Saturday, December 19, 2009

Wine of the moment: Siduri Pinot Noir Sonoma County 2008

The 2008 vintage posed a number of major challenges to winemakers in Sonoma County in 2008. First came unexpected and highly varied late-season frosts that crippled a number of Russian River Valley vineyards. Second, wildfires in Mendocino County crept into the Sonoma Coast, ravaging some vineyards with smoke taint. Frost will decimate a vineyard's crop yields that year, also dulling the fruit as if it has been run through the most character-stripping filtration. It can take the vines two years or more to recover fully. Smoke taint gives the grapes a true smoked quality, rendering it essentially undrinkable (or perhaps evoking enormous amounts of new oak).

In 2008, however, Adam Lee at Siduri Wines (and their non-Pinot Noir branch, Novy Family Wines) avoided these two potentially disastrous tricks from Mother Nature. The 2008 Sonoma County blend is a testament to the constant drive Adam, his wife Dianna, and the Siduri crew have for making better wine every year. The 2008 edition may well surpass the terrific 2005 and 2007, which were the product of much kinder growing seasons. Expect plenty of black cherry fruit, spice, and a bit more earthiness out of the 2008 Sonoma County. The kicker: It goes for only $19.50 on the mailing list, plus tax and shipping. There is pretty good distribution of Siduri wines in Houston, although this wine isn't on the shelf at Spec's. It's versatile, with good acidity that makes it excellent for pairing with a variety of foods, from pizza to roast chicken to pan-seared steak.

Full disclosure: Adam and the gang at Siduri are good friends. Adam and Dianna are also native Texans, creating inherent bias, right? But their wines are without question some of the best and most consistently good in California and Oregon. All my tasting notes, on Siduri and other wineries, are available here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Simplicity: Salad Dressing

Maybe the weather has turned too cold to think about crisp salads, but there are a lot of greens at the local farmers markets and, with rich holiday food lurking around every corner, plenty of incentive to eat light meals these days. Pair a salad with a warm bowl of tomato soup or some pot roast (or Houston's perennial favorite, short ribs), and you're able to lighten up a hearty, warming meal. And while you're at it, why pay $4 or more for a bottle of salad dressing? Make your own. There are limitless possibilities from any recipe, and you can control the fat content, which is another way to cut calorie corners in the Fat Fortnight around Christmas and New Year's. Here's one basic recipe:

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or balsamic or white wine or champagne ... you get the idea)
2-4 cloves of garlic, depending on your love of antioxidants and/or garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
6-8 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, depending on your preference for piquancy

Whisk all the ingredients together, and there you have it. Versatile and quite robust, this dressing can double as a sauce for pork or chicken. The mustard and black pepper also pair well with tannins in bigger red wines, so this can make a nice accompaniment to big meat dishes. You can also substitute lemon juice for vinegar or any other acid that is your preference. The mustard and relatively low oil content makes the emulsification on this dressing easy, and it holds for days.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In re Guy's Meat Market

Before the Burger Court of Houston, Texas

Docket No. 4



Per Curiam
. In the times when the daily special was indeed special, there was a narrow window of opportunity for those who sought to partake. That is, diners and greasy spoons often rustled up a batch of something in the morning and when they ran out, they ran out. If you snoozed, then you lost. Cast in this mold is Guy’s Meat Market, located on Old Spanish Trail. Despite meeting the constitutional requirements of standing to submit a petition for review, prudential concerns predominate, and this Court declines to exercise its jurisdiction and assign a rating to Guy’s Meat Market.

Guy’s is a meat market. The number of bona fide meat markets in Houston pales in comparison to the number of “meat markets” like the Drake, Pub Fiction, and similar ilk on Washington Avenue. Aside from being a meat market, Guy’s also serves up burgers, barbecue, and certain sides. In the discussion of Houston’s best, Guy’s burgers are frequently referenced

While no hard evidence exists, it is rumored that Guy’s makes about two hundred burgers a day and sells out well before 1:00 p.m. The question, then, is why don’t they just grill up some more burgers? The answer is simple: they don’t grill the burgers. Guy’s burgers are smoked. And as any low and slow saveur understands, smoking takes time. Therefore, it is not feasible for them to just whip up burgers. Presumably the burgers are formed the night before and smoked overnight.

Smoking renders Guy’s Burgers different. Not different-bad, but different-different. The burgers are significantly drier than even those of Mel’s Country CafĂ© See Dkt. No. 1. However, Guy’s burgers are also significantly more flavorful. It is obvious that the burgers are smoked alongside the sausage, brisket, and ribs also on the menu. Traditional notions of fair char and substantial juiciness are not implicated in reviewing Guy’s burgers. Even though they are beef, Guy’s burgers are a different animal. Typical criteria used by the Court do not comport with a review of Guy’s burgers.

The Court is, therefore, left with the task of evaluating the merits of a petition without meaningful standards or relevant precedent. For example, while flavorful, Guy’s burgers lacked the texture sought after by this Court. Is it proper, though, to compare the texture of Guy’s smoked burgers with that of Lankford’s griddled-cooked samples? Further, is it proper for this Court to announce standards for review without legislative guidance? These prudential concerns, if overlooked or ignored, would unduly prejudice Guy’s.

In sum, whether Guy’s burgers pass muster is a question better suited for resolution by the other branches of gustatory governance, such as the Smokehouse of Representatives.