Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A glass of Barbera d'Asti with a homemade Marinated Roasted Peppers and Broccolini Pizza

A couple of weekends ago, my daughter decided to make a pizza from scratch. In some ways, she was inspired by our new cooking book Pizza: And other savory pies. The book has some good thin crust and whole wheat pizza dough recipes, and also basic toppings recipes like caramelized onions and marinated roasted peppers. Moreover, it is filled with mouth-watering photos, which is why we bought it in the first place.

She decided to try the whole-wheat pizza dough topped with marinated roasted peppers and broccolini. The result, to our delight, was a crunchy, flavor-rich pizza, and very professionally made.

Whole wheat Pizza with marinated roasted peppers and broccolini

With the pizza, we opened a 2003 Garetto Barbera d'Asti Superiore Fava. Barbera d'Asti is a Piedmontese appellation located around the town of Asti. It produces a red wine mainly from the native grape Barbera. Tenuta Garetto is a small wine estate established at the beginning of the last century. It has 18 hectares of vines near Asti, growing on south and southwest facing hills at about 250 meters above sea level. Plantings are 80% Barbera and 20% Dolcetto, Grignolino, and Chardonnay.

To our pleasure, the wine exhibited a dark garnet color and a peppery nose of blackberry. On the palate, it was lush, spicy and full-bodied with earthy notes on the finish.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Scallops with Vanilla Sauce and a Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains

A few days ago, a good friend of mine showed me one of her favorite recipes: Scallops with Vanilla Sauce. This is the kind of recipe that I like, easy to make and the result is delicious: pan fry the scallops with butter, then remove them from the pan. Pour white wine, cream, and fish stock infused with a couple of split vanilla beans. Bring to a gentle broil. Return the scallops to the pan and allow to simmer. Season to taste. To serve, spoon the sauce over two or three scallops and garnish with a piece of vanilla bean.

Scallops with Vanilla Sauce

With the scallops, we tasted a 2005 Chaine d'Or Chardonnay Santa Cruz Mountains that I bought at my local grocery store. Chaine d'Or Vineyards is a small winery located above the town of Woodside, in the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation. The wine showed a light golden color with a nose of ripe pears. On the palate, it was nutty, creamy, with a fresh acidity on the finish. It's a well-crafted and well-balanced wine. Unfortunately, 2006 was the last vintage to be made by Chaine d'Or founding winemaker Anne Anderson. However, it seems that the new winemaker Paul Romero plans to produce a 2008 vintage. The wine is a real good value so look for it.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Pairing wine and cheese

Pairing wine with cheese was the theme of our last wine club event before the summer. Choosing the type of wine that works well with cheese is always a challenge although some pairings are natural: Sancerre with Goat Cheese or Port with Stilton. On the other hand, try a young Cabernet with Camembert, that's pretty tough! Try it with aged hard cheese instead.

That evening, we tasted cheese from four different kinds (goat cheese, soft cheese, hard cheese, and blue cheese) with three whites, three reds, and one dessert wine, and found some really good matches.

Our cheese selection

Our wine selection

Here are the wines that we tasted:

• 2007 Schmelz Grüner Veltliner Loibner-Gärten Federspiel: Grüner Veltliner is a white grape variety grown primarily in Austria (it accounts for 36% of all Austrian vineyards) and in the Czech Republic. Weingut Schmelz is located in the Wachau appellation, which is Austria's most famous wine region. It's a narrow valley that runs along the Danube river where vines grow on steep terraces carved into the slopes. The Schmelz family has been making wine for five generations. Manually harvested, the grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks. My notes: pale yellow color, citrus on the nose, dry and mineral on the palate, long finish. A perfect accompaniment to our Redwood Hill Goat Cheese.

• 2007 Neudorf Sauvignon Blanc Nelson: Nelson is located on the northern end of New Zealand's south island. Cool growing conditions are well suited to Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Neudorf Vineyards is a small family owned winery producing Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir. My notes: light color, aromatic nose, notes of grapefruit and tropical fruit, fresh finish. A good match with the goat cheese.

• 2006 Emile Boeckel Gewürztraminer: Gewürztraminer is the second most planted grape variety in Alsace where it comes in different styles from the very dry to the very sweet. Domaine Emile Boeckel has been making wine in the village of Mittelbergheim in Alsace since 1853. My notes: golden color, expressive nose of rose petals and caramel, off-dry on the palate. Try to find a strong tasting cheese like Münster to go with it.

• 2004 Muri-Gries Abtei Muri Lagrein Riserva: Lagrein is a red grape variety native to the Alto Adige (or Süd Tyrol) region in Northern Italy. It is related to Syrah and Pinot Noir. Cantina Convento Muri-Gries is an ancient Benedictine monastery in Alto Adige. It was built in the late eleventh century originally as a fortress. My notes: deep red color, aromas of black cherry on the nose, earthy on the palate with notes of coffee on the finish. Lagrein is also the name of a cheese made from cow's milk from the same region. If you're lucky to find it, try it with the wine.

• 2006 Celler de l'Encastell Marge Priorat: Priorat lies in a remote mountainous area, 80 miles southwest of Barcelona, in Catalonia. Vineyards are planted on steep terraces at altitudes of between 100m and 700m above sea level. Summers are hot and dry, while winters are cold. The soil, made of reddish and black slate with small particles of mica (called llicorella in Catalan), reflects and conserves the heat. The main grape variety is Garnacha or Grenache, followed by Cariñena (Carignan), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah. Founded in 1999, Celler de l'Encastell is a small family-run winery that makes two wines. Roquers de Porrera is a blend of 40% Cariñena, 40% Garnacha, 20% Merlot and Syrah, aged in French oak for 16 months. Marge is a blend of 60% Garnacha, and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, aged in French and American oak for eight months. My notes: dark color, spicy nose, opulent on the palate, try it with aged Manchego.

• 2006 Tamarack Cellars Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley: believed to be one of the genetic parents of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc is grown primarily to be blended with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and is rarely vinified alone, except in the Loire Valley. With long summers and cool autumns, Washington State offers good growing conditions for Cabernet Franc and the varietal is today the fourth most widely planted grape in the state behind Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot & Syrah. Founded in 1998, Tamarack Cellars hand-crafts small-lot wines from the Walla Walla, Yakima and Columbia Valleys. My notes: dark garnet color, black fruit aromas on the nose with notes of oak and tobacco, rich mouthfeel leaving hints of cocoa on the finish. A big favorite of the evening, it worked well with the parmesan, and the chocolate!

• Blandy's Malmsey 5 Year Old Madeira: Madeira is an Atlantic island belonging to Portugal and also a fortified wine that is probably the most resilient wine in the world. Winemaking in Madeira dates back to the Exploration Age. Madeira was the port of call for ships heading to Africa, Asia, and South America. At the time, in order to prevent wine deterioration, neutral alcohol was added to the wine. It was soon found out that wine exposed to heat and rolling movements on the ship somehow tasted better. Today, Madeira is known for its unique winemaking process meant to duplicate the effect of a long sea voyage. This involves heating the wine up to temperatures as high as 60°C and exposing the wine to some levels of oxidation. Malmey, made from the Malvasia grape, is the sweetest style of Madeira that gains in richness and concentration with time in cask. My notes: dark amber color, nutty aromas with notes of dried fruits, sweet, but not cloying, with fresh acidity. An interesting match with the blue cheese and an excellent way to end the evening.

For our next meeting, we'll be tasting wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains wineries. Stay tuned!

Previous wine club tastings:
•  Tasting the wines of the Rhône Valley
•  Pinot Noir Tasting
•  Second "Guess The Wine" tasting party
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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Boxed wines are for green wine lovers

Forget Franzia's 5 liter Merlot, boxed wine is now an integral part of the new green cuisine. Typically, boxed wine containers are recyclable and take less energy to produce, transport and recycle. Moreover, an increasing number of boxed wine brands use premium fruit sourced from sustainable vineyards.

The has a review of 8 green boxed wines:

French Rabbit sources its wines from sustainably farmed vineyards in the Languedoc Roussillon. The packaging reduces waste by 90% compared to glass bottles, and reduces emissions and greenhouse gases during shipping. Furthermore, French Rabbit plants trees. According to the company's website, at least 35,000 trees have been planted through their partnership with American Forests.

From the Tank specializes in natural wines from the Southern Rhone Valley. They use less pesticides, only wild yeasts, no enzymes, no filtering, & minimal sulfites. The wine is packaged in a three liter bag-in-box. The red is 40% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 15% Carignan, the white is 100% Grenache Blanc.

Boho Vineyards makes wine from California's Central Coast. The wine is boxed in 95% recycled materials, which are printed with 100% soy-based inks. The package's carbon footprint is 55% smaller than the four 750ml bottles it replaces.

Three Thieves is a pioneer in the smaller, more portable boxed wines. In addition to their one-liter Bandit boxes, they now have 500ml boxes. They are making different varietal wines from California, including a Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Herding Cats is part of Better Wines, Better World, which promotes Bag in Box (BIB) packaging for wine. According to the website, since 99% of wines sold in the US are made for immediate consumption, packaging these wines in BIB containers would save 1.5 million tons of CO2 per year. Herding Cats produces different blends from South Africa including a Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz, Merlot/Pinotage, and Chardonnay/Viognier.

Yellow + blue make green. Yellow+Blue Organic Wines produces wines from certified organic grapes. The packaging is a Tetra Pak carton made from 75% responsibly managed forest trees. They offer a Malbec and a Torrontes from Argentina and a Rosé blend of Monastrell and Syrah from Spain.

Black Box Wines launched the first premium boxed wine on the market in 2002. Today, Black Box makes wines from different wine regions of the world, including a Cabernet Sauvignon from California, a Riesling from Washington State, a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and a Pinot Grigio from Italy.

Don't be a square, think outside the box! Four produces a wine packaged in a tube made in recyclable materials. It has a 50% reduced carbon footprint compared to traditional wine packaging and its label is printed utilizing wind power. Four has a 3 Liter Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from sustainable vineyards in the Paso Robles, Monterey and Lodi appellations.

So far, I have only tasted the Bandit Pinot Grigio. The wine was fresh, aromatic, and actually very pleasant. But would you dare bringing a boxed wine to a dinner party?

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