More evocative of an evil genius’ hidden lair than agriturismo, Edi Kante’s winery is almost as notable for its own construction as for the stunning wines produced therein. We’ve always enjoyed the fruits of his labor, having poured his Vitovska by the glass previously. But earlier this year, we had the opportunity to visit Kante — and to witness firsthand the thought and energy that this mad genius has put into his facility is breathtaking.
Open fire, his own colorful artwork, and hundreds of visitors’ messages scrawled across the walls brighten the tasting room he has constructed in his single-story ranch in the woods. It isn’t the house that’s so remarkable though. It’s what lies underneath.
Walk down the stairs toward what is ostensibly a basement cellar, and a wave of cool, damp air presents itself like a wall. No ordinary winery, Kante’s is sculpted from the bedrock, forming three circular bunkers stacked atop one another, each with its own purpose. First, his steel tanks where he ferments his Vitovska, Malvasia, Sauvignon Blanc, et al. Then, after another descent, his barrel room, laid out in perfect symmetry like some sort of Wight Walker shrine from Game of Thrones, where he ages each of his wines. Finally, the third level down serves as a bottle cellar where wines are stored until release — though it might be more accurate to call it a stasis chamber. We had the pleasure to taste a sparkling rose from 2010 that was impossibly fresh.
Only a kilometer from the Slovenian border, Kante’s limestone chambers are indicative of the ubiquitous grey limestone of the Carso district of Friuli. Near Trieste, it’s bordered by Adriatic Sea to the south, the Alps to the north, the hills of Collio to the west, and the Balkan peninsula to the east. Another winemaker described Carso to us as “another planet.” It’s quite cool at night, let alone 50 feet beneath the ground in his man made caverns. The wines are likewise taught, fresh, and minerally.
Being able to taste them all side-by-side for the first time was eye-opening, even for a producer we’ve known and admired. More of his wines will be coming to Selden Standard over the coming year, but for now, we’re delighted to be serving his Sauvignon Blanc.
French grapes might seem like an odd choice for northeastern Italy, but Sauvignon Blanc has been grown here for well over a century. Some legends claiming it was smuggled over in bouquets of flowers destined for a lord’s lover. Regardless, it turns out to be a natural fit for not only Carso but elsewhere in Friuli.
As with his other wines, this spends a year in old barrels and 6 months in a stainless tank before bottling. Whether it’s the limestone and clay in which it grows or the cool temperatures in which it ages, this is an uncommonly elegant, lithe Sauvignon Blanc with a crisp, restrained saline profile. With a little time, it seems to gain texture and soft, pretty citrus flower aromatics. There’s none of the aggressive grapefruit or vegetal notes of many Sauvignon Blancs – but it certainly retains the freshness. Grab a glass and a half dozen sweet-salty oysters and life may feel complete.Posted on 2019.06.21 in Articles
While the overarching philosophy behind our entire wine list is to provide complex, distinctive, terroir-driven wines that compliment our food, the rare and interesting bottles on the reserve list can be especially compelling.
We’re often able to hunt down distinctive, uncommon wines – bottles that might represent a truly exciting discovery for some of our oenologically inclined guests.
That part of our menu has seen some delicious additions in the past few weeks, and we thought we’d share a few notes.
Owned and operated by the DiGrazia brothers who have an eponymous importer that we value a great deal, Terre Nere produces wines of Burgundian elegance from the slopes of Mt. Etna. This particular bottling comes from vines of 50 to 100 years of age growing among a moonscape of fist-sized lumps of pomace. It hits many of the indicators we look for when considering new wines – organic farming, working by hand, great terroir, thoughtful use of oak, et cetera. The result is a rich mix of cherry and plum with easygoing tannin and layers of mineral nuance.
We’ve featured Pataille’s wines in the past, but the Clos du Roy – a vineyard slated to be elevated to premier cru status in 2020 – is a special treat. While Marsannay is often known for less serious pinot noir, the Clos du Roy is a very pure, complex expression with an array of fruit qualities ranging from currants to cherries to pomegranate. Highly aromatic and as fun as it is worthy of lengthy contemplation. Pataille himself is widely regarded as one of the best producers in Marsannay, and while this may spoil you, it’s nonetheless a great introduction to his wines. Pataille works biodynamically with organic certifications, ferments with natural yeast, and uses mostly neutral oak to age his wines. We love them and imagine you will as well. Try it with the current iteration of our grilled pork chop. Or if Andy decides to run his beef sugo special with porcini rigatoni, put a bottle of this alongside and spend 45 minutes in nirvana.
California cabernet doesn’t often make an appearance on our list. Not because we don’t enjoy it but because it’s often too big, too ripe, or too oaked to match with our fare. And sometimes they’re just so damn expensive. But roaming winemaker Jason Edward Charles is making some delicious, affordable wines, sourcing fruit from the entire coast of California from Mendocino south to the Santa Cruz mountains. It’s in the latter area where Bates Ranch grows exceptional organic Cabernet that Charles harvests himself. It’s not an overly rich wine, showing pretty dark cherry qualities alongside some savory herbal, spicy, and mineral notes. And at the decidedly un-Californian price of 76 bucks, we’re fans.
In the Jura region of France, there’s a red-stemmed mutation of Chardonnay that goes by the name Melon-Queue-Rouge. This particular bottling features grapes from 60-year-old vines that are fermented with natural yeast in large barrels. Each year, winemaker Lucien Aviet decides based on taste how long the wine will continue age on the lees. In 2011, he let the wine go a lengthy 49 months before bottling and released it well after a few subsequent vintages. As is the case with many chardonnay or Melon-Queue-Rouge wines from the Jura, there’s an apple tone to the wine along with cut grass, mineral notes, and fennel. A compelling – and rare – bottle.
Bellevue deservedly acquired a bad reputation in the 90s. But after being essentially taken over by their neighbors, the famous Chateau Angelus, the wines returned to their historically heralded status. But perhaps because of their spotty history, the wines are quite affordable – especially when you consider that Angelus, one of the most famous and sought after wines of St-Emillion, has prized the Bellevue terroir for generations as documented in letters going back decades. 2009 is one of the last vintages in which there is still Cab Franc blended into the wine, and it’s our understanding that the Cab Franc is now blended into Angelus instead. At any rate, with great acidity and genuine complexity, this is a pretty classic St-Emillion drinking at its peak. Seriously good wine.Posted on 2017.12.04 in Articles
Summer always brings a number of fun changes to the wine list. Indeed, almost the entire glasspour list has changed over the past 4 or 5 weeks. But there are a couple of wines that we’ve had to restrain ourselves from drinking up all on our own.
Tre Monti Vitalba
Native to Emilia-Romagna, Albana is most often found in sweet wines. But with Vitalba, the winemakers at Tre Monti harness its lovely aromatics and exotic fruit qualities in the form of a very distinctive dry white. The wine is left to age on its skins, similar to a red wine, and it rests in an ancient clay amphora, resulting in a mildly tannic finish and a surprisingly rich texture. With notes of dried stone fruit and a saline mineral quality, it’s one of our favorite wines on the current list. A rare treat – definitely not something you’ll see every day. Grab a glass alongside the trout or our charcuterie board. We also recommend pairing it with leaving work a half hour early on a Monday.
Abbatucci Rouge Frais Imperial
Jean-Charles Abbatucci’s family roots on Corsica go back generations, and he and his father have managed, through a great deal of work, to help preserve many of the island’s indigenous grape varieties. Among them is Sciaccarellu, valued for its light, spicy qualities and typically blended with other grapes. But Abbatucci makes this single-variety wine that showcases all of Sciaccarellu’s best qualities with a beautiful floral and strawberry nose and a balanced, easy-drinking flavor. Abbatucci is known to drive his tractor out to the vineyards to play traditional Corsican music to his vines. It might sound absurd, but it’s hard to argue with the guy when the resulting wine is this delicious.Posted on 2017.07.21 in Articles
On a recent episode of Frontline on PBS, author Paul Greenberg asked the question, “What fish should I eat that’s good for me and good for the planet?” Seafood happens to be a frequent subject of guest inquiries too: Is it OK that the trout is farm raised? Why are the scallops so expensive? Can I eat oysters any time of the year or only in months containing the letter “R,” as is often reported? Does the Loch Ness Monster exist?
Fortunately, the United States is now one of the great countries in the world when it comes to managing fish stocks and having organizations that promote transparency in where our seafood comes from. And with just a modest amount of work, restaurants like ours can take advantage of that to bring consumers some excellent product that is healthy and responsibly fished.
If you’re seriously interested in the subject of sustainability, seafood, and aquaculture, Greenberg’s Frontline special explored the topic in great detail. But there are a few common questions we hear that we may as well answer:
What About that Oyster Thing?
The adage about not eating oysters in months without the letter “r” is thankfully as timely as an 8-track player – and it was never really about sustainability so much as flavor and health. Oysters spawn in the summer, and they don’t taste particularly good while spawning or when they’ve been growing in warm water. Combine that with a lack of refrigeration on ships and docks, and summer oysters were bound to be a mouthful of trouble.
Today, oysters that restaurants serve are almost always farmed, and many don’t have the opportunity or genetics to spawn. They’re also typically grown in colder waters, which help with flavor. Plus the government has regulated how oysters are stored after harvest, so unless the restaurant serving them or the wholesaler selling them are doing a poor job, your oysters are good to eat year round.
Is Farm-Raised Fish Bad?
Ha, Ha. Well, Is Wild Fish Bad?
Seriously. It depends.
The biggest concern is overfishing. In the United States, most fish and most regions are now regulated in a way that keeps over-fishing from becoming a problem. There are, of course, downsides to regulation – e.g., statistical modeling for catch limits might promote the growth in population of a predator that changes how other fish compete in a regional ecosystem – but overall, fish stocks in the United States are pretty good. Alaska, in particular, continues to manage its wild salmon population well, and the northeast US has done a great job of restocking many of its classic catches. Of course, wild caught fish from some places in South American or Asia might be coming from low stock levels and are endangering the population.
That wild fishing has improved so much doesn’t mean that all farmed fish is terrible by contrast. Many fish farms do expend absurd resources on feed. But some species (like the aforementioned oysters) are best farmed. And there are both open water and inland, tank-based approaches that can yield delicious, sustainable results.
Why Does Some Fish Cost So Much?
Some fish is inexpensive largely because of the conditions in which its grown. Just like a factory farmed chicken reared in its own excrement, pumped full of water, and shrink-wrapped in its little Styrofoam coffin is inexpensive, so is fish that is unsustainably caught or grown in self-polluted waters.
Over the past decade or so, the United States has heavily regulated its fishing industry so that both farmed and wild fish from our own waters are (usually) handled properly. One of our favorite seafood purveyors, Foley Fish, only works with sustainable fishing operations whose practices include using hooks that don’t mutilate the mouth of the fish (so they survive if miscaught), using appropriate gear for different seabeds, using strict catch limits, and so on. Obviously, there are costs associated with that.
However, 90% of seafood consumed in the United States doesn’t come from the United States, so it’s easy to imagine why much of our seafood is so inexpensive. If it’s brought in with tons of bycatch from polluted waters or if it’s farmed in its own excrement in overcrowded farming nets, the production costs are obviously comparatively very low.
When it comes to scallops in particular – something we served all winter – there’s another wrinkle. While people refer to tuna as the chicken of the sea, it might be more accurate to give that moniker to scallops. Just like factory farmed chicken that gets pumped full of water and hormones to inflate the size of the breasts, most scallops you’ll find are packaged in treated water after being processed. Scallops absorb the water exceptionally well, so they plump up to an otherworldly size, gaining weight. However, they also lose their characteristic sweetness and don’t sear nearly as well. So-called dry packed scallops cost a bit more – but they taste substantially better, are denser in texture, and brown more thoroughly.
How Do We Know What to Buy?
Unfortunately, the reality is that most shrimp sold in the US is not guaranteed to be sustainable. In fact, almost 80% of shrimp sold in the US comes from Asia with little to no guarantee of its origin or under what conditions it was grown. The same goes for the ever-popular tilapia as 80% of it comes from China.
The good news is that there’s ample information out there about what to buy to stay safe in terms of toxicity and to stay smart in terms of sustainability.
Well known for a reason, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch is a good all-purpose tool, though some of our suppliers on the Atlantic coast would argue that their data is less accurate for Atlantic fish. For example, Atlantic cod populations are currently low – but they’re rapidly rising because the populations are heavily managed and regulated, so not even the government regulators consider it a “bad” fish to buy.
Another tool is Fish Watch, a government-published resource. It’s not quite as navigable of a website, but there’s a ton of valuable information available.
As with anything, the devil is in the details. If you’re concerned about what type of fish you’re eating and where it’s from, the best bet is always to go to sources you trust – whether that’s a restaurant or a fish monger – because they’ll have done most of this homework for you.Posted on 2017.05.27 in Articles
Spring is an exciting season at the restaurant. The hop vines and herbs on our patio start growing, we get ramps and asparagus, and general interest in white wines is renewed. Over the past ten days, we’ve changed all the whites and rosés we offer by the glass. Not that we’re not stoked about our reds too — we’ll write about some of those next month — but it’s a group of wines we enjoy tremendously.
2014 Cieck Erbaluce
The Erbaluce grape has been grown in northern Piedmont, along the edge of the Italian Alps for hundreds of years, yielding wines that display great freshness. Cieck has been working with the grape since its inception in 1985. And their entry-level example offers a tart apple nose and characteristic acidity that we enjoy with oysters, vegetable carpaccio, or even just a sunny day.
2015 Le Cellier du Palais Apremont
It’s not uncommon that unheralded grapes or regions can provide great value – complexity, distinctiveness, and concentration for reasonable prices. Such is the case with this bottle made from 100% Jacquere, farmed from property in the Bernard family since the 1700s. Eighty-year-old vines help lend great concentration of citrus and mineral flavors, and a prolonged exposure to the lees during aging provides great texture. Try it with the grilled trout or a number of Andy’s vegetarian dishes.
2014 (then 2015) Collotte Marsannay Blanc
Last autumn, we went to New York for an importer tasting where we met Isabelle Collotte, who makes wine with her father in the northern Burgundy appellation of Marsannay. While he still makes most of their wines, Isabelle – who recently graduated from winemaking school – has taken over the whites. Made from chardonnay grown on a mixture of two soils selected to give a balance of ripeness and freshness, these were our favorite white burgundies that we tasted last year. A tiny portion of new oak barrels gives them just a bit of welcome richness to accompany an intoxicating stone fruit nose and fresh flavor. We’re excited to bring two vintages to Michigan.
2015 Clos Cibonne Cuvée Tradition Rosé
Regular guests at the restaurant need no introduction to this rosé made largely from the Provencal grape Tibouren. It’s the only rosé we’ve ever opted to serve by the glass for good reason. Consistently warm, dry weather led to a heralded vintage in 2015, and Clos Cibonne produced wine with an exceptionally rich, beautiful texture. And its unique aging in 100-year-old open-top barrels under a yeast fluerette still produces the most delicious, dry, food friendly rosé that we’ve had at this price. We love it, and we’ve already bought enough that we’ll be pouring it all summer long.Posted on 2017.04.28 in Articles
Author and sommelier Bianca Bosker sparked a bit of controversy among wine enthusiasts last week in an opinion piece she wrote for the New York Times called “Ignore the Snobs, Drink the Cheap, Delicious Wine.”
Wine might seem like a peculiar topic to find controversial – after all, what’s at stake with fermented grapes other than maybe a decent buzz versus a nasty hangover? But to many devotees, it presents engagement and elation well beyond its ability to befuddle: the intersection of art and science, trade and currency, agriculture and history.
Her article is the latest volley in an ongoing argument about the soul of wine. The central issue – drastically over-simplified, lest we bore the shit out of you – is whether wine should be a natural agricultural product that encapsulates the time and place it was made or if it’s now more advantageous to simply engineer wine through additives to suit the perceived needs of the marketplace.
Bosker took the latter position, arguing not just that focus group-tested wines have a place in the market but that “the time has come to learn to love unnatural wines.” And in fact, most wine is made unnaturally – using artificial colors, adding chemicals to alter acidity, and deploying powdered egg white to reduce astringency.
One of winemaker Nicolas Marcos Vicente’s vineyards in Cangas del Narcea, Asturias, Spain
If we’re already getting too deep, feel free to pull a cork and have a drink or six. But we certainly have a vested interest in this discussion because the arguments are at the heart of the work restaurants do in sourcing not just wine but all food and drink.
Interestingly, the same newspaper presented a fitting counter-argument to Bosker’s a few days earlier. Times wine writer Eric Asimov penned some advice to wine newcomers: If you want to pick out better wines for yourself, start treating wine as food.
If he were here today, we’d give him a high five and a glass of our biodynamically farmed Cava.
Regardless of its cost or acclaim, wine is simply preserved fruit. As Asimov writes, “a simple way to understand wine, to elevate the quality of what you consume and the pleasure you take in it, is to treat wine as if it were another staple of the table….” For those with the luxury of such choices, it’s no different than the decisions involved in getting steak, bread, or cheese: How is it produced? Is it sustainable? Who pockets the money when I buy a bottle? If I have a sulfite allergy, will it make me sneeze?
Professional and amateur wine nerds, including Asimov in many of his columns, often ask those questions when they taste any new bottle, be it $10 or $100. Moreover, they analyze and debate the virtues of particular winemaking choices – modern agriculture versus organic versus biodynamic; the type of vessel used for aging; the amount of sulfur used before bottling; and so on.
Indeed, the natural wine movement that Bosker is lashing out against aims for particularly minimal intervention in most of the winemaking process. And it has gained traction at many restaurants and bars. As she says, “so-called natural wines have recently supplanted kale as the ‘it’ staple of trendy tables.” She is obviously right that a lecture on wine dogma can interfere with the spontaneous joy of quickly grabbing a simple bottle to enjoy with Tuesday dinner.
But her argument is still specious.
Continuing Asimov’s food comparison, would Supino Pizzeria be improved if they focus group tested everything ahead of time, or would it simply taste like every other pizza? Rather than allowing industry to homogenize all our food and drink, it seems preferable to have ample options, even if we don’t always love one as much as the next.
For some, the ethics of the bottle are worth consideration as well. She assumes no one cares other than snobs – which would imply someone who prefers to buy nutritious, trendy organic kale from a small farmer is a snob too. But there’s no snobbery in wanting to understand what we’re putting into our bodies.
She also ignores the virtue of surprise. Wine has the capacity to enlighten us with new flavors and to give insight into the process that spawned those flavors. And you can’t be pleasantly surprised by something that’s chief virtue is familiarity. How many people have rediscovered Brussels sprouts or beets because of the contrast between a chef’s creative preparations and veggies boiled to dullness in kitchens of their youth?
Not everyone has the means, patience, or desire for these pursuits, and if Bosker’s point is that no person should begrudge another a bag of Cheetohs paired with box of warm rosé, then hey, we agree. Plenty of college kids might call that a well-rounded breakfast. And everyone has their vices. But given the hidden costs, can that justify a cozy embrace with industrialization and homogeneity?
To her credit, labels like “natural” can be divisive and limiting because they tend to promote a litigious nitpicking of what earns the right to bear that label. What qualifies as natural? As farm-to-table? As independent? And who decides?
Each of these labels is rooted in some kernel of truth, but over time, they lose their effectiveness as they become over-used and over-litigated.
Words like “natural” certainly can (and do) help point chefs or sommeliers in the right direction when seeking new sources for broccoli, pork, or wine. But there’s no guarantee organic lettuce, local pork, or natural wine will taste great. Rather, it’s the detailed work of truly getting to know a farmer, meeting a butcher, researching a wine producer, engaging a supplier, and of course, tasting that ultimately builds trust in a product.
Obviously, this is where our interests lie. We must provide guests with great flavors on their plates and in their glasses. In our experience, that generally comes from produce at the height of the season, meat that’s raised humanely, and wines that are farmed thoughtfully. While even the “natural” label provides no certainty, selling engineered wines or beers made from commercially farmed corn absolutely would support the very industrial complex that we think makes less delicious, less responsible food.
Not everyone will care. Or agree. Or taste the difference. And that’s fine.
But for those who do, that’s where a wine writer’s work, a chef’s work, a sommelier’s work begins toward presenting something you might enjoy across many levels. Maybe it’s labeled organic or natural or local. Maybe not. Maybe sometimes it really is just damn tasty. But there will be consideration behind those offerings. And despite the insistence of both Bosker and those she’s rebuking, there are no shortcuts to get there.Posted on 2017.03.28 in Articles
It’s not uncommon for us to get questions on how we assemble certain dishes or how long it takes to prepare food for guests. In some cases, it’s deceptively long: Our octopus dish essentially takes five days to make because of marinating, resting, braising, and other steps that have to happen in sequence.
We thought it would be fun to show a few steps involved in making our new dessert, a peach pavlova. It consists of a meringue, brandy cream, caramelized peaches, fresh peaches, and a lemon shortbread crumble.
Plenty of great wines – and beers; and sakes; and ciders – are available here in Michigan. But every now and then, we encounter something seldom seen here that is so outstanding we feel obligated to seek it out for the menu. Here are a few such recent additions:
Last summer, we added Dassai Otterfest 50 to our menu after a staff tasting that spawned an infatuation with sake. Our guests who enjoy the classic Japanese rice “wine” will know that the 50 in the name refers to seimaibuai – the percentage of a rice grain left after it’s been polished to prepare it for the brewing process. Previously unfamiliar with Dassai, we learned that they offer both a 39 and a 23, the latter being a figure that is truly astounding: Consider that 77% of a single grain of rice is essentially thrown away to get only that eminently fermentable center.
Sake lovers (and really, anyone who loves delicious things) will be excited to hear that the Dassai Otterfest 23 is now on our reserve list. Our pals at Great Lakes Wine & Spirits helped bring it in for us, and we couldn’t be happier: It’s an astonishingly delicate, elegant beverage. No, not beverage: Ambrosia. Nectar. Of the gods.
In terms of food, think of it as a superior rose and pair it with seafood or root vegetables. Or just drink it with a grin.
This sake is listed in many east coast retail shops for around $100. To encourage Detroit’s sake lovers and curious beverage aficionados to give this treasure a try, we’re selling it for just about the same price — $110/bottle.
All too rare here in the Mitten, the wines of Luigi Ferrando are universally charming and delicious. This winter, we’re excited to be pouring their Erbaluce by the glass ($10). A white grape indigenous to the mountainous northwestern part of Piedmont, Erbaluce is known for producing high acid, mineral-driven, dry wines – a perfectly versatile white to accompany a wide-ranging restaurant menu.
The Ferrando family has been making wine in this part of Italy since about 1900. Their “white label” Carema – a miniscule appellation known exclusively for its elegant, high-elevation nebbiolo – has achieved genuine cult status in the United States. Further down the mountain is the appellation of Canavese where they make a delightful rosso that we poured by the glass when the restaurant first opened. Within Canavese is the town of Caluso, about 45 minutes north of Torino, which is where their Erbaluce is grown, eventually fermented and aged in stainless steel.
Ferrando’s expression has an unusually rich body, densely packed with luscious fruit and herbal notes before a long, refreshing finish. Complex enough to be intriguing to wine lovers and quaffable enough for anyone with access to a patio to enjoy, it’s rapidly become a house favorite. We brought enough in from New York to last us well into the spring.
Despite some recent good press, France’s Loire river valley is still an underappreciated source for wine. Our friends at Elie Wine Company in Birmingham turned us on to Thierry Germain, an up-and-coming producer whose winery, Domaine des Roches Neuves, is drawing some comparisons to the legendary Clos Rougeard. Indeed, they were recently awarded 3-stars by the Revue du Vin de France, an honor reserved for only those two estates in the Loire.
A transplant from Bordeaux, Germain has been making his wines since the early 90s, but in 2000 he converted everything to biodynamic farming and has refined his approach, keeping alcohol levels low and finding structure from using whole clusters of grapes.
Franc de Pied is French winemaking shorthand that references a vine’s own rootstock. Many wine lovers are familiar with phyloxera, the louse that decimated Europe’s grape vines in the 1800s. After the scourge, winemakers took to grafting their vines onto American rootstock which was resistant to infection. Germain’s Franc de Pied, true to its name, is thus ungrafted. Whether that adds extra depth or not is beyond our palates, but it’s hard to argue with the results: The wine is tremendous.
Like many of his reds, Franc de Pied could enjoy a brief sojourn to a decanter (or a few years in the cellar), but among his offerings, this is among the most generous, with a nose of flowers and raspberries, notes of black currant and herbs, good structure, and a surprisingly mineral-driven finish. Light in body but rich in color and flavor, this is truly a Burgundian cab franc.
Less than 80 cases of this wine are made in a given year. We’ve got a few of them stashed away, and they’re on offer for $65/bottle until they run out.Posted on 2016.02.12 in Articles
Remember when words like “artisanal” and “handmade” carried genuine gravitas? It was only a few years ago, before even a shelf of 99-cent emery boards could be “curated;” before “craft” applied to anything not made in a sweatshop, before every can of soup confidently staked claim to being “all natural.”
It was around then that farm-to-table was emerging as a common exhortation for any restaurant that bought a head of broccoli from an actual farmer.
Like so many things, it’s a matter of degrees. And there are places to which farm-to-table truly applies – Dan Barber’s Blue Hill in New York, for example, which is under the auspices as a farm of the same name. By comparison, Selden Standard looks to others for ingredients, working with a couple of dozen farms from Detroit and southeast Michigan. Does that baptize us as farm-to-table? Not really.
The terms farm-to-table, local, seasonal, and half a dozen others have almost become a transposable type of short hand. But there are worthwhile distinctions to be made. And while we’re not a farm-to-table restaurant by our own measures, we think of ourselves as seasonal and probably local as well.
Of course, that still begs a reasonable question: Why should anyone give a shit?
Shortly after we first opened Selden Standard, a customer was disheartened to learn we didn’t have any fresh tomatoes to add to his flatbread. Naturally, he asked, “Why?” Being January, we had a fun conversation about seasonality. But truthfully, we could have answered in a single word.
Anyone shopping a farmers’ market knows the difference between a tomato picked at peak ripeness, served that same day, and one that traveled cross-country on a trailer. The former is generally delicious, the latter is often a pulpy red water balloon.
Beyond what’s served at the table, food has so many facets to it – environment, scalability, security, perishability, affordability, health, and so on. We choose to be concerned with many of those. But first and foremost, given our livelihood, we must be concerned about flavor.
And how do we find that? By shopping in season, generally from a local farmer.
Not every item we buy is local – Michigan doesn’t do so well growing lemons, for starters – but just about every fresh ingredient is seasonal. That is to say, when a particular fish is in season via sustainable fishermen, we’ll buy it. When California is in the midst of citrus season and the blood oranges are fantastic, we’ll buy them. And of course, when the farmers in Detroit can grow tomatoes, we’ll buy those too.
For outside observers, a surprising facet to Detroit’s current restaurant boom is that very network of urban farmers helping to supply produce. The idea of an acre of potatoes around the corner from a Boston-Edison mansion is shocking to many.
But it does not get more flavorful than the ideally ripened tomato, picked in the morning, driven two miles, and dropped at a restaurant for use that night. And when we can’t acquire that tomato, there’s just not much reason to have any tomato.
Lengthy supply chains are like a game of telephone: Imagine a pallid head of lettuce that arrives via a distributor who got it from regional affiliate who got it from a wholesaler in California who got it not from an individual farmer but from Trevor, the underpaid account representative for a large-scale farming conglomerate.
That’s a lot of steps. A lot of people we’ll never see. A lot of opportunities for information to get lost. A lot of questions about provenance.
Knowing farmers (or coffee roasters, grain millers, chocolate makers) is the best way to understand the source itself. A handful of exceptions notwithstanding, building those relationships is just easier to do locally.
When we buy from a one- or two-person operation, we see those people every few days. We know the product. We see the farming practices. We get their t-shirts and wear them with pride. Buying locally means buying into a partnership. But it’s not just a romantic ideal: It’s quite practical when acquisition of the best ingredients is a necessary condition.
Sometime in the future, it’s likely that we’ll have an international food system that is sustainable: growing flavorful produce, minimizing pollution and waste, and maximizing nutrition and efficiency. But in today’s United States, the food system is seemingly dominated by factory farms prone to cross-contamination; inclined to leech pollutants into our rivers; and suffusing our food with sugar, chemicals, and antibiotics.
Wise application of new science has led to and will continue to lead to numerous ways of producing and transporting food sustainably. But factory farms rarely practice those, as has been well-documented again and again.
By contrast, our local farmers are treating their land and their produce in a way that respects not just their customers but the community itself. While economics and technology may nudge agriculture in another direction someday, local farmers are certainly our safest outlet today.
Some of Selden’s ownership and staff keep gardens, have worked on farms, shop for home from farmers, and otherwise search for products that are humanely and sustainably raised. At the restaurant itself, if we’re being honest, that’s rarely our first concern – but it’s far from our last.
Thus we are compelled to serve local food.
It doesn’t make us farm-to-table, so to speak. It doesn’t turn our business into some admirable cause. And it doesn’t mean we don’t eat cheap burgers (probably with that same pallid lettuce) after work. Because we do, and we love it.
But the choice to serve what we serve is not made lightly, and we’re quite grateful to have the opportunity to present those ingredients to people. Despite the supersaturation of the assorted terms describing the mindful approaches of chefs, bartenders, and winemakers, those words are worth saving from the interests who would continue to appropriate them.
Words like natural, handmade, and seasonal. And words like local.
Bon appétit, friends.Posted on 2016.01.22 in Articles
Surrounded on three sides by the Alps in the northwestern corner of Italy, Piedmont doesn’t feature a climate that readily conforms to the American, tomato-soaked stereotype of Italian food and drink. Rather, this is beef territory, where cardoons, garlic, and truffles are among the prized produce, and where the biggest, age-worthy reds of the area – Barolo and Barbaresco – have earned a large following around the world.
While those two famous expressions of southern Piedmont’s Nebbiolo grape are justifiably coveted, the area’s rich food and drink culture offers plentiful variety for the thirsty and curious. Last year, when we opened, we featured the Canavese Rosso from Luigi Ferrando, and as we head into this fall and winter, we’re leaning even more heavily on Piedmont across the menu.
2013 San Fereolo Valdiba
Dolcetto is a grape that seems poised for a resurgence with American wine drinkers. It’s affordable, easy to get, and when done well, a perfectly gulpable and food-friendly table wine. In the southern reaches of Piedmont, the area called Dogliani prides itself not on the prestigious Nebbiolo but on Dolcetto. That pride often manifests itself in the form of over-concentrated wines designed to compete for broader attention, but not so with the wines of San Fereolo. Winemaker Nicoletta Bocca makes a range of expressions of Dolcetto, and while her affordable entry-level wine is perfect to accompany a range of foods – like one might eat at a shared plate restaurant.
The farming and winemaking are everything we generally look for as clues to quality: biodynamic farming (albeit uncertified) of limestone-dominated vineyards, hand harvesting of grapes, relatively low yields, and fermentation with indigenous yeasts. The resulting wine is full of fresh mixed berry fruit balanced nicely with modest tannin and fresh acidity that are hallmarks of Valdiba, a notable sub-region of Dogliani. We fell in love with this last spring and brought it into Michigan for the first time to serve by the glass throughout the fall and into the winter.
2011 Aldo Conterno Langhe
Known for Barolo sourced from his vineyards near the famous town of Bussia, Aldo Conterno also makes an entry-level wine that we actually prefer and which we recently added to our reserve list.
Italian wine authorities give a lot of latitude to winemakers in this part of Piedmont via the Langhe DOC, a named region where the rules surrounding what grapes go into the wine are looser than most, leaving a great deal to the winemaker’s discretion.
In Conterno’s case, his Langhe Rosso is 80% Freisa and 10% each Cab and Merlot. Freisa has a long history in the region, arguably the most significant and prestigious grape in Piedmont prior to the post-WWII rush toward Nebbiolo. And indeed, Freisa is a genetic parent of Nebbiolo, so they share some characteristics. Surprisingly, Freisa can be even more tannic and acidic than its offspring, but that isn’t the case here, perhaps owing in part to the age of the wine. Rather, it features nuanced aromatics, darker fruits, and nice acid with just a bit of tannin on the finish.
2000 Conti Boca
Traveling north-by-northeast from Barolo, there’s a cluster of wine regions – Ghemme, Gattinara, Boca, and others – leading up toward the massive peak of Monte Rosa. Even the robust Nebbiolo here thins out and becomes lighter in color, lower in tannin, and higher in overall acid.
Boca, established as a DOC in the late 60s, requires that the wines must be 70-90% Nebbiolo and 10-30% Vespolino and Uva Rara, grapes that add a spiciness and color respectively. Wines are barrel aged for a minimum of 18 months, and a total aging time of 34 months. Riserva wines must be aged for 46 months, 24 months in barrel, and almost 4 years total.
Among the two dozen or so producers still working in Boca, Conti is the oldest. Begun in 1963, the winery has been passed to the three daughters of original winemaker Ermanno Conti. Their wines spend three years in barrel, and they have a very extensive library of older vintages. We were fortunate enough to be able to get a case of their 2000 vintage, which is drinking really well. Fresh and spicy with plenty of floral, cherry, and mineral notes, the herbal, moderately tannic finish makes this a bigger wine than one might assume at first glance.
2011 Ferrando Carema “White Label”
We’ve been serving the Boca mentioned above for a few months and are down to our last several bottles. As the wine gets drained off the reserve list, the replacement coming in behind it is a cult classic. North of Canavese and west of Boca, Luigi Ferrando makes some spectacular wines. While these were imported directly into Michigan back in the 70s and 80s, it’s been a long while since it’s been available regularly. Some of the better restaurants and wine shops in Michigan have periodically gotten their hands on some – notably, Trattoria Stella in Traverse City and Elie Wine Company in Birmingham – but sadly, it has otherwise been largely absent from the state. So we leapt at a chance to buy some this year.
In the hills leading up to Mont Blanc, Ferrando holds about 15-16% of all the vineyards in Carema where he grows Nebbiolo with full southern exposure. Here, acidity is not a problem – rather, it’s getting full sunshine and ripeness. So in addition to his choice vineyards, he trains the vines onto a pergola to maximize said sun exposure. The wines are eventually aged in barrel for about three years, give or take a few months, depending on the vintage and then aged in bottle for another year (Carema must be aged four years before release).
This is a very elegant, often floral and spicy expression of Nebbiolo with hints of cinnamon, mineral, smoke, and just enough tannin. The acidity is lively and fresh. We have access to a couple of bottles from the 60s and 70s, which we hear should still be youthful and nuanced, but we have yet to crack them open to see for ourselves. Despite the reported durability of these wines, we know from first-hand experience that this 2011 bottling is drinking quite well right now. We’ll look forward to adding this to the wine list after we sell out of the Conti Boca.
The following map, which we found floating around the internet without any attribution we could see, outlines a number of the regions discussed above:Posted on 2015.10.19 in Articles