Monday, May 31, 2010

Pasta, Meet Wine

I can’t remember how I first came upon the recipe for linguine avgolemono. But I have a theory.

My parents went to South America a few years ago and returned with a drink called the “pisco sour.” They brought back a few pouches of mix powder—just add pisco!—but the full recipe from scratch involves pisco (a South American liqueur distilled from grapes), lemon juice, simple syrup, bitters, and egg whites.

It drinks like a deadly cross between a margarita and the greatest Kool-Aid ever, and it probably warrants its own blog entry. But when I made it, I felt weird using just the whites of the eggs and tossing out the yolks. I felt the need to salvage the yolks somehow.

So I typed “egg yolks” into Epicurious and found linguine avgolemono, a Greek pasta dish involving not just egg yolks, but also artichoke hearts, green beans, cream, and parsley. It’s got a great creamy, earthy, slightly acidic thing going on, and it’s one of a handful of go-to dishes I can be relied upon to make.

Anyway, one day I was tasting at Fine Wine Brokers, and one of the whites being sampled was Béchar, 2007. I have a really hard time describing this wine, other than “unusual.” I’ve described it before as cake-like, and there’s a hefty mouthfeel and a mild sweetness that make me think so. But there’s also smoky edge to it, and kind of an earthy perfume that luxuriates in the sinuses.

I immediately knew it would go with linguine avgolemono. An unexpected cool sharpness that would complement the flavors while slicing through the cream.

I have bought several bottles, and I have only drunk it with linguine avgolemono. I brought Jen into the fold, and recently the two of us took to contemplating the flavors of the wine.

I kept saying pound cake, she kept saying breakfast.

“Do you get bacon?” she asked. We were on my back deck finishing off the bottle, our stomachs full of pasta and artichokes. I did not get bacon. I maintained there was something more bready and sweet.

“Yes, but there’s the smoke,” she said, and she squinted into the distance and flexed her jaw. She does this to simulate eating, which triggers her brain to analyze taste. (At least, that’s our theory of why she does this.) “And something kind of meaty.”

We sipped and analyzed in silence. Soon I tasted it too—bacon!

We reached the conclusion that the wine tasted like French toast that had been made in the same skillet as the rashers of bacon you made earlier. Why on earth that would go so well with a Greek pasta dish, I can’t begin to imagine, but it does. And thanks to the brief restock of Béchar a few weeks ago, and my subsequent consumption of the one I’d been saving, I am back to owning the last bottle in all of Chicago.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Austria and Australia

Not quite the onslaught of oenological onanism as last week, but I bought a couple bottles.

The pourer today at FWB was a chatty woman, one of those pourers who sometimes forget to pour. But she was friendly, and the first wine she had was a Grüner Veltliner (Huber, 2008). I first heard of Grüner Veltliner on a wine podcast called "Wine for Newbies," and I believe the host of the podcast said it was the most common grape grown in Austria. The Huber I tasted today was very chalky and mineraly, like licking wet limestone.

Two reds were competing for my dollar. I ended up with the last one she poured, a Heartland Australian shiraz, 2008. Rich and decadent, it carries a long chocolate caramel finish.

And as long as I was keeping the alcohol-based businesses of Lincoln Avenue afloat, I figured I'd head down to the Half Acre brewery and pick up a growler of Gossamer Golden Ale. George is having a housewarming cookout tomorrow, and it will be enjoyed there.

I am a big fan of Half Acre, particularly their Lager and their Daisy Cutter Pale Ale. I only wish they sold souvenirs. Seems like a real missed opportunity for them.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Frédéric Magnien Pinot Noir, 2007

Jen is away, so I stopped at Dawali for a chicken shawerma sandwich. In my experience, it goes really well with bold red wines.

Last night, we opened one of the forty bottles I bought over the weekend, the pinot noir from The Chopping Block. I got a thick dark chocolate and red berry taste from it, like eating a liquefied gourmet candy bar.

I tried it with the sandwich. It went well. It’s a pretty spicy pinot.

I noticed that Jen had done some shopping. I finished the sandwich and ate some tortilla chips dipped in guacamole, and for the hell of it some tortilla chips dipped in hummus.

I went back to the wine. It suddenly tasted like Welch’s.

Such a mystery is the human tongue.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Don’t Tell Jen

I bought five freaking bottles of wine today.
You can tell her about the toilet paper.

I headed to Fine Wine Brokers for my weekly free buzz. Jen was elsewhere, so I was on my own.

The second bottle on the tasting was a rosé. Happily, rosés are not the awful, melted-lollipop atrocities they’ve gained a reputation for being. They can be more complex and less cloying that their worst examples, and they vary from sweet and dark to light and crisp. They pair well with everything, even roadside pizza in France.
Pictured: Tom, pizza, rosé, France.

This wine, a blend of cinsault and syrah grapes from Domaine Sainte-Eugénie in Corbières, was a refreshing splash on the tongue. I said to the pourer, “It might just be the color, but I get a bit of watermelon on the finish.”

He replied, “Yeah, maybe. I get strawberry.”

Dammit! Why do I always taste the wrong thing?!

To save face, I obviously had to buy a bottle. Chicago will eventually get muggy (though today feels like a warm day in November), and this will go down like cold liquid happiness.

The next wine was from Domaine Gachot-Monot, a pinot noir with some bite that will cling beautifully to some salmon.
I plan to do a lot of this over the summer.

Then I found Scott and thanked him for a recommendation he made earlier in the week. (On Thursday, Jen and I were going to have a hunk of Humboldt Fog cheese for dinner [shut up, we’re allowed], and Jen read that it would pair well with a sauvignon blanc. I stopped by FWB and asked Scott for a recommendation, and he produced a 2007 SlipStream from Western Australia. It went perfectly—nice and grassy and clean.) Today, I told him how much we enjoyed the wine, and he essentially said, “You like grassy? You should try this!”

He showed me a 2008 Sancerre from Eric Louis.

I didn’t want to anger the gods of wine recommendation, so I bought it.

Okay, so I managed to leave FWB with a mere three bottles. Then I made the mistake of stopping into The Chopping Block, where they’re selling off their old stock of wine at 20% off to make room for the new stock.

The two women behind the counter, probably noticing that I was already carrying three bottles of wine, spotted their mark and swarmed me mercilessly. “What sort of wines do you like?” asked one. “Well, with the summer coming, I’m probably going to be into some dry, crisp whites.”

She pointed to a Gavi from Stefano Farina and said it was strong and dry and not to everyone’s taste. That sounded like a challenge. It was also the last bottle. Done. Hand it over.

I also mentioned that I liked bold, spicy reds. She directed me to a Frédéric Magnien pinot noir. At this point, I was like “Why not. Here’s my credit card.”

Jen and I are pretty good at finishing off bottles of wine. But I think I buy them even faster. At this rate, we’ll never run completely out.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

2007 Béchar Fiano di Avellino

I am very excited about this.

Yesterday, Jen and I popped into Fine Wine Brokers in Lincoln Square for their weekly tasting. A worker (I believe his name is Scott) who has come to recognize us greeted us with, "I think we have a surprise for you in the next room."

My first thought was, I bet they got more of the 2007 Béchar Fiano di Avellino that Jen and I love so much!

This was quickly followed by, Nonsense. That wine is long gone. I bought the last bottle in existence several months ago, and I am guarding it jealously because it will never be seen again.

We went into the tasting room, and there it was: the wine we had fetishized for so long, the third wine along the table.

I discovered it at a tasting at FWB over a year ago--a unique, fragrant, mouth-filling cake of a wine. It pairs beautifully with food, particularly a Greek pasta dish I enjoy making called linguine avgolemono--noodles, green beans, and artichokes in a lemon cream sauce. But according to Scott, it wasn't to everyone's taste. I bought it there a couple of times, and the final bottle sat there week after week until I finally snatched it up. I promised him that if he ever re-stocked it I would buy it.

If the wine was unpopular in the past, it seemed to be more beloved yesterday afternoon. The small crowd was very complimentary toward it, and I watched a woman snatch one of the three bottles from the sampling table. I picked one up as casually as I could, but make no mistake: I would have thrown punches to make sure I got one.