Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Chateau La Nerthe Wine Dinner at L'Olivier Restaurant & Bar

I am sitting at my computer and I am unsure what to gush about first.

Last night, Christophe Bristiel the export manager of Chateau La Nerthe and Thomas Cortez of Pasternak Wine Imports hosted a wine dinner at L'Olivier Restaurant & Bar showcasing their portfolio of wines paired with the culinary masterpieces of Chef Olivier Ciesielski.

As the guests arrived, we were greeted with a glass of 2011 Prieure de Montezargues Tavel Rose . This wine was just released and will be arriving to Houston soon. It is definitely one to add to your list for the summer. A beautiful pale pink in the glass; dry, crisp, refreshing, medium+ body with citrus, berries and cherries.

The first course was 2010 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, a blend of Grenache, Rousanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc, paired with a seafood ceviche. This combination was a fresh citrus explosion of complementary flavors. The presentation with the dry ice added even more magic to the moment.

The next course was the best scallop that I have ever eaten in my life, a North Atlantic pan-seared medium rare jumbo scallop finished in Beluga lentils (I am still scraping the plate clean in my mind). This was paired with the 2009 Clos de Beauvenir Chateauneuf -du-Pape. The grapes (60% Rousanne and 40% Clairette) for this wine are sourced from old vines in a small enclosed vineyard. The wine was rich and round with a full body and it had a honeysuckle/citrus blossom floral character with pear and tropical fruit flavors in a long finish.


For the main course, we were given two different wines, the 2009 Domaine de Renjarde CdR Villages Rouge and the 2010 La Petite Fontaine CdR Rouge. These were served with pork tenderloin slices with a caramel and vinegar gastric and baked potato pastry. The de Renjarde was fantastic with the pork- ripe red fruit, slight candy character with great structure and a long finish. The La Petite Fontaine was tight and tannic with the promise of better times to come.

Next, we were served a cheese plate consisting of baked Roquefort with macerated apricots, figs and pecans and fresh baked brioche with two glasses of Chateau La Nerthe, the 2008 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge (approx. $75) and the 2005 Cuvee des Cadettes (approximately $400 a bottle). My only note on the 2008 was "silky, smoooth". The 2005 was dominated with pronounced aromas of ripe, black fruit with undertones of pepper, nutmeg and chocolate; a well balanced glass of pure deliciousness.


The evening was brought to a close with fresh baked Madeleines (aka a bit of almond heaven in my mind) and something called the Floating Island Dessert. A shot of Gran Marnier over a concoction of caramel, meringue and cream glaze served with cappucino and espresso. Something in this combination of sweet, fluffy, creamy flavors evoked happy child memories of over indulging on Easter morning.


L'Olivier is a fantastic addition to Houston's resturant scene. Each course was so well thought out and perfectly executed by Chef Olivier. The pairings were seamless. Sommelier extraordinaire, James Watkins, was tableside to discuss service temperatures and decanting time. I got to take a peak in the cellar with him to check out his organizational system and the restaurant's amazing collection of wines. In addition to numerous splurge bottlings, they have over 100 wines which are affordably priced at under $65 on their list. I am looking forward to trying out their lunch menu soon. I highly recommend this establishment for their ambiance, quality and service.

 
Chateau La Nerthe is one of Chateauneuf-du-Pape's oldest estates dating back at least to 1560. They have been certified organic since 1998. Their terroir is typical to the area with the vineyards set on sandy clay slopes layered with the famous galette stones. They grow all fourteen of the permitted grape varieties although 40 year old Grenache vines dominate the vineyard plantings. The quality is unmistakably high. I enjoyed each one of their wines and I will be looking for more out in the Houston market.

Monday, June 18, 2012

To Every Thing there is a Season...Notes On Vinho Verde*


Two weeks ago, I attended the Wines of Vinho Verde as presented by James King of the Texas Wine School. This was a tasting and seminar on wines from Portugal's Vinho Verde region which is located in the northwest part of the country. The first portion of this post was written from those notes.
  
The Vinho Verde wine region has a maritime climate with high levels of rainfall. The region sits on shallow soil over a granite base. There has been a move towards modernization in the vineyard with changes in pruning and trellising to deal with the humid climate and improve quality. 


Vinho Verde is known primarily for its crisp, lightly spritzy blended white wines which are high in acid with a citrus/mineral character and low to moderate alcohol made from local grapes such as Pederna, Loureiro, Trajadura, Avesso and Azal. The two labels depicted on the left are good examples of this expected typicity.

There did seem to be a second style of Vinho Verde white wine at this tasting. The two bottles pictured on the right were rounder, less acidic and had more of an apple/herbal character.

Single variety Alvarinho (aka Albarino) wines from the subregions of Moncao and Melgaco are produced with slightly higher alcohol and a touch of residual sweetness. These wines have a more tropical character. This type of Vinho Verde is becoming more common on the export market.
The Rosé wines are fresh and fruity and are typically made from Espadeiro and Padeiro grapes. At this tasting, we tried two different wines with two different results. The Casal Garcia was crisp with a fresh strawberry/slightly floral character while the Las Lilas was described by most tasters as decidedly odd tasting, a heavier herbal/earthy quality was present.

We also tasted one red Vinho Verde. The reds are deeply colored and tannic. They are made primarily from Vinhão, Borraçal and Amaral grapes. Almost half of the wine production in Vinho Verde is red but most is consumed locally and never reaches the export market. No real comment on the red, it was average and not what I would consider a seasonal wine.

Due to a very hectic summer, I had sadly almost forgotten about my night of tasting Vinho Verde until I was grocery shopping on Friday afternoon at Kroger's. I needed four bottles of wine and I was looking to round out a six-pack for the discountI had added an Italian red to have on hand for pizza night and was considering some whites to have on hand for poolside sipping. 

At about this moment, an enthusiastic wine manager appeared next to me and was very excited to share his newest "favorite white wine" find with me, the 2010 Arca Nova Vinho Verde. I accepted the offered plastic thimble cup of wine from him.


I had to agree, it was an excellent example of the typicity that one is expecting when buying this type of wine; dry, light body, crisp, 11% abv and all things lime (pith, zest, juice)  for aroma and flavor with some minerality in the medium length finish. A nice  summer wine for approximately $7. 

We did enjoy it poolside after our Father's Day festivities, it was light and refreshing and so seasonally correct.  

It may be time, Houston, to put away the heavy reds for the summer and make the turn to the refreshing whites and rosés of the wine world...to every thing there is a season.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Pinot Noir Tasting at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse

I went to the Pinot Noir Tasting at Pappas Bros. Steakhouse on Friday evening. It had been awhile since I had attended a Pappas wine event so I was looking forward to meeting some friends up there. As usual, it was a sold out event so it was quite crowded in the tasting room. Master Sommelier Drew Hendricks was on hand to oversee the tasting and pour the Grand Cru Burgundy.
For me, this evening was more of a social occasion with the opportunity for gathering more sensory impressions rather than a focused tasting, so I didn't take any photos or formal notes, I just scratched out a couple of general impressions on a few of the wines.

The lineup for the evening:
  • NV Paul Bara "Grand Rose" Grand Cru a Bouzy Brut Champagne  - Yummy
  • 2009 Novy Family Winery Blanc de Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley -  crisp & clean
  • 2009 Spatburgunder Rose August Kesseler, Rheingau
  • 2008 De Ponte Cellars Estate, Dundee Hills
  • 2008 Beaux Freres "The Beaux Freres Vineyard", Ribbon Ridge
  • 2009 Brick House "Cuvee du Tonnelier", Ribbon Ridge - very floral, VIOLETS
  • 2009 Loring Wine Company "Rosella's Vineyard", Monterey County
  • 2009 Auteur, Sonoma Coast - good
  • 2009 Relic Wines "Avion Vineyard", Sonoma Mountain - good
  • 2006 Chambolle-Musigny, Domaine Francois Bertheau, Burgundy - a little thin
  • 2001 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Aux Combottes, Domaine Dujac, Burgundy - very good
  • 2004 Morey-Saint Denis, Domaine Gerard Raphet, Burgundy - very basic
  • 2007 Chassagne-Montrachet V.V., Domaine Guy Amiot et Fils, Burgundy
  • 2003 Volnay "Vendanges Selectionnees", Domaine Michel Lafarge, Burgundy - tight & tannic
  • 2006 Corton-Bressandes Grand Cru, Domaine de La Pousse d' Or, Burgundy - very nice, complex aromas, lighter weight
As expected, the selection of wines was fantastic for showing the many styles of Pinot Noir and the servers at each table were very knowledgeable about each of the wines they were pouring. The snacks and passed hors d' oeuvres were all delicious. As it says right under their name, they are "known for quality". I would highly recommend the wine events at Pappas Bros Steakhouse.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Reynolds Family Wine Dinner at Branch Water Tavern

On Monday night, Branch Water Tavern hosted a Reynolds Family Wine dinner. An attractive crowd showed up at 6:30 for cocktails followed by a dinner prepared by Chef David Grossman.
The first course was Nantucket Bay Scallop ceviche paired with the 2008 Chardonnay. This was, unfortunately, my least favorite pairing. The wine was very nice: clean, light, tropical pineapple flavors but the ceviche was fairly nondescript and it was overpowered by the Chardonnay.
Next up was the Grimaud Farms Moscovy Duck with the 2010 Desamis Pinot Noir. The chef completely redeems himself with this pairing. The fuller body style of Pinot with its ripe red fruit flavor and earthiness complemented the ragout of duck confit with sopressatta and gnocchi perfectly. My husband is not a huge fan of duck, California Pinot Noir or gnocchi; only the sopressatta sounded good to him when he read this part of the menu. Throughout this pairing, he commented several times on how surprised he was at how much he enjoyed it. A good wine, a good course and all together, a good match.
This was followed by the roasted Cervena Venison with fava beans, morels and black currant jus paired with the 2006 Persistence, another excellent pairing. This rich, full body red wine is a Bordeaux blend with the addition of Syrah. It has an earthy forest floor character and a savory quality on top of ripe mixed berries, fantastic with the venison.
Dinner guests were also treated to a couple of off the menu wine tastings between courses, the new release of Fourteen Appellations and the Stag's Leap District Reserve Cabernet. A nice surprise, both were rich expressions of Napa Valley wine and were also excellent with the next course.
The main course was an Akaushi New York Strip with pomme maxim, aligot and asparagus with marrow enriched oxtail jus paired with the 2007 Reynolds Estate Cabernet which was soft and fruity. The steak was cooked to perfection and the flavors were fantastic.
The dessert course was another pairing that I was not overly excited about. This time I thought the dessert was amazing but the wine was lacking. The sticky toffee pudding with pistachio gelato and brittle was yummy but the wine, Naughty Sticky, a 50/50 Semillion/Sauvignon Blanc blend, was just not sweet enough for the dessert. I opted to eat the dessert and leave the wine and I am certain I made a good choice.
This was the first wine dinner that I had attended at Branch Water Tavern. Overall, I really enjoyed it and would recommend their events. Dinner goers left happy and full.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Behind the Bar at Sullivan's Steakhouse

Sullivan's Steakhouse hosted their "Behind the Bar" event for some of Houston's wine and food media last Thursday evening. The new Lucky $7 Happy Hour Drink and Food menus were featured. Even though I am primarily a wine drinker, I tasted two of the featured martinis: The Knockout and the Cosmopolitan. I did this with some trepidation because I really do not enjoy sweet, fruity drinks (unless I am on a beach) but I knew some of my readers would be interested in the quality of the Happy Hour Martini selections. 

The Knockout Martini is Sullivan's new signature martini made with Svedka Clementine Vodka that has been infused with fresh Hawaiian pineapple with an orange twist. I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected I would as the pineapple was not the overpowering sweet flavor that I had anticipated, instead the aroma and flavor of fresh clementines prevailed. Next, I tasted the Cosmopolitan. I was pleased to see that it was a pale pink blush color rather than fruit punch red which is always a bad sign. Again, it did not disappoint, no odd candied character, just light citrus flavors with Smirnoff Vodka. The other happy hour martini was the CEO which is Finlandia Vodka with blue cheese stuffed olives, I did not try that one as I assumed it was pretty self explanatory. I thought the new Happy Hour Martini Menu was what it should be in that restaurant. There is also a longer Martini menu that is available at their regular prices.

The main thing that I was there to taste was the new private label 2008 Sullivan's Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which is actually a blend of 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot. This wine was created as a collaboration between vintners Robert Foley and Steve Mathiason to pair with the steakhouse's menu. It has a classic Napa Valley character with its pronounced aromas of ripe black fruit with some pencil box and vanilla notes; a nice fruit forward young Cabernet priced at $13 a glass or $55 a bottle.

I also tasted most of the Lucky $7 Happy Hour food menu as well as a few of the other bar menu selections. I really enjoyed the new private label wine with the Blue Cheese Chips, Wild Mushroom Arugula Flatbread, Sliced Strip Steak with fries and the Filet Mignon Tips which were served over horseradish mashed potatoes inside of a jumbo tempura battered onion ring with peppercorn sauce. I am sure it would also pair well with the beef sliders which I did not taste.

Other menu items that I tasted and would recommend were the Black-eyed Pea Hummus, the Smoked Salmon, the Tuna Tacos and the Lamb Sliders. I enjoyed the first three items more with my martinis than with the wine. I thought that, while the lamb sliders were fantastic, they would be better paired with a glass of something a bit earthier rather than the new Cabernet. I finished up my tasting with the chocolate mousse which was worth every calorie.


Overall, I think Sullivan's new Happy Hour offerings are a great deal. Whether mixing some of the food specials with a bottle of wine of your choice or staying completely on the menus with the featured drink specials, you won't go wrong and you will definitely leave feeling happy.