Monday, August 29, 2005

Tasting the inventive cuisine of Daniel Humm

We live 45 minutes away from San Francisco and do not go to the city very often. So we were very excited by our Saturday night reservation at Campton Place where young Swiss chef Daniel Humm is now well-known for his innovative style of refined, contemporary French cuisine.

It was early in the evening and the dining room was quiet. A beige and brown color scheme gave the room a refined and subdued look with the main point of interest being a hand-blown glass sculpture at the ceiling, resembling a giant orchid.

We took the tasting menu, a bite-sized 13 course menu highly recommended by our friend Nelson, along with the wine pairing. Humm's philosophy is "not trying to invent new flavor combinations, but instead take traditional combinations and present them in different ways" and, overall, the tasting menu had a lot of wonderful dishes. I personally enjoyed the airy texture of the sauces, the light but flavorful broths and fumets and some of the chef's surprising culinary associations. But we found the wine pairing to be much more inconsistent and regretted at the end not having selected our own wines instead.

Sorbet of Cherry Tomatoes with Pickled Cucumbers and Marinated Anchovy

After some amuse-bouche, we started the tasting menu with a Sorbet of Cherry Tomatoes with Pickled Cucumbers and Marinated Anchovy. it was beautifully presented and had fresh and delicious gazpacho-like flavors. No wine was served with it and we were glad to have taken a glass of Champagne at the beginning of the dinner.

Following up, the Fantasy of Eggs, an half-cooked egg layered with sea urchin and caviar and topped with sea urchin foam, offered a striking combination of flavors and textures. It was accompanied by a Champagne Brut Veuve Clicquot, an traditional Champagne-caviar match.

The Consommé of Hawaiian Prawns infused with Saffron, Green Apple, and Ginger was very light and again rich in flavors, but the wine served, a 2003 Jean-Luc Colombo Viognier La Violette, was too warm and seemed flat.

I found one of the best wine pairings to be the Aiguillette of John Dory "Sous-Vide" with Saffron Fumet and Tomatoes, and the 2001 Savennières Domaine des Baumard Clos du Papillon. The light fumet was full of complex flavors that worked very well with the Savennières, a dry and mineral wine, full of character.

Another successful pairing was the Wild Alaskan Halibut "Mi-Cuit" with Chorizo and Bouillabaisse Sauce and the 2003 Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru La Maltroie Michel Colin-Deleger et Fils. Here, the dish was bursting with Mediterranean flavors and the full-bodied Chassagne-Montrachet was delicious.

Trio of Tartare, Kona Kompachi, Bluefin Tuna, Hirame

Some interesting and surprising pairings were the Trio of Tartare, Kona Kompachi, Bluefin Tuna, Hirame and the Sake Wakatake Onikoroshi Junmai Daiginjo Shizuoka-Prefecture, as well as the Melody of Summer (Goat cheese with olive oil sauce) and the Manzanilla Papirusa Emilio Lustau.

I regretted having taken the wine pairing when our only meat-based dish was served. A Braised Snake River Farms Short Rib with seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Garden Peas and Chanterelles was paired with a 2001 Rioja Finca Allende. The dish was fantastic with rich and intense flavors coming from a cooked-to-perfection rib, the foie gras and the chanterelles. But unfortunately, the wine did not stand up to the dish. It did not have enough body and had too much acidity. At this point, I was really longing for a good Médoc.

Artisan Foie Gras en Torchon with Aged Maple Syrup

The best wine of the evening was, I believe, the 1986 Château Raymond-Lafon. It was served with an Artisan Foie Gras en Torchon with Aged Maple Syrup. The wine was luscious and refined with a lingering finish, and it was a treat with the buttery and nutty flavors of the foie gras.

The dinner ended with a series of desserts that were mixed successes, and also too many sweet wines. I found the best dessert to be the Valrhona Chocolate Pastilla with Orange Guajillo Confit and Chicory Mix, accompanied by an excellent 1999 Királyudvar Cuvée Ilona Tokaj.

The one I did not like at all was the candy flavored Jasmine Orange Cappuccino with Pixie Sticks, served with a not too inspiring 2004 Paolo Saracco Moscato d'Asti.

At the end of the dinner, we asked for the sommelier and tried to offer our feedback but I am not sure he cared too much about our comments.

One of the rules of thumb for food and wine pairing is matching the quality of food with the quality of wine. The food was, most of the time, very inspiring but the wines being served were of unequal quality. We also had too many sparkling wines (4) and sweet wines (4) for our taste.

Should we come back? Maybe. But no wine pairing this time!

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Monday, August 22, 2005

A new style of rosé

in the August 2005 edition of Decanter Magazine, Sarah Marsh explains how Provençal rosés are moving to a pale, dry, elegant, and delicate new style.

Many of these wines used to be made using the saignée method, a winemaking technique which eliminates some free-run juice from the red wine crush to concentrate the remaining must and increase its flavors. This free-run juice is then used for the rosé wine. This method produces dark colored and slightly bitter wines that are just by-products of the main red wine production.

Now, producers of new-wave rosé are looking for wines with a delicate pale hue, elegant, aromatic, and full of freshness. They are using state of the art equipment for a gentle handling of the grapes.

The rosé wines of Château Minuty are good examples of these new-wave wines. The winery is located near the village of Gassin in the Saint-Tropez Peninsula.

The winery owns 65 hectares of hillside vineyards at the foot of the village that are cultivated without pesticides or fertilizer and harvested manually. The rosé wines are blends of Grenache, Tibouren, Syrah, and Cinsault. Tibouren is an old Provençal variety that brings spices and aromas of garrigue to the the wine.

Winemaking is traditional but uses modern equipment like pneumatic presses. The grapes macerate with their skins under carbon dioxide for only few hours to extract color and aromas.

Tasting Notes

2004 Côtes de Provence Rosé Cru Classé Château Minuty Cuvée de l'Oratoire: a blend of Grenache, Tibouren, and Cinsault, the wine has a deep salmon-pink color and fresh berry aromas on the nose. It is dry on the palate with some lively acidity on the finish.

2004 Côtes de Provence Rosé Cru Classé Château Minuty Prestige: a blend of Grenache and Tibouren, the wine is very pale in hue, with delicate flavors on the nose. On the palate, it is full-bodied with a fat mouthfeel and little acidity, followed by a long finish. It tastes almost like a white wine.


Friday, August 19, 2005

Vacationing in Provence: a wonderful dinner at the Moulin à Huile in Vaison La Romaine

The gastronomic highlight of the vacation was a dinner at the Moulin à Huile, a Guide Michelin one star restaurant in Vaison La Romaine.

The restaurant is located in a former olive oil mill at the foot of the city's famous roman bridge. At the door, our group was warmly welcomed by Mme Bardot, who led us to our seats in a handsome dining room with an arched ceiling, white painted walls, and embroidered tablecloths. Our party included four kids, aged between 11 and 15 years old, who proudly took possession of their own table.

Chef Robert Bardot offers a six course tasting menu called Promenade au soleil de Provence, which showcases a creative cuisine combining Provençal and exotic flavors.

We started with a very tasty Friandise de foie gras et langoustines sur copeaux de mangue, sauce siam, radis et cornichons

For the fish entree, we had the difficult task of choosing between two excellent dishes:
the Pavé de lotte, cocos de Mollans, sauce ravigote de la Réunion

and the Filet de rouget rôti, lime, compote de fenouil, tapenade, huile de safran et coriandre

The wine list features a rich selection of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Côtes du Rhône wines from local wineries.
We selected a 2003 Vacqueyras Blanc Domaine La Monardière to go with our appetizers and fish. Showing a lovely aromatic nose of floral, pineapple, and roasted chesnut flavors, the wine had a richly textured palate with a fat mouthfeel and a long lingering finish. It was a fabulous wine to accompany such a flavorful cuisine.

The main course was as delicious. The menu proposed a Carré d'agneau rôti aux trois parfums, risotto au parmesan, curry, combava, carotte au miel et cumin, huile de rouge

or a Râble de lapin au romarin, beurre de moutarde, petit palet des hauts de côtes et pistache, mousse de petits pois, pommes de terre negresse

With these dishes, we drank a 2001 Chateauneuf-du-Pape Domaine de la Janasse. Showing a ripe, fruity nose, the wine was dense and spicy but smooth on the palate, followed by a lengthy finish with additional notes of chocolate with almond. It was the perfect match for the oriental spices of the lamb as well as the mustard sauce and gamey flavors of the rabbit.

Followed a plate of local artisanal cheeses called Symphonie du berger.

At this point, we were not hungry any more but the dessert course seemed too yummy to be missed. We had the choice between:

the Sablé aux fraises, gelée de Bissap, caramel de beurre salé,

the Millefeuille à la crème vanillée,

the Palet de chocolat aux amandes, crème à la violette,

and the Tian aux oeufs et vanille, chocolat au lait glacé.

As if that weren't enough, an offering of Mignardises arrived after dessert. Everything looked delicious but unfortunately, there was no way we could eat any more food.

We found the rich flavors and textures of all these dishes perfectly balanced. The dinner was also a memorable experience for the kids. They had a wonderful time and loved every part of the menu.

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Vacationing in Provence: wine tasting

We spent one day touring the wineries of the nearby Rhône valley.

The wine region of Côtes du Rhône is a land rich in diversity.

The climate is Mediterranean with heavy rains, high temperatures, and exceptional amounts of sunshine. The fierce Mistral wind, which blows down the RhÙne valley and out into the Mediterranean sea, is actually beneficial to the vine's development as it helps keep the region dry and the grapes disease-resistant. The soil is mostly limestone covered with alluvial deposits.

There are many grape varieties growing in the Southern Rhône valley and they originate from different areas. The Cinsault, Clairette, and Bourboulenc come from France's Mediterranean region. The Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvèdre come from Spain, brought by travellers centuries ago. And Syrah, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier are thought to have come from the Alpine regions of Dauphiné and Savoie.

Traditional winemaking in the region is to blend these varietals in order to obtain wines of increased richness and multi-dimensional complexity. Grenache, a very heat- and drought-resistant grape, is the dominant red varietal. It produces very fruity wines that are high in alcohol, low in acidity, and prone to oxidation. Mourvèdre and Syrah are usually added to the blend to bring firmer tannins, resistance to oxidation, and longevity to the wine. Cinsault brings acidity and freshness.

The noblest white varietals growing in the region are Roussanne, which is high in acidity, very racy, and has a great potential to age, and Viognier, a grape with an exquisite and exotic bouquet. Grenache Blanc is, like the red Grenache, very drought-resistant. It produces aromatic wines with crisp acidity and high alcohol. Clairette brings floral aromas, low acidity, and high alcohol to the blend. Bourboulenc adds freshness and acidity, and Marsanne, color, body, and relatively simple fruity flavors.

There are many wineries to visit in the area, most of them open for tasting during the week. That day, we visited five of them, recommended by the Bettane&Desseauve guide, and were very impressed by the overall quality of the wines we tasted.

Domaine de l'Oratoire St. Martin

We started our trip with the village of Cairanne and our first visit was for the Domaine de l'Oratoire St. Martin. The domain is named after an oratory built in the middle of the vines. The vineyard is planted with a high percentage of old vines, the oldest being 96 years old. For the red wines, they have some Grenache (approx. 60%), Mourvèdre, the domain's favorite variety (approx. 30%), and Syrah, and for the white wines, some Marsanne (approx. 50%), Roussanne (approx. 30%), Clairette (approx. 15%), and Viognier. The soil is stony with a high percentage of limestone, yellow clay on the surface, and blue clay deeper. The white varietals and the Syrah grapes are grown on the cooler, north-east facing slopes and the sun-loving Grenache and MourvËdre grapes are grown on the warmer south-west facing slopes. The vines are cultivated without pesticides or fertilizer and the grapes are harvested manually.

At the winery, we were friendlily welcomed by the daughter of the house. That day, she was just replacing her sick mother but she did a great job in the tasting room. Here are the wines that we chose to taste:

2004 Côtes du Rhône Blanc Domaine de l'Oratoire St. Martin: a blend of Roussanne, Clairette, and Viognier. Very aromatic nose with pineapple and mango aromas. On the palate, dry with a fat mouthfeel and a fresh, lively finish.

2004 Cairanne Domaine de l'Oratoire St. Martin Réserve des Seigneurs: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Very dark and purple color. Sweet blackberry aromas on the nose followed by spices and pepper on the palate. Very pleasant finish.

2003 Cairanne Domaine de l'Oratoire St. Martin Cuvée Prestige: a blend of Grenache and Mourvèdre, this Cuvée Prestige comes from 98 years old vines. Powerful nose with fruity and peppery aromas. On the palate, dense, juicy, and chewy with a long finish. A big wine but well balanced.

Domaine Dominique Rocher

Our next stop was the Domaine Dominique Rocher. Dominique Rocher used to own a restaurant in London until an inheritance from his father allowed him to purchase a hillside vineyard planted with 40 years old vines in Cairanne. He is passionate about his vineyard, which he farms organically and harvests manually, and his wines that he makes traditionally but with state of the art technology.
With Monsieur Rocher, comfortably seated under the nice shade of a pergola covered with vines, we tasted the following wines:

2002 Blanc de Gris Domaine Dominique Rocher: 100% Grenache Gris. Subdued nose. Fresh and light-bodied on the palate, dry finish. Should go well with a young goat cheese.

2003 Cairanne Domaine Dominique Rocher: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan. Fruity nose, spicy heat on the palate, medium finish.

2001 Cairanne Monsieur Paul Domaine Dominique Rocher: a blend of Grenache and Syrah from the oldest lots of the domaine and aged in 100% oak. Rich, ripe berry nose. Powerful, full-bodied wine with a lengthy tannic finish. Should continue to age well in the bottle for many years.

Domaine Brusset

The domain's terraced vineyards at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail in Gigondas [from Brusset].

Our last visit in Cairanne was the Domaine Brusset. Founded in 1947 by André Brusset, the domain is now run by his son Daniel and his grand-son Laurent. The family owns several vineyards in Cairanne, Gigondas, Carpentras, and in the generic Côte du Rhône appellation. For the red and rosé wines, they are planted with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Carignan, and for the white wines, with Clairette, Bourboulenc, Marsanne, and Viognier.

We had an interesting tour of the winery's facilities where one can see three generations of winemaking equipments. The domain produces a large range of wines from different appellations, but in the tasting room, we decided to limit ourselves to those from Cairanne and also from the striking, terraced vineyard at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail in Gigondas:

2003 Cairanne Domaine Brusset Coteaux des Travers: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. Cherry liqueur on the nose, medium-bodied on the palate with a balanced and round finish.

2003 Cairanne Domaine Brusset Laurent Brusset Vendange Chabrille: a blend of
Grenache and Syrah, this cuvée is a selection of 80 years old vines growing on a south-facing slope named Chabrille.
Sweet fruity nose, full-bodied on the palate and smooth finish.

2003 Gigondas Domaine Brusset Tradition Le Grand Montmirail: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. Attractive nose showing ripe berry fruits, full-bodied with sweet aromas on the palate, long finish. This wine is delicious to drink now.

2001 Gigondas Domaine Brusset Les Hauts de Montmirail: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, this cuvÈe is aged in 100% oak, 30% new. Dark color, woody aromas on the nose with cherry liqueur notes, rich, dense mouthfeel on the palate, followed by a long spicy finish. The wine is still very young and should continue to develop further depth and complexity in the bottle.

Domaine La Soumade

After a relaxing lunch in the nearby village of Sainte-Cécile les Vignes, we drove to Rasteau to visit the Domaine La Soumade. André Romero, owner of the domain, is one of the best vignerons in Rasteau and believes in low yields, traditional vinification and unfiltered, unfined wines. He makes rich and powerful wines that can age at least a decade. We felt warmly welcomed in the tasting room and were offered to taste the following wines:

2001 Rasteau Domaine La Soumade Cuvée Prestige: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. Powerful nose. On the palate, dense with peppery aromas. Lively acidity on the finish.

2002 Rasteau Domaine La Soumade Cuvée Prestige: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. More subdued nose, earthy aromas on the palate and nice finish.

2001 Rasteau Domaine La Soumade Cuvée Confiance: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre from old vines grown on blue clay. Intense peppery nose. Tight tannins on the palate with oaky aromas. Very long finish. This wine has a lot of potential.

2003 Côtes du Rhône Domaine de la Soumade Les Violettes: a blend of Syrah, Viognier, and Roussanne, this is a Côte Rôtie like wine made from vines growing on cooler clay soil. Purple color, sweet and flowery nose, full-bodied with licorice aromas on the palate, followed by a long, velvety finish. A pleasure to drink.

Domaine Les Goubert

We ended our trip with a visit of Domaine Les Goubert in Gigondas. The Domaine Les Goubert is one of the oldest wineries in town and produces complex and rich wines from the villages of Gigondas, Sablet, Beaumes de Venise as well as a generic Côte du Rhône. The vineyards have different exposures and a rich diversity of soils. They are planted with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Clairette, Picpoul Noir, Terret Noir, Vaccarèse, and Carignan for the red wines, and with Clairette, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, and Viognier for the white wines.

Once again, the tasting was a treat:

2002 Côtes du Rhône Domaine Les Goubert Cuvée de V: 100% Viognier. Bright golden color, attractive aromatic nose with notes of apricot and peach. On the palate, fresh and dry. A truly pleasurable wine.

2003 Gigondas Domaine Les Goubert: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Clairette.
Very fragrant nose offering kirsch liqueur aromas. Rich and dense on the palate, followed by a long peppery finish. This wine is a pleasure to drink now.

2001 Gigondas Domaine Les Goubert: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Clairette.
Attractive fruity nose but on the palate, seems less dense than the 2003.

1998 Gigondas Domaine Les Goubert: a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Clairette.
The nose shows more pepper than fruit. On the palate, earthy and spicy aromas. A great match with games and venison.

2001 Gigondas Domaine Les Goubert Cuvée Florence: a blend of Grenache and Syrah, it is vinified in 100% oak 50% new. The nose is still very woody with some caramel aromas. On the palate, it shows big spicy flavors with some gamey notes. A wine to lay down for some years.

Domaine La Monardière

Unfortunately, we did not have the time to reach Vacqueyras that day but later on, we were lucky to taste two delicious wines from Domaine La Monardière, in nearby restaurants:

2003 Vacqueyras Blanc Domaine La Monardière: we selected this wine at the Moulin à Huile in Vaison La Romaine. Very appealing nose with floral notes as well as pineapple and roasted chesnut aromas. Richly textured palate with a fat mouthfeel, followed by a lingering finish. Terrific wine to have with some rouget à la tapenade or a lotte à la Provençale.

2004 Vacqueyras Rosé Domaine La Monardière: we had this wine at the charming Resto des Arts in Nyons. Fresh and fruity nose, delicate aromas on the palate, lively finish. A great accompaniment to a relaxed Provençal lunch.

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