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!