November 26, 2018
In my long association with Kermit Lynch, I logged more than 80 trips to France. The first one, in January 1992, was among the most exciting, and it began with the meeting of an old friend, George Lorentz. George and his family own Domaine Gustave Lorentz near Colmar, in the southern area of Alsace known as the Haut-Rhin. I stayed with them in 1974 during my first trip to France. In 1980 we were able to return their hospitality when George lived with us in St. Helena, and worked at Joseph Phelps Vineyards with me. When I was planning my 1992 trip to Alsace, George and I arranged to meet for dinner the day I arrived. After a brief visit with his parents at their home in Bergheim, we drove to Ribeauville for a dining experience that has been etched in my mind ever since. The culinary fame of Alsace is legendary, as the region is home to the greatest concentration of Michelin-star restaurants in France. Rather than select a starred wonder for us that night, though, George planned dinner at a modest restaurant near my hotel – the casual Wistub Zum Pfifferhüs, in the lovely old village of Ribeauville. Our meal was simple but spectacular, and on George’s insistence it began with the onion tart, a dish for which the restaurant was apparently renown throughout Alsace. Aware of my fondness for red Burgundy, George had also brought from his cellar a bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin from a producer we both knew. After an obligatory glass of local Riesling and Gewürztraminer, we moved on to the Burgundy, just as the onion tart arrived at the table. I’ve had a lot of great food and wine combinations in my time, but I’ll never think of one any better than this. My main course was another specialty of the Wistub — the braised oxtail with spatzel — but as good as it was I found myself yearning for a second slice of the onion tart. Over the next two weeks, I enjoyed great meals in grand spots from Paris to Marseilles, but nothing was more memorable than that perfectly executed onion tart, accompanied by that delicious bottle of red Burgundy. I told Barbara about it when I returned home, and learned that she had cooked scores of onion tarts during her time at Chez Panisse and Auberge du Soleil. It’s not difficult, she said, and she baked one later that week. I devoured it with a bottle of red Burgundy from our cellar. Since then Barbara has continued to polish her onion tart recipe over the years, so when I recently brought home our just-bottled 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ she decided it was onion tart time again. Once more, those bells and whistles went off in my head, and this time more than a few of them were directly attributable to the wine. Chuy Ordaz told us that the Pinot Noir from the 2017 harvest at his Placida Vineyard may have been the best fruit he ever picked from his property. The ground was still damp that spring and early summer from the heavy rain of the previous season, and the cold soil served to keep the growing temperatures comfortably low during bud break and flowering. The crop was small owing to the five consecutive drought years from 2010 through 2015, and the ripening was slow and even, giving us an almost perfect sugar to acid ratio when we harvested the grapes in late September. The parcel we work with is a two-acre block planted exclusively to budwood from the old Joe Swan vineyard in Forestville. These are ‘selection massale’ plants – not laboratory clones — developed from vines that originated in Vosne-Romanée, in the heart of the Côte de Nuits. Joe always maintained that the high quality of his Pinot Noir was due to the pedigrée of his vines. That night when we tasted the 2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida’ for the first time since bottling, I was enormously impressed. We were both struck by the ethereal components that some refer to as ‘Burgundian Character’, a combination of aromas that include jam, earth, coffee, and tropical fruit. I remarked to Barbara that Tadeo had made a Pinot Noir ‘for the ages’ in 2017, one that we should expect to enjoy for many years. I plan to taste it often, and when possible accompany it with a slice of Barbara’s onion tart. I asked Barbara for her recipe, and it’s copied below. She says it’s really simple, especially if you use frozen puff pastry or pie dough from your local market as she does.
2017 Pinot Noir ‘Placida Vineyard’ – now available to ship; please check with your local Trinchero Family Estates representative for availability and pricing
Here is Barbara’s recipe for her Classic Onion Tart:
An 8-inch partially cooked puff pastry or pastry shell on a baking sheet
2 pounds sweet onions, about 7 cups, preferably sweet white onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
two-thirds cup whipping cream
1 and one-half tablespoons flour
One-half cup grated Swiss cheese
1 tablespoon butter cut in small pieces
Salt & pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Over low heat and stirring occasionally, cook onions in a heavy skillet with olive oil until tender and golden yellow. Approximately 45 minutes.
Sprinkle with flour and continue cooking slowly for 2 to 3 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Beat the eggs, cream, and seasonings in a bowl until blended. Gradually mix in the onions and half of the cheese. Pour into puff pastry or tart shell and spread the remaining cheese and butter pieces on top.
Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until tart has puffed and browned.
Slice and serve.
November 26, 2018