Vines & Vittles

Warm weather wines and a Poblano Stack

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Memorial Day weekend is in the rear view mirror which means that summertime is about to arrive. This time of year, some people’s thoughts turn to gardening or even golf, but not mine. My thoughts turn to grilling various meats and vegetables and accompanying these culinary delights with cool bottles of lighter-textured wines that refresh the body and the recharge the spirit.

I am referring to approachable whites and reds that transform your grilled foods into even more delicious morsels, and raise the overall gustatory experience to sublime levels. And most of the wines listed below retail for less than $30 a bottle.

Let’s start with my go-to spring and summer white.

This is a great time of year to sip crisp, herbaceous sauvignon blanc with herbal suffused foods such as salmon with dill, grilled asparagus, or even a basil pesto  over linguine. Or how about these sauvignon blanc friendly options: creamy chicken salad with tarragon or sautéed brocolini and shitake mushrooms.

You’ll want to search for richer, more fruit forward styles of sauvignon blanc that bring out the best in these types of dishes, like : St. Supery, Ferrari-Carano, Nobilo, Chateau St. Jean, Duckhorn Sonoma County, Kenwod, St. Michelle and Sterling.

My absolute favorite picnic and warm weather wine is rose’. Nothing beats the freshness and suitability of rose to pair with foods like grilled Brats, Italian sausage, or baby back ribs. Give these babies a try: Domaine Fontsainte Gris de Gris, Banfi Centine Rose, Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rose, Elizabeth Spencer Rose of Grenache and Ferraton Tavel Rose.

poblano-stack

Sangovese and pinot noir are my seasonal choices for red wines in the springtime, particularly when matched with grilled dishes. And spring lamb is just about as good as it gets. Whether you choose a boned and butterflied leg, lamb chops or rack of lamb, these wines do not over-power the food, but rather compliment and enhance the flavors.

Here are some sangiovese choices for the grilled lamb dishes mentioned above: Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale, Carpineto Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano, Falcor Sangiovese, Monsanto Chianti Classico, Fossi Chianti and Monte Antico.

Pinot noir may be the world’s most versatile wine with a multitude of dishes. From grilled salmom to chicken, to spicy barbecue and even beef, pinot noir shows its adaptability to a host of foods with different tastes and textures. And a slightly chilled pinot noir is the perfect accompaniment to outdoor dining.

Try these favorites of mine: Erath(Williamette Valley), Cloudy Bay (New Zealand), Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyards Sonoma Coast, Chehalem Winery, King Estate, Twomey Russian River, La Crema and Melville.

Okay, so here’s a recipe for a simple warm weather dish that could be used as an appetizer or an accompaniment to other picnic type foods. It also pairs up well with just about any of the wines mentioned above. It’s actually a bit spicy, but if you like a little heat with your meal, this is one you’ve got to try.

Poblano Stack

Ingredients:

– Eight medium poblano peppers

– One red and one yellow bell pepper

– One-half pound of sharp, grated white cheddar cheese

– Two ounces extra virgin olive oil

– One –half teaspoon each of salt and pepper

– One large paper bag and several sections of paper towels

Preparation:

Scorch each poblano and bell pepper on a very hot grill until peppers are fairly black

Wrap and cover each pepper in a paper towel and place in the closed paper bag

Allow peppers to steam for about one-half hour

Remove from bag and use a small knife to scrape off burnt pepper skin

Discard seeds and stems from peppers and cut each into two or three pieces

Place a layer of poblano pieces in a small square or rectangular baking dish

Add small amounts of olive oil, salt and pepper and cheese to poblanos

Alternate and stack poblanos with yellow and red peppers

Bake in the oven for 25minutes at 325 F.

Slice into small squares and serve

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The warmer weather usually means it’s time to switch from the fuller-bodied wines of winter to the lighter wines of spring time. Take a look at what I’m sipping and how there’s even a wine for ramps!

Acrimony + Sous Vide + Wine = Harmony

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My brother and his wife visited us last week. It was great to get together with them, but I must admit things always get a bit testy between my brother and I, but only when it comes to a few topics like: food, wine, politics, movies, the weather, religion, sports, the universe, medicine, creation, clothes, art, fishing, capital punishment….

You get the picture. Sibling rivalry does not even begin to describe our relationship. And cooking together can devolve into a contact sport. Well, that may be an exaggeration, but we do get into some heated discussions. Then we kiss and make up.

We can’t help ourselves. It’s genetic and comes from the Italian side of our family where no opinion ever went unchallenged. Our aunts, uncles and cousins would argue about everything, and ignorance of a subject did not inhibit us from passionately defending a less than plausible position. Those who prevailed usually did so, not through knowledge or eloquence, but because they were louder or had more stamina. Eventually, though, they (and we) settle down and do what we do best: cook, eat and drink!

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Among the memorable meals we prepared last week was one that was a pretty complex undertaking. It involved using a Christmas present from my brother – the Anova (a manufacturer) sous vide device – to prepare a confit of duck legs. Sous vide is a method of cooking in which food is vacuum-sealed in a plastic pouch (or baggie as we used) and then placed in a container filled with water. The Anova heating device is used to circulate the food for long, slow cooking in the water bath. The duck confit took 10 hours to cook.

Of course, not every sous vide dish requires ten hours to prepare. Anova provides a cooking guide to assist in setting the circulating device to the appropriate temperature and time for the specific food you’re preparing. Once the food reaches the correct temperature, you can continue to leave it in the water bath until you’re ready to eat. This method of cooking is the absolute best way to insure that the food (particularly meat) will be at its tender best.

I’ve used the Anova to cook rib-eye steaks and total cooking time in the water bath was about 1.5 hours. It’s recommended that you finish the meat on a grill or very hot cast iron skillet for one minute per side to get a good searing caramelization. The rib-eyes were among the best I’ve ever served.

We cooked the seven duck legs at approximately 140 degrees Fahrenheit and, once out of the water, we pan-seared them in a cast iron skillet for about 2 minutes a side. Out of the pan, we served the duck with a blueberry gastrique (which is a fancy name for fresh blueberries sautéed with balsamic vinegar, water and sugar). We accompanied the duck with asparagus and a cheesy ramp polenta.

I have to say that after all the weeping and gnashing of teeth, the meal was delicious. And the wine pairings were excellent too. We opened a 2009 Joseph Phelps Freestone Vineyard Pinot Noir ($45) and 2012 Fabre Montmayou Cabernet Franc Reserva ($22). The pinot noir is from the Sonoma Coast and the cabernet franc was made in the Mendoza region of Argentina.

Both wines excelled as companions to the dish, but the pinot noir came out on top because it was more compatible with the blueberry gastrique. The cabernet franc was made in the medium-bodied style of a Chinon, a wine that is made from the same grape grown in the Loire Valley of France.

If you’re interested in learning more about the sous vide method of cooking, you can simply check it out on the web or Google the Anova website.

A tasty look at food and wine pairings

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Join Chef Paul Smith at Buzz Foods and me as we cook up a few great dishes at Paterno’s at the Park and pair them with some excellent wines.  We’ll show you why breaking some wine and food pairing rules can be fun – and tasty too. Check it out here

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I’ve often said this before, but it bears repeating: don’t be constrained by convention when it comes to matching wine with food. The more you experiment, the more you will realize – like I have – that it’s both fun and instructive to try just about any combination of food and wine that strikes your fancy.

Wine snobs (aka Alt-Wine zealots) would have me dispatched to the grape crusher -if they could -for uttering such vinous heresy. You know the type of person I’m referring to, right? He’s the guy who wears a purple ascot and smoking jacket to the neighborhood barbecue, and wishes his name was Trevor. His mantra? White wine with fish and chicken, red wine with red meat- and absolutely no substitutes!!

Hey Trevor, I have news for you: there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing which wine to serve with a particular meal. Not that I would suggest pairing Chateauneuf Du Pape with pan seared cod, but go ahead and be adventurous. You might be surprised at the tasty combo’s you’ll discover on your gustatory journey.

So here are some tips (not hard and fast rules) on where you may wish to start your wine and food pairing expedition.

Think about the flavor, texture and weight of the food and then consider which wine might be a good fit. You wouldn’t logically pair a full-flavored red wine with delicately broiled seafood. Think about it. The flavor and weight are all out of balance.

Instead, you might complement the dish with a delicate white wine such as Sancerre from the Loire Valley of France (made from sauvignon blanc) or an albarino from Spain. Conversely, a robust red wine such as cabernet sauvignon or merlot would pair seamlessly with a well-marbled rib-eye steak.

Abstract Label

Another element to consider in choosing a complimentary wine pairing is how the dish is seasoned. The addition of sauces or spices can add a flavor dimension that should be considered when picking the appropriate wine.

For example, pinot grigio would be an excellent choice with poached salmon in a dill sauce, while grilled salmon that has been dusted with cumin, black pepper and chili powder would overpower that same wine. Here’s an example where I suggest choosing a red wine to marry with that particular dish. With no apologies to Trevor, spicy, grilled salmon requires a medium-bodied red such as pinot noir or even sangiovese.

The texture of a dish can also play an important role in determining the best wine match. And sometimes that means pairing the dish with a wine that has contrasting notes or nuances. For instance, if you have a rich, fatty piece of beef, lamb or pork, a good wine match might be a young tannic and astringent red like zinfandel or petite sirah. That’s because the mouth feel of the wine will provide a pleasant contrast to the richness of the meat, and also serve to cleanse the palate.

Probably the most difficult dish to pair with wine is any type of vinaigrette, particularly those used on salads. Vinegar or acid-based dressings clash with most wines, destroying the flavors of both the salad and the wine. The only possible palatable pairing I’ve found is to match the vinaigrette with a very dry sparkling wine such as a Cava from Spain.

And finally, one of my favorite, but seemingly counter-intuitive pairings, is full-bodied red wine with chocolate desserts. As a matter of fact, one of the most exquisite dessert experiences I’ve had recently is paring the 2015 Orin Swift Abstract ($35) with a large slice of double chocolate cake.

The Abstract (a California blend of grenache, petite sirah, and syrah) is an opaque, purple monster full of rich, mocha and blackberry flavors. It is an absolutely delicious complement to chocolate. And the Abstract bottle has a really one-of-a-kind label with a collage of eclectic images. It’s sure to be a collector’s item.

So go forth and be adventuresome. Try some unconventional (maybe even outrageous) wine and food combinations. (Trevor will never know).

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I was asked the other evening to expound on the qualities of a particular grape grown in a number of different geographic wine regions around the world. How did it differ in taste and quality from one appellation to another? Good question, right?

Things seemed to be going well as I began to describe the qualitative differences in terms of not only the taste and aroma of the wine, but also how climate and soil affected the finished product. So when I mentioned that this particular grape flourished in places like California, France and Australia, my friend asked: “How does the wine made from that same grape in Israel compare to the others?

Huh? To my knowledge, I assured her, that grape is not widely planted in Israel. “No”, she insisted, “I just read how wine produced from that grape in Israel is similar in style and substance to what is made in California.”

The grape we were discussing is syrah (which the Australians call shiraz) and I could tell from her disappointed look that my wine credibility had taken a serious hit. Could they really be growing syrah now in Israel?

I asked my friend to spell the grape in question and she did so correctly without hesitation. However, she also added the word “petite” before spelling syrah. Ah, now I understood. The pronunciation of sirah (seer-ah) is the same as syrah, thus the misunderstanding. And, indeed, petite sirah is produced in Israel’s emerging wine regions. But, of course, petite sirah is a completely different grape than syrah.

Holy obfuscation! There can’t be any other product that is more difficult to understand than wine. Maybe quantum mechanics, but I doubt it. To start with, much of the language – even on American wine labels – is foreign (i.e., “cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, etc.). And when some of the so-called wine-illuminati use terms like ethereal, orgasmic or unctuous to describe “Uncle Amos’ Purple Mountain Majesty,” normal folks- who would like to learn a little more about wine – are left scratching their heads.

montepulciano

And unless you’re studying to be a sommelier, you probably wouldn’t know that “Vino Nobile di Montepulciano” (which is from Tuscany and comprised of at least 70 percent sangiovese) is a totally different wine from “Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.” This latter wine is from the state of Abruzzo and is produced from the montepulciano grape.

Confused? You should be. And while it can be maddening to someone who just wants to find a good bottle of wine to accompany their meatloaf and mashed potatoes, it can also be fascinating for wine geeks like me who enjoy nothing better than translating that bewildering gibberish for you.

So here are four different and delicious examples of wines representing the confusing language discussed above. I think you’ll like them and I promise to use common words to describe them.

2010 Terre Rouge Cotes de l’Ouest Syrah ($22) – This California wine is full of bright cherry and spicy black pepper flavors. Unlike some new world full-throttle syrah’s, this one is medium -bodied and similar to a northern Rhone wine. This would be lovely with a spicy casserole of Chicken Cacciatore.

2014 Boogle Petite Sirah ($14) – There is nothing subtle about this inky purple monster, but it is still very well balanced with gobs of black and blueberry flavors and just enough acid to make it an excellent food wine. Try it with a hearty, garlicky beef stew dusted with a generous portion of coarsely ground black pepper.

2012 Fattoria dell Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ($27) –You will need a glass of this delicious wine after trying to pronounce it! A nose of flowers, cola and mint is followed by notes of black cherries, vanilla and spice on the palate. Match this delicious wine with a crown roast of pork that’s been rubbed with olive oil, sage, black pepper and minced garlic.

2014 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($22) – Another tongue-twister, this wine bursts with sweet and sour cherry flavors along with nuances of cinnamon and tea. Round and rich, but with a good zing of acid, marry this baby with roasted or grilled lamb chops that have been marinated in lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic, olive oil and rosemary.

Port: A perfect Winter Wine

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Check out my Vines&Vittles video on Port by clicking below.

Port: A necessary winter adjustment

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There are not many good things one can say about winter except it is the season of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But otherwise winter is gray, cold and depressing, and I wish it could be shortened. But until we figure a way to adjust the rotational tilt of the earth or flee to terra firma nearer the equator, we’ll just need to make some adjustments to survive this uncomfortable time of year.

As you might have guessed, my adjustment to winter involves consuming endorphin-enhancing sustenance. In other words, good wine and food. And while I’ll be uncorking full-bodied red wines to accompany cold weather foods such as stews, pastas and hearty soups, I will also open a bottle or two of Port to enjoy as a postprandial digestif by the fireplace. And don’t worry if you don’t have a fireplace. Anywhere indoors will do just fine.

Port or Porto (as it is called in Portugal where the wine is produced) is made from a variety of grapes grown along the steep slopes of Douro River. In fact there are more than 80 varieties of (unpronounceable) grapes which are permitted to be used in the production of port, but most producers use less than ten.

Port is a “fortified” wine and that means brandy is added to it during the fermentation process. The addition of brandy causes the fermentation to stop, leaving the wine with about 10 percent residual sugar while bumping up the alcohol content to approximately 20 percent. Once the new wine is made, it is shipped to the city of Oporto where it is sold to companies, known as Shippers, who then age the young wine in barrels and label it under their house name before exporting it all around the world.

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The Styles of Port

Vintage Port -This is the best and most expensive type of Port and is produced only in exceptional years (about three years in a decade). A “vintage year” is declared by an agreement among the Shippers who then take special care in aging and then bottling the wine. Vintage Port can improve in bottle for 15 to 50 years (or more) before reaching maturity. The Wine Spectator Magazine rates the 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2011 as among the best recent vintage Port years. You can expect to pay between $50 to more than $150 a bottle for vintage Port.

Late Bottled Vintage Port – It is a blend of Ports from different vineyards in the same vintage year. Late bottled vintage Port (or LBV) will have a vintage date on the label, but it is not vintage Port. LBV is usually priced between $15 and $30 a bottle.

Tawny Port – This is sometimes called the “poor man’s” vintage Port because it is aged for many years in oak and, when released, it is very smooth and rich like an old vintage Port. Without a doubt, this is my favorite. It is affordable Port with prices ranging from $10 to about $40 a bottle.

Ruby Port – Young port wine blends from several different vintages comprise Ruby Port. Ruby Port is lighter and fruitier than other styles and usually the least expensive Port ($10-$20 a bottle). Ruby Ports can be cloyingly sweet and fruity.

White Port – Made from white grapes, this is the only Port-style wine that is produced dry. It is usually crisp, yet full-bodied, and makes a nice aperitif wine. Really lovely with lightly flavored and pan seared white fish. ($10-$25 a bottle)

Here is a list of some of top Port producers you can look for in your local wine shop. Warre’s, Graham’s, Taylor-Fladgate, Croft, Dow’s, Fonseca and Ramos-Pinto. One of my favorite American Port-style wines is Ficklin. Try their 10-year Old Tawny – it’s absolutely delicious.

Many people prefer to accompany Port with nuts or with blue cheese like Stilton. I love to have a glass of Tawny after a nice meal as a liquid substitute for dessert. Yummy!

So, go out and sip the winter away with a warming glass (or two) of Port!

Some Sippers for the Holidays

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Check out my video wine picks for your holiday celebrating.
Please click on the link below.  And Happy Holidays !

Wines and your holiday spirit

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It’s that special time of year when we all willingly succumb to something loosely defined as “The Holiday Spirit.” And while it is generally a good thing, the holiday spirit induces in me a kind of euphoria that causes me to recklessly disregard my own financial limitations.

Yeah, you guessed it. In other words, I am about to spend a whole lot of money on wine – for family, for friends and for ME!

And it’s not just yours truly either. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, Americans will spend about seventy percent of their yearly wine budget, purchasing bottles for Christmas gifts, parties, and for holiday dinners. To accommodate this demand, local wine shop shelves are now overflowing with bottles of every type and pedigree.

Christmas Clarets

I‘ve already been searching those shelves (and online too) for that special bottle and there is an incredible selection of wine from all over the world available to fit just about any budget. And I’ve always said that giving the gift of wine, particularly to someone close to you, can have its own reward since there is a good likelihood you’ll be invited to sip along with the giftee once that special bottle is uncorked.

But whenever I consider a wine for myself, I always ponder what type of meal will present the best opportunity to showcase the bottle. In my particular situation, I’m thinking about Christmas Eve and Christmas Day meals, and the wines that will make the feasts memorable. I’m also shopping for the right wine to celebrate New Year’s Eve. So let’s consider wines to match Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners, as well as celebratory sparklers for New Year’s Eve.

In our home, my wife and I divide up responsibility for the holiday meals. I’m in charge of Christmas Eve and she is the Christmas Day chef de cuisine. Drawing from my Italian- American roots, my menu will consist of seafood -ala The Feast of the Seven Fishes- and I will accompany the meal with some of my favorite chardonnays.

For everything from squid and lobster to shrimp and smelts, I will use rich, full-bodied chardonnays. Here are some you might consider for a similar type feast: Falcor Henry Ranch or Sonoma Mountain, Mer Soleil, Cakebread, MacCrosite, Rombauer, Far Niente and/or Amapola Creek.

On Christmas day, my wife will prepare a standing rib roast and accompany it with Dauphinoise potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Of course, this meal demands a rich and full-bodied red wine such as a cabernet sauvignon, Bordeaux Red or a Bordeaux -style blend (i.e., blends which might consist of any combination of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec, or petit verdot). Here are several which would fit the bill perfectly for the beef roast or just about any roasted meat – even grilled or smoked turkey:

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon; Joseph Phelps Insignia; Dominus; Harlan Estate- The Maiden; Merryvale Profile; Chateau La Dominique; Groth Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve; Chateau Lynch Bages; Chateau Brainaire Ducru; Chateau Cos d’Estournel; Saddleback Cabernet Sauvignon; Pontet Canet; Leoville Las Cases; Heitz Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon; and Ornellaia (from Italy).

To ring in the New Year, I always pop open a sparkler. Try one or more of these bubblies: Roderer Estate (sparkling) Paul Bara Brut Champagne; Nicholas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut Champagne; Mumm Napa Cuvee (sparkling); Veuve Cliquot Brut Champagne; Iron Horse Russian Cuvee (sparkling) Krug Grande Cuvee Brut Champagne; Perrier Jouet Grand Brut Champagne; Taittinger Comptes De Champagne Rose.

Have a great Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve, but watch out for that “runaway” Holiday Spirit!