Category Archives: Food

What to pair with crocodile and other African cuisine

A few years back, we purchased a South African photo safari at a fundraising auction and decided, this August, to schedule the trip and add three days at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.  Upon arrival at the Zulu Nyala Game Preserve in South Africa’s northeastern Zulu province, we discovered that all guests purchased their excursion by supporting a non-profit.  It’s part of their business model and something rewarding to be a part of.

Crocodile Frickadelle at the Palm Restaurant at the Ilala Hotel in Victoria Falls

The food was quite good, but commonly included such dishes as crocodile meatballs, ostrich filets and grilled Eland, Africa’s largest antelope.  Seeking a wine to pair with this new cuisine, I was delightfully surprised with a Diemersdal Pinotage 2017, from an historic winery in the Durbanville Valley region near Capetown, and began to rely upon their brand for the remainder of our African adventure.

Pinotage is a signature grape in South Africa, created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University. It is a marraige of pinot noir and cinsault, a popular varietal used in southern Rhone-style blends and known in its homeland as hermitage.  The Pinotage 2017 and other red and white varietals from the Diemersdal Estate became a familiar name among many unfamiliar choices.

Wines have been produced at the Estate for over three centuries and six generations of the Louws family have artistically and meticulously farmed the land for over 130 years.

The Diemersdal Estate covers 840 acres, of which nearly 450 is planted under vine with pinotage, merlot, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and others.  Of note, many of the remaining acres are used for grazing and the preservation of Renosterveld, a threatened vegetation type in southernmost Africa’s Cape Floristic Region. The hillside vineyards at the Estate welcome cool, misty afternoon breezes that permit dry-farming, culminating in fully ripened fruit.

To accompany fresh-caught grilled bream and crocodile frikadelle at the Palm Restaurant in the Ilala Hotel at Victoria Falls, we fortunately chose the definitively styled Diemersdal Sauvignon Blanc 2018 with layered tropical fruit on the nose and palate and a vibrant minerality on the finish. The reasonable price made this wine even more appealing.  

For the record, crocodile does taste like chicken and we had served as a meatball, then grilled and diced, potentially popular in the States when served in a taco. Crocodile tacos, an idea before its time?

Diemersdal also produces a high-end sauvignon blanc reserve and the Diemersdal Winter Ferment 2019, described as a “new world style of sauvignon blanc” with tropical flavors, a hint of grapefruit and a rich, vibrant acidity throughout.

Days later, seeking a white wine that we could pair with a buffet featuring an array of fish, meat and game dishes as well as fresh sushi, we selected the elegantly aromatic Diemersdal Chardonnay Unwooded 2017.  The rich, creamy texture of the wine is balanced with melon and citrus flavors that linger. I now can forever brag to my “foodie” friends of eating sushi in Zimbabwe.

In addition to the red pinotage, we selected a bottle of Diemersdal Merlot 2017 for dinner one evening at the game preserve. Aged twelve months in 30% new French oak, this wine is still young but delivered very evident spice overtones throughout the nose and palate.

Once again relying on Diemersdal for our last dinner in Johannesburg, we reached out for a bold, nicely structured Diemersdal Shiraz 2017, a complex wine with strong spice overtones and a full palate of flavors that paired well with everything from a venison stew to a cheese plate.

Wines from the Diemersdal Estate carried us through South Africa and Zimbabwe, but a search upon our return found them available on numerous on-line wine sites but very limited access in local outlets.

Diemersdal Estate

However, for those seeking to explore the pinotage varietal, your options are wide open.  K&L Wines in San Francisco and Redwood City offers a 2015 Beaumont Pinotage Bot River South Africa ($28), awarded 92-points from James Suckling describing flavors of “blueberry, violets, orange peel and citrus.”

For a local option, wine.com sells a Fort Ross Vineyard Pinotage Sonoma Coast ($37) from northwest Sonoma County, boasting ratings in the nineties and, most appropriate for our recent adventure, the Graham Beck Game Reserve Pinotage 2015 ($16) from beautiful South Africa.


Passallacqua Winery ushers in new releases with luncheon at Valette

Jason Passalacqua and Dustin Valette are friends, their relationship often described as a “bromance.” They are both natives of Healdsburg, both love to hunt, enjoy the outdoors and food and wine are at the core of both of their lives.

Dustin makes food with the detail and finesse required of a fine chef.  I have never been disappointed nor tire of listening to him describe each dish in passionate detail.

Justin Valette and Jason Passalacqua

Jason is a fourth generation winemaker in the Dry Creek Valley. After a career in mechanical engineering, he returned to his roots in 2002 and founded Passalacqua Winery in 2004, sourcing cabernet sauvignon from the family vineyards and chardonnay, zinfandel, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from established vineyards in Sonoma County and the Anderson Valley.

Jessica Boone developed and honed her craft in the Napa Valley, first at Edgewood Estate, then as winemaker at Armida Winery.  After a brief hiatus to start a family, she became the winemaker at Passalacqua Winery.  In describing a minimalist approach that puts the vineyard front and center, she relies on explicit attention to detail and a hands-on approach to create the balanced wines she desires.  Her skills were on display as Jason introduced the Passalacqua Winery new Fall releases at a wine pairing luncheon at Valette with special dishes created by Dustin.  

Passalacqua Winery in the Dry Creek Valley

We started with a glass of the aromatic 2018 Passalacqua “Triple Z” Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley ($35) served with charcuterie and cheese that included salume, aged on-site, pickled vegetables and orange zest olives.  Sourced from 20-year-old musque clones, the wine was round and creamy with forward stone fruit flavors.

Dustin described his first course, Seared Hawaiian AhiTakaki with Dried Kombu Emulsion and Furikake Wakame Seaweed, as featuring the flavors of the ocean.  It was appropriately paired with the well-integrated 2017 Passalacqua “Gap’s Crown” Chardonnay Sonoma Coast ($52), from an established vineyard in the “Petaluma Gap” that is influenced by ocean winds and fog and is known for grapes that are exceptionally expressive.

Seared Hawaiian Ahi Takaki with Dried Kombu Emulsion and Furikake Wakame Seaweed

The “Gap’s Crown” was dry, like a French chardonnay, yet round on the palate with clear mineral notes that provided a genuine pairing for the sea.

Passalacqua produces Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley pinot noir under his Quince label.  In the most exquisite pair of the afternoon, the 2017 Quince Pinot Noir Anderson Valley ($42) was poured with Jason Passalacqua’s Elk Loin with Huckleberry Jus, Espelette Pepper and Slow Roasted Shallots.

Quince 2013 Pinot Noir Anderson Valley

Dustin explained that Jason’s wine elevates the outdoors, meaning it transfers nuance from vineyard to glass.  The tenderness of the meat, the rich Huckleberry sauce and the shallots enhanced the pinot’s earthy texture and red fruit flavors for the highlight pairing of the luncheon.

With past vintages described as powerful and muscular, I anticipated that Dustin would challenge the 2016 Passalacqua Blocks 18 & 19 Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley ($105) with a high powered dish.  He served Charred Wagu New York Steak with on-site barrel-aged soy, fermented garlic and a piece of smoked beef belly that added character.  The rich spice elements of the wine enhanced those in the dish and the dark fruit flavors lingered.

From a late-harvested block of grapes with higher sugar concentration, Jason selected the 2013 Passalacqua Block 23 Cabernet Sauvignon to pair with Dustin’s eclectic dessert that included Dark Chocolate Bouchon, Graham cracker, toasted meringue, perfectly arranged on a plate and topped with shaved Volo Chocolate, a local Healdsburg company.

Younger and described as the most unique planting site in the vineyard, Block 23 sits atop a hillside bench overlooking the surrounding property.  This vintage combined dark fruit flavors and a luscious mouthfeel that bonded with the diverse textures and flavors of the dessert ensemble. 

Jessica poured a small glass of her 2017 Lumia Valdiguie ($34), a wine she made after discovering some old abandoned vines in the Dry Creek area. Valdiguié is a rare red grape from the emerging Lanquedoc region of France.  It had a lighter texture, but the flavors were full.

Winemaker Jessica Boone

The luncheon provided perfect surroundings for Passalacqua to introduce their new releases.  Jason and Jessica’s wines are exceptional paired with Dustin’s food and, of course, the wines bring out the best of the chef’s creativity.  It was an true artistic endeavor.

Passalacqua is a small production winery that distributes most of their releases direct-to-consumer.  Their wine club offers four shipments annually of six or twelve bottles each. My best recommendation is to audition a bottle from the wine list, over dinner at Valette.


The Sustainability of Bodegas LAN Rioja

There is so much to love about Spanish wines from Rioja and other regions.  Fueled by a high quality to price ratio, they have significantly expanded their presence into US markets over the past few decades.  According to the newsletter, “Spanish Wine Lover,” imports from Rioja bodegas has grown from fewer than twenty in the 1980s to over 180 today. 

Vina Lanciano Vineyard surrounded by the Ebro River

Imports from Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Rias Baixas and sparkling cava from Penedes are readily available and many have captured the attention of consumers and restaurant sommeliers.  Spanish wines, in many ways, are produced with a completely different mindset from those in California or other states. No one seems to be in a hurry. The focus is making the best wine and not releasing it until it is ready, which could be years after it is bottled.

A relative newcomer to the Rioja region that is steeped in old traditional, Bodegas LAN, founded in 1972, consistently exports some of the finest examples of good value wine from Rioja as well as some premium releases.

Their 172-acre Viña Lanciano Vineyard sits near the natural border of the Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa sub-regions.  It is divided into twenty-two separate plots that are all surrounded by the Ebro River and LAN is deeply committed to sustainable viticulture and to co-exist with the native plants, animals and reptiles.  By practicing biodiversity, adding natural flora and fauna to the vineyards, and using much manual labor, LAN has reduced pollution and water use and eliminated the need for chemical herbicides.

2013 LAN Edicion Limitada

Tempranillo is the main grape varietal used in wines from Rioja, including those from the Bodegas LAN.  The true character of Rioja is revealed when tempranillo is combined with garnacha, mazuelo, viura and graciano, with the best examples coming for the cooler, higher-elevation regions like Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa. 

Today, the LAN brand is consumed locally and around the world. I recently joined CEO Enrique Abiega and Trinidad Villegas, LAN’s Export Director for the USA for lunch at Bellota, south of Market.  We shared  conversation, tapas and raciones while tasting the current vintages of their food friendly wines.

Bodegas LAN CEO Erique Abiega

Enjoying a rare visit to California, Abiega began our discussion by pouring Bodegas Lan Santiago Ruiz, Albarino Rias Baixas ($20), a beautifully rounded, fruit driven white with a rich mouthfeel, a departure from the varietal’s typical crisp, acidic features.  We spoke of the Sonoma County fires, drought and of the importance of LAN’s dedicated effort toward sustainable practices.  Enrique and Trinidad have been with the LAN team for many years and both strongly feel that their methods create wines that, for the price, can compete with any others.

The tapas that included a fresh, decorative heirloom tomato salad, patatas braves with chipotle salsa and Spanish omelette, were paired with the aromatic vintages 2015, 2016 LAN D12 ($18) and the LAN Vina Lanciano Reserva 2012 ($25), aged forty-two months between French and Russian oak and bottle conditioning.

The ninth and tenth vintages of the D12 both had intense bouquets, earthy qualities and the balanced, fruit-forward flavors of wines twice the cost.  The hand-selected grapes for the Vina Lanciano go through full malolactic fermentation before extensive aging that results in an earthy, food friendly wine with integrated flavors and soft tannins.

A wonderful vegetarian paella that included wild mushrooms, autumn squash, sun chokes and pomegranate along with wood-grilled, dry-aged beef were paired with vintages 2103, 2106 LAN  Edición Limitada Rioja ($50) and the vintages 2014, 2015 LAN Xtrème Ecológico Crianza ($20) , a 100% tempranillo from the organic certified Ecological Mantible parcel, named after the nearby Roman Mantible Bridge.

Roman Mantible Bridge adjacent to Vina Lanciano Vineyard

After Wine Spectator magazine raved about the LAN 2005 Edición Limitada Rioja, future vintages have been on the radar of consumers.  Low yield vines, full malolactic fermentation and aging in new French and Russian oak barrels produce concentrated aromas, fruit-driven flavors, hints of spice and a lush texture. 

2014 LAN Xtreme Ecologico Crianza

Both the growing and winemaking methods for the Xtrème Ecológico Crianza call for minimal intervention.  After initial fermentation, the juice is transferred to new oak barrels for fourteen months and sits another none months in the bottle. The color was dark and deep and, as with many of the LAN wines, the candied ripe fruit aromas were intense and the flavors, layered and complex. A tremendous value available for under twenty dollars.

I was genuinely impressed with all the Bodegas LAN releases that were served and would recommend them when exploring fine, value driven wines from Rioja and other Spanish regions.


Cartograph Wines map a path to your palate

Serena Lourie and Alan Baker

 

Serena Lourie and Alan Baker had interesting backstories before 2009, when they became partners in Cartograph Wines and, more recently, partners in life.

Serena grew up in a bicultural household, splitting time between France and the US, with college and the beginning of her career in the Washington DC area.  Her calling as a mental health professional led her to San Francisco where she later worked in the tech industry while developing a passion for wine.

In 2005, Alan left a successful public broadcasting career in St. Paul and came to San Francisco to learn the wine business from bottom to top.  He met Serena at the start-up urban winery, Crushpad in San Francisco where he was a person of many tasks and launched his first commercial brand, Cellar Rat Cellars, that featured pinot noir.

In 2009, the map of their lives made a stop in Healdsburg and they began the process of creating Cartograph Wines, currently producing about 2,300 cases with a business plan that takes it to a comfortable 5,000-5,500 per year. 

Cartograph Wines in Healdsburg

While continuing to source from established vineyards in the region, Cartograph recently purchased their estate vineyard in Cotati near the Petaluma Gap in the southern Russian River Valley appellation and are now releasing the first vintages from that site.

The Cartograph Estate Vineyard falls within the Russian River Valley Neighborhood Initiative, a project that will explore the vast diversity within the prodigious appellation to determine if the distinctions between the various microclimates are worthy of official designation.

Cartograph Wines modern tasting room on Main Street in Healdsburg literally shares a wall with Valette, one of the finest restaurants in town.  Starting at Cartograph, we began with a glass of 2013 Cartograph Brut Zero ($68), their first sparkling wine.  Self-described “acid freaks,” Alan and Serena like their wines bone dry and this crisp sparkler has no additions or dosage(the addition of sugar before

2013 Cartograph Bret Zero and Brut Rose’

corking).

We then moved next door and assembled around a large, beautifully set table in Valette Healdsburg to pair new Cartograph releases with dishes curated by Chef Dustin Valette. 

Valette, the restaurant and the person were raised in Healdsburg and enjoy showcasing local farmers and winemakers through a variety of collaborative efforts. Today, he was challenged with creating perfect food pairings with six new Cartograph releases. 

The first course paired the 2018 Cartograph Rose’ of Pinot Noir and Hawaiian Ahi Poke’ with partially roasted strawberries and young estate onions, garnished with dried strawberry chips, borrowed from Dustin’s daughter snack drawer.

The crisp, dry pink wine, from the estate vineyard and aged in 100% stainless steel, was the right choice for the melded flavor profile of the visually stunning poke’.

Hawaiian Poke with Mi Cuit Strawberries, estate onions and strawberry chips by Chef Dustin Valette

The next course matched two Cartograph dry whites, the 2017 Starscape Vineyard Gewürztraminer ($26) and the 2016 Green Ranch Riesling ($29) from the Mendocino Ridge appellation with a Diver Scallop & American Caviar Duo featuring one seared with passion fruit and fennel and another formed into a “ravioli” with pickled watermelon rind and seaweed.

Cooler vineyards tend to make dry fruit and these wines are fermented in Alsace yeast with no malolactic fermentation (higher acid) and controlled brix (sugar) of 22.5%.

The third course featured two new red Cartograph releases, the 2016 Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir($68) and 2016 Starscape Vineyard ($54)Pinot Noir, paired with a Liberty Farms Duck Confit “Candy Bar,” a coriander crusted breast with toasted oats and Goji berries, full and in a purée.

While both wines had luscious mouthfeel, the 2016 Estate Vineyard exuded intense but elegant aromas balanced by more subtle savory flavors that lingered.

The pairing concluded with the 2013 Brut Rose ($68), their other sparkling wine served with roasted quince jam, toasted brioche and salted brown butter ice cream. Dustin called the dish “Bread, Butter and Jam” and I renamed it “Heaven of Earth.”

Similar to the Brut Zero, the Brut Rose’ is made from chardonnay, but some pinot noir and dosage (sugar)is added at gorging to give it an arresting floral quality.

For Alan, it was a 1998 Alsace Riesling in Wisconsin, for Serena, a Shafer Napa Valley Cabernet in Washington DC and for Dustin it was a love for bountiful Sonoma County.  A confluence of journeys that were fueled by guts, passion and a desire to share their gifts. Fortunately, they landed in Healdsburg.


Pairing wines with legendary olive oil born of tragedy

 

Last week in San Francisco, a small group assembled for lunch at Perbacco Ristorante and Bar on California Street, between Front and Battery, to celebrate the 30th harvest of Laudemio Frescobaldi, one of the world’s finest olive oils.

2018 Laudemio Frescobaldi

Italian cuisine, fine wines from Frescobaldi’s Tuscan estates and olive oil were featured throughout, including dessert.  Post holiday dieting was temporarily overridden by the temptation of Chocolate Gelato with sea salt, served in olive oil, something worthy of an interruption.

The Frescobaldi family began producing Tuscan olive oil and wines in the year 1300 and is now celebrating its 30th generation in the business that manages all facets of farming and production.  The family owns vineyards and nearly 750 acres of olive groves spread among seven estates throughout the Tuscany region. 

The birth of Laudemio, which translates to “best of the harvest,” actually resulted from a catastrophic winter frost that destroyed 90% of olive trees in the region. Laudemio Brand Manager, Matteo Frescobaldi described stories of his parents listening to the trees break in the middle of the night.

From that tragedy emerged a family decision, in 1986, to use the very best of the remaining trees and select only the finest extra virgin olive oil for Laudemio, a proprietary project with lofty expectations.  One important factor in their success, Frescobaldi operates an olive mill at their Castello Nipozzano estate that allows for immediate milling within 24 hours of harvest. 

Each of the nearly twenty wines releases from the  Frescobaldi Group identify with the terroir of a specific estate and include reds, whites and rose’. Three current releases and plenty of Laudemio were paired with an extraordinary Italian lunch prepared by Chef Staffan Terje.

Pomino Benefizio Reserva 2017

The first course included Ribollita, an authentic Tuscan bread and vegetable soup and Pinzimonio, a local tradition of dipping raw vegetables into olive oil, paired with Pomino Benefizio Reserva 2017 ($50), a chardonnay-based white wine from the Castello di Pomino.

The wine, from sandy, rocky soils, expressed delicate, yet complex flavors with a minerality that fit with both the hearty soup and raw vegetables.

Both the second course, pappardelle pasta with beef ragu, and the main courses of milk braised pork shoulder with caramelized fennel, called Maile Al Latte and seared flatiron steak, served rare on a bed of arugula, were all paired with Laudemio and Nipozzano Vecchie Viti 2015 ($35), a Chianti Rufina Reserva DOCG from the Castello Nipozzano estate that blends sangiovese with local grapes, malvasia nera, colorino and canaiolo.

Aged 24 months in oak barrels and an extra three in the bottle, the Viti, with ratings in the mid-nineties, had deep fruit and spice aromas and soft, accessible flavors delivered with a rich mouthfeel.

Prior to dessert, our palates were refreshed by a rose’ from the Tenuta Ammiraglia estate in the southern coast of Tuscany.  Syrah-dominant with a touch of vermentino, the crisp ALÌE 2017 ($25) had an alluring light ruby color with hints of strawberries, citrus and a nice minerality along the finish.

ALÌE 2017

Native to Italy and commonly grown in Sardinia, vermentino is a grape known to thrive when grown near the sea and is a perfect addition to a wine named after “a fabled sea-nymph, a symbol of sensuality and beauty.”

What followed was the aforementioned decadent chocolate gelato in a sea of fragrant Laudemio, paired with the rose’.  It was a small piece of heaven that need not be repeated often.  Pinzimonio, a variety of raw vegetables dipped in Laudemio, is a healthier choice.

The Frescobaldi family is hands-on in all aspects of Laudemio production from cultivation, milling, bottling and packaging, ensuring that it all meets their high standards.  To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the recognizable green bottle of Laudemio Frescobaldi is replaced for the vintage 2018 by one with a sleek gold finish.

Tenuta Ammiraglia estate

Thirty generations speak to the sustainability of the Frescobaldi business model and its commitment to flavor and texture is revealed through the result. 

Frescobaldi estate wines are available in many local Bay Area wine shops and on-line while Frescobaldi Laudemio extra virgin olive oil can be found in many gourmet food stores and small markets.

 


The allure of Los Olivos as a wine country getaway

 

Years ago, we discovered the charm of Los Olivos when it was still a hidden gem.  The film, “Sideways,” and the surrounding vineyards exposed it to more people, but the authentic appeal is still there with many more culinary options.  Today, it offers a perfect getaway for those seeking rustic charm and access to extraordinary wineries and restaurants.

Los Olivos, population 1,000, is one of five small communities within the Santa Ynez Valley, forty minutes north of Santa Barbara and a

Downtown Los Olivos

few miles east of Solvang.  It sits in the middle of the warmer Santa Ynez Valley AVA, east of Highway 101, but is a short drive to the cooler Santa Rita Hills AVA where pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards extend west from Buellton to the Pacific Ocean.

Historically a stagecoach and railroad stop, Los Olivos remained concealed within oak-studded foothills for decades, seen only from cars passing along Highway 154 that connects with Santa Barbara via the San Marcos Pass.  Today, even with more tourists, the quaintness remains along with the old flag pole that sits in the middle of the town’s main intersection.

Where to Stay

Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn and Spa is the only hotel in the downtown area.  Actor Fess Parker, who brought Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone to life for many baby boomers, was a long-time resident, property and business

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn

owner in the Santa Ynez Valley and purchased this luxury hotel years before his death. Pricy, but convenient, the inn is steps from everything the town has to offer.

The Ballard Inn/Restaurant is another property located minutes from town and there are ample hotel rooms in nearby Solvang.  Additionally, vacation rental properties, some associated with local wineries, are readily available for large or small groups.

Where to Taste

The appellations of north Santa Barbara County are among the best in California and there are copious opportunities for wine tasting.  Two of the areas finest producers of syrah, Tensley and Stolpman Vineyards, have downtown Los Olivos tastings rooms across the street from each other on Alamo Pintado Avenue.

Joey Tensley has earned accolades and recognition in recent years for his syrah and other varietals including the 2017 Colson Canyon

Tensley Syrah

Vineyard Syrah ($42) and the 2017 Santa Barbara County Syrah ($28) while the Stolpman Vineyard, one of the largest in the region produces many fine wines like the co-fermented sangiovese/syrah blend, La Croce 2016 ($66) and the Hilltop Syrah 2016 ($42). 

A few miles west of town, I recommend stops at Lincourt, part of Foley Family Wines specializing in pinot noir and chardonnay and Rusack Vineyards who produce pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and other varietals in Ballard Canyon, outside of Solvang as well as on Santa Catalina Island.

East of Los Olivos, along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, visitors will find a plethora of tasting rooms including the Fess Parker Winery estate and one of my favorite experiences, well worth the effort to find it.  

View of vineyards at Demetria Estate

The relaxed and hospitable Demetria Estate, on a secluded mountaintop further up the trail, features fine Rhône and Burgundy style wines such as the “North Slope” Syrah ($44) with five percent viognier, the “Eighteen” Chardonnay ($49) and a grenache-based blend called “Pantheon” ($47).

Where to Eat

Although its reach was broadened, foodies discovered the Los Olivos Cafe long before it was featured in the film, “Sideways”.  A diverse menu, exquisitely prepared food, great wine selections, pleasant atmosphere and perfect location make it a must when visiting.

As the local dining scene has matured, Los Olivos Cafe has been joined by restaurants like Side’s Hardware and Shoes (lunch only), the upscale casual Bear and Star, Greek cuisine in Petros and the historic Mattei’s Tavern, all located within steps of each other.

For a more casual lunch, try Pannino, in the heart of town, the landmark Los Olivos Grocery minutes

Los Olivos Cafe

down the road or The Doggy Door, a sweet little stand that features both vegan or beef hot dogs plus gourmet sandwiches.

To work off the food and wine, I suggest a casual walk  around town to enjoy the unique garden sculptures at J. Woeste, western goods at Jedlicka’s Saddlery, the labyrinth at St. Marks-in-the-Valley church or a refreshment at Corner House Coffee.  They truly reveal the genuine rustic charm of Los Olivos.


The Passion of Chateau le Puy

 

Jean Pierre Amoreau’s family has farmed grapes naturally on the same Bordeaux estate since 1610.  As far back as 1868, Barthelemy, Jean Pierre’s great-great grandfather questioned the need to use sulphur dioxide as an antioxidant and instead, founded the aging on lees method which is still used today to add richness and texture to the wine.  In 1924, the Chateau stopped using any chemicals and watched their vines continue to thrive.  In the mid-sixties, Chateau le Puy became one of the first Bordeaux estates to produce organic wines and in 1990 implemented biodynamic farming methods, something that has been adopted by many California producers.

After more than 400 years of winemaking, the passion is still evident in eighty-year old Jean Pierre, his wife Francois and son Pascual, as we met at Quince in San Francisco last week to taste ninety years of the best Chateau le Puy Emilien vintages and pair some current releases with a wonderful lunch prepared by Chef Michael Tusk.

After surveying the eighteen available vintages dating back to 1926, we began with the current release, the Chateau le Puy Emilien 2016  which expressed earth, red fruit and mushroom on both the nose and palate.  It had the structure of a much older wine.  “You will find that my younger wines taste old and my older vintages still taste young and vibrant,” said Jean Pierre, preparing us as we progressed through past decades of his flagship wine that consists dominantly of merlot with some cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and a hint of carmenere.  Since no new oak is used at Chateau le Puy, the Emilien is aged in used barrels and centenary foudres for 24 months.

Jean Pierre enjoys a nice bouquet and the earth and spice aromas of the Emilien 1989 were off the charts. The roundness and complex flavor profile was highlighted with balanced red fruit on the finish.

Jean Pierre Amoreau and son Pascual

As we ventured into the older vintages, Jean Pierre offered more sage advice, “Wine is like marriage.  If it is not good from the beginning, it will never be good.”  While the Emilien 1961 had qualities of baked red fruit aromas and flavors, I found a subtle floral quality throughout.

Three other vintages of the Emilien caught my fancy: the 1955, 1944 and 1926.  The 1955 had a light garnet, almost caramel-like color, smokey aromas and flavors with some lingering hints of orange. 

Due to WWII, the 1944 vintage was produced by Paule, Jean Pierre’s mother and is a superb wine with bright fruit on the palate.

The 1926 vintage was very special because, well, it’s a 1926. With a steely mineralogy on the nose, there were savory elements that were as integrated and balanced as one might imagine.

Lunch began with Tsar Nicoulai Cavier serve with smoked eel, brioche, brown butter hollandaise paired with a Marie-Cecile 2015, simply the finest pure semillon wine that I have ever tasted with incredible aromas of pear and complex, lush flavors that honor the palate.

The Chateau’s Barthelemy, described as an emotional wine, is produced from a single field-blended plot called “Les Rocs,” planted with 85 percent merlot and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon  Six vintages of the Barthelemy, ranging from 2001 to 2014, were paired with diverse dishes from Charcoal Grilled Maine Lobster, Duclair Duck Lasagna with fois gras sauce to something defined as Lamb in Diverse Preparation with freshly dug potato and black truffle. Pinching myself to determine if this

Chateau le Puy vintages: 1926-2015

extraordinary Monday afternoon was real, I enjoyed vibrant aromas, balanced flavors and a rich mouthfeel that supported and enhanced the exquisite cuisine.

For dessert, a chocolate soufflé, served in a small copper sauce pan, was paired with a Retour des Iles 2012, another Chateau le Puy wine with a fascinating story.  From each vintage, the family selects a few barrels to be boarded on a brigantine ship named “Tres Hombres,” and sets them out to sea for eight to ten months.  Apparently, the salty winds and swells of the ocean water provide a unique aging process.  

In describing the Retour, Jean-Michel Brouard from Terre de Vins said, “A unique experience which reveals very round wines with almost exotic aromas, and a symbol.  That of an estate in the same family since 1610, and at the forefront of modernity.” His quote aptly describes the family and the thought and energy that they give to each vintage.