Not only this is an OTBN post (not every day you get to drink the Tokaji Essencia), but this is also a great into into the world of Tokaji wines and Furmint grape. Enjoy!
Originally posted on The Armchair Sommelier:
Last Saturday was the annual Open that Bottle Night (OTBN). If you’ve never heard of it before, OTBN sounds like a Myers-Briggs personality type, but it’s actually a reason to open a bottle of wine. OTBN is the brain child of Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. And the idea is a simple one — instead of waiting for that perfect reason to open that special bottle of wine, OTBN is the reason. Quit thinking about it and just open it.
Earlier this summer, my husband bought me a bottle of 1993 Château Pajzos Tokaji Esszencia for my birthday. Esszencia is one of my bucket list wines. And I’ve been staring at it for months now, salivating, just waiting for the right occasion to open it (because apparently, my birthday wasn’t it).
Last Saturday, February 22nd, was the Open That Bottle Night – the movement started by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, the wirters of the Wall Street Journal Tastings column. I this is a great way to help oenophiles to open that special bottle in their cellars without really waiting for the moment which might never come. To support the OTBN idea, I’m going to reblog all of the OTBN posts which I will see from my fellow bloggers. Below is the one written by Jeff, better known as The Drunken Cyclist. Enjoy!
Originally posted on the drunken cyclist:
I started thinking about what to have for OTBN at least a few weeks ago, knowing that I would change my mind at least 37 times before actually pulling a cork. A few days before, my uncle sent me a photo of me from the summer that I spent with his family after I graduated from high school. The photo (which I posted HERE) got me thinking a bit about the ’80′s and what a miserable time I had in high school. For some stupid reason, I started reminiscing about the decade and decided that it was not all that bad and I thought I would yank out a bottle from the decade as the centerpiece of OTBN. I was leaning toward the 1985 Château Beychevelle from Bordeaux since I had a couple of backups from California if that one did not turn out so well.
We do drink wine mostly every day, thus we do have fun with wine every day. But then every so often, we are lucky to get together with the other wine
crazy people aficionados, usually to celebrate some sort of occasion (Birthday, etc. ), and this is when from everyday simple fun we advance to the area of “serious fun”.
What makes the wine fun “serious”? It is age and pedigree for the most of the cases, where just a quick glance at the bottle makes your heart race. “Wow, this is so cool” the brain sings, and you literally start to salivate even though it will be a long time until dinner will be served and the wine will be opened. If you will look at the lineup in the picture, you will easily get my point.
We started our evening with the 2013 Paumanok Chenin Blanc North Fork of Long Island, New York (11% ABV) – it had a nice nose of white fruit, white stone fruit on the palate, fresh acidity and overall very uplifting character with residual sweetness on the finish. Drinkability: 7+
The next wine was quite unique and different, at least for me – it was Sauternes, but – it was a dry Sauternes. 2007 Chateau Suduiraut S de Suduiraut Blanc Sec, Bordeaux (70% Sauvignon Blanc, 30% Semillon, some oak aging) was definitely an interesting wine. I’m still trying to understand if this wine was already past prime, or was simply in its slumber. It is unfortunate that the Chateau Suduiraut’s web site lists no technical information about the wine, only implies that it underwent the oak aging. The wine was showing as full bodied and plump. At the same time, the fruit was very muted and initially the wine showed a hint of oxidation on the finish, which disappeared as the wine was breathing. I think this wine left all of us puzzled – it was not bad by all means, but it was not great either. It would be interesting to try the same wine maybe in 5 years – not sure it will be easy to do as it is quite rare. Drinkability: 7
And then there were reds. We opened both 1994 Tignanello and 2001 Quilceda Creek, and Tignanello was exhuming the pleasure, while Quilceda Creek was clearly asking for decanter – which was provided. Meanwhile, another fun and rare bottle was opened. I’m sure you know Bollinger. Yes, the Champagne producer. But – according to Champagne AOC rules, even Champagne producers are allowed to make … yes, still wines! 2002 Bollinger Ay Rouge La Cote Aux Enfant Coteaux Champenois was a bit tight first in the glass, but after about 10 minutes, it opened up into a luscious, complex goodness. Dark garnet color in the glass with some orange hue, an earthy nose of mature fruit with just a touch of characteristic Pinot Noir smokiness. Soft, supple and round on the palate, good amount of dark fruit, well integrated tannins and balancing acidity. Definitely a very interesting wine and experience. Drinkability: 8
1994 Antinori Tignanello (80% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon) didn’t even show any signs of age! Dark ruby color in the glass, intense nose of dark cherries with a touch of leather and herbs. Fresh fruit and fresh acidity on the palate, cherries, leather and sage, perfectly balanced and ohh so enjoyable! I believe I tasted Tignanello before at some of the trade shows, but this was my first one on one encounter with this wonderful wine, with the ability to slowly enjoy and savor every sip. Drinkability: 9-
2001 Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon Washington (14.9% ABV, 97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 22 month in New French oak) spent about two hours in the decanter – but even that was not enough. Dark, brooding, concentrated, powerful – but not yielding much of the fruit, all closed up behind that power. After a first glass, we decided that we were simply wasting this wine, and we moved on to the another bottle.
1999 Pahlmeyer Proprietary Red Oakville, a classic Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot. Dark ruby red in the glass, blackberries and blueberries on the nose. Powerful and concentrated on the palate, with black currant, eucalyptus and espresso notes on the palate, soft tannins, very balanced with the medium long finish. Drinkability: 8
And last, but not least – dessert! Yes,the liquid dessert. 1977 Grahams Port. The first challenge was to get the cork out – this is where I regretted not having the Port Tongues available. The cork was pulled out almost completely, with a few little crumbles going back into the bottle, so we used a little mesh to pour the wine. The Port was beautiful – fragrant, fresh, with good acidity, palate full of not overly sweet dried fruit – dried cherries and may be dates come to mind. Perfectly balanced and very very enjoyable. Drinkability: 8+.
And the drop of Scotch to finish the meal properly – very unique and different, Bruichladdich 14 Years The Italian Collection Sassicaia French Oak – the scotch was beautifully mellow, well integrating a touch of traditional Bruichladdich peatiness with round and polished, almost sweet finish imparted by Sassicaia French Oak casks.
That concludes my “drool report” for now – well, life is an interesting thing, so it seems that couple of upcoming weeks will lead to more of the “great wine” reports.
Whether you had or had not any of the wines I’m talking about here, your comments are most welcome! Cheers!
Wine triggers emotions. Emotions become memory knots. Sometimes, just one quick look at the bottle is enough to unleash the memory flood – where, what, how, the images and thoughts are just start coming in. Wine triggers the memory of the moment in the past, and we remember what was happening. But how often do we remember the wine itself? How often do we remember the smell and the taste? Take the wine out of the context of the memorable event, just bring it back to the regular Monday night, just an average, uneventful night – how many Monday (or any other regular weekday or weekend) night bottles can you recall?
And then there are wines which require no memorable setting to be memorable on their own. The wines which don’t bring the memories of the moment, but rather memory of itself. Those wines are rare, few and far in between. But they exist. And from time to time, we are lucky enough to encounter one more. My latest encounter? 2011 Turley The Label.
2011 Turley The Label Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley (13.4% ABV) was released in the late fall of 2013, and came out in its traditional simple bottle. Dark garnet color liquid went into the glass. Swirl, another swirl, sniff… OMG. What is it? What is this wonderful aroma, which doesn’t let you put the glass down – nor take a sip – the first smell commands another… and another … and another. At first, you are not even looking for the right words to describe what you smell, you just keep enjoying the aroma. Then the brain starts moving impatiently – “I know this smell, I know this smell, come on, come on”. All of a sudden, the realization comes in – yes, I do know the smell. It is black currant. Bot not the berries. It is the leaves. It’s those meaty, big green leaves on a hot summer day – that’s what it is – and the smell is incredible.
Similar to the fresh meadows of Fiction, or gunflint of Frédéric Gueguen Chablis, those fresh black currant leaves of Turley The Label create an unforgettable image – really a memorable wine in its own right. The magnificent smell was followed by the dark supple fruit on the palate – blackberries and black currant, with firm tannins. It took the wine three days to open up and to actually show what it is capable of, when dark chocolate and espresso joined the profile of much brighter fruit, well structured with supple tannins, good acidity and overall perfect balance. Definitely a great wine which will need about 10 years to really come to its best. Drinkability: 8+
What are your most memorable wines? I would love to hear your stories. Happy Monday and cheers!
A few weeks ago, Jeff, a.k.a. the drunken cyclist, came up with the idea – how about making whole bunch of people happy and excited, just in time for the holidays, by exchanging a few bottles of wine – in secret. As the typical “secret Santa” game goes, we (all participants) have to send one or two bottles of wine to someone – of course nobody has any idea who is sending wine to whom, as all the recipients are set at random. We also were asked to include a little note about ourselves and how did we chose what wine to send – for all detailed rules and regulations you can look here.
I really liked the idea from the very beginning – being able to share the wine with someone and an anticipation of the surprise of the wine someone have chosen for you was definitely exciting. As the idea was discussed further, both in Jeff’s blog and in the e-mail, the main problem surfaced. Legally, you have to have a liquor license in US in order to send wine to someone. The creative ideas were exchanged – ask winery or a store to ship the wine you selected to your recipient; print the label at home and drop the box at UPS or FedEx – they will not ask the questions; ship the wine via US mail – but don’t tell them you have anything liquid inside (this is what I did). With this main problem out of the way, the next key question was: what to send?
Choosing the wine for such a secret mission is very far from simple (sorry, laugh all you want – we, wine snobs, like to complicate things). You want the wine to match the preferences of your recipient. Okay, so may be I’m complicating things for no reason – most of the participants should have a blog, and in that blog they probably talk about wine, so it should be not that difficult, right? Hmm, let’s see.
Finally I got the e-mail – my recipient was Chef Mimi. I went to Chef Mimi blog, which boasts beautiful pictures of food (I’m a sucker for the beautiful food pictures) and tons of recipes. I read the About section, I searched for the word “wine” in the Chef Mimi’s blog – and I couldn’t find any clues to what she might like! So I put my thinking cap on (just kidding – no cap – I just stare blindly into the computer screen). I went through Chem Mimi’s blog posts, thinking – what would I pair with this or that dish? Finally – yes, I got it – Riesling would be one, because it would perfectly pair with these sliders, and, and, and … a Merlot, middle-of-the-road-and-often-great red wine? I have a few bottles of this great Riesling, of course with the name only Oliver can pronounce, 2007 Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberg Riesling Kabinett Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (I talked about Spatlese from the same producer in this post, but I chose to send a Kabinett). And for the Merlot – as I live close to Long Island, and I recently was on the trip there and immensely enjoyed 2005 Estate Merlot from Jamesport, this was kind of a no-brainer decision for the wine which is unique and different. Done and done. The rest is history – you can read about it in the Chef Mimi’s post.
A few days after, my wines arrived.
Inside the box, there was a handwritten note from @NewfD90, explaining the preference for the Italian wines hence the selection sent to me – Sangiovese from California and Primitivo from Salento “just for fun”, as the note said.
I decided to start with 2010 Menhir Salento Quota 31 Primitivo Salento IGT (14% ABV). I have a limited experience with Primitivo wines. While Primitivo is a close relative of Zinfandel, and Zinfandel makes some of my most favorite wines, the Primitivo wines I taste in the past were nothing close to the Zinfandel, and shall we say it, not that great. So you can imagine that my expectations were not that high. Open the bottle, pour, sniff, swirl, sip – wow, this is great! I have to honestly say that this was the best Primitivo I ever tasted – and outside of the Primitivo category, this was simply an excellent wine. Ripe raspberries profile on the nose, dark dense fruit on the palate, with more raspberries and blackberries, good round tannins, overall very balanced. Medium to long finish. A very pleasant wine overall.
Cosentino is the well known producer from Napa Valley in California, making a wide range of wines from Chardonnay to Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel. This was my first experience with Cosentino Sangiovese. This 2011 Cosentino Sangiovese Il Chiaretto Napa County (15.5% ABV) opened up nicely with the nose of leather and smoke, generally resembling Pinot Noir a lot more than any Sangiovese wines I tasted in the past. On the palate it showed touch of tobacco and licorice, with a bit too much of a sweet fruit and then black pepper in the back. It also showed some noticeable tannins. What this wine was lacking was balance and harmony – all the components stuck out on their own. I decanted some amount of the wine, but 3 hours in decanter didn’t help it. I really tried to fall in love with this wine, by tasting it little by little over the next four days – to no avail. While the wine was changing day to day, and it was still drinkable on the day 4, it didn’t come to greatness. I had much better Sangiovese wines from Temecula valley, where the grape quite popular, so may be Napa Valley is just not the place for this grape to shine. But – tasting new wines is always a fun challenge, so I”m glad I had this experience.
That concludes the Secret Wine Santa report. This was definitely fun, so I would like to thank Jeff for coming up with the idea and I’m already looking forward to the next year’s Secret Wine Santa project. Hmmm, that’s a long wait, isn’t it? May be we need to extend the idea to the Secret Wine Admirer? That would be awesome! Cheers!
Here we are again, on the subject of Top Wines of 2013. You already saw my second dozen (and some), and the time has come to present the top list. In case you missed my lengthy explanation about the logic of this list, let me reiterate the main point – these are my most memorable wines of 2013. May be the word “wine” is even a bit limiting – these are the most memorable wine experiences of 2013. These are the wines which are so easy to recall – when you are talking about wines, these are the wines you use as an example. These are the wines which serve as memory links, easily allowing you to re-live the moments of your life. These are the wines which give you an ultimate pleasure. Let’s go:
12. 2008 Seresin Chardonnay Reserve Marlboro New Zealand – one of the best Chardonnays of the whole year – impeccable balance of apples, vanilla, butter and toasted oak, all I want in Chardonnay, nothing more and nothing less.
11. 2011 Antica Terra Erratica Willamette Valley Oregon – probably the best Rosé I ever had. May be even calling it a Rosé is simply a mistake. It was spectacular wine, complex, living in the glass, changing from mouthful of strawberries to tart raspberries and mouthfeel of a balanced red wine. An experience.
10. 2009 Tua Rita Redigaffi Toscana IGT – Tua Rita Redigaffi is listed in my “must try wines” list – need I say more? One of the best in the world renditions of Merlot. It was a pure pleasure – both the wine and the experience.
9. 2009 Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve Franschhoek South Africa – mind-blowing. Exuberant. Over the top. Spectacular. I’m out of words. If you want rediscover Pinot Noir, go find this wine and taste it.
8. 2012 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – truly a humbling experience and a life lesson. If you think you know everything about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, try this wine. You can thank me later.
7. 2007 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone “Campo dei Gigli” – when I’m saying that I don’t have my most favorite wine, I’m lying. Amarone is the one. But for the past 5 years or so, practically every bottle of Amarone I touch becomes a huge disappointment. Not this one. This was a pure delight and the discovery of the year. Nose of dried fruit and perfectly balanced, round, dry and silky smooth mouthfeel. Thinking about this wine makes me smile.
6. 2005 Henry’s Drive Dead Letter Office Shiraz, South Australia – If anyone remembers Tastings column at Wall Street Journal, this wine was rated “Delicious!”, which was the highest rating. When I tasted this wine, it all made sense – absolutely delicious, round, plush, silky smooth and powerful at the same time, with plenty of blackberries and blueberries which only the best Shiraz can demonstrate. I was planning the whole post dedicated to the Dead Letter Office vertical tasting, but 2008 was only okay, and 2006 and 2009 turned out to be a complete disappointment, so no post. But if you can find this 2005 anywhere, get it – I promise you lots and lots of pleasure.
5. 2010 Donnafugata Ben Ryé Passito di Pantelleria – the only wine in Italy which received highest ratings in 2013 from all three wine rating publications. Once you will try this wine, you will understand why. The balance and complexity is nothing short of spectacular. Stop reading this blog, go find the bottle for yourself.
4. 2002 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Herrenweg de Turckheim Gewurztraminer Alsace – I know that Zind-Humbrecht is considered one of the best producers in Alsace. I tasted this wine a few years back, and I was definitely underwhelmed. This year, this wine magically turned around, showing perfect balance of exotic fruit, lychees, honey, candied apricot and everything else you can to look for in Gewurztraminer, with perfectly balancing acidity. An ultimate treat.
3. 2009 Casa Burmester Reserva Douro DOC – talk about “oenophile defining moments”. I had excellent Portuguese wines before I tried this wine, but the very first sip of this Casa Burmester Reserva made me go “what? seriously? wow!!!”. In a blind tasting, this wine would stand up to the best of the best of California Cabernet – beautiful fruit, texturally present, firm, powerful and impeccably balanced and elegant.
2. 2005 Frédéric Gueguen Chablis Les Grandes Vignes – I remember almost making fun of someone else using the word “gunflint” in the wine description. And here I am, taking a first sniff of this wine with the first word coming to my mind … gunflint! That sensation of gun powder-like smell, the smoke was incredible – and it was very pleasant at the same time. Tremendous minerality, lemony notes and some apples, clean and vibrant acidity and perfect balance. This wine was definitely an experience.
1. 1970 Quevedo White Port - even people in Portugal are not aware of the aged white Port – I witnessed a few surprised looks when talking to the people about white Port which is aged. This wine might be never bottled, as I’m sure it is hard to create a category from pretty much a single barrel of wine. Nevertheless, the ultimate complexity of this wine, coupled with the visual snapshot of tasting it in the Quevedo Port cellar (cue in all the aromatics and mysterious atmosphere), makes for an ultimate experience which will stay in memory forever.
By the way, did you notice that 3 out of my 4 top wines (even though I’m trying no to prioritize the list outside of the wine #1) are the white wines? Quite fascinating. Do you find this list too emotional? May be, but isn’t it the purpose of wine, to solicit emotion? Anyway, for what it worth, this completes the list of my best wine experiences of 2013. What were yours? Cheers!
“Best wines I had in a year”, “my best restaurant experiences”, “top gadgets of the year” – as the year is winding down, the “best of the best” lists are being produced all of the blogosphere and traditional media. Of course, your truly is not an exception – this is the forth year in the row I would like to summarize, share, and maybe even re-live (just a little bit, okay?) the best wine experiences of 2013. And in case you are curious, here are the links for the 2010, 2011, 2012 second dozen and 2012 top dozen.
I really like writing this “Top Wine” posts, as it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the past year in wine and bring back the memories. In a typical year, we are probably going through a few hundred bottles of wine – if I would add all the wines tasted as part of the different events, winery visits, dinners, etc., this number will easily get close to the couple of thousands. How do you select most favorite 20 -something bottles out of all of those wines? I actually have a two-pass approach here. In the pass number one, I simply push my memory to produce the names of the wines which are on top of my mind – and write down those names. The second pass involves going through the label journals. When faced with the bottle of wine, taking the label off, putting it in my journal and adding the notes is my topmost priority. To refresh the memory, I simply go through that journal(s) with the mission of finding most memorable wines. Yes, it is possible that I gave the wine a high rating, but if looking at the label doesn’t trigger the reaction, such wine most likely will not be included into the consideration for the Top Dozen list.
Similar to 2012, I didn’t even try to limit my top list to only 12 wines. The list is split into the first and second dozens, and I think the “dozen” will be treated a bit loosely here – let’s say, a dozen and a few. The actual Top Dozen includes the most memorable (read – easiest to recall) wines of 2013, and the second dozen includes the wonderful wines which I feel I must mention. I will have the Top wine of the year, but otherwise, both lists are not prioritized – this is way too much work to decide that I like the wine #3 a 0.0001% more than the wine #4, thus please don’t look at this list as sorted – this is just the random list of my most memorable wines of 2013.
And now, without further ado, let me present to you Talk-a-Vino Second Dozen+ of wines of 2013.
27. 2011 Haute Cabrière Unwooded Pinot Noir Franschhoek South Africa – light, tangy, refreshing, thirst-quenching, crowd-pleasing wine. It is a quintessential Pinot Noir, with all the smoke, violet and cranberries, packaged in a delicate, effervescent frame.
26. 2005 Jamesport Vineyards Merlot Block E, Long Island, NY – one of the very best Long Island can produce. Powerful, concentrated and dangerous – you just don’t want to put the glass down. A pure delight.
25. 2010 Montesco Passionate Wine Parral, Tupungato, Mendoza – the wine with the soul. The passion, which s part of the name of this wine, is showing in every sip. Powerful and delightful.
24. 2008 Paritua Riesling Central Otago New Zealand - perfectly delightful or delightfully perfect? Clean, balanced, refreshing, light and delicious – all in one package.
23. NV Boroli Barolo Chinato, Piedmont - I think adding aromatic herbs to the Barolo is a stroke of a genius. Yes, it is more of an after dinner drink than the wine, but you can’t stop smelling your glass, the aromatics are just incredible. Definitely one of my personal discoveries of 2013.
22. 2011 Siduri Pinot Noir Sonoma County – beautiful Pinot Noir – clean and perfect. Do I need to say more?
21. 2010 Le Cimate Montefalco Rosso DOC - I had to include at least one of the beautiful Montefalco winesinto the Top list, as Montefalco wines (both Sagrantino and Rosso) where another personal discovery of 2013. Le Cimate was a love from the first sip – powerful, concentrated, lip smacking cherries – delicious.
20. 2007 Mount Palomar Charbono Temecula Valley, California - I probably managed to hit the sweet spot – this wine was definitely at its peak. Layered fruit, concentrated, silky smooth and perfectly balanced.
19. 2012 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury, New Zealand – pure, beautiful and classic. An excellent rendition of Pinot Noir – delicate, but present, elegant, round and perfectly balanced.
18. 2004 Coume Del Mas Quintessence Banyuls Red Dessert Wine – may be a single best (definitely one of the very best) red dessert wines I ever had. Supple dried fruits – prunes, figs – supported by balancing acidity. Outstanding.
17. 2001 Nino Negri ’5 Stelle’ Sfursat di Valtellina DOCG – I love the contrast of the sweet dried fruit on the nose, which you often get from grapes dried under the sun before they are pressed, and full and powerful body of wine. This wine had it all – sweet dried fruit on the nose, and perfectly balanced, perfectly dry palate, tons of pleasure in every sip. Yes, I would gladly repeat the experience again.
16. 1974 Quevedo Colheita Tawny Port – What can beat the taste of 40 years old port? Well, may be a 50, but I can’t tell firsthand. This was absolutely delicious, complex and still fresh, as only the old port can get. Wines of that level make the whole table to go quiet for a moment (or two), and just reflect on life.
15. NV Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru, Ambonay – This wine restored my love and appreciation for the fine Champagne. Somehow, for the most of the year, I was in the mode “Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sparkling Shiraz – who cares, they are all the same” (okay, may be except the sparkling Shiraz) – the first sip of this wine put a “wow” back into the glass of Champagne for me. This was perfectly complex, with every sip making me crave another one.
14. 2005 Domaine Laleure-Piot Pernand-Vergelesses AOC, Burgundy – it is the wine like this which makes you say “boy, this is the wine I want to drink every day”. Round, supple, yet effervescent – vanilla, sweet oak, fresh apples – all painted with the light touch, everything is in the perfect balance, everything is present, but so perfectly weaved together, you can only think of this wine a whole. Ouch, I need a sip of it right now…
13. 2011 Niepoort Tiara Douro Branco – this wine should probably be called a “perfect pick me up”. If you are in a bad mood, after a long day, after your boss was the usual jerk, have a glass of this wine. Your body will straighten itself, automatically assuming the perfect posture after the first sip. After the second sip, all the problems will go away, and you will be ready to face a new day or whatever is that you need to face. Delicious.
There you have it – an extended second dozen of Top wines of 2013. Tried any of these wine? Didn’t try but have something to say? Comment away! Cheers!
To be continued…
Before you get to this post, just a little word of caution – if you are hungry, can I ask you to go eat first? Please?
Let me ask you a question: when it comes to the restaurants, how often can you recall the exact decor of the restaurant? Well, let me be careful with this – of course this question is intended for the foodies and not for the interior design majors. We typically remember great food and wine experiences (yes, extremely bad experiences get stuck in the head too – I still remember the worst spaghetti in my life in the little restaurant by the Lake George). Sometimes the exceptional service is also staying with you. But I would bet that decor for the most cases would be the last thing you would remember, especially if you visit the restaurant only once. But then there are exceptions. I still remember old Tavern on the Green, with all its imperial embellishments, or the wonderful Belgium restaurant we visited on Aruba, called Le Dome, which had 4 different dining rooms, each decorated in its own unique style. Why am I asking all the questions about remembering the decor? Please read on, you will see in a second.
Okay, so the goal of this post is not to take you on the memory lane, but to share our recent dining experience at the new restaurant in Greenwich, Connecticut called Rouge Brasserie & Oyster Bar. We happened to come in a bit before our dining companions, so I had a little bit of time to walk around. The unique decor and variety of styles within somewhat of a limited space were strikingly different from most of the places I’d been to. The way the different sections were appointed were going from country French to cozy corner to the Royal French – all tastefully decorated and oh so different. Yes, as usual, I plan to inundate you with pictures, so take a look:
As it almost became customary, we started our evening at the bar. While the list of cocktails at Rouge is not too long, everything we had was very well made and very refreshing. Brigitte Bardot (cognac, fresh Lemon, sugar, raspberries and champagne) and Broken Heart Margarita (tequila, elderflower liquor, fresh sour, cointreau, raspberry grape & pink peppercorn) were both done just right, not too sweet (I’m really not a big fun of the sweet cocktails), withgood amount of alcohol, but very balanced at the same time. And it was just fun sitting by the shiny, well lit bar and watch Kelly compose the tasty concoctions.
Before we talk about food, I need to say a few words about the wine. I didn’t get a chance to see the wine list, so obviously I can’t comment on it – but during the evening, we were drinking two wines which were both, shall I say it, surprisingly outstanding. Our white wine was 2012 Domaine Saint-Lannes Côtes de Gascogne IGP (80% French Colombard, 20% Gros Manseng) – perfect nose of the bright white fruit, very inviting, light and round on the palate, with white apples, touch of lemon, dry and refreshingly crisp, excellent balance (Drinkability: 8). May be the fact that the white wine was good was not all that surprising, but for the red… Our red wine was 2010 Chateau Gobert Bordeaux AOC. Can you point to the “surprising” part just based on the name? I remember when I was just starting with wine, which was a bit more than 10 years ago, the year 2000 was declared the “Vintage of the Century” in Bordeaux, and I decided to try those best wines, buying Bordeaux AOC wines for $7 in the discount supermarket in New Jersey. When I tried to drink those wines, which were green, branch-chewy and plain harsh, for the life of me I couldn’t understand how that can be a great wine (of course I would never admit it in public). As I was learning about the wines, and especially listening to the Kevin Zraly’s explanations about circles of quality, I realized that basic Bordeaux, sourced from the grapes from the whole region, in general is something to avoid. Now, at the dinner, the red wine was poured (I didn’t see the label), and my first impression was “wow, this is very nice” – soft dark fruit on the nose, quite fruit forward on the palate, but without much exuberance or going over the top – some plums, ripe raspberries, touch of green bell pepper in the back, soft tannins, nice acidity, overall very balanced (Drinkability: 8-). When I saw the label, my first reaction was “Really?” – for a few seconds, I couldn’t believe this was actually a basic Bordeaux red wine. I will have to start paying attention to the Bordeaux AOC wines again, as this was one eye opening experience. And I want to complement whomever selected these wines for the restaurant – great choice!
Okay, time to talk about the food! In a word, we were treated royally at the Rouge – it was literally no holds barred type of dinner – everything you can think of was on the table – the caviar, the oysters, the lobster, and lots more.
First, our bread arrived in the form of tiny, but ohh so tasty baguettes, accompanies by the butter, fresh young radishes and cornichons:
From our appetizer course, the very first dish was Fish Eggs and Chips (house made potato chips, Crème fraîche) – as you can see from the name, it was a play on “Fish and Chips”, only instead of the actual fish we had something which could’ve become a fish – both black and red caviar was sprinkled over the house made potato chips:
I understand the word play here, and the dish overall was interesting – but I would probably use something more neutral as a medium instead of potato chips – some kind of white bread crackers or even crispy water crackers would play better with the saltiness of the caviar. But again, I can’t complain about the caviar as a starter – not at all.
When you start with the caviar, what is the next thing you should expect? The best selection of the fresh seafood, of course. And the best it was! Plateux De Fruits De Mer had fresh oysters, fresh clams, lobster tails and claws, and prawns, accompanies by the trio of sauces (shrimp cocktails, mayo with herbs and onion/vinegar for the oysters). Fresh and immaculate, one of the best seafood platters I ever had. I’m generally not a big fun of fresh clams – and these were delicious.
Seafood platters can be served in different types of restaurants, but nobody would argue that with Escargots Bourguignon (shallot parsley butter) we are getting into the real French traditional cooking. The escargot were excellent, succulent and satisfying. My only complaint was that I would serve the escargot separately from the toast, as the toast was completely soaked in butter in and out, but then I heard a number of people praising that exact butter-soaked toast. Anyway, this was definitely a delicious appetizer.
From French Classic to the French Classic – our next dish was Classic Steak Tartare (hand cut prime filet with charred country toast) – I tried steak tartare in Paris for the first time, and while I was scared with the plate put in front of me (raw ground beef was glaring at me, asking “will you dare put me in your mouth”), once that raw ground beef was mixed with all the condiments, it became one of my favorite dishes of the French cuisine. In our case, the steak was already premixed, so all we had to do was to put it on the toast and enjoy – which is exactly what we did! It was very tasty.
Our last appetizer was Warm Onion Tart (tomato confit & nicoise olives) – if you look at the size of that thing, it was literally the whole pizza! It turns out that the restaurant inherited a real pizza oven from one of the restaurants located before in the same space, so they definitely took a full advantage of that. That tart was delicious, withcrispy crust, and mild bitterness of arugula perfectly complementing sweetness of the onion. Great dish!
This was the end of our appetizer round, and while we were quite well fed already, the best was yet to come.
Our entrees included:
Skate Meuniere (parsley new potatoes, lemon brown butter) – outstanding, perfectly cooked fish, very meaty, nice lemony bite, without any fish aftertaste (you know, like the one you get sometimes from tilapia or catfish). This dish made many of us wonder why we don’t eat skate more often.
Moules Frites (white wine, garlic & fine herbs) – may be the best mussels ever. The sauce was soooo tasty, we had to request [lots of] additional bread. Simply delicious. Mussles were also served with very tasty french fries.
Short Rib Bourguignon (red wine sauce with pearl onions & truffled potatoes) – is there any other food in this world which spells “comfort” better than the slow cooked meat? Probably not. We were really full at this point, but nobody could resist that voluptuous (interesting word to describe the cooked meat, huh?), succulent meat. Sauce was exceptional, just perfectly savory without any unnecessary sweetness. Great finish to our wonderful meal.
Well, of course there was a dessert – luckily a small one, but super tasty! Chocolate French Custard was just perfect, not too sweet, with the very light and fluffy texture. And by the way, while we were at dessert, I learned something new! It appears that when you eat dessert (at least the one like this custard), you are supposed to turn the spoon upside down in your mouth, so the tongue with all its tastebuds will get in contact with the food, and not with the back of the spoon. I had no idea!
Last, but not least at all, we had a chance to talk to and express our heartfelt Thanks to the Executive Chef Josh Moulton, the mastermind behind this exceptional experience, Diego, our Maître D’, and Fabiana, the designer who created all that exceptional style I described at the beginning of this post.
If you will have an opportunity, I definitely recommend that you will ignore all my writing and go experience Rouge on your own. For those who are too far away, sorry, but you will have to take my word for it – this was definitely an outstanding meal, with great style and substance. Cheers!
Disclaimer: I attended the restaurant as a guest of management. All opinions are my own.