An evening fit for a prince (or a Hearst)

I get to pour wine at lots of dinners, and even more tastings.  Doing so is a key piece of how we have chosen to market ourselves: not just waiting for people to come and discover us, but going out to where they are and introducing ourselves.  It's a wonderful consequence that these tastings often allow us to support partners in our community whose work we admire.

Every now and then, the setting transforms one of these events into something extraordinary.  One such event happened this past weekend.  We have long partnered with Festival Mozaic, the summer music festival that brings world-class musicians into the Central Coast each July.  Born as the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival forty-one years ago, Festival Mozaic stages their orchestral and chamber concerts not just in the area's performing arts centers, but also in its vineyards, its missions, and some of its most sublime private homes.  But for me, the most spectacular venue they've chosen is Hearst Castle, which opens its doors to the festival one night each year for a reception and dinner on the Sea Terrace, followed by a chamber concert in Hearst's own theater.  This was the event at which we poured Tablas Creek on Friday.  The setting:

Hearst Castle 2012

Having such a beautiful and well-known landmark to yourself is breathtaking enough, but the food (catered by Hearst Castle's own chef) and the music pushed the evening over the top.  To our backs was the famous Neptune Pool:

TCV corkscrew at Hearst Castle

I spent the whole evening feeling like royalty, from when Meghan and I were waved on through the gate to drive up to the hilltop to bidding the guests farewell in front of the castle's majestic indoor pool.  Experiencing an event in such a unique venue really is unforgettable, and the fact that by donating wine for it we are not only bringing the arts into our community but also providing for the upkeep and restoration of one of California's most impressive landmarks just makes it all the better.

An outstanding Outstanding in the Field dinner

In the last decade, the farm to table movement has gone from avant-garde to squarely in the mainstream. (Cue the spoof by Portlandia.) And of course, there are excesses that deserve to be pointed out, and pretense that deserves puncturing.  But, at its heart, it's about wanting to know who was responsible for the food you eat and the wine you drink.  Sometimes, this must be limited to knowledge of provenance, or even just an assurance of ethical production.  But push a little farther to find yourself eating with the farmers, ranchers, winemakers and chefs whose products you're enjoying, and you realize it's about reestablishing the connection with your food that has been obliterated by factory farms, agribusiness and chain restaurants.

Last Thursday, Meghan and I made the trek out to Rinconada Dairy for a remarkable dinner set up in the middle of a sheep pasture under a giant oak tree, a few hundred yards from the nearest building and about 10 miles from the nearest thing that might be called a town.  We were joined for the dinner by Bill & Barbara Spencer of Windrose Farm (who grew the produce) and Debbie Paver of Charter Oak Meats. Rinconada's husband and wife team of Christine and Jim Maguire produced the cheese as well as the venue and the soundtrack from the nearby sheep and goats.  The food was prepared from scratch in a pop-up kitchen in that very same field by Chris Kobayashi, the chef/owner of Artisan Restaurant.  Perhaps most remarkably, we were joined by about 100 food and wine lovers from as far away as Minnesota.  Artisan's Shandi Kobayashi, who put together the menu and its wine pairings, arrived kid goat in arms, trailed by its family:

Shandi with goats

The maestro of this evening, and of evenings like it throughout the year and around the country, was Jim Deneven, the founder of Outstanding in the Field.  Created "to honor the people whose good work brings nourishment to the table", OITF has since 1999 been creating dinners in such unlikely places as sea caves, mountaintops, orchards and pastures.  We hosted one under a spectacular blue moon on a ridge at Tablas Creek in 2004.  Each dinner includes a reception (last week, we poured our Rose and Lone Madrone poured their delicious Bristol's Cider).  Then, the guests are taken on a farm tour, which ends where the dinner will be hosted.  So, the guests will not yet have seen the site, and the theatrics of the arrival are not neglected, with mise en scene set by the plates that diners bring with them to each of the Outstanding in the Field dinners they attend:


We'd wandered over a bit earlier to give the servers the background on the wines that were being paired with the different courses.  These included our 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, our newly bottled 2010 Counoise, our 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel and the 2010 Vin de Paille Sacrerouge, of which we brought two of the just 150 cases that were produced.  The menu:


Outstanding in the Field by tradition sets one long table and serves family-style, encouraging mingling and interaction between the guests.  The table, empty and full:

Set table Full table
As the evening drew on and the light faded, candles were lit, chefs and farmers offered toasts, and the table became an island of light.

After dark

Not all farm to table dinners work as culinary exhibitions.  But this one did.  All the courses were excellent, but the one that stood out most to me was the middle course: a cheese-rich gnudi (think gnocchi, but lighter in texture and slightly tangy from the cheese) with a pork ragu, porcinis and braised chicken, that we paired with the 2010 Counoise that I was so impressed by a few weeks ago. Artisan was in typically outstanding form, made all the more impressive by the rustic setting.

A decade ago, a dinner like this would have felt radical, at least outside Alice Waters' sphere of influence in the Bay Area.  And it's probably no surprise that Outstanding in the Field got its start, and is still based in, Santa Cruz.  But that experiences like this are now available in much of the country is a sign of just how far the food movement has come in challenging the industrialization of what we eat.  And while we can point fingers at it for being elitist, or pretentious, the trickle-down effects of chefs and diners who care about how their food was grown and made has impacted everything from three-star restaurants to Chipotle.  And this is ground zero.  I challenge anyone who went to this dinner, or who goes to any of the 90 other events that OITF hosts each year, to leave unmoved.

A great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and a wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek

Last weekend Cesar Perrin and I were honored to host the keynote dinner at the Bern's Winefest.  Hosted by Bern's Steak House in Tampa, Florida, the festival included dinners, seminars, and a grand tasting.  So far, nothing unique about this.  The dinner that we hosted was excellent, five courses and eight wines, including side-by-side flights of Tablas Creek and Beaucastel, library vintages from both wineries (1996 Beaucastel and 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel, and the remarkable 2000 Hommage a Jacques Perrin).  Terrific, but still not unique.  It was a wine dinner, masterfully prepared and expertly paired, with a selection of wines going back a decade and a half.  At Bern's, that's routine.

If you're unfamiliar with Bern's, it's Mecca for wine lovers.  Opened in 1956 by Bern Laxer and run today by his son David, the restaurant boasts a wine cellar of nearly a million bottles, much of which was purchased by Bern on his annual trips to France and has never been inventoried.  The working cellar of over 100,000 bottles is staggering in its own right, and the wine list (183 pages in the 62nd Edition) is legendary.  It includes big names from Burgundy and Bordeaux, but it's more than trophies.  It encompasses the deepest collections of old wines from California, Spain, Australia and the Rhone Valley that I've ever seen.  And the sommeliers there keep finding more.  When Bern's shipments of wines would arrive from France, the entire Bern's staff would be called on to grab a hand-truck and help move the new arrivals the two blocks from the end of the rail line to the warehouse across the street from the restaurant.  Thousands of cases would be packed into the warehouse, with the only master plan in Bern's head.  To this day, the sommeliers treat a visit to the warehouse like a treasure hunt, and estimate that there are 200,000 bottles, most from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, not on any inventory list. These discoveries keep the list from getting picked over, as there is a steady supply of treasures to uncover.

Even more remarkable, the restaurant does not mark wines up based on how long they've held the inventory.  So browsing through the list will uncover any number of unbelievable values.  I could choose between a half-dozen California wines from 1973 (my birth year) including names like Parducci, Louis Martini, Souverain, Franciscan, and Trentadue for between $45 and $70.  Had I been born a year earlier, I could have chosen a magnum of 1972 Inglenook Cabernet, an icon from one of the greatest vintages in Napa Valley, for $129.  A year later and I could have had a 1974 Ridge Zinfandel for $72.70.  The list goes on and on.

Knowing that the winemaker dinner would have a set menu, with wines that we knew, Freddy Matson (the Vineyard Brands manager for Florida's Gulf Coast) made a reservation for Cesar and me the night before our wine dinner.  When we arrived, we put ourselves in Sommelier Brad Dixon's hands, and enjoyed an amazing string of wines, beginning with a 1954 Rioja, continuing with great Burgundies from 1978 and 1961, and including not one but two different wines from 1973, both from Souverain of Alexander Valley: one a Zinfandel and one a Pinot Noir.  It was one of the great epicurean experiences of my life.

On the wine list, Cesar and I noted a curiosity: half-bottles of 1966 Pierre Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape.  Pierre Perrin was Cesar's great-grandfather, Jacques Perrin's father, but there are other branches of the Perrin family in Chateauneuf and -- until the Hommage a Jacques Perrin debuted in 1989 -- we weren't aware of the Perrin name appearing on a Beaucastel label.  When we asked Brad about the wine, he didn't know anything about its story, but brought us a bottle:


More than the Perrin name, the Leeds Imports strip label identified it as a wine of interest.  My grandfather created Leeds Imports because New York law at the time prohibited retailers (he owned M. Lehmann) from also acting as importer/distributor.  In the late 1960s my dad was the buyer for the wines that Leeds imported, both to sell at M. Lehmann and to offer to distributors in other states.  We decided we needed to find out more. From the restaurant, Cesar texted his father a picture of the bottle. Francois hadn't heard of the wine (of course, he was thirteen during the 1966 vintage).  I emailed my father but didn't hear back.  So Brad gave us each a bottle and asked us to let him know what we discovered.

The next day, I spoke to my dad and got the scoop.  In the late 1960's, my dad had decided that the American market was ready for wines from some regions outside the traditional bastions of Burgundy and Bordeaux.  So he was visiting appellations that he thought were making high quality wine and looking either to find new suppliers or quality wine in bulk that he could then have bottled and out of which he could create a brand.  He visited Beaucastel with a broker in 1967 and found that while Jacques Perrin wouldn't sell him Beaucastel (their American importer at the time wasn't selling much wine, but had an exclusive agreement) he was able to convince Jacques to let him taste through the lots and assemble his own cuvee for bottling.  This is that wine: made by Jacques Perrin, chosen by my dad in Beaucastel's cellars, bottled under a semi-anonymous label in Bordeaux, and imported into the United States.  My dad thinks that there were perhaps 300 cases produced total.  I'm not sure if any is left anywhere other than at Bern's, but I tend to doubt it.

There were no subsequent vintages of Pierre Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape.  The American importer got wind of the wine and asked Jacques not to do it again.  But my dad's interest in Beaucastel was sparked; he kept visiting and in 1970 convinced Jacques to give him the American import agency.

So, there it is: the beginning of the Haas-Perrin partnership that would become Tablas Creek.  Just a great discovery, during an amazing night of food and wine, at a restaurant unlike any other in the world.  If you haven't been to Bern's, you owe it to yourself to go.  You never know what you'll find, but you know you'll find something you couldn't have found anywhere else.

Recipe and Wine Pairing: Sauteed Diver Scallops and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc

By Robert Haas

I got to do dinner for two last night because my wife, Barbara, had a 6 o’clock meeting to attend.  I had planned on diver scallops from our excellent local fish market, Pier 46 Seafood in Templeton.  As I was walking out of the winery to my car I saw walking in Chris Couture, the vineyard manager at Chequera Vineyard where we get much of our Syrah for Patelin de Tablas.  He was carrying a box of fresh asparagus from his organic farm picked that morning.  He kindly offered me two bunches.  What good timing!  I had been on my way to shop for veggies.  Now I could head straight to Pier 46 for my scallops.  I bought three quarters of a pound (8) of the big diver scallops.

2007_esprit_blancThe menu was to be sautéed scallops and simmered asparagus with a chopped hard-boiled egg vinaigrette dressing.  One of the great things about the menu was very little prep and very short cooking times: 15 minutes to hard-boil and chop the 2 eggs, and shave and trim the asparagus and make the vinaigrette.  Add about three minutes to chop a teaspoon of tarragon while simmering the asparagus and a total of about five minutes sautéing the scallops.

Scallops Recipe:

  • Heat the pan over medium heat and then add about two tablespoons of butter to melt. 
  • Add the scallops and sauté, half at a time, about three or four minutes each lot.  Don’t overcook! 
  • When each lot is done, transfer it to a bowl. 
  • After transferring the second lot to the bowl, add to the pan the chopped tarragon, the juice of one lemon and the scallops.
  • Cook just until everything is hot, turning the scallops to coat them in the glazed pan juices.

Asparagus Recipe:

  • Boil two eggs for 14 minutes until hard boiled, then cool and chop.
  • Make a vinaigrette by dissolving a generous pinch of sea salt into a teaspoon of good white wine vinegar, then stirring in a half-teaspoon of Dijon mustard.  Add 2 tablespoons of good olive oil, then whisk to combine.  Add fresh-ground black pepper to taste.
  • Trim the ends of the asparagus and shave the skin off the bottom portion of any thicker stems.
  • Simmer the asparagus in boiling water until tender but not mushy, 2-3 minutes.  Let cool slightly.
  • Arrange the asparagus on a plate, then top with the chopped egg and the vinaigrette.

We drank a Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2007 with the meal and I was reminded what a muscular vintage it was: rich and flavorful without being alcoholic or heavy.  Our tasting notes from a review tasting last year were:

Rich and powerful, with an explosive nose of ginger and honey, rose petals, and licorice stick.  In the mouth it's thick and broad, lifted nicely at the end by a herby white tea note.  A really long finish, the longest of any of the wines that we tasted [in our review tasting of 10 vintages].” 

And that is exactly the way it tasted last night: almost four years in the bottle and still young and vibrant.  It was terrific with the buttery scallops and even handled itself well with the asparagus with its egg vinaigrette.

How (and Why) to Decant a Wine

One question we get fairly often is whether to decant one of our wines.  My typical answer is that most of our wines will benefit from some air when young, though it's more important for some wines than others.  And a few of our older red wines have started to show some sediment.  Decanting these wines is highly recommended, as even if you stand a bottle up in advance, pouring the wine around the table will re-mix any sediment.  We've started marking on our online vintage chart wines that particularly benefit from decanting.

The examples above illustrate the two different sorts of wines that you might want to decant. The first is what I'm usually asked about: young wines whose powerful structure can be softened, and whose subtler aromatic elements encouraged, by some exposure to air.  It's not actually that important how you decant this sort of wine.  Often, the more the wine splashes around, the better.  But for the second sort of wine -- an older red wine which has accumulated some sediment over time and which you'd like to be able to enjoy without having to strain it through your teeth -- technique is important.

Over the holidays, the Haas clan gathered in Vermont, and we enjoyed many wonderful wines.  Perhaps the highlight was a magnum of the 1989 Hommage a Jacques Perrin that we drank on New Year's Day with a dinner of truffled roast chicken and a gratin of potato and fennel.  The wine was rich and luxurious, powerful with dark red fruit, licorice, and earth.  It was still quite youthful, but had already accumulated significant sediment.  We'd have decanted it even if it were a 750ml bottle, but as magnums are awkward to pour at the table due to their heft, decanting the bottle into two 750ml decanters made the logistics of serving the wine easier.  Robert Haas demonstrates how it was done, step by step.  My sister Rebecca took most of the photos; you can see more of her great photography on her blog Campestral.  The scene, with the bottle having been stood upright two days before:


To start the process, remove the capsule completely so you can see through the neck of the bottle, and light a candle (a small flashlight works, too, but is less focused and less romantic) to shine through the neck so you can tell when the wine flow starts to include sediment:


Then, pull the cork:


Pour out the bottle carefully and gradually, in one smooth motion, with the goal of creating as little turbulence as possible.  The beginning, with the first decanter partly full and the second decanter at the ready:


Pouring slower now, part way through the second decanter:


If you've poured smoothly enough, the sediment should have collected in the shoulder of the bottle, and you can pour out almost all the liquid without getting any grit.  You can actually see the sediment still in the bottle:




We put the bottle on the table so it could enjoy the dinner too, and so we could read the label if we had any questions:




A Winter Dinner and a Beautiful 1985 California Cabernet

By Robert Haas

As our late Indian summer in Paso Robles turns toward winter our appetites turn toward winter dishes. This last Sunday we had friends over for dinner and we served a Moroccan tagine, a savory slow cooked mixture of sweet and savory from a recipe in The Heart of the Artichoke, by David Tanis, published by Artisan. The book is a collection of delicious, traditional dishes organized by seasons.

Pine Ridge 1985

A tagine is a North African cooking vessel and tagine also is the name of the dish that my wife, Barbara, served us: Fragrant Lamb With Prunes and Almonds. The recipe includes, besides prunes and almonds, a panoply of spices: garlic, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, and cayenne. We did not have a tagine handy so she used a heavy Le Creuset French oven for the two hours stay in our oven. We purchased shoulder of San Luis Obispo County lamb from J & R Custom Meat and Sausage in Templeton.

One would think that all the sweet and savory elements would be tough on a dry red wine but no! We ended up with a perfect match: a 1985 Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon that has been in my cellar since the days back in the eighties that my Vineyard Brands company represented Pine Ridge in the U.S. market. The wine was perfectly aged and absolutely brilliant: soft, delicious, and beautifully balanced and accommodating the food and the palate at 12.7% alcohol.

It and the dish echoed each other beautifully: the dish bringing out the sweet fruit flavors and ripe, mature tannins of the cabernet and the wine accenting the savory lamb flavors. Yum!

It's a Wonderful Day in the Patelin (and we have photos to prove it)

By Chelsea Magnusson

A few months ago, my husband, Trevor, and I sat down to dinner in our backyard with a bottle of our new go-to wine: the Patelin de Tablas.  I was so struck by the warmth and the casual feel exuding from the moment, I grabbed my camera and took a picture (and yes, I am that person... you know, the one who's always taking pictures of their food?)  Looking back at the photo a few days later, I realized that I took the picture because to me, the moment perfectly captured what I see Patelin to be: easy, comfortable, casual, and genuinely, solidly GOOD. 

For those of you who are not yet familiar with this wine, you can read notes on the 2010 Patelin de Tablas Blanc and the 2010 Patelin de Tablas.  A little historical background from the cellar perspective:

In 2009, we had a pretty rough year in terms of harvest tonnage we brought in from our vineyard.  In many ways, it's great to be an estate winery - we have complete year-round control of what happens in our vineyard, we know the subtle nuances of each individual block, we can experiment with different farming techniques, etc.  Basically, it boils down to this: the fruit was grown on our property, in our soil, under our watch.  However, being all estate comes with challenges.  One of them being that we are at the complete mercy of mother nature.  If we have one good frost, not enough heat, not enough rain, too much rain at the wrong time, or any number of other issues, our production can be decreased.  

For the 2010 vintage, it was decided that Tablas Creek would start a new project.  Fruit would be purchased from neighboring vineyards, hence the name of the new wine: "Patelin de Tablas" (the word "patelin" means "neighborhood" in French).  All of our other wines remain estate grown, and we do contribute some of our estate fruit into both the Patelin de Tablas Rouge and Patelin de Tablas Blanc.

For those of us in the cellar, the Patelin project has proved to be challenging in a wonderful way.  And it is fun.  Really fun.  The personalities that have come into the cellar (and I mean both the growers and the fruit) are fascinating.  The people we have met are all so outstanding, and the fruit they bring us carries with it a character that we physically cannot produce on our estate.

So I think it goes without saying that I am unbelievably excited about this new wine.  When I was looking back on the photo I took in our backyard, I thought it would be fun to see what kind of moments others at Tablas Creek would capture if given the prompt "how do you like your Patelin?"  I wanted to see the way others enjoy this wine and I was so pleased with what I received, I thought I should share:


The Haas family - Bob, his wife Barbara, Jason and his sister Rebecca - celebrating at Bob and Barbara's home in Vermont.  Rebecca sent me the photo and I am told they are Glidden Point and Belon oysters from Barbara Scully (who was recently featured in a blog post by Bob).


General Manager Jason Haas had this wonderfully charming photo snapped at Shakespeare in the Park in San Luis Obispo.  Patelin apparently pairs beautifully with theatre on the lawn at dusk!


National Sales Manager Tommy Oldre sent this photo with the question, "how else would I enjoy Patelin?" Here, he is pictured doing what he does best: making new friends and pouring Tablas Creek wine at Venokado in Santa Monica.


Tasting Room Manager John Morris took this photo from the beautiful new patio at Tablas Creek.  As usual, his plate is full of gorgeous bounty from his home garden.


Accountant (and self-proclaimed Spreadsheet Queen) Eileen Harms and her husband, Paul enjoying what looks like a bottle of Patelin Rouge and a bottle of Patelin Blanc in their backyard under a full moon... a wonderful lesson: if you can't choose, indulge in both!


Wine Club and Hospitality Assistant Manager Monica O'Connor just couldn't resist and was forced to submit two photos: the first is a photo of her son and daughter-in-law who live in New York (what better way to enjoy Patelin than with loved ones?) and the second, a photo of Humphrey Bogart with a quote that was originally intended for Lauren Bacall, now directed toward Patelin: "You'll fall in love with her like everyone else."


Wine Club and Hospitality Assistant Dani Archambeault submitted this unbelievable photo of a shared bottle of Patelin looking out over Paso Robles wine country.  Such a stunning photo... perhaps the Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce should think about using this shot for travel and tourism advertisements?


Assistant Tasting Room Manager Jennifer Bravo submitted a few photos, but this was my favorite: a bottle of Patelin, the newspaper, and a tin of smoked oysters.  Perfect.


Viticulturist Levi Glenn sent in a Patelin still life that made me wish it was dinner time.


Rat de Cave (a self-professed term meaning "cellar rat") Shawn Dugan enjoyed Patelin out of a mason jar at the Templeton Concert in the Park summer series.


Winemaker Ryan Hebert and his wife, Laura, definitely went above and beyond with their "assignment".  I received a memory card with a whopping 86 photos.  Seriously.  Now, I thought I was excited about this wine!  This was my favorite, but I also had to share one more that Laura submitted, because I thought it was funny (and wonderful) how two people in the same household enjoyed Patelin differently:


And finally, this is my photo that spurred the whole photo essay; dinner with some of my favorite boys at home in our backyard:


After looking through all of the photos, it looks as though everyone enjoys their Patelin in more or less the same fashion - with wonderful company and great food in fun settings.  We hope you do the same, and would love to see your photos.  Please send any that you take to us at  We'll publish the best in a later blog post!

Lobster Terrine Recipe

I've spent the last few days in Vermont with my parents and sister, in the house in which I grew up.  As is usual when we're together there, we spend most of the day cooking, eating, or planning meals.  This trip, my dad decided to make a lobster terrine for the first time, and it was surprisingly easy and notably delicious.  It's basically the same ingredients as a lobster salad, but more elegant.  We enjoyed it at lunch with Ed Behr, owner and publisher of the Art of Eating and a friend of my parents.  The recipe is below, but first a photo of the end result:

Terrine with tomatoes1

Serves 4 as a main dish or 8 as a first course.

1 1/2 cups chopped cold lobster meat (roughly the meat from two 1-pound lobsters or one 1 3/4 pound lobster)
1 cup chopped celery
1/4 small onion, minced
1/4 cup cold lobster broth (easy to get; just drain the lobster over a bowl when you're dismembering it)
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/3 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper


  • Chop the lobster meat, celery and onion in a food processor until it is a coarse paste.
  • Place the lobster broth in the top of a double-boiler or in a small enameled saucepan.  Add the gelatin and heat gently until gelatin is dissolved, stirring occasionally.
  • In a large bowl, add the gelatin/broth mixture to the mayonnaise, while stirring. 
  • Add the lemon juice to the broth/mayonnaise mix, stirring.
  • Mix the lobster and vegetables into the mayonnaise/broth/lemon juice.
  • Whip the heavy cream and then fold it into the mixture.
  • Season to taste with pepper.
  • Spoon the mixture into a one-quart terrine, cover and chill in the refrigerator until firm.
  • Serve with a simple tomato salad (garden tomatoes, onion or scallion, and salt).

We cooked the lobsters the night before and chilled them in the fridge overnight.  There was still plenty of juice in the lobsters to use for the broth.  We used simple storebought mayonnaise but it would be good I'm sure with homemade as well.  Just be careful not to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the lobster. 

The lunch began with a tasting of Tablas Creek wines with oysters on the half shell from Barbara Scully's Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm. The wines that showed best incuded what we expected (the 2010 Vermentino and the 2010 Patelin de Tablas Blanc) and also the richer 2010 Antithesis Chardonnay and the 2010 Marsanne, both gaining sweetness and complexity when paired with the briny oysters.  The oysters:

Last Import - 11

And the lineup of wines:

Last Import - 39

The terrine was richer fare, and while both the Antithesis and the Marsanne continued to show well, the Roussanne-based wines provided the best match.  The 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc played wonderfully with the rich texture of the mousse, and the 2010 Roussanne, a bit young and spiky on its own, rounded out with the lobster into a remarkable pairing where each partner informed the other a bit.  The terrine, with our favorite pairings:


A delicious meal, fun pairings that illuminated the different wines, and great company.  A day well spent.

Maine's Greatest Oysters

by Robert Haas

I began my love affair with oysters on the half shell when I first went to France in 1954.  Sure, I had eaten the ubiquitous Blue Points in New York restaurants (with cocktail sauce of course) but I discovered then the flavors really fresh cold water oysters, served with just lemon and fresh ground pepper and accompanied by a Chablis or a Sancerre, could bring to the table.

Barbara Scully I was unaware of the availability of terrific oysters at retail for home delivery here until Glidden Point Oyster Sea Farm, owned by Barbara Scully (right), was brought to my attention a few years ago at a wine and oyster tasting in Peacham, VT by Ed Behr, the Vermont-based food and wine devotee best known as publisher of The Art of Eating.  Home for the Glidden Points is the Damariscotta River, which flows with some of the cleanest water on the East Coast.  It is an excellent place to farm because it produces oysters with a rich buttery-yet-briny taste.  Ever since that tasting, my family, friends, and winery neighbors have often profited from that discovery.   A few days after our tasting I called Barbara for the first time to order some oysters to enjoy at home.  I was intrigued by the idea of “estate grown” oysters with “terroir.”  Not only estate grown but hand planted and harvested by diving rather than dragging.  Barbara’s terrific web site is a must visit for any who love these hard-shell bivalves and would like to learn more about them, their culture and their history.

Whereas oysters on the half shell were rare in restaurants and even rarer at retail in their shells in the U.S., they were offered frequently in France from simple bistros to the Michelin three-star elites back in the fifties.  I really do not know why that was.  Perhaps we had lost the art of eating during prohibition, when of course, the emphasis was on high proof drinking; or perhaps a lack of refrigeration or commercial airfreight for shipping.  It was not always so.  Colonists gobbled up the then-abundant oysters in the river estuaries on the East Coast, and oysters are often mentioned in literature describing fine meals back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Judging from the piles of oyster shells from Native American feasts -- for example, the Glidden Midden on the Damariscotta shore -- oysters were a favorite American fare as long as two thousand years ago.

Last week my wife and I were renting a small house in Rockland, about half an hour away from Edgecomb, where Barbara Scully and her two teenage children tend the retail shop and the wet storage landing dock on the Damariscotta River where the oysters await shipping.  We went to visit, bought two dozen oysters (of course) and persuaded Barbara to take us on a tour later that week of one of her farm sites up river.  Seedling oysters (below, left) mature in plastic cages (below, right) for their first year before they are planted on the bottom to grow four more years. 

Baby Oysters  Oyster incubators

Only then does Barbara dive to harvest them using nets like the one below. 

Harvest Net

We asked her kids if they ever dived to harvest.  The quick answer was "No, only mom dives".  The farm is a tough, exacting and sometimes dangerous business that "mom" has been working at for 24 years.  She not only plants, grows and harvests herself; she answers the phone and tends the retail stand.  Wow!

So order your Glidden Points (here).  When they arrive grab your shucking knife, some lemon and a pepper mill.  Open a bottle of 2010 Vermentino that you have stashed in your fridge or the 2010 Marsanne that is in your fall VINsider shipment and have a feast.

Corkiness: not just for wine these days.

Once you learn the musty, wet cardboard smell of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) it's unmistakeable.  TCA-infected wine is commonly referred to as "corky" or "corked".  I've been smelling TCA a lot lately.  No, we haven't been experiencing a raft of corky wines.  In fact, the quality of corks has never, in my experience, been higher, or the incidence of corked Tablas Creek lower.  I'm finding corkiness in unexpected places from housewares to the produce section.

TCA A little science first.  TCA, pictured right, is created when when naturally occurring airborne fungi come into contact with phenolic compounds in the presence of chlorine.  (The closely related chemical 2,4,6-tribromoanisole is created through the same interaction of fungi and phenolic compounds in the presence of bromine.)  Phenolic compounds are everywhere and include many of the flavors we taste and the aromas we smell -- including both the flavonoids and tannins in wine.  In our modern world where water is routinely chlorinated and vegetables often washed with a chlorine rinse before packaging, so is chlorine.  Chlorophenols are also produced during the chlorine bleaching process used to sterilize wood, paper, and foodstuffs.  Bromine is nearly as prevalent in our environment, as tribromophenols are common industrial chemicals, added to wood to preserve it and used as fire-retardant agents in polyurethanes, plastics, paper, and textiles, and -- ironically --  as fungicides and antiseptics.

The fungi convert the phenolic compounds into chlorinated anisole (or brominated anisole) derivatives.  Once they are created they spread rapidly as they are highly volatile.  Plastic is not a barrier, and in fact can be a carrier.  Shipping pallets have been identified as a primary vector of contagion.  Heat and sunlight do both destroy these anisoles, and in fact putting infected materials outside on a dry, sunny day is one way to combat the problem.  (Don't try this with wine.)

Corky non-wine items that have arrived at Tablas Creek have included the cork bottoms of marble coasters we bought to sell in our tasting room, the cardboard backing of a poster frame, and most ironically a shipment of wine bags: the six-bottle insulated nylon bags that wine reps use to carry their samples from appointment to appointment.  In each case we've removed these from our premises as soon as they were identified.  We've also eliminated all chlorine-based products in the cellar.

But it's not at the winery that I've been seeing corkiness, and I don't think that corkiness in wine is a growing problem.  If anything, it's a declining problem in wine as wineries learn how to avoid creating it in the cellar, cork producers clean up their own harvesting and manufacturing processes (corks used to be harvested and left on the forest floor for months to dry, picking up plenty of mold spores, and then bleached with in a chlorine bath after cutting) and many wineries have simply switched to screwcaps, synthetic corks and other alternative closures.

No, the problem has cropped up in my lunch and in my home refrigerator.  I honestly can't remember the last bagged produce that I opened that didn't smell at least slightly corked.  Baby carrots are the ones that I come across most often, but I've found corky potatoes, green beans and apple slices in the last few months as well.  And I have a real feeling it's just the tip of an iceberg.  Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in April about a corked salad he received in a Healdsburg restaurant.  George Heritier of the terrific blog Gang of Pour recently found a corked wine box.  But if much (most?) packaged produce contains corkiness, given how volatile the responsible anisole compounds are, doesn't it seem likely that the warehouses where these foods are stored and shipped are infected?  And how does that get cleaned up?

It's ironic that at the moment, the cork you pull out of the nice bottle of wine you're serving with your dinner may be the least likely culprit in your meal's musty, malodorous note.