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for October, 2011

October 12, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

2011 Harvest — Days 3-6 at Alpha Omega Winery

The glorious moments of "Cold-Soak."

It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2011. I’ve been ordered by the town Doc in St. Helena to “take off” 10/11, 10/12 & 10/13 and then some. Apparently, I’ve been… overdoing it. A slight case of Vertigo and the ailments that follow have set me back. And I’m happy to have been knocked down into a chair for a few days because I realized I haven’t had a day off since June 8, 2011. Well, one day off, but I hiked Mt. St. Helena with Amanda Wells – the same Amanda Wells that happens to be married to me. Okay, listen: It’s Harvest, can you smell it? The salt air? I brought you to — wait, wrong movie. The fermentation in the air? I’ve brought you to Napa Valley!

Harvest work ain’t easy work and the hours are not for us, good-natured humans, to decide when the grapes are ready to come on down! Just as an example you can see what Ram’s Gate Winery went through for the harvest of their first ton of Chardonnay grapes. At Alpha Omega, we experienced a day where 23 tons of grapes had to be pressed with the juice of whites going into stainless steel tanks and the reds going into barrels for an extended cold-soak maceration. Now, what in the good name of Grape Juice is “cold-soak” and “maceration?” Good questions. After spending three days doing punch-downs of the cold-soaking macerated juice and grapes I asked winemaker Jean Hoefligger what this “nonsense” is all about. I said “nonsense” and here’s what he said more or less:

Jean: We cold-soak for an extended period of time because when the grapes are not fermenting and with the absence of alcohol, the tannin extraction, fruit and flavor extraction works best. We can make a wine with more concentrated, nicer flavor and aroma characteristics when the exchange of flavor and aroma profiles happens in the absence of alcohol.

Alcohol can inhibit and effect flavor and aroma, and so before the yeasts even think about turning sugar to booze, cold-soak is the way of this wayward winemaker. What that means for me and the rest of the cellar team hour and hours of punch-downs:

Punch-downs - juice is bubbling from the dry ice we add to keep the temperature down and hence prohibit fermentation.

We'll spend 5 minutes on each barrel, punching down the caps. That's 5 minutes per barrel on all these barrels, and apparently, I'm told , "This ain't nothin'." Well, I'd love to see what "something" is because this "nothing" is pretty intense. About 5-6 hours of work if alone.

***

Wine Connoisseur: “This wine has a nose of graham cracker and toast!”

Me: “Who’re you fooling buddy? It’s grapes! Grapes! Ain’t no toast or crackers in that!”

Wine Connoisseur: “I tell you, Jonny, there’s graham cracker.”

Me: “Prove it.”

Wine Connoisseur: “Surely, take a look at the photo below…”

Inside of a new Oak Barrel -- looky that toast!

If you were to stick your head into that barrel, as I did just after snapping this shot, you’d smell, so help me bloody merry, graham cracker and toast. And what a delightful smell too! But you see, good wino, that’s a reality and in a red you might just find that the aromas blend in such a way that you think you’re drinking a glass full o’ s’mores.

***

The Rain has been a’comin.’ On lunch break just last week (10/5) sunny, cook skies gave way to an instantaneous rain storm that looked like this:

Rain.

Not sure what this means for many growers, but as they say, we’ll find out. And I’ll let you know. So, we spent time inside recording the temperatures of the cold-soaking goodness.

13.1 degrees in the Celsius. Stable and good. Carry on! (Tastes great! Sweet!)

The forecast calls for more sunny days though. I’ll pick up cellar work next week. In the meantime, tune back in tomorrow as I’ll write about a dinner party hosted with Tim West of Grub.ly in a mansion at the top of Lombard Street in San Francisco, a Harvest dinner at Quintessa, and a partridge in a pair…

 

October 6, 2011 1 comment Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

The Noble Rot and Google Bring About Revolution

Left to right: Christine Wells, Greg Grossman, Rob McCue, Michael Cirino, Jonny Cigar. The Noble Rot Presents: The Culinary/Libation Revolution in collaboration with Google. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

On Tuesday, September 27th, 2011, just days before the New York Food and Wine Festival the Noble Rot teamed up with Google Places to present a revolutionary event: The Culinary/Libation Revolution.

This was the big idea: discuss the prevalent culinary and libation movement sweeping our nation dinner table by dinner table. What movement, Jonny? Why the very movement that in recent year has seen the uprising of supper clubs and inventive chefs, the uses of “modern cookery” in the home kitchen, an emphasis on local, fresh, organic ingredients, the use of liquid nitrogen! and sous-vide cooking techniques, the madness of the wine trade and the emergence of thousands of brands trying to carve out a niche in organic, biodynamic boutique productions. Why man, the list goes on and on! Why woman, the list goes up and up!

40 terrific people were granted a ticket to this event. They worked hard, writing reviews of food and drink establishments in NYC. They were rewarded with lively entertainment, which thrilled and revived the senses.

Amanda and Leiti posing with Swanson Vineyards 2009 Pinot Grigio. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

The incentive to win a coveted spot fell on the chance to hear from and meet our panel of super-star guests. I invited Michael Cirino (a razor, a shiny knife), Cathy Erway (Not Eating Out in NY) and Rob McCue (celeb Chef from Hell’s Kitchen) to take part in a discussion at the top of the evening. We created a mini-theater inside 16 Beaver Street Studios in downtown Manhattan and engaged in wild conversation, which we recorded as our inaugural “Noble Rot Talks” podcast. You are encouraged to listen by visiting: www.thenoblerot.com/podcast

Left to right: Michael Cirino, Rob McCue, Jonny Cigar, host of Noble Rot Talks podcast series. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Cathy Erway sadly was pulled away last minute to Germany for some kind of beer thing and who wouldn’t pass up a beer thing in Germany, ya know? Conversation with Michael and Rob was thoroughly engaging, though Mr. Cirino was a bit antagonistic, which is his per usual. That’s why we love Michael. Or perhaps we love his mustache. Either way, think of it like this: Cathy has authored a book called, “The Art of Eating In” and thus her world revolves around not eating out; preparing meals at home using fresh locally-sourced ingredients. She is an absolute locavore. Michael’s cooking focuses on the use of modern techniques, i.e., sous-vide, vacuum marinating, thickening agents and frighteningly long words to describe salt. Rob McCue is a celebrity chef from season eight of Hell’s Kitchen, who admits that he, “Went through hell,” battling it out on the program. McCue’s hell however is distinctly sandwiched between Cirino and Erway’s culinary realities. As a contestant on Hell’s Kitchen, Rob performed under intense stress and pressure in a national spotlight. Reality cooking shows have inspired a “think-fast” society of foodies, where chefs are challenged to use only the ingredients that are available on the chopping block. This kind of cooking requires a talent that spans a mastery of home cooking to working in a fast-paced professional kitchen. McCue has to be able to perfectly execute a meal for two or two hundred where consistency is the mark of his skill.

I certainly missed having Cathy’s take, but Rob and Michael provided a brilliant dialogue and guests were entertained by the notion that modern cooking is a bit on the dark side right now and simple cooking with that focus on fresh and local is representative of the lighter side of this revolution.  I posited the notion that inventive supper club cooks and chefs are helping pave the way for change in the way Americans approach the dinner table. The more people engage online, sharing and talking about their food and drink experiences at these clubs, with impassioned bravado, the more pop culture Chefs are having to sit up and pay attention. That kind of interaction is changing the way many Chefs approach food service in their restaurant spaces.

Noble Rot Chef, Christine Wells and assistant Greg Grossman, helped to execute the menu below, which was designed by Mr. Rob McCue. They did a stellar job. The food was revolutionizingly delectable.

Le Menu. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Alright, Jonny! All this food talk!?!? What about the wine? I know. I know. But here’s the deal: food and wine go together like a horse and buggy. Ya know? Food is augmented by wine and wine is transformed by food. Do not, young squire, get me wrong: I absolutely love to drink wine on its own – but I really love wine when it is shared over a meal and over good conversation. And wine elevates conversation just as it does the meal.

We poured wine from Swanson Vineyards, where I’m currently hosting “Salon” tastings as part of my #Harvest experience. Winemaker Chris Phelps makes structured wines that have bright acidity and fabulous mouth-feel. We tasted his 2009 Oakville Pinot Grigio ($21),  2007 Oakville Merlot ($38) and a late harvest Chardonnay called Tardiff ($80). We also poured a 2009 Shaya, old-vine Verdejo Spanish white wine ($12), and a Portuguese white, the 2009 Gazela Vinho Verde ($6).

The lovely Laura Huben poses with Swanson Vineyards Late Harvest Chardonnay "Tardiff." Photo by Katie Sokoler.

In the light vs dark scenario, price was our focus for the wines and people enjoyed the $6 Vinho Verde as much as they enjoyed the $38 Merlot. Yes, we’re talking apples to oranges with respect to the wine, but in terms of enjoyment, the feeling was mutual. The Merlot paired beautifully with a rich, sous-vide Short Rib and generated moans of absolute satisfaction while the Gazela was the perfect sipping wine that we poured during the podcast recording and gave people a certain kind of pep in their walk.

To my great satisfaction a dear friend, really a criminal, performed a few musical numbers that inadvertently involved…me. Mr. Jonathan Samson – perhaps one of the most talented musicians I know – and who teaches music therapy to children, is himself a child of notorious proportions. Well, apparently so am I. So we entertained ourselves and several people who were watching from five feet away, while others continued to drink and be merry in the recesses of the room.

You had to be there to understand this. Jonathan Samson ladies and gent. Photo by Katie Sokoler.

Many thanks to Google Places and our friend Esther Brown for inspiring us to host this event. Check them out on Twitter and Facebook.

I’ll be back in New York as of November 2. Until then, you can “tune in” each Wednesday to hear another Noble Rot Talks podcast — which will very shortly (hopefully by next Wednesday) be available via iTunes, where yee may subscribe and listen upon yer leisure.

Finally, I’d love to see some comments and thoughts from you good readers about your take on the “light and dark” side of the current state of our culinary and libation based affairs. Cheers – Jonny. All photos by Katie Sokoler.

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