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Archive for November, 2010

Wine accessories

November 11, 2010

Should you spend $20 on a single wine glass?

About 8 years ago, I heard the Riedel glassware pitch at a wine tasting event.

The marketing professional in me sat skeptical in the back of the room as they told us how every glass in their extensive product line was created to suit the characteristics of a particular wine. They went on about how bowl size and shape matters down to the millimeter and milliliter, as does the edge, because there is an ideal way to lay out wine on the tongue. Ha!

At the end, I stood up and clapped — they had crafted a believable story to justify the purchase of up to 40 different types of glasses starting at $20 each! I then went home to my thick-edged, $3 glass stems and, not knowing what I was missing, loved them for many more years.

Fast forward to 2 years ago. I was sitting in a wine-pairing class in the back of Murray’s Cheese on Bleeker Street in New York. The instructor’s final words to us were: great glassware matters, and even more so if you are drinking $10-20 wines.

Hearing this message, my wife went out and bought me my first Riedel stems (red Burgundy and syrah) and we soon decided to do some reasonably scientific tests amongst ourselves and our friends over the next few months.

The results? Astounding. First and foremost, there is a HUGE difference in the nose and flavor of the same wine, served in different glasses. Second, especially with lower-end value wines, thin-edged crystal like Riedel makes wine unquestionably more enjoyable than thicker-edged glass stems. Finally, about 60-70% of tasters preferred pinot noir served in a pinot noir glass, a syrah in a syrah glass, etc. Cabernet served in a pinot glass was just not as tasty to many folks.

So…my skepticism now aside, I can say that Riedel, Spiegelau, et. al are right and I believe that most wine enthusiasts should order them. And if not Riedel, any other fine wine glass manufacturer ( etc.) will do.

Before these trials, I would have never been able to justify $20+ on a single stem of glassware. But today, we have about 30 of them at home. And best yet, premium crystal is much more durable than cheaper glass, ergo, we have not broken a stem during standard “dinner party” usage in over 4 years.

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November 10, 2010

Why Portland won the last 4 of 6 Food & Wine Best New Chef awards

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Source: PDX Eater

I’m so very proud of my hometown’s ascension to the national food scene over the past few years.  The latest news:  Castagna chef Matt Lightner picked up a 2010 Best New Chef Award in NYC from Food and Wine magazine.

Is it uncanny that four of the past six awards have gone to Portland chefs?  I say no.  The potential has always been there, but historically, it lacked a few catalysts that the bigger cities had.  When I left the Pacific Northwest in 1997, the food scene was emerging — but slowly at best.  San Francisco, L.A. and Manhattan were so far ahead.  And Portland was a waifish sibling to Seattle.

So what changed?  I think there are three major catalysts:

1) The big-city-to-PDX diaspora. Since the late 1990s, big-city kids have been coming to Portland in droves in search of a higher-quality lifestyle.   With them, they brought home equity gains and worldly appetites — and formed a dining-out critical mass that Portland historically lacked.

2) Portland became known as a spot for low-cost restaurant innovation. The rosy American dream of “opening up a restaurant” is so much more possible in Portland than it is in New York.  In Portland, a mid-level big-city chef can open her own shop much earlier in her career.  So many talented chefs who could cook in any city decided to call Portland home.  And if the first venture can’t be done on credit cards, Portland’s wealthy (aka angel investors) don’t need a venture capital partner to bankroll the next Pok Pok.

3) Local sourcing came back en vogue. It’s well known that some of the world’s best dirt and water is within 200 miles of Portland.  But this didn’t matter much between 1950-1990.  During this time,  the supermarket and corporate farm concepts ruled, so uniformed-sized pink tomatoes and iceberg lettuce from Albertson’s were the norm.  Once small farms came back in vogue, Portland was in a better position than practically any other city in the nation for local agriculture.

But today the Rose City is bustling with food.  So much that I have only dined at four of Eater’s 38 top restaurants.

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November 9, 2010

Veuve Clicquot loses to a $16 sparkler in my blind tastings

It’s no secret that I’m usually not a buyer of well-marketed and well-branded wines. I like the smaller outfits and the underdogs.

As a rule, if a wine company is placing advertising in Cosmopolitan, or is selling its bottles in a cute little lace-up sock (see image, below), I assume that I am paying too much for what I get.

A great example of overpriced wines are many of the low-end(!) offerings from the top 10 Champagne houses of France. The yellow-label Veuve Clicquot has such awesome brand power, that most folks, who are willing to pay $100 for bubbly in a restaurant, will pick it first.

About 3-4 times per year, this Veuve shows up at my house. Don’t get me wrong, I like this wine. But I believe it’s almost triple the cost it should be.

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To prove a point — and introduce my guests to some amazing wine values — I usually open the yellow Veuve together with one of my favorite Cremants (non-Champagne AOC French sparkling wines) from regions such as Limoux or Bourgogne. Then I serve them to dinner party guests — blind and side by side — and ask them to simply choose one would they rather drink.

I’ll be honest, this is not the most scientific process. But the results are very consistent with one taste-off in particular: about 70% of folks will prefer the Jean-Louis Denois Brut NV over the Veuve.

That said, I though I’d share with you some of my favorite non-Champagne sparklers from France:

Denois Brut

Jean-Louis Denois Brut “Tradition” ($16)

This is the one that beats the Veuve Clicquot yellow label in my casual blind tastings and the one I served at my wedding. The guests were uniformly pleased. “JLD” has a brut style, with flavors of nuts and berries, vanilla and toast.

Bouillot

Cremant de Bourgogne Rosé, Perle d’Aurore, Louis Bouillot ($14)

A nice example of a rosé here. Blackcurrant and strawberry notes. This is a huge crowd pleaser, and I have even ordered it for large events full of snooty wine drinkers. Everyone loves it.

J. Laurens Brut Cremant de Limoux ($13)

Light and crisp, this sparkling wine has a nose of yeast and green apple. It’s got minerality and pears too. Quite different than the Denois, but just as likeable.