Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A glass of wine with Alice Feiring and Dinner at Hearth with Jane

My friend Debbie gave me a copy of Alice Feiring's book: The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.

For some reason it had never occurred to me, even though now in retrospect it seems obvious, that wine is being altered and changed in similar ways to food. In a world run by the bottom line it shouldn't be surprising that of course wine makers want to expand their yield and cozy up to the critics by making wines that suit his taste. If that means keeping the grapes on the vines longer so they will be sweeter, then so be it, even if it means that the naturally occurring yeast needs to be supplemented by genetically modified yeast in order to get these over ripe grapes to ferment, what the hell, reverse osmosis, stainless steel tanks, quicker maceration, pesticides, irrigation, mechanization - Hell yeah!

Ms. Feiring does a good job of pointing out all these new fangled ways of making wine and showing us how the famous and influential Robert Parker's palate help influence wine makers. To her credit she is fairly well balanced and fair to Mr. Parker, she has a specific point of view about wine making which is that she prefers her wine made in an "authentic" or I guess some would say "old fashioned" way. She often refers to these big bold purple fruit bombs that Mr. Parker likes (and I too must admit in my past have drunk and enjoyed) as a "beverage". Something about the idea of a "wine beverage" that sums it up so well for me, a Vitamin Water for wine drinkers who want something friendly and easy, something consistent and more or less guaranteed. Wines made in traditional ways tend to be more fickle in their presentation, or so I would be lead to believe, I have only now, thanks to Alice to explore this new world and I find it very exciting. My favorite local wine store September and Astor Wines both have informed help and in the case of Astor lots of signs and descriptions of the wines allowing you to know if the grapes were hand picked, if they use old oak and if they are bio dynamic or organic and sometimes informative Staff Pick narratives.

It's a short book worth the read check out her website for the Amazon link and much more:

Last night Jane and I went out to dinner to Hearth to try out the previously mentioned Cucina Povera, the reasonably priced ($35) 3 course traditional Italian offering at Hearth. In truth Jane had the more deluxe Fava Bean tasting menu ($85).

We got there early (6:30) with no reservation. No problem, we were offered and quickly excepted one of the 4 stools at the bar that faces the kitchen. I love watching chefs at work and so does Jane so we were in foodie heaven. The service was very gracious and the executive chef was there over seeing the preparation for a large group eating a roast suckling pig dinner. Like reality TV or this was reality, there was kitchen drama, at least a spark of it, which made me uncomfortable, but I guess that's what you get when you sit de facto in the kitchen. Jane 's tasting menu had one more course then mine and the chef was so very kind to send me out a plate of perfectly light, butter and Parmesan coated gnocchi to pass the time with while Jane ate her tortellini with wild caught Maine Shrimp.

The food all looked beautiful, my main dish was a goat with white beans in a tomato sauce with broccoli rabe. The Goat meat came in a thick round, like a hamburger place artfully on top of the bean ragout. The dark, vaguely gamy goat meat was perfect when you had it in your mouth some some saucy beans, but on it's own was kind of dry, really not a big deal as there was lots of saucy beans, but it made me wonder how much we sacrifice for presentation at restaurants, why not just make it a stew? In part I think that the answer is that it wouldn't look as good. Jane commented about her first dish, fava beans with Pecorino, a dish she has great fondness for as it conjures up her youthful visits to Italy and having it for the first time. The Pecorino in this instance was cubed, mixed with the fava and placed on a thin crispy piece of bread. The cubed shape was a tad reminiscent of a suburban cheese try, she would have preferred shaved Pecorino. Again, small points in an otherwise lovely evening. If you go by all means try and get one of the seats looking into the kitchen, great fun - reality beats reality TV every time!

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