Posts Filed Under on the road
“You can beat the sh*t out of something, and all you get is powdered sh*t!”
– Johnny Graham
As part of some prep work for recently-published Playboy Port Primer (For Your Holiday Port-ing Pleasure), in November I was a guest of importer Frederick Wildman for a lunch/tasting and dinner/tasting with Johnny Graham, the force behind relative Port newcomer Churchill’s.
The F-W folks didn’t actually know that I was sort-of on assignment for my Port Primer, but it turned out that Johnny Graham – to whom I now owe a return on a much-needed pre-dinner beer that he bought me en route to the evening event – had so much Port worth talking about that I wanted to highlight him here. I think I also owe him a beer for providing the above quote, which slipped out when we were tasting through some of the Churchill’s lineup at F-W headquarters before our dinner, while we were discussing wines that exude finesse as well as natural concentration, versus those that simply display an overly-extracted sense of concentration (for an example of the former, try Churchill’s elegantly understated Ten Year Tawny Port, which I likened to Sancerre – seriously – in terms of its prettiness).
Anyway, the highlight of the visit was a trip to NYC’s Hearth restaurant, where I finally got to see/taste what all the (well-deserved) fuss was about when it comes to Paul Grieco (and his massive soul patch), who did an admirable job pairing an entire multi-course meal to vintage Port selections from Churchill’s (not an easy feat, even if the wines are quite good, since they’re also quite demanding, and in some cases quite sweet – in short, a culinary mine field).
Graham’s family Port biz started in the 1800s, and he told me that he was “fortunate, in my youth, I was able to taste vintages like the 1908s; Vintage Port can age 20, 50 years or more, and there just aren’t many wines that can do that.” To that end, given the sh*tload of non-sh*tty wines we tasted that evening, I hope you’ll forgive me the list-and-review style format post, but I thought it worthwhile to give you the scoop on several past vintages of Churchill’s Vintages… including a sneak-peak at the yet-to-be-released 2011…
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This past September while touring the less-appreciated side of Bordeaux as a guest of Planete Bordeaux, we wrapped up our jaunt with a boat ride, before which we tossed back some cured meats and a lot of tasty and inexpensive Bordeaux whites and rosés, and during which we tossed back some oysters and a lot of tasty and inexpensive Bordeaux whites and rosés, and after which we ate dinner at a modest-but-quite-good restaurant along the water (and tossed back a lot tasty and inexpensive Bordeaux reds, whites and rosés).
But before you fly into a curious jealous rage and/or hate on me for even accepting a trip like that, it should be noted that in typical organized-by-the-French fashion, this little aquatic jaunt sounds more idyllic than it is when manifested in the context of, well, reality. We had to roll up pant legs carry shoes and socks and wade through the crisp, September-chilled waters to climb into the boat, a well-maintained but on-the-small side craft that would have suited four people a lot better than it did ten. I like to drink, and I like to east, but I don’t like to sit on wood planks for long periods of time (thought I gave that one up when I decided to stop going to Catholic Sunday mass regularly).
Once the wine and oysters are flowing, however, it’s easy enough to forget the relatively mild inconveniences and the Autumn bite, so I’m not complaining here. I’ll let the photos do the talking.
However, taken as a whole, a leisurely open-aired boat ride is not the environment that’s conducive to any kind of formal critical assessment, which doesn’t matter anyway when Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard is dining (with entourage) a few tables away from you, and someone (in this case, Marc Milhade, of Chateau Recougne) brought along a 1959 red that their grandfather made. At which point things become decidedly more… awesome…
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When most people hear the name of a French Chateau, they conjure up in their mind’s eye a scenario that probably looks a lot like what
Féret-Lambert is like in real life: green hills punctuated by vineyards bulging with ripe, juicy Merlot grapes; a large, picturesque house dating from the 1700s, located a stone’s throw from Saint-Emilion in the French countryside.
But when I hear the words Féret-Lambert, I have near-instant recall of something else entirely; I think about… tomato pie.
[ I also think about the dog that tried to eat my water bottle. More on that little bugger later. ]
I think about the fourth generation family that now runs the show there, yes; and I think about some overachieving Merlot-based wine, too, of course. But the heart of the mater to me was the tomato pie we had at lunch when I visited Féret-Lambert in September, as a media guest of Planete Bordeaux.
For the uninitiated in Mid-Atlantic “Little Italy” cuisine, tomato pie is, essentially, margherita pizza without the cheese. But as with any cuisine, there are endless variations, and as a kid who loved tomatoes grown into an adult who loves tomatoes, I have tried just about all of them. Thin, flaky crusts with fresh baked tomato and a hint of sauce on top; thick, floppy, focaccia-style bread with a gargantuan amount of sloppy, garlic-filled red sauce oozing of the top; hearty dough that’s soft in the center, crispy on the bottom, and with a light coating of embedded, seasoned tomatoes and a thin layer of sauce that curls at the thick crust and bakes ever-so-slightly into the top layer of the bread (that last style is the equivalent of tomato pie mouthgasm for me). Inexpensive to make, but tough to do really well, and a little (literal) slice of luxury for a boy living in the “upper end of the lower middle class.”
So when it comes to tomato pie – from the utterly banal to the downright succulent – I’ve just about had it all.
And I can therefore tell you with at least a semi-educated opinion that Féret-Lambert makes a mean tomato pie; more pie-like than pizza-like, flaky crust and ultra-fresh tomatoes baked up together with enough near-perfection to give a Little Italy expat a deep sense of homecoming. And with the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that they’re pulling off of the thirteen-or-so hectares of vines that they cultivate there, Féret-Lambert is also making a mean, budget-minded Bordeaux red to go with it…
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