28 May 2007

Benito vs. the Farmers Market: Rattlesnake Green Beans

There are two Farmers Markets here in Memphis: the Memphis Farmers Market is downtown, open on Saturdays, and has all locally produced vegetables. The other is located at the Agricenter out in Cordova, is open Tuesday-Saturday during the productive months, and does import some of its offerings from other states. Each has its pluses and minuses, but for convenience I hit the Agricenter once a week and the downtown one once a month. Saturday at the Agricenter I was lucky enough to stumble upon some Rattlesnake Green Beans. You can eat them young and tender like regular green beans, or let them grow and you eventually get something that looks like pinto beans inside the pods. Unfortunately, the attractive purple stripes and speckles disappear with cooking.

I also got to purchase my first sweet corn of the season with a few ears of Silver Queen. Ah, the joys of eating produce in season. I had a few friends over for a little Memorial Day weekend cookout, since I'd managed to find some great ribeyes for practically nothing. A nice big fire of natural lump charcoal started in a chimney, some good meat and fresh vegetables... it just doesn't get much better than that. And I don't mean to brag, but the steak in the picture is probably the best ribeye I've ever grilled. I almost completely ignored my dining companions during lunch. The corn was soaked in water, cooked in husk until ready, and then topped with chile-lime butter. Not pictured: some homemade pecan tarts purchased from a nice old lady at the Farmers Market. I'm not a big dessert person, but these were delicious.

The wine for this spring meal was the 2004 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Merlot, from the Columbia Valley of Washington. Blackberry flavors with a tart edge and a tannic finish. The touch of sweet, full fruit flavor helped go along with the sweetness in the corn and beans. This wine runs around $12, but if you can find it, try the 2003 edition. It costs the same, but the tannins have mellowed out and the blackberry flavor is even more incredible. Got a chance to try that one last week and I'll probably grab another bottle soon.

25 May 2007

2006 Sebeka "Cape Blend" Shiraz Pinotage

2006 Sebeka "Cape Blend" Shiraz Pinotage. Western Cape, South Africa. 60% Shiraz, 40% Pinotage. Imported by Gallo, and here's a little extra info. Lovely marketing, decent enough plonk for some roast beef and mashed potatoes. Good cherry and raspberry notes, medium tannins, just a touch of the ashy Pinotage character.

A few days later, I tried the 2006 Sebeka Sauvignon Blanc. Closer in flavor to California than New Zealand. There is a bright fruit character dominated by apricot and a bitter aftertaste of orange pith (which sounds odd but I loved it). Dry, but full bodied, medium tartness. I had it with a simple dinner of penne pasta, peas, and a light cream sauce.

19 May 2007

May 19 Tomato Update

The main tomato plants are doing well--they're up to around 18" high. But I had a few early surprises in other parts of the garden.

The cayenne pepper plant I placed in a pot has had lovely little white flowers for the past week, and I found a few that had taken hold and begun to produce peppers. It may be difficult to see in this photo--look to the center left, and you'll see a tiny green pepper that's less than a quarter inch in length. Overall there are some fifty blossoms on the small plant, so I should have an ample supply of fiery cayennes all summer long.

(Between the tiny pepper and the tiny tomato, I'm tempted to harvest some cilantro when it's just poking up out of the soil in order to create the world's first microsalsa, and thus initiate an annoying new culinary trend.)

One of my "volunteer" tomato plants that sprung up in the old tomato patch showed blossoms last week, and this week I noticed that some of them had actually set fruit. Here, officially, is what will probably be my first tomato of the season. Based on the leaves and the shape, I think it's one of the Yellow Pears from last year. Who knows? It might be some bizarre hybrid or new variety.

I'm amazed at the resiliency of these mystery plants. The fruit dropped off the vines last year and lay buried in the ground over the winter. For months I dropped vegetable peels and rotten oranges and all of my non-meat/non-dairy kitchen waste in the patch, as well as the last remnants of the composted grass clippings. I churned up the soil in the spring, and after deciding to build the new patch, basically ignored it. Lo and behold, tomatoes and potatoes have sprouted, and I can't wait to see what else pops up. This area gets hardly any sun at this time of year, yet the plants are flourishing and will probably produce a great crop.

One of the first Latin quotes I ever learned was from Horace: Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret. Though you drive nature out with a pitchfork, she will always return. This actually refers to people's inborn character and that no one can really change, but I've always appreciated it for its on-the-face application to gardening. At 12 I angrily mumbled it when I had to weed the flower beds, but now I'm able to say it in a positive way.

16 May 2007

2005 Domaine des Buyats Régnié

2005 Domaine des Buyats Régnié, part of the newest appellation in Beaujolais. Here's an easy goal: try one sample of each Beaujolais subregion. Thus far I've had about half of them. The great part is that these are all quite affordable, easy drinking, and not terribly difficult to find. Beaujolais Nouveau is one of the most popular wines in this country when it's available, but lots of more serious wine drinkers overlook the joys of the grape and region.

This Régnié had lots of cherry, drying tannins yet it doesn't taste overly tannic. Not my favorite cru, but it would be fun to try again in a few years.

On a related note, here's the 2005 Morgon from the same negociant, which was similar but much smoother. If you have to choose between the two, I'd definitely suggest the Morgon.

13 May 2007

Gruet Winery

Business took me to New Mexico for two weeks. I'd been there four times over the course of my youth, and have fond memories of the state. Warm dry days, cool nights, much preferable to the steamy climate of Memphis. Oddly, this happens to be ideal for the growing of grapes for sparkling wine.

The Gruet Winery in Albuquerque, New Mexico was founded by French winemakers from the Champagne region. They make excellent sparkling wines in the traditional méthode champenoise, as well as a few still wines. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the primary grapes at the vineyards (Pinot Meunier is not grown; the owners feel that it doesn't contribute much to the sparklers). Recent experiments with Syrah for still wine have been highly successful, so much so that I didn't get a chance to try it either at the winery or at the restaurant.

Speaking of the restaurant, before I left the state I had dinner at the Gruet Steakhouse, located in Downtown Albuquerque. Over a glass of the 2005 Pinot Noir (much bolder and with stronger fruit than the 2004 Reserve below), I had the mixed grill: a duck breast with a cherry reduction, a portion of filet mignon with béarnaise sauce, and a perfectly cooked lamb chop with a chili-mustard seed sauce. A dish of creamed spinach and an orzo stuffed baked tomato rounded out the delicious meal.

I stopped by on a Saturday afternoon for a tasting and a tour of the facility. Thanks to Donald and to the young lady pouring samples for a warm and friendly reception at the winery. The tour and tasting are highly recommended. I got to see every phase of production for sparkling wines, and even got to stick my nose into a couple of barrels of still red wine. And I learned a great new Scrabble word. A gyropallet is a device that holds 504 standard wine bottles and over the course of eight days slowly turns the bottles and moves all of the yeast to the neck. This replaces the labor-intensive method of riddling the bottles, even though a good riddler could turn 30,000 bottles a day.

Note: while the wine is made and aged at the Albuquerque location, the grapes are grown further south in New Mexico.

The basic tasting is $6 and includes a regular wine glass; the $14 vintage tasting provides access to the higher end selections and comes with a lovely Riedel Champagne glass featuring the Gruet logo.

All wine information can be found on the Gruet website. I've seen some of the Gruet products available at Great Wines in Memphis. Other wine shops should be able to special order it if you ask nicely.

NV Blanc de Noirs. 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay. $13.50. Lemony acidity, crisp and clean, with a touch of raspberries on the finish. Dry and well balanced. I liked this one enough to take a bottle back to the hotel for matching with some spicy Southwestern fare later on. Green chile and a cold crisp sparkler are a fantastic match.

2002 Blanc de Blancs. 100% Chardonnay. $24. Four years aging on yeast. Lighter nose, touch of vanilla, crisper and more tart than the Blanc de Noirs. Tangy finish.

2002 Grand Rosé. 92% Chardonnay, 8% Pinot Noir. $32. A touch of strawberry, a little bit of cream. Not as tart as the previous wines, smoother and well balanced. Faint hint of tannins. Really nice.

2000 Grand Reserve. 100% Chardonnay. $46. Aged in French oak and then on yeast for six years. Wow. Nice, lightly toasted aroma. Touch of tart acidity. Lovely long finish. Elegant.

2004 Pinot Noir Barrel Select. 100% Pinot Noir. $46. For some reason I was expecting a big, bold Pinot Noir, but instead I was greeted with a light and delicious wine that was more Burgundy than California. Wild strawberry aromas and flavors dominate. Smooth with excellent balance. Wonderful.

10 May 2007

2000 Covey Run Barrel Select Syrah

First off, a warm hello to any readers from Wolfchase Wine & Spirits. Apparently some of you have been taking my suggestions and mentioning this blog at the store. It's a great little shop, and even though it's beside the Costco in Cordova you don't have to be a Costco member to buy wine there. It's a small space with a frequently rotating and varied selection of wines. John the manager is friendly and knowledgeable about his stock, and I'm always happy to drop in

Today for instance, he suggested the 2000 Covey Run Barrel Select Syrah from the Yakima and Columbia Valleys of Washington State. $10. Great plum and leather aromas, and a mild fruit flavor with tannins that have almost completely aged away for a smooth mouth feel. If you've only tried young, fruit-bomb Syrah/Shiraz, this would be a great opportunity to taste one that has aged gracefully. I served it with a steak and a spinach salad, followed by a glass out on the back porch to gaze over the tomatoes.

06 May 2007

Tomato Garden 2007

For the past two weeks, I've been in Albuquerque on business (hence the brief posts, which I wrote months ago but didn't get around to publishing). Later this week I'll write about the southwestern cuisine I sampled as well as my fun visit to the Gruet Winery, maker of fine sparkling wine.

While I was gone, my tomato plants arrived. The Roommate was kind enough to keep them green and alive for me, and I spent the better part of Saturday getting them planted. First, I grabbed a shovel and dug a trench 12 feet long by 1.5 feet wide by one foot deep, which comes out to eighteen cubic feet of dirt removed.

I filled the trench with a combination of compost, manure, bedding soil, and some of the dirt I had previously removed. I mixed everything as best I could, surrounded the trench with bricks, and measured off the planting spots. I planted them deep--all the way to the first set of leaves (this helps get them started faster, as the stem will quickly sprout roots and help draw more water). Finally, a few stakes and some twine, and I had a makeshift trellis.

In the photo, you can see the completed garden right off the porch, along with one stake that broke as I was driving it in. From lower left to upper right, the tomatoes are as follows: Big Rainbow, Little Mama, Supersteak, Black Krim, Golden Mama, Brandywine, Napa Grape, and the gigantic Porterhouse Beefsteak, which can get up to four pounds per tomato. I didn't grow any of these types last year (though I did have a Brandywine hybrid). I'll have to wait until the middle of July before I have any tomatoes, but I'm really looking forward to tasting these beautiful and unusual varieties.

Additionally, there's the tomato patch I planted last year, up beside the house. I pulled out all the roots and churned up the soil at the end of the season, and have used the patch as a compost pile all fall and winter. Various vegetables have sprouted since then, and I'm now happy to report that a few of the tomato seeds from fallen fruit managed to survive the winter and have sprouted into foot-tall plants. Also I have fingerling potatoes growing, as well as some other things that I'm pretty sure aren't weeds. I will find out later what they are and look forward to the surprise.

02 May 2007

2005 Viña Alarba Old Vines Grenache

2005 Viña Alarba Old Vines Grenache, Calatayud, Spain. Around $8. Cherry aromas and flavors, with some medium tannins and the faint hint of cinnamon. A great everyday red which I served with a Greek pizza.