“Champagne Wishes and Country Fried Dreams” @faithandflower

Hooper and Hoagland

Wine Director Jared Hooper and Champagne Specialist Mike Hoagland

My passion in life is Italian wine, but a close second-place might be Champagne.  Cold, cutting acidity and lively bubbles.  Refreshing, yet serious at the same time.  Aromatically superior to any other category of sparkling wine.  Equally ready to lay down and develop for years in your cellar, or to be chilled immediately and enjoyed.

 How can you not be enthralled and seduced by Champagne?Menu-1

I had the chance to taste some real blockbusters the other night with Champagne Specialist Mike Hoagland, who presented the wines of Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, and Krug at Faith & Flower in downtown Los Angeles.  The night was all about celebrating Champagne in all its elegant finesse and bawdy playfulness.  A night of serious wines, down-home cooking, and enthusiastic revelers.

Rose-1

Veuve Clicquot Rosé NV, paired with creamed corn topped with corn bread which had been smothered in fresh white truffles.  Yep.  It worked.

I love food pairing with Champagne.  There is so much to work with!  These are not typically delicate wines- they have backbone and verve!  Try Champagne with a grilled steak.  Or a cheeseburger.  Or pizza.  Seriously.  As Mike Hoagland reminded us, “these are wines equally well-enjoyed in a fancy restaurant as they are from a paper cup on a beach.”  Agreed.  And don’t relegate your Champagne to brief stints as the welcoming party-opener before the “serious stuff” is opened.  These wines are serious.  And fun.  And they deserve their time in the spotlight!

Popcorn

Salty, spicy, herbed popcorn with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV.

I love the idea of taking a “luxury”or “specialty” product like “Champagne” and delivering it in an unorthodox way.  Opening with a glass of Ruinart (Champagne’s oldest winery), and serving something fun and addicting like this salty popcorn really struck a chord with me.  Thank you, Jared Hooper & Chef Michael Hung, for giving me something I want to eat with this fine glass of wine.  Oh, and double thank you for making it a great pairing that truly highlights the wine.

And thank you most of all for not taking it all too seriously, and for letting me enjoy myself while I experience this excellent food & wine combination!

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Veuve Clicquot Vintage 1985.  En Magnum.

What do you pair with the most impressive, Vintage Champagne in your wine dinner?

Well, (and this is why I am a little bit in love with Chef Michael Hung right now), why not a brilliant little play on the classic green bean casserole?  Bright, snappy green beans cooked to a perfect al dente, kissed by some kind of creamy-mustardy sauce and spiked with radishes and tarragon.  Topped with the requisite fried onions, this was the most platonic incarnation of that classic holiday casserole I have ever tasted.  And it was brilliant with the wine.  Just enough acidity to match the wine- more than enough toothsome umami to play nicely with the bubbles.  Perfection.

Greenbeans-1

High-class green beans.

At this point in the dinner I started to really get into the wine and food pairings.  It was playful- like being on a really fancy picnic. Post-modern foodie stuff.  With great lighting and ambiance. And beautiful people. And perfectly polished stemware.Krug-1

Krug Grande Cuvée NV. Classic guilty-sommelier-pleasure.  Paired with…

FRIED CHICKEN!

Chicken-1

Continuing in our salute to unconventional (yet brilliant) food and wine pairings, we arrived at the main course- Krug Grande Cuvée NV Champagne and Fried Chicken.  As Samantha Dugan (Champagne Specialist Extraordinaire) would say- Champagne and fried chicken is a pairing everyone should know about.  There is something special about that salty friend crunch paired with those happy, brightly-lit bubbles.  That acidity and bright fruit rolling over a grease-slicked palate.  It’s so happy.  I urge you to find the best fried chicken possible, and to enjoy it with the most awesome bottle of Champagne you can get your hand on.

You will not be disappointed.  And you’ll probably have a lot of fun.Jared HooperJared Hooper, Wine Director and General Champagne Advocate.

DemiSec-1Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV

paired seamlessly with a Not-Your-Mammas-Miso-Apple-Crumble.

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Mike Hoagland treated us to a sweet ending, using the Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV to highlight Chef Hung’s golden, flaky dream of a desert.  He decanted the Demi-Sec, explaining that this helps to loosen the bubbles a bit, rounding out the fruit in the Pinot Meunier-heavy wine.  Mike also informed us this “pays homage to the Widow Clicquot, who is the inventor of record for the riddling table, which allowed for Champagne wines to become significantly clarified during the riddling process.”  I think she’d be impressed with the food and wine pairing, as well as the dramatic fanfare.  The ritual of decanting is pretty sexy stuff.

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I love that there are people like Mike Hoagland and Jared Hooper in the world of wine, urging you to have fun with whatever you’re consuming.  Drink what is delicious.  Eat what you like.  Learn a little something while you’re at it.

And please, enjoy more Champagne!

La Sibilla: Lessons in Salt and Acidity

Falanghina and  Salty Fried Fish

Photo by Oliver McCrum- Falanghina and Salty Fried Fish.

One of my favorite terroir-minded producers from the area around Naples is La Sibilla, a winery owned and operated by 5 generations of the Di Meo family.  I love Southern Italian wines, especially from Campania.  This is where you can go deep into Italy’s history, and uncover the really authentic, time-tested grape varietals.  More importantly, you’ll also find winemakers here like La Sibilla who love and respect these local grapes, and with them continue to craft elegant and authentic wines.  Volcanic ash dominates the soil, the sea surrounds the vineyards and the local viticultural practices all combine to highlight what makes these wines special: salt and acidity. 

I became enthralled by the La Sibilla wines after having found them in California, thanks to Oliver McCrum, Italian Wine Importer Extraordinaire.  Rule of thumb if you love Italian wines- get to know your importers.  If you find one whose palate you appreciate, you’ll likely enjoy most of their wines.  For me, Oliver McCrum is a great example.  I will buy anything they import!download

I really love Falanghina, and the original version from La Sibilla is truly special.  As Oliver says on his site, “This is an excellent seafood wine. I also drink it as a dry aperitif, with olives and salami, while deciding what to make for dinner.”  

Basically, you should never be without a bottle of this wine in your fridge!

I also found a beautiful 2-minute video created by Farm+Cellar, an amazing marketing group dedicated to wine and agricultural endeavors.  These vidoes are truly the next best thing to actually walking the vineyards with these producers.  Watch this- if only just to see what a 100-year-old Falanghina vine tree looks like…

I was already enchanted by these wines, but now I am also in love with Vincenzo Di Meo, his sun-drenched vineyards, his adorable accent, and his beautiful family.  Even at such a young age his philosophy is wise beyond years, “I am 24.  She [the vine] is 100.  I cannot change her.  I can only take the best she can give to me.”  Now that’s some wine-making I can get behind.DiMeo

Photo by Oliver McCrum- Famiglia Di Meo of La Sibilla

Let the vineyards speak for themselves.  Invite us into your home, your vineyard. Let us discover what is so special about your particular place in the world- your history, your family.

Grazie, famiglia Di Meo.

(If you like what you see in this viedo, and you’d like to support Farm+Cellar in their good work, vote for them here, to help them win a business grant from Chase.  Come on, you know you liked it!)

Grandma Lorraine will teach you a lot about wine.

Mugsy-1I am Italian by ethnicity on my father’s side of the family.  Grandma Lorraine is his mother, my Calabrese nonna.  She’ll remind you she’s Calabrese too- anytime it’s convenient.  Mostly when she’s being stubborn about something and she’s using her cultural heritage to remind you she won’t change her mind about something. “I’m Calabrese,” she says as she raps her fist on the table.  “You know what they say about the Calabrese.  Hard-headed.” Continue reading

Kings of the Carso. @winestories

Benjamin Zidarich and his Vitovska

Friends of mine are going to the Carso soon.  I am ecstatic for them because, even as this is a place I have not yet seen in person, I feel like I know it already.  There will be a stiff breeze from the Adriatic and an electric, razor-sharp quality to the sunlight here.  There will be lots of wine, cured pork, lovely cheeses.  Bright red soil crunching under your feet.  A salty brine- electricity in the air.  

The wines from the Carso are authentic.  There’s no other word for them.  They are stone and sweat and dirt and rainwater.  They’re not orange wines because it’s hip to make orange wine.  Skin-contact is a necessary tool for ensuring native fermentation- not a political statement.  Color is secondary to the very nature of the wine. Stick your nose in a glass of Vitovska and you won’t care about the color anyway- it’s beguiling and smells of jasmine and tea leaves and sea-spray.  There’s acidity like a lightening bolt and a lingering umami that clings forever on your palate. The Carso is calling you!

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Bubbles by Benanti

Benanti Bubbles 1-1

I had the pleasure of tasting this bottle, Benanti’s Noblesse, a few weeks ago after we found it thanks to Dan Pirelli, at the Wine Hotel in Los Angeles.  100% Carricante grapes, 100% Etna.  Who says great sparkling is only made with Chardonnay?! Crisp and yeasty with a great acidity- this wine is masterful and will age well for many years. Although it’s not uncommon to find producers in Italy who work mainly with still wines, conducting sparkling wine “experiments” on the side, this bottling is clearly way more than a side project.   I love finding first-class bubbles in unexpected places!

When Giuseppe Benanti saw my picture posted to Facebook he was happy to comment:

“26 years ago, when I decided to take up this Ancient Family Passion of wine-making, I gave myself a goal: To make wine on Etna, from Etna, and to protect the great capacity of the terroir of our mountain!  …We stayed straight on this path, and we took no shortcuts.  Having been a pharmacist for 42 years prior, I can assure you of the time and effort we took to research and analyze various techniques- all of which were very familiar to me. Continue reading

Take me where I can see the Mountains. #valdossola #prünent

View of valleyA view of Val d’Ossola in Piemonte.

Wines are emotional for me- some more than others.   Cantine Garrone makes some of the most potent wines I know- effectively pulling at my heartstrings anytime I taste them. This obscure winery is the result of winemaker and visionary Mario Garrone’s unflagging love for his land.

vineyard management

Mario Garrone and Diego Meraviglia in the vineyard.

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Italian White Wines Can Age. #truth

Bisci 2003

 

I posted this picture on my Instagram and Twitter feeds last week and got a number of surprising responses. “Was it still good?” and “Does Verdicchio last that long?” and “Where did you find that? It’s so old!”

Yes!  Italian white wines can age!

I don’t know where or why the rumor that white wines (especially from Italy) should only be consumed when fresh and young was started, but it needs to be squashed- now.  Most of my epiphany-moments with Italian wines have been with older whites.  Benanti’s Pietramarina from Etna, Emidio Pepe’s Trebbiano,  Fiorano’s whites… the list is long, my friends.

For example, this Verdicchio di Matelica from classic producer, Bisci, is gorgeous with 10 years of bottle age.  The steeliness of youth found in some Verdicchio di Matelica wines is fleshed out by  the long, slow, micro-oxidation of the wine through its cork.  A wine that might have been overtly bright and cheerful in its youth become more brooding- complex, aromatic, and oilier on the palate.

For the record the pairing of this Verdicchio with savory, slow-grilled peaches and yogurt with basil and a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar was just about the most perfect food-and-wine pairing I can remember.  (Bravo, Geoff and Amber!) Now that’s my kind of dessert.

Valentini Trebbiano

 

Not every Italian white wine can age.  However you will find greatness  more often than not, especially with the combination of the right grape varietal, vinified by an experienced producer.  Verdicchio, Trebbiano, Soave, Fiano are all great places to start if you’re looking to taste some older whites wines from Italy.  These varietals all seem to have the backbone and the acidity to evolve with time.  Check out this great podcast by Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth at the Guild of Sommeliers.  You’ll start to understand what it takes to produces truly great white wines (that can age).

Open your mind.  Don’t be an ageist- talk to your favorite retailer and ask them when they have in the back of the shop.  My guess is, you’ll be happily surprised by what you find.

 

*By the way, that Bisci is available at the Wine House in Los Angeles (they ship everywhere) for only $27.99.  I would happily pay twice that for this level of deliciousness.