Beginning Golfer #1

I’ve just returned from the range, the practice area, at the golf club. I witnessed a scene that occurs just about every weekend here in Blowing Rock, a mountain community with a lot of second homes. Here is my description of what I think preceded what I witnessed today. Blowing Rock residents and members of the golf club have their kids come visit for the weekend and bring their children- the grandkids. They arrive on a Friday afternoon after school or work and leave Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. On Friday, Grandpa plays his regular Friday afternoon golf game and shows up for his Saturday morning regular game, as well. He gets a pass to do this with the understanding that, on Sunday, he will take his grandson or granddaughter to the range to hit golf balls and introduce them to the game.

Golf is an extremely difficult game to learn. You make a swing motion that is 12 to 15 feet long that involves weight transfer and rotation with an attempt to make contact with a small ball sitting on the ground. However, here’s the real challenge… the ball is on the ground and you want it to go in the air. Grandpa has usually cut off an old club for his grandson, Tommy, to use that is almost always too long and too heavy. After a dozen or so attempts, Tommy hasn’t gotten one ball in the air. The best ones roll along the ground, what’s called a “top” in golf, but many of the attempts are “whiffs,” missing the ball all together. Tommy is having no fun and Grandpa begins with his woefully wrong instruction. He starts with, “Tommy, swing a little easier,” followed by, “don’t go back so far,” and then, the worst of all, “keep your head down.” After a dozen or so more tops and whiffs, Tommy is about to cry and Grandpa is getting mad. He then resorts to putting his hand on Tommy’s head and holding it still. My boss in the golf business, Claude Harmon, if he had witnessed such a scene, would approach Grandpa and ask, “Did you ever hear of practicing medicine without a license? How would you like someone operating on you who hadn’t been to medical school?”

I’ve taught a lot of beginning golf lessons and the first requirement is to make sure the student (in this case, Tommy) is having fun. It would usually begin with a short cart ride to try to find someone playing golf that has some skill and hopefully a full swing. The second part is more tedious, teaching the student the proper grip; your hands are the only part of your body touching the club, and if you don’t get that right, you’re in for a long slog in learning the game. I was once learning from the boss who was teaching a beginner the grip and patiently putting the student’s hands on the club in the proper position. He always taught us to do this at waist level so the student could see their hands. He would make a game of it, putting the student’s hands there two or three times, and then would stand back and allow the student to do it themselves. I remember one day, at about this point in the lesson, the young man who was taking the lesson said, “When am I going to get to hit some?” The boss replied, “Johnny, if you went to a piano lesson the first day, would you expect to play a song?”

I believe the best place to start with a beginning golfer is on a putting green, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when there isn’t anyone around. First of all, it’s easier to get a putter that is not too long or too heavy, and secondly, there are endless games you can play and a chance that the youngster would have some fun. I would always begin by explaining that the object of putting is to get the ball rolling on green and instead of using your hand, you use the putter. Then, get the student to roll some balls with their hand toward different holes on the green, where they could see that because the green isn’t flat and has contour, the ball rolls different directions from right to left or left to right, uphill, or downhill, in what’s called a “break.” Every putt has a different contour and therefore, a different break. This is why you want to do this when there are not a lot of people around, as this can be distracting. Next, I recommend putting three or four balls in a circle around the hole, twelve or eighteen inches around the cup. They can usually make the most of these and it gives them a little confidence.

In my next post, I’ll describe what I would do on day two with a beginner.

Poppa

I count myself very lucky to have grown up in a family that really cared about good food. The person at the center of this appreciation was my maternal grandfather. His name was Charlie Upchurch, but all his grandchildren called him Poppa. He was born in 1890, either in Raleigh or in a small town close to Raleigh. His father was a farmer who eventually became a cotton broker. Having grown up on a farm, Poppa understood flavor and seasonality, and how the two go together. Lucky for me, his house was a ten minute bike ride from my house. I would go to see him almost every afternoon when I got home from school, sometimes biking directly from school to his house. My house seemed decidedly boring compared to his. He was always taking delivery of large quantities of apples, oranges, grapefruits, pecans. When I would arrive, I would immediately go to the kitchen, where there was all kinds of action. And then I’d head into the den to have a chat with Poppa. My mother Julia Upchurch was his youngest child, and from my vantage point, his favorite. I’ve had two daughters myself, and no sons, but fathers and daughters seem to have a special connection, and my mother was his only daughter. His nickname for my mother was DoBug, or sometimes JuBug. He always wanted to send me home with something for DoBug. And he would always pack up the latest shipment of whatever he thought was best. Then he would tell me the story about the apple, orange, the sourwood honey, the Stuart pecans, so that I could relay the story to my mom when I got home. I loved these stories, and really, this is the model that I used at Wellspring Grocery: finding and procuring exceptionally flavorful food and telling the story for customers to then buy and enjoy the food when they got home. Poppa always bought things in larger quantities. He wanted enough to give away to his family and friends. He had a root cellar in the basement where he could store the country ham, the citrus, the apples. With a shelf there for the sourwood honey, pickled beets, homemade jams and relishes – some of which were made in his kitchen. There was always an interesting cook who was in charge in that kitchen.

On Friday nights, my mom and dad would pack up my brother Doug and I and deliver us to Diddy and Poppa’s house for an overnight. So I was able to eat two meals with Poppa – Dinner Friday night and breakfast Saturday morning.

One thing that I noticed early on was that if the peaches were good, he would have them both Friday night and Saturday morning. The same with his favorite fish – mackerel from the coast. Friday night supper with vegetables, Saturday morning breakfast with grits and eggs. I’m not sure how he managed to get fresh fish from the NC coast to Charlotte, NC, but he did.
He would excitedly tell me ‘The mackerel are running, and we got some nice, fresh mackerel for dinner tonight…’

It’s a curious thing to me that my grandfather’s favorite fish was mackerel, and I can understand why my mother’s favorite fish is mackerel, and even maybe why I like mackerel so much – but my daughter Gillian, who never met Poppa, would also list mackerel as maybe her favorite fish, and always orders it when available at restaurants. Could there be something genetic that predisposes my family to love of mackerel? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to think about.

Poppa loved baseball. And Charlotte had a minor league team called the Hornets. He would often take me to the games on Friday night, and we would usually go out to dinner before the game. If the restaurant was too crowded, we’d have to make do with peanuts and a hotdog at the game. But one of the restaurants that I distinctly remember going to multiple times was called The Drum on East Boulevard in Charlotte. It had a big neon sign of someone in a marching band playing the drum. Poppa thought they had good fried chicken when they did it right. He would always tell the server just how he wanted his chicken – he didn’t want it overcooked, and told them if it was he’d send it back – which I saw him do more than once. He would say he wanted the chicken breast moist, not hard and stiff (a result of too long in the fryer).

Back to the Charlotte Hornets, some years he would travel to Florida to watch spring training before the season began, and on these trips he did a lot of research about citrus. There was a type of orange from Florida called a Temple that was his favorite. I once asked a citrus grower from California if he’d ever had a Florida Temple. And he said ‘Sure, it’s the most excotic flavor of all the citrus fruits.’ I had Poppa to thank for my knowledge of the fruit, which impressed the grower in California. This guy had never met anybody that had even heard of a Temple orange.

Poppa, or CW as his friends called him, was very specific about variety and location when it came to food. Which variety and which locale produced the most flavorful peach, apple, etc. He loved pecans, and I have a vivid memory of sitting in the den with him, where he took pride at being able to crack a pecan in a way that he could pull both sides of the nutmeat out whole. He then would take instruments that I think he got from a dentist friend to remove the bitter inner membrane. After he set it up right, he’d hand it to me to eat. These pecans were from Georgia, and the variety was Stuart. He liked the flavor and the thin shell that allowed for this expert cracking and extraction.

Poppa’s vocation was selling cars. Before my time, he sold luxury American cars: Packard, and the Pearce Arrow. After both of those car companies went out of business, he started with European cars: Reynaud and Peugeot from France, and Mercedes from Germany. His dealership, which was called C.W. Upchurch, was in downtown Charlotte. Because they didn’t have dealerships like his in other parts of NC, if people wanted the kind of cars he sold they had to come to Charlotte. I have a memory of being there with him and as was his practice, he didn’t ask the usual question my father and other men tended to ask when they first met someone, ‘What do you do?’. Instead, he would say his name and then ask his new acquaintance ‘Where are you from?’ After finding out where the new potential customer was from, if they said they were from somewhere in the western part of the state he would talk to them about apples. He’d tell them his favorite variety and ask them what theirs was. If they were from south of Charlotte he would talk about peaches. He used his knowledge of food to break the ice and to maybe learn something he didn’t already know.

There’s another fond memory I have about a summer meal he designed around the summer tomatoes, and a variety of green bean called the half runner. He called this meal the Juicy Bite, and I’ve written an essay about the meal. In the fall of the year, he waited for his favorite apple, a Stayman Winesap, to come before we’d have apple pie on Sunday after lunch. So many people never had any homemade apple pie, but rather just the frozen one from the supermarket.

Growing up with Poppa, I not only got to have homemade apple pie, but a pie made with the specific variety of apple he felt like had enough fruit acid to balance the sweetness and make the best pie.

My grandmother, Priscilla Poteat Upchurch, wasn’t much interested in food, and spent her time with literature, opera, and planning her next trip. She wasn’t much of a cook, but she did make two things: pound cake and a cheese spread served on crackers before dinner. It was a pimento cheese of sorts.

I don’t want lower prices

I continue to get questions about the Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods Market – A company I spent from the late 70s to 2001 working full time to build into the company it became. My first year at WFM the sales were 140 million. The year I left, they were 2.2 billion. My M.O. was to push in every way I knew how to improve quality of product and customer service. But the company who owns all the stores now is all about price and convenience. While Amazon is busy figuring out how they can deliver products to your car without the keys, I wish there was someone working with that same amount of effort towards improving the quality of the products in the store. But it’s my intuition that Amazon is more interested in the real estate of WFM, strategic locations in every major market in the country, than the grocery business. I received a direct mail promotional flyer last week promising new low prices on items in the bulk bins. Hey Amazon, I’m not interested in lower prices – I want better, fresher products in the bulk bins! With all the different food companies using low price as a way to position their company and get people in the door (Costco, Wal-Mart, Food Lion, Sam’s Club, and every other supermarket chain) doesn’t it make sense for one company to sell on the highest quality??

Here’s a quote I used to inform my strategy during my retail food days:

“It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When
you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay
too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you
bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do. The
common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a
lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well
to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will
have enough to pay for something better.” – John Ruskin

Here’s a story that illustrates that point: I had a dinner party a long time ago, but I can still remember it vividly. I decided to make a lamb and white bean stew. The meal was in the cold-weather months, and I decided that a slow-braised lamb stew would be good on a cold evening – and I could do it ahead of time so I could visit with the guests instead of doing a lot of last minute work in the kitchen. But the white beans were old, and wouldn’t cook back to a buttery bite – even with soaking and hours and hours of simmering. I would have been happy to pay a little more for fresh beans – because all the money I spent on the lamb, chopping the vegetables, etc were lost – because one of the ingredients of my stew was not capable of doing what I bought it to do – because it was old. Old beans don’t make you sick – they’re just not capable of being pleasurable at the table.
The next time I was in the store a few days later, I mentioned to the highest ranking member of the team I could find ‘Look, I know you’re going to give me my money back but that’s not what I want. All my time, and my meal was spoiled because your beans were no good. I’d rather not have my money back and have you fix the problem.’ But anybody at the store level can’t fix that problem.
There was some talk that Amazon, being so good at logistics, could fix things like this at Whole Foods, and I’m sure hoping that will happen. And really, that’s some of my motivation for writing this.
When you’re in the food business, you hear a lot of people talk about quality control. I think you need to work towards quality improvement – you’ll be sure that the quality will not decline if you’re always trying to make it better.

Lex’s Spring Case of Natural Wine

Lex’s 2018 Spring Case has taken a slightly different direction in that with each wine there are two bottles in the case. Many customers have requested this, because they say they like to use these wines at a dinner party – they can tell their guests about the wine – but they usually need two bottles. Secondly, if you have one of the bottles that you like, it’s nice to have another to enjoy without leaving home.

There’s always a competition between whether Italy or France will have more bottles in the case. This Spring Case includes three reds and three whites. Two of the reds are from Italy, one from France. And with the whites, one from France, one from Italy, and one from Spain.
In most of the seasonal cases, I select one wine that’s quite a bit more expensive than the rest to give customers a chance to taste something really exceptional. In this Spring Case, I didn’t do that – but rather took that money and spread it to upgrade each wine a little bit.

In doing the write-up for these seasonal cases, I always feel happy that all the tasting and work that I do to put the case together will be enjoyed by so many of my friends and regular customers. This Spring Case – at $215 – represents real value with regard to the wine that you’ll pour in your glass and what you pay for the case with your credit card.
To order a case, call the Bulldega (located at 104 City Hall Plaza in Downtown Durham)

919-680-4682 – or email Jim jim@bulldega.com.

These cases always sell out – so don’t delay if you want one. All cases must be ordered by April 21st. The Bulldega will let you know about payment and pick-up.

As always, please give me feedback on which wines you enjoy most, if there are write-ups that left something out that you wanted to know, or anything else.

Lastly, I would appreciate it if you would forward this email to anyone you think would enjoy the seasonal cases.
I know everybody is happy for springtime, and here is a case of wine that will surely make your springtime more enjoyable.

And a beauty to you,

 

 

Mazzolino ‘Blanc’

Alcohol: 13%

Composition: 100% Chardonnay

What & Where: This is a 100% Italian Chardonnay from the region of Lombardy, Oltrepò Pavese DOC. Lombardy is in central-northern Italy – Milan being the largest city in the region.

Why is it in the case?:
I am excited about this wine because it gives you the lovely experience of the Chardonnay grape that’s been aged in oak, but very minimally. It’s beautifully balanced – it has a little bit of the oak aged characteristic, but it’s not wonky from the oak aging. I just really love the flavors. Lastly, it’s an elegant and polished wine that goes really well with food.

Things to know: The Chardonnay grape was made famous in France’s Burgundy region where they used ripe fruit and oak aging to produce a very special and eccentric white wine that became very famous and expensive. Two of the grapes that were first to be planted in California were Cabernet and Chardonnay – but both of these wines ended up being nothing like the wines made from those two grapes in France. In California, Chardonnay was made into a wine that had way too much oak, ripeness and alcohol. They also ended up leaving some residual sugar in the finished wine to appeal to the American palate. The wine made in California is terrible with food, but a true white Burgundy, or other outstanding Chardonnay like this Italian Mazzolino pairs perfectly with scallops and many other foods.

The story: Once owned by a wealthy businessman from Milan, this estate was not making really good wine, and not getting any recognition. A father, wanting to bring his large extended family together, moved in and set to change that. Wanting his family’s life to be centered on this new land holding, he set himself to finding the solution to improving the vineyards. To start this new venture, Enter Giancarlo Scaglione, a young winemaker from Piedmont who handled the initial stages. The young man found another young man to come and manage the vineyards – and they’ve turned the estate around and they’re getting a lot of publicity.

Farming: There’s a non-interventionist natural wine methodology in the cellar to make the wine therefore they farm organically, and hand-pick the fruit. This estate – climate wise – is very similar to Burgundy – and thus they grow Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – the famous Burgundian grapes.

Pairing: Scallops, crab, shrimp or really any seafood. Seafood stews would be a good option. Poultry will do well, also.

 

 

 

2016 A Coroa, Modelo. Valdeorras Denominacion de Origen

Alcohol: 13.5%

Composition: 100% Godello

What & Where: This wine comes from Spain… the province of Galicia, and is made from 100% Godello.

Why it’s in the case: You can almost never find a wine this complex (and this easy-drinking) for this price. And since I am always looking for a great value, this wine won a spot in the Spring Case. It’s fun to find a wine that tastes a lot more expensive than it costs. This is one of those wines.

What you can learn: The wine comes from Galicia – for me the most exciting wine region in Spain. It’s called the Celtic Spain because it’s green with lots of trees and as far away from the hot and bright sun as you can get. The Albarino grape from this area has already produced a white wine that no one knew 25 years ago but almost everyone knows today. Godello is the next white grape that is gaining recognition from Galicia. It’s up and coming in sales, but it’s an ancient grape that’s been around since Roman times – so in that sense it’s not new at all. Because it’s a new grape to us, and you don’t pronounce it the way it looks, here’s a three second audio of how to pronounce it (scroll down for Godello: https://www.thewinesociety.com/grape-pronounce#g)
A little bit about the terroir of where the wine grows. Because it is grown at high elevation it has good acidity and it is planted in an ideal slope to get the sun. The grapes ripen in the sun, which helps give the wine a slight sweetness and richness. There is plenty of slate in the soil, which yields a pleasing minerality. So there you have the complexity – acidity, ripe fruit and minerality.

The story: I was lucky enough to have dinner with the wine maker from this Estate at a recent event by Des Maison Selections at Acme in Carrboro. I first tasted this wine with him and maybe that caused me to like it as much as I did. The wine is 100% Godello and comes from the city of Arua in the Valdehorras of Spain. The crown on the label is a depiction of the old fortress that still remains at the top of the mountain on the property.

Pairing: This wine is fresh tasting and a perfect aperitif….a truly easy drinking wine. Excellent with shellfish, or really any kind of seafood. It would also be a good choice for Indian, Thai, or Chinese food – so take-out Asian food.

 

Vincent Ricard Sauvignon Le Petiot 2016

Alcohol: 12.5%

Composition: 100% Sauvignon Blanc

What & Where: This Sauvignon Blanc is from the small sub-appellation of the Loire called Touraine.

Why it’s in the case: Recently Sauvignon Blanc has become popular because it is crisp and dry but usually one dimensional and too assertive. One of the reasons I have this particular Sauvignon Blanc in the box is to give people an experience of how complex and interesting a Sauvignon Blanc can be. This is a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire that’s a steal for the money you pay. I want you to have a chance to try a grape you’re almost certainly familiar with in a more food friendly, subtle and well balanced form.

Things to know: First, just how different the Sauvignon Blanc grape tastes depending on where it’s from: New Zealand, California, or from this little sub-appellation of the Loire, Touraine. Secondly, as much as people think they’re supposed to serve red with cheese, this is the wine that I would pick as the penultimate wine to serve with cheese – goat cheese, blue cheese, washed rind cheeses, mature English cheddar.

The Story: The guy’s name is Vincent Ricard. His family has farmed these vineyards going back generations, and he’s the current proprietor. They used to sell their very well respected grapes to the co-op, but after much encouragement he decided to buy himself out of the co-op and start making his own wine. The complexity and the terroir of his vineyard yields one of the most complex and interesting Sauvignon Blanc’s I’ve ever tasted.

Farming: He farms all 13 hectares organically. Grapes have been grown on the property for 5 generations.

 

Rosso Montenidioli
Alcohol: 14.5%

Composition: 100% Sangiovese

What & Where: This is another beautiful wine that comes from Elisabetta Fagiuoli in Tuscany, Italy – in the towered town of San Giomano.

Why I put it in the case: I just fell in love with it when I tasted it. It was just so fresh and delicious. All the parts were harmonious in the glass. I’ve put more of Elisabetta’s wines from Montenidoli in these seasonal cases than any other estate.

Things to know: Montenidioli is a leader in the world of natural winemaking. Elisabetta makes many other wines including Chianti, which has other grapes blended with Sangiovese. This is a new wine for Elisabetta and her attempt to showcase the Sangiovese grape which she feels is the hallmark of her vineyards. On her other Chiantis she blends, but this is her 100 percent Sangiovese wine.

The story: This Sangiovese is made by Elisabetta Fagiuoli – an energetic, outgoing tour de force in her region of Italy, and an eloquent spokeswoman for the philosophy and practice of natural winemaking.

Farming:. Organic farming, and no funny business in the cellar.

Pairing: After a lot of experimentation, I’ve decided that Sangiovese is the ideal wine to serve with steak. In the springtime, I’m sure that you’ll be cleaning off your grills to get ready for grilling season…Give this Rosso a try.

 

Texier Chat Fou:

Alcohol: 13.5%
Composition: 90% Grenache, 10% Clairette

What & Where: This is a Côtes du Rhône from Eric Texier, one of my favorite winemakers – a pioneer in natural winemaking. It’s an unusual Côtes du Rhône.

Why it’s in the case: This is a hell of a wine for the price. And it’s the perfect spring red wine. Really, the reason I picked it is that it’s so versatile – it’s a great food wine – it’s a good aperitif red wine – and it’s a good value. And I like to support crazy cats like Eric Texier.

Things to know: The name: Chat Fou means ‘crazy cat’ in French. The typical Côtes du Rhône blend is Syrah/Grenache/Mourvedre. This one is actually 90 percent Grenache, and 10 percent Clairette. It’s called ‘crazy cat’ because the winemakers in Côtes du Rhône think that Eric Texier is crazy for not using the standard blend – and for putting a white grape (Clairette) into the blend. He’s got a plan, though: he’s done that to produce a lighter, livelier, better food wine that’s not so big and heavy. Also, lighter, lower alcohol reds are better when the weather turns warm. Another thing to know is that it’s always good to pop a red in the refrigerator to get it down to cellar temperature – 58-60 degrees – before opening it up to enjoy it.

The Story: Eric Texier is one of the pioneering hardcore natural winemakers of the world. One of the reasons he’s one of my favorite natural winemakers is a result of his doing an event at the wine store I helped start in Chapel Hill called 3Cups. Here’s what he said to me after the event: ‘Lex, I’m French, but I’m not like the other winemakers from my country who drink their wine at night and never travel far from home. I, on the other hand, never drink my wine at night – I know what it tastes like – and I try to travel everywhere in the world where good wine is made. Your wine store has all the correct properties from the countries where I’ve traveled – and most wine stores just aren’t able to do that.’ I told him I wasn’t able to do it either, that the compliment should be given to Jay Murrie (who now owns a wine import business called Piedmont Wine Imports located in Durham). To that, he said ‘You still get the compliment, because you hired him!’

Farming/Cellar: This wine is not only fermented from native yeasts, but there is no filtration in the cellar. It’s aged in concrete for a year before bottling.

Pairing: Chat Fou would be a great burger wine, excellent with chicken, pork chops, and cheese. I think this will be my go-to red wine as the weather turns warmer.

 

 

Cantina Morone, Fiori di Galano 2015

Alcohol: 14%

Composition: 100% Piedirosso

What & Where: It’s from a part of Italy that’s further South – a region called Campania.

Why it’s in the case: It has just the right amount of tannin to give the wine structure. It’s from Campania – a warmer part of Italy. So the wines are richer, but can still be quite dry. It’s a medium bodied wine – dark and savory. I wanted to give you a wine that’s richer and fuller, because in the spring you’re still cooking some heartier fare on those random cooler days.

What you can learn: Usually farmers are practical and poor – and trying to maximize yield. It takes a really conscientious farmer/winemaker who is committed to quality to go for lower yields.
When they’re not trying to maximize production yield they prune their vineyard in a different way. These vineyards have fewer buds/stalks/canes of grapes, so it has fewer grapes overall. If you have fewer grapes, the ones that you do have get more attention – both from the winemaker and from the plant itself. They prune so that the grapes get more sun, they get riper, and you get a richer, more complex wine because the plant has fewer grapes to nourish. It’s called fruit thinning or ‘green harvest.’
This family has made that commitment.

The story: When the ancient Greeks admirably called Italy the ‘land of wine’ they were referring specifically to the southern peninsula – the toe, heel, and ankle of the Italian boot. In this rugged, sunny, mountainous land, they found scores of fascinating grape varieties.
This is not a part of Italy where famous wines come from – but this is a part of Italy where fuller bodied wines are produced that are satisfying to a large number of people looking for bigger red wines. This wine is dark, savory, fuller bodied, but quite dry.

Pairing: It would be good served with grilled meats. If there’s a chilly spring evening and you want to make some roasted or grilled meats, this would be the wine in the case to serve on that night.

 

 

Mincemeat

Mincemeat

Relationships with mothers-in-law can be a dicey lot. Happily, I’ve only had one wife, and so I’ve only had the one mother-in-law. Luckily, I had smooth sailing with Peggy Bowman, Ann’s mother. She used to regularly say to me, “Lex, you’re my favorite son-in-law.” That sounds pretty good, but I was the only son-in-law she had.

The one thing I did for her each holiday season was make her my homemade mincemeat. I’m not sure how she fell in love with mincemeat, but she used to order English mincemeat packaged in a glass jar from New York. One Thanksgiving I had a taste, looked at the ingredients, and knew I could do better. I made it for her each holiday season after that – I think it reminded her of the ‘good ole days’.

The mincemeat-making ritual itself adds a certain depth to an otherwise ordinary day. I hate cooking from a recipe, and mincemeat gives me a great chance to be creative with the odds and ends I find around the kitchen. That crystallized sample of yet another English orange marmalade, those currants that have ‘sugared’ from being open and unused for too long… In fact, apple butter – which was originally a last-minute addition – has become an essential ingredient, and we now buy some before we make mincemeat each year. We’ll do it differently every year based on what is available. Back when we lived on Mt. Sinai, I have memories of using an old coffee grinder from the 70s to grind cloves and allspice. I also used to add bottles of brandy that I would pick up on my global travels for Whole Foods. Now, we experiment with spirits like bourbon, rum, and sherry.

Mincemeat is an English thing, and developed as a way for preserving meat without salting or smoking – instead using fat, spice, and brandy to preserve the meat. It gets its name from the word ‘mince,’ which is a term that refers to being very finely chopped. It has a big-time connection with the Christian holiday of Christmas. Mincemeat pie, also called Christmas pie, came about at the time when the Crusaders were returning from the holy land. They brought a variety of oriental spices home – and it was important to add three spices – cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, to represent the three gifts given by the Magi. To honor the birth of Christ, the mince pie was originally made in cradle-shaped oblong casings, with a spot for the Christ Child to be placed on top. It certainly had nothing to do with dessert pie in its inception – it was a main course meat pie. Over time, though, it became a sweeter pie. Medieval cooks began to adopt the Eastern technique of using sugar to preserve meat. In the 18th century, this became easier as cheaper sugar arrived from slave plantations in the West Indies.

Mincemeat pie was only later adopted by the Americans in New England, where it further morphed into a dessert pie. New England was fond of fruit pies (year round), and the mincemeat was a practical way to preserve fruit. As the mincemeat became sweeter, the meat became a smaller and smaller ingredient as the fruit and spices increased. In most cases, it actually had no meat at all…there were some versions that still included some of the fine suet gathered from around the kidney of the cow.

The mincemeat that Ann and I make today has only a knob of butter, and no beef fat at all. Even so, most Americans (especially children) run from the mincemeat pie. It has an image problem, made worse in the 70s when some nutritionist labeled it the most caloric dessert of the holidays. I think it needs a new name that evokes its English roots, like “Yorkshire Pie” or “Providence Pie.” But I do love an underdog. Homemade mincemeat, slowly simmered on the stove for most of the day is one of the most complex and flavorful pie fillings, to me. It’s probably my favorite.

Our friend Cindy Cuomo began making the mincemeat with us a number of years ago, because her father was fond of mincemeat. I never had a recipe in the early years, but Cindy is more organized and insisted on measuring and writing the recipe down one year. Here’s an approximate:

Mincemeat Recipe
Here’s what you need

You don’t need to be precise and measure everything in this recipe. What you do need to do is make sure it isn’t too sweet and is acidic enough to balance the inherent sweetness. Here are the things that help keep the mincemeat from being too sweet – adding some citrus peel (lemon and orange), using tart dried sweetened cherries instead of Bing cherries, and making sure to add some alcohol (bourbon, brandy or rum). The natural fruit juice to add would be fresh apple cider but tart cherry juice is also excellent. A bit of orange juice adds a brightness of flavor and acidity and works well. Hey! A combination of the three is better yet!

8-10 peeled, cored and chopped apples*
1 ½ pounds currants
1 ½ pounds dried sweetened tart cherries*
16 ounces apple butter
8 ounces orange marmalade, cherry or strawberry preserves (whatever you have on hand)
2 ½ tablespoons minced lemon peel
½ cup maple syrup*
¾ cup dark (black) rum, bourbon or brandy*
Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice*
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ½ cups tart cherry juice or apple cider
Splash of freshly squeezed orange juice

Combine all ingredients and cook slowly for four or five hours, up to all day*, checking and stirring often to ensure there is enough liquid to stew the fruit to the proper consistency for a pie. Taste as you go – the key is to get the spice and sweetness correct. Substitute freely to balance the sweet to tart flavor with fresh orange juice, apple cider, bourbon or other liquors.

*cooks notes

1. What kind of apple should we use? Any crisp apple that would be used for an apple pie, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, just avoid the dreaded Delicious twins, red and gold delicious apples.
2. Dried cherries definitely don’t buy cherries that have been soaked in sugar water. Montmorency cherries are the ideal choice
3. Start with a very small amount of the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice), perhaps a scant ¼ teaspoon. Taste the mincemeat and add more spices if desired.
4. If you have Grade B maple syrup, the darkest one, use it. It’s the least good for pancakes but the best for cooking. Use sparingly.
5. The natural fruit juice to add would be fresh apple cider but tart cherry juice is also excellent. A bit of orange juice adds a brightness of flavor and acidity and works weccll. Hey! A combination of the three is better yet!
6. You slowly simmer the ingredients to evaporate the liquid. The consistency should be like a good pie filling, not too watery, so that when it bakes in the oven it is moist and not dry.

Fall Case 2017

Dear Friends,

It’s that time of year – and the Fall Case is picked, and described in the attachment here.  The case price is $209, about $17 per bottle – which, for me, is the sweet spot (the least you have to spend on a bottle of wine to get something memorable).
The Spring Case sold out quickly, and there were lots of people who were not able to buy one.  There’s not an unlimited supply, as many of the wines are on allocation.  Here’s what that means: the small farms that grow the grapes and make the wine only have so much land to grow grapes, and these are all small production wines.  And many of the wines have a greater demand than there are cases.  It’s not like Meomi Pinot Noir, where they can just order more ingredients and manufacture the wine.
Pick up begins on November 1st.
To order, call the Bulldega (919) 680-4682 and give them your credit card #, or stop by the shop when you’re in downtown Durham.
Lex

FALL CASE 2017

Fall is one of the most exciting seasons for wine. Just coming out of the hot summer, there’s the chance to cook some hardier fare and not have to turn the A/C down to open a bottle of red wine.

The fall case is dominated by red wine – with 9 reds (2 bottles are duplicated) and 3 whites.

Of the reds, there are two French, two Spanish, and two Italian. Of the whites, we have one French, one Italian, and one Austrian.

This is a case of natural wines – real farmers grew the grapes and made the wine. This write up is my attempt to make the wine personal – with the pictures so that you can see these real people, which I think increases the enjoyment when you open the bottle and taste the wine. I’ve stated many times what ‘natural wine’ is and in the write up I think you’ll see what I mean – hand picked grapes, organic farming, spontaneous fermentation, a non-interventionist approach in the cellar, no additives and nothing taken away. In a sense – no modern food technology.

Here’s the important point: none of these wines are made from grapes farmed with industrial chemical intensive agriculture, picked by machine, or manufactured in a metal building with all kind of chemical trickery.

I’ve always enjoyed selling wine around Thanksgiving, whereas I have definite opinions about what to serve at the Thanksgiving meal, there’s no consensus out there – and no traditions to uphold. So I’ll start with what wine I would least like to be served at Thanksgiving. A rich, buttery high-alcohol “new world” Chardonnay would be at the bottom of my list for wines I would like to be served at Thanksgiving. And tied for last would be a new-world high alcohol red that tastes like raspberry juice – I’m talking about you 15% Zinfandel and Argentinian Malbec – or overpriced new world Pinot Noir with 15% alc. and a hefty price tag.

There are two whites in the case that would be excellent. My white wine of choice, in this case, is the Gruner Veltliner, but the Macon Charnay would also work well. Even though I think of white wine as the better choice for the meal, there is no consensus to uphold that, so I suggest you go double-fisted at Thanksgiving with a red and a white. The red: The German Pinot Noir and the Orleggi Rioja. And if you’re going to open both, start with the Rioja, as the Pinot Noir is more substantial, more complex, a more expensive wine.

Lastly, if you have a bottle of European dry rose left over from the summer, or a bottle of bubbles, those are always a wise choice to begin with as an apertif before the meal.

Here’s to hoping your turkey is moist.

And a beauty to the pilgrims.

Lex

 

Luberri ‘Orlegi’ Rioja 2016    $13.49

Grape Composition: 95% Tempranillo, 5% Viura

The Wine: There are many different styles of Rioja, and this wine is a return to traditional light, fruit-forward Riojas. The farmer Florentino has made a name for himself as a passionate farmer and a hands-on winemaker. Whole cluster fermentation and use of indigenous yeasts produce a classic, young Tempranillo – a simple, coiffable wine for everyday drinking. The concentration of flavors in his wine is due to low yields, which takes a commitment to quality by Florentino – he produces less wine on the farm. But this concentration is essential in maximizing quality.

Food pairings: Roast chicken, any kind of lamb, pork, or beef stew with tomato. And, as I mentioned, this wine would be an excellent red to serve with a Thanksgiving meal. And, if you or one of your guests only drinks red wine, it would be OK to have as an apertif before the meal (although, if you have a rose left over from summer I’d recommend that to start).

Things to learn: In the 1850s France’s wine industry was experiencing problems with mildew rot in the vineyards, and in the 1970s they had a farming crisis when phylloxera attacked their vines. Rioja came to the rescue and supplied wine to be sold to the French. Negotiants, or wine merchants, set up shop in Rioja to buy wine to then send home and sell in France. Rioja profited greatly from France’s misfortune. The French vineyards were restored by the practice of grafting American rootstock onto the French vines. The American plants were resistant to the pesky louse and saved France’s wine growers. But many of the transplanted French stayed on in Spain and opened bodegas. The French approach to making wine became woven into the culture, and a permanent part of viticulture in Rioja.

‘In the proverbial book of wine, Rioja is Spain’s most storied region. There are early chapters involving kings and pilgrims, and later ones that chronicle the arrival of phylloxera-fleeing Bordelais. Here too are tales of the subsequent advent of world class red wine, and Rioja being anointed Spain’s very first denominacion de origen.” – Michael Schachner, The Wine Enthusiast

Rioja is a fascinating wine region. Spain’s oldest and most famous region is credited with producing the initial interest in Spain for those serious about wine. At the moment, Spain is hot – the wines are tasty and represent great value. Much of the attention is focused on the wines from regions like Priorat, Ribera del Duro, Rueda, and Galicia. Meanwhile I feel Rioja, long the pride of Spain, is being overlooked. In press coverage and retail focus Rioja deserves better. I decided to do my part by including this Luberri Rioja in the case.

For me, the magic of Rioja is the unique character of Tempranillo grapes grown there. In no other place does Tempranillo achieve wines that are so complex, elegant, and with such silky texture. Wines with sensual qualities capable of making you fall in love.

 

 

Joan d’Anguera ‘Altaroses’ Granatxa 2015    $17.49

Region: Montsant, Spain                                                               Grape: 100% Grenache

The Wine: This is a stunning example of what 100% Grenache can be when Grenache grapes are farmed biodybamically and are allowed to speak for themselves in the cellar – the winemaker not employing any new world mumbo-jumbo modern chemistry.

The Story: In the world of wine, Grenache is the most widely planted grape – a good bit of it coming from one country…Spain. It doesn’t get much respect, being widely overlooked as a grape with which you can have a great experience. If you were going to pick the place where Grenache is most widely recognized, it would be France’s Rhone river valley. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the only classic wine that includes Grenache in the blend. Another Grenache that’s made a bit of noise in the last 30 years would be Priorat, from Spain’s Catalonia. Priorat is a dense, big, very high alcohol red that appeals to wine drinkers who like that kind of wine. The Spanish word the grape is Garnacha.  Garnacha has been grown in the Catalan region for a very long time, but a big bracing red from the village of Priorat gained its reputation in the 1990s.

This Grenache/Garnacha is neither of the above. The Anguera brothers have decided to label the wine as a “Granatxa,” the old Catalan name for Grenache, as an emblem of their focus on adhering to the lighter, traditional style of wines that used to be made in their home town of Darmós. The Altaroses is Joan d’Anguera’s first certified biodynamic and organic wine.

Oz Clarke – the British wine sage – in his fantastic book ‘Oz Clarke’s Encyclopoedia of Grapes,’ in his attempt for making a case for Grenache being one of his favorites says “I’m sorry people dismiss Grenache, because good Grenache is one of the great wine experiences. Grenache is, for me, the wild, wild woman of wine, the sex on wheels and devil take the hindmost, the don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Why is it in the case?:   There are some wines that when you experience them in your glass, there’s something inside of you that goes ‘Wow!’. For me, this was one of those wines. Note: don’t take this wine to a potluck, or take it to a neighbor that you’re indifferent about down the street. This is a wine to adorn the table with good friends and family assembled.

A quick note on biodynamic agriculture: I’m not sure why, but many of my favorite wines in the last 10 years have been made from biodynamically produced grapes. Biodynamics is a system of agriculture that sprung from Rudolf Steiner’s lectures about agriculture and farming, in the same way Montesorri schools resulted from a similar group of lectures about education. Biodynamic agriculture is beyond organic. It’s very unusual for a wine to be certified biodynamic, and the certifying group that has certified this wine is first rate. Demeter International certification is difficult to come by and must be renewed annually. Demeter’s “biodynamic” certification requires biodiversity and ecosystem preservation, soil husbandry, livestock integration, prohibition of genetically engineered organisms and viewing the farm as a living “holistic organism”.

The Anguera brothers

Thurnhof St Magdalener    $18

Grapes: 90% Vernatsch, 10% Lagrien

The Wine: It’s light, elegant, and very complex, which makes it a great food wine, because it’s happy not to be the star of the show, but to complement the food. This is a white-wine lover’s red wine.

The Story: The wine comes from tiny Thurnhof family estate, where they farm about 10 acres organically. Andreas Berger uses no herbicides or insecticides, enriches his soil yearly, and isn’t ‘overly enamored with technology in the cellar’, as importer Jay Murrie says. Wine growing on the mountainous estate traces back to the 12th century, while Andreas’ ancestors aquired it in the 19th. Damage from WWII destroyed the buildings at Thurnhof – the Berger family didn’t rebuild until the 1980s. During the intervening years they continued to grow fruit and sell it to the co-op in Alto Adige. The grape Vernatsch (also called Trollinger in Germany, and Schiava in other Italian regions) is thought to originate in this hilly region of Italy, and has certainly been grown in the Alto Adige region since at least the 13th century. Linguists believe that the ‘Vernatsch’ name shares a linguistic root with the English word ‘vernacular’ – or ‘local’. 10 percent of the wine is made up from the grape Lagrien, which is another red wine grape native to Northern Italy.

Why I picked it: I thought it was a phenomenal bargain for the price. I first found this wine because Sarah Vickery at the Lantern in Chapel Hill seemed excited about a red wine that was different from most that she had tasted. She enthusiastically poured me a taste. I ended up having a glass, and it was my go-to red wine this summer. I even built a supper club around the wine.

 

 

 

 

 

Visintini Franconia    $18

The Wine: This is a medium to full bodied red that when I tasted it said, ‘Serve this in the fall, as the weather turns cooler…’ It has a lovely juiciness which would be the opposite of austere.

The Story: Vineyards are 3 miles from the Slovenian border, where vines have been cultivated since the middle ages. This is an area where you have two diverse food cultures – somewhat Germanic and somewhat Italian.

The siblings Cinzia, Palmira, and Oliviero continue the work of their grandfather (Domenico) who bought the estate in the late 1800s. They minimize their interference in the cellar, and focus the bulk of their work on the soils and vines in the vineyard. They are certified organic, and moving towards biodynamic. They grow mainly indigenous grapes – the grapes, cellar, and land all have a long history in the area.

 

Pinot Noir : Koehler-Ruprecht Pinot Noir Kallstadter Spatlese trocken    $21.99

Grape: 100% Pinot Noir

Region: Pfalz, Germany

The Wine: This wine is Pinot Noir to my liking. There’s good concentration of flavors, but it’s not one of those high alcohol fruit monsters made in the new world – I’m talking about you California/Australia/Chile. This wine has concentration of flavors but it is graceful enough to be a good food wine.

Things to learn: A strange benefit of global warming is that it has, unfortunately, made it possible to ripen Pinot Noir grapes in this region of Germany. Germans winemakers are extremely skilled and almost always deliver a superb product in the bottle, so we’re lucky in this regard. Bernd Phillipi has solidified the winery over the last 30 years with a traditional winemaking attitude – no irrigation, fertilizers, or herbicides are ever used. In the cellar, long, spontaneous fermentaions occur in large, old German oak barrels with extended lees contact. Nothing is added or subtracted from the wine.

Food: Great with a pork chop, Roasted chicken, any type of lighter meat meals. This is another excellent Thanksgiving red (with the meal).

Why I picked it: It has that wonderful earthiness with a little bit of barnyard present in so many great red wines. I just couldn’t resist putting this wine in the case because of the price value, the low alcohol, and the fact that most people have never had a Pinot Noir from Germany – and especially one that’s this good.

What is spatlese? Spatlese literally means ‘Late Harvest’. The grapes are picked at least seven days after regular harvest. Spatlese can be either sweet or dry – more than anything it is a level of ripeness that suits rich dry wines like this one.

Dominik Sona and Franzi Schmitt                                          Bernd Phillipi

 

Salomon Undhof Gruner Veltliner   $36

Grape: 100% Gruner Veltliner

Region: Kremstal, Wachau, Austria

The Wine: This is a rich, full white wine that has many of the characteristics of a good red wine.

The Story: The winery is in the eastern part of Wachau, in the appellation Kramstal DAC. They’ve been producing wine on this estate for 225 years. The first bottlings by Fritz Salomon were exported to the USA in the 1930s, and his son Dr. Berthold now represents the seventh generation of Salomons producing at the estate.

Why I picked it: Gruner Veltliner has become a go-to choice for people looking for bright, crisp white wine. Gruner generally produces clear wines with fine minerality – a perfect mix of character, balance, and harmony. Because there really is no industrially produced wine in Austria, it’s often what I ask for when I’m out to eat and want a glass of wine – do they have any Austrian wines by the glass? Many of you may remember getting liters of Gruner Veltliner in past seasonal cases. But this estate Gruner is a step up in quality. The richness and complexity of this wine is really extraordinary. It’s a more expensive wine – but I thought one worthy of our attention.

 

Lis Neris Cabernet Sauvignon 2014    $24.49

The Wine: Serve this wine at your Christmas dinner if you’re cooking a standing rib roast, and this wine will make you proud. And it’ll make the people at the table smile.

The story: Lis Neris, in the region of Friuli, is a favorite of mine. The estate is in the town of San Lorenzo, very close to the Slovenian border. Lis Neris is in its fourth generation, farming nearly 100 acres of vines. Lis Neris has always had a strong relationship to the vineyard and the surrounding country side – as they say: “Knowledge of, and respect for, the environment has always allowed us to infuse more and more of the character of the terroir into our wines”

What to learn: This Cabernet Sauvignon has much of the appeal of the much more expensive Cabernets that are aged in oak barrels from France, California, etc. But whereas most of the wines – especially the ones from the US – show no restraint in using the oak (and in fact the characteristics of oak aging overwhelm many of the wines from California or Washington), this wine is an example of judicious oak aging. I want people to taste a Cabernet that represents what many American Cabernets could be.

Food: Braised red meats, roasted red meats, or any meal where you would serve a Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a really special bottle of wine – don’t take it to a potluck – but rather serve it at a special meal where you care about the people around the table.

Why I picked it: Whereas I usually favor very light and delicate red wines with low alcohol, there is a place for fuller, bigger red wines. I wanted to show what a really good Cabernet could be. This would be such a wine. The wine is brighter and much more delicate than the Napa Valley Cabernets. There are even stylish tannins in this Cabernet that give it a lot of its structure… What is structure? Here’s what Karen Mcneal says “Structure – which, in wine, is difficult to describe – is the sense that the wine has an underlying ‘architecture’. The French sometimes refer to structure as the skeleton or backbone of the wine. With a well defined structure, a wine takes on a certain formidableness and beauty.”

 

Domaine de Bablut ‘Petra Alba’ 2014    $17.99

Grape: Cabernet Franc

The Wine: This is a serious, structured, beautifully balanced wine that I find very interesting to drink.

Things to learn: A few years ago, I said to myself: ‘I’d like to let my seasonal case customers know more about Cabernet Franc.’ Everyone knows the more famous Cabernet Sauvignon, which is a bigger wine with more tannins. It is many people’s opinion that Cabernet Franc was the original Cabernet Sauvignon, which I find a lighter, more complex, and better food wine than Cabernet Sauvignon. These wines fly far below the radar and often deliver a ‘Wow’ wine experience for a price I find extremely attractive. In my opinion Cabernet Franc produces a much prettier and more interesting wine than most Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s unusual in that it’s grown on soft limestone soils, and you can taste the minerality in the wine. The minerality shines through.

Food Pairings: Not an apertif wine. I wouldn’t drink this wine as an apertif, but it’s ideal with charcuterie. Pair this wine with lamb, beef, or even try it with full flavored salmon dishes.

The Story: Christophe Daviau is the current proprietor of Domaine de Bablut, a domaine that has been in operation since the 15th century. The name comes from an old French word meaning windmill, and the original windmill is still on the property – and it’s where the tasting room is. Christophe is a huge proponent of organic viticulture and farms that way on his estate.

 

Macon Charny Chardonnay 2015    $19.99

Region: Grape: Chardonnay

The wine: This Chardonnay is ripe and rich, and I’d say it’s a red wine lover’s white wine.

Why I picked it / The Story: This has been a favorite white wine of mine over the years. It’s rich and full, and really what a Chardonnay can be. It hasn’t been fouled up with modern interventionist practices, so its fresh, clean, and crisp. The wine is happy being an apertif, but I’d love to have it with a pork chop from the grill, or any fare where you want a fuller, bigger white wine. Loius Dressner, the importer, who has been a pioneer and rock star in importing small estate natural wines, began his portfolio with this estate. The farming is organic, the winemaking is non-interventionist.

Macon is a district of Burgundy, and they follow a lot of the same practices and use a lot of the same grapes as the more famous region of Burgundy, the Côte d’Or, so it’s a white Burgundy at a fraction of the price.

 


Torre dei Beati Pecorino d’Abruzzo   $21.99

Grape: 100% Percorino

Region: Abruzzo, Italy

The Story: It seems every few years there is a new hip native Italian grape, and we have one here in Pecorino – the small, vibrant yellow-green grapes that make up 100 percent of this wine. The Percorino grape has a complicated and long history. It has been grown for ages in Italy’s eastern coastal regions, specifically Marche and Abruzzo. However, it was finicky to grow and – more importantly for the farmers – had a low yield. It was slowly ripped out and replaced by more robust producing grapes – especially Trebbianno. By the mid-20th Century, Pecorino was thought extinct. In the 1980s, a local producer researching native varieties investigated a rumor of some forgotten vines in an overgrown vineyard. Cuttings were taken and propagated, and eventually grew enough grapes to make some very good wine in the early 1990s. Since then, the variety’s plantings have exploded, based on great reactions from wine buyers. Fausto Albanesi is the winemaker. His Pecorino vines grow at high elevation in mountainous inland Abruzzo, near a little village called Loreto Aprutino. Remote – 45 minutes by car from the Adriatic coast.

The Grape: Percorino means little sheep, and is more often associated with the sheep’s milk cheese of the same name. Apparently it was a favorite grape of forage for the flocks of sheep. Coincidentally, this wine pairs extremely well with the cheese of its same name.

Why I chose this wine: I first tasted this wine at Jay Murrie’s Piedmont Wine Imports wine portfolio tasting, where many of the farmers were actually in attendance. I was immediately smitten, liking the texture and flavors of this wine. I then learned about its growing popularity, and wanted to include it in the case. I always like my wine customers to know things ahead of the market – and Percorino is just coming into style. Subsequently, I served this delicious white at two dinner gatherings. I’m always keen to watch which of the various wines that I have open disappear first, and at both parties the Pecorino won. I guess you could say that’s my market research. Finally, last year, Gambero Rosso (an organization I respect very much) picked this wine as one the best 50 wines in Italy.

Fausto y Adriana

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.