22 November, 2011

Napa Cellars Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon - Cheese Friendly Wine to Share

 Recently I received some samples from Napa Cellars. It was fun to experiment with  a Merlot and  Cabernet Sauvignon now that the climate has definitively shifted from white to red wine weather.  Napa Cellars boasts an inviting space to taste the full lineup along with the Folie a Deux and Menage a Trois lines; more on that here:
But on to the wines...
'07 Napa Cellars Merlot, Napa Valley, USA($26): An opaque ruby color, with lovely aromas of raspberry and dusting of black spice, this wine had a smooth mouthfeel.  With alcohol level clocking in at 14.5%, I felt a touch of heat at the finish, but not in an unpleasant way.  Flavors of black fruit with a touch of mocha, and soft smooth tannins made this a nice drinking wine.
Next up was the
'07 Napa Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, USA($28): This wine also had a dark ruby color with aromas of black fruit, berry and woodsy hints.  It showed tasty flavors of black fruit, berries and spice.  The finish was short, but with nice black fruit and a smidge of cedar.  Again, smooth tannins.  Which made me immediately think "Cheese!"

Sure enough, with a mild cheddar, an aged Parmigiano Reggiano and  Pt. Reyes Blue, both wines were complementary.   Since we are entering the season of scrounging around so as not to arrive empty handed, these pretty labels, nice bottles and easy breezy cheese pairing, will come in handy.  I am getting some bottles to stash away for those occasions when I need to come up with something to bring with.  Everyone always loves wine and cheese but it's not always the easiest thing to pair well on the fly.  You can find these wines at Cost Plus World Market.  
I received these wines as samples

21 November, 2011

A Port for all Seasons - Review of Terra D'oro Zinfandel Port

 Port seems to say special occasion without having to do much.  And for these days of holiday entertaining, the phrase "any port in a storm" can easily mean busting out a reliably effortless end of the meal treat in the form of ruby port and blue cheese.  The most die hard blue cheese naysayers can often be persuaded to give it a try and the combination of the palate cleansing alcohol with perfect matching converts the haters right and left.  Or to make a festive vinaigrette, equal parts port, olive oil, sherry vinegar, a little salt and finely minced shallots and you will easily produce a zesty, ruby hued dressing that will go well with pears, winter citrus, nuts, etc.  I recently received a sample of some very yummy port from the folks at Terra d'Oro.  Tucked away in the Sierra Foothills in Amador County, the 400 acres have been worked for the last 150 years.  Today the folks there work hard producing award winning wines, but still have time to be friendly.  Click here to find out more about instructions to visit:
As for the Port, Terra d'Oro Zinfandel Port, Amador County, USA ($17.99) starts out like the rest of the zins, but is carefully monitored till it reaches the state when it is ready to be fortified with unaged grape brandy. It's processed to harness the alcohol and sweetness to produce a higher alcohol, yet still balanced fortified wine.  The color is an opaque, almost inky ruby.  The wine is smooth with subtle flavors that belie the 19% alcohol level.  The flavors were black cherry, woodsy spice, hint of chocolate, with a finish of celebration soaked sultanas  Serve with blue cheese for a yummy finish to a meal with a little cranberry sauce and some hazelnuts.  However, I wanted to push the envelope a little and adapted a recipe for Meatballs in Red wine sauce to come up with a very tasty:
Zinfandel Port Glazed Meatballs stuffed with Blue Cheese:
To make the meatballs
1 lb 95% ground beef
1 egg
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp Bell's Poultry seasoning
2 tbsp milk
salt and pepper
Mix well, form into meatballs around 1 inch in diameter.  Stuff each meatball with 1/4 inch cube of blue cheese taking care to pinch meat tightly to completely enclose the cheese.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Let sit while you combine:
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup Zinfandel Port
1 1/2 cup beef broth in a small bowl.
Then dredge meatballs in flour. Melt 2 Tbsp butter, then combine with 2 tablespoons olive oil in a non reactive skillet, dutch oven or pan (enamel or glass) over medium heat taking care to turn meatballs on all sides (about 6 minutes). You may need to work n batches.  Remove meatballs.  Brown and soften 4 Tbsp chopped shallots in the butter and oil about six minutes.  When the shallots are done, add in the broth mixture.  Then place meatballs back in pan.  Cover and simmer over med-low heat stirring occasionally till done about 40 minutes.  Whne finished you will have a yummy first course with some sliced, crusty bread or add toothpicks for a delicious hors d'oeurve.  

17 November, 2011

A Vision in Pinot - An overview of Vision Cellars

 Mac and Lil MacDonald of Vision Cellars characterize their process as "passionate". It's hard to encapsulate the rollicking good time you will have listening to them as it is to imagine the struggles, luck and serendipity that mark their progress.  But it's easy to drink their lovely Pinot Noirs, Grenache and Red wine.  Yum, my standard denotation for tastiness, does not encompass it. When Babe in Boots Jennifer invited me to a Vision Cellars tasting at her house, I threw together a Manchego, membrillo, chorizo appetizer, coordinated with Brix Chick Janesta and made sure to be there.  As expected, the folks at Vision Cellars brought the goods with some fabulous wines and some interesting stories.  Mac wanted us to evaluate the 2008's to see if we could detect any evidence of the fires that happened as that fruit started its journey to winehood.  I was in agreement with his restaurant customers in that I found all the wines deliciously complex and any effects of the smoke were special.

With my deep love of all things Pinot Noir, this tasting put me in hog heaven.  We started with a crisp Rose of Pinot with a lovely pale salmon color and bone dry savory taste.  On to a selection of Pinots from Russian River, Chileno Valley in Marin,  Las Alturas, and (my favorite) Rosella's vineyard, the last two from the Santa Lucia Highlands .  The wines had similar elegance and complexity with different expressions that came from the dirt.  As well, the invite said "appetizer" so, there was a diverse variety of bites, and the wines were up to it.  Pinot can be mercurial, so standing up to the collected treats impressed me, but according to Miss Lil, par for the course.  We finished the tasting with the '07 Red Wine, a 100% Cabernet sauvignon which ended up pairing like a long lost soul mate to the bitter chocolate squares provided.  Add in the talking up of the Greens Cook Off invite , which is a benefit of Wine Club membership and I was in.  I can't wait to receive my first shipment and attend my first Greens Cook off!

14 November, 2011

Winter Whites - Alternative Thanksgiving Wines

With turkey day almost here, the question of which wine to pair with turkey, naturally comes up.  Growing up, my parents always served Riesling or, on years they felt daring,  Gewurztraminer,   Of late, my choice is always Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir, then some more Pinot Noir, even though the bird itself gets marinated and basted in what looks like equal parts Chardonnay and butter.  The folks at Hunter PR were kind enough to send out some things to make this year's Thanksgiving dinner more adventurous.  And luckily, Trader Joe's has the supplies to make a Turkey day practice run as easy as navigating the defrost function on the microwave.  So this weekend I got the jump on holiday dinner planning.

First up, was the '10 Alamos Torrontes, Salta, Argentina($11):  The wine had a clear pale color.  Its aromas were hints of nutmeg, jasmine tea and a limey citrus with flavors of lime.  Crisp with nice acid, the finish was more jasmine tea.  While it was nice to sip by itself, I did not find this the best wine to serve with traditional fare.  It was good with the stuffing, just okay with the turkey, okay with the mashed potatoes,  but unpleasant with straight cranberry sauce. Which sounds like an unfair thing to attempt to pair except that the other two wines were surprisingly tasty with the sweet-tart whole berry sauce.  

The second sample was the '10 Martin Codax, Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain ($15) .  This was my favorite wine to drink by itself.  Its color was citrine and it had yummy aromas of pear and peach.  With medium body, it had a nice mouthfeel and a pleasant peachy finish. While it was delightful to sip, it was not my favorite to pair.  It was okay with the mashed potatoes, but it brought up the gamy flavors of the turkey.  Although I will mention that gamy is not on my list of favorite flavors, so if you love the poultry taste of turkey, you might prefer this. I found it tasted good with the stuffing (cornbread and herb) and surprisingly good with the cranberry sauce.  

My surprise pairing favorite was the third wine, '10 The Naked Grape, Pinot Grigio, California, USA ($8). This wine  was light straw with a slight greenish cast.  Muted aromas of citrus along with flavors of pears.  Its mouthfeel had a pleasant roundness and medium body with a nice finish of Bartlett pear.  While the wine itself was simple and clean, my surprise was how well this offering went with the Thanksgiving food.  .  With the buttery mashed potatoes, the savory side of the pear flavors were heightened.  It was good with the turkey and good with the stuffing and surprisingly tasty with straight cranberry sauce.  And for under ten dollars a bottle, a great deal.  

So I think I will be mixing it up a little and inviting some newcomers to the holiday table.  If you are looking for a super affordable, easy to pair wine, here are three good candidates.

I received these wines as samples

03 November, 2011

Holiday Survival Kit - Riesling and Take-out

 With Halloween over, the holiday season officially begins.  I thought I would share two of my secret weapons for holiday entertaining: Riesling and take-out.  Riesling comes in super sweet all the way along the spectrum to dry and so is a great way to accommodate the tastes of diverse guests and the holiday treats they bring with them.  And what better solution, whether you are surprising your guests or being surprised by them,  than Asian take-out?  The folks at P.F. Chang's have put their offerings at your fingertips with their cool online ordering system.  You can schedule your pickup in advance, the super easy interface makes it a breeze to select your favorites, and arriving with your order already paid for speeds your way through the process.  Plus, they frequently offer 20% or 15%  off your order when you place your requests online.  So, who can resist an affordable way to put sparkle in your guests's eyes with ease?  Not me.  So I thought I would test it out at the same time as I road tested some charming Riesling samples.  Worked like a dream.  I set up my order in the a.m. for afternoon pickup.  When it was time to leave, I timed myself curb to curb and was out the door and back with perfectly executed order in less than 17 minutes.  Which was good because knowing the yummy Riesling was waiting at home made me impatient.  So on to the wine:
'09 J&H Selbach Weinkellerei "Red Fish" Riesling, QbA, Mosel, Germany: With its fun label, convenient screw cap and pale citrine color, this wine felt easy, breezy.  It has fresh, lively aromas of citrus with a hint of morning bun.  It was delightful with the Sichuan Beef, as the heat in that dish picked up savory notes in wine.  Also, lovely with the lime splashed Singapore Noodles.  But got overpowered by the garlicky lobster sauce shrimp.  Still, with its easy character, pleasant acidity and lovely flavors, I liked this very much. It was also super good four days later with butternut squash ravioli.
'04 Weingut Pfeffigen Ungsteiner Herrenberg Reisling, Beernauslese, Pfalz, Germany ($40): I love, love sweet Rieslings so seeing the "Beerenauslese"  on the label denoting sweet wine made me happy. It had a lovely golden color and an unctuousness that I could detect when I poured it.  A hint of petrolly-ness gave it a bit of savory in the sweetness.  It was a rock star with the food.  I doused the Sichuan Beef liberally with specially requested chili paste to achieve center of the sun heat to test the theory that sweet goes with heat, and it was good.  It was also good with the Lobster Sauce shrimp and the citrusy Singapore Noodles. A delightful repast.
Many thanks to Andrea and the team at Wines of Germany who sent these two bottles as samples.  Contrasting dry and fruity was a super fun exercise!


02 November, 2011

Wine and Food Affair to Remember - #wfa11

Xandria and I have a terrible track record of managing not to attend this event.  By the time you read this the tickets will likely be sold out.  You can try here.  I am happy to report, we have tickets, a driver and are mapping our route and looking forward to tweeting our adventures at #wfa11and reading about yours!

Some Must Sees:
Route 128, Geyserville : Divine Viognier and famly made treats.  This year pollen and pork
Bella: Consistently best ambiance and tasty Zins! Lily Hill!
Mounts Family Winery: Lana's hospitality or yummy wines (Malbec and Rose and Zin! Oh my!) hard to decide which will be sunnier, rain or shine!
Windsor Oaks: Maine Lobster Chardonnay Bisque with Meyer Lemon Oil” 'Nuf said. Yum!
Ridge:  Perennially delicious wines year after year.  Who can resist?  And more importantly, why would you try?
And then the accidental finds and walking distance venues in downtown HBG, etc., etc...

Batten down the hatches, Wine Road, we are on our way!  See you Saturday! Yay!

01 November, 2011

All Saint's Day = Santa Julia Wine DInner

It might be All Saint's Day today, but I wanted to focus on one special saint, Santa Julia.  I was lucky enough to get to go as Luscious Lush Thea's plus one (always fun! you can read her notes here:)  to one of my favorite SF spots, Destino,  and then we got to sample delicious cocktails made with a fortified wine called "Malamado", We tried the Malbec Malamado expertly cocktailed up by the talented team at Pisco.  So delicious! I had a "Caipiramado" which was a caipirinha style drink made with Malbec Malamado instead of cachaca. Malamado is a fortified wine with porty characteristics, but lighter and less alcoholic and retaining all of the charm of the wine at its base.  It was tasty on its own, but when expertly prepared into imaginative adult beverages,  I could have knocked back four; standing and walking seemed overrated compared to the delights of the drink.  Especially when used to create a unique pairing experience by melding the liquor with the sauce on grilled sweetbreads.  Yum!  And then on to the some lovely courses of dinner paired with the awesome QPR Santa Julia wines.  The standout pairings for me were:
1 ) '10 Santa Julia, Torrontes, Mendoza Argentina : A crisp fragrant wine that stood up to the spices in the homemade empanada.  Delish! At $10, a steal!
2)  '09 Santa Julia, Reserva Malbec, Mendoza Argentina: With the grilled leg of lamb it was magical, and I am not a lover of lamb, but will frequently try it and seldom like it.  This was a great dish elevated by a great pairing.  Yummy notes of cherry and dark spice elevated the succulent lamb.  For $12, even better!
3) Santa Julia Tardio, Late Harvest Torrontes. Mendoza Argentina: Transcendent flavors of stone fruit and hope.  Not cloying, but super sweet.  The tender puff pastry brushed with dulce de leche was a great match and something I want to try at home.

Plus we got to sit with Julia Zuccardi, the namesake and leader of this line.  The family Zuccardi is committed to sustainability but also makes sure to include a social component to their efforts.  All workers get subsidized health care and free education, to make Santa Julia not just a great place to work, but a good place, too.
Many thanks to Kate Regan and Lee Schlesinger for a great event and Julia Zuccardi and Chef Ana Rodriguez Armisen for the yummy work product!  And of course Thea for the invite!

31 October, 2011

Apothic Red - Perfect Halloween Wine

 Boo!  The only thing scary about this wine wine is how well it goes with candy (like we need anything else to make fun sized bars go down easier at this time of year).
'09Apothic Red, Red Table Wine, California, USA:  It had a pretty, dark color, a smooth mouthfeel, round, tasty flavors and an overall soft feeling.  A blend of Syrah, Merlot and Zinfandel, it managed to meld characteristics from all three varieties in an interesting, if kind of sweet, way.  I got black cherry, molasses and red fruit in the flavors, along with something dark, like coffee grounds.  We tried it with brie and crackers--- not so tasty.  But with a salty cheddar it was very good.  And with salted dark chocolate covered caramels, it was enchanting.  At $14, pick up a bottle when you replace those trick or treater candies that mysteriously disappeared over the weekend.  Target stocks this as does Safeway.  I am looking forward to trying it with some spicier autumn fare or pumpkin pie.  Or maybe with some half-off Halloween candy

I received this bottle as a sample

18 October, 2011

Hopland Passport Festival Contest!!!

Are you free October 22nd and 23rd? Thanks to John Cesano of Destination Hopland (and McFadden Vineyards) Brix Chicks readers have the opportunity to win a free 2-day passport to the festival to visit all 16 wineries. WOOHOO! All you have to do is read the post I wrote below and answer this question: What are two of the wineries participating in the Hopland Passport Festival? (Hint: there is a link in that post to help you out.)

So just drop an email to Brix_Chicks@yahoo.com and be sure to include your full name along with your answer.

Who will be the lucky ones?

14 October, 2011

Hopland Passport Festival! Five questions with John Cesano, Secretary of Destination Hopland

The weekend of October 22nd-23rd I will be visiting the town of Hopland located in Mendocino county where they are holding the 20th annual Hopland Passport Festival. I got to do a little Q&A with John Cesano, Secretary of Destination Hopland (and Manager of McFadden vineyards) to learn about the region and what it has to offer wine-lovers.

Q1.Is Hopland an American Viticultural Area?

No, Hopland is in the larger AVA of Mendocino, but is in the Sanel Valley which is pending AVA approval.

Q2. What is special about the terroir and growing conditions of the
Hopland region?

Hopland features diverse topography, and is home to the highest concentration of certified organic and bio-diverse winery tasting rooms anywhere.

Q3. Which varietals do the best in Hopland?

A3. Because Hopland has a diverse topography with grapes grown on the
slope of Duncan Peak to the banks of the Russian River, and a climate not
too hot and not too cold but just right, many varietals grow great in the
Hopland area. From Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet
Franc and Sauvignon Blanc to Burgundian varietals like Chardonnay and
Pinot Noir, and Rhone wines like Syrah and Grenache to Mendocino County's
flavorful Zinfandel, Hopland is an area with great, medal winning, wines
for lovers of all different varietals.

Q4. Why should wine-lovers visit Hopland?

101 miles up Hwy 101 from the Golden Gate Bridge, Hopland is the antidote to living and working in city cubicles all week. Organic, sustainable, unexpected, real farmers, rural, small town, and genuine all describe Hopland.

It is in this environment that people can relax and enjoy the taste of honest wines, wines with varietal correctness and sense of place.

It makes no sense to escape to wine country if the wine country you run to
has been overtaken by the shops of the malls and cities. There aren't
men's suit shops, ladies dress stores, and half a dozen antique shops
wedged in between Starbucks and Banana Republic in Hopland. We have
everything real people need and nothing they don't here in Hopland.

Q5. What is not to be missed while visiting Hopland?

As the manager for McFadden Vineyard, I would say McFadden's tasting

As the secretary for Destination Hopland, I would say all of our wineries.

As a really large man with a really large appetite, I would say the $1.25
pastor tacos (ask for grilled onions and peppers - at no additional
charge) from the taco truck parked on Hwy 128 just 50 yards off Hwy 101. I
get three and give up a $5 bill, with the change as a tip.

Here's an itinerary:

Breakfast at the Bluebird Cafe, taste wines, lunch at a taco truck, taste wines, maybe buy a wine-themed cap or shirt or sweatshirt, join a wine club, check in to the Lawson Station, Campovida, or Hopland Inn. Play and wine at Sho-ka-wah Casino, and enjoy a really great buffet dinner. Two days in Hopland is great because you haven't caught a garden tour at Campovida, played Bocce, walked a vineyard row, or visited the Solar Living Center yet.

Thank you John. Wow, taco trucks, casinos, bocce and a Solar Living Center, who knew! I hope this has picqued your curiosity so check out the Hopland Passport Festival at www.hoplandpassport.com for a list of participating wineries and to buy tickets. I hope to see you there!

11 October, 2011

Close Encounters of the "Crush" kind - First Crush Winemaking Experience in Paso Robles!

Yes, it is autumn and harvest is upon us. That means there will soon be a lot of picking and crushing going on and the Brixchicks are going to be part of the action thanks to First Crush Winemaking of Paso Robles, CA. (and thanks to Brix Chick Liza who could not make the festivities.)

First Crush Winemaking Experience is a company that specializes in educational wine encounters in which consumers can learn about the wine-making process from harvesting, crushing and destemming grapes to bottling the wine. And drinking it of course. Each encounter includes a lecture by a viticulturalist or winemaker, and a specialty themed lunch (Hawaiin, BBQ or Mexican.)

I cannot wait to learn about the "terroir" and the growing conditions of Paso Robles and the unique wines they produce. And yes, this will be my first time to actually stomp some grapes. Hmmmmmmm....

If you are an aspiring wine-maker or just a curious wino please go here for more info: www.firstcrushwinemaking.com

08 October, 2011

Beginning and End to a Full Week

I had a full and challenging work week when I made no time to care for what I ate or drank. Yet I bookended it well with homey meals and good-value wines thanks to the fresh, seasonal bounty of Berkeley Bowl, the earthy, creamy goodness of Rancho Gordo heirloom beans, and the fine recommendations of David Sharp at the Wine Mine in Oakland.

Last Saturday and Sunday, I poured a 2010 Biohof Pratsch Grüner Veltliner from Neiderösterrich, with its bright, effervescent green apple, lemongrass, and white pepper flavors and minerality on the finish, to contrast a bold and earthy soup made with roasted Roma tomatoes and Rancho Gordo alubia blanca beans—a genius and simple recipe from the Coppertop Kitchen that sustained me throughout the week.

When Friday finally arrived, I unwound by cooking “clean-out-the-fridge” style. I dumped the last two inches of the Grüner Veltliner into a skillet of sautéed leeks, onions, red bell peppers, tomatoes, chicken garlic sausage, and leftover beans and baked it all with breadcrumbs for some kind of delicious faux cassoulet. To go with, I opened yet another gem from the Wine Mine—a 2007 Gerard Bertrand Côtes du Rousillon Villages Tautavel Protégée “Grand Terroir” (Grenache, syrah, carignane). Its funkiness and deep black cherry, green pepper, roasted red pepper, and tar notes and structured tannins complimented the beans and stewed vegetable flavors in the dish even though the wine hadn’t fully opened up after three hours. Both the bean dish and wine should be even better today. I’m curious what the wine would be like decanted and in another year or two. Now well-restored by simply good food and wine and some rest I'm ready to go explore the changing colors of this beautiful fall day.

26 September, 2011

Wine Shield - Keeps Wine Fresh to the Last Glass

What do you do when you open a good bottle of red and just cannot finish it? You want to preserve it of course, and now there is a new, inexpensive way to do it. The kind people at wine Shield recently sent me a sample and I, being a single drinker, wanted to give it a try.

The wine shield is an actual food-grade plastic disc that you insert in the bottle that covers the surface of the wine. They claim it will reduce oxidation for up to 5days and it can be used on red, white and rose wines. Here are the results of my experiment:

I decided to use a bottle of rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon for my little experiment.

Villa Hermosa 2007 Napa Valley Cab Sauvingon
Day 1
dark purple alsmost opaque with a clear rim
nose: kinda funky with hay,anise, blueberry and other dark fruits
palate: tannins are strong, long linger of blueberry and cassis, rich and concentrated (great wine for $15)
Day 3
everything was the same. Not suprising as most wines can stand up 3 days with just a cork and refrigeration.

Day 5
On Day 5 I opened the same bottle of wine to contrast it with the wine that had been open.
wow, the two bottles are almost the same. Just as fresh (more of an herbal note than before), tannins about the same and similar richness on the palate.

**I would recommend the Wine Shield as an inexpensive way to make that open bottle last longer. Seems like an ideal alternative for a wine bar where they sell wines by the glass.**

Visit their website www.wineshield.com to learn how to purchase them and watch the video here to see how easy they are to use:

25 September, 2011

Le Domaine Saget Pouilly-Fume 2008

Today we are quaffing a Pouilly Fume. That means we are drinking a Sauvingon Blanc from the Loire Valley. Here are our impressions:

-Lovely acidity, hints of young coconut, clover blossom and grass on the nose, medium citrine hue, clean, crisp, citrusy finish. This calls for a young, tangy goat cheese, chicken Piccata, seafood with lemon sauce. Fried artichoke hearts with a lemon caper aioli. Find it at Whole Foods Market.

23 September, 2011

Another sparkling wine and food pairing: Cremant de Bourgogne with Lox

I think sparkling wines may be the most food friendly wines due to their high acidity and bubbly texture. I love salty foods with sparkling wines like potato chips or truffled popcorn. I espececially love to pair sushi with sparkling wine so in keeping up with this theme I came up with a simple yet delicious sparkling wine/ appetizer pairing: Cremant de Bourgogne with Lox.

I chose this pairing as a part of the Drink Wine with Dinner event created by Rosina Wilson. She has come up with an easy-to-use guide to wine and food pairing. Please see this post for the guide: (http://www.brixchicks.com/2011/08/drink-wine-with-dinner-dw2d2.html) For my pairing I used Principle #3:

3) Contrast ~ where food & wine have *different* characteristics that you know will work well together (like harmony in music): Acidic wine (e.g. sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc) with butter/cream in food; sweet/fruity wine (e.g. Riesling, Grenache, Zin) with spicy food (e.g. curry, BBQ)...

I found a lovely Cremant de Bourgogne (made from 100% Pinot Noir) from Trader Joe’s made by Blason. This bubbly shows tight bubbles that lasted quite a while with a bracing acidity and notes of apricot pastry and lemon. It paired perfectly with the smokey, buttery slices of lox topped with tangy creme fraiche and lemony chopped chives. It was defintely harmonious in my mouth as the silky notes of the salmon and creme fraiche mingled with the bubbles and acidity of the wine and the lemon I spritzed on the lox. This is one of the simplest appetizers ever and economical. All you need is the lox, bread, creme fraiche and chives. The wine is only $10.99 and Trader Joe's has a small package of delicious lox for only $3.99. A classy appetizer/sparkling wine pairing perfect for us "Recessionistas."

08 September, 2011

Happy Birthday, Julia (and Xandria) - Lambrusco Cupcakes are a sweet ending to #Dw2d2

August 15th was National "Drink Wine with Dinner!" day and it was so popular, it kept going the whole month of August.  It was interesting to see what others were putting together.  The BrixChicks all got together and did some experimenting with wines and pairing that came exclusively from Trader Joe's.  I did Julia's potato Leek soup with a great Washington state Sauvignon Blanc. And TJ's made it easy to buy the pre-trimmed leeks.  Slice them on a mandolin, dice some potatoes simmer with water and in 30 minutes, I had a blender full of creamy, yummy, vegan  soup!  Of course, I then doused it with creme fraiche ribbons and pancetta (on a different occaision with sherry vinegar, garlic aioli and more pancetta and it was off the hook).  But I was most impressed with my sparkling treasure.  $4.99 for sparkling Lambrusco!  Such a deal for a festive, fruity and delicious treat.  One of the principles in our friend Rosina Wilson's eBook is to match like with like.  Fruity sweet Lambrusco has the sweetness and the structure to stand up to a cupcake.  To amp the pairing up a bit, I made a thick Lambrusco syrup that turned the dessert from phoned-in, boxed mix cupcakes into something special.

To make the syrup, I took an extra bottle of Lambrusco (at $4.99 it invites experimentation) and combined it with 2/3 cup sugar and heated it over medium low heat for 40 minutes to reduce the mixture to a thick syrup, being careful not to scorch the wine.

While it was reducing, I removed the 2 tablespoons of liquid and substituted it for the required water in the frosting mix.  The reduced Lambrusco syrup infused the white frosting and tinted it a lovely pinky lilac color.  When the cupcakes were cooled, I punctured the tops with a wooden toothpick and brushed them liberally with the Lambrusco syrup.  I let them set overnight.  After they were frosted, in a Cupcake War winning move, I garnished with a candied Hibiscus flower.

For the wine, '08 Le Grotte Lambrusco, Emiliano Romagna, Italy: dark ruby color with sparkle and sweetness without being cloying.  A pleasant grapey flavor with hints of tart fruit and fizz.  8.5% alcohol means it's a party wine sans lampshade.  We paired it with cupcakes, but they suggested pork and beef dishes.  I could so see it with Chinese food.  All in all a perfect Drink Wine with Dinner ringer, since at an easy to pair and easy on the wallet $4.99, there's no excuse not to drink wine with dinner!

I timed my efforts and came in at 1 hour 21 minutes.  Trader Joe's did all the heavy lifting!  And under $40! Not bad for first course and dessert with wine pairings for 6!

07 September, 2011

Ella Dining Room and Bar and also Champagne School

 If you have never been to Ella Dining Room and Bar and you live driving distance from downtown Sacramento, I highly recommend this great place to you.  It has the scale of a Los Angeles hotspot  and still maintains a cozy feel, with food and drink any region would be happy to claim.  I was fortunate to attend a Dine and Learn there where we asked them to prepare comfortable meeting space, a little mid meeting sparkling wine at the bar and then a nice dinner.  The staff including events manager Nicole and Wine Manager, Joseph Vaccaro, rolled out the red carpet for us.  So, much to my delight, the "little mid meeting sparkling wine lesson was as follows:

 NV Nicolas Feuillattte Brut Reserve Particulere, Reims France: a blend of 20% chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Meunier, the first sip was a reward for slogging through hours of training and definitely woke up the audience.  Pale gold in color with tiny bubbles and aromas of pears and something nutty.

'02 Roederer L'Ermitage Estate, Anderson Valley, California: Imagine my delight to re-taste one of my favorites.  Golden color with bubbles that made me want to sing some Don Ho and a creamy, lush mouthfeel.  Flavors of baked apple with vanilla hints, spice and apple pie.  The blend is 54% Chardonnay and 48% Pinot Noir.  The wine is all delicious.

'07 Shramsberg Blanc de Noirs, Napa Valley, California: We had all previously attended an event where on our tour of Shramsberg we almost to a person joined the wine club and so were all familiar with this selection.  Still this predominantly Pinot Noir (74%) blended with chardonnay (26%) was a crowd pleaser.  Structured with pleasant acidity and flavors, this stood up well to the salmon canape offered as an accompanying small bite.

MV, Krug Grande Cuvee, Reims, France:  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, Joseph told us this champagne is "what God gives his angels when they are particularly good". Yum! This character of this selection was so different from the others.  Darker and more complex with toasty, smoky, nutty notes and a mist of honey, with pears, apples and even a hint of mocha.  Divine!  We pretty much drained our glasses of this wine!

All the while Joseph anwered our questions and explained the compendium of difference between sparkling wine and champagne.  We spanned the gamut from folks with impressive cellars to non-wine drinkers, and all of us came away learning a lot, and most importantly enjoying the journey.  I was immensely grateful for all the hard work and planning that went into this event, so cannot recommend this restaurant enough. If you are able to book a wine dinner or even just drop by for Happy Hour, you will be delighted.  And bonus, Facebook or Foursquare check-ins will get you free valet parking!

Make time to visit
ella dining room and bar
1131 K Street (Corner of 12th & K Street)
Sacramento, CA 95814

06 September, 2011

Sparkling Viognier? - A WBC11 discovery from Horton Vineyards

At Horton Vineyards, one of the most interesting things I tried was their Sparkling Viognier.  Dennis Horton, himself a Virginia wine pioneer, selected viognier as a variety of grape that would do well in Virgina due to its thicker skin and tolerance for heat.  Deciding to use methode champenoise to create an original and unique wine adds a lot of time and cost to bringing the wine to market, but it also creates a tasty and sparkly expression of the Virginia terroir. 
 During the demo, it occurred to me how complicated the process is.  In methode champenoise,  first you have to decide on the blend , in this case, viognier and chardonnay.  Grapes are pressed and juice is treated as normal for a still wine.  It is then dosed up with a "secret sauce" to get the second fermentation going and left in the bottle, capped with a crown cap.  You can just see the riddling racks in the corner there.
  Basically, the bottles are set neck down in the wooden slots so that they can be turned bottle by bottle a few degrees a day.  This encourages the dead yeasts, sediments, etc to settle in the neck of the bottle

We were treated to a dramatic demo of disgorgement where the neck of the bottle was dipped into liquid nitrogen and then the frozen plug released to shoot out. [No photos of that part of the process as of course I was putting the "chicken" into BrixChicks and scrambling for my safety goggles] .Additional wine is added back in as the wine is topped off and then a real cork, with its very needed wire cage, is put in to let the bottle to finish the aging process.

  And then (finally) the sparkling viognier is ready to go to market. 

Horton also makes an Rkatsiteli, a Georgian grape variety, which was also new to me.  As well as a selection of red wines and fruit wines and even a chocolate wine.  I found the wines very attractively priced for as interesting as they were.  The team at Horton made our visit there a pleasure and the folks from the Orange County (VA) could not have been nicer.  Horton Vineyards is a great place to visit if you find yourself in the neighborhood.  They are open 7 days a week for tasting:

Horton Vineyards
6399 Spotswood Trail
United States

Telephone: 800-829-4633
On the right, Rkatsiteli

17 August, 2011

Time for Wines and Wagons - Lessons in Russian River Valley

Fog-omenal!  Is a descriptor I love...especially when it means perfectly cool, chilling fog after too-hot days anywhere else, or the effect that produces such yummy cool climate Pinots in the Russian River Valley.  But a lot of other factors contribute to the deliciousness.  Geology, viticulture and the art of winemaking.  I am thrilled to be able to get a glimpse into a "Day in the Life" of wine grape grower, Nick Leras.  We always hear that great wine is "made in the vineyard", so getting to see the art of grape growing from his perspective will be educational.  I plan on getting in touch with my pioneer ancestors during the covered wagon portion of the tour as well as working up an appetite for delish BBQ.  A better knowledge of how great wine gets made this weekend can be yours too.  Wines and Wagons . 

In addition to Leras, folks from Ancient Oak Cellars and Sandole Wines will be on hand to share their stories and their wine.  Ancient Oak is meant to have a wonderfully fogomenal Pinot Noir, which I am looking forward to try as well as the Sandole wines.  Sandole offers a Zinfandel too! If you have the time, make plans to join in as tickets are still available Click here...

Later in the day, a preharvest barbecue will bring more opportunities to meet all the talented, dedicated folks who bring wonderful wines to market. 

15 August, 2011

Drink Wine with Dinner #Dw2d2

If she had still been with us, Today would have been Julia Child's 99th birthday! To commemorate, the fabulous Rosina Wilson, (who actually met Julia), is suggesting we all drink wine with dinner tonight and honor Julia in personal ways. So we BrixChicks are getting together and celebrating with paired wine and dinner. With the Dow giving us all whiplash and the days getting shorter, we thought what more fun way than to challenge ourselves, by focusing on paired course where all the elements come from Trader Joe's.

We used some of the principles from Rosina's cool mini eBook, which she summarized for us here:

1) Geographic ~ where food & wine evolved together: Chianti and Tuscan game, steak, pasta; Alsace/German whites with quiche, trout, sausages; Oregon Pinot with alder-planked salmon...

2) Similarity ~ where food & wine have *matching* flavors, textures, etc.: A herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc with herbed goat cheese; a malolactic Chardonnay with a butter sauce; a berry-like Zin with duck/berry sauce; Champagne/sparklers with caviar (texture: "tiny bubbles")...

3) Contrast ~ where food & wine have *different* characteristics that you know will work well together (like harmony in music): Acidic wine (e.g. sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc) with butter/cream in food; sweet/fruity wine (e.g. Riesling, Grenache, Zin) with spicy food (e.g. curry, BBQ)...

4) "Equal Intensity" ~ Food & wine have approximately the same strength. Pinot Grigio with sole; Cabernet with roast lamb. (If one partner is slightly *less* intense than the other, it will play "supporting actor" and make the other partner the "star.")

5) Personal Preference ~ Whatever you like! Traditional: Champagne/sparkling wine with caviar; Burgundy/Pinot Noir with roast beef. "Daring pairings": Champagne/sparkling wine with KFC or popcorn; Burgundy/Pinot Noir with BBQ ribs/pulled pork.

Here is the menu so far:

Julia's potato Leek Soup

Mastering the Art of...Monday Dinner!

Happy Birthday Lambrusco Cupcakes!
We will be interested in reading about what you plan at #DW2D2. Stay tuned for our updates later this week and

Happy birthday, Julia!
Bon appetit!

09 August, 2011

#wbc11 Last of before...

After a great experience at Chrysalis, the bus took us to a fun restaurant in Middleburg.  Even though the mercury said stay inside,  most of us ventured out to explore the town.  I don't think Middleburg got the memo, as the snark factor was almost as high as the humidity.  Stacey and Wendy are so awesome, I will forgive them for taking us to the Jan Brady of the 'burgs. 

Next stop, Boxwood Winery.  I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I tumbled from the air conditioned coach into the bright sunshine.  Now I know, if I find myself stuck in the Middleburg again, I will head straight to 16 East Washington Street and knock back some tasty rose.
Everything about Boxwood was manicured and gorgeous.  And miraculously welcoming and not the least bit "horsey" in feel.  Whew!  The property is after all an historic horse farm.  We explored the facility where no expense was spared in providing all the accouterments to control every facet of the production.  Even the bottling line had a jewel box feel. 
Later we found that Stephane Derneoncourt consults to help them create the best expression of Virginia in a distinctly Old World feel.  We tried all the wines, which were all red and based on a Left Bank and a Right Bank iteration of red and rose.  The Boxwood was my favorite.

'07 Boxwood, Boxwood, Virginia A blend of Cab Sauv with Merlot and PV, it's a dark lovely wine with black fruit and a smidge of tobacco. And at only $25 a bottle, awesome QPR!  
'07 Topiary, Boxwood, Virginia A blend of mostly Cab Franc blended with Merlot and Malbec in the Right Bank style.  I got a lot of nice blueberry in this.  The finish was nice.
I am looking forward to opening up these wines with some Bordeaux loving pals to initiate them into Virginia wines. 
It was a fun visit thanks to a ton of attention from EVP Rachel Martin.  If you find yourself in the area, be sure to make an appointment to visit:

So, the preconference ended and the bus headed up to Charlottesville.  I can't say thank you enough to Stacey and Wendy from Visit Loudoun for making this introduction to Virginia so fun, comfortable and informative.  Thanks again for a great orientation!  And to the other overachievers on the Preconference tour!  It was a great group of intrepid bloggers. Cheers to:

08 August, 2011

#wbc11 Still Before...

Jenni McCloud is a evil temptress. More about that later...

Grandale Farms Dining Room
After a fun and filling dinner at Grandale Farms restaurant, a real and historic farm house where food was sourced locally and many Virginia wines were offered, I hit a wall. Reviewing the wine list, the wine I wanted to try but didn't quite make it to, was the Chrysalis Norton Locksley Reserve. Luckily, the very next day, breakfast of champions was a banana on the bus and then on to tasting through the wines at Chrysalis Vineyards.

Perhaps because of the sketchy breakfast (I blame the Hilton Garden Inn, as my stay there was so restful, it was like a coma and I slept through my feeding time), so driving up to the tasting room, and looking at the shiny black cows, all I could think about was dairy. But once I rolled up to the tasting area with tour leader Pat Hess at the helm, entertaining and informative stories paired as well with the wine as I imagine the wine will companion food.

I tried:
'07 Tannat, Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia : Described as a "cigar wine", this had a lot going on in the aroma with a curl of smoke and leather. The flavors were black fruit hit with spice and mocha vanilla. It had great tannins. I generally love the Tannats I have tried for mouth puckering tannins and dust, but this expression had , in addition, a well-mannered structure that made it very appealing.

'10 Mariposa, Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia: Lovely color. Interesting blend (lost to my bad penmanship) with lilting aromas of cherries.

'10 Albarino, Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia: Partial as I am to most Albarinos, this was a nice one with hints of pineapple and lovely balance. 

'10 Sarah's Patio White, Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia: Yummy porch etc. wine. Blend of Vidal Blanc and Traminette, Slight sweetness balanced with acidity. Refreshing. Sarah is a ghost, or rather a 16 year old whose headstone was discovered on the estate.

'10 Sarah's Patio Red, Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia: 100% Rose of Norton My first swish of the Real American Grape!® Intoxicating aromas and flavors of tart cherries. At 2.8 residual sugar, it is semi sweet and meant to be serve well chilled. The sweetness and cherry profile made me want to go out and build a cheese plate around it as this would make a good match for some interesting cheeses.

'10 Barrel Select Norton, Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia: 100% Norton made whole cluster fermented (like a Beaujolais), then barrel aged in 100% new Virginia oak. 

'07 Norton Estate Bottled, Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia Yum! The wine was very dark with intoxicating aromas of black fruit and berries and nice tannic structure.  I liked it very much. Cultivation of this variety takes patience and passion and the folks at Chrysalis have both.

'08 Norton Locksley Reserve, Chrysalis Vineyards, Virginia:  my favorite.  75% Norton, 12.5% PV and 12.5% Nebbiolo this wine is intriguing with lots of dust, pepper, cocoa and black fruits.  It had a lovely finish and seemed like it would be very companionable with food.  

Petit Manseng
While Chrysalis produces a number of interesting European varieties, the real story here is Norton.  ( And the Norton's story can be found in Todd Kliman's interesting book, The Wild Vine )At one time, the Norton grape, a hybrid developed by a Dr. Daniel Norton, whose own story casts him as the Heathcliff of viticulture, was the US's leading grape.  It made its way from Virginia to Missouri and then, under the aegis of David Horton (with whom we would visit on the WBC Touring Day), back again.  But at Chrysalis, Jennifer Mc Cloud grows more Norton than anyone else in the world.  The Norton has the hardiness of the native grapes without any of the "foxiness", a term used to described a musky character to the point of flaw, found in wines made from native grapes.  Still, Norton vines require years to mature before the fruit becomes usable, and they need to be carefully cultivated, trellised, and harvested.  All this makes the achievement of the Chrysalis team more impressive.  In the book, The Wild Vine , I read about blind tasting the Norton with European wines and I am looking forward to baiting some Wine Snark friends. 

In a world where lots of people seem to want to "Six -drops- of -essence- of- terror,-Five- drops- of- sinister- sauce"-up a reasonable facsimile of what sells, Chrysalis invests to draw out unique expressions of their local terroir.  Which makes for soulful, distinctive wines. 

And in the future, they will use the Devon Milking cows and heritage chickens to leverage more expressions of the terroir in the form of cheese and hopefully ice creams too! 

So okay, wine and potentially all kinds of luscious dairy, too. how can I call Jenni Mc Cloud an evil temptress?  As a parting gift she shared with us a dram of Petit Manseng dessert wine.  A wine whose production is fiendishly difficult and thus whose supply is constrained at best.  It is also a wine served on  the level of heaven where the wedding guests from Cana get their glasses filled.  Silky, sweet but structured so as not be cloying.  With interesting hints of candied loquat and other exotic flavors.  So delish!  And you can't buy it...

Me with Pat Hess
Unless you are A VIP wine club member.  Okay,  so maybe more brilliant marketer than evil temptress.  Definitely a great winery leader.  I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Chrysalis and when I finish up all the wine I bought, I will seriously consider the VIP all access pass.  Many thanks to Pat Hess, Jenni and everyone at Chrysalis who made our visit so fun!