You Betcha

As Joe E. Lewis used to say “I’m in pretty good shape for the shape I’m in.”  I feel like I am trying to become a Jedi warrior, because I have passed another test.  It is the weekend after Thanksgiving and I have to schlepp all of the cartons of Christmas decorations up from the basement, so that my Bride can decide what she will use this year.  Years ago, I created a “closet” by building four bookcases, that are each three-foot-wide, so the “closet” is six feet by six feet when the bookcases are arrange out from a corner of the basement.  It is about two-hundred-twenty cubic feet of space.  It took fourteen trips back and forth, and in a day or two I will repeat that process taking the boxes filled with the decorations that would normally be seen in the house for the other eleven months, as the other holidays don’t require such a drastic shift.

Which brings me to the other problem, in that there are times when I am rather lazy, or is it that my priorities are different.  I realized that I had to work around five cartons of wine on the same staircase that I was using and another three cases in the basement, plus a couple of six packs as well.  Well it is the holidays, so as they say in England, I guess I better get my arse in gear, and see if I can make some space in the wine cellar, and also find some more reasons to drink wine.

At this time of the year, I keep telling my Bride that a certain raconteur will have a heart attack from all of that schlepping, but it falls on deaf ears.  In a week she will have her annual Ladies’ Christmas Party that precedes her knowing her husband.  You betcha that I am in good enough shape that I won’t have to use Joe E. Lewis other great line “last week I was in the hospital, and I took a turn for the nurse.”

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Goodbye to an Old Friend

My dinner club that I write about often, just met for the last time at a venue that we really have enjoyed.  The Courthouse Grille in Plymouth will soon be part of the history of this quaint city, as it is being torn down to make room for more housing, and I am not sure if it will be homes, condos or apartments.  I first discovered the restaurant when it was The Hillside, and the owner was a big game hunter, and he used to periodically serve big game there, which probably today he would not be allowed to do.  Alas I was in high school back then, and I did not save a matchbook from those days, but I did see a matchbook from there in the Plymouth Historical Museum.  I next remember it as being Ernesto’s a full-blown white tablecloth Italian restaurant; and on the backside of the restaurant was a sit-down pizzeria called Ernie’s.  There was a couple of people that attempted to take over the restaurant, but could not maintain the quality and “Ernie” had to take it over again, but because the name was besmirched, he renamed it The Courthouse Grille and started serving more of a mixed menu, but still with some special Italian dishes that he was noted for.

It was my turn to be host with two other members and it was a bittersweet night for everyone, as the restaurant was going to close 30 December 2018.  This was the last time that they would have the chance to choose from a nice mixed menu.  The choices for the last dinner was Veal Marsala, Shrimp Scampi Roma, Grilled Salmon, Sautéed Perch, Chicken Tosca, Lasagna and a New York Strip Steak.  I know that the New York Strip was the most popular dish, but there was at least one order of each dish that evening, and usually at most restaurants, we are only allowed a choice of three different entrée dishes, and each dish came with a salad.  Whenever I get a chance, I will order a veal dish, because it is a meat that we have never prepared at home, so I consider it a real treat.

There was a vote a couple of years ago that changed one of the long-standing rules of dinner, and that was that the hosts no longer pick up the bar tab, just the food portion, and the drinks are a cash bar set-up.  There were a few non-drinkers that complained and now, you can order anything you want.  I have noticed that a few members that used to order exotic single malt Scotch, now order beers for themselves as dinner.  In one sense I find it rather liberating that now myself and one other member will split a bottle of wine, and it sure beats what is offered as house wines.  The wine that we had was Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba DOC 2014. Pio Cesare has been making wines since 1881 and they are famed for their Barolo and Barbaresca wines from the Piedmont region of Italy, and I have had their Barolo and this was a chance to try their Barbera and since they are situated in Alba, it was a natural choice. Barbera d’Alba is an important DOC for the Piedmont and the cellars of Pio Cesare have barrels of all their wines aging in walls that date back to the Roman days. While the DOC laws for this wine allow for some blending, this wine is pure Barbera and it was aged for twelve months in French Oak to tame the wine some.  There was an immense amount of terroir or dirt as I call it that really added to the texture of the wine’s flavor.  By the end of the meal, the wine was really opening up, as it was quite tight on the initial tasting and to be truthful, this wine was imbibed way too soon. I think that at least five years would have been the ideal time to uncork this wine, but alas, most restaurants that even carry better wines do not have that luxury of cellaring wines that long. I have to say that it sure beat any of the bar wines offered that evening.

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Thanksgiving Dinner 2018

To this day, I marvel at the concept of having a Norman Rockwell style Thanksgiving dinner.  I never encountered it growing up, but then I guess Norman Rockwell didn’t grow up with Armenians who believe that there may not be enough food on the table, if the table doesn’t bow from the weight.  Then again, I have never seen the perfect turkey in a house setting, I have seen plenty perfectly photographed, prepared by Master Chefs, but I am discussing the real word.  Holidays are another example of what I call “organized chaos” and I use that term frequently for soccer, the rules of which no one has ever been able to explain to me.  Some people bring food and sometimes it has been coordinated.  I always worry that there will be not enough food, and now with all of the dietary requirements, heaven help us all.  By the way, there is no way that all of us can sit at one table, so all of the food is set up on an island in the kitchen and everyone makes their own plate and seconds and thirds are encouraged.

We had the two turkeys taken care of, plus a lot of the sides, and then there were sides brought in by others, and so were the desserts, and not to mention a birthday cake, because we were all together and we may as well celebrate at the same time.  The clan from Louisville, besides bringing wine, also brought this humongous beef tenderloin that could feed an army and they had marinated it, and had pre-prepared the dish using the sous-vide method.  I didn’t see the actual cooking, but sous-vide refers to a method of slow cooking “under vacuum” in a long, slow process in a bag or jar in immersed in water that is continuously moving.  The unit that they have is actually controlled by a smart phone and one has to address the size, weight, type of meat and the desired finish of the meat.  They brought the tenderloin still in the cooking bag from the day before, and the meat was then seared on all sides and placed in the broiler to finish.  When the meat was sliced, it was perfectly rare-medium rare the entire way through, with only the edges dark from the searing.  The meat was perfectly moist and tender and I was totally impressed with this new kitchen toy.  I also have to say, that the turkey and the turkey breast that my Bride prepared without packed with stuffing, came out tender and moist as well (and I was concerned about it).  In fact, the whole turkey actually came apart as I was trying to remove it from the cooking bag, to save the “jus” to make gravy.  The good news is that there was enough food left over, that everyone got “doggie bags” to take home, and the bags were based on the size of the family, which is totally fair.

Though we had all three colors of wines ready for the dinner, white wine was the one that most in demand for the event.  Another one of the wines that I brought out for those that claimed that our wine selection was “too dry” and stuffy, we opened another wine that we had discovered on our last trip to Petoskey, Michigan.  We had one of the estate produced and bottled white wines from Mackinaw Trail Winery, Inc.  The Unrestricted As-cen-sion 2017 was an interesting little blend of thirty-four percent Sauvignon Blanc, twenty-five percent Chardonnay, twenty-two percent Riesling and nineteen percent Pinot Blanc.  This had a sweeter nose and was a nice balanced wine and it was an easy drinking wine for the all to enjoy.  Of course, we did have a red wine, and there were plenty in reserve waiting to be called up, but my Brother-in-Law had several bottles of a wine, and he wanted to see how it was aging and I wasn’t going to say no to his request for a Napa Red Wine when it was Opus One 2000.  Opus One is the original “cult wine” of Napa Valley, a joint venture between Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild and still a wine that can actually be purchased at the winery, and I can attest that I totally enjoyed the tour and the tasting when we were there, even if there were only two wines to be tried.  In the days before the Meritage, there were some winemakers in Napa making a Medoc style wine and this is one of the most famous.  The Opus One 2000 was a blend of eighty-four percent Cabernet Sauvignon, six percent Merlot, five percent Cabernet Franc, three percent Malbec and two percent Petit Verdot.  The wine spent forty-four days with skin contact, before it was aged for nineteen months in New French Oak in the perfectly designed underground cellars of Opus One.  The bottle was opened about two hours before we ate and it looked like for awhile that only three were going to enjoy this wine, but my Bride shrugged off her current diet regime to have some of this wine, and may I say that it was sublime.  While it seems that it is rage of the moment to disparage this wine, I could find nothing to complain about as it hit all the right notes to me, and to the other three that enjoyed a glass of it, and with the finish was so long lasting that I had mixed emotions of having another glass of wine afterwards.

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Early Thanksgiving Day

The big day had arrived and everyone can get mad at us.  The gifts for Christmas have been bought, wrapped and bundled by family.  The Christmas cards and newsletters have been posted, and so have the Christmas parcels.  All the groceries have been bought and it was now the time to get everything put together to make the meal.  I think the hardest part is the timing of the meal, of course, if we say “get here at two,” I think most people nowadays hear “get here at four.”  My Bride couldn’t find the usual size turkey that she gets, so she bought a normal size turkey and bought another turkey breast.  The bird is always the hardest item to estimate the finished cooking time.

Of course, I try to avoid the drama of the kitchen scene, because the Lord knows that I am not a cook, all I do is read about cooking techniques and I eat.  We have two big roasters that we use for meals of this stature, so as not to monopolize the stove, and I had suggested that the roasters should be in different rooms, after the circuit breaker kicked off, the two roasters were placed in two different rooms.  The other problem we had, was that she had bought several bags of Romaine lettuce for her Caesar Salad, and of course there appeared on the internet that there was another potential scare, so we did not have that salad.  The house did smell good, right from the get-go, because she had fried up rashers of bacon, so she could prepare her side of Brussel Sprouts done with the bacon and then drizzled with aged Balsamic vinegar.  She was also making Armenian Pilaf, Mashed Potatoes and a big pot of stuffing.  There was some debate, because after decades of having some stuffing made on the side and some stuffed in the bird and then mixing the two together, they wanted no stuffing in the bird, and I was concerned that the meat would end up two dry, but my Bride used onions to fill the bird and she also used garlic-infused olive oil in hopes of adding more moisture and I have to say your idea worked.   There was still more food to be prepared, but she also had to start placing noshes out for the early guests to enjoy while everything was still cooking.  There was the traditional cheese and crackers, mustards and honey.  There were fruits and vegetables, and don’t ask me how, but the salmon and the shrimp was forgotten about in the fridge and no one noticed.  It was hectic.

I think part of the madness of the day, is that the world is intent on destroying the nuclear family.  No longer is Thanksgiving a sacred holiday for families to enjoy, the daily newspaper I think tripled in price for the one day, and shopping centers and big box merchants compete with each other to see who can open up the earliest, so that families can no longer have a day to themselves.  I am sure the executives of the chains and malls and the newspapers that revel in the end of basic humanity that has endured, enjoy the day with their family.  To counteract this nonsense the wines began pouring earlier and not just for the hosts.  We went through bottles of wine and I will only discuss a couple of them and then I will discuss a couple of more as I get to the actual meal.  There has been a bit of an undercurrent that the majority of the wines that we serve are too dry, so we attempted to lighten the whites to a degree.  The first wine is one that we picked up while we were touring some of the wineries in the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan.  We opened up some Laurentide Pinot Gris 2016.  Here was a wine that can be bland and it had a very good nose and it was aged in Stainless Steel so that the fruit was more apparent and that seemed to work, by the response.  The other wine that we started off with for a softer approach was Banter Wines Chardonnay 2017 with a California AVA.  I would opine that this wine was done in Stainless Steel as it was crisper.  The guests concurred as the wine evaporated quite quickly.  I really could find no information about the winery, even though they had a page on the internet, that is all that they have at the moment.  Still more fun for Thanksgiving and I am not referring to the desserts.

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Another Thanksgiving Eve

Another hectic day preceding an even more hectic day as we get ready for Thanksgiving.  It is my Bride that does all of the Herculean tasks and I wisely try not to get in the way.  I just try to get her requests done as efficiently and silently as possible.  She is the real culinary artist here, if everyone waited for me, we would all starve with my abilities in the kitchen.  She has been buying the required ingredients and she is all ready for the big day.  We had some free time and I suggested that we go see the new Rowling film, as my Bride is a huge fan and that gave her a few hours of peace and rest.

The Louisville clan left early enough that we could meet them at the hotel for dinner.   Now Thanksgiving Eve is a night that you want to eat and drink early enough, as it is considered the biggest night of the year for restaurants and bars, even surpassing New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day.  We all met at Sweet Lorraine’s for dinner, a restaurant that we usually use at least once during their frequent visits up here.  I go back to the original Sweet Lorraine’s when it originally opened in Oak Park and it was like Detroit’s version of Alice Waters back in the Seventies.  Even with the restaurant that they manage in a hotel, you still feel the original vibes to this day, as I guess that the world actually started eating healthier back in those days.  One of the unique aspects of Sweet Lorraine’s is that it is not a cookie-cutter style hotel eatery, and even an old school carnivore like me can find something to eat there without complaints, and all of the young adults from the clan could find something as well.

We started off with Domaine LaFage Novellum Chardonnay 2015 with an IGP Catalanes.  The IGP Catalanes is considered one of the more important classifications of Table Wines and also one of the most productive regions in France, and it is in the Languedoc-Roussillon area.   Domaine LaFage is known in the area as a winemaker of dry wines in all three colors and also known for three sweet wines from the region as well.  The Louisville clan has been shifting away from the big oaky Chardonnay wines that were so prevalent, so I thought I would try a wine that was not an oak bomb, like the other Chardonnay wines that were being offered.  This wine is a blend of juice that had been aged both in Stainless Steel and French Oak and then blended for an easy drinking wine that belied the Table Wine designation.  The second bottle of wine that we had was Bodegas Esmeralda Tilia Malbec-Syrah 2017.  Here are two famed French varietals that have become important grapes in other parts of the world and Malbec is really a King in the Mendoza region of Argentina.  This wine was sixty percent Malbec and the balance were Syrah and it was well balanced, but on could definitely appreciate the Malbec.  This wine was aged for six months in a mix of French and American Oak barrels with ten percent of them being new.  We had two good wines, but the fun will be in the what we will drink during the Thanksgiving dinner.

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A Gaja and an Amarone

I was finally at the last two wines for the tasting at the Fine Wine Source in Livonia, Michigan.  I am always amazed at the caliber of fine wines that I get to taste when I am there, and I attribute it to the use of the Coravin system which keeps the wine fresh and there would be much less waste for the store, especially since some of the wines offered for tasting are not your run of the mill wines, and that is so enticing when I stop by there.  So, I finished off the tasting by having a Gaja and an Amarone della Valpolicella.

The first wine that I will mention is Gaja Ca’Marcanda Promis Toscana IGT 2016.  My host at the tasting asked if I was aware of this wine, and I gave him a quick short abbreviated story of the first time that I had the wine, and it is hard for a Raconteur to give a short version.  The Gaja estate was founded in 1859 with five acres of vineyards.  Angelo Gaja is credited for modernizing winemaking in the Piedmont.   In 1994 he took over the two-hundred-ninety-acre estate in Bolgheri that he named it Ca’Marcanda which translates into “House of Haggling” and I am sure that it was named with a tongue in the cheek and some definite sarcasm and humor.  This wine carries the Toscana IGT because it is a blend of Merlot and Syrah, though the first time that I had it, the vintage of 2000 there was also some Sangiovese as well.  This wine was tasty and had a nice long finish.

The last wine of the tasting was Tommaso Bussola Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOCG 2012 from Azienda Agricola Tommaso Bussola.  In 1977 Tommaso Bussola took over his uncle’s estate and in the early 1990’s a new winery was constructed.  This wine is made with the classic trio of grapes Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara to get the proper accreditation.   After the harvesting of the grapes, they were allowed to partially dry and were crushed in January.  The wines were racked after sixty days and then again ten days later.  The juice was then aged for twenty-four months in a mixture of a quarter of the new in new Slavonian Oak, a quarter in new American and French Oak, and the balance in second time used barrels.  My notes on this wine were “wonderful” with a great nose and a taste of black cherry and a finish that just lingered on and on.  In fact, the taste lingered and finished so well, that when I got home, I made a special tweet about having the wine, and I usually show more restraint, but I was totally happy with this wine and I think that I may have surprised some of my usual crowd.  This is one to really go looking for, in my humble opinion.

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Bodegas Alto Moncayo

I am trying two different wines at Fine Wine Source in Livonia, Michigan and they are both Garnache wines from Bodegas Alto Moncayo and both were of the same vintage (2015).  I wasn’t really sure how to react when I read the tasting sheet that the Fine Wine Source puts on the barrel for the wine tasting.  They print out a sheet for the two barrels, because one barrel will feature wines from the Old World and the other will be the New World, and any area that is not Classic Europe, so hence the New World could be quite broad a spectrum at times.

Bodegas Alto Moncayo was founded in 2015 in Campo de Borja DO in the Aragon region of Northern Spain; and Campo de Borja DO was granted in 1980.  While it was recognized fairly recently the area was recognized for wines back in the times of the Roman Empire.  The winery is a partnership of the Andalucía winemaker Jorge Ordenez, the Australian winemaker Chris Ringland and Bodegas Borsao one of the largest and most influential producers in Campo de Borja.  The winery makes three wines and I had a chance to try two of the wines, and all three are made from the Garnacha varietal, which is a grape that I enjoyed back in my youth, but I had no idea that I liked the Grenache grape, but I certainly loved Rhone wines, especially when I could get some Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  While Tempranillo is the King in Spain, that honor in Campo de Borja goes to Garnacha.  The vines just produce a big wine in this mineral-laden area that is basically rain-free, and both of these wines were logging in at a Proof of 15-16% which is quite heady.

The first wine that I tasted was Bodegas Alto Moncayo Veraton 2015 and my notes for this wine was that it had a big nose, dark fruits and chocolate and a nice finish.  This wine was made from vines that were from thirty to fifty years old and aged in barrels for sixteen months and was I impressed.  I thought boy, this would be a great wine for Thanksgiving for someone that wants a more daring wine to pair with a roasted turkey.  Then I had the Bodegas Alto Moncayo Garnacha 2015 and I was just amazed at how much awesome this wine was compared to the Veraton.  My notes had in big letters “DELICIOUS” and full bodied and awesome fruit and interesting terroir.  Can you tell that I was smitten?  The difference here was that the vines were forty to seventy years old and aged for twenty months in new barrels.  The Garnacha is considered the flagship of the winery. Either of these two wines are worthy of trying if you can find them.

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