Tag Archives | wines paired to ethnic cuisine

Madroña 1996 Riesling

Hi elev. Grt nat acid. Super at age 12. Very long. Honey + Babcock peach. Sushi roll w/ tempura flakes.

California can do world-class Riesling. Not many, and not every year. Still, a handful of producers have proved the potential over decades. The hardship is their best examples are better with six or seven years of bottle age. And consumers just don’t get that concept. The result is a population of soda-like, eminently forgettable, Rieslings from the rest of the CA pack aimed at the mass market. Riesling should not be a mass market wine. Let the masses drink Pepsi. Or Arbor Mist.

Wine Tasting

     The 1996 Madroña Riesling was tasted in a Varietal Series class, which are held the second Friday evening of each month in Nevada City, CA (see Wine Education Vacation). It’s a great way to start off a romantic getaway in the mountains. Nevada City is the cultural centerpiece of the Sierra Foothills ~ live music, good food, palpable history, original art, quaint shopping, wonderful scenery. And several good wineries to discover. Call it The Liquid Gold Country.
     One portion of the class compared this bottle-aged Madroña with two older Rheingaus: a 1992 Robt. Weil Spätlesen and a 1988 Domdechant Hochheimer Hölle Spätlese Halbtrocken. The Weil had the lightest color and the most acid. Its aromatics were all green apple, even at 17-years-old. It continued to develop throughout the weekend, and was even more fragrant on Sunday. The Hochheimer smelled more of caramel, but also had some Pippin apple in the flavor, and it was the least sweet of the group. Neither German wine walked on the Madroña. Both German wines had less than 10% alcohol, while the Madroña had 12%. That’s not a recommendation. But the Madroña also had a lifted fruitiness and a very refreshing acidity. Most importantly the Madroña had completely shed the blocky rough edges of its youth. Once it got a little air, the wine had a burnished luminosity that was just delicious.

Background Wine Education

     As a general proposition California is never going to be a great a producer of Riesling. Washington makes more of them, and quality is usually better in Canada or upstate New York. In the 1960’s there were hundreds of (pretty mediocre) Rieslings made in California. Remember, that era predated White Zinfandel. The number of CA Rieslings dropped to just a dozen or two by the turn of the century. Most of California is just too hot. Riesling here tends toward nicely fruity, but flabby sweet, or else awkwardly alcoholic.
     Nevertheless, California is a really big place. There are lots of extreme climatic and topographical opportunities within CA’s borders. Both the highest point (Mt. Whitney) and the lowest point (Death Valley) in the contiguous U.S. are located in California, and they are not even two hundred miles apart. Two ways to gain more delicate structure, better natural acid, and more pronounced aromatics in CA Riesling are: (1) grow the grapes close to the Pacific Ocean; or (2) grow the grapes at higher elevation. The two best practitioners of these techniques are, respectively: (1) Greenwood Ridge Vyds; and (2) Madroña Vyds.

Winery Descriptions

     Greenwood Ridge is technically in the Anderson Valley AVA of Mendocino County, but the vineyard is actually up on a promontory south of the valley overlooking the coastal village of Elk. Greenwood Ridge gets a lot of rain and fog. It ripens slowly, and retains a lot of acid. Usually finished with around 2% residual sugar, the Greenwood Ridge Riesling always improves over 6-7 years in the bottle. It becomes more aromatic. Madroña can argue its case for highest vineyard in CA at about 3,500 feet of elevation. It is up the hill above Placerville in El Dorado County. They get snow in the vineyard every year, and share the characteristic of high rainfall with Greenwood Ridge. What they don’t share is diurnal fluctuation (difference between low temperature at night and high temperature during the day). Greenwood is cool all the time; Madroña is cold at night and hot in the middle of the day during July and August. Even with a percent or so of residual sugar, Madrona Riesling is a hard wine when it’s young, brusque and unforgiving. It softens with bottle-age, and shows its aromatic features more easily.

Food – Wine Match

     To be impressive in age, Riesling must have strong acid. Some tension between that acid and a bit of residual sugar is nice to give the wine focus. Sushi is a very broad category, but all of it shares an affinity for the cleansing effects of a clean acid bite. I have a local sushi place, in a not-too-distant strip mall, run by a couple young, pierced and goateed Americans, by all appearances under-employed musicians. They’re clearly well traveled. They do a roll with spicy tuna and shrimp tempura inside, wrapped with fresh salmon and avocado. They top it with a sweet mustard, with hot sauce, and with tempura ‘crunchies.’ Traditional? Perhaps not. But a spectacular match with an old Madroña Riesling. As the wine ages, its peachy fruit aromatics take on a noticeable honeyed tone. That character is matched by the tempura. The wine’s slight sweetness modulates the hot sauce, and the acid cuts through the oiliness of the salmon, the tuna, and the avocado. Wonderful match. Rolls are half-price between 2:00 pm and 4:00 on weekdays. For my birthday I plan to eat three of them, with a bottle of wine and a nap.

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Bodega Bistro, Little Saigon, S.F.

Vietnam, but w/ meat. Very sophisticated food. Break out a quality French wine. Red Burgundy esp useful.

Restaurant Recommendation

     Bodega (website, 415-921-1218, on Larkin – two doors uphill from Eddy, medium priced with a couple temptations to splurge) may sound like a noteworthy California seafood place. That’s actually Hayes St Grill, about eight blocks away. When I tell you BoDeGa is a Vietnamese restaurant, you may immediately think of plates filled with vegetables. That’s not entirely untrue, but it’s helpful to know the translation from the Vietnamese language: Bo = beef; De = lamb; Ga = chicken. Vegans can eat at Bodega, but they can’t get uppity.
     Let’s not mince words here. If you insist on ordering beer to drink with the food at Bodega, you’re a Philistine.

Wine & Food Pairing

     Chef-owner Jimmie Kwok has an enviable résumé. He worked at some of San Francisco’s top hotel restaurants, and also several years with Il Fornaio. He describes Bodega as “cuisine Indochine” and, as befits Vietnam’s history, there is a considerable French influence to several of his dishes. Take the Tournedos for example. That would be filet Mignon and foie gras wrapped in bacon with a black truffle sauce. Better order them when you make your reservation. They sell out early. An older Syrah from Santa Barbara County would be a good match. Perhaps 1999 Qupé. But, for a ‘standing O’ from your dinner companions seek out a five- or six-year-old bottle of Stolpman La Croce (50-50 split of Syrah and Sangiovese fermented together).

Educational Background

     On the more traditional side, Jimmie’s Pho (beef and noodle broth) includes a homeopathic dose of …

Read this post in its entirety on the Stanford Wine blog.

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Inka’s, Peruvian cuisine.

SF’s Mission Dist. Ceviche on a plate, like salad. Spicy: Chenin beats SB. Great beef heart. Take ultra-ripe Cab.

Suggested Restaurants for Fine Wine

A place I like on the lower end of the price scale is a nicely appointed, but distinctly unpretentious, small spot on Mission St, three blocks south of Cesar Chavez (www.inkasrestaurant.com, 415-648-0111). Inka’s doesn’t have a wine list yet. Take your own; they do have nice glasses. Decant before you go. I’m not the only one who likes Inka’s ~ they were written up a couple months ago in the NY Times.

Food Background

     There are several things to note when considering Peru as a source for interesting cuisine. First, the potato is native to Peru. Because of its ability to provide increased nutrition per sq. ft. of growing space, the potato became famous in places like Ireland and Russia, but it was unknown there until 450 years ago. Same with the tomato. What would Italian cuisine as we know it be without the tomato? But the tomato came from the Andes in Peru – Bolivia – Ecuador. Italians had never seen a tomato before the Renaissance, and its first mention in European literature came in 1554.

Read this post in its entirety on the Stanford Alumni Wine Blog site.

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