Food Wine & Friends Page 263
Our good friend Giuseppe Vaira, from the terrific little GD
Vajra winery near Barolo, planned to be in San Francisco the first week of
September (their grapes are not ready yet, so he could sneak away from
Shortly after stepping off the plane from Europe, Giuseppe was whisked to
Burlingame for a wine and food marathon.
We put out a few little "nibbles" to accompany the dynamite 2003
bottling of Roederer Estate's "L'Ermitage" bubbly.
This was a wonderful bottle of sparkling wine...one of the few California
bottlings which, in my opinion, can be compared to good French Champagnes.
In fact, Giuseppe later asked what I thought of the wine and I told him...
"Yes, I agree. It IS really good sparkling wine!"
And keep in mind, the Vajras make a rather nice bubbly in Piemonte, a blend of
Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.
Giuseppe was in pretty good condition following the long journey from
home...first to Torino, then Paris before landing at S-F-Okay!
That's Giuseppe on the left and wine importer Justin Gallen on the right.
Our little pal Chewie was interested in some of the nibbles, particularly the
prosciutto (wrapped around some asparagus, which was not at all interesting to
the little fellow).
We had a nice little program planned for this evening...
So we sat down at the dinner table and I brought out two bottles of German
The Vajras make good dry Riesling in Piemonte, as Giuseppe's professorial father
has a passion for good wine, Piemontese or otherwise.
He planted a bit of Riesling and they make a wine that's totally
captivating. It usually starts out innocently enough and in an unassuming
fashion. You might not pay much attention to it at first...but when it
gets some time to breathe and maybe warm up, now it's a real charmer.
I've been really impressed with the Wittmann wines the past year, or so.
So we had a bottle of a 2008 Westhofener, a wine made up of fruit from three
sites in their home village and vinified dry.
And we had a 2010 "first growth" (Grosses Gewächs)
from the Morstein site.
And we had a little salad mix of Arugula and Mâche
which we topped with a bit of smoked trout. It's a really good combination
and Riesling seems to pair handsomely with this.
The Westhofener 2008 was mildly peachy and brightly fruity. I felt it had
pretty good acidity, but was showing itself as a nicely developed bottle.
It's difficult to imagine this wine blossoming much further, but it will
probably last a few more years.
The Morstein 2010 certainly overshadowed the 2008. It was younger,
brighter, bigger, more complex, deeper and simply a grander wine. But I
would be happy with either one and both on the table at the same time made for a
Everyone hoisted a glass and we toasted Giuseppe and his return to The Golden
next course was Petrale Sole. I wanted to prepare something to accompany a
French white Burgundy.
Simply prepared with a dredging in flour, an egg wash and then panko.
It was served on some micro-greens with a squeeze of lemon and a little morsel
of avocado on the side.
We opened a 1999 Morey-Coffinet Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru "Les
Caillerets" and this was a rather fine accompaniment.
We've heard all sorts of talk about French white Burgundies being prematurely
oxidized, but this bottle was in top condition. They used plenty of new
oak for the wine, but I felt this was not an issue as the toasted panko coating
of the Petrale worked well in tandem with the wine.
Mark had been required to labor on Labor Day and he had business meetings to
attend to when we started, but he caught up during the fish course.
We had placed a fresh jar of Kimchi at Connie's place-setting, since she's a big
fan of that Korean delicacy.
Justin inquired about this and Connie offered to share a taste with him, hoping
to enlarge the Kimchi Fan Club.
Justin offered a taste with Giuseppe who knew, apparently, to approach this
nuclear preparation with caution.
As you can see, it registered about a 6-point-oh on the Kimchi Scale with
It seemed to hit 6-point-three on Giuseppe's Taste-O-Meter.
And there was even an "after-shock."
Luckily there was some good wine to cleanse his poor palate!
All of us then had a palate-cleansing Granita...
This was made with Vajra Moscato d'Asti and enhanced with a bit of fresh lime
juice and chopped cilantro...
Justin was quickly able to recover from his Kimchi Over-Dose.
And the chef was able to cool off momentarily with this bit of
gastronomic "air conditioning."
After decanting a couple of 1985 reds, we got busy to serve
the main course.
Connie prepared a Ratatouille in the form of a Tian Provençal.
We had some Oven Roasted Potatoes, too.
I prepared a Mushroom Tart, too.
Portabellas, Porcini and Chanterelles sautéed in a truffle butter...
Grilled Lamb T-Bones and one hungry pup...
Giuseppe Vaira is of the 1985 "vintage," so we opened two wines from
the same year.
Domaine de Chevalier comes from the Graves-Léognan area. And the estate
was enlarged in 1985 with the acquisition of neighboring vineyards.
Caymus, of course, is a famed Napa Valley Cabernet producer.
The Chevalier showed classic Bordeaux notes...a whiff of cedar and red fruits on
the nose. It was dry and moderately acidic, with a touch of tannin.
It's certainly on a plateau at this stage, having reached its peak.
There's plenty of life left in the wine, though. It was thoroughly
delicious with the lamb.
The Caymus initially showed woodsy notes and dark fruit. As it aired, the
wine seemed to come closer to resembling the Bordeaux, with cedar tones.
It was perhaps a shade fuller in body (a far cry from today's Caymus Cabernet,
which has high alcohol and even some residual sugar!) and maybe a bit softer
overall in terms of acidity and astringency.
Giuseppe is seen here with two 1985s and an '85 plus a decade, or so...
Following the main course, we passed around some cheese boards.
...Local cheeses...Cowgirl Creamery, Cypress Grove and Bellwether Farms.
I tried baking some breads...I think I killed the yeast during the rising (too
warm) and so the bread was denser than am I.
...of course, there was the typical wedge of Mushroom Brie on a platter hidden
amongst the local cheeses.
I wanted to share a bottle of an extraordinary Pinot Noir since Giuseppe's
family makes a pretty good one from vines they have in Piemonte.
So we opened a 2008 Joseph Roty Charmes Chambertin.
It's not merely an "old vines" bottling, but Tres Vieilles Vignes since
some of the vineyards were established in the late 1800s!
It's a remarkable wine, hugely profound and with a classic
fragrance reminding us a bit of some DRC wines.
If you ever have the chance to taste a Roty Charmes Chambertin, please don't
We found black cherries, hint of bacon, notes of vanilla and some brown spice
tones...what a great wine!
For dessert: Maple-infused waffles topped with homemade
Vanilla-Maple-Hazelnut Ice Cream.
We opened a bottle of Rotta Black Monukka wine, an oxidized sort of mahogany-colored
wine which turned out to also be fairly volatile.
I thought it might work well with the dessert, but the nail polish character of
the wine was a bit unpleasant.
We adjourned the festivities at this stage, as Giuseppe was
quite jet-lagged. Nine hours time difference and 9pm meant he was living
in a 6-in-the-morning world and lacking a good night's sleep.
The following afternoon, I drove to The City and saw Giuseppe and Justin had
pulled a few corks.
They were pouring some lovely 2010 Vajra and Baudana Barolos.
All sorts of dignitaries were there...including the Great Darrell Corti from
Young wines, to be sure, but all show good potential.
Giuseppe explained the particulars of each wine to the people in the trade
attending the tasting.
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