18 May, 2017

Southern Indian Food and Rias Baixas Albariño - Perfect Pairs at Dosa-SF

Dosa in San Francisco's Fillmore District is an airy, elegant restaurant that focuses on Indian cuisine.  The balance of Indian dishes with heat and sour and tang and sweet compels me to eat, but not so much to pair with wine.  Finding wines to handle that challenge is usually to drink beer---not that there's anything wrong with that.  Indian cuisine has a history going back seven thousand years and spanning a huge country, whose culture has not always been wine friendly.  And given the climate, my first rule of wine pairing "Grows with ...goes with" doesn't apply either.  I was most excited to attend the Rias Baixas lunch to see what would happen.

Turns out, an amazingly tasty ringer was waiting to be discovered: Albariño from Spain's Rias Baixas region.  Typically this wine is low in alcohol, redolent with minerality, and fruity.

Master Somm, Yoon Ha of Benu teamed with Dosa Wine Director Todd Smith to fine tune the pairings and showcase the possibilities.  Todd has a love of Indian cuisine and skill with wine.  He gave us a master class on Southern Indian food styles the best way possible, by serving it.  We could tell the pair enjoyed the exercise of bringing the wines into focus with the specific food of Southern India.

The first item brought out was called "bread and water" in which a crispy husk of dumpling was filled with tamarind-cilantro chili water.  For once I paid attention and devoured the flavorful concoction in one bite.  A flavor explosion ensued with the tangy sweet, brightly herbal, spicy water matched with the texture of the dumpling.

Dish after dish of texturally interesting, exotically spiced delights came out in waves.  Initially I was skeptical during Yoon Ha's presentation, but when I tried the wines, good, great and synergistic matches happened.
The Eponymous Dosa

Savory Shrimp

Classic Wada
Spicy Scallops

Some of these contain more than forty ingredients, so these wines got put through their paces.  Many are easy to find and will be on my summer rotation

First a little about the region.  Rais Baixas located in Galicia it has a maritime climate with lots of rainfall and lots of sun, each in balance at the right season for grapes.  The soils are great with lots of granite.  99% of the wines from the Denominacion de Origen (DO) are white.  And the thick skinned, scrappy, and we found delicious, Albariño, is key variety.  The Tastemakers brought some great Albariños:

Martin Codax 2015 ($15): Aromas of apricot, subtle yeasty notes, freshness and apple.  Full bodied but still bright and refreshing with a kick of honey in the midpalate and a long apricot finish.  2g/l of residual sugar made this wine sing with the spicier dishes.

Pazo de Señorans - 2015 ($21) Aromas of apple, papaya with lime, honeysuckle and yellow grapefruit.  Freshness was the topnote in aromas and flavors.  It managed to be rich and crisp at the same time.A pleasant floral herbal note in the finish and no leesiness.  Medium plus body with an apricot laden finish.

Mar de Frades, Ramon Bilbao - 2015 ($14) This wine had a brightness with vinous aromas along with jasmine, apricot and coconut.  Nice complexity marked by a touch of sourness that really helped cement the pairings. Round texture with a hint of salinity in finish, I found it to be a wine I kept going back to try more.

Bodegas Vionta, You and Me - 2015 ($18) Aromas of white flowers, honey and stonefruit.  Bright with acidity and rich in texture but lithe, this wine has a pleasant bitterness in the finish, which makes diners go back for another bite, says Todd.

Valmiñor - 2015 ($14) This wine was more of a medium yellow, which was darker than the paler colors of the previous wines.  Aromas were pear and bay leaves.  Flavors were apricot, yellow grapefruit, an touch of beer-iness and a flash of green.  A full bodies wine with an unctuous texture, it held apricot and a surprise: Maldon salt in the finish.

Pazo San Mauro - 2015 ($18)  Medium yellow color.  Vinous aromas.  Full texture but shot through with the most pronounced acidity of the batch

Pairing these wonderful wines with such exotic tastes was a great experience.  Look for Albariños from Rias Baixas next time you order in.  Or better yet, make time to visit Dosa and taste their expertly prepared food stylings.

Many thanks to Gregory White PR for hosting the lunch.

22 April, 2017

Riggers Loft: East Bay Tasting Room with Historic Bay View

Riggers Loft at Point Potrero in Richmond, CA, may have the most beautiful view of any tasting room anywhere—180-degree view of San Francisco Bay that takes in the Berkeley Hills, the Oakland Bay Bridge, San Francisco, and Angel Island.

Housed in the historic Kaiser Shipyard Number Three, next to the Red Oak Victory Ship and a whirley crane, Riggers Loft sits at the end of a long, scenic, and worthwhile drive out to the end of Canal Road near Pt. Richmond, past the also-wonderful East Brother Beer Company Tap Room, winding around cranes, tanks, warehouses, and a parking lot full of cars just unloaded off ships next to the tasting room.  Visitors to Riggers Loft can also take in Rosie the Riveter (technically Wendy the Welder) history, a sighting of an osprey nest on top of the whirley crane, and views of ships and tugboats.

Riggers Loft is a collective of three wineries—R & B Cellars, Carica Wines, and Irish Monkey Winery—and Far West Cider Company that produce at Riggers Loft.  Recently, Barrel & Ink Wine Company also joined the collective tasting room and will soon be producing wine at the Riggers Loft site, as well.  R & B Cellars owners and winemakers Kevin and Barbara started making wine in the space in late 2015, and the tasting room opened in March 2016.  In the coming weeks, Riggers Loft will open patio seating on the Bay.

And the wine!  With four wineries, the list is extensive and diverse, including several tasting flights, and in two visits, I’ve only skimmed the surface of the offerings.  The winemaking styles extend from big and bold to lean and restrained.  As a lover of Rhone-varietals, I enjoyed especially the large selection of Rhone-varietals and blends.  My favorites were the R & B Cellars NV “The Improviser” (a blend of Viognier, Vermentino, Rousanne, Marsanne, and Picpoul Blanc), the Barrel and Ink ‘13 “Master of Mountains” Chardonnay made by Steve Matthiasson, and the Barrel and Ink ‘14 “Jet Set Jungle” (a blend of Syrah, Mouvedre, Valdiguie, Dolcetto, and Viognier made by Pax Mahle).  I also enjoyed the R & B Cellars ‘13 “Sarabande” Chardonnay, the Carica ‘12 “Siren” (a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Mouvedre), and the Irish Monkey ‘13 Barbera.

With offerings to please almost any palate, a historical setting, and unforgettably gorgeous views, a visit to Riggers Loft is essential for supporters of East Bay winemaking and oenophiles from all around the San Francisco Bay Area.

09 February, 2017

EVOkE Romance in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Le Meridien Hotel

Photo Credit: Le Meridien
I just got back from four days in Charlotte, NC for the day job.  I knew it was going to be a fun meeting but the weather, food and hospitality of the town completely captivated me.

We all remarked that the food was exceptional, especially for a large group.  Come to find out Chef Oscar la Fuente brings flavor to both the Sheraton and the adjoining Le Meridien, more later on that venue.  

Chef Oscar was born in Peru to a German mother and Spanish father. So much diversity informs his leadership and adds a special dimension to the food.  As a conference attendee, I appreciated every tasty bite.  As a snarky Northern Californian, I usually love the opportunity to diet at conferences. Not in Charlotte as all the meals at the Sheraton were delicious, fresh and served with cheer.  I didn't do a lot of Instagramming, which is probably for the best #selfincrimination. Yes. I did have dessert at every meal

Photo Credit: Le Meridien
Photo Credit Le Meridien
The venue itself is very comfortable with great lighting, space and best of all comfy chairs.  It has 62000 total square feet of meeting space in 27 different venues that will accomodate small groups as easily as larger conferences.  

Our group got a lot done and were super comfortable doing it. I chalked it up to the best in southern hospitality that the service was nice.  I stayed at the Sheraton, so on my daily walks for exercise, to enjoy the great weather and to source forgotten items at the nearby Target, I admired the adjacent Le Meridien.

I returned home with a desire to return to Charlotte for fun. Clean,  well organized and walkable, Charlotte has a vibrant dining scene and a lot to recommend it for tourists and meeting planners alike.  Between the lines of my packed agenda was a sneaking suspicion that I was missing out on some cool spots.  I was right.  Emily Potts of the Heron Agency sent me a note to confirm what I had missed out on this trip.  She was nice enough to send my inquiries to Chef Oscar for experienced and tasty advice on finding the romance of Charlotte:
Photo Credit: oscarlafuente.com

BCL: What is your favorite things about Charlotte?
Chef Oscar: It has the feel of a big city, but the values of a small town. It is a blend of old and new. Over the past few years we’ve grown and the options for entertainment, sports, dining and recreation are second to none. It really is the perfect place to raise a family. And last, as someone who grew up in Toronto, you can’t beat our weather!

BCL: Best survival strategy for Valentine’s Day?
Chef Oscar: If you’re smart, you’re showing your partner how much you care throughout the year, so there is less pressure on Valentine’s Day. Having said that, I’m a guy, so I know expectations can be high. My advice: plan ahead – don’t wait until the last minute. And be creative! Dinner and flowers are nice, but a personal touch will get you extra points!

BCL: What season is best to visit?
Chef Oscar: Each season offers diverse benefits and we’re lucky that we can enjoy being outdoors all year round.  Personally, I love the fall season. I love that we can jump in the car and within a couple hours be in the mountains for the changing leaves and fall festivals in places like Asheville.

BCL: What are some must see places to sight see?

Chef Oscar: Some people may say the obvious: our museums, sports arenas, the lake or the White Water Rafting Center. I would say that if you truly want to experience the flavor (no pun intended) of Charlotte, you carefully plan your visit to include many of the unique and highly rated restaurants on the foodie scene.  Also, Charlotte is becoming quite known for their craft beer community. I highly recommend visiting our local breweries!

Photo credit: Le Meridien
If you are in the area, don't miss this cool spot :Le Méridien Charlotte, 555 S. McDowell Street, 

They are offering a a Valentine’s Day-inspired Unlock Romance Package. Available for booking Friday, February 3 throughSaturday, February 18, this package is perfect romantic getaway.  The bundle that starts at $300,includes a comfortably modern guestroom overlooking the Charlotte skyline, a savory three-course prix-fixe dinner in Evoke, and other amenities like wifi and parking that will make your stay great.  Chef Oscar's food will delight you.  Don't miss the dessert bar.