Vines & Vittles

Wine Weekend Getaways

Now that winter is in the rear view mirror (I hope) and spring has arrived, it’s time to plan a few nice-weather getaways. And, surprise, all of these jaunts I’m recommending involve exposure to and consumption of good food and wine.

Let’s start close to home.

Taste of Parkersburg
This gourmet extravaganza kicks off on Friday evening, June 1, with a special wine and food dinner. On Saturday June 2, (from 5. to 11 p.m.) attendees will be able to graze outdoors and sample the edible wares from more than a dozen local restaurants. There will also be more than 40 wines from which to select. Call 304-865-0522 or email wendy@downtownpkb.com for more information on the Taste of Parkersburg.

West Virginia Wine and Jazz Festival
This event will be held on September 15th and 16th (Saturday and Sunday) at Camp Muffly near Morgantown. Local and regional wines will be available for tasting (Saturday: 11 AM – 6 PM, Sunday: 12 noon – 6 PM.) Admission is $20 per person/per day and includes a commemorative wine glass. Contact http://wvwineandjazz.com/tickets/ for tickets.

Wine and All That Jazz
This annual fest will be held on Saturday, June 23, on the lawn at the University of Charleston. The event is hosted by The Fund for the Arts and offers a variety of foods as well as West Virginia wines. In addition, the entertainment will feature a full day of performances by several renowned jazz musicians. Tickets are $30 each ($35 the day of the festival). Contact http://www.festivallcharleston.com/ for more information.

For those of you who want to make your wine and food adventure a vacation, you might check into these two special gourmet events: The Food and Wine Classic at Aspen, Colorado and the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) in McMinneville, Oregon.

Food & Wine Classic, Aspen, CO
This is among the top five food and wine weekends (June 15-17) in the nation. You will be fed by some of the best culinary talent in the country and be able to rub elbows with the wine illuminati while sampling their vinous products.
The days are filled with cooking demonstrations, seminars and tastings with more than 300 wines represented at the Grand Tasting Pavilion. This is not an inexpensive undertaking at $1700 a person. Check out the itinerary at http://www.foodandwine.com.

International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon
This spectacular celebration of pinot noir is held each year on the last weekend in July (27-29 this year) at a small college campus in a town about 45 minutes south of Portland. While the weekend focuses on different aspects of producing pinot noir in Oregon and around the world, you’ll also spend a great deal of time sipping wine. And the food is absolutely phenomenal since you will be catered to throughout the weekend by the best chefs in the Pacific Northwest.

I’ve been to IPNC four times and I’m considering making it five this summer. It’s also very expensive at $1295 a ticket, but you might be able to rationalize the expense (like I did) if you call it a vacation. Anyway, it is a very special wine and food experience and I highly recommend it. Go to their website: ipnc.org for more information and to sign up.

Three memorable food and wine pairings

I’ve always stressed the importance of pairing your favorite wine with a complimentary food – or vice-versa. Why? Well to quote Aristotle : “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

In other words, if you think that thick, bone-in rib-eye is culinary nirvana, pair it with the right wine and the whole experience is elevated to a completely new level of sensory satisfaction. Sound hedonistic? Maybe, but hey, why only treat your palate to half the potential pleasure?

Today, I’m going to tell you about three recent food and wine pairing experiences that have been real “Aha Moments” for me. These occasions reminded me just how satisfying and fun it can be to find that perfect marriage of a particular wine with a complimentary dish.

It started with a meal at Sam’s Uptown Café during Restaurant Week. I love the varied menu at Sam’s, and the weekend brunch offerings are always superb. But this particular course at Restaurant Week was absolutely spectacular: Boar sausage roll with hen of the woods mushroom, heirloom tomato ragu, sautéed escarole and house ricotta. I selected a 2014 Wente Riva Ranch Arroyo Secco Pinot Noir to pair with the course. Sometimes selecting the right wine can be the result of a thoughtful and reasoned approach or it might just be the right guess and a big dose of dumb luck.

In this case, it was the latter, but what a great guess it was! Pinot noir, particularly from California’s central coast, can have earthy, root vegetable nuances which, in this pairing, particularly complimented the hen of the woods mushroom that was the prime ingredient in the boar sausage roll. Wonderful!

Food and Wine Synergy

The second exceptional marriage of wine with a specific dish occurred at FeastivALL – the annual fundraiser for FestivALL where attendees attempt to pick a winner between wine and beer selections matched with each of five courses. I paired the course featuring lentil soup -composed of herb fennel sausage, roasted vegetables and grilled crostini – with a 2007 Bernard Faurie St. Joseph, a syrah from the northern Rhone Valley in France.

This hearty lentil soup needed a full-bodied and dry red, but one with enough acidity to provide a refreshing balance to the complex flavors of the dish. Zinfandel or a big cabernet sauvignon might have overwhelmed the soup, but the French syrah was perfect. I don’t think a California syrah or shiraz from Australia would have worked either because that style of syrah tends to accentuate the fruit sweetness of the grape.

Oh, by the way, in the beer vs wine throw down, FeastivALL attendees chose wine as the overall beverage winner this year!

The other excellent pairing of food and wine I experienced recently occurred during a visit to my brother Spike who lives in North Carolina. Spike lived the dream many of us have of owning and cooking at our very own restaurant. His five year stint (sentence?) as chief cook and bottle washer at a bistro-like establishment left him with burn marks on his hands and arms, a whole new epithet-enhanced vocabulary and a renewed appreciation for cooking at home.

Spike spent a career in the wine business so, when we get together, we do eat and drink well. This last visit, my brother bought a whole striped bass and rubbed the interior cavity of the fish (which had been dressed) with olive oil, garlic, lemon slices, coarsely ground black pepper and herbs. He then completely covered and packed the exterior of the fish with kosher salt and roasted it in the oven for about an hour.

The fish was moist, fragrant and luscious, and the 2014 Michel Lafarge Aligote made this experience deliciously memorable. Aligote is the other white of Burgundy (which most famously produces chardonnay) and the Lafarge wine is full of ripe green apple flavors, minerality and, in this instance, was a refreshing and harmonious compliment to the striped bass.

So the next time you’re thinking of uncorking a bottle of wine or you’re ruminating about what to prepare for dinner, consider combining the two endeavors. It will surely make the overall experience more complete and pleasurable.

Wine can be a pretty complicated hobby. So much of the language of wine is foreign and intimidating, and the incredible number of choices can be overwhelming. That’s why I try to simplify the process of wine appreciation as much as possible. Heck, I’ll even make fun of the whole wine snobbery thing from time to time.

Those of you old enough to remember my weekly wine columns in the 1980s, may recall that I asked members of the (apocryphal) Southside Bridge Tasting Club (SBTC) to act as a kind of tasting panel. Monthly, in the dead of night, I would visit the great bridge under which my expert panel would gather to sip and then critique the various wines of the time. The group would help me evaluate products for that segment of the wine drinking public that was — how shall I put it — more plebian in their tastes.

Today, I still try to avoid the pretentious aspect of wine appreciation, particularly when I recommend a bottle for your drinking pleasure. At a minimum, I hope you will at least have some idea what the wine actually tastes like. In addition, I hope that my description of the wine’s attributes leads you to understand why I suggest pairing it with a particular dish.

As you might expect, I spend a good deal of time not only tasting and then evaluating wine, I also read the descriptions of wines I have not tasted to determine if I should suggest them to you.

And while I’ll admit my wine descriptors are relatively short and to the point, most of the wine tasting notes I read from national experts are anything but brief. Here’s a typical example of how a critic from one of the national wine publications recently described a bottle of California cabernet sauvignon:

Dark ruby in color. Explosive aromatics feature a mix of ripe cherry, sweet spice, and dried rose petal, all framed by new oak nuances. Richly textured, packed with sweet red fruits, black cherry compote, tobacco, and licorice, finishing with dusty tannins and a juicy acid backbone. Drink now for its youthful extravagance, or hold off until at least 2035.

Huh??? This sounds like a mish-mash of totally disgusting and incompatible ingredients and a recipe for heartburn…or worse. If it wasn’t for those “dusty tannins and that juicy acid backbone”…

Every now and then, I’ll come up with some pretty obtuse, otherworldly or off-the-grid descriptions, but they’re always done with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. But the above-cited quote is, unfortunately, a pretty standard type description used by today’s wine intelligentsia.

Here are two wines for your consideration described in (hopefully) understandable, but not quite monosyllabic, language:

Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi Ultra Cuvee – This lovely sparkling wine from Sonoma’s Carneros district has aromas of almonds and toast. It is rich, yet balanced, with flavors ripe, green apples. Use it as an aperitif or with brunch foods.

2013 Sant’Antonio Paradiso – From Italy’s Veneto region, this medium-bodied red is full of ripe cherry flavors with just a touch of oak on the finish. Try it with barbecue baby back ribs that have been dry-rubbed with black pepper, kosher salt, brown sugar and cayenne pepper.

So the next time, you read about how a wine is “ethereal, orgasmic, or full of dusty tannin undertones,” go get a bottle of Annie Green Springs, unscrew the cap and toast the members of the Southside Bridge Tasting Club.

Wine and food resolutions for the New Year

Most of us will be out celebrating on New Year’s Eve.  When we wake up the next morning it will be 2018 and, after the obligatory New Year’s morning headache, guilt will set in and we’ll probably begin to think about resolving to seek self-improvement in the year ahead.

Sure, you could go to the gym, cut back on carbohydrates, or even make a concerted effort to think positive thoughts about your mother-in-law. But next month when these resolutions have gone down in flames, you’ll need something to boost your morale and repair your damaged self-esteem.

Well, why not resolve to improve an aspect of your life that you already find appealing and gratifying? How about considering some wine and food resolutions for the New Year that might just take your enjoyment of these endorphin-enhancing staples to new heights.

And keeping these resolutions will be so easy and rewarding that you’ll probably wish to make them permanent. So here are my wine and food related resolutions for 2018. You might wish to consider them too.

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– Try unfamiliar appellations and wines like: pinot noir from Central Otago on the South Island of New Zealand (great with grilled salmon); the other white wine from Burgundy – Aligote (especially good with scallops); or Aglianico, the spicy red from the Campania region of southern Italy that is a lovely match with rack of lamb.

– Explore the wines of our sister state. The wine regions around Charlottesville and up the spine of the Blue Ridge mountains in Virginia have emerged as the best appellations on the east coast. I especially like the cabernet franc, viognier and chardonnay produced there. Rappahannock oysters, local cheeses, country ham and smoked tomato grits pair nicely with Virginia wines.

– Drink more sparkling wines with weekday meals and on non-special event occasions. Champagne and sparklers such as Cava from Spain, Cremant from Alsace and Prosecco from Italy go especially well with spicy dishes from places like Mexico, India and Thailand.

Reexamine the wines of West Virginia. There are more than 20 wineries in our state and, while many of them are producing very good sweet wines and dry French-American hybrids (such as seyval blanc and chambourcin), others are trying to grow the better (vitis vinifera) varieties like cabernet, merlot, chardonnay and riesling.

– Drink more sweet wines as aperitifs and with dessert. Some folks have the misconception that sweet wines are for beginning wine drinkers or the unsophisticated. I think that is a largely an American myth since a lot of us associate sweet wines with the unpleasant experiences we might have had in our youth with sugary, high alcohol products. You might try Sauternes or Barzac from France, late harvest riesling from Germany or California or Vin Santo and Moscato di Asti from Italy.

And while it will be difficult for me to accomplish all of these New Year’s resolutions in 2018, I’ve resolved not to completely abandon moderation in pursuit of them.

Happy New Year!

Wine for your holiday meals

Unlike Thanksgiving, the Christmas day meal does not have a universally accepted main course. In these United States, turkey is the traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece around which we prepare a whole host of other edible goodies such as bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. But the Christmas day repast is a more diverse culinary undertaking where our ethnic and/or cultural heritage largely determines what we put on the table that sacred day.

In homes where the ancestral heritage derives from the British Isles, Germany or other northern European locales, we Americans tend to lean toward either a repeat of Thanksgiving (with turkey and all the trimmings); we prepare a prime rib roast-centric meal; or we opt for baked ham as the featured main course.

In largely Catholic countries, like Italy, Christmas Eve dinner is just as important as the meal on Christmas day, and the menu is built around seafood. In my home, where I try to enjoy the best of both culinary traditions, my wife and I divide up responsibility for the two meals. I’m in charge of Christmas Eve while she prepares the Christmas Day feast.

So today, I’m going to recommend wines to accompany a Christmas Eve seafood dinner as well as vinous goodies to pair with Christmas day meals featuring prime rib, turkey or ham. Oh, and since New Year’s Eve is also rapidly approaching, I’ll suggest some sparklers to help you celebrate 2018.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian culinary tradition that many Americans observe. In my home, we sometimes exceed the seven fishes, but we always have at least calamari, cod, shrimp, smelts, oysters, mussels and salmon on the menu. Since many of these sea creatures will be deep fried, it’s best to pair them with wines that are medium bodied, refreshing and even thirst quenching

Just what the Gourmand ordered

Italian whites: Arneis: Cortese di Gavi: Greco di Tufo; and Falanghina; California Chardonnay: Cakebread Cellars; Ridge Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains; Far Niente; and Dutton-Goldfield.

On Christmas day, if you’re preparing oven-roasted turkey as the main course, these wines will pair nicely: Chateauneuf Du Pape; Brunello Di Montalcino; Rioja; California zinfandel (I love the ones from Amador) or Chianti Classsico Riserva.

For baked ham with a sweet glaze, give red, white and rose these wines a try: Tavel Rose; Alsatian Riesling; Oregon or Sonoma Coast pinot noir; Malbec from Argentina; Teroldego (red) from northern Italy.

For the Christmas meal at Chez Brown, my wife will dry rub a bone-in prime rib roast with garlic, kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper. Then she’ll roast it in the oven until it’s medium rare. Here’s what I’m considering for a wine accompaniment: 10-year or older Bordeaux Red; Meritage from Napa Valley; Northern Rhone Red (syrah from Cote Rotie); or an Italian Super Tuscan Blend.

There is nothing quite like Champagne or sparkling wine to ring in the New Year. Give one or more of these Champagnes a try: 2005 Charles Heidsieck Brut Millésime; Krug Grande Cuvee Brut; Nicholas Feuillatte “Blue Label” Brut; Veuve Cliquot Brut; and Piper-Heidesieck Brut Cuvée.

Sparkling wine (from regions other than Champagne): Mumm Napa Cuvee; Segura Viudas Reserva (Spain); Roderer Estate Brut Anderson Valley; La Marca Prosecco; Gruet Blanc de Noirs (New Mexico); Iron Horse Russian Cuvee; and Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace.

Have a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a prosperous New Year’s Eve!

Holiday gifts for your wine lover

Right about now, you’re probably scratching your head and fretting over what special wine or related gift to give your favorite wine lover this holiday season.
Well, fret no more! You’re intrepid wino has a few recommendations for your consideration and I’m sure one or more of these vinous gift ideas just might work.

Wine Books
In my opinion, the absolute best wine reference book is the World Atlas of Wine by Janis Robinson and Hugh Johnson. It’s a compendium of everything you need to know about wine, including information on specific grapes, wines and regions, as well as label descriptions, and the culture and history of wine. Check for it at your local bookshop or online.

How about a little wine and intrigue? Get yourself a copy of Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup. This page-turner deals with the lengths to which French wine makers went to protect their precious products from the Nazis in WWII.

Wine Storage
Finding a place to store your special wine is always a challenge. One pretty neat option is the Wine Enthusiast Six -Bottle Touch screen Wine Refrigerator. This adjustable, temperature- controlled wine refrigerator is a great gift for those who don’t have a lot of storage space, but want a reliable place to keep their special bottles. Check it out at: www.wineenthusiast.com. $130 with free shipping.

Wine Stemware
The aesthetics of sipping wine in crystal is oftentimes a very expensive proposition, but it’s nice to occasionally break out (probably not the best choice of words) the special stemware for that celebratory event. Riedel, Schott Zweise and Spiegelau are probably the best options for really fine crystal. You can find them at wine shops, department stores and online. Christmas Clarets

Stocking Stuffers
– How would you like to turn that special bottle of wine into a beautiful candleholder? Adam Morton of Bridgeview Candles, Accessories and Designs will do it for you. Check out his Facebook page (Bridgeview Candles) to peruse his work. You can also call him at 304-610-1553 or email him info@bridgevewcandles.com. Adam’s studio is located at 139 South Court St. in Fayetteville, across the street from the Cathedral Café.

– For the manual dexterity challenged wine drinkers in your life, you might slip a container of Wine Away in that Christmas stocking. Wine Away is a red wine strain remover that cleans up a clears out those stains that so often appear on your clothes or carpet when people like me are attempting to sip and speak at the same time. Shop for it locally or simply Google “Wine Away” and find it online for about $10.

– Name It Wine Glass Markers are cool and colorful pens you can use to write on wine glasses, bottles or any glass surfaces. Great for signing that special wine gift and priced under $10. Amazon or other online sellers have it stocked for the Holidays

– I like to keep track of the truly special wines I have consumed, but getting the labels off the bottles is a real pain. So I recommend using Label Off. This product is an easy way to remove and collect those special wine labels. Label Off splits the printed surface of the paper from the adhesive backing leaving a laminated label to place into your wine catalog. Find it online at around $10.

Special Holiday Wines
The last several vintages (2012 through 2015) of cabernet sauvignon and red blends (meritages) from Napa and other northern California wine regions have been excellent. So you might consider these opulent, full-bodied, rich and balanced cabernets and meritages for that special red wine lover.

Meritages: Anderson’s Conn Valley Right Bank; Cain Five; Vineyard 29 Aida; Newton Claret; Joseph Phelps Insignia; Beringer Knights Valley Meritage; Artesia Meritage and William Hill Benchmark Meritage.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Shafer Stags Leap; Franciscan Napa Valley; Robert Mondavi Reserve; Rudd Mount Veeder; Beaulieu Georges De Latour Private Reserve; Joseph Heitz Martha’s Vineyard; Cliff Lede Vineyards; Stags Leap Wine Cellars; Caymus Special Selection Cabernet and Siler Oak Napa.

Thanksgiving Wines: many vinous choices!

At least once a week, I get asked this question: ‘What is your favorite wine?’ And my answer is always the same: “It depends.”

Now, you might think that’s a way of avoiding the question, but to me your query is incomplete unless you tell me what type of food you intend to pair with the wine. I simply don’t believe wine can be properly enjoyed just on the merits of its own flavors, aromas and textures – without some type of food context.

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But, if the question is stated in this manner: What is your favorite wine with, say, beef tenderloin? I might ask the how beef will be prepared? Will it be marinated, dry-rubbed (and with what spices) or just seasoned with salt and pepper? Will it be grilled, pan sautéed or oven roasted? Based upon your answers to those questions, I would then recommend several wines that would marry nicely with that particular treatment of beef tenderloin.

So with Thanksgiving only a week away, you can probably guess what question I’ve been asked lately. Well, there’s a problem in answering this one. But it’s a good problem for a wine lover to have. Why? Well, Thanksgiving dinner is about the easiest meal you’ll ever have for which to select the right wine. As a matter of fact, it’s almost impossible not to find at least one good wine and food pairing during this holiday meal.

For years, I‘ve touted the culinary versatility of turkey to be equally successfully paired with both white and red, as well as with light or full-bodied wines. The reason is the “National Bird” is blessed with meat that has different flavors, colors and textures. Add to this the way it is prepared – from traditional oven-baking, to deep frying, to grilling, to smoking (with hardwood such as apple) -and you have even more wine choices from which to select.

When you prepare stuffing to accompany the meal, you add a whole other flavor dimension which, depending upon the nature of the dressing, opens up even more wine possibilities. For example, one Thanksgiving I stuffed a charcoal grilled turkey with cornbread, Monterey jack cheese, ancho chili peppers and chorizo sausage. What wine, you might ask, did I serve with this non-traditional turkey and stuffing?

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Well, I started with Beaujolais Nouveau as an aperitif, proceeded to open a bottle of pinot gris from Alsace for those who preferred white wine, and uncorked a full-bodied Alexander Valley zinfandel for those who preferred a big red. And guess what? It worked. For dessert, I selected a bottle of Mendocino County late harvest gewürztraminer to accompany the pumpkin pie. Then I plopped down on the couch to watch some other NFL team beat up the Detroit Lions.

For the traditional oven-roasted turkey with a chestnut, sage bread dressing, I suggest a light to medium bodied white wine such Soave or Arneis from Italy, a white Bordeaux or any steely, non-oaked chardonnay. For reds, with this meal, you might pair a pinot noir from the Sonoma Coast, a Chianti Classico from Tuscany, or a Chateauneuf du Pape from France. And older reds, such as a claret from Bordeaux, Brunello Di Montalcino from Tuscany or a California cabernet sauvignon, go nicely as well.

Whatever you choose, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sampling Italian wine and food at the Source

I recently returned from an overseas trip where I ate and drank like Nero in and around a noble estate located in the hills not too far from Rome. And while I may be slightly exaggerating the quantities of food and wine I consumed, I did feel like Roman nobility since I stayed at a villa overlooking an Italian castle.

In fact, I had the privilege of staying at Villa DiTrapano, a beautifully appointed lodging facility located in the mountain village of Sezze about one hour southeast of Rome. Charleston Attorney Rudy DiTrapano and his family own the villa and a 17th century Castelletto (castle) on the property that is currently being restored. Check out their website at: www.villaditrapano.com/

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Rome is the capitol of Lazio (pronounced Lat-zee-oo) and of the entire country. Lazio is one of 20 states or provinces in Italy, but I had never visited any other part of this region near Rome. And I had certainly never experienced the wines of Lazio. But that changed very quickly as our group tasted our way through as many of the local wines as we could.

You’ve probably never heard of wines made from grapes such as nero buono (red) or bombino bianco (white), but these vines produce exceptionally good bottles of wine. Lazio also makes wines such as syrah and trebbiano that you probably have sampled, but when I’m in a new area, I love to drink the indigenous varieties.

lazio-vineyards

It always amazes me to discover that no matter where I travel, the best wines are the ones that are made from vines which are native to the area. Whether you’re in the Cori Valley of Lazio drinking bombino or in the Willamette Valley of Oregon sipping pinot noir, you won’t go wrong drinking local.

And every region and sub-region of Italy seems to be known for specialty foods. My wife and I also spent several days in Apulia along the heel of the Italian boot and reveled in the cornucopia of diverse food and wine. We visited and tasted our way through picturesque towns such Martina Franca that is the capocollo capital of Italy.

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In Martina Franca, we visited a butcher who demonstrated how capocollo is made. Meat from the neck of locally raised pigs is salted, marinated in a cooked wine with spices, stuffed in a natural casing, smoked and then hung to cure for up to six months. The resulting thinly sliced capocollo is a delicious treat, especially when accompanied by the full-flavored red wines of Apulia such as primitivo or negroamaro.

Back in Sezze, we were delighted by the quality of the local restaurants and the friendliness of the citizens, most of whom tolerated our feeble, but well-intentioned attempts to communicate with them in Italian. Fortunately, most everyone under 40 spoke English.

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And right outside the gates leading to Villa DiTrapano, we could walk and find everything, including fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and seafood, excellent bread, wines and spirits and mouth-watering pastries. We could not get enough of the small, circular, biscotti-type cookies called Taralli that were coated with cinnamon and sugar. Taralli produced in other regions can be seasoned with herbs and/or salt and pepper, but the Tarali made in Sezze were addictively sweet treats.

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The fully-equipped kitchen at Villa DiTrapano was too much of a temptation for us to ignore so we prepared our own feast of pasta with porcini mushrooms, sautéed hot and sweet peppers, grilled local Bisteca (rib-eye), fresh salad and – of course – bombino bianco and nero buono.

Oh, and we finished the meal off with little rounds of Taralli!

Salmon Italiano: great with vino rosso or bianco

If you live in or around Charleston and you enjoy fresh seafood, I know you’ve shopped at Joe’s Fish Market (304-342-7827) on the corner of  Brooks and Quarrier Streets. Two brothers – Joe and Robin Harmon- have been providing our area with fresh treats from the sea for decades.

I venture into Joe’s at least once a week when I’m “jonesing” for salmon. I’m not a fan of poaching the fish, but I really enjoy grilling or smoking salmon, and basting it with various concoctions. I actually do a riff on Joe’s hot smoked salmon, but I have to admit that it’s hard to beat the original version that Robin prepares each week on his smoker out behind the market.

At Joes, the hot smoked salmon is brined in water, salt, brown sugar and garlic for a few hours and then smoked for up to an hour over apple wood. They also use farm-raised salmon and recommend choosing it rather than wild caught salmon (like King, Coho, Sockeye, etc.) which tends to dry out if you’re not careful. Try a slab of Joe’s hot smoked salmon and maybe you’ll be inspired, like I was, to experiment with different methods of preparing this exceptionally versatile fish.

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Today, I’m going to share a salmon recipe that I’ve created which involves using a brine, a dry rub and then charcoal grilling the fish to delicious perfection. It’s a little time consuming, but really easy and definitely worth the effort. This recipe uses a charcoal, but you can use a gas grill by cooking the fish indirectly and using a smoke box.

And, of course, I’m recommending wines that will enhance your dining experience. In this case, you may select either a full-bodied white wine or medium-bodied red to pair with the dish. See my suggestions below.

 

 

Salmon Italiano

Ingredients
One salmon filet with skin on (usually 2 to 3 lbs)
One-half bottle of dry white wine (sip the rest while grilling)
Three quarts of cold water
One cup each of Kosher salt and light brown sugar
Four garlic cloves minced
One-half teaspoon each of crushed red pepper flakes and dried oregano
One teaspoon each of fennel seed and coarsely ground black pepper
Two teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
One cup of apple wood chips

How To
Make a brine (in large pot) of the salt, sugar, water, wine and half the garlic
Stir and dissolve the brine ingredients and pour into a gallon baggie
Place salmon filet in brine making sure the liquid covers the fish
Put baggie into the pot and place in refrigerator for two to three hours
Soak wood chips in warm water for same amount of time
Remove salmon from brine and pat dry
Sauté the fennel seed in a dry pan until slightly toasted
Grind in a food mill (or use a large knife) to crush the fennel seeds
Rub olive oil all over fish and place on aluminum foil in a long oven pan
Rub the garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, oregano and fennel evenly onto filet
Make a charcoal fire and divide coals evenly on either side of the grill
Drain wood chips and place in and on charcoal fire
Place pan with salmon between the two piles of charcoal and put lid on grill
Keep grill vents wide open on top and bottom of the grill
Grill salmon for 15 minutes

Salmon is done when slightly firm to the touch

Wine Recommendations:

2014 Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay ($30) This is a rich, yet perfectly balanced, chardonnay that has hints of vanilla on the nose and a creamy mouth feel with ripe apple flavors and refreshing acidity that marries well with the salmon.

2013 Castello Banfi Rosso di Montalcino ($27) Fruit forward, rich and medium-bodied sangiovese (Baby Brunello) that is full of dark cherry flavors with just a hint of oak on the finish. Great accompaniment to the Salmon Italiano.

Summer foods: A sparkling idea!

Summer is a time to kick back and relax. Picnics, barbecues, back porch lounging and casual dining rule the day and that’s a very good thing. So the beverages we choose to match the lighter, fresher and more casual foods we consume this time of year should not only be delicious, but also refreshing too.

But nothing should require us to eliminate whatever style or type of wine we wish to drink. So if you prefer full-bodied reds with your barbecued chicken, go ahead and uncork one – just know that popping that bottle in the refrigerator for a half hour before you drink it will make the experience a whole lot more enjoyable.

But me? I prefer summer-style wines such as rose’, lighter whites like pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc or albarino and less intense reds such as Beaujolais, pinot noir or Dolcetto. But there is one particular type of wine that is my overall warm weather favorite and that’s because of its versatility with just about any food, and its overall refreshing nature.

This is a wine that goes equally well with fish, meat, veggies or fruit. You can match it with spicy foods like jalapeno pepper -infused dishes as well as delicate seafood entrees such as Dover sole. This wine is really good with popcorn, anchovies and pizza, and it punks any type of beer as the go-to beverage for chili, baby back ribs or even fried hot banana peppers.

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I’m talking about Champagne and sparkling wine! Yes, the wine that most of us only open on celebratory occasions is probably the most flexible beverage to use with just about any food – even a green salad with vinaigrette dressing. I am not a food chemist (though I have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express), but the refreshing fruity flavor and mouth cleansing bubbles seem to marry well with just about any dish.

We seem to forget how good sparklers are with everyday meals, especially those that are spicy, rich or salty. And you really do have a wide variety of reasonably priced domestic and international wines from which to choose such as Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy and Champagne-like wines from just about every wine-producing country including the US.

Here’s a little refresher on sparkling wine.  While many sparklers are made in the Champagne method, none can be called by that famous moniker unless they are produced from grapes grown in the region of Champagne in northern France.

If you recall, the Champagne method (or methode champenoise) is a process where still wines (traditionally pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier) are blended and then put in a bottle to which yeast and a small amount of sugar are added. This causes the wine to go through a secondary fermentation and the result is a bubbly wine like Champagne. While Champagne is regarded as the gold standard, many other countries produce excellent sparkling wine using this method.

And while true Champagne (which is the most expensive of all sparkling wine) certainly deserves to be paired with decadent foods like foie gras or caviar, it and other sparklers are equally copasetic with just about any dish on the planet. Hey, if food could talk, don’t you think a spicy dish like chili would prefer to be paired with Champagne rather than that hoppy,foamy yellow stuff?

Champagne is priced from the mid thirties to upwards of hundreds of dollars a bottle. Here a few of my favorites priced under $60: Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve; Nicolas Feuillatte Brut; Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut; Moet & Chandon Imperial; Veuve Cliquot (Yellow Label); and Perrier Jouet Grand Brut.

Sparkling wines (those made outside France, but using the Champagne method) priced under $30: Gloria Ferrer Brut; Schramsburg Brut; Domaine Carneros; Mumm Cuvee Napa; Domaine Chandon Reserve; Piper Sonoma Brut; Ste. Michelle Brut; Castillo Perelada Cava Brut Rosado; Dibon Cava; and Gustave Lorentz Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé.

Prosecco (these don’t use the Champagne method) priced from $10 – $20 a bottle: Santa Margherita; Ruffino; Zardetto; Lamarca; and Mionetto.