly toasted 6 ounces fully cooked Spanish-style chorizo, thinly sliced on the bias
In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside. Place chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, and use the back of a paring knife to scrape the vanilla seeds into the cream. Let steep for 10 minutes, then return the cream to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Pour the hot cream over the finely chopped chocolate and let sit for 5 minutes. Whisk the chocolate and cream mixture together until very smooth. Refrigerate uncovered until the mixture is a firm, spreadable consistency. Spread the baguette slices with some of the chocolate mixture and top with slices of chorizo. Serve immediately.