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Friday, 17 April 2015

Fly on the Wall

Done and Done
Photo: WC News Service/Don Merlot 
Continuing notes & thoughts on food and wine from the WC News Service's Ron Alonzo aka Don Merlot       


 This year has been busy one visiting the past, finding out what we know about wine and what do with wine and or what we have learned about wine, and guess about what the future of wine will be with what we have learned. It reminds me of the old saying my parents discussed with me to see if I was on the right road to a successful life.

       Tell me where you have been?   

       Tell me where you are?

       Tell me where you are going?
    In March, I saw some friends in Florida who started the journey of wine with me back in 1969 when we lived Michigan. My original bias was red wine from Burgundy and white wine from the Loire. The French Bordeaux was the most respected and prestigious wine in the USA and globally recognized as well.     
    Our intentions were to visit our favorite food tastes and wines that we have enjoyed.  We set our expectation on having two home prepared meals and we sipped six bottles of wine that were matched to the food. We only had two nights to enjoy this.    

      In a sense it reminded me of where I had been in my wanderings these past 46 years. The wines came from different regions and countries and were presented to accompany special favorite dishes we had enjoyed. It is something we have done since 1969. Before dispatching the empty bottles to oblivion, I took a photo with my I-Pod to remind me of our souvenir.  

      Some basic stuff is that you can tell with older wines their origin if you can see the shape of the bottles so if my focus is off, the silhouettes tell the story of the event.
    The wines (left to right in the photo above) were a Sauternes (Bordeaux) that went with a key lime pie which we have enjoyed this match for the last twenty years; a Rhone red (new to French restaurant market) and the current rage on Paris restaurant wine lists).  DOMAINES VITICOLES RENOUARD LES TERRASSES d’HORTENSE VDP COTEAUX FLAVIENS that was matched with a grilled beef tri tip cut. The other dinner was a Cote d’Or Burgundy, a Gevrey Chambertin, that went with a leg a of lamb; a California Sauvignon Cabernet, that was matched with cheeses; A California boutique red, CHOCOLATE SEX, blended of petite Syrah and merlot (this is Shooting Star a blend from a new boutique; a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand; and a Sancerre from the Loire Valley.    

      Over that past decade we have not been extravagant as we were when we started off because there has been a major increase in prices on wine and foods. At one time we started with Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon. Today that is out of sight and financially impossible as the nouveau (non Persian) sources just do not compete in taste or quality.    

      After the repast, we caught up on wine in general by watching a home entertainment movie: the Wine documentary SOMM. We watched and compared to our history of tastings, experience and expectations over the last years.     

    My feeling is that if I were young again and if I would watch this movie I would recognized I could not meet the education expectations of this wine society’s qualifiers because no matter what I know or what I have experienced the past four decades, I will never have the accumulated knowledge or experience to become a master Sommelier. I have not developed my senses required in the testing’s: See, Smell, Sip and Summarize the wine experience. I am envious that some have achieved the recognition of a Master Sommelier. I will remain an educated amateur. The show created a very humbling experience for us. On evaluating our experience of this tasting event, I would have to say that I prefer stronger tannin in red wines and in whites I prefer the dry Sauvignon Blanc over the fuller Chardonnay.    
    The wine societies and educators that put me on the oenophile track, made me follow the paradigm of See, Sip, Sense and Summarize. That led me to conclude where my preferences were. When I saw the players in SOMM, I concluded those students could pick out four or more taste and smells while I was lucky to get one chacteristic. They could pick out specific vineyards, varietals, and knew the Terroire of the major wines of the world.  White characteristics are different than red wines, but I was dumfounded that in their blind tasting the ones that were right went on the graduate. I forget the number of years the Master Sommelier certification has existed, but going back to the 60s the number who has been certified are less than 100. The lesson learned is that they understood the DNA of wine or as I have learned the terroire.   

      The importance of the Nouveau Chef is that he reaches out to the restaurant gastronome and finds new wines that will meet the expectations of his menu. Of course there are many new vineyards trying to reach the top of the premier level of wine pyramid. Articles have appeared in leading wine and food magazines that have identified certain vineyards outside of the traditional ones in France, but the question is how to get them on menus in  Paris, London and New York, or will they be fades and not become trends.    

      Since returning to New Orleans I have found one restaurant I enjoy, Lukes, a John Besh property (at best it is a bistrot,) and I find their wines very current with the wine world. Without having to spend a fortune on wines, they have elegant wines by the glass. I tried a Mousseaux (a sparkling wine from France) that was phenomenal and priced right to keep the food price per person under $50.   

      As seen by reading about recent South American imports, the quality wines are finding their way to the quality American gourmet bistros. American restaurateurs have to allow customers to pay a corkage charge to come in with their retail paid and it is a less expensive wine. Recently in Food and Wine (April 2015; page 26), there is a question – “Why Bring Cheap Wine to Good Restaurant” and to me the Customer wants to enjoy the Chef’s food, but does not want the premium elegant that has been matched by the chef and the that wine that is sold at twice the retail price because that is going to be more than the food item.    

      It is clear to me that we have arrived to the point where food and wine as an experience will be separated. The food item traditionally is priced to meet market demand, but the wine which is matched comes out of the wine cellar is based on availability. What if the Chef matches a Burgundy white or red from the Cote d’Or or Bordeaux? There is ample supply in the cellar, but the customer in his mind wants to have the food and match it with a local white or red wine from California New Zealand or Chile?   

      To me it is clear that wine when I first started my selections were made up of classic wines intended for special occasions and every day wine or Vin Ordinaries. Restaurants in Paris London and New York had great chefs and had great cellars but that fit European wines originally and then the New World began to reach its zenith. The New World was outside of classic Europe and the New World (as in the world after the discovery by Columbus) was where Europeans took their wine sprouts to foreign lands and created a vitas’ vinifera culture.

In the 70s California wines exploded out of California’s Sonoma and Napa Valley. Varietals changed from traditional Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and Sauvignon Cabernet and Pinot Noir. The rest of Europe reds chimed in with tempranillo, grenacha, nebbiolo, sangiovese. Restaurants could offer great dishes and great wines. Classic wines became expensive and scarce. I remember sitting in Paris n 1972 in a restaurant off the Champs des l'Elysees called Val d’Isere – a house wine was a pichet of Loire’s Sancerre and it sold for 5 FF. Most customers had a pichet of wine in restaurants in Paris. Since then around the world most restaurants have evolved to selling 750 ml bottles with some offering half bottles. Except for superior class restaurant, the wine list struggles to keep up with value wine offerings. 

      Today’s groceries that carry wine have to have an educated retail wine sales specialist per store. Much is done through tastings, but I think that one should really understand what one likes, before taking direction from a wine consultant. I feel the wine consultant is there to sell the wine he represents. What you need to know about your palate is what wine do I like with what, and what wine is good to match the food I am ordering or in the restaurant what wine do they recommend that meets my taste and my budget.    

      Unless you are on an expense account and you know the company will approve the expense you will go with the Sommelier’s recommendation. When you do not know what you like, give look at the wine list sold by the glass and if you like white, Sauvignon Blanc is dry, Chardonnay is full taste and has more alcohol; red wines have varying levels of tannin. Cabernet Sauvignon will have more tannin than Merlot. Pinot Noir from California is lighter tannin than most reds. Lots of tannin cut out the fat of beef and lamb. Pinot Noir can go with turkey. It is tricky, but if y our want to be happy make sure the wine you like goes with the meal that being prepared.

If you’re increasing your wine knowledge make a set of notes on each wine you like or do not like and why. Matching the foods for you is essential. Not all wines go with all food. Light wine with light foods and heavy tannin wines with beef roast. 

      I read a lot of wine and food magazines. If you do not, then experiment on the varietal offerings of your grocery shelves.     

      I strongly believe in the concept that wines are like horse races and if we all bet on the same horse there would not be a horse race. As decades have gone by, there is a rebirth for the generations for the flagship houses and new entries coming using new techniques and they are vaulting into wine circles and finding a home in restaurant menus. For me the path will keep up with the new to market wines that are making a breakthrough in the wine fairs around the world.    

  Ron Alonzo Is a Chevalier of the Confrerie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a Professionnel de la Table of the Chaine des Rôtisseurs, and a CFSP level I of the NAFEM (Certified Food Service Professional).