Monday, November 21, 2011

"Nouveau Expression" sweeps the nation with 100 Beaujolais Nouveau 2011 release parties


Story and Photos by Dwight Casimere

-Dwight The Wine Doctor with Georges Duboeuf co-owner Franck Duboeuf

-A toast to Beaujolais Nouveau

-Award-winning food writer and Contributing New York Times columnist Florence Fabricant with Franck Duboeuf

-Franck Duboeuf and the pimped out vintage Cadillac

-The Beaujolais Nouveau "ride"

-Artists Wayne Ensrud and Lisa Mee with the Georges Dubeouf labe he designed

-Knights of the Vine

-Backjump Burgers with Fried Quail Egg on top

-William J. Deutsch, Chairman, W.J. Deutsch & Sons

-Server with those famous Backjump Burgers

-Graffiti Artist Kaves with Franck Duboeuf and the label representations the artist designed for Beaujolais Nouveau

-Hip Hop artist Pop Master Fabel busts a move

-Harlem Travel Guide co-author Valerie Jo Bradley with famed author and former New York Magazine food critic Gael Greene

-The Star of the Show, Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2011

NEW YORK—With Hip-Hop music blaring from the DJ, Frank Duboeuf, co-proprietor of Les Vins Georges Duboeuf came roaring through the garage door of Manhattan’s SIR Stage 37 night club in a vintage Cadillac chauffeured by Brooklyn graffiti artist Kaves. Duboeuf was bearing precious cargo, the first case of 2011 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau wine to arrive in the United States. Kaves designed the one-of-a-kind image that graces the label of each bottle.

Escorted by Hip Hop artist Pop Master Fabel and his Cru doing their signature moves, Duboeuf proceeded to uncork the first bottles of the fresh, young Gamay red wine to mark the beginning of “Nouveau Day” across America. On November 17, 100 Nouveau Expression parties were held across the country to celebrate the official arrival of Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2011, marking the 60th anniversary of the first Nouveau vintage in 1951. The biggest party, marking the official arrival, was held at SIR Stage 37 in New York.

“This year marks a milestone for Beaujolais,” Franck Duboeuf gushed proudly to Dwight The Wine Doctor. “This is the first time in many years that we have harvested twice within one year. The wine is “Magnifique!”

In France, the end of the harvest is celebrated much like Mardi Gras, only instead of throwing beads and eating King Cake, the French celebrate by drinking their new wine.

“This year’s Gamay Beaujolais is a bouquet of fruity aromas, very round, very soft with a very great aftertaste, like fresh grapes,” he further described.

“This is not just a “celebration” wine, but a real food companion that goes great with Holiday ham or sausages. It’s great with roasted meats like beef or turkey, that are so common on the table this time of year.”

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2011 sells for around $10 at most retailers, making it a terrific Holiday bargain.

The catering staff at Stage 37 passed around a series of mouth-watering hors d’oeuvres Inspire by NYC's Food Truck Scene, including All-City Braised Pulled Pork with Carrot and Cucumber Slaw and Sriracha Mayo on a Porcelain Spoon, spectacular Gallery Grilled Aged Wisconsin Gruyere Cheese Sandwiches and the real stand-out of the event, mini Backjump Burgers with Oven Roasted Tomato and Roasted Tomato Sauce topped with a Fresh Fried Quail Egg. MMMMmmmmm!!!

The Arrival Celebration continued with a three-course meal that showcased Georges Duboeuf’s new releases for the year, including Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2011 ($11) with Painter’s Touch Chicken “Porchetta” which was a chicken breast stuffed with Pork Belly, Fennel, Rosemary and Red Sage. This is a dish that is easy to duplicate at home and, by its description, I’ve just given you the recipe. The bright fruit flavors of the wine and the touch of spice on the tongue married well with the fennel and sage infusion in the stuffing. The pork belly gave the dish a creamy, Umami (comfort food) mouth feel that is so desirable in Holiday and end-of-harvest meals, that mirrors the round, soft flavor palette of the wine.

Georges Duboeuf Julienas Chateau des Capitans 2010 ($18.99) was the lush flavorful wine served with the 3D Salmon with Celeriac Mashed Potatoes and Fresh Green Beans. The fish was served with the crispy “skin on” which gave the wine an oily, slightly charred foil to play against with its rich taste of brambleberries, typical of old vines fruit. Blackberries and spice and a hint of black peppercorns are the back notes that make this a great wine with fleshy fish or a rare aged steak or charred Churrasco (Brazilian grilled) skirt steak.

Artistic Expression Desserts of Cereal Milk Ice Cream Milk Shake, Salted Caramel Truffle and a Chocolate Compost Cookie provided an opportunity to play around with some of the other great new releases that were offered. Georges Duboeuf Morgon 2010 ($15.99) was my personal favorite with its complex flavors and aromas of dark berries and back notes of allspice and a hint of smoke, as was the Morgon 2010 ($13.99), a straightforward fruity expression of the Gamay grape.

The pre-celebration tasting featured George Duboeuf Macon-Villages 2010, 100% Chardonnay ($12.99) and an outstanding “Frasier-worthy” Puilly-Fuisse 2010, also 100% Chardonnay ($19.99).

William J. Deutsch, Chairman of the Board, W.J. Deutsch & Sons, exclusive importers of Georges Duboeuf wines, summed it up best: “This is truly a landmark day! I’ve been partnering with Georges Duboeuf, his family and his wines for the past 28 years and this is my 28th Beaujolais Nouveau celebration. We make the world happy!”

Deutsch said his association with the Duboeuf family reflects the philosophy behind his business model. “When I started this business 30 years ago, the idea was to work exclusively with family owned wine companies that we would become very close to, and here we are 30 years later, with generations coming to the front-Georges’ son Franck and my son Peter, they’re picking up where Georges and I built a foundation.”

He further said that the timing of the Beaujolais Nouveau celebrations could not have been better. “Just by coincidence, the wine goes very well with Holiday Turkey. Mother Nature was good to us, She brought us both Beaujolais Nouveau and Turkey, all at the same time.”

Well said. Vive William Deutsch and Vive le Beaujolais Nouveau!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pinot Days Navy Pier Chicago turns 'Sideways' on its ear

Dwight The Wine Doctor-Pinot Days Navy Pier Chicago

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

1. Dwight The Wine Doctor with Alexandre Leclercq of Albert Bichot Wines of France

2. Erin Craig-Wine Consultant Louis Glunz Wines (r) and friend

3. Paul Sloan of Small Vines Wines-Sebastopol, California

4. Cory Davis-Stoller Vineyard

5. Jim Ball and his wife with Dwight The Wine Doctor

6. Stoller Wines

7. Lee Medina-Sokol Blosser Wines

8. Aldo Zaninotto of ROAR Wines

9-11. Some of the "Beautiful People" at Pinot Days

12. Jim Ball Winemaker

13. Alexandre Leclercq of Albert Bichot Wines

14. Maggie Hall-Gypsy Canyon Wine

15. Gray Hartley-Hitching Post Wines

16. Kate MacMurray, Wine Ambassador, MacMurray Ranch Wine

“It’s a good thing you’re here early,” said winemaker/owner Gray Hartley of Hitching Post winery in Nipomo, California. “You weren’t here last year, but within minutes of opening, there was a thundering hoard of thirsty wine lovers at my table!” Hartley’s prediction bore fruit within seconds. The vast expanse of Festival Hall B at Navy Pier became crowded with lovers of wine made from the complex, finicky grape called Pinot Noir.

The grape, and its antecedents, goes back to antiquity. It’s been the subject of a cult-followed Alexander Payne-directed Hollywood film, Sideways (2004), starring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. It’s also a wine that has raised as much controversy and sparked passionate arguments, equal to its popularity. The crowd was as diverse as the style and characteristics of the wine. From wine as light and sweet as a summer’s breeze, to dark, almost mahogany or India-ink colored dense wines that smelled of the forest floor and dark, bramble fruit, the 5th annual Pinot Days Chicago Grand Festival Tasting showcased 70 phenomenal producers of Pinot Noir from every important domestic region and a handful from Germany and France. From Sonoma’s Russian River Valley to Oregon, Carneros near Napa Valley, the Santa Lucia Highlands, Pasa Robles, Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast, there were up to 300 pinots to sip, swap stories about and savor with a selection of specialty foods from local purveyors. The terrific thing about Pinot Days is that the winemakers and winery owners are on hand to personally pour the wines for you and to talk about how they were made and their unique properties. Here’s a taster’s choice sampling of comments about their wines:

Greg Stach winemaker Landmark Vineyard Kenwood, California- “We focus on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and I’m pouring our Damaris Reserve ($40) which is our best chardonnay that we have and our pinot noirs (2009 Kanzier-$65, 2009 Sonoma Mountain Grand Detour-$40) which have both been rated 90 points or better. I think what’s special about the wines is that we are really trying to express the vineyards thru the wines. There’s very little handling involved. The pinot grapes are very gently handled acre by acre. It’s a very meticulous winemaking process. Flavor-wise, there’s a lot of fruit and a lot of mushroom in the bottle. Our wine goes well with mushroom- based foods it’s got I get a lot of raspberry and milk chocolate on the nose and on the palette. I would describe it as a classic style of pinot noir. Kanzier is sourced from grapes in the Sebastopol hills. It’s a bigger wine with lots of earthy, forest floor notes. It’s got big blackberry flavors too, with lots of tannins and toasty oak that gives it good structure and balance. It’s still a young wine. I get effusive blackberry fruit when I first taste it. It’s sort of unusual for a California Pinot Noir. I think that’s why the critics rated it so highly (95 points).

Jim Ball-winemaker/owner Jim Ball Vineyards-I’m pouring out 2009 Signature Pinot Noir, which is from Anderson Valley and our Boonville Pinot Noir. Both are made from all Estate Grown fruit and sell for around $45 a bottle. “These are aged in 25 and 50% new French oak, respectively. I think they’d go best with a spiced, wood-smoked Salmon. These are medium bodied wines with a lot of complexity. The Signature, for example, has a lot of sassafras on the nose. (Sound like it’ll go great with Cajun/Creole food) and lots of rich black cherry, plum and dark chocolate. The Boonville has more of a floral characteristic with lots of fruit, like raspberries and blackberries and the smell of violets and rose petals. There’s a little bit of sandalwood in the mix too. That’s why I suggested the smoked salmon.”

The Hitching Post Restaurant in Buellton, California, in Santa Barbara County, is practically a starring character in the popular Alexander Payne film Sideways. One of the characters, Maya (Virginia Madsen) is a waitress there. Restaurant owner/chef Frank Ostini and his good friend, former fisherman Gray Hartley, started making their first Pinot Noir in Frank’s garage in 1979. They moved to a winery in 1984, a quickly drew a cult following to their restaurant and wine bar where the wine was exclusively poured. From making just a few cases of homegrown wine, they’ve increased to over 20,000 cases in their new ultra premium facility at Terravant Winery in Buellton. The wine, as described by Gray Hartley, reflects their shared passion.

“We produce a wine intended to go with food,” Hartley explained in his rather theatrical way of speaking. When he’s not making wine or hanging out at the restaurant, he lends his voice to commercials and does various clothing ad shoots and commercials.

“We started out just making wine for our friends and giving it away, but within a short time, we were making so much, we just couldn’t find enough people to give it to. That’s when we decided to get ourselves a bonded license, and took our winemaking operation to a legitimate facility. So, here we are, thirty years later, and we’re still having fun making wine.”

What’s special about the wines is that we’ve been focusing on wines that are food friendly. As you know, Frank is a chef, and the wine we make is crafted with that idea in mind. If wines are made to complement food, they can accelerate and elevate the dining experience.”

Pinot Noir is most closely associated with the Burgundy region of France, where it gets its name. Pinot noir literally means “black pine” for the dark color and pinecone shaped clusters of grapes on the vine. It is widely considered the finest wine in the world, however, it has a reputation as a difficult variety to both grow and to transform and tame into wine.

Alexandre Leclercq of Albert Bichot wines, a negotiant from France with officers at McClurg Court, Chicago, not far from Navy Pier where the tasting was held, was the sole French proprietor on hand. He presented a handful of wines from his native Beaune, France.

“We have been producing wine since 1831. We are one of the biggest wine producers and negotiants in France. We are part of the history of Burgundy. We produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, primarily. We are also one of the biggest producers in Chablis. Now, we have been in the United States for 7 years and are starting to expand our operations. Most of our wines are in the $15 to $35 range. Our Old Vines Pinot Noir is aged 50% in new oak barrels to give it a little bit of structure while maintaining the freshness of the Pinot noir grape. Our next tier of wines sell for $22 a bottle and $35 respectively. They’re aged 50% in new oak for a year to give them more pronounced flavor and complexity. The real difference with our wines is that we provide the same complex, structured wines that you’ll find elsewhere for twice the price or more!”

There were just as many people ordering cases of wine to be shipped later as there were those who simply came to imbibe and enjoy the party. With the Holidays right around the corner, you can bet there will be plenty of food-friendly Pinot Noir on tables throughout the Chicagoland area. Pinot Days heads to Southern California January 28, 2012, Dallas, April 21, 2012 and San Francisco (at Fort Mason, between Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge), June 16, 2012. Mark your calendar; I just might see you at one of them.

"Spirit of Sonoma" soars at Fleming's MacMurray Ranch wine dinner

Fleming’s Steakhouse “Spirit of Sonoma” Dinner stars MacMurray Ranch Wines

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

MacMurray Ranch Wine Ambassador Kate MacMurray addresses Fleming's "Spirit of Sonoma" Dinner with Wine Manager Russ Ricker

MacMurray Ranch wines

Fleming's Steakhouse cuisine

Chef Partner Jeri Griffin with Chicago Operating Partner Curtis Nordeen

Kate MacMurray with Dwight The Wine Doctor

Actor Fred MacMurray had an “incandescent” career as a movie star, according to his daughter, Kate MacMurray, MacMurray Ranch Wine Ambassador, making more than a hundred films that spanned every genre. His greatest, legacy, however, may be Russian River Valley Ranch he purchased in Sonoma Country Wine Country in 1941. A homestead since the 1850s, MacMurray Ranch has become one of the premiere producers of extraordinary Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris wines. That fact was brought home with thundering clarity in an intimate wine dinner at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar near Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, which featured Special Guest Kate MacMurray in a special presentation of the winery’s new releases and the cuisine of Chef Partner Jeri. The “Spirit of Sonoma” Dinner brought together the elements of fine wine, expressive cuisine and oral history, creating a multi-dimensional experience that appealed to both the palate and the intellect.

Kate MacMurray, who also writes poetry, is an eloquent speaker. Her passion for the ranch and the wine it produces are evident. Her moving and illuminating stories of the legacy of her famous father and his achievements at the ranch are as multi-faceted as the wines she is presenting.

“I’m going to share a secret with you,” she told the gathering of about 20 or so oenophiles. “The story of my father and the ranch has its roots right here in Illinois. My father was born in Kankakee and my mother was born in Rock Island, in an area now known as the Quad Cities.” The announcement brought a gasp from the gathering.

The story of MacMurray Ranch’s beginnings was accompanied by a slide presentation, which showed the lush vineyards and photographs of the ranches early years, featuring those of the original owners, the Porter family. MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris Sonoma Coast 2009 ($13.99) was served as the aperitif during her introductory remarks. The easy-to-drink white wine is aged in neutral barrels to give it balance and complexity and just a whiff of smoke. The more pronounced flavors are those of ripe peaches or an Asian pear. Its crisp, clean finish makes it a great wine with appetizers or salad or just on its own as a party starter.

The first course was giant Shrimp Skewers (what they would call Prawns in the Northern California Bay Area, where Kate lives), with Fresh Fennel and Orange and Avocado Salad. MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay Sonoma Coast, 2008 ($16). This is one of the best examples of the ‘new breed’ of California Chardonnays that has wine critics like Robert Parker salivating. It’s bursting with rich, luscious fruit, so characteristic of the grapes produced in the ideal growing region along the Northern California Coast with its fog-kissed mornings and sunny days. Light gold in color, it has the full-bodied taste of poached pears and honey and a touch of brioche and hazelnut. A bit of spice on the tongue and a wisp of smoke complete the flavor portrait. I saved a bit to drink with the next course, Chef’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and found it just as agreeable with it as MacMurray Ranch’s outstanding 2009 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($19).

This is an elegant example of an elegant California Pinot Noir. It’s medium-bodied with a nice aroma of fruit- black cherry, plums and just a hint of pepper and spice. The dark ruby color foretells the treat you are in for. It is only topped in flavor and value by MacMurray Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 2008 (29.99) and the Winemaker’s Block Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 2008 ($39.99), both true Burgundy –styled wines with black raspberry on the nose and a touch of rose hips and tart cranberries on the palette. These wines provided a kaleidoscope of flavors to play around with, accompanied by the stellar Roasted Chateaubriand with Black Truffle Butter, Mashed Green Market Potatoes and Madeira Sauce. The kitchen shined on this Continental Classic. The meat was fork tender and bursting with fresh mineral flavor. The perfect marbling of the meat gave it a soft mouth feel. The light woodsy whiff of truffle melded with the aroma of the wine as you lifted it to your lips, amplifying the treasure-trove of flavors that rolled over the tongue. It was the Grand Finale to a meal and a wine that, like its namesake, is worthy of its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Friday, November 11, 2011

CHILL: Merchandise Mart of Chicago's showcase for design, food & wine

Dwight The Wine Doctor

CHILL: Merchandise Mart showcase for design, food & wine

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

LUXEHOME, the Merchandise Mart’s collection of premiere boutiques for home building, design and renovation, was the venue for CHILL, An International Wine & Culinary Event.

Benefitting three local charities, Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago, the Chicago Youth Symphony Association (which provided young players in the various showrooms) and the Lynn Sage Foundation, the event brought together the Chicago area’s top chefs and their premiere gourmet creations and some of the nation’s and the world’s finest winemakers, many of whom appeared in person to pour their latest vintages. This oenophile was especially delighted to receive a ‘sneak preview’ of some of the wines to be served at the annual Pinot Days celebration at Navy Pier, two days hence.

Stew and Barb Lauterbach were among the first to welcome me to CHILL with a glass of their Russian River Valley 2006 Pinot Noir ($26) from Sonoma County, California. Stew is a Chicago boy at heart, but got caught up in the Great Outdoors while running canoeing and kayaking trips to Canada during his college years. He eventually became a paramedic and volunteer firefighter, which led him to pursue a medical degree at the University of Cincinnati. That’s where he met his wife-to-be, Barb.

A residency at Oakland, California’s Highland Hospital near San Francisco brought the young couple to the Bay Area, which is not far from the Northern California wine country. Frequent forays into the wilds of the Sierra Foothills and California’s Coastal Ranges eventually landed them in Sonoma County and a position in the Emergency Services Center at Santa Rosa Hospital, smack dab in the middle of Sonoma County wine country. Stew had a revelation, and within a short time, purchased some land and started planting Pinot Noir and Syrah grapes. The rest, as they say, is history, fostered by a bit of serendipity!

“The beauty of it all,” Stew confided in me as he poured his pride and joy, 2004 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (also $42), “is that now I’m able to share my passion for both wine and the medical profession with my colleagues.” Stew speaks often at medical conferences, lecturing to emergency room physicians. They love it when he shows up, because he always brings with him a case or two of his luxurious wines for a tasting session after his talk.

Next door, Marc and Jennifer McWilliams poured a glass of their 2009 Longbow Pinot Noir ($48). “That’s our favorite,” Marc offered, as my glass found its way toward the bottle, as if it were magnetized. I was instantly rewarded. The wine had a distinctive nose layered with the smell of jammy fruit and a faint wisp of smoke, like fall leaves burning on the Sonoma Valley forest floor. There was a hint of cheery jam, black tea and Maduro cigar on the tongue followed by a grace note of dark chocolate. It was yummy to say the least. I quickly made a date to meet with him at Navy Pier for the Pinot Days tasting so he would save some of his ‘under the table’ wines for me!

The culinary treats at CHILL were equal to the stupendous selection of wines. I ran into one of my old friends, Executive Chef Patrick Sheering of The Signature Room at the 95th at the top of the John Hancock center on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, carefully prepared a small plate of his roasted flax seed with a butternut and acorn squash glaze to go along with Haus Wines’ Scott Harvey Zinfandel ($20) from Napa Valley, California, in the Woodharbor Home showroom.

Executive Chef Trevor Hoyt of IPO New Urban Cuisine at the W Chicago City Center knocked it out of the park in the Poggenpohl showroom with his spectacular signature dish, Alaskan King Crab with Homemade Potato Gnocchi, butternut squash soup and enoki mushrooms. This was by far the best dish of the evening. “I violated my ‘two-bite’ rule,” I told the chef. “Normally, because I go to so many of these type of events, I only eat two bites and throw the rest away. This time, ‘I ate the WHOLE thing!” I promptly reached for seconds.

Quinta do Santa Tamariz Loureiro. 2010 Vinho Verde region from Portugal ($13) is a bright, crisp wine with an aromatic nose of white flowers and stone fruit. It goes perfectly with the crab, because of the slightly mineral aroma and especially so with the squash, because of its layers of citrus fruit and peaches on the mouth. This was a winning combination and a finish line performance by a champion of a chef!