Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas In Paris At The Saltbox Café.

 Welcome to The Saltbox Café's 
 last 6-course wine-paired dinner for 2016 -
Christmas in Paris.

The menu is the creation of Chefs Amanda and Randolph Sprinkle.
Special Guest Chef is Josh Naser.
Our servers are Mike Dinkle and Lindsey Lafferty.
Special thanks to Kelly and Craig from Artisan Wine Merchant.

Tonight's Super Saltbox Crew.
Mike, Amanda, Josh, Randolph, and Lindsey.
April, we missed you!

I'll explain a little about the wines
(All inaccuracies mine.),
but I'll give you pictures of the food.
Really, that's all you need.

Course 1:
Course 1:  Crisp Chèvre cheese with fig and caramelized onion jam paired with Chateau Petit Roubie Picpoul de Pinet 2014.

Craig's List:  This is an appellation that has gained more status over the past 10 years or so.   It is an appellation located on the Mediterranean Sea, north of the Spanish border, in the Languedoc region.  This is where the best Mediterranean oysters and mussels come from.  This is grown mostly in limestone soil with a sand and clay mixture.  Anytime you have limestone in the soil, you're going to have a nice minerality in the wine.

 Picpoul de Pinet is a large appellation and it's mostly co-ops making the wine - lots of farmers selling to one central location and everything being blended.  This wine is vinified in stainless steel to retain freshness.  This is a true family-owned château. Floriane and Olivier Azan have owned the winery since 1981 and have organically farmed since 1985 and place special emphasis on sustainable farming.

 Picpoul is the grape.  Pinet is the place, a small town (population 1300) which would have been totally unknown if it wasn't for the great white wine produced there from the Picpoul grape.  This wine is perfect for the Outer Banks - a classic pairing is with fresh seafood and shellfish.

Randolph's Menu:  The really nice minerality and acidity of the Picpoul pairs beautifully with seafood.  That's why we didn't do seafood.  (Ahh, Randolph.  You're doing it again!  The old bait and switch.  I like it!)  We're doing a nice fried Chèvre (French goat cheese) with a fig and onion relish on top and a really light vinaigrette and a little bit of bib lettuce.  The idea here is that the acidity and tartness of the Chèvre should pair very nicely with the minerality of the Picpoul.

Rosie's Ramblings:
That is all.
Course 2:
Course 2:  Crabe velouté en croute paired with Domaine des Granges Macon-Fuisse 2015.


Craig's List:  Our next wine is Domaine des Granges Macon-Fuissé 2015.  This is a fourth generation grower, Yannick Paquet. Yannick studied viticulture and oenology, then went to work at the "family domaine alongside his father in the famous village of Fuissé.  Yannick is painstakingly conscientious in the vineyard so he can bring in fully ripe and spotless grapes.  His rigorous standards continue into the cellar where he vinifies the parcels separately and uses only the best tanks in the final assembly of the cuvées.  All the vineyards are sustainably farmed in order to protect the environment and only indigenous yeasts are used to ferment.  These wines are delicious and classic with an emphasis on showcasing the calcaire rich soils of the vineyards while presenting crisp yet ripe orchard fruits.  Fermented in 100% stainless steel, this wine comes from the heart of the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation but from higher altitude vineyards which were never classified as Pouilly-Fuissé."   
The Pouilly-Fuisse appellation is the most famous area within the Macon which is in Burgundy, south central France.  Macon-Fuissé is the greater appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé.  All of the vineyards of Pouilly-Fuissé are in 5 villages - Fuissé, Chaintré, Pouilly, Solutré, and Vergisson- and all on hillsides.   Everything here is a mixture of clay and limestone.  Being on the hillside, there is very little topsoil.  This is an area that has a lot of rainfall and you have great drainage here.  In the valleys, you'll run into puddles, which are not good for the grapes.  You want to stress the grapes enough so that they're always actively looking for nutrients and water and they're not creating a lot of fruit.  This naturally keeps the yield lower.  The lower the yield, the more concentration and better fruit.  Macon-Fuissé is on the top of the hillside from vineyards that were never classified as Pouilly Fuissé.  Interestingly, it's still in limestone, so you'll taste beautiful minerality.  2015 is a very good, really ripe, extracted vintage.  You get a lot of flavor in the wine, but you can taste the minerality on the backside.  This is fermented in 100% stainless steel, so there's no manipulation, just pure juice.  According to the wine notes provided, this wine has a "brilliantly focused nose of calcaire and candied tangerine blossom; ripe skin flavors and super rich mid-palate, great concentration with balanced mineral tension."

Randolph's Menu:  With this very nice, elegant Chardonnay, we decided to go with North Carolina crab meat en velouté, or "in velvet," and a really nice cream sauce, presented en croute, or in puff pastry shells.

Rosie's Ramblings:   I love a good Pussy-Fussy, but have never experienced the Macon-Fuissé until tonight.  This is a lovely wine and I'm going to get all sentimental.  This reminds me of the "rock-licking" period I went through, when I was determined to experience minerality on all its many levels.  It was a phase; I was never able to balance that "mineral tension."

Course 3:
Course 3:    Classic pork rilletes crostini and cornichons paired with Château Cornut Rosé 2015.


Craig's List:  This Château Cornut Rosé comes from the rolling slopes of southern Costière de Nîmes, from the bottom of the Rhône Valley, roughly 25 miles southwest of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. 
Châteauneuf was the first appellation in France, in 1933, and is the most famous appellation within the Rhône Valley.  This is a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah.  The soils here are mostly ancient riverbed soils with round rocks and the poor soil makes the grapes go look for nutrients.  Naturally, this is not high-yield.  Also these rocks warm up during the day and keep the maturation process going on at night, so you always have ripeness.

  The Château is owned and run by Numa and Alexis Cornut who represent the ninth generation of vigneron in the Cornut family.  The wine is made using the direct press method and vinified in stainless steel.  "The wine displays bright, high-toned raspberry and strawberry aromas and flavors.  This dry rosé has a juicy, crowd-pleasing middle palate and is enhanced with hints of wet stone and slight notes of smoky herbs through the finish."

Randolph's Menu:  This is a very interesting wine.  I like the balance, the legs, the tannins.  This wine can stand up to a little meat and fat, so I made a classic pork rillette.  A rillette is like the original paté.  What they used to do was take a pig, slaughter it, use all the different parts, and the bones were put in a pot and boiled.  The remaining meat was pulled off the bones and the stock reduced. It was all puréed and usually served in a little crock with a layer of fat on top.  We didn't have the little crock, but we had pork shoulder, ribs, and pork belly boiled down, pulled apart by hand, and put on top of toast points and served with cornichons.

Rosie's Ramblings:  I'm still looking for the "smoky herbs."

Course 4:
Course 4:  Seared duck breast, bacon and corn duck wonton, seared foie gras on cranberry orange bread paired with Domaine Palon Gigondas 2014.

Craig's List:  Domaine Palon Gigondas is a very small domaine with 7 hectares in Gigondas and 5 hectares in Vacqueras, located at the foot of the "Dentelles de Montmirail."  Despite its small size,  (The entire winery, we were told, was no bigger than the dining room at the Saltbox.) the property and owners have had a significant impact on winemaking in this area.  The Palon family has been vignerons since the 1930s, but the current owner, Sebastien Palon, representing the 4th generation of winemakers, was the first to bottle the wines under the family name starting in 2003.  Jean Palon, Sebastien's grandfather, was the president and co-founder of the Gigondas Cave Co-operative and a member of the governing board from 1956-1978.

 The Gigondas 2014 is 79% Grenache, 15% Syrah, and 6% Mourvèdre.  "The wines here are pure class that highlight precision and focus.  Sebastien achieves restrained power in his wines that showcase complex soil components as much as the juicy and ripe briary fruit and garrigue flavors. The wines exude balance."  "Garrigue," in case you didn't know, which I didn't, "refers to the low-growing vegetation on the limestone hills of the Mediterranean coast, not the limestone itself. There are a bunch of bushy, fragrant plants that grow wild there, such as juniper, thyme, rosemary and lavender, and garrigue refers to the sum of them."
"Soils are mostly calcaire and mixed clay, sand with small polished riverbed stones.  A real winner, lovely and sleek, blue and red fruits with lots of plum skin flavors and a sweet, ripe core, balanced with a good amount of garrigue spice that pushes the wine forward to the long finish." 

Rosie-Note:  The labels on the second, third, and fourth wines had Craig's name on them, so I had to ask him about that.  Turns out "Craig Baker Selections" is Craig's personally sourced collection of wines.  He works with eighteen producers right now and goes out and sources it, makes the wines, makes the blends, brings them to America, and sells them.

Randolph's Menu:  This is an Amanda-inspired course and she calls it, "Duck, Duck, Goose!:"  We have three different preparations of duck - seared duck breast, a wonton filled with shredded duck, corn, bacon, and a little bit of cheese, and the last is foie gras on cranberry orange bread, all on top of an apricot/whole grain mustard sauce with garlic and sweet cherries.

Rosie's Ramblings:  This is a superior wine.  I looked at the wine.  The wine looked at me.  I know that look.  This wine thinks he's superior to me. Could it ...  Could it be ...  the terroir???

Course 5:

Course 5:  Veal and tarragon with haricot verts and pommes dauphinoise paired with Château Cruzeau St. Emilion 2013.

Craig's List:  Now we've moved into Bordeaux, the most famous appellation in France.  It's been around for 2000-2500 years, but really became famous when the British dominated it and still today, you can see the British influence there.  Bordeaux is very different than what I deal with in the Rhône and Burgundy regions.  The guys I deal with directly are on tractors and they're farmers.  A lot of the château today are owned by aristocratic families or conglomerates.  This is the most expensive wine area in the world.  The top 100 wines of this area of Bordeaux (There are sub-zones here.) don't sell for less than $250 a bottle, so this is the collector's paradise.

Bordeaux is broken up into two separate sides - the Left Bank and the Right Bank.  The Left Bank is the Médoc and this is where you have St. Estephe, Pauillac, St.-Julien, Margaux, Graves, and Pessac-Léognan.  On the Right Bank you have Pomerol and St. Emilion.  The Right Bank is dominated by Merlot.  The Left Bank is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon.  Merlot is a softer grape than Cabernet Sauvignon.  They have the same types of flavors, but Merlot will have more red fruit and less dried fruit and softer tannins than Cabernet.  You'll get more of a velvety texture with Merlot-based wines.

 The blend for Château Cruzeau St. Emilion 2013 is 83% Merlot and 17% Cabernet Franc aged for 12 months in a combination of barrels and concrete vats.  The cement or concrete tank will retain the freshness while the barrel will give you more of that toasty vanilla character and spiciness in this wine.

From our wine notes:  "The impressive château of the Cruzeau estate was built in the 16th century.  The vines encircling the château were first planted in 1785.  The estate became the property of the Luquot family in 1907.  Since then, the family has managed the property with the objective of expressing the authentic qualities of the soil.  Today, the fourth generation continues to invest in the quality of their vineyards and in their wine.  The color of the Château Cruzeau is bright ruby with carmine streaks.  The nose is characterized by aromas of red fruits, followed by ripe fruits.  On the palate it is round and velvety, with soft tannins.  This wine is well-balanced with a soft finish."

Craig explained that the last two red wines had been chilled.  When you chill a red wine, it brings out the fruit.

Randolph's Menu:  With this Bordeaux, we decided to go with roasted veal with tarragon, served with Pommes Dauphinoise, which is equal parts mashed potatoes and pâte à choux (a French pastry dough) mixed together and fried, and haricot verts, with a slightly thickened jus.

Rosie's Ramblings: Wearing a dusky red robe, this sultry wine seduced me.  It's suppleness, vivacity, and length made it excruiating.  I was entranced.  Color me ruby.

 Course 6:

 Course 6:  Crème brulée fromage with shortbread and macadamia crust over mango coconut purée paired with Mamamango Muscat of Canelli.

Craig's List:  This is a Piedmontese Muscato from Italy infused with mango nectar from India. 
From our wine notes:  "Mamamango is a creation by Sam Assaad, owner of MISA Imports.  A deep yellow-orange color with intense mango aromas and flavors harmonize with the tropical fruit, honeysuckle, and apricot jam notes of the Moscato.  The texture is rich and creamy while finishing clean and pure mango."

I liked this description I found of this wine:  "Lively citrus notes emerge on the palate."

Randolph's Menu:  Amanda put this last dish together.  She and I had the same reaction to the Mamamango.  It was a lot softer than we expected.  Amanda did a crème brulée cheesecake, assembled a shortbread and macadamia crust underneath, and finished with a mango coconut purée.

Rosie's Ramblings: There's a genie in the bottle! I tasted artisanal spring waters with undercurrents of eft and crawdad as they danced on my palate.

Enjoy the goings-on behind the scenes:




Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
to all of the Saltbox Crew!

 For a recap of the wonderful international dinner series  at The Saltbox Café,
 please click on the links:
October 2014, we visited Spain.
November 2014, we visited Argentina.
December 2014, we visited Paris.
February 2015, we visited Chocolate. (Why yes, Chocolate is a country.)
March 2015, we visited Italy.
October 2015, we visited Germany.
December 2015, we visited Japan.
Also in December 2015, we enjoyed a Réveillon Feast.
And again in December 2015, we visited France.
February 2016, we took a road trip to California.
Also in February 2016, we visited Italy
March 9, 2016, we had a lovely visit to Chile.
March 29, 2016, we visited the Pacific Northwest.
April 20, 2016, we explored the vineyards of Oregon
September 2016, we enjoyed South Africa
October 2016, we experienced Madrid
October 2016, we traveled the Loire Region in France. 
November 3, 2016, we got to Fall In Love With Wine.
November 14, 2016, we enjoyed a Taste of Northern Italy.
Dec 1, 2016, we experienced a Night In Italy.
December 14, 2016, we savored Holiday Reds.

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