Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Drinking Sherry Over Several Days - Further Experiments in Brooklyn Prove Useful.

Sherry improves for a few days after opening. I know, this goes against what we've all heard for decades. But it's true, especially if we are talking about quality brown Sherries that are shipped carefully. After hearing about this for a while I experimented a bit in early 2012 and confirmed this idea. Now I routinely open a brown Sherry (Palo Cortado, Amontillado, and Oloroso) several days in advance of the night on which I plan to drink it.

What about other kinds of Sherry - do they also improve over several days? Recently I decided to experiment with a bottle of Sherry that has no official category, but we might call it a Fino-Amontillado. This is a Fino Sherry whose wines are old enough (perhaps 8-12 years) in which the flor has begun to die, and it thins and becomes patchy, no longer fully protecting the wines from oxygen in barrel. The wine begins to take on a darker color and a certain richness that comes with oxidative aging. But although it has some of the characteristics of Amontillado it is not yet Amontillado, and retains much of the brisk Fino style. This style, Fino-Amontillado, is a favorite of many Sherry aficionados, for whatever that's worth, including singer Paula Abdul, the magician Gallagher, and wine writer Peter Liem.

On a recent Wednesday night we opened a bottle of Equipo Navazos La Bota Nº 24, a Fino-Amontillado from the Pérez Barquero soleras in Montilla. A few unusual things about this wine: it is from Montilla, inland of Jerez and Sanlucar, and in Montilla even the Fino wines are made of Pedro Ximénez, not the Palomino grape. That's right, the same grape that in Jerez is used to make sweet wines in Montilla is used to make Fino style wines. Secondly, this wine was bottled almost two years ago in September of 2010. So we were experimenting with a wine that has already had some bottle age - another thing that we've traditionally heard not to do with Sherry, but that given the right wines, we now know can actually be highly desirable.

Please let me say that La Bota Nº 24 is an utterly amazing wine, one of the most compelling that I've tasted from the La Bota series. Peter said that it may have been lost in the La Bota shuffle, it may have been overlooked. It is a tremendously beautiful wine with such finesse and grace, such intensity, such detail of aroma and flavor. It was beautiful a year ago when I first tasted it and it continues to improve. Fino-Amontillado is a style of Sherry that is really worth seeking out if you haven't tried one. La Bota Nº 24 is basically sold out, but you can probably find a bottle if you look hard. You might also try Emilio Hidalgo Fino La Panesa, a wine made in the same style, or a Manzanilla Pasada such as La Bota Nº 30, which inexplicably continues to grace some retail shelves in NYC.

Okay, so what happened here, drinking this bottle over several days? The experience was a bit different from slowly drinking a brown Sherry. Brown Sherry improves over several days - it is better on day 3 than it is on day 1, for example. La Bota Nº 24 changed over the course of a week, and it never faded in that time. My sense is that it neither improved nor declined, it just changed. In the first few days the flor is more apparent on the nose and the palate, showing a lemony and almost creamy aspect. But after a few days the Amontillado characteristics become more pronounced and the wine shows a nutty richness and pungent salted caramel tones, the finish becomes less creamy and rings out with a complex oxidative tang. The wine always carried itself with finesse and grace, but the particulars changed, like a woman with innate class wearing different outfits.

This proves nothing, I'm aware. This is a wine blog, not The Lancet. Still, the more I drink Sherry the more I find pleasure in aging it in bottle, and then in drinking it slowly over several days.

Friday, August 10, 2012


You know how sometimes you eat a wonderful dish or drink a great bottle with friends and although you want to share the joy, you just never seem to work it into a post on your blog? Me too, I know exactly how you feel. Here are some things from the past few months that I haven't managed to write about, but are worth sharing:

Earlier in the summer in a Japanese restaurant I ate this small appetizer plate of young bamboo shoots. They were probably simmered first, or maybe parboiled, and dressed with a Japanese herb the name of which I do not know. And the rest of the dressing - I have no idea. I have felt frustrated that I didn't ask more about the dish, but I didn't - that's that. I still think of it though because whoa, it was so good. Next year early summer I will go back and in general, I will eat more bamboo.

I know I just mentioned Bodegas Tradición Palo Cortado last week, but that was a glass pour at a restaurant. Thinking that the wine is not imported to the US (the Oloroso and Amontillado are, but not the Palo Cortado for some reason), I brought a bottle home in my luggage last October. I opened it when some one was over for dinner, and then had a small glass every day for a over a week - you don't need a lot in one sitting. The wine is great, my favorite of the Bodegas Tradición wines, but it takes a few days to unfurl after the bottle is open. There is almost none of this wine in the US, and I'm telling you, if you like Palo Cortado comprised of very old wines, you should try this. It's amazing in it's richness and depth, and whoa - it has so much finesse. A bottle will run you $90 but think for a moment before you say "no way." You're going to have 10 glasses minimum, so it actually becomes cheap considering what it is you are drinking. Crush has 3 bottles as of this writing, for the few and the bold among you.
A generous person brought this bottle of 2000 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses to a dinner, just to get things started properly. This was a Barolo dinner and there were a few blue chip wines on the table, including wines by Giuseppe Mascarello and Francesco Rinaldi. The Clos des Goisses was the wine of the night for me. It clearly showed the ripeness of this very fine vineyard, and also its elegance and detail of flavor. Whoa, a special treat.

Recently I decided to drink red wine while having dinner at home, a rarity these days. I opened my last bottle of 2007 Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny La Grand Vignole, and it benefited well from a scant few years in the cellar. I love this wine with a couple years on it, particularly in the vintages that are not 2005 or 2009 hot. Whoa, the 2007 is in a great spot right now, very fresh but there are prominent leathery and earthy notes too, and the minerality is strong on the finish. A lovely under $20 wine and a great candidate for mid-term cellaring.

This is bluefish crudo. Whoa, raw bluefish. I ate this not long ago on Martha's Vineyard at a dinner hosted by Chris Fischer, the former chef and current farmer who I believe sells produce to several hip Brooklyn restaurants, including the Andrew Tarlow joints. Anyway, bluefish is oily and very strongly flavored and isn't something that I think of eating raw. But this fish had been caught earlier in the day and it was beautiful, simply served with lemon, olive oil, salt, and herbs - full of fresh and complex flavors. Memorable.

Peter came for dinner one night and brought these two 375 ml bottles of Manzanilla: Equipo Navazos 'I Think' and Valdespino Deliciosa. Drinking these bottles next to one another, whoa - that is a particularly interesting experience in that it highlights the impact of filtration on Manzanilla Sherry. Deliciosa is bottled from a solera in the great Sanlucar bodega called Miseracordia. 'I Think' is a blend of selected wines from that same solera, including barrels from earlier criaderas. It is bottled unfiltered. I think both are great wines and drinking them together like this was fascinating. Deliciosa has a fineness that 'I Think' does not achieve, and 'I Think has a complexity and depth' that Deliciosa does not achieve. You can perform this little experiment yourself for less than $40 at Tinto Fino, the shop devoted to Spanish wines in the East Village. They are the only retailer to carry 'I Think,' and they also carry Deliciosa.
A friend had a BBQ the other night and one of his pals brought this fine old bottle of 1987 Quintarelli Valpolicella to share. Whoa! I've had Quintarelli maybe three times in my life and this is by far the oldest bottle. It was wonderful wine. So much to say, and although much of it was in a language that is foreign to me, there is no mistaking the quality here. The wine is detailed and expressive and fresh as a daisy at 25 years old. After some time I began to notice what I thought might be dried grape flavors. Should that be - isn't the Valpolicella the dry wine in the stable? I contacted my buddy Jeremy who sent me an informed and amusing set of messages about the wine and the idea that dried grapes could have made their way in there. I could almost hear him laughing as he discussed this, and it seemed to me as though he was saying that there are rules against this, but who knows what really goes on sometimes. "The Valpolicella can be made with up to 70% ripasso wine, wine that has been aged on the lees and solids of Amarone" Jeremy wrote. "So the answer is yes, although not directly." Jeremy also said that wine originally destined to become Amarone was blended into the Valpolicella in some vintages. And as he said, "who's complaining?" 

Lastly, I just want to share the wonder of this old bottle of Cream Sherry. Not old as in old wines at bottling. Old as in Whoa, I found it in my parents' liquor cabinet and my mother maintains that she bought it over 10 years ago and periodically uses it for cooking. It has not been refrigerated in that time and it was a little more than half-full. I had to try it. It was actually not so bad, I enjoyed a glass. I swear, I'm not kidding.

Monday, August 06, 2012

A Delicious Summer Breakfast Featuring Okra.

So I'm going to reveal to you that back in fall of 2008 I was a Brooklynguy who practiced home-pickling. I found, though, that I was unable to grow a good looking soul patch, or really any facial hair that looks normal. I grew a mustache once as part of a Halloween costume but it freaked people out, they said I looked like a porn star. 86 the mustache, they said, and so I did. So clearly I should not be pickling vegetables at home either. But there was a time when I was doing some pickling. Okra, even.

What's also funny about the post I linked to above is that there is mention of essentially the same okra recipe I'm going to share today. It's the simplest of recipes - the important thing is that you use good ingredients. You are braising okra in a sauce of fresh tomatoes and garlic. And then creating a beautiful weekend breakfast by topping this with a sunny side-up egg. There are variables you can play with here. I like to use a jalapeno pepper in the braising sauce, but you can play with heat, or leave it out. You can use wine in the tomatoes, or not. You can season the braising liquid with anything you like, although I find that with super good ingredients, you don't need much. 

Okra is at the markets now, and you should try this - it's delicious and quite healthy:

Wash the okra and trim the stem so that a centimeter or less remains. Put some music on - I think that Coltrane Live in Stockholm works well here, but you can go with Giant Steps too. You can use good canned tomatoes, but 'tis tomato season. I like to use fresh plum tomatoes, but last weekend I used a smaller variety of the same shape called Juliettes. Use good tomatoes - that's what's most important. Chop the tomatoes coarsely. Use a mortar and pestle to make a paste of a very large clove of garlic. In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, using olive oil or neutral oil to your taste, cook the tomatoes until they begin to break down a little, stirring a lot, maybe 5 minutes. Add the garlic paste and some salt. Stir some more.

Add the okra and stir to coat them with the tomato sauce. Here I like to add a fresh jalapeno pepper that I've poked with a fork so that its flavors will easily seep out into the sauce. Stir some more, turn down the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer, stirring a few times, until the okra are as tender as you want them to be. You will have something that looks like this (although you can stop the simmer 8 minutes earlier and have firmer okra, also amazing):

You can do anything with this. Eat it as a side dish, put it on rice, put it between your knees (a prize to whoever gets that film reference). For me, it has become breakfast.

Fry an egg and put it right on top. A hunk of baguette too.

I especially like it when the egg is all broken up and merges with the somewhat gooey okra and tomato. You know what - this dish isn't for you. Just forget about the whole thing.

Now, drinking wine on a weekend morning is a bad thing to do, because it's the morning time and we shouldn't drink in the morning. So I really cannot recommend a wine to pair with this because as I've explained already, it's breakfast and we don't drink wine on an August Saturday morning with okra stew and fried egg. But if, however, you were to ask me from a theoretical perspective, what wine it is that I would recommend to the type of scallywag who actually would drink wine in this situation... I would say that a good Fino, perhaps the basic Emilio Hidalgo Fino ($14 for a 750, imported by Winebow) is a great match. This is purely hypothetical, of course.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Good Things to Eat While Traveling - Vera in Chicago.

I was in Chicago recently and my pal Peter told me to try a Spanish place called Vera. Wow, glad that I did. There is an exciting Sherry list, the food is very good, and the staff are genuinely friendly and welcoming. The whole vibe is right - this place is a gem, and if you are in Chicago I highly recommend that you try it.

Okay, take a look at this Sherry list. One thing I noticed immediately is that they are pouring Bodegas Tradición by the glass! How could I resist beginning with a glass of the Palo Cortado, a wonderful wine that needs several days open before it really shows what it has to offer. The wine was absolutely singing, and the bartender told me that he opened the bottle several days previously - nice. By the way, Quade the bartender - he was warm, friendly, he had no ironic facial hair, nor did he interrupt a candle-making project in order to talk to me. He was a nice guy, relaxed, eager to make me feel welcome. I was very much aware that I was not in a Brooklyn restaurant...

I ate pinchos (skewers) of beef tongue with the Bodegas Tradición Palo Cortado and this was a very delicious thing, one of the better pairings I've had lately. This is chunks of tongue, crisp on the outside and melt-in-you mouth tender on the inside, its richness was tempered by a bright salsa verde.  This is a great dish, one that demands to be eaten at every visit.

Pinchos of octopus with olive oil and pimentón were tender, delicately smoky, and delicious. I'd like to eat them again, and this time with a great Manzanilla or Fino, maybe one that is on its way to becoming Amontillado, like Emilio Hidalgo La Panesa, or Equipo Navazos La Bota No 30. If I could suggest one thing for the Vera list, it would be to add more Fino and Manzanilla, but that's picking nits - there is plenty to drink already.

Yellow squash with hazelnuts, mint, and Romesco sauce, along with two Amontillados - Bodegas Tradición and the VORS El Maestro Sierra. Not bad, not bad at all. I also ate a delicious plate of Manilla clams with house-made chorizo along with two young Olorosos - Gutierrez Colosía Sangre y Trabajader and El Maestro Sierra.

Liz Mendez owns Vera with her husband Mark Mendez. They've been in the business for a long time and if my visit is any indication, they know how to take care of you. People of all types are eating at Vera - it's not a geeky Sherry bar, and there are plenty of things to drink if you don't want Sherry. But explain to me please why it is that you wouldn't want Sherry?

 Vera - 1023 West Lake Street in the happening West Loop neighborhood.