Thursday, February 02, 2006

Notable eats... Fatty Crab

What’s it like at this new Malaysian comfort food shop? You’ll go in and see a neat restaurant with dark wood tables, a small bar and a glimpse of the kitchen behind it. Things are relaxed. The waiters will chat to you like you’re a college buddy (“Hey, so like, do you know how it works here? Things come out soon as they’re ready, and go in the middle of the table and you can all like, share and stuff. Okay, cool… now who wanted a beer?”), as they prop down some ice cold Tiger. And it all feels a little surreal until you tuck into a dish like the Fatty Duck, with its big chunks of crispy “brined, steamed and fried” duck in a sweet Hoison-like sauce. Or the succulent braised, slightly spicy, Short Ribs Rendang. Or the Oyster Omelet Ashraf, packed with oysters and served under a forest of coriander. Almost everything I tried led towards some gluttonous eating, though there were a couple misfires. The Java Mee soup comes packed with chewy egg noodles and interesting seafoods, but should only be ordered by serious fishy-flavor lovers. And the quail shooters, well, they’re interesting, but I imagine they go down better back home in Malaysia.

Overall though,

January Wines

Champalou Vouvray Sec 2004
Varietal: Chenin Blanc
Region: Loire, France
Price: $15.99
Importer: Kermit Lynch Selections

Two things here. First, I was inspired reading Adventures on the Wine Route, written by Kermit Lynch. Lynch began with a small wine store in Berkely, CA, in the 70’s when wine was still a mystery to most. He began importing wines directly, and made several trips a year to France (and other countries later) to personally taste and select his wines. He was one of the first to use refrigerated shipping containers, champion biodynamic and organic practices and have specially selected wines bottled just for his customers. Lynch was a pioneer in the wine industry, and his import company Kermit Lynch Selections is perhaps the single most reliable name on the back of a wine bottle.

Secondly, I am inspired by Vouvray. This appellation in the Loire Valley, uses Chenin Blanc to produce an incredible diversity of wines. From bone-dry whites to Sparkling demi-sec’s to sweet and sticky dessert wines, Vouvray offers enormous choice. South Africa has become a known producer of top quality Chenin Blanc, but the wines of Vouvray still have a romantic appeal to them. The weather is inconsistent here, and as a result, each vintage of your favorite Vouvray might taste quite different from the previous. But rarely will the lack character.

Champalou has become a sought after name. The husband and wife team share responsibilities, with Catherine in the cellar responsible for winemaking and Didier in charge of the vineyards. “Sec” means dry, and this wine is spicy and dry with a crisp but rich mouthful of citrus, apricot and peach flavors.
It would be superb with some camembert cheese, Thai papaya salad, Soy-ginger fried chicken, Shrimp with sweet chili dipping sauce or oven-baked hake with fresh coriander.

Domaine le Couroulu Vacqueyras 2001
Varietals: Grenache and Syrah
Region: Côtes-du-Rhône, France
Price: $17.99
Importer: Lauber Imports

Okay, shoot me if I mention The Spotted Pig again, but I had this wine there the other night, and it blew me away. For this price, it should have tasted a little softer and showed no more than a touch of robust character. It didn’t at all!!! Instead it grabbed my attention with a big and ripe floral nose, voluptuous and rich palate (berries and liquorice) and classic French-dry finish. Balanced and beautiful, and clearly the work of a master vintner. This would be Guy Ricard, the French wine-artiste who plucks grapes from vines growing out the stony, sun-exposed hills of the small Vacqueyras appellation. Small is not an understatement, considering the entire region produces approximately 500,000 cases of wine per year – less than many individual wineries.

Rhône reds like this Vacqueyras and lamb are a perfect match. You can go with roast rack of lamb, lamb stew, BBQ lamb chops, lamb burgers or try Indian dishes like Tandoori Lamb Chops, lamb tikka masala or Vindaloo.

Become a Rhône ranger.
The Rhône is a fantastic region for classic French red wine. The region can be split into the North and South, with only Syrah produced in the north and Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre blends in the South. Almost all wines are bold, earthy and slightly spicy. The wines of the North sometimes have more of a chalky, peppery taste, especially those of Cornas and Côte-Rôtie, though those from Crozes-Hermitage are often a little softer. Côtes-du-Rhone’s and Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines are almost always earthy and very gamey, dense items. All you need to remember is that if you’re after a robust and earthy red to warm you up, you can’t go wrong with the Rhône.

Taltarni “Three Monks” 2001
Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon (52%) & Merlot (48%)
Region: Victoria, Australia
Price: $18.99
Importer: Clos du Val Imports

Ahaa, more Cabernet! Yes, but I’m not turning completely mainstream yet. On paper, this is a Bordeaux-like blend of Cabernet and Merlot, yet it originates from southwest Australia where good sun exposure provides a typical ripe and liquorice-like taste and a warm, almost port-like finish. Three Monks gets its name from the three winemakers the winery affectionately but less politely refers to as Wine Monkeys, who decided that since they were religious about making good wine, their choice of name would be suitable.

The Merlot contributes slightly softer tannins and together with the denser Cabernet , spends 15months in barrels to mature and gain structure. The difference between this wine and something like the Excelsior Cabernet is quite evident, and much of that has to do with this time in oak. Though naturally, because this is almost 50% Merlot, the flavor profile is different.

Juicy, big and round with loads of cherry-preserve flavor and a slightly chunky texture, it is a highly versatile wine. Knock it back with some roast duck, lasagna, veal cutlets, Meatball- or Eggplant Parmigiana, pizza with sausage and during summer with some barbecued lamb chops or grilled burgers.

Blind tastings

In early December, I took part in a blind tasting of about 20 syrah/shiraz wines from various regions. Majority of the wines were from California, Australia, France and South Africa. This is generally the best way to conduct learn about regional differences in wine, using a selection of wines made from the same varietal from assorted regions, and comparing their differences. When you blind taste a totally random assortment of wines, you might learn differences in grape varietals, but won’t gather much insight into regions and their varying styles.

Anyway, by about half way through the tasting, the distinctive flavor profile of each region was very apparent. The Australian wines, mostly from Barossa, had an easily identifiable (over) ripe cherry and eucalyptus flavor. The wines from France, mostly northern Rhone wines, had an earthy substance and dry, chalky finish. The Californian wines were very ripe, with a distinctive liquorice hint to them. And the South African wines were a straight down-the-middle balance between Californian and French styles: ripe fruit with a slightly earthier feel.

Overall, the unanimous opinion was that each region offered some great wines, that the Australian and Californian wines were easily drinkable, if a little unrefined, and that the French and South African wines offered more balanced and impressive choices. And the group wasn’t a bunch of wine professionals, but included some first time tasters, so these findings were interesting.

Not everyone can buy 20 bottles of wine and taste them all at one sitting, but I think if most of us did this, we’d be surprised by what we preferred in the end. Certain wines offer great satisfaction initially, but upon later reflection seem a little showy, but shallow. In the end, the wines that appeared a little subtle at first, turned out to offer greater long-term enjoyment.