Difficult Wine Pairing Foods


White Asparagus salad with Salmon Gravlax from Topping Rose House April 20, 2016

Just saw this article from the NY Times about recipes for Asparagus and thought of the issues some foods create for pairing with wine. Asparagus is notorious for such. The asparagusic acidity in the vegetable is what creates that problem in pairing. This acidity along with the intensity of chlorophyl can make wines taste metallic and astringent. Wine is full of it’s own types of acidity and these can either pair or clash with certain styles of cuisine. Shellfish and Cabernet Sauvignon is notorious as is almost any wine with artichokes.

I happen to love asparagus and almost always drink a glass of wine with dinner, so creating a manner to make that paring more acceptable was a priority. One of the times that I was forced to consider how to pair asparagus and wine was for a wine dinner I did with Freemark Abbey when my friend Joseph Carr was working with them.

The key to creating a great pairing is balancing out the flavors and as acidity is one of the most prevalent flavor components in both wine and food, that is where to focus the efforts. Oak and alcohol can be stumbling blocks, so careful with wines heavy in those two areas. If you need to drink a wine with higher alcohol or heavy in oak or both then the dish must be adjusted somehow to allow such a pairing. How I did this with Freemark Abbey Chardonnay and Asparagus was to grill the vegetable after drizzling with olive oil, then dress with diced grilled pancetta and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. All of these little tweaks balance the acidic flavors of Asparagus so wine won’t clash. The same technique and theories can be applied to any food that has problems with high acidity and pairing with wine.

Artichokes, Chocolate, Hummus, Mexican Cuisine, Salad Dressing, Tomatoes and Blue Cheese are some of the tougher pairings. Some you adjust the dish or cooking process others, you make interesting wine selections and others you look to the country or region that the cuisine comes from and pair how the locals do.

The Hated One

I stole that name from a New York Rangers Hockey Blog, it was the nickname of JT Miller, a young player that the coach always benched for little mistakes. All the while letting other players make massive mistakes and continue playing plenty of minutes.

After being in the wine business for many years, I have discovered that I am indeed the Hated One when it comes to wine sales people. Apparently when I work hard to find great wines that fit one of my clients needs, tastes very good for the category and makes the client money, I am an asshole. Due to being a consultant, I take my responsibilities seriously in finding the right wine with the right profitability and the right competitive pricing. This means that that if the wine fits my clients needs and current budget, I will buy it. If the wine fits a sales organizations goals and needs and not mine… sorry. I work for the restaurant or retail store that pays me. Though some days the wine industry feels like what it might have been like just before and after Prohibition ended, it is not the proper way and is not good for the consumer. But there are laws in the wine industry prohibiting graft and payola. In New York, the State Liquor Authority oversees the industry an gives fines, suspends licenses ect. for violations. But some of the biggest Wine & Spirit Companies have teams of attorney’s with contacts or history with the legislators sooo….

So my view on graft and payola is that it hurts the consumer. If a company is giving cash for placements on shelves or bar or wine lists, this money is not reflected in the price of the product for the consumer. The consumer is getting an inferior product for the price of something that should be better due to the costs. As a former restaurant owner, I worry about the consumer… why? Because if they are not satisfied they go somewhere else and the restaurant or store looses business. Wine drinkers like restaurants and stores that give them value and knowledgeable guidance.

Wine has become very competitive and some companies use payola and graft to get an edge.

So due to my concern for my customers (clients) and their customers (diners & retail consumers), I am hated by many sales people. But some sales professionals understand, they taste me on things that I want. If some of those wines meet my needs and standards… done. If a sales professional need a sale of something to satisfy a supplier, company executive or manager, ask me. If I can help, I will.

Re-Post of old Cork issue article


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Bit about corked wines…

I just read the blog post on Michael Bravermann’s site Hamptons Rich & Pour about a dinner I attended last night. No need for me to re-address the evening as he has covered it nicely. But I would like to address the Dessert wine from the dinner and it’s problem.

The said wine is a little Tannat from Vinedo de los Vientos in Urguay. The wine is a late harvest Tannat called Alcyone. I immediately noted that the first wine was corked and whispered this to Kelly, the Sommelier (as I am the consulting Wine Director, I wanted the corkiness to be discovered by someone else). The wine was quickly dismissed by most at the table as crap (before it was announced un-fit). Then Louisa Hargrave smelled the wine and publicly noted it as corked. Kelly got a second wine and poured that around, I noted a nuance that bothered me so I thought it might be the glassware and rinsed my glass. The wine was not as obviously corked but still not right and with a hint of a ‘corked’ note. After that wine was dismissed as well we gave up.
After everyone dispersed, Kelly and I tasted a third bottle that had been opened and was being used for a by-the-glass pour. The wine was spot on, perfect. It was the type of wine that I can just smell and be satisfied. Notes of mocha, chocolate and fresh raspberries, once I did taste the wine all the acidity and balance that was lacking in the other wines was there in spades adn it was obvious that the wine would be perfect to pair with the dessert of Toffee Date Cake with Maple Walnut Ice Cream.
Unfortunately for the little dessert Tannat, Kelly and I conferred and decided to replace the wine for the James Beard Dinner with Patrick Bottex La Cueille Bugey Cerdon Rosé, a sparkling wine from the Bugey area near the Savoie area south of Geneva. The wine is a blend of Gamay and Poulsard (local grape of the area).
So now a bit on the concept of a so-called corked wine. I may eventually make this a separate posting but for now:
Chlorine is used to sanitize many things in our world and it is used in solution to sanitize cork for use in food products. So here we go with a bunch of chemistry…
Chlorine reacts with phenols ( a natural component of oak bark to produce 2,4,6 trichlorophenol (or TCP). TCP is then metabolized by molds growing on the bark to produce 2,4,6, tricholoranisole, aka TCA. It is kind of odd that the Chlorine and resulting TCP was introduced to kill the molds in cork for use in preserving wine and those molds help to create the evil TCA or the ‘cork’ in a so-called corked wine.
There are also Pentachlorophenols found in insecticides and wood preservatives that metabolized by mold to the dreaded TCA. Wood preservatives are sprayed on oak trees, wood palates, wood ships and construction wood. This has gotten some wineries in trouble infecting their entire winery with TCA and creating a situation that requires some severe solutions.
If you need to understand what a ‘corked’ wine tastes like, take a piece of cardboard and soak it in a glass of water for awhile…or consider the smell of a damp old cellar.
The major problem with TCA beyond the nasty smell is when that smell is not noticed…either by someone that doesn’t understand this issue in wine or someone with a relatively low threshold for that smell, is that a low amount of TCA contamination will hide a wines aromas and cause the wine to taste dull. It has been studied and researched and scientists have found that as little as 1ppm (part per million) of TCA will cause a wine to ‘loose’ its fruit and character. Yet many people only notice the ‘corked’/TCA smell down to 7ppm! So there is plenty of room for error. What this means is that a lovely wine can taste very boring and dull without tasting corked and therefore this is bad for the producer, sommelier, wine store merchant or anyone else in the chain of that wines trip to being consumed.
The ppm thresholds of TCA seem to be a moving target, I will be doing more research on this in the near future.
Here are a few links about the issue that I have found useful, but as I said, TCA thresholds seem to be a moving target.

What Goes Around Comes Around

When I first joined the “tribe” of street wine peddlers, one of the first places I called on was a little store in Southampton, NY that had just been bought by a new owner. Judy and Charlie were new to the business and I knew how the liquor and wine sales teams would pounce, selling them cases of stuff like Campari or other such that a store would only need a bottle or two of.  You know, someone trying to fill a quota in a simple, one shot way.

As I was working for a small wine company (American Estates, small division of Lauber Imports) and was a former wine buyer for restaurants, I offered a touch of guidance on things that might wait on their purchasing and what products might be priorities. That tiny bit of guidance turned into a twenty year friendship that includes my family visiting them at their winter hiatus spot in Lake Tahoe and skiing together. Charlie is the greatest Senior Skier I have ever skied with, he and I have had some wonderful days struggling through the steeps and deeps with my son in tow.

Given their gracious hosting of us and participation in our skiing adventures, my wife and I would always put together a collection of wines to bring from our cellar to enjoy with them. Always we’d bring more than needed and leave the rest. The bounty always included things my wife and I thought were special from Burgundy, Bordeaux to Napa, Sonoma, Willamette and Santa Barbara. Things like 1978 Beychevelle, 1986 Lynch-Bages 1992 Staglin, 1995 Clos de la Roche from Dujac, Foxen Pinot Noir, Forman Cabernet Sauvignon and others. Judy and Charlie always complained about the largesse of it but what a great time. We’d cook and drink after a long day of skiing or take some wines to a local restaurant and pay the corkage.

Soooo… on to last nights wine adventure. We were asked to join them for dinner at their house near Sag Harbor, NY. My wife was told the menu would include braised lamb, so we wanted to bring something nice with us. I chose a 1998 Fanti Brunello di Montalcino and a Luna Vineyards Canto (a sangiovese blend from Napa Valley). Things we thought would be a nice compliment to braised lamb. When we arrived they greeted us at the door we explained our wines, then Judy carefully put a white bottle box in my hands and asked that I (again carefully) look inside. What I found was this:

A tattered labeled bottle of 1945 Leoville Las Cases. The bottle was in the store when Judy and Charlie took over and at the time they thought this and the Petrus (which became a donation) and others of the ilk were over-priced in the purchase and inventory of their deal for the store (1994 ish). Those in the industry understand what has happened to such wine values since!

The bottle stayed in a dark corner of the stores basement wine storage since they took over and likely was there many years before. Judy checked the provenance at some point in the past and it passed her litmus test. The only reason she didn’t use it for a donation to a worthy cause (hospital benefit or the like) was due to the rather rough look of the label.

Surprising for me was the way the cork came out of this 67 year-old wine. I was worried, because I didn’t have an ah-so corkscrew (can it be a corkscrew if it doesn’t screw). But with a double hinged corkscrew I was able to remove 98% of the cork before a tiny piece refused to follow along.

I was able to get that little tiny piece out without it dropping in the bottle, yep I still got it Fred😉
Naturally with such an old wine, you just never know if it’s hosed. So with a some trepidation I sniffed at the bottles opening. The wine seemed to be in decent if not a touch tired shape. I decided we shouldn’t wait too long to taste it as I wasn’t certain how long the wine would be in such shape once opened. I kept the bottle horizontal the whole time so that the sediments weren’t disturbed (Fred) and poured out glasses for each of us. There was a hint of mature Bordeaux mingling with a hint of spice and madeira, it was that hint of madeira that worried me about the staying power of this elderly girl. But I was totally wrong, five minutes later all of us found the wine evolving and changing in the glass and the wine still had some grippy tannins. And this just continued… the wine kept evolving a bit every few minutes, and then about an hour later it was gone and I had to open that bottle of Fanti ’98. Charlie commented on the incredible youth of the fourteen year old Brunello, and while it was still fairly youthful, our palates might have been a touch influenced by the previous elder citizen.
But… the Brunello was indeed a fine match with the lamb… it was just up against it with a perfectly aged world-class Saint-Julien so naturally we’d think it was young. And after looking at the ratings from Spectator 89, I think we got an exceptional wine in the 67 year old Leoville Las Cases. Parker didn’t rate it and Clive (my favorite wine writer) gave the wine an excellent written review in his Grand Cru book.

Wine @ The Maidstone East Hampton

The Living Room

5 Course Wine Dinner & Cellar Tasting March 8th 2013

These events were started last year and patrons have been asking for their return. Instead of the same-old Wine Dinner which have become quite “done”, I have opted for a tasting seminar that I lead in our historic wine cellar. We taste a group of six wines that I give background on the wines, locations, grapes and any producer specific information and this is paired with hors d’oeuvres.

Cellar Tasting 2

After this 30-45 minute tasting, the guest are seated for a pre-fixe tasting menu that they can choose which wines they would like to pair with each course. With the help of our Sommelier, Henri Santarem of course.

The Wines:

2010 Chablis “Fourchaume” 1er Cru, Domaine Jolly et Fils

2009 Chardonnay “Hanzell Vineyard” Zepaltas, Sonoma Valley

2002 Clos-Saint-Denis Grand Cru, Guy Castagnier, Côte de Nuits

2008 Pinot Noir “La Neblina”, Radio-Coteau, Sonoma Coast

2009 Reserve Red, Beau Pere, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley

2007 Château Cordeillan-Bages, Pauillac, Bordeaux

Cellar Tasting 1

The Food:

First Course: Juniper cured gravlax with citronette & herb chiffonade

Second Course: Veal carpaccio on lemon marinated artichokes, truffle aioli and caperberries

Third Course: Cardamom blackened codfish filet, lardons and a creamy shallot puree

Fourth Course: Boeuf ourguignon with rosemary dusted potato puree

Fifth Course: Tarte Tatin

Call the restaurant for more information at 631.324.5006

Mendoza Regions

I am trying to get a firm definition of the regions and sub-regions of Mendoza, hopefully these can be defined by one of the wine authorities of Mendoza & Argentina. Laura Catena perhaps? But really any informed help will be much appreciated and duly noted.

I’ve broken the larger areas into North, Region Central, Region Est, Region Sud and Valle  de Uco and then… the subs from there which are sometimes official communes and other times the area surrounding a city.

Here I’ve put Agrelo, Las Compuertas, Perdriel and Vistalba under Luján de Cuyo and Coquimbito, Cruz de Piedra and Lunlunta under Maipú.

I believe that La Consulta is in San Carlos, Vista Flores in Tunyán and El Peral in Tupungato. But confirmation is needed.

I’d like this to be confirmed along with the rest of the regions so I can have them listed in this platform with fun quiz questions and a little gaming experience to understand wine regions and travel to wine regions:

Terroir = scary, very scary

Terroir has been a controversial subject for wino’s as long as I can remember and likely for more than a century, possibly several. I don’t think the subject should be controversial, but like all complex theories and concepts, terroir needs to be explained in a simple manner. I find the best way to do this is comparing the concepts of terroir in terms of items that the newest of wine drinkers can understand.

A couple of weeks ago Steve Heimoff reposted a controversial comment by a reader about the subject and it’s purity in Europe versus it being a marketing ploy in the “new world”. That was after an original post by Steve that also featured that nasty word terroir. Tom Wark also published a post about the controversy of Terroir which doesn’t seem to have gotten as much intense debate as Steve’s. I wonder if that is a function of the difference in the size and type of their blog audiences or the difference in the tone of the posts.

The term terroir is just awkward, it doesn’t have a clean and exact translation and therefore is interpreted in many different ways. Yet it is important, the concept keeps wine from becoming a commodity like milk or coca-cola. Coke or Pepsi, Cab or Merlot. My guess is that 80% of the wine drinkers in the US who order a wine by the glass, order by grape without much regard as to where that Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio comes from.

I’d rather leave the term Terroir to wine geeks and think about wine like we do people. When I look at a glass or bottle of wine, I try to remember to ask it: who are you and where are you from. If I can’t get straight answers then I question the wines value. I give more value the more answers a wine gives me. Does it taste good, does it taste like the grape or style it claims to be, does it taste like it comes from somewhere in particular (not some wine factory), does tell me I won’t be  disappointed when I find forgotten bottles lurking in my cellar years after I first taste and buy the wine and will it go with the types of cuisine that I enjoy (and eat regularly). I am not taking a shot at ‘wine factories’, they are important for introducing people to wine and varietal wines and when all the other stuff just doesn’t matter (like when I’ve had too many glasses and my palate is impaired or when finances are tight). But I don’t want to pay more than a certain amount for a wine that is (only) tasty and does indeed taste like a Cabernet or Chardonnay or whatever it says on the label. If I pay more I want more answers.

Wine ought to say something of importance to me, not just get me drunk. But I think Randall Grahm really says it succinctly with this quote I found on Vinography:

“The only wines that matter are the wines of place. Everything else is dispensable and not necessary,”…

“But wines of place enrich the world. They make our world more interesting….”

Obviously from what I’ve written, I don’t agree that everything else is not necessary. There is a place for simple Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. I just don’t want to pay too much for such. I gladly poured a Fred Franzia Pinot Noir by the glass at The Maidstone in East Hampton this summer because it tasted like a decent Sonoma Pinot Noir (and was priced right). Granted I would have pinned it as a cheap Carneros Pinot even though it was labelled as Russian River. But as both Tom and Steve have mentioned most wine consumer’s palates aren’t refined enough to tell the difference between Pinot Noir from those two neighbors.

From VineClub.org

As for the comment that started the debate on Steve Heimoff’s site that terroir only is relevent in ‘Old World’ wines and that Californian wines don’t offer expressions of terroir, I disagree entirely. If terroir isn’t relevent in California then why were the Chardonnay vines of Château Woltner on Howell Mountain grafted over to Cabernet Sauvignon? Isn’t that a pure example of terroir (& mother nature) telling a very famous wine family that they made a mistake? And that is only one example of terroir telling humans to plant something else.

Your Best Merlot?

Once again a current wine story has brought back memories of the heady days of the late ’90s. My fellow Sommelier @the21club is still at it plugging away flogging wines and sometimes petulant customers who need the occasionally flog. Phil Pratt was just mentioned in an article about 1982 Château Petrus, that great Merlot from Pomerol.

This reminded me of a few of wine stories I experienced while at the ’21’ Club. Hopefully I can remember them all and post them here for entertainment. But this particular story involves Merlot and Petrus. Keep in mind that the price of Petrus and others were closer to just expensive wines at the time and had not reached insane as they have since.

Back then, I was the Sommelier for the private dining rooms at the place and that included the Cellar along with ten rooms above the main a la carte dining room. During those days there were events that required a Sommelier almost every day of the week (except Sundays, when the place is closed). During the grueling holiday season, it was almost 24/7 for the staff. From the week of Thanksgiving till New Years Eve every dining room was booked for dinner and almost all for lunch and even sometimes in-between. The premium room is the Wine Cellar, which seats between 12 and 22 people. The cost of booking that room is $450 (might have been $400 when I was there) per person with a minimum of 12 guests. This came with five courses paired with five wines chosen by the Sommelier (me). During those heady days of stock market boom, there were many occasions when the host asked to confer with me on the wine selection. When that request happened, I would always assume that meant going beyond the defined wine budget that fit in to the $400 cost structure. Lunch was closer to $200 for fewer dishes and wines as I remember it.

About a week in advance of one such Wine Cellar lunch I got a message to call the host and discuss the wine choices. His main concern was that I served the best Merlot that was available, naturally he meant Californian as I am not sure he was even aware that certain Bordeaux were also Merlot. Anyhow, I believe we settled on the most expensive on the list, a Pahlmeyer. It was most likely the 1997 vintage and it was on the list for less than $150 a bottle at the time. My dusty recollection is $125 or so.

As I was preparing all the dining rooms for that days lunch service, I got a summons to the cellar to talk with the host about the selections. I walked him through the wine selections again and showed him the wines set up for service, he was thrilled. Yet he wanted to confirm that the Pahlmeyer was indeed the finest Merlot currently available at The ’21’ Club.

“Well” I replied, “yes, if you want something from California…” and I nonchalantly waved at a stack of cases in the corner of the cellar. This small gesture started a conversation about other places in which Merlot was produced at a top level. He was intrigued with the cases of 1978 Petrus and the story behind the wine, but stuck with his Pahlmeyer for the lunch. He did show enough interest that I asked my Cellar Assistant to “beep me” if you think I need to talk wine with him again. (yes the old era of beepers…well isn’t wine just another drug anyhow)

Alas when I saw the beeper number was from the cellar I called Jason and confirmed that the host wanted a bit more information about the 1978 Petrus. I sprinted down the three flights of stairs and arrived to see Jason grinning at the entrance to the cellar dining room. When I approached the host, his first question was, “would it be alright if I bought a bottle of the Petrus for the table.”

“um well, we actually have a policy that we sell the 1978 Petrus and 1978 Cheval Blanc as a pair.” was my reply.

After his surprised and disappointing sounding “really”, I relented and told him I was just kidding. For the rest of the lunch I stayed close to the cellar dining area and pretty much ignored the rest of my dining rooms. This was fun, and wasn’t hurting the restaurants or staffs revenues. After the Petrus was poured and drunk, he had to taste that Cheval Blanc, which then turned into another Petrus. So a bit of education and fun turned a six or so bottles of Pahlmeyer Merlot plus four extra bottles of very expensive Bordeaux. Cheap by todays standards but in 1999, $1800 for Chateau Cheval Blanc and $2200 for Petrus was quite a serious amount to add to an already fairly large wine bill.

But that event pales in comparison to some of the dinners that happened during my time there.