Tuesday, December 9, 2014

New York Finger Lakes - Day 2, November 29, 2014

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary's and Brian's blog about wine, food, culture, and people. In this post we're describing the second day of our Thanksgiving weekend visit to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The photo here shows the view from our bed and breakfast, looking down the slope of the lawn to a vineyard on the shore, and across Seneca Lake to the west side.
This view is from the driveway with a vineyard right next to us and Seneca Lake right in front. Across the water you can see vineyard sites on the other side.


The snow hasn't been a problem at all for getting around. The roads were fine. In fact, we think the wintry landscape enhanced the beauty of the experience. Bundling up against the cold, going into the warmth of winery tasting rooms, and getting to know the wine producers while looking out the windows at the snow, the evergreens, and the lake was wonderful.


Instead of the continental breakfast at the B&B, we opted to check out Berta's Cafe in nearby Burdett NY. What a delightful little town and what a delightful little cafe it is.




It's a homey place with a gas fireplace warming the one room.


The furnishings appear to be whatever Berta could find second hand, but the coffee was hot and delicious, a man was strumming a guitar, and we soaked up the ambience of a snowy late-November Saturday morning.


Berta makes everything from scratch, including the tortillas for breakfast tacos that were just delicious. She patties the tortillas from masa de maiz and cooks them up crisp on the grill, puts a fried egg on them, and tops them with refried black beans, chopped peppers, shredded cheese, and guacamole.
After breakfast we made our way over the ridge that separates Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake (pronounced kee-yewga) to Sheldrake Point, on the west side of Cayuga and practically right on the water.
The tasting room was large and modern. Like the producers we visited the previous day, the Riesling was their best effort, but they also had a nice Pinot Gris, the only place where we saw it, so we bought a few. Once again, we saw a clear trend that indicates the area is great for Riesling, but the producers are struggling a bit with almost all the other varietals. There seems to be a tendency to emphasize quantity over quality is some ways, which is an indication of a wine region still maturing.


It's a beautiful place and we'd like to visit again sometime.

After dinner the evening before, I read an article in the New York Times about an old state psychiatric hospital and the unmarked cemetery where patients were buried. By amazing coincidence, it was within a few miles of us, Willard State Hospital, so we drove around until we found the site. It closed in 1995 and is a sad and tired-looking place now. I wish I had made a few pictures.
We stopped at Wagner Winery on the basis of a review I read, but were completely unimpressed. Not only were the wines unremarkable, the visit was like rushing through an exhibit at an amusement park. Enough said about Wagner.
Down the road a piece and after a turn onto a long, bumpy dirt road that makes its way down the hill closer to the water's edge, we found Silver Thread Winery. I was actually glad it was harder to reach because I thought it might attract more serious-minded visitors and a higher quality product. This time, we were rewarded.
Paul and Shannon Brock took over the estate a few years ago and are part of the emerging trend of quality-minded producers in the Finger Lakes. We enjoyed the chance to chat with Paul while we tasted the wines. He is earnest and dedicated to his work. This image shows part of the vineyard on the slope down to the lake.  The narrow, deep lakes have a moderating influence on the vineyards, cooling them during the summer growing season and protecting them in the winter from the harshest freezing temperatures. The winter temps are actually warmer next to the water than farther away.

Our last winery stop of the day was the improbably-named Bloomer Creek Vineyard Winery. Here we found another producer that resonates with what we seek in a wine grower and winemaker, someone who is willing to sacrifice quantity for quality, to take care of the land, and let the place express itself in the in the wines. Kim Engle farms the vineyards, picks the grapes, makes the wines, and served us in his simple tasting facility overlooking Seneca Lake.
Kim limits yields to better concentrate and ripen the grapes. He limits use of herbicides and insecticides. He doesn't inoculate with cultured yeast, preferring instead to allow ambient yeast to initiate fermentation, which takes longer to complete. His wines are vivid, compelling, precise, interesting. In addition to his Riesling, we found distinctive Gewürztraminer and, even more interesting, a red blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. We're pretty experienced with Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley of France and, I swear, if I was sniffing and tasting them side by side, I don't think I could tell them apart. It was the only red wine we tasted during our visit to the Finger Lakes that we felt was worth taking home. Meeting Kim and tasting his wine was a highlight of the trip.
Back at the bed and breakfast, here's a view from the back deck of the winter sunset over Seneca Lake, a beautiful end to a beautiful day of exploring the wine scene in the Finger Lakes.
On the suggestion of Kim Engle at Bloomer Creek, we tried the Hazelnut Kitchen in nearby Trumansberg. Who is that peering over the lace curtain in the front window?




There he is again! Under the snowflakes!



While we were waiting, I snapped this photo of my sweetheart. She's just so cute.

We shared this salad of roasted honeynut butternut squash, toasted pumpkin seeds, whipped goat cheese, pickled cranberries, and arugula.  What an interesting combination!
Mary's main course was a blackened and baked chicken breast with, baked peas, which to me looked like the field peas of the South, warm slaw, and hot cornbread. In New York, of all places!
I had a braised pork shoulder with roasted brussels sprouts on a bed of celery root puree and creme fraiche.  Sensational!
And since we were at the Hazelnut Cafe, Mary had a dessert of hazelnut butter cake with salted caramel and hazelnut chocolate ice cream.
The wine was this Lamoreaux Landing dry Riesling from the shore of Seneca Lake. It was a lovely wine, aromatic of flowers, lemon, grapefruit citrus and a little stone fruit. The palate had great acidity, very clean and crisp, with delicious flavors of citrus, peach notes, maybe a little spice, and a nice mineral stoniness. Beautifully balanced, fairly complex, a great effort, 12.5% alcohol. And only $28 in a fine restaurant. Tough to beat that. It was a lovely dinner with someone I love.

Tomorrow we return home to Plymouth. We enjoyed our visit to the Finger Lakes very much and would like to return, perhaps in the summer or autumn. It is definitely a wine region in transition, finding success with Riesling, for sure, and trying to decide on other paths to success. They have to resolve that it is better to make excellent wine at somewhat higher prices than to make an ocean of low-cost quaffers, but that means the consumers must understand, appreciate, and value wines that can compete on the world stage. From our standpoint, it's fun to watch and experience the evolution. I'm optimistic about the coming years in the Finger Lakes.

That's our post for today. Thanks for reading Cépage et Cuisine. We hope you liked it and will read us again. Keep checking back. In the meantime ...

Cheers!

Brian♥Mary

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Niagara Falls Ontario and New York Finger Lakes - November 27-28, 2014

Hi, everybody.  Welcome again to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary's and Brian's blog about wine, food, and culture. We're off to a Thanksgiving weekend visit to the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. I've been reading more about the area and how its wines are improving and finding their place on the world stage, so we decided to come over for a couple of days.

The most direct route is through Ontario, entering Canada at Detroit to Windsor across the Ambassador Bridge.  Our destination the first day was Niagara Falls, Ontario. Neither of us had ever seen the falls, so we thought that would be a fun stopover. Thanksgiving in the U.S. is not a holiday in Canada, so everything was open.


Niagara Falls is a natural wonder that must be seen in person to comprehend it. Awesome is a word that has been cheapened by its use in everyday language, but it is a word that is appropriate for the falls. The power, the amount of water, the sound, the falls are both thrilling and terrifying up close. The photo above shows Horseshoe Falls, the larger of the two main falls and mostly on the Canadian side. Below is a view of American Falls, which is just downstream from Horseshoe Falls.
Here's a short video.
Here's my sweet wife. The temp was about 25° F, cold but not unmanageable. The morning after Thanksgiving dawned with about four inches of new snow, so we were extra careful getting back across the border and onto the New York Thruway near Buffalo.
We made it to Geneva in time for lunch, then visited the first producer on our schedule, Red Tail Ridge Winery on the west side of Seneca Lake. This winery was founded by a California couple who worked in the wine business, then relocated to the Finger Lakes to grow grapes and make their own wine. Like most producers here, their best wines are Rieslings. They also make unoaked and barrel-fermented Chardonnay and a couple of reds, including Pinot Noir. We like the Rieslings, especially in the dry style.
Here's a little background on the Finger Lakes. They are long, narrow, very deep lakes, running north and south and formed by ancient glaciers, roughly south and between Rochester and Syracuse.  It's a cool climate, good for growing aromatic white grapes. The region is very rural and very beautiful with many picturesque small towns. The lake in the middle of the image above is Seneca Lake. That's where we are. We spent our first day on the west side with plans to stay overnight and spend the second day on the east side.
Our next stop of the day was Hermann J. Wiemer (pronounced weemer) Vineyard in Dundee. Herman Wiemer emigrated from Germany and was a pioneering vintner in the Finger Lakes, paving the way for many of today's successes. He's retired now and his apprentice, Fred Merwarth, now owns and runs the estate. Like Red Tail Ridge, we really liked the Riesling in the dry style, but the others were not very inspiring.


It is a beautiful estate. Here's a photo of the old farm home on the property next to the winery.


They also produce sparkling wine. Here you can see the bottles of sparkling wine in their riddling racks. Every so often, the bottles are turned slightly for the dead yeast cells to settle in the necks of the bottles. Then the bottle necks are frozen, the bottles opened to expel the frozen yeast particles, then corked again.
I suppose it's no surprise that the wineries would be busy on the day after Thanksgiving when many people are not at work. The tasting room was crowded and the staff member pouring the wine didn't have time to talk much. An elbow-to-elbow experience isn't as enjoyable as a more leisurely encounter. Plus, most people in a situation like this are just out for a fun afternoon, not really serious about the wine. Mary and I call it the rolling party. They migrate from winery to winery. And they don't spit, so I'm sure they become dangerous out there on the roads. I guess we're just sticks in the mud, but we're more interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of wine. When we pull in to a winery and see a tour bus, we just keep going.

The west side of Seneca Lake is gorgeous.  Here are a couple of snaps we took on our way to our final appointment of the day.





Our next and final appointment of the day was at Kemmeter Wines, owned by Johannes Reinhart. Now this is more like it! 
We've been doing some reading about the Finger Lakes and are fascinated by his story. He is a German who was working on the family estate with his father. Johannes is the 13th generation, I think. He and his father didn't agree on certain points about wine production and Johannes ultimately left the family estate and found his way to the U.S. where he has been the winemaker at Anthony Road Winery since around 2000. In the last couple of years he has been working on his own project, Kemmeter Wines. Johannes brings European knowledge and history to winemaking and it shows in his wines.

I think the basis for great Riesling is the balance between fruit, acidity, and alcohol. Many Rieslings have residual sugar that makes them sweet, which is fine, but without enough natural acidity to balance the grape sugar, it can taste cloying and seem clumsy. If there isn't enough acidity present, I think it's preferable to ferment the juice all the way dry. If the acidity is very high, a little residual grape sugar actually improves the balance. Johannes has found that balance in both his dry and off-dry Rieslings.  Mary and I both love the Kemmeter wines. I think they're as good as a fine German or Alsace Riesling.

After we left Johannes, we made our way around to the other side of Seneca Lake to Chateau Lafayette Reneau, which is both a winery and a bed-and-breakfast. We got there just before dark, too late for photos.

Dinner was at Daño’s Heuriger, an Austrian-Hungarian restaurant in Lodi NY. The food seemed similar to German, which was exciting to Mary. Here, you see one of her favorites, sauerbraten with pickled red cabbage and spaetzle. Mary describes the sauerbraten this way: It is a pot roast that has been marinated in vinegar for several days and then slowly roasted in the oven until tender. This sauerbraten had a gravy that had some tomato in it, so it was nice and spicy. Spaetzle is like a little dumpling made with flour and eggs and water and the dough is pushed through a sieve before cooking in hot water. 

I had a selection of sausages like knockwurst, bratwurst, and a Hungarian sausage with sauerkraut and green beans. We both enjoyed our dinner completely.

The wine was an Anthony Road Winery Riesling Finger Lakes 2013. This is also one of Johannes' wines. Like the Kemmeter wines, it had that great energy and tension between fruit and acidity.  It was fermented almost dry with just enough residual sugar to give it a little more richness of texture without heaviness. It was aromatic of lemon and peach with similar flavors on the palate, along with a nice mineral note.  It was only 12.0% alcohol.

That's our post for today. We hope you liked it. Tomorrow we're spending the day on the east side of Seneca Lake. Check back for another post about our visit to the Finger Lakes.  Thanks for reading Cépage et Cuisine. Until next time,

Cheers!

Brian♥Mary




Sunday, November 16, 2014

November 16, 2014 - Recent Wine Notes and Pairings

Hi, everybody.  Welcome back to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary's and Brian's blog about wine, food, and culture. I often post brief wine notes at Twitter, which you can see if you follow us on Twitter at Cépage et Cuisine. I thought I would post a series of recent wine notes here on the blog, including a little more detail than the 140 character limit of Twitter, and some comments about food pairings. You may or may not be able to find the exact wines I describe, but the comments about the style and the pairings might be useful with similar wines and food pairing considerations.
German wine labels are famously hard to interpret. The producer is Domdechant Werner. Weingut means winery. Seit 1780 im familienbesitz means family owned since 1780. Hochheim is a village in the Rheingau region. Kirchenstück is a specific vineyard, which means that all the grapes for this wine come from that single vineyard. Riesling is the grape variety, of course. Spätlese is the ripeness level of the grapes on a scale that begins at Kabinett at the low end (our favorite), then Spätlese, then Auslese, then the sweet, dessert-style Rieslings. Trocken means the wine is fermented dry, that there is little or no residual sugar to add sweetness. The vintage is 2005, the year the grapes were harvested, so it has had nine years of aging when we opened it recently.

This is a delightful wine, clean, refreshing, great with food. It is aromatic of lime citrus, peach, and stony minerality.  The palate is briskly acidic for excellent tension, medium body, a dry style with very nice citrus, stone fruit, excellent minerality. It is beautifully balanced, moderately complex, with a medium length of finish. A spätlese trocken, it is only 12.0% alcohol, despite being pretty much bone dry.  We bought it at auction for $35. We paired it with a seasoned pork tenderloin, cooked outdoors on the grill on medium heat for about 20 minutes, with sides of baked apples, picked just days ago nearby in Michigan, sauerkraut, and pinto beans. The pairing is a good example of the versatility of Riesling. It does well with all the usual white wine pairings, but also pairs wonderfully with some meats such as this pork dish.

Chateau de La Dauphine is a right bank Bordeaux from the small town of Fronsac. Like most wines of Fronsac, it is mostly Merlot, 90% in this case. The remaining 10% of the blend is Cabernet Franc. This wine brings back happy memories for us because we visited La Dauphine back in May. Our visit is described in an earlier blog post.

Here's a photo of the chateau. Fronsac wines are not as prestigious as they were many years ago, which means they are a relative value when compared to Saint Émilion or other more famous areas. This was only $20 when we bought it several years ago. 

The clay and limestone soils of Fronsac are well suited to Merlot. The wines are rounder and fleshier than Cabernet-based blends. For many consumers, they are more approachable when young. This particular bottle is a 2001 vintage, which means it had 13 years of aging when we opened it a few weeks ago. I think it is just at its peak of enjoyment right about now, but probably won't get any better. I have one more bottle, so we'll find a nice occasion to open it pretty soon.

Here are my notes from the evening we opened it.  It's a beautiful, lovely, elegant wine with both power and finesse. It is aromatic of dark fruit, cedar, and herbs. The bottle had thrown quite a bit of sediment, but the wine was silky smooth, medium in body, with great freshness. Red and dark berries, cherry, and savory herbs comprised the flavor profile. It is beautifully balanced, moderately complex, and had good length. At 13.0% alcohol, we could enjoy a couple of glasses without feeling tired afterward. What a nice wine it is. 

Mary was in the mood for a nice steak, so even on a regular Wednesday evening, we grilled a couple of cuts of filet mignon to a nice medium with garlic mashed potatoes and a crunchy green salad. Here's a little tip. Merlot is especially well suited for pairing with lean cuts of meat. Although a Cabernet-based wine or Syrah would certainly not be a mistake, they are especially good with more marbled cuts like a ribeye.

I've had this bottle in our storage for several years. The producer is Viñedos y Bodegas Sierra Cantabria in the Rioja region of north-central Spain. The specific vineyard is Amancio and the vintage is 2004, so it has 10 years of aging. It is 100% Tempranillo, the signature grape of Rioja.

Spanish winemakers are trying to decide the best way to grow and vinify their grapes and to satisfy a global market, so they're in a bit of a state of flux at the moment. Some producers follow the traditional path and others, like this one, produce a bold, ripe style. For fans of the style, that's fine, but for us, very ripe, high alcohol wines don't have the distinctiveness and elegance of wines with better balance. To us, they lose the uniqueness of the grape variety and the place where they are grown. They taste like just another big red wine. At 14.5% alcohol, it's hard to finish the bottle between the two of us without feeling sluggish and tired. Plus, all the oak barrel influence and very heavy, modern bottle packaging makes it expensive. This wine cost $65, a lesson learned.

I wrote that it was aromatic and flavored of chocolate, oak, and ripe, black plum, not distinct, drinkable but glad to get it out of the inventory. It is an example of why we have very little Spanish red wine in our collection nowadays. I know there are wonderful wines still available from Spain and we're on the lookout for them, but shop carefully and buyer beware.

On the bright side, dinner that evening was a Cuban dish called picadillo, which was sensational! It is ground meat, seasoned with lots of garlic, herbs, cumin, peppers, onions, olives, and raisins, served with white rice and black beans. We must post a blog note about picadillo. Mary says it's easy and it is definitely delicious.
That's our post for today. We hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading us at Cépage et Cuisine. Don't forget you can also follow our nightly wine Tweets (well, most nights) on Twitter by the same name. In the meantime,

Cheers!

Brian♥Mary

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Mary’s Cream of Asparagus Soup – August 3, 2014

Hello, everybody.  Welcome to Cépage et Cuisine, Mary’s and Brian’s blog about wine, food, culture, and people.   Here’s a post in a series of occasional articles about simple French-inspired dishes and delicious wine pairings.  Today’s post is cream of asparagus soup, what the French call velouté d'asperges because it’s so velvety.  
Asparagus comes into season where we live in Michigan in late spring and continues through the summer, so it is fresh and abundant.  It was in season while we were in France recently, so it was a common first course dish.  Mary’s going to be the primary author of today’s post to talk through the ingredients and preparation.  I’ll be back with the wine at the end. 

On our last couple of trips to France, Brian has raved about fresh asparagus soup.  Brian is a soup guy, while I usually order salad. This year, I decided I would try asparagus soup if it presented itself.  
It was the special seasonal entrée (first course) the night we went to the Auberge Saint Martin in Bouilland, a small village near Beaune.  
We both ordered it and it was fabulous, so delicious and pretty!  When we returned home, I made an attempt at it as a first course.  It turned out to be delicious, probably not quite as wonderful as in Bouilland, but pretty good for my first try.
First, we made a trip to our weekly farmer’s market here in Plymouth to find the best and freshest ingredients possible.
The ingredients are fresh asparagus, chopped white onion, chicken stock (I make my own … maybe a post on that later), butter, whole wheat flour, salt and pepper, whole milk, crème fraiche, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.  You can use sour cream instead of crème fraiche, but Brian makes his own crème fraiche from scratch and it is so, so much better than store bought sour cream.



I started by chopping the asparagus in lengths of about an inch or so, both tips and stalk.

The asparagus, onion, and some of the chicken stock went into a saucepan and simmered until the asparagus is nice and tender.
Brian was perched on a kitchen barstool while I cooked and snapped a couple of photos of the kitchen counter.  Here’s where we throw wine bottle corks until we figure out how to recycle them.  We’re still working on that.  Brian’s brother, Phil, made a cork trivet for us, but we have way too many corks to do much of that.  I wish we could recycle them somehow.
This picture of the glass of white wine?  That is often the most important ingredient … cooking wine (wine for the cook!).




The cooked asparagus, onion, and chicken stock go into the blender to puree.
I use the same saucepan to melt butter and stir in the flour and seasonings.



After that is blended well, I whisk in more chicken stock.
When the mixture starts to boil, I stir in the pureed asparagus and milk.

I put the crème fraiche in a small bowl by itself, or just a one cup measuring cup like this, and ladled in a little of the hot soup to get the crème fraiche to a pouring consistency.

The cream mixture is added back to the soup along with the lemon juice to freshen it up and add a little acidity.  At this point, it’s just stirred and allowed to come up to serving temperature.
Garnish with a couple of steamed asparagus tips and a little crème fraiche and get ready to enjoy.  Wait!  Brian has to talk about the wine first!  I don’t know how he chose this particular wine to serve with cream of asparagus soup, but it is a match made in heaven!
Brian here.  I chose this wine because it is light-bodied, very fresh tasting to go with the flavors and textures of summertime cooking with fresh ingredients, and has refreshing citrus and mineral qualities. 

Muscadet Sévre et Maine is an appellation in the Loire Valley of France, in the western part almost to the Atlantic Ocean.  The grape is Melon de Bourgogne and the producer is Domaine Bonnet-Huteau.  The “sur lie” that you see on the label means the wine was aged on the dead yeast cells before bottling, which gives it a fuller, creamier quality.  Drinking this wine makes you almost feel the sea spray.  It has a clean, almost saline quality to go along with a lemony citrus aroma and flavor.  At only 12.0% alcohol, it won’t leave you feeling dragged down or lethargic after sharing a bottle with someone you love.  And the best part?  It’s only $13.


A few fresh berries and a dollop of crème fraiche would not be a mistake.
There’s Sonoma in the background, supervising the production and hoping for a little leftover crème fraiche.

That’s our post for today.  We hope you found it interesting and appetizing.  We’re already planning our next blog post, so keep checking back for more wine, food, and cultural adventures at Cépage et Cuisine.  In the meantime,

Cheers!

Mary♥Brian