Sunday, September 2, 2012
Monday, April 2, 2012
...it sounds like the stage name of a frowsy screen-starlet appearing in low-budget S&M movies. And oh, what we folks in the world of fine wine wouldn’t give if only that were the case, and this critter—also known as Daktulosphaira vitifoliae—were really a cinema-performer of indifferent talent. Phylloxera is a little beastie of the insect persuasion, a louse—and a lousy one at that. Phylloxera is in the most deadly enemy of the fine-wine grape-vine. In fact, the only food of this worldwide menace is the fine-wine grape-vine, vitis vinifera. This little pestiferous insect, greenish-yellow of hue and silent of cry, nourishes itself by sucking fluid out of the vine. And as it sucks, it injects the plant with its poisonous saliva, which results in formation of small galls on the leaves, along with nodules on the roots. The resultant swelling inhibits growth in the infested sections of rootlet, and the portion eventually dies. This, coupled with secondary damage from fungus and other insects, results in the eventual decay of the plant. The adults are quite tiny, about .04 inch long and half as wide, and thus very difficult to detect. Phylloxera has got a rather complex life-cycle: some lice feed on the roots of vines, while other lice munch in a most licentious fashion on the foliage, providing a one-two punch that is easily capable of putting fine wine production down and out.
They’re quite prolific: each female lays 400 eggs per sitting, often reproducing asexually when there’s no male available. The nymph spends the winter on the vine, awakening with warm weather and commencing to feed. They spread either by being blown around by the wind, or by crawling on their own in search of new fodder once an infested vine dies—on occasion the female lays eggs that produce offspring of both sexes, who do mate. It makes one wonder, if there is indeed anything Intelligent about the Design of things, why Nature would provide such a destructive pest with so many means of propagation and survival...
What can be done to combat the spread of phylloxera? Sandy and wet soils offer vitis vinifera a certain degree of protection from the pest, but humidity presents good grape growing with other challenges. One solution is found in the vine-nursery. Even though our American vines vitis riparia and vitis berlandiera do not produce distinguished or even satisfying wines, they possess a native resistance to the depredations of the plant louse. The trick was developed some hundred and few years ago of grafting buds from vitis vinifera vines onto rootstocks of these aforementioned hardy midwesterners.
And no matter what one’s opinion of the French as a nation might be, one surely knows that they’ve had their gallic pride sorely wounded twice in the twentieth century, when it required armed intervention on the part of the United States to save their butts from the Germans. But an even crueler joke on them guys over there is the fact that nearly all of their celebrated grape-vines in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are in fact grafted on to vine-roots whose roots (as it were) are in Ohio.
It has become by now a moot point whether the pre-phylloxera wines of Bordeaux (by which we mean those from the 1860s and earlier) were greater and more profound than those made afterward, but once upon a time there was lively debate about whether or not Bordeaux had ever entirely recovered its former glory.
In the 1860s the insect was indentified who had just begun laying waste to the vines of Bordeaux and the Rhône. It had arrived on vines brought from the eastern United States for experimental purposes. From there, it spread out indiscriminately over the European continent, munching on every vinifera rootstock it could grasp with its greedy little mandibles along the way. By the end of the nineteenth century, it had destroyed two out of every three vineyards in Europe. And for an encore, it marched westward across the Rocky Mountains, and devastated the nascent Californian viticulture in the 1880s.
Imagine the level of panic. Some positive developments resulted, like when Bordeaux’s wine-expertise moved south to Rioja in search of resistant vineyards and created a Spanish still-wine industry, the fruits of whose labor we this day savor... But the European wine industry took up until the nineteen-twenties to come close to catching up.
And more recently in the closing years of the 20th Century, the curse came home to roost once more, when it began tearing a new path through the vines of California. Rootstocks which were developed in the 1960s and 70s to combat other problems turned out to be less resistant to the bug, and have recently been replaced at colossal expense—another factor which has contributed to price increases for the fine wines of Napa and Sonoma.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Monday, February 13, 2012
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
—when I was a windy boy and a bit...
that’s the start of a famous poem by Dylan Thomas, but having been myself at one point a windy boy, I am reminded in reading this of a time in my career when I set about to learn all that I might about matters of interest spread out far and wide—
which led the spread of course to include food and wine.
I remember the first time I made a terrific mess of a match. I was just learning my way around the vineyards of France, and learning the intricate routes and branches of my own gradschool kitchen.
one night I had favorite nonhorizontal girlfriend Jane-Emily over for dinner in my digs in Boston. I had recently learned about ginger, which to this day is one of the signature elements that sails forth from my wok or sauté pan (often with a bit of garlic on its breath)...
and I was learning about what goes with ginger; one of these things is honey. And I hadn’t become as shy of commercial chicken at that point as I am now, so was quite pleased to concoct a concoction of chicken breasts with ginger and limejuice and honey, and not much else except rice and lima beans, steamed both.
I had also just discovered Sauvignon Blanc. And along with this came the realization that the best SBs come from lands laid out along a little lazy waterway called the Loire... in a far-off winegrowing region, name of France.
and so I served a really nice bottle of Pouilly-Fumé from Baron de Ladoucette—
alongside the dish that would coldbloodedly murder it.
imagine the smoky and tart, bracing character of the sauvignon being turned to bitter and angry—the ginger was not at fault, but rather the bee-product and the lime. Ouch! One too sweet, the other too tart... caught in the pincers’s grippington...
My dinner guest was gracious and patient with me; the friendship survived, and I am proud to say that I have never had such a hazardously wasted wine experience since then—although my career of trial and error still involves much error.
but... here are a few fine matches, from the wine lists and menus of some of NYC's most distinctive restaurants:
I've been going here since shortly after they opened, returning to the scene of several crimes, frinstance the place where I first had really fine Grüner Veltliner in the USA—Nigl Kremser Freiheit paired with crab and uni... But at the moment we're deep into the winter tasting menu, and nothing presents so signature a pairing as Blaufränkisch with their Roasted Loin of Venison served with Chestnuts, Beets and Pear. Wine director Juliette Pope has cut a good swath through our supply of the Moric Blaufränkish Reserve 2007. Just a little off-center for Moric; grower Roland Velich had to add a few barrels to his cellar on this occasion, so there's an atypical hint of new wood along with the black cherry and redcurrant fruit-tones. A classical case of deer in the highlights.
The thing I love best about Craft is that many of the dishes seem so simple that you could almost do it at home... But of course you can't; the actual preparations are deeply involved. My favorite is the Short Ribs of Beef with Root Vegetables, and the typical sides I typically order are Polenta and the Brussels Sprouts (cooked Bavarian style with bacon). Goodness knows what time those short ribs had to get up in the morning to make their date with the pressure-cooker... Running matured Barbaresco a close race for “nothing better” alongside this textural extravaganza is the St Laurent Zagersdorf 2007 from Rosi Schuster. This is like pinot noir's kinky cousin tuned up to an exhilarating level, the limestony soils accenting earthy underpinnings to the wild cherry and cassis tones of the wine, kicks the beef in the ribs and makes the flavors giddyup and go...
...oh my favorite by far among the fare is Wolfgang's Pochiertes Ei, a magickal marriage of maitake mushrooms, lobster, the poached egg in the title and last week's pumpernickel bread. With one tender and slender strand of cilantro, which arrives at different points of the proceeding on each separate occasion... One of the most demanding dishes to match, however—I’ve had it shrug off white Burgundies, and remain indifferent to Grüner Veltliner, and even turn its back on Riesling Sekt. The answer? Pinot Noir! And that's maybe because of the mushrooms... I've had a Bourgogne Passetoutgrains do quite well, and my friend Lingenfelder’s most excellent Ganymed, a Spätburgunder from the Pfalz, is fine, but the wine that takes the prize is the Stift Goettweig Messwein Pinot Noir Rosé 2009; long on pinot and pure pleasure, short on tannin, just manages to add a spot of refreshment that the darker pinots don't master.
Trestle on Tenth
Owner/Chef/Wine Director Ralf Kuettel has successfully synthesized Modern American with his Swiss roots—and one of the things that the Europeans do quite well is steak tartare. Ralf’s comes as an appetizer with toasts—although I tend to order it as a lunchtime entree hold the toasts, with a big bowl of fries. And what do I drink with it? It's a very traditional style, generous with the Worcestershire sauce, and I learned long ago from an unknown sommelier in a foreign language (it was in a brasserie in Orléans, actually, not in the wine country, and he made me drink a pinot gris from Alsace) that one drinks a white wine with tartare. Why? because it's not the meat, it's the lotion... the flavors of the condiments, aforementioned English sauce plus mustard and shallots and capers and Wachtelei, will do violence to most any red wine. And there's nothing that goes along with such a riot of spicy stuff as Grüner Veltliner does. Joseph Högl Ried Schön Federspiel has held pride of place as the choice for quite some time now. Just turning the corner between the apricot orchard and the pineapple patch, Schön means beautiful and the wine knows it.
The Red Cat
And across the avenue from Trestle, there is a bastion of American comfort food, raised to an exalted level—Jimmy Bradley’s Red Cat. One need go no further than my favorite nibble to become acquainted with the level of imagination at work here: tempura’d green beans. Simple and memorable, teasing and enticing. And what do we drink with them? Well, we drink Grüner Veltliner here, as well, although not quite as refined as on the other side of 10th... here’s the Elite Liter—Ebner- Ebenauer Grüner Veltliner from the Weinviertel town of Poysdorf. There's a delightful kitchen-garden aspect to the lighter and brighter GVs, wines that tend to favor the citric side rather than the tropical, and this delightful libation from Marion and Manfred most handily measures the mustard, then takes the bean by the string and teaches it to sing.