On the 3rd day we pair Riesling with a Tamales!

Libertine Riesling with Tamales

As we arrive at the 3rd of our 12 days of Wine, we are channeling a little decadence.  When I spoke with Alex Neely about pairing the Libertine 2015 Dry Riesling here was his suggestion:

This holiday season pair the 2015 Riesling with pork tamales doused in your favorite hot sauce. The flowery aromatics and kiss of residual sugar in the wine provide the perfect compliment and balance to the dish. My wife’s family has been eating tamales every Christmas Eve as long as she can remember. Since we have been together it is a tradition we continue in our house and have even introduced to my Southern family, much to their delight.

Alex Neely, Owner/Winemaker Libertine Wines
Libertine Wines, Alex Neely
Libertine Wines, Alex Neely

I will admit to not being anywhere brave enough to try making my own tamales, and I knew that here in Vegas I would be able to find a place locally that had them, so I went on a search.  What I found was a local Mexican family owned restaurant that has become a Vegas staple for Tamales.  Doña Maria Tamales has been in Vegas since 1980.  They make great tamales and have a fresh tortilla maker in front of the kitchen which is fascinating to watch.

I did a bit of research on how Tamales came to be a Christmas dish and found a great piece “Tamales: A Christmas Tradition”

The decadence tie in

Tamales a special event food, created typically in large quantities and meant to be shared with friends and family, I found this to be reflected in the Libertine label with Bacchus, the God associated with Festivals.  The tie in continues when you realize Bacchus was also the god of agriculture and “Corn was a very important crop in Mesoamerica, with people believing that people were created from corn. Tamales, because they were wrapped in corn husks, became part of ritual offerings. ” (from Tamales: A Christmas Tradition)

2015 Libertine Dry Riesling

Libertine Riesling
2015 Libertine Riesling

This wine comes from the LaVelle Vineyard in the Willamette Valley.  36 hours of skin contact and fermented outdoors for 5 months in neutral oak.  Alex aged them sur lie for a year and a half.  Unfiltered and unfined, it was lovely and decadent.

The Pairing

Libertine Riesling with Tamales
Libertine Riesling with Tamales

Normally you think of riesling and it’s bit of sweetness as calming spicy foods. Alex had suggested dousing the tamales in our favorite hot sauce.  I’m a little “white bread” on this one.  Michael doesn’t do “spicy” anymore, so we didn’t do the hot sauce,  and we actually found that the wine intensified the spicy notes in the tamales.

The wine had petrol on the nose and green apple.  It was tart and crisp on the palate and leaves your tongue a little buzzy!  While it increased the spiciness of the dish, the wine itself became sweeter on my palate when I paired it with the food.

We met Alex at a festival this past summer and you can see our interview with him here.

It’s not easy to find his wines, but they are worth searching for.  They are available mostly in Portland, but also in Beaverton and Hillsboro…all in Oregon.  He has a page of supporters, so go visit them and taste his wines!

As always be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to keep up to date on all of our posts.

Chef’s Tasting Menu at Masso Osteria

squid ink rigatoni served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes at Masso Osteria

Masso Osteria is Chef Scott Conant’s new restaurant at the Red Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  The property is off strip, near Red Rock National Park and is a stunning facility.  Masso Osteria just opened in February.  Their website describes their goal as “to create unforgettable dining experiences rooted in soulful cooking and generous hospitality.”  I cannot describe it more perfectly.  The service was impeccable.  Our waiter Nick took great care with us, explaining courses and making sure we had an amazing experience.

Six course Chef’s Tasting Menu at Masso Osteria

We chose the Chef’s Tasting Menu, which is a 6 course menu served family style.  The portions are generous and most of the courses include 2 dishes, so come hungry.  When we asked about wine pairings they offered to put together pairings for each course for us.  This is not yet on the menu, but may be added in the future.

First course – Recco Style Garlic Bread with Gambino Prosecco

Recco Style Garlic Bread Masso Osteria

Recco Style Garlic Bread

They started us off with a glass of Gambino Prosecco, Extra Dry from Veneto, to accompany the Recco Style Garlic Bread (think of an Italian quesadilla).  It is wood fired and filled with stracchino cheese.  Don’t try to eat it all, there is so much more food coming. The Prosecco, while made in the Charmant method, has fine and persistent bubbles and was a great palate cleanser with the cheese.

Second Course Kale Salad & Tuno Crudo with 2015 Pio Cesare Cortese de Gavi


Kale salad Masso Osteria

Kale salad with almonds and an avocado vinaigrette

Tuna Crudo at Masso Osteria

Tuna Crudo with red leaf greens, lemon and pickled fresno chilies

The second course of Kale salad (baby kale) with parmesan, almonds and green onions in an avocado vinaigrette and the Tuna Crudo with red leaf greens, lemon and pickled fresno chilies (those are a little warm, so beware) was paired with a 2015 Pio Cesare Cortese di Gavi. This is 100% Cortese (the grape variety) from hillside vineyards in the Gavi DOCG in the Piedmont region of Italy.  The wine was bright and clean, with a great depth of flavor and notes that reminded me of a Sauvignon Blanc, it paired beautifully with both dishes.

We return to “service here”  it wasn’t until researching later that I realized that the gentleman who came by to pour this wine for us and patiently spell the name so that I could note it, was indeed the restaurant GM Rudy Aguas.

Third Course – Creamy Polenta & Wood Roasted Octopus with 2016 Tormaresca Chardonnay di Puglia

Creamy Polenta with bacon truffles and mushrooms at Masso Osteria

Creamy Polenta with bacon, truffles and mushrooms at Masso Osteria

Wood roasted octopus at Masso Osteria

Wood roasted octopus

The third course was their signature Creamy Polenta with bacon, truffles and mushrooms.  It is rich, I mean RICH, and decadent.  The other dish in this course was the Wood roasted octopus.  I typically don’t eat octopus, (they are just too smart, and they like to decorate, how can you eat someone who likes to decorate), but since he had already given his life and was sitting before me on the table…it was delicious, perfectly cooked with grape tomatoes, greens, onions and a potato aioli.  This paired with the 2016 Tormaresca Chardonnay di Puglia.  This Chardonnay from Puglia in the “boot” of Italy, is a little heavier in body than the Cortese allowing it to stand up to the polenta.  This is a stainless steel Chard with grapes pulled from two Tormaresca estates in San Pietro Vernotico and Minervino Murge. The nose is rounded citrus and flowers.


Fourth Course Pasta al Pomodoro and Squid Ink Rigatoni with 2015 Chianti Castiglioni

Pasta al Pomodoro at Masso Osteria

Pasta al Pomodoro at Masso Osteria

squid ink rigatoni served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes at Masso Osteria

Squid ink rigatoni served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes at Masso Osteria

The fourth course was our Pasta Course.  It included the house specialty Pasta al Pomodoro.  It is a simple dish, but this is so deftly crafted, with butter enriching the sauce, it is no wonder that it is a signature dish.  The other pasta was a beautiful squid ink rigatoni.  These gorgeous black rigatoni are served with spicy king crab and a calamari ragu with tomatoes.  Both pasta’s of course are made fresh in-house and were perfectly cooked al dente.  These are pasta’s that cause you to be quiet while you eat, savoring each bite, typically with your eyes closed.  They paired this with a 2015 Chianti Castiglioni from Marchese de Frescobaldi in Tuscany.  (Here’s the geeky tech sheet details:  This is a sangiovese, merlot blend that sits at 13% alcohol. It spent 11 days with skin contact and did malolactic fermentation immediately following the alcoholic fermentation.  It aged in Stainless steel for 6 months with microxygenation.).  I especially liked this with the squid ink pasta.

Fifth Course – Wood Roasted Chicken & Cedar Roasted Sea Bass with a Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino

Wood Roasted Chicken with lemon and vegetables at Masso Osteria

Wood Roasted Chicken with lemon and vegetables at Masso Osteria

Cedar Roasted Sea Bass with a medley of roasted vegetables at Masso Osteria

Cedar Roasted Sea Bass with a medley of roasted vegetables at Masso Osteria

Onto the fifth course.  Our waiter had earlier told us that two of his favorite dishes on the menu were the Pasta al Pomodor and the Wood Roasted Chicken.  He said he always felt funny saying that, because he didn’t want people to think he had a pedestrian palate, but that these simple dishes were so extraordinarily well done that they really were exceptional.  The Wood Roasted Chicken with lemon and vegetables really was perfection, this dish had roasted carrots that were tender, sweet and infused with wood smoke from the grill.  We also had the Cedar Roasted Sea Bass which came with a medley of roasted vegetables, that included whole baby onions, radishes, baby zucchini and multicolored cauliflower.  These dishes were paired with a Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino.  “Schioppettino?  I asked?”  They sent a wine specialist to explain. It is a clone of Ribolla Nera and is best compared to Carménère.  2nd thought was…Red wine with chicken and fish?  Yes…the spices in the Sea Bass and the Wood smoke in the wood roasted chicken made this pairing work.  This wine, by the way, is not listed on their wine list currently.  Perhaps it is an addition they are entertaining.

Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino at Masso Osteria

Ronchi di Pietro Schioppettino at Masso Osteria

We can’t just let “Schippettino go by without a little background on this variety that was new to me.  So this grape comes from Friuli and was almost completely wiped out by the phylloxera in the early 1900’s.  It evidently was found on the Slovenian border where it was recorded being used for wedding ceremonies as early as 1282, so it had been around a while before almost disappearing.  Paulo Rapuzzi, the founder of Ronchi di Cialla has been credited with searching out old Schioppettino vines that he read about in books.  You can read a great piece on this wine on Vinepair by Courtney Schiessl “This Italian Grape is Back from near-Extinction, Thanks to one Winemaker” 

Sixth Course – Dessert!  Mascarpone Cheese cake & Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding..oh and a Cleto Chiarli Ambile Lambrusco on the side

Mascarpone Cheesecake with huckleberries & spiced streusel at Masso Osteria

Mascarpone Cheesecake with huckleberries & spiced streusel at Masso Osteria

Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with a cookie crunch and coffee cardamon gelato at Masso Osteria

Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with a cookie crunch and coffee cardamom gelato at Masso Osteria

Stuffed as we were (with a bag of leftovers growing for a fabulous lunch to follow) we pressed on to dessert.  Our waiter Nick, said they didn’t have a dessert pairing prepared, so he poured us 2 coupes of Lambrusco.  (if you read the blog, you remember I had recently tried to find a Lambrusco to pair with some Chinese food and sadly failed in my search).  I had been eyeing the Lambrusco on the menu at the top of the night and felt like we had come full circle with having it with dessert.  The Lambrusco was from Cleto Chiarli Ambile in Emiglia-Romagna. Dessert, was yet again 2 plates, we did not have the Salted Caramel Budino for which Chef Conant received multiple awards.  No worries, we will be back for that.  Instead we enjoyed the Mascarpone Cheesecake with huckleberries & spiced streusel. This dessert was perfection after our filling meal.  It was light and creamy and each bite left me feeling lighter and less heavy from my meal.  It was another eyes closed moment.  The other dish was the Sticky Toffee Banana Pudding with a cookie crunch and coffee cardamom gelato.  This dish was delicious but a bit heavy after all the food we had eaten.  None-the-less, I took one for the team and cleaned the plate.  How was the Lambrusco with dessert you ask?  Meh.  But I didn’t mind, this didn’t feel like a pairing, but rather an additional celebratory glass to end this spectacular meal.

I must mention the fantastic price on this dinner.  The Chef’s Tasting menu is $65 per person.  We tasted 11 dishes, with most plates big enough that after sharing, we had them pack the rest of the plate to take home.  As I mentioned the wine pairings were kind of, off the cuff that night.  They put together the pairings for us for $35 per person and the pours were generous, not full glasses of course, but more than small sips, and plenty to accompany the course.  They are still developing the wine pairing menu, so it is likely to change and develop.

A couple of great stories of a young foodie…

Our waiter Nick, regaled us with a couple of stories that I will remember forever and have to share with you.  His young son is a big fan of “Chopped” and he told us he walked in on his son at his toy kitchen and his son being a little frenetic.  “What’s up?” he asked, his son replied “I need help plating!  I only have 30 seconds left!”  I could see a new Chopped Pre-school segment coming here! 

His son is growing up tasting all sorts of food and has an unusual palate for a child so small.  They (like us) often shop at Trader Joe’s.  I had no idea that Trader Joe’s has a hidden stuffed animal at every store.  It gives the kids something to search for while their parents shop, they get a lollipop if they can find it.  On one trip, Sally Seashell (the stuffed animal) was evidently right in sight lines of front door when you walk in.  His son went to get his lollipop and let them know that Sally Seashell was not very well hidden.  The guy at the service counter agreed then told him “I’m all out of lollipops, all I have are frozen peas or brussel sprouts”.  Without missing a beat his son said “Brussel sprouts please.”  which surprised the TJ’s staff, who had been kidding with him.  When offered the lollipop, that they did have in stock, he still preferred the brussel sprouts. 

I suggest going early in the evening (we had a 5:15 reservation).  The restaurant filled quickly and it was nice to get in and started on our meal before the crowd descended and the wait staff got busier.  Hospitality was at the forefront here.  Our waiter Nicholas was training someone through out the evening, which you might think would impede your experience.  It did not, and she was getting exceptional training watching and learning from his interaction with the patrons. Each course brought new plates and carefully laid out silverware.  The precision and elegance of this, with the arrival of the new silver at the table in a wooden box, then carefully laid out piece by piece, elevated the experience, adding a sense of dining ritual, a quiet solemnity to preparing for the next course.  I can recommend dinner here any time, but when you are able, treat yourself to the full experience and get the Chef’s Tasting Menu.

Masso Osteria (inside Red Rock Hotel & Casino)

11011 W Charleston Blvd

Las Vegas, NV 89135


Sunday – Thursday | 5pm – 10pm

Friday & Saturday | 5pm – 11pm

Social Hour | Sun – Fri |  4pm – 6pm at the bar

You can find more information on restaurants and on wine country and wines on Crushed Grape Chronicles  .  You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Fish tacos and wine?

Fish taco with cod, avocado and slaw

I was searching for an easy dinner and wine pairing, and I got a hankerin’ for fish tacos.  And where do I go to find a wine pairing for fish tacos?  The first place that came to mind was Wine Folly.  Madeline Puckette always has great easy wine advice that is clear and fun.  Recently I came across an article where she paired 2015 food trends with wines.  So I searched it out and found a pairing suggestion for fish tacos.

Madeline suggested pairing with a Sauvignon Blanc or if you wanted to take it a little further, with a Gruner Veltliner or a Verdejo from Spain.

The Wine

So off I went to find the Gruner and Verdejo and see which I liked better with fish tacos.  I ended up with a 2013 Gruner Veltliner from Winzer Krems in Austria and a 2013 Palma Real Rueda Verdejo from Spain.  And…these didn’t break the bank, coming in at around $14 each.

Gruner Veltliner and Rueda Verdejo

Gruner Veltliner and Rueda Verdejo

The Fish Tacos

Now on to the fish tacos. I found a recipe and then ad libbed with it.  I picked up some cod, cut it into strips and marinated it in oil, lime juice, lime zest and garlic.  It marinated for about 1/2 hour and there are two things I would do differently next time.  First, I would marinate longer, overnight I think would be great.  Second, I used coconut oil which congealed as it marinated.  In the future I would use organic canola (which I couldn’t find at the store that day).  While that was marinating I made a slaw.  Honey, vinegar and olive oil whisked together and then drop in some slaw blend.  Mine had carrots, purple cabbage, green cabbage and broccoli stems.  If you are making this same day you can leave it on the counter, or you can make it ahead and throw it in the fridge overnight.  Heat your oven to 350 degrees, put the fish on a sheet pan on parchment and wrap your tortillas in foil (or in a damp towel on a plate, which is what I like to do) and toss them in for 8 to 10 min.

lime marinated cod

Cod marinating in Lime Juice & zest, oil & salt

sweet and tangy slaw

Red & Green Cabbage, carrot and broccoli stem slaw with honey, oil and vinegar dressing

When you pull them out, put a piece of fish on the tortilla, top with a sauce if av0cado and finish with the slaw. Voila!  Fish Taco!

I did a rice with cilantro, lime juice and a little butter on the side and some chips and salsa.

Both wines went well.  The Gruner had a little more sweetness and was a little rounder with the fish tacos, where as the Verdejo had a little more pronounced acid.

Fish taco with cod, avocado and slaw

Fish taco with cod, avocado and slaw

Regardless, it was a tasty and fairly quick dinner with a happy pairing.  This is quick and easy to cook at home, but….keep in mind, fish tacos are a great food truck find.  So stash a bottle of Gruner or Verdejo and the next time you see a fish taco food truck, pick up and few and dash home to try the pairing yourself!

A harvest vineyard walk at Tablas Creek Vineyards

Tablas Creek Wine Walk

We gathered in the shade just outside the Tablas Creek tasting room.  You could tell why we were here by our sturdy shoes.  Yes it was almost 100 degrees, but we were wine lovers ready to brave the elements to find out more about this wonderful winery with a vineyard walk and tasting.

Levi Glenn, the Tablas Creek Viticulturist gave us some basics on the winery history before we got started.  The Perrin and Haas families joined to find vineyard land here in California to grow the Rhone varieties that the Perrins’ have long grown at Chateau de Beaucastel in France’s Rhone Valley.  The Tablas Creek property is on the same latitude, the climate and soil are both similar and when they bought this 102 acre property in 1989 they began the process of bringing the traditional Rhone varieties grown on the Perrins’ estate to this country.  The cuttings from France had to go through a three year process to be sure that they were virus free.  In order to have enough vines to actually make wine, they started a nursery, bench-grafting vines to plant on the estate and enough to sell to other vineyards.  While they no longer have the nursery, they partner with NovaVine in Sonoma to create Tablas Creek clones from grafted vines and bud wood.  Many wineries are now raising Tablas Creek clones to create their Rhone style wines.

They grow sustainably, organically and use biodynamic practices.  There is a compost tea that they use to fertilize the vines and they plant sections of the vineyard with insectaries to encourage beneficial insects.

We headed down the drive then past the head-pruned Mourvedre by the gate and continued down to the lambing barn and barnyard.  Levi talked about the animals, they have 2 donkeys and 5 alpacas that guard the herd of 40 sheep. The sheep are primarily used to mow down the cover crops.  Over the season they can cover 30-40 acres of vineyard.  In addition they fertilize as they mow.  Once the vineyards are growing the sheep have to be moved elsewhere and still need to be fed.  Typically they grow legumes as cover crops to add nitrogen back into the soil.  They had some vines that were showing a little too much vigor so instead they planted barley as their cover crop.  This works beautifully as they can then harvest the barley to use as feed for the herd.

While here they poured us a cool and refreshing glass of the 2012 Vermentino, one of only 2 non Rhone varieties grown on the estate.  This was the wine that got me hooked on Tablas Creek when I recieved it as a gift from a friend.  Enjoying this wine as the sun came dappled through the poplars, we took in the animals, the view of the cutting shed and the beautifully ripening Grenache.

Refreshed, it was time to move on up the long hill to the top where Chef Jeff Scott waiting under the oak trees.  The vineyard views are beautiful.  At the top of the hill you have a view of the las tablas creek area including Halter Ranch next door.  Reveling in the shade they poured us glasses of the 2011 Estate Rose, a blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Counoise. We enjoyed the view and Chef brought out a tray of figs topped with goat cheese to pair.

We headed back down the hill to the  head pruned Roussanne block.  We believe these are the only head-pruned Roussanne vines in the state. The 2009 Roussane is a gorgeous golden color.  Rousanne is often very difficult to grow (NovaVine calls it “the princess”).  This is the backbone to the Esprit du Beaucastel Blanc their flagship white wine adding richness, weight  and honey with a nice salinity on the backend.  Chateau du Beaucastel makes their Roussanne Vielles Vignes which is considered one of the greatest white wines in France. “Roux” is the French word for “russet” which describes the color of the grapes when ripe and gives us the base for the name “Roussanne”.  This is the latest ripening white Rhone varieties that are grown at Tablas Creek.  The vines respond highly to sunlight and bunches that get sun on the western side will ripen faster than those on the eastern side.  This is also a wine that will age well, case in point we were drinking a 2009 and it was rich and stunning.  After Levi gave us the run down on the grape, Chef Jeff pulled out the pairing.  This was a crostini with fresh ricotta and thyme roasted golden beets topped with a piece of candied bacon.  Beets and bacon pair well and both were gorgeous with the wine.

Across from the Roussanne there are scattered fruit trees including some Quince.  Levi supplied me with a quick recipe for quince paste.

As we had walked down I noticed a large rack with netting and asked Levi when they netted before harvest.  He said that they no longer net.  There are so many vineyards locally that the birds no longer descend and feast, but rather just stop in here and there for a snack which is not an issue.  They still have air cannons when needed.

We headed back up the hill to the head trained Tannat.  This is the other non Rhone variety grown on property.  Levi said that it has been called Tablas Creek Zin, as it is so rich, deep and flavorful.  This grape thrives in the Tablas Creek climate and soils.  Levi says that it takes almost no work and produces consistently good fruit.  Tannat is found most notably in the Basque country on the Spanish border.  Growing this at Tablas Creek was actually a little bit of an accident.  The Perrins’ French nurseryman included cuttings when he packed up the Rhone varieties in 1990 even though it was not requested.  His instincts told him that this grape would do well in Paso Robles and I for one would like to thank him!  The berries have very thick skins which add to the tannins in the wine.  It is fermented open top to allow more oxygen to soften the tannins and then is aged in small barrels again to introduce more oxygen.  In 2010 most of the 248 acres of Tannat planted in California came from Tablas Creek cuttings.  This wine is beautifully balanced with acid, fruit and tannin.  Chef Jeff Scott then had to figure out a way to do a cold red wine pairing out in the vineyard!  He succeeded overwhelmingly with this small bite, which still makes my mouth water whenever I think of it (and I think of it often!).  He prepared Rillettes in the style of the south of France. The pork is slow cooked for 6 hours in it’s own fat then sits in olive oil, thyme and garlic to soak up some more goodness.  This is placed on crostini topped with caramelized onions, drizzled with a pommerey mustard aioli and sprinkled with fleur de sel and black pepper. The fat in the rillettes paired with the acid and tannins in the wine were perfect.  We enjoyed the wine, watched the sun set, had some great conversations and suddenly turned around to find that only 1/3 of the group was left!  We headed back down to the winery and tasting room in the slowly dimming light, sated and fulfilled.  There’s really nothing like being part of the Tablas Creek family.  The staff was incredible and the other wine club members we met share our love for great wine and fascinating wine facts.  Levi was extremely patient as we all pummeled him with questions, answering and enlightening us.  All in all it was a glorious evening.