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Greek Spring!

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Montreal’s Greek Spring climaxes on Wednesday, May 14, with a Printemps Grec dinner at the SAT’s Foodlab in the company of four visiting winemakers: Thymiopoulos, Argyros, Tselepos and Papagiannakos. Tasty and affordable Greek wines by the glass and bottle, a selection of mezze specially prepared by chefs Gabrielse and Marek, the newly opened terrasse complete with outdoor grill and an encouraging weather forecast – what more could you ask for? Oh, all right: rumour has it the hockey game will be shown on a big-screen TV. Now you really have no excuse not to go.

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Written by carswell

May 13, 2014 at 12:23

Posted in Events

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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

Symbiose’s Jura event at Bocata

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Old Montreal wine bar Bocata has been holding a series of Thursday evening wine and food events in collaboration with various agencies. On January 23, the agency was Symbiose and the theme was the Jura. A friend from Besançon, just outside the Jura, and I made reservations.

With its stone walls, low, rough-beamed wood ceilings, fireplace, bookcases, warm lighting and seating for 30 or 40, the space is cosy, romantic and refreshingly unslick. The regular menu leans toward Spain and southern France, but ours was a Jurassic prix fixe: four courses for $40 or five for $45, wines included. We went the latter route.

The starter was a beautifully presented oyster on the half shell covered with a mince of sour apple and fennel, a credible match for the Côtes-du-Jura 2010, Naturé, Domaine Berthet-Bondet ($29.77, Symbiose, 6 bottles/case). Naturé, one of Savagnin‘s former aliases, is now used exclusively to refer to unoxidized Savagnins. This one had a nose of straw, brine and preserved lemon with a musky Sauvignon-like cat pee note. In the mouth, it was rich and round on the surface but had plenty of underlying acidity and a long, rainwatery finish.

The Côtes-du-Jura 2011, Rubis, Domaine Berthet-Bondet (NLA) is a blend of Trousseau (60%), Poulsard (30%) and Pinot Noir (10%). True to its name, the wine is a limpid pale red. With coaxing, the stern, faintly bretty nose of shale and burned match gave up scents of crushed raspberries (fruit and leaves). Light-bodied, minerally and tart, it had a silky texture, shy fruit and not much depth. The finish brought a surprising note of orange peel. What the wine needed was food to perk it up, and this it got in an earthy bowl of Puy lentils flavoured with smoky Morteau sausage.

Next, a dish – actually a shallow bowl – of mussels and scallops, the latter cut into mussel-size pieces, in a curry-scented carrot soup/sauce/purée: an excellent match for the L’Étoile 2008, Domaine de Montbourgeau, which had wowed the MWG in November 2011. (The 2010 is currently available at the SAQ ($21.55, 11557541).) Made from Chardonnay and possibly a little co-planted Savagnin, it spends around 18 months in 230-litre oak barrels and 600-litre demi muids. A middleweight that flowed smoothly on the palate, this had a classic, complex nose of browning apple, marzipan, hazelnuts, corn silage and dried pine needles. The lightly oxidized fruit was brightened by acidity and did a slow-fade on the long finish. A complete wine, lacking nothing.

By this point, we had become seriously impressed with the food – not just the execution, which was flawless, but also the clear knowledge of how to pair dishes with Jura wines. How many local chefs appreciate curry’s affinity for oxidized Jura whites, let alone use the spice with such an elegant hand? We asked the waiter to transmit our compliments to the chef. Before long, he stopped at our table: young, Limousin native Benjamin Léonard, who, it turns out, did a stint at Arbois’s top restaurant (two Michelin stars), Jean-Paul Jeunet.

The next wine was the Arbois-Pupillin 2009, Les Vianderies, Domaine de la Renardière ($29.84, Symbiose, 12 bottles/case), a small-production, old-vine Chardonnay cuvée. Fermentation and maturation last 18 months and take place in 500-litre tonneaux. This had a wafting nose of lemon, hawthorn and chalk with a hint of smoke and ash. On the palate, it was dry, fresh and pure – very chalky and citrusy – a lovely wine whose only weak point seemed its fleeting finish. Still, it made a fine pairing for the most accomplished dish of the evening: a moist, meltingly tender round of turkey breast stuffed with foie gras, cooked sous vide, served in a foamy vin jaune sauce and garnished with hedgehog mushrooms and a few tiny nuggets of sautéed foie gras.

Lastly, accompanied by an 18-month Comté, came a 2005 Château Chalon, Domaine Berthet-Bondet (NLA). Aromatically dazzling: walnut, curry powder, dried corn, almond, even a little banana peel. Delicate, minerally, subtly oxidized in the mouth. Rich but dry in a Fino-like way, with fine but sustained acidity. Not as deep or rich as some yet elegant and beautiful all the same.

To say we were satisfied would be the understatement of the century. The QPR was off the charts; we would have considered it a bargain to have paid $45 for the food alone. This may have been a case of the planets aligning – a Jura-trained chef egged on by a Jura-enamoured agent and given free rein to concoct a Jura-inspired tasting menu to accompany a series of fine Jura wines – but the overall quality was so high, I doubt it was only that. Both my friend and I plan to return to check out the regular menu.

Two more Bocata wine events – both even more affordable than the Jura tasting – are planned for February: Rézin and Beaujolais on the 21st and oenopole and Greek terroirs on the 28th. And it looks like there may soon be some interesting local developments on the Jura front. Stay tuned for details.

Written by carswell

February 17, 2013 at 12:45

Clos Ouvert and Hôtel Herman

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As the tasting of Péron wines at Hôtel Herman wound down, business at the restaurant began picking up and, like several other tasters, I decided to stick around and have a bite, a decision made easier by the convivial setup, small plate approach and appealing by-the-glass selection of wines. That other friends and acquaintances – a MWG member, an SAQ wine advisor, a reporter from La Presse, staff from nearby restaurants, a cohort from Rézin – began trickling in only sealed the deal.

Installed on the other side of the room, the Rézin gang appeared to be focused on a half dozen bottles they had brought with them and a 20-something guy wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word Morgon. Glasses were being poured for some of the staff and several patrons. Eventually, Rézin rep Steve came to our end of the bar and explained that the t-shirt wearer was a visiting winemaker who was friends with Mathieu Lapierre and we shouldn’t miss his formidable old-vine cuvée – old here meaning from stock first planted 350 years ago – made from a forgotten grape variety.

Glass in hand, I introduced myself to the winemaker. His name? Louis-Antoine Luyt. He reached for the bottle of the formidable wine and poured me a taste, explaining that it was made from Païs grapes. That brought to mind another wine made from an obscure grape, the 100% Fer Servadou MarcillacLo Sang del Païs.” While Luyt’s Païs smelled and tasted nothing like a Gamay (or a Marcillac, for that matter), the similarities with a Beaujolais cru were obvious. “This is the first I’ve ever heard of a Païs grape in the Beaujolais,” I mentioned. “What’s the back story?”

“Beaujolais?! My wines are from Chile. Pais was brought to the Americas by Spaniards in the 16th century and planted to make sacramental wine. It’s probably the same as California’s Mission grape.”

“But, but the Morgon t-shirt, Mathieu Lapierre…”

“Well, I’m from France, I love Beaujolais and I went to school with Mathieu. When I decided to make my own wine, I set out looking for a challenge and ended up in Chile.”

He went on to explain that he and partners eventually found a vineyard to lease in the Maule valley. Located about 35 km from the coast at an altitude of between 300 and 700 m, the vineyard was already planted to several varieties, all ungrafted. The parcels are dry farmed and manually worked in compliance with organic principles. The wine-making is natural, the sulphur regime minimal. The domaine is called Clos Ouvert, a name nearly as sweet as Domaine du Possible‘s.

I wasn’t taking notes but, assuming I’m remembering this correctly, Luyt offered tastes of two vintages of the Pais de Quenehuao (the 2010 for sure and maybe the 2011). Both were riper than a Bojo and had a completely different flavour profile, yet the weight, acidity, structure and sappiness were very Bojo-like, due surely in part to a similar wine-making approach that includes carbonic maceration. Also poured were samples of: the 2010 Cinsault “Quella”, which can stand comparison with Languedoc Cinsaults; the 2010 Primavera, an easy-drinking, Carignan-dominated blend; and the 2011 Carménère “Cauquenes”, the first and only wine made from that grape that I’d ask for a second glass of. There may also have been a Cabernet Franc. None of the wines were fruit bombs. All were balanced, more savoury than sweet and possessed of a minerally streak that was unlike any I’ve encountered in Andean wines and that had me thinking terroir, especially since the wines weren’t slavish imitations of their French homologues. Most of all, they were food-friendly and drinkable – what the French call digeste.

“Don’t take this wrong,” I said, “but I’m not normally a fan of Chilean wines. They often taste like tomato – the plant, not the fruit – and seem devoid of finesse. So, I mean it as a compliment when I say I’d never guess these wines were from Chile.”

“I don’t like a lot of Chilean wines either. That was a big part of the challenge I mentioned earlier.”

Rézin is bringing in the wines, which will begin arriving in November when the 2010 Pais hits our shores. All will be available only in cases of 12 bottles and through the private import channel. Prices have yet to be determined but should run under $25 a bottle for individuals and even less for restaurants. I look forward to spending some quality time with them and you should too.

My mini review of Hôtel Herman is after the jump.

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Written by carswell

September 24, 2012 at 21:19

A quartet of naturals

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Among the many attractions of SAT’s Foodlab is the short, constantly changing selection of natural wines, most of them available by the glass. (Among the few downsides of SAT’s Foodlab is the stemware: heavy and small, meaning the glasses are filled nearly to the brim and allow no room for the wine’s bouquet to develop.) We ordered four to accompany this week’s excellent Russian Easter menu, the high points of which were a clear borscht, a coulibiac of halibut and salmon and the dessert, a slice of dry, cardamom-perfumed cake and a slice of a pressed cheese obelisk garnished with candied fruit and almonds.

Bourgogne Aligoté 2010, François Mikulski (c. $25, Vini-Vins)
100% Aligoté from two Meursault parcels planted in 1929 and 1948. Initially muted (possibly the fault of the glasses). The nose’s white peach, quartz and hint of lemon are joined by green fruit (gooseberry?) in the mouth. Acid-bright but not sharp; indeed, it sits softly on the palate. Finishes on a faintly lactic, ashy, leafy note. Not profound but wonderfully drinkable.

Burgenland 2009, Blauburgunder, Meinklang ($25.30, La QV)
100% biodynamically farmed Blauburgunder (aka Pinot Noir). Extroverted nose: berries, beet, cola, earth and smoke. Medium-bodied (13%) and intensely flavoured, the ripe fruit sharing the stage with spices, slate and dried wood. Fluid texture. Light, firm tannins turn astringent on the finish. A vibrant Pinot Noir, not at all Burgundian yet very true to the grape. A winner.

Cour-Cheverny 2009, La Porte Dorée, Domaine Philippe Tessier (c. $28, Vini-Vins)
100% Romorantin from 40- to 90-year-old vines; 85% is aged ten months in demi-muids and barriques. Dry but lightly honeyed. Round, supple and fluid. Acid blossoms on the deliciously sourish finish. Minerals galore and a preserved lemon aftertaste. Pure, clean, long. A beauty.

Colli Piacentini 2010, Dinavolino, Azienda Agricola Denavolo ($27.04, Primavin)
Hazy bronze to the eye. Wafting nose of honey-candied yellow fruit, spice and a whiff of musk (not knowing anything about the wine, I wrote “Malvasian,” so it’s true to type). Quite intense on the attack – fruity, grapey, semi-sweet – it downshifts radically on the mid-palate, fading and drying to rainwater and minerals with a hint of tannins. Intriguing.

Quebec agent Primavin provides the following information on the wine, which is penned by the owner-winemaker, Giulio Armani, who is also the winemaker at La Stoppa

Located at 500 m high, the vineyard DENAVOLO, named after the mountain upper the cellar and the locality where the vineyard is planted, spreads over 3 hectares in the Colli Piacentini area.

The vines are grown on limestone soil, the climate is hot and dry, but at this altitude, the temperature fluctuations between night and day are more than 10°C, explaining that freshness and minerality in the wines.

We only use local grapes : 25% Malvasia di Aromatica Candia, 25% Ortrugo, 25% Marsanne grapes and another not identified yet.

DINAVOLO and DINAVOLINO are produced as if they were red wines, the grapes are de-stemmed, crushed and then stay several months in skin maceration to release in the wine all the aromatic and phenolic components which are in the skin. The wines present a beautiful orange colour, a mineral and lightly flowerish nose, the mouth is well-structured with tannins and a good length.

The main difference between both cuvée comes from the location of the grapes in the vineyard. To produce DINAVOLINO, I selected grapes only located in the downer part of the hill, those grapes keep more acidity and the wine produced is completely different, freshner, younger and more aromatic.

Written by carswell

April 14, 2012 at 14:14

The Schwartza as miracle fruit

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The Schwartza is the flagship pizza of Jane, a down-home Italian resto/upscale pizzaria on Notre Dame a few blocks west of Guy. Topped with mustard sauce, smoked meat, dill pickle slices and a surfeit of cheese, the pie manages to be true to both its Montreal Italian and Montreal Jewish heritages. It shouldn’t work but somehow it does (this from someone who wouldn’t go out of his way for a smoked meat sandwich and who has never recovered from a traumatic childhood experience with deli-style pickles). That said, I suspect that, for me at least, once is enough, especially when the resto’s other pizza toppings beckon. Also, at $24 it’s pricey. Then again, the two of us couldn’t quite polish it off.

What wine goes with a Schwartza? Glancing through the list, we spotted a 2009 Langhe Nebbiolo that turned out to be from Produttori del Barbaresco ($50 at the restaurant, $22.85 at the SAQ – 11383617 – though good luck finding any at the monopoly at this late date). Without much forethought, we ordered it, and a good thing we did. Delicious and food friendly, albeit a little tight, it paired well enough with our starters of meatballs and panzanella. But with the pizza, it bloomed: the cheese softened the tannins, while the mustard and pickles sweetened the fruit – a transformation so radical, it was like we’d chewed a miracle berry before sipping the wine. And what about that fruit? Black cherry, the go-to flavour for smoked meat. A match as definitive as it was fortuitous.

The restaurant itself is a pleasant space: a storefront in an old building with high ceilings, wood floors and tables and a warm glow. The menu and wine list are chalked on blackboards. The list is about 40 wines long, and many are available by the glass. Incredibly, only the appellation/grape variety and price are listed; the producer’s name is nowhere in sight. What’s more, when I asked our waiter who made the Langhe we had our eye on, he had no idea. What a joke!

The food was decent and sometimes a little more. The meatballs were close to perfect: tender, moist, cohesive, mild yet savoury, and unfortunately oversalted. The tomato sauce was a delicious foil. If you set aside any notions of the classic dish, the panzanella was tasty enough – arugula, tomato, bell pepper and red onion, dressed with a mild vinaigrette and generously sprinkled with parmesan – but it lost points for the prefab croutons and drizzle of sweet balsamic vinegar. Dinner for the two of us, including wine, two espressos, taxes and tip was $140.

Written by carswell

March 21, 2012 at 11:50