Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Tale Of Three Chardonnays

So Thursday evening Amy and I were all set to take coworker Ronnie out to one of our favorite restaurants in Long Beach, Michael’s On Naples as a thank you for staying late one night and offering some much needed help during one of our classes. This plan has been batted around for months now but on Monday, (recovering from the Holiday party day) Amy and Ronnie decided to stop talking about it and make it happen. The call was made and we had reservations for 3 on Thursday evening…perfect. Thursday night has been renamed “Date Night” at our house but before you go thinking that means that the hubby and I have set that night aside to get all gushy about our love, (Pah-leeze…I don’t do gush) Date Night is when we get together with Amy and pretty much kick start the weekend. At first it was just me and Amy, then Merritt was there a few times, (she has since taken a second job so she works date night) but the hubby was pretty quick to get on board, so now we are a trio on Thursday, we eat too much, smoke too much and definitely drink too much….. the night usually ends back at my place with a few more glasses of wine and Amy taking a nap in Jeremy’s room before driving home in the wee hours of the morning.

I thought the hubby was gonna have to sit this one out but as it turns out he was just overlooked when the reservations were made…so we were a 4 top for dinner, I was so excited. I love Michael’s and have said more than once that if the restaurant were in downtown LA I would happily drive there….it is that good…matter of fact I think the place would be doing a lot better if it were in LA as Long Beach is a bit of a wasteland of mediocre food, always floors me that a city the size of Long Beach has so few really good restaurants….okay restaurants we have a shitload of, but great…..not so much. (the exception being our wealth of fantastic ethnic food but I am talking about fine dining, or upscale here) I mean when a crusty, overpriced, boring haven’t-changed-the-menu-in-13-years, “French” place is still being called fine dining…come on already. The past few years have found us trucking out to LA whenever we want really good, innovative or simply ingredient driven food, not a horrible thing but we always thought it would be nice to have at least one option in the ol’ LBC….then we got Michael’s On Naples!

Thursday morning was a touch frantic at The Wine Country, phones ringing off the hook, huge shipping and basket orders needing to go out and a steady stream of folks walking in the front door…all good mind you but come 11:30, (half an hour past his starting time) I became very aware that we were short one person….donde Ronnie? I made my way to the posted schedule and saw that he was indeed late, not unheard of but the later it got the more I began to worry, both for him…..and us. “I’ll give it another 20 minutes” I told myself and got back to working the floor, 5 minutes later I got the call, “I’m really sick, do you guys need me today?”….shit….shit…this is the worst for me and when I come off like a cold hearted bitch, ask anyone on the staff, they will confirm that calling in sick and getting me on the phone instead of the much sweeter Randy….not pleasant. It’s not that I don’t care, (although during the holidays I say, “take a pill, suck it up and get to work…we need everyone”) but I don’t want to hear the symptoms, how long you have been up coughing or whatever…oh…oh and the ones that call in with menstrual issues, don’t even get me started. I just want to hear if you are coming and how you plan to cover your shift…like I said, it’s not that I don’t care but bottom line is I have a store to run and sick or not I have to do my job.

Ronnie has heard the chill in my voice when calling in sick before so before I could say much he was asking for another staff member’s phone number so he could get his shift covered…that was awesome and so was the other staff member who came in on his day off to cover. I was feeling bad for Ronnie and a touch bummed that our dinner plans were nixed….or so I thought. Amy came in, I told her that Ronnie was out sick and she said, “Oh that’s too bad. I hope he feels better and bummer for him that he is going to miss his thank you dinner”….that’ my girl! All there was left to do was pick wines to bring to dinner, run home to change and pick up the hubby.

I knew I had the perfect starter chilling away in my wine fridge at home…a bottle of 2000 Agrapart Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Mineral, ($61.99) but what else to bring? Amy had stashed away a bottle of 2002 Herve Azo 1er Cru Vau de Vey Chablis a couple of years ago, just tucked it on a back shelf of the store and kind of forgot about it, Thursday night she remembered it and I bought it to take to dinner. I knew the 2007 was drinking beautifully but I could not wait to try one with some age on it….something about older Chablis, sexy as hell. Amy said she would bring one more bottle and that we should meet at her house so we could have a glass or two of bubbles before dinner, so the drinking too much was going to start early…awesome.

I was home long enough to change into something slightly nicer, gather the hubby and bottle of Champagne and have a brief “conversation” with my adorable neighbor…remember the cold hearted bitch I was referring to earlier….yeah reduced to a pile of baby talking goo when that kid yells, “Hi-lo Sham” across the courtyard. His new thing is to call out to my husband when I am not home…he yells, “Hi-lo Call-o, (can’t say Carl) where Sham is?”…uh yeah, puddle of goo. I saw him standing at his screen as we were getting ready to leave so this time I yelled first, “Hi Tyler!” he spun around and said, “Mommy Sham home, like Call-o” he then went all to tell me all about something while pressing a book up against the screen, so freaking cute but we had to get going if we were going to have time for bubbles before dinner!

We got to Amy’s and I was surprised to find out that she had bought a bottle of Champagne for us to share, NV Fourny Brut Rose, ($39.99) before dinner so I stashed the bottle of Agrapart Mineral in her fridge to keep it cold while we had our way with the Rose. The Fourny was lovely, simple but satisfying…lots of red fruit, small bubbles and deep pink color, a perfect starter wine for the evening. We polished off the bottle and began stuffing the bottles for dinner in my wine bag, that’s when I saw what Amy had gotten to have at dinner, a 2006 Heretiers du Comte Lafon Macon-Milly-Lamartine Clos du Four, ($38.99)…..so for our nice Italian dinner we would be drinking not only three bottles of French wine but three bottles of French Chardonnay. Now Amy and I both prefer white wine to red, just the way it is but in all honesty I have found that a white wine with great texture can hold up to just about anything so I was confident that we were covered….if needed we could order a glass of red wine off the list.

We arrived on time for our 8:30 reservation and I was sad to see that there were only 3 other tables occupied, the economy is really taking its toll on restaurants and my heart sank a little…I love this place and would hate to see it go away….”Well” I thought, “We may be a small party but at least we’re here”. The staff was attentive and got our bottle of Champagne opened while taking our appetizer order, calamari and a salumi plate. We savored the Agrapart Mineral while we dunked our dense bread into the fruity house olive oil, (mine sprinkled with a bit of salt) the wine was expansive, rich and luxurious with a savory note all its own…like toasted hazelnuts in brown butter. The bubbles were so fine they were almost still in the glass but once they landed on the palate they danced gracefully in my mouth. As the wine warmed in the glass it seemed to grow, get heavier on the palate and seemed to take on some minerals and lemon rind, with the calamari it was brilliant….that assertive wine with the light and crisp fried squid and I was sooo in my happy spot.

We asked our server to open the 2002 Herve Azo Vau de Vey for the salumi plate, I had left it off ice while we drank the Champagne because I didn’t want to mask any of the flavors, this wine had been resting, doing its thing and I for one didn’t want to miss one bit of what it was offering. Now Chablis with a cold cuts platter may raise an eyebrow or two but on the plate there was; Speck, Pecorino, Prosciutto, House Pickled Baby Veggies, (nicely scented with Tarragon) Mortadella, Mild Salami and the most glorious grilled bread that had been rubbed with garlic and topped with a grilled slab of House Cured Pancetta all suitable for a serious white wine….the Azo was just that wine. On first sniff I was completely in love, wet stones, citrus and a serious blast of un cooked bread dough….then way in the back I got it, that thing that makes me feel almost naughty while drinking a great Chablis, the smell that reminds me of freshly sweating skin…salty and so alluring I found that I was biting my lips while smelling it. In the mouth the wine had clearly gained a few pounds, it was plump, oily, round and just this side of being thick, the flavors ranged from marmalade, to toast, to Sherry to roasted nuts…each layer splashing across the palate offering something new with each sip. A stunning match to the cured meats and veggies but with that crunchy garlic scented bread and fatty slab of grilled pork and fat…one of the most perfect combinations of flavors I have had in quite some time. If I could choose to have my skin taste like something….that would be it, except that people would be trying to lick me all the time…hmmm Is that bad?....see, great Chablis makes my mind work in the most curious ways…

We asked for more glasses and to have the 2006 Heretiers du Comte Lafon Macon-Milly-Lamartine Clos du Four opened while we still had some Chablis left, just to compare…an older Chardonnay from the chilly North and a warm weather Chardonnay full of youth from the South. Just looking at the two wines you could see a tremendous difference, the Macon being much lighter and tinged green and the Chablis being golden, slightly tinged with orange and when you spun them in the glass the young wine was quick on its feet, it sped around the glass and settled back on itself leaving no trace while the Chablis moved slowly up the sides of the glass, you could actually see the texture and it clung to the side of the glass falling upon itself at a slow pace leaving streaks where it had been.

I poured a taste of each for our server and asked which she preferred, she pointed to the Macon…I wasn’t surprised as Amy was lovin the youngster too but you should have seen the server’s face when I told her they were both Chardonnay, she was floored and said she had never tasted two more different wines from the same grape….I love doing that and secretly hope I am creating little curious wine geeks…maintaining the species!

Both wines were lovely with my mushroom ravioli which was full of zippy lemon juice and went well with Amy’s pasta course as well…poor hubby, not a wine geek by any means was a little left out with his braised beef pasta dish….I tasted it with both wines, it was fine but didn’t sing like it did with ours. By the time our mains arrived we were all buzzy and getting pretty full but we pressed on, we’re no quitters! I had a perfectly cooked to rare steak that had been cut in thin slices, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a good amount of salt, along the side were tiny roasted potatoes and a lovely pile of faro and greens….so how did the wines fare there? I LOVED IT!! The wines brought a much needed freshness to the rich beef and helped temper the salt, (the Macon with its lively apple flavors really helped curb the saltiness) and with the veggies and faro the wines just offered a nice little snap. My whole plate was framed by these starkly different Chardonnays…it was truly amazing and I was once again reminded that those old wine rules are bunk and those that live by them are missing out on some very fine flavor combinations.

Amy had the same dish and same impressions while the hubby was pretty knocked out by the Macon with his Sea Bass that had been simply sautéed and served with crisp tender veggies…me thinks there may be a wine geek lurking deep down in the hubby yet! With the wines gone we ordered espresso with our dessert, a trio of sorbet for them and fritters for me…I ordered wrong. Now before I say what I thought I must tell you that the kitchen was getting close to closing when I ordered my dessert, (it was a slow night so I am sure they were ready to go home) had I been thinking, (both of them and myself) I would have gone for the sorbet but I was full of food and had a belly full of wine so I went for it…damn were they nasty! Almost burnt on the outside and tasting like raw dough on the inside….and they were crumbly, ick really not good and the only negative of the evening. I really didn’t care if my dessert was bad as I was stuffed anyway and I was dancing on my tippy toes with night of remarkable wine experiences. We paid the check and headed over to the bar next door where we ran into one of our wine reps…a few drinks later we were back at Amy’s sharing a bottle of NV H. Billiot Brut Reserve….um I seem to be missing my notes on that bottle,

I had to get up an hour earlier Friday morning because we have extended holiday hours at The Wine Country and as I plopped my clearly hungover butt down on the couch with my cup of coffee I thought, “Yup…feeling like ass but so freaking worth it”

For those of you that read this blog and live in the area you really have to try Michael’s On Naples, it is simply fantastic…lets all try to make sure it will be there for us to savor years from now. Also if you are hanging on to any bottles of Herve Azo Chablis, let them rest…give them a few years in the bottle and let them stun you. There are a few bottles of the 2006 Lafon Macon available at The Wine Country if you want to see what Chardonnay can do when it is made in the vineyard rather than cooked up in the cellar…really pretty bottle of white wine I have to tell you. As for the Agrapart Mineral, I believe the 2000 is sold out but there is some 2002 which I have posted about before….haunting bottle of Champagne that is drinking beautifully now but will knock your socks off after a few years in the cellar.

Michael’s On Naples 5620 E. 2nd Street Long Beach, CA 90803 562) 439-7080

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