Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The DC 8+1

The DC8, it's our secret society whose rites and rituals are devoted to the pursuit of the perfect pairing; innovative food combined with artisanal wine and spirits, and not to mention mostly silly and sometimes engaging conversation. The members remain nameless so as not to suffer any negative consequences for acknowledging their membership or to jeopardize their reputations as serious wine professionals and enthusiasts.

February's meeting added a new addition (+1) to the group, we'll call her Lavern to keep her identity hidden, who flew solo as her partner was unavailable that night. Little did she know, Lavern's continued membership was tenuous as she missed the first meeting, an inexcusable act according to the unwritten rules. But even after arriving late, she has given the nod of approval with her efforts for the "all food must be yellow" theme.

Having been assigned the cocktail and an amuse bouche, Lavern and her absent partner created an electric yellow cocktail offering a refreshing eye opener to Mardi Gras weary participants with the combination of Galiano, Gin, lemon juice and simple syrup garnished with fresh lemon slice. The amuse, a Parmesan frico of roasted fennel, crab meat, yellow heirloom tomatoes and yellow bell pepper was gone in seconds, which is why there is no photo, and was paired beautifully with the cocktail.

The cold started course, Oysters Yellow Two Ways, was an unexpected delight of freshly shucked oysters, one topped with a yellow heirloom tomato cocktail sauce and the other with a yellow pepper salsa drizzled in raspberry champagne vinegar minuet served with a fresh slice of blood orange. Accompanied by what we call, in very technical industry lingo, the "crazy wine" by Abe Schoener, whose wines are known for pushing the envelope. The Scholium Project Prince in His Caves, is an enigma in itself. An unfiltered, skin fermented Sauvignon Blanc that is aged in new oak fills your glass with a cloudy yellow, viscous juice that looks more like a Belgian beer than wine. It opens with aromas of pink grapefruit juice, but as it hits your palate there are complex notes of honey, minerals and spice with a dry and "tannin-like" astringency at the back end and a finish that never ends. A true wine geeks wine, it was my favorite white of the evening and a close tie for best wine of the night!

The warm starter by couple #3, was Spiced Crab and Corn Bisque with a blend of fresh jalapeno and red bell peppers, and garnished with lime and yellow tortilla chips. A beautifully creamy yellow color with a rich texture and the perfect spicy finish, this soup worked very well with both wines provided. A Chardonnay and Semillion blend, Betsy's Backacher Blonde from Spann Vineyards offered enough weight and fruit to balance out the cream and spice, while the acid and saline backbone of the Martin Codax Albarino was a great compliment as well.

Our hosts provided the entree, a Braised Short Rib Ravioli Au Jus topped with Wilted Rainbow Chard, which although the saffron did not add enough yellow color to the pasta, was my favorite dish of the evening. Big meat filled ravioli swimming in the light beef broth, when washed down with the amazing 2004 Sette Ponti Crognolo from Tuscany, melted in your mouth finishing with the crunchy texture of the wilted chard. The wine was my favorite, a refined, stylish blend of Sangiovese and Merlot that combines lush, concentrated fruit with a palate of ripe wild cherries, black fruit, leather and vanilla with silky tannins. Delizioso!

We were assigned the dessert and wanted to stay away from the usual yellow suspects of lemon or banana, so we decided on Pina Colada Panna Cotta, a coconut milk panna cotta swimming in a puree of roasted pineapple, topped with toasted coconut and a dollop of creme fraiche. To complete the Pina Colada theme, we served with a aged Caribbean rum in our hosts' elegant cordial glasses. I was happy with the outcome, and the clean plates, empty bottle of rum and looks of contentment made it the perfect finish to a perfect evening. We are having way to much fun with this!!

We decided that Lavern is a keeper, as she created awesome yellow dishes and was able to demonstrate the secret handshake with one attempt. However the next theme may present a challenge to the new comer as "Classic Rock" is on the books for the DC 9 March meeting!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Exciting Mount Etna, Sicilia at It's Best

One of the great things about the wine industry is that there is always something new and exciting to be discovered. It may be an ancient grape varietal brought back from extinction, a little known region that enters the spotlight or an up and coming, passionate wine maker who gets recognized for creating extraordinary wines. The most recent example of this for me came about in the research I've been doing for our wine and culinary trip to Sicily coming up this fall. The little known Mount Etna region has it all, a history of winemaking that dates back to the 5th century BC, ancient grape varietals grown in difficult volcanic soils, and some of the most exciting producers I've come across in a long time.

For most Italian wine drinkers, Sicily is associated with the Nero D'Avola grape which is characteristic of deep, dark wines that are, big and rich in blueberry and blackberry fruits with a touch of smoke and spice. Producers such as Donnafugata, Planeta, Morgante and Tasca D'Almerita that are located in the center and western part of the island, are famous for their awarding winning wines made from Nero D'Avola and are what we usually associate with Sicilian red wine.

Mount Etna, on the north eastern side of the island represents and entirely different style of wine making with red grape varietals such as Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Mantellato and whites with Carricante and Catarratto, making up the majority of the blends. Wines made with Nerello Mascalese offer a delicate, complex alternative to the rich and robust Nero d'Avola. Reminiscent of Burgundy, it has ripe, dark berries with modest tannins and a dusting of mineral earthiness.

Growing grapes on the slope of an active volcano is not without some obvious risks. In addition, the soil is difficult to work. It is a combination of volcanic soils and sand. Quite a bit of sand. In a twist of fate, the soil may be the reason these wines will be stars of the 21st century. At the end of the 19th century, Phylloxera had destroyed much of Europe’s vineyards. The louse, however, was unsuccessful on Mt. Etna due to those same sandy soils. Phylloxera cannot exist in such a soil which prevented the louse from spreading. As a result, there are now some very old vines that are on their original and ungrafted rootstock, a rarity in Italy. Of course, the steep terrain combined with the sandy volcanic soil makes tending the vines quite difficult. It is hard for a worker to keep from falling, especially during harvest, when carrying baskets of grapes. The work is so difficult that it is often problematic employing harvest workers.

During our trip to New York last month, I was able to taste quite a few wines from this region that has become a bit of an obsession for me. The problem is that none of the wines are available in Louisiana so I am working with a few of our distributors on bringing them in. I contacted an importer of one of the "superstars", Passopisciaro, and our friends at Uncorked Wines have agreed to bring them in for me. A consistent Tre Bicchieri wine by Gambero Rosso and rated 93 points by Parker for the 2005 vintage, this wine is an incredible example of what the region is capable of and retails for around $50 a bottle.

Gambero Rosso says:
...a perfect peak of eloquence. The colour is a bright ruby. The nose is irresistible with great depth and elegance as healthy, ripe, red and blackberry fruit interweaves with elegant notes of balsam and mountain herbs before the palate shows full and powerful, with plenty of fruit and sinew, but it also has that amazing mineral depth which epitomizes Etna.

Parker says:
"The 2005 Passopisciaro (Nerello Mascalese) opens with suggestions of candied red cherries and raspberries. It is lithe and sensual on the palate, with an attractive liqueur-like, perfumed quality to its fruit. From start to finish the wine reveals notable clarity and precision. This is a remarkable effort from this young property. Anticipated maturity: 2008-2015 Andrea Franchetti of Tenuta di Trinoro is among those who have recognized the unique qualities of the vineyards located on the hills of Mount Etna. These high-altitude vineyards give Franchetti the optimal conditions for gradual ripening and a late harvest that typically stretches in to mid-November, sometimes later. The wines Franchetti makes at his estate Passopisciaro present a fascinating expression of his style and these terroirs."

I'll be writing more on the region in upcoming posts and as soon as we have enough examples brought in there will definitely be a seated tasting. I'll keep you posted on our progress and the trip to Sicily, October 11-21, which will start in the Mount Etna region. We will start taking reservations for the trip in April or May as soon as the itinerary is confirmed.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Science of Cooking

Chef Didier Ardoin 's passion, creativity, enthusiasm and talent are evident in everything he creates. A Sous Chef at Cafe Degas, Didier is incredibly adventurous and innovative with food so it should be of no surprise that I first heard the term "molecular gastronomy" from him. Watching how animated he became and the way his eyes lite up when he talked about it have made me want to learn more about this type of cuisine that is turning the world of cooking upside down . And we have planned an upcoming wine dinner with Cafe Degas that will molecular cooking elements, so I needed to know a little more about what I was getting myself in to!

As a traditional cook and foodie, this seems a bit out of my reach but a fascinating trend that I feel obligated to educated myself about. Here's a little of what I've learned and I welcome any comments from those of you who have something you'd like to share.

Molecular cuisine is the end product of molecular gastronomy, a term coined in the 1980s by Herve This (pictured to the right), a French scientist, and Nicholas Kurti, a former professor of physics at England’s Oxford University. Working out of a laboratory in Paris, the two men broke foods down into their most basic components – molecules – to find scientific answers to age-old culinary mysteries: Why do some foods combine well, while others don’t? How would you give ice cream a tobacco flavor? From the preparation of a broth, to a chocolate mousse without eggs or the explanation of a rising soufflé, molecular gastronomy explains the chemical and physical phenomena that happen during cooking at the molecular level. .

As a result of this crossover between science and cooking, outstanding restaurants around the world are applying scientific principles to create and serve unusual dishes such as tobacco-flavored ice cream made with liquid nitrogen and sardines on sorbet toast. Utensils such as blowtorches, pH meters, and refractometers, which were previously relegated to science laboratories, are now creeping into the kitchens of those who practice molecular cuisine.

The guiding principle in molecular cuisine is to create dishes based on the molecular compatibilities of foods. For instance, unripe mango and pine share a molecular structure, so they might be tasty if combined. That's the theory, anyway. Molecular gastronomists combine white chocolate and oysters for the same reason. The photo on the left is a great example of this, Smoked salmon lollipops! (by Liam Maloney)

I know some of this sounds a bit crazy, so I found this great video about molecular gastronomy featuring the man behind the science, Herve This. Check it out and if this piques your curiosity, reserve a seat at our dinner on March 18th at Cafe Degas where traditional French cuisine will be combined with elements of postmodern (Didier hates the term molecular cuisine) techniques and paired with wines from the south of France! Also, I'll be doing an interview with Didier in the upcoming weeks on the menu for the event and how he'll be applying the science of cooking!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Wine and Chocolate 101

With Valentine's Day only days away, it gives me a perfect excuse to talk about two of my favorite things, wine and chocolate! Wine and chocolate pairing can be difficult and certainly some wines don't go well with any type of chocolate. But when matched correctly, wine and chocolate pairing can be a fabulous experience. Of course, taste is a very subjective thing but you if you'd like to experiment this week and don't where to start, here are a few guidelines:

Tips for Successfully Pairings Wines with Chocolate:

Tip #1: The wine needs to be at least as sweet, if not a sweeter, than the chocolate you are having. Otherwise, the taste may quickly turn towards sour.

Tip #2: Match lighter, more elegant flavored chocolates with lighter-bodied wines and the stronger the chocolate, the more full-bodied the wine should be. For example, a bittersweet chocolate pairs well with an intense California Zinfandel.

Tip #3: If you are experimenting with several varieties of chocolates, work from light to dark. Start with a more subtle white chocolate and end on a dark or bittersweet chocolate.
  • White chocolate tends to be more mellow and buttery in flavor, making it an ideal candidate for a Sherry, a Moscato d'Asti, or an Orange Muscat.
  • Pinot Noir or a lighter-bodied Merlot will complement a bar of milk chocolate, a creamy chocolate mousse or chocolate accented cheesecake.
  • Rieslings, Muscats or dessert wines tend to hold up well to mild milk chocolates.
  • Dark or bittersweet chocolates need a wine that offers a roasted, slightly bitter flavor itself, with perhaps a hint of its own chocolate notes. Cabs and Zinfandels have a history of perfecting the dark chocolate match, resulting in an unparalleled tasting combination. A Cabernet Sauvignon or a Zinfandel will more than fill your chocolate pairing expectations.
We've have really great chocolates in stock for your Valentine's Day gifts and if you'd like to try them before you purchase them, come to our Wine and Chocolate tasting on Tuesday where we pair our favorite chocolate friendly wines with confections that are available in the store such as:

Charles Chocolates - Named by Food and Wine as one of the top 10 chocolates, the pictured heart shaped box contains chocolate hearts filled with a rich, creamy ganache in three flavors: raspberry, passion fruit, and mojito in a thin 65% bittersweet shell. We also carry their Tea Collection boxed chocolates, the bars and other confections.

Bittersweet Confections
- Another find for us at the Crescent City Farmer's Market in 2006, we became the first retail account for Cheryl Scripter's locally made confections and many have smartly followed! Come to the store and check out her famous truffles in a martini glass, boxed truffles, fudge, caramels, coconut clusters and other delicious confections! Check out Sheryl's video below.

So for Valentines Day go out and buy some chocolates, and a few bottles of wine, and see what works. If nothing else you'll be eating chocolate and drinking wine. Now that's a perfect pairing!

Here's a short video of Sheryl in her shop talking about her truffles and other confections:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Felidia, Delizioso!

The reservation for our much anticipated dinner at Felidia was Tuesday night. I was able to
arrange it through one of the Bastianich staff who visited us last summer (thank you Caroline!). If you spend any time with us or in the shop, you know how we feel about Lidia and her wines. She and her son Joey own the Bastianich winery in Friuli and La Mozza in the Maremma (Tuscany). The Bastianich Tocai Friulano, Vespa Bianco, Rosato and Sauvignon Blanc as well as the La Mozza I Perazzi are some of few standard labels of our ever revolving inventory. We drink them often and recommend them frequently as we've sold close to 800 bottles of their wines since we opened.

We also are huge fans of Lidia's show on PBS, Lidia's Italy, that takes you on a journey with Lidia to her ten favorite regions around Italy as she introduces you to friends and family and takes you to food markets, fishing villages and farms as you haggle over the price of fish and forage for the perfect truffle. Then, return back to Lidia’s familiar kitchen to prepare a sumptuous meal using the regional recipes and ingredients. We also own a few of her cookbooks and have loved everything we've made.

So, needless to say, we had high expectations, especially after all of the great food we had eaten over the last few days! We were greeted by an incredibly friendly staff who gave us Lidia's regards and said she was sorry she couldn't be there to greet us. True or not, it was a very nice gesture on their part! We were led past a beautiful mahogany bar to a wonderful table near the kitchen in the second dining room. It's a very warm, kind of cozy atmosphere; beautiful hardwood floors, amber textured walls with a stained wood wainscoting, all washed in great ambient lighting from the sconces on the wall.

As soon as we sat down, we were brought complimentary bubbly, a sparkling wine in the Bastianch line that I've never seen before. A very crisp, clean sparkling that was mainly Chardonnay and had a beautifully dry finish. The wine list was incredible with every region of Italy represented in both red and white wines as well as nearly every other wine producing country from Croatia, Greece and Hungary to the European powerhouses of France, Spain, Austria and Germany to the new world players of the US, South American, Australia and New Zealand. The menu had to be close to 40 pages long and the prices ranged from a $25 of Croatian Katunar Žlahtina to a $2250 bottle of a 1955 Biondi Santi Brunello and truly everything in between.

To start our evening, I chose a 2000 Bastianich Vespa Bianco, the flagship wine of the estate created to showcase the power and evolution that a great Friulian white can have. Consisting of equal parts Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay with a touch of Picolit, Vespa Bianco becomes a sum of its parts, a wine of amazing complexity. A five time winner of the prestigious Gambero Rosso Three Glasses award, the Vespa Bianco is incredible in any vintage! I was debating between the 2000 and the 2006 and the very unpretentious sommelier steered me toward the 2000 to see how well the wine ages. With creamy layers of stone fruit intertwined with smoke, earthiness and French oak, this medium-bodied white shows outstanding harmony and tons of style and was fabulous with the food! I'm really glad I ordered it because it reminded me of how special this wine is and that I need to get it back in the shop, especially at the incredible price of $30 retail!

The second wine of the evening came from my new favorite wine region, the eastern area of Sicily near Mt. Etna. These wines are incredibly elegant yet powerful, more reminiscent of burgundy than the dark reds of the island. I chose the Palari Rosso di Soprano, a blend of local grape varieties, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera, Acitana, and Jacche. The blend is based on a wine known in antiquity as Mamertino, which comes from the native nerello mascalese, nerello cappuccio, nocera. Medium ruby with a striking garnet tinge, this wine is immediately approachable, even with its grippy tannins. An alluring nose of baked earth and raspberry fruit. The medium-full body is filled with flavors of cherry, blackberry, raspberry and leather with a silky mouth feel.

Now came the arduous task of trying to chose what to eat from the menu of food and specials we were given! Since there were 4 of us, we decided to get lots of dishes and eat family style, and between what we ordered and the fabulous complimentary items they sent out, it would be hard to write about everything, so here are the highlights!

Antipasti: Il Polipo all Griglia- sliced mosaic and grilled octopus with burrata stracciatella and black olives. Burrata is a typical cheese produced in the province of Bari, in the south of Italy. It has the shape of a small “sack” made of soft cheese which contains a generous quantity of stracciatella, a delicate mixture of fresh cream and mozzarella frayed in thin threads. The octopus was sliced super thin and the mixture of flavors with the divine sweet creamy burrata and the salty olives was nothing short of amazing. Hands down the best octopus I've ever eaten!

Primi Piatti: Il Cacio e Pere - Pear and fresh pecorino-filled ravioli, aged pecorino, crushed black pepper. Creamy and rich with an incredible mix of textures filling the melt in your mouth fresh pasta sacks.

Secondi Piatti: Il Manzo, Flat Iron braised in Goulash sauce, or the Il Branzino, Whole grilled Mediterranean bass. Both were delicious, but by this time we had a cocktail, sparkling wine, a bottle of white and a bottle of red. The details of the dishes are a bit blurry, but the feeling of gastronomic satiation lives on!

I Dolci: Panna Cotta di Mandorle - the creamiest, smoothest panna cotta, somehow delicate and rich at the same time with a subtle almond flavor. The perfect end to the perfect meal!

All in all, it was an incredible experience that exceeded our expectations. The service was impeccable, attentive but not intrusive; the environment and physical space were beautiful without any pretense or snobbishness which was surprising in a restaurant with the reputation of Felidia. And the food was spectacular, with each palate pleasing dish presenting a incredible array of flavors, textures and individuality. Delizioso!!

Check out this great video of Lidia talking about her restaurant:

Felidia Restaurant New York, NY - Click here for more free videos


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