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A Glass of White, A Glass of Red

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

One Fish, Two Fish, Green Fish, Which Fish?

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?

It depends.

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

New Wines for Spring

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

Two April Wine Dinners

We’re excited to host two wine dinners at Selden this coming month. Tickets for each are only available online.

Lioco Dinner w/ Owner Matt Licklider

Wed, Apr 19 at 6:30pm – $100/person

Owned and operated by Matt and Sara Licklider, Lioco makes wines in a state-of-the-art cooperative using fruit grown by small farmers throughout northern California. (In fact, you can read about each farmer on their website.) While elegant, restrained pinot noir and chardonnay are their specialties – and will be on our reserve list soon – they make small amounts of other wines, including an outstanding old vine Carignan, which we’re proud to feature at this dinner.  More info…

Get Tickets – Lioco

Winemaker Dinner with De Maison Selections

Wed, Apr 26 at 6:30pm – $130/person

Featuring Louise Chéreau of Chéreau Carré (Muscadet, FR), Claude and Olivier Deforge of Clos Cibonne (Provence, FR), and José Antonio Garcia (Bierzo, SP)

One of our favorite wine importers is De Maison Selections, which brings to the States a number of wines that our regular guests will recognize – not the least of which is Clos Cibonne, the only still rose we’ve ever poured by the glass. Representatives of three of the wineries in their portfolio will join us for dinner to share their stories and guide us through their wines.

Their visit will give us the opportunity to pour some outstanding treasures, including a 2009 single-vineyard Muscadet from 80-year-old vines and a 2009 bottling of the prestigious Vignettes cuvee of Clos Cibonne rose.  More info…

Get Tickets – De Maison

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As an aside, these wine dinners represent the types of wines that we love to feature at our restaurant. It’s a different approach than large, commercial producers take, and we’re able to bring these winemakers to Selden because of the work we’ve done building partnerships with suppliers and wineries. In that spirit, an article published in the New York Times last week on the “virtues” of so-called industrial wines inspired us to share some thoughts on how and why we choose to work with certain wines. Enjoy!

 

Posted on 2017.03.28 in Events & Announcements

The Work of Wine

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 in Articles

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