Archive for June, 2011

Taking the dry side of Riesling

ASPEN – Still here and still kicking, after 72 hours of the 2011 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, aka Glitter Gulch.

Spending a hour Sunday while restaurant owner and beverage director (“I don’t consider myself a sommelier”) Paul Grieco of New York City’s Hearth, Terroir and Terroir Tribeca restaurant explained the whys of dry Riesling was another lesson in my ever-continuing wine education.

I first heard Grieco share his love for Riesling at an earlier F&W Classic and again this year he shared the same fervor for this lovely grape, which he celebrates at his restaurants and wine bar, selling 150 Rieslings by the bottle and 30 different Rieslings by the glass. He also is a key player in the International Riesling Foundation and this summer is celebrating the 2011 Summer of Reisling.

There are restaurants all over the country participating but only one in Colorado, the Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen in Greenwood Village. Too bad there is nothing local, since the Grand Valley and the North Fork Valley produce the best Rieslings in Colorado.

But on to Paul Grieco, who this year decided to approach dry Rieslings, maybe the least understood of the Rieslings.

“Our problem with getting people to drink Riesling is we always give them an out,” said Grieco, meaning beverage directors and somms tend to offer other whites, notably Chardonnay, to customers initially hesitant to order a Riesling.

Paul Grieco at 2011 F&W Classic Aspen

Paul Grieco, co-owner and beverage director (sommelier) at the Hearth, Terroir and Terroir Tribeca restaurants in New York City, explains the finer points of a German wine label during his seminar Sunday on dry Rieslings during the 2011 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. Check out the 'Riesling" tattoo on his arm.

“I don’t want to give you an out,” he said, flashing his right forearm where the world “Riesling” was tattooed (don’t worry, it’s a wash-off tattoo). “At my restaurant, I don’t give you a choice, you drink Riesling.”

During his all-too-brief seminar Sunday titled “Riesling: The Dry Side,” Grieco said a wine needs several properties to be a great wine. The list includes complexity, balance, delicacy, longevity, a sense of place and, well, “yummy.”

“Does it make you smile?” he asked. “A great wine should bring a smile to your face when you drink it.”

A sense of place, which the French and others label as terroir, is particularly evident in great Rieslings because the grape is so “transparent,” Grieco said. “Nothing obscures the vineyard from coming through in the glass.”

Pouring samples from Germany, Alsace and Austria, Grieco talked us through the different regions and explained the complexities of a German wine label, which turn out to be surprisingly easy to read.

“German labels are perfect, you know exactly what’s in the bottle,” Grieco had us repeating to ourselves.

As his was a seminar on the finer points of dry Rieslings (those with 8 grams or less per liter of residual sugar), Grieco immediately made it clear that balance between acidity and sweetness was key to any Riesling’s greatness. That’s why semi-sweet (also called off-dry) or sweet Rieslings aren’t too cloying or syrupy if the acid/RS level is in balance.

Just in case you forgot, residual sugar refers to the sugar left in the wine after fermentation. Knowing this, you can judge how sweet a wine will be. Jeff Siegel (Wine Curmudgeon) has an interesting post here.

“Are Rieslings inherently sweet?” he asked. “Of course not. Ninety percent of Rieslings are dry. But we often taste sweetness and forget to taste the acidity.”

Grieco said that while growing up in Canada, one of his childhood dreams was of someday driving the ice-clearing Zamboni machine used during breaks in a hockey match to smooth and resurface the rink.

“Acidity in wine is like a Zamboni,” Grieco affirmed. “It clears the palate, leaving a clean sheet.”
The wines we tasted, all of which had the needed characteristics to be considered great, included:
– Dr. F Weins-Prum 2009 Riesling Spatlese Trocken, Mosel, Germany;
– Leitz 2009 Riesling Trocken Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg “Alte Reben,” Rheingau, Germ.;
– Rebholz 2007 Okonomierat Riesling Spatlese Trocken :Vom Muschelkalk,” Pfalz, Germ.
– Nikolaihof 1999 Riesling Steinriesler, Wachau, Austria;
– Hugel 2005 Riesling “Hugel” Jubilee, Alsace;
– Henschke 2007 Riesling, Julius, Eden Valley Australia.

Categories: Uncategorized

First notes from the 2011 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen

ASPEN – The reporter’s notebook runneth over after the 29th annual Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen.

And for good reason, since this year’s Classic was much more exuberant than the 2010 version. Nothing wrong with 2010, of course, but many people still were hurting from the recession and with that there apparently was some reluctance to spend extravagantly, even when the spending was justified by years of hard work (or even better, great genes).

This year’s version, however, was vibrant and lively, once again nearly full of the joi de vivre that has long marked this week of celebrating great wine and food in Aspen.

Curiously, more than one person on the industry side of the market (meaning someone who makes, sells or markets wine) noted this year’s Classic attracted nearly twice as many industry people (about 3,200) as it did general consumers (around 1,800). These numbers haven’t been substantiated by anyone from Food & Wine but just walking through the Grand Tasting tents it appeared there were more booths this year than last highlighting distributors, wineries and spirits.

“It’s more like what the Classic used to be, an industry show before it turned into a wine-sippers get-together,” said one long-time (29 years) attendee and fine-wine distributor.

Mark Oldman, aka 'Dirk Diggler,' holds up a bottle of Mulderbosch 2004 Sauvignon Blanc Oldman purchased from the collection forfeited by former investment banker Bernie Madoff.

Two things about that: Nothing wrong with the wine-sippers, since most of them are endlessly enthusiastic and pay big bucks (about $1,000 for the weekend) to rub elbows with top chefs and learn wine-speak from the pros.

Second, in the past few years, as the recession caused many wineries and distributors to scale back their attendance, an ever-growing number of spirits makers (vodka, brandy, whisky and other liquors) started paying more attention to the Classic, discovering the same people who spend money on fine wine also spend money on fine spirits.

“And those are the people who had the money even in the recession,” my friend said.

A few of the many highlights:

Joshua Wesson, founder of the Best Cellars wine chain (nothing over $20 last we checked) and the 2009 Wine Enthusiast magazine Retailer of the Year, kicking off the Classic Friday by touting himself as the “Iron Sommelier” and daring others to dethrone him during his raucously entertaining seminar.
His challengers included Master Sommelier and wine writer Mark Oldman; M.S. Laura DePasquale of Palm Bay International; and M.S.-in-training Vilma Mazaite of Aspen’s Little Nell.

The audience was the judge in this food-and-wine pairing competition and in the end it was locals’ favorite Mazaite becoming the newest Iron Sommelier, pairing a Rannato Ratti 2010 Dolcetto d’Alba with Mario Batali’s Orrechiette with Sweet Sausage and Broccoli.

Oldman, who adopted a fake mustache and several pounds of (faux) gold chains for his weekend costume as porn star Dirk Diggler from the movie “Boogie Nights,” later told his own seminar (“Beat the Heat: Wines for Hot and Spicy Food”) it was time to “drink like a burglar.”

In happens that Oldman, (his newest book is “Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine”) was brought into the Bernie Madoff case to assess the value of Madoff’s wine cellar, as part of Madoff’s retribution to his clients.

Oldman also bid on, and won, some of Madoff’s wines and Oldman shared a couple of bottles with his Aspen audience.

“Only about 10 percent of his wines were good stuff,” Oldman said, holding up a bottle of the 2004 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc, straight from Madoff’s cellar, complete with the red FBI warning label.

“Drink bravely,” Oldman urged.

Spicy food calls for a low-alcohol wine with little or no tannin, said Oldman, recommending sparkling wines and still whites (Reisling, Gewurztraminer, Torrontes) and lighter reds such as pinot noir and carmenere.

“You want something a little bit sweet or sweet seeming,” Oldman said. “Think in the terms of heat. Not too much alcohol or tannins and certainly nothing too expensive.”

And finally, we all know about the underground Classic, including the lineup of exclusive parties and dinners that happen with little or no fanfare.

Finally, however, there really is a truly underground Classic.

Former Grand Valley winemaker Ben Parsons and his Infinite Monkey Theorem Winery, based in Denver’s Santa Fe Arts District, hosted a subterranean Wine at the Mine bash Saturday night at the Smuggler Mine, where in 1894 the world’s largest silver nugget (2,054 pounds) was found.

The unusual setting (hard hats a must) included great food and music, memorable tours of Aspen’s past glories and some of Parsons’ distinctive urban-winery wines, including a canned Black Muscat

Parsons, whose under-earthly delights party was loudly acclaimed as the best social event of the weekend, said the lightly carbonated Black Muscat in-a-can should be available in stores by September.

La. chef John Besh picks up SE Asia influences

ASPEN – The last time we ran into New Orleans chef John Besh, he was occupied with rejuvenating that city’s restaurant scene following the disaster of Hurricane Katrina.

But then came the BP oil spill and Besh, who runs six restaurants in and around New Orleans and one San Antonio, again found himself working overtime (or better, still finding himself working overtime) to remind people how great Louisiana seafood can be.

During his 40-minute cooking seminar Saturday morning on the second day of the 2011 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Besh said the two storms (one physical, the other economic) helped him discover something more of his city.

The seminar was titled “The New New Orleans” and while on stage Besh prepared a shrimp creole, simple and familiar enough for anyone knowing Louisiana cuisine, but this version incorporated the strong Thai and Viet Nam influence found in that city.

Not many in the audience admitted they knew of New Orleans’ vibrant Southeast Asia populations, but those populations were boosted when people from Southeast Asia moved to the U.S. for work in the energy industry.

It took Katrina for Besh and others to discover and assimilate the Viet and Thai cooking styles into traditional Deep South cuisine.

The Vietnamese immigrants were “segregated until Katrina brought the city together,” Besh said.

It was during the rebuilding, when so many cultures came together, that many chefs discovered the culinary styles and ingredients that now grace the familiar-yet-now-different Louisiana dishes.

Besh said it’s not uncommon to find dishes using lemongrass or chili paste, both Southeast Asia influences, as well as the better-known cultures – French, Spanish, African-American and other – that have forged the New Orleans food scene prized today.

But the end of Katrina wasn’t the only the jumpstart given New Orleans’ rejuvenation. It took the ecological and economic disaster of the BP oil spil, which suddenly turned off millions of people to all that luscious Louisiana seafood, to get Besh pounding the podium of “Eat More Shrimp.”

The only losers in the lingering fears are those still uneducated about how far the Louisiana shrimp (and all seafood) industry has come, Besh said.

In typical Besh style, he wasn’t at all shy about urging the audience to eat more domestic shrimp and “Better yet, eat Louisiana shrimp,” he told the appreciative audience.

The Food & Wine Classic winds up Sunday with a morning lineup of seminars as well as the extremely popular and standing-room-only Quickfire Cookoff pitting star chefs Richard Blais against Kevin Sbraga.

Categories: Uncategorized