Date Archives 2011

Malbec Rosés with Carlos’ Empanadas

On a cold winter night in New England, we warmed up at the historic home of Argentine natives Vera and Carlos, with Carlos’ empanadas accompanied by Malbec Rosés. Carlos made low fat empanadas, which some people (son Marcel) quibbled with – though the rest of us were pleased, given the amount of holiday cookies we’d already started consuming.
There were three roses, all different, and we were equally divided on our favorites. With the beef empanadas, I liked the simple 2011 Michel Torino, young and even a bit spicy in flavor. The 2010 Gauchezco was more layered, with citrus and minerality, and was an overall favorite of about a third of us.
Then came the 2010 Crios, with a thicker mouthfeel and raspberry notes. Once we saw the name of the legendary Susana Balbo, we knew we were in for a treat. But the most interesting element came during the dessert course: peel a tangerine, and its scent on your skin enhances each sip of her rosé.

Merlots at any price — really?

For some time, whenever anyone asks me for a really good Merlot recommendation, I’ve been saying “Bordeaux.” Too often, US Merlot wines are lacking…well… almost everything except fruitiness. I want a Merlot that tastes like well-made wine. That IS a well-made wine. And you have to go way up in price if you want to get that in the US. This week I opened a few different Merlots, and I started with the two lower-priced wines: both nicely crafted and both, surprisingly, $20 or under.
The first two were Bordeaux Supérieur wines. 2009 Chateau Timberlay: buttery, cheery, bright fruit aroma, with lightish tannins. Medium-light body up front but a more solid finish. The flavors deepened with food; great with a plain hamburger.
The 2009 Chateau de Bel “La Capitaine” was finely restrained in both its aroma and flavors. Mild dark cherry, cassis and some leather, backed by very nice tannins. Hamburger or steak would be great here.
Twomey’s 2007 Napa Valley Merlot is a prime example of a US Merlot I would recommend. Across between red and black fruits, nicely integrated tannins. Moderate finish with a hint of cinnamon in its wood notes. Needs to accompany a little more complicated dish than plain meat; a beef stew flavored with onions, carrots and wine does the job nicely. Price? You have to go up; this one averages about $45.
Moving on to a less common American wine, I found a lot more fruit. I had pulled out a 2004 Dr. Konstantin Frank Merlot from the Finger Lakes, and found it bursting with fruit, pleasant and easy-drinking; quite a nice accomplishment in a Merlot from this area. And when I just looked up the price, it seems to go for only around $16 — fun if you can find it.

Drink Armagnac, Live Longer

Seriously beautiful countryside in Armagnac. This is the little alembic room at Chateau de Bordeneuve, tucked right up next to the vineyards. Spent the last week in the Armagnac region of France – in the Southwest region of Gascony, home of the swashbuckling Musketeers. It’s also home to all things duck, like foie gras – which is very mild here – and hearty beef and pork dishes, too. All of which I ate for lunch and dinner every day.
At the end of my visit, I was astonished to find that I hadn’t gained weight. They call this the Gascony Paradox. Drink Armagnac’s brandies every day along with the local foods, and live five years longer, too!
LISTEN to my snapshot of Armagnac info on

The Hospices de Beaune is coming up in a week or so, in Burgundy. But I was in Boston.

Hospices de Beaune at dusk

Venerable Hospices de Beaune is the oldest charitable auction in the world, founded in 1859 – though the hospital it benefits dates from 1443. The event is also important because the auction prices are said to set market levels for the new vintage of top-tier Burgundy wines, each year.

I do love the walled, old city of Beaune. It’s brisk and medieval-feeling in the early dusk of November day when the Great Auction has just finished. Market stalls are bustling, lively entertainers sing and dance, and the lanes are filled with European tourists snapping up local artisanal foods: rich parsleyed hams, ultra-fresh crunchy-crusted breads, spiced honey-cakes. Alas, not for me, this year.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I received an invitation to taste some of the Hospice de Beaune wines from earlier years, as Christie’s (which took over the auction a few years ago) toured several US cities this fall. In Boston, we tasted at the First Republic Bank, so you can imagine it was a pretty haute crowd. Maybe next year I’ll get back to Beaune…

There were about 20 wines, mainly from 2009 and 2005, but with a few intermediate vintages too. My favorite reds were two of the 2005s: the Beaune 1er Cru, Cuvée Nicolas Rolin, and the Pommard 1er Cru, Cuvée Dames de la Charité. The whites were wonderful, notably the easy-drinking (are you allowed to say that about Burgundy?) 2007 Pouilly-Fuissé, Cuvée Françoise Poisard, and the beautifully balanced 2009 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru, Cuvée François de Salins.

Was this my last lunch with Bernard?

If I was a Bordeaux chateau owner, I’d probably do the same thing: concentrate on China right now. Still, it’s a bit unnerving when you see it happening right in front of you. Like at the recent Chateau Palmer lunch, with the Commanderie de Bordeaux in Boston. Charming Palmer marketing manager Bernard de Laage played it down, but he was essentially handing us over to a second-in-command, while he does the Asia route. Second in command in this case is the equally charming longtime friend of Palmer Jean-Louis Carbonnier, whose French accent is even more charming, but still…

It was, however, a wonderful lunch: BYOB Palmer at Upstairs on the Square in Cambridge, Mass. Not being a Palmer collector, I was allowed to bring the apéritif champagne: Cuvée Louise 1996, which went over pretty well. OK, yeah, it was a wine-snob lunch, and we all enjoyed every minute of it.

The wines: Palmer’s delightful 2003, 1990, 1989, then finishing with a very young and fresh 1983. In the middle, the 1979 was corked, alas, but someone rallied with a 1990 Léoville Las Cases, very herby by comparison with the lush Palmers. The menu: Potage of Native Celery Root with black truffle dumpling; Szechuan-Peppered Duck Breast with vanilla mascarpone potatoes, red wine roasted figs, turnips and their greens.

With the cheese we had Alter Ego’s second vintage, the merlot-based 1999, alongside the Palmer 1999. Both were terrific, and the Palmer got to show off its refinement.

Chocolate? Convince me!

Chocolate, chocolate, I’ll try anything chocolate. Sometimes I’m surprised. Like with Van Gogh Vodka’s new Rich Dark Chocolate. I’ve tried quite a few of their flavors before, and I’m not always convinced. This one was very convincing. First of all, it actually is a dark chocolate flavor. If you were expecting creamy sweetness, this was confusing. If you were expecting a flavoring agent, this was also confusing. Because it is, after all, vodka.

Van Gogh Vodka Rich Dark Chocolate
At 70 proof and with a strong chocolate taste, you’re not going to drown this by adding flavoring elements, you have to blend pretty carefully. A safe route would be to make your own version of a Black Russian or Kahlua-and-cream type drink. A bolder version is to add citrus, but lemon and lime flavors (not orange) which are recommended in Van Gogh’s “S’More” cocktail recipe: 2 ounces Rich Dark Chocolate Vodka, ½ ounce agave nectar, 3 ounces lemon-lime soda. The whole recipe includes graham cracker rimmers and other finesses I didn’t happen to have on hand, so I just went with the three main ingredients, which worked surprisingly well.
We also had fresh oranges, so we tried adding some of the juice and a slice of orange and that worked too – though I would recommend either the lemon-lime OR the orange, not both. Or try your own combinations. There’s plenty of vodka in that bottle.