Wednesday, July 30, 2008

BYOB Excursion 1: Mado

Zug was in town so we went to Mado, a new Wicker Park joint that does the whole "the farmers just brought us produce this morning and we'll cook it up simply" thing. I know a lot of foodies are just so over the whole concept but it's ultimately a traditional approach to food that I find extremely satisfying, if done with care and a dash of creativity.

Another reason I chose Mado is that it's BYO. I am increasingly attracted to BYO restaurants because while I am a haphazardly decent cook, I simply haven't the talent to frame certain wines the way they should be framed. And so I kick off the premiere of what should be a semi-regular series, the BOYB excursion.

Case in point: a 1997 Domaine du Closel Savennières Clos de Papillon should be reserved for a good meal, and so I brought it with appetizers in mind. At 11 years old this wine is performing very nicely, thank you very much, as you would expect of a well-made Savennières from a highly-regarded vineyard. It's amber colored and its honeyed nose tricked my friend into thinking this would be a sweet wine; and while it's anything but austere, it's not sweet. It is a full, almost rich wine with characteristics of overripe pear, honey, porcelain, and wool, and it performs beautifully on the palate, with a slight prickle of ginger and a poised, elegant finish.

Our delicious appetizers framed the wine very well. The Closel was good with our cold carrot soup, very good with the coddled farm egg, zucchini and almond dish, and absolutely beautiful with the waxy yellow and green beans that were tossed with basil and lemon. Zug loved the coddled egg best, whereas the ultra-fresh, snappy dish of beans was my favorite.

Up next was the main course, and for this we pulled out the 2006 Damiani Meritage from the Finger Lakes region of New York. I've never had a Finger Lakes wine, as they're exceedingly rare in Chicago, but I would have thought that the first one I'd try would be one of the area's vaunted rieslings. Instead, Zug brought this Meritage — 42% cabernet sauvignon, 33% merlot, and 25% cabernet franc — all the way from his hometown of Ithaca, so it would have been churlish to have not to open it for our entrees.

You wanna know something? I like Damiani's Meritage better than 95% of the west coast red blends I've had. It's lean, polished, full of character, and most impressively, very well balanced. Its juicy, sour cherry and red berry attack resolves into cassis and graphite on the midpalate, and well-integrated oak provides a hint of spice on the finish. Its acidity is so fresh and lively that it actually reminds me of a good Barbera, and the wine ended up overshadowing my decent yet rather basic hangar steak and gorgonzola polenta. It was somewhat better with Z's better cucumber-festooned white fish fillet.

A side note about the alcohol levels here. The Meritage is but 12.9%, which certainly contributes to its old school claret feel. The Closel pushes it at 14.7%, yet it too is balanced, and not the least bit flabby or hot.

Despite my unexciting steak, I give a big thumbs up to the entire night. Really, I am still thinking about those waxy beans. Oh, and I snuck out the unfinished wines at the end of the night — both do quite nicely on day two with pasta with pesto, and both should drink well over the next five years.


TWG said...

The Closel's alcohol level surprises me, I know the Savennieres have higher alcohol levels, but I thought the higher alcohol levels were a more recent phenomenon. Was 1997 a hot year?

David McDuff said...

Jumpin' in, yo. '97 was indeed a hot year in the Loire. Combined with Chenin's tendencies toward overt ripeness when cropped to low yields, 14+% is not unusual. If it still gives pause, just think about it in the context of a non-botrytis affected demi-sec at 12.5 or 13% with 25 or 30 grams of RS....

Wicker Parker said...

Following up on McDuff's note, this site says that April and May of 1997 were frostbitten, June very cold and wet, July and August hot and dry. Sounds like a wild, nerve-wracking year for a vigneron...

Closel's Savennières are often a degree or so hotter than Baumard's, to take one random reference point, and the latter made a 13% Savennières in the hot year of 2000. So perhaps the Closel's 14.7% is due to a combination of the unusual weather and the Closel house style.

Brooklynguy said...

i need to find good BYO places in NYC. looking forward to more in this series