Thursday, November 19, 2009

North American "Pinot Noir, Terroir and Thou" Wine Tasting Dinner At Lou Curated by John Haeger!

On Monday night, Lou, an intimate wine bar decorated with tree-printed wall paper and blackboards, spiffed up their usual Monday Night tasting menu with wine pairings by inviting special guest, John Haeger, to curate the wines.  Haeger's an expert in North American Pinot Noir, the best of which grows up and down the West Coast, and he chose 7 fantastic wines, each of which was lovingly paired with a course of food.  The wines all exhibited a more reserved, Burgundian style that showcased their terrior rather than the customary high-alcohol fruit bombs many of us have sadly come to associate with pinot.

The night began with a talk by Haeger, which focused primarily on the environmental impacts of viticulture and the need for more organic and biodynamic practices in winemaking (something I blog about often).  It was inspiring to hear someone so knowledgeable speak about these larger issues, rather than focusing on some of the more esoteric aspects of wine culture.

And with little flourish, the night was underway!  We began with a highly unusal wine - a white pinot made unlike any other in the world - J.K. Carriere's "Glass."  When it arrived, it looked like the palest of pale rose, crisp and dry, with a slightly chalky finish.  I pointed out to Kuzak that it tasted almost like un-sparkling champagne, which is often made from pinot noir grapes.  The wine was paired with a Wild Mushroom Soup, the earthiness of the soup balancing he crispness of the wine.  This was certainly an intriguing beginning!

Next, the reds began to arrive at our table, all of which were fantastic!  This is the first time I've ever been to a wine tasting event where I truly loved all of the wines, no small feat, especially given the finicky nature of pinot noir (and my finicky palate when it comes to this varietal).  Usually, I'll have my favorites, and maybe some wines that don't rock my world, but on this night, I would be happy drinking almost any one of these wines any day of the week!  I should note that the credit certainly goes to John Haeger, who clearly knows his pinot, but also to Lou for perfectly aerating the wines and serving them at the correct temperature, so that it was possible to taste the nuances of their character (something that can take hours to develop after pulling the cork out of a bottle).

Alright, but if you press me, I'd have to say that my two favorite wines of the night were Copain's Hacienda Secoya, Anderson Valley, 2007 (I have to confess that I was already a big fan of this wine and we even have some in our cellar) and Evesham Wood's Le Puits Sec, Eola-Amity Hills, 2007, a tiny winery in Oregon that I'd heard about, but had yet to taste!

Not only were the wines exceptional, but the food crafted by Lou's talented chef was served in the right proportion and paired perfectly with these wines.  This is what I love about Lou - they understand that starting with a great product is the key to great wine and great food - and they do get great product, fresh from the farmers market, and also from some of my favorite suppliers all over the country, like Zingerman's, Niman and La Quercia!  So while at first glance, some of their dishes may appear simple, they actually require a lot of thought and finesse to produce (just watch Kevin on Top Chef if you don't understand what I'm talking about).

I loved every single morsel of food I had during this meal, again no small feat!  From the Roast Kombucha Squash with Sage Brown Butter, Arugula, Walnut-PX Vinegar Dressing and Pepitas, to the House-Made Chitarra Pasta with Roast Onions & Tomatoes, Chevre and Basil, to the House-Cured Niman Pork Belly with Cranberry Beans, Nicoise Oilves, Feta and Mint, they all made me hungry for the next course, and sad when there were no more to taste!

Before we departed, we were even gifted with a copy of Haeger's seminal book, which he generously signed!  I mean, can you believe all this wine, food and a book for the incredible price of $75? And an even better bonus?  I ran into one of my best friends at the bar - she'd come in for wine and cheese, completely unaware that this dinner was going on!  It was a perfect night!

If you're reading this post and sad that you missed out on this fabulous dinner, then don't despair - just head on down to Lou!  Right now, several of these pinots are on their regular wine list (everything is available as a taste, glass or bottle), including the Evesham, Copain and Brickhouse.  Also, they still have their regular menu and their famous Pig Candy (maple-cured pork belly)!  Also, every Monday Night they feature a 3-Course tasting menu paired with 5 wines for $55, a real deal if you ask me (featured on my blog as one of the Best Restaurant Deals).  Visit their website to get on their mailing list and receive the menus via email each week!

Here's a detailed list of all of the courses, wines (with links to their websites) and Haeger's tasting notes, compiled along with my pictures!

Chanterelle mushroom soup
J. K. Carrière “Glass” Willamette Valley white pinot noir ‘08

Jim Prosser is the sole proprietor of a tiny wine brand named for his grandfathers that is devoted almost exclusively to pinot noir.  “Glass” starts as an extremely pale rosé made like no other:  It is whole-cluster pressed and fermented bone dry in neutral barrels. The remaining color is stripped out by adding lees left from an earlier fermentation of chardonnay!

Roast kabocha squash, arugula, hazelnuts, PX vinegar
Brick House “Cuvée du Tonnelier” Willamette Valley pinot noir ‘07

The original cuvée from Brick House’s 1990 plantings on Ribbon Ridge: entirely Pommard selection of pinot noir, organically and dry farmed.  The winemaking is done almost single-handedly.  It involves minimal handling and the wines ferment almost entirely with natural yeast.

Maine scallop, barley, creamed spinach, roast grapes
Evesham Wood Le Puits Sec Vineyard Eola-Amity Hills Pinot noir ‘07

Evesham Wood’s nine-acre estate vineyard is on a gentle east-facing slope on the Willamette River side of the Eola Hills, and is dry and organically farmed.  Russ and Mary Raney, who live at the vineyard and make the wines in a cellar underneath their house, pick their fruit relatively early. They craft elegant wines with pretty color, fine structure, and floral aromas.

House-made chitarra pasta, roast sweet onions & tomatoes, chèvre
Copain Hacienda Secoya Vineyard Anderson Valley pinot noir ‘07

Wells Guthrie, a one-time tasting coordinator for Wine Spectator who lived almost two years in the Rhône valley working for Jean-Louis Chave, has been making elegant pinots since 1999.  Beginning in 2006, Copain’s pinot program was “redefined” to feature early picking, bright flavors, virtually zero additions, and modest alcohol.  The wines are intensely aromatic and transparent to site.

Grilled house-cured bacon, shell beans, Niçoise olives, mint & feta

Talisman Wines Adastra Vineyard Los Carneros pinot noir ‘06
Scott Rich has been making pinot under the Talisman label since 1993, alongside work for (variously) Etude Wines, Carneros Creek, and Moraga Vineyards in Bel Air.  Adastra, an organically farmed 1994 planting in low-vigor clay-loam soils near the center of the Carneros appellation, gives mineral-driven wines with strong berry-fruit flavors plus notes of pepper and salt water taffy.

Braised Niman Ranch beef cheeks, cauliflower puree
Talisman Wines ‘Red Dog Vineyard Sonoma Mountain pinot noir ‘06

From a cool, north- and east-facing mountainside overlooking Bennett Valley planted primarily to the Swan selection, this young vineyard (2000), shared by Talisman and Ancien Wines, produces broad-shouldered wines defined by intense red and black fruit, anise and licorice.  The tannins seem to manifest as they do in black tea, giving the wine a texture like polished cotton.

Chocolate terrine, crème anglaise, pistachios
Banyuls Cave L’Abbe Rous “Helyos” ‘02

Restaurant Information:

724 Vine St. (and Melrose Ave.)
Los Angeles, CA 90038 


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