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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:

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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September 1, 2011 2 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

It was #CabernetDay with Cook With James and The Noble Rot

The Cabs we "sipped"

The Second Annual Social Media blitzkrieg, “#CabernetDay” hit Twitter feeds, Facebook posts, Tumblr pages and the whites of our teeth across this country on Thursday, September 1st. The Twitter Sphere was alive with consumers, wineries, brand ambassadors and people like James Stolich (Cook With James) and I touting and conversing about the king of all grapes: Cabernet. Briefly, you may be keen to know that Cab was not the king of grapes pre-phylloxera. That was Malbec. However Malbec didn’t graft well to the new American Rootstock being planted in France after Phylloxera, and so it settled into the role of tiny percentages in Bordeaux blends. Well, maybe there’ll be a #MalbecDay soon. We’ll have to ask Rick Bakas – the chap behind this global call to action.

We had a great time hosting an evening of 25 San Franciscans (some communists, some Philistines, and the rest naturalists). James dished out an incredible family-style meal, detailed below in the wine pairings we came up with. James is a hell of a cook and offers classes as well as fanciful dinners for small groups. I met James when he was one of the chaps cooking for the Michelin Guide Red Book release party at the Clift Hotel last October out here in SF. This time, James and I teamed up to host at his fabulous apartment in Ashbury Heights.

The Cabs we tasted/guzzled were:

  • 2007 “Alexis” Swanson Vineyards Cab Sauv (Oakville) $75
  • 2007 Kelly Fleming Cab Sauv (Calistoga) 100% Cab Sauv, 850 cases produced – $90
  • 2007 Mueller Family Vineyards Cab Sauv (Diamond Mtn), 100% Cab Sauv, 168 cases produced – $48
  • 2007 The Terraces Cab Sauv (Napa Valley) 95.23% Cab Sauv, 2.38% Malbec, 2.38% Petite Sirah, 465 cases produced –  $48
  • 2008 Taken Cab Sauv (Napa Valley) $30
  • 2005 Smith-Madrone Cab Sauv (Spring Mtn) 82% Cab Sauv, 9% Merlot, 9% Cab Franc – 1,459 cases produced – $45 (photo below)

Last but not least.

And what, good reader do you want to know about these cabs? Well, let me say this: we all enjoyed the different styles of these Cabs. Smith-Madrone was the most like a Bordeaux-style Cab and certainly has had more time to mellow into itself, with soft and round tannins. Taken had great acidity and paired nicely with James’s creamy burrata with Dirty Girl Farm tomatoes. Mueller was a treat on its own — the scotch drinkers Cab I call it. Alexis and the 5 Dot Ranch braised beef (one of James’ specialties) left us all on the floor, singing gospels songs to praise the pairing. Kelly Fleming was as enchanting as you might imagine the actual Kelly to be, and I can attest as I’ve met her and toured the Kelly Fleming caves dug into Mt. St. Helena. The Terraces sipped with crostini of eggplant caponata transported us all to the high holy days of Rome. Why Rome? Why not?

Check out The Terraces fruit!

The Terraces

The Terraces

James is old pals with Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist), and Craig graced our party with his presence. A delightful chap who I thoroughly enjoyed conversing with!

Craig Newmark (Craigslist) and Jonny Cigar on #CabernetDay 2011

And there was a surprise of the evening: JAQK Cellars. A delightful gal named Kelsey brought along a stylish cab of immense taste and weight. I loved the packaging and so would any fellow bootlegger/gambler. Check this stuff out:

JAQK Cellars "22 Black" - the bottles is a damn roulette wheel!!! And we tasted through a vertical: 2006, 07 08. The 2007 rocked us.

The rest of the photos can do the talking below. This week coming up on Winetology: my first experience hosting solo the Salon Tastings at Swanson Vineyards, updates on the launch of the Noble Rot Talks podcast, a recent trip to the Hill Family Estate farm and mucho vino moro.

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August 10, 2011 0 comments Articles & Reviews, By Jonathan Cristaldi

Hiking: Mount St. Helena & Robert Louis Stevenson

A Madrone Tree near the Summit of Mount St. Helena

“Let’s go hiking,” I said.
“That would be great,” said Daisy, my wife. (To protect her identity I’m calling her “Daisy”).
“Will you pack my copy of The Great Gatbsy?” I asked.
“No,” said Daisy. And just like that, we were off to the mountaintops.

If you’ve never hiked five miles up a mountain, you may not think about the fact that you’ll then hike five miles down the mountain. It is simply one of those thoughts that doesn’t set in until you realize no helicopter will be landing anytime soon on the summit to portal you down to champagne and caviar along, say, the Napa River. Okay. Fair enough. I’m still feeling the post-hike-ache as I type this, three days later.

On Sunday, I took a break from panning for gold out here in these here hills and Daisy and I packed a lunch (from the Oakville Grocery – we spent $234.45 on sandwiches, chips and water) and then drove north on Highway 29 toward Calistoga. Passing through the town, famous in the earlier part of the last century because of its springs – the wealthy consumed with consumption came to breathe in the fog and soak in the springs – we arrived about ten minutes later at a small clearing in the woods, a decent drive up Mount St. Helena where a plaque told us we were now in “Robert Louis Stevenson State Park.”

From there we locked the car and put our valuables in the trunk – a place no car thief would ‘er think to look! Onward!

Trail of the ages.

A brief lull at the place where (supposedly) Robert L. Stevenson and his faithful wife and entourage lived in an abandoned cabin that used to be living quarters for the mine-workers who were diligently digging for gold and such before Stevenson arrived in the valley. He too suffered from ailments of the mind, body and spirit and so the mountain was the right place for him. I cannot imagine how they trekked up there – though you can read about it in Silverado Squatters – still, seeing the terrain and thinking about the lack of freshly paved highway and easily navigable, well-trodden trails, must have been… interesting for them all.

On the site where RLS once lived.

The hike was reinvigorating. The air smelled sweet. The views were magnificent and I was humbly put in my place: we’re small people living in this big world and ya know what else? Our activities, our needs, our wants, our expectations are just as insignificant – at least they were for the twenty minutes Daisy and I peered out over the California landscape from atop a volcano that, at some point in time millennia ago spewed forth molten rock and left for us a mound to mine and climb. How thoughtful.

Daisy peers out over the California Landscape.

Jonny Cigar: a pensive man.