The Stratus-Momofuku continuum

Momofuku Daisho Toronto's Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON)

Momofuku Daisho Toronto’s Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON)

The wines of Stratus Vineyards and the cuisine of Momofuku Toronto. On Monday, May 26th and for the second straight year they conspired together in a beautiful collision of mutual beneficence. The single varietal mad science of winemaker J-L Groux and the singular, multifarious snacks of Momofuku Daishō. The food and wine play leaves wine writers satiated, thankful and speechless.

Stratus Single Varietal Tasting at Momofuku Daisho

Stratus Single Varietal Tasting at Momofuku Daisho

Related – Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity Incarnate and Select tasting through years of the Stratus Red and White

This 2014 media lunch dubbed Stratus, the right to free assemblage forged yet another treat of the highest order, once again with the necessity in participation of Charles Baker, Suzanne Janke and Sarah Walker of Stratus, along with Momofuku Beverage Director Jonathan Gosenhauser, Service Director Steve De Sousa, Assistant FOH Manager Nicholas Papadatos and the Daishō team.

An introduction by Charles Baker of Stratus Wines

An introduction by Charles Baker of Stratus Wines

Wildass Rosé 2013, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $16.95, WineAlign)

At 13.9 per cent the kitchen sink blend is unwittingly light on its feet, with uplifting floral and stony scents. The patronage seems as though it could be a shot (or more) of an aromatic white addition like Viognier. This ’13 is a new approach to the Wildass Rosé, a metallic meets orange and berry citrus flavour explosion. Will be an August VINTAGES release at this modest and honest tag, certainly more accessible than in years past.

Stratus at Momofuku Daisho

Stratus at Momofuku Daisho

The single varietals

Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario (Winery, $29.00, WineAlign)

Technically Niagara Lakeshore but labeled Niagara on the Lake, winemaker J-L Groux insists this is the anti-New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a truism to get behind in this ’11’s more tropical style. “Depending on the year we adapt to the climate,” so here J-L’s classic boxwood seeking stands out. The combination of picking time and barrel aging on the lees has everything to do with style. The Stratus hangs (picked October 11th) and hangs out (641 days in French oak). Shows off the most metal mineral that Niagara can give to the variety, from a season with a totally rainy spring and fall but a torrid summer in between. “On whites it was certainly a better year to work with,” though the lack of acidity is due to a wet fall. It’s high-octane, “I’m not running after alcohol. I’m picking on aromatics. If I’m making barrel aged Sauvignon, I have to be patient, otherwise it’s not worth putting in barrel.” Nutty, toasty and full. The middle reaches for the end in an elastic and stretched full chain and connection. Rounder as opposed to acidic, it’s character comes by way of a periodic, numbers game in aromas. Zero hay, high phenols, very ripe.

Chardonnay 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $48.00, WineAlign)

A change in direction is duly noted with J-L Groux’s 2012 Chardonnay, from fruit picked six weeks earlier than in 2010. The program is scaled back and the wine is more “typical” of the region, in weight, in barrel effect and in alcohol. Still quite defined by natural yeasts that “sometimes go a bit wild, but I’m getting better at it,” concedes the clinician of vinous letters. Those feisty microbes are difficult to work with, like dealing with a wine that lacks natural clarity. “You have to shut down the bacteria, teach the yeast to stop stealing the lees. In 2013 I really got it.” The ’12’s altered course is welcome and encouraged and the world should wait with bated breath for what ’13 will bring. Here the complexity of aromatics is matched only by the intensity of tropical fruit. Has balance and a soft, round feel. Again, more texture and aromatics than natural acidity. Classic J-L style. “It’s not about trying to imitate anyone. It’s about making the most interesting and most complex Chardonnay in Niagara.”

Sémillon 2011, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $32.00, WineAlign)

The warmth of those July and August days has brought a combination of grapefruit and honey to the 2011 Sémillon, a highly aromatic vintage. Typically you don’t have very high acidity with this variety and though this was a difficult vintage to work with, here it teases late harvest, straight from the hip. The in-glass progression scales back and walks the wire with semi-high (6.9) acidity. “With illusions of someday, cast in a golden light,” the ’11 Sémillon will need time to marshal the erudition of (627 days) in barrel. At present the tragically declared fact that 24.6 brix equates to 11.6 per cent alcohol might just be lauded as another conversion rate, ahead by a century.

Sangiovese 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

A variety that can be picked much earlier than others, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Do the aromatics do Sangiovese? Yes, but in a mutated, concentrated and highly floral, expressive way. Clean, clear and embossed by surprising freshness and purity. The notes of typicity involve red fruits and a scorch of the earth. Handsome Sangiovese actually, anything but rustic and of a middle fleshing that threshes to mulct a citrus note on the end. This effort shows the most promise of the three expatriates (along with Tempranillo and Tannat) vying for J-L Groux’s new slang, varietal attention.

Tempranillo 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Were Rioja to come and take over Niagara this introduction would succeed in fulfilling expectations but not necessarily dreams. I will confess that it functions in ways California (where it’s simply too warm in places like Paso Robles and Santa Barbara) does not. Likewise Australian takes (“cool” Victoria and New South Wales) have yet to convince. Niagara’s climate is not such a stretch (though in most vintages too wet), but in 2010 the conditions were ripe for this experiment. The wine is admittedly lumbering, backward and chunky. It has that dusty, nearly funky nose, but it should be extolled in the name of character. High on vineyard aromatics and the density of wood, in ways so much more defined than the Sangiovese. Strangely Riojan and tasted blind would make for a curious ringer. Not huge by any stretch and blessed with good acidity and persistence.

Tannat 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

The wooden slumber (555 days) in 50 per cent new oak is just what the dark-skinned grape doctor ordered for the Niagara debut. You know it will be pitchy and tannic but the goal is to be looking for some striking acidity and balance of concentration. Violets are prominent in the highly floral aromatics. There is certain density and fine structure and so while Tannat is an integral Stratus assemblage variety it shows here that it can be very expressive and long on its own. Perhaps the equal of Malbec for Niagara and with great potential.

Malbec 2011, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

If the Stratus 2010 Malbec’s blue note belted out Philly Soul, the delicacy and structure of the ’11 plays a softer sound, a Stax, Memphis Soul. Stylish, funky and uptown without conceding to pop. Active but with less brawn and higher acidity than previous years. An and now aromatic session of so much tobacco and even more cigar box, in wafts, waves, puffs, billows and club clouds of smoke. A soul jam of black fruit, Booker T. finger roll acidity and tannin.

Cabernet Franc 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $42.00, WineAlign)

Some white pepper dust, not too much mind you, works with the sun “and that’s what makes Cabernet Franc find its ripeness.” That it has in spades here in ’10, giving it fullness without raisins, density without being plugged in. A rich and near berry chalk sample but finely judged. This is one of the best SV’s J-L has made. Incredible aromatics. From my earlier April 2014 note: “Patient as ever with the cool-climate, slow and low ripening Cabernet Franc, winemaker J-L Groux stuck with belief, regardless of the warm 2010 vintage. The Stratus single varietal space and time continuum of let it hang (though not to December), 20ish months of aging, nearly half in French oak barrels, has brought forth the most dense and luxe Cabernet Franc to date. “It’s never old school, all brand new,” with Groux so this red swells in wholly pure black currant fruit and is as big as it gets for J-L, which is saying something. This beastie boy will age over a 20-year period. Style is the thing, and yes, the aromatics.”

Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $55.00, WineAlign)

The declared alcohol on this is 14.6 per cent but to all of me, that is really hard to believe. Really elegant, 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, perfectly unabridged in phenolic ripeness but in such fine rhythm and blues. Were it a score it would be euphonious without encumbrance and void of splinters. The most subtle and gentle J-L Groux crafted red wine I’ve yet to encounter, with a back palate combination of mushroom and citrus to follow pure red fruit. Resoundingly circular with curves, no hard edges and “perfect imperfections.” This Cabernet goes at it with Graves character and poise. It will be a Niagara legend.

Gewürztraminer 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario, (Winery, $29.95, WineAlign)

Early harvested and vinified with the least amount of winemaker intervention, this is Gewürztraminer left to find its own way. In 2012 the natural sugars speak in clear and clean tones without needing too much attention. Has the most off-dry sensibility yet. It’s very floral, nearly medicinal and tacking. A zigging and zagging Gewürz, wavering, weaving, oscillating between its personalities, on one hand new and progressive, on the other, a nod to Alsace. There is really nothing dry about it. Dense on the palate, this Stratus single white varietal is textured and quickly making friends.

Mosaic Late Harvest 2013, Niagara Lakeshore (375ml), Ontario, (Winery, $25.00, WineAlign)

The 2010 was the first and only one made at the time. When asked if he would make one again, J-L Groux replied “perhaps.” Well, three years later the 2013 enters considerably drier than that ’10 but full of stone tree fruit. The profile here is so different, now Gewürztraminer (78 per cent) dominated, with less residual assistance from Riesling (17) and Sémillon (5). The aromatics are medicinal and ashen before the attack turns so palate sweet, in marmalade and with a finish of noble bitterness.

Mystery Pour

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012, Niagara On The Lake, Ontario

Tasted blind this non-clarified sticky is high on grapefruit for sure, smells (for a fleeting moment) a bit like cat pee, is decidedly smoky and once again, is grapefruit all in. Stony sauternes, Niagara style. This can be used to great advantage. With 70 plus g/L of residual sugar and 7.9 of total acidity the sugar-acid continuum is expertly lucky. The grapes were picked on December 14th, causing another exclamation of WTF? Really delicious. Really.

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012

Botrytis Affected Sémillon Late Harvest 2012

Following the single-varietal tasting, Momofuku Daisho rolled out eight signature dishes.

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Spring Radish Salad, sherry vinegar, chive, crispy yuba

Snap Pea Salad, horseradish, jowl bacon, lily bulbs

Agnolotti, asparagus, ricotta, black truffle

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON), morels, ramps, smoked buttermilk

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON)

Whole Speckled Trout (Kolapore, ON)

Stratus White 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (660704, $44.00, WineAlign)

From my September 2013 note: “Sends me immediately towards Bordeaux, in neo-marmalade, but also buoyed in perfume and body by 25 percent Viognier. “This variety worked so well in the vineyard in 2010,” notes Groux. Niagara honey and near-botrytis via Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc void of grass, full of vigor. A sharp note, neither metallic nor mineral, but a combination of the two is present in this so very concentrated ’10. Of a warm vintage (self-explanatory) fully picked by October 23. Though loaded with early Spring maple sap, foie gras and appley terpines, its sharp and framed by “tannic” tang and protracted length.”  Last tasted May 2014

Beef Brisket (McGee Farms, ON), steamed buns, crab mayonnaise, green papaya slaw

Broccoli, lap cheong, black vinegar, tea egg

Nugget Potatoes, togarashi, kewpie, spiced ham

Stratus Red 2010, VQA Niagara On The Lake, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, (131037, $44.00, WineAlign)

Tasted again, I do declare this to be the reigning bomb of Ontario red blends. Showing even better than I judged it two weeks ago. Intense ruby meets claret in every facet of its make-up. Rouge tomate, fresh and racy at the same time, with just enough chalk to lengthen the chain. You can actually imagine the hum in the clang and rhythm of its magic. Fleet of foot, mac-nanimously rendered red blend. “Chain keep us together, running in the shadow.” From my earlier note: “A study in restrained, gilt-edged use of only 15 per cent new oak during assemblage, especially with Cabernet Sauvignon in the lead and so prudent considering the extreme warmth of the vintage. Cabernet Franc imparts simple but intense spice. Red talented, fresh finesse, the oak in support as a James Dean, cherry stained leather jacket. De facto fresh, with just enough trenchant acidity.”  Last tasted May 2014

Tart, ricotta, honey apricots

 

Good to go!

 

https://twitter.com/mgodello

 

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!

Around the world in eight Chardonnays

PHOTO: SUTSAIY/FOTOLIA.COM

as seen on canada.com

Chardonnay covers more than 400,000 acres seemingly everywhere and is the most widely planted wine grape on earth. Today marks its fourth annual global celebration. Who knew there was this marketing concept using social media as the thread that connects the global conversation together. If you live in Niagara and have some free time, then you my friend are in the right place. Many wineries (17 at last count) are offering special events and free tastings today, including Flat Rock CellarsTawseLaileyHidden BenchThirty BenchSouthbrookCoyote’s RunNiagara College Teaching WineryPondviewChateau des CharmesStratus13th StreetHenry of PelhamCave SpringMalivoire and Norman Hardie. Click here for a full list of events.

Chardonnay is cool, especially in Canada, blessed with a quintessential climate for growing the most international and recognizable of the world’s white grapes. Chardonnay comes in all shapes and styles, from unoaked to heavily toasted, aged in stainless steel or concrete vats to barrel fermented. Some styles use wood chips, some Chardonnay is fermented on its lees. Chardonnay is responsible for some of the world’s great Sparkling wines, especially Champagne. Is there a comparable white grape that speaks of its origins in more varied tones? Conversely, can another variety be singled out as having suffered through more international vinification manipulation? So, Chardonnay conjunction junction, what’s your function?  Want to know what Canadians are saying about Chardonnay? Ontario Wine Chat has the answers.

If you are looking to experience the wonders of Chardonnay, from a global perspective, surrounded by experts in a setting designed for relaxation and genuflection, look here:

In anticipation of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration #i4c2013 and to pay tribute to this marketing sensation that is International Chardonnay Day, here are eight great examples from near and far, all available to taste, try and sample somewhere close by.

Clockwise from left: Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2010, Domaine du Chardonnay Chablis 2011, Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011, Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2010, Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011, Hidden Bench Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2009, Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne, and Stratus Chardonnay 2010

Cave Spring Estate Bottled Chardonnay Musqué 2010 (246579, $15.95) from Wines for the Ides of March is fresh in chert, posy aromatic and stuffed with an airy, sense of whipped lemon cream. Salinity and white pepper add kick and spice to this Chardonnay cousin only Cave Spring seems to have mastered.  89  @CaveSpring

Domaine du Chardonnay Chablis 2011 (183574, $19.95) deserves 105 points for the domain name alone but really this is just solid, good fun. Chablis as I expect it to be. Apples and cinnamon, ginger, a hint of macadamia and citrus zest. Minor bitter note trumped by ripe fruit and a clean finish. Really quite good.  88

Southbrook Vineyards Triomphe Chardonnay 2011 ($21.95, 172338) from A wine pentathlon binds FSO2 with jack or durian, febrile fruit. For now hard to figure, like a grey rose or a Pink Floyd. Offers up a creamy warmth in resonant echoes but amplified as if still trapped inside the barrel. The best days remain ahead for this certified and biodynamic Chardonnay, which in two to three years time will “come streaming in on sunlight wings.” 89  @SouthbrookWine

Wolf Blass Gold Label Chardonnay 2010 (606186, $29.95) is about as internationally-styled as it gets from the Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Smells like it’s still inside the barrel, as if the tropical fruit was wrapped up in a smoking, sweat lodge towel. Big on hot rocks, steaming and emitting earthy scents, nutty in every respect, big, big Chardonnay. Nerve, verve and understanding.  90  @WolfBlassWines

Norman Hardie County Chardonnay 2011 ($35, winery only) from Come together, over wine is not merely a window into the vintage but the portal. Bright, golden fruit, freakish level of mineral and longer than the old Greer Road. Norman will always have ’08 but the newbies will be lucky to discover 2011. Who wouldn’t fall for its charms. When it comes to this Prince Edward County Chardonnay, “one and one don’t make two, one and one make one.” I call that a bargain.  92  @normhardie

Hidden Bench Tête de Cuvée Chardonnay 2009 ($45, winery only) from Big wines from California and the Bench from HB’s oldest, most highly regarded and meticulously maintained vines shows ravishing and refined restraint in elegance. Warm pineapple and mango coagulation jarred by the vintage’s piercing acidity and immense length. Head of the class, rings the bell, nails the lecture.  93  @HiddenBench

Drappier Signature Blanc De Blancs Brut Champagne (599860, $46.95) continues a VINTAGES string of excellent value in Champagne releases. Made from 100% Chardonnay, this BdB is pronounced in , yeasty dough definition, hinting at agave and unwashed cheese rind. Where there’s bubbles there’s a way and I like where this one is going. The agave replays in sweet waves, as does the the sour in faint yet discernible sloshes. Much to contemplate in this NV sparkler.  90   @Halpernwine

Stratus Chardonnay 2010 ($55) from Stratus and Momofuku: Modernity incarnate 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.  91  @Stratuswines

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!