17 November, 2009

"Women Who Wine" Tasting #2: Women Winemakers

When "Cheese Mouse" and wino extraordinaire Sandy Cr. came up with the brilliant idea of a woman's only wine-tasting group in the South Bay/Peninsula, we knew she was on to something big. She wanted to avoid the oftentimes serious atmosphere of a male-centric wine-tasting and let the girls be girls as they enjoy their wine. I was excited to be invited to join this group and we came up with the name "Women Who Wine". Our inaugural tasting took place at Los Altos Bar and Grill where eight female oenophiles gathered to compare Old World vs. New World Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.

That night we decided that tasting #2 would be in honor of women winemakers and everyone was to bring a bottle of wine made by a woman. Jill invited us to her lovely home in Palo Alto and made us dinner to enjoy with the wines. We had 5 "Women Who Wine" in attendance: Anh Thu, Emily, Jill, Sandy and me, Xandria. The wines we brought covered a lot of territory from California to France to Italy, spanning from 1998 to 2008. Here is a wrap-up of this tasting including tasting notes, wine-pairings and a bit of info on the winemakers:

APPETIZER COURSE: Blue Cheese Squares with carmelized onions -
We decided to pair the lighter wines with the appetizers, soup and salad. Jill's contribution to the tasting was a lovely 2007 WesMar Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir ($40) Winemaker: Denise Mary Selyem (with her husband Kirk Wesley) - Yes, Selyem as in Williams Selyem and she is defintely carrying on the family tradition of crafting premium Pinot Noirs. Everyone agreed that this wine was well-done. The nose had notes of fruit and flowers and it filled our mouths with sweet cherries. The mouthfeel was silky and it had vibrant acidity making it a great food wine. Anh Thu compared it to a red Burgundy from Chambolle-Musigny which I think is quite a compliment.

SOUP COURSE: Pumpkin Mushroom Bisque
We paired this sweet and savory soup with the 2004 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg from the Alsace ($40) brought by Ahn Thu. Winemaker: Laurence Faller - Domaine Weinbach is located in Kayserberg, France and is bascially one of the largest Domaines in the Alsace and is run completely by the women of the Faller family. Laurence is known for her Rieslings, Gewurtraminers and Pinot Grigios and other whites.
This Riesling comes in a deep golden color and the strongly pleasant aroma of petrol came to the forefront of the nose. I would say this wine is dry with notes of sweetness, mineral notes and crisp acidity which were all very well balanced. There was also a little creaminess on the palate making it a nice match for the soup. It also paired well with the green salad with blue cheese, cranberries, oranges and nuts with honey mustard yogurt dressing.

The third wine we paired with the appetizer/soup/salad course was Emily's fine contribution. The 2008 Occhipinti SP68 Nero d'Avola Frappato blend from Sicily ($30). Winemaker: Ariana Occhipinti, a 25 year old winemaker from Sicily who has been making wine under her own label for the last 4 years. She is the niece of Giusto Occhipinti of the famous Sicilian label COS, so great winemaking runs in the family. Ariana uses natural winemaking practices such as using wild yeasts for fermentation. This wine comes in a light-garnet color that reminded me of a Pinot Noir. But the nose was so juicy and fruity it was like smelling a bowl of macerated strawberries, red raspberries and cherries. The taste was vibrant with a tart edge of cherry. This wine reminds me of summer. The interesting thing about this red wine is that fermentation takes place only in steel tanks which I think really allows the fruit to shine through.

MAIN COURSE: Braised short ribs and roasted red potatoes
Before I talk about the wines I just have to say that Jill makes the best short ribs! They were so tender and the sauce was so good. We paired the heavier reds with the main course. We started with the 2006 Josetta Saffirio Barbera d'Alba,($24) winemaker: Sara Saffirio. Again another winemaking family known for award-winning Barolos, in which the younger generation took over after the vineyards had been closed for about a decade.
Violet red with ruby undertones and a clear rim, bright, fruity nose of cherry cobbler with hints of cinnamon. More aromas appear the longer it stays in the glass including cherry leather and tobacco. Tannic and tangy yet starting to soften. Bright acidity with red fruit on the palate. The tannins of the wine paired perfectly with the proteins in the meat. I want to revisit this one in 3 years, 5 years and 10 years...But it is drinkeable now.

Next I want to tell you about the "Big Girl" of the evening, or rather the 1998 Domaine du Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape made by Laurence Feraud. Sandy actually bought her Pegau at the winery and she tasted the wines with Laurence. It is not often I get to drink aged wines and this one has aged nicely. This dark ruby cuvee had the funk going on and a lot of "barnyard" aromas. In fact Sandy described it as "brett heaven." I picked up on a lot of musty black pepper which covered floral notes of lavender, and red fruit notes. There was a lot of black pepper on the palate. This bottle was drinking very nicely and the acidity was still intact. The finish was long, rich, ripe and smooth. This wine was another great pairing with the short ribs.

Here is il Gnomo, or the mascot of Josetta Saffirio wines. The winemaker's mother actually designs the labels and the family believes that gnomes are watching over the vineyards and winery.

Ah, sweet endings. Ahn Thu brought this orange chocolate almond cake from Prolifc Oven in Palo Alto. So moist and delicious. Unfortunately we did not have a dessert wine to pair but the sweet notes of the Riesling were a good pairing.

IN SUMMARY: All of these wines were well-made and very drinkable. And they all paired with the dinner that Jill prepared which we did not even plan on. It was a magical night in which food, wine and women came together . As for women winemakers I am not really sure if the wines are different because they are made by women but I would love to hear any feedback about that. I also get the feeling that we will have more tastings such as this because there are so many talented women making wine. So tell us, who are your favorite female vintners?

07 November, 2009

Most Wanted Chicken Recipe - Entry For Twisted Oaks Winery Culinary Cluck Contest

Deep in the heart of Calaveras County you will find a magical forest where rubber chickens grow on trees. Drinking copious amounts of the delicious wine also native to the Rubber Chicken National Forest will aid immeasurably in suspending your disbelief impulse. Drinking even more delightful wine from Twisted Oaks Winery will not in the least detract from the certainty that this recipe will turn out for you. Cooks need wine. It is an unassailable fact. Good photography, on the other hand seems to have an inverse relationship with blood alcohol level. Go figure! Anyway, while the
results of this recipe may appear unappetizing ( Luscious Lush Thea suggested I title it "Alien Chicken"...you'll see why), if you give it a try you will fill the air in your abode with savory aromas, delight your guests and facilitate a dead easy pairing.
Here's how:
Most Wanted Chicken - or Results of Ruben's Bender

What you will need:
A stick of butter, softened
1 whole roasting chicken about 4-5 lbs
Long, thin strips of lemon zest, about 1/4 of the skin of a large lemon
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and whole
1 can of Vernor's Ginger Ale
1 cup Twisted Oaks Ruben's Blend, White Rhone Blend divided into 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup
Coarsely ground salt
1 tablespoon Grains of Paradise (these are hard to find but insanely delicious; you can try white or pink peppercorns, freshly ground )
1/2 lemon sliced crosswise into 2 pieces
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley

Start by moving the racks in your oven to the lowest position.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Then, take the can of Ginger Ale and pour most of it into a glass, leaving about 1/4 - 1/8 of a cup left in the can. Add the 3/4 of a cup of the Ruben's Blend wine, the clove of garlic and the lemon zest to the can. Set aside.
Take the chicken. Remove and discard the giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry. Place the chicken in a shallow roasting pan, either lined with foil for easier cleanup or unlined if you want to make gravy. Take the remaining 1/4 cup of the wine and pour into the inside cavity of the chicken. Swish around. Lay on its side to rest and relax while you arrange the rest of the ingredients.

You will need the coarsely ground salt, freshly ground pepper, softened butter, chopped parsley and lemon pieces. It gets messy from here, so it's best to have everything handy. Take the butter and rub chicken with it inside and out. Use the entire stick of butter. It's okay if the wine drips out onto the roasting pan. Then sprinkle salt, pepper and chopped parsley all over outside of chicken.
Next, take the 2 pieces of lemon and inset them into cavity of chicken. Lastly, take the half full, seasoned, ginger ale can and carefully insert it into chicken without spilling the contents. The chicken is able to stand on the can. If you can rope someone into helping you during this step, it's easier, but the butter definitely makes it easier to push the chicken onto the can without spilling the contents of the can.

Place the chicken on the lowest shelf of the pre-heated oven and roast for 60 - 90 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 180 degrees.

When that is done, take the chicken out of the oven and let it rest for at least 15 minutes. After the wait is over, carefully remove can from chicken using oven mitt. If you are planning on making gravy/sauce, you can reduce pan drippings over the stove directly in the roasting pan. You can also use the drippings as a butter sauce as is. The ginger/lemon/grains of paradise combination tastes great with the butter.

This should easily produce a moist flavorful chicken that pairs extremely well with the Rousanne, Marsanne, Rolle and Viognier in Ruben's Blend. The ginger ale, wine, and seasonings combine to steam the chicken and infuse it with flavors of the Rhone, while the butter crisps up the skin and self bastes. We served it with fluffy mashed pototatoes that we had flavored with (more) butter and white truffle oil.
Okay, so Thea was right: it does look like Alien Chicken. Here is a retouched photo --------->

1) No Rubber Chickens were harmed, roasted or otherwise bent, spindled or mutilated in the production of this piece.
2) I used the Beer Butt Chicken recipe from WasabiBratwurst for inspiration
3) 2007 Ruben's Blend came in one of my Twisted Few shipments, so I don't know how much it cost...but you get a discount and invites to super fun events if you join, which if you had any sense, you would!