Just to celebrate the middle of the week last Wednesday, we opened a bottle of one of my favorite wines: La Bastide Saint-Dominique Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Secrets de Pignan.

Don't be fooled by the similar look of these bottles of La Bastide Saint Dominique Secrets de Pignan as one is clearly superior to the other!

We discovered this wine by chance while dining at Chez Papa, a French restaurant here on Potrero Hill in San Francisco. I took Steven there to celebrate his birthday a couple of years ago and our waiter recommended the 2004. Ahhhhh!!!!

I was hooked on Secrets de Pignan the moment I took my first sip! What can I do? I simply adore Rhône varietals, particularly grenache, especially from Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And the 2004 is simply amazing with lush elegant body, ample noise and long finish.

After the successful introduction to this wine we kept buying 2004 bottles at our wine shop until, sadly, they were sold out.

Then the 2005 came out. Steven bought a couple of bottles and stashed them away to mature and drink for a special occasion like Wednesday. When I saw him opening the bottle last week, I already imagined myself floating on a fluffy white cloud in heaven. But, alas!

It was more like hell. The wine was terrible. Simply terrible!!! I can barely describe or contemplate the dreadful flavor: cheap sour grape juice maybe?

Steven read somewhere that there is no good wine, but rather a good bottle of wine. Could that be the case? Maybe my 2005 was corked? Maybe it simply is bad? Oh, Lordie-be!

I am devastated: both because I am so disappointed by the 2005 and because I bought a case of 2007 Secrets de Pignan. Like 2005, 2007 is also supposed to be an excellent vintage. Steven did read an excellent review of the 2007 but apparently not the 2005. So maybe that’s reassuring. But now I’m worried; very worried. There’s nothing to do but crack open an ’07 and taste it.

We tried the 2007 two nights later. Yum!

Thanks for the video suggestion, Sharon!


welcome to The Slanted Door

What can be said about The Slanted Door that hasn’t been covered elsewhere? Probably nothing. We’ve adored this restaurant since first going there about seven years ago shortly after moving to San Francisco from New York. By then, they were already at their “new” location in the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero. Folks around here remember it being elsewhere but to me that’s ancient history.

The food is modern Vietnamese, generally served family style. The restaurant is huge and stunningly beautiful, with lots of simply finished wood, large windows overlooking the San Francisco Bay and the Bay Bridge, attractive contemporary artworks, a chic bar and even a stunning bathroom. The staff is handsome though often harried, as the place is completely packed whenever you go there. I’d recommend a reservation.

The last time that we went together was for our wedding reception in 2008. Then we reserved the private room and had about twenty guests. It was amazing. Last week, we were celebrating Hegui’s belated birthday. It was just the two of us.

wedding party at the Slanted Door

That day, it was warm and sunny. Since we were a bit early, we explored some of the piers, soaked in the sun and admired the City for a while. It was fun to be mistaken as tourists by the guys in the three wheeled pedicabs.

downtown San Francisco in evening

We had an early reservation at 6:15PM but already the dining room was mobbed. I couldn’t help but overhear the hostess tell a couple that they’d have to wait until 9:45PM to be seated without a reservation. It doesn’t seem like the recession has affected business one iota.

We ordered a bottle of an inexpensive Côtes du Rhône with our meal which turned out to be good. The wine menu is interesting with a lot of unusual wines to choose from. How often do you see an Arbois on a wine list?

We started with a half dozen oysters on the half shell. Our friendly waiter comped us tastes of a California Muscat to go with these, insisting that red simply wouldn’t do. The wine was sweet and did work well with the lemony, briny oysters that came with two kinds of spicy dipping sauce.

We follow this with the green papaya salad and fresh vegetarian spring roll. The salad had shaved green papaya, some carrot and tiny half moons of young celery stalks, shredded tofu skin and crispy browned shallots, tossed in a sweet and sour, spicy and savory vinaigrette. The salad is crunchy and delicious. It reminds Heguiberto of springtime. The spring roll is filled with rice vermicelli with more tofu, some julienned vegetables and mint. It comes with a peanut based dipping sauce that Hegui doctored by adding some chili sauce. Yum!

happy belated birthday, Hegui!

green papaya salad

daikon cake

Next we had the daikon rice cakes. We’re not sure how they’re made but guess that they’re steamed then pan fried. Made of daikon and rice flour in a magical sauce, we devoured them greedily.

For our main course, we shared an order of the caramelized prawns with sides of white rice and broccoli. I think that the prawns are one of their signature dishes. They’re sweet and sour and caramel-y. I’ve always loved these. The broccoli was prepared with little strips of tofu and shimeji mushrooms.

caramelized shrimp

We were too full for dessert. Instead we settled our bill and strolled for a while through the Ferry Building and along the waterfront to digest and feast our other senses on the sights and sounds of San Francisco.

San Francisco Bay was wonderful as we strolled out of The Slanted Door to admire the view


We’ve been great fans of white Domaine de la Becassonne from the southern Rhône for ages. We first came across the wine more than two years ago when the 2006 vintage was on the market. We hardly ever drink white but enjoyed this one so much that we ordered a case. The 2007 vintage was even more spectacular. We particularly loved the perfume that rose from the glass. We bought two cases of that one and had another case at our wedding party. It was a huge success.

2008 Domaine de la Becassonne

The other day we tried the 2008. Wine Spectator says that ’08 is a so-so year for the southern Rhône. And though the Becassonne ’08 isn’t as marvelous as the ’07, it’s still much more interesting than a lot of white wine at a similar price point. I got this bottle for $14.99 at K and L. The Wine House sells it for the same but they offer case discounts.

It’s a blend of 50% Roussanne, 20% Clairette and 30% Grenache blanc. It comes in at 13% alcohol.

It’s a straw yellow color with the aroma of green apple. We tasted peach, pear and a little grapefruit as well as mineral. It had a “creamy” texture and a peppery finish. Hegui thought it tasted “thick” and sort of “chardonnay-ish,” though more interesting.


fiddlehead fern pasta for springtime

I got this recipe from French Women for All Seasons and have only been waiting for fiddleheads to appear in the market to make it. We were in luck last Saturday while revisiting the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. There was a huge pile of fiddleheads at the charming mushroom shop inside the ferry terminal.

I’d never actually cooked with these before so had to trust Mireille Guiliano on this. They’re kind of expensive for a vegetable; something like $17 or more a pound, so I wanted the dish to turn out well. To her, they’re a signal of springtime. Certainly I was channeling Spring last week after the rain had stopped and we had several sunny mild February days while the East Coast was being socked in with feet of snow.

The fresh fiddleheads had a loamy smell that reminded me of the woods, or perhaps like parts of the Golden Gate Park near those tiny lakes on the north side. Frankly, as delightful as the smell was, it put me off. I don’t ever associate that with food.

The dish is easy to make and sort of like Hegui’s artichoke recipe. I actually served it with the artichokes as well as sautéed sweet pea shoots and mesculin salad. We complemented it with a lovely 2007 red Côtes du Rhône.

fresh fiddlehead ferns

Guiliano uses pancetta in her recipe. I left it out but struggled to come up with something flavorful as an alternative. I’d considered anchovies but John and Hegui both rejected the idea. I settled on olives but if I make it again I might add mushrooms and even a bit of blue cheese or cream.

Spaghetti with Fiddlehead Ferns

2 cups fresh fiddleheads
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Juice from half a lemon
Kosher salt to taste
Crushed red and black pepper to taste
4 tbsp olive oil or more
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
15 kalamata olives, in halves
Grated parmesan cheese to taste
1 package spaghetti or similar long pasta

Rinse fiddleheads thoroughly. Remove ends if they’re not freshly cut. Steam for six minutes to cook then immerse in cold water to blanch.

Prepare pasta per package directions.

While pasta is cooking, add olive oil and garlic to a hot skillet. Sauté for a minute then toss in drained fiddleheads. Add salt, red and black peppers and lemon juice. Cook for five to 10 minutes until tender. Add olives and parsley. Toss with pasta and cheese. I sprinkled a bit more crushed red pepper and drizzled a bit of finishing olive oil over the dish for presentation.

steamed fiddlehead ferns lose a bit of their color

Hegui liked it a lot but thought that the color had gone from the fiddleheads. They were a bit washed out. As an alternative he suggests skipping the lemon juice to keep the green color.


a toast to Brazil

by Stevie on January 16, 2010

Hegui and I are heading to Brazil next week for a while. Yesterday was our last night by ourselves for the next three weeks! To celebrate I made a simple meal of spaghetti with a sauce of garlic and escarole sautéed in olive oil with salt, black and red pepper and some parmesan cheese. We had green salad and not one, but two bottles of delicious Châteauneuf du Pape. That is decadent! But what a fun way to start a vacation!

I’ve pre-programmed the blog to release stories a couple times a week while we’re away. Some of them are really exciting. You’ll see. Keep viewing. When we’re back, we’ll have some cool Brazilian foodie tales.

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Chez Papa Bistrot, San Francisco

by Stevie on December 10, 2009

welcome to Chez Papa Bistrot

welcome to Chez Papa Bistrot

We’ve been eating out a lot more than usual lately. Perhaps it’s because of the holidays? Don’t you always feel that it’s fun to meet friends and loved ones at restaurants for memorable meals when it’s getting colder and the days are shorter? I always do. I’m a bit worried about the potential adverse effect on my waistline that this could cause, but perhaps I need to simply re-embrace the French Women Don’t Get Fat philosophy, and enjoy life sensibly but fully.

French is on my mind today while thinking about our recent trip to Chez Papa Bistrot. Hegui took me there for my birthday last week. It’s a fairly small, romantic restaurant on 18th Street in Potrero Hill. We’ve been and enjoyed ourselves several times in the past. The food is classic bistro-style French. They’ve got an interesting selection of wines from which to choose. A couple years ago we discovered the 2004 Châteauneuf du Pape Saint Dominique Secrets de Pignan; the wine that made Hegui a lifetime lover of Châteauneuf du Pape. Happening across that luscious wine was just dumb luck. This visit we tried a Chinon as I’d recently read an article in Wine Spectator suggesting that the Loire region of France produces wonderful though often overlooked wines. It was good but not amazing.

mussels Niçoise and pommes frites

mussels Niçoise and pommes frites

We ordered the Mussels Niçoise with a side of pommes frites to start. It was slow to come, so we sipped wine and chatted over bread and French butter. The wait was worth it when the scrumptious mussels in a delightful white wine sauce finally arrived. For our “grandes assiettes” Hegui tried the Grilled ahi tuna with potatoes Salardaise, frisee salad & bordelaise sauce. I had the Sautéed branzini with braised fennel, chanterelles, Brussels sprouts and sherry burre blanc. Both dishes tasted great and the sauces that they were in were divine. It came as a rude shock to discover hidden between Hegui’s potatoes bits of bacon! I guess we naively thought that a fish dish would be meat-free. We should have asked as it spoiled the night for Hegui. Too bad! I’ve subsequently looked at on-line recipes for pommes Salardaise. The meat or animal fat seems optional if I’m reading right. I guess the French work in mysterious ways.

reviewing the wine list at Chez Papa

reviewing the wine list at Chez Papa

So except for the slow service and the bacon bits, the dinner at Chez Papa Bistrot was marvelous. The maitre d’ knew that service had been slow so offered us complementary dessert drinks at the end. We skipped dessert itself and instead went to John’s for homemade carrot cake without the pineapple (I’m still allergic). What a great day!

what can be better than homemade carrot cake on your birthday?

what can be better than homemade carrot cake on your birthday?


All of the professional wine critics agree: 2007 is an amazing year for Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Actually they said the same thing for 2005.

my case of 2007 CdP Clos de Brusquieres pre-arrivals is finally here!

my case of 2007 CdP Clos de Brusquieres pre-arrivals is finally here!

The ‘05’s were just being released when I first got the wine collecting bug. I didn’t really know that much about Châteauneuf-du-Pape except that Hegui and I like it. But I knew how to read. I ordered a lot of 2005 CdPs without really tasting them at all, just based on what professional reviewers wrote or how they scored the wines. I was really excited about it and have no regrets. Looking back with a bit more experience, maybe I was a little naïve; particularly after I’ve opened one bottle of six (or God forbid, one of twelve) and heard the discouraging news that Hegui does not like the particular wine in question. This has happened more than once. My only consolation is that these wines are popular with my friends and that supposedly they all change as they age, so perhaps Hegui will warm up to them in time.

Don’t worry about me! It’s not all gloom and doom in my wine cellar: many of the wines Hegui and I do enjoy; most of them, actually. It’s just been a learning experience. We loved several 2007 Cote du Rhones, though not all of them. But since they were inexpensive and meant for drinking right away, it wasn’t a big deal trying and rejecting lots of them. This poses more of an obstacle for wines “built for the cellar.” How are you supposed to know what you’ll like if you haven’t tried the wine in past vintages, it’s undrinkable now due to heavy tannins, and you’re sort of a newbie in fine wine collecting and drinking?

This year, I tried to be a bit smarter. In late March Hegui and I went to a 2007 CdP wine tasting at our favorite local wine merchant, K&L. There were only three wines in stock and the remaining eight were “pre-arrivals.” Apparently K&L managed to snag some of these bottles before their release to offer the tasting. It was an eye opener! Of the eleven presented from this stellar vintage, Hegui and I only liked five of them. Of the five, Hegui really only liked about three (he’s a bit more demanding than I am in the taste department.)

So to avoid unnecessary super negativity, I’m going to list the five that we liked with our tasting notes:

2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château Fortia “Cuvee Baron”
We liked the smooth chewy tannins and the plum, cherry and fruity flavors.

2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Olivier Hillaire “Cuvee Classique”
This was fruity. I liked it. Hegui found it “a little thick” and concluded “I’m not sure.”

2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Clos de Brusquieres
This wine we both thought was “delish!” It was juicy and delightful. I ordered a case as a pre-arrival over the summer. It came in late September.

2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Bosquet des Papes “Chante le Merle”
We thought that this had more depth of flavor with a longer finish compared to their “Tradition” label. So far I‘ve ordered six bottles of this wine. It’s pushing my budget at $54.99 each. And with the water heater bursting and other unexpected financial issues, that may unfortunately be all I can afford to get.

2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine de la Cote l’Ange Vieilles Vignes
This is very dark, almost black with lots of berry flavors. Hegui does not like this wine though I put two stars by it and circled it as one to get.

I was excited by the 2007 CdP Vieux Donjon too. Hegui thought that it was too tannic and chalky. Though isn’t that something that you look for in a wine that you hope to age for ten or twenty years? That’s part of my problem right now and I don’t completely trust the wine critics on this. How can you know if the wine is right for you if it’s super tannic (which it needs to be) to the point that it’s almost all you taste? How do those wine critics do it? Can they read the future? I cannot. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that our particular tastes don’t always match with what the critics say. Let’s face it: a “94” is not a “94” is not a “94” when you’re comparing bottles of wine. But you’ll sure be asked to pay for that number.

In the spring, when I felt rich after a good tax return, I ordered a pre-arrival case of 2007 CdP Château Beaucastel from K&L and a pre-arrival case of 2007 CdP Vieux Telegraph from Kermit Lynch in Berkeley. It’s a lot less expensive ordering pre-arrivals. The Vieux Telegraph arrived a week or two ago. I’m still waiting on the Beaucastel. But what do I really know about these wines? I’ve tried the 2005 secondary wine, Telegramme, and really liked it a lot (though Hegui did not). But does that mean that I’ll like the VT when it’s time to taste it? I’ve read that Kermit Lynch recommends waiting about ten years before opening the wine. That’s a long time to be on tender hooks!

For now my advice is this: taste the wine before you invest, if you can. If you have access to earlier vintages, they might be a better guide than others’ tasting notes and reviews. After that, you need to use the guides, particularly reviewers that you agree with, to the best of your ability. Right now I’m doing a mixture of all three for my wine buying. And don’t forget, there will always be other “great vintages” down the road, so no need to panic. I’ll get back to you about the Vieux Telegraph.


some 2007 rhones

some 2007 Côtes du Rhônes

French wine is tricky. For one, the labels are confusing. Unlike California and other New World wines, the names on the bottles usually don’t reflect the type of juice inside. I like a lot of them but a fair amount of the French stuff tastes like crap. Prices can be so outrageous that you’re constantly trying to convince yourself that the swill’s good no matter how it tastes to you. Reading wine magazines and books helps a bit, at least with sorting out regions and grape varieties. They also have good tips about what to try. I don’t completely get the whole number-scoring thing. I’ve been fooled too many times by that sinister number “90.” Aren’t the ratings some weird attempt to make wines look more sexy in an athletic or financial kind of way, like the NBA playoffs or the Dow Jones? Sorta like a game that you could bet on and maybe even win?

Don’t get me wrong. I love French wine. It’s just that I’m not loaded down with tons of extra cash to buy these crazy-expensive bottles that need to be aged for twenty more years before they’re even ready to try; that may in fact turn out to be crap after all. I’m often mixed up by all of the various appellations, regions, grades of wine, unusual grape varieties, blends and how long to hold the final product.

All I want to know is, “what can I drink now that I will like and can afford?”

Fortunately, the French have thought of this; marvelous planners, the French! There’s this whole group of wines, called “côtes de” this-and-that from all over the French countryside. Most of these are cheap (for French) and are widely available in the US. Problem is there’s so many that it’s tough to sort them all out. And the regular guides, like wine magazines, often leave you in the lurch because they don’t usually bother with the cheap stuff.

St Cosme, a great 2007!

St Cosme, a great 2007!

So today, the weirdcombos tasting crew offers our notes for about a dozen 2007 Côtes du Rhônes. First, we’ve chosen these because they’re inexpensive. All of the wines here retail for less than $20. Second, the magazine critics are all trumpeting the greatness of the 2007 southern Rhônes, so some of this stuff must be good. But most importantly, to me at least, Rhône wines can be paradise in a glass!

I like the funny names for some of the regions: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte-Rotie, Hermitage. They all sound so weirdly religious and beachy at the same time. The labels are neat, too, all covered with angels or dead popes or ancient castles that are falling apart. Some of the bottles have odd shapes, with these huge crests and stuff sticking out of the base of the neck. And a lot of the time they’re physically heavier than regular bottles of wine for some reason. The added weight makes them seem more serious to me, somehow. But the truth is the wines are simply delish! The reds that I’ve enjoyed tend to be deep, dark and brooding; the whites, thick on the tongue, yet refreshing and surprisingly, for a white, memorable.

So here’s the list, in no particular order that we randomly selected from a couple local shops. They’re a mix of red and white. Almost all of them are blends. I’ve also listed what we paid per bottle. Since all of these are relatively affordable, the crew encourages you to get out there and drink for yourselves! Send us your reactions and tasting notes, too. Salut!

2007 Côtes du Rhône, Perrin & Fils “Reserve” $7.99
We brought this one to a party at Fabiola’s house. It had a refreshing “red” flavor. We would pay for more.

a sampling of 2007 Rhones

a sampling of 2007 Rhones

2007 Côtes du Rhône, Delas “St. Esprit” $9.99
This bottle had a large projecting glass crest and was recommended by the wine shop. Hegui thought it was “not good.” Stevie found it a bit non-descript. Would not have again.

2007 Costières de Nîmes blanc, Château Grand Cassagne “Cassanus” $10.99
Hegui did not like this “flat” white. Stevie also found it flat and unmemorable.

2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages, Perrin & Fils $10.99
Hegui liked the “deep ruby red” color but thought that it was a “little spicy.” Stevie had a plumy, fruit forward taste, with supple tannins and a longish finish.

2007 Côtes du Rhône, St Cosme $14.99
The wine shop claims this is 100% syrah. We loved it and after tasting ordered a case. It has a rich, complex flavor with tobacco notes and a long, lingering finish.

2007 Côtes du Rhône blanc, Guigal $11.99
We tried this over dreadful experimental Chinese food that I put together from scraps in the fridge. Hegui thought “it’s good; it’s not bad.”A bit like Domaine de la Bacassone. Stevie thought that it was “a bit dull” Fruity without definiton.

2007 CdR Villages, Perrin et Fils

2007 CdR Villages, Perrin et Fils

2007 Côtes du Rhône, Daniel et Denis Alary “La Gerbaude” $14.99
Hegui thought that it was flat but that maybe the wine was served too warm. He liked the “beautiful ruby color. Stevie thought that it had medium body but without much complexity. We would not order this one again.

2007 Côtes du Rhône blanc, Domaine de la Becassone $13.99
This one has great depth of flavor, with honeysuckle notes and thick taste that is very agreeable. We liked this better than the 2006. We bought about two cases over the past six months.

2007 CdR blanc, Domaine de la Becassone.  Mmmm!

2007 CdR blanc, Domaine de la Becassone. Mmmm!

2007 Côtes du Rhône, Domaine de Cristia $12.99
This one in 100% grenache. Hegui thought that it was “good” with a light creamy taste. Stevie thought it had medium body, chewy tannins. We’d both have this one again.

2007 Côtes du Rhône blanc, Perrin et Fils “Reserve” $7.99
Hegui says “it smells like nothing.” It’s not sweet at all. Very full body. Stevie thought that it has a round middle flavor. Tastier than the Guigal. More minerally and less alcohol.

better with more drinking!

better with more drinking!

2007 Côtes du Rhône, Domaine des Escaravailles “Les Sablieres” $12.99
Hegui finds that it “smells like pinotage.” It needs to breath. “The taste is not as bad as the smell.” Stevie thought that it had a dusty ruby color, had a slight metallic taste and a long finish. Both agree that “it’s better when you drink more.”

2007 Côtes du Rhône, Domaine Rouge Bleu “Le Mistral” $17.99
Hegui thinks this one “smells like mulberry and ginger.” Also notes of black pepper. It has a very distinct flavor. “I like it.” Stevie finds the taste a bit “spicy.” The wine has good legs and a depth of flavor.

2007 Côtes du Rhône blanc, Château de Montfaucon “Comtesse Madeleine” $15.99
This had a straw color. Hegui thought that it was “not bad.” Stevie felt that it was flat initially but that it gradually opened up. It had a clean taste, not much body. We’d try this again but not rush to find it.

2007 Côtes du Rhône Villages, Andre Andrieux et Fils $13.99
This was a very dark red, almost purple, color. It had a lot of tannin which gave it a somewhat bitter taste but a creamy texture. Also a bit sour but with notes of butterscotch.

2007 Côtes du Rhône blanc, M Chapoutier “Belleruche” $15
David brought this wine to a party at our house. It has a cool label with long cursive writing and a bunce of raised dots that looked like they could be in braille, telling us a secret message, maybe “this wine is great.” It had a pale yellow color. D thought the aroma of lychee. It tasted creamy, had a long finish. Basically it was very good. I’d tried the 2006 version but it was insipid. I’d buy this one.

2007 Costières de Nîmes blanc, Château L’Ermitage $10.99
Thisone is a pale golden yellow color with an apple-y, honeysuckle aroma. Hegui thought that it was “yummy!” It had flavors of stone fruit: apricot, peach and nectarine. The wine had a wonderful feel on the tongue and lingered. Unfortunately by the time we opened this bottle, our local wine store had already sold out. It makes sense. This wine is amazing and the price is right. If you happen across it, don’t wait! Open your checkbooks immediately.

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running the spinach marathon

May 8, 2009

When we first moved to San Francisco from New York , we joined Costco in a rush of excitement. This is a store that requires a car, something that we didn’t have (or really want) in Queens. Plus the fact of membership helped us during that delicate transition period from one city to another when […]

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a Roman holiday: tomato pasta my way

May 2, 2009

I simply adore Italy: the people, the food and wine, the long and glorious history and culture, the art. It blows my mind. I hope to live there for a while some day. I love cooking Italian food too. It’s often fairly straightforward. The cuisine tends to stick to the basics; emphasizing the ingredients instead […]

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