Saturday, January 31, 2015

Chef Hari Pulapaka's (Cress Restaurant, Deland) book launch and signing event at the Elusive Grape

Greater Orlando is blessed with a vibrant and growing foodie scene that is being fueled by innovative, young (and some not so young) chefs such as Kevin Fonzo (K Restaurant), Scott Hunnell (Victoria & Albert's), James Petrakis (Ravenous Pig), Norman Van Aken (Norman's), Brandon McGlamery (Luma on Park), Henry Salgado (Txokos Basque Kitchen), Hari Pulapaka (Cress Restaurant), and Dustin Haney (Scratch). These chefs understand their role in growing the culture in the city and work cooperatively in many areas to keep the ball moving forward.

I love the food that these gentlemen prepare and admire the effort that they are putting in. This admiration and, in the case of Chef Hari, friendship, prompted my attendance at the launch party and signing event for his first book.

In emails, and in person, Chef Hari frequently mentioned writing a book but I would smile and nod knowingly because this guy does not have time for any other activities. He is, as he says, "the hardest working man not in show business." He is a Math professor at Stetson University in Deland, a full-time chef, and he and his wife are continuously initiating and managing myriad charity events. Where would he find time to write a book? Smile and nod.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I received the announcement email regarding completion of the book and an upcoming signing ceremony to be held at the Elusive Grape. Cress would be closed for the evening to allow Hari to give his full attention to the persons who showed their support by purchasing the book.

Subsequent Hari emails notified recipients that the event was sold out. In order to gain a close-in parking, we arrived way before the scheduled start time and that strategy was rewarded with a spot just outside the Elusive Grape back door. We parked and walked through the establishment to the front where attendees were being registered. Names were checked off on a list after which you were presented with a copy of the book, a T-shirt, and a glass of wine.

After registration, I re-entered the building, found a nice spot, and settled in for the long haul. As I looked around the crowded room, filled with smiling well-wishers, each with one or more of Hari's books clutched tightly under their arms, I thought how fitting it was that this milestone in Hari's life was being celebrated here at the Elusive Grape. Because these two entrepreneurs, and their respective establishments, are the culturotainment lifeblood/infrastructure of the city. They have taught the residents what to expect and demand -- in terms of high-quality food, wine, and social atmosphere -- and they have ensured that they themselves deliver to this self-defined bar.

After a while I began thumbing through the book. It was titled Dreaming in Spice. I would later get to know that 200 copies had been printed on this first run. That it had been printed locally. That the design and layout were all done by Hari. And that all the pictures were taken by Jenneffer and two other individuals. The book was primarily intended to share Hari's recipes with readers but presents them within the context of his evolving life journey, a journey which began, as detailed in the book, in the city of Bombay (now Mumbai). The book also has a section on wines (written by Jenneffer) and many of the recipes are accompanied by a banner on the bottom with suggested wine pairings.

After Harry had made the initial rounds, and signed most of the books in the room, he welcomed the attendees and thanked them for their support. He encouraged us to socialize and to partake of the hor d'oeuvres which would be passed around, recipes for which could be found in the book.

Hari exhorting, Jenneffer adoring
And fun was being had by all
It had been cold in the greater Orlando area for a while and this was the first nice evening (by Orlando standards) in a long time. So they took the party outside. Because that's what it had now become. A party. A chance for Hari and Jenneffer to sit back and enjoy themselves without having to worry about whether this plate was hot enough or if that customer was still gluten-free, etc.

Hari and Dustin Haney (Scratch)
Bram and Geraldine Fowler (longtime Orlando Chefs)
Two of my favorite chefs in town
Sposa, Fred, and the boys from Scratch
As per usual, the 4 of us were the last to leave the building
A great night was had by all. Friendships restored and/or re-invigorated. The cameraderie of Deland residents was on full display as well as their responsiveness to, and support of, the Pulapakas. I plan on reviewing the book on this site sometime in the future.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Iconic Swiss Varietals tasting: Leyvraz St-Saphorin Grand Cru Les Blassinges 2012

Paolo Basso has consistently been one of the world's best sommeliers and has two World's Best Sommelier awards (2010 and 2013) as official recognition of that standing. I had never had the opportunity to meet him, or attend one of his tastings, so I jumped at the opportunity to register for a tasting titled Iconic Swiss Varietals that he would be hosting at the DWWC 2014 Conference in Montreux, Switzerland.

The tasting was scheduled for the final day and would be the last official event before the Grand Finale Dinner at the Montreux Casino. The high level of interest and participation in the Grand Tasting (hosted by Jancis Robinson and Dr. José Vouillamoz) and the subsequent Rare Swiss Varietals tasting (hosted by Dr. Vouillamoz) had pushed the Paolo Basso tasting way behind schedule and placed him in the position of being between attendees and their drinks. But when I got into the room, there he was sitting unfazed and calmly waiting for everyone to put in their appearance so he could get started. And that calmness and cool efficiency pervaded the entire tasting. It was truly a wonder to behold. One of the highlights of the conference for me.

Due to my lack of familiarity with the wines, producers, and regions from which the grapes are drawn, rather than provide the tasting notes en masse, I will cover each of the wines in a separate post and then provide the tasting notes at the conclusion of that treatment. The full complement of the wines tasted is shown in the picture below.

The first wine tasted was the Pierre-Luc Leyvraz St.-Saphorin Grand Cru Les Blassinges 2012, a white wine made from Chasselas grapes grown in the Blassinges plot of AOC Lavaux in the Vaud canton of Switzerland.

First the AOC. AOC Lavaux is an 800-ha vineyard stretching from Montreux to Lausanne -- the largest contiguous vineyard plot in Switzerland -- whose vertiginous vineyard terraces have merited inclusion (2007) on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

St-Saphorin is a section within the larger vineyard with calcareous loamy soil that rests on a base of chalky rock comprised of pebbles joined by sandstone cement. Pierre-Luc farms 3.5 ha of vines in St.-Saphorin, 2.8 ha of which is planted to Chasselas. The 3.5 ha is distributed between 10 non-contiguous plots, one of which is Les Blassanges.

Chasselas is the most important, and most widely planted, variety in Switzerland where it yields a light-bodied wine with good acidity and aging potential. The wine tasted was a blend of several Les Blassinges parcels.

Lees and licorice on the nose. Paolo thought that this was a typical expression of the grape and wine. A sense of RS. Weighty with slight salinity. Supple wine. Paolo though that the faint effervescence enhanced the acidity. Low-to-medium body. Round with licorice and citrus on palate. A pleasant wine with a medium to long finish.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Orlando installment of Bordeaux UGC 2015 Tasting Tour: 2012 vintage

The Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux, the organization representing the common interests of member producers, annually dispatches members to the major wine consuming regions of the world to display their latest releases for consumers and members of the trade. The 2015 US tour launched last week and, after an initial show in Houston, touched down in Orlando on Wednesday last. The Orlando event was hosted by ABC Fine Wine and Spirits and held at The Ballroom at Church Street. This was the third year in a row that I have attended the event (which was switched this year from the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel) and the disappointing attendance left me wondering whether this might have been the last hurrah.

One of the advantages of having a sparse crowd was that I got to spend much more time with the estate representatives. My strategy was to get the Rep's perspective on the vintage (2012 was on offer) and then to taste the estate's top wine to see how the vintage conditions were represented therein. My overall impression was that, while the white wines were exceptional, the reds were, in general, fruit-forward and not built for the long haul.  This was definitely not what comes to mind when I think of Bordeaux. Below I present summaries of selected conversations with Chateau representatives and impressions about the wines.

Chateau Clinet Pomerol 2012
The Chateau was represented at the event by Ronan Laborde, CEO. He said that the vintage, for his estate, was characterized by difficult flowering. The early stages of fruit development had been marred by rain and had not been too warm. This resulted in uneven flowering and inconsistent grape ripening in the vineyard. Pickers had to make three passes in order to harvest fully ripe grapes.

The resulting wine was fruit-forward (almost Napa-like), with vanilla and a hint of greenness on the palate. International in style without the associated power. Burning in throat and chest belied the nominal 13.5% abv.

Chateau La Croix St George Pomerol 2012
This Chateau and the following were represented by Jean-Philippe Janoueix. This 4.5 ha estate is situated on gravel soil which allows the grapes to ripen well in terms of both sugar and phenolics. Conditions for the 2012 vintage were not too hot and not too cold. The blend is 92% Merlot and 8% Cabernet Franc. The wine presented brooding, dark fruit with a slight greenness, chocolate, smooth tannins, a saline character, and an astringent, bitter finish.

Chateau La Confession St Emilion Grand Cru 2012
This estate is 6.5 ha in size and, according to Jean-Philippe, key words normally associated with its wines are balance and finesse. The 2012 blend is a mix of 1/3 Merlot and 2/3 Cabernet Franc which were subjected to: natural yeast vinification (6 to 9 days); cap management by pumping over and punching down, the latter with diminishing frequency the longer AF extended; 18 - 23 days post-AF maceration; malolactic fermentation, part in barrel, part in tank; and 14 - 19 months in oak. Jean-Philippe compares the 2012 vintage to 1986 which, he said, was panned initially but is still drinking well today. The wine was creamy and fruity on the nose with rich, dark fruit on the palate. Still waiting for the acidity.

Chateau Pavie Macquin St. Emilion Grand Cru 2012
According to the rep, this vintage (a blend of 84% Merlot and 14% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon) provides sensuality, less acid, smoothness, purity of fruit, and approachability. The vines are grown on a limestone plateau which is overlain with red clay. I saw the wine as presenting ripe, dark fruit, licorice, and spice, being acid deficient, and having a somewhat woody finish.

Chateau Leoville-Poyferre 2012
Estate represented at this event by Anne Cuvelier, co-owner. According to Anne, 2012 was a late vintage, the latest that they have started picking since 1983. They started late because they were waiting for phenolic ripeness. In this vintage they do not have the tannins they would normally have nor the yields (34 hl/ha versus a desired 45 hl/ha). In her view, the 2012 vintage was reminiscent of 2008.  They now have a reverse-osmosis machine and have been utilizing cold maceration since 2010. They had to use all of their techniques, technology, and knowhow to get the most out of this vintage. The blend was 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot. The wine was juicy and fruity with notes of oak, leather, and coffee.  Dark fruits on palate with significant alcohol burn on the finish.

Chateau Pape Clement 2012
The estate experienced a nice summer and then a very bad period during harvest. Not a good situation for Cabernet Sauvignon as the rain diluted the concentration of the fruit. They picked a fair amount of water-logged grapes. They normally shoot for a 50/50 blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon but the 2012 vintage was 53% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1 % Petit Verdot. According to the Rep, if you compare the 2011 and 2012 vintages, you will note that 2011 is structure-driven while the 2012 is Melot-driven and, as a result, is round, delicate, and drinking now. I found the wine to have rich black fruit, with a little green, and notes of turpentine and mahagony. Lacks concentration. Atypical Pape Clement nose. I am normally a big fan of this label but not so much for the 2012.

Chateau Lynch-Bages Blanc 2013
Malou Le Sommer represented the Lynch-Bages label at this event. The wine was a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (2/3) and Semillon (1/3) and was vinified 50% in tanks and 50% in oak. It was subsequently aged for 12 months in 50% new oak. The wine was very aromatic with guava, nesberry, lemom-lime and some tropical fruits on the nose. Bright, brambly with a long, dry finish. I liked this wine a lot and was amazed at the QPR. I bought a case.

Chateau Lynch-Bages Pauillac 2012
Malou indicated that the 2012 vintage had a very cool spring and hot August. The harvested fruit was mature but lacked concentration. In her view this a is a "charming vintage without power" and is made to be drunk; and soon. They had to handle every aspect of winemaking gently and tenderly in order to come out with the wine they eventually did. Everything was fragile.

The nose did not present the rich, coconut-oiliness that I have come to associate with Lynch-Bages. The wine presented big, thick, dark fruit, cassis, and licorice and was weighty on the palate. Lacking in acidity though.

Chateau Domaine de Chevalier Blanc 2012
The second of the three whites I tasted at the show. All three wines were very good but they all had distinctly different characters. While the Lynch Bages and this wine had the same blend (percentages and varieties), where the Lynch-Bages was bright and springy, this was a more muted wine; and weightier (It should be noted that the L-B is a younger wine). But excellent nonetheless. This wine was vinified (natural yeasts) and aged in 1/3 new oak barrels. Green papaya, lemons and gooseberry on the nose. Great weight on the palate. Length of finish. Has used its 1 year advantage over L-B well and, if a roadmap as to what I can expect from the L-B in a year, I have made an excellent purchase. This is annually one of the best Blancs in this price range coming out of Bordeaux. This vintage did not disappoint.

Chateau Smith Haut-Lafitte Blanc 2012
The estate was represented by its Sales Director, Ludovic Fradin. This wine is a blend of (90% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Sauvignon Gris and 5% Semillon. It shows herbs, spices, vanilla and citrus notes and is elegant, smooth, and refined on the palate. Balanced, with a long, fresh finish.

Chateau Brane-Cantenac 2012
This estate was represented by Marie-Hélène Dussech, Sales Director. Marie-Hélène indicated that they grow on 40% of the plateau and also have some vines on the slope. The plateau-grown grapes are the ones that make it into this wine. Thick, rich dark fruit on the nose with herbs, cassis, and a savoryness. Delicate, balanced, with a long, elegant, silky finish.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron 2012
The estate was represented by its Technical Director Jean-René Matignon. The wine is a blend of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remainder Merlot. According to Jean-René, conditions were unstable during much of the growing season but stabilized towards the end. Yields were pretty low and they had to apply strict selection in order to come away with quality fruit.

The wine exhibited very ripe dark fruit with rich cassis. Levels of acidity which was rare for the wines on display tonight. Bordeaux on the palate but not as robust as I would have liked. Thin finish.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Birthday Dinner at Half Moon's Sugar Mill Restaurant (Rose Hall, Jamaica)

When I left you last, we had arrived at Sugar Mill Restaurant and had made our way to the seating area for Joy's Birthday dinner. I broke off the narrative at that time due to concerns about the length of the piece. This new post allows us to continue on a clean sheet of paper.

After Parlo and Joy had completed the tablescape, Joy assigned seats by placing name tags adjacent to each setting. Four members of our party had still not arrived but we went ahead and took our assigned seats anyway. The server responsible for our table introduced herself, the Assistant Server, and the Wine Steward and then distributed food menus. Joy wanted me to select the wines so she motioned the Wine Steward in my direction.

The wine list was professionally bound in green leather and the pages were laminated. I flipped through the pages quickly to size it up, saw that it merited careful study, and so went back to the beginning to give it the attention it deserved. This was not a hipster-Somm wine list. It was very traditional, with representative brands from the world's major wine regions. It also had a number of labels that I did not recognize from providers with whom I was otherwise familiar. The pricing was high. For example, a Veuve Cliquot Yellow Label can be bought in most US restaurants for between $90 and $160; at Sugar Mill it was $280. But, it is a high-end restaurant in a country which sees wine as a luxury item and taxes it as such. Pricing notwithstanding, the presence of a modern wine cellar, and the dialed-in wine list, were early indicators that I was in for a treat  that evening.

So, I was in the position of ordering wines for the table but Joy was paying the bill. Keeping that in mind, I muted my natural tendencies and ordered a 2014 Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc from NZ for the white and the 2011 Lapostolle Cuvee Alexander Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile for our red.

The initial wine service was excellent and those high standards were maintained throughout the course of the evening. It was especially satisfying to receive Victoria and Albert's and Enoteca Pinchiorri levels of wine service in the Jamaican hills. The wine steward (Eric Facey) brought the bottle to my seat, presented the label to ensure that he had brought what i had ordered, opened the wine after receiving my approval, and poured at the perfect level into my glass for me to taste (By the way, the glassware was truly befitting of a high-end, wine-friendly restaurant.). After I nodded approval, he went to the female diners and asked if they were drinking whites. If they were, he carefully and professionally poured the appropriate amount into the glass. He then went around the table again, picking up the men this time. Once he had poured every other diner, he topped my glass up to a similar level. Once that bottle was finished, he brought me a new glass so that I could taste, and approve of, the second bottle prior to its deployment in the field. And so on and so on.

Eric provided superb service and had an excellent tableside manner. The Sauv Blanc that he served up exhibited papaya, guava, and sweet white fruit notes, bright acidity, and a dusky, sour finish.

The missing members of our party still had not shown up (truly working on island time) but we had stalled for as long as we could. The show had to commence. I signaled to the Assisitant Server and he began to circle the table with a basket containing breads (wheat, bean, Rosemary), Bami (a cassava flatbread), and Festival (slightly sweet corn meal fritter) and accompanying condiment choices (Escovitch Sauce, Olive Oil, Pumpkin Cream Cheese).

The food menu (which we had been perusing over this period) ran to two pages and the food choices presented therein were described as "Simply Contemporary Caribbean." It contained all of the meat choices you would expect to find in a high-end international restaurant except that these offerings would be enhanced by "all of the Caribbean's rich influences" and "mouth-watering melange of flavours." Regular menu offerings were supplemented with a number of announced specials.

I ordered a Seafood Chowder as my first course. It was built around a seafood and mixed-vegetables puree thickened with cornstarch. It was served at the perfect temperature. It was of a medium texture and pretty tasty. The Sauv Blanc soared on these wings. Parlo ordered a Romaine Heart Salad which was garnished with a Creamy Garlic Plantain Sauce, Jerk Cashew Nuts, and Breadfruit Croutons. I had to taste it whether I wanted to or not. It was excellent.

The missing guests showed up around this time and we were, of course, very understanding about the fact that they had missed the bus at Paul's home and were on the order of 1 hour late for the start of dinner. They had a lot of catching up to do because the wine had already begun to fuel the conversation. We were feeling good about where we were, why we were here, the quality of the food we had had so far, and the excellent service. It was all good. And darkness was beginning to fall, yielding the added magic of dining under the stars.

The Assistant Server showed up again, this time with an Eggplant Bruschetta palate cleanser, compliments of the Chef.

For my main course I ordered the Rack of Lamb. My tablemates (who were all born in-country) fell out laughing saying that I would be getting Rack of Goat. I asked the Server to check with the Chef as to the source of the Lamb and she came back saying Australia. Medium-rare please. When delivered, the Lamb was accompanied by Homemade Mashed Potatos and Roasted Vegetable Chunks (Carrots, Turnips, Sweet Potatos). Awesome texture, taste, and temperature. Paired admirably with the Cabernet Sauvignon, a dark, fruity red with vanillin notes, a spiciness, drying tannins and a saline aftertaste.

The restaurant had filled up around us by this time (remember we had started relatively early). Most of the patrons were probably from the Half Moon hotel proper or from other area hotels. A number of children were dining at tables with their families. A low-key, two-piece band entertained us with some Jamaican "oldies."

But this was about Joy's birthday so they brought the cake out (she is not 7 years old). After she blew the candle out, she made a touching little speech: how lucky she was to have friends who would come all the way here to share this night with her; how loved she felt; how perfect things had been for her so far; how late her son was for the event (No she did not say the latter. I was editorializing). After which a few of us got up and told her how great she was; how much we appreciated her; and , especially, how much better the food and wine tatsed with her picking up the tab. And shade like that. After which Noel (her husband) got up and delivered a sermon (and the guy is not even a preacher). Waiter, my glass is empty.

After all the speechifying and hugging, I repaired to the wine cellar for a tour (The others repaired to the bar to resume consumption.). The cellar was not Pinchiorian or Tailleventian in size or scope but it was home to a representative sample of First Growths and other leading wines of the world. The wines were comfortably nestled in oversized slots in an appropriately chilled environment. The Somm proudly guided me from rack to rack showing me what each housed and, from time to time, he would carefully and lovingly extricate a bottle from a rack to show me a particularly important aspect of the holding. It was great and I came away happier and more fulfilled than I had been after many a plastic tour.

I joined the others at the bar. The night was still young by our standards.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Second Day of the Jamaica North Coast Birthday Bash

The first day of the Birthday Bash was awesome in its own right but the second day dialed it all the way up to 12. We did not return directly to the house after leaving Mongoose in the wee hours of the morning. Paul claimed hunger so we drove further east into the Pineapple Place section of Ocho Rios to a late-night establishment called Remicki's Gun Court. This place is the "holeyest" of holes-in-the wall and older than Methuselah. It opens its doors for business when other god-fearing establishments are closing theirs. When hole-in-the-wall restaurants get together, they speak about this place in hushed tones.

At Gun Court, the patrons are separated from the staff by iron bars and steel wires and transactions are conducted through a small opening in this barrier. The place was bereft of customers at that hour in the morning and most of the menu items had long been dispatched. We purchased from what they had available and groggily consumed it. I cannot tell you what I ate or how it tasted. It was time to go to bed.

Paul and Debbie had mumbled something about walking when we woke up but I did not think it would happen. I knocked on their bedroom door at 7:15 and they did get up. Miracle of miracles. We walked for an hour and fifteen minutes and then came back to the house and had breakfast (Paul normally hires two local "chefs" to prepare the meals that we eat at the house.). After breakfast we went to the pool to pass the time until our early evening dinner at Half Moon's Sugar Mill Restaurant in Rose Hall.

We spent about three or so hours at the pool drinking, listening to music, dancing, swimming, laughing. You know, having fun. Then it was time to head back to the ranch to prepare for the evening's festivities.

The objective of the weekend was the celebration of Joy's birthday. Joy was born in Kingston but now lives in White Plains, NY. Her initial thoughts were to host the celebration in Las Vegas but, after some discussion, she changed it to The Rock. The high point of the weekend was supposed to be dinner at Sugar Mill Restaurant, selected because it was thought by many to be the finest pure restaurant on Jamaica's North Coast. A total of 16 people were participants in the core celebrations with larger numbers attending the informal gatherings at our base of operations. Because the hotel was 45 minutes away, and the group so large, Paul had arranged for a bus to transport us to and fro. Six of us were staying at the house with the remainder at neighboring hotels. Those who were staying off-property were expected to meet us at the base at 5:00 pm so that we could comfortably make our 6:00 pm dinner reservation.

Half Moon, named for the crescent-shaped, two-mile-long beach that serves as the interface between the property and the Caribbean Sea, is one of the world's leading resorts, providing, as it has been since its founding in 1954, high-quality amenities and services to its guests. I have stayed at the property in the past and have taken advantage of its immaculate golf facility and on-property Italian restaurant. I have not, however, ever eaten at its Sugar Mill Restaurant which is located across the street and east of the main property, proximate to the golf clubhouse. I was looking forward to seeing what this restaurant had to offer.

All of the expected riders did not show up on time and after milling around for a while we decided that they would have to find their own way to the restaurant. We were on our way.

After a 45-minute ride, we arrived -- mellowed-out, yet fortified, by the two bottles of Champagne we had consumed along the way -- at the sign indicating the entry to Sugar Mill. We drove past the clubhouse on the right and on up the hill to the restaurant. The initial vista was stunning. A water-wheel to the right of the restaurant instructed as to the origin of it's name. The restaurant was arrayed to the left of the water wheel with an expansive outdoor seating area strikingly positioned to its left. Stepping through the main entrance of the restaurant, we entered a foyer with a bar hanging off to its left and a wine cellar to its right. We passed through a second doorway into a larger dining hall which itself debouched into additional dining areas to its left and right. The left entryway led to the outside dining area that was our final destination.

Joy (birthday girl) and Noel (hubby)

I will pick up the narrative of the actual restaurant experience in my next post as this one is already longer than I would like.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme