Wine Review: Ravines Cellars Pinot Noir Finger Lakes 2012


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ravines pinotFresh and delicate is the best way to describe the best Finger Lakes Pinot Noir. Simple, thin and under-ripe describe the worst. Although Pinot Noir will usually ripen here, in bad vintages it won’t have the hang time to develop much character and in all vintages disease pressure on this thin-skinned varietal with its tight, claustrophobic clusters demands careful spraying in the vineyard and meticulous sorting at harvest.

Only producers who make a total commitment to this grape can succeed with it here. One of them is Morten Hallgren of Ravines Cellars who is largely responsible for developing Finger Lakes Pinot Noir.

2012 was a good vintage for red grapes and that ripeness is apparent in the glass. The bright, pretty nose of cherry, red currant, and lovely earth mixed with cinnamon has intensity and clarity. The lightly concentrated palate is soft yet spicy with a glossy, silken texture and a finish that hovers between crisp and tender. The tannins are so finely rendered, it has the discreet structure of a Japanese shōji—a paper wall supported by a firm wooden frame that blends into the background.

Only 10% new French oak keeps the toast and vanilla away; 10 months on the lees contribute to the sensuous texture.

If you’re new to Finger Lakes Pinot don’t expect West Coast bluster. But the Ravines Pinot will satisfy like this earthy, tender version of Julia by John Lennon

Score: 90

Price: $25

Alc: 13%

Remembering Moosewood



moosewood cookbookMemories of the days when vegetarianism was the new, hot, hip thing are quickly fading. But one enduring image is of the thick, earth-toned, handwritten, and hand illustrated Moosewood Cookbook that all my cooking-focused friends were buying in the mid-1970’s.  Based on recipes from the Moosewood Restaruant and published first in 1974, it was responsible for most of the bowls of vegetarian chili that everyone seemed to serve before heading off to find inner peace at the coffee shop listening to beads-and-Birkenstock-bedecked Dylan wannabes.

For most college students and young people back in the day it was their first cookbook, proving that you could have flavor without meat and bringing an international flair to vegetarian cooking.

I haven’t thought about the Moosewood in several decades but stumbled upon the restaurant while exploring Ithaca N.Y. this weekend. It still exists, and still serves excellent vegetarian and pescatarian food, updated to reflect current trends. My salmon with North African chermoula sauce was full of flavor and thankfully accompanied by Israeli couscous instead of brown rice.Their take on shrimp and grits with a mango-habanero BBQ sauce was stunning.  Tofu was available only as a side dish; perhaps there is moral progress in this world.

Still run by a collective, some members of which have been there since it opened in 1973, they continue to serve simple, flavorful food while fully embracing the farm-to-table ethos. The original author of the cookbooks, Molly Katzen, and the Moosewood Collective have parted ways after disputes over copyright, and I have no idea if the newest editions are worthy of their iconic status.

But for vegetarians seeking a pilgrimage, there is none more worthy than the Moosewood for its history as well as its current commitment to quality.

Budget Wine: La Fleur Du Roi Red Bordeaux 2012


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la fleur du roiThis is what cheap Bordeaux should taste like.

Simple plum with chocolate hints that peek around the funky earth that reminds me of decaying leaves (which to me is a pleasant aroma). This is an everyday wine but it has the vigor to move the mind placing you in a forest in early fall. An under $10 wine that can do that is to be treasured. The palate is  round up front but tart acidity is immediately apparent so the texture feels layered despite being a bit slender. The tannins are soft at first and then gently drying with acidity driving the medium length finish.

80% Merlot and the rest Cabernet Sauvignon.

A humble but sincere wine with an autumnal flair.

The hushed but hopeful Northern Sky by Nick Drake with its softly vibrant texture captures the mood.

Score: 87

Price: $10

Alc: 12.5

Why are there only 354 Masters of Wine?


masters of wineA Master of Wine is someone who has passed the rigorous tasting and theory exams and submitted an acceptable research paper to the The Institute of Masters of Wine. There are currently only 354 in the world. Why?

1. There are approximately 800 volatile compounds in wine that human beings are able to smell along with the 5 basic tastes that we detect in the mouth.

2. When combinations of odors and flavors are present the intensity of one is reduced by the presence of others. This is called hypoadditivity–the more aromas there are to smell the less any of them will be clearly detected.

3. We use 4 senses when tasting wine (audition being relatively unimportant unless you’re listening to music), but the input of one sensory modality can influence the others. Tastes influence aromas, aromas influence taste, color influences both, as do tactile impressions. This makes it hard to focus attention and distinguish analytically various sensations.

4. Except for detecting sugar, bitterness and spoilage, evolution has designed us to respond more readily to visual stimuli rather than aroma or taste,.

5. Assessing wines requires assigning meaningful words to sensations, a skill that no one develops naturally, and for which there is no settled vocabulary,  since it has no application outside the rarified domain of wine or food criticism.

A better question might be “Why are there so many Masters of Wine?”

Importing Local Cuisine



fried spamAs the virtues of eating local food have gone from a radical idea to a commonly accepted norm in the food world, it has systematically distorted our understanding of the history of cuisines. The “romantic” idea is  that, in our pre-industrial past, food was based on what the land could provide. Historically, cuisines developed locally from peasant dishes in the country-side to more complex high cuisine in the cities. That idea now sits comfortably alongside the notion that truly authentic food must have a pure origin in local foodways that resisted the bastardization of outside influence.

As I argued in American Foodie, nothing could be farther from the truth. The mixing and matching of ingredients, cooking methods, and recipes has been going on ever since humans could move about the globe. (The habit of calling border food inauthentic is one of my pet peeves.)

But if you want a more authoritative source for what’s wrong with this idea of authenticity along with a fascinating tour of the fascinating cuisine of Hawaii, check out this paper by food historian Rachel Laudan. (H/T Gary Allen)

Using Hawaiian cuisine as an illustration of her more general thesis, she argues that entire food systems have been transplanted from one region to another and that many of the world’s best known “local” dishes were invented to serve tourists.

Laudan argues that cuisines are held together by culinary philosophy not agricultural resources and specifies different meanings of the word “local” which show the idea of a “homegrown” cuisine to have only limited application.

The article makes me hungry for some fried spam.