Posts Tagged ‘chablis’

Of Chablis, Oyster Cebiche, Ocean Floor and Sensorial Glory

April 2, 2010

“I prefer the 2007 Chablis wines to the 08’s. They are more classic, with acidic minerality. 2008, which some favor, shows more fruit. But what makes Chablis different is the electric acidity, unlike that of any other white wine in the world”. I heard those words last night, tasting a flight of Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis wines. Today, enjoying a sip of the 2007  Montmains Premier Cru next to a Royal Miyagi oyster cebiche, I fully understand their meaning. Frederic Brouca, Brocard’s Manager Sommelier for North America, planted the idea in my head, when he saw my card. More precisely, when he heard my accent. “Where is that accent from” asked Frederic, with an accent. “Peruvian. Ok. Taste this. Would this pair well with cebiche?”. As it turned out, Frederic knows his Peruvian cebiche as well as his white wines. I tried to imagine the combination, sipping the Montmains. That intense minerality, like the memory of the soil itself, has connotations of marine scents. Which is not strange at all, given that what makes Chablis’ terroir unique is the presence of billions of marine fossils in the Kimmeridgian subsoil where the vineyards thrive. The acidity exacerbates those “memories” on my palate, tingling with very subtle fruit and a brushstroke of salinity. The finish is long like time itself, memories of ocean floors that have been, of floods, of previous episodes of earth warming. That is what the wine transmits, the vine only acting as a way for the earth expressing itself. “Oysters” I think. “Oyster cebiche.” I have a plan in my mind.

Besides the extremely lean and mean Montmains, Frederic poured a glass of the Boissonneuse, a Chablis of lesser appellation that is yeasty, richer. The lees are stirred on this one, which has also the hallmark acidity but allows the fruit to show more, in a nice balance. A good wine to discover the beauty of Chablis at an affordable price ($36-40). Next in the flight, the Grand Cru Le Clos shines on the nose, a breeze of green apple crushed in a stone mortar. The palate is equally delicious, and had not Frederic told me that this wine spends some time in very old oak vats, I may have not noticed the almost imperceptible trace of wood. Sfumato is the word that comes to mind. The acidity and marine minerality, impeccable. Magnifico. This wine is available in Vancouver in the 80-90 dollar range.

After saying goodbye to Frederic, I walk home with a demi-bouteille of the Motnmains ($25-28), already thinking of the half dozen Royal Miyagis waiting at home. I also think “damn, I wish I could speak French.” Somehow, talking to Frederic about wine, I felt the need for expressing myself in the language of romantic, culinary and enological endeavors. How can you speak in English of la finesse et la mineralite without sounding hopelessly clunky?

THE RECIPE

Enough of that; to the Cebiche. Shucked the oysters with a New Haven style oyster knife, the only kind that really works. Saved every bit of the liquid, the oyster’s “blood.” I used very little hot pepper, a quarter of a red Thai. I could have used even less, as any excess in the heat will negate the subtleties of the wine. Squeezed half a lime, perhaps a bit more. A few flat (Italian) parsley leaves, chopped very fine. Half a shallot, again, sliced very fine and rinsed in cold water. I waited not; oysters are at their best raw. The cebiche was stupendous. Would the pairing work?

I held the glass of Montmains near my mouth. My nose was aflame with the vapors from the lime, the Thai pepper, the oysters: The sea itself. Like a river that meets the ocean, those aromas blended with the ones coming from the glass. The intense acidity of the wine equaled that of the cebiche, the traces of marine minerality from the Chablis encountered their match in the flavor of the oysters still reverberating on my palate. I thanked God for making Chablis possible.

A bientot.

Oysters, oysters, oysters

March 4, 2010

You love white wine? Then there is a good chance you love oysters. They go together, hand in hand. Wine is good for you, we all know that. But not everyone knows eating oysters is good for your health too. Great nutrition: Oysters are one of the best sources of a bunch of stuff that is good for you.

Besides tasting like…I was going to say heaven but actually they taste like the sea itself. Besides that, from a nutrition point of view, they are one of the best balanced of foods, containing protein, carbohydrates and fat. They also pack vitamins and essential minerals like iron, copper, iodine, magnesium, calcium, zinc, manganese and phosphorus. As such they are a great snack for the elderly, the infirm, the sexually insatiable, pregnant women and kids…if you can get them to eat the slimy stuff.

As we all know, oysters are the food of love, and from time immemorial people all over the world have celebrated their aphrodisiac qualities. I have celebrated them MANY times. And they taste so good… try them mid morning after you have partied late into the night drinking lots of wine (or whatever else it is that you drink when you party) Nothing will put you back in business as a half dozen oysters on the half shell with a squeeze of lemon or your favorite hot sauce. If you are not going to work you can then pair them with some good white, like Chablis or Sauvignon Blanc. Oh yummy. What am I doing writing? Its sunny out there and I am hungry. Don’t limit your choice of wines to those frenchies. Try some Oyster Bay or Ketu Bay from New Zealand. A made in BC Ehrenfelser may also compliment them well. Gray Monk makes a killer Ehren for 16 bucks.

And remember, unlike farmed salmon, farmed oysters should be welcome. Oyster farming is an old activity, so old that even the Romans practiced it. The French have been into it since the 18th century. Oysters, like other bivalves (mussels, clams) “clean” the seawater, as they filter it in search of microalgae and plankton which constitutes their diet. A lot of wild oyster populations have been decimated in our BC coasts as well as in many other places. Farming reduces the pressure on native stocks and provides employment in remote areas without polluting the ocean waters. What are you waiting for? Go grab your wife, lover, partner or friend with benefits, shuck a dozen –or two- and down them with your favorite white. The rest…you know what to do ; )

Cheers,

IvanAlfonso

Give Chablis a Try

March 3, 2010

Chablis is one of those appellations that nobody seems to care about. Pronounced shah.blee, its white wines appear to be too obscure and rather expensive to be worth trying . Why buy Chablis Chardonnay when you can buy Burgundy? Why pay 30 dollars for an entry level bottle when a solid Californian or Argentinean Chard can be bought for less than 25? (I’m thinking Liberty School or Catena here).

 

Poor Chablis, has a problem of  image and communications. A lot of people still link Chablis to those harsh whites from California that flooded shelves back in the 70’s and 80’s. Who would like to pay money for those? To compound the problem, Chablis is not an emblematic French appellation in the way of Bordeaux, Burgundy or Rhone. And then, the average run to the wine shop is about good value and good value these days is a good white under 20 or a great red under 30. Most people hesitate about spending $30 for a white wine unless already proven.

 

So, Chablis has everything against it and may well never be on top of the consumer’s mental list of wines to take home. Which is rather sad, because some of these Chardonnay varietals can be just plain delicious and deliver a fresh minerality that will satisfy experts and neophytes alike. The acidity in these wines chisels their fruit flavors, making them memorable on the palate. And these days there are a few products from the appellation that can do all that without sending you running to the closest ATM for extra cash.

 

Geographically (or enologically) Chablis is part of Burgundy, although looking at a map it lies a little far north and east of its most famous cousins, i.e., Cote de Beaune and Cote de Nuits (which can also read “world’s best Chardonnay and best Pinot Noir”). Like the rest of Burgundy, you may get lost in the hierarchy of appellations, so for ease of reading, and of drinking, let’s make clear that you may want to stay away from Petit Chablis, and that serious Chablis start at the Premier Cru level. Having said that, I should bite my tongue, as one of the white wines I have enjoyed the best lately has been precisely a Petit Chablis.

 

The thing with Petit Chablis is that it lacks the strong limestone content that characterizes the best of the region’s vineyards. There is always an exception to every rule and I am sure there must be many exceptions here. But the one I would like to mention is William Fevre’s Petit Chablis 2007. Fevre is an important producer all across the board, with truly awesome Premier Cru and Grand Cru products. This lesser relative has a strong marine breeze of a nose, followed by punching acidity underscoring its apple and citrusy flavors. At $28, it is a great way to become familiar with the appellation. This is real value, brought to Vancouver by Grady Wine Marketing. Good job there, boys.

 

The next echelon above has the Chablis denomination proper. In Vancouver you will easily identify the La Chablisienne line of wines. This is a large cooperative, which, in spite of its size has been delivering good quality through the years. The Vancouver Wine Awards annual show picked the La Pierrelee Chablis 2006 in its 100+ best wines of the year. For a mere 28 dollars you get a vibrant combination of well balanced lemony apple and chalky minerality. Unflagging acidity and lovely staying power on the palate, make this one a winner. I love these Chardonnays on their own but they surely compliment nicely a dozen Kumamoto oysters on the half shell. By the way, if you are into shellfish, keep in mind that farmed oysters –unlike farmed salmon– are good for the environment and for your health.

 

Next time you are looking for a thirst quenching, bone dry, steely and rich Chardonnay but you don’t want it harsh or austere to the point of boredom or overwhelming with butter, try the fruits of Chablis. In a future posting I will visit a few Premier and Grand Cru, which, with the addition of oak (no new oak, only second use or older barrels) will give you new insights into what wonders the Chardonnay from this appellation can deliver.

 

The wines mentioned above are listed and can be found both in LDB and private stores.

Hasta la vista.

Ivan Alfonso

 

 

Grilled Squid for Christmas

December 24, 2009

Not very traditional, I know, but long ago I renounced eating turkey out of ethical and health considerations. Plus, grilled squid tastes a lot better than the bird. The slippery creatures live free in the oceans and with increasing water temperatures, there is a cephalopod bonanza all over the world. In fact, in some areas, like off the coast of California, the large Humboldt squid are becoming a problem due to their abundance. In today’s vulnerable seas, the squid fisheries is one of the sustainable ones.

The recipe offered here  is a mix of what I tasted in Piran, a lovely town on the Adriatic shores of Slovenia and my father’s own, which he borrowed -and bettered- from Japanese immigrants in the Peruvian port of El Callao.  The original Mediterranean and Adriatic recipe includes garlic, lemon and parsley. The soy sauce and ginger additions are definitely Asian. This  is a very simple and simply delicious meal.

Grab a 2 pound pack of frozen squid tubes and tentacles, thaw, wash with fresh water, rinse and pat dry. Marinate in a bowl with crushed garlic (2 cloves), chili flakes (to taste), chopped fresh ginger (a thimble full), white wine (I used half a cup of inexpensive Australian Chardonnay) and a few dashes of soy sauce. For this latter ingredient, I used the light version. Marinate in fridge for 6 hours.

Heat a cast iron skillet and brush it with cooking oil Iif you have a bbq all the better). Take the squid marinade, pat dry on a t-towel and grill on cast iron skillet over high heat. Don’t overcrowd the skillet; you should have about half of the surface covered with tubes and tentacles. You will need a couple of minutes until brown. Set aside in warm oven and continue until all squid is grilled.

Serve immediately on warm platter. Pour plenty of your favorite olive oil (when I say plenty I mean swimming in oil) and squirt a lemon on the dish. Sprinkle with a handful of finely chopped parsley and eat with Portuguese buns or Parisian Baguette.

Wine choices: Albarino from Northern Spain, Burgans is a good option. Raimat Chardonnay Albarino would also accompany this plate with elan. Chablis and Falanghina would also enhance this dish.

Merry Christmas to all!