Ten Questions With…
Ms. Tatiana Abramova
Wine lover and collecter
Tatiana met the LUSH crew a couple of years ago while expanding her search for all things delicious in wine. She brought her gregarious disposition, challenging opinions, and a few bottles of wine to share. By day, Tatiana is a mild mannered, strict yet fun, Mary Poppinsish figure, shaping the lives of two little ones. By night, Tatiana is dedicated to increasing the depth of her wine knowledge and prowess, exploring the best menus in Chicago, and finding the perfect bottles to stock her cellar.
Thanks for agreeing to be a part of the Lush Wine & Spirits blog. Please answer the following questions in whatever way you see fit. We want your voice, personality, and opinions to come through!
1. What is the best thing you’ve drank in the last week? What about in the last year?
Last week: Domaine Fichet 2006 Aligote Thank you, Rachel! I loved this silky, minerally, beautifully balanced bottle. It would be great on its own or with some delicious seafood.
Last year: 1995 Chateau Musar. This beautiful red had me at hello. Premier wine producer in Lebanon, 1995 Ch. Musar is as lovely a bottle as one would hope to taste. Very well-balanced, showing great restraint and some significant age, this one is for the books. Made in the Bordeaux style, it has great structure, beautiful aroma, and lots of lovely dark red fruit.
1986 Leth Roter Veltliner. Gruner Veltliner has a finiky grey grape cousin? Yes, it does. But all the effort and age put into 1986 Roter Veltliner from Leth paid off, in my opinion. It is a red wine drinkers white wine with rich and plush mouthfeel, and complex bouquet of mineral and stone fruit. When one of my cork dork friends tasted this velvety, smooth and seductive bottle, he murmured: “This tastes like a beautiful woman!” Now, how sexy is that?
2. What do you think is the most underrated grape varietal or region? Overrated? Underrated–Eastern Europe: Georgia, Bulgaria, Russia (Crimea in particular), Croatia Eastern Europe has been quietly cultivating wine for centuries. And while there were no wines of note coming out of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, it is not for the lack of good vines or favorable conditions, but for the lack of winemaking skills and mass production. Now, there are some lovely bottles quietly appearing on the Western market, usually very reasonably priced. Look for these obscure bottles, and you just might be pleasantly surprised. After all, the Queen of England buys two barrels of Crimean Massandra Muscat dessert wine every vintage, and you know she’s got taste out of the ying-yang!
Overrated–Napa Valley. Too big, too expensive, too much… Enough said.
This ancient grape originates in Georgia and is one of the oldest grape varietals. In Georgia, clay vessels were found with seeds of Rkatsiteli grapes which date back to 3000 BC.
Rkatsiteli was very popular in the Soviet Union prior to its fall. There it was used to make everything from table wine to liqueurs to Sherry-like fortified wine. Prior to President Gorbachev’s vine pull scheme, it was possibly the world’s most widely planted white wine grape, and one of the most versatile. It is now largely overlooked because of the Soviet mass production of low quality table wine. However, treated properly Rkatsiteli makes noticeably acidic, balanced white wine with spicy and floral notes in the aroma. Blended with another native Georgian grape, Mtsvane, Rkatsiteli is known as Tsinandali, in my opinion Georgia’s answer to naked chardonnay.
Overrated–oakey chardonnay and I am sorry, Australia, shiraz. The first one generally has too much oak to even show what a noble chardonnay grape can do if treated well. The latter generally is a fruit bomb that lacks nuance. If I never drink either one of those again, I would be just fine, thank you very much.
3. Who are your favorite food and wine writers?
Lettie Teague is my hero!
Lettie Teague is an executive editor at Food & Wine magazine. She writes a monthly column for the magazine, “Wine Matters,” for which she won the 2003 James Beard M. F. K. Fisher Distinguished Writing Award. You go, girl! She is sharp-witted, down to earth, and approachable.
Hugh Johnson: gotta love a rebel! Johnson is known as one of the wine world’s most vocal opponents to awarding numerical scores to wine. Seeing that I really hate those numeric scores, I am a huge fan of this renegade. I like his spirited writing and dry British humor. Jay McInerney has a recent convert in me. I really loved his wine essay collections “Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar” and “A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine.” Jeffrey Steingarten, though technically not a wine writer, is fantastic in his absolutelly inspiring and unapologetic defence of all things our culture considers evil: salt, sugar, coffee, red meat, MSG, and of course alcohol. His witty and sarcasticwriting is backed up by massive amounts of research. Once a lawyer–always a lawyer!
But honestly, I read everything I can get my hands on in food and wine. Anthony Bordain, Michael Rhulman, M. F. K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, Ruth Reichl, Gail Greene are some of the authors of note for me.
4. What are your three favorite food cities?
Chicago: Well, obviously! We are second to none, as far as I am concerned, and I would not choose to live anywhere else at the moment. Chicago has everything a gourmet needs, from delicious dives to the top restaurant in the country. Yes, I am talking about Alinea, though my personal experience there does not warrant high praise. I will take Schwa over it anyday.
New York: I love visiting the Big Apple, and have had some great dining experiences there. Home to some extraordinary chefs and restaurants, New York never fails to impress.
New Orleans: Bring on the crawfish and blue crabs, I love me some good Cajun cookin’ any day. I love food with personality, and what could be more feisty than Louisiana cuisine?
5. Top three restaurants you revisit all the time in Chicago? Ok, it is really unfair to ask me to choose only three. Which style? What occasion? I am a loyal supporter of quite a few different joints for very different reasons. So, how about three categories? For special occasions I head to Schwa. Michael Carlson’s tiny no-frills byob storefront never fails me. I love the food, the chefs, the passion! Their food is imaginative, sometimes outlandish, but always honest. I love trying new and exciting bottles that I can bring with me. I love the fact that I never have to even look at the menu, just sit back and enjoy. Oh, and there is always something new on the plate. I ate snail eggs there! Oh, yeah! For this kind of place I don’t mind waiting for a reservation.
My other choice for special occasion is Topolobampo, Frontera Grill’s refined upscale sister. Jill Gubesch’s wine list is deep and well-rounded with some seriously obscure bottlings. The food is always spectacular, and atmosphere festive. Rick Bayless’s cuisine is very thoughtful and respectful of the Mexican culture and history. I enjoy visiting Topolobampo any time of year, but particularly on wintery nights, when it practically transports you to sunny Mexico.
For the dive category my long love affare with my very favorite Thai hole-in-the-wall called Roong Petch is obvious to anyone who knows me. Hands down, the best pad wansen in the city bar none! The food is always fresh and super delicious, and they deliver! Who can ask for anything more? Roong Petch underwent a renovation, so I suppose it cannot be classified as a dive anymore, but my heart (and stomach!) still belongs to the humble storefront I came to love all those years ago.
Hot Doug’s, people! If you have never been there, run–don’t walk–and get in line for sausages and duck fat fries! I can count on one hand the things I will actually stand in line for, and Hot Doug’s is one of them. How can you go wrong at the Encased Meat Emporium? You call yourself a Chicagoan, and you have never been to Hot Doug’s?! Shame on you!!!
My picks for neigborhood restaurants that I love going to with friends are Glenn’s Diner, Hopleaf, Cafe Iberico, and La Creperie. Glenn’s is a great fish house–oh, yeah! not just a diner!–that has freshest fish and all-you-can-eat crab legs on Tuesdays. They let you byob, which is always a plus. Great meet spot to have seafood and a bottle of wine. Hopleaf–delicious mussels and 300 types of beer. Need I say more? Cafe Iberico has been our group dining destination for years, because no matter how much sangria we drink, or how much food we order, the bill always comes out under $30 a person. Pretty great for downtown! Plus they have jamon Iberico, mmmmm! I love me some acorn eating pig. And La Creperie is fantastic for brunch or really anytime… It is comfortable and feels like home. I recall spending the entire day there, starting with brunch, then snack, then dinner, and lots of white burgundy. Delish!
6. What is your most memorable dining or drinking experience?
I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to dine at Chef Rick Bayless’s home. This was a spectacular evening! Six-course dinner with wine pairings in his famous garden was incredible. The most amazing part was sharing and being encouraged to persue my wine ambitions by one of the people I admire most. The menu from that evening still graces my kitchen wall as a reminder that I can do anything. By far the most memorable dinig even I have ever attended. One of the most memorable drinking events of my life has been “The Night of 12 Bottles” at Pops for Champagne. Pops used to offer industry discount on bottles on Sundays. And the grower-producer bottles were half-price. Did someone say champagne? Two of my visiting friends (from California), three locals and I parked our cute butts at that bar on a Sunday before Christmas, and made our way through the grower list. Consequently, the Industry Sunday program was cancelled. Coincidence? Maybe not…
7. Between wine, beer, and spirits – when do you reach for each? If you HAD to do without one, which would it be?
I reach for wine anytime, really, anywhere good wine is available to me. I reach for spirits when there is no appealing wine or beer available, or at places that serve fantastic cocktails (i.e. Violet Hour, margaritas at Frontera Grill, Sepia). I grab a beer anywhere beer is king: Hopleaf, The Publican, with German food or in company of my beer-guzzling friend Sergei. But realistically, I only usually reach for wine. I can most definitely do without spirits, and probably without beer if I had access to good wine and champagne.
8. What is the best thing about your job?
I like watching a human being form from infancy on, take there first steps into the world. I also like knowing that I am making a difference in a child’s life, and influencing what that child will eventually become. But mostly, the best part of my job is three-day weekends!
9. If you had to describe yourself as a certain wine, what would it be? (i.e. Australian Shiraz – spicy, bold, and seductive. German Riesling – sometimes sweet (but hard to predict if it will be), elegant, and requiring of patience.)
I think I relate most to domestic pinot noir–lacking the refinement and historic relevance of its Bourgondian sister, volatile and tempramental, but infinitely worth the trouble and the time!
10. You’re on death row (sorry). What’s your final meal?
What did I do?!!!!! Ok, well, if ever there was a night for selfish indulgence, this would be it, right? This could be a rather long list…. ‘
88 Krug magnum, because let’s face it, there is no tomorrow, and Almas Beluga caviar (the most rare, almost white roe, taken from the centennial sturgeon)
Kumomoto Oysters with a Savennieres Sea urchin roe and Toro (fatty tuna) with Kome Kome sake
Monkfish liver in parsley butter sauce with a Sancerre or Cheverny
King crab legs and stone crab claws with mustard sauce
Kobe steak tartar with quail egg
Seared Foie Gras with Sauteurnes
Jamon Iberico with Manchego cheese and tomato-rubbed crusty bread and citrus marinated olives
Duck confit, with the skin that crackles like the top of creme brulee
Lamb spare ribs with bitter orange marmalade glaze and jalepeno cheddar grits–oh, yeah! Bring on the Aquila Sangiovese.
Lots of super stinky cheeses with some very old tawny port.
Not big on desserts, but I would love some really good chocolate, perhaps with some chiles or bacon in it.
I would drink copious amounts of wines throughout, because, well, it’s not like I would have to watch out for a hangover… Going out with a bang!!!