Brett happens

All wine, most of the time

Striking gold at Orange Rouge

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The parallels were eerie. Dinner at a new-to-me restaurant. Spotting a vintageless Langhe Nebbiolo on the short wine list. Inquiring whether it might be the just-arrived Produttori del Barbaresco bottling and being met with incomprehension from the server, who offers to fetch a bottle and see. A eureka moment when the bottle is brought to the table. And a revelation when the wine is drunk with the food.

It first happened in March of 2012 at the now-defunct Jane. And it happened again the other night at Orange Rouge.

At a tasting a little more than a year ago, the Produttori’s general manager Aldo Vacca mentioned that after the “light” 2010s and “extremely ripe” 2011s, the low-yielding 2012 vintage was “ideal.” So I was stoked when I saw that the cooperative’s 2012 Langhe Nebbiolo had shown up at the SAQ ($23.70, 11383617). I’d reserved a couple of bottles but hadn’t tasted it.

Meanwhile back at Orange Rouge, we were having a hard time deciding what to order. Among the big dishes, both the roast duck and the three-ways arctic char beckoned. But discovering the wine clinched it: we were going for the quacker. “Be aware the duck requires about 30 minutes to prepare,” the server said. “You might want to order a few small dishes to eat while you wait.”

That we did, along with a 750 ml bottle of Ferran Adrià’s Estrella Damm Inedit ($8.30 at the SAQ, 11276336). The sriracha peanuts came in a small bowl and were crunchy-caramelized, mildly salty/spicy/sweet and compulsively edible. The popcorn shrimp, well breaded and deep-fried to a crispy brown, tasted of the sea and, if they didn’t exactly pop, they definitely snapped. A salad of fresh mint sprigs in a light, savoury, subtly spiced vinaigrette was delicious on its own and a quantum leap better with the garnish of crumbled fresh goat cheese. The beer more than held its own with everything: softly fragrant and effervescent, clean and light enough to refresh the palate and, with its delicate white spice and orange peel notes, complex enough to play off the spices in the food. In other contexts it has left me unconvinced, but here it was ideal.

Just after the wine was opened and poured, the duck made a spectacular entrance: a bed of stir-fried (?) napa cabbage, ringed by thin, overlapping slices of duck breast, crowned with mahogany-skinned thighs, wings and drumsticks and bed-headed with a shock of julienned carrot and zucchini. On a separate platter came a fan of largish half-moon steamed buns, a soy-based dipping sauce and cilantro leaves. The duck’s breast and extremities may have been cooked separately, as each was done to moist, rosy perfection; the pieces we savoured on their own, the breast slices with the buns. The cabbage, which required time and some digging to get at, had no wok hai but duck juice mojo in spades. The dish was a lot for three people, easily enough for four or, with an added side or two, six; still, there was never a question of our not polishing it off. It was, in a word, glorious, the best duck any of us has encountered in a restaurant or maybe anywhere. And it puts the “Peking” duck at places like Mon Nan and Cristal Chinois to shame.

The only side we ordered was a small dish of burned eggplant, the silken flesh garnished with bonito shavings and plated with a smear of mild green chile sauce. Delectable.

The Langhe proved an absolute delight, fully deserving of its advance billing. Redolent of cherry and blackberry with hints of tar, rose and anise, despite being served in small Duralex tumblers. Supple and fluid yet intensely flavoured at its core, the acidity illuminating, the tannins ripe and rasping, the sweet fruit lilting over a ground bass of slate, wood and earth. Delicious on its own, it sang with the duck and did bel canto duets with the eggplant. In short, a wine to buy by the case.

Stuffed to the gills, we could find room only for a small bowl of house-made orange ice cream served with three spoons. Smooth and silky, not very sweet and haunted more than flavoured by the citrus, it had a soft peppery kick from a scattering of slivered candied ginger.

The damage? With one bottle of beer and two bottles of the Langhe (the resto’s markup on alcohol appears to be the standard 110%, alas), $250 for three or $85 a person, including taxes but before tip. The food alone came to less than $50 per. A bit pricey compared with other Chinatown eateries, perhaps. Then again, other Chinatown eateries aren’t really comparable.

The Langhe’s distribution appears to be spotty. Some stores are currently showing inventories approaching and even exceeding 100 bottles. Others have received only a fraction of that number and are quickly blowing through their stock. A second shipment is slated to arrive in a month or so. Still, to be on the safe side, you should act fast. You simply will not find a more beguling Old World red at the regular price. And if you reserve your bottles now and pick them up on Valentine’s Day weekend, you’ll get 10% off (if part of a total purchase of $100 or more), which has to make this the QPR winner of the year.

Failing that, put together a party of food and wine lovers and make a beeline for Orange Rouge.

Written by carswell

February 10, 2014 at 13:43

2 Responses

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  1. […] impromptu addition to the lineup. Having had such a positive encounter with the wine at Orange Rouge, I brought a bottle to the tasting room to let the others know of its arrival. “How much extra […]

  2. […] on Brett happens: – Transformer (the 2013 + recipe) – Baby Barbaresco (the 2012) – Striking gold at Orange Rouge (the 2012) – Charcuteries + uve italiane (the 2011) – We interrupt our regularly scheduled […]

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