Wednesday, August 20, 2014

PAIRING: Acid is Our Friend!

Uniquely, different wines engage foods distinctly

A Dinner Party Food & Wine Pairing can strike fear into any well intending host. Selecting wines for an engagement containing plates I had not seen before, the August Supper menu of seven(7) courses was going to be a challenge for pairing.  The described food creations were intended to offer a broad range of flavors and textures, and only one of the dishes I was fortunate to have tasted previously, but at a foreign Michelin star restaurant. Knowing that a proper pairing will not only contrast or complement the flavors offered on the dish, it will actually 'enhance', I considered the food and selected a range of fine wines.  Fortunately, those wines with good strength of acid are our friends.

As long as the perceived acid was stronger than what is prominent on the dish, I figured we have a chance to complement or contrast strong flavors.  For a muse of Gazpacho Blanco, I chose a lively, dry Prosecco made from the grape Glera of the Veneto region near Trieste.  With its austere dryness and notes of dried yellow fruits and biscuits, the Adami Garbe'l  had a tart zest that refreshed and seemed to bring out the melon/cucumber flavors of the chilled summer soup. That was followed by the only dish I had previously enjoyed, a Chicken Liver Pate' dusted with Pistachios and dressed with a Cherry-Balsamic smear. Earthy flavors of the livers would dominate, and also coat the tongue, but the smear was a sweet counterpoint. I chose a wonderful red fruit mousse of Cremant Brut Rose' of Pinot Noir from quality producer, Lucien Albrecht of Alsace. Aromas of watermelon and strawberry gave way to a refreshingly tart, bright flavor notes of white strawberry that clensed the palate and danced with the richness of the Pate' while introducing the sweet counterpoint of the smear. It was a very happy time in the mouth!
Both of these bottles of bubbles used their prominent acidity to wash the palate, while they also allowed the fresh flavors of the soup to amplify and its tongue coating richness of the Pate' to be thinned in the mouth.  What followed was also to be mufti-faceted. Seared Sea Scallops(mild) with Green Raisin Salsa nested on Watercress and Pears would introduce a sweet heat to be countered by the bitter-sweet of the greens & fruit nest. A chilled 2011 Rene Mure Pinot Gris Signature presented itself with generous, fresh aromas of acacia and stone fruits, a hint of stony-minerality.  Bone dry, its lively acidic zest was a deliciously refreshing foil to the salsa, and allowed the sweet pear flavors to be perceived more prominently.  The spike of heat was there, but surfaced between sweet impressions in the mouth offered by the pear and then the raisins.
Acid strength varies within the citrus family.

Good acid strength cuts the mouth-coating flavors and texture of fat, as well as refreshing the palate. It can reduce the tart impact of acidic foods, such as vinegars, and soften the cloyingly sweet perceptions of sugars in the mouth. Expecting a rich and earthy profile combined with beefy, mouth-coating sinewy flavors, the entree of Beef Short Ribs with Truffle-Celery Root Puree did not disappoint. It challenged the pairing of a deep, evolving richness of a prized 1980 Chateau Palmer Bordeaux Rouge. This beautiful aged Third Growth wine from prestigious Margaux with its black jam and forest floor nose was terrifically soft and yet complex on the palate; but its declining structure allowed the beef dish to muscle it around the mouth.  Equal to the task was a 2006 La Sirena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, as its firm structure and bracing acidity were still quite prominent as a framework for its stewed dark fruit and spice.  Both of these beautiful red wines, terrific on their own, engaged the same dish distinctly, each bringing something different to the flavor party.

To finish after a light Butter Lettuce Salade of Seedless Grapes, diced Red Onion & Pepper Goat Cheese, we delighted in a light presentation of Me'Me's Beach Cake with Fresh Strawberries & White Nectarines. The Beach Cake was compact, but featherweight, filled with dried fruits and topped with whipped creme. A smothering of pick of the season fruits and the biscuit qualities of the cake found a wonderful partner in a vintage dated honeysuckled Sauternes from Chateau de La Chartreuse.  It demonstrated easily how good acidity in the wine can keep the cloyingly overly-sweet perceptions for dessert wines in balance, allowing its textured stone fruit flavors to gracefully sail through.

For more food & wine pairing recommendations, visit, and as always, we should have fun with food and wine.  It really helps to work with liked wines or foods that you are familiar with, and to remember always that acid is our friend!


Thursday, July 31, 2014

BRAMBLES: Summers Zenith, Again

Zinfandel Veraison in July

It is just lazy. They are called 'dog days'. Orchard and vine fruits are growing slowly, a fine dust in the air. It is a warm, dry vapor that lifts our passive spirits as we play & work outside, measured by the dramatic change of fruit on our maturing vines. Veraison, the ripening physical change of the grape berries structure from acid producer to sugar producer has started early and with a flourish on our local vines. Each sunny late-July day away from the summers zenith we grow a little closer to the fruition that is our richly anticipated grape harvest.

As vegetative growth in the vine naturally slows, the grapevine puts more of its sun nourished resources into ripening fruit by producing sugars. White grape varieties change from tart green to more of a golden-lime, and red varieties go from an opaque green to softer garnet and violet. Soon their sugar levels will evolve high enough to balance their piquant acids for the regions many sparkling wine producers, and harvest begins.  For grape growers this is the short lazy just prior to the frantic annual culmination of their seasonal cycle.

Each year it is this weather that draws us outside, as we continue to explore venues and recipes for outdoor dining(alfresco).  Our wines typically are drawn from a chilled cooler or the refrigerator, some even get insulated to travel to remote locations offering pristine landscapes. It is the time to enjoy refreshing Albarino's from Spain or juicy-tart Sauvignon Blanc's from New Zealand or ever-popular dry Rose's from almost any warm growing wine region.  Additionally, a consistently good quality/value and wonderful food pairing wine is the Chenin Blanc-Viognier blend from Napa Valley's Pine Ridge Vineyards, with its ripe stone fruit and bright citrus notes.  There may not be a more uniform domestic wine value.
Galician vineyards of northwestern Spain

Colorful picnic items in all sorts of containers were pulled from the woven basket as we sat admiring the distant view.  Cheeses were sliced and bread was broken, yet that 'ahh' moment when came when the plastic glass of rich Chenin Blanc graced our lips. On another lazy occasion, we scattered around the ball court, purposely standing in the shade of the tall trees nearby.  Smoke from the nearby grill told us that roasted mixed vegetables and slow-roasted pork were close at hand. A glistening bottle of Senorio de Valei Rias Baixas Albarino from northern Spain was rescued from the cooler and offered refreshing lime and green apple liquid flavors across our thirsty palates.  We were outside, together, and celebrating being lazy in the sun.
Bordeaux ripens in September

Every spring optimism renews in the vineyard, and at the end of the summer zenith we hope to be rewarded, yet once again. Lucky dog!


Sunday, July 6, 2014

TASTINGS: Summer Values Found

Lazy, hazy, crazy daze envelops summer. These are long days, when it seems hard to get going early and surprisingly difficult to say a warm 'good nite'. In between we dine al fresco more often, have lighter meals and seem to make more plans to enjoy the out of doors.  This then was a prefect time to join our tasting group recently as we sat down and explored great international wine values for our warmer weather.

Kono, Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013; widely available(ours via Trader Joe's) offers a bright Kiwi style with screwcap, and it's all there: hints of lemon grass, gooseberry, wet grass, a whisper of stone fruit, lime peel and tart, bracing acidity. It lingers on the palate, offering a wet but tart and refreshing finish. Bring on the cerviche'.

Domaine du Dragon, Côtes de Provence Rose', 2013; an offering of all the usual Mediterranean suspects: Cinsault, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache grapes. Here is a delicious, light, pale salmon hue offering a nose of white strawberry, white cherry, rosewater notes, the brightness with good acidity and a little tannin crosses the palate to grab the upper lip, but leaves you thirsty for more. Here there are lingering flavors of white strawberries, Rainer cherries and rosehip that refreshes while offering a good pairing for many of our picnic items.
Commanderie de la Bargemone, Coteaux D'Aix En Provence Rose' 2013; a similar mix of sourced fruit, but one whiff and it becomes a rose' of distinction with its fresh nose of perfumed summer fruits and wet flowers. Its pale salmon hue is a clue to delicious white cherry and floral notes that are round in the mouth and linger for what seems to be an extraordinary amount of time to savor this fine summer wine.

Spainish Monastrell(Mourvedre)
 Yaso, Toro, Castilla y Leon, 2012, Tempranillo offers an opaque plue hue, and a nose of generous black fruits, licorice and pepper spice. On the palate there's notes of boysenberry, black plum, prune, tea, cola and earth spice. Complex enough to be very interesting and quite pleasant with its moderate length on the palate.  Pair this luscious import with some grillin' to do some chillin' with this found Spanish selection.

All of these selections are widely distributed and will set you back less than one(1) Jack$on. In fact, they are in the sub-15 range, and that makes them an easy addition to a lazy picnic blanket or a sizzlin' barbeque table. Summer seems to take things less seriously, as we sit back sippin' and listen' to our favorite baseball painting vocal pictures in the background.  We gather with friends and family to savor and to share.  Along the way, we have a great opportunity to delight in the find of summer values found.


ps. If you would like to see more of our seasonal wine reviews please send a comment.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

ITALY; Springs Eternal

Spring to the Market
Self-indulgent to a point, one of the important things about wine is the opportunity to be self-exploratory in the physical sensations and unique properties that a fine glass offers us. On a recent food & wine tour of northern and central Italy, continual reminders of the delightfully integral relationship between these joys of life were presented to us on a daily basis.  The fruitful bounty of this sun blessed landscape, the rich woodlands, and the generous sea produced marvels making each day a special occasion; a delicious reminder of what springs eternal.

A crisp Arneis and a grapey Barbera from Alba; Lombardy's delightful Franciacorta Rose' from producer, Cola; tart, food-friendly Dolchetto from Dogliani; a thick skinned Grechetto from Umbria's Torgiano DOC; and bright Verdicchio from Jesi of the region le Marche were all wonderful palate discoveries that enhanced each of the meals that accompanied them.  Regional wine tastings with agricultural entrepreneur Lungaroti of Umbria and then Poliziano of Montepulciano with its award winning, mouth-watering Rosso di Montepulciano (2012) only confirmed the joie de vivre that beautiful springtime Italy can offer. Regional wine events such as Asti's, Vinissage, a wine showcase of organic, bio-dynamic and natural products afford springtime visitors here a unique occasion to taste a broad range of emerging Italian wines in a single public location. Should you care to explore the surroundings by foot or auto, there's the serendipitous scattering of outdoor/indoor individual producer tastings during the fun annual weekend event known as WineStreet with numerous locations around the Piemonte area.

It is the delicious regional food, too, as much as anything that reflects so positively on springtime in these rich, undulating hills. Here products from the woodlands: pig and fungal(mushroom & truffel) populations are introduced in countless ways to enhance many types of dishes. Year round produce of fertile valleys festively decorate rural farmstands and the many colorful city markets. Fresh, unpasteurized dairy products, yogurts and fresh cheeses enhance the farm to table movement that seems always to be alive in Italy. Ultimately, there are marvelous plating's of delicate pastas with truffel, funghi, panceta, sausage or wild boar, a baseline to crescendo of second courses displaying the freshest sea foods, poultry and savory woodland rabbit(and my favorite, veal).
Whimsical New Age slow food plating with foam essence: Il Postale
Here in these diverse regions there is found the evolution of traditional Italian cooking as well as the advance guard of the new age gourmands, like Marco Bistarelli of Il Postale outside Perugia. There are the high standards regulated upon traditional regional winemaking, as well as the consistency of excellence created in the sustainable winegrowing of Verona's Aldrighetti family. In our recent tasting, their Adlrighetti Lorenzo e CristoForo Valpolicella offered bright, fresh aromas of dried red fruits that carried a food-friendly song throughout the generous and lengthy finish.

Vinissage exhibitors offer broad quality selections
Each day of our tour of these regions, Piemonte to Umbria to le Marche, offered the rich excitement not only of new regional discoveries, but also of seeing familiar things anew.  Wines here are an essential part of the balanced meal, and we rarely found ourselves spending any more than 13 Euro for a quaff-able bottle, even in a restaurant.  Sunshine filled these many days of discovery, and around every corner we delighted in what Italy today offers the food and wine visitor.  Here, the celebration of the land and of its life springs eternal.

Grazie mille, and salute!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

WINE STUDY: Sangiovese, Please!

Lazio's Tarquina_Tomb of the Leopard fresco
It's the 'Blood of Jove', and has been around so long that it has developed in its native land numerous successful clones(14).  Having long history in this land of wine, you might expect that its development is shrouded in some mystery, having evolved from varieties Calabrese Montenuovo, an ancient parent, and Ciliegiolo(disputed) which is rooted to Italian as 'cherry'.  Throughout the centuries, it has traveled from its home, with only a very few pronounced successes.  This thick skinned, high tannin red grape of robust natural acid, also tends to be quite finicky in its flourishing vineyard site selections.  And yet, when comparing the localities where it does do well, it offers a unique sense of place, of terrior. In Tuscany it has found a home, and Sangiovese is its name.

Tuscany alone has 33 DOC's, 9 DOCG's, defined and regulated production areas, and most of them dedicated for zones of Sangiovese production.  Little grown outside Italy, this iconic varietal only represents about 10% of all plantings within its native Italy. Although the grape is recommended in as many as 53 provinces, Sangiovese has been identified in 259 DOC's across Italy, but it is in Tuscany where it shines brightest. That being said, the varietal over its long history has produced relatively few notable wines, squandered its place on the wine globe with straw-wrapped (fiascos)bottles, damaging its pedigree perception. and in the past seemed only to draw attention to itself via scandal. Reform was instituted in new national regulations 1963, and overhauled in 1992 to comply with the expanding EU requirements.

Even within Tuscany there are style and regulatory variations. Fruit forward to rustic in style, Tuscan Sangiovese can be lighter if blended with permitted a sub-zones white grapes(Malvasia and Trebbiano), or hearty if blended with domineering Cabernet Sauvignon. It can be oak driven if a Chianti Superiore, which has a minimum aging of 9 months with a minimum alcohol of 12%, or have a fruit-driven style if labeled simply Chianti, which has minimums of 3 month aging and 11.5% alcohol. It can be confusing, but such distinctions offer a broad compositional canvas for regional Sangiovese.

Regulations differ region to region, consortium to consortium, perhaps because of the historical power of the unified growers & producers.  As an example, Chianti Classico, the original administrative dictated zone, requires minimum 80% Sangiovese, and blending varieties are restricted(prohibits white varieties). Historically blended with Colorino or Mammolo, some contemporary producers have blended non-native, international varieties, such as Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, creating blends outside what was allowed, and thereby creating the IGT's of 'Super Tuscan' fame.

In the south of the region, Vino Nobile Montepulciano DOCG is made with the Prugnolo Gentile clone; a wine which is minimum 70% Sangiovese, with components of Canaiolo Nero and Mammolo.  South of Sienna, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, is restrictively vinted from the Sangiovese Grosso clone, and has longer minimum aging requirements than any other Sangiovese production zone. Reflected by growing price points & awards, within the last generation or two, the blood of Jove, has had a regional quality revolution, spawning many estates crowning achievement after a successful vintage.  A congestion of vowels, the names of great producers lumber across the palate; Marchesi Antinori, Castello di Fonterutoli, and Fattoria di Felsina. And, there are more and more traditionalists finding their way to advancing quality and consistency every day.

Soon I will embark on a personal discovery of the regional and sub-regional terrior driven Sangiovese clones of central Italy.  Our exploration will take us from the land of Nebbiolo to the ancestral land of Verdicchio, traversing Tuscany and Umbria on the way. Future posts will provide personal insights from this newly certified Wine Educator into our immersed  wine study where we will commonly have the opportunity to say, "Sangiovese, please"!
Salute! And thanks for coming along to raise a glass or two!!