Twelve Nightcaps Before Christmas – The 11th Nightcap

uraguay redNightcap #11: Bodegas Carrau Tannat de Reserva 2011, Montevideo, Uruguay $15

Tannat, indigenous to Southwest France and one of the oldest varieties in all of France, is one of the four most tannic grapes in the world. This grape is so high in tannins that the procedure of micro-oxygenation was actually invented specifically to tame it. This grape is often blended with varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot to soften its tannins. Tannat was taken to Uruguay in the nineteenth century where it is now flourishing. The difference in climate and terroir produce a grape that, while still high in tannins, creates wines of superb quality when produced in low yields.

Tannat from Bodegas Carrau is one of my favorite expressions of this grape. With roots in Catalonia, Spain dating back to 1752, the Carrau’s moved to Uruguay where they have been at the forefront of innovative winemaking since 1930. Bodegas Carrau was the first to export wines from Uruguay. They introduced the idea of using tannat for top reds in 1973 and, in 1997, they built a beautiful and innovative winery into the side of a hill to capitalize on low-input winemaking. Bodegas Carrau employs organic and sustainable methods, uses indigenous yeasts, and makes some of their wine without the addition of sulfur. Tannat is a heavyweight in the world of wine and shines brightest when paired with a worthy partner. Lamb provides the perfect soulmate. Feeling adventurous? Try wild boar. 

Greenwich Audubon Farm-to-Table Wine Dinner Menu

The Historic Ketay-Asnes Barn

The Greenwich Audubon Farm-to-Table Wine Dinner is quickly approaching and it promises to be an extraordinary evening with exquisite food from organic and biodynamic farms prepared by Chef Marc Alvarez. The highly acclaimed wines chosen by Renee Allen, Director of the Wine Institute of New England (WINE), to pair with the Chef’s delectable menu are all made by winemakers who practice either sustainable, organic or biodynamic farming. The evening will include wine education from WINE and an auction of small items to help benefit Audubon’s conservation and education initiatives. $120 per person. Advance tickets are required and very limited. To reserve a table for you and your guests, contact Jeff Cordulack at 203-869-5272 x239.

The evening’s menu with wine pairings:

Canapés

Crostini of Nettle Meadow Farm Kunik Cheese & Stanley Plum Compote
Seared Snow Hill Farm Beef Carpaccio, Horseradish & Crisp Russet Potato

Fall Vegetable Crudités, Rosa Bianca Eggplant Baba Ganoush

Warm Chickpea Fritters & AMBA Farms Tomato Chutney

paired with

Albet I Noya Cava NV, Spain

Dinner

Ryder Farm Roast Pumpkin Soup
Wilted Sage, Black Trumpet Mushrooms & Mini Pumpkins

paired with

Bonterra Viognier, California

**********

Snow Hill Farm Duo Of Lamb
Wild Hive Polenta & Spigarello (Wild Broccoli)

paired with

Bodegas Carrau Ysern Tannat, Uruguay

Or

Cayuga Pure Organics Farro Risotto
Cooperstown Creamery “Toma Celena” & Fall Vegetable Medley

paired with

Nuova Capelletta Barbera del Monferrato, Italy

or

Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris, Alsace

***********

Warm Cortland Apple Tart & Blue Pig Vanilla Gelato

paired with

Domaine de Mihoudy, Bonnezeaux, Anjou-Saumur

This event was made possible through the generous support of:

FairfieldGreenFoodGuide.com, Concierge Foods, Wine Institute of New England, AOC Fine Wines, Mike’s Organic Delivery Service, The Metro North chapter of Slow Food USA

Farm-To-Table Dinner Party in the Historic Ketay-Asnes Barn

Wine Institute of New England will be providing wine education on sustainable, organic & biodynamic wines at a very special event to raise money for Audubon Greenwich.


A unique, local, food-centric event showcasing organic farms, seasonal meals, and sustainably managed vineyards. Guests will be treated to exquisite wines paired with farm-fresh goodness sourced from organic & biodynamic farms. The evening will include wine education from the Wine Institute of New England (WINE) and an auction of small items to help benefit Audubon’s conservation and education initiatives. $120 per person. Advance tickets are required and very limited. To reserve a table for you and your guests, contact Jeff Cordulack at 203-869-5272 x239.

Wowed by the West Street Grill

I recently spent a lovely weekend with friends enjoying Connecticut wine and food in Litchfield County, the culmination of which was a multi-course lunch at West Street Grill. Following are our impressions of the food and wine.

By Analiese Paik and Elizabeth Keyser

Wine Review by Renée B. Allen


New restaurants get all the buzz, but on day two of the Litchfield road trip it was easy to pass up the darling of the moment for the real thing: a long-established restaurant that puts care into the entire experience of its guests.

Yes, we’re talking about the West Street Grill in Litchfield. For over 20 years restaurateurs James O’Shea and Charles Kafferman have been serving excellent New American food with a French/Mediterranean influence. A day or weekend trip to Litchfield is not complete without a meal at this iconic restaurant, which is known for being a haunt of many well-known actors and writers. O’Shea was once asked why so many celebrities eat there. “We leave them alone,” he replied. Actually, he takes very good care of his guests and is known for telling a funny story — or two or three.

The black and white photos in the front dining room are from a 1950′s photo collection that are rotated regularly. The old-world feel immediately gives you the impression that they take food and hospitality very seriously.

In the back dining room where renovations are well underway, the Mediterranean style plates decorated with fruited lemon and olive sprigs appeared as the tables were turned for dinner service. The original rattan French bistro chairs are caned in a dark green and ivory open weave, true to the original style, and a perfect match for the restaurant’s awning colors.

The French bistro-inspired atmosphere is inviting, the service is on a professional level rarely seen, but West Street Grill is really about the food. It was one of the earliest proponents of farm-to-table (“before the term was coined,” says O’Shea), and at a recent lunch, the fresh ingredients were the stars in the room. Executive Chef Jimmy Cosgriff is the star in the kitchen.

The West Street Grill picks up fresh tomatoes, basil, blueberries, peaches, lettuces and arugula from local farms. Dean’s Farm Stand in Fall’s Village provides beets, basil, potatoes and some tomatoes. Waldingfield Farm in Washington, a certified organic vegetable farm that grows a variety of heirloom tomatoes, is another source. Milk from local farms is used to make the house ricotta. O’Shea grows some of his own tomatoes, organically of course, as well as rhubarb, lettuces, and large amounts of herbs like lovage, chives, Russian and pineapple sage, lemon balm, tarragon, horseradish, opal shiso and purple basil. “We are heavy chive and basil users,” he said. He buys all his vegetable seedlings from USDA organic grower Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens. Honey, maple syrup and some other products come from the farmers’ market. West Street Grill also uses Baldor, which sources from local farms from a 300 mile radius.

Lunch was superb.

W.S.G. Locally Grown Tomato Salad with native basil, fleur de sel and 12 year aged balsamic vinegar

These perfectly ripe tomatoes were a natural starter for a hot day. They were rich in fresh, tomato flavor.

Parmesan Aioli Peasant Bread

Intensely flavorful with a satisfying crunch from the gratin and toasted house-made bread, this has been a house classic since 1990.

Sauteed Spinach

Baby spinach, picked up that morning from a local farm, was wilted and served simply to let the natural flavors shine. It melted like butter in the mouth.

Soup de Poisson, aioli and garden chives

Rich with roasted fish and vegetables, the soup was hearty and was flavored with fennel. It was topped with an understated aioli; a more forceful aioli would have overwhelmed the soup.

Shrimp Tempura

Gulf shrimp were skewered straight and perfectly cooked so they were meltingly tender on the inside, crisp and slightly golden on the outside. They were served with a refreshing salad of Napa cabbage, mango, cilantro, peanuts, Bermuda onion, carrot and pickled ginger along with sweet chili dipping sauce.

Pan Seared Silken Tofu

Triangles of fresh tofu lightly seared and served with wok-seared vegetables seasoned with scallion, cilantro, pickled ginger. The dish was topped with crispy rice noodles with sweet chili sauce.

Fresh, Wild, Day-Boat, Connecticut Fluke with potato puree, braised leeks, lemon caper coulis

The pan-seared fluke (summer flounder) was golden and crisp, yet so tender it was hard to believe it wasn’t breaded. “Nothing comes between a fish and my chef’s pan,” O’Shea told us. Hidden beneath the fish were ribbons of leek. The herbed potato puree was light and delicate, and was accented by the lemon caper coulis. This dishes hit the mark on both flavor and execution.


Moules Frites

The mussels were steamed in a gorgeous broth of garlic, lemon, white wine and tomato. The broth was clean, delicate and well-balanced. The fries were crunchy and delicious, especially when dipped into the saffon-scented aioli.

“Jimmy’s Ravioli” — Homemade Spinach and Gorgonzola Ravioli with garlic, grape tomatoes, basil, grana padano

Two plump pillows of light-as-air ravioli offered the perfect filling-to-dough ratio so the focus was on the filling, rather than the pasta that enrobed it. The filling’s silky smooth texture came from house-made ricotta from local milk, blended with spinach, gorgonzola and Parmesan cheese. A brothy, delicate sauce of fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and grana padano created a very refined ravioli.

Dessert

A trio of coconut, raspberry and chocolate sorbets was refreshing and bursting with flavor – pieces of coconut, ripe raspberries, dark chocolate with no bitterness. None were overly sweet, which we appreciated.

Wine Review by Renée B. Allen

Casa Julia Sauvignon Blanc, Chile 2010

Our decadent dining experience began with a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc from Casa Julia, a vineyard with a solid, hands-on approach to sustainable agriculture. Chilean Sauvignon Blanc has progressed by leaps and bounds in the past 10 years. Winemakers have been exploring cooler regions in Chile for growing these grapes with phenomenal results. This example from Casa Julia exhibited many of the traits found in these successful plantings. To begin, slightly muted notes of tropical fruits danced on the nose, hinting at the riches to be found within. These tropical notes revealed themselves on the tongue richly, but without the aggression often associated with warmer climate Sauvignon Blancs. The midpalate opened to a wave of citrus which was followed by a crisply acidic and well structured finish. This wine is tailor-made for drinking with seafood and proved a worthy pairing for the Soup de Poisson.

The Vineyard at Strawberry Ridge Ascot Reserve Chardonnay, Western Connecticut Highlands 2008

For our second wine, James O’Shea insisted on what he claimed to be the best wine in Connecticut, the Ascot Reserve Chardonnay from The Vineyard at Strawberry Ridge in Connecticut. The vineyard owners, Robert and Susan Summer, have hired Connecticut vintner Jonathan Edwards to produce this wine. Probably the best traveled wine in Connecticut, from New York to Las Vegas all the way to Macau, the list of venues carrying this limited production wine reads like a celebrity “it” list. The vineyard’s most recent accolade is their production of the wines for the famed Rao’s restaurant in New York. The wine opened with aromas of vanilla, apple and caramel, delicately punctuated with hints of nutmeg. The first fleeting taste to tantalize the tongue was green apple, which quickly yielded to butterscotch on the midpalate from the use of French oak barrels during fermentation. The finish ended with notes of fig and citrus, and tongue-smacking astringency. Although this wine bore little resemblance to the flinty, mineralic, stainless steel fermented Chardonnays most commonly associated with Connecticut, it was an admirable example of the influence the vintner wields over the Chardonnay grape. This wine was a nice complement to the Pan Seared Connecticut Fluke, which might just have been the best fish dish ever to grace this wine taster’s lips.

Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley 2007

The powerful, classic Geyser Peak Cabernet Sauvignon proved an excellent companion to the Homemade Spinach & Gorgonzola Ravioli. Everything a cab should be, this wine’s bouquet foretold the fruit and spice that awaited the taster. In a beautiful balance of fruit forwardness and medium tannins, black cherry and chocolate, accentuated by pepper, coated the palate, before succumbing to the lingering finish.

West Street Grill

48 West Street, Litchfield, 06759

www.weststreetgrill.com

Reprinted with permission from www.fairfieldgreenfoodguide.com

The Sun, Moon & Stars…and a biodynamic cup of wine

I admit, I have been known to knock on wood to avoid tempting fate, and have even caught myself stepping over a crack in the sidewalk on occasion, but the last time I read my horoscope was in junior high school and it was for a lark. So how could I possibly buy into the philosophy behind biodynamic wines?

I first heard about biodynamics while studying for the Certified Specialist of Wine exam. It was afforded one paragraph right after organics and sustainability. I confess to snickering ever so slightly when I got to the sentence about phases of the moon and alignment of the planets. I was confident that, should a question arise regarding biodynamics, I would have no trouble remembering which theory it was and that I need not know any more about it.

Many weeks later, I happened to see a wine denoted as being biodynamic on a wine menu at my favorite oyster bar. It was a Sauvignon Blanc and I was in the mood for one, so I ordered it. I was very pleasantly surprised. The taste of mangos and melons married on my tongue and flowed through my mouth in perfect harmony, leaving nothing but an echo of their fresh, lively flavor for an aftertaste. I had a similarly pleasing experience with a biodynamic pinot grigio the next week. The floodgates opened. I attended a local “Taste of” and perused the wine tables. One table of Italian wines caught my attention. Upon tasting a couple of the wines there, I was inclined to sample the rest. After knocking back the final wine, I was receptive to hearing more about them. The national sales manager who had been pouring was all too happy to tell me about the biodynamic methods used in growing the grapes and making the wine. I did not hide my skepticism of what I termed these “quasi-religious” practices. He was nonplussed. I was impressed.

I wanted to know more. I knew the original movement was begun in 1924 when a group of farmers sought the help of Austrian philosopher and spiritual scientist, Rudoph Steiner. The farmers wanted to learn how to grow grapes without depleting the earth of its nutrients through the use of agrochemicals. But where did biodynamics stand now, 86 years later? My search brought me to a book on biodynamics by one of today’s leading advocates and an avid practitioner of the method, Nicolas Joly. Mr. Joly’s vineyard, Coulee de Serrant, is held in extremely high regard by wine experts. I was on the precipice of conversion

Knowing I had been on a biodynamic wine kick for weeks, a colleague contacted me with a request for a list of my favorites. He had a friend with a self-diagnosed allergy to the sulfites in wine and suggested he try biodynamic wine. This was turning into quite the miracle wine! I told my friend that, while the “spiritual science” techniques practiced in biodynamic agriculture did not in and of themselves render these wines any safer to drink for one with sulfite allergies, the fact that biodynamics demand organic vinification and vitification processes would indeed produce a lower sulfite wine. Although sulfites are a natural byproduct of the fermentation process and will be found in all wines to some degree, organic winemakers do not add any additional sulfur dioxide to the wine. SO2 is often added to prevent browning from oxidation and to prevent microbial spoilage.

So, was I ready to permanently suspend my disbelief and jump on the biodynamic bandwagon? No, that was not in the stars. But I now have a better understanding of the principles behind biodynamics, and a greater appreciation for the many benefits biodynamic agriculture has to offer. Not least among these benefits is the organic methods employed, which not only serve to maintain a healthier ecology, but have the added bonus of producing wines that are truer representations of their terroir. I am no longer snickering.