Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What Would You Pair With.....?"

It is the return of the "weekly" question, "What would you pair with....?'

The food at hand today- cheese and chile tomales from Echo Park L.A. Meatless, yes, but lardless, unlikely.

So, dear readers, I'm wondering, what wine(s) would you consider pairing with this lush, mildly spiced, tender tomale, with a touch of fresh corn and tomato?

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Straight Outta Chocolate

Just like the Hip Hop group N.W.A, Straight Outta Chocolate Cakes is a musically inspired organization founded in Los Angeles with smooth sweet style and more skills than any of those cats who call themselves artists and play with dough on the East Coast. Headed by My Friend Kate of My Friend Kate's Tours, Straight Outta Chocolate specializes in the high art of juxtaposing music with chocolate.

For those of you who have never heard of Straight Outta Chocolate cakes, let me take you on a tour.

Kate and I went to culinary school together. She was enrolled in the pastry department and learned how to form gorgeous shapes with chocolate. I, on the other hand, completed the program that includes two weeks of butchery. Since culinary school, Kate has gone on to earn a degree in fashion design, and not only can she design as a result, damn, the girl can sew. If left alone in a fabric store for a week, Kate could create enough clothes to lavishly adorn all of the groupies for the band members featured on her cakes. That's a whole lot of clothes. When she's not designing cakes or clothes, she might be also found DJing or making amazing music with friends in the cooler joints around L.A. That is, if she's not working on other art. Or reading. Or cooking North African peanut stew or lemon pound cakes.

Kate does a lot. Having experienced some of her many talents, one might think that I wouldn't be surprised upon hearing she started her own cake baking company that highlighted her art skills and utilized her endless music knowledge (if we ever play music trivia, Kate's on my team). But I was! And moreover, I was so...... impressed. Not jealous because I could never create a face as smooth as that of Eazy-E's on her chocolate cake mind you, but rather, overcome with her chocolate and art skills.

In honor of Kate's skillz, this post is devoted to pairing past Straight Outta Chocolate Cakes with alcoholic beverages, or.... wine. Also included below are some videos of the musicians featured on the cakes. If you are in the L.A. area and wish to commission a cake, contact Kate at hifivalentine@yahoo.com. Enjoy!

First cake- featured at top.
Eazy-E Chocolate Cake: As suggested by a N.W.A song called Don't Drink That Wine, Eazy-E wasn't completely into the fermented grape juice. Knowing this, I would feel good about pairing this cake with Calvados, a drink made by distilling apple cider. An amazingly good Calvados from Bonny Doon.

Love, the cover of Forever Changes
Meyer lemon curd cake with whipped cream frosting. Although I know very little about Love's alcoholic preferences, lemon curd always pairs with with a sparkling Moscati D'Asti. It's floral peach tones pop with the tangy lemon curd. And Moscato, as I'm sure many of you know, pairs sexily with whipped cream frosting.

Johnny Rotten

Angel Food Cake with whipped cream icing and carmel crunch candy. This one's a tough one. If I were enjoying the cake, I'd sip some Niepoort Tawny 10 year port. Caramel in the port, caramel in the cake, enchanting in the glass and on the plate. But I'm compelled to ask, "What would Johnny Rotten drink with a cake with his face on it?" Not having any personal drinking experience with Johnny Rotten, I'd guess that he'd consume aged Scotch, over ice. Or a Kahlua and Cream.

Carrot Cake. The lead singer of T-Rex, clearly one of the best British folk-inspired rock bands of the 60's and 70's, rocks just as hard on this cake as they do in the video below. The appropriate match for this cake would be a Santa Julia late harvest Torentes. This wine oozes with pinapple and apple and manages to be sweet without being over the top, like carrot cake and that cute, voluptuous haired singer from T-Rex.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

T-Vine Wine Burger Extravaganza (No burgers filmed during this sequence)

We recently had an event with winemaker Greg Brown of T-Vine Vineyards, where we served his wines with Niman Ranch burgers. Great pairing for a heavily-fruited, intense red. Thought you might like to see some of the pictures of our BBQ party. I know everyone was really crossing their fingers, but the burgers were consumed to quickly for photography.

a) Brown with the sporty burger chef and my co-worker, Matt.

b) Below, one of our fine bar patrons and friends, Keith (on right), and his brother. We're a family place.

c) The winemaker and Vin de la Table author.

d) Two other fine bar patrons.

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Wine Blogging Wednesday: a Gorgeous Riesling

A brief intermission is taking place before I explore Straight Outta Chocolate cakes so I can play in the world of Wine Blogging Wednesday. The assignment: pick a Riesling from northern Europe, drink it out of a brown paper bag at night, and blog about it. Mission accomplished.

04 Jakob Schneider Riesling Kabinett, “Niederhäser Hermannsöhle Vyd," Nahe, Germany

Regardless of their bright, citrus zest acidity or bustling minerality, there are some Rieslings that make me think of Baked Alaska. But not Grandma’s Baked Alaska (bless her soul). An accomplished pastry chef’s take on the dish. When I was cooking in a fine dining establishment, for example, our resident pastry expert would place hand-made vanilla bean ice cream in a lengthwise sliced pineapple half that had been lovingly cored, top the whole thing with piped meringue, and go at it with a blow torch. Imagine that, sprinkled with lychee essence, meyer lemon zest, and kissed with petrol. With a snappy acidity. At this same restaurant, they served seared Hamachi with Yuzu-Miso sauce. That’s exactly what I would serve with this wine. Or fried oysters.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

T-Vine Vineyards: An Interview with Winemaker Greg Brown

I am very happy to add an interview with the winemaker/owner of T-Vine Cellars (pictured with flowing hair above) to the growing collection of winemaker Q & A’s on Vin de la Table. Most certainly one of the best of the two, this interview invites us into the wine world of Greg Brown, a talented and successful winemaker who only wishes the best for his fellow craftspeople, and who would be happy pairing baked beans with his finest T-Vine wines. In short, he’s a Vin de la Table interview dream.

Although T-Vine has a cult following for their berry-luscious Grenaches, purple Sryahs, decadent and fierce Petite Sirahs, jammy Zinfandels, brooding Cabernet Sauvignons, and occasional Merlots, winemaker Brown has little need to uncork his bottles to sell his wines.

His power to garner a following pre pouring has as much to do with his gracious and spirited nature as much as the fine reputation of his wines. Thankfully for those of us who have occasionally been swayed to buy on the basis of pure winemaker charisma, Brown does pop his corks for the public. And by god, his wines are terrific. They are concentrated, stunning, and in short, a California wine lover’s dream.


One day the corporate banker called Greg Brown was invited to a Cain Cellars wine crush, and his life changed overnight. Brown had already begun to feel in his heart (the one behind the breast pocket of his well-tailored Italian or American or British suit, below the ends of his slicked back hair, and far above the shined leather of his fine dress shoes) that banking was not his life calling.

That crush day, the grapes were so ripe with inspiration that almost immediately, Brown quit finance to “drag hoses at Cain Cellars for $7 an hour.” It was all wine from here on out.

After years as a cellar rat, Brown got the itch to try his own hand with wine. His grape of choice was Grenache, a grape indigenous to the Rhone Valley in France which Brown was crazy about.

At this point of inspiration seventeen years ago, few to none were making Grenache in the northern wine country. Most people hadn’t even heard of the grape. Tony Soter, Cain’s consulting winemaker at the time told Brown how funny he thought it that Brown wanted to play with this Rhone grape in a land where the favorite game was making Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Later of course, Soter loaned Brown his crushing facilities. Regardless of the raised eyebrows, the rebellious Brown knew exactly what to do. He made his first Grenache and put it in a Bordeaux bottle so that people would know that it was red wine.

In the millionaire’s game of winemaking, “with only $15,000 and true grit,” Brown worked hard, put his wine out there, helped build awareness for Grenache, and went on to wine hearts.

Proud of the manner in which T-Vine has become successful from the ground up, Brown sees his gumption and passion especially in the early years as crucial to his wine’s draw. Earning a following that loves his wines because of the contents of the bottle and for the inspiration behind them rather than for their ratings is important to Brown, who generally avoids press and ratings systems.

Unlike many winery representatives that actively send their wine to critics or wine ratings organizations, Brown prefers that T-Vine accolades come organically, or not at all. He hasn’t asked wine critic Robert Parker NOT to rate his wines, for example, but he hasn’t sent him sample bottles like so many others do either. Brown normally also avoids interviews, saying that "he could be having morning coffee for years with someone before they know I'm a winemaker.” In Napa, when wines are far too often used trophies, Brown prefers to utilize his as sources to inspire pleasure rather than fame.


On the back of his wine bottles, Brown inscribes quotes meant to share pieces of the T-Vine spirit and intention with its drinkers. With it’s main feature being a short newsletter, the T-Vine website stresses simplicity and serenity over marketing. While it's true that Brown's wines have no problems selling, it's clear that his point in life is not making money. Rather, It seems to be to exist in a space of inspiration and peace.

When I asked Brown why winemaking inspires in him more spirituality than other acts in life, he spoke of the act and the end result.

“Nothing else produced has the spirit of the person as infused in the product as wine. In wine, you can see personality, the traits of the person who made it, and if they were inspired, you can taste it. And there are so many metaphors in wine: the new growth in spring time, the pruning back, and these all conjure up thoughts of spirit and consciousness.”

Which brings us to Brown’s model of winemaking, which is invoked with spirituality but refuses to take itself too seriously. Comparing making wine to breathing, Brown states that “it’s extremely important, but no big deal.”

Brown thinks likewise about FOOD AND WINE.

One of the best memories he had, he says, with food and wine was one experienced "at the top of a slide in a French playground, straight out of a brown-bagged bottle with a baguette." While it hurt my cheese-freak heart to hear that Brown’s memory didn’t involve cheese, not even at the top, middle, or lower portion of the slide experience, it’s endearing to hear a winemaker say that his one of his favorite food and wine pairings required only love for the products involved. And a child’s recreation tool.

If there did happen to be cheese present during the playground adventure, I told him, his T-Vines Rhone Wines and Zinfandels in particular would have been good to have handy. At a recent Wine and Food Pairing class session at work, we served three different cheeses, and I was amazed to find that they paired perfectly with all of them. All were a bit funky, perhaps a little stand-offish- either salty and aged, washed cow’s milk or natural rind goat, but after the T-Vine wines strutted their stuff a bit, they were melting with simple pleasures of the pairing within minutes.

Brown was happy to hear his wine was a hit, but let it be known that he was for “rebellious wine drinking,” the sort that inspires blending wines at the dinner table rather than inflicting rules. Which may be why at an upcoming event with T-Vine at the wine shop where I work, we’re serving his wines with big, juicy burgers.

When not sipping T-Vine with America’s favorite sandwich, Greg prefers simple food with his wines and says that people should drink red with fish if they want to. Even though he loves French country or peasant style food such as roast lamb and vegetables with his wines, he’s also cool with “opening a can of Annies’ split pea soup and adding some garlic.”

Brown’s not afraid to admit his not-elitist preferences in the vineyard either.

In a time when it’s become fashionable to knock wines for being “fruit-bombs,” Brown freely admits that he likes his own wines laden with fruit. Why shouldn’t he, he asks.

Instead of picking by brix, Brown picks by intuition. He tastes the grapes like he would a peach. If they taste ripe, sweet, he’ll consider other properties such as mouthfeel and color. Although a some point during the winemaking process he might utilize scientific instruments, Brown relies more on what he’s learned by roaming the vineyards year after year and his own taste preferences than scientific measurements or what people profess is best at the moment.

Not that Brown would say anything negative about his fellow winemakers who might use such analysis systems or be otherwise influenced. He wouldn’t say anything bad about his fellow winemaker’s methods or wines period. He’s not ashamed for liking sweet fruit, canned soup or beans and he wouldn’t criticize other winemakers for staying true to their vision either.

“It’s what makes this country so great. They’re doing what they want and listening to their heart. There’s just too much press focusing on what’s wrong, and not enough focusing on what’s right. People have so many more mentors now instead of corporations leading them on- that’s terrific. They follow their vision. As far as I’m concerned, so much of the wine out there is 95% better than what I was making when I first started anyhow.”

He named one winemaker in particular, David Phinney of Orin Swift’s The Prisoner fame, as someone who really inspired him, because “he’s one of the sweetest guys you’ve ever met, his wines are terrific and really fun, and you can’t help but be happy for him and how successful he’s been.”

Another common theme in Brown’s life besides the showering of those around him with the positive energy he so values in others, is to not take oneself so seriously. With a healthy does of his naughty humor in mind, I will close this interview with a favorite joke of Brown’s.

"A blond and a brunette pass by a flower shop and the brunette looks in to see her boyfriend. "Oh," she groans, unhappy "My boyfriend is buying me flowers." "Why, what's wrong with that, don't you like flowers?" asks the blond. "Well," the brunette replies, "After he buys them, I spend at least a week with my ankles around my neck." "Oh. Why," the blond asks, "don't you own a vase?"

This vintage promises to be a good one for T-Vine.

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