Monday, April 17, 2017

SPRING INTO LOIRE VALLEY WINES FOR FLAVOR, VALUE AND FUN!


The Illumination Factory in Chicago's South Loop is transformed into the Loire Valley
Paul Buisse, winemaker, and his Clos Du Galmont Vouvray 2015-$20
A wine enthusiast
The Wines of Domaine Fournier-La Belle Vines Sancere 2015/2016-$27


Sauvion 2016 Vouvray-$13.99, 2015 Muscadcet Sevre et Maine-$12.99 and Sancerre 2016-$32.99






by Dwight Casimere

A welcome sign of spring is the arrival of new releases of the magnificent wines of the Loire Valley, France. Their light, flavorful and refreshing. Perfect for spring, with just the right ripe fruit, melon and apple and pear flavors that are perfect with the soft cheeses, salads,  seafood and charcuterie spreads that make dining al fresco this time of year so much fun. Ever tasted an Anjou pear? Well, this is where those delicious beauties originated, and there are plenty of wines that share its delightfully crisp, unctuous flavor. Love ripe melons or ripe wild strawberries ? There are a number of wines from the Loire valley that embody those luscious flavors. Loire Valley's place in fable and in history is secure. This is where Joan of Arc led French troops to victory in there Hundred Years War and where the French language was born. It is the birthplace of the French Renaissance writer Rabelais. The hillsides are dotted with some of the most magnificent castles to be found in all of France. 

 I had a unique opportunity taste a collection of the new Loire Valley Wine releases while they were on national tour. Tasting sessions where held at The Park near Chelsea Market in New York, at The Illumination Factory in the post-industrial South Loop near Chicago's McCormick Place Convention Center and at The Cheese School in San Francisco's trendy art district on Folsom Street.

The Loire Valley is, in many ways, the heart and soul of France. Its regions are rife with lore and wine legend. The Pays Nantes on the Atlantic coast of Brittany is famous for the city of Nantes where wine has been produced steadily since the Roman era.The region is best known for Muscadet, a derivative of the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which has nothing to do with the more well known Muscat grape, of a similar name. This is the largest white wine appellation of France and is recognized as the ultimate crisp, dry, seaside wine, perfect with oysters, scallops, mussels, lobsters and all other shellfish. The great thing about Loire Valley wines is that they not only taste great and pair well with today's lighter, and more exotic cuisines, they're also easy on the budget, with most under $20, and many in the $10-$15 dollar range. You can splurge at your local wine shop and get a mixed case containing a veritable spring bouquet of flavors and colors. 

Anjou is the ancient Duchy of Anjou, once a seat of wealth and power in France, the region is best known for its sweet wines. Saumur is the picturesque setting of one of the most famous castlles in France, built with the same toffee limestone that underlies this vineyards, giving the wine its unique flavor and acidity. Underground tunnels beneath the castles now serve as the caves and cellars for sparkling wines from the region; the Fines Bulles, the Chenin Blanc-based sparkling wines of the Loire. The region is also famous for Saumur-Champiogny, one of the valley's great red wines made with Cabernet Franc. 

Touraine is known as the "Garden of Francer" where nobility built the many castles that make this one of the prime tourist attractions of France. Many of the chateaus are housed in them. Some of the most famous wines of the Loire are produced in Touraine; Vouvray, made from Chenin Blanc and Chinon and St. Nicolas de Bourgueil, both made from Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay and Malbec also hail form the region and are known for their exceptional quality and competitive price.

The Centre-Loire is in the exact geographical center of France. It is here that grapes have been grown for 2,000 years and is the original home of Sauvignon Blanc and its most famous wine, Sancerre. Pulley-Fume, Reuilly, and Menetour-Salon are lesser known, but no less noteworthy. The region also produces some delicious and colorful rose and red Pinot Noir wines.

Perhaps the best known wines from the Loire are produced by Barton and Gustier which was on hand with its AOC Sancerre 2015 white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc ($15.99) The AOC 2015 Vouvray and 2015 AOC Rose Anjou (both $10.99) were pleasant and flavorful and offered some of the best value for a very reasonable price.

Another of my favorites were the wines of Sauvian, similarly budget priced with Saurian AOC Vouvray 2016, a white Chenin Blanc, got for a mere $13.99 and AOC Muscadet Sevre et Maine, a sweet white wine made from Melon de Bourgogne, for a mere $12.99. The more pricey Saurian Sancerre 2016 tops out at a hefty $32.99, but its luscious aromas of white flowers and white peaches and flavored with notes of  tarragon, ripe tangerines and crisp Anjou pears makes it worth every penny. Don't let the  designation of the Melon as a 'sweet wine'  fool you, as the wine has enough balance, structure and acidity to stand up to lighter foods, such as mild soft cheeses, fruit salads, and spicy Indian and Asian fare, for an interesting flavor combination. Try some tender Bay Scallops poached in butter with a splash of the wine thrown in right at the end for a unique taste thrill!. The AOC Rose d'Anjou ($12.99) had a beautiful blush pink color and flavors of ripe melon and ripe red berries. A blend of Grolleau and Gamay, this was a perfectly balanced wine that best shows why Rose is the wine of spring.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF AUSTERITY WINES OF CALIFORNIA

AUSTERITY WINES; EXCEPTIONAL CALIFORNIA WINES FOR UNDER $20
 Austerity Winemaker Steven Decosta with Dwight Casimere (l)
 Ada Executive Chef Joanna Stachon prepares Fried Artichoke with Goat Cheese appetizers


Story and photos by Dwight Casimere
With the preeminence of wines from Napa and Sonoma Counties in California, there's a common misconception that wines from other growing regions in the sunshine state are not as noteworthy. The popularity of northern California wines has brought about, not only a good deal of notoriety, but hefty price tags as well. Enter the folks at Austerity wines who prove that delicious, food-friendly California wines can be had at very affordable prices. Try a California Chardonnay priced at $13.99, for example. 

To prove their point, the winery has embarked on an ambitious national campaign. Austerity Wines of California is partnering with FeedFeed, a unique online community that connects home cooks, chefs and wine and food bloggers reflecting the latest kitchen trends, to host a series of Chef and Winemaking dinners in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. The dinners all featured high-quality, locally sourced ingredients prepared by innovative local chefs, all paired with Austerity Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet, all priced at $13.99  at you local wine shop.
The Chicago edition of the FeedFeed/Austerity Wine Dinner featured Chef Joanna Stachon of Ada St. 1664 American Bistro in Chicago. A native of Chicago's South Side, Chef Stachon cut her culinary teeth as a chef at Chicago's Greek diners and as a butcher at Artisanal and Publican Quality Meats following graduation from the culinary school at the Illinois Institute of Art. She joined the Ada St. team immediately after its opening in March 2012 and rose from Sous Chef to Executive Chef after two years under Executive Chef Zoe Schor. 
Austerity Winemaker Steven Decosta led the discussion during a dinner featuring Italian Burrata with mint and walnut pesto, Spring Caesar Salad, Diver Scallops with minted peas and charred scallion puree, all paired with Austerity Chardonnay ($16.97); a Second Course of Denver Lamb Ribs with cardamom and orange glaze, Forbidden Black Rice with Grilled Quail and Green Beans with spicy chermoula and preserved lemon, all paired with Austerity Pinot Noir ($13.99); a Third Course of Parisienne Gnocchi with fav beans, lemon, shallots and parmigiana and Prime Strip Loin with brown butter and balsamic reduction, all paired with Austerity Pinot Noir ($13.99). The Grand Finale was Chocolate Ganache to be spread over toasted baguette, brushed with Tuscan olive oil and sea salt, paired with Austerity Cabernet.
The wine and food pairings were perfectly matched. Winemaker Steven Decosta explained that each of the wines were made with idea of creating well-balanced wines that reflected the terroir of their unique growing regions, while preserving the fruit characteristics of the wine without going overboard with oak aging or malolactic fermentation. The results of his winemaking philosophy were admirable.
The Chardonnay for example, is brimming with flavors of golden apples, marshmallows, and a hint of creme brûlée'.  Stainless steel fermentation; 6 months barrel aging in 100% American oak, guarantee the vitality and complexity of the wine.
 The kitchen at Ada St. with Diver Scallops sauté

 Ada St. 1664 interiors


 Austerity Pinot Noir with Italian Burrata and Spring Caesar Salad
 A beautiful face in the crowd
 Denver Lamb Ribs with Austerity Pinot Noir
 Parisienne Gnocchi
 Diver Scallops with minted peas and scallion puree topped with cilantro garnish
 Grilled cauliflower
 Diver Scallops with Austerity Chardonnal
Austerity Pinot Noir with Green Beans and smoke tomatoes
 Prime Strip Loin in brown butter and balsamic reduction
 The Grand Finale "AFTER" with Chocolate Ganache and toasted baguette in tuscan oil and sea salt


 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

CHICAGO PREMIERE OF LYRIC UNLIMITED'S CHARLIE PARKER'S YARDBIRD HITS HIGH AND LOW NOTES OF A GENUIS'S SHORT LIFE

LANDMARK MODERN OPERA FEATURES OPERA SUPERSTAR LAWRENCE BROWNLEE IN SEARING, CONCISE PRODUCTION

by Dwight Casimere


Tenor Lawrence Brownlee as the tormented musical legend Charlie "Yardbird" Parker
Photo: Dominic M. Mercier/Opera Philadelphia

CHICAGO--When Charles "Charlie, Yardbird" Parker, Jr. died at a mere 34 years of age  on March 12, 1955 in the Fifth Avenue co-op apartment of Baroness Pannonica "Nica" de Koenigswarter of a drug overdose, complicated by heart failure, pulmonary pneumonia and cirrhosis of the liver, shock waves rippled through the international jazz community. "The Bird" had flown, leaving behind a musical legacy that would both confound and entrance musicians and music lovers for decades to come and change forever both the face and perception of the music known as modern jazz.

'Bird' as he was affectionately known, led a short, but complicated life. First, there was the heroin addiction, brought on in his tender teen years by an auto accident that left him dependent on pain-killing morphine that morphed into heroin addiction, a readily available opiate on the jazz scene . When heroin wasn't available, Bird turned to alcohol, which impaired his judgement and led to erratic behavior that included infidelity, abandonment of his only surviving child, drunken run-ins with the law and eventual incarceration in a mental health facility.

 Strong meat for any biographical treatment and certainly unwieldy subject matter for a chamber opera of a scant 90 minutes long. But, Lyric Unlimited, the Broadway musical and modern opera arm of Lyric Opera Chicago, rose to the challenge and presented a searing. if at times, uneven,  local premiere of the chamber opera Charlie Parker's Yardbird by classical/jazz saxophonist and composer, the Swiss American Daniel Schnyder (Song For My Grandfather, Beep-Hop, Blues for Schubert) and poet-playwright Bridgette A. Wimberly (the award-winning poem Fire Walker and the play Saint Lucy's Eyes, a treatise on illegal abortion, poverty and forgiveness).  The work was presented off-site from Lyric's normal venue at the Civic Opera House, and was instead performed on the stage of the  Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

The Chicago Premiere featured much of the original cast, including opera superstar Lawrence Brownlee, singing a role tailor-made for him by the composer, the original Stage Director, Ron Daniels, Lyric Ryan Center alumnus Will Liverman as Dizzy  (John Birks) Gillespie, Parker's mentor and bandleader in New York's storied 52nd Street  and Harlem's Minton's Playhouse and Monroe's Uptown House. The mesmerizing Angela Brown as his self-sacrificing mother Addie, the luminous Rachel Sterrenberg as Parker's bohemian common-law wife, Chan,  Ryan Opera Center alumna Julie Miller as Parker's star-crossed patron Baroness Nica and Angela Mortellaro as his neglected first legal wife Doris (whom he never divorced) and subsequent liaison and abandoned partner Rebecca,  round out the stellar cast. There was a sublime moment near the end of the opera when Brownlee's Parker reached an epiphanal moment, invoking the words of the poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar ("I know why the caged bird sings...") before resurging into the hereafter. It is a powerful moment that grounds and otherwise fragmented story line.

There is much to like in this production of Yardbird in spite of its flaws. Exceptional stagecraft by set designer Riccardo Hernandez, and lighting designer Scott Zielinski, employ video panels and  lighting to evoke the layered, noir milieu of Harlem in the 1940s. Images of  the era's jazz legends appear on the video panels that spell out "Birdland," indelibly cementing the drama in its time period. Brownlee's rich, multi-textured bel canto voice soared through the composer's complex vocal runs into a falsetto range that would have dashed many a tenor to terra firma from the score's searingly high reaches. Brownlee navigated the treacherous path with ease, like an experienced pilot soaring to cruising altitude in the stratosphere. Composer Schnyder wisely avoided the trap of sounding cliched by incorporating too much of Parker's explosive musical complexity's,  instead incorporating bits and pieces of familiar riffs into a  tapestry of jazz, blues, gospel and scat. I  believe the correct modern musical term would be 'sampling,' now a common and recognized practice. At times, the recitative drug things along, as it does in many operas that employ this story-vamping technique, but the superb singing and spirited conducting by Kelly Kuo of the 16 piece orchestra ensemble in the pit quickly brought things to life. (A scheduling conflict due to the Lyric's regular performances at the Civic Opera House precluded the use of Lyric Opera Orchestra members in this production. But the pros on hand did a yeoman's job.)


Most audience members who came out for the pair of weekend performances at the Harris were probably already filled-in on at least the basics of Parker's brief, but multi-faceted life, filled and its simultaneous triumph and tragedy. The authors chose to give only a free-handed sketch of the artist's life, told from the standpoint of Parker, appearing onstage initially, as a rain-drenched apparition, then  shedding his raincoat to reveal a dashing period suit with his signature horn, singing and scatting with swagger to match. It's an epic performance that truly deserved more than its brief two-day run.

The work had its world premiere in 2015 at Opera Philadelphia and was subsequently premiered the following year in New York at the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem, and at Madison Opera, Wisconsin. The production will have its London Premiere in June at the celebrated English National Opera, for five performances June 9-17. If you missed the Chicago run, you might want to work this engagement of "Yardbird" into your summer vacation plans.

 'bird serenades his namesakes in the chamber opera Charlie Parker's Yardbird
Photo: Dominic M.  Mercier/Opera Philadelphia
 Diz with his crew backstage at Town Hall in 1947 with trumpeter Tadd Dameron, pianist Hank Jones and vocalist Mary Lou Williams with Milt Orent, who co-composed with Williams the jazz classic "In The Land of Oo-Bla-Bee"
 Dis with his band in 1947, with Miles Davis on trumpet, Charlie Parker and Cecil Payne on saxes. John Lewis on piano, Max Roach on drums and Ray Bryant on bass
 Charlie Parker on sax (l) with Miles Davis (c) at the Three Deuces in 1945
 "Diz" (r) looks on dreamily as Ella Fitzgerald (c) scats with her then-husband Ray Brown on bass (rear) in 1947
 The townhouse in the East Village across from Tompkins Square Park where Bird lived with his wife  Chan
 Dizzy warming up for a concert in Town Hall in 1955. He got the idea for his crooked horn when his original was damaged at a night club party for his wife Lorraine. He liked the sound from the bell bent at a 45 degree angle, so he had his subsequent trumpets made with the defect, which became his trademark
Charlie Parker's gravestone at Lincoln Cemetery in Blue Summit, Missouri, a pilgrimage site for many Parker devotees

Monday, March 20, 2017

TY KU SILVER PREMIUM SAKE-$19



by Dwight Casimere



There was a marvelous film shown at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival called The Birth of Sake, which depicted production of the national beverage of Japan and its 2,000 year old tradition, through the eyes of 28 year old Yasuyuki Yishida, the sixth-generation heir to his family's 144 year old Sake brewery in a tiny prefecture in a remote part of northern Japan. The film shows the dedication of Yachan, as he is affectionately called, and his team as they spend six arduous months in Japan's harsh winter, polishing the rice by hand and nursing the liquid to maturity as premium sake. There are no shortcuts to making fine sake, and the work at every step of the way is back-breaking to say the least. When Yachan isn't at the brewery, he's on the road for the rest of the year, promoting his premium sake at wine fairs, food and wine trade shows and almost any other venue where people are willing to listen to his spiel on the rewards of drinking premium sake. The film gave me a new appreciation for sake, which is really a type of wine, although, rather than being fermented in the barrel or in steel tanks like regular wine, the polished rice is made through a brewing process that is more like that used in making beer. Premium sakes can run well into double digits, but, thankfully, there's a new alternative on the market that makes the experience affordable. 

 Ty Ku Sake Silver is a premium sake that offers all of the quality and flavor of the more expensive labels at an affordable price. At just $19, its a real head-turner, and likely to change everything you've thought about sake. First of all, forget the traditional method of serving sake warm in an earthenware of porcelain vessel. Ty Ku is meant to be served chilled, just a like a fine still wine, and its also great as an ingredient in flavorful cocktails. The sake has a naturally fruit-tinged flavor that is crisp, slightly sweet, and redolent of the flavors of ripe pears or a crisp green apple. One of the ways I like to have it is as a Martini, with a slice of fresh ginger, a shot of vodka and a splash of pear nectar shaken with or served over crushed ice. Another variation is as a cocktail with pureed pear, Asian pear or apple, with a dash of lemon juice and poured over ice with a garnish of fresh mint. Ty Ku works terrifically with sushi or other seafood. It's also a surprisingly delicious pairing with grilled fish, chicken or even a grilled steak or veal chop. Try a side of diced potatoes and shaved radishes with a light lemon and tarragon vinaigrette for a real taste treat that's perfect for spring.


 The Birth of Sake World Premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Wine of the Week: Chateau Cambon La Pelouse Haut-Medoc-$17.99

by Dwight Casimere




Imagine a Bordeaux from the Haut Medoc on Bordeaux's coveted Left Bank for under $20 that reflects all of the skill and laborious work in the vineyards and much of the complexity, roundness and fruity aromas  and the allure of wines costing far more and you have the essential components and drawing cards to Chateau Cambon La Pelouse Haut Medoc 2012. A steal at a mere $17.99, this is a wine worthy of your best dry aged Porterhouse, cooked over hot coals,laced with chunks of hickory or, even better, apple or cherry wood and a few branches of fresh thyme or rosemary thrown on for aromatic good measure. Add a touch of crushed garlic, a dab of butter or a slab of fresh gorgonzola to melt down into the sizzling meat as it rests off the grill. While the coals are ebbing, grill a couple of spears of romaine brushed with garlic and lemon infused olive oil or pair it with a nice arugula and walnut salad drizzled with balsamic and you have a match made in heaven. This is a 'late harvest' in a sense, with hot, dry weather in late August and early September ameliorating the effects of an extremely wet spring. By all estimates 2012 was considered a good vintage year that produced balanced wine from very ripe fruit. Indeed, this wine has nicely rounded tannins and a great deal of elegance. For such a moderately priced Bordeax, it has garnered a lot of attention, winning numerous awards and being consistently rated in the mid 90s by every major wine publication and an 89-90 by the esteemed Robert Parker. 

The grapes were harvested by hand at the peak of ripeness, then fermented in temperature controlled tanks before aging in barriques for at least a year in a combination of old and new oak. Barrels were hand selected from 8 coopers and aging was performed on the fine lees. Tangential filtration was used by consulting oenologists Claude Gros and Hubert de Bouard for the final grace note. The tasting notes from wine experts are all glowing. Just one sip and you'll see why. There was a total production of 180,000 bottles. I' m sure its available at your local fine wine purveyor. If you locate it, buy a case or two. At this price, you can't go wrong. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

WINE OF THE WEEK-CHAMPAGNE LOUIS ROEDERER BRUT PREMIER $49.95

by Dwight Casimere

 Champagne Louis Roederer President and CEO Frederic Rouzaud (l) with Dwight Casimere at The Palms Hotel and Spa in South Beach, Miami Beach
Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Premier

MIAMI BEACH--Champagne Louis Roederer Brut Premier ($49.95) is a shining example of why people who love French Champagne, do so because of its distinct flavor, power and elegance. Roederer Brut Premier has all three qualities in abundance. Family owned since 1776, The sparkling wine is proof positive of the family motto that 'good wine takes time." This Pinot-dominated wine is a perfect example of how 'terrtor', that elusive term that refers to the specific time and place of a wine's production, influences the final outcome. According to Champagne Louis Roederer Group President and CEO Frederic Rouzaud,  the story of the champagne starts in the vineyards. "It starts in the vineyards," he told a Wine Spectator Seminar presented by Bank of America at the recent South Beach Wine and Food Festival in Miami Beach. "The wine is the product of a specific terroir, composed of chalk soil anthat d a specific climate with a continental influence. It starts with a specific history and a sophistication of the grapes. This is an example of a winery that is coming back to its roots. There are no chemicals used in the making of Champagne Roederer. No pesticides. It is biodynamically produced. In this way, we are bringing people back into the winemaking process to produce a champagne that is pure and honest an true to its roots." The result is a champagne that is intense, but elegant, with persistent bubbles and a taste that is rich and balanced with flavors of ripe lemons, the aroma of white flowers and the underlying taste of white minerals and chalk that is so distinctly Champagne. A hint of raspberry and honey shines through, giving it that satisfying round flavor that only a good champagne can give. This is the real deal, and the one you want to have on hand to welcome the first flowers of spring. 

 Students from Florida International University Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management act as volunteer Sommeliers for the Wine Spectator Wine Seminars




The Champagne Roederer Seminar with Alison Napjus, Senior Editor and Tasting Director, Wine Spectator (l) with Frederic Rouzaud, President and CEO Champagne Luis Roederer Group