Momofuku meet Henriot

Momofuku Daishō’s Roasted Rice Cakes
PHOTO: GABRIELE STABILE

as seen on canada.com

Stratus pairing last Spring defined modernity incarnate. Dinner at David Chang’s Má Pêche in NYC’s Chambers Hotel introduced me to “dishes as colourful canvasses, never over-painted nor as monochromatic abstractions.” Supper at Toronto’s Daishō this past September acquainted me with chef’s meticulous small plates and the finest crab dip the city has ever seen.

A 200 year-old Champagne house tasting was my fourth Momofuku experience and though it flashed before my eyes, it may have left the deepest impression. The Daishō kitchen and team, most notably Beverage Director Jonathan Gosenhauser and Front of House Manager Steve Sousa popped and poured five renditions of Henriot Champagne in expedient time. With out missing the beat of a room full of writers’ bleeding hearts, the gang then delivered six sublime courses in 15 minutes flat. Impossible. No.

The group was in a hurry to travel 20 minutes north on foot to the Royal Ontario Museum for the Napa Vintners Association seminar and tasting. With no disrespect intended, I would have been quite content to spend some further quality time with cellar master Laurent Fresnet of Henriot, our hosts Russell, Jason and Rachel Woodman, Mr. Gosenhauser and the all-day textures of Daishō’s plates. Another time.

PHOTO: champagne-henriot.com
Champagne Henriot

The wines of Champagne Henriot are a relatively new addition to the Ontario market. Founded in 1808, under Apolline Henriot, this is one of the last independent and family-owned houses in Champagne. Chardonnay is Henriot’s muse and each of the five wines at the Momofuku tasting stood singularly in contrast to one another. If I had to consider one to define the Henriot style, it would have to be the assemblage of their Blanc de Blancs. First, the plates.

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Momofuku Daishō’s Falafel Bun, sesame, turnip, yogurt

Kimchi, napa cabbage
Falafel Bun, sesame, turnip, yogurt
Roasted Rice Cakes, pork sausage, Chinese broccoli, tofu
Hanger Steak, (McGee farms ON), kimchi, onions, bibb lettuce
Whole Speckled Trout, (kolapore ON), shrimp, tomato, smoked milk
Brussels Sprouts, fish sauce, puffed rice, mint
Crack Pie

PHOTO: Michael Godel
Momofuku Daishō’s Whole Speckled Trout, (kolapore ON), shrimp, tomato, smoked milk

Champagne Henriot Tasting, presented by Woodman Wines and Spirits

Momofuku Daishō – Monday, October 21, 2013

From left: Brut Souverain NV, Blanc De Blancs NV, Brut Millésimé 2005, and Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1998

Brut Rosé NV (Consignment) from 15 blended crus, contains a smidgen of Pinot Meunier along with a shade less than 15 per cent Pinot Noir to mantle the Chardonnay in bronze patina. Though not intended as a “visual wine,” Fresnet noted “We blend rosé in dark glasses so we’re influenced only by nose & taste, not by colour.” The quip that followed: “Perhaps everyone should blend in dark glasses.” Limitless aromatics, pear, ginger and the ticking kicker, the freshest peach. An alluvial toast, citrus emergence and a bull’s-eye of atomic probing all wrap this blush into one consumer-friendly basket of bubbles. Boundless beyond base.   92

Brut Souverain NV (959643, Nov. 9th, $59.95) from upwards of 25 crus hunts house parity in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Looking back in retrospect of the tasting, the Souverain is a brutally honest vampire in binding a consistency of the stable’s house style. So much so, “you found you’ve walked along these halls.” Faux-fumé, in a way, with toasted nuts, spice, grapefruit citrus and charcoal. An arid arrow through my Champagne heart, perfect for weekend sipping.  89

Blanc De Blancs NV (Private Order) is an assemblage of Chardonnay grapes mainly from the Côte des Blancs and village crus: Mesnil sur Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Vertus, Montgueux, Trépail, Epernay and the Vitry region. Though a blend of vintages, this B de B sulks and broods in adolescence. Red, skinless apple and citrus pith are its card of youthful exuberance. Gorgeous in reserve juice with a brioche waft on the back end. In a phase of careful consideration, this NV fizz will be held in kind hands for a good, long time.  91

Brut Millésimé 2005 (Private Order) is a du pareil au même complex union of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from 15 crus, mainly Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims; Mesnil sur Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Mareuil-surAÿ, Avenay, Verzy and Verzenay. In light of its own accord and magnificence from increased toast and an exotic level of perceived sweetness. The most ethereal of the line-up.  92

Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1998 (83774, VINTAGES Classics) is a mother of pearl, equipoise of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from six Grand Crus: Mailly Champagne, Verzy, Verzenay on Montagne de Reims, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize and Chouilly on Côte des Blancs. Shows plenty of lively, savoury goods; caper berry, herbal sauvage, marmite jam, baking orchard fruit, aromatic bitters. The elaboration is confounding and a lesson in 15 year-old Champagne humility. The deciduous, Crazy Mary of the line-up. One Champagne lover’s edulcoration is another one’s bitter pill. “Take a bottle, drink it down, pass it around.”  90

Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1990 (Private Order, from magnum) from 15 crus, including the most prestigious: Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize, Chouilly, Mareuil-surAÿ, Oger, Verzy, Verzenay, Ay and Vertus. Showing more youth than that bottle of blooming ’98. Spoons out more segmented grapefruit, more saveur, more washed Langres rind. Blithesome like an evergreen forest after rain. Wild fennel and citrus in the most parched way. Linear nobility and mobility that appeals to my mathematical mind. Speaks as if to say, “I want to change your mind, said I want to set it right this time.”  Moving Champagne.  94

Good to go!

The Wine Diaries: Grapes and Peaches

Má Pêche, Momofuku – Duck Two Ways PHOTO: GABRIELE STABILE

as seen on canada.com

If I had my little way

I’d eat peaches every day

Eat a peach. Listen to the music. Taste wine. Feel like a president. My wine codex is in full, binary cross-cultural mode. These days I can’t help myself singing (in a quiet whisper) Dave Grohl songs – I’m not even such a big fan of his music! Maybe it’s because he seems to be everywhere; in tweets about the SXSW Festival, on the cover of Delta’s in-flight magazine, on satellite radio in the rental car. Recent wine events and food experiences have left me with the distinct impression that “it’s times like these you learn to live again.”

Passionate chefs, exceptional “100km” wines, and a good cause are a triumvirate for success. Also, a city that never sleeps, a superstar chef’s empirical outpost, and sublime food are a second triad for victory. And what do these two scenarios have in common? Grapes and peaches.

BAAH! The Great Lamby Cook-Off, Thursday, March 21st, 2013, Imperial Ballroom, Fairmont Royal York Hotel

BAAHTony Aspler knows more about wine than just about anyone I know. That he has taken his knowledge, his craft and his contacts in the food and wine world to champion a noble cause, well that is something to be admired. The organization he gives time to is called Grapes for Humanity, globally providing much needed relief to those less fortunate. Mr. Aspler organized yet another memorable GFH event, to benefit a child’s education by constructing a needed school in Guatemala. Twelve chefs, 12 lamb dishes, 12 wine pairings. You couldn’t spit without hitting a sommelier or a local oenologist. Chef Michael Pataran took home the top prize for his Goan Lamb Shoulder with a coconut, chili, lime chutney and paddle skewer. The best wine pairing went to the Henry of Pelham Baco Noir Reserve 2010, poured alongside Pataran’s “curry”; a double win. Stock Sommelier Zoltan Szabo directed the room with tireless energy.

Here, my favourite three wines at “BAAH”, plus a gorgeous Gigondas tasted in NYC on Saturday night.

From left: Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010, Tawse Merlot ‘David’s Block’ 2010, Norman Hardie ‘County Unfiltered’ Cabernet Franc 2011, and Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas 2007

Rosewood Estates Merlot 2010 (211896, $22.00) on this night walked a Niagara Wallendian tightrope of balance between heft and deft, sidling effortlessly up to Barque Smokehouse chefs David Neinstein and Tony Starratt’s ‘Mici‘ and travelling further on up the evolutionary road past “enjoyable if unremarkable.” From my earlier note: “Continues to show a reductive note in the form of vanilla and maple syrup, no honey actually, but all signs point to further excellence. High quality chocolate spiked by cherry, orange and a peppery, nasal tickle open up beautifully and expressively towards the dusty, berry main event. Knock your baby’s socks off with this double-stuffed Oreo and let the night unfold.  89 @Rosewoodwine

Tawse Merlot ‘David’s Block’ 2010 ($49.95) from certified organic and biodynamic estate fruit puts the double ‘L’ back in lush. Endowed of a caressing cashmere. Could act as spokesperson for Niagara Merlot announcing, “there are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who like Merlot, and those who don’t.” Calm, confident and marked by an insouciant nature. Earlier note: “Suffers no stenosis and instead flows as a sanguine and savoury riverine expression. Olives and the smokey whiff of yeasty bread on the grill. Not surprising considering the quality of Pender’s lees so often collected and added back to the next generation’s barrels.”  91  @Tawse_Winery  @Paul_Pender

Norman Hardie ‘County Unfiltered’ Cabernet Franc 2011 ($25) rolls the barrel out from a velvet underground into the Prince Edward County sun, pours singular Foster Vineyard fruit over crushed limestone then infuses the juice with ripe cherries. The warmth of 2010 lingers on in the ’11 CF’s pale blue eyes. Makes “the world as pure and strange as what I see.” Persists as the definitive expression of this grape in The County.  91  @normhardie

Dinner at Momofuku, Má Pêche, 15 w. 56th street, New York City, @momofuku

Má Pêche knows how to treat a lady, the President of the United States, and me. David Chang’s midtown eatery located in the Chambers Hotel opened in April, 2010. The Executive Chef is Paul Carmichael, a Barbados native who transmits Chef’s vision through elegant, restrained and poetic flavours. Carmichael and Chef de Cuisine Johnny Leach compose dishes as colourful canvasses but they are never over-painted nor monochromatic abstractions. Food of distinction and singularly distinct from plate to plate. Vegetables, many of the root kind, are succulent, glossy, al dente, and clearly defined. Service offers no pretense, no hovering, no massaging. Casual and professional. No hipster attitude neither.

Má Pêche AppetizersPhoto: Michael Godel

Má Pêche Oysters
Photo: Michael Godel

Oysters, especially New Brunswick Hurricane and Salt Pond Rhode Island are fresh makers, like spirits moving through the ocean. Washed those suckers down with 21st Amendment “Bitter American” Extra Pale Ale. Spanish Mackerel is a smokey, charred wave of umami with crisp, crunchy romaine and a silken tofu sauce, like citrus-spiked tahini. Barnegat Light Scallops are buttery, whispering, ethereal.

Appetizers

Má Pêche Appetizers

Chatham, MA Cod is foam cloud-enveloped, braised fish and brussel sprout ‘chips’ attenuated by malt vinegar. Jurgielewicz Farm, PA Duck two ways is perfect pink breast accented by candied orange rind and also piquant mici-like sausage, bucked by peppery spice. Provitello Fams, NJ Veal is fall apart, rosy neo-osso bucco, soft, supple and flat out delicious. The only non-wow moment comes from Barnegat Light, NJ Monkfish which shows indifference and a dry, dusty mole that barely mingles with needs to be further-rendered skin.

The wine list is more than thoughtful, embracing many needed food companion varieties, like Sylvaner, Trebbiano, Scheuerebe, Cabernet Franc, Nerello Mascalese and Teroldego. I opted for a southern Rhône Grenache blend imbued with just the perfect amount of age.

Domaine du Gour de Chaulé Gigondas 2007 ($31, Menu: 375 mL $32) of black/crimson mephitic and inky berry blush and lush, full-on sun-drenched fruit has reached full resolve. Licorice, kirsch and stony, meta-anthracite show off in the wine’s perfect window.  Decadent Gigondas.  92

Good to go!

Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity incarnate

Momofuku Daisho

Momofuku Daishō
Photo: Gabriele Stabile

as seen on canada.com

Consider the winemaker’s style not merely embraced but created by J.L. Groux of Stratus Vineyards. Most wine folks know him as a mad scientist, a mathematician, as Niagara’s ‘Master of Assemblage.’ Groux is a precise counting man, proud to share the barrel fermentation periods of each and every wine in his stable. He reminds me of the Sesame Street guy, the one who shows up in elevators and emerges from swimming pools carrying painted number signs.

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus VineyardsPhoto: Michael Godel

J.L. Groux, Winemaker, Stratus Vineyards
Photo: Michael Godel

As I found out this past Monday, wine blends may be the maker’s M.O., what he refers to as “a way of life for us,” but Groux is also an artful dodger, proof laid thick by the pouring of nine single varietal wines alongside the art cum science cuisine of Matt Blondin at Momofuku Daishō. I quipped at a hypothetical Groux change of direction but the course will in fact be stayed.

The Stratus portfolio resides in a conspicuous niche, sometimes criticized for over diversifying and noted to employ the most opulent Niagara fruit but who can refute the underlying and unequivocally consistent thematic running through this solo tour.

Stratus Wine Tasting Glasses

Stratus Wine Tasting Glasses

David Chang’s New York Momofuku empire is embraced by those who appreciate the Luxecalme et volupté. The detractors complain and express loathing at a lack of somewhereness and that same bitter pill is sometimes offered up to Mr. Groux. This single varietal tasting shatters the naysayer’s venom as each wine calmly expresses its terroir. Chef Blondin is not unlike J.L. Groux, or Baudelaire. Chef’s plates are clusters of colour, texture and imagery offering an “escape to an imaginary, tranquil refuge.” Groux’s Stratus White and Red iconic blends enter such territory but these grape a capelle are the windows into the winemaker’s forays. The media lunch was a treat of the highest order, also thanks in part to Charles Baker and Suzanne Janke of Stratus, along with Beverage Director Jonathan Gosenhauser and the Momofuku Daishō team.

Stratus Line-Up

Stratus Line-Up

The Wines

Gamay 2010 ($29) from very low yields (2 tonnes/acre) is possessed of a soft mouth feel corrected by tart currants and is a deep, smokey and confounding example of itself. Pushing 15% abv with a concentration of sugars and mature phenolics. Vanilla, black licorice and though not like Pinot at all, you can tell it was treated that way. Naturally, through green harvesting, picked shriveled and “with patience.”  90-91

Syrah 2010 ($48) is picked early as compared to other well-known varieties like the Cabernets and this vintage saw a 25% yield decrease/concentration increase. Pretty, focused and indicative of candied flowers in replay with a note of citrus blossom. A Syrah that clearly speaks of Groux’s infatuation with aromatics. “What I do know, my Syrah is improving overall.”  89-90

Merlot 2010 ($32) was picked early enough (October 25th) so as to avoid a sun-burn and overcooked aromatics. Always a great contributor to assemblage in Ontario, this Merlot from clonal plantings in ’85, ’01 and some unknown old block of (clonal) fruit was picked at a restrained (24.7 brix) number on the sugar scale. Dusty and blessed with juicy, mulberry fruit, this to me is the epitome of the winemaker’s SV style. Delicious Merlot. Damn!  91-92

Malbec 2010 ($48) is imbued with the brightest hue and aromatic tenderness. Wild yielding from vines planted in 2001, a hard-cropped life is the grape’s necessity. From my earlier note: “Made with the help of consulting oenologist Paul Hobbs in an “Alta Vista,” high-altitude style. Cool-climate rendition, a window to the future for the grape in Ontario. Hits a blue note, kind of like Philly soul. Unheard of 10 years ago, this one’s saying “just trust in me like I trust in you.”  90-91

Petit Verdot 2010 ($38) seems the most muted thus far though it has the most acidity and tannin. The two seem to struggle with one another though the warmth of 2010 helps, as Groux notes “I’m not convinced they are not friends.” He also states “I think Petit Verdot makes better wine in Niagara than in Bordeaux.” From my earlier note: “with its bounce is the Happy Jack of the flight. Thick in weight and texture, a steak sandwich in a glass. Remarkable effort for stand alone Petit Verdot in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Has a certain Spanish modernity and is certainly neither “petite” nor “little.” Say what you want about this PV but never “prevent Jack from feeling happy.”  89-90

Chardonnay 2010 ($55) from natural yeast, full batch (bunch) pressing and heeded by Paul’s call to full malolactic fermentation, this fruit was picked on November 15th, a day “you had to go run and pick fast.” Groux is not trying to make California or Burgundy but make the best in Niagara. Clarity and sun drenched hue, tropical fruit dominance, sweetness, malo-butterscotch obviousness. Some tart orchard fruit late but certainly warm vintage wine. Not the most arid Chardonnay but blessed with great length. 90-91

Sauvignon Blanc 2010 ($29) is barrel aged (like the Chardonnay) on the lees to offer roundness, not residual sugar. It’s sweetness is related to sugar, but it’s not the real thing. So much cool gooseberry and passion but lacking acidity and there is very little asparagus stink. Perhaps a green pea or two. Groux seeks boxwood and hemlock and there are hints here. “I don’t care for any tropical style,” he says. This one clearly leans more Sancerre than anything else.  89-90

Sémillon 2010 ($32) is very fresh though muted in tone, verve and gumption. But this is Sémillon and I would not expect any sort of true personality indicator for at least three years. Elegant, with a hint of grapefruit and bigger palate developing in the glass. Awaiting the wax, sandalwood, lemon and honey.  88-89

SALSIFY, cured roe, tapioca, grains of paradise

SALSIFY, cured roe, tapioca, grains of paradise

Lunch

LAKE ERIE, ON PICKEREL, brassicas, celeriac, arctic rose

JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES, salt cod, pickled walnut, sorrel

SALSIFY, cured roe, tapioca, grains of paradise

Gewürztraminer 2011 ($29.95, 251447) has already improved since tasting it six weeks ago. “I’ve been working 20 years to make Gewürz,” says Groux. Micro oxidation protects the aromatics though they are low-toned, in rose and lychee. Uni-dimensional, not 100% dry, made with a homeopathic approach in mind, always with an eye on the assemblage white.  87-88

BEEF SHORTRIB, beet root, horseradish, caramelized fennel

SWEET POTATO, crème fraîche, amaranth, green onion

TOASTED BUCKWHEAT, pistachio, cured squab, preserved apricot

Stratus Cabernet Franc 2009 ($38) shows a bit of green but not of the inhibiting kind. From fruit picked on December 8th (what???) in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a type of gamble that can go very wrong, but Groux is a winemaker who knows his climate. Young at heart, full of smokey, tangy, currant baking aromas. Maternal but blessed with firm, plush tannin. “Some people like cupcakes,” I prefer a muffin man.  “Always a pleasure to grow (Cabernet Franc), if you are patient.  89-90

CARROT, condensed buttermilk, pecan, verjus

CARROT, condensed buttermilk, pecan, verjus

CARROT, condensed buttermilk, pecan, verjus

Mosaic 2010 ($25) is a balanced dessert wine giving equal credit despite the 70-30 Riesling-Gewürztraminer split. All natural sweetness, allowing a focus on the acidity. Only one ever made. Will they make it again? “Perhaps.”  89-90

Good to go!