Last month I attended an afternoon seminar and walk-around tasting of Chilean wines at Foreign Cinema. Quality in Chile has improved substantially and prices have toed the line to continue to represent good value in the middle market of $8 to $20 bottles. Best vintages seemed to alternate with the odd-numbered years: 1999, 2001 and 2003. While the wines were nice, and I even found a Carmenere that I loved, the small plates offered up by Foreign Cinema were top notch. I found myself eyeing the food table for new additions and abandoning the wine offerings. Since most of the small plates are offered on the regular dinner and cafe menu or based on those dishes, I thought it was worth posting about them.
House-cured anchovy crostini - buttery crusts slathered with garlicky garbanzo puree were topped with thick filets of sweet briny anchovy and a fresh basil leaf
Chilean seabass - thin slices of broiled, buttery seabass topped with capers and buttered breadcrumbs. Oh how I've missed this fish, and for the occasion to savor it with the wines from its country, took a sabbatical from the boycott.
Oysters on the half shell - tiny sweetwaters from Hog Island offered up with mignonette, lemon wedges, or cocktail sauce, still delicious in this non-R month of May
Ham and cheese panini - triangular-shaped quarters of intensely flavored ham with gruyere pressed and toasted between buttered and very light pain de mie, perfectly proportioned and simply satisfying
Spot prawn crostini - soft and barely cooked pieces of fresh sweet prawns mounded on butter toast, clean pure expression of flavor and nice textural contrast
Brandade panini - mild garlic infusion and on point salting of whipped salt cod and potato in a pressed sandwich
Kobe beef - a few rectangular slices rare grilled beef laid atop a dollop of insipid romesco and finished with a dab of chimichurri, somewhat underseasoned and the beef itself was lacking in flavor intensity
Salad of baby lettuces - gossamer-like, ultrafresh and tender torn lettuces tossed with a very light and tangy vinaigrette, punctuated with peppery bites of radish, great balance and a refreshing ending
The most revelatory wine of the day and the one I enjoyed the most was the 2002 Terrunyo Rapel Valley Carmenere (85% Carmenere, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, 2% Merlot), $28 retail, from the Concha y Toro group. Until now, the Carmenere grape had represented weedy, soapy, bitter wines in my limited tasting experience. Darker colored than Merlot, this fine example has a chocolatey, dark fruited, and spicy dense nose. Fully ripe but not overripe, the full-bodied and weighty wine strikes deep with rich spicy fruit complexed with roasted nuts, dried mint, tobacco, and 5-spice. Superbly balance and harmonious, its elegant carriage and focus place this wine high above its price point. Continuing to reveal more dimensions with aeration, boding well for further development in the cellar, it ends with a fleshy and very long finish. 94 points