On the Wine Trail

Wine pairing
  • Champagne in White

    Champagne in White

    I guess I'm lucky. The context of my daily life happens to be good wine. Sometimes even...great wine. It ends up influencing nearly every aspect of my life and generally in the best of ways. I had the pleasure of sampling my first bottle of Lanson White Label at the recent Diner en Blanc DC pop-up picnic. I became completely obsessed with the idea of this mad yet elegant evening in white last year when the event made its first apperance in Washington, DC. I had learned of the Paris event via a tangential, time-wasting googling getaway during a particulary boring study session last year. I was smitten. I spent a long year on the loser's waiting list and received an email three weeks ago annoucing my invitation to show up online at 10:00am on a subsequent Thursday morning to see if I could grab one of the last remaining tables at the local Diner. Without really thinking, I hammered away at the keys with my heart racing until I had scored a spot for my table and a bottle of Lanson's White. 

    Lanson's itself is a brand that I know but the White Label was new to me. I tend to shy away from bubbles with any sweetness and this bottling's "off dry" style wouldn't be my top choice. But, none of the other wine selections seemed to fit "me" and bubbles are....well, my calling card. But then, my attendance at this event wasn't really "me" either. I tend to shy away from highly curated events. Add a crowd of 3,000+ and my usual answer would be "count me out". So the White Label, in this context, seemed the perfect choice.

    Champagne Lanson is one of the oldest houses in Champagne. While remaining family-owned until 1980, the house, like many in the region, has been bought up by a multi-brand conglomerate. Fortunately, the conglomerate is populated by well-heeled, quality-minded producers of champagne. In addition, the conglomerate is run by Bruno Paillard, himself the owner of the still-independent Champagne Bruno Paillard. Good cred.

    The champagne did not disappoint and neither did the evening under the stars. I planned a potable meal of local baby cantaloupe & chipped ricotta salata, Chicken Salad Niçoise and Poached wild shrimp with Mediterranean Couscous. The White Label featured a touch of sweetness that was neither cloying nor distracting but made the bubbles dance on my tongue. They seemed as happy and lively as the band playing on the steps of the Carnegie Library behind me throughout dinner. And why plates were pushed to the side and sparklers illuminated as a sign of the dancing heating up to the mixing thumping of the DJ, the bubbles still held their own. Providing refreshment from non-stop dancing and a tickle to keep a smile on my face.

    All in all, a good night and a good pairing.

  • Watch that First Step ...

    Watch that First Step ...

    Today began like any other day in black lava-strewn Hawai'i. 

    It's kinda fun saying that. By mid-week in any trip, you do tend to fall into a rhythm of a sort. You've successfully breathed a sign of relief and let your guard down just enough to let yourself feel the first signs of true relaxtion. SwimVacation's mantra is Swim. Relax. Repeat. so despite it being go-go in nature, relaxtion is definitely part of the program. But as I am a self-admitted control freak, its always with great trepidation that I allow true relaxtion settle in. Usually, its at just that moment that things start to go wrong. 

    Plans for an epic swim a Beach 69 were abandoned to the chagrine of some of the swimmers. I think the idea of traveling to a different part of the island for a swim appealed to some. It felt as though there was a bit of anxious expectation to explore somewhere new. After a return from Magic Sands just down the coast, our neighborhood beach if you will, all signs of the morning's choppy start were washed away by the appearance of a huge pod of dolphins during the group's lazy swim, providing plenty of photo ops and time up close and personal with the friendly bottlenosers. After a light lunch of Chopped Caesar Salads with chopped blackened chicken or shrimp, massages in the backyard were scheduled for all. The change in itinerary had provided a bit of extra lazy time in the afternoon and so I inserted a selection for WineWednesday into the mix. A quick text to culinary Clare in the morning landed me the addition of a goat cheese to a Platter snack that would be in the fridge for the late afternoon. I had stocked my wine larder with flexibility in mind and this seemed like the perfect time to pull out the Alianca Vinho Verde. Lower in alcohol (in case swimmers opted for a late afternoon swim), zesty and fresh this was my grown up lemonade for the afternoon. I loaded up trays of the slightly spritzy white and hit the hot tub first, the lanai next and open living room of the hale (HAH-leh) last. I whispered my recommendation, "Try it with the goat cheese" and whispered away while everyone did their own thing. If refills count as sign of approval, then this wine worked.

    Dinner was approaching and for whatever reason, I felt a deep sense of urgency over opening up the dinner wines ahead of time. I had, in fact, been a little relaxed about this standard practice to this point. There it is--relaxed. The menu was to begin with a hot house butter lettuce salad with tomatoes, blue cheese crummbles, toasted macadamia nuts and creamy garlic dressing. This was to be followed by garlic and dijon marinated Colorado rack of lamb with a cannellini beach, kale and squash ragout topped with a veal glace de viande. So in my mind the salad was...well..a salad. But blue cheese and garlic: both fairly potent. Some would suggest something red but with an Aussie shiraz on the books for the entree I felt the need to stay white. Again, these are athletes who have been working all day in the sun. Frankly, I had a hesitation about the shiraz as welll. I opened that one first. The wine had barely touched my tongue and I was concerned. I have this peculiar sensitivity to what I believe is acidified wines. Its this disjointed feeling that tingles unnaturally and this wine had it. I could hardly concentrate on anything else. I was concerned. It's not that these wines are bad but when you're pouring it--when you select and serve it to a guest...you have to believe in it. You've got to love it, regardless of whether or not the guest feels the ssame. I popped the cork on my second choice--a New Zealand Merlot-- sniffed, swirled and tasted it with a teaspoon of cold glace de viande and was satisfied. One down.

    The salad. For this I had selected Chateau Moncontour Vouvray Sec. I was hopinng that the sallt of the blue cheese would emphasize the fruit of the chenin blanc. If I was lucky a little honey note would shine through as well. I sliced through the foil of the first and stopped. That. Is one. Funky looking. Cork. The rhythmic voices of the Stroke Coaches reviewing viideos of each swimmer taken earlier in the day echoed to a dull hum in the background of my mind. I popped the cork, swirled, tasted. Uh-oh. WHERE'S THE FRUIT? Okay, this isn't funny. There is no back-up wine for this course. I have one bottle left of this wine and two extra guests tonight so...here goes. I opened the second bottle and was relieved. Tasted just as it should. I threw some sea salt in my mouth, tasted it one more time and was ready to go. 

    Time was a little short and one of the program's leaders was more than a little sleepy so I by-passed presentations tonight and got right down to the pouring. I was pleased with the little Vouvray--she hed her mighty ground with the flavors of the blue cheese and the strength of more than a llttle fresh garlic in the dressing. She iimpressed me. 

    The soft, deep black plum and delicate spice of the Oyster Bay Merlot was just the right ticket for the lamb. All soft and supple, the North Island fruit played along nicely with the perfectly cooked lamb. The delicate (read less lamby) flavors of the domestic lamb didn't need the heavy, alcoholic, mentholated fruit that the McLaren Vale shiraz would have brought--regardless of how classic the pairing might be. 

    Dessert tonight was a simple but delicious Mango & Strawberry crisp topped with whipped fresh cream. Clare told me that when she was cutting up the mangoes in her kitchen, her entire staff commented on their amazing aroma. I was excited to taste this amazing fruit.  To lighten the red wine load, I poured a small flute of Vietti Moscato d'Asti and it proved to be a refreshing and balanced accompaniment to the meal. 

    Plates were cleared, spent bottles stacked and empty glassware bussed. As I watched everyone happily push back from the table, I realized how fortunate I was that I took the time not to relax. And how glad.