My apologies to those of you going through beer-blogging withdrawal; last-minute grantwriting panic and a long-planned weekend getaway with the wife kept me away fromt he computer until now.
In brief, once the grant wrapped up my wife and I drove to Nemacolin Woodlands, a ridiculously posh spa/hunting/golf resort located just over a hill from Uniontown to redeem a gift certificate from our wedding. On the way we stopped at Christian W. Klay winery more or less on principle (our bumper sticker could read ‘I brake for cellars’). We didn’t expect that much from a winery that doesn’t date its bottles, and you’ll have to drive farther to find anything resembling a tannin, but their take on Sauvignon Blanc (Blanc de Lafayette) had a peppy mineral bite. The Washington Tavern Red has a surprisingly strong element of blackberries that grow in their fields (added syrup? say it ain’t so…) and we picked up an untasted bottle of sparkling peach wine for the heck of it.
Our trip to Nemacolin revolved around dinner at a French-themed suit-and-tie joint called Lautrec. Advertising the largest wine cellar in Pennsylvania and probably the priciest, topping out at $6k for a 50-year-old Lafitte, Lautrec also has a world-class chef who falls on the tiny-but-pricy side of haute cuisine. A dinner of escargot casserole, roasted duck breast, Pennsylvania lamb on white-bean cassoulet with complimentary leek puree and celery sorbet and finally a generous cheese plate left me pleasantly sated but far from full, and I’d eaten lunch. I’m not a food reviewer but it’s fair to say that each course stands up as one of the greatest examples of whatever it was. Wine-wise we started with a glass of Twin Islands Sauvignon Blanc from Nautilus Estate in New Zealand, memorably rich with that unique mineral bite that makes enzed Sauvs so great, and a glass of the always-great Veuve Cliquot champagne for my wife. The real star came second.
If you travel with wine in mind and you can afford it (our gift certificate made the tab bearable) the impish sage who rules Lautrec’s enormous wine cellar will make the trip worthwhile. Case in point, he pointed us towards a deceptively-cheap 1998 Pinot Noir from Domaine Vincent Girardin, the only 1er cru (that’s the second-best designation after grand cru) vineyard in the Burgundy villiage of Santenay. Called ‘la Maladiere,’ Girardin’s concoction aged gracefully and assaults your nose more aggresively than you’d expect from the humble Pinot Noir. I won’t try to tease apart the bold flavors of this bottle, but this reviewer [four out of five stars] does a decent job with the 2002 vintage:
Pinot noir ruby. A clean ripe bouquet of red cherries leads into a straightforward palate tasting exactly the same. It is hard to imagine a more frank expression of healthy ripe pinot than this beautifully crunchy cherry fruit, not stalky or acid, not oaky, just plump and crisp on palate and eminently drinkable. And it will cellar 5 – 8 years, and perhaps build a little more bouquet.
Our bottle had cellared for eight years so the ‘crisp on the palate’ part had faded into a bold, deep complexity. A bit longer would have added depth but the reviewer’s largely right, after eight years there wasn’t much remaining acidity to work with. Heartily recommended. The budget-conscious should plan to buy two or three bottles of recent vintage for the same price as one 1998 and cellar them for a few years.
Great news for gastronomic travelers, the Uniontown area has not one but two classic French dining spots (that makes two more than Pittsburgh BTW, unless you count a great Swiss/French farmhouse eatery a ways north on I-79). On the return trip the wife and I discovered Chez Gerard in Hopwood, where for the price of a thumbnail-sized appetizer at Lautrec you can enjoy a hearty three-course lunch prepared by transplanted French veterans of the restaraunt business. Chef William Severac’s homemade duck pate and grilled salmon on saffron rice, following up on the grub at Lautrec, made for an almost surreal weekend as far as eating goes.
All said, it’s pretty impressive that we squeezed this much out of a weekend and it isn’t even Sunday yet. That seems like a good thing when you consider that squeezing anything more out of our weekend would make it painfully hard to squeeze into our jeans.