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Wine Club Newsletter - April 2017

Interview with Master Chef Loren Alsman

A couple months back we had the great fortune of having Master Chef Loren Alsman apply for work at The Brasserie. After a few minutes into our initial interview, I knew we had to have her here.

We talked for over two hours that day about everything culinary, as well as different aspects of life, art, and the appreciation of what we as restaurateurs are enabled to produce for our guests. I later discovered there are about eighty Master Chefs, and The Brasserie has one of those Chefs who have made the commitment to that rare advancement.

In the two months she has been here, I have come to realize that The Brasserie, in its 28th year of existence, has never had a more qualified, well-rounded, energetic, thoughtful leader in the kitchen. The food is fantastic, the portions are quite sizeable, and Master Chef Loren delights in visiting with our diners pretty much every night.

We have many new items on the menu, as well as updated versions of our classic dishes. We have thrown off our gloves and are saying come get us. This is a major turn-around for a restaurant that has been on the same course for all this time, and we love it.

We had a photo shoot today of some 16 dishes we now have on our menu. Not only are they delicious, but the presentations are beautiful without being overly fussy. Master Chef Loren directed her studies at food presentation, “Gastro Art” as she coins the descriptor. If you would like to see the unprofessional shots I took during the shoot, go to The WineSellar & Brasserie Facebook page. If you would like to see other aspects of her Gastro Art, just Google “Loren Alsman Gastro Art”.

After the photo shoot today, I asked her a couple questions.

Tell me about becoming Chef at The Brasserie:
I always loved to cook. I had my restaurant Tapas Picasso for 25 years, and left it only because of issues with the landlords regarding the configuration of their building. I was doing some food consulting work for Whole Foods when I discovered The Brasserie needed a Chef.  I knew that was the place I needed to be.  I need them, and they need me. I had job offers from larger restaurants, but I turned them down.

What was behind becoming a Master Chef for you?
Everything in the world of food changed for me about ten years ago. I had a revelation of sorts, and decided I was going to become the very best I could be at this profession that I love so much. That meant studying at the greatest culinary institutions in and around the world, to include one year and nine months at the highly respected Basque Culinary Center, in San Sebastian, Spain. I later went to The Culinary Institute of America to have my degree certified in the United States. The process took me about eight years, but it was something I wanted to take my time with and do it right.

What has changed for you since becoming a Master Chef?
Well, I have a fair amount of confidence in what I am doing in the kitchen. I love to teach our staff about techniques and methods, improving their skills and making them better. I do have days and times that are stressful, but I am better able to handle the tension because I know that we will have options when things outside of my control happen.

I have completely changed in the way I cook. For instance, I never go by recipes anymore. Yes, we do have dishes that must remain constant, but I cook with the best ingredients we can obtain.  I am an enabler of food, presenting the best of what I have with my soul, knowledge, and heart.

Also, I am emphatic about organic ingredients. And sustainable ones!

I am also emphatic about not using too many ingredients in a dish. If you have a beautiful piece of fish, for instance, why cover it up with a large amount of other items that would hide the true flavors of the fish? You want to enhance the fish with a little sauce and maybe one or two additional items. Three or four ingredients, no more, is my rule.

Becoming a Master Chef has let me understand that my profession does consists of artists, of which I am one, and I accept and believe in that with a great deal of passion and pride. It is up to me to create the best dishes possible. It is up to our guests to trust in my feelings, emotions, and understanding of my craft to give them the pleasure of dining on sophisticated cuisine.

And that was the end of our little chat, as she had to get home, as today was her day off.

As you may have heard, Master Chef Loren has created a menu to go with two of the most famous, prominent wine producers in the Rhône Valley J. L. Chave & Domaine de la Solitude. 

We invite you to travel on a culinary journey through the Rhône Valley with special guest from Langdon Shiverick Imports, Nicole Dodson. Nicole will be presenting the beautiful and celebrated wines of J.L. Chave and Domaine de la Solitude. Nicole is a Certified Specialist of Wine, Certified Specialist of Spirits, and WSET Certified Sommelier. 

See the details and to make reservations here.

We will happily accommodate dietary restrictions. Please alert us ahead of time.

2015 Pinot Gris, The Four Graces

Growing Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Varietal Composition: 100% Pinot Gris
Fermentation: Stainless Steel
Alcohol Content: 13.3%
Suggested Retail: $20.00
WineSellar Club Price: $17.99

Broad Strokes:              
The Black family purchased an existing vineyard in the Dundee Hills of the Willamette Valley in 2003 as a family retreat. They immediately began turning the estate into a sustainably farmed, well-tended vineyard with the goal of producing rich, elegant, delicious and complex wines. That same year The Four Graces was founded. The winery is named in honor of the Black's four daughters.

Today, The Four Graces is owned by Bill Foley and produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc renowned nationally and internationally for their balance, elegance, complexity, and richness. 
91 Points, Wine Enthusiast

Appearance:                      
The screw-cap is once again correct, thoughtful and appreciated. Good-looking brown toned bottle, that is on the heavier side. This is an early indicator the winemakers are taking what’s in the bottle very seriously. The wine itself is brilliant, clear, with a hue of light straw and metallic tinges.

Nose:
Very fruity-rich fragrance emanates from the glass: white peach, apple, pear, Mandarin orange and lychee nut. Some of the earthen/mineral components exhibited chalk, beach sand, and white ash.

Texture:      
Fresh and fruity entry is quite pleasing and persistent, and leaves your mouth watering. This fruit is lined by a nice dose of firm yet delicate acidity. The fruit and acid characters balance with each other from entry to the long, viscous finish.

Flavors:
Pineapple, peach, Mandarin Orange, tangerine and white flower blossoms are forefront and delicious. Some notes of grapefruit, as well as Lychee nut, and you may also note a touch of honey and cantaloupe. On my juvenile side, I likened some of the flavor notes to cotton candy and marshmallow.

Serving Suggestions:
Superb as an aperitif wine, and at under $20 it shows a lot of class and character.

2014 Decugnano dei Barbi, “Villa Barbi” Umbria Rosso

Growing Region: Orvieto, Italy
Varietal Composition: 34% Sangiovese, 33% Cabernet Sauvignon, 33% Merlot
Fermentation: Stainless Steel
Alcohol Content: 15.3%
Suggested Retail:  $20.00
WineSellar Club Price: $17.99

Broad Strokes:              
Producer Decugnano is a name that dates back at least eight centuries indicating the area where the estate was built. The origin of vine-growing dates back to ancient times. The Decugnano wine had been the subject-matter of an XIIIth century contract, when the vineyard belonged to the Church and its name was "Santa Maria di Decugnano". Nevertheless, some archaeological Etruscan finds indicate that this land had been cultivated in earlier times. A couple years ago, we took a wine tour group to Decugnano dei Barbi, and had an excellent tasting, tour and lunch.

Appearance:                      
It is a good-looking, full-sized bottle that has an easy-to-read label, and I like how the black looking bottle, the red cap and the off-white label contrast with one another. The color of the wine is black, with magenta on the rim.

Nose:                    
A most intriguing nose, full of spices and unctuous dark berry fruit. Notice hints of smoke, Bar-B-Q ribs, mincemeat pie and cinnamon rolls. Hints of coffee, licorice, a brush of fresh herbs and Madagascar spices.

Texture:      
Medium in body, it has a silky and smooth entry to the palate. Seems almost gentle, but be reassured there is more stuff on the horizon. The finish has lively acids that are very firm, almost bracing, letting us know food will be a fine companion with this Barbi.

Flavors:                        
Red and black currant, red and black licorice, and cranberry play into the deep, abundant fruit profile. Sweet vanilla, raspberry, a hint of tar, red and black cherry, rounding out with a touch of herbs and dark soil. Exquisite!

Serving Suggestions:
A superb wine under $20, our group went into another dimension when they served this wine to us at lunch. Everybody ordered some, and now I have the opportunity to bring this beauty to your table. So rewarding! Rich Italian foods is the perfect call for matching up with this baby (Barbi).

2014 Tannat, Y. Rousseau, Russian River Valley

Growing Region: Sonoma County, California
Varietal Composition: 97% Tannat, 3% Cabernet Sauvignon
Fermentation: 40% New Oak, 18 Months
Alcohol Content: 13.9%
Suggested Retail: $35.00
WineSellar Club Price: $26.99

Broad Strokes:              
Tannat  is a red-wine grape whose origins lie in the Basque country, on the border between France  and Spain. Here, in the shadow of the Pyrenees Mountains, the terrain is rough and rugged, so it is only fitting that Tannat should create wines that are equally deep, dark, dry and rustic.

Tannat will most likely be adopted as the national grape of Uruguay, and its links with France will gradually fade. In this way it will be following in the footsteps of former Bordeaux greats Malbec  and Carmenere, which have been adopted by Argentina and Chile respectively.

We have recently featured a Y. Rousseau in The WineSellar Club. the very outstanding Colombard Old Vines.

This Tannat scored 92 Points in Tasting Panel, 90 Points in Cellar Tracker.

Appearance:                      
This is a great looking bottle and label. Direct, clean, good visual impact, and descriptive. The dark bottle contrasts well with the label. The wine is nearly black, showing hints of dark magenta and purple on the rim.

Nose:                    
Kind of on the wild side, with black cherry and blueberry fruits, pie dough, tightly wound herbs, rose petal, pomegranate, and sweet vanilla oak.

Texture:      
Medium-full in body and weight. Meaty and savory impressions are edged by a slightly brittle entry, which in the first 15 minutes is drying and tannic. It becomes much more generous with some air, and was superb the next day after sleeping in the refrigerator.

Flavors:                         
The black cherry, blueberry and pie dough from the nose are quite present on the palate. Add cola, root beer, and vanilla. It’s gorgeous!

Serving Suggestions:
Take this monster over to a friend’s house and cook up some BBQ steaks or ribs. The acid and firm structure of the wine will cut through the fat and sauces with ease. The wine will age 10 years or so.

360 cases produced.

2014 Zinfandel, Crux, Russian River Valley

Growing Region: Sonoma County, California
Varietal Composition: 96% Zinfandel, 4% Petite Sirah
Fermentation: Barrel Aging
Alcohol Content: 14.7%
Suggested Retail: $32.00
WineSellar Club Price: $26.99

Broad Strokes:              
Crux Winery owners Brian Callahan and Steven Gower craft small lots of Rhone varietals–Grenache, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache Blanc and Viognier–as well as Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc. They focus on wines that capture the unique characteristics of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, where we live. Their wines are rich, complex and balanced, without excessive alcohol levels or overripe fruit flavors.

As grape growers and winemakers, they farm in a sustainable and earth friendly manner. The grapes are sourced from their own vineyards and other select vineyard sites owned by growers with a similar philosophy who have likewise embraced environmental practices in vineyard management.

Appearance:                      
Great packaging! Using the word “CRU” and adding an “X” to the end is a genius way to describe their property as being on the “CRUX” of Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Chalk Hill. Very dark wine, nearly black, clear on the rim, and has very dark curtains.

Nose:                    
The exotic fragrance of the wine leaps about four inches from the glass. Very dark berries, some smoke, cigar, roasted nuts and fresh cut wood. Also, I recognized wild blueberry jam and chocolate.

Texture:      
The texture is almost Bordeaux/Claret like, in that it is balanced very well between its fruit and acid. It has lots of fruit richness, some heat, but not overpowering, in sync.

Flavors:                         
Kirsch Liqueur, dense, wild blueberry, blackberry, roasted hazelnuts, and some tropical fruits dance wildly around the palate. You get the smoky impressions, a fine dash of vanilla oak, and savory chocolate.

Serving Suggestions:
“I want to drink this ALL the time!” That was my exclamation. I love this wine, and I hope you do as well. A total winner for the price, we should be stocking up and cellaring this wine for another 6-10 years.

2011 Altesino, Brunello di Montalcino

Growing Region: Tuscany, Italy
Varietal Composition: 100% Sangiovese
Fermentation: Barrel Aging
Alcohol Content: 14.5%
Suggested Retail: $60.00
WineSellar Club Price: $53.99

Broad Strokes:
For over 30 years, I have been drinking the wines from this estate. Every time I see the label I swoon and my mouth waters. 93 Points Wine Enthusiasts, 92 Points Spectator, James Suckling and others.

From the Winery: Near the end of 2002, Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini, owner of nearby Tenuta Caparzo, purchased the Altesino winery. Today's winemaking team, led by Simone Giunti and Alessandro Ciacci, is firmly committed to maintaining Altesino’s hard-earned reputation as a Montalcino institution and a global leader in innovative winemaking.

Elegance, finesse, and a fruitier, richer style are the trademarks of Altesino’s wines and have earned the estate a position among the very top producers of Brunello. This achievement is even more impressive considering Brunello is perhaps the most recognized Italian appellation.

Appearance:                      
The distinctive label with the embossed Altesino signature brings waves of fond culinary memories back to me. They keep getting better, too, the wines, not my memory. Deep ruby-like red, with a hint of orange tinges at the edge.

Nose:                    
So solid, like an intense and very ripe cherry, with perfumed flowers, laced with some smoke and tree bark. Also notice some clove, leather and tobacco.

Texture:      
The mouth feel reminds one of a Pinot Noir Italian style . . . supple, velvety, ripe tannins, even-balanced, and a voluminous lengthy feel in the palate.

Flavors:                         
It is like tasting the inside of a very ripe cherry, sans skin. But of course, it’s wine, so there’s much more to it. Lip-smacking goodness, anise, leather, tobacco, molasses, herbs (rosemary) with the hint of smoky goodness and wood.

Serving Suggestions:
This wine, with its classic structure, breeding, and winemaking prowess, has a long way to go in the cellar. Delicious now with pastas, red meats, and medium aged cheeses, enjoy this wonderful example of Italian goodness.

Warm French Potato Salad with Celery Leaves

This is a fabulous recipe that will go perfectly with the 2015 Pinot Gris by Four Graces

Serves 6

Ingredients: 

  • 2 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
  • Tablespoon Coarse salt
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped shallots
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground pepper     
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Black truffle oil
  • 1/3 cup loosely packed celery leaves from inner stalks, torn in half

Method:

  1. Place potatoes in a stockpot, and add enough cold water to cover by 4 inches.
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat, and add salt.
  3. Reduce heat, and cook until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.
  4. Drain and let cool slightly.
  5. Peel potato, and cut into bite-sized chunks. 
  6. Meanwhile, in a large serving bowl, combine shallots with wine and vinegar.
  7. While potatoes are still warm, add them to the bowl.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Drizzle in oils.
  10. Toss to coat.
  11. Sprinkle with celery leaves, and serve immediately. 

 (Modified from a Martha Stewart Recipe)

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