22 January, 2009

Wine Bar Wednesday, 2.2009, Miss Pearl's Jam House, Oakland

Okay, so at least I am in the East Bay. I had to write up this fun, new incarnation of Miss Pearl's Jam House in Jack London Square in Oakland. Formerly located in the Phoenix Hotel in the heart of San Francisco's Tenderloin, they are now in the space Jack's Bistro used to occupy in Jack London Square. The ambiance is upscale kitschy with a strong seaside motif and lots of interesting things everywhere you look. Divided into a large bar area as well as a nice dining room, Miss Pearl's Jam House brings luscious takes on Caribbean inspired snacks, exceptional rum cocktails and a very tasty wine list with a lot of interesting things by the glass. Xandria and I went with my party specialist Janesta to do Wine Bar Wednesday research. We perched on the comfy bar stools and ordered sweet potato fries and "Miniskirts with Nice Buns" delicious little flank steak sliders on brioche mini buns. Heaven! While I did succumb to the lure of the cocktail, I was also seduced by a lovely '05 Cline Mourvedre. Beautiful color, blackberry fruit, balanced acidity. Niiice! Ever since I wrote that good Mourvedre-Monastrell-Mataro is hard to find, nice selections have been popping up everywhere I turn! You can thank me for manifesting Mourvedre into the Bay Area! As an added bonus, they also carry by the glass, Cline Late Harvest Mourvedre, which I have to try when I return. Our server was exceptional, attentive, fun and cool.
So if we apply Xandria's Wine Bar criteria:

Affordability - Lovely water view, elegant location, tasty selections and validated parking. Would we expect less of the East Bay? Also, there is a whole schedule of live music. Great QPR.
Wine list - Interesting. Many different selections arranged by characteristics of the wines, so you can easily identify something you are in the mood for.
Wait staff- The menu is so detailed, we did not get to test the server, however every time I have visited, I have found the service to be attentive, pleasant and extremely efficient.
Food: Very good. Those sliders are so very tasty! I can't wait to try more. I hear there's a brunch. Which of course plays into my new obsession: Wine with Breakfast
Miss Pearl's Jam House
1 BroadwayOakland, CA 94607
P: 510-444-7171

21 January, 2009

"Yes We Cab!" - Wine fit for President Barack Obama-- Periscope Cellars "Yes We Cab" 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

In honor of the dawning of a new era of American politics, we attended a fun little inauguration gala at Periscope Cellars in Emeryville, CA. which was also a release party for the Yes We Cab! Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Napa Valley, Periscope's newest creation inspired by Barack Obama.

According to Brendan Eliason, owner and winemaker of Periscope, this special wine was created after he met Barack in 2007 who came to thank Brendan for his fundraising support. This wine was a truly collaborative effort by Obama supporters in the Oakland/Emeryville area and the label was designed by local artist J.B. Lowe.

But just how does this wine taste? Is it a special wine for this momentous occasion?

First impressions: warm, rich, dark and earthy. A nose of stewed cassis, cherries and notes of leather. Tangy, spicy, cherry finish that lingers. Smooth and supple tannins. Nicely balanced to drink now or later.

Brendan likes to say his wine is "Elegant and stately like Barack Obama himself."

Xandria likes to say this wine is a winner like Barack Obama. I give it 90 points! But you better move fast if you want some as only 58 cases were made at the decent price of only $18.00 per bottle.

We drank it as we watched the new President and First Lady dance to Beyonce's "At Last", and scarfed down the kick-ass tamales made by Tina's Tamales of Oakland. Yes, it was a great beginning for a new year filled with hopes for a better future.

19 January, 2009

$4.99? Are you out of your mind? Review of Greenstone Point '07 Pinot Noir

'07 Greenstone Point, Pinot Noir, New Zealand. I tried this at one of the Wine Mine Saturday tastings. And after trying a sip, I scrounged till I found it. For only $4.99, it was a fun easy drinking pinot. Starting out, it had pretty aromas, plum and red fruit. The flavors were also very tasty with lots of cherry, berries and a slight tang. This wine had an interesting mouthfeel that seemed almost, right on the edge, but not quite spritzy when I first opened it. With the convenience of a screw top, I was able to recap, leave on the counter overnight, and when I revisited the wine the next day, it had smoothed out with lots more bright cherry flavors and a smoother mouthfeel. Plus, hello? QPR off the chart! For a nice, easy drinking pinot noir, this was a fabulous value. It's hard to find a glass of tasty pinot noir for that price. $4.99 is less than the tax on other pinots I have. Grab this and enjoy it right away if you find it!

15 January, 2009

The Cheese School - Wine and Cheese Pairing

Located in a charming, sunny walk up in San Francisco's historic North Beach District, the Cheese School sets out its mission as designing classes "to be fun, informative and most of all, delicious." Add wine into the mix, and you can see why I had been looking forward to this class ever since I first learned of it. Lynne Devereux did a great job of making sure the goals were met. I walked in to be greeted with both a flute of NV Grandin Brut, Loire Valley, and aromas of cheese. While waiting, I peeked into the classroom to find it elegantly set with the tempting plates of cheese samples and different little dishes and sides. I could hardly wait! The format of the class was to try each iteration of four wines and eight cheeses in a matrix of pairs. I love trying things in this style, because while you're sure to get a couple of clunkers, you are free to explore all the potential combinations to satisfy your own personal taste. Lynne was there to moderate and answer questions on all things cheese. Her deep knowledge of cheese making, affinage, and cheese in general made it very interesting. Our class was lively and I could tell everyone had very different preferences. In summary, I learned that the best wines to pair with cheese are those that have a crisp texture, fruit forward nature and gentle tannins. A cheese can complement or contrast with a wine's flavor profile and/or texture to make successful pairs. Also dessert wines tend to make easy matches because of their sweetness and silky texture. While I was completely mad for all the cheese I tried, I wasn't as happy with the wines that were selected. But it think the examples did help illustrate the principles Lynne was trying to demonstrate. Here's a list of the Cheeses with the suggested best pair:

Brillat-Savarin, pasteurized cow, Burgundy, France: Buttery, silky triple creme with bloomy rind of the sort meant to hold in moisture and produce creamy texture. Paired best with Sparkler.

Saint Maure de Touraine, pasteurized goat, Centre, France: Delectable grassy taste with balanced tartness. Ash rind, which is meant to neutralize acidity; this produced a tasty edible rind. Paired best with Sauvignon blanc.

Garroxta, pasteurized goat, Catalonia, Spain: Natural rind which is made in the traditional manner and thus rubbed with olive oil while it waits in caves in the Pyrenees. This is a sweet, firm, salty cheese with hint of goat. While I loved this cheese by itself, I felt the least objectionable pairing was the Cotes du Rhone red. Lynne mentioned it might be easier to pair with a more overtly fruit forward selection.

Fiore Sardo, raw sheep, Sardinia, Italy: Since the cheese was aged the proper amount, it is legal to be sold in the US though made with raw milk. Not being a fan of the gaminess of most sheep cheese, I was not looking forward to this. But, when I tried it, I was converted. It had a salty, nutty, floral quality I found went well with all the wines---except the dessert wine. My note on that was "Nasty". The best paring was the Cotes De Rhone. Cheese and wine created synergy where floral salty cheese, lifted the fruit in the wine.

Three Sisters, Serena, raw cow, Lindsay, CA, USA: This was a farmstead cheese meaning the cheese was made on the same farm where the cows were raised. This tasty artisan cheese needed a nice California fruit bomb. None of the pairings were successful. I was wishing for a flask of my single vineyard Ridge Dusi Ranch!

Comte, raw cow, Jura/Franche-Comte, France: Lynne showed us how she could tell the cheese had been made from summer milk by the golden color. This cheese had a pronounced odor so I approached it carefully, however the flavor was rich and buttery. The best pairing was the Sauvignon Blanc where the grassy notes of the acidic wine combined with the meadowy taste of the salty cheese. Also was nice with sparkler.

Redwood Hill, Gravenstein Gold, raw goat, Sebastopol, CA, USA: This was a stinky cheese. Given the reach and power of its aroma, I was not anxious to try this. Made in the style of Northern Alsatian cheese, Lynne told us it was the B. linens bacteria that made the strong smell. Washing the rind in apple cider created a lovely appley finish to it. Delicious! Go, Cowgirl Creamery! Best pair was the dessert wine.

Rogue River Blue, raw cow, Central Point, Oregon, USA: A medium texture medium veined blue cheese with a delightful nutty, berry, foresty taste. There were pieces of the leaves that the cheese are wrapped in while they are aged. Rogue Creamery soaks grape leaves in pear brandy and wraps the cheese in them before aging the wheels in caves. Delicious! Lynne mentioned the cheese wins many awards all over the world. I can see why. Best pairing, dessert wine.
Here is a list of the wines:
Grandin Brut, NV, Loire Valley, France: Nice almondy sparkler
'07 Isabel, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand: Lovely crisp wine with hints of coconut, savory fruit in nose and delicious limey citrus flavors
'06 Rasteau, Dame Victoria, Cotes du Rhone-Villages, Provence-Alpes-Cotes D'Azur, France: Red
'97 Domaine Fontanel, Rivesaltes Ambre, Languedoc-Roussillon, France: Lovely unctous dessert wine that introduced me to the clasic rancio nose. Made from 60 year old Grenache Blanc vines it was a joy to drink!

14 January, 2009

WBW #53 - Breakfast Wine! Liza Cooks!

Wine for breakfast? And not just for "hair of the dog"? Thank you Jefe for an interesting challenge. And it intrigued me enough to actually cook something. If you have ever been to my house for a dinner party, chances are good, a "guest chef" was in the house. So, Liza cooks breakfast? Well, there just a is a whole lot wrong with that sentence. Okay, read, the "Rules"...no sparklers! no stickies! no sangria/mulled/hot chocolate infusions! What?!? So basically phoning it in with some clever semi-homemade selections is not an option. It just got even more interesting! I invited a very few special wineaux and went to town cooking. Of course, Luscious Lush Thea who was sommelly-YAY! for the day and did the pairings, and my party specialist, Janesta. Along with Marshall, Super Q and WineDiverGirl, Lisa de Bruin. We had a fun group!

Amuse bouche - Dates stuffed with creme fraiche and fresh thyme drizzled with Hahn Meritage syrup. Paired with Chandon Sparkling Red. Okay, so we cheated. But breakfast, prohibition or not, you have to start a tasting menu with a sparkler. [And you have to end it with a sticky, so be prepared for a Cheater Sandwich!] The Chandon was a beautiful dark ruby color. Chandon mixes Zinfandel with Pinot Noir to make this wine. Cherry, spice and bubbles. The sweetness of the wine made a great pairing with the ultra sweet date, helped by tartness of the creme fraiche and herbal notes from the fresh thyme. Interesting start!

Truffled Poached Egg Custard paired with 2006 Savannah Chanelle Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley:
Miracle Product Alert! Silicon Egg Poacher This recipe from "The French Laundry Cookbook" is actually pretty easy, if you have these nifty egg poachers. The custards came out silky and complex, infused with white truffle oil and topped with white truffle infused wild mushroom duxelle. We should have picked a pinot that had more forest floor, which would have made a more precise pairing. However, the Savannah-Chanelle was dancing with spice and red fruit. The acidity of the wine cut the uber-richness of the custard. The cranberry tartness of the wine was okay with the white truffle. All in all, I would say: Wine? Delish! Eggs? Fantabulous! Pairing? Meh. We could have done better.

Savory Belgian Waffles with Hahn SLH Pinot Gris : Thea remembered this wine from the fabulous Hahn Blogger's Lunch we attended and Lisa was kind enough to bring a bottle.
Wow! This pairing was poetry in breakfast food!
My initial thought, in general, was to mitigate the overly sweet nature of most typical breakfast fare in order to give the pairings a better chance of success. Belgian Waffle with its IHOP menu image of overly sweet strawberries and clouds of whipped cream or pools of syrup, seemed like a throwdown. One I didn't expect to win. Then I thought of putting bagel toppings on the waffle! Since I had "The French Laundry Cookbook" out already, I used the Salmon Tartare recipe as inspiration to season Wild Sockeye Smoked Salmon from Trader Joe's. Shallots, fresh chive tips, a dash of clementine oil, salt and white pepper and a little time in the chiller and the salmon came out fresh and insanely tasty with a faint whisper of citrus. The flavor combination is at once savory, rich, herbal, and fresh. To round it out, I piped creme fraiche ribbons over 1/4 of a Belgian waffle. Then topped the whole with seasoned salmon pieces. Talk about inspired pairing! The Pinot Gris had lush nose of citrus and exotic savory fruit. The flavors are almost lemony and the wine is gifted with a pleasantly sharp acidity as well as a round, soft mouthfeel. Wary of adding any citrus to the food, I felt like I should have added more acid until I tried it with the wine. Taken together it was a mesmerizing combination. Crisp, rich waffle, tangy creme fraiche, wild salmon seasoned with freshness poised against the zingy Pinot Gris, with its assertive acidity and citrus scented tastiness---all in all very sucessful pairing.
Bacon Croissants with Twisted Oak 2006 The Spaniard:
This was my riff on those trays they set out in European hotels with meats, cheeses and bread. I put out the ingredients for the guests to assemble thier own DIY croissandwiches. Given that the Bacon-Brie-Lettuce-Tomato (BBLT) derives much of its deliciousness from perfectly crisp Niman Ranch apple smoked center cut bacon, Thea insisted it was a good match for The Spaniard . As well, I expected the natural sweetness of Little Splendid tomatoes macerated in fig balsamic, fresh thyme and lavender salt to complement the blackberry yumminess I remembered in the wine. Ay yi yi! Talk about delectable! The rich crispy, buttery goodness of the BBLT (Brie-Bacon-Lettuce-Tomato) matched with the cherry-clove-leather delight of a young (2006) Spaniard. This wine is made from a blend of tempranillo, grenache and graciano aged in new French, new American and two-year-old French oak. Which is like saying Manolo Blahnik makes shoes. It is a beautiful dark wine with tasty spice and fruit. Together with the BBLT, it combined alchemically. We yelled "Yee ha!" A culinary rawhide whip crack flourish. Third bottle we opened...first bottle we finished.

Savory French Toast with 2006 Hahn Meritage Red Table Wine, Central Coast: I initially wanted to use Petite Sirah for this. But when I nipped into the Wine Mine
to source another bottle of the Two Angels High Valley...well...first I was seduced by the $1 Tasting. Who can resist? During that pouring, I realized the Hahn Meritage would make a much more successful pairing than the PS I had planned. Tart and sweet fruits. Sharp acidity. Strong tannins. Hints of mocha-cherry-vanilla and spice. Even just as a sipping wine, the Hahn Meritage nearly leaped into my cart (not really. In fact it was selling so briskly, another customer and I had to dig through cardboard boxes like truffle dogs to find the precious bottles. Half the fun!). Most reviews I saw for this wine suggested lamb, pasta, etc. However, this is breakfast, so I was looking for something to go with French Toast. I wanted enough luscious fruit to support my syrup making idea. This wine was more than up to the task. I reduced 2 cups of wine with 9 tablespoons of superfine bar sugar in two batches. While it was reducing, it filled the air with scents of spice and grapes. Reduced, the color was a vivid, inky purple. You can tell my food stylings were hampered by all the delicious wine I imbibed as the Fred Flintstone presentation in no way reflects the sublime delectability of this pair. The fruit forward, yet tart wine melded effortlessly with its spicy-sweet-syrup cousin once it was poured over the divine French Toast I followed this recipe exactly. I had been lucky enough to stumble upon the perfect bread: Brioche Hot Dog Buns at (where else?) Whole Foods. These buns produced dainty, rich perfect mini French Toast slices. The big lump in the foreground is actually a divinely poached red pear I used the poaching instructions from the attached recipe, but used red pears (in season) and skipped the wildflower honey step. Hahn Meritage Syrup! It's a good (READ: great!) thing.
Cheese Plate and Penfolds Grandfather Tawny Port, Barossa Valley:
The thing about tasting menus is at first I always think there is no way all these tiny dishes are going to fill me up. Then by dish three, I am always so full. This was no exception. But of course, I had planned to concoct a breakfast dessert before partaking of the previous Rabelaiseian delights. Luckily, my plan was to just set out a cheese plate and coffee. And of course, little alambic glasses of super yum Tawny port.
Paper thin date and walnut crackers spread with your choice of Roaring 40's blue cheese or Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor were the last excellent little bites to end a wine soaked "breakfast" to launch 2009 with culinary fireworks. Good friends. Good Wine. Contented sigh.
Who knew? Wine. It's what's for breakfast!

07 January, 2009

Wine Bar Wednesday - 1.2009: Laiola, San Francisco

Okay, so it's not exactly a "wine bar", but their charter does include a desire to be a cool neighborhood hangout suitable for small bites or large dinners and is built around a love of Spanish wines and/or varietals. What is that I ask you, if not the definition of a great wine bar? So, when I received their email: "The economy sucks. Tuesdays don't", my deep love of all things from Catalunya combined with their cute recessionista bait, and I knew it was time to hit Laiola (lye-O-la). Located at 2031 Chestnut Street in San Francisco's Marina District, the restaurant has a welcoming exterior. Once you walk in, you immediately notice a sophisticated appeal, that manages to stay homey. We got there pretty early.... Did I mention the email with the Tuesday specials called out "Sofrito-braised pork meatballs"? ...and the staff was just gearing up, but once they hit their stride, we found the service knowledgeable and attentive. When I first saw the wines by the glass, I thought, "Yikes!" as none of the reds were under $11, but when the wines arrived, it turned out Laiola serves 250 ml (1/3 bottle) carafinas, which is a great way to easily and neatly share a glass with a friend while still getting plenty to drink. Plus what a way to try a bunch of lovingly selected Spanish wines! The list which is exclusively Spanish or local expressions of Spanish varietals, has a lot of depth at all price points. Luscious Lush Thea as always was not only a fun companion but a great resource for picking out what wine to try. I ended up ordering a '07 Cellars Can Blau, Montsant which is a Spanish blend of Syrah-Garnacha-Carignena. It has a lovely nose with a whisper of butterscotch and a hint of strawberry jam. The flavors were Berry Bold, with spice and blueberry and dark cherry flavors. Like a lot of European wines, this was definitely a little on the food slutty side. It was a good sipping wine, but great when paired with the snacks. Thea opted for the '06 Juan Gil Monastrell, Jumilla. As you know I am extremely partial to the Monastrell-Mataro-Mourvedre grape. This wine was an excellent example. Lovely aromas even with a whiff of chamomile and a delightful blackberry savor. This wine was as tasty on its own as it was with the food.

As for the food. We ordered Chickpea Croquetas, crispy well seasoned sticks of olive-oil deep fried goodness. Patatas Bravas with chipotle mayonnaise. Perfectly fried wedges of potatoes accompanied by smoky rich sauce. Frying in extra virgin olive oils brings rich, floral notes to the food. And the sublime Sofrito Braised Pork Meatballs. These were delightful. The meat was perfectly seasoned with rich flavors and hints of exotic rabble rousing spices, led politely by cinnamon, demonstrating in a richly flavored tomato sauce. With the wine---perfect pairs.

Our server Jay, also helped us pick out a sticky, in this case a sweet Pedro Ximenez, which was delectable--raisin walnut aromas. Silky, syrupy mouthfeel. Great flavors of cherries and raisins. It went perfectly with the Churros---dainty puffs of crisp dough brushed with cinnamon-sugar and served next to a frothy demitasse of Spanish hot chocolate.

So if we apply Xandria's Wine Bar criteria:

Affordability - Adjustable QPR, which I think is a great idea. By reviewing the specials and adjusting your schedule, you can get super values on elegant, expertly prepared Catalonian delights

Wine list - Interesting. The wine list is like a virtual field trip to Spain. So if you currently love or want to learn more about Spanish wine, this is a good place

Wait staff- Very knowledgeable, and a good balance of attentive vs. intrusive. We had so much fun with our server. And Jay, the host helped us a lot with wine selections.

Food: Very good. We were in full on comfort food mode and loved what we picked (fried carbs-is there anything better?), but there are a lot of interesting salads, heartier meats, and stunning charcuterie on the menu we left untried.

In summary, two thumbs up. We loved it!

2031 Chestnut Street,
San Francisco, CA 94123
P: 415.346.5641

06 January, 2009

Preview: WBW #53 - -- Wine for Breakfast

Wine Blogging Wednesday Challenge ---Wine with Breakfast!---I got in touch with my inner "Top Chef".
With an inspirational guest list, Thea, Lisa, Marshall and my party twin, Janesta. I took the shoes out of the oven, dusted off the unused appliances, strapped on an apron and cooked my little brains out.
Fun! Stay tuned for the release of my official WBW #53 Blog post, but I had to give you a preview.
One of my innovations involved using the 2007 Hahn Meritage, Red Table Wine, Central Coast . This wine is fruity, spicy yummy and insinuated itself into my cart while I was searching for a nice Petite Sirah. Since one of the menu items was French Toast, my thought was to apply one of the tenets of food and wine pairing and use the paired wine in preparation of the matched dish.
Lisa de Bruin described this as "Oral-gasm!" Ole!
Slowly reducing 2 cups of the Meritage with 9 tablespoons of superfine bar sugar over medium heat resulted in a syrup of divine portent. Silky smooth. Fruit forward with a dark, sumptuous intensity. Vivid, inky purple. It goes with many things and was oh-so-yum! with the French Toast, but I am finding other applications for it too. Pictured above are two mini scoops of vanilla ice cream and tangerine-mango sorbet, drizzled with the Hahn Meritage wine syrup and garnished with two fresh blackberries. The sun came through the clouds when I first tasted this!

Try it at home!

I can't wait to publish the full post from the Breakfast! Amuse bouche! Truffled Egg Custards! Savory Belgian Waffles! I am also looking forward to read what all of you are cooking up for your own WBW #53!

01 January, 2009

NYE Hangover Cures a la National Geographic

How are you feeling this first beautiful day of 2009? Hopefully you don't feel like I do right now: head about to explode, foul stomache , overly- fatigued. What did I do to deserve this? I am sure you all know the reason for my physical ailments. Thank god National Geographic came up with a few cures. Now if only I could find some German rollmaps or a sauna somewhere within a one block vicinity...But I am curious what is your best hangover cure? More champagne? Please help soon...