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.

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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.  

27 January, 2017

Happy 90th Anniversary to Pedroncelli Winery! #ped90th

Pedroncelli Dry Creak Valley Wines
Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County is an appellation near and dear to me as it one of the first places I visited to taste wine.  It's an easy to recommend AVA as it is compact, beautiful and packed with family wineries who are eager to share their passion for wine.

Zinfandel is an on ramp drug for many of us and I am no exception.  Many years, and many wines, since my first visit, lovely Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel brings back memories of good times.

So when I received an invitation from Robert Larsen of the Larsen Projekt to cook with Dry Creek Valley wines, I was all in.  As the calendar turns to 2017, Pedroncelli Winery and Vineyards marks its 90th Anniversary.  At the Winery and Vineyards, second, third and fourth generation owners produce about 65,000 cases of wine every year.  On 105 acres, they grow and vinify Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cab Franc, PV, Malbec, Syrah, Petite Syrah and other Portuguese varieties.

We were given samples of three wines, Golden Pheasant Polenta, a fun recipe and a hashtag #ped90.
Of course, I was feeling iconoclastic, (and I forgot the Italian sausage) so I used my favorite, Zinfandel, to glaze mushrooms for the polenta, which came out divinely.  Beautiful Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese paired with reduced Zinfandel and balsamic vinegar to make a great cheese course.  Chocolate covered espresso beans were  a no-bake sweet ending to my carb laden feast.  It was a great way to prove the theory that these affordable wines are as great with food as in a glass.
Happy 90th Anniversary Pedroncellis!
First the wines:
Pedroncelli Chardonnay
2015 Pedroncelli Signature Selection Chardonnay, Sonoma County ($16) :  This estate grown Dry Creek Valley Chardonnay had a day bright straw color with aromas of lemon curd and golden delicious apple with just a hint of vanilla.  Flavors matched aromas with a sprightly acidity that delighted me. There were notes of white flowers that emerged.  as the wine opened up.   It had a long, acid driven finish.  89% of the fruit is fermented in stainless steel, the rest in American Oak.  Using Estate fruit, carefully picking at just the right time and then making the wine to be fresh and textures, produces a delicious and affordable Chardonnay.  I paired it with spiced nuts that contain butter and was happy with the combination

Pedroncelli Zinfandel
2014 Pedroncelli Mother Clone, Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($18) : A lovely medium garnet color, this wine has aromas of dark berries, black raspberry, anise, baking spices and appley notes.  Hints of beach bonfire and vanilla were also present.  The flavors followed through with a sense of blackberry cobbler brightened by nice acidity and lovely vinous notes. There was an woodsy note with juicy fruit forward acid in the finish along with almost velvety tannins, more lush than grippy but nicely present.  It was a wine that reminded me why I love wine with familiar and delicious flavors.  The wine inspired me to glaze portobello mushrooms and also to create a balsamic reduction for my cheese.  In both cases, the yummy flavor of the wine enhanced my cooking.

Pedroncelli Petite Sirah
2014 Pedroncelli Family Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley Petite Sirah ($18) : Lushly opaque wine awaited me when I poured this wine.  The dark wine was redolent with blackberry, Chinese Five Spice and herbal aromas.  It shifted from fruit to vinous like a roulette wheel settling in finally to dark fruit, spiced with mocha and vanilla.  Its flavors were less fruity and more vinous.  Its grippy tannins created a pleasant texture.  The finish was definitely tannin led with spices following through .  It was a very tasty wine to drink throughout the meal as well as to finish off with a few chocolate covered espresso beans.

I had never tried making polenta before.  It hasn't been my favorite go to starch and making it seemed complicated and time consuming.  I was
Golden Pheasant Polenta
very glad that I had this impetus to try something new.  Using homemade chicken stock, Golden Pheasant Polenta and some nice Parmigiano cheese, I created a sumptuous showcase for my Zinfandel glazed portobello mushrooms.  Naturally, Zinfandel was the easiest pair , but it was very interesting to note that there was something to recommend each of the wines, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah to pair with the polenta.  The Chardonnay's acidity supported its richness, the Zinfandel was a natural pair and the tannins in the Petite Sirah provided interesting textural contrast.  All these wines were excellent valuesas none was over $20.  I will be looking for them as winter continues and I expect their food friendly nature will cross seasons as well

The Pedroncelli family has been making wine in the Dry Creek Valley since 1927.  I wish them many more years of delicious winemaking in a beautifula nd welcoming spot

Many thanks to Pedroncelli Winery and Vineyards for the lovely midweek pairing challenge and to the Robert Larsen Projekt for providing the samples and supplies




20 January, 2017

Antigal One Malbec and the Domestic Arts - Wine and Book review

Antigal Uno Malbec from Uco Valley Argentina
January and February are months that challenge my domestic artistry.  On the one hand, I miss all the festive events of the holiday season, but on the other, I simply can't do one more thing.  The rain does not help.

Luckily, I found two pick me ups that bring the sparkle back.

First, Antigal  "Uno" Malbec, Mendoza Argentina ($15.99).  This wine has great typicity of Malbec - dark fruit, generous texture, lush flavors, enticing aromas.  This example also has an elegance that toppled my expectations for a brawny wine.  Maybe it's the eight to ten months in French oak?  Or maybe it is the deft hand of a female winemaker: Miriam Gomez leads the program at the Uco Valley label.  The fruit is grown at higher elevation. It is vinified gently and with care.  This creates a wine with lovely natural acidity, which I crave.  The flavors are easy to pair with food.  They encompass red fruit, tobacco and cocoa powder.  At $15.99, the price is easy to balance with the credit card bills coming in from my holiday finery.  All in all, Antigal Uno is comfort in a glass.

And of course, my natural hostessing instincts kick back in and make me want to share.  A handy tip for instant, easy entertaining I discovered was to pair this tasty affordable Malbec with  Steak Bites from my new life guide.  I love this book,  The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, which fulfills its promise of being an etiquette handbook with recipes.  Along with great advice on life, love and entertaining, the easy to follow recipes, tap  into your inner domestic goddess, while taming the overachieving event dominatrix we all have (not you?  okay, just me) inside.

Spring will be here before we know it.  Many thanks to Antigal for the wine and Suzanne and Lee for the advice on how to get there with tasty style and comforting flair.

Many thanks, as well, to Patricia Schneider, of Elemental Meme PR, who provided a sample of wine.  The first one was free but I just keep buying more at Cost Plus World Market