Many of us, find ourselves staying in more these days. As I write this, Broadway has announced that all theatres over 500 seats will go dark through April. I sit in Vegas, a member of the entertainment industry, waiting to see what will happen here. I have friends in Washington, who are staying at home. It’s an angsty time. We are all a little nervous. Many will be nesting out of necessity, not choice. I feel lucky to know that if I am stuck at home, I have a cellar to allow me to travel.If you find you must stay at home. Take the time for a bit of self care. This recipe and pairing is just an example. I look forward to hearing what amazing creations you pull out of your cupboard.
Staying in and traveling through a bottle of wine
Last week, I didn’t want to got to the grocery store. I was willing to cook, just not to drive.
So, what to pair?
What’s in the cupboard?
In the fridge I found a 1/4 of an onion, a red pepper, an eggplant, some olives and capers and a lemon. In the pantry a canned of diced tomatoes, garlic and polenta and in the back yard my rosemary and sage were taking off!
I diced the eggplant, onion and red pepper. Then I tossed in a couple of cloves of garlic, some fresh sage and rosemary. This all was doused with olive oil and sprinkle of salt and pepper. I lined a baking dish with parchment (for ease of clean up) and tossed the mixture in. The oven went to 450 degrees (on convection roast mode) and in it went for 45 minutes.
A couple minutes later it occurred to me that roasted lemon would play nicely in this so I sliced some lemon tossed it in.
While that roasted away, I whipped up the polenta. It takes about 30 minutes by the instructions on the bag of Bob’s Red Mill polenta. I kept long sleeves on and used oven mitts for stirring, cause it will bubble and pop and can really burn you, so stay safe. After 30 minutes I added some butter and then poured it into a pyramid shaped glass bowl that I had to mold it.
The roasted veggies came out of the oven and I added the can of diced tomatoes drained.
Finishing the dish
After 10 minutes, the polenta was set (I threw it in the fridge to set faster). I sliced the polenta, and pan fried it in butter and olive oil to make it a little crispy. I found a pretty plate to put it on, and topped with my roasted vegetables. This was garnished with black olives and capers and some more fresh herbs.
Larner 2017 Elemental
I had pulled out a bottle of Larner Vineyards and winery 2017 Elemental. This wine from Santa Barbara’s Ballard Canyon AVA is 65% Grenache, 19% Syrah and 16% Mourvèdre. It is aged 22 months in neutral french oak.
This wine had a beautiful acidity that was really wonderful with this dish!
So, take an opportunity to nest. To curl up with a bottle and do some virtual travel. Dig through the cupboard. You might be surprised at the amazing things you can make.
For more information on the Larner Vineyard and Winery
What wine list of ours would be complete without a bottle from Johan.
The Van Duzer Corridor
The Van Duzer Corridor is one of the newer AVA’s in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The TTB approval of the AVA happened in December of 2018 (7 years after they started the process). So what is this corridor and where is it?
1st, this is a nested AVA lying within the larger Willamette Valley AVA in Oregon. It is in the southern part of the AVA, north of Salem. Encompassing 59,850 acres, there are but 1,000 acres planted to vines. The soil here is marine sediment. It is named for the area 10 miles to it’s west, the actual Van Duzer Corridor, where there is a drop in the coastal range that funnels cold air into the interior. This happens daily at around 2 pm. The breeze, or should I say wind (it often gets up to 8 mph) does a couple of things. It cools things down and it dries out the berries, keeping them free from mold and fungus (think the Mistral in Provence). It also forces the berries to protect themselves. To do this they thicken their skins and tend to grow smaller and fewer. This gives you more tannins and anthocyanins (which give you color). Lower yields, smaller berries, thicker skin…this all means more flavor.
I have a great love for the wines of Johan. If you know me, you are probably surprised that this was not a Pet Nat! (I do love their Pet Nats). But today we dive into their Estate Grüner Veltliner. But before we get into that…a little on the vineyard.
Johan Vineyard is 85 acres certified biodynamic. More than that, the winery is certified biodynamic. A holistic approach is important to them here. We walked the vineyard with Jack when we visited and saw the compost heap, and the oak stump innoculated for mushrooms. They have a garden and their wines…most lean toward that “natural wine” style, with many deliciously unfiltered.
For more on Johan you can catch a couple of our previous pieces
Grüner Veltliner can be an underappreciated variety. Hailing from Austria, this grape can often trick people in tastings. That is until they get to the finish where white pepper is the give away. These wines can be citrus, or herbal, lean or full. Flavors as well as textures can vary dependent on climate and style.
In Austria white wines dominate, much of that due to the climate and Grüner is the definite leader covering about a third of the vineyard acreage.
2017 Johan Estate Grüner Veltliner
The grapes are crushed and destemmed, then barrel fermented through primary and malolactic fermentation in puncheons and aged 10 months sur lie (that’s on the dead yeast cells that fall to the bottom). They do not stir the lees. It sits at 13.6% abv and runs $34.99.
They look to make this wine rich and exotic, choosing to pick appropriately and going through malolactic and sur lie aging to increase the texture.
It should be noted that white wines from the Van Duzer Corridor have a few things in common. They tend to have bright fruit and acid that is compimented by weight and texture. The Oregon Wine Board also notes that you will often find Iodine and Nori characteristics in these wines.
Exotic and rich…lime, lemon, herbs, white pepper, poprocks, nectarine, ginger, honey are all typical aromas and flavors for Gruner.
This wine was a deep golden color in the glass. The first thing on the nose was bruised apple, then white flower and nectarine. It exploded out of the glass and bottle when it was first opened. It perfumed the air for a several foot radius around the bottle and glass. Then it quickly became shy, making me search for aromas. The acids were firm and the wine had a depth of texture.
We paired this with camembert cheese and found that it brought forth the floral notes. It was lovely with our asparagus risotto. This is one of those rare wines that can pair with asparagus! We also tested it with a split pea soup and found it was less exciting. Perhaps a lighter style of Grüner would have worked with this. I did struggle to find that signature Grüner white pepper on this wine. On a second pour tropical notes came forward and it opened again in the glass with rich warm baked apples.
Other pairing suggestions
Grüner can pair beautifully with Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets quickly fried). It also pairs well with fried chicken. In addition it is one of those rare wines that will pair with artichokes! Try it with cauliflower, trout or gnocchi!
Noooooo….Only 1 day left!
Thank goodness there is Christmas to cheer us after tomorrow! Otherwise what would we do? The sadness as the 12 days comes to an end would be unbearable! Come back tomorrow!
We gathered a bakers dozen of folks for a blind tasting of 3 white wines and 3 reds. There were aroma jars and tasting sheets and lots of glasses! After the reveal for each, we had small bites to pair with each of the wines. People discovered varieties and places they did not know they liked. Here’s the run down on the wines we tasted.
The White Wines
When choosing these wines, we didn’t want to pick wines everyone was already familiar with and we also wanted them to be from a range of places around the globe. Without realizing it at first, we had chosen three wines, with somewhat similar profiles, which made the guessing a bit harder. Here are our 3 white wines.
White Wine #1 Carhartt 2018 Sauvignon Blanc
This wine is from California, Santa Barbara Country and more specifically from the Santa Ynez Valley. It hails from 2 vineyards, the Carhartt Vineyard in Santa Ynez (60%), and Grassini Vineyard located in Happy Canyon (40%). Carhartt is great about the deets on their labels: 100% Savignon Blanc, Clone 1 on 101-14 rootstock, vertical trellis system, sustainably farmed, fermentation in both oak and stainless steel, cooperage :6 months in neutral oak and stainless steel 50% each.
Aromas, flavors and pairings
We set out scent jars for this wine that included pear, green apple, lemon zest and honeydew melon. We paired this with herbed goat cheese on crostini.
This is a great summer sipper sitting at 12.5% alcohol, it will drink fresh through 2022 and can age beyond that. They made 900 cases of this wine and it will set you back $25.00.
And yes….this is the same Carhartt that you see on work wear. They family had a ranch in the Santa Ynez valley that Mike and his family decided to grow wine grapes on. They still have some livestock and they work the ranch and vineyard. Here is a link to a video that will give you a feel for Carhartt.
You can find their tasting room in Los Olivos at 2939 Grand Ave If you have visited before, know that they are no longer in the tiniest tasting room at the north end of Grand Ave. You can find them in the new larger spot across the street about a block south.
2939 Grand Avenue Los Olivos, CA 93441 Ph #: 805.693.5100 Open daily 11am-6pm No reservations. First-come, first-serve. Closed only on Christmas Day
White Wine #2 Spier 2017 Vintage Selection Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc hails form the Loire Valley in France. While it is grown in France and elsewhere, this is a variety that has become most notable in South Africa, where locally they refer to it as “Steen”.
Spier Wine Farm
This wine is from South Africa from Spier Wine Farm which dates back to 1692. The fruit comes from the Western Cape in the Breede River and Coastal regions. For a video about this winery…
More details: alluvial, well-drained and aerated soils with decomposed granite from the mountain foothills. Grapes are both trellised and bush vines (head pruned). They hand harvest, destem and slightly crush before pressing. There is a bit of skin contact then they let the free run juic settle in tanks overnight. In the morning they rack from the lees and innoculate with yeast strains (so this is not a native yeast wine). They let the wine mature on the fine lees for 3 months to add body. We could see the results of this in the richer fuller mouthfeel of this wine.
Aromas, flavors and pairings
Fragrance jars for this wine included pear, peach, vanilla beans and a mango/guava/passion fruit jam, as there were notes of tropical fruit and green guava in the wine. We paired this with two different bites, a cracker with brie and a dab of the mango/guava/passion fruit wine as well as smoked trout on a baguette slice with either a russian pickle or a cucumber slice. (Here we were lucky that one of our guests had recently been fishing and caught a trout and another had taken that trout and smoked it! Thank you for this great bite to pair with this wine!)
You can look for this wine locally as it is widely distributed. It sits at a higher alcohol level than the Sav Blanc at 14.5% and you can find it for around $18.00.
Here is a video to give you a little more information on this South african Winery. https://www.spier.co.za/
White Wine #3 Martin Codax Albariño
We headed to another country for our final white wine. This is an Albariño from Spain’s Rias Baixas region. Michael actually tasted this wine last year at a session at WBC18 on Rias Baixas.
The region of Rias Baixas, if you are unfamiliar, is on the coast of Spain above Portugal. The area is known as Galacia. Most grapes here are grown on pergolas, and the region is green and lush. This wine comes from Val do Salnés, which runs along the coast south of the Ria de Arousa. This area is known as the birthplace of the Albariño grape.
Bodegas Martin Códax was founded in 1986 and was named after the most known Galacian troubadour whose medieval poems, the oldest in the Galician-Portuguese language, have survived to the present. In the poems, the troubadour sings to love, the sea and the coastline.
The winemaker for Martin Códax is Katia Alvarez. That she is a woman is unsuprising in Spain’s Rias Baixas region, where roughtly half of the winemakers are female.
Aromas, flavors and pairings
The scent jars for this wine were simply, pear, green apple and the mango/guava/passion fruit jam (this time for the passion fruit). We paired this with a slice of Guyere and a slice of pear. It sits at 13% abv and runs about $16. Widely distributed, this is a fairly easy to find wine.
Find out more about this beautiful wine region by visiting the Rias Baixas site.
The Red Wines
When looking to red wines, we again wanted to go a bit out of the box, but not too far. Here though, the wines that we chose had flavor profiles that varied quite a bit so it was easier to differentiate the wines. All of these wines were international varieties that have ventured out from their homeland.
Red Wine #1 Carhartt 2016 Estate Sangiovese
We spoke earlier about Carhartt. We have been fans of Carhartt for awhile and on two separate occasions were able to visit the ranch. Once for a wine dinner (which was a blast) and once to take a tour with Joe, who at the time ran their wine club. We walked the Hilltop vineyard and he pointed out the Sangiovese on the 11 Oaks vineyard across the way.
Sangiovese? Think Chianti
This is a Sangiovese, the famous Italian variety that you might think of as Chianti. You remember the wine in those straw wrapped bottles?
The Geeky bits: 100% Sangiovese from 11 Oaks Vineyard in Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley. Fontodi & isole e olena clones that are own rooted, sustainably farmed, fermented in small lots with a cold soak, 18 months in barrel 25% of which is new. Unfined and unfiltered (see Zeina, that was the floaty stuff!)
Aromas, flavors and pairings
Jars for this included: wet stone, wild raspberry jam (couldn’t find wild raspberries), black tea, cedar plank, clove and strawberry. We paired this with an Asigo cheese topped with a bit of prosciutto and a touch of raspberry jam.
They made just 565 cases of this wine, it sits at 13.6% abv and is a crowd pleaser. It is medium to light bodied, so lots of folks guessed it was a Pinot Noir. It will drink well through 2029 and was the most expensive wine we poured at $40 per bottle.
Red wine #2 Gascon Malbec Reserve 2015
This grape is a little more well traveled. Malbec is originally from Cahors in France where it is known as “the black wine of Cahors”. Long ago it travelled to Argentina where it found it’s voice. In Cahors he dressed in black, in Argentina he wears purple and red!
Don Miguel Gascón Wines
This particular wine is from Mendoza where more than 70% of the country’s vines can be found and most of which are high altitude at 2,000 to 4,000 feet above sea level. Argentina currently has just 2 DOCs: Luján de Cuyo and San Rafael. This wine hails from Luján de Cuyo, and more specifically from the Agrelo and Uco Valley regions. It is labeled “Reserva” which indicates it must have been aged at least 6 months.
The grapes for our Don Miguel Gascón Reserva Malbec were harvested by hand in the early morning hours in mid to late April from the high elevation vineyards of Altamira, Agrelo and Tupungato, then crushed and cold soaked for 72 to 96 hours. The juice maintained contact with the skins for up to three weeks through the end of fermentation, which occurred in upright conical tanks at 85°F for six days. Malolactic fermentation was completed prior to racking and aging. Sixty-five percent of the wine was aged for 15 months in a combination of medium toast French and American oak barriques.
This wine is 97% Malbec with just a touch (3%) of Petit Verdot. It sits at 14.8% abv and runs a little over $20 a bottle.
Aromas, flavors and pairings
Scent jars here included blackberries, plum and spice. We did two bites here a cracker with blue cheese and cherry jam, as well as a slice of smoked gouda.
Red wine #3 Larner 2014 Syrah Ballard Canyon
If you have visited our site before, you know we are big fans of Michael Larner of Larner Vineyard & Winery. He helped to put Ballard Canyon and their Syrah on the map. He was instrumental in founding the Ballard Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County.
Michael’s background is in geology and he is an invaluable resource for discussing the soils of the entire Santa Barbara Region. He is passionate about the region and it’s wines, most especially the Syrah from this little corner of the universe.
This wine is all Estate grown fruit that is aged 22 months in 33% new French oak and 8% new American oak (the rest is neutral oak).
Aromas, flavors and pairings
This wine was the biggest we served at 14.9%. With a complex nose, we set out scent jars of blackberry, plum, cherry, pepper corns, leather and earth. We paired this with our favorite bite with syrah, bacon wrapped dates.
If you want a bottle of this wine, or to taste his other wines, head to Santa Barbara and Los Olivos. You can find the tasting room at the corner of Grand Avenue and Alamo Pintado Ave next to the Los Olivos General Store. Grab a tasting and a sandwich from next door and sit at a table in front in the shade, behind the historic gas pump.
It was a fun evening and hopefully everyone discovered a new wine that they enjoyed! We got up today to 85 dirty glasses! I have a new appreciation for tasting room staff who deal with this, and then some, daily! Was it worth it? Damn straight! We got to explore the world with wine while sitting in the living room with friends. What could be better?
As I went looking for a bottle to open for a simple evening dinner, a small celebration of the end of a work week, I came across a bottle of sparkling vermentino in the wine fridge.
I love vermentino and today was one of the first really hot days this summer, with temps hitting triple digits. Those kind of temps call for something bright and vermentino certainly fits the bill. On top of it, it was a sparkling vermentino. Well I am always down for bubbles!
It was from Bonny Doon and I flipped it over to read the back label. Randall Grahm always has enchanting lengthy back labels. The description ended with ” -tears of joy and laughter”. Well…now of course I was going to pop this bottle! I really needed that at the end of this week!
Bonny Doon 2017 Sparkling Vermentino
This wine is a blend, 77% Vermentino and 23% Grenache Blanc from Beeswax and Cedar Lane Vineyards in the Arroyo Seco AVA within Monterey County. This AVA sits in the Santa Lucia mountain range.
Soils are Arroyo Seco gravelly loam, with river stones that absorb the heat during the day and radiate in the evening. The vineyards are nearby to each other and closer to the valley floor between 300-500 ft. The valley has a cool climate with Pacific ocean breezes every afternoon.
The label on this wine is deep green and yellow which inspired the bottle shot, out back on the grass with the fallen blossoms from our desert museum palo verde, Dulcinea-Sophia (yes, I name my trees).
The back label entertainment
I mentioned that Randall’s back labels (and really anything he writes) are enchanting. He is a thoughtful writer, and while often the words are many, they are all entertaining. This is actually one of his shorter back labels.
While not included on the label, a quick visit to the Bonny Doon site, set me up with options for pairings. Sometimes, I go off the rails with pairings from what is suggested, but Bonny Doon’s suggestions are always tried and tested. The suggestions were
Oysters on the half shell, Dungeness crab, fish tacos, prosciutto-wrapped melon.
I typically get a plate and a damp dishtowel and wrap my tortillas in the towel and pop them in the oven to warm for 5 minutes. This steams them so that they stay soft.
Then I gather all the other stuff I want on the tacos. Today it was guacamole, jasmine rice, lime wedges to squeeze, spring greens and I had Herdez guacamole salsa, which is medium heat.
All in all a pretty delicious evening! Light-hearted and delicious. That Sparkling Vermentino? Well, they only made 210 cases of it, so if it sounds good to you, you’d best go grab a bottle from their site. It’s set you back $36 a bottle, but the “tears of joy and laughter” make it all worth it.
You can find Bonny Doon online or drive out to their tasting room on the coast in Davenport. The views are spectacular, and the people and the wines in their tasting room will make you want to stay all day.
It’s the season for bubbles and this past October I was able to do an amazing tasting and pairing event with sparkling wines from Gloria Ferrer at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla Washington.
I met Sarah Tracey of The Lush Life the evening before her Bubbles and Bites Seminar at WBC18. At the dinner at Doubleback Winery, we finished with the hors d’ouervres in the winery and headed back into the beautiful tasting room to find a seat for dinner and as luck would have it, I ended up sitting next to Sarah. We had great conversation throughout the evening (we both fell in love with the AMAZING lobster bisque) and at the end of the evening she mentioned that she was hosting Wine Discovery Session “Gloria Ferrer Bubbles and Bites” which I had signed up for.
Sarah has quite the history! She writes a column for Martha Stewart (you can check that out here) . She’s a Somm, a wine educator and is spectacular at putting on events. She loves to travel and loves bubbles! (my kinda girl!).
Before we get started with the pairings, I should probably tell you a little about Gloria Ferrer. This winery is located in the southern part Sonoma County. We visited one early morning and enjoyed glorious views from the patio while doing a seated tasting. I love their sparkling wines. We loved them enough to join the club. When a morning is tough, I just close my eyes and picture myself sitting there on their patio with a glass of their sparkling in hand. It inevitably makes the day better. We wrote about our visit in Bubbles to Start the Day at Gloria Ferrer and give you a little background in Gloria Ferrer – a Little History
The wines of Gloria Ferrer, while always well received, particularly by the critics, have continued to improve over 30 growing seasons. The family legacy of uncompromising quality is passed down through generations. The Pinot Pedigree born of decades nurturing our Sonoma Carneros Estate vineyards. The patience-testing méthode champenoise process of aging and blending is paramount. It’s all coming together in the perfect blend of savor and celebrate. Find them on Facebook, Twitter at @GloriaFerrer, and Instagram.
The Bubbles and Bites Session with Gloria Ferrer, was more than just showing you a pairing…this was meant to get your brain thinking about what makes a good pairing and why. Think of colors. There are complimentary colors and contrasting colors. Food and wine are the same way, you can match or contrast
Sarah laid down 4 pairing strategies
Acid needs Acid
Within these strategies, she paired a Gloria Ferrer Sparkling wine with a small bite. Let’s walk through these delicious pairings. While we do this, keep in mind the flavor profiles and how you can use these to create your own pairings.
Acid needs Acid
For this strategy Sarah chose the Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut. This wine is 86.5% Pinot Noir and 13.5% Chardonnay. It is aged in stainless steel and then aged en tirage for a year and a half and you can find it for about $22
The pairing Sarah chose for this wine was a Classic Bruschetta with grated parmesan and a balsamic glaze. The acid in the tomatoes and the vinegar call for a high acid wine, a low acid wine would end up tasting flat.
This pairing worked! Keep this in mind when pairing dishes with tomatoes, lemon or vinegar and reach for a wine with higher acid to keep the flavors bright in both the wine and the food.
The second pairing strategy is one that I often employ. Flavor Matching pulls from the wine and matches the food (or vice versa). I often use this when I picking up a wine I have not tasted. I can read the tasting notes on the shelf talker (or that I have looked up) and pull from that for my pairing. Syrah’s often have blackberry notes and I will pair them with a dish that has blackberries or a blackberry sauce. Spice notes on a wine, can inform the direction of your seasoning.
The wine for this pairing was the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs. This wine is 91.6% Pinot Noir and 8.4% Chardonnay. (I know, they are so exact with their percentages!). This wine is hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. They blend 5-7% Vin Gris (cold-soaked Pinot Noir juice) into the base wine. This Vin Gris with it’s skin contact gives the wine it’s bit of color. It is again stainless steel aged and a year and a half en tirage.
Sarah paired this with a Turkey pinwheel with Cougar Gold, strawberry preserve, boursin & arugula. Okay…if you are asking, “What is Cougar Gold” you are not alone. When she announced this half the room murmured with smiles on their faces while the rest of us looked about bewildered. Okay here’s the deal.
Cougar Gold is a cheese. A canned cheese developed in the 1940s at Washington State University, funded by the US Government. The idea of a canned cheese that would last indefinitely was appealing at this time. It’s a white cheddar. You can find it online at the WSU siteor on Amazon, where a 30 oz can will set you back $64.99. You can watch a quirky fun video called The Making of Cougar Gold Cheese on Vimeo.
Okay, now that that is out of the way…so this pinwheel is turkey with Cougar Gold, which we now know is a white cheddar, plus boursin (a rich crumbly Gournay cheese made of cows milk), strawberry preserves and fresh arugula.
The strawberry notes in the wine match with the strawberry preserves enhancing both the wine and the food.
We head now to pairing the Gloria Ferrer Brut Rosé. This wine is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. To get that lovely pink color they macerate half of the Pinot Noir on skin for 36-48 hours. This also developes the nose and flavor. This is aged en tirage for 2 years. This wine runs about $29.
The pairing is Ahi Poke with sunomono cucumbers, sriracha, seaweed salad & pickled ginger. The wine with it’s vibrant fruit sits in contrast to the heat and umami in the dish with the seaweed, sriracha and ginger. For other contrast pairings think, sweet and salty or sweet and tart. Think Thai food and Riesling or lambrusco and chinese food. (somehow I’m always drawn to Asian pairings here, but there are many more!)
Wine, most especially sparkling wine, has a definite texture in your mouth. Sarah used this pairing to highlight this. The wine was the 2010 Anniversary Cuvée by Gloria Ferrer 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay this wine only uses the first press of juice. It ferments in stainless steel and spends 5 years en tirage. The growing season for this vintage was very cool. This lovely bottle runs $45.
The pairing here was elevated, as was the wine and was a bacon wrapped scallop with meyer lemon aioli. The creamy texture of the scallop and the creamy texture of the wine are gorgeous together in your mouth. Then you add the fat and salt of the bacon…yep…pretty heavenly.
The wrap up
These 4 strategies for pairing wines, work with sparkling as well as still wines and you can use them beyond that, with beers and spirits and even with creating a menu or a dish.
I encourage you to drink bubbles often. They are not all the same! And put them in a wine glass, not a flute, you will be able to enjoy the aromas in the wine even better.
Bubbles are joyful and these bubbles we discussed are affordable. Don’t just hoard your bubbles for an “Occassion”, life is short, make Thursday an Occassion!
Thanks to Gloria Ferrer for sponsoring this seminar and to Sarah Tracey for such an interesting seminar. And of course thanks to the Wine Bloggers Conference (newly rechristened the Wine Media Conference) for making this all possible!
A couple of quick disclaimers. I went to the Wine Bloggers Conference as a Citizen Blogger and this tasting was part of the conference. The conference is offered at an amazing rate for citizen bloggers to entice us to write about the different wineries and areas we visit. So…this great tasting and pairing, cost me next to nothing. BUT, I assure you that had it been crap, I would not have written about it. So there you have it. Second side note, I’ve written about Gloria Ferrer before and enjoy their wines on a regular basis as a paying wineclub member, so yeah, I like their wines.
Randall Grahm is one of the hardest working guys in wine and he has always been an “of the people for the people” kinda guy. I remember meeting him for the first time at a conference dinner 5 or so years ago. A fan of his blog, I was a little star struck, but he was genuine and just a nice guy. He was kind enough to do a phone interview with me on his Picpoul Blanc a while back which was included in a piece on Picpoul from California and France.
We visited the Bonny Doon tasting room a couple years ago and were sucked in by the humor, the down to earth (well except for the spaceship) nature of the place and the interesting, quirky, yet completely approachable wines he was making.
Bonny Doon 2017 Syrah from Lieff Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County
This wine comes from Lieff Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County.
If you haven’t visited SLO Wine Country, it is worth a trip. We did an interview with Heather Muran, Executive Director of San Luis Obispo Vintners and Growers Association a few years back and need to return to the area ourselves! The Lieff Vineyard is in the southern part of San Luis Obispo Country. Lweieff spent years making wine in the Napa Valley, before starting to make wines from this estate, which is really, further south than any of the other vineyards. The vineyard lies east of Santa Maria. They make their own wines (with Mikael Sigouin of Kaena at the helm) and then are growers for many winemakers, including Randall of Bonny Doon.
Soils here are iron rich, the growing season is long, with warm clear days and cool nights with a marine layer that rolls in. Want more details…
Randall describes this wine as unusual. It’s not an “in your face” Syrah in my opinion. He likens the body to “a proper Burgundy”.
A rather unusual Syrah, and definitely not one for those who imagine that Syrah’s best work is doon as a macho, blockbuster, dense-packed vinous analogue to 10-40 motor oil. This wine is all about elegance and finesse and is a study in rotundone—the peppery/bacon-fatty molecule that is the essence of Syrah, and is optimally expressed in cooler vintages and the coolest sites. This wine has the body of a proper Burgundy, lovely, fresh acidity, light to medium weight and just exudes white, black and pink pepper.
Bonny Doon Tasting Notes for the 2017 Syrah “Lieff Vineyard on the Bonny Doon site
What to pair
Of all the winemakers that I contacted to ask for pairing suggestions with wines for our 12 Days of Wine, Randall was the quickest to respond. He is always ready to talk about his wines and share information. When I asked for a suggestion for a pairing with the Syrah, he quickly got back to me with a suggestion of Birria de Res (goat) with dried chilis and offered to send me the recipe, which he did shortly thereafter. Lucky for me, you can use beef short ribs with the recipe also (I was worried about finding goat!).
Birria de Res
This recipe comes from Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen by Gonzalo Guzmán. It was served at the Day of the Doon 2017 and Randall says it was a standout for their staff.
INGREDIENTS and DIRECTIONS: Adobo: 200 grams ancho chiles 8 garlic cloves 1 1/2 tbsp dry thyme 1 1/2 tbsp dry oregano 1 tbsp whole black pepper 7 bay leaves 2 tsp cooking cloves 3 tbsp white sesame seed 1 whole dry cumin 1/4 cup white vinegar 1/2 tbsp ginger powder 1 cup dark beer (such as Negra Modelo)
Cover the chiles with boiling water for 20 minutes. Toast the rest of the dry ingredients at 350 for about 15 minutes or until sesame seeds turn brown, but not black. Using a blender, combine all the ingredients and blend; it should be a smooth thick paste (if more liquid is needed to blend, use the soaking liquid from the chiles).
Birria: 8 lbs short ribs (about 6 large pieces) 1/2 onion 6 garlic cloves 3 bay leaves 1 tsp whole black peppercorns Salt Water to cover meat
Season short ribs heavily with salt all around and let it sit for 30 minutes. In a large sauté pan seared the meat on all sides until golden brown. Using half of the adobo marinate the meat and let it rest for at least 4 hours or overnight. Lay down some banana leaf (if unavailable, can sub cabbage leaves, corn husks or parchment paper) on a braising pan followed by the meat. Cut the onions into quarters and spread over the meat with the rest of the ingredients, cover with water about and inch above the meat, cover with more banana leaf and foil. Braise for 3 hours at 325. When very tender, strain and place the liquid aside.
Salsa: 2 qts diced can tomatoes 35 grams toasted chile cascabel 3 garlic cloves 1/2 of the above adobo
On a medium sauté pan or griddle on medium heat toast the chiles; they should change to bright red and will have some hard spots. On a roasting pan add all the other ingredients except for the adobo and roast for 30 minutes at 350 then add the adobo and blend until really smooth.
To finish: In a medium pot combine the salsa and remaining liquid from braising, bring it to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, it should be rich but still runny consistency. Cut the birria into serving portions and it to the mix, taste for salt. Best served with some warm tortillas, fresh cilantro, pickled red onion (or simply diced red onions), and a hot sauce if you decide it’s not too spicy.
I’ll admit that I’ve never done short ribs, so when the butcher asked “Bone in or Boneless” I ended up with half bone in and half boneless. Michael hates the bones, but…after further discussion with the butcher and seeing the final product, I found out that bones short ribs are a whole different cut of meat and don’t have the fat and marbling that ribs do.
A few other details that I adjusted. We had some lovely dried chili’s that my friend Giacomo had given me, and I was unable to find Anchos…I also didn’t find whole cumin, so powder will have to do (I expect we might lose a bit of roastiness in flavor sadly).
Michael took over from here, and stuck closely to the adobo recipe with the exception of using a little less ginger powder. It sat over night with the ribs soaking up the flavor.
I popped it in the oven the following day to cook for 3 hours and prepared the salsa while it cooked. I took some liberties. Michael and I don’t do spicy so much these days and I could not locate the chile cascabel, so we did without that. We used stewed tomatoes rather than diced, which I drained before roasting with the garlic. Our adobo was a little thinner than a paste and we didn’t want things to be too soupy.
I added the braising liquid to the roasted tomatoes and cooked it down for 30 minutes. I skipped adding the additional adobo, as we tasted it and found it a little too spicy for us. So I drained the mixture a little before blending it. For me it was perfect. It came out like a really authentic mexican salsa, you know the really good ones that you only find at a mexican restaurant. It was roasty and had just the right spice for us. If you like spice, stick to the recipe! I am sure that it is delicious and packs more of a punch than our version.
We served this with flour tortillas, as well as a southwest cabbage slaw, sour cream, guac and the salsa, which we served on the side. Michael preferred the boneless cuts of meat, I preferred the bone in (we really are Jack Sprat and his wife).
A late lesson on Birria
I had a Spanish friend who was wondering about “birria” (she had a much different connotation of the word). I googled it and found lovely photos of a goat or mutton stew from the Mexican State of Jalisco. (So perhaps I should have left some of that liquid in. I guess, it could have been soupier! LOL.) Perhaps we will find ourselves in San Francisco and make a stop at Nopalito and if it is on the menu, taste the dish the way it was meant to be. Regardless, our variation on this dish was delicious, and I encourage you to try the recipe and find your own variation.
The Birria de Res was delicious. And the wine…well we both really raved about this wine. It was the perfect compliment, it was beautiful with the food.
I got exotic spices and black fruit on the nose. You could tell this was a cool climate Syrah. The mouth feel was lighter than those giant Syrahs you often find. This wine was flavorful, without being BIG. It was food friendly, but it wasn’t a pushover with the food. Balance…that was what this wine had in spades.
The entire pairing was comfortably delicious. Thanks Randall for this pairing suggestion which made for a really memorable meal.
It runs an extraordinarily reasonable $26 per bottle.
Want to visit them?
You really should get yourself to their tasting room in Davenport. Located at 450 Highway 1, Davenport, CA 95017. They are typically open 11 to 5. Plan to visit the beautiful coast that is right out their front door and perhaps take a drive into Bonny Doon, the tiny town that inspired the name that sits up in the hills just inland from Davenport. Make sure to allow plenty of time to taste through the ecclectic line up that is Rhône driven, by the original Rhône Ranger himself.
On the 7th day…well we rested! Eating Pizza and Sucking Glass with Maloof Wines.
Eat pizza, suck glass.
The Mantra from RossandBee at Maloof Wines
We have been cooking a lot lately, and these 12 Days of Wine are keeping us busy. Today on the 7th day of Wine, we rest. We pick up a white pizza, make a bowl of popcorn and watch a movie, thanks to the recommendation of Ross & Bee of Maloof Wines.
This wine is a blend of Pinot Gris and Riesling, they consider it their version of a rosé.
“Ross: (This) wine is our fun little spring blend, this is what we think of as our answer to a rosé. This is a blend, it’s 55% Pinot Gris and the Pinot Gris was fermented on the skins, kind of as you would traditionally ferment a red wine. So we ferment that, on the skins in two different fashions; we do half of it with full skin contact and daily punch downs and then the other half we actually do carbonic masceration. Then that’s pressed off and blended with Riesling. So it’s like 55% skin contact Pinot Gris and 45% Riesling. And this wine is called “Where Ya PJs at?”
Ross Maloof at the 2018 Uncommon Wine Festival
So what to pair? On the Maloof site they suggest”
Serve chilled or at cellar temp with white za pies or with a bowl of popcorn over your favorite John Cusak movie. Ours is Grosse Point Blank.
From the Maloof website http://rossandbee.com/wines/
We pulled out the “Where Ya PJ’s at” and donned our PJ’s for pizza popcorn and wine (no lounging in your underwear here). We could enjoy the tree, the lights, a movie and rest a bit.
This was quick, easy, and just the right size to pair with our bowl of popcorn. We ordered the “White Top” signature pizza, which is white cream sauce with mozzarella, applewood bacon, chopped garlic, oregano and fresh arugula, which they add at the end after it has baked for all of 3 minutes in the high heat pizza oven, while I watch.
Trust me there was plenty of garlic! (they people making the pizza are generous with toppings and always check to be sure if they’ve added enough or if you want more!)
We popped up some buttered popcorn to go with the ‘za, popped the bottle of “Where Ya PJ’s At?” and curled up on the couch with a movie.
The Where Ya PJ’s At? is coppery in the glass from that pinot gris with skin contact. The pinot gris gives it a rich nose also. There is a bit of sediment in the bottom of the bottle (which I kinda like). The flavors are rich and the bit of effervescence tickles your tongue and your taste buds.
We actually watched Sofia Coppolas “Marie Antoinette”and the wine channeled that everyday luxury kind of feel for me. It was a day of lounging about, enjoying tasty bits and wine, like lounging at court. Overall the food and wine pairing was perfect. The movie…hmmm. (maybe we should have gone with a Cusack film)
Want to find a bottle of this stuff? Well, they don’t yet ship, but if you are in one of the lucky areas where their wines can be found… here’s the list.
Perhaps there is a bit of the 90 cases of this wine that they made, left out there in the universe. You can hope!
Maybe you should drop by and see them?
If you want to visit them…drop a note from the website where you can join the Maloof Tang Clan
On the 6th day of Wine we opened our bottle of Joyful Noise Pinot Noir made by Deven Morganstern.
2015 Joyful Noise Pinot Noir
We met Deven and Callie of Joyful Noise at the Uncommon Wine Festival this summer and spoke with them about the 2015 Pinot Noir. The grapes for this wine come from Lazy River Vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of the Willamette Valley in Oregon.
Deven’s pairing suggestions
I reached out to Deven to ask about a pairing for the holiday season and he was kind enough to respond with a pairing that makes things simple so that you can relax and enjoy the time at the holiday with family and friends.
Here is what I thought of when planning out our Christmas Dinner menu….my favorite part is all the excitement and build up to dinner which starts a few days before Christmas so we can best enjoy the crazy!
Deven Morganstern, Executive Noise Maker and Grape Wrangeler at Joyful Noise
In our house, Christmas Dinner is really an all day affair. Everyone wakes up, we make coffee, have pastries from the shop down the street and do the present thing. That all gets us to about lunch time when friends and other family start to stop by. Either just for a minute or coming early for Dinner you’ve got to have some snacks ready in advance or you will never get out of the kitchen. So, a couple days ahead I’ll bake loaves of Ken Forkish’s Saturday White Bread recipe from Flour Water Salt Yeast, pick up a ton of charcuterie from Chop and Olympia Provisions here in Portland, some pickled and fresh veggies, and then make this tuna spread (see below) with Jacobson canned tuna in oil. Allcan be whipped up days ahead of time, other than grilling some of that bread, and you can keep those hungry folks at bay while wrapping up the main show in the kitchen. Perfect thing about the 2015 Lazy River Vineyard Joyful Noise Pinot Noir is it can roll with all these snacks and transition straight into dinner time with roasted Duck, Prime Rib, or at our house this year, Smoked Ham. With enough color and structure that your Cabernet drinking Uncle will be cool with it and all the acid and fruit anyone that loves Oregon Pinot Noir will be filling their glass a second time, you can pop open a couple bottles and let the day fill with the noise of friends and family.
Deven Morganstern, Executive Noise Maker and Grape Wrangeler at Joyful Noise
I didn’t have time to order tuna from Jacobson. But I will be sure to pick some up when I am back on the Oregon Coast. (We will be heading to a wedding just up the road from there next year). While I am familiar with Jacobson salts (and have been happily gifted a few), the tuna is new to me and I can’t wait!
I headed to the market and picked up a higher quality tuna than I typically do for sandwiches for this recipe.
One 6 1/2 ounce can best quality tuna packed in olive oil. Do not drain (the Jacobson tuna was 7 1/2 ounces, but no big deal) 4 T unsalted butter, at room temp Grated zest of 1 lemon 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 T olive oil 1/2 t dried oregano 1 plump fresh garlic clove, finely chopped
Put it all in a food processor and process till smooth and creamy. Taste for seasoning. I usually add salt and pepper. It’s best served at room temp and will keep for about 3 days.
We also put together a cheese plate to graze on. filled with a wide variety of cheeses, charcuterie etc.
I will pull this quote again from Deven
“With enough color and structure that your Cabernet drinking Uncle will be cool with it and all the acid and fruit anyone that loves Oregon Pinot Noir will be filling their glass a second time, you can pop open a couple bottles and let the day fill with the noise of friends and family. “
Nothing could be more true. I think of this as a relatively “big” Pinot. Full of flavor. It went beautifully with everything! Not a single bad pairing. I was a little skeptical of the tuna spread pairing. I read the recipe, thought it sounded tasty and was charmed by Deven’s story. But quite honestly I did not think this would be a spectacular pairing. Boy was I wrong. The acid in the wine was brilliant pairing with the lemon in the spread and then contrasting with the fat and and richness. This was an enlightening pairing for me.
Do you want a bottle? They have a page on their site to tell you “How it Works” They are small, and this was the only wine they made annually, until this year when they added a Pet Nat to their line up (I can’t wait to try that!)
“On the fourth day of wine my true love pulled out of the cellar for me, a Grüner Veltliner from Illahe.”
ILLAHE, pronounced Ill-Uh-Hee, is a local Chinook word meaning “earth” or “place” or “soil”
From the Illahe Vineyards site
This summer we visited Illahe Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Illahe is located in the southern part of the Willamette Valley west of Salem. They are within the proposed Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA.
We spent a morning at the vineyard with Lowell Ford who owns runs the vineyard with his wife Pauline. Their son Brad Ford is the winemaker and the force behind the proposed Mt. Pisgah/Polk County AVA.
Sitting on the patio in front of the winery you look south down the slope and across the vineyard. They sit between 225 and 440 feet here. They get earlier budbreak, as they are a warmer site than most in the Willamette Valley, but they also get the Van Duzer winds which cool the vineyard in the evening and give them a long growing season.
Illahe 2017 Estate Grüner Veltliner
While they primarily focus on Pinot Noir (and we look forward to a future post telling you all about those, including teaser their 1899 which is made) , they also grow Pinot Gris, Grüner Veltliner, Tempranillo, Viognier, Langrein, Schioppettino and Teroldego. Today we will focus on the Grüner that we picked up when we visited.
I reached out to Kathy, who runs their tasting room and had set us up for our visit and interview and she kindly put us in touch with Brad the winemaker. Brad responded with this great description of the wine, followed by a simple seasonal pairing:
The 2017 Illahe grüner veltliner introduces itself with light but dense aromas of dried peach, honey crisp apple, and fresh cedar board. This wine is fermented partially in acacia barrels which offer herbal flavors and a complex texture. The palate also contains flavors of red grapefruit, graham cracker, and white nectarine. The balanced acid and strong mouthfeel create a beautiful wine ready for drinking or aging. A nice, simple pairing for the gruner in the wintertime is a soupe aux choux, or cabbage soup. The lightness and fattiness of the soup pair well with a white wine like gruner. I like a homemade chicken broth and homemade sourdough wheat bread for the croute. Of course, a little pinch of classic gruner white pepper on top of the soup is the kicker.
Brad Ford, Winemaker Illahe Vineyards
Soupe aux Choux
Some refer to this as “Old Shoe Soup” (that would be Brits who were poking fun at the French words). This is a simple Cabbage soup. I searched through a few recipes and then adapted one to fit.
For my Soupe aux Choux I deviated a little from the recipe, with turkey stock from Thanksgiving, using bacon I had on hand and adding some par boiled potatoes left from the tartiflette I made earlier this week.
Tastings and Pairings
Michael was a bit skeptical of “cabbage soup” I reassured him, letting him know there was bacon in it. Regardless he requested a back up of fish and chips for lunch. So we paired both.
He was pleasantly surprised at the soupe aux choux and finished off most of his bowl. The fish and chips we found only paired with the addition of tartar sauce.
We found the wine needed to open a bit and warm to let out the nose. I did get honey crisp apples, a hazy bit of white pepper and wet stones on the nose. Later I noted something woodsy which…hmmm okay we can call it cedar board. On the palate I got a tartness which yes, reminded me with the bitter notes in the background of pink or red grapefruit and then under ripe apricots.
The soup was light, but warm and lovely and was perfect for the pairing on this cloudy day, to enjoy as the early afternoon sun peaked through the clouds and my windows. The croute which was sour dough baguette was topped with gouda which for me kicked the flavor up a notch and gave the Grüner even more to play with.
Albariño is being grown all over the world, but it originates from Rias Baixas. We spent some time getting to know a little about the region and then tasting through 3 Albariños from this region and doing a little experimental food pairing.
Where does Albariño come from?
This area is the Northwestern corner of Spain, and it’s probably not what you picture when you picture Spain. Located above Portugal with two edges of coast line on the Atlantic. It’s called Galicia and it sounds Gaelic for a reason. This area was inhabited by Celtic people who lived north of the Douro River. My dear friend Pepe who is from Spain once told me about this area with such passion and longing, that he created a picture of this place for me without my even seeing it. The area is often wet and cloudy and feels more like Ireland than Spain. You find it populated with many ginger-haired blue-eyed Spaniards. Bagpipes are not uncommon and Celtic crosses dot the landscape.
Within this green wet corner of Spain you find Rias Baixas. “Rias Baixas” means “lower Rias” in Galician. This coastal area encompasses 4 inlets and it is rich in fishing and aquaculture. Wide beaches and beautiful vineyards, great seafood and wine make this an idealic destination.
Albariño and how it is grown
90% of the wine coming out of Rias Baixas is Albariño, and the grape is thought to have originated in the area. While it has been proven to be indigenous to Spain, there were legends saying that monks had brought Riesling or Petit Manseng from Burgundy to this region of Spain back in the 12th or 13th centuries. It does resemble Riesling in it’s minerality.
This grape is very good at thriving in this moist environment, but to up the odds of success, the vines here are trained on pergolas. The pergolas are hewed from granite (makes sense because wood would rot in the moisture). The pergola’s keep the grapes off the ground, they get protection from the sun and great airflow. These pergolas can be up to 7 feet tall, so the breezes pass through keeping down mildew and allowing for even ripening. Harvest is by hand into 40 lb bins and yields here are low, between 3 and 5 tons per acre.
The Wines for today
2016 Luzado Albariño
Luzada Albarino from Rias Baixas
I am a label reader, so here you can read the details.
The first was a 2016 Luzada Albariño. This is an estate grown and bottled wine from Val do Sainés in Rais Baixas. We picked this up at Trader Joes for $6.99. This was to be our low end wine for comparison. Quite honestly it stood up pretty well. The closure on this wine was screw cap, so quick and easy to get into. On the nose I got dusty rocks, minerals, lemon spritzer and pith. As it opened up it blossomed with honeysuckle. On the palate there was a tartness, like an under ripe green apple. It lingers on the palate and we found it to be really nice. Is there a ton of depth and nuance? No, but the nose did evolve and kept me going back for more.
Luzada Albariño with Palak Paneer and Pad Thai
We paired this one night (yes at $6.99 it’s easy to pick up another bottle), with Indian and Thai food, which are go to pairings for Albariño. It was beautiful with the Palak Paneer, the brightness of the wine went well with the greens in the dish. With the Pad Thai, it was nice, but we still got stung a bit by the heat of the dish, so I think I will still prefer Rieslings with Thai.
2015 Alma Terra Albariño
The 2015 Alma Terra we picked up at Total Wine. This bottle set us back $16.99. This is a “Ponte” which means it is single vineyard. When I stuck my nose in this glass, I got peach pits and dusty honeysuckle. In my mouth it was more tropical with a little pineapple and tart still hard white peaches. (I actually tasted this wine with some slightly under ripe white peaches). There was a bit more nuance to the nose on this wine, but we found that it settled quickly, and didn’t continue to open or change. This bottle had a cork closure. I mention this because, surprisingly, each of these bottles had a different closure.
2014 La Caña Albariño
Lastly we had a 2014 La Caña Albariño. This wine again came from Total Wine and ran $19.99. Upon sticking my nose in the glass, I knew we had something different here. The nose was beeswax and honeysuckle and it felt comfortable and round. It opened up to peach and nectarine and citrus blossoms late in the day on a hot and humid day. 80% of this wine is fermented in Stainless and 20 percent in French Oak puncheons. It rests 8 months on the lees before bottling. This wine was not bright and sharp, like the previous wines, but rather comes across like a beautiful watercolor painting, the colors melding and blending softly as they seep into the paper. This perhaps is because it sits on the lees for 8 months. Oh and this bottle had a composite stopper.
While the La Caña was my favorite of the evening, it is also clearly a different style of Albariño.
Eggplant was the theme du jour. We had picked some at Gilcrease Farm and were ready to dive into using it. I made a dip, with a recipe from my friend Corinne. It called for roasting the eggplant, scooping out the insides and mixing it with mayo, yogurt, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper. I tossed in some lemon zest for good measure.
Michael pulled up a recipe for Eggplant parmesean. He had just made several jars of roasted tomato sauce that we used in this. Pretty simple, slice the eggplant in 1/8 inch slices lengthwise, salt and let sit for 30 minutes. Then do an egg and breadcrumb dip and fry them. Then layer like lasagna…a layer of eggplant, a layer of sauce and repeat twice (3 layers), then top with fresh mozzerella slices and bake.
We also made some fried calamari and we had white peaches and nectarines as well as two types of flavored goat cheese and a sampling of spanish cheeses.
So…as to the pairings; The Luzado was really wonderful with the eggplant dip. I attribute this to the lemon juice and zest in the dip. The Calamari was great with the Alma Terra. The La Caña blended well with everything, it didn’t make anything sparkle or shine, but it was really easy going playing well with all the dishes.
How was the Eggplant Parmesean you ask?
Homemade Eggplant Parmesan
Well, due to the red sauce, it really didn’t do much of anything with the wine, but, it was tasty on it’s own!
While on the Central Coast we made the pilgrimage to Bonny Doon Vineyard’s tasting room on the Pacific Coast Highway in Davenport, CA. We left with a couple bottles of their 2016 Picpoul. The grapes for this 100% Picpoul Wine come from Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco.
So this grape is from the Southern Rhone and often is used as a blending grape. The label by Wendy Cook steers you toward the meaning of the name.
Bonny Doon Vineyard 2016 Picpoul Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard Label Art by Wendy Cook
“Pique-poule” means lip stinger in French (or pecking hens depending on your translation, either way…you can picture the hens pecking your lips) It’s one of those 13 varieties of grape that are allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Picpoul does come in red (Picpoul Noir), white (Picpoul Blanc) and pink (Picpoul Gris), but the white variety is most prevalent, which is why Bonny Doon refers to their Picpoul Blanc as simply Picpoul.
In France it is best known today as Picpoul de Pinet from the Pinet Region of Languedoc.
Arroyo Seco is an AVA in Monterey County. The AVA covers two towns, Soledad and Greenfield. The area sits in the Salinas Valley 40 miles from Monterey Bay, which brings dense fog and howling winds during the growing season in the Eastern and Central Portions of the AVA. Named for the “Arroyo Seco” a seasonal waterway that brings in water from the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Los Padres National Forest. The Western portion of the AVA runs east to west in a narrow gorge that is sheltered from the Monterey Bay fog and winds and has higher daytime temperatures. The AVA covers over 18,000 acres and is one of the smallest AVAs in California and has about 7,000 planted acres.
Beeswax Vineyard is owned by the Silva family who also runs Poppy Wines. It was established in 2000 and has 24 acres of organically farmed wine grapes with blocks of Pinot Noir, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Picpoul Blanc. This tiny vineyard is in the Salinas Valley toward the southern end of the AVA and is nestled into the Santa Lucia foothills.
This wine was mouthwatering and bright, with a light straw yellow color. You get minerals, ocean and a floral note when you stick your nose in the glass and then tart green apple and stone fruit pits in your mouth. There is in the background this little bit of beeswax. It is a lovely and subtle wine.
What to Pair with it?
I spent a little time in the afternoon researching what to pair with this wine. I started with the Bonny Doon site, which gave me “the briniest oysters you can find or Dungeness crab.” Well, sadly, finding either of those for the evening dinner was not really a possibility, so I searched further.
Tablas Creek Vineyards also does a Picpoul (there are not many wineries in the country that do), and they suggested; Fried Calamari, Thai dishes with lemongrass and ginger, Dover sole, Cerviche, Braised tuna or Swordfish. Well, that I could work with and Calamari and some Thai lemongrass sticks were added to the shopping list.
Digging deeper The Wine Cellar Insider suggested “salmon, swordfish, scallops, clams, oysters and rich cream or butter sauces.” And Picpoul de Pinet suggestion “not only….seafood and shellfish as well as other traditional Mediterranean dishes, but also with cheese and chocolate.” And finally Wine & Good Food suggested “oysters, Mahi Mahi or a salad topped with strawberries and goat cheese”
Okay…so now we had a list to work with. We headed to TJ’s, to see what we could find that might fit the bill and give us a wide variety of things to try.
Pairing a Picpoul
A Picpoul Blanc Pairing
So we ended up with a big platter with a variety of things to try with this wine. We included; smoked oysters, herbed goat cheese, anchovies, smoked gouda, sardines, olive tapenade, capers and a couple Spanish Cheeses; Manchego and Iberico . We later dinned on the Calamari with a mayo, greek yogurt dip with thyme, lemon juice and lemon zest and the Thai Lemongrass chicken sticks.
As I tasted an allegory took hold in my mind, so indulge me as it carries me through my tasting notes.
The tasting hook up
Smoked oysters are not my favorite thing, but paired with the Picpoul they mellow and created a lighter tone for both the oyster and the wines and pulling up a floral note in the wine. This couple I really didn’t think would get along and they ended up having a great conversation.
This is a fine pairing (remember when your date told you that you looked “fine”). The Spanish cheese pulls out the body in the wine and the saltiness in the cheese. These two might date for a while.
Anchovies are a little loud and unruly in your mouth. A sip of the Picpoul mellows and soothes the flavor and makes those anchovies much more likeable.
These two change when they are together and continue changing in my mouth, like a couple lovingly pushing each other to take another step.
They meet and compliment each other. The compliments make them smile and their smile makes each more beautiful.
This is a blending that just makes you happy. Neither the Spanish cheese or the wine stand out, but together they are just right, snuggling in my mouth like an adorable quiet couple.
The picpoul just flatters the capers here, brightening them, while toning the acid in both and giving a little floral note to the bite. I think Picpoul might get Capers number.
Herbed Goat Cheese
Alright these two are the life of the party. Each are good but together they are a party in my mouth and are tearing up the dance floor!
I’m out of allegory here. This was a great pairing, and while I think it would have been good with just Calamari and Picpoul the addition of the dip with the greek yogurt, thyme and lemon zest really kicked it up a notch.
Thai lemongrass chicken sticks
This was good. Mellow not a stand out, but certainly a good meld.
Hopefully, this will inspire you in a couple of ways. To search out some Picpoul to start with and then to try some pairings. Take a moment with a wine and a food and think about them. What do you taste, what does it make you think of. Taste and explore! Then come back and share with us!
In honor of #ChampagneDay…here is a little primer on Sparkling wines and Champagne that we put together as we planned our Sparkling pairing for our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds Event.
The Sparkling Wine
As we planned for our Crushed Grapes and Open Minds event we knew that we wanted to begin with a sparkling wine. Bubbles are celebratory and a great way to get an event off to the right start. We also knew that with our sparkling wine we would serve it in glasses rather than flutes, which would not keep the bubbles as much, but would allow guest to smell the aromas behind the wine. We looked at many different sparkling wines, and it was important to me to find something with some yeast or bread on the nose, to give us a chance to talk about how Sparkling wine is made in the traditional Champenoise method.
Quick lesson on Sparkling wine:
There are two methods of making a sparkling wine. One is the “Charmat” or “Tank” Method, the other is Methode Champenoise.
The Charmat Method
The Charmat method is a less expensive way to make a sparkling wine. The secondary fermentation (the one that causes the bubbles) is done in a large pressurized tank instead of in the bottle. Because you can only get 2-4 atmospheres of pressure in this way, the bubbles tend to be larger. Prosecco and Lambrusco are made in this way.
Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionnelle is more expensive because it is more labor intensive. This starts by making a base wine then adding sugar and yeast to the bottle which starts a secondary fermentation. The bottles are placed in riddling racks, which tip the bottle slightly upside down allowing the lees (the dead yeast cells) to collect in the neck of the bottle. You know that Veuve Clicquot Champagne? Well Madame Nicole Barbe Clicquot was the inspiration behind riddling racks. She hated the cloudy look of champagne, because at the time the lees would settle in the bottom of the bottle and when your poured it, it would get all cloudy (think Kombucha). So she had these racks created which would hold the bottles at a forty five degree angle with the neck down. Several times a week, workers go in and turn the bottle, in some cases giving it a small shake to make sure the lees are not caking or clinging to the glass. Then they freeze the neck of the bottle so that they can “disgorge” the plug of lees that has settled in the neck of the bottle. They then refill the empty space in the bottle often adjusting the sweetness in the process and cork and cage the wine. Because these wines do the secondary fermentation in the bottle (the big heavy champagne bottles) the pressure is higher, at 6-7 atmospheres of pressure which is what gives you those very small fine bubbles.
Popping a champagne cork!
Sweetness levels in Sparkling wine
Yep, this can be confusing. Dry is not really dry. Typically in a wine, dryness is dependent on the amount of residual sugar in the finished wine. In the fermentation process, yeast eats the sugar, in the end, if it eats all the sugar you get a dryer wine, if there is sugar left over…well that is the residual sugar! In Sparkling wines dry comes in the wrong place for my brain on the sweetness scale. Here we go with our rundown of wine sweetness.
This is from Sweetest to driest:
Doux: Sweetest (this will give you over 2 teaspoons of sugar for each glass)
Demi-Sec: a little less sweet (only 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar per glass)
Dry: Not REALLY dry (3/4 to 1 teaspoon of sugar)
Extra Dry: Well, it’s dryer than dry! (1/2 to ¾ teaspoons)
Brut: Now we are getting dryer (1/4 to ½ teaspoons of sugar)
Extra Brut: Dryer than Brut with (less than ¼ teaspoons of sugar)
Brut Nature: Okay here we go…this is the driest! (less than 1/6 teaspoon of sugar in a glass)
This is important to keep in mind, because unless you go to a great little wine shop where they are smart and knowledgeable, it is unfortunately likely that they will point you in the wrong direction on the dryness scale. (toss this info in your phone for when you go champagne shopping!)
We narrowed our choices to a California Sparkling Wine, a Cremant, and a Champagne and brought them home for a tasting.
Three sparkling wines, Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut, Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne and Champagne AJ de Margerie a Bouzy
The California Sparkling wine was a Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut
I picked this one up because the description said “crisp” and “toasty”. This wine was hand-harvested Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (traditional Champagne grapes) from Sonoma County in California and specifically in the Carneros District. Carneros is the lower part of the Sonoma/Napa Region, closest to San Francisco. They have over 40 selections of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay planted on their estate. This gives them some diversity in the grapes they are harvesting to create a consistent cuvee. With sparkling wines a Cuvee is a non-vintage blend, which means multiple years can be blended together. That means a warmer vintage can be blended with a cooler vintage to make a cuvee that matches the one you put out last year. So year after year, customers can be sure that the wine will taste the same. This blend is mostly Pinot Noir, which has little skin contact so that you don’t get any pink in the wine.
Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut
Louise Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc
The nose on this said ”aromas of citrus and flowers, evolving into butter and brioche notes with age”.
So lets start with the “Blanc de Blanc” part. That indicates that it is a sparkling made from white grapes (blanc is white, so white of white). In this case it is mostly (85%) Chardonnay.
Now the “Cremant” .Cremant (“cray-mont”) is a method champenoise sparkling wine that is made outside of the Champagne region. It can be made from grapes other than the traditional Champagne grapes. It originally indicated that the wine was less fizzy or bubbly than Champagne.
Onto the “de Bourgogne” part…so the region this wine is made in is Bourgogne (Burgundy), a region known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Blanc de Blanc
Champagne A. J. de Margerie a Bouzy Grand Cru
This wine is from the Champagne region and is 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. The tasting notes said “Dry, cherry, berry, toast”.
It is from the famed Bouzy is a village in the Montagne de Reims Region of Champagne where Pinot Noir is mostly grown (there you go with why it’s 90% Pinot!)
Champagne AJ de Margerie a Bouzy
And the winner is…
So we tasted and they were all very nice, but the Champagne had the bread I was looking for on the nose. It wasn’t quite toast and brioche was not a term that I felt would resonate with people. As I continued to smell the visual of hamburger buns came to me. When I mentioned this to Michael, he immediately could smell it. We had our sparkling wine.
The Pairings for the Party
So now we had our Sparkling wine. Time to move forward with the pairings! Since we wanted to “Open Minds” to the aromas and then the emotions that the aromas brought with them, we wanted to set up scent jars, to let our guests compare the scents that they might be getting in the wine with the real thing. We also needed a food pairing, something to munch on that would spark conversation and of course the art.
The aroma jars with this wine were cherries, berries and hamburger buns. As cherries were not in season, I picked up a bag of frozen cherries and defrosted them. Our berries were blueberries, cut strawberries and blackberries.
So why do you smell berries when this is a white wine? Well, Champagne is typically made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. They do very little skin contact so you don’t get the red color from the Pinot Noir grapes. So the berries and cherries you smell come from the Pinot Noir as this is a 90% Pinot Noir Champagne.
And the hamburger buns…that would be the dying yeast. The yeast is eating up the sugar in the wine making it ferment, much like what it does to make bread rise. So you get that yeasty/bready nose, which on this wine hit me as hamburger buns.
The Food Pairing
Champagne can often seem pretentious, being paired with caviar and fancy things, but it’s really a beverage about celebrating.. The Champagne maker at Laetitia in San Luis Obispo says that his favorite pairing with Champagne was popcorn. So we had movie theatre popcorn and potato chips to pair. Champagne is really the perfect pairing for food, going great with salt & fat. Salt & fat are delicious, but the fat will coat your tongue and block up your taste buds, and the salt makes you thirsty. The bubbles in Champagne are perfect for clearing all the fat of your tongue and quenching your thirst making every bite taste as good as the first. So, when it doubt as to what to pair with a meal? Go with something sparkling!
Buttered Popcorn or Potato chips are a great pairing for sparkling wines.
The Art Pairing
RuBen’s Painting for this wine evoked a warmth that for me brought out the bread on the nose. The painting was bright but also warm and comforting and there was texture on the canvas evoking the texture and bubbles in the Champagne.
RuBen’s spectacular interpretation of our Champagne – Act2Art by RuBen
What people had to say
We asked our guests for their thoughts, maybe a memory or phrase that came to mind as they smelled and tasted the wine, smelled the aroma jars, tasted the pairing and gazed upon the art. Here were some of their thoughts…
A perfect first date.
happy – like a picnic in an apple orchard
a field with dandelions and fresh grass
A beautiful sun shower in late April, early May
movement of life
crisp pears – a cool spring afternoon
Of course after the Champagne it was time to move on to the Sauvignon Blanc. Join us back here for more on that!
Note to wine geeks, I’m kinda excited about a new book coming out called “But First, Champagne: A Modern Guide to the World’s Favorite Wine”. It’s by David White (of the Terroirist the wine blog) with a forward by Ray Isle (of Food And Wine Magazine) and promises to be a perfect book for both the newbie and the longtime Champagne lover. It is available for pre-order on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/But-First-Champagne-World%C2%92s-Favorite/dp/1510711449 and will be coming out in about 8 weeks.
Oh and for this event I perfected my method of opening Champagne bottles! Want to look extra cool and professional opening Champagne? Do want I did and follow Madeline Puckette’s advice! Visit her blog Wine Folly and check out “How to Open Champagne Safely”