It’s not every day you get to share a meal and a few bottles of wine with the people who actually MADE the wine; I had said experience recently with the vineyard directors from Chablis in France at Gotham Bar and Grill. I have never felt more out of place in my life, but everything, from the first sip of crisp Chablis Chardonnay to the last bite of coconut dessert, was just the thing to clear up an otherwise dreary Tuesday. I will say it right here and right now to clear up any confusion: I am not a wine connoisseur. I love wine, and I have learned to love white wine, but my knowledge has been limited to whatever I learned last year in Napa before getting too drunk and forgetting everything. So this time, I made sure to pay attention to the conversations swirling around me like a beautiful Edith Piaf song. I’m not even trying to be metaphoric, half the table was filled with beautiful French accents. Nothing makes you feel more like an ugly American than hearing the French speak. Anyway… If you have had Chablis Chardonnay in America, there is a good chance that it came from California. Apparently, this buttery, super rich version is not “real” Chablis. I had no idea. The Chablis region of France is comprised of seven different appellations, which is where the different types of wine come from. Chablis is Chardonnay, and chardonnay is the type of grape that grows particularly well in Chablis. Got it? I was shown a 3-D map on an iPad (gotta love technology) of the different levels in elevation, exposure, as well as different soils in each appellation. You never really realize how different each wine tastes until you try them back to back. Granted, these were all paired with food (delicious food, at that), but I kept all of my glasses relatively level so I could compare them. I mean, there are 40 different types of Premier Cru Chablis, and then there’s Grand Cru; the left bank is where they make Grand Cru, the right bank is where they make Premier Cru. Who knew all that Cru?! That was a bad rhyme. Moving on.
How about some beautifully composed dishes to go with your Chablis? Chef Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar and Grill outdid himself for this tasting – I don’t think there was one dish I didn’t enjoy. The first course, a celery root soup with pear and red wine marmalade, and topped with a pomegranate emulsion, was light and frothy, which paired really nicely with the first wine, a Domaine des Malandes Chablis (2010). A crisp wine, light and refreshing, brought out the richness of this soup.
Another winter staple? Cauliflower. I also realize it’s not really winter anymore, but on this particular March day, it was snowing and raining so…let’s just agree to disagree. The warm cauliflower was spread along a narrow plate, then sprinkled with tiny black lentils, golden raisins, and a drizzle of tangy black currant puree. You have to taste it to get it, but it was really wonderful. The wine paired with this dish was the Jean Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey (2010). Yep try saying that one 3 times fast. Actually I just did and it wasn’t that hard. Anyway, this wine was a deep golden color, and according to the directors (and Jean Marc himself!) this is what a standard Chablis should taste like. It was very smooth, not dry, and had a velvety finish – it was my favorite of the ones we tried.
For me, the most beautiful dish that has been placed in front of me in a while arrived in the form of a roast chicken. That’s it. I have to say, I rarely order the roast chicken at restaurants – there’s ALWAYS a roast chicken, and it’s usually just ok. This roast chicken was FABULOUS. I also rarely use the word fabulous; it is a week for firsts, apparently. This slow cooked chicken breast had that perfectly juicy inside and crisp skin on the outside, and the accompaniment of apricot and golden raisin chutney/harissa yogurt just took it to another level. The wine for this course was the Domaine William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru Valmur (2009).
Lastly, I have to mention this dessert we had, because it was hands down one of the most interesting dishes I’ve had in a while, and not something I would have expected from Gotham. It was like a little bomb of flavor, with all of these different layers, textures, and temperatures. Let me see if I can get this right: coconut sorbet inside, covered with white rum gelee, salted valrhona white chocolate, compressed pineapple, and lime. You’re either thinking “what the [expletive]” or “I don’t even know what I just read”. Both reactions are ok. Mine was the same, but once I tried it, I was so intrigued and perplexed I kept going back for more. Is it a custard? Is it sorbet? Is it a fancy Sno Ball?! I don’t know!! Regardless, it was cold, warm, flaky, sweet, salty, and citrusy. How you can put those flavors together and make it work is why you have a classic restaurant in Manhattan and I just sit here in my PJ’s and write about it.
Here is the list of wines we had, with price points, just in case you feel like picking up a couple bottles and doing a little lesson for yourself and some friends…you may not be able to duplicate the restaurant food, but at least you can have the restaurant wine!
– Domaine des Malandes Chablis (2010) – Bottled every month from April to March, and aged 6-10 months in stainless steel barriques. Light and refreshing ($20).
– Domaine Christian Moreau Pere et Fils Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos, Clos des Hospices (2010) – an excellent wine, with a buttery taste and oaky finish. A great wine to drink on it’s own ($105).
– Domaine Seguinot-Bordet Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume (2011) – this wine comes from the largest vineyard in Chablis (148 acres), and is aged in stainless steel barriques. This one was lighter and elegant; probably my second favorite ($29).
– Jean Marc Brocard Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey (2010) – Aged on lees (sediment left after wine fermentation) in stainless steel vats, and these grape vines are 35 years old. Wow. Something older than me! Exciting. As I mentioned earlier, this was probably my favorite wine. Super smooth and not bitter at all ($30)
– Domaine William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru Valmur (2009) – Aged in French oak barrels as opposed to stainless steel, this one produced a sweeter taste. I also learned that small oak barrels produce more vanilla, oak, and butter notes. Who says drinking can’t be educational? ($99)