We join our regularly scheduled broadcast already in progress...

Brix = the amount of sweetness in a given solution measured in degrees expressing the porportion of sugar to each 100 gr. of total fluid; Used in winemaking by growers to measure the amount of sugar in the grapes.

Chicks = We're girls of a certain age with a sense of adventure, a passion for wine, a vibrant curiousity to learn more and a drive to exchange ideas, share tips and find out what you have to say about how wine flavors your experience.

Welcome to our blog!


07 June, 2016

Food & Wine Pairing - David Kinch's Tomato Soup and Tuella - $5.99 wine from Trader Joe's

Learning the nuts and bolts of why some wines taste good, better and best with some foods is fun.  More fun when your team is Gina Bettancourt, Kim Giuliano and me!

The last night of our Food and wine pairing class was a food and wine smackdown, where every course was a synergistic pair and everyone was a winner

For our entry, we selected a viciously difficult dish to pair on purpose 

Selecting the Dish
We wanted to pick a food that would challenge us to use our learnings to find a synergistic match.  It also had to be a Hot First Course as well as be easy to transport and serve with limited kitchen space.

We determined a riff on David Kinch’s Garlic Panna cotta with Tomato soup would be perfect.  The recipe can be found here:
David leads the team at the lovely, two Star Manresa in Los Gatos 

We made a change in serving format to accommodate a smaller tasting portion.  Since tomatoes are not in season we used canned San Marzano tomatoes.  We also tried to adapt the recipe to substitute parsley for basil to make it easier to pair, however we all preferred the sophistication of the basil.  The components and ingredients of this dish proved to be challenging but we learned a lot in the process.

The tomatoes are sweet and high in acid so could pair well with bright reds such as a Barolo, Rosso or Barbaresco.  It could go with a crisp Pinot Grigio.  The creamy panna cotta would go well with a white wine with good acidity to cut through the richness of the cream. The challenge was to find something that would pair with both elements when they are combined into one dish. We anticipated dealing with two textures, a shifting flavor profile and both vegetable and animal fats.  All in all, we felt we would learn the most from starting with a difficult dish.

Selecting the Wine
Once we decided on a dish to serve, we started the search for a wine that would be a synergistic match. We thought it best to try a large selection of all the possibilities and get advice from many different sources.

Kim was passionate about selecting Italian wines and Italian varieties vinified locally.  She focused on finding some high acid Italian whites which included Pinot Grigio.  She also found some Barberas, both Italian and a local favorite.  She researched pairing suggestions by asking friends and wine clubs as well as getting advice from information published by various sources including cruise lines that do food and wine pairing on cruises to Italy.

Gina sourced some unoaked chardonnay as well as looked for interesting high QPR wines.  She determined a wine based on Port varieties might balance both the acid and warm climate fruit character. As well, she was looking for affordable every day wines to go with the everyday nature of tomato soup.

I researched pairing and got advice from several local wine shops as well as a somm at Ella’s, a restaurant which is featuring San Marzano tomato based soup.  Initial recommendations highly favored Old World white wine with strong acid profiles. Focusing on interesting exotic varieties like Mencia, Vitkovska, I looked for wines from the Old World, especially Spain and Friuli.

In the end, we tasted through 27 wines.  Two were flawed.  We selected a Top 10 and walked those favorites through pairing with the soup.

Determining the Match
After tasting through seventeen wines, we determined our top tenWe selected the wines we perceived to have sufficient acidity and fruitiness to stand up to the tomatoes and looked for interesting matches. We re-tasted and walked those wines through the Wine and Food Pairing Decision Tree.  The results surprised us:
We initially thought a white wine would go best.  Research and advice from experts pointed towards high acid whites.  However, the Cava and the Chardonnay were steamrollered by the sweetness in the food.  We moved to the Chenin Blanc thinking that the fruitiness would carry this wine, but the acidity in the food overpowered the wine, leaving a white that initially tasted brisk and inviting, flat and thin.  The Kante Vitkovska is a lovely wine. When we tasted it alone, it seemed like such a good match intellectually, we almost went for the soup right then and there.  Unfortunately, the creaminess of the panna cotta flattened it and resulted in a no match.  And so all the white wines were eliminated.
Moving on to the reds, we found they all conquered the decision tree and landed to the right of good match.  So we were able to move forward toward synergy. 
The Barbera proved too intense.  The wine overpowered the soup.  The Mencia was gentler in its letdown.  It was in the persistency phase where we realized the delicious wine never got to that harmonious gelling with the tasty soup.

So we were left with our top three:
The Spanish Blend was third.  Laya, a young red from the Almansa region of Spain is comprised of 70% garnacha tintorera and 30 % monastrell. It saw 4 months of aging in new French oak.  The resulting silky wine laden with black and red fruits with a solid backbone of acid made a better than good match.  The touch of herbaceousness went well with the undercurrent of basil in the soup.

The Hito from Cepa 21, a line of Bodegas Emilio Moro, came in second.  100% Tinto Fino, this Ribera Del Duero offering saw 8 mos. in French Oak.  It had a brightness in color and flavor along with persistency, elegance and delicious, well integrated fruit character.  Texturally, it had the tannins to stand up to the soup as well as the creamy panna cotta and was a close contender for synergy.

We swooned over the combination of the soup with the Tuella Duoro 2014. A blend of Touriga FrancaTinta Barroca and Tinto Cao from Douro, Portugal, this wine made an excellent combination with the soup.  This wine does not have a typical brawny structure you woudl expect from a Duoro red.  The softness of the tannins along with the dark fruit of the port grape varities made it work.  In the end, the slight smoky notes of the wine in concert with the structural harmony in acidity, sweetness, tannins, intensity, and persistency made us perceive it as a synergistic match.  Bonus: At $5.99 a bottle, we felt the Quality Price Ratio made it the undisputed winner of wine pairing decision bracket

26 May, 2016

Happy #ChardonnayDay - A BrixChicks Favorite: Mer Soleil

Happy Chardonnay Day!  The day you get to visit a much admired vineyard is always a great one.

So for me, getting to roam around the Mer Soleil vineyard was a dream fulfilled.   Our wonderful visit was led by Charlie Wagner himself , the Mer Soleil winemaker and viticulturist, who generously showcased some older vintages.

First, the vineyard; it's a gorgeous spot, quiet and windswept.  Really really windswept.  I felt like a spinnaker, and folks from the winery said it was mild.  Wind tempers the fruit providing a delicious cooling effect.  It sounds trite and you can read and read and read about the effect of wind,  but actually having the wind try to steal your ponytail makes the phenomenon real in a way nothing but experience can.  Charlie said this "natural refrigeration" both keeps the temperatures low and extends the growing cycle.  Extends the cycle comparatively to the family's other properties in Napa, which includes Caymus.  In Napa, bud break can be around a month later, yet Mer Soleil grapes are still harvested later.

The Wagners selected this beautiful spot specifically to grow and vinify Chardonnay as the Napa properties are tuned for Cabernet.  Coastal area wind makes Mer Soleil special. Typically the local fog will turn off right as wind starts up, so a hot day will stay about 90 degrees.  This cooling contributes to a making a quality chardonnay grape since the climate both fosters ripeness and preserves acidity.

Reserve&Silver in the glass. Wind in the hair
Mer Soleil is a 450 acre ranch which the Wagners bought in 1988.  Previously a ranch, the vineyard had been fertilized by cattle for 100 years,  Today it is dedicated to Chardonnay except for some acres where Viognier for the Conunudrum white blend is grown. Soil is consistent and rich. Strong aquifers provides consistent water as well.  Goldilocks hydration means the grapes have to struggle and amount that can be categorized as "just right".

All this, along with Mer Soleil's skill with winemaking, contributes to delicious Chardonnay, which is done in two styles:  Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay, which is oaked and Mer Soleil Silver which is unoaked.  

We were lucky enough to be able to try both as well as some older vintages of the Reserve, which let us us experience different shades of gold:

Mer Soleil Reserve, 2009  Lovely deep gold color comes with age on this 100% Chardonnay.  We were able to taste for ourselves how the honeysuckle on the nose of a current realease, with a  a few years, morphs into truffly notes. Charlie says botrytis influences the changes.  I found the notes of truffle honey delightful, especially in finish.

Mer Soleil Reserve, 2004  Five more years turned the 100% Chardonnay a dark gold.  The trufflled honey notes of the '09 deepened into a more savory true truffle character.  Notes of apples and  honey were reinforced by the silky texture.  The wine retained a lot of freshness as well.

We tasted the older wines in a magnum format, which Charlie said slows down the aging process.

Mer Soleil Reserve 2014  The current release tumbled out of a 750mL with day bright gold color.  This Chardonnay has a freshness with honey,  apples vanilla and spice in aromas. It has a silky texture with spices and  pear in mid palate.  Mer Soleil doesn't control the malolactic fermentation instead, the winemakers just inoculate and let it the wine go to find itself.

Mer Soleil Silver 2014
"Lisbon lemon!" Photo credit WineHarlots
Lovely clear pale color in the wine foreshadows a delicious Chardonnay.  Nice acidity and savory flavors including touch of  Lisbon lemon.  This 100% Chardonnay is aged  4-5 months in concrete.  This provides oxygenation without wood ,  The tanks breathe and the wine evaporates.  It also preserves more acidity which Charlie likened to a "Sauvignon Blanc on steroids"  Maybe that's why BrixChick Janesta loves Silver event though she prefers Sauvignon Blanc in general.  Look for the signature grey glass bottles, whose style echoes the  concrete tanks

Estate Grown Mer Soleil "silver" lemons

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay and Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay are two different styles that go with seasons.  Both will go well on your table!  Since they grow lemons on the estate, I was able to pick a fresh Lisbon lemon and create the most delicious lemon arugula pizza. Putting all my food and wine pairing learning to use, I was able to create home made deliciouness of "grows with...goes with" as the bright clear lemon flavor married with the lovely wine

Celebrate #chardonnayday with a wonderful offering from Mer Soleil

Read more about this amazing place, wine and team here:

Many thanks to the Wagner family for hosting me at the SLH Gala and to Balzac Communications for the invitation.

21 March, 2016

Washoku: An Armchair trip to Japan via Sake and Bento Pairing

Toshio Ueno: Sake Sommelier 
If there is one place that makes learning delicious, it is the Napa Valley Wine Academy.  I was lucky enough to be a guest last November when the WSET Sake candidates were getting a special lesson on Sake pairing  from Instructor Toshio Ueno, Master Sake Sommelier and Executive Instructor at Sake School of America. Toshio made the most wonderful ambassador of taste for Japan as his love of his subject matter really shone through in both his depth of knowledge and enthusiasm.  This special event on the culture of Japan via food and wine pairing was sponsored by Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and delivered in conjunction with Sake School of America and Morimoto Napa.  
is defined as the traditional food of Japan, but Toshio walked us through the deeper meaning showing us how seasonality, focus on nutrition and presentation combine to make it a gestalt of nurturing with respect for the environment

The four elements of Washoku are:

  • Food Ingredients: Seasonal produce and seafood
  • Dishes: Both cooking utensils and serving dishes 
  • Nutrition: low calorie high nutrition designed to use seasonal items in a way that builds family relationship as it nourishes
  • Hospitality: Motenashi or appreciation of service nature and seasonality.  Each season has a special pattern and texture to enhance sensation of that season

The food of Japan focuses on seafood and seasonal vegetables.  With lots of rain, cold winters and hot summers, Japan gets four distinct seasons.  Japan is located between 50 and 30 degrees latitude so fits into the same geography band as many great wine regions.  Flavors have the same hot (spicy), sweet, salty , bitter and sour flavors with added emphasis on umami, which is found in soy sauce as well as dashi.  Compared the Western cooking, Japan has quick, uncomplicated food preparation techniques, although many ingredients have long preparation times as they include fermenting, drying and aging to deliver their traditional tastes.  Things like miso, kombu, and the rich umami filled flavors of dashi, a carefully prepared broth, are elements that have entered the Western repertoire of cooking and are used effectively in many fusion dishes.  

Ichiro Tsuji, Morimoto, Napa
Chef Ichiro Tsuji, from Morimoto Napa was on hand as well to introduce us to Wabosho or Japanese knives. Ichiro's knives and his skill were impressive.  He explained that some are like swords , each with a purpose.  While he himself has many knives, he has some that have seen so much use that  over a period of 15 years, the handle wore down to shape of his hand.
Gorgeous precise cuts make it tastier
The knives are a special steel that sharpen to a terrifying (to me) degree.  Ichiro explains that  sharper is safer as you can cut with minimum pressure.  Equipment matters for freshness and flavor.  Sharp knives expertly wielded make quick precise cuts with less effort.  Also important to kill fish silently without struggle to avoid suffering and make it taste better.  Every year, at New Years,  Ichiro sprinkles sake on knives to show appreciation.

Toshi and Ichiro worked together to present and decode a spectacular Bento box to us as well as walk us through the sake pairings.

Creating a Bento box has a special rubric.  When designing  bento box, care is taken to delight the five senses, honor the season and the occasion. A bento should align with all three.  You should have white and red at a celebration,  black and white at funereal Top of box is starter. Middle is main course. Bottom is salad and dessert.  The diner is meant to start at top and work over and down.

We were able to dig in and appreciate the flavors, which were bursting with exotic elements of peppers, fermented tastes, fresh briny fish and savory pickled elements.  Not only were each of the compartments delicious, but they built on each other and delivered a very satisfying whole.  Some of the courses had familiar anchors, like fried chicken and cheesecake. Some were very exotic like fish tripe and yuzu pepper.

Then we had the four intriguing sakes to pair:
1) Born Junmai Daiginjo "Gold
2)Hakkaisan Honjozo
3)Kikumasamune Kimoto Junmai
4) Tengumai Yamahai Jikommi

Of the sakes, my favorites were #1 and 4.  The Tengumai Yamahai Jikommi is made in a way that

enhances its acidity and yields a more oxidative style.
However the floral plushy smoothness of the Born Junmai Daiginjo Gold was surprising especially with the salted plum.  It was almost shocking how delicious that pairing was.  My favorite pair was the blue cheese with junmai daiginjo and dried currants, although it was hard to pick a favorite.  

#4 had a slight nuttiness that paired with almost everything and enhanced the flavors, both as a contrast and as a match.  

Sake is in general not my favorite thing.  But this event really opened my eyes to different flavors and tastes and I came away wanting to learn more and try more sakes. 

Many thanks to  Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Sake School of America, Morimoto Napa and the wonderful folks at Balzac Communications for the armchair trip to Japan!