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Vol. 3: No. 196 – June 19, 2015

Wine school this month – Cava, a Spanish sparkling wine

Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times, turns to Cava this month. As usual, he suggests three wines available in New York to try.

Asimov states “Cava, like California chardonnay, has suffered from a bad reputation. Not without reason. Millions of bottles of Cava, the Catalonian sparkling wine, are sold every year, and much of it is inexpensive and not particularly good. Yet a handful of Cava producers, working conscientiously in the vineyards and diligently in the cellar, have demonstrated that it can be among the most distinctive of all sparkling wines.”

The problem for us in Ontario is that the LCBO concentrates on Prosecco as a cheaper substitute for champagne and Cava wines which are stocked here, fall into the category above of “not particularly good” (read terrible!).

Our Sommelier, Christopher Sealy points out that he has tasted some Cavas which were delicious. But when he saw the Cavas recommended by Asimov in the article, he noted that all were produced with a vintage designation displaying their year of production. When we looked at the LCBO list, all Cavas but one for sale were blends using wines from many years.

There was one Cava which the LCBO produced by a house which Asimov recommended, a Bohigas Reserva Brut Cava—VINTAGES# 401216 | 750 mL bottle. Although this was non-vintage, Christopher thought it might be good from the description. We bought a bottle on the weekend and confirmed it was delicious and a decent substitute for champagne. Consequently, if you want to taste what Asimov is talking about, look for the Bohigas. Also the wine distributor, Lifford Wine Agency, in Toronto has a few cases of Giro Ribot Cava at $18.99 a bottle, sold in a six pack. Our sommelier recommends this.

You may want to wait until you are out of the province to find something recommended by Asimov.

Here is what he says to look for:

Texture: How do the wines feel in the mouth — the quality of the bubbles and the overall body?

Aroma and Flavor: How do the Cavas compare with champagne or other sparkling wines?

With Food: Sparkling wines are so often consumed only as aperitifs. What do you think of Cava with a meal?

Ecclesiates3 is changing from monthly format

We are redoing the GEORGE website, to be launched soon. In the course of considering changes we have decided to change from publishing four or five comments once per month to publishing comments throughout the month when they are ready. We will begin this in July and one of our first comments will be our annual update on our kneadless cottage bread recipe which our baker, Shawn Gabrych has been carefully modifying each year. This year he will be suggesting that we hydrate the dough more extensively and possibly grind our own wheat, since we have tonnes of time at the cottage to mess about.

Musings on changing wine tastes

Two thoughtful articles appeared recently on changing wine styles and tastes. The first in the New York Times entitled, The Wrath of Grapes.

This is a story about how certain winemakers in California have reacted against Robert Parker inspired wines with his numerical ranking out of 100. One of the winemakers interviewed, Rajat Parr, co-owner of two wine labels, states that “he believes that (in California) the grapes are picked far too late, when they’re far too ripe, and that the resulting wine is devoid of both subtlety and freshness.” He is talking of course about the legendary and very expensive California fruit bombs which many people feel are not food friendly even though they are splendid on their own. The article goes on to describe a new wine movement in California which rejects the California standard wine maker model.

The other article published coincidentally at roughly the same time by Britain’s wine doyenne, Jancis Robinson, is entitled, Changing Tastes.

This article also takes on Parker and his influence. Also concluding that people are turning away from Parkerized wines. Robinson writes:

“Parker’s scores were so delightfully consistent (unlike mine) and the scores themselves so easy to understand and to use as a marketing tool that they came to dominate the fine wine market throughout the rapidly expanding world of wine consumers. Although he has repeatedly denied that he favours super-ripe wines, the perception became widespread among red wine producers that the formula for attracting a high Parker score, a shortcut to high prices and easy sales, was particularly ripe grapes, high alcohol and quite a lot of new oak. As Parker well knows, fine wine is much more subtle than this, and many attempts to emulate a supposed Parker Platonic ideal failed miserably. But the result, particularly in California, South America, Australia and even in some quarters of Bordeaux, Italy and the Rhône, was a rash of exaggerated, highly potent wines in which winemaking technique all but obliterated their geographical origins.”

She concludes that for every action there is a reaction. Now, wine drinkers are turning their backs on the Parker criteria and are selecting more indigenous varieties of wine picked before they are ripe which taste lighter and fresher.

We might add cheaper as well, with fine international wine prices escalating out of sight.

A find in the Cotswolds

 

On our way to Dublin to attend a friend’s birthday celebration, we stopped off in the Cotswolds just west of Oxford to walk in some of the most beautiful footpaths on earth. By chance, we stayed for 4 nights at the recently renovated Wild Rabbit Inn in Kingham. We picked it because it is owned by the Bamford family—who own Daylesford Food, the largest organic food supplier in the UK but also Chateau Leoube producing a rosé from Provence which we carry at GEORGE which for us is sublime.

The inn has 12 snug rooms with superb linen built around an English pub at the front with a light filled award-winning restaurant at the back. The food focuses on local organic seasonal supplies and the wine list was extensive and did carry Chateau Leoube products at good prices. We liked the Swedish Josper charcoal oven in the kitchen which functions as a sort of combination charcoal grill and charcoal oven. The staff were friendly and attentive supplying us with walking maps which could start in Kingham or circular walks within easy driving distance. It was affordable by English standards but with the pound nearly at 2 to 1 at the moment, our dollar did not go far.

One day, we had a delicious lunch not to be missed at Chipping Campden where the Prime Minister, Jeremy Clarkson and other British celebs live. We failed to recognize anyone but the town itself built in the 17th and 18th centuries was outstanding. Jeremy Clarkson did not confront us physically but we did encounter one very irritate resident who threatened violence when we accidentally parked on his lawn—we did not realize it was a lawn. If you are there, try the Chef’s Dozen—a beautiful restaurant specializing in local products started recently by a young couple who are making their mark in British cuisine. And British cuisine is getting better and better. All of this is only a 90 minute drive from Heathrow.

Dublin was as always fun. We stopped in for a pint of Guinness in the famous old pub Doheny and Nesbitt. This is a watering hole for politicians, writers, journalists, real estate developers etc. Who knows what nefarious deals are hatched there! As we became accustomed to the place we spotted a couple in their thirties, obviously out on a big date and could not help notice what they had ordered. Here is a pic of their meal. How did he get away with ordering so much protein?

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We ordered a similar plate and it was delicious with nary an objection from the women in our party.

Crops are late but everything is rolling out at the Food Terminal

Chef Loseto reports that prices for US produce remain very high (except for cauliflower)  at the Ontario Food Terminal because of shortages in California due to the weather there—particularly the drought. Ontario produce has started and the Chef expects that all prices will go down. There were selective shortages of some California produce like English peas. Ontario field crops are appearing including rhubarb, zucchini, zucchini flowers, radishes and spinach. Ontario English peas were available at the Terminal but some super markets are not receiving them. The Chef tells us that the ones he is buying are simply wonderful—the best so far of the Ontario crop. Ontario strawberries are available but not great yet.

The Financial Times recently produced a column on making picnics which included a view on how to prepare and serve strawberries in the Italian style. We followed the instructions with the Ontario strawberries which the Chef had pronounced so-so and the resulting dish was simple and delicious—just coat them 20 minutes before serving with a mixture of sugar soaked in lemon juice. Also, there is a dynamite recipe for an octopus salad included.

This year many Ontario farmers are growing hydroponic lettuces sold with their roots and soil intact. This was a huge success last year, since they were lovely to look at and delicious to eat. Not a bad combination! This year many farmers have jumped on this product and we shall see if the quality remains as high. Last year, they were so good looking that they could be used instead of flowers for a table centrepiece.

The Chef liked and bought Ontario hothouse product including tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and cucumbers.

The Chef thinks that the Texas watermelons are superb and should be bought.

He continues to worry about the few Ontario farmers who are the main suppliers for a few items like artichokes and white asparagus. One of these farmers is near Canada’s Wonderland and it seems only a matter of time before he sells his farm to the developers in the region.

Porcinis from BC and Oregon mushrooms are available. Chanterelles from Serbia have arrived in Canada but the Chef will stick with Canadian wild mushrooms. He is convinced though that Italian wild porcinis are better tasting. You will not find them here because they are too perishable.

The Chef has switched to lighter summer fare and is doing rabbit, veal, sweetbreads and lamb. He has Alberta wagyu beef which he is pairing with freekah, an ancient grain, accented with raspberries.

Wild coho salmon from BC is starting and he has received tuna from Nova Scotia with swordfish from there to start soon.

The Chef has created new summer desserts featuring a panna cotta with berries, his take on a light coconut cream pie and an almond chocolate cheesecake.

New cheeses are available. We are returning to the delicious Pieds de Vent—raw cow’s milk cheese made from the Canadian cow recognized by the Slow Food Movement as uniquely Canadian. Also, we are serving an aged cheddar from Quebec.

— Le Patron

A monthly online newsletter, Ecclesiastes 3 contains Le Patron’s ruminations on local seasonal food markets as well as speculation on broader global food issues.