Friday, October 17, 2014

Gran Reserva Rioja: The Beauty of Aged Spanish Wine

My love of Spanish wine is well known, from Basque Txavoli to Sherry, from Albarino to Mencia. They make excellent wine at all price points, and have some intriguing indigenous grapes. The country is rich in wine history, and there is much diversity to be found. I've traveled to Spain three times, including to the Rioja region, and would return again in a heart beat. If you aren't drinking Spanish wine, you're missing out on so many wonderful wines.

Some Spanish wines are categorized by the length of their aging, from Joven to Gran Reserva. The Gran Reserva designation is for those red wines with the longest amount of aging, a minimum of five years, and the wine must spend at least 18 months in a barrel and at least 36 months in the bottle. There are Gran Reserva whites and rosés but they have a slightly different requirement, requiring aging for at least 4 years, with a minimum of 6 months in the barrel. These aged wines can be often be purchased at very reasonable prices, and even less than a similarly aged wine from many other wine regions.

I received media samples of two Gran Reserva Rioja wines, one very reasonably priced, and one a more higher end wine, though it too is well worth the price. I recommend both of them, with the higher-end Rioja getting my highest recommendation.

The 2007 Montecillo Gran Reserva ($21) is produced by Bodegas Montecillo, which was founded in 1874, making it the third oldest winery in La Rioja. In 1973, the winery was purchased by the Osborne Group, a family business that extends back over 200 years. Montecillo doesn't have any vineyards, and purchases all of its grapes. The main winemaker at Montecillo is Maria Martinez-Sierra, bringing over 30 years of experience to the winery. She is a formidable force in Rioja, with feet firmly set in the past, but with eyes that look forward as well.

Produced from a red blend, with primarily Tempranillo, this wine had a pleasant aroma of cherry with herbal notes. On the palate, the red fruit flavors were prominent, bright cherry and raspberry, with underlying notes of herbs, vanilla, mild spice and tobacco. There is plenty of complexity in its taste, and the finish is moderately long and pleasing. It is still young, with plenty of room to age, and is a good value at this price.

The 1998 Bodegas Riojanas Monte Real Gran Reserva Rioja ($50) shows the great potential of aged Rioja. Bodegas Riojanas, founded in 1890, was originally located in Cenicero, in Rioja Alta, but the new winery is now in San Vicente de la Sonsierra, about 20km from Cenicero. They have over 300 hectares of vineyards, with grapes including Tempranillo, Mazuelo and Graciano. Their annual production is now about 4.5 million bottles, but in the U.S., it is still a label that flies under the radar of many wine lovers, and it should be on everyone's list..

This Gran Reserva is a blend of 80% Tempranillo, 15% Mazuelo, and 5% Graciano and is aged for 24-30 months in American oak and then aged in the bottle for at least 36 months. With a medium-red color, it has an alluring nose of cherry, plum and spice notes, and you'll probably sit with your glass for a time just enjoying the aromas. On the palate, you'll find a complex melange of intriguing flavors, a harmonious blend of fruit, spice and herbs. Elegant and silky, the wine caresses your palate, thrilling your senses. The tannins are well integrated, the wine is well balanced, and the finish lingers on and on. Though it will pair well with many dishes, it will also please on its own. An amazing wine that benefits from slowly savoring with good friends. It receives my highest recommendation.

As the holidays approach, this would be a good choice for a splurge, either for yourself or as a gift for someone else. You can look forward to more articles about Rioja wine in the near future,

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Alden & Harlow: First Impressions

Although Alden & Harlow opened in January 2014, I felt bad that I hadn't dined there until very recently. And now that I've dined there, I feel like I've cheated myself out of some excellent meals, and I promise myself to frequent this restaurant more often. As I mentioned yesterday, I recently dined there with a Chilean winemaker and I also attended another wine tasting there earlier this week. If you haven't been there yet, I advise you to rush there and experience its delicious cuisine.

Alden & Harlow, located in Harvard Square on Brattle Street, is owned by Chef Michael Scelfo, who may be familiar to you from his stints at restaurants like Russell House Tavern and Temple Bar. I'm acquainted with Chef Scelfo's culinary skills from Russell Tavern and several local food events, and was pleased that he finally had his own restaurant. The website states that it serves "thoughtfully sourced, honest American food" and they use local ingredients whenever possible. Many of those local purveyors are identified on his website and sometimes on the menu as well.


This is a far larger restaurant than a I expected, with a lengthy bar to your left as you enter the restaurant. It has a homey, casual vibe, and was relatively packed on the Thursday evening that I dined there.

I like that they have an open kitchen, which to me is a sign of the confidence of the chef and his team.

The menu contains primarily small plates, perfect for sharing, including Snacks (7 choices at $8 each) and the main plates (22 choices at $12-$18, with one exception). The menu changes frequently, though a few items (like their Secret Burger) remain, though the preparation may vary. You may have heard that vegetables take a prominent place on the menu, and that is correct, but carnivores will find plenty to interest them as well. We had a few of their vegetable dishes, such as their Grilled Cauliflower, and and they certainly looked enticing, and were well received by the others dining with me.

From the Snacks menu, I loved the warm, Pistachio Crusted Halloumi with roasted cherry tomatoes and warm bread. The soft, creamy and briny cheese was complemented by the nutty pistachio and it was great to smear on the bread slices. And the tomatoes added a nice touch of smoke and acidity to the dish. For the price, I think it was a very good value as it was large enough to share with 2 or 3 people.

Maybe my favorite dish of the night was the Chicken Fried Local Rabbit ($15) which comes with celery, apple, blue cheese, and chili oil. For a detailed explanation of their rabbit dish, check out a Anatomy of Alden & Harlow’s Chicken Fried Rabbit in Boston magazine. Though some of the accompaniments for this dish are different, the main info about the rabbit is still applicable. Chef Scelfo loves eating rabbit, as do I, but also understands that it is a tough sell at restaurants. Earlier this year, I wrote about all the reasons why people should eat rabbit, noting that people's reluctance to eat rabbit was primarily psychological, and that they need to get past those mental barriers. Chef Sclefo tried to make this rabbit dish more accessible to diners, and I think he succeeded.

This dish is superb comfort food, a thick crispy piece of a silky and flavorful rabbit and pork belly mixture, For a fall evening, this was a perfect dish to fill your belly. The addition of the apple and blue cheese adds an interesting element to the dish. It is large enough to split with someone else, though it would be tough for me to have to share such a compelling plate. I understand why so many people have raved about this dish, and I highly recommend it to everyone. Put aside your reservations about eating rabbit, and just give this dish a try. I bet you become a convert after enjoying this fried rabbit.

The Grilled Lamb Sirloin ($18) with cocoa rub, grilled carrot mash, and spring green puree, were perfectly cooked slices of lamb, tender and flavorful, with mild cocoa notes, and they were perfect accompaniments to the wines we were drinking,especially the Carmenere. Again, this is a dish you can share, but you might find yourself wanting to eat all the lamb yourself. The carrot mash was tasty too, with a nice creaminess.

The Crispy Berkshire Pork Belly ($15), with Anson Mills grits and roasted peaches, was another winner. The skin on the top was very crunchy, and topped the silky and alluring fat beneath. Who doesn't love pork belly? And the grits and peaches made a delicious side for the meat. Peaches and pork is such a great pairing.

I had a little room for dessert and there are four choices available on their Dessert menu, priced $9-$11. I opted for the Baked Apple & Olive Oil Cake Trifle, with Aleppo & Honey Whipped Cream and brown sugar. This is a great seasonal choice with lots of flavor, a spicy kick, and a nice balance of crisp apples and smooth cream and soft cake.

Every dish I tasted was a clear winner, from an excellent presentation to well-balanced and compelling flavors. I now understand why Alden & Harlow has received so many accolades, and Chef Scelfo has created a destination for food lovers of all types. Kudos to the chef and I'll be dining there again very soon, to further explore the menu.

Alden & Harlow on Urbanspoon

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I am back again with a new edition of Thursday Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting wine and food items that are upcoming. **********************************************************
1) On Thursday, October 23, at 6pm, at M.C. Spiedo, Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier will transform their Italian rotisserie into a den of Italian luxury: showcasing fast cars and fine wines with a Beef & Barolo Dinner in partnership with Maserati. The evening will begin with bubbles, bites and a viewing of two of the hottest models from the local New England Maserati dealership in Norwood, MA; followed by 4-courses of specially prepared beef to match each Barolo, highlighting some of Mark & Clark's favorite flavors from their travels throughout Piedmont.

The viewing begins at 6pm and dinner will be served at 7pm. The menu will be:

Amuse
Braised Beef Cheek Agnolotti (Ricotta, roasted petite turnips, horseradish)
Secco, Bianco, Veneto, 2013
First Course
Roasted Bone Marrow (Ossetra caviar, chives, garlic, parsley, crostini)
Mirafiore, Barolo, Piedmonte, 2008
Second Course
Braised bone-in Short Rib (Root vegetable, mushroom ragu, caramelized cippolini onions)
Fontanafredda 'La Rossa,' Barolo, Piedmont, 2008
Dessert
Chocolate Molten Cake (Milk jam, chocolate chip cookie crumble, beef powder)
Batasiolo, Barolo Chinato, Piedmont, 2011

Cost: $75 per person
To make a reservation, please call (617) 476-5606.

2) The fifth annual Raise Your Glass for Jimmy, presented by the Jimmy Fund Council of Greater Boston, will take place at the Fairmont Battery Wharf in Boston on Thursday, October. 23 from 6pm-9pm.

Admission to the event includes a wide variety of wines to taste, hors d'oeuvres, live music, a silent auction, and a wine bottle drawing. Participating wine vendors include Ansonia Wines, Boston Bottle, Gordon's Fine Wines and Liquors, Lattanzio Wines, M.S. Walker, and Plymouth Bay Winery. All proceeds support adult and pediatric cancer care and research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Among the silent auction items will be a two-night stay for four at Benziger Winery in Sonoma Valley, Calif., with American Airlines tickets, two tickets to the Nov. 23 New England Patriots game against the Detroit Lions, a one-night stay plus breakfast at the Fairmont Battery Wharf, one cooking class and dinner for six at the Fairmont Battery Wharf, and a four-course chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings for four from Strega.

For $25, patrons can participate in the wine bottle drawing. Participants are guaranteed that the bottle they will win is equal to or greater than the $25 they contributed.

Tickets are $50 per person and the first 150 participants at the door will receive a $25 gift certificate from Tresca.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.jimmyfund.org/raise-your-glass. Please note all tickets will be held at the door on the night of the event.

3) In celebration of Halloween, The Beehive is resurrecting the dead on Thursday, October 30, at its annual blowout bash. This year the space and staff will be transformed into a “Zombie Prom” featuring food and libation specials, a costume contest and live music from 80’s cover band, SAFETY!

Not to be typecast as your average “cover band,” SAFETY is anything but. From 9pm to 1am, SAFETY will bring The Beehive back to the ‘80’s, as their five lead singers perform spot-on renditions of everything from the Bangles to the Pretenders, Cindi Lauper to David Bowie, Michael Jackson to The Cure, The Clash and Billy Idol. Led by Brian King from "What Time is it Mr. Fox," SAFETY combines the tunes with the theatrical for what’s sure to be an all-around electric performance.

In true Beehive fashion, the rest of the night will be anything but “dead.” In addition to their regular menu, Chef Marc Orfaly will be offering dinner specials from 5:30pm to 1am, and the servers will be dishing it up decked out in full Zombie makeup and attire. Costumes are encouraged and there will even be a prize for the best-dressed! From 5pm to 2am, the Beehive’s bar team will be shaking up festive cocktail specials, and an early performance will set the mood from 6:30pm to 8:30pm.

All are welcome, with or without costumes, dead or alive!
COST: No cover charge
Dinner reservations are encouraged and can be made by calling (617) 423-0069.

4) McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants is proud to thank U.S. military veterans by offering a complimentary lunch or dinner entrée to those who have served our country on Sunday, November 9 in recognition of Veteran’s Day. McCormick & Schmick’s will treat veterans for the 15th consecutive year to a special menu at participating locations across the country.

We are proud to honor the brave service men and women who commit their lives to defend our country’s freedom,” said Tilman Fertitta, sole owner, chairman and CEO of Landry’s, Inc. “This is McCormick & Schmick’s 15th year to treat our nation’s heroes with a well-deserved meal and look forward to continuing this tradition for many more years to come.

McCormick & Schmick’s prides itself on the fresh seafood selection available daily and this special menu will be no exception. On November 9, veterans can choose a single complimentary lunch or dinner entrée, including options such as Buttermilk Fried Shrimp, Cedar Planked or Grilled Salmon, Parmesan Crusted Chicken, Tender Beef Medallions, Beer Battered Fish and Chips, Romano Chicken Chopped Salad, and McCormick’s Cheeseburger, among others.

McCormick & Schmick’s has recognized military veterans with a special event every year since 1999. The program has been praised by former President George W. Bush and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as a number of state veterans departments and the National Restaurant Association.

The special menu will be available to those who have been honorably discharged from the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy or Coast Guard. Verification of service is required. Reservations are highly encouraged, as tables fill up quickly. Guests can visit www.McCormickandSchmicks.com to find a location near them and to book their reservations today.

5) On October 31, from 8pm-2am, Brass Union will the set the stage for Nightmare in Union Square, their first Halloween bash complete with a dance party, costume contest and festive cocktail and dessert treats.

DJ Madsol-Desar will take to the turntables and spin a variety of genres from hip-hop, funk and soul to ‘80s hits. For good measure, DJ Madsol will mix in a dose of Halloween classics so revelers can do their best “Monster Mash.” For those vying for “Best in Show,” the costume contest will award the top placer $50 cash and the runner-up will receive a $25 gift certificate to Brass Union.

For those looking to get their “Trick ‘o Treat” on all week, Executive Chef Jon Kopacz and Pastry Chef Andrea Gillis will whip up Sticky Icky Spider Pumpkin Shortbread Cookies with apple buttercream frosting ($5) and Glazed Bloody Scones ($5). On the liquid side, Beverage Director Paulo Pereira will shake up the Sideshow, a twist on a traditional Sidecar with pumpkin-infused apple brandy, lemon juice and triple sec that is rimmed with brown sugar, cinnamon and pumpkin seeds ($10) and Pennywise, named after the clown in It, with aged rum, muddled fresh cranberries and apple cider ($10).

Admission is complimentary. Food & beverage specials available from October 27-31 at a la carte pricing.

6) On Tuesday, November 11, at 7pm, guests will take a virtual culinary wine tour of Spain at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro. Designed to both educate and entertain, Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro’s (BHHB) wine dinners are aimed at individuals of all experience levels. This event is about “wonderful wines, creative food and good friends,” says Cecilia Rait, proprietress and wine director of the BHHB.

Beginning at 7pm, diners are invited to visit various wine regions throughout Spain without leaving the comfort of their seats. Cecilia and Tracy Burgis of M.S. Walker act as virtual tour guides, moving from region to region explaining the history, curiosities and nuances of each selection. During this educational dinner guests will sample wines from the Rías Baixas, Priorat and Jerez regions of Spain. The dinner will showcase four different wines as well as the culinary artistry of Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro’s Executive Chef Lucas Sousa, whose dishes are designed to complement each featured wine.

This intimate adventure is set in communal seating to encourage conversation, laughter and fun. For $65 per person (tax and gratuity not included), guests are treated to four wines and a four-course dinner.

Reservations are necessary. Please call 617-723-7575.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Viña Koyle: Cristóbal, Carmenere & Auma

The art of blending. The death of 700,000 beetles. Cow horns filled with dung. An indigenous Chilean flower. The soul.

These were all fascinating topics that arose during a recent dinner I attended at Alden & Harlow with Matt Demers of Quintessential Wines and Cristóbal Undurraga Marimón, co-owner and winemaker at Viña Koyle, a Chilean winery. I'd been invited to meet Cristóbal (pictured above) and sample his wines. We had a fun evening, and I was impressed with his wines, especially his Carmenere wines and his top wine, Auma.

Though Viña Koyle was only established in 2006, its roots actually extend back to the latter part of the 19th century. In the early 1880s, Francisco Ramon Undurraga Vicuna began planting grape vines in Chile, vines he obtained from France and Germany. In 1885, Francisco founded his winery, Vina Undurraga, though his first harvest wasn't until 1891. Vina Undurraga was the first Chilean winery to export to the U.S. and during the 20th century, it became one of the largest wineries in Chile. However, in 2006, the Undurraga family decided to sell the winery and brand.

That sale didn't mean that the family was done with the wine business. They didn't wait and decided to start a new winery, a smaller, more artisan one, so they purchased about 2700 acres of land in the Los Lingues zone of Alto Colchuagua, in the foothills of the Andes. They didn't need to seek far for a wine maker, finding one in Cristóbal Undurraga, the sixth generation of their family.  

Cristóbal, who I found to be garrulous and passionate, originally didn't want to work in the large, family winery though he still possessed a strong affinity for wine. After graduation, he began to travel the world, seeking to learn all about winemaking. Beginning at Franciscan Estates in Napa, California in 2001, he later traveled, in 2002, to Rosemount Estates in Australia and then the famed Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux, France. In 2003, he was recruited to become the lead enologist at Vina Kaiken in Argentina.

However, he was eventually drawn back to Chile, to become the chief winemaker at his family's new artisan winery. They needed a name for their new winery and one day they rode horses into the nearby Andes, hoping for inspiration. While riding, they saw a beautiful purple plant that grew near the oak forests, and had to ask someone the name of it. In the indigenous language of the region, the plant, which is also an endangered species, is called koyle, The family were intrigued by the name and chose it for their new winery, Viña Koyle.

Cristóbal had strong ideas about this new winery, believing that Carmenere, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah would be their primary grapes. Pedro Parra, the famed Chilean soil scientist, was hired to examine their land and he eventually determined there were 87 different units of microterroir on the estate. Cristóbal stated that previously in Chile, winemakers and viticulturists generally worked separately, however Pedro has helped winemakers better appreciate the place of the vineyards, leading toward a greater collaboration between winemakers and viticulturists. The effect of that has been to increase the overall quality of Chilean wine.

Though Cristóbal had been interested in organic viticulture since 2001, while he worked in Australia, he learned about Biodynamic agriculture and was intrigued. The more he learned about it, the more he desired to create a Biodynamic vineyard. Since then, he immersed himself in Biodynamic agriculture and their vineyard has been Demeter certified since 2012. He embraces all of the esoteric aspects, seeing positive changes in his vineyard which he directly attributes to Biodynamics. Animals are raised on the estate, including sheep, cows, horses, and honey bees, and various fruits and vegetables are grown there as well.

One of the initial challenges they faced at the vineyard involved something similar to a biblical plague of locusts. They found that some unknown type of nocturnal insect was devouring the flowers on their vines and they needed to stop them or they would destroy all of their vineyards. Taking watch at night, they could hear the sound of the insects' feeding, a chilling experience as it indicated a vast number of insects, and eventually identified them as a type of beetle unique to Chile.

As they couldn't use commercial pesticides, they decided to destroy the larvae by using Indian tea tree oil in the ground, and this was successful. Next, they set up about 2000 lights to attract and destroy the beetles  From a distance at night, the lights almost looked as if the winery was on fire. In the end, they destroyed about 700,000 insects, counting them by the cup-load. What an incredible amount of dead beetles! They would have posed a dire threat to any vineyard.

Currently, Cristóbal's greatest challenge is more holistic, as he wants even more life within the soil, as well as vine roots which extend down eight meters into the soil. Despite making great strides during the last eight years, he believes there is much more to do, saying that it may take fifty years to accomplish all of his objectives. Cristóbal lives on the estate, one of the few winemakers who does so, and thus can personally see all the changes in the vineyard. Most other winemakers live in the cities, and commute to the vineyards. It was very important to Cristóbal though for him to be there, to live on the estate, to rely on much of what they can grow and produce on the estate.

Viña Koyle currently produces about 36,000 cases of wine, though they have the capacity to double that but they want their growth to be slow and steady. They currently sell some of their excess Biodynamic grapes to other local producers. The winery exports about 90% of their wines, to 35 different countries, and their top three export markets include the  U.S., Belgium and the United Kingdom.

Cristóbal mentioned that he desires to produce wines that you can easily drink, which are not overly concentrated. He didn't want to make a wine where you have a single glass, but it is so big and concentrated that you didn't want a second glass. Since meeting with Cristóbal, I met a Spanish winemaker who voiced the exact same sentiment. I agree with both of these men, desirous of wines where I can easily drink multiple glasses over the course of an evening rather than a single glass of some huge wine.

Cristóbal and I also discussed the importance of blending, both of adding various varietals to the same wine, as well as adding different barrels of the same varietal. This also has become a familiar conversation that I've had with other wine makers, as well as spirit producers. Blending is both art and science, and its role seems to often be underestimated. It allows wines to acquire greater complexity, as well as more consistency.It allows a winemaker to have a greater input on the type of wine that results.

I tasted seven Viña Koyle wines, the first two (a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir) were organic while the other five were Biodynamic. All of the wines had been opened for about five to six hours before I tasted them.

The 2012 Koyle Costa Sauvignon Blanc ($23.99) is produced from 100% Sauvignon Blanc from a vineyard located about 9km from the Pacific Ocean. Cristóbal wants to make this wine with texture and high acidity, and not in the usual New World style. The vineyard, which was planted in 2006, has three exposures: north, south and a flat area. As such, each exposure is fermented differently, including Burgundy French oak barrels, concrete and stainless steel. In addition, the wine spends ten months on the lees and six months in the barrel. This is only the second vintage of this wine, and they plan to continue to make Sauvignon Blanc in this same way. With an alcohol content of 12.5%, this wine has bright aromas of citrus and a slight saline quality. On the palate, the wine is crisp, clean and tart, with pleasant grapefruit and lemon flavors, and strong mineral notes. Nice complexity, a lengthy finish and this would be an excellent seafood wine.

The 2012 Koyle Costa Pinot Noir ($34.99) is from the same vineyard as the Sauvignon Blanc and is made from 100% Pinot Noir. Cristóbal has studied how wine is made in Burgundy, seeking ideas on how Pinot could be properly grown in Chile. This is the third year that he has produced Pinot Noir, except he didn't bottle his first two attempts as he wasn't satisfied with the results. He stated that Pinot is "like a beautiful lady." and he sought to do justice to that image. I was impressed with this wine and think Cristóbal should be very happy with what he has produced. With an alcohol content of 14.5%, this wine had a pleasing aroma of red fruits with fleeting hints of other aromas, such as a hint of earthiness. On the palate, this was an elegant and complex wine, with bright cherry and raspberry flavors, minerality and a touch of earth. It is worth the price, and will remind you more of Burgundy than California.

These next two wine, Gran Reservas, are Biodynamic, and Cristóbal mentioned that he recently has begun thinking that the wines might be better labeled as "Wild Reserva," in reference to their more natural composition.

The 2012 Koyle Gran Reserva Carmenere ($16.99) is a blend of 86.5% Carmenere, 8% Malbec, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 2.5% Petite Verdot and has an alcohol content of 14%.  Cristóbal stated that too much Carmenere in Chile is either too vegetal/green or is too ripe. He believes that the key to making it properly is low yields. As I dislike the vegetal/green aspect in Carmenere, I was pleased to find it didn't exist in this Koyle wine. With a nose of black fruit and spice, I found this to be an elegant wine, with a delicious melange of black fruit, spice, minerality and hints of tobacco. It was silky smooth, with a long, satisfying finish. At this price, it is agood value for its complexity and quality. Cristóbal recommends this wine for pasta and risotto. Highly recommended.

The 2012 Koyle Gran Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon ($16.99) is a blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 5% Petite Verdot and has an alcohol content of 14%. This was produced to be a gastronomic wine. I found this to be more of a dark and brooding wine, with ripe plum and black berry fruits, combined with mineral notes and spice and with a background of moderate tannins. It isn't a fruit forward style, but more of a wine that needs a thick steak or hearty pasta to complement it.

A step-up in their portfolio is the 2011 Koyle Royale Carmenere ($25.99), a blend of 85% Carmenere, 9% Petite Verdot, and 6% Malbec. I enjoyed the Gran Reserva Carmenere, but this truly impressed, elevating all of the good qualities to a higher level. The enticing aroma presented violet notes and black fruits, and on the palate it was elegant, with silky tannins and a deep complexity of flavor. The harmonious flavors included lush black fruits, plenty of spiciness and a rich minerality. One of the best Carmeneres I have tasted in some time. Highly recommended. It is also recommended that you decant this wine at least 30 minutes before serving.

The 2010 Koyle Royale Cabernet Sauvignon ($25.99) is a blend of 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec, and 5% Petite Verdot, and an alcohol content of 14.5%. Again, this wine is similar to the Gran Reserva, though elevates the quality. It remains dark and brooding wine, but with more intense and complex flavors. It is also recommended that you decant this wine at least 30 minutes before serving.

The apex of the tasting was the 2010 Koyle Auma ($99.99) is a blend of 37% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Carmenere, 18% Malbec, 13% Syrah, and 7% Petite Verdot, with an alcohol content of 14.3%. "Alma" is the Spanish word for the "soul", and they substituted the letter "U" for the "L" to reflect their family name, Underruga. Thus, this wine is the soul of their family, of their new winery. It is the wine which has been Cristóbal's dream from the beginning. This is the second vintage of this wine and only 692 6-bottle wood cases were produced. The wine, using only grapes from their best vineyards, was fermented in separate lots, and then aged, also in separate lots for about 24 months in French oak, about 50% new. It is then blended together by gravity in a concrete egg tank, and then aged for an additional 9 months in the concrete. It is unfiltered and should be able to age well for at least ten years in the cellar.

The wine is an inky dark color with an enticing nose of black fruits with eucalyptus notes. On the palate, it is seductive and alluring, a silky liquid which tantalizes the mind with its complex and harmonious blend of flavors. It is a wine where description becomes inadequate, where the best understanding comes from experiencing it. It may remind you of a high-end Bordeaux, though even if not, you are going to be impressed with its quality and complexity. Slowly savor this wine over the course of an evening with a good friend. My highest recommendation.

Despite the time and effort required to run Viña Koyle, Cristóbal still seems to have some time to engage in other wine endeavors. For example, he is currently working on producing a wine in Southern France. In addition, he is part of a new producer in Argentina, Larrain, Lasmartres, Toso & Undurraga, located in the Uco Valley. This endeavor is the work of six partners, 3 from Chile and 3 from Arrgentina. They make single vineyard Malbecs, from Don Fernando Vineyards in La Consulta. It is an organic vineyard, at an altitude of about 3,000 feet, one which Cristóbal hopes might become Biodynamic one day.

I got to sample one of these wines, the 2009 LTU ($64.99), which is produced from 100% Malbec, has an alcohol content of 14.7%, and only 1,000 six-bottles cases were produced. With a dark purplish color, this is a very concentrated wine with tasty plum, blackberry and blueberry notes. There is a nice depth of flavor and a certain elegance. It is still young and though it is drinkable now, I would like to see how it develops over time.

Cristóbal's passion for wine is infectious, and he is producing an excellent range of wines, from Pinot Noir to Carmenere. Our stimulating conversation raised several important issues, from blending to Biodynamics. All of the wines paired very well with food, and they certainly were the type of wines you could satisfactorily drink a few glasses.

Seek out the wines of Viña Koyle and explore the wonders of Chilean wine.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Origins of Ceviche, Tempura and Fish & Chips

Consider some of the most popular seafood dishes from all around the world, such as Ceviche from Peru, Shrimp Tempura from Japan and Fish & Chips from Britain. You probably wouldn't suspect that they actually had a common origin, in a 1500 year-old Persian meat stew.

As I mentioned recently, I've been immersed in a fascinating new book, The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky. The book explains and expounds upon various food-related words, as well as examining the role of words in everything from menus to restaurant reviews. It is part history and science, psychology and etymology. If you love food, it is an excellent read, one which will intrigue and interest you, as well as make you think of food in different ways. I highly recommend this book and I'm back discussing issues raised in the book.

In one of the chapters, From Sikbaj to Fish and Chips, Jurafsky explores the origins of several popular seafood dishes, and that history extends back to 6th century Persia. At that time, Khosrau I Anushirvan, the Shahanshah (“ the king of kings”) of the Sassanid Persian empire, loved a meat stew known as sikbaj. Sikbaj, which derives from the Persian word sik which means "vinegar,"  is basically a dish of sweet & sour stewed beef.  The exact recipe for sikbaj differed from cook to cook, though the common denominator was that the stew was flavored by herbs and preserved with lots of vinegar. Along with beef, chicken and lamb weee sometimes added, but seafood wasn't a component.

The Sassanid empire eventually fell and by 750, the Islamic Abbasid caliphate was established in the former Persian areas of Mesopotamia.  The Abbasids hired Persian chefs and they too embraced sikbaj and there is even a recipe for it in the oldest surviving Arabic cookbook. This dish spread across the Islamic world, and it is thought sailors helped to spread its popularity.

In addition, it is believed that sailors, by the 10th century, were the first to alter the recipe, and starting making sikbaj with seafood. Seafood was more readily available to the sailors and they learned to adapt dishes so they could use what they possessed. Sikbaj continued to spread west, to the Mediterranean and Europe, where the dish was altered a bit once again, but those regions also generally embraced seafood as its main ingredient.

Seafood, used to make sikbah, became popular because the dishes were being created in port cities, where fishing was a significant industry. In addition, because many of these European countries were Christian, seafood was important because of all the religious holidays which prohibited the consumption of meat. The biggest change in sikbaj was that sometimes they used fried fish rather than raw, and the dishes were generally eaten cold. Vinegar remained an important component, helping to preserve their food.

During the 16th century, when the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro and his soldiers invaded Peru, they brought numerous foods with them, such as onions and citrus fruits, as well as their own version of sikbaj, known as escabeche.. The indigenous Moche already made a raw fish dish with chile, but over time, this dish would be influenced by the Spanish, with the addition of citrus and onions, leading to the creation of ceviche. Ceviche remains a very popular dish today, and its basics haven't really changed in hundreds of years, though some chefs continue to experiment with variations.

On another continent, a similar activity was taking place, the spread of an Iberian dish which was embraced by a different culture. The Portuguese, who traveled to Japan as missionaries and traders, brought their own version of sikbaj, called pescado frito, a fried fish, to Japan. Japan was already a huge consumer of seafood and they embraced this new method of preparation, which became known to them as tempura. Tempura has become so entwined with Japan that many don't realize its origins lay in Portugal, and actually even further back to Persia.

Both Portugal and Spain believed Jews were causing problems in their countries so they expelled them, and the Jews needed to resettle elsewhere. They brought variations of sikbaj with them, including when some settled in Britain. The Jews seemed to prefer the fried fish dishes, with vinegar, and they soon became popular in Britain as well. During the mid-19th century, fried potatoes started to appear in London, and Jews started pairing fried fish and chips, though making the fish warm rather than cold. They caught on so that fish & chips is considered a basic British dish.

All of this history is illustrative of not only the popularity of seafood, but how travel, exploration and trade have spread recipes and dishes across the world. Those recipes and dishes have underwent change during their travels, sometimes until their origins are no longer known by the average consumer. With the greater connectivity of our world now,hopefully more ideas about seafood can spread more quickly across the globe.

Maybe we can embrace sustainable seafood which may be eaten in Asia but which is rarely eaten in the U.S. Maybe we can share recipes for lesser known seafood which will entice more people to consume those fish. Learning the lessons of the past can pave a path to the future.

"I’d like to think that the lesson here is that we are all immigrants, that no culture is an island, that beauty is created at the confusing and painful boundaries between cultures and peoples and religions. I guess we can only look forward to the day when the battles we fight are about nothing more significant than where to go for ceviche."
--Dan Jurafsky