Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tasting a BIG Wine/Jean Marc

Next week, I am doing a wine dinner featuring wines from Montes vineyards in Chile. www.monteswines.com This event is in connection with the Pittsburgh Wine festival and I am being joined by Derek Stevens, Executive Chef at Eleven, and Alan Peet, Executive Chef at Casbah. We have worked out a simple menu that should showcase the wines. Of course, to write the menu I needed to become more familiar with the wines, taste them, consider them, wrestle with them, know them carnally. They were kind enough to send me a case or so to taste while I work out the menu. As you may imagine, there is little in life more exciting than having a bunch of free wines (and good ones at that) which you HAVE TO taste. I really believe that free expensive wine is easier to taste and appreciate than purchased expensive wine. Maybe I'm cheap.

I made it through the whites and Syrah rose over this past weekend and am currently working through a bottle of the Montes Alpha M. Huge wine. Giant. I wish I had a skillet-seared ribeye the size of my head crusted in salt and cracked pepper with some brown butter ramps on top. A chunk of cabrales and some dark fruit bread on the side. I ate some brats with brown mustard, the wine wiped them out. Some ham from the fridge with Uplands Farms Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese http://www.uplandscheese.com/farm.html, gone. This wine is a bulldozer.

Crazy enough, we are serving the Montes Alpha M with the dessert course. We will be serving a selection of five miniature chocolate preparations: hazelnut chocolate napoleon, dark chocolate tiramisu, white chocolate crème brulee, chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich, and Mexican hot chocolate. It seems like fun to me to taste this rock star cock-swinger of a wine with a bunch of different chocolate flavors. So as I prepare to retire for the night, I decide to try some chocolate things with the wine to see how this will work out. I rummage around in the kitchen and find leftover easter candy from the kids' baskets. Cheap milk chocolate just washes away in the thick rush of flavor. A Reese's peanut butter egg, gone. But a couple of dark chocolate truffles from Jean Marc Chatellier http://www.jeanmarcchatellier.com are just the thing. The dark chocolate ameliorates the temperament of the wine, and allows some of the complexities of both the truffles and the wine to show through while reducing Alpha M's arrogance. After the chocolate is out of my mouth, the big wine seems softer, tamed and friendly. I like it best now, rounder and warmer. The braggadocio is tempered and true warm emotions filter through. Thanks Jean Marc.

I love to visit Jean Marc's shop. Every Saturday morning I take my beautiful and willful 5-going-on-22 daughter Zoe to riding lessons. We have a routine. As we wind though O'Hara Township we listen to the Saturday Light Brigade radio show. We get there, she rides Gypsy for a half hour, her teacher Erica way more patient than I ever am with Zoe's sass, and then we cruise to Sharpsburg to visit Jean Marc Chatellier's bakery. For about a year and a half I slipped in unnoticed, a complete stranger to the young women working the counter. Pittsburgh is a small town, the food scene even smaller, and I like to avoid being noticed as much as possible. I worry that I'll get caught talking to someone who needs/wants something from me or I'll be placed in a position where I'll need to give/do more than I want to. Call me a crank. It is what it is.

Finally my luck ran out, sort of. One morning Jean Marc peeked out from the back, probably a slow wedding cake week, and recognized me. We chatted for awhile and it turns out he loves to go to Mad Mex and really enjoys the Southwest wing sauce. This fact completely disarms me as I am a huge fan of the sauce, our worst seller of course, and have never understood why it is not more popular. If the French dude likes it (in the hierarchy of food-ness, French is always right unless Japanese are in play then then they win over the Frogs) then it is good, sales notwithstanding. I agree to get him a recipe, which I do a few weeks later, and we connect in a cheffy sort of way. I still have to pay for my croissants (best in the city) but Zoe gets a free treat now and then. I have yet to break it to Jean Marc that all Zoe wants are regular donuts and really dislikes his complex Napoleons but we'll get there.

Did I mention best croissants in the city? Jean Marc, help me find a pastry chef for Eleven!