Sitting here on my laptop at my dining room table as I work from home. Which, mind you, is a normal occasion for me as I am self-employed and frequently work from home. However, the tone of “work from home” is quite different now that I have just entered week 5 of quarantine with a maximum of one trip outside of the house per week. My mood changes daily. To illustrate, it’s almost like that “fire danger” scale with the arrow moving across the scale of colors. I’m somewhere in the “orange” range. Mental health is ok and my energy levels and moods vary throughout the day. And I am ok with all of that. Not aiming for perfection here. Just focusing on making each day the best it can be.
With that being said, like many of y’all, I am cooking up a storm and I love it. Although I certainly could use a break, as cooking three meals a day, seven days a week is a bit excessive and tiring. Allow me to think back to a long time ago in a pre-COVID-19 galaxy far, far away. A time when me and my fellow LA Wine Writers were meeting monthly to share fantastic meals and wines. This time we go back to our October 2019 luncheon featuring the wines of Clink Different. Clink Different is a collective effort to increase awareness and consumption of European wines, specifically wines of Bordeaux, France, and Germany. This program is a joint effort between the European Union, the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux, and the Deutsches Weininstitut.
I’d be remiss if I did not mention and give kudos to our host, Brian Cousins and the Napa Valley Grille in Westwood. Though Napa Valley Grille is closed during this COVID-19 crisis, I look forward to patronizing them again once the city reopens. Napa Valley Grille takes both their food and wine seriously. They are a mainstay in Westwood and for this reason, they maybe get passed over. They’re not the celeb hotspot or a new restaurant being touted by the food world. In contrast, they are an oldie but goodie.
Brian explained to us that unlike many restaurants, they give wine pairings directly on their menu. We always talk about making wine easy for the consumer to understand, and this is a perfect example of that. Their staff gets extensive training, including deep dives into grapes, one by one. Their list is full of classic wines and benchmarks, but there are lots of values to be had, and also thoughtful, and interesting selections.
So, while we are all over here cooking three meals a day, let us fantasize for a moment about this spectacular six-course food and wine pairing I enjoyed last Fall, and daydream about when we can leave our homes and enjoy these types of culinary (and wine) adventures together once again! Menu details and tasting notes below!
Baked Oyster with Chipotle Herb Butter
STANDOUT course. Especially the herb butter. And the good thing about quarantine is that with this extra time, I can recreate it! According to chef, the ingredients are: brandy, brown sugar, chipotle, butter, shallots, and garlic.
Wine Pairing: 2016 Scharzhofberger Sparkling Riesling Brut, Saar
STANDOUT wine. An exquisite, traditional method, dry, sparkling Riesling. Not sure if I could pick this out as a Riesling, except for the whisper of a petrol note.
Fruit Salad (Mixed Greens, Frisée, Toasted Turmeric Pepitas, Pears, Raspberries, Bub Arare, Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette)
Wine Pairing: 2018 Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rosé, Pfalz
Off-dry and approachable. Just asking to be enjoyed with food.
2017 Franz Keller Vom Löss Pinot Gris, Baden
Turmeric-Crusted Tuna (Orange-Ginger-Soy Reduction, Shaved Fennel, Black Sesame Seeds, Taro Root Chips)
Wine Pairing: 2017 Clos des Lunes Lune d’Argent, Sauternes, Bordeaux
A dry white from Bordeaux (Grand Vin Blanc Sec).
2017 Scheferkorf Sylvaner, Franken
A neutral white with a good acid backbone. Dry or Troken-Sec. A splendid pairing with the tuna.
Colorado Lamb Rack (Corn Polenta, Mint-Pomegranate Reduction)
Wine Pairing: 2016 August Kesseler, The Daily August, Pinot Noir, Rheingau
Notes of bright red fruit and herbs, specifically thyme.
2016 Frank Keller Pinot Noir, Baden
An earthier Pinot than the one above. Great savory and funk notes. I dig it.
Australian Wagyu NY Strip Steak (Green Peppercorn-Cognac Jus)
Wine Pairing: 2010 Goulée by Cos d’Estournel, Medoc
A quintessential Left Bank producer.
Wine Pairing: 2012 Chateau Pineau du Rey, Sauternes
A quaffable (not cloying) dessert wine.
And that brings this lovely luncheon to a close. Are we there yet? Is Shelter in Place done yet? Nope. Mmmmk.
In the meantime, please think about joining me weekly for my #VirtualVino tastings. More details can be found on my website. And next week's structured, more educational class will be on: Food & Wine Pairings! Yes, I have figured out a way to teach a food and wine pairing class without you having to cook 6 courses and open 6 wines. I have modified my usual food and wine pairings class to make it easy and enjoyable for you to partake in from home. More details HERE for this class on Thursday, April 23rd at 6pm (Pacific). This class is $10 per registration. I hope to see you there!
Not too long ago, I was delighted to attend a tasting of Crocus wines at A.O.C. restaurant in Los Angeles with special guests: internationally renowned winemaker Paul Hobbs and 4th generation Cahors vintner Bertrand Gabriel Vigouroux. His family has been making wine in Cahors since 1887. And in 2011, he and Hobbs started Crocus. Crocus is named after the crocus sativus flower which produces saffron. It has been grown and harvested in the Cahors region since the 14th century and fitting that at the event we all received a small vial of saffron to take home!
Hobbs first visited Argentina in 1988. At that point in time Malbec was primarily used as a blending grape. Challenging that notion, in 1989 he made a small lot of Malbec that was praised by the US press. He then launched Viña Cobos, making varietal Malbec. In 1999 the wines were introduced to the US and received the highest score to date for an Argentine wine.
Bertrand visited Argentina for the first time in 2007 as he wanted to better understand the global success of Malbec and see it for himself. He had heard of Paul Hobbs and his success, so during the trip he invited Paul to visit the Cahors. Hobbs visited and found wines from Cahors to be traditional and not very suited for modern tastes. He decided to consult with Bertrand to bring innovation and a modern touch to the region. In 2011 Crocus was born.
The goal was to present a new interpretation of the Malbec of Cahors. To meld modernity and tradition. Many people historically had a negative opinion of Cahors wines. Unclean winemaking practices are sometimes used and wines can be very tannic and over-extracted. Overall, the wines are generally basic and most of it is consumed domestically. Crocus aimed to clean up winemaking using temperature control and cold maceration. They also sought to minimize cap management, which in turn would minimize extraction. Ultimately they were on a quest to define Malbec in its birthplace.
The Cahors region lies east of Bordeaux and the AOC was formed in 1971, though vines have existed there since the Roman times. The AOC rules state that wines must be 70% Malbec (the balance must be Tannat and/or Merlot). Over 4,000 hectares are planted in the Cahors. The climate is continental (it gets warm in the summer but cools down quickly in early fall) and soils are varied.
Aside from the fabulous served food by the A.O.C. staff, we tried 3 Crocus wines. All three wines are 100% Malbec, employing Crocus standards of low pesticide use, low tech, and low intervention winemaking. According to Paul: our wines are a different take on Malbec, reflecting terroir.
This is their entry-level wine with little to no oak used. It is a Malbec of structure and elegance. This is a very well-made wine with extreme balance: no child’s play here. It is rustic though well-structured. On the nose I get ripe red and black fruit (plum, cherry), black pepper, faint spice box, and smoke. On the palate I get medium acid, medium smooth tannins, medium body, and medium flavor intensity with both red and black fruit (raspberry, red currant, fig) and black pepper.
This wines sees 18 mos in 50% new, 50% single-use French oak. “Le Calcifére” means “the one who contains lime” and takes its name from the high limestone content in the soils. This is a very precise wine that is polished, almost in the New World style. The oak is well-integrated and, according to Paul, will integrate even more with age. On the nose I get a more earthy note, and a tad less black pepper. The fruit on this wine is darker (cherries) plus a strong minerality while the palate is more concentrated and has a stronger flavor intensity. This wine is elegant, grown up. A lovely earthy, spicy (nutmeg), and chocolate feel.
This wine employs stainless steel fermentation, malolactic fermentation in barrel and 24 mos in 100% new French oak barrels. The wine is complex, modern, and bold. “La Roche Mére” means mother or parent rock, which refers to the Kimmeridgian limestone soils. A layered and complex wine that is quite beautiful. It evolves in the glass and even in your mouth. Very drinkable and balanced. The wine is deep purple in color with concentrated, deep aromas on the nose of black cherry, dark plum, fresh cracked black pepper, and oak (vanillin/cedar). The palate has concentrated, piercing flavors of black and red fruit (raspberry, blackberry), black pepper. There is also an herbal sage note, chocolate, spice (clove, vanilla), and cedar/smoke
According to Hobbs, the wines here are significantly different than other Cahors wines. I tend to agree.