[Before I start this post, I want to let you know about our first vine tasting at Biagio Fine Chocolate on Thursday, September 16, from 6-9 pm. Click here for more info.]
One of the things I like to say about wine is that you shouldn’t worry so much about what the “experts” say about wine that you like. (With the big exception of us “experts” at first vine, naturally!)
But let’s face it: there’s a whole lot of wine out there. You can’t try them all yourself, appealing though that might be. If you find a publication or a wine writer who describes wine in a way that allows you to evaluate it based on what you like in wine, then it’s a great, almost conspiratorial experience. That doesn’t happen too often, especially when you’re looking to take a trip to a wine-producing region you don’t know very much about.
There are a few writers and guides I rely on, especially when I’m traveling for fun. For French wine, I like the Guide Hachette des Vins. The guide began publication in 1985, and at first glance it seems fairly old-school. Approximately 30,000 wines get tried each year in blind tastings where the evaluators don’t know the names of the wines they’re tasting so they’re not influenced by name recognition. The editors set the tasting rules and pick the evaluators, the results are the consensus opinions across a spectrum of wine styles and prices.
Like in most guides, the wines get assigned a rating, although not a numerical one. Wines can receive zero to three stars, a formula similar to the Michelin restaurant guide. In the case of zero stars, it really is an honor just to be nominated, because only 10,000 of the wines tasted make it into the guide.
The Guide Hachette is organized by region and then by village or appellation. I like the introductions to each region and appellation, because they tell you pretty much just what you need to know. And the descriptions of the wines themselves are relatively matter-of-fact, in French I can understand (always a plus). There’s some wine expert verbiage that doesn’t always translate well into English, but I’ve developed an appreciation for the brevity of the descriptions.
What makes it really fun for me is that there’s a smattering of wines in the guide that are awarded what’s called a “Coup de Coeur,” a designation that means the wines are really special. The wines get singled out in the initial evaluations and then are reviewed by a second tasting panel of wine experts. These folks decide that the wines have something about them that’s so appealing that mere matter-of-fact words and stars don’t cut it. It’s that enthusiasm, in the midst of reciting the virtues of 10,000 wines, that makes the Guide Hachette something beyond the average old-school wine guide. Two of first vine’s producers have received a Coup de Coeur in the past few years: Cécile Dusserre from Domaine de Montvac, and Jerome Bezios from Domaine la Croix des Marchands.
And there’s great news this year: Cave la Romaine, another of our producers, got its first mention in the Guide Hachette 2011 edition. The listing is great not only for the winery, but because one of the two wines mentioned is a Côtes du Ventoux wine. Côtes du Ventoux is a part of the southern Rhône valley and has always been considered a sort of red-headed stepchild as far as Rhône wines are concerned. Nice, but not necessarily the thing you drag out for company. So it’s wonderful to see that this area is getting a little more well-deserved attention.
So, congratulations to Cave la Romaine for its Sensation 2009 rosé, which was awarded one star, with this description:
This cooperative winery in Vaison la Romaine offers an attractive strawberry-colored rosé. The red fruits begin the conversational thread of the tasting. They’re a little discrete on the nose, but nonetheless dominant, and they impose freshness on a well-constructed mouth [a combination of flavor, acidity, sweetness, and bitterness]. A very pleasant wine to accompany mezze and other tapas.
See what I mean? Pretty simple and to-the-point, no exotic flavor references or overblown allusions. Just enough to let you know it’s a very good wine and why.
And now for something to serve it with: have we got a “tapa” for you this week! Cy took me away to Provincetown to celebrate my 50th birthday, and of course we had to have lobster rolls. We have to have them every time we go, no exceptions. Every place up there has one, some good, some not. There are two basic styles: cold lobster salad with mayonnaise and hot lobster in melted butter. Both are served on hot dog rolls and both have their fierce adherents. I like mayo and the diced celery and (sometimes) onion you find in the lobster salad roll. It ought to be possible to put them in the hot lobster roll, which I also love, but what about the mayo?
The answer came to me in an article on grilled cheese sandwiches in Martha Stewart Living. They recommend spreading the outside of the sandwiches with mayo before putting them in the skillet to cook. That got me thinking that I could still have some of that mayo flavor in a hot lobster roll. The traditional New England thing is to use the rolls with the crust-free sides, these get brushed with butter and then grilled. They’re harder to find here in DC, so you can use regular hot dog rolls and trim off some of the crust to give you bread that will toast up nicely. Spread mayo on the cut sides and grill them in a hot pan, and you’ve got a little zing to your hot lobster roll. Besides, you’ve got plenty of butter on the inside!
Traditional lobster rolls always have at least one piece of claw meat in the sandwich so that you know they came from a whole lobster. I don’t particularly enjoy picking apart lobsters, and find that if you get them already steamed they can be overcooked. So trial and error has taught me to use frozen uncooked lobster tails. You’ll need two or three of them depending on the size for two lobster rolls. Let the tails thaw out, then cut them in half lengthwise and remove the meat. Cut it into small pieces, and sauté in butter after you’ve begun to cook the celery and onion. You can serve the rolls whole, or cut each one into four pieces to make a small plate for four people.
Of course, the Sensation rosé ($10) would be an excellent choice to serve with the lobster rolls. But you can also try Les Vignerons de Tutiac Quintet Sauvignon Blanc ($12), which has a little more acidity to stand up to the butter. And if you like wines aged in oak, try our Château Milon Bordeaux Blanc (on sale for $15), an elegant wine that will make the lobster taste even richer. Make sure you have plenty of napkins — although you’ll be licking your fingers anyway!
Makes 2 rolls or 8 lobster roll bites
Two or three frozen, uncooked lobster tails (about 1.25 to 1.5 pounds total weight)
1 small stalk celery, cut in very small dice
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 hot dog rolls
Mayonnaise (use full-fat)
Salt and pepper
Chopped chives for garnish
Let the lobster tails thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Then cut the tails in half lengthwise and remove the meat. Pat it dry with paper towels, then cut each half crosswise into half-inch slices. Set aside.
If you have the New-England style hot dog rolls with the soft bread sides, that’s great. Otherwise, slice off a little of the crust on each side of the roll parallel to the split to expose the bread on the sides of the rolls. Heat a nonstick skillet to medium (preferably one large enough to hold the lobster meat, too). Slather those cut sides with mayo and then put them, mayo side down, in the skillet to brown. Brown both sides, then set the rolls aside.
Heat the butter in the same skillet over medium heat until it stops foaming. Add the celery and onion, along with about a quarter teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cook for two minutes. Then add the lobster and keep stirring until it’s cooked, about a minute or two. Taste a piece of the lobster for seasoning and add salt and pepper if you need to. Spoon the lobster mixture, with the butter, into the browned rolls. Sprinkle with chives and then add a squeeze of lemon on top. Serve immediately, one per person for a nice lunch portion, or cut the rolls each into four pieces to serve four as a snack.