Monday, December 31, 2007

Brown Sugar Kitchen and I

In my last postito (mini post- the one that amounted to perhaps six sentences), I mentioned that I have something that I'd like to share with you. That's still true.

What I'd like to share is that I am beginning my first real wine consulting assignment with a friend of mine. Real as in, although I have "consulted" people on wine before, my name has not appeared in print. Anywhere good, that is.

The restaurant's wine list that I will be designing is Brown Sugar Kitchen's.

The owner and chef, Tanya Holland, and I met while working at a catering company around two years ago. We got along, enjoyed working together, and told each other that we would stay in touch when I left to devote my work hours primarily to wine. We didn't, but we luckily met once again at our local YMCA, accidentally (by the way, I love the Y).

And then we caught up. She visited the wine shop where I worked, I excitingly learned that she was launching her first restaurant, and don't tell her husband, but I caught her eye. Her wine eye. And I let her know that if she wanted my wine food pairing "skills," that they were all hers. She said yes. I'm a lucky girl.

Thus I am truly very happy to be able to say that I am Brown Sugar Kitchen's wine consultant. The food served will be lighter soul food and BBQ. And when I say BBQ, I mean the classic BBQ that requires hours of luscious cooking, and lighter soul food as in nothing, to my knowledge, will be laden with lard. To pair wine with this delicious food, I will stock the list (which I will change almost completely every two months) with both full-bodied and lean whites, that are not too oaky to detract from the food's bright flavors. The reds will be big on smoke, spice or fruit (lots of Rhone blends), to bring out the BBQ flavors and lusher textures.

Then, I will change the list almost entirely every two months. Swoon.

Lastly, I will be hosting monthly supper clubs with Tanya that will be wine focused on the fourth Wednesday of every month. They will be very reasonably priced, prix-fixe, and three to four courses of delicious, inspired, "updated" soul food. And I would love to see any of you there.

I'll keep you updated on the advances of this project and will include pictures of her restaurant, and maybe even of me in her restaurant. That's right.

Here is an announcement of her opening in the San Francisco Chronicle:

"Cookbook author and chef Tanya Holland is planning to open Brown Sugar Kitchen next month in West Oakland (2534 Mandela Parkway).
The restaurant will showcase Holland 's Southern-style cooking with Caribbean flair. She plans to also sprinkle in some African and Creole flavors for what she calls "new soul cooking." She plans to open the 50-seat restaurant for breakfast and lunch initially, and wants to take advantage of the barbecue smoker that came with the place, formerly the Island Cafe.
Expect moderately priced ribs and chicken on the menu, along with sweet potato gratin, baked grits, macaroni and cheese, and coleslaw. For breakfast: cornmeal waffles, three-potato hash and pecan-crusted French toast.
Holland, author of "New Soul Cooking," says she wants to grow with the neighborhood and will eventually open for dinner."

Also, here are some further links about the restaurant and Ms. Tanya Holland. Apologies if you have to cut and paste

So that's my news, dear readers, and in closing, I'd like to thank you for reading and sharing my blog this year. It's a great venue for me and I value sharing wine and food thoughts with all of you in my posts and through your comments.


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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Holiday Wine Time

The holidays are a very busy time in the wine industry. It calls for wine workers to do everything from select $100 bottles of wines to fill THREE Christmas cases to individually wrapping hundreds of bottles of wine in tissue paper, stickers and ribbon, and then ship those out to that many individuals, respectively. Then, it calls for those same wine workers to go home and pass out immediately after their head hits the pillow. Or, alternatively, it calls for the weak ones to wake up in the middle of the night wondering if the addresses were wrong on any of the shipments because he or she has problems with putting numbers in the wrong order. You know, like how she switched the numbers on the street address on her wedding invitation that indicated where the reception would be held.
Anyhow, next week I will have a lengthier post and will have a fun little announcement to make.
Happy Holidays!

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Bubbles Party Guests


a) These four magnificent dressers won the champagne bottle prize.

b) Dot and Jason, smoking jacket and Schramsberg.

d) Our regular customer friends: Steve, Jane, Wendy and her sister, who is nice and lovely and whose name has slipped past me at the moment. By the way, she's very nice.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Bubbles Party: Triple Cremes and High Heels

Bubbles Party: Triple Cremes and High Heels

Last Saturday, we had a Bubbles Party where I work where we invited representatives from top Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, and Sparkling producers to pour our guests their wares. The night was superb, and it might have been our best attended event. The party equation went something like this:
12 different sparklings + triple creme cheese + popcorn + salt and pepper crinkled potato chips + Bubbles Party music such as Otis Redding and Dimitrou from Paris -$5 off the admission price if you dressed fabulously.
The best dressed guests received a prize bottle of champagne, and the decision was very hard because everyone looked good. Really good. Finally after much deliberation, we gave the prize bottle to a group where one couple was dressed in Indian formal wear (see pictures below), and the other couple looked like they came straight from the 1940's.
Due to photo uploading capacity, the pictures from this night are posted here and in the below posts.
Ching Ching! (Portuguese toast)
Examples of what super bubbles we poured are pictured above. In honor of this night, I'm including below a song by an artist named Champagne, and Chris Rock's intense music video, "Champagne." Enjoy.



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Monday, December 3, 2007

Pork berry vs. pork belly

CORRECTION: On my last post I wrote that Bar Tartine served pork berry with squid. Not true; it was pork BELLY with squid. Pork berries are not ripe this time of year. Please excuse my mishap and any confusion this may have caused.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Bar Tartine Night Out: I’m Smitten

Bar Tartine Night Out: I’m Smitten

A couple nights ago, my husband and I celebrated our anniversary in San Francisco, checking out the fabbbbbbulous Joseph Cornell retrospective at Moma, walking here and there, and finally eating dinner at Bar Tartine. It was a great night. I love Joseph Cornell’s (link included below), I always appreciate my ability to walk (look ma, no hands), but more importantly, I’m a Bar Tartine Fanatic, and so is he.
Some people make the inaccurate statement that we're obsessed with Bar Tartine. This is a completely narrow take on it all, for we also lay up nights with tingly tummy feelings thinking of Tartine Bakery, Bar Tartine’s sister. It’s really the entire Tartine family that gives us butterflies and makes us feel, well, a little naughty. Those butter-laden croissants. Those fresh gnocchi. That crispy pork belly. Oh.
And, ever since I went to Bar Tartine for the first time with my bachelorette party girls, if a special ocassion arises that calls for us to leave the East Bay, we tend to head to Bar Tartine. In fact, we remind me of this elderly couple who always use to come into a restaurant where I worked and refused to try anything but their standard dish. They knew that they loved that dish and they didn’t want to be disappointed. Every week they came in and ordered the same two plates. Again and again, regardless of the marvelous concoctions just added to the menu.
They annoyed the hell out of me. Alas, now we are them. We just go there. Tartine never disappoints, and we return to be charmed, eat things that most people don’t want to cook at home (sweatbreads or croissants, anyone), and drink delicious wine. A cooks paradise.
And thus commences an exploration of our wine and food pairings.

First courses:
“Local squid and pork belly with egg salad, potato croutons and herb vinaigrette”
w/Non vintage J. Lassalle Champagne, premier cru, France

“Crispy sardines with haricot verts, friese, picked scallions, romesco, aioli and olive vinaigrette”
05 Di Giovanna Grillo, Sicilia

Yes, it was amazing. First of all, champagne has powers ( see November's "Breakfast Wines" Post ) that never fail to impress me. This first dish was gorgeous, lush, and ..... fatty. And the champagne cut right through that. It amplified the different textures, the crispy squid tentacles and seared pork belly, but cushioned the lusher bits of the dish such as the soft belly fat and the tender squid. But best of all, the champagne smelled like cocoa nibs. Fabulous.
Next, the Grillo, a grape used widely in Sicily, was perfect with the sardines. Would you believe that this was the first time I’ve ever tried fresh sardines? The good Scandinavian she is, my mother would eat sardines straight from the can when I was young, but I never developed a taste for them and hence steered away from other varieties of the fish. But I was wrong and I take it back. They were so sweet! The Grillo was so juicy and fresh, and it and the sardines just POPPED together. Seafood and Italian whites, sigh. The champagne was just okay with this.

Second course:
“Prather Ranch lamb with roasted peppers, eggplant, chickpea fritter, yogurt and Moroccan spices”
04 Clos Montirius Vacqueyras, Rhone Valley, France

“Braised veal cheeks with pumpkin agnolotti, broccoli di cicco, baby turnips, and cocoa nib gremolata”
Anna Maria Abbona Dolcetto, Piedmont

First lesson- Rhone blends, often expressed as GSM’s –Grenache, Sryah, Mouvedre grapes, are great for dishes with exotic spices. Great with Harissa, Morrocan flavors, even curry. They're burly enough to take their big flavors on. This was no exception. Everything melded perfectly.
The second dish was heavenly too. Dolcetto has got to be one of the juiciest grapes in all of Italy, and this one was all fruit, all the time, and it highlighted the fresh and bright flavors in the dish, and got cozier with the sultrier flavors of the cheeks and pumpkin. Easy drinking.

Here are a few links that I think you may enjoy.
P.S. I made an Amazon store link to my favorite cooking things online after some people have asked me my practical preferences. The Tartine Bakery book is on it!

Link: Joseph Cornell


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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My friend's blog

I just found out that two friends of mine have started a wine and food blog and wanted to share it with ya'll. The marred couple lives in Seattle and he is a chef at a local cooking school and she's clerking for a judge before she reaches lawyerdom. It's a fun site, and has some great shots of my friend with a goofy grin on his face while he's making sausage. And then there's the shot of he and his fiends breaking down an entire pig. Good stuff.

My friend's blog:

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

BBQ Potato Chips and Chateau D'Oupia: A Pleasant Party Pairing

Today's writing will divulge one of my most riveting and haute wine-food pairings experiences, ever. Consider yourselves very lucky, for this is a high level secret that will likely never be explored in the wine press. It's only discussed among professionals. That’s what I overhead, anyway.
First, a little background: my husband and I moved to a new apartment recently. As I'm sure many of you have discovered, moving, unpacking, and the process of trying to find where the only sharp knife was packed does not inspire culinary production. In fact, it quickly instigates mass consumption of fast and/or convenience food. I don’t want to cook when I’ve been packing boxes all day, and my husband doesn’t want to cook after watching my unpack boxes all day. Its so tiring. We can’t find the fridge.
Now, fast or convenience food (otherwise known as “junk”) is the type of food that I try not to introduce too often into my diet. Sadly, the reasons for this choice have less to do with health and more to do with my addictive eating habits. I'll just come out and say it: I am a chip junkie. And a cheeto junkie. And a cheese puff addict. In short, if a huge bag of leftover chips are sitting in the kitchen cabinet from our first meal in the house, they're going down. I just don't stop. I try to keep them out of the house.
Yet sometimes their addictive delicious, salty crunch gets through the door, and my will power goes out. The result of such a time is this fantastic pairing:
KFC BBQ chips and Chateau d'Oupia wine
KFC BBQ chips, are well, very salty and sweet and habit forming, and Chateau d'Oupia is one of my favorite under $15 bottle of wines composed of Syrah, Carignon and Grenache (typical Rhone Valley inspired blend). Note to readers: the Minervois, Langedoc region produces some of the best reds sold for the least money in your local wine shop. They’re often, as is the Oupia, smoky, brooding, peppery, and stock full of dark lush berry fruit.
Now, I had the chips with a deli sandwich. But the magic was really the Oupia and the chips together. I like to think its because, like the chips, the Oupia is smokey, a touch sweet, and spicy. True, the Oupia’s flavors come from oak and the grape, and not chemical enhancers like the BBQ chips, but that’s not stopping the match made in America. Superb. Dangerous. The perfect excuse to crash a frat party with fine wine.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Thanksgiving Wine Pairings

The following is my latest contribution to newsletter at the wine shop/bar where I work, entirely focused on wines for the upcoming holiday, and mostly kind-of autobiographical.

On the last Thursday of November (this year I’ve chosen to mark the event a week earlier), I like to take a little time to express gratitude for the things around me that I love. Wine, cheese, certain foods, friends, my parent’s small white dog, and various members of my family, for example. My mother has endearingly named this event “Thanksgiving,” and to express reverence for my thoughtfulness, she invites the family over to enjoy a lovely late-fall inspired dinner while listening to my speech of gratitude.

At these dinners my mother roasts a stuffed turkey and makes a beautiful gravy. My Aunt Edna makes a spiced sweet potato dish with large doses of nutmeg, ginger and marshmallows. My father makes seasoned cream and butter, into which he stirs a cooked potato or two. I make green beans with almonds and garlic, and my cousins make cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie for dessert.

My tribute meal is always superb, and every year, I have the honor of matching the wines to this spice-laden, butter-adorned seasonal dinner. I would highly recommend such a dinner event to anyone. It’s a wonderful excuse to eat turkey, eat spiced sweet potatoes, share time with your family, and of course, sip some of the loveliest wines, the types of which I’ll divulge below.

For whites, the lush consistency, spices, and sometimes even tartness of the meal calls for aromatic, spicy, sultry, full-bodied wines, or even whites with a little residual sugar to soothe the big flavors. A Gewürztraminer would certainly hit the spot, as would a Riesling or dry Muscat. Oaky whites are also welcome at this table, because, after all, what goes better with creamy, buttery food than creamy, nutty, or (dare I say) buttery wine? In general, I stay away from leaner, acidity-driven wines, since foods of gratitude really just want a little full-bodied loving to cushion their tart, spicy, or creamy character.

Of course you’ll also need some reds. Luckily, turkey is a generous, accommodating bird that is often happy with whatever red you offer. A key guideline for determining what varietal(s) to serve with your turkey is to consider the stuffing that you will pair with the meal. If you’ll be serving a heavier stuffing, say with garlic and sausage, chose a darker wine that’s heavy on the fruit and spicy, like a Zinfandel or Rhône blend (Syrah, Grenache, Mouvedre based). On the other hand, an apple and sage or classic bread stuffing might pair better with a lighter red, a Pinot Noir for example.

Below is a list of a few of the wines that I will be eyeing for my Thanksgiving table. I hope that you find some of them to your liking, and if you do, certainly give me a shout out when making your speech in front of your family.

Aromatic Whites:
06 Elena Walsh Kastelaz Gewürztraminer, Alto Adige, Italy: lychee, rose, ginger, dry.
06 Diel de Diel, Nahe, Germany: pear-like, gingery Pinot Blanc and Gris with a touch of flowery Riesling.
06 Ca’ del Solo Dry Muscat, Monterey, CA : heady, spicy, scents. Full-bodied.
05 Movia Ribolla Gialla, Brda, Slovenia : peach, mint thick, rounded.

Nutty, Toasty, Full-Bodied Whites:
05 Gainey Chardonnay, Santa Rita Hills, CA : like a caramel apple sprinkled with nuts
04 Domaine Bernard Millot “La Goutte D’Or” Meursault 1er Cru, Burgundy, France: creamy, minerally poached pear.

Lighter Reds:
06 Evesham Wood Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR : earthy, bright cherry

Darker Reds:
05 Eric Texier Brézème, Côtes du Rhône, France : all syrah, all blueberry and bacon
05 Lamborn Family Zinfandel, Napa Valley, Howell Mountain, CA : plush, dark fruit with a touch of spice.
05 Noceto “Original Grandpere Vineyard” Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills, CA : deep, soulful, old-vine berries

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Friday, November 2, 2007

Oaky Chardonnays: A Wonderful Excuse to Eat Cream or Butter

I used to have a wine prejudice.

When I say “used to,” I mean that I’m reaching the eleventh step of my program; I have cooked food and paired it with an oaked Chardonnay.

Oak has always been somewhat an issue for me with wine. In general I like oak. It does the things with wines that most of us favor- it adds a touch of vanilla, spice, nuttiness or even chocolate. But if overused, it can nearly ruin a wine. In short, it can provoke a wine to start smelling like a wood chip, or in the case of the extremely oak-sensitive Chardonnay, the original flavor of Cornuts. Perhaps needless to say, this can make for a difficult wine and food pairing.

Because such a wine can be so hard to pair with food, in the past, I have avoided answering questions about what to eat with an oaky Chardonnay. Or rather, I told people that such a Chardonnay was best paired with a sunset and a deck chair. In fact, while co-teaching a recent wine class at work I quoted the old standby pairings spouted by Chardonnay geeks- corn soup, scallops with cream sauce, ya da ya da- but then finished my round-up by referring to one particularly oaky Chardonnay as “an after-work, before or after dinner wine- not good with food.”

Then, a couple weeks later, I paired a dinner to an oaky Chardonnay left over from the wine bar, and I loved it.

Winos often say that oak loves fat. I do too, so you’d think that I would have opened up my heart earlier to an oaky Chardonnay (and by oaky, I don’t mean super oaky to the point of smelling like a cedar chip). But before my turning point meal, I had never really tasted such a wine with a good, lush (aka, fatty) meal. I had always tried it as cocktail wine, which I still dislike.

But my heard turned when a couple nights ago when I paired the remnants of a bottle of Chardonnay with a whole lot of butter.

In honor of Halloween, I cooked a squash and fall inspired meal. Frisee and persimmon salad for the first course and butternut squash and leek ravioli with a browned butter and sage sauce to follow.

The browned butter was what convinced me that the Chardonnay heads were right about the grape liking fat. Case in point: I have to had browned at least half a cube of butter for the sauce, and the caramel, nutty notes imparted to the wine by oak mimicked the same flavors in the butter, and dare I be so staright-forward, tasted awesome with the butter fat. Furthermore, I learned that Chardonnay loves foods that even sound like fat, or butter, like butternut squash. The oak just gave the buttery goods a big hug.

Lastly, a cooking hint- making ravioli at home so you can have something to put tons of butter on is super easy to do. Just buy the won-ton wrappers in the refrigerated section marked “Asian foods” in your grocery store instead of buying or making pasta sheets. Then, make a simple filling, and plop about a half-teaspoon to a teaspoon of it in the center of a won-ton square. Dab the square lightly with water from the filling to the edge of the sheet, lay another wrapper over the filling, and press the new square into the old one until all air bubbles have been released and the two wrappers are stuck to each other. To cook, place in lightly boiling water in a shallow pan for about five minutes. Then drain, and pour browned butter all over it. Or maybe a creamy, garlicky sauce instead. Because Chardonnay likes cream too.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween Pre Dinner Post


I'll be posting about my fall-Halloween themed meal that I'll be cooking up tonight shortly, but in the meantime, here are two awesome food sites that have some great posts today.
P.S. you might have to cut and paste because I'm still a somewhat inept linking blogger)

The Cupcake Bakeshop:
She held a competition for cupcakes and people submitted things as super-duper as "Arroz con Leche Cupcakes" to "Pumpkin Chili Cupcakes with Chocolate Ganache and Pumpkin Brittle." Wow. See the results and recipes here: (

David Lebovitz: A former Chez Panisse pastry chef living in France talks about Halloween in Paris.


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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A little Diversion

I'm been trying very hard to be disciplined with my posts, doing such things as slapping myself across my knuckles with a ruler when it has been more than a week since I've written, or scripting "I will be timely with my writing" on the chalkboard I've installed in our living room to get the point across. but since I know that I won't have time to give a normal post because we're moving from one apartment to another this week, I'm leaving the following for you for wine entertainment. Now you don't have to turn on the TV tonight!
At the wine shop/bar where I work, we write descriptions for our wines. We've got some awesome ones, I work with some fantastic writers, and our owners are cool people who let us engage our humor and imaginative skills when describing the wines. I've included some of the favorites that I've written below (favorites in that I loooovvveee the wines and/or the descriptions make me laugh). At the end of the descriptions there are wine pairing suggestions, so I am not really leaving you, my dear readers.
I hope you like them.

2004 Baumard Clos du Papillon, Savienneres, Loire Valley, France - Honeyed, floral, and demure one second, flirtatious, steely and acidity-driven the next, the Papillon's as respected for its grace and consistent quality as it is for its shape shifting. This is the best vintage I've tried in the last couple years. The flavors are brighter, the botrytis is more sophisticated, and the butterfly on the label is bigger. Although this bottle promises to show well for the next five or ten years, if you happen to get thirsty one night, this would be lovely sipped while eating an aged goat cheese or a savory coconut milk dish.

2006 Broadley Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon – Convinced that there was a region outside of California where dirt was cheap and Pinot Noir would thrive, the Broadley family left Berkeley in 1980 for Oregon, land of wild fungus and rain. It is their first vineyard that supplies the Pinot (whose fruit has gained terrific depth with age) for this bottle. The lush flavors of cherry, pomegranate, and wild strawberries show alongside Asian spices and orange zest. Go Oregon-style…decant and enjoy with wild mushrooms and mesquite-grilled salmon for dinner.

2003 Ramey Red Blend, Diamond Mountain, Napa, CA
My name is Gordan Gecko, and this is my wine. I don’t need for you to like it, and I don’t need for you to like me. I probably won’t like you. But, if you were to ask for my advice as to what wine to serve when taking over a bank (say in the Southern Hemisphere), and if there was something in it for me, I’d probably tell you to bring this wine to seal the deal. It’s cedary, cassis soaked cheery money notes speak for themself- screams, classy classy, money, old-money. You don’t even need to know what you’re doing. This wine does it for you, like a rich daddy.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Breakfast Wines: Because it's Before Noon Somewhere

I adore that people constantly come in the shop and ask for wine pairing advice. Every day, there will be at least one customer who asks us to pair wine with a dish that I've never even thought about serving with wine, and it couldn't thrill me more.
Then there are the seasonal or frequent requests. During BBQ season, people ask us what to serve with grilled chicken, corn on the cob, or hot dogs. Around Thanksgiving, people wonder what to drink with turkey and sweet potatoes. An every-season, common request is "what wine do I drink with goat cheese," or, "what is a good salmon wine?"
Recently, I've been noticing that one wine pairing request has been solicited from me the most.
That request is, "what should I drink with my eggs in the morning?"
I understand, my dear wine drinkers. One can only drink coffee for so long before it seems dull. Overbearing. Heavy. I'm surprised that you lasted this long.
To this question I answer: sparkling wine. I prefer Champagne myself, which is only made in the Champagne region of France, from Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes. I happily sip Prosecco or Cava will dinner or lunch, but breakfast seems to call for something a bit more spectacular. Since breakfast is the most important meal of the day that sets the tone for the following hours, it makes sense to go big. Go French. Go elite.
One of my favorite egg breakfasts, pictured above, is an egg sandwich that my husband makes. His father makes it for him when we visit, and if we have a son, he will probably make it for his loved ones too. Champagne is the perfect match for this sandwich. Rather than overwhelming the lush filling like coffee could do, the bubbles cut some of the fat from the oozing cheese and buttery bread and highlight the overall breakfast egg experience. It's fabulous, and I bet that any egg dish, omlette, quiche, or frittata that you serve will be made more spectacular too, by Champagne, at breakfast time.
Case in point: Here is a picture of my cousin making a breakfast speech while drinking Champagne. She can't help but smile.

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Monday, October 1, 2007

Aged Brunello di Montalcino Post 2: Party Wine

An adaption of an article I wrote for my wine bar/shop's newsletter posting, and a continuation of Aged Brunello di Montalcino Post 1, this post is all about food and aged Brunellos. Most wines simmer down as they grow older, taking the time to teach those around them lessons of elegance and grace. Brunellos are different, they don't flaunt thier refinement. They know that they are one of the most dignified wines around, and don't feel the need to tell anyone else. If you have to ask...., they whisper amongst themselves. What aged Brunellos really like to do is to party. With food.

With last month’s Supper Club still fresh in my mind (see my experiments in earlier postings), I’m hesitant to recommend anything other than roasted pork loin, creamy polenta and wild mushrooms with an aged Sangiovese. And nothing else. My gastronomic nostalgia aside, there exist a multitude of wine pairing possibilities for a Brunello, a special clone of Sangiovese.

Sangioveses are excellent food wines. In honor of the wine’s culinary flexibility, you and I are going to throw a four-course dinner party in reverence of the Sangiovese gods. I’ll give you advice about what to cook, and we’ll hold it at your house (because the clean-up is so much easier).

The first course will be an ode to Tuscany. Zuppa di Pane is a traditional Tuscan soup that can be created with a sliced loaf of leftover rustic bread, four or five caramelized onions, and chicken or beef stock (when in dire need, grab a can of unsalted broth). When cooking zuppa di pane, you can go for two different consistencies. One option is to layer the ingredients in a casserole dish and add the liquid to cover and cook in a stove until bubbling. The other route is heat up all ingredients in a pot, then blend until almost smooth in a blender.

Next, we’ll serve room temperature (previously) roasted vegetables with a simple olive oil, thyme and garlic marinade. Throw in an heirloom tomato or two to test the Sangiovese’s reputation of faring well with acid. It can handle it. The manner in which it pairs with the silky vegetables (whose flavors will pop at room temp) will certainly impress our guests.

Now you’ve seen how the Sangiovese pairs magically with a rustic soup, and a light vegetable course, now try it with meat. The dish doesn’t need to be all meat, but that certainly would be lovely too. A thick, one-inch rib eye, cooked Florentine style, grilled with salt and pepper, maybe some rosemary and garlic, would be quite sexy. When my husband and I visited my cousin's house, they poured an awesome Brunello with the steak featured to the left.

It was the thickest steak I've ever seen and it was.... awesome. And huge. If you're not the steak type (sigh), the roasted pork loin featured in an earlier post, or nearly any sultry braised meat shank dish would also be awesome with an aged Brunello. I’d suggest staying away from chicken unless it is in a heavy, coq-au-vin-type dish. Not to be elitist, but the Brunello’s cocoa, berry, rich fig, and licorice nose might be over the lighter poultry’s head.

Finally, I’d finish your dinner party with cheese. A nice Pecorino Toscano, a firmer cheese with a heavier salt content and nutty flavor, set atop a bed of arugula tossed with olive oil would gild the savory courses quite nicely. Certainly there will be dessert, but as proper Sangioveses weren’t brought up with a sweet tooth, I’d suggest switching from the Brunello to a vin santo like Il Ponte California Vin Santo to finish the dinner party. Now we sit back and let the Sangiovese gods enjoy their bounty! Enjoy!

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Aged Brunello di Montalcino Post 1

In self-defense, my posting dates have been off, so I've actually been writing less intermittently than it seems. With that out the way, I apologize for the length between my posts. I'm moving from my apartment and am a touch scattered. I'm constantally reminding myself not to start another post, that I've already finished one and just need to post it. Whoops.

The focus of today's post, which was by the way, hiding deep in the depths of my laptop for a week, is Sangiovese. But not just any Sangiovese, the Brunello di Montalcino clone of Sangiovese to be exact. There are millions and millions (or maybe hundreds) of Sangiovese clones out there, each tasting slightly different from the next because of where they're grown. Different nutrients, geography, etc.. produce different grapes.

The Brunello clone of Sangiovese is grown in the town of Montalcino, in Tuscany. With Italian wines, the grape (Brunello) is often listed before the town (Montalcino). When you see Brunello di Montalcino on a label it's like the bottle is saying to you, "Hi, I'm a Brunello grape who grew up in the Montalcino region." I would advise you at this point to politely nod and attempt to move the conversation forward before it starts to tell you about its large extended family and the history behind the lineage moving in different directions. Sangioveses tend to get emotional when they talk aobut thier cousins in Chianti.

And most often, the botle of Brunello that will be sitting on your wine shop's shelf will be around four years old. If it's the year 2007, the bottle will likely read 2003. This is the vintage. You want to either A) buy a Brunello that age or older and decant the hell out of it if you are drinking it soon, or B) buy a younger bottle and cellar it to tame its wild, wild tannins, or B) look for an older Brunello to fully experience what the grape has to offer.

A Brunello such as the 2001 Capanna Brunello di Montalcino, would be a perfect wine to drink now. With food. Which I will divulge in the next posting, coming in three days.

In the meantime, check out this wine grape glossary website:
It's a fantastic website for learning about grape varietals and wine, and has a good write-up on the Brunello clone of Sangiovese.

Next post I'll divulge my wine and food pairing thoughts on this luscious grape (really I'm waiting to find my picture of the aforementioned wine bottle to visually stimulate ya'll through the next post).

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Supper Club Wines

(picture taken by Paolo Destefanis and featured in Saveur magazine)

We have this thing called the Supper Club (otherwise referred to by my dear friend Juli as the Super Club) where I work that we do every four weeks or so. Since our kitchen is likely the smallest and most inadequately equipped (yet highly loved) kitchen in the restaurant industry, four weeks is about how often we want to cook four courses for sixty people. But we love our Supper Club. We love the opportunity to cook for our beloved customers, which more often than not, happen to be our friends (through work, sure) or family.
My co-cook came up with the fantastic idea that these dinner should be called our "Passport Series," and that every time we have a Supper Club, we could visit a different regional cuisine. Last month was Spain. This month's is Italy.
Each Supper Club menu items comes with wine pairing suggestions from the same region or country. We put our heads together at the wine bar and discuss what we think would pair the miraculously with what. It is my hardship that I have to test-cook the four courses and drink the wines we have spouted might pair well with each dish to insure that our recommended wines for the courses are in fact good matches. Wouldn’t want to disappoint the customer.
I cooked our third course at home recently as a test run. The meat was Niman Ranch Pork Loin (swooooonnnn), cooked Sicilian style, rubbed with salt and cracked peppercorns and covered with finely chopped onions. It was served with creamy polenta, braised fennel, and wild mushrooms. We happened to serve a fruity Nebbiolo (the grape of Piedmont, famous for Barolo wines) on the wine bar the week prior that was ready to be tested. It was also free of charge because there was only a glass left and it was the end of the week. There also happened to be about 1/2 a bottle of Benati Rossodiverzella a Nerello –indigenous Sicilian varietal- wine left too. And I had set aside a Ladoix Burgundy for cellaring months prior. I took the two wine bar wines home for testing, and muttered "screw cellaring" to myself as I popped the cork on the Burgundy. Note to parents: did not finish all wine that night.

Notes from meal:
I threw some cherry heirloom tomatoes in with the pork last minute that looked like they would not last another night. These uber-sweet tomatoes and pork paired great with the Burgundy (Pinot Noir). It was aged Burgundy from 2001 and soft and ripe just like the tomatoes. The Nebbiolo also went well with the tomatoes- because, well, they just do. Most Italian wines go well with tomato dishes. They make them that way.
But hands down, the best pairing was the wine from Sicily with the pork dish. Unsurprising perhaps, because the best pairings are most often the wines and foods created in the same region, but amazing just the same. The wine was rustic, tawny and spicy, but just chocolaty and fruity enough to complement the sweet, sweet pork.
If you'd like to try this extremely easy and succulent pork dish, link to:

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

UC Berkeley Food and Wine Archives

(left, Chuck Williams, right, Miiljenko Grgich)

Before my next wine and food pairing post comes to term, I wanted to direct your attention, dear readers, to a special website that I think that all of you will appreciate.
While at UC Berkeley I had the opportunity to work with the UC Berkeley Food and Wine Archives in the Regional Oral History Office. This is a department, funded partially by the university but primarily through philanthropic donors such as Chuck Williams of Williams and Sonoma, that records and transcribes interviews with movers and shakers in the Bay Area food and wine industries.
These movers and shakers, such as Paul Bertoli of Fra' Mani salumi and Olivetto, are interviewed, and thier responses are recorded and transcribed. Later, the interviews are downloaded to the program's website. The interviews tend to be very telling of the person's nature because they are only lightly edited, unlike with journalistic interviews, when the interviewees voice shines only when the journalist allows it. Granted, the lack of editing associated with oral history makes a very long interview. That is, its a loooooonnngg read. Interviewees ask about the person's background, childhood, road to wine or food, and much more.
However, while they're long, these oral histories are detailed, telling, and amazingly interesting. Depending on whose interviews you select to read, you might even get a dirty joke or two out of the journey.
Some wine interviewees include: Ernest Gallo, Miljenko Grgich of Grgich Hills, and Justin Meyer of Silver Oak. Most of the wine interviews include insight on the 1973 Paris Tasting too. Just some of the people interviewed in the food realm include: Mary Risley of Tante Marie Cooking School, Cecilia Chiang of Mandarin, Chuck Williams, and food writer Doris Muscatine. And, most covienently, all of the aforementioned interviews can be downloaded online at either of these two web addresses:

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

San Lucas Guacamole, Puerto Vallarta

P.S. Order the guacamole. It comes with more fried tortillas.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

San Lucas Seafood, Puerto Vallarta

We spent our recent honeymoon on the beach in the Vallartas of Mexico- Puerto and Nuevo, and for the most part, we did absolutely nothing. It was fabulous. After the long, harrowing, ebullient, tiring, fabulous, stressful, and joyous year of planning and being the stars of a wedding, all that you really want to do is lay on a beach, swim in the ocean, sleep, and drink pina colodas and beer. So we did. With guacamole on top.
And then one day, we put down our frosty, lime-garnished beverages and left the resort. We took a bus to Puerto Vallarta, where we walked around, took a couple of photos, and ate what was the best meal of our vacation. This post is a story of that meal.
Being the food geek that I am, I did research back in Oakland about where to go in Puerto Vallarta for some awesome, non-tourist trap seafood. Then I left the sheet of paper with my notes at home. So where we ended up, and the gloriousness that our meal happened to be was truly a gift from the food gods, for all that we did was stop walking when we got tired and decide to give in to our growling stomachs.
The joint was called San Lucas, and located over a motorcyle tourism shop. We identified the restaurant through a street sign that directed us to the second floor of the establishment, where we found red tiled floors, brightly colored table clothes, wooden railing serving as walls over the bustling street below, and a kitchen that was five feet away from our table, also completley open. After a quick menu browse, we ordered our food.

Normally I order wine at a restaurant. However, I was a little discouraged because the resort where we were staying featured Gallo as thier vino de casa and I hadn't seen much more in the Vallarta region to indicate that better wine was being offered. Hence, I stupidly did not ask to see the wine list, and regretted my decision as we were leaving when I saw some local workers swirling white wine in thier glasses. Stupid. Stupid. But if I did order wine at a restaurant like this, the varietals that I would seek would be very citrusey, and white or pink. The lemon or lime flavors in a wine would highlight this streak in the food. I would choose white or a rosé, because it was smokin' hot and humid in Puerto Vallarta, and I wanted to wrap my hands around something chilled. I'd happily sip a Vinho Verde from Portugal, for example, or a French, Spanish or Mexican Rosé that has that citrus "pop!" and acidity to it. Anyway, the beer worked very well.

Then our food came. The first dish to arrive on the table was our tostadas. We ordered ceviche and octupus to top the crispy, lard-fried tortillas, and were absolutley wowed by the quality and tenderness of the seafood. The ceviche was made of beautiful fish, marinated in lime and a touch of garlic. Salt, sure, but nothing much else. Just big, fresh flavors with little interuption. The octupus on the other tostada couldn't have been better either. Ordering octupus is always a tricky thing. Some people cook it well- they tenderize it either by cooking it for a long period of time, or they pound the hell out of it until it screams for mercy and softens. Lesser cooks cook it until it resembles a fine rubber. But the restaurant had a feeling about it that suggested that the cooks really knew what they were doing, so we ordered the octupus. I am happy to say that the cooks really did know what they were doing, and it was some of the best octupus I've had in my life- super tender, soft, and fresher than Will Smith. And did I mention that it was on a lard-fried tortilla? Swoon.

The last dish to arrive was our Camarones al Diablo. It's a traditional dish of the area which is a blend of Spanish and Mexican cultures- gigantic Mexican shrimp, onions, tomatoes, chiles, peppers, green olives, and SPICES. Sometimes. It seems to morph into an different dish wherever I see it. Sometimes with olives, sometimes with a salsa instead of cooked onions and tomatoes. Here, it was at its height. The flavors melded perfectly, the tomatoes provided an acidity that inspired the sweetness of the shrimp to shine, and the size of the camarones made my hand look small (see above picture). We each had our own shrimp and split the last.

Ah.... the last benefit to the meal was the tequilla tray. After our bellies began to extend and our beers were nothing but bubbles at the bottom of the bottle, our waiter rolled a tray to our table. He explained to us that we could pick anything off the tray, free of charge. Our choices ranged from tequilla, creme de menthe to khalua. We choose tequilla, and the waiter set down lime slices for the pairing. We salted ourselves up, shot the tequilla, and finished the meal with a lime and a smile.

All in all, it was an awesome experience that was the cherry on top of our uber-relaxing trip. And although it wasn't exactly a food and wine pairing post, I couldn't help but want to share this experience, even sans vino, because I know that someday, one of you will want to know where to go for the best seafood ever in Puerto Vallarta. And maybe you wont leave your notes at home.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

What to do with a Young Burgundy

Although the year of 2007 will forever be remembered as the year when both The Cure and The Spice Girls announced their wildly anticipated reunion tours (insert squeal here), the year will no doubt linger in wine lover’s minds for yet another reason. Wine lovers will remember 2007 as the year when the tremendous 2005 Burgundy vintage was released. It’s being said that this will be the best French Pinot Noirs of the decade.
While the majority of wine connoisseurs will buy these Super Pinot Noirs with the intention of cellaring them until maturity smoothes their deep tannins and high acidity, there are those, like myself, who buy the wine to drink it. Now.
There are a couple things I do when set on consuming young Burgundies when they’re waiting to come out of their shell. First, I think Bourgogne Rouge rather Grand Cru. Bourgogne Rouges are the Burgundies that winemakers generally craft for people to enjoy while the Cru wines are aging in a dark cellar. Second, I decant them to tame their edges and introduce them gently to the world. Third I always drink these wines with food. Furthermore foods with higher fat contents, helps to cushions the high acidity and tannins inherent to young wines.

Things I’d eat with an elegant, yet fierce, young Burgundy such as the 2005 Domaine Henri Perrot-Minot “Vielles Vignes” Bourgogne Rouge:

First, charcuterie rocks. Enjoying a Charcuterie plate at the Solano Cellars Wine Bar is naturally the best choice, as it provides a diverse arrangement of Café Rouge and Fra’Mani patés, rilletes and salumies on an exquisite cheeseboard. Sometimes you even get a rosemary sprig. However, charcuterie eaten at home or on a picnic blanket will suffice. The fat and proteins in the meat will bring out the silky qualities in the wine.

With the charcuterie, I’d serve a stinky and creamy washed-rind cows milk cheese. Emphasis on the creamy and the cow. Epoisse cheese, the famous oozing cheese of the Burgundy appellation whose rind is washed with Marc de Bourgogne, would pair beautiful with the region’s Pinot Noir. When in doubt of what cheeses to serve with what wines, look to France. Cheeses and wines from the same region nearly always taste good together and can inspire other pairing. For example, Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk is washed (rubbed) with salted water en lieu of Marc, but would also be an excellent choice for the Burgundy.

If I want to cook for my Burgundy, I’d grill myself a steak. But no tenderloins here- I want something marbled like a Rib-Eye or Flank Steak to coax the wine out of its shell. I’d also toss some rosemary and garlic potatoes in the oven with fennel. A roasted chicken or “chicken under a brick” might also fare well with this wine, but I’d stay away from pork unless you’re going with a fattier, heritage breed (Red Wattle) or luscious cut.

When in the mood for cooking vegetarian dishes, I’d choose a béchamel-based lasagna (tomatoes will only clash with the Burgundy) or a hearty Mac n Cheese. Think food that sticks to your bones.

The above post is an adaption of my writings for the wine shop/bar where I work. I hope that you've enjoyed it.

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Sunday, July 8, 2007

Summery Spanish Wines & Light BBQ

To celebrate my husband's birthday, we invited my cousin and her man over to our place for exuberant birthday bash for four. And by exuberant I mean that there was tons of food and wine and that I added chocolate chips to a cupcake recipe that didn't call for it. This post is the wine and food story of that night.

The food (albeit the Oreo cupcakes) was mainly Thai and Vietnamese inspired, but cooked by a very Scandinavian-American girl. The wines were all Spanish. The dinner menu starred my version of the carrot, cucumber, bell-pepper and light fish-sauce salad often served atop cold Vietnamese rice noodle dishes. Also sharing the stage were lime, honey and chili marinated skewered shrimp, and grilled flank steak served over wide rice noodles in a spicey, kaffir lime, lemongrass Thai inspired coconut sauce.

I choose Spanish wines for this Birthday Bash for three reasons. One, they were reasonably priced and my excellent foresight told me that we'd consume from two to three bottles between us friends. Two, because I'm enamoured with Spanish wines (especially the whites, sparklings and rosés) and was selfishly catering to my happiness even on my husband's birthday night. Three, I chose Spanish wines for the menu because they can be awesome matches for Vietnamese and Thai spices and flavors and seafood.

I popped our first wine while waiting for our guests. Our invitees claimed not to be huge fans of white wine, so I took it upon myself to thwart thier past experiences by unleashing an Albarino. Albarinos are meant to charm. They're from the Galacian coast of Spain and classically paired with seafood at Spanish tapas bars. With their apple, peachy, lime and sometimes floral scents, they're instant pleasers. Furthermore, they've got enough going on in the glass that they can handle a little spice. Each dish I prepared for the dinner had lime juice, zest, or leaf mixed in, which I thought would play up the lime streak and cozy up to crisp and stoney fruits in the wine. Worked well. We sipped this while I put the finishing touches on the salad and headed to the BBQ to cook the shrimp and flank steak. Then we opened the Super Wine of the night.

My only firm and fast wine rule for a celebration such as a birthday, anniversary, or Christmas, is that something sparkling must be included amoungst the wine entourage. Birthdays just don't happen without bubbles. The bubbles don't have to be big, but they have to be present. Such reasoning led to the second wine that we drank that night- a Txakolina Rose from Spain. This was my favorite. It was luscious, oh so pink, peachy and rasberry-ie and tart and slightly. Txakolina (shock-oh-lee-nah) is the name of a Basque, Spanish wine made traditionally with the Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza grapes. They're meant to drinken within a year or two after bottling, and will be, because you just can't help yourself. Most Txakolinas aren't Roses, but are just as enchanting as the pink bottle that we poured that night. Their pear, tart apple and lime flavors compete for attention with the tiny, spritzy bubbles that fill the glass. And bubbles go with almost anything. They snuggled up to the coconut milk and spicy shrimp, and even handeled the marbling in the rich flank steak. I looovvee this wine only slightly less than my man.

Towards the end of the night we slipped a light Spanish Grenache on the table. Just in case someone wanted a little red with the flank steak. Spanish Grenaches (Garnachas) can be pretty dark and heady, but our's that night was a lighter style, with blackberry, stoney scents. And I didn't just serve it because it was also left over from our wedding wine, I served it because Garnachas are great red wines for spicey foods. They're spicey themselves, and the pepper streak in the grape can handle a chile or two.

Finally, we ended our night with a Birthday dessert request of cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes with chocolate chips topped with cream cheese frosting and crushed Oreos. Muddlers are great Oreo crushers. It was a fantastic end for the night. My cousin and I ate two, and the guys ate three each. And I was just going to prepare a half dozen.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2007

green blog

green blog
Originally uploaded by Kirstin Jackson
a test from the writer who's trying to figure out profile picture posting from a mac

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Who's a Gooseberry Now?

I'm not a gooseberry. Sure, I'm ocassionally known to be spunky, but I'm way too sweet to be anything like the little green sour gooseberry ball that exlodes like an unripe plum in your mouth. Did I say they taste like unripe plums? I meant unripe plum SKINS.

What is a gooseberry and why am I talking about it?
Other than being a bush-grown berry commonly found in Europe (especially Britian), Asia and ocassionally in the Eastern United States, it is a fruit that the elusive wine writers often refer to when describing the flavors of Sauvignon Blanc.
"the sauvignon blanc is crisp, grapefruit scented and bursting with gooseberry nuances."

What does a gooseberry taste and smell like?
It's good to know this so that you'll have an idea of what a wine writer means when they're describing a Sauvingon Blanc with "gooseberry characteristics" Because, lets's be honest, the wine writer probably won't tell you what they mean.
Beyond what I described above, the little green gems taste spicey. Maybe even cinnamoney and peppery, but just a touch. They smell like grapferuit and lemons and everything spunky and fresh.

Do Sauvignon Blancs really smell like gooseberries?
Some do. Most people also exude a light gooseberry smell when provoked.

Next post: Rockin the light Spanish wines in summer

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Good Picnic Wines 1

Good Picnic Wines: As Easy to Find as Flowers are to Pick from Your Neighbors Yard When She's Sleeping (and not because you gave her a light sedative)

The most important thing to remember when picking yourslef out a picnic wine is that anything will work. Really, anything. It's a picnic. Stress should only be involved if hornets attack the lunchmeat. The above pictures are a case in point. I say drink whatever the invitees bring, preferably out of plastic cups.

However, if you are the one buying the wine (for example, if your invitees are in charge of the ice-cream cake), my motto for choosing a picnic wine is that the simplier, lighter, the perkier the wine, the better. The point of the event is the fresh air, the fresh, enjoyable food, the company, and,... sitting on or very very near grass. The wine should be pleasent, fun wine. Something that doesn't take you away from the company or the grass because you can't figure out what that frieken smell is the plastic cup. In other words, the wine shouldn't scream out for a decanter.

My wedding, pictured in the recent post, was an outdoors reception. The menu was all picnic- yummy sandwhiches from our local top-notch deli, Greek potato salad, fresh salad greens with a balsamic vinegarette, cherries and strawberries and cheese plates. All of this food lovliness can be viewed on the lastest post, in picture two. The wine that we served was just as light and fresh as the food. We served Verasol for the red (pictured in the lastest post, first picture)- an inexpensive, light Spanish Grenache that gave off dark fruit and stoney aromas. The white was Domaine de Pellehaut (not pictured)- a French wine from the Gascony region made of Ugni Blanc and Colombard . Smelled like pear and flowers. Our sparkling was a Cremant d'Alasce- the pictured sparkling on this post. But I'm all for anything. I might consider an un-oaky chardonnay, like the LaLande, the last picture in the previous post. Or a pinot noir. And definitely, I'd serve beer, like we did at our wedding.

By the way, my definition of a picnic is very basic. Nice sandwhiches, a potato salad, fruit. Maybe even cold barbequed chicken and a little cheese. Don't get caught up on the idea that the cheese and the wine must match. They musn't. Not for a picnic, because, as I mentioned before, the point of a picnic is not the matching perfection of the wine and the food. It's the company, the fresh air. If the wine and cheese don't match pefectly, finish eating the cheese, have a bite of potato salad, and then the take a sip of the wine.

Summer doesn't last forever, so relax and indulge in the incrediable seasonal oppurtunity to drink wine from plastic cups.

Note: All photos were taken by photographer Thomas Hopkins

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Picnic Wines: Light and Simple 2

It's been awhile since my latest post. This is because since my latest edition to vindelatable, I have gained a lovely ring on my finger. And it takes a lot off work to get that second ring. You've got to pick out ribbons with your name on them to wrap wedding party favors in, you have to decide if your name or your fiance's name goes first on the ribbon, and you have to decide, if you want the ribbons to boast your new last name in order to honor your fabulous new life together, you have to decide which, if any, last name you'll choose. And then you have to breathe. So I couldn't find it in my loving heart to write.
P.S. it was an awesome, beautiful, happy day. Furthermore, my honeymoon was beachy and sunny and beer and tan-filled (pictures of beach drinks to come).

But I'm back and in full force at writing now, after the marraige celebrations have dwindled down. Kind of. Anyhow, my next topic will be "Picnic Wines: Light and Simple," otherwise known as,"Good Picnic Wine: As Easy to Find as Flowers are to Gather From Your Neighboor's Yard While She's Sleeping."

The wines featured in the photos are picnic wines (also served at my wedding reception). And the food is picnic food (served on my big day as well.) Pictures of people drinking at my wedding to follow. I'm covering all the bases. The pictures were taken by our enchanting wedding photographer, Thomas Hopkins, in Sacramento. Except for the amazing photo of the Laland Chardonnay. Of course, I took that special shot.

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

"Wierd" Wines: Moving away from Chardonnay

I love "weird" whites. When sales reps pour wines from unheard-of grape varietals at our wine shop and bar, they can annoy me to no end with their overly involved, never-ending stories of the ancient, indigenous magical grapes from Never-Never Land. Even so, I’m a sucker for the grapes I’ve never tasted, names I haven’t uttered, and even for the common varietals that misbehave and taste like something they shouldn’t.

The 2005 Suavia Soave made by the four lovely sisters of the Tessari family (pictured candidly above) is a great example. The winery name is Suavia, the region in which it's made is Soave (located in Verona), and the grapes used for the classic Soave blend are most often Garganega, Trebbiano. And yes, Soave blends are relatively commom, table wines from Italy. But this Soave doesn’t taste like a normal Soave. Think Riesling and Pinot Grigio’s lovechild - apple, pear, lemon, lychee, and by god, even petrol. All in one bottle, I swear.

So, for a cook, the first question that arises is, what does one pair with an interesting white wine? What do you do with so many flavors going on in one place, with so much junk in one trunk?

Good news - contrary to popular belief, “interesting” whites are consistently easy to pair with food. For example, the Swiss Chasselas-based wines meld better with most cheese than the average California Chardonnay. Riesling sings for Thai food while Sauvignon Blanc keeps asking for goat cheese, and, well, this Venetian Soave could seduce any of the above without even looking. Rico Soave.

Here are two food ideas for this lovely wine:
1) Fish in Banana Leaves: Buy some banana leaves from your local Asian food store. Soak them in water overnight. Go talk to the fishmongers at your neighborhood fish market and ask them to pick out a sustainable white-fleshed fish for you. Wrap the fish, along with a touch of ginger and lemongrass in the leaves, and toss on the Weber. Open the wine while waiting ten to twenty minutes for the fish to cook. (Peek inside and eat when fish begins to flake).

2) Springtime Risotto: Asparagus is still cheap, and carrots are still sweet. Drop the chopped veggies in the stock in which you’ll be cooking the risotto for a couple minutes, set aside until the rice grains are nearly cooked, then add to the almost finished risotto before the last dab of butter coats the rice grains. Mix it up with some chopped fresh tarragon and enjoy with a glass of Soave.

And finally, consume on patio as the sky begins to darken.

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Friday, May 4, 2007

The little cheese from Sancerre

And now for the cheese. Our Crottin de Chavignol, which seductively translates as "animal poop" or "dung," named in honor of its similarity in size and shape to French horsey droppings, first saw the light of day in the 16th century. Unlike the American dish, "shit on a shingle" that is fortunately served in even rarer instances than its distant cousin, green jello with canned fruit and mayo, the sweet little goat cheese disk had a much brighter future.

Although le Crottin was first made in Chavignol and still carries the village's name, it is now primarily made in the towns of Pitou, Berry, and Perigord that border Sancerre, in the Loire Valley. Cheesemakers take the whole milk of the famed goats in the area and ladle the smooth liquid into its tiny molds. The milk stays in the mold from twelve to twenty-four hours, where it starts to take it's "Crottin-like" shape. The wrinkled, rippled surface develops on the cheese after it's removed from the mold, salted and ripened from 10-12 days in a dry environment.

Then its sent to Parisian cheese shops, or shipped to us.

Fresh or fully mature, le Crottin de Chavignol exists in multiple forms that can soothe the dairy pains of many a particular cheese-eater. At different stages in its life, it seems to morph into entirely different types of cheese. Ranging from white and butter-colored when young to gray or off blue when older, and it's texture respectively alternating from crumbly and lush to thick and hard enough to employ as a door knocker when one's knuckles grow weary, le Crottin is a shape shifter.

With bright, herbaceous and lemony flavors, le Crottin can be enjoyed shortly after its creation as a spreadable or melting cheese . It is white or slightly yellow now, and soft and crumbly. One of the favorite ways to eat this Crottin young is warmed over toasted bread in a Chevre Chaud Salad in Parisian bistros.

Later, as it matures- sometimes as soon as a month or so after it arrives in the U.S., it develops a firmer texture that allows the cheese to be grated or sliced. This is the time to Introduce this Crottin "of a certain age" grated over gnocchi, or sliced atop artisan salumi with tarragon in a crusty baguette.

When young, le Crottin screams for a Sancerre, or other bright, fresh Sauvignon Blancs. But at this early stage it really pairs well with anything. As it ages, try it with another wine from the Loire Valley, where the cheese is made. Try it with a Cabernet Franc- the red grape of the region, or with a Chenin Blanc from Vouvray. Another good match is a Grenanche based wine. Fair warning: when young, notre petit Crottin can stand up to a Pinot Noir, but when it ages, it becomes a tad to strong for the delicate grape.

If le Crottin de Chavignol has caught your heart as it has mine, check out the site listed below. Janet Fletcher is a food writer for the SF Chronicle that is in charge of the wine and cheese pairings. A couple years prior, she wrote an awesome article on le Crottin. It'll keep you occupied as long as you can keep your seat in the chair before running to your local fromagerie


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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

French Appellationg= Simple Cheese Pairings, to come: more on the cheese

Part 2: While it can feel little nothing less than a pain in the cork for those trying to remember and match varietals with appellations, it can help us when we are trying to pair French wines and cheeses. Finally a bone is thrown our way, and we discover, as millions have known for centuries in France, that French cheese and wine gems from the same region pair perfectly. No need to consult the Wine Bible to see what cheese goes with a Sancerre. Pick a goat cheese from Loire Valley, where Sancerre is located.
Go to your trusted cheesemonger and say,
“Hello cheesemonger, I’ve just purchased a Sancerre [say just the appellation name, it’ll make you sound impressive], and would like a cheese from the same region, or from Loire Valley.”
Anything from the Loire Valley or Sancerre should fit. Why? Because people have been making cheese for a very long time in France, as they have wine, and while eating locally has been marketed as somewhat of a revolution for those of us in the U.S., its old news in France. Quite simply, people in the Loire Valley make cheese that taste good with their local wine. And that wine is Sauvignon Blanc. And that cheese is goat cheese, the perfectist of all cheeses with that grape.
Then again, why is a tough question.
The wine part is simple. That wine grows best in that area. So it is grown.
But why is goat cheese the main cheese in the Loire Valley, exactly? Where the goats in the region before the wine, or was Sauvignon Blanc in the Loire Valley before the kids? Do goats grow best in that area too? Perhaps they like mineral soils because it reminds them of the mineral-laced tin cans they used to munch on at gramma’s house. Did the people of the area try goats and cows before they settled on goats, as winemakers likely did with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc grapes in the Loire Valley before they decided on SB? I have no idea.
But the fact remains- and yes, it is undisputed, everywhere- Sauvignon Blanc is the best white grape grown in Sancerre, in the Loire Valley. And it is absolutely the best match with some of Sancerre’s goat cheese, such as the Crottin de Chavignol featured in the lovely picture above, which I wish I took. And, everything can get more specific. If you have a chance to try a Sancerre from Chavignol with a Crottin de Chavignol, oh lord, this is the best match ever. You gotta sit down. Yet in general, if you match a wine from the Loire Valley (the red, Cabernet Franc works smashingly too), with a cheese from the general Loire Valley area, you are set. Super set!
And remember, your wine and cheese mongers are paid to help you. You pay them. If the appellation isn’t marked clearly to you on the wine, ask your wine salesperson. They should know.

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Pesky French Appellations

Whenever you pick up a bottle of French wine and look for some inkling of the grape type yet find nothing but snobby French terms like "le" or "Chateaux," don't be too discouraged. Slap yourself on the hand and remind yourself, while the appellation system may be as annoying for most blue or red or white blooded Americans as Velveeta is to a French person about to tip a corn chip in a Tex-Mex Salsa-con-processed-"Queso," they can come in handy too.
When? Oh, good question. With French cheese and wine pairing.

Part 1. I love Sancerre. And Sancerre loves goat cheese.
Sancerre is a French town inside the Loire Valley appellation. It is one of the many appellations within the Loire Valley region. A wine made in Sancerre is always Sauvignon Blanc. Legally. Punishable by death.
Resulting from Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée laws enacted in 1953, French wines are always labeled in reference to the region in which the wine is grown, not the grape. The government mandates what can grow where. Likewise, if a French wine has a grape varietal, like Chardonnay, printed on the label, you’ll know that the winemaker isn’t growing the wine in the region specified by the government. If they were, they wouldn’t need to state the varietals. It would be clear to winos everywhere in Europe. The trick to knowing what type of wine is in that bottle you're holding is knowing what grape varietals the French government allows its wine producers to grow in which appellation. In Sancerre, the government specifies that only Sauvignon Blanc should be grown.
You might be thinking this is crazy. It’s certainly interesting. But it's also smart, and will later help us pair French wine with French cheese. It's smart, first of all, because after centuries of growing grapes in France, the French know what grape grows best in what area. Sauvignon Blanc likes sun, but low heat, maritime climates, and mineral-strewn soils. If Sauvignon Blanc is the best white grape to grow in the Sancerre region, in the Loire Valley, where the often naturally limestone-flecked vineyards nurture the mineral flavors in the grape, so grow it. Or grow it legally in the neighboring Loire Valley towns of Touraine or Quincy…..Bordeaux is also an excellent environment for Sauvignon Blanc. And so there it is also grown, with Sémillion, which also thrives in the region. With permission from Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée team housed in Paris.

See for more info about Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée laws.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

First Blog: Why Rose Membrillo?

My name is Rosé Membrillo. Today. But be advised that my name will shape shift when it feels fit, when it's so inspired by a wine and food pairing that it can't stand to exist in its present gastronomic state any longer.

Why Rosé Membrillo today? Because the flowering trees outside my apartment window remind me that its Rosé season (a.k.a: spring), and one of my favoirte pairings for the pink juice is membrillo served over Manchego cheese slices, set down next to a chilled Rosé of Grenache. Preferably also next to Marcona Almonds. Classic Spanish pairing.

Rosé (not white zin) is a wine made from crushing red wine grapes such as Pinot Noir, Grenanche, etc.... and only leaving the juice briefly in contact with the squashed grape skins. The wine absorbs a rosey hue rather than a dark red because the color is dictated by the length of time that the skins are left in the tubs. The less time in the tank, the closer color to Barbie's pink mansion. Leave the skins in longer, and the hues going to more resemeble Julia Robert's lipstick in Pretty Woman.
Membrillo is made by cooking the quince fruit- believed to be indigenous to Greece- with sugar and lemon like you're making jam. Upon cooling, the high-pectin quince forms a thick, preserves-like paste that can be sliced. It's sweet, a little tart, and floral. Hint-when I buy this stuff already made into a paste at Mexican markets, it is of top quality and just as good as the overpriced membrillo sitting on gourmet shops shelves.
Manchego is a Spanish sheep's milk cheese with a sharp, bold taste that begs for sweet membrillo.
Marcona Almonds are skinless Valencian almonds that have been fried, salted, and oiled. As addicting as the crunchy things in the bottom of a KFC extra crispy bucket.
With this blog I hope to introduce and deepen the conversation of wine and food pairing online. Without snobbery. As revealed in my profile, I manage the wine bar section of a wine shop in the SF Bay area. I graduated from the California Culinary Academy in 2000, cooked in California and NYC, studied anthropology in UC Berkeley, and now continue to explore food and culture through cooking and wineful means. I love that my job gives me the oppurtunity to play with food and wine, talk about pairing wine and food, in public. Maybe this blog will extend that oppurtunity.

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