Moroccan Dinner With Ouled Thaleb

Saturday, November 28, 2015 12:26 AM


Ouled Thaleb: Dinner Recap
 
A month ago The Wine House hosted a dinner at Mourad –Mourad Lalou’s swanky Financial District restaurantinside the newly renovated Pacific Telephone Building. The dinner was organized to introduce and feature the wines of Ouled Thaleb, Morocco’s oldest working winery. ThoughThe Wine House has been stocking Ouled Thaleb winesever since they became available in California, the wines are still relatively unknown to the larger wine market.
 
 
In a private room, seated around a gorgeous handmade wood table, diners were treated to a delicious multi-course meal accompanied by the wines of Ouled Thaleb. The energetic and charismatic importer of Ouled Thaleb, Didier Pariente, kept our attention focused on the wines, giving us quick tutorials for each one. Throughout the evening Didier shared stories and insights on the food, wine and culture of Morocco. He emphasized the relevance and importance of Morocco as a wine regionand encouraged us to travel there.
 
 
I enjoyed tasting through Ouled Thaleb’s portfolio of wines in their proper context – with food. The cuisine at Mourad is inspired by the flavors of Morocco, transformed through a skilled chef to create a culinary language all his own. This is elevated food, and the wine kept in step. Three years ago I answered the phone and was greeted bya polite, French-accented man who asked me if anyone there would be interested in tasting wines from Morocco.I normally try to avoid biting on a cold call, but I was intrigued. I had an opening in my tasting calendar, so I said “Sure, come on over”. This is how I met Didier. I tasted the wines and felt them to be interesting and of merit on their own terms, not just a novelty. In other words, if the wines weren’t any good, there was no reason to buy them for the store. I continue to find Ouled Thaleb wines deliciousand carry them vintage to vintage. They have a steadyfollowing among ex-pats, adventure seekers and wine drinkers looking to expand their tasting horizons.
 
 
Listed below are Ouled Thaleb wines that are in stock, along with some brief tasting notes. For the future, if anyone reading this would like to be notified of upcoming wine dinners, please send in your request to info@wineSF.comand we’ll add you to our list.
 
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July 25. Yes, we are aware of the fact that we have sent out several emails recently embracing Rosé, and all things summer. Why not? We have now entered late July and the period known as the dog days. What does it mean? Many things to many people. France is about to shut down for a month, and some of our friends from over there have been over here visiting. Last week it was Hélène Garcin-Lévêque from Bordeaux, and this week, we were visited by longtime friend, Philippe Ehrhart from Alsace!
 

 

Ever been to Alsace? Seeing Philippe again always brings back wonderful memories of the time Chris and I visited the Ehrharts at Domaine St. Rémy in Wettolsheim. If you don’t know the story, Chris had been with TWH for around 5 months at the time, and I had just started. A French food & wine promotional company was offering a free trip for 2 for the retailer that did the best job promoting the wines of Alsace during a given period of time.  Chris built the most magnificent pyramid of picturesque Alsatian boxes with different bottles displayed on each tier, flanked by maps of the region. It was rather eye-catching, to say the least. Our sales of Alsatian wines were quite brisk during this period, and one day a few months down the road, the phone rang. It was a representative of the French company sponsoring the contest. We had won! In what I can only describe as pure luck, I was chosen to accompany Chris on a whirlwind tour of Alsace with visits to 9 estates in 3 days. David was consulted by the sponsor for recommendations as to whom to visit. He also amended our itinerary to spend an extra day there in order to visit the 2 growers that we represented at the time. After 3 days chock full of visits, tastings, and rich meals, we were picked up on that final morning by Philippe Ehrhart himself and driven down to Wettolsheim to Domaine St. Rémy.

On the drive, Philippe regaled us with information about the villages, vineyards, and countryside. Once at the winery, he introduced us to his father and we began tasting tank samples of the recent harvest. It was rapidly approaching midday, so we were off to meet Philippe’s wife, Corinne, at their home for a tasting which included lunch. Philippe made the introductions and then led us to the dining room in which 10 bottles of various Domaine Ehrhart wines were opened and ready to be tasted. Somewhere after we tasted our 3rd sample, Corinne must have removed the lid to the pot with the simmering Choucroute, and the heavenly aroma wafted into the dining room. Beside one of my notes I scribbled, “Omg, I smell Choucroute.” (Wait, did I write “Omg?” Really? Hey, it was 2006, I was just a kid.)

 

Needless to say, the Choucroute was divine! Having the opportunity to taste the Ehrharts’ Riesling, Pinot Gris, Pinot Auxerrois, and Gewurztraminer alongside it was the perfect Alsatian cultural experience.  So, even if it sounds a little cliché, when a couple of Alsatian winemakers invite you to their home for Choucroute, cancel the rest of your plans immediately and accept their invitation! We stayed well past our time limit, and when Philippe asked us what time our next appointment was, I looked at my watch and said, “5 minutes ago.” Philippe exclaimed that he wished we weren’t leaving, and we all reluctantly got in the car for our 20 minute drive.
 

 

I learned a lot during that trip. Having an eastern European background, cured meats, sausages, cabbage, and potatoes are all within my sphere of familiarity. I just never had a clue of what wines to pair with them. I can’t tell you how many bottles of quality red Bordeaux I brought to family gatherings which featured ham at the center of the table. In retrospect, the wines were all great, they just didn’t pair with the salty cured meat. After this trip, I knew, Riesling is the wine. Pinot Gris works too, as does Pinot Blanc’s sibling, Pinot Auxerrois. Gewurztraminer may be a little aromatically overwhelming for a holiday ham, ah, but the things you can pair with Gewurz … More on that later. The trip really opened my eyes as to how versatile the wines of Alsace are, and the formation of my opinion that the best pairings are with white wines had begun to take shape. I eat a lot of spicy food. These wines work well with spicy food. Really well.

So yeah, Philippe Ehrhart visited our new digs in Dogpatch this week! We popped one bottle each of the entire Ehrhart line in the cold box this past Tuesday and tasted them with Philippe and David after their full day of meetings and appointments. Having just flown in, Philippe showed no signs of weariness, and eagerly discussed the wines as we tasted them. The Ehrharts have always farmed organically, and the purity and precision of the end product is evidence of this practice paying off. Philippe informed us that he has been employing bio-dynamic practices in the vineyard, and beginning with their 2012’s, will be Demeter certified.

 

The Ehrharts have recently moved into a lovely, modern new winery complete with upscale tasting room. Another recent development has been to employ a scale from 1-10 on their back label describing the perceived sweetness of their wines.  This is extremely helpful for consumers because there is a wide range of styles amongst the wines of Alsace. Some wines are sweeter than others, and to point out the perceived sweetness in this fashion is useful. With their organic techniques, their new facility, and Demeter certification, we see nothing but great things ahead for the Ehrharts! We love their wines and we applaud their ability to look forward and not rest on any of their laurels. Never been to Alsace? It is worth strong consideration, you won’t regret it! – Peter Zavialoff
2012 Domaine Ehrhart Pinot Auxerrois Val St.-Gregoire
White Wine; other white varietal; Alsace;
$16.99
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Perceived Sweetness – 2
Pinot Auxerrois is considered the finest clone of Pinot Blanc due to its natural low yields and smaller berries. It’s a great aperitif, as it has round apple-like flavors and aromas. Great with things like chicken salad, grilled trout, creamy cheeses, or a lobster roll.
2011 Domaine Ehrhart Riesling Herrenweg
White Wine; Riesling; Alsace;
$19.99
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Perceived Sweetness – 2
It may say 2, but it seems drier to me. The aromas are fresh, there are floral hints surrounding the core of pear fruit and stony mineral. The palate is lively; it’s the epitome of a dry, versatile white wine. It goes with most traditional Alsatian fare, but there’s oh, so much more. Hunan smoked duck would be fun with this, also raclette, spicy shrimp scampi, or maybe even chile verde.
2011 Domaine Ehrhart Pinot Gris Im Berg
White Wine; Pinot Grigio/Gris; Alsace;
$19.99
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Perceived Sweetness – 2
Unlike the Riesling, I get a little more body and sweetness out of this one. Their Pinot Gris has a fuller body and is deep and rich. Aromas of earthy mushrooms are ever-present. The palate has depth, yet is well balanced. Versatile and giving, you can pair this with things like carnitas tacos, a ginger panko crusted salmon with Asian vegetabels, sushi, or Kung Pao pork.
2012 Domaine Ehrhart Gewurztraminer Herrenweg
White Wine; Gewurztraminer; Alsace;
$21.99
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Perceived Sweetness – 4.5
Gewurztraminer is a bit enigmatic. If you like spicy curry dishes, I highly recommend you try a glass of Gewurz with your next curry. I wouldn’t particularly sit down at a wine bar and order a glass of it, but when the balance of the sample bottle was up for grabs, that was all the motivation I needed to whip up a big batch of pork curry with a myriad of peppers last night, and all I have left, sadly is the leftover curry. The Gewurz is long gone! It is the perfect curry wine, no doubt, but I’ve tried it with spicy red beans and rice with much success. Spicy jambalaya, and an abundance of Asian dishes are begging for this highly aromatic, slightly off-dry wine. 
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2011 Chateau Coutet (Pre-Arrival)

Monday, February 17, 2014 9:09 PM

The 2011 Chateau Coutet was the stand out wine at the L.A. UGC tasting this past January, or so I am told for I was not in attendance (Pete was!).  The uniformly passionate praise for Coutet’s 2011 is well documented with wine publications all awarding glowing reviews and huge scores to it (Wine Advocate 94-96pts, Wine Spectator 97pts … and it goes on like this everywhere). The Twitter-sphere blew up with raves about the 2011 Coutet as the UGC tour made its way around the world. With such hype, expectations naturally rise. When Pete generously shared a bottle with TWH staff graciously provided by Aline Baly, my expectations were met and I instantly joined the ranks of admirers. Apricot fruit leather, thoroughly mouth-coating viscous nectar, coconut cream, and a lengthy rich finish – an incredible wine!

 

Long before Pete, our self-proclaimed Sauternes lover, began espousing the virtues of Chateau Coutet (and its ability to transform your dining experience beyond dessert), I recommended Coutet to those who wanted top-tier quality Sauternes but didn’t want to pay the inflated prices of some of the more famous names in the region.  To my palate, Coutet always carries a tangy fruit quality that makes the wine sing on the tongue. Never heavy or cloying, that characteristic Coutet CUT shines through each vintage. 

 

 

With Valentine’s Day just behind us, I had thought a lot about what wine is best suited for this made-up holiday. Bubbles, sure why not? Wines from S-LOVE-nia…get it? Then I began to think more about the type of love it takes to make a wine, that if you examine closely, really is an insane way to make a living; a dedication not unlike one needed to make romantic love last.  Looking over the breath-taking photos on Chateau Coutet’s website, one can easily fantasize of a life on such a grand estate (even if it once was only a stable for the Lur-Saluces family!). Then the reality of what it takes to get wine into bottle starts to take shape. Vintage conditions must provide that the grapes not only fully ripen but become infected with Botrytis, that miraculous decomposer that helps concentrate the sugars in the grape, producing the liquid nectar. A team of about 80 is needed to pass through the vineyards, picking grape by grape, not once but often as many as 8 times! When all is said and done, it takes one whole vine to make just one glass of Coutet. Like I said, insane!

 

So getting back to 2011 Coutet, after relishing each sip and shouting out a litany of descriptors -apricot, pineapple, crème brulee, butterscotch, tangerine- the first food pairing that popped into my mind was a savory one. Why delay the glorious flavors and balance of the 2011 Coutet to the end of the meal, when the intensity and, most importantly, its acid structure is naturally suited to a non-sugary dish.  By all accounts, the 2011 Coutet has all the components to live long in the cellar, but it also is so perfectly complete that it is a wine you will and should drink in its youth. For this reason, I highly recommend buying some for now and some to save. For anyone out there with a baby born in 2011 that wants to stow away some special wine to drink at a graduation, wedding, or other special occasion, the 2011 Chateau Coutet is a must. 

 

 

Valentine’s Day can be complicated for adults and children alike. At my daughter’s school, it was strongly suggested that Valentines be homemade and no candy allowed. My daughter added that the Valentines should not be too romantic either! It would have been so much easier to just buy them at the drugstore and tape on a heart-shaped candy, but I took on the challenge and for not being a particularly crafty type, I thought the Valentines came out well. A-hah, maybe that is part of the lesson, like the making of 2011 Chateau Coutet, some things are worth doing just to bring beauty, joy and love no matter how difficult or challenging. Anya Balistreri

 

Please note: This is a pre-arrival offer. The wine is expected to arrive by mid 2014.

2011 Chateau Coutet Sauternes (Barsac) (Pre-Arrival)
Sweet Wine; Semillon; Bordeaux;
$74.00
  Add to Cart
“The white peach, pineapple, white ginger, orange zest and green fig notes are clear and racy, while green almond, brioche, pear and yellow apple details wait in reserve. Offers stunning range and polish, showing terrific energy and cut on the finish. This just makes you feel special when you drink it. Bravo, to an estate that has been rising steadily for a while now. Best from 2016 through 2035. From France. 97 points” – James Molesworth, The Wine Spectator
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Spring Cleaning Sale: 2005 Sauternes

Saturday, June 1, 2013 7:58 PM

Whew! I hope everyone had a great long weekend last week. The thing about long weekends is that they lead right into short weeks. Toss in my fairly regular Wednesday off, and let’s just say that I had very little time to take care of all that was on my plate. I’m still going back and forth sending emails to negociants in Bordeaux; be on the look out for our 2012 Bordeaux futures offer very soon. This weekend’s Spring Cleaning Sale has got us all hopping around like crazy, but that’s one way to make some room here in our warehouse. When I arrived here at the shop Thursday morning, I immediately went into overdrive preparing for the sale. One of our favorite customers popped in Thursday morning and inquired, “What’s this weekend’s wine going to be?” Talk about a deer in the headlights moment! And then it occurred to me.  Sauternes on sale? No brainer here.

 

To update an old quote of mine: Not a day goes by when I don’t say – that not a day goes by when I don’t want to take home a bottle of Sauternes. Not a day. Seriously, it’s come to that. A young couple came in this morning exclaiming, “Last time we were here you helped us with some Sauternes recommendations.” Yep, that’s not difficult to imagine. I was recently looking over some of my earliest invoices as an employee of TWH, and they were dotted with both half and full bottles of various Sauternes. I caught the bug long ago in a past life, and my chef buddy Carsten still calls me “Raymond Lafon” or “Monsieur Lafon” as I once had a seemingly unlimited supply of their 1986. But afterattending a tasting of 2005 Sauternes, I fell hard. Hook, line, and sinker! John explained to me that the period of harvest was (in some cases) 4 times as long as usual. This gave the vignerons that much more to work with. Also, the botrytis in 2005 was profound. At the aforementioned tasting, the botrytis was unmistakable in every sample I tasted; my notes reflecting this fact.

So back to the couple that came in earlier today. They are expecting. This was the reason they were unable to join us back in January for our All-Sauternes (okay, Barsac) dinner at Restaurant Picco with Aline Baly of Château Coutet. Anya still proudly has her menu handy at her work station. She pulled it out and we showed it to them. Then we started talking about Sauternes and food pairings. If you ever want to kill an hour or two, bring that subject up with me. The myriad of plates that pair well with Sauternes is so numerous, that I can declare it the most versatile style of wine when it comes to food pairing. Anya regaled this couple with a historical perspective citing that Sauternes were the wines of choice for many a royal-type throughout history. Expounding on this topic, she also noted that the sweetness of botrytised wine leant an “honesty” to the flavors of the food it was paired with. A dry, austere wine might change a diner’s perception of what they’re eating whereas a Sauternes can enhance the food’s flavors. It makes sense if you think about it. Fois gras and Roquefort cheese are traditional pairings because the sweetness and balancing acidity of the wine frame the flavors and textures honestly. But we’re far beyond traditional pairings here. Or to quote Ms. Baly, “There are traditions, but no rules.”

 

Okay, so which one? Not so fast, I said I’m a huge fan of 2005, and when Sauternes go on sale, I think it is a good idea to grab any of them! I’ve gone on about half-bottles before, and I still believe they’re a great idea, because one can taste more wine when not having to pour out the “lucky drops” of a 750ml bottle. So I am recommending half-bottles of 2005 Sauternes. Seriously, Sauternes on sale? You’ve been good. You deserve it. 

Okay, this is going to be a memorable week! ALL KINDS of stuff going on. Let’s see, my sister’s birthday, our 2012 Bordeaux futures offer, (fingers crossed, touch wood) the homecoming of football’s finest manager, the release of Camera Obscura’s new album, the June Dirty Dozen, and my band has 3 gigs in the next 7 days … 2 of them in Hood River, Oregon! I’m taking home a half bottle of 2005 Sauternes. Cheers! – Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about 2005 Sauternes, Sauternes pairing, 2012 Bordeaux futures, football, or my band’s upcoming gigs: peter.winehouse@sbcglobal.net

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2006 Dry Riesling Marlborough Isabel Esate Vineyard

Thursday, January 20, 2011 5:01 PM

Happy New Year, all! Whew! I hope all y’all’s holidays went well. I knew sometime in late November that I wouldn’t be taking my foot off the gas pedal until mid-January. See, I have reason to celebrate January 1st, 3rd, 7th and 14th. Actually, for me, it really goes until the 25th, and this year, next week will be packed with good stuff. The annual UGC Bordeaux tasting comes to San Francisco next Friday, the 21st. Also, we have the Sauternes/Barsac tasting dinner with Aline Baly, and the fabulous wines of Chateau Coutet coming up at Restaurant Picco this Monday evening. Another Sauternes friend will be arriving Wednesday, and there are more dinner plans. Followed by what will be my first glimpse into the newly bottled 2008 Bordeaux! Whew! Is right.

I just returned to the treehouse after being treated to dinner by one of my dearest friends. She and I go way back, and we are often spotted at Brandy Ho’s on Columbus & Pacific. In all the years I’ve been going to that restaurant, there is one dish I order EVERY TIME. It is the spicy Smoked Ham With Cloves Of Garlic. If you like smoky ham, garlic and lots of hot pepper, I highly recommend it. One of our favorite rituals is that she asks me to take the leftovers (I call them “Brandovers”) for the next day, provided I send her a text when I’m eating them, expounding on their delicacy. So, a bit of a rarity, tonight being Saturday, I will not eat my Brandovers at work tomorrow, I will eat them here, so I get to pair them with wine! What wine, you may ask? Tomorrow, it will be the2006 Dry Marlborough Riesling from Isabel Estate Vineyard. So the story goes something like this: Just as the ever-popular, sold out, 2004 Chateau Mont Perat, we caught a distributor closing out a great wine. (Please keep in mind that we taste a lot of “closeouts” and pass on the vast majority of them.) But this wine was poured for me blind, in a sense, and as I inhaled the aromas, I was impressed. It had an herbal note that was unmistakeable, a mineral drive and that petrol-like complexity that Riesling of distinction can have. On the palate, it was crisp and lively. The fruit was in harmony with the herbs and minerals, and it was as complex as some of my favorite dry Rieslings from Alsace. Anya already knew what I didn’t, but when they told me the price, I took a glass to a very busy David, and asked him what he thought. Stop. For a second. David is an expert. His ability to evaluate a wine is amazing. So when I do things like this, I don’t tell him a thing about the wine. I just handed him a glass. He took in the aromatics, blind, mind you. His response was “It smells like Riesling with a little age, but on the palate, it has New World fruit … it’s enigmatic, but really good!” I then told him that we could sell it for 8 bucks a bottle. He arose from his busy desk, greeted the rep, asked how much they had, and bought it all. Now, we can offer this to all of you … for 8 bucks. If you love dry Riesling with character, this is a no-brainer!

So yeah, Monday night will be the dinner with Aline at Picco, and that will be epic. I may have a seat or two (no more than that) available, and will be checking my email Sunday and Monday, in case any last minute Coutet fans may fancy hanging with us. But one night before, I will be enjoying my Brandovers with a couple of glasses of the 2006 Dry Riesling from Isabel Estate Vineyard! – Peter Zavialoff

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