Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Helfrich Noble Varieties: As easy to enjoy as ABC

Helfrich Wines from Alsace perfect with light Harvest fare

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!
 Dwight The Wine Doctor with Anne-Laure Helfrich
 Chef de Cuisine Karen Shu of ABC Kitchen
 Roasted Carrot and Avocado salad paired with Helrich Grand Cru
 Anne-Laure Helfrich displays the loam and calcareous soils responsible for her Pinot Gris's richness
 The Wood Oven-Roasted Maine Lobster with Helfrich Pinot Gris Grand Cru 2011

Chef de Cuisine Karen Shu with Anne-Laure Helfrich

The organic and seasonal cuisine of abc kitchen
Black Sea Bass with chilies and herbs
The chef's Amuse-Bouche of Heirloom tomato bruschetta
 Shaved Raw Fluke with crushed olives, lemon and chilies
Below: Silky Diver Scallop  sashimi with sea beans, green chilies and herbs

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Wine of the Week: Damilano Barolo Cannubi $85

Langhe in Italy's Piemonte is home to the Nebbiolo grape and our wine of the week, Damilano Barolo Cannubi  $85

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere 

 Dwight The Wine Doctor in the Langhe last spring
 With Damilano winemaker Bepper Caviola at the headquarters of Colangelo Partners

Barolo: "King of of Wines" and Italy's answer to French Grand Cru

by Dwight Casimere

Langhe holds a special place in Italy's Piemonte wine growing region. It is the home of Barolo, the rich, complex, Ruby-red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape, one of the most capricious in Italy's constellation of star-power varieties. Barolo is a wine of unique character, with refined and intense aromas and tastes that cause many aficionados to compare it to the finest of French Grand Crus, yet, at  it sells at a fraction of the price. Once such Barolo, which has recently been introduced on America's shores at fine dining restaurants and discriminating wine shops is Damilano Barolo. It is Damilano's flagship wine and is sure to garner praise among those who experience it. Therefore,  Damilano Barolo DOCG Cannubi 2008 ($85), is our Wine of the Week.
This sumptuous wine was unveiled in an exclusive private tasting at the headquarters of Colangelo Partners, a high-end wine marketing and public relations firm located in the heart of midtown Manhattan's 'advertising agency row.' Presiding over the intimate tasting for key wine journalists and sommeliers was Beppe Caviola, one of Italy's leading enologists, and winemaker for Damilano. In 2002, he received the Winemaker of the Year award from Gambero Rosso and Slow Food.

Caviola presented Damilano's dazzling portfolio of wines, among them Damilano Barolo DOCG Brunate 2006 ($75) and their entry-level Barolo, Damilano Barolo Lecinquevigne (five vineyards), so named because it is a blend of Nebbiolo grapes produced in the five municipalities of Verduno, Grinzane, Cavour, La Morra and Novello, a steal at $35 the bottle. Each of the wines presented had its own distinct character but the standout, hands down, was the Cannubi.

"This is our leading wine," Caviola said proudly, as he swirled his Riedel glass and took a hearty sip of the deep Garnet colored wine. "It's well extracted and full-bodied with ample tastes of luscious dark cherries and black plums with hints of tobacco, licorice and cocoa, yet its rich and elegant, with very smooth tanins. Its intense, but with a rose-petal floral bouquet. It's easily the best Barolo we produce in the Langhe."

Cannubi is  situated on a long hill that rises above the town of Barolo and stands at the intersection of a
unique combination of soils, which includes grey Tortonia marl (marble slate) and Helvetian sandstone. This distinct blend gives Cannubi its great individuality and complexity. With vines up to 50 years of age, the wine takes on a richness of character that draws on the magnesium and platinum-rich limestone and clay soils which lend Canubi an instense color and vibrant blend of flavors that results in a wine of great elegance and finesse. This is the wine to savor over the very best cut of Prime Aged Steak, or enjoyed in solitude while seated in your favor chair, savoring a fine Maduro cigar or listening to your favorite CD of Mozart or Trane. Matured in large oak barrels, to give it roundness and fullness of flavor, Damilano Cannubi tastes great consumed right now or even better if aged for twenty years or more. Ample reason to turn that old storage room into a wine cellar if you haven't already done so!