Made In House

I have a lot of opinions about things – mostly having to do with food and drink. Some people look for art galleries, botanical gardens or old churches as places they seek out and visit when they go to a new city, but my hobby is trying new restaurants and visiting independent retail stores relating to food. I’m fascinated by everything that these businesses do to differentiate themselves from everyone else, from the format to the decor, how the staff presents themselves and the price an product.  A lot of these opinions are not of consequence and don’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things. But I find it fun to share them for what they’re worth.

This is certainly one of those opinions. This opinion deals with my perception of restaurants anointing themselves self-consciously with a crown of virtuosity and goodness when they make everything in house. They treat you like you should bow before them or certainly tip your hat to them because they’ve created something.  Sure, it’s a good thing to make soups, salad dressings, desserts, etc. in house and most customers would expect that be the case in a reasonable restaurant (i.e. non-chain, non-fast food).

However feeling so virtuous about making items in house is often a slippery slope because if you can’t make it better that what you can buy then why make it. For instance, when a server brags to me that they make their own pasta, it’s a red flag and I hardly ever order it. This is because certain pasta brands in Italy have evolved into the product they are with extreme dedication to the craft and often generations of attention to detail which makes their pasta better than anything you could attempt to make in house. Things like sourcing the wheat, blending the wheat, mixing the dough, the extrusion of the dough when the pasta shape can’t simply be cut and formed by hand, and lastly the drying of the pasta so its ready to cook. All this requires a skill and often equipment that is way beyond most restaurants’ capabilities, but the one exception for house made pasta is hand formed pastas like sheet pasta used for ravioli and lasagna.

It seems presumptuous, bordering on preposterous, to me for a restaurant to decide they can spend a little money on a pasta mixer and extruder, order semolina from the commercial food distributor and come anywhere close to the quality of a good dried Italian pasta because they can’t. Especially with spaghetti and linguine, which happen to be my favorite cuts and require proper extrusion technology that is hard to do in a small restaurant and is extremely expensive.

There are some places, like Mothers and Sons in Durham, who have done much more to assure a good product as in going to Italy to “Pasta School” (yes that’s a thing), buying better ingredients, and investing in the proper equipment, but others fall woefully short.

Another example of poorly made in house items is hot sauce. Just the other day I ordered and was served chicken and dumplings. After a taste, I thought this would really benefit from some fresh cracked black pepper and a little bit of Tabasco or Texas Pete. When my server came by to check on me, I asked for both. She said she would be right over with the pepper, but she didn’t have either hot sauce, rather they made their own. After a moment she trotted out with one of those dreaded stainless steel ramekins full of made in house hot sauce.  And I say I dread ramekins because so many restaurants have hot sauce but they won’t bring you a small bottle and I’m not sure why, most likely they have a giant container of it in the back that they dish out from. It’s almost as if they think it’s special or something to put it into a ramekin because it’s not in the container you can buy at the supermarket, but it’s wasteful and I hate this presentation of hot sauce because you can’t get the right amount of hot sauce on your eggs, you’re always dumping or spooning out way too much.  In the case of Made in House hot sauce, I guess a ramekin is the only way to deliver it to a table since they didn’t bottle it (and few would buy it even if they did bottle it).

The great thing about the two branded hot sauced I asked for, is that its not a lot of spice or complexity of flavor, its just the chili, vinegar, and salt to add some brightness to the dish without complicating the flavor profile of the herbs and spices which the chef has carefully executed in the kitchen.

After she delivered the ramekin I put my spoon in to try it, and it was a powerhouse of spices like cumin, oregano and what tasted like two or three others. This addition of all these Herbs and flavors would not be complimentary to my chicken and dumplings, which had already been well seasoned.  The server asked me how I like the hot sauce, with a big virtuous grin on her face. I replied that it was fine, just not for the chicken and dumplings.

Another frequent made in house brag is ketchup. Boy, I’ve had some horrendous made in house ketchups. If only restaurateurs had any idea the research, time and money the Heinz Corporation has spent on sourcing the tomatoes, spicing the ketchup and perfecting the recipe. Heinz has an amazing production method in which they heat the ketchup up to the temperature where it can go into the jar safely and then cool it down to a temp that retains its great flavor and bright red color. Sure, Heinz has corn syrup in it, and I’m not a corn syrup advocate either; however, I eat just a small quantity of ketchup and I’m dedicated to the taste, so I always go for the Heinz.

Lastly, baked goods. I was served a hot dog one time with the server bragging bout the made in house buns that were as big as a slipper. The ratio of hot dog to bread was so off, that I could barely find the hot dog.

Again this is just my opinion and I’m sure that I will make plenty of restaurants mad by attempting to call into question their self placed crowns of virtuosity.   I’m standing for any blowback I’m confident I will receive from this opinion and I welcome any comments that are likely to ensue.

Pup’s Cups

My new business start-ups are over. My best friend Peter Roy has a good image of what it takes to start a small business, or any business for that matter. He says you have a tank, similar to an air tank, that contains energy/air that you use to get a business of the ground. When you start a business, like Ann and I started Wellspring Grocery in 1981, I was 29, and had a full tank. That business start-up emptied a lot of the contents of my tank. Subsequently, I’ve started quite a few more businesses, and essentially, my tank is empty. But I do have new business ideas, and sort of “shadow box” at them. I do have a blog, andabeautytoyou.com, which sells special hats similar to the way a small business would promote them, and I have a business of sorts up here in the NC mountains – it’s an early morning craft coffee delivery service, which I’ve given a name.

The only nickname I’ve ever really had is Pup, which was given to me my sophomore year at Wake Forest. A guy named Sam Kitchen, from Clinton, North Carolina, tagged me with this name because he said I was always snooping around, looking at people’s shoes and taking everything in like an inquisitive dog. When my first granddaughter was born, a friend from my college era contacted me to say, “Now you’re a Grandpup, and that would be a great name for your grandchild to call you”. In fact, my grandchildren have dropped the “Grand”, and both call me Pup. So, my coffee delivery service here in Blowing Rock is called Pup’s Cups.

Here’s a bit of wretched dogral

Here in the High Country I wake up real early in the morning before the sun comes up

And in very short order, I’ve crafted myself one blessed and bodacious cup

I sip and enjoy quietly and watch the sun come up

I’ll have another cup, and maybe a few

Then I’ll make more coffee, and go out to deliver in the morning dew

In my trusty golf cart, I hit all my regular spots

And they hear my morning call

“Coffeeee, Coffeeee!”

Pup out there delivering coffee

Always having a ball

Summer 6 Pack

“Few wines are both as beloved and belittled as rosé. Since its return to fashion in the last five years or so, the public has embraced it as a wine of summer.”
Eric Asimov: “Rosés, with all due respect” June 7, 2010 The New York Times

SUMMER 6-PACK
Because pink wine is my favorite wine of summer, I’ve selected three favorites (2 bottles of each) to go into my summer 6-pack which will be sold at the Bulldega. To reserve yours call them at 919-680-4682 or email jay@bulldega.com.

There was a time when I was very pessimistic about the future of the great rosés of Europe. Even though rosé was the hip wine to drink in the summertime in Europe, and all of the best outdoor cafes in France and Italy served it, it was frowned on as hopelessly out of touch and cringe worthy in America. This was caused by the period of time where the California winemakers made what were called ‘blush’ wines – White Zinfandel being the most common of the blush wines. Essentially they were pink, tasted like bubblegum, and were altogether to be avoided. The wine cognoscenti made fun of these blush wines and eventually they became shunned by even the casual wine drinkers in America. In those days it was considered a horrible social gaffe to take a bottle of pink wine to a dinner party.

But I come to you this year with renewed optimism that authentic rosé is not only better understood but has been embraced in America like never before.
Here’s the reason for my optimism: People are not only buying rosé, ordering bottles in restaurants to sit in plain view on their table without hesitation, but also proudly serving it in their homes. They don’t have the sheepish, slightly embarrassed look that folks once did when serving a bottle of pink wine.
Also, a lot of my favorite rosés are on allocation – meaning there’s a greater demand than there is supply so you can’t buy everything you want. But, due to the educated wine press, and a lot of retailers who took up the cause of authentic, dry rosé, its back – big time.

Things to know about still rosé (sparkling is a different story):

1. Just a note on how rosé wines are made. Red grapes are crushed and only brief contact is allowed between the skins (which contain the colored pigments and tannins) and the juice (which comes from the colorless flesh of the grape).I should also add here that there are some rare red grapes which have pigmented flesh, called teinturier varieties, but this is the exception. These cannot by definition be used to make rosé. It is the degree of the contact between the skins and the juice that determines the final color of the wine. Thus, rosé wines lack both the deep color and the tannic structure of red wines made from the same grape varieties, and in this sense are more like white wines, and are best served cold. It is also rare to find rosé wines subjected to oak treatment.
2. They should be served at the temperature you would serve white wine.
3. Don’t plan a picnic or a porch gathering without chilling a bottle.
4. Even though they’re at their best as a summertime wine that’s fresh, cool, and crisp – I find a bottle of rosé the perfect first wine at a Thanksgiving gathering.
5. Some people would have you believe that once you’ve had a rosé for a few months past summer, it’s no good anymore – and nothing could be further from the truth.
6. In my opinion, some red grapes like Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, and Zweigelt make better rosés than other. That said, I also am partial to a blend of grapes – particularly from Provence and the Rhone, in France.

Whereas France is probably the most famous country for producing excellent dry pink wines, in this 6-pack you have one French rosé and two from Italy. Of all the many, many rosés I tasted, the Italians beat out the French. The French rosé is the lightest, and the Sangiovese is the most substantial – the fullest bodied rosé. Elisabetta’s Montenidoli is my favorite – rich, complex, and altogether charming.

Chateau d’Oupia Rosé – Minervois, Languedoc.
Grapes: Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault
Chateau d’Oupia is in the large region of the Languedoc, but is amongst the best communes – Minervois – where the land is ideal for growing grapes to produce wine – good slopes and rocky soil. André Iché was a star, and known for producing a whole lot of quality wine for a good price. He inherited his estate in the eighties, and quickly gained the reputation for being an excellent and committed farmer. Initially he sold off his wine to the negociants, but a visiting French winemaker from Burgundy in the late nineties was so enthused about his wine that he convinced Andre to bottle and market his own production. The composition is Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault.
The wine is delightfully light and easy to drink, with low alcohol – it’s ideal for the hot days of summer. Serve chilled as an apertif or with your summer meal.

Montenidoli Tosana Rosato Canaiuolo – Tuscany, Italy
Grapes: 100% Canaiolo
This rosé is unique and famous. It’s made from the Canaiolo red grape – one of the grapes (other than Sangiovese) that makes up a Chianti blend.

Elisabetta Fagiuoli is my favorite winemaker that I’ve met in my career. She is a tour-de-force in the tower town of San Gimignano in the region of Tuscany. Elisabetta is energetic, outgoing, and an eloquent spokeswoman for the philosophy and practice of natural winemaking.

Many years, her rosé is my favorite of all the ones I taste – and this would be one of those years. I recently had a glass of her rosé at Pizzeria Toro before dinner. I found the wine totally enchanting and everything I would want in a rosé – light, bright, and full of complexity. I remember thinking to myself – wine just can’t get any better than this, for me.

She organically farms her vineyards on a hillside surrounded by woodlands, and her wines are made with free-run must that ferments slowly and is bottled as soon as the sugars have fermented to maintain freshness. This method of making wine yields great flavor and doesn’t maximize output – if you actually press the grapes you get more juice out but you don’t make better wine. It takes someone who really cares about what they end up with in the bottle to use this method.

Caparsa Sangiovese – Tuscany, Italy, Grapes: 100% Sangiovese
Caparsa is in Tuscany, on the road between Radda and Volpaia in southern Chianti. Why did I pick this rosé? There are many reasons, but here are a few:
1. I’m extremely fond of the wines that Paolo makes – they represent terrific wine values.
2. There are some wines that you just fall in love with the flavor. This wine is 100% Sangiovese, certified organic, and sees more skin contact with the juice than most rosés, which makes it a richer, more cherry-like flavor than a lot of rosés. I’m not an advocate of telling you what it tastes like; everybody has their own taste and it would be like telling you what is wrapped inside your gift at the holidays.
3. Because it’s a certified organic wine, there is no stabilization – it was bottled at the end of January.

The Pancake Show

One Friday night, I was at a party and met this guy with two kids who lived near us. “What are you doing in the morning?” I asked. “I’m not doing anything.” “Can I come to your house and make pancakes?” He looked totally flabbergasted, and he went made a beeline for our mutual friend Sioux Watson and said, “See that guy over there in the green pants? Is he crazy?”
Smiling, she said, “No, that’s just Lex.”
“He asked if he could come to our house and make pancakes in the morning. Is that OK?”
“Yeah.”
After he left, I went to check in with Sioux and got the story. This event happened well into the second year – he did let me come over and it went fine, except that his young son didn’t like pancakes – a first for the pancake show.
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Necessity is the mother of invention: How I started the Pancake Show

In 1981 my wife Ann and I opened a natural foods grocery store, Wellspring Grocery, in Durham. Our daughter Emily was born the next year. I was born in 1952 when raising children was delegated to mothers, or in a lot of cases to nannies. I was determined to participate in Emily’s childhood more than my father had in mine so Ann and I decided we’d split the work week – alternating between working at the store and staying home with Emily.

The plan failed on two fronts. First, Emily didn’t eat anything but breast milk and this was before the days of pumping, so when Emily got hungry, which was often, I’d have to walk her over to the store to be fed. This meant Ann was being constantly interrupted while at work but I of course was never interrupted by her on the days I was working. I was making a couple of trips a day and it wasn’t easy for Ann to stop what she was working on to nurse. The second problem was that Ann and I did things very differently. Ann approaches a job from a pragmatic, logical place and does all the left brain things like scheduling, payroll and planning while I’m a hopeless romantic who approaches everything from the standpoint of esthetics so I enjoy working on marketing or signage. Our differing approaches were driving our employees crazy.

In 1986 our second child Gillian was born. By then we had moved to a larger store with many more employees and all the complications of running a larger business. Our employees had finally had enough and begged us not to do what we had been doing. They said, “Ann works on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and she does things her way, then you come in Tuesdays and Thursdays and change everything.”

Ann and I decided that I would be the primary person at Wellspring and she would stay with the girls and work on business tasks from home. As part of this agreement she asked for relief on the weekends so she could get some much needed R&R. Saturday mornings I was to be solely responsible for the girls, then 4 and 1 from the minute they woke up until the afternoon.

The first few Saturdays didn’t work as I tried unsuccessfully to entertain the girls with books and other kids activities. If we stayed at home they wanted to be with their mom and if we went out I was overwhelmed. I would take them out to a restaurant and two kids under 6 at a restaurant is oftentimes a train wreck. I’d put them in the car seats, and then move them from car seats to high chairs – and I was a rookie at both of these activities. And I also lacked the one surefire way to calm one of the girls down which was to nurse. One time I took the girls shopping and I found them these beautiful cotton-knit long black dresses. I recall trying to get the right sizes while they misbehaved in the store. Unfortunately I lost my temper with Emily and yelled at her which certainly didn’t do anything to improve her mood or behavior. Then it dawned on me. I should play to my strengths. I’m a very social person and I’ve been told I make delicious pancakes. I decided to book Saturday morning play dates at different people’s houses with the inducement being I’ll make the pancakes. This was the beginning of the pancake show.

I started with close friends whose kids knew my kids. I would show up between 8:30 and 9:00 with a well seasoned cast iron griddle I’d inherited from my parents, pancake batter, maple syrup and my two girls in tow. I had found a way to entertain my girls but it was also a break for the other families too since it gave them a Saturday morning activity for their kids. I was soon scheduling pancake shows regularly thanks to word of mouth. I would see people during the week and they’d ask, ’Does the Pancake Show have a gig this Saturday?’. This was generally successful for all parties involved except for that one odd occasion when I served up my perfectly cooked fluffy pancakes and the host child didn’t like pancakes. Who knew such a child existed? The pancake show became a regular Saturday morning outing for us – the girls were entertained and fed.

The Price of Pancakes

When our children were older they went to the Carolina Friends School. Ann coordinated the school auction and she included a Pancake Show in the auction. To my surprise it garnered a lot of interest. A local cardiologist bought it for a few hundred dollars. I thought, “God, for this amount of money I’ve got to spruce up the show, maybe bring some fruit, some bacon.” I told the cardiologist my plan. “No need to bring bacon, these are all cardiologists,” he said. I decided to bring it anyway. I’ve never seen a group of folks dive into a pile of bacon they way they did. They had clearly been in a state of bacon deprivation – there wasn’t a crumb on the plate. It seems there may be many things on which people can disagree but the tastiness of bacon is a common unifier. Even 4 year olds can agree. One Sunday morning when cooking pancakes and bacon at home, Gillian asked, “Daddy, where’s bacon come from?”. I told her it comes from a pig, Jupe.” Her reply, “Pigs are gooder than bacon.” From the mouth of babes. The cardiologists may have gone back to denying themselves after that breakfast but for a while they really lived.

All Good Things Must Come to an End or How Being A Creature of Habit Can Be Costly

Saturday mornings were reserved for the pancake show. Someone bought one at the auction one year and I don’t know why but I agreed to host one on a Sunday morning for his child’s birthday party. After years of Saturday pancake shows I had a routine. Sundays had their own routine of family breakfast at home, maybe brunch out or perhaps golf. I awoke on the agreed upon Sunday morning and soon received an early call from friends inviting us to brunch. Off Ann and I went with nary a thought of the pancake show in my head. When we got back, the answering machine was flashing. Ann listened to the message and the color had sort of drained from her face. “You’d better go listen to the messages.”

Message 1 – slight concern: “Lex, just checking in. Making sure you’re straight. Today’s the day.”

Message 2 – concern mixed with irritation : “Lex. Hope you’ll be showing up soon. All my guests are arriving at 10:45.”

Message 3 – no concern, only anger: “GOD DAMN IT LEX, I DON’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE PANCAKES!

I called and apologized profusely and offered to cook the whole group dinner and I’d also provide the wine. They extracted their pound of flesh from me for my mistake. They kept drinking bottle after bottle of wine and stayed for hours – well past midnight. This was the most expensive pancake show I’d ever hosted and was the last Pancake Show as part of the Carolina Friends Auction.

The only Pancake Shows now are in Blowing Rock where we escape sometimes during the hot summer months. The griddle lives at our house there. We enjoy watching Wimbledon and invite the neighbors to join us for pancakes and match watching.

I was always slightly embarrassed by the name “The Pancake Show.” It sounded a bit grandiose, like we were a little full of ourselves. I tried to change it to Cakes and Company but the girls wouldn’t have it. It had been the Pancake Show for three or four years and the Pancake Show it stayed.

Pancake Show Pancakes

I love this recipe. The pancakes have a magical texture. The opposite of gooey or rubbery. It’s easy to overtax pancake batter and with a 100% wheat flour batter the gluten develops and the pancakes get an unpleasant texture. Our recipe has cornmeal in it which gives you a pancake that is not rubbery or doughy. They’re light because the whipped egg whites are folded in, but they retain a texture that I find ‘toothsome’ because of the coarse milled cornmeal.

2 cups flour
(I prefer 1 cup whole wheat, ½ cup cornmeal, ½ cup unbleached white but you can adjust the types of flour you use)
1 Tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs honey or sugar (optional)
3 eggs
2 C buttermilk
¼ c. oil

1. Sift flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a large bowl.
2. Separate eggs, adding buttermilk and oil to the yolks.
3. Mix well. If using honey, add now.
4. Beat egg whites until stiff.
5. Slowly add wet ingredients to dry and mix. Try not to over-mix as this will make the pancakes tough.
6. Fold in the egg whites and let the batter rest for about 10 minutes.
7. Cooking these on a seasoned griddle or cast iron skillet will dramatically improve your pancake quality.

*Nicely browned pancakes are also better, the result of a hot surface and a patient spatula.

*Many years ago, the agriculture department of the state planted 40 different blueberry bushes in the lot across from our Blowing Rock house as an experiment to see if blueberries would grow in that location. The blueberries are oftentimes ripe around the time we’d have the pancake breakfast so for those who enjoyed them we could make blueberry pancakes. If you have blueberries, ladle the batter onto the griddle, then push the blueberries into the pancake. I prefer making them this way rather than adding them all to the batter so I can have more uniform pancakes. There isn’t one with 20 berries and another with 6. This also allows for making blueberry pancakes for those who like them and others can have theirs without.

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LEX’s SPRING CASE 2017

You will find 9 reds and 3 whites in this Spring case, and I snuck in a rose just to get you thinking about the warmer weather ahead. The origin of the wines is almost evenly split between Italy and France (5 from Italy, 7 from France). The Italian Gringolino is the lightest of the reds, and the Pic Saint Loup is the fullest. People are always looking for a wine to just serve friends without food, and of the whites, I would favor the Corzano, with the Soucherie Anjou Blanc being better with food. For the reds, the Gringolino, the Barbera, or the Rosso would be great as an apertif.

In my attempt to continually improve these seasonal cases of natural wine, we’ve added two new features to the write up. The first is, we have photographs of the families who make the wine. I find being able to see the people behind the wine makes my enjoyment of the wine more complete. We’ve also put the individual retail prices of the wines, because a game I continually play is to look at the color of the wine, to gently swirl it around and smell it, and then take a taste – finally guessing the price. If I guess $30, and the wine is $19.99, (which was the case with the Barbera) I get excited and make a mental note.

At the end of the write up, you’ll find the instructions on how to reserve a case and how to pick it up.

Lastly, we’re going to give you incentive to rate these wines from your taste. The rating will be done on a simple, 5-point scale.

1-I don’t like this

2-This is OK…

3-This is pretty good

4-This is really good

5-I love this and would like to buy some more

The way it’ll work is: there will be a card in each spring case with a way to evaluate the wines on this 5-point scale. If the card is turned in by the date specified on the card, your name will be entered into a drawing for a special bottle from my cellar.

And now for the wines: 

Chateau Soucherie ‘Anjou Blanc’

Estate: Chateau Soucherie

Vintage: 2014

Price: $18.75

Grapes: 100 percent Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc has always been a superstar in France’s Loire valley – where they make dry, sweet, and sparkling wine from the grape. But in the new world, they’ve never had much luck with it – except for maybe in South Africa. People preferred Sauvignon Blanc to Chenin Blanc. This, to my thinking, was Chenin’s advantage. The French producers made no effort to change the style of their wines when the world was mad for fat, oaky/buttery, tropical fruited whites. They just went on making lean, mineraly wines. This Chenin Blanc is crisp, and bright, and quite dry. It’s a light wine – best enjoyed at the table with a meal. I’d serve it with shellfish, any kind of spring salad with protein, or any other light spring fare.

Thibault of Chateau Soucherie

Fattoria Corzano e Paterno ‘Il Corzanello’

Estate: Fattoria Corzano e Paterno

Vintage: 2015

Price: $16.49

Grapes: 40% Chardonnay 40% Semillion 10% Trebbiano 10% Malvasia

2015 was a very warm year in Tuscany, and you can taste the rich ripeness of the fruit in this wine. In fact, one of the things I really like about the wine is the fuller mouthfeel… the texture. Of course the wine has the right amount of acidity to be really good at the table with all kinds of foods, but this wine could be enjoyed without food. I also like that the family decided that they could make a better wine if they planted some French varieties instead of just continuing on with only native Italian grapes. They planted a few rows in the early 90’s, and use the grapes to make this wine. The family has sheep that graze on the same land, and they make sheep’s milk cheese, so maybe it’s not a coincidence that this wine is so brilliant with cheese, especially a sheep’s milk cheese like Percorino.

Aljoscha Goldschmidt and Arianna Gelpke of Corzano e Paterno

Clos Cibonne Cuvée Tradition Rosé

Estate: Clos Cibonne

Vintage: 2015

Price: $25.49

Grapes: 90% Tibouren, 10% Grenache

I wanted to give you a head start on what’s to come – here’s the first rosé of the season. This was my favorite rosé last summer, and after tasting it, I had a friend in SC that bought a case.

This rosé from Provence is a favorite of many wine geeks. It’s made from an obscure and almost extinct French native grape, Tibouren. The winemaker André Roux has worked tirelessly to promote the appellation in Provence where he makes this wine, and he’s also been a champion of his grape. His granddaughter Bridget and her husband Claude Deforge inherited the task of reinvigorating the grape’s name; almost all of the Tibouren in production grows on his estate. This wine is aged on the lees for one year, giving it a fuller, more substantial mouthfeel than most rosés. I selected this wine because I’m very fond of the flavors, and there’s something to learn – which is this: not all rosés must be consumed quickly. In fact, this rosé improves over 2 or 3 years. I was happy to be able to select this rosé because it comes from 2015, which is drinking beautifully right now. If it’s warm enough to sit on the porch or the deck, and maybe grill out some chicken or fish, this would be your wine. Or if you’re inside, any lighter fares would pair well with this rosé.

Claude and Bridget of Clos Cibonne

Domaine des Schistes Illicio Rouge

Estate: Domaine des Schistes

Vintage: 2015

Price: $15

Grape: 40% Merlot, 32% Marselan, 28% Carignan

Domaine des Schistes was certified as an organic vineyard in 2015. It is located in the communes of Estagel, Tautavel, and Maury in the Agly Valley in Roussillon. I selected this wine because of the interesting complexity of flavors that you almost never find in a wine in this price range. The wine would pair well with any number of lighter meals – roast chicken would be something that would come to mind – or anything with mushrooms or tomatoes. Schistes is shale in Enlgish, and refers to the geological composition of the soil where the vineyards are – and often influences the final flavor of the wine.

Mickael of Domaine des Schistes

Le Caniette Rosso Piceno ‘Rosso Bello’

Estate: La Caniette

Vintage: 2011

Price: $13

Grape: 50% Sangiovese, 50% Montepulciano

This wine is an easygoing crowd-pleaser. The farm used to be devoted to animals; they raised cattle and prized stud bulls. In the 1940s Giovanni Vagnoni planted their first grapes, and his grandson increased the vineyard acreage in the 60s. They began bottling Rosso in 1990, and the current generation – Giovanni and Luigino Vagnoni – now farm 16 hectares. They farm organically in a vineyard with influencing limestone. Rosso Bello is a blend of 50% Sangiovese and 50% Montepulciano – both native grapes.

This Rosso is imminently quaffable, and not a wine that requires discussion or meditation. It’s simply a delicious wine and extraordinary for the price. It would be marvelous with burgers or pizza, and you’ll probably want 2 because as a quaffer it goes down easy.

Chateau Valcombe Ventoux Rouge

Estate: Chateau Valcombe

Vintage: 2014

Price: $14

Grapes: Blend of Rhone varietals

Ventoux AOC is a wine-growing region in the southeast of the Rhone region in France. The wine is a composition of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache, Cinsault, and Clarette. The vines average 50 years old, and some of the Carignan is 75 years old. Older vines produce more complex and full flavored juice. When I tasted this wine, I knew it would be a favorite…it’s easy to find its deliciousness. And, in fact, I’m betting on this wine to win the most liked in the spring case.

In my time at 3Cups, there was a Chateauneuf du Pape imported by Neal Rosenthal called Domaine Monpertuis. It was a staff favorite, and it had such beautiful clarity of fruit and structure. I was a regular purchaser of this wine. After talking with the folks at Rosenthal Imports, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the very same vigneron had purchased the vineyards at Ventoux and made more great wine. The estate Chateau Valcombe is 28 hectares in the heart of the Ventoux. After Paul Jeune purchased the vineyards and began making the wine, the wine world immediately took note. Paul had created another success. Paul has since decided to retire, but he trained successors Luc and Cendrine Guenard – it’s obvious they were very good students.

This wine has beautiful dark and spicy fruit, lively acidity, and overwhelming deliciousness. This is a fuller bodied red than many of the reds I generally select, but if I was a betting man, I’d bet it’ll be a favorite in the Spring Case. I’ve said many of the proceeding wines would be good with lighter spring fare – this wine should be selected with more substantial spring fare… maybe even a steak on the grill. If you don’t have any full spring meals, just save it for the fall.

Mas Foulaquier ‘L’Orphee’ Pic Saint Loup

Estate: Mas Foulaquier

Vintage: 2014

Price: $14

Grape: 50% Syrah, 50% Grenache Noir

I was thrilled to find a Pic Saint Loup among the wines available in the triangle. There’s an exciting new importer/distributor who just moved here from Seattle, Washington. Jason Tippetts and his wife Adrienne have a space in East Durham and are slowly building up inventory… Expect to see a steady stream of their wines in the seasonal cases. They share my sensibility about wine, have traveled to France (where I believe almost all of their wines come from) and have secured a group of estates that produce natural wine of extraordinary quality—and the prices are righteous. I was first introduced to Pic Saint Loup years ago by my friend and mentor Kevin Knox. He said to me, “Lex, I love the wines from France’s Rhone river valley, but they’re so expensive!” He said that one of his favorites is Chateauneuf du Pape, but it’s out of his price range. Then he told me that he found a wine that’s very similar that satisfied his taste for Chateauneuf du Pape. It’s called Pic Saint Loup, and the composition contains many of the great grapes of Chateauneuf du Pape – not all of them, but many.

So even though this red is a fuller bodied, ‘bigger’ red wine than you would think of serving in the springtime, when I tasted the wine with Jason, the price value proposition was so great I couldn’t pass it up.

The vineyards of Mas Foulaquier contain 12 hectares in the AOC of Coteaux de Languedoc Cru Saint Loup. It is in the commune of Claret, situated north of Pic Saint Loup. The vineyards sit on chalky-clayey hillsides with a southerly exposure at an elevation of 200 meters above sea level.

In the vineyard, Pierre Jequier has been farming biodynamically since 2006. You can see by his picture he’s a soulful man, and makes soulful wine.

Carussin Barbera d’Asti

Estate: Carussin

Vintage: 2015

Price: $19.99

Grape: Barbera

Another beauty from Jay Murrie at Piedmont Wine Imports. Jay has met Bruna Ferro and her sons Matteo and Luca, and has been to their vineyards. It’s a biodynamic farm, which is a step even beyond organic; they follow all of my criteria for a natural wine. Their farming practices, the way they handpick their grapes, the way they do not use any commercial yeast, and practice non-interventioninst winemaking in the cellar – it all adds up to a natural wine which yields a really fine example of Barbera. Barbera is one of the workhorse grapes of Italy, grown in many, many different regions. In Italy, everyone drinks wine with every meal, and the wine probably consumed the most is Barbera – which is grown all over Italy. I think Barbera reaches the pinnacle of fruition in Piedmonte; this one is from a province called Asti. I first tasted this wine at Pizzeria Toro where it was offered as a wine by the glass. I was immediately smitten. When I called to find out the it achieved what I’m always hoping for – to give you a whole lot of wine value in your glass for what you pay. This wine, for under $20, is a superstar in terms of wine value. I later shared a bottle with my family and friends, where it was a big hit, so I decided to put it in the Spring Case. This is a medium bodied red wine that’s full of flavor.

Matt Kramer says (in his fabulous book Making Sense of Italian Wine), “At its best, Barbera is a deeply colored red wine with lush, plush tastes of cherries, blackberries, raspberries, and a bit of spice. Significantly, it’s one of the least tannic red grapes in common production.” Barbera has refreshing acidity, which makes it a great red wine choice for richer fare.

Saccoletto ‘Il Carnalasca’ Gringolino

Estate: Saccoletto

Vintage: 2014

Price: $19.49

Grape: Gringolino

Gringolino is a favorite of mine – I like its light, elegant mouthfeel, the lower alcohol, and really everything about it. The Il Carnalasca hails from Monferrato in the NW of Italy. The estate has been developed by Daniele Saccoletto over the past 40 years, beginning from nothing. The property is 14 hectares (about 34.5 acres). This wine can be served as an apertif… make sure to pop it in the fridge for a few minutes before opening; the bottle should be slightly cool to the touch. This wine is 100% Gringolino – an ancient, native grape of Monferrato in the Piedmont of Italy. The agriculture is certified organic with hand picked fruit, natural fermentation, no industrial yeast, and a simple, traditional approach in the cellar to make the wine. Don’t serve this to a guest for whom Malbec is their favorite wine – It’s a polar opposite of the thick, high alcohol wine from Argentina.

How to order: You can call the Bulldega (919-680-4682) or send an email to Jay Connor (jay@bulldega.com) who I work with to put these seasonal cases together. Just tell him how many cases you’d like, how you’d like to pay, and approximately when you’d want to pick them up.

NOTE: Unfortunately we cannot ship the wine. 

How to pay: You can pay with credit card when you pick the wine up, or you can pay with the credit card when you call to order, which gives you more latitude on when to pick it up. If your wine is paid for we’ll keep it for up to a month if you’re traveling when the pick up date starts.

When to pick up: The wine will be ready on Friday, April 13th, but it’s not necessary for you to pick it up exactly that day.

Thanks so much for your support. The next case will happen in the Fall.

Cheers,

Lex

Sumo…A brand new piece of fruit

My grandfather, Charlie Upchurch, had a love of food and was very particular about what he liked to buy and eat. Loved citrus fruit. He felt like it was the most exciting thing happening in February. He also loved baseball, and oftentimes would go to Florida to spring training. It was there he developed a greater knowledge and specific favorites when it came to citrus. Returning home with his new-found specifics, he’d be on the phone the next January ordering shipments of Indian River specific varietal grapefruit, and his favorite (and therefore, mine) the Temple orange – which I would describe as the most exotic, complex fruit on the market today. I’ll write another post about Temple oranges when they hit the shelves for their very short season, but I have a different story to tell today.
I walked into Whole Foods yesterday, and there was a nice display of a piece of citrus that was new to me. I walked closer to get a better look, and look for a produce worker to possibly get a taste. The sign said ‘Sumo Mandarins’ and had a little blurb. The piece of fruit is amazingly well named because there are a number of things about its appearance that remind you of a sumo wrestler – it’s large, with a shapely bottom, and a prominent top-knot. I bought a couple that were heavy for their size, and which didn’t have bruised exteriors. When I tasted the fruit later in the day, it was one of those ‘Wowza’ experiences. This was the best citrus fruit I have eaten this year. It had some of the characteristics of a clementine – easy to peel, no seeds, sections easy to separate – but it was more assertive in the flavors, more complex, more high notes, and if a piece of fruit could be meatier, it was. I was back today to buy more, and we looked on the internet and this is a story we found:
“In the 1970’s a citrus grower from the Kumamoto Prefecture in Japan set out to develop a fruit which would combine the best of the easy-to-peel Japanese Satsuma with the big, juicy, sweet oranges from California. Although he saw promise in an obscure tangerine-orange hybrid, this new fruit was challenging to grow. Thankfully, our grower persevered. Over time, he developed a series of methods for growing, pruning and thinning his trees, which is different from all other citrus.
It took over 30 years but his hard work was rewarded when recently, this new variety became the most prized citrus fruit in Japan and Korea. Following the Japanese tradition of offering the best fruit as a gift, one can find it in Tokyo gift shops, selling for up to $8 for a single piece of fruit! Now this legendary fruit, which is called Dekopon in Japan and Hallabong in Korea, is finally available for the enjoyment of consumers here in America.
Grown on our families’ farms in California’s Central Valley to the same exacting standards of the original Kumamoto farmer. It is the biggest mandarin you’ve ever seen. It has a distinctive shape with a prominent ‘top-knot.’ The peel is bright orange, bumpy and loose so it peels effortlessly. The delicate sections separate easily. It’s seedless, juicy without being messy, and it is quite probably the sweetest citrus you’ll ever eat.” – We got this text from a group of farmers in California that probably have secured rights to this hybrid mandarin. At this point, the fruit is not organic because a group of growers has rights to the variety, for now.  The way it usually works is if the commercial farmers are successful over a period of time, the hybrid will eventually be available to organic growers – but that might be 25 years from now.
I recommend you go try a few and see for yourself.

Finding Coffee in Oxford

In October, I was in Oxford Missisippi for 4 days attending the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA), symposium. This was the third straight year I had attended. Last year I was staying in an Airbnb, so I schlepped a full coffee rig to make the morning coffee. The apartment where we stayed belonged to two twenty-something Ole Miss students, but that’s another story. They didn’t have much, but they had a stove so I could boil water—I brought everything else I needed in my suitcase: coffee beans, grinder, a cone filter, filters, a cone pour through, filters and a thermos for the coffee to drip into. It took up a lot of room in my suitcase—I couldn’t take nearly as many shoes as I wanted to.

This year, I was staying at a new hotel called The Graduate. It was on the square in downtown Oxford, so I assumed I could find a good place to get a morning cup. I tried all the local coffee shops, no luck. I should tell you that a coffee company from Birmingham, Alabama, Royal Cup, sets up a truck at the SFA symposium and makes good coffee – espresso drinks and pour over in a Chemex. So you can get a good cup, but you have to wait until about 9:30 or 10 o’clock to do so. As early as I get up, I needed an early cup. It’s fashionable to bash any big box national retailer, and I’ve certainly been guilty of doing just that. But after asking other friends who were at the symposium if they’d found a good cup in Oxford and receiving a thumbs down from all I asked, my friend Peter and I did the unmentionable—we headed to Starbucks.

Starbucks has been the brunt of so many jokes. They’re called Charbucks (since they so often burn the coffee by roasting it too darkly) and they’re responsible for the Latte devolution…how the frappuccino and pumpkin spice lattes and the like killed the connoisseurship and evolution of coffee culture in America. Before you stop reading and start cursing me, hear me out. Not all, but some Starbucks, have an brilliant piece of equipment called a Clover. Here’s a link:

http://sprudge.com/breaking-is-this-a-three-group-super-automatic-clover-38905.html

It’s my understanding that the Clover was designed by two Stanford engineers hired by a coffee company from Seattle. The machine essentially has mechanized what happens in a French Press. I’m familiar with the Clover machine because I remember the food show where the inventors were displaying the Clover, and I even considered buying one for 3Cups. But they were wildly expensive and we were using a manual French Press method at the time which I thought was just as good. Here’s what happened: Starbucks liked the technology and bought the company, and so now, the only place where you can experience coffee made by the Clover is at Starbucks.

http://www.slashgear.com/forget-lattes-starbucks-next-coffee-trend-might-finally-be-the-clover-02284549/

Here’s the way the Clover option works at Starbucks: Remember—not all Starbucks locations have a Clover. The locations that have a Clover machine are called “reserve stores.”

Here’s how it works:

They have a board behind the counter where you can pick, in the case of the Oxford location, six different origins. I selected the coffee from Guatemala. The coffee is weighed, ground, and put into the Clover machine, where the water, at perfect temperature, is mixed with the coffee grounds. The barista stirs the mix, and then, at just the right amount of infusion time, the machine separates the grounds from the liquid coffee.

The barista handed me the cup. I took a sip. And the verdict? Fantastic. And it was clear to me that it was oh so much better than the small, local shops in town.

I’ll bet Starbucks, given their infrastructure and buying team, in fact might buy special coffees for their Clover machine stores. I’ve since learned that they do. They ship seasonal small-lot origin coffees roasted in a special facility in Seattle to their reserve stores. I know they roast the coffees differently; the Guatemalan I had was a perfect medium roast, with not a hint of carbon flavor from roasting too dark.

Peter and I went back the next morning and I tried a different origin, an Ethiopian, and, it too was excellent. I started out both mornings with a ceramic mug, I had to get back to the symposium for the next lecture, so I took the rest of my coffee in a to-go cup.

I was embarrassed to carry a Starbucks cup into a crowd of food lovers because I knew they would immediately judge me and think I was a traitor. So I actually poured my coffee into a travel mug to destroy the evidence.

There are not many times when I’m stuck in a strange place and Starbucks is my best option.

I was recently in Charlotte and found a Starbucks with a Clover machine. I had told my brother Chuck about this experience in Mississippi, and he said he’d like to go and have a cup from the Clover. So, off we went, to fetch a Clover cup. At this particular Starbucks, they had the same features as the Starbucks in Oxford – a board behind the counter, which read ‘reserve coffees’ with the origins on the left and a short description on the right.

So if you have a Starbucks in your town, before you judge them too harshly, call and ask if they’re a reserve store or if they have a clover machine. But remember to bring your travel mug if you don’t want evidence that you’ve been visiting the mermaid.

Our Friend Across the Way

 (for Lex on his birthday – by AMH)

Like a moth forced
To fly in daylight
He crosses the way
Like the aroma of clematis in autumn.
He brings
Cool Italian shirts
Kenyan Coffee
Carolina dogs and grilled burgers
Pastel drawings on brown paper
And tales of Shiloh.
(She wears his cap.)
Goddess of the turn house.

Like a constant waxing moon.
He crosses
Golfing all the way
Straight and down the middle
(Until Ollie barks his entrance.)
Bringing
Bread that will not mold
Butter from contented cows
Fried chicken (all we can eat elegantly.)
One, just one, belly laugh at PTI
Staying awake until the moon is up
Again, and he can cross back.

Hidden (but not to Ollie)
In the belly of a wooden horse.
He brings
We never know.
A palate like a comfy chair
A paperless, endless recipe
For anything.
A history of grits
A jar of best beans
A box (a box?) of discovered wine
A tale from within a Tuscan village
Conquered, forever in his debt.

Then,
From a calm, from a yellow sky
He bursts
Always standing
Always with an eye
Just for you (or for the next)
With a Poem.
He begins
Your neck stiffens.
He ends
Cradling your heart.
A beauty to you.

And a beauty to you, too.
Our friend from across the way.

Coffee Deliciousness

This is a long post (and quest) to find delicious coffee for me to brew in the morning. If you don’t brew coffee at home, this might be too much for you to want to read with its accompanying links. The bottom line is that I believe that today’s best roasters, called the Third Wave – have gone too far and are going too lightly, not allowing the natural sugars to develop to produce what I consider to be a delicious cup.

I hope that there will be a Fourth Wave of roasters and retailers featuring a City Roast. Since I began gathering information for this post, I have found a couple of coffees that are tasting just right to my palate. I consulted with Grant Tennille and Badi Bradley, who got some Panther coffee for me from Miami. I have enjoyed their East Coast blend. Locally I have bought Intelligentsia’s Rwandan coffee, which I sampled at Market Street in Chapel Hill. The story of how the women of Rwanda have worked to reestablish coffee as an origin is a great story for another time. MAny of you probably remember it from 3 Cups, as we featured it prominently.

Here’s where I was a few months ago (thankfully my morning coffee is improving):

When I make my morning coffee I often don’t like the result. If it is roasted an eyelash too dark with any hint of carbon flavors I can’t drink it. On the other side of the spectrum, I often find I don’t enjoy the coffees that are roasted too lightly.

In my opinion it parallels the way craft brewers have overcorrected from the atrocities of Budweiser to create a beer that is too hoppy, alcoholic and in your face. Every once in a while I get a coffee that really tastes right to me. When I have asked what the roast level or Agtron number is, it seems what Kevin Knox describes as a City Roast. When I have asked a roaster the Agtron number on a coffee that I really liked, the answer has been an Agtron level of 74 or 75. Agtron is a spectrophotometer that is used to measure degree of coffee roast precisely.

It is appropriate to say that Kevin Cox has forgotten more than I know about coffee. Here’s a link to his site, Coffee Contrarian. Here’s what Kevin has to say about my coffee dilemma. He’s specifically addressing my issue with coffee being over roasted and how Peet’s and Starbucks began a trend with good intentions that were associated to a specific location and roasting conditions. Dark roasting has gotten out of hand. The American culture enjoys plenty of sugary syrup and cream to make those burnt tasting coffees drinkable.

Here’s a little history from Kevin:

“Peet’s opened in 1966. Alfred Peet had a coffee background, but learned the retail side and much else working behind the counter at Freed, Teller & Freed, the great San Francisco roaster-retailer on Polk Street that I’m sure you visited. Alfred didn’t seem to give Freed’s much credit, but they and not Peets were the true specialty coffee pioneers in the Bay area, predating Peet’s by 67 years – and they did the classic Full City Roast to perfection!

The Peet’s roast style was the product of Alfred’s taste, his ability to source super high-acid, dense, high-grown coffees of a quality not previously seen very often if at all in the United States, AND the naturally soft Bay area water, which allowed the modest acidity of his darkly-roasted coffee to still be perceptible (something that would not have been the case with even moderatly hard water). One has to bear in mind that both Alfred Peet and the founders of Starbucks never intended their companies to be anyting but local, so the roast style and brewing were 100% dialed in to their particular place.

Jerry Baldwin, the most articulate of the three founders of Starbucks, once told me that he wished that roasters and roast styles could be local and regional the way great beer breweries were many years ago. I think that during the late 70’s and 80’s he regarded George Howell’s Coffee Connection as the East Coast equivalent of Peet’s, and I know for sure that he loved drinking their coffee and respected their roast style while preferring his own (and vice versa). Personally I still very much enjoy Indonesian coffees in particular from Peet’s, as I think they stand up to the roast style very well, provided the coffee is brewed in an Aeropress or commercial espresso machine. It’s the coffee equivalent of a good Russian Imperial Stout; not something I’d want for a steady diet, but okay once in awhile.”

Kevin has also answered my quest to find a full city roast. Here’s what he says about my inability to find the coffee that I really want to be drinking: “In recent years the classic full city roast, as represented by Freed, Teller & Freed, Schapira’s, Pannikin, Kobos, The Coffee Connection and others (including Allegro during my tenure) has become almost extinct, as Third Wavers push the envelope in the city-to-cinnamon roast range while Starbucks and Peets incinerate mostly crap. Counter Culture and Batdorf are just about the only readily-available coffees I find that are still roasted in that range….the rest is either lemon juice or charcoal.”

On my Facebook page, I included a couple articles about the other end of the spectrum, which is coffee being roasted too lightly. It doesn’t stay in the roaster long enough to develop the naturally occurring sugars in the bean, which I feel is what provides a delicious cup.

 

 

Additional Wine Importers

My last post was about finding good wines when there’s not a really good wine store. I provided a list of importers who’s wine should be found on the shelves of any wine store that’s paying attention.  I have thought of three other importers and I know that there are many more. All of these importers don’t just represent estates, they represent estates making natural wines of distinction. Meaning you get some special in your glass when you buy a bottle.

Here’s my importer additions: Jon David Hedrick Selections, Authentiquevin, and Vintage 59. Jon David Hedrick just celebrated his 10th year in business and represents the Loire region in France. Some would say that the Loire is epicenter of natural wine production in Europe.