APRIL 2009-SYLVANER DINNER

Tortoni Madness

GASTRONOMEG’S TORTONI MADNESS!

The Wines
2007 Albert Seltz, Sylvaner de Mittelbergheim, Alsace $15.99
2007 Domaine Ostertag, Les Vieilles Vignes de Sylvaner, Alsace $20.99
2006 Abbazia di Novacella, Valle Isarco Sylvaner, Alto Adige $19.99
1994 Hans Wirsching, Iphofer Kronsberg, Silvaner Kabinett Trocken, Franken $27.00

The Menu
Appetizer: Crostini with tarragon mustard, hard boiled egg and sardine
Main: Pan-seared halibut with fava bean, fresh garbanzo, and potato hash
Salad: Mizuna, pea shoot sprout and radish salad with lemon vinaigrette
Dessert: Tortoni with strawberry sauce

It’s not easy being green, green is the color of spring………..

Carlita: Celedon, terre verte, sap, kelly, verde: the green palate is what I have on my mind in April.  I want to paint green and eat green.  Simply canʼt get enough of asparagus, artichokes, avocados, arugula, summer savory.  Starchy root vegetables be gone —  bring on the green shoots, itʼs time for spring!   For some reason I always associate Sylvaner with green. Not that it is necessarily grassy like Sancerre, but with its sometimes-tart green fruit, and slight vegetal and citrus flavors on the palate it seems as clean, simple and straightforward as green.  My thought for the main dish was that Sylvanerʼs medium body would stand up well to a meatier fish such as halibut.  Then, while shopping at the Manhattan Fruit Exchange in the Chelsea market, I ran across some fresh garbanzo beans still in the pod.  Iʼm sure Paula Wolfert has mentioned these at some point so they were definitely going in my basket.

Halibut and Fava, Garbonzo and Potato hash

Carlitaʼs Fava, Fresh Garbanzo and Potato Hash:

I cup fresh fava beans, skins removed
1 cup fresh garbanzo beans, or substitute fresh peas or edamame
1 cup pearl onions
1 cup small cubes of potato
diced pancetta or bacon
4 garlic cloves cut into hunks
fresh marjoram
Salt and pepper
chicken broth or vegetable broth
serves 4

Cook down the pearl onions in olive oil until they start to brown, then add thepancetta and garlic.  After a few minutes add the potato and continue to brown. Add 1/2 cup of broth, then add the fava and garbanzo beans.  Cook until beans are tender but still firm.  Add the chopped marjoram and season to taste.  I finished it with a little butter and garnished with lemon zest.

This recipe would also make a great vegetarian entree sans the pancetta and
with the addition of artichokes. I pan-seared the halibut (skin side down for crispy skin) and placed it on top of the hash.   When the salad came out, I forgot how wonderful mizuna can be — fresh, green and spicy, a great way to end the meal.  At dessert, Gastronomegʼs tortoni was so light and fluffy.  We all loved it and I was grateful for the leftovers with my afternoon coffee the next day.

Billy gets the goods…………….
The day of the dinner Billy called to see if we needed anymore Sylvaners.  We were missing one from Franken, but I said thatʼs ok, we have plenty.  Dinner was at a respectable weeknight 7, he was just getting off of work at the bottom of the island, and I live at the top. But I told Gastronomeg and Jason we would probably not see him until 8:00 as he was determined to find a Franken. Somehow he managed to pull out of his hat a bottle of 1994 Silvaner Troken from the Franken and still arrive close to 7.  Impressive!    It turns out that Silvaner is a bit easier to locate in stores than Valtellina.  He had easily found the Franken at Chambers Street Wines, the one-stop shop for wine nerds. My favorite Sylvaner was the Domaine Ostertag whose wines are not always easy to find as they fly out of the bins in no time.  Ostertagʼs wines have a bit of a cult following, and for good reason.   At the recent biodynamic tasting in New York City the Domaine Ostertag wines stood out from the other whites from Alsace for their acidity and complexity.  In contrast, the Albert Seltz was a bigger rounder style and I also enjoyed it with food and on its own.  I think we all agreed that the 94 Franken had held up remarkably well but did not necessarily benefit from ageing.  Sylvaner is meant to be young, fresh and sassy.

Mizuna, pea shoot sprout and radish salad Dinner Table

Billy’s Dinner Notes…………Sylvaner (Ger. Silvaner) is an underappreciated grape—grown mostly in France’s Alsace, Italy’s Alto A dige and Germany’s Franken regions—that’s  perfect for these recessionary times. Typically, it is used as a blending grape in the Edzelwicker and Liefraumilch table wines in the boites of Alsace and Germany; but prominent winemakers increasingly have discovered the strengths of vinifying the grape as a single varietal wine: a wine with high acidity and good body, with somewhat of a clean, neutral taste.  Accompanied with an affordable price.   We tried four wines from sylvaner’s three major regions. Mostly recent vintages, including a 15 year-old Franken silvaner. Here is an edited transcript of  the commentary at dinner:

Gastronomeg: I really love the Ostertag.  I picked up honey notes in the back of the palate.   Carlita: For me, I found green apple. This wine reminds me of  having just emptied a cider press.   Billy: The Ostertag has a freshness with a clean floral note.   Carlita: To me the Seltzer is more grapey. More like fresh grapes.   Billy: Carla, dearest, more like hot grapes really . . .   Gastronomeg: Yes, Billy’s right. I’m finding some heat on the palate in this wine.   Billy: You know, this wine may be balanced, but it’s not really harmonious to me.   Gastronomeg: Me neither. But I must admit, I’m a lightweight.  (Note to the reader: Meg is pregnant).   Jason: Wow, this Wirthing is jumping on the nose . . . I feel like a deer eating a sapling.   Gastronomeg: Really?  Are you sure you’re the father o f my child?    Carlita: I think I’d like the Seltzer with cheese, but not with this halibut.   Jason: Sylvaner is really better with less alcohol. It makes the wine  too ripe, too flat. I’m really getting  a Pine Sol smell from the Seltzer. Like Murphy’s Oil.   Gastronomeg: Now, the Abbadazia has a certain savoriness. I’m getting a piney pungency in this wine.   Billy: Actually, I’m getting a little of this note in all of the sylvaners as well. The Abbadazia has enough body to pair with the halibut.   Carlita: I think the Wirthing has the body as well.   Gastronomeg: And there’s lemon peel too. I get lemon in all these wines.   Billy: Yes, I agree lemon is a major note in all the wines here.   Carlita: [Carla is staring at her glass.]  Why am I blanking out?  You know, in all these sylvaners, I find that the food brings out a nice combination of the sweet and savory.   Billy: Even the Wirthing?   Carlita: Yes, I think so.   Billy: Now this Wirthing. Taste it. It’s 15 years old. Any difference between it and the rest?   Gastronomeg: No, not really.   Jason: Oh, this is really too delicious.   Billy: I don’t detect much change really in the essential quality of the sylvaner. It still seems fresh, but hardly more complex. I think the aging of the wine empahsizes the neutrality of the grape. Although I am getting a slight petrol note on this wine.   Jason: Yes.   Carlita: No, I don’t see much change either.   Jason: I agree.   Billy: Which leads to the question: Why age sylvaner?  In Franken, the winemakers obviously do.   Gastronomeg: No, I can see that it’s unnecessary. I mean, I drink the Ostertag, and I get all that I want from this type of wine. Fresh, light and flavorful.   Billy: You certainly can drink this wine by itself.   Gastronomeg: it would be delightful.   Carlita: And with certain food.  Look, when I taste the Wirthing with this mizuna salad, I really pick up the chlorophyll taste in the sylvaner.   Billy: So, that emphasizes the grape’s neutrality in a way that enhances the eating experience. That’s a fine feature for a wine, I’d say.   Jason: Ok, we did sylvaner. Now I want some of that Tortoni that my goddess of a wife made for you all. This Tortoni will make you forget about the future and the past . . .Dessert!

For more on Gastronmeg’s Tortoni visit her blog…….

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