28 October, 2016

What to drink with Your Halloween Candy? Be Late. Late Harvest Riesling

Pairing Halloween Candy with Wine
Two confessions: First, I never buy Halloween candy until 10/31 otherwise I just have to buy it twice .  Okay, there was that low point in 2012 where I might have made three trips to replace some very bad food choices.  And second, likely a moot point now:  I love Halloween candy.

Nothing made me happier as a child than a pillowcase full of sugary loot. The handles on those plastic pumpkins were never sturdy enough to accommodate my sugar crazed zeal as I tramped through our very hilly and drizzly San Francisco neighborhood trick-or-treating.

 Pairing candy with wine?  Not my favorite thing.  The first two rules of wine and food pairing will explain why pairing wine with candy is hard.  Rule #1 is that food sweetness should be less than or equal to wine.  Candy lands on the intensely sweet side of the food spectrum.  It is further complicated in that sour-sweet candies, which are by nature less sweet, can  have a rampantly acidic character if they are flavored by citric acid.  This wreaks havoc with Rule #2: Food acidity should be less than or equal to wine.

Samwell Tarly and I felt Funko POPped
So where do you start your Monster Mash?  It may have been ill advised, but I started mine where the best bet for pairing wine with anything starts: Experimentation.

I selected a wine with more than moderate sweetness and also, with a good amount of acidity.  In my wine stash I found a bottle of  Talbott R & V  Late Harvest Riesling  from the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey County in California.  This golden colored wine has aromas of stone fruit, vanilla, white flowers and subtle tropical notes.  Flavors of apricots, honey and vanilla nestle in its silky texture.  It's sweet, but enlivened by bright acidity, so doesn't taste cloying.

 It really all went downhill from there.

There were miniatures of all kinds and some full sized bags. Most of the candy overpowered the wine with intense sweetness. Or lacked a bridge flavor to hook with the wine, so never became a  harmonious match.  I perservered.

Best Pairing: Kit Kats and Late Harvest Riesling
As luck would have it, I soon found a tasty match in my candy grab bag.  Kit Kat candy bars have a vanilla top note to their chocolate coating as well as a touch of salt, so the candy matches the vanilla and pairs well with the caramel-touched apricot tones of the wine.  Additionally, the crispy wafers decreased the sweetness and increased the crunch, which proved an interesting textural note against the unctuous wine.  Sadly, the old Riesling vines used to conjure up this delicious elixir have been replanted, so this pair is as ephemeral as childhood itself.  But I sipped, crunched, reminisced and dreamt of more Late Harvest Rieslings in my future.  Bring on the Trick or Treaters--just don't expect me to share my KitKats!

Moral of the story: You can't go wrong pairing food with Riesling

17 October, 2016

"But First Champagne" Talking with Author David White

BUT FIRST, CHAMPAGNE. is a new book out October 18th by author and blogger, David White.  David, in real life, works in DC and is as close to a "Scandal" character as I know.   He founded the blog Terroirist, which he currently writes and edits.  He is also a contributor to Grape Collective and keeps busy winning awards and wine writing for dozens of publications, including The World of Fine Wine, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post.  Now, David inspires us with words on a favorite subject: Champagne

"From dinner with friends to a child's laughter or a lover's embrace, every day has moments worthy of a toast."...

..is a quote from a recent interview with NPR's The Salt.   Which as we all know is so appropriate for food and wine pairing as salt is ameliorated in a wine pairing with effervescence

I had the chance to catch up with David, to assuage my curiosity about Champagne:

BCL: I recently tasted Chateau Palmer that does higher chardonnay than pinot noir in their blends.  Would love to hear an expert opinion on the characteristics both those varieties bring to blends?

DW: In blends, Pinot Noir is credited with providing backbone and structure and offering aromas and flavors of red berries. Chardonnay is credited with providing finesses by imparting acidity, floral aromatics, and flavors of green apples, citrus fruits, and hazelnuts. And don't forget about Pinot Meunier, which accounts for 32 percent of Champagne's plantings. It's credited with rounding out wines by offering moderate acidity, unctuous aromatics, and bright fruit flavors.

BCL : I love all kinds of sparkling wine, but always come back to champagne for special occasions.  What do you think about others sparklers like Cap Classique, Sekt, etc.?

DW: Other bubblies can be "just as good," to be sure, but they're different. Just as an apple grown in Virginia tastes different from an apple grown in Massachusetts, sparkling wines from, say, Sonoma will always taste different from Champagne.
For me, Prosecco and Cava, even at their finest, always lack the depth -- and complexity -- of great Champagne. Franciacorta can be exceptional, but such examples are few and far between. There's plenty of great sparkling wine from the United States, Canada, and elsewhere in Europe – and I tasted some great Cap Classique when I visited South Africa a few years ago – but Champagne just has a perfect terroir for sparkling wine.

BCL:  BrixChick Heidi is getting married in January.  What does every bride need to know about champagne?

DW:  You can never have too much! In all seriousness, though, I've long been baffled by the fact that Champagne and its alternatives are typically an afterthought at most weddings – it's the very first beverage you're celebrating your union with. Don't you want something delicious?!

BCL:  I love the title and have that art in my home.  What does " ..but first, Champagne"  mean to David?

DW:  Champagne carries an emotional charge. So every time a cork is popped -- no matter the occasion – it feels special. So for me, "but first, Champagne" is a great catchphrase for those first few minutes at home after a long day at the office. Sure, maybe you're putting on your pajamas and eating takeout – but having a glass of Champagne while doing so can sure brighten the day.

BCL:  I met David in London in 2011 at the Cape Wine event.  Now that the book is finished, what is next for the Terroirist? 

DW:  Terroirist.com continues to publish every single day, thanks almost entirely to the efforts of my team – Shelby Vittek handling the daily wine news, Isaac Baker handling the reviews, Eric Annino with book and movie reviews, and others. I love that we continue to provide such great content to the wine community. 

We appreciate the efforts of this team to bring us sparkling news and, of course,  it's the season for everything we can literally and figuratively drink in about Champagne.  The book will make a great gift!

Here is the link to the interview on NPR's The Salt for more Champagne news:
 A Growing Champagne Trend Is Uncorking More Ways To Celebrate featuring David White's forthcoming book 
 Or if you are more visual, here's a clip of him doing Wines.com TV here: Terroirist David White on the Next Big Things - w/ Bill Elsey.

11 October, 2016

Combining Tradition, Terroir and Technology- My Visit to Palmaz Vineyards

Palmaz Vineyards: Beautiful vista and deliscious wines
Nestled within three different elevations of Mt. George in Napa, California, lies the historic nineteenth century Henry Hagen estate. Now owned by the Palmaz Family, (Julio, Amalia, Christian Gaston and Florencia) it has been restored and designed into a twenty-first century state-of-the-art vineyard and winery, while continuing to hold on to the tradition of producing great vintages. Palmaz Vineyards produce their selection of wines using the following techniques of organic, biodynamic and erosion-control philosophies. The Palmaz's son, Christian Gaston's book " Tradition, Terroir and Technology" chronicles the history and workings of the family vineyard and winery.

Palmaz offers the following wines:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Gaston Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Brasas - Mountain fruit with a little Malbec blended in 
  • Amalia Chardonnay
  • Louisa Riesling
  • Florencia Muscat

The Palmaz family decided to bring the vineyard and winery into modern times by creating the winery Cave.  This stunning site truly follows Bauhaus' principle of "form follows function". Its maze of tunnels and dome were carved into Mt. George, eighteen stories deep. This engineering marvel provides gravity-flow winemaking in addition to the natural temperature controlled cave setting. At the winery's core the fermentation dome sits center stage . The Dome holds 24 tanks that are all controlled by Palmaz's sophisticated monitoring system. Technology and the art of wine making pair perfectly together, like Palmaz's 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon savored with earthy, spiced-up Argentinian beef empanadas.

During my visit, which was graciously hosted by the Palmaz family members, we were treated to an exceptionally beautiful view on the winery's stone terrace overlooking the gorgeous Napa Valley. Enjoyed was a lovely Louise Riesling, with its high acidity, exotic aromas and food pairing versatility. An additional offering of the oak fermented, opulent yet refreshing, well balanced Amalia Chardonnay was also enjoyed. Our food pairings with the Louise Riesling and Amalia Chardonnay included: smoked salmon with wasabi caviar stars, Vineyard Twigs (delicate puff pastry filled and rolled with green olive, roasted garlic and Parmesan), Green Eggs and Ham pizza (smoked duck breast, scallion, gruyere, topped with the most perfect soft cooked runny egg) and pancetta, fig and arugula pizza, with a touch of truffle oil.


I had a wonderful visit with Florencia Palmaz who created all of the evening's tasty food pairings. So many creative recipes that inspired her book, "At the Table and Around the Fire". ($130 and available here.  This gorgeous book captures the lifestyle and philosophy of the Palmaz family:  Delicious and soulful, like the Palmaz wines.

As the evening continued on, we moved into the caves and headed to the Fermentation Dome. There we enjoyed the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, with aromas of fresh blackberry and fine-grained tannins that gave way to a precise finish. A 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon was equally enjoyed. Earthy and peppery with aromas of pomegranate and notes of cedar. Food pairings so perfectly prepared were: sweet corn bisque, pea and poblano bisque, chicken empanadas, Humita (roasted vegetable) empanadas and beef empanadas. A delicate Cabernet beet bouchon sweet bite was enjoyed as well and work quite nicely with the Cabernet Sauvignon. Time for dessert, in addition to the Cabernet beet bouchon, a rosemary shortbread with myer lemon cookie was an excellent finish with the Florencia Muscat.


"Two generations of The Palmaz family have sought to bring innovation and invention to the ancient art of making wine. Their background in the sciences, passion for living life to the fullest and years of backbreaking work have resulted in a unique winery situated inside an 18-story cave that combines cutting-edge technology with a respect for winemaking tradition."


If Napa beckons to you as you plan your holiday calendar, I suggest you make plans to visit.  Palmaz pairs their lovely (and allocated)  wines with a small bite as they introduce you to the special world of Napa Valley winemaking.  It's $80 and done by appointment only
More info here:

Many thanks to Palmaz Vineyards who hosted me at the wonderful event as well as Laura Baddish and the Baddish group for the invite