Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Restaurant Review: Afternoon Snack at Au Pied de Cochon

Hi, I'm Cecilia, and I'm a dessert addict.

Yes, no matter how stuffed I am, I'll take a peek at those seductive little menus with the fancy font promising an array of delights, decadence, and extra trips to the gym. Hubby will turn them down, and I'll assuage my guilt with a "Let's split something." He acquiesces because he knows he'll get a bite or two. If he's lucky. No, I don't share well with others.

Last Friday I had an experience that most dessert addicts only dream of: a whole dessert flight at Buckhead's Au Pied de Cochon, located in the Intercontinental Hotel. They've figured out how to help addicts like me satisfy our cravings and not feel guilty with smaller portions of five of their desserts ($3 each). Executive Chef Didier Lailheugue told me that they were to be passed and shared. Yeah, right.

No, I didn't finish all of them, just three. And I started with a Brie and Tomato Tart (I ate half) and glass of wine. Did I mention I was hungry? The Tart, a puff pastry topped with a savory, chunky warm tomato sauce and brie slices, had great texture and flavors, especially with the fresh greens dressed with vinaigrette on top. The wine, the 2008 Chateau de Sancerre (Loire) Sauvignon Blanc, had nice citrus and crispness, and paired well with the tart.

The desserts, with which I drank French press coffee:

Baba au Rhum (pictured front and center in composite photo):
A traditional French dessert, two little sponge cake rounds floating in a pool of – you guessed it! – rum. One holds a small dollop of cream, the other a raspberry. These cakes were very happy, if a little soggy. This could serve as an after-dinner drink and dessert for efficient diners.

"Calvados" Apple Liquor Sorbet:
The alcohol isn't evident in this one, lending flavor rather than kick so it won't lower the freezing point too much. This is probably the lightest of the bunch with apple flavor that's on the sweet side, but well-balanced. Think Gala or Fuji.

Georgia Peach Crème Brulée:
The custard itself is a little eggy. The subtle peach flavor really comes out with the fresh fruit on the top. The burnt sugar topping was perfectly done, crispy without being hard.

Also a traditional French dessert, this is a puff pastry with vanilla ice cream in the middle and chocolate sauce on the top. The pastry held its integrity and didn't get soggy with the ice cream. The chocolate sauce is made in-house with high-quality milk chocolate. How did I know it was high quality? It's not too sweet – no Hershey's here! The whole dessert worked well.

Chocolate Crunch Bar:
My favorite: chocolate mousse over a nutty hazelnut crust, and topped with a chocolate macaroon, chocolate curl, and raspberry sorbet. The crust had great texture and was a little chewy, and the mousse was perfectly soft. The flavors worked well together. As for the picture, well, I heard the words "chocolate" and "mousse," and I forgot to take a picture before I took a bite:

I tasted all of this under the watchful eyes of a couple of meringue piggies:

There was only one when I left.

In addition to Chef Lailheugue, I had the pleasure of meeting Kerem Kendigelen, the food and beverage director for the Hotel Intercontinental. I'd originally gone in thinking I'd sample an appetizer and dessert, but he figured out who I was.* Hence the dessert flight. He also gave me some history on the restaurant itself.

Au Pied de Cochon started in Paris, and the goal was to appeal to the aristocrats and upper class, but also to be accessible. It was one of the first 24-hour restaurants, and the Atlanta location is also always open. The original in Paris has an area in the middle where real pigs run around. No, I don't think that's equivalent to a lobster tank ("I want that one!"). In addition to the regular menu, there's an oyster bar in the evenings. The glass in the chandeliers is from Italy, and the outdoor furniture was shipped from Europe.

Thank you, Kerem, Chef Lailheugue, and fantastic server Terry for taking such good care of me!

*Yeah, apparently I fit the blogger "profile." He gave me some tips on how to remedy that. Thanks, Kerem!

Disclosure: Since I'd been "busted" as a blogger, I didn't have to pay for anything but parking, and only that because I parked in the wrong deck. The restaurant does validate parking in the ICH deck.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Winery Reviews: Maryhill, Cascade Cliffs, Naked, & Cerulean

What does one do after a wonderful weekend of hanging out with fellow oenophiles, drinking wine, and talking about blogging? Drink more wine, of course!

If you'll allow me a moment of mushiness, I am so grateful to have this hobby. It's allowed me to see parts of the country I never would have and to meet so many cool and interesting people!

Okay, mushiness over. Back to the wine.

Hubby and I had driven through the Columbia Gorge before, but we hadn't ever tasted the wine through there. The Columbia Gorge Wine Growers website bills the area as "A World of Wine in 40 Miles!" Part of the area is The Dalles, which, if you ever played the video game Oregon Trail, might briefly make the words "You have died of dysentery" flash through your mind. Luckily there's just wine now.

We'd seen the sign for Maryhill Winery earlier on our drive, and a huge plume of smoke plus warnings of a traffic jam due to a fire up ahead made up our minds to cross the Columbia River and check out some of the wineries on the Washington side. Maryhill did win an award:

The winery also has its own outdoor amphitheater and amazing views:

They have a long tasting list with a small fee. The highlights:

2008 Viognier: stone fruit nose, peach and honeysuckle with good structure and some tartness

2006 Reserve Cabernet Franc: grapey Cab Franc nose with some currant and cinnamon; very smooth with nice red fruit

2006 Reserve Merlot: I noted that this one is pretty. Tobacco-berry-cassis with a long, smooth finish.

Since our mission was to stock up on whites, we came away with a bottle of the Viognier.

The next stop a little further down the road was the Cascade Cliffs winery and tasting room, where Naked Winery also has staff and wine on hand. You can also get a cool picture of grape vines with Mount Hood in the background:

The highlights in this tasting room included:

Cascade Cliffs 2009 Estate Symphony: The grape is a cross between Muscat and Grenache Gris (not to be confused with the Bovin Symphony wine, which is a blend -- sorry for the confusion). Flavors of stone fruit and a little citrus.

Cascade Cliffs NV Horsethief Red (Columbia Valley): Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot
Great currant-berry nose, smooth blend

Cascade Cliffs 2008 Estate Nebbiolo (Columbia Valley)
Bright cherry nose, tart fruit & berry

Cascade Cliffs 2005 Nebbiolo
Tannins have mellowed, very smooth and elegant w/ fruit/ acid balance

Naked 2007 Oh! Orgasmic CS (Columbia Valley)
Big fruit nose, smooth tannins

Cascade Cliffs 2008 Estate Barbera (Columbia Valley)
Blackberry/raspberry, nice acidity, but smooth -- would be great on its own or with food

I also learned a valuable lesson about Washington and Oregon wine geography. When tasting room staff says that the fruit came from "the Valley," they mean the one that they're in. I got a little confused since there's a bunch of them, and they all seem to produce good grapes.

Finally, we made our way back across the river, drove through The Dalles without losing anyone to dysentery or having any livestock washed away, and arrived in Hood River for the evening. Our wine adventures weren't over yet, however. We found a tiny tasting room for an even tinier winery called Cerulean Skies. Their philosophy is "Pure, Natural, Authentic," and all the wines are organic. They're also all really good. Favorites:

2009 Chardonnay: great citrus and good acidity

2009 Pinot Gris: pear nose, very clean flavors

Red Sky Blend: 2007 Zinfandel and 2008 Merlot plus Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah
This one was noted to be "grapes gone wild" with nice dark berry and raspberry flavors. A little hot, it should mellow.

Owner and winemaker Pat Graham entertained us in the tasting room. That's what I love about small wineries -- getting to know the people. We bought one of the whites, the Chardonnay. Yes, a Chard I liked! This winery will be one to watch.

Next stop: Willamette!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Random Thoughts and Tasting Notes: Wine Bloggers' Conference Field Trip!

All hail the power of Twitter and Hubby's new FourSquare addiction! In the week since we returned from the Pacific Northwest, the question has not been, "How was your trip?" but rather, "Sounds like y'all had a great trip!" It was, and this journey got off to a great start with the Wine Bloggers' Conference in Walla Walla.

One of the best parts of the conference was the excursion on Saturday morning. Hubby and I stayed a few blocks from the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center, and as I walked down Second Avenue dodging sprinklers and watching the morning sunlight sparkle on the dewy grass, I couldn't help but be reminded of early mornings leaving for Band Camp (not nearly as exciting as portrayed in the movie American Pie). This feeling was only reinforced by reaching the Marcus Whitman parking lot and seeing a herd of… School buses!

Oh, wow. For a moment, I looked for the drum major coach (whom we called Torpedo Tits – don't ask) to jump out and ask why I didn't have my alto saxophone. Then I remembered where I was, and with a grin, walked inside to catch the second half of the talk on Walla Walla Terroir. It was fascinating. I wished I'd gotten my butt out of bed in time to hear the whole thing.

Only a limited number of people were allowed on each bus due to winery lunch capacity, so the bus wasn't even half full. Of course, there were the noisy kids/percussion section in back (the British Banfi crew from New York – yeah, I'm still confused about that), the overachievers/brass section in front (the Wine Talk Radio guys and Josh Wade of Nectar Wine blog), and the rest of us/woodwinds in the middle (those I can remember: Ben Simons of Vinotology, Kitri McGuire of Sokol Blosser Winery, Tamara Belgard of Sip With Me, and Randy the Wine Whore who is not whore-ish at all in real life). Oh, and Nicky Vallee, The Vino Chick, who was the only one to turn out a true performance (see below). I apologize if I'm forgetting someone or if I've put you in the wrong section. I'm doing this from memory two weeks later. Consider yourselves lucky – my original analogy was going to be Gilligan's Island.

Our first stop on this "mystery tour," as the papers handed out by our guide told us, would be the vineyards of Woodward Canyon. That meant our school bus had to go up a steep hill. I had flashbacks to bus stalls, but it made it up, and we had a breathtaking view:

At that point, we were given glasses and poured tastes of the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc. At 9:30 in the morning. I told myself it was after noon at home. It was great first wine of the day, very crisp. They then poured the 2007 Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Syrah, and 8% Cabernet Franc) and 2006 Estate Red (42% Cabernet Franc, 35% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 9% Petit Verdot). Both reds were good, but I liked the 07 Cab better. I did end up spitting, although it felt so rude to do that in front of winemaker Rick Small as he talked about his passion. We even got to see baby Merlot grapes:

The next stop was Beresan Winery, which was showcased with Tertullia Cellars and Balboa Winery. We tried:

2008 Beresan Semillon, a nice, light white

2008 Beresan Cabernet: elegant with mint on the nose and tongue-coating fruit

2009 Tertullia Viognier: winemaker Quentin Mylet's first effort, this Viognier had great balance between fruit and floral as well as a great, crisp texture

Quentin Mylet with Beresan's Tom Waliser in the background joining us in a taste:

2007 Balboa Mith: a yummy Cab-Syrah blend

This was also where Drink Nectar's Josh Wade distinguished himself as an overachiever by being the one to jump out with the first guess as to what was in the Mith blend. He wasn't exactly right, but mad props to him for being the brave one! This group of wineries also sent us off with a great parting gift: freshly picked cherries! I challenged Randy the Wine Whore to a spitting contest, but he didn't take me up on it. As Ed Thralls of Wine Tonite responded when I tweeted about it, "Whores don't spit."

Band camp maturity level, anyone?

We finished up at Whitman Cellars for lunch and a tasting lineup from them and Walla Walla Vintners. I felt quite welcome at this winery. The sign:

Catered lunch of Southwestern chicken sandwich and salad in the barrel room:

We even got a treat with Nicky Vallee (@Vinochick75 on Twitter) giving us a rendition of one of my favorite songs, Landslide. See my thoughts on the Wine Bloggers' Conference post for a link to the YouTube video, but here's a picture:

I kind of wished at that point that I'd brought my alto sax.

The real stars, the wines:


2008 Viognier: aromatic with hints of apple and pear, floral finish

2005 Narcissa Red: some ripeness, food-friendly, a little "hot"

2005 "Silk Stocking" Cabernet Sauvignon: 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Cabernet Franc – lives up to its name with nice, smooth fruit

Walla Walla Vintners:

2007 Sangiovese (blended with a little Malbec and Syrah): nicely rounded fruit

2008 Sangiovese: pretty much as one would expect for the grape

Cabernet Franc: a little cedar on the nose and good red fruit

Then it was back on the bus for our return to the Marcus Whitman. After that, I took advantage of time for one thing we never got in band camp: a nap!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Tasting Notes: Pink Stuff at JavaMonkey

I was going to put this post off until after I covered some of the Wine Bloggers' Conference material as well as the post-conference adventures. However, Dave Kell of inDecatur made a cameo appearance tonight to sample some wine, so I thought I'd go ahead and get the notes up for the full lineup. Conference posts forthcoming this weekend, I promise!

I'll confess, I have an ambivalent relationship toward rosé wine. One of the first wines I ever liked (note the past tense) was White Zinfandel, you know, that syrupy sweet stuff that you could get in the grocery store. My friend (whom I will not name to protect the guilty) and I would go to the old Vincent's in Birmingham, load up on chocolate pastries and a bottle of white zin, and go to the house of whoever's parents weren't home, watch girly movies, and have a giggly sugarfest. Yes, I was supposedly the "responsible" one at 21, but hey, we weren't drinking and driving. I still remember doing that with A Midsummer Night's Dream the summer after I graduated from college. Now that friend has two kids, and I'm jaunting around the country drinking wine... Who's the responsible adult now?

That's a rhetorical question. You really don't have to answer it.

So, back to the pink wine... Rosé wine is so much more than white zinfandel now. We even brought back some from our recent travels. Hubby is very picky about his pink wine because, as one of our tasting compatriots once noted, "If you're gonna be a dude drinking pink wine, you've gotta be prepared to take some..." You can fill in the blank.

Here's the lineup. For visualization purposes, I've included the exact (according to me) shade of pink for each selection.

2007 Kluge Estate SP Rosé (Albemarle County, VA): 95% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir
You may remember this one from the last post. It's still good, kind of tart at the beginning of the tasting with overtones of butterscotch.
Rating: Good to Very Good
Shade: Blush pink

2009 Sauvion Rosé d'Anjou (Loire Valley, France): 80% Cabernet Franc, 10% Gamay, 5% Pineaud d'Aunis, 5% Grolleau
Smooth, light, and fruity, this one stood up well to food. Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but it did have some pear notes with some citrus in addition to the expected rosé berries.
Rating: Very Good
Shade: Cooked Atlantic Salmon

2009 Artazuri Rosado (Navarra, Spain): 100% Garnacha
Raspberry nose, a little flat on the palate with a buttery finish.
Rating: Okay
Shade: Pretty in Pink

2008 Saddlerock Rosé (Malibu, California): 100% Syrah
I liked the 2006 vintage from last year's Pink Stuff tasting better. This one had some mustiness on the nose, some floral and melon in addition to the "chewy" fruit on the palate.
Rating: Okay
Shade: Barbie Shoe Pink (c'mon, ladies, you remember them, the two-toned pink and white Barbie shoes!)

2009 Château de Ségriès Rosé (Tavel, Côtes due Rhône, France): 50% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 15% Clairette, 5% Syrah
Strawberry pie in a glass with buttery fruit.
Rating: Good
Shade: Crayola Fuschia

2009 Castaño Rosado (Yecla, Spain):
Strawberry-raspberry juice, but I liked its straightforwardness.
Rating: Good to Very Good
Shade: Raspberry

2008 Hendry Ranch Napa Valley Rosé (Napa, California): Proprietary blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Malbec
Strawberry, citrus, and pink grapefruit smoothed out by overtones of stone fruit.
Rating: Very Good
Shade: Prom Dress Pink

Before you take my color designations too seriously, please keep in mind that I'm not a girly girl and have maybe owned two pieces of pink clothing in my lifetime. I'm happy to say that I've moved beyond my white zin preferences and biases, so I hope that you will give the pink stuff a try, too. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tasting Notes: State-Specific Drinking at JavaMonkey

I've gotten behind on my JavaMonkey wine tasting notes, probably due to that little jaunt to Texas at the beginning of the month and another to the Pacific-Northwest after the Wine Bloggers' conference. I do have thoughts to post on the WBC excursion on Saturday and then our subsequent adventures. I'll get to those this weekend. Oh, and tomorrow night is the next JM tasting, pink wine!

Wines from Oregon were featured at the May 27 JavaMonkey tasting. We felt it was a good warm-up for our recent trip, during which we tasted down through Willamette Valley. We've been to the area before, but just the wineries north of Dundee.

The wines of the evening (only region given since they're all from Oregon):

2007 Rex Hill Chardonnay (Willamette Valley):
Interesting tidbits about this one: it's now owned by one of the couples from the A to Z winery, and the stainless steel barrels used for 95% of the fermentation may have, at one time, been used as Coca Cola barrels. That makes it practically local!

Overall, a nice, mild Chardonnay with good depth and structure. Mineral-grapefruit flavors with oak smoothness.
Rating: Good

2007 Rex Hill Pinot Gris (Willamette Valley):
Lemon! But with a creamy texture.
Rating: Good
Wants: Fish in butter sauce with capers.

2007 A to Z Riesling (Multiple Valleys in 5 different appellations):
Mineral nose and backbone, still citrus but with a hint of tangerine. Some of the grapes are grown in blue slate soil, which supposedly gives it a hint of petrol. Yes, I'm thinking about my neurologist friend here. He found a hint of petrol in every white.
Rating: Good to Very Good
Wants: Pasta with prosciutto and lemongrass

2008 A to Z Pinot Noir (Slutty -- sourced from all 30 AVA's in Oregon):
A little earthy/funky on the nose. More earthiness with dark cherry on the palate.
Rating: Good

2008 Rock Pinot Noir (maybe Del Rio -- info not available):
Still cherry, but more tart with a long buttery finish.
Rating: Very Good

2007 A to Z "Night & Day: Southern Crossing" (Rogue Valley): 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 26% Merlot, 20% Syrah, 10% Sangiovese, 4% Grenache, 4% Cabernet Franc
I can just picture them measuring this blend by the grape... My notes only say it's a "yummy red blend," and it would go well with steak. Apparently West Coast correspondent James Bassett also liked it (see previous post).
Rating: Very Good

Tasting in Texas seems to have been a good transition back to the East Coast because the June 10 tasting was all about Kluge Estate in Virginia. Hubby and I have visited there (mentioned in this blog post from our Virginia tasting trip), so we were curious to try the newer vintages. My notes on these are pretty sparse -- I had just flown in from San Antonio that day and was exhausted.

2007 Kluge Estate SP Blanc de Blancs (Albemarle County): 100% Chardonnay
A strong start with the bubbles. Citrus nose and well-balanced (not too citrusy, not too vanilla).
Rating: Very Good

2009 Albemarle Rosé (Albemarle County):
No notes for this one. As I recall, I didn't really get much from it.
Rating: Good

2007 Kluge Estate SP Rosé (Albemarle County): 95% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir
Very elegant pink sparkling.
Rating: Good to Very Good

2005 Albemarle Simply Red (Albemarle County):
The name says it all -- a good red with nice fruit.
Rating: Good

2005 Kluge Estate New World Red (Albemarle County):
Earthy with some spice. Dark fruit and a little oaky.
Rating: Good to Very Good

Kluge Estate Cru (Monticello, Albemarle County):
Sweet -- could taste all components, but didn't really blend until I tried it with dark chocolate.
Rating: Good, Very Good with chocolate

So yes, Kluge Estate is worth a look if you're up there. I'm glad that more Virginia wines are making it into the Georgia market. Now if only Tarara would start shipping here... And according to the comments, they are! Thanks for the update! My monthly bugging them on Twitter must have worked. Never underestimate the power of social media.