New York – No, that’s not the infrared signature of a creme brulée. It’s Buenos Aires from the air moments after take off. It’s time for another little break in the north country, and the twinkling lights, well, just looked pretty. Tuesday was an interesting day getting ready to leave. I got a call from one of the guests from last Friday night’s Casa SaltShaker dinner. He’s a food writer for a magazine called Bacanal, and writes a column on hidden spots like, well, Casa SaltShaker. He wants to do the same for us, and was arranging a “photo shoot”. My first ever. Not that I haven’t worked in restaurants where photo shoots happened, but I never thought someone would be a) doing it for my food (which mean whipping up a dish for him to photograph, in between packing for the trip) and b) taking photos of my home (which meant a bit of straightening up and such). Henry also informed me that he was incapable of surviving for two weeks without my pesto, which complimentary as it is to my pesto has more to do with he doesn’t want to have to do much cooking. So, a pint plus of pureed basil, garlic, and nuts got made, somewhere in there, and divvied up into containers in the freezer for his use over the next fifteen days.
Early morning yesterday found me winging my way over the Carribean and landing in Houston. I have lots of mileage saved up on Continental, so figured I’d try their new Buenos Aires to New York service, even if it did have a wayward stop. Nice flight, all good, and only half full, so I got to actually lay across a couple of seats and sleep. I will say that I think Continental’s strange policy of only accepting dollars to pay for things onboard is a bit, well, stupid. The flight is leaving Argentina, many folks, including myself, didn’t have dollars in our pockets. But, try to buy something with Argentine pesos from duty free or a bottle of wine with dinner, and the response was “We don’t accept foreign money.” Get real.
We’ve been reading so much the last couple of years about how obese Americans are getting. I tend, probably like many folks, to sort of say “yeah, yeah” and move on to reading about something else. I have to tell you folks, it’s true. After a straight five months out of the country, where I’ve actually had time to get used to a different visual mindset, it’s glaring. We got off the plane in Houston, and I was looking around and suddenly found myself thinking, my god, these people are huge. It was 6:30 in the morning and folks were lined up in the airport’s food court eating mounds, literally mounds, of food. I saw people with plates at the buffet with plates that must have had 4-5 eggs, half a pound of bacon, sausages, and ham, french toast, pancakes, and more, and bluntly, shovelling the food in like they were never going to eat again. The point was driven home when I found myself back on the same plane to continue on to New York and noting the number of folk simply spilling over their armrests.
Now, the topic comes up in conversation with visitors and such… how is it that Argentines stay so thin when they eat all that meat. First, off, Argentines are not all thin. I’d say most seem to tend towards “normal” bodyweight, and there are a significant number of them who are overweight. The difference is, overweight in Argentina seems to be what overweight was in the U.S. when I was a kid – someone who’s a few pounds over, maybe 10-15 even. You just don’t see people who are blatantly obese. And as a purely speculative guess, I’d say there are a couple of factors. First, in Buenos Aires at least, we walk everywhere. Even if we take public transit, it involves a fair amount of walking. People don’t hop in their cars to drive to the market. Second, while they eat a lot of meat, the famed “two steaks a day” is more of a myth than anything else – there certainly are folk who do, but most don’t. Third, the meat is far leaner than the meat here – various studies have shown that Argentine beef has about the equivalent fat of white meat chicken or deep sea fish. Fourth, the eating pattern is simply different – breakfast is generally small, a cup of coffee and maybe a small pastry or two; lunch is often a big meal, and seems to often involve salads, even if there’s a steak or other meat involved, salads are ubiquitous; and the same holds true at dinnertime – you might be eating a 10-14 ounce steak, but you’re eating it with a big green salad. And last, like the famed “Mediterranean Diet”, Argentines drink a lot of red wine and use a lot of olive oil. As I said, it’s all speculation, but there’s clearly something amiss here in the U.S. with the way folks are eating. And they drink a lot of coffee, and yerba mate, so caffeine and similar compounds are rampant in their systems…
After safely arriving at my friend Frank’s apartment, I headed out to meet up with new friend and wine blogger Dr. Vino (in person folks tend to call him Tyler…) at Morrell’s restaurant and wine bar over in Rockefeller Center. We had a lively chat about the restaurant and wine business, it’s always fun to meet new people in this industry. The daytime winebartender (is that a good new word?) at Morrell’s is the former same at Bar Veloce in the East Village whom I haven’t seen in over a year, so it’s nice to see David has landed somewhere else fun. Had a delightful glass of Robert Biale Old Crane Ranch Zinfandel 2004 – a big, powerful zin, that’s not over the top, and has a certain elegance to it that I’ve always liked. It’s actually one of my favorite zins, and, of course, I do need a change from the sea of Malbec over the last year. I have to get used to prices here – a glass of zinfandel and a small plate of charcuterie cost me as much as Henry and I spend on food over 3-4 days normally – including eating out! I have no idea how he’s going to react the first time he comes along with me – I have the feeling that the whole experience is going to be a bit overwhelming.
Tyler had told me about a trade wine tasting that was going on in Rockefeller Center that was going on, so we headed over that way after our chat. Zaca Mesa winery is one that I haven’t spent much time in the past sampling. I was familiar with it, and here and there have had some of their wines over the years. Back at the end of 2001 they hired a new winemaker, Clay Brock (charming to chat with), with the intent of completely revamping their line and style. Gone are the strange abstract colorful labels – a new, more serious look starts the package. Not having a strong base to compare past efforts to, I cant’ say how he’s changing the inside product, other than his commitment to move almost entirely to Rhone varietals. Here are my thoughts on the wines along with my estimates of retail price based on the wholesale prices (I’ll be curious to see the differences in my thoughts versus Dr. Vino’s…):
- Viognier 2005, $25 – Viognier is a finicky grape, and while there are some delightful versions from the northern Rhone valley, I tend to find the style that comes out of California to be strangely flavored. Not something I can quite put my finger on – the classic canned peach and light floral notes are certainly there in this one, but there’s a sense that something’s amiss.
- Chardonnay 2004, $25 – Clay plans to eliminate all the Chardonnay from their vineyards over the coming vintages, a bold move in California, but one that I think is a good step. Also because I simply didn’t like this Chardonnay – too much yeastiness, the oak not well integrated, and strange tropical and banana flavors.
- Roussanne 2004, $42 – Another of the whites from the northern Rhone, this one tends to do much better in California. The flavors are rich, ripe, and complex – lots of apricot and honey, with maybe a touch of fresh figs in the background. I quite liked this one.
- Syrah 2002, $29 – Blackberry fruit and a pepperiness abounds in this Syrah, pretty classic. Some nice, lightly smoky herbal notes round out the palate. Pretty decent, and for a California Syrah of that quality, not a bad price.
- Z Cuvée 2003, $30 – Blueberries, blueberries, blueberries. It was liking drinking a glass of thinned out blueberry jam. A blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah, a classic Rhone valley combination, for me, this wine just didn’t work. Maybe add a touch of sugar and serve it over vanilla ice cream…
- Z Three 2003, $75 – This wine works in every way except the price. I enjoyed it thoroughly, complex mixed berry flavors, blue, black, and rasp – lots of nice spice, smoke, and layered flavors. Is it worth $75? No. Maybe at $50 it’d be a great choice.
- Syrah “Black Bear Block” 2002, $90 – I enjoyed this Syrah, it had a flavor profile fairly similar to the “regular” Syrah, with more depth and more complexity. Side-by-side the difference is obvious, but I think again, that the price is a bit excessive. Still, I enjoyed it, and for the quality level it probably is equal in price to its competition for those who want to spend that amount.
So, favorites, the Roussanne and the Z Three, both recommended, though I do wish they were a bit more wallet friendly!