Conversation Wines: What Message are You Sending?

I met my husband at the end of 2001.  We casually dated over the holidays; neither of us were looking for a relationship. So when February 14th was approaching, I decided to diffuse it rather than cause either of us unnecessary stress.

” I am not one to buy into the mass marketing commercialism of holidays.  Especially ones that try to force people to spend quadruple the price on flowers, etc.  However, I do think Valentine’s Day is a good excuse to spend time with someone you are kinda in to sooo… what do you think of making dinner together tomorrow night?   Just an excuse to drink a nice bottle of wine and hang out.”

Simple, non-committal, casual.  I made filets, potatoes, salad.  Easy, tasty, a little special but not crazy.  But I made a critical error in my “low-key” approach.  We opened this bottle of wine.

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I had brought it back from my trip to Italy in 2000.  A small producer, Francesco Mollaioli,  I found on the streets of Assisi.  Even though I didn’t know too much about wine at the time, this wine had a story. I’d saved it for the right occasion, I couldn’t easily replace the bottle. Cover blown.

Your approach to this holiday sends a message.  The wine you choose punctuates that message.  If the relationship is new, the wine should convey that.  If you are getting super serious about this person, you need to step it up. In a long-term relationship? Well, that’s up to both of you. There is the freedom to keep it low-key or the excuse to show your significant other what a treasure he or she is, and drink some dang good wine. I always opt for the dang good wine, even if we drink it in comfies on the couch.

I recently participated in the Boston Wine Expo Twitter Tasting featuring Hope Family Wines*.  Three wine samples were featured. The names of the wines naturally lend themselves to my Valentine’s wine choice theory. Allow me to demonstrate.

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Liberty School Merlot ($16)

You’ve spent some time together, but are focused on your freedom. You don’t want to send a message that conveys anything but so stay under $20.  Even if the evening is a total bust, you aren’t out too much. Black fruit, spice, a good Merlot for the price point.  this would be great with a pork dish.  I recently made a Chinese Five Spice Pork with horseradish sweet potatoes that would’ve paired really well. Or chocolate. Love Merlot with Chocolate. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of good wine.

Troublemaker ($20)

Ok, maybe you weren’t looking, but this person is taking up way too much of your brain space.  You find yourself thinking about them. Involuntary smiles at the sound of their voice. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Zinfandel, I described this wine on twitter as Boysenberry cobbler with a smoked crème anglaise. A little sweet, a little sassy. Your favorite kind of trouble.

Treana Red ($45)

Hope Family calls this their benchmark blend: the wine by which all others are measured. If you have one of these in your life, you do what you can to hold on.  It’s beautiful on the outside, multi-faceted on the inside. A blend of Cab and Syrah, this wine meets its match with something equally complex. Filets with bleu cheese, braised short ribs, think big and rich. A memorable wine for a memorable evening.

 

We would both say that, even though we don’t donate to Hallmark, Valentine’s will always be special for us. Over the years we’ve had swoons and laughter, tears and silence. We’ve had dinners in which I put on a new dress and one when held a four-day-old bundle in sweats. But one constant is recounting our first special bottle together while enjoying another.

So, maybe the wine choice blew my cover. But, maybe the risk was just what we needed because we were rarely apart after. Whether you are opening something special to treat yourself, a new interest, or your benchmark in life, think about the message your wine could be sending. Cheers!

 *{I received these wines to participate in a #BWETaste Twitter conversation. I received no other compensation. thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

A Trifecta of Taste-Somms Under Fire

I made it!  I have been trying for three years to make it to Somms Under Fire but January always seems to conspire against me with sick children and cedar misery.  Not this year.  They say “third times the charm” and three was the theme for the evening.  Three Sommeliers from around the country paired wines for three courses for three judges.  The sommeliers were judged on three levels: pairing, service, and education.

Competing were:

Advanced Sommelier Luke Boland

Advanced Sommelier Eric Crane

Advanced Sommelier James Watkins

The judges were:

Winery Owner and Sommelier, Rajat Parr

Author and Wine Writer, Jordan Mackay

Master Sommelier Jay James, Chappellet Wines

There were 9 wines available for pairing.  The sommeliers sampled and took turns pairing.  Once a wine was chosen, it was no longer available.  The somms then served and explained their choices as the audience sampled the fare and the wines. In the end, James Watkins walked away with the title of Champion.

The winning pairings were:

First Course:  2012 Prager Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Hinter der Burg,
paired with Charred Broccoli with White Bean, Mushroom Confit, Preserved Lemon, Poached Egg, & Gulf Bottarga, created by Chef Jason Stude, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill
Second Course:  2012 A. A. Badenhorst Secateurs, Red Blend paired with Roasted Pork Loin, Sunchoke, Endive, Tangerine, Curry Mustard created by Chef David Bull, Congress Austin
Third Course:  2013 Patrick Puize Chablis “Terroir Découverte”, paired with Coomersdale, Bonnieview Farm, Vermont;  Goat Gouda, Central Coast Creamery, California and Everton Reserve, Jacobs & Brichford, Indiana, hand selected by Antonelli’s Cheese Shop

According to sponsor Keeper Collection’s newsletter, James Watkins will also receive” a scholarship to attend “Wine Internship in Burgundy, France under the tutelage of Burgundy Author and Expert,  Allen Meadows, of Burghound, focusing on the Village of Chambolle Musigny. provided by Peter Wasserman of Becky Wasserman & Co., and a $1,000 travel grant presented by the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas, as well as a Laguiole Champagne Saber, presented by Keeper Collection, LLC.”

It was a great evening of food, wine, and fellowship that I was able to share with my sister as guests of Diane Dixon and an event that I will make every effort to attend in the future. The food was top-notch and all of the wines were delicious but after the pairings, I found myself reaching for more of the 2012 Lioco “Indica” Carignan from Mendocino County.  Great acid, bright fruit, complex and easy to drink.

Many thanks to Diane, Keeper Collection, and to the family of Sommelier Nathan Prater who shared their table and company with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resolution 1: Drink More Tempranillo

It was nearly two years ago when I first delved into the wines of Ribera del Duero at the Drink Ribera campaign here in Austin.  I was completely impressed with the diversity and quality for the price point.  That remains.  The more I try, the more I want. So when the people of Gregory White PR asked if I was interested in sampling some, I jumped all over it.

To share the love, I chose to open them on New Year’s Eve with two other couples from the neighborhood.  We decided on a Spanish potluck to pair with the wines.  Here’s what we made:

Cheese Plate

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Kale Salad with Meyer Lemon and Candied Ginger (recipe at end)

Berbere Lamb Meatballs (recipe at end)

Papas Bravas with Smoked Paprika Aioli

Pincho Ribs with Sherry Glaze

DSC_0569Is your mouth watering yet?  Mine is just thinking about it.  My dear friend Laura made the last two items.  Laura is the friend that always knocks my socks off with her effortless, amazing cooking.  The papas were baked instead of friend, the aioli was with a mayonnaise base instead of from scratch but you’d never know. Keep that in mind for quick prep. I don’t generally care for ribs.  It could be a Pavlovian reaction to “fat” from growing up during the fat-free craze, but they just aren’t generally my thing.  I ate four of these and couldn’t stop picking at the crispy edges.  They were divine. The meatballs were a hit with everyone, juicy and full of flavor.  The kale, a great foil for the rich dishes and, well, anything wrapped in prosciutto is awesome.

We opened two wines with the meal. I’ve learned from experience that if I am opening multiple samples, I open them before guests arrive to evaluate with a clean palate and sharp mind.  That way I can relax and enjoy the evening and let the wine flow, as it usually does.

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2011 Tinto Ribon Crianza

This wine is 100% Tempranillo, aged 12 months in American and French oak. Brilliant color, ruby with a hint of violet. Warm berries on the nose.  Medium body, red fruit, tight tannins, spices and herbaceous with rich nuances.  Fresh, long finish.

2012 Erial Tradicion Familia ($22)

16 months in French and American Oak. A deep saturated color with intense nose of black plums and baking spices.  Tight tannins and leather, well integrated blue and black fruit, powerful mouth feel.  Of the four wines, this felt like the “grandfather”, and rightly so. The grapes are sourced from 80-year-old vines.

2009 Pata Negra Reserva ($16)

24 months in barrel, 12 in bottle before release. Deep maroon and plum in color.  Black fruit, plums, spicy vanilla.  Strong chewy tannins, structured like a thick cedar post.

2010 Emina Prestigio ($32)

I had this on another night with a play on Yankee Pot Roast. If the Erial was the grandfather, this is the family Patriarch. 16 months in French Oak. A deep, brooding color.  Vibrant black plum weighted by spicy tannins. Bossy acid, bold and mature tobacco leaf and vanilla.  This wine means business.

Part of the wonder of wine is how one grape can be so diverse.  Soil, conditions, season, age of the vine effect the grape.  These four from the same AVA but from four different years.  Add in the choices of the winemaker and you never know what you are going to get with Tempranillo.  That’s why I love it so and why I am resolved to try more Tempranillo in 2015.

Here is your challenge. Sometime this year, have a Tempranillo party.  Every guest brings one. Young or old, Spanish or domestic. High Plains in Texas or Sonoma County. Take notes and compare. No matter what your taste in wines, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find one (or ten) that you like.  It is a great exercise in developing palate and a great lesson.  Just because you had one (fill in the blank) that you didn’t care for doesn’t mean that you don’t like that grape.  That lesson could be applied in all are of our lives, don’t you think?  With that, I’ll wish you happy tasting. ¡Salud!

Kale Salad with Meyer Lemon and Candied Ginger

Massage Kale with Olive Oil (lemon or regular)

Add finely chopped candied ginger

Salt to taste

Lemon Zest

Lemon juice

optional:Chopped nuts or seeds (almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds)

 

Berbere Meatballs

2 lbs Ground Lamb

1 Onion diced, sautéed

2 eggs

2 TBSP Berbere seasoning

Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients.  Make 1-2 inch meatballs.  Brown them in pan, finish in the oven at around 300 for about 20 minutes or until fully cooked.

{These wines were provided as media samples by Gregory White PR. No other compensation was received and thoughts and opinions are my own} 

 

Last Minute Gift Idea-Texas Tuesday

So, it’s Texas Tuesday, but I am a bit congested thanks to our favorite winter visitor, cedar pollen.  I didn’t want to open anything special so I am simply offering an idea for a very last-minute gift.  I always like to give Texas wine because so many people just don’t know what they’re missing.  Even locals have never tasted the wines that are being made just down the road so I do my part to remedy that.

I was a teacher in my past life and know that I rarely splurged on a bottle that was more that $15.  I also know that there were many nights that I felt absolutely spent and welcomed the reprieve of a glass of something tasty.  So, I often give my children’s teachers the gift of wine.  For Thanksgiving, I gave her a bottle of Gundlach Bundschu Gewurtraminer, a favorite with turkey.  For Christmas, I gave her a bottle of Pedernales Cellars 2012 Tempranillo.

I chose this wine in particular because I find it both elegant and approachable.  It is a grape that is unfamiliar to some, but so diverse and available in several local stores.  Also, if they love it, they can drive west and sample more of what the producer has to offer.  Medium bodied, red fruit with layers of baking spices and a touch of earth. It is complex enough to hold up to almost any fare, but smooth and soft enough to drink alone.  But to make sure that doesn’t happen, I paired the wine with some Mexican Cocoa almonds.  Cocoa, cinnamon, and a little cayenne would be a great compliment to the wine.  The addition of a homemade snack to compliment the wine gives it a more personal touch.

If you are looking for a white, I’d suggest taking a pairing from Kuhlman Cellars and doing some Marcona almonds with herbs de Provence with a bottle of their Roussanne or McPherson Cellars Roussanne.

Here is the recipe for the almonds:

Mexican Cocoa Almonds

Whisk an egg white until frothy. Add a teaspoon of Vanilla.

Toss about 3 cups of almonds in the egg white.

In another bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 TBSP good quality cocoa, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp salt.  If you’d like also add the zest of an orange.

Toss the almonds in the sugar mixture and bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring frequently. Allow to cool before bagging.

What are your favorite Texas wine gifts? And what snack would pair? Wishing you and your family the merriest of days. Cheers!

Musical Pairings with Banfi

When it comes to stocking your wine fridge, or cellar if you’re lucky, you can and should do so with several things in mind.  You have those special occasion bottles and the duplicates for comparative purposes.  You have the obscure blend you found at your favorite store and the ones you picked up at the winery.  And then you have the others.

If you have the means and the storage, you have several bottles that are Monday wines.  Wines that you know are the old reliables.  Wines that you can open and not finish and not worry.  The wines that you can pop for any reason or no reason and not have to think about them.

Wines that qualify need to be affordable and versatile.  Maybe you buy them by the case, maybe you stock up during the semi-annual sale.  One favorite red for such purposes is Chianti.

Chianti is wine from the Chianti region of Italy.  Depending on the specific area and time in the barrel, the wine is given different designations. All Chianti needs to be 75% Sangiovese.  To be considered a reserve, the wine needs to be aged at least two years in barrel, three months in bottle.  Classico is from the central region, an area given DOCG status in 1996.  If it has the black rooster, it has been tested and deemed worthy of the designation.

I recently sampled three Chiantis from Banfi Wines: Placido Chianti ($9), Chianti Classico($15), and Chianti Classico Riserva($19).  They were doing a campaign about Chianti and comfort foods, very appropriate.  It is nearly impossible for me to eat Italian without wine so these were fun to sample.

I’ve mentioned that I sometimes like to taste “blind,” without reading anything about them first.  When I went to open these, I couldn’t find the attachments with the retail info. or production sheets so I paired blindly as well.  A bit risky, but a good experiment.

A few weeks ago I wrote about pairing Chicken Saltimbocca and the Placido Chianti was one that was an option.  A few nights later, I made Minestrone which I paired with the Chianti Classico.  The following weekend I made Pasta with meatballs and we drank the Riserva.

The Placido was a little “thin” for the rich sauce of the Saltimbocca and, while it worked, the Riserva would have been a better choice.  The Minestrone was great with the Classico, but knowing what I know now, I should have held on to e Placido.  A true Monday wine in price and complexity, it would have been just fine with the soup.  The Riserva was great with the meatballs.  I had opened it early to put a splash in the sauce and, since it was already opened, I channeled my inner-Olivia Pope and had a bit with the afternoon matinée popcorn.  It even worked there.  However, the red fruit and acidity of the Classico may have been a little better.

Every bottle WORKED but I could have paired better.  But for versatility, affordability, and as the promotion was claiming, comfort, Chianti hits the mark. I may need a do-over and a wine do-over is one I never mind doing.  I know I’ll be stocking up on some more for the holidays.

{These wines were supplied by Banfi as media samples. I received no other compensation.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

Hannibal Would be Proud: Texas Tuesday

“I love it when a plan comes together.”  If you are an 80’s kid, you surely recognize that as the catchphrase of John “Hannibal” Smith, fearless leader of the A-team.  Oh, you thought I meant the Punic Carthaginian military commander?  Well, if he liked wine I guess he would be proud.  For future reference, you are safe assuming I am alluding to mindless pop-culture rather that ancient military strategists.  Anyway, back to the plan.

We had plans to go camp for a friend’s 40th birthday but a health hiccup for our black lab meant that we couldn’t leave her overnight and couldn’t go camping.  But we could get out of the house in the afternoon for a couple of hours of marriage maintenance.  A beautiful winter day means one activity (ok, any day) has my vote: heading out to the wine country.

This is the part in the A-team when each character starts throwing out crazy ideas which require Face to smooth talk someone while they drug B.A so Murdoch can fly them into the middle of the chaos.  Fortunately for us, it only required an email, two phone calls, and a quick shower to get an appointment, my favorite mom here, and out the door in 40 minutes. I guess that is kind of A-team comparable when you have little ones.

On the drive I was able to do some reading about Kuhlman Cellars and the people behind it.

Wine is a product born of love, passion and intense labor.  It should be enjoyed with the same emotional vigor.  At Kuhlman Cellars, we strive to appreciate what brings richness to our lives: Family, Food, Friends and Fellowship. Our tasting room was carefully designed to include every guest in our personal wine journey with education about our process from a knowledgeable guide, an intimate view of our working winery and Sommelier & Chef prepared cuisine carefully paired with each wine.

I had a feeling this was going to be my kind of tasting experience.  We arrived at Kuhlman Cellars with five minutes to spare, ready to taste the wine I’d been hearing so much about. Although the winery has only been open for two months, the Cobb family is not new to the wine industry, previously managing a Hill Country vineyard. Together with winemaker Bénédicte Rhyne, Chris and Jennifer Cobb are creating wines in an Old-World style with Texas flair.  Many of the wines are made with Texas fruit, the blends and the winery are given Texas geological names. Kuhlman Creek runs through the family property and eventually joins the Pedernales River.

My husband and I immediately noticed the ingenuity and design behind the Tasting room.  The bars are mobile, industrial and yet warm.  Two formations create a sit-down tasting experience for you and a few of your closest, or newest friends.  Each guest is given a tasting sheet, enough stemware for the flight, and an appetizer plate with the chef-inspired bites.

Sommelier Jeremy Wilson was our host for the tasting.  With each wine we were given information about the vineyard, the production techniques, and the thoughts behind the pairings.  Our group for the tasting included wine lovers with a wide variety of experience and Jeremy catered to each guest.  We even were treated to a barrel tasting.  Here are my top three:

The first wine was a 2013 Texas Sauvignon Blanc.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The grapes were from Mesa Vineyard in Fort Stockton.  The wine, not surprisingly, was more French in style.  Very classic notes, well-balanced and refreshing. Tart fruit, some grassy notes, gooseberry. This was paired with a cracker with smoked salmon and caper to play off the acid.

The third wine we tasted was Rousanne.  You are seeing more of this Rhone variety in Texas and I expect that trend to continue.  A weighty white with stone fruit and rich texture even when done in stainless.  This is a perennial favorite for Thanksgiving. Paired with a bite of bleu cheese and fig it was divine.

My favorite was the 2012 Texas Red.  A Texas take on a Bordeaux blend, this wine is 49% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both are sourced from the High Plains.  With the addition of Carignan, Cab Franc, and Grenache you get the depth of flavor while remaining medium bodied.  Red fruit, violet, a little spice, a little anise, a lot of yum.  We brought home two of these.

As a bonus, Jeremy brought out a barrel sample of the Texas (yes, Texas) Zinfandel that wasn’t ready but was delicious.  This wine is jam-packed with flavors, none of which include jam.  I can’t wait to taste the finished product.

Family, Food, Friends and Fellowship.  Those are the driving principles at Kuhlman Cellars and they put those into practice.  Although I had never met Chris Cobb, and Jeremy and Jennifer Beckman only once in person, they made us feel like family.  Food and wine shared with friends is the best kind of fellowship.

We left with four bottles of wine and big smiles.  We left excited to open a bottle at home and create our own pairings and we left saying that we love it when a plan comes together.

Thank you, Kuhlman Cellars, for fitting us in and for what we both agreed was the catalyst to one of the best dates we’ve had in a long time.  I’ll always drink to that!

{I am embarrassed to say that we were having so much fun that I totally forgot to take pictures!  Some blogger I am. I guess I’ll have to go back and remedy that.}

 

 

 

 

Tis the Season-Elizabeth Chambers Pinot Noir

We had been trying to decorate our tree all week, but my husband was late every night.  If your home is like mine and you have littles, you know the delicate balance with food and fatigue in the school-night witching hours.  If decorating the tree is going to be joyous and celebratory, it is best to avoid the cranky hours.  It could have gone from “Deck the Halls” to “Deck Each Other” faster than you can say Jingle Bells.  So we waited until Friday night and I planned a dinner that could be grazed.  That way I could stave off the hangry monsters while we waited for Daddy and I could start sipping so all would be merry and bright by the time we began.

It was a gorgeous 70 degree Texas winter kind of day.  A Pinot kind of day and I had a sample I’d been holding on to for the right time.  Last night was the right time to try the 2011 Elizabeth Chambers Winemaker’s Cuvee Pinot Noir.  Although this is the first wine released on a national basis, the Chambers family has been involved in winemaking for nearly a quarter of a century in Oregon.  Her winemaker, Michael Stevenson, sources grapes from some of the top growers in the region, a region known for their Pinot Noir.

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In the glass, the wine shines and although I’m pretty sure there is a better descriptor, I kept thinking “raspberry cola.”  On the nose, red and black berries with baking spices.  The flavor profile made me feel like an autumn walk in woods.  Red and black fruit, cola, mushroom, anise, and soft leather. This wine is medium bodied with softer tannins although the acid gave it a chewy mouthfeel.  This wine has all the classic Willamette Valley Pinot Noir qualities that I had been craving all day.

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Our repast consisted of cold-cut roast beef, brie, arugula, black and green olives, capers, and horseradish mayonnaise.  I served it with a baguette and a salad of arugula, pear, bacon, and shallot dressing.  The acidic olives, the earthy spice of arugula, creamy tang of the spreads and the beef all complimented one another and the wine. It was perfect for nibbling and a spread I will revisit this holiday season.

In the media materials there is the following quote from Liz Chambers:

“It may be because I am a woman, but I am not interested in seeing who can make the wine with the biggest muscles. I want to drink wines that have table manners, wines that can dance. I want elegance and style in my wines.”

I would welcome Liz and her wines at my table anytime.

The lights are strung, the stockings hung.  My littles danced in their Santa hats and semi-evenly distributed the ornaments.  You won’t ever see my tree on Pinterest, but it was made with love.  And it is done.

Many thanks to Gregory White PR , Michael Stevenson and Liz Chambers for the holiday cheer and for adding a little elegance to our tree-trimming.

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Inspiration, a Challenge

I haven’t been doing a lot of “inspired” cooking lately.  Instead it has been more like, “what can I quickly throw together that is nutritious, easy, and can sit?”  Between playground and homework, dishes and Legos, dinner needs to be made.

Inspired cooking happens when you have the time, minimal distractions, and the impetus to go beyond.  Typically it is the weekend, when you can open a bottle of wine and lose yourself picking thyme leaves and slicing shallots.  It happens when the seasons start to change and the heartier meals bring comfort.  It happens when a loved one has requested something or when a birthday demands a celebration.

Last month, I was the winner of the Wandering Gourmand Beer versus Wine Challenge and with that comes the privilege of choosing the next month’s contest.  The inspiration came in the form of my husband’s birthday and his request for Chicken Saltimbocca.  If you’ve had it, or looked up how to make it, you know that there are a variety of takes on this classic Italian dish.  It can be veal or chicken, rolled or flat.  Some people choose white wine, others use Marsala.  The staples are thinly pounded meat, sage, and prosciutto.  In typical form, I read through several recipes for ideas and cook times and then go with it.

I purchased thinly sliced chicken breast.  The pounding is my least favorite part (don’t ask why) and when you are cooking for 9, every bit helps. I decided to use saute the mushrooms ahead of time with butter, oil, and garlic.  when they were wilted, I threw in some chicken broth and Marsala and let them cook a bit longer.  I put the mushrooms in a bowl and used the same pan for the chicken.

I dipped each filet in flour, salt, and pepper, then sautéed them in the seasoned pan with butter and oil.  About 4 minutes on each side.  I placed all the chicken breast on a baking sheet and covered them with sage leaves and prosciutto.  I then baked them at 350 for about 10 minutes, until the prosciutto was a little crispy.

While they were in the oven, I reheated the mushroom with more broth and Marsala which I thickened with about 2 teaspoons of cornstarch.

You could take this dish in many directions.  Use any of the above variations.  My husband has put provolone on top.  I’ve served it with sage polenta, acorn squash with braised leeks.  You could do garlic mashed potatoes or french bread.  Any vegetable would work, but I like a salad with a little shallot vinaigrette.  The acid cuts the rich saltiness of the dish.

So what to pair with this dish?  I tried a few wines and had my favorites.  But I want to hear from you.  Pop over to the competition on Wandering Gourmand and make your suggestion.  Any beer, cider, or wine you think would make the dish shine.  I look forward to hearing from you.  Cheers!

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Everything was Big(ger) and Bubbly in ATX

There is a reason that this event sells out every year.  This year marked the 12th annual Big Reds and Bubbles sponsored by the Wine and Food Foundation, but it was my first time to attend.  It won’t be the last.  Held at the historic Driskill hotel, this event exudes every bit of refinement and elegance you would expect from this organization at this venue.

Any event that is this extensive means that you need to be purposeful in your tasting.  If you were fast and furious, you might have time to taste every wine, but I know that my palate would feel punished.  One would likely be able to taste each appetizer, but I know I would be ready for a nap if I tried.  So when I was invited to attend a little preview with June Rodil, one of Food and Wine’s Sommeliers of the year, I jumped at the chance.

We began, as all evenings should, with bubbles.  Specifically, French, June suggested.  The lighter, clean bubbles awaken your palate without being heavy or interfering with what is to come.  Our first taste of the evening was one of my favorites, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.  This wine is 100% Chardonnay and retails for about $80.  Yeast and a touch of citrus on nose, structured bubbles and pear, acidity.  A beautiful Champagne.

We moved onto one of Italy’s standout sparklers, Bellavista Brut Cuvee.  This was mostly Chardonnay, but the addition of 10% Pinot Nero gave it a softer mouthfeel.  The bubbles, a little more subtle, the fruit a little less so.  At about $45, this is a great alternative to Champagne when you want elegant bubbles at a more approachable price point.

As we moved to the third taste, the doors opened to the general public which meant that both the positive energy and volume increased.  We all angled to hear the full scoop on the next Champagne, Pol Roger Brut.  This family-owned Champagne house was established in 1849.  The wine is equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier which creates a fuller, balanced wine. This wine also was the official Champagne served at William and Kate’s wedding.  You can wow your guests with that tidbit.

It didn’t take long for the room or the glasses to fill.  Each room buzzed with “oohs” and “mmmms.”  When it was time to eat, my focus turned to pairing and we found a few brilliant ones.  We also found some dishes that required no accompaniment to shine.  Here were a few that stayed with me:

Vox did it again.  They were a favorite at Tour de Vin and they created another whimsical bite with their play on a Twice baked potato served in cigar boxes.

Chavez created a sweet potato huarache with cochinita pibil and pickled red onion.  I had two and I NEVER have two.

Moonshine created a lamb shepard’s pie that paired brilliantly with Banfi’s biodynamic blend from Chile, Emiliana Coyam.

Bonneville’s cassoulet with duck confit was just the thing to warm you on a chilly night.  Yum.

Lick’s sea salt caramel gelato paired perfectly with Gloria Ferrar’s Royal Cuvee.

Dolce Neve’s flavors were everything you want in gelato.  Pure and rich and delicious.

I am sure there were many fabulous dishes, wines, and pairings that I missed.

Throughout the evening,  my husband kept reiterating what a wonderful job the The Wine and Food Foundation did with the event, from start to finish.  Even the next morning, when I asked him about his birthday dinner menu, his response was that his mouth was still singing from the night before.  It was that good.

Many thanks to June Rodil for the great tips, to The Wine and Food Foundation for the invitation to attend as media, and to all to great chefs and staff that made the evening possible.  Every person pouring and serving was knowledgeable and smiling.  It is that kind of attention to detail that makes events stand out.

{I was given a media pass but no additional compensation to attend.  Thoughts and opinions are my own}

Nothing Provincial about Provençal Pink

Grapefruit, peach, salmon: whichever shade of pink, rosé is fabulous all year around. Whatever you’re serving, there is a hue for you. Those were the major takeaways from a recent Wines of Provence lunch held at Arro here in Austin which featured wines chosen by Master Sommelier Craig Collins. And I enjoyed every drop of the lesson.
I love every shade of pink, in drink and color, but there is one region that is synonymous with rosé: Provence. In Provence, rosé is not a novelty or an afterthought, it is the goal. The grapes grown, the choices in production are all made with the goal of bring the finest quality rosé to the table…or porch, picnic, fireside.
Right now you may be thinking, “Fireside? I only drink pink in the summer.” Some of you may not even realize there is pink beyond the sweet stuff your aunt used to drink. To that I would say it may be time to expand your ideas about rosé.
We sampled nine rosés in three flights. Each flight was different. From very pale in color to hints of rich peach, from red fruit to black fruit, mineral-driven to floral, these wines showed a vast swing in pairing options which were reflected in the menu choices.
We began with a puff pastry with olives, anchovy, and onion. Delicious. The first course was seared shrimp with clams, mussels, and sorrel pistou. It was lovely but I had to admire from afar. They graciously pulled together an alternate for me at the host’s request (a lovely but unnecessary gesture) of tuna with green beans, radish.
Craig shared how whenever he is pairing flavors of the sea, he likes to go for acidity and minerality. The first flight spoke to that well. The grapes were classic Provençal: Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah. Red fruit, acidity, some tart and herbal notes. Some were more aromatic than others, all were balanced.

IMG_4552Domaine de la Sangliere ($16)
Maison Saint Aix ($19)
La Vidaubanaise ($15)
The second course was lamb brochette with white beans and shaved Brussels sprouts. Yes, lamb with rosé, and it worked! The herbal notes in the dish played off the wine brilliantly. This flight included two more robust rosés and one red blend. They all paired so nicely with the dish; I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. The pink wines had red fruit, bigger, silky mouthful. The Roubine had a lot of grapefruit, herb, acid. Our one red of the lunch was black fruit, cocoa, and an intoxicating mouthfeel. Delicious.
IMG_4553

Domaine Houchart Saint-Victoire ($19)
Cuvee Classique Chateau Roubine ($25)
Chateau Vignelaure ($30,red)
Our dessert course was chosen to reflect the region’s propensity to serve cheese and nuts for a final course rather than sweets. Chef Curren hit every note with a goat cheese tart with fig, pistachio, honey, and lemon. I ate every bite. With the final course, Craig paired some really aromatic wines, each with a slightly different structure and color. This final flight was a great reflection of how color is simply a matter of grape and soil, not an indication of complexity.
Chateau Paradis ($20)
Hecht & Bannier Cotes de Provence ($18)
Ikon Rose ($35)
Let me be clear, I am biased. I went into this lunch with a firm stance on rosé. I love it. I love it in the summer and as an alternative to white in the winter. Now, granted, our winter here in Texas is mild. However, my favorite whites are acidic and crisp. I am not generally a fan of whites in a winter coat (aka oaky whites). But if I want something lighter to start a meal or sip on a warmer day, rosé provides the body, acidity, minerality to go in many directions.
Thank you to Wines of Provence, Arro, Chef Andrew Curren, and Master Sommelier Craig Collins for a wonderful lunch and for creative examples of pairing and variety in options for drinking pink.
(Lunch was provided by Wines of Provence as a promotion for the region. I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.)