Story and photo gallery byDwight Casimere
NEW YORK--Greenwich Village's famed abc kitchen, the local organic home creation of Master Chef/Owner Jean Georges Vongerichten and Executive Chef Dan Kluger was the setting for the introduction of the portfolio of Helfrich Noble Varieties, the wines of Alscace in a tasting event hosted by Anne-Laurie Helfrich, representing the sixth generation of the famed Alsatian winemaking family, and abc kitchen Chef de Cuisine Karen Shu. The tasting featured the restaurant's acclaimed vegetarian creations and imaginative seafood presentations along with an exclusive tasting of Helfrich Cremant d'Alsace ($19.99), 2012 Pinot Blanc ($14.99), 2012 Helfrich Riesling ($14.99, followed by an elaborate menu pairing with 2011 Helfrich Pinot Gris Grand Cru ($19.99), 2011 Riesling Grand Cru ($19.99) and the exceptional 2009 Helfrich Gewurztraminer Grand Cru (also $19.99). All of the Grand Cru vintages are from the famed Steinklotz vineyard, one of only 51 vineyards in all of Alsace that has the Grand Cru designation. Paired with chef Shu's cuisine it was a gastronomic experience of the first order.
Alsace is the second most northern winemaking region in France after Champagne. Historically situated between French and German cultures, it has been a winemaking region since the Roman era. The unique climate and topography of Alsace make for some exquisite wines that reflect the long growing season and the complex combination of soils, resulting in wines of exquisite crispness and character, ranging from elegant dry white wines to several types of sweet late harvest wines and a surprisingly luscious sparkling wine, Cremant D' Alsace, which began the abc kitchen tasting experience, paired with the chef's Amuse Bouche, a flavorful and colorful bruschetta of Heirloom tomatoes, brushed with olive oil and covered with a dusting of fresh, garden thyme.
The next courses provided an opportunity to taste all of the exceptional wines in tandem with a variety of house specialties, including the freshly shucked local sweet white corn-off-the-cob, which was a daily and seasonal special, sauteed with jalapenos, sweet green peppers, oregano and shaved Parmesan cheese and a delightful composed salad of Arugula, fresh goat cheese and shaved late summer squash with a drizzling of extra virgin olive oil and white balsamic. The salad and sweet corn paired perfectly with the Helfrich Pinot Gris.
The next courses to arrive showcased not only the exceptional talents of chef Shu, but the versatility and depth of flavor of Helfrich Grand Crus. The wines are all single vineyard and 100% varietal, coming from the famed Steinklotz vineyard located at the extreme northern end of the Alsatian wine trail. The vineyard is located on a steep hill marked by rich soil comprised of 8" of loam covering hard calcareous bedrock. Anne-Laure Helfrich brought along a handfull of soil samples to put on display during the tasting. This unique combination of soil types is largely responsible for the complex layering of flavors and the richness, structure and mouthfeel of her exceptional wines. Grapes are all harvested by hand and carefully manipulated through membrane pressing before they undergo cool fermentation in stainless steel tanks. "The Grand Cru, especially, is racked on fine lees to give it complex aromas, roundness and richness on the palate," Anne-Laure explained over bites of shaved raw fluke ceviche with rushed olives, lemon and a dusting of chilies and wood oven roasted Maine Lobster with oregano and lemon-chili vinaigrette and Black Sea Bass with chilies and herbs, spinach and basil. "The wines have an intriguing blend of bright, citrus fruit paired with an intriguing smokiness and briary notes. Yet, they have a persistence in the mouth that reveals a well-balanced acidity."
The wines go with a variety of late Harvest dishes, including composed salads, late summer squash, sweet corn, Heirloom tomatoes, fish and shellfish, including sushi and ceviche. They even pair exceptionally well with lighter roasted or grilled meats such as veal, lamb, chicken or turkey. abc kitchen features a mean burger made with Grass Fed Akaushi Beef, which is a strain of Japanese beef, similar to Kobe beef, but of even higher quality, which is raised by Texas cattle ranchers. "The story goes," chef Shu explained, " is that a group of Texas ranches went to Japan to learn more about Kobe beef. Instead, they were led to another beef producing region that was said to be even better than Kobe, called Akaushi. After tasting the new variety, they decided to ship a herd of them to Texas and started raising them on American soil. Needless to say, the cattle are all Grass Fed and Free Range, and the taste and texture are to die for." The meat went perfectly with Helfrich Grand Cru Gewurztraminer and its hint of cardamum spice and white pepper. abc kitchen also has a veggie butrger, with minted yoga on housemade whole wheat pita, which I am told is the best veggie burger to be had anywhere. Next time. Kudos to Chef de Cuisine Shu and the marvelous kitchen and waitstaff for an exceptional tasting experience!
The terrific thing about Helfrich wines is that all of them, including the Grand Crus, are under $20. But hurry, if you're going to buy them, they are in very Limited National Availability. They're available at your favorite discriminating wine shop, such as Sherry Lehmann in New York or Binny's in Chicago. If you see them, grab a case or two, because I guarantee that at that price and that quality, they won't be around for very long. Bon Apetit!
Roasted Carrot and Avocado salad paired with Helrich Grand Cru
The organic and seasonal cuisine of abc kitchen
Below: Silky Diver Scallop sashimi with sea beans, green chilies and herbs