L’Espalier Wine Monday
2010 Crios de Susana Balbo, Torrontés, Salta
Apple Street Farm Greens with Shaved Carrot and Rhubarb
2009 Alfredo Roca, Malbec, Mendoza
Roasted Lamb Sausage with Pearl Barley, Tomatoes and Kalamata Olives
2009 Jean Bosquet [sic], “Reserva”, Malbec, Tupungato Valley
Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri and Roasted Potatoes
New Age, Sauvignon Blanc/Torrontés, Mendoza
Mt. Tam, Menage and Fourme d’Ambert
GLENN – We were eager to attend our first Wine Monday at L’Espalier on June 27th. The featured wines were from Argentina, one of our passions at WDWU. What interesting gems would Sommelier Erich Schliebe offer us? What wonderful culinary treats from the kitchen? And what imaginative pairings would we experience? Alas, the watchword for Wine Monday is casual, as in “off-the-cuff”. The wines were basically an uninspired selection of entry-level wines. Though Susana Balbo’s “Crios” is a favorite of ours, this is a large scale production and not some undiscovered gem. I found a similar lack of depth in the choice of Malbecs. The first, the 2009 Alfredo Roca, was flat and unexciting. The second, the 2009 Jean Bousquet, was over-oaked. I don’t enjoy “chewing on an oak floor” (quote attributed to Kathy Benziger). And finally the fourth wine, billed as the most popular wine in Argentina and the mainstay of Buenos Aires nightlife, was a sweetened, carbonated concoction. (An aside about restaurant wine mark-up: additional glasses of wine were available for $12 a glass – more than the wholesale, and in some cases the retail(!), cost for a bottle of any of these wines.) This was definitely “Argentina for Beginners.”
KATRIN – Glenn described the wine selection perfectly. I really had been looking forward to this dinner, and particularly the wine selection, for weeks, knowing that the wine list at L’Espalier is well-chosen, both elegant and comprehensive, and has a number of fine selections from Argentina. Plus my last experience at L’Espalier was stellar and unforgettable. If this was “Argentina for Beginners”, then I wouldn’t be surprised if it made would-be Argentina enthusiasts run back to European selections. Which is not to say they make bad wines. Quite to the contrary. Susana Balbo has become a flying winemaker in South America and Europe; Alfredo Roca has made wine in Argentina for four generations; Jean Bousquet immigrated from Southern France in the 1990s, where he had made wine; and Valentin Bianchi’s namesake and founder left Italy in 1910 to make his future in Argentina.
GLENN – The food exhibited a similar lack of excitement. The greens from Chef Frank McClelland’s farm in Essex were unremarkable – my salad a handful of baby spinach leaves, some of which were totally bruised; the vinaigrette, though, was well made. The lamb sausage – tasty, but overly salted – sat on a tasteless bed of barley. The flank steak was fine and as there are as many versions of chimichurri as there are cooks who make it. L’Espalier’s rendition was quite different – more an herb aioli. The meal ended though with a solid cheese plate – the triple creme “Mt. Tam” was at perfection and the tomme-like mixed milk “Menage” from Carr Valley Cheese provided a good contrast. And of course, “Forme d’Aumbert” is always a reliable choice for the requisite bleu. The rye bread – a variation of Swedish rye – that accompanied the cheeses was outstanding. However, the cheese plate was done a disservice by the wine that accompanied it. Service, as one would expect, was professional and courteous except for the greeters at the doors who were overly scripted and effusive – honestly, I felt like a woman of a certain age being fawned over.
KATRIN – The impression I was left with was that the restaurant has a “you get what you pay for” mentality and that if you are only paying $65 for the privilege of dining there then that is the quality of the food and wine you should expect to receive. I asked Erich how the wines were selected and it seemed that the decision was based on price. A gem like the Bodega Chacra Barda Pinot Noir, which is on their wine list, wasn’t served because it would be too expensive. Meanwhile, only Susana Balbo’s Torrontés is on the wine list; the fact that the other three didn’t make the cut speaks volumes.