Wednesday, April 20, 2011

#180 - Bacchus In Milwaukee With 2000 Pingus

Back in December, I ruminated about Quinta Do Vale Meão having a customer for life.

Every vintage until we die (Gary Vaynerchuk over at Daily Grape just wet his pants over the same 2007, as he should.  It's silly delicious).

It's our Lafite-Rothschild, our Ausone, our Pingus. When one's cracked, it's a holiday in our house.

But it's also our Lafite-Rothschild, our Ausone, our Pingus for another obvious reason.  We can't nearly afford such wines (the lowest US price on wine-searcher for a 2005 Lafite-Rothschild is $1400 - a bottle of that would be the third most expensive thing we own!).

But when we saw a 2000 Pingus on the wine list at Bacchus in Milwaukee for $410, a bottle that regularly sells for $800 retail, we pointedly felt like it would be a supremely dumb decision NOT to buy it.

So we jumped in the car for a one-day mini-vacation to Milwaukee for the opportunity to drink a wine our pocketbooks normally wouldn't allow and drank the best bargain we've found since the $35 wall-to-wall bookshelves and $5 coffee table.

We were treated to a delicious meal, beautiful wine and just fantastic service in a beautiful space tucked right next to Lake Michigan just an hour and a half away.

It was one of those moments when you decide to do something that is, by definition, frivolous (like drinking a $410 bottle of wine) and immediately and at every moment thereafter, feel like you made a great choice.

Food:  Bacchus

Contemporary American, seasonally-driven.  Bacchus along with French-focused Lake Park Bistro more north, a kitchen also run by head chef Adam Siegel (James Beard Best Chef Midwest 2008), are the flagships in the Barolotta mini-empire in greater Milwaukee area, it seems.

Like most good American cuisine (which is somewhat rare), the menu draws from world techniques using local and seasonal products to create something else, something of a distinctive flavor that can't be replicated anywhere else because it's so specifically driven by the products locally available, the chef's particular tastes and what's currently exciting him.  Sounds roll-your-eyes food writerly, but you know it when you eat it.  Bacchus works.  It's French technique with a huge nod to coastal-contrasted-with-mountain Mediterranean flavors (the Italian Mare e Monti in full effect).  Seems like Siegel is playing around with the beauty of bitter greens and root veggies for this season's menu (as it's the season).  Slightly tweaked Italian classics abound.  Spanish ingredients play a role.  An underlying Greek dalliance seemed present, especially with some of the Italian dishes, sort of an Italian face upfront with a Greek nana pulling the strings.  In short, you can taste what the chef is currently messing around with and that's a good thing.  Tastes purposeful, honest and playful.

We ate very well.



Red Beets – oranges, crispy prosciutto, arugula, Marcona almonds, Hidden Springs cheese
Foie Gras – rhubarb, French toast, bacon, quail egg, maple syrup

Pasta (half-portions):

Seafood Ravioli – white wine butter, braised artichokes, oregano
Tagliatelle – Maine lobster, tomato confit, lobster cream


Roasted Duck Breast – Spring vegetable and duck confit ragout, roasted garlic
Strauss Free Raised Veal Chop – baby potato salad, mustard vinaigrette, veal jus

Molten Chocolate Hazelnut Cake – Caramelized Hazelnuts and Coffee Ice Cream
Raspberry Millefeuille – with Crispy Pastry, Raspberry Sorbet and Vanilla Cream

Delicious.  Again.  We ate very well.


Started with two glasses of NV La Marca Prosecco.

A bottle of 2009 Pascal Jolivet Sancerre to drink with the first half of the meal.

A glass of Sauternes (forgot name) to pair with the foie gras.

Two glasses of Adelsheim Vin de Glace with the raspberry millfeuille

Two glasses of Heitz Cellars Ink Grade Port

It was a lot of wine spread over about 3 1/2 hours.  Standard Prosecco, a good enough Sancerre that missed a bit on offering that singular mineral, rocky core that makes good Sancerre good Sancerre.  I now get the Sauternes and foie gras thing.  Good stuff, even if the fruit straddled the line of being a touch flat.  Both dessert wines WILL be bought soon.  The Adelsheim so delicate and the Heitz so smooth and open.

But we came for the 2000 Dominio de Pingus ($410)

The GM and wine director at Bacchus, Katie, couldn't have been more wonderful.  The Pingus was an auction buy for the restaurant and, I'm sure, not fully knowing the storage conditions and provenance of the original buyer and the wine's trip made for the lower price tag.  Kudos to the restaurant for pricing it while taking such things into consideration and marking it up based entirely on the price they got it for instead of what they could get away with.  We know tons of places that wouldn't.

We went back and forth over when to decant and settled on an hour before the reservation to make sure we didn't over-decant (better not enough than too much).  2000 was a 'drink or hold' in Wine Spectator's view for Ribera so there was a realistic chance this one could have been pretty much ready to go with just an hour or so.  We were wrong but not by much.  It really hit its stride three hours into the original decant and after a double decant halfway through the meal.

A nose of everything that makes Ribera Del Duero the best nose on the planet.  Big and gnarly with grilled meats with tasty sweet char all over the place.  Sweet smoke and roasting coffee followed by a raspberry-blueberry-blackberry compote/cassis-y type business that followed right through to the palate (probably leaned more red fruity overall, which surprised me a bit), with an additional something that was like grilling rosemary, smell, taste and all.  

Oak spikes on occasion, especially about two hours into the original decant that went in and out.  And it was at that two-hour mark that it felt like the wine really wanted to break through.  Wound up, itching and ready to go.  Felt like it wanted to punch through from the mid-palate to the finish to create the seamlessness that brought everything together but couldn't get there.  The fine-grained tannins were holding it back a bit.  It finally did so at the three-hour mark, right in time for the entrées.  They were out of lamb for the night, which would have been right in the wine's wheelhouse, but we got a side of olive tapenade for the night's salmon special that did some great things with the wine, knocking all the soldiers right into line.  It sung.  Beautiful stuff.

Mostly, we just wanted to know what a full-fledged Pingus tasted like.  It's our first and at that price, it was worth it.

So worth it that the overall impression left on us was if a similar bargain on this exact vintage of Pingus came up, we'd certainly think deeply about buying.  It was everything we love about Ribera Del Duero and still has a long life ahead.  Tasted like a baseball player that's no longer considered young but can surprisingly leg out a triple with ease and could play well into his 40s.  Maturing but not old in the least.

And served us well with the tasty veal chop and duck breast.  While a bite of duck and olive tapenade together, by itself, was on the odd side, but taken with the wine it became delicious wine and food heaven.  Similar result with the veal and tapenade but served best with a big bite of char on the veal.

Yes.  Great decision.  No question.  We Loved it.

Two quickies:

1.  Mac & cheese pizza sounds like a food abomination.  It's not at Pizza Shuttle in Milwaukee's Brady Street area.  Ten in the morning on our way out of town and we couldn't have wanted anything else more.  Came off...strangely light.  And stupid good.  Yeah, we followed a Pingus with mac & cheese pizza.  That's how we roll.

2.  Skirt steak tacos (grilled tortillas, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream, lettuce, onion, hot sauce) was the quick, easy and utterly wonderful dinner after the drive home.  Eaten with 2009 Orin Swift Abstract (Grenache-forward with petite syrah and syrah included, mostly from Sonoma).  We don't love it, didn't love it in the past.  All plummy and black raspberry-ish with a barnyard poop pile on a bale of hay quality.  If tasted blind, its California-ness would be the dominant characteristic that shines through.  A touch syrupy but you can really taste the efforts to not make it so.  The 2009 was the first year they've made it and while we don't love it, I'd be inclined to give it another go in future years just to see where it goes, especially with how it performed with the skirt steak tacos, becoming more friendly and willing to take a backseat to the food instead of announcing its presence so loudly.  Mingled quite well.  Not running out to buy more 2009s but fine and good stuff when we didn't expect much.

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