Sunday, July 30, 2006

Clay Station, Viognier, 2004

Clay Station, Viognier, 2004

This wine is delicious, and excellent value for money at around $9.00. It has complex flavors of honey, and butterscotch. The fruit is marvellous with notes of peaches, apricots, and passion fruit. I simply love this wine, and will seek it out in the future.

Isabella's, Frederick, MD

42 Market St
Frederick, MD 21701

For a Google map, click here.

Frederick has become a great town to wander around. The building around the canal is just lovely, and we decided to have lunch at Isabella's, a Spanish tapas restaurant right in the center of town. It was perhaps a little unfortunate that we visited Isabella's just a week after going to Jaleo in Bethesda. The food here is certainly adequate to good, but we did leave feeling that is was not nearly as good as Jaleo. Click here for my comments on Jaleo.

We had fried asparagus in a tomato mayonnaise, which were a little greasy, and for around $6.00, it seemed that the profit margin was excessive. We also had a chorizo made of wild boar. It came on a bed of garlic mashed potato in a Rioja sauce, and it was delicious. The were obviously frozen and a little tasteless and chewy. The best dish was a shrimps in a very rich sauce of fava beens with calamaresjamon serrano, Spain's delicious equivalent of prosciutto. A dish of asparagus with crab was also a little greasy, and the crab was not especially tasty.

For dessert we shared a passable chocolate mousse pie surrounded by good fresh berries.

This restaurant serves sangria, but today was very hot so we had mineral water and a couple of beers from their excellent selection of draft beers.

I have had good food here before, and I will probably come back. This was, however, certainly not a special meal, and not nearly as good as Jaleo. The bill with plenty of food for three was about $56.00, and I added $10.00 in recognition of the friendly service with perhaps a few too many enquiries about whether we liked it.

St. Hilaire, Blanquette de Limoux, 2003

I very much like bubbly wine, but frequent drinking of Champagne can get very expensive very quickly. But the alternatives often seem disappointing. I rarely enjoy Spanish Cava, and I have been disappointed by a number of Australian sparkling wines. So when I am in the mood for a sparkling wine, but want to spend less than Champagne, I usually seek out a Californian. (I like the products from Mumm, Chandon, and Piper Sonoma, for example.) An alternative that can be a little bit more difficult to find is Blanquette de Limoux.

I also have a very special affection for this wine because when I was about 12 years old, we took a holiday in the Carcassonne area, and we visited many of the Blanquette makers. So these wineries were the first I ever got to visit!

Last night we had a bottle of the St. Hilaire, 2003. It was simply delicious. Very dry, with apple, pear and citrus flavors. It seemed a little fuller-bodied than I expected, and I wondered whether that was because of the intense heat wave in France in 2003. Highly recommended at only about $10.00 a bottle, and very different from Champagne. (Blanquette de Limoux must be made of at least 90% Mauzac, and the balance is usually Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc while Champagne can be made in any combination of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.)

It is so interesting that the monks in this region claim to have invented what is now called the methode Chamenoise so many years before Dom Perignon came along!

For an account of the carnival in Limoux, take a look at this article.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Jaleo, Woodmont Avenue, Bethesda

7271 Woodmont Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814
Tel (301) 913-0003
Fax (301) 913-9137

For a Google map, click here.

During the 25 years that I have lived in the Washington area, Bethesda has really changed. Whereas then, it had the atmosphere of a suburb, today the downtown area is lined with modern restaurants. The weather was gorgeous today, and all the restaurants seem to have facilities on the sidewalk.

I am a little suspicious of tapas bars outside Spain. Often a restaurant that can command about $16.00 a plate will divide the portions into four and charge $8.00, thereby doubling revenue. Sometimes, these tapas have nothing to do with Spain. This place is so good, however, that they can be excused! Besides, the food is genuinely Spanish.

Partly because we had a surfeit of food at home, we stopped just for a couple of tapas. I had a cochinillo ($8.95), a tenderloin of suckling pig surrounded by mushrooms and dried fruits. We also had a Patatas Brava ($4.95), fried cubes of potatatoes with two sauces -- an aioli and a spicy tomato sauce. Terrific bread and olive oil was thrown in and so was a very nice dish of olives, cornichons, and pickled onions.

We washed these tapas down with a very good sangria. Our total bill for the two tapas and half a jarra of Sangria was $25.00

Other items on the menu include croquetas de jamon y pollo ($5.75), pato con peras (duck in a pear sauce) ($7.50), pollo al ajillo ($5.50), and chorizo casero tradicional ($6.50). Go to Jaleo's website for a full list.

I have lived in Spain and traveled around it for years. The food here really tastes like you are in Spain, and the atmosphere is great. On Monday night, they have Sevillanas dancing, and on Tuesdays they have other music. We will definitely return here for a longer and more complete meal.

They have an extensive range of good Spanish wines, including an old favorite Prado Muga Enea, 1995 ($75.00). They have thoughfully sorted their Riojas into Rioja Modernos and Riojas Tradicionales to help diners know whether to expect the traditional light syle of heavily oaked Rioja like Muga or a CVNE Imperial Gran Reserva, 1981 ($95) or a more fruity, full bodied wine, such as the Flor de Pringus, 1996 ($82).

Just in case, this seems that all their wines are on the high end, I did notice that they were selling Las Rocas de San Alejandro. (Click here for my comments) for $32.

They have
other branches in Washington (480 7th Street, NW) and in Crystal City. I have been to the one in Washington, which is equally good in food, service, and atmosphere.

This restaurant is highly recommended. Great food, genuine Spanish food, and great fun!

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Queen Bee, Vietnamese Restaurant, Clarendon, Virginia

Queen Bee
3181 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA

703 527 3444

For a map, click here.

Vietnamese steak is a wonderful dish. There are tender pieces of high quality steak surrounded by lettuce, onion, and coriander. I always order mine rare, and it is consistently delicious at this restaurant.

The cold summer rolls can be ordered with or without pork

The crispy Vietnamese rolls are wonderful. They come with a plate of fresh coriander, and are delicious when wrapped in the herbs and dipped in the fish sauce.

I discovered this neighborhood over twenty years ago when I had an old 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit. We had a wonderful mechanic who was honest, creative, and intelligent. But time was not his thing. As often as not, when you would show up at the appointed hour in the evening to pick up your car, he would need "just another hour," and Iran and I remember long evenings wandering around this Clarendon neighborhood discovering the restaurants. By about 1985, it became known as Little Saigon, and we began to enjoy going to the Queen Bee. The food has always been good here, and it has always been good value for money.

Five of us went out for lunch. The Spring Rolls and the Summer Rolls are memorable, and we were able to order the Summer Rolls without Pork to accommodate Mr. B, who does not eat meat. Four of us ordered the Vietnamese Steak, which consists of chunks of high quality tender beef served in a very light wine reduction. Mr. B ordered shrimps. Our total bill was slightly less than $80 for five of us. (We did not order any alcoholic drinks.)

I have tried some of the many other Vietnamese restaurants in this area, but I keep on going back to the Queen Bee. It is a very nice place with friendly service, low prices, and good food.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Vintage Wine by Michael Broadbent

Vintage Wine
Fifty Years of Tasting Three Centuries of Wine
Michael Broadbent
Harcourt, 2002

I used to read books about wine all the time, but, more recently, I have tended to read the Wine Spectator to try to make sure that my information about wine is up to date. I was recently at Daedalus Books, a wonderful bookshop (with mail order service) in Columbia, MD, and I found Michael Broadbent's book for only $10.00. I bought it, and it has given me more pleasure than any book that I have read for a long time. (I went to Daedalus yesterday, and noticed one copy left on the shelf. You can also get it from Amazon for about $37.00

Originally trained as an architect, Michael Broadbent entered the wine trade in 1952, but he is most famous for starting and running the wine department at Christie's, the auction house. During the fifty years between his start and 2002, more value must have passed through this man's lips than almost anyone in the world!

Consider for a moment that he sold a bottle of 1787 Lafite, which was owned by Thomas Jefferson, at auction for $105,000. Although that particular bottle became damaged "due to the heat of spotlights" in the Presidential Memorabilia section of the Forbes Museum, Broadbent has tasted this particular vintage of Lafite twice, and he describes the second tasting as "tawny, no red, a dark brown flaky sediment; nose was restrained and although oxidised opened up quite richly with residual fruit traces; a touch of sweetness on the palate and acidic, acetic finish." If you like this kind of stuff, this book draws from 85,000 notes that meticulously describe the wine, the occasion, and an interesting cast of wine drinking companions. No wonder calls Broadbent "a more diligent wine archivist than we wine lovers deserve."

This is the ultimate wine blog and reading it really is a humbling experience for little bloggers like me. Broadbent has had the discipline to make and keep notes thousands of times during a period of fifty years. Another thing that sets him apart is that people like him have the talent, which combines an outstanding palate and extraordinary power of written expression, to document their impressions of wine at the first tasting. In contrast, I rarely feel confident about putting my thoughts about wine into written form until I have tasted a wine at least three times.

Broadbent tastes the best, and he makes no apology for doing so. He explains himself by telling his readers, "My wife, Daphne, and I drink wine every day. Life is short, we do not waste our time on bland indifferent wines; we would rather share half a bottle of something with character and quality than share six bottles of plonk."

A gratifying thing about the book is that Broadbent seems to admire the kinds of wines that I like. The chapters of the book are organized into the major regions of the world with three chapters devoted to single producers, Chateau Musar, Vega Sicilia, and Mas de Daumas Gassac. Like me, he seems particularly fond of that wonderful wine from Lebanon, Chateau Musar, which he describes as "excellent, and distinctive, albeit idiosyncratic."

His amusing anecdotes describe encounters and tastings with the rich and famous, and he provides a list of people at the end of the book for people who have not heard of his friends and professional associates. Like a litany of famous wine lovers, this list includes (among many, many other famous people) Anthony Barton, (owner of Leoville Barton), Jancis Robinson (my favorite wine writer), Andrew Lloyd Webber, Georg Riedel (maker of the famous Riedel glasses), and Robert Mondavi.

The stories include personal moments such as the time he toured Germany on a Vespa motor-scooter with a "laudable ambition, at that time, to make love -- necessarily furtively, and at night -- in a famous vineyard." They also include moments, where, as an honored speaker, he has had to describe horrible wine with tact and diplomacy, such as when he had to talk about Chateau Lafite, 1864, in Memphis, Tennessee:

On decanting, it became obvious that the wine was indeed 'pricked'. In order to save the situation, I smelled the wine and nodding sagely, handed it to my host, John Grisanti, for the first sip. He nodded as if approvingly. I then said: 'This is a very old wine. The grapes for this wine were picked during the autumn of 1864, which was when General Sherman, whose troops were based in Memphis, went marching across Georgia leading his Union troops into battle with the Confederates." I added: "Tonight you are tasting not just wine, but history."

I wondered where he would stand as a British critic and member of the wine trade on the apparent rivalry between the Americans, who favor scoring wine like college essays, and the British, like Hugh Johnson, who always suggest that these scores are absurd. With characteristic tact, Broadbent simply says that the "100-point rating system is flawed because it is inflexible and does not allow for bottle variation and context." He does, however, make a jab at the fashionable cult wines that inevitably suggest some of the wines from California:

Oscar Wilde defined fox hunting as "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable." A propos certain 'cult' wines and modern 'global' reds, I am inclined to change the last word to "undrinkable."

Is Broadbent talking about Parkerized wines here?

I adore this book, and I admit to being a bit of an oddball in my passion for wine, but, if you think you might enjoy going through notes of the world's ultimate wine written by the world's ultimate critic, you must buy this book.