It's the holidays, time for indulgence. I pulled up to Sabrina's with two bottles of wine and a cauliflower gratin. My contributions were a Non-vintage Guy Larmandier Rose Brut and a 1993 Tokay Aszu 5 Puttonyos. Sabrina had already opened a 1995 Gruet Blanc de Blanc and a 2003 Wehlener Sonnenur Riesling Kabinett from SA Prum. Joining us were Alan and Susanna, Patrick and Tara, Hilary, Jossiene, Eric and Marc. We nibbled on Smoked Coho, King and Keta Salmon all pairing beautifully with the acidity and toastiness of the Gruet. Next we popped the Guy Larmandier. The beautiful aroma carried dried raspberries, biscuit and slate with a bracing acidity that cut through the richness of salmon AND hummus. Jossiene has been tutoring me in properly pronouncing French. She is from the Juras region of France but has lived here in the States for many years. After successfully pronouncing the Champagne label Sabrina looked at Patrick and said "We won't be able to work with him from now on". I am bad at correcting people. . .I guess. Eric pulled the leg of lamb off the grill to rest as we sat down to the table and surveyed the other bottles. Patrick and Tara provided a 1996 Chateau La Cardone Haut-Medoc (which oddly enough was predominantly Merlot), Alan and Susanna brought a 2000 Andre Brunel Les Sambiches Cotes-du-Rhone Villages, our good friend Brett (who wasn't present) gave us a 2004 Tablas Creek Cotes de Tablas Rouge AND a 2003 Treana Rouge, Sabrina whisked out of her cellar a 1995 Argiano Brunello di Montalcino and a 2005 Renwood Amador Ice Zinfandel. What a lineup!
We began with the Tablas Creek, it gave off aromas of cranberry and pomegranate and light smoke. On the palate the acid was bright but the alcohol was high. Maybe if we gave the bottle a bit more time to air the alcohol would have dissipated somewhat. The Treana, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and syrah, was big, full-bodied and packed with berry jam. The nose had cocoa, blackberries and light earth. On the palate I tasted coffee, blackberry and chocolate covered raspberries that were carried by heavy tannins. The Andre Brunel delivered heavy aromas of earth, fennel, and dark stone influenced fruit. These aromas carried over to the palate (god bless old world wines) and screamed out for the lamb.
Hitting their stride, the old world wines of the lineup got better and better. The Argiano 1995 Brunello di Montalcino gave forth barnyard, cranberry, sage and lavender on the nose. The flavors of leather, dried red cherry, and dried herbs paired well with the lamb. Each bite and sip combined into one new, dare I say transcendent, flavor. The 1996 Chateau la Cardone Haut Medoc had a nose of cigar box, cedar, dried meat and dried berries with a rich luscious finish. The palate displayed earth, graphite and vibrant tannins that lingered and lingered.
All of these wines were so amazing, rare, beautiful and engaging. They paired wonderfully all of the dishes: cauliflower gratin with cream, garlic and gruyere; sweet potato puree with rosemary; and a lovely, earthy roasted lamb studded with garlic.
After dinner we had a glorious spread of artisanal cheeses such as Cabrales (Spain), Roaring 40's (Australia) and Humboldt Fog (California). The cheeses aided in showcasing the 1993 Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos from Hungary. This wine was liquid sun with layers of honey, dates, caramelized sugar, flowers. . .the list goes on. It took me some time to get over just smelling it much less tasting it. The texture and acidity carried the cheese and lifted them all to another level.
As if that wasn't enough, Sabrina had prepared an espresso tart to pair with a 2005 Renwood Amador Ice Zinfandel. This cryoextracted dessert zinfandel had acid and fruit which not only cut through the richness of the tart but also amplified the smokiness of the espresso.
This meal will absolutely go down as one of the most outstanding, exceptional dinners I've ever had. I've always felt that when you get good friends together that is the basis for everything. Everything after that is icing. The food and wine held flavors that I've never experienced before.
As much as I'm glad to be in Memphis spending Christmas with Kelly and our dogs, I do wish I was in Indiana with my family. By now, my parents and I would have been headlong into our first bottle of Tempranillo. It would have been nice to watch my niece tear open her presents. It's okay. I'll see them in a few weeks.
Sundays, as I've said before, are my days to cook. I try to do something special, not outrageous, just full of love, flavor and care. In the process of creation, I'm always paying attention to how the meal will pair with wine. What wine will go best? What flavors should I add to the dish to mirror/contrast the wine?
Recently, I had the urge to cook some duck. There were two wines I had in mind for this dish. The first was a 2004 Savigny-Les-Beaune from Joseph Drouhin. This wine has a light ruby color, elevated (but not overpowering) acidity, a gorgeous array of earth, and soft fruit profile. The second was a 2001 Chianti Classico Riserva from Luiano. The bright acidity (typical of Sangiovese), medium-full body, and berry-fruit characteristics seemed perfect for duck.
I marinated the duck legs in a dash of soy, red wine, pepper, garlic and a dash of pomegranate molasses. After a few hours of marinating, I laid them on a baking sheet and roasted them in the oven. While they were roasting I prepared some red rice, english pea pods, and a dried cherry sauce with red wine, balsamic vinegar, shallots and a dash of pomegranate molasses to mirror the marinade.
Finally it was time to test my wine theory. The acidity of the red burgundy cut through the richness of the duck, the fruit and the acid in the wine mirrored the dried cherry sauce, and the earthiness popped out to go with the gamy quality of the duck. Delicious.
Unfortunately, I couldn't test my theory about the Chianti. It was corked. Oh well, I'll just have to try it again!
I did it! I actually did it! I am officially a Certified Sommelier! On November 13th I successfully passed the Court of Master Sommelier's Certified Sommelier Exam. It was unbelievably difficult, but I pulled it off. This can only lead to bigger and better things. Even though it takes a few years for new vines to produce quality grapes, the world of wine changes at a rapid pace. There are new wines and new wine regions emerging on a regular basis. It's a pleasure to keep up.
So Sorry that I haven't posted in FOREVER, but I've been spending all my spare time studying for the Certified Sommelier Exam. More on that later, back to Wine Country . . .Kelly and I have been to Northern California wine country before, mainly Napa. However, I've always been a HUGE fan of Sonoma wines. Therefore, I wanted to focus this trip on Sonoma; specifically the Russian River AVA and Dry Creek AVA. The Russian River Pinots are beautiful and silky, the Dry Creek Zinfandels are powerful and luscious. We headed north out of San Francisco with the top down on our Mustang convertible; the sun beating down and the ocean breeze cooling us off. We popped in the audio cd "Napa Uncorked" narrated by David Hyde Pierce, pick this up for your next trip to Northern California. I did want to stop by Failla in St. Helena to check out what Turley's winemaker, Ehren Jordan, was up to at his new winery. There was an unfortunate miscommunication between us and the winery so we missed our appointment. Oh well, since we were in Napa I wanted to check out Cliff Lede in the Stag's Leap District. I've heard so much about their S. Anderson sparkling wines that I had to try them for myself. The tasting room was warm and luscious with wood and granite and large windows to stream in light. I was pleasantly surprised by their Petite Sirah (one of my favorite varietals). It was dark, rich, bold and filled with black fruits with big tannin. Yet it wasn't overpowering and jarring the way an overextracted Aussie Shiraz can be. Next up was what I came for, the S. Anderson bubbly. I tasted the 2000 Brut and the 1999 Blanc de Blancs, both were outstanding. The Brut was crisp and mineral-filled with bright citrus peel and biscuit aromas. The Blanc de Blancs had apple, pear, white peach and limestone aromas. We left with a bottle of the 2004 Petite Sirah and the 2000 Brut Rose. Onward . . .
We headed out of the Stag's Leap District toward Santa Rosa in search of Siduri. If you haven't experienced Siduri wines (and they are an "experience"), I implore you to go immediately to your favorite wine shop and buy a bottle of their wine. They produce only Pinot Noir (their sister winery, Novy, which is housed in the same facility produces Syrah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and sometimes Pinot Meunier). The winemaking facility is in a warehouse park just outside of the Charles Schultz airport in Santa Rosa. It is very minimalist, no bells and whistles here. Obviously they focus all their energy on what goes in the bottle, rather than how to showcase it. What's inside the bottle is awe-inspiring. Their Pinots aren't cheap, but they are worth every penny (and I rarely say that). Some highlights were the 2005 Russian River (even being so young it was drinking beautifully), and the 2005 Rosella's Vineyard (which was luscious but needed some bottle time. Jill Kennedy, the National Sales Manager, led us through the facility showing us the incoming grapes, the hopper, fermenting bins and the barrel room. We also had the pleasure of tasting, from barrel, the 2005 Novy Christensen Family Syrah, Gary's Vineyard Syrah, and Rosella's Vineyard Syrah. They were all amazing, each with their own terroir, simply beautiful. The Christensen was my favorite, with supple tannins, blackberry fruit, rosemary aromas, and a long finish. Even in barrel it was showing signs of how amazing it will be. The Siduri experience was amazing.
To celebrate my 30th birthday, my partner Kelly and I decided (well, I really decided) to take a trip out to the beautiful Sonoma Valley. Being in the business I was able to set up a few appointments with wineries beforehand. After a smooth 4 1/2 hour flight from Memphis we landed in San Francisco, a former home of mine. Our friend Cori picked us up from the airport and whisked us into the city. We had the whole day before us to play around in the city. We went down to the Ferry Building Marketplace (a must for any foodie) and had some wine at the Winebar. Service was kind of "ehh" but the wine was good. I almost purchased a bottle of Vega Sicilia's second label but the alcohol was a bit too high for a Spanish wine. I was concerned that it would be hot. We left the Ferry Building and walked towards Union Square. We then stopped at First Crush. This delightful little wine bar was beautifully stylized and had a lovely menu. Our server had been to Memphis and I recognized her (small world). After the recognition our server proceeded to shower us with wine and food. You've got to check this place out when in SF. Cori had to work the next morning so she bowed out at this point. We regrouped back at her and her husband's apartment in Noe Valley, and then Kelly and I went back out on the town. We found an amazing little place called Hotel Biron. Located in an alley behind the Zuni Cafe (which we had dinner at later in the week, I'll get to that), Hotel Biron looks like it belongs in Barcelona or Prague. It's very minimal and sleek, not to mention miniscule, and so very comfortable. With a wine list to die for (kudos to whomever put it together) and a small menu of cheeses and charcuterie, it had everything we were looking for. Kelly and I split a bottle of 1997 Calera Mt. Harlan Pinot Noir. The wine displayed gamey aromas of dried leather, dark earth, licorice and dried cherry. It had aged gracefully into a structured wine with black cherry, tea and espresso on the palate. Lovely!
As I said before, I love putting on some great music to cook to. But sometimes there is nothing more I need than the beautiful sound of a meal. It is a soundtrack unto itself. The slice of the knife through garlic and onion, the crunch of fresh celery, the sizzle of a piece of fish in olive oil.
The most beautiful noise in the world is my kitchen.
I've recently been tagged (by Colin over at memphiswineevents.blogspot.com and see-sip-taste-hear.blogspot.com, check 'em out) to list my top 5 Things To Eat Before You Die.
1. Blowfish (isn't that the fish that could kill you if not prepared properly?0 2. My grandmother's Saltenas. Ta (that's what we called her growing up) would make these South American beef and vegetable pies about a day or two in advance. She made the dough from scratch and marinated the beef for a day. You haven't lived until you tasted these. My mom does an excellent job preparing these as well. 3. Tapas in a Barcelona bar. When I was over there we would pop into a bar around 6 and they would usually have plates of snacks on the bar to munch on. Usually, the snacks would be octopus, various jamons, olives, etc. The perfect accompaniment to the lovely carafes of Spanish wine we would indulge in. 4. Fresh grapes picked right off the vine. 5. Fresh scallops harvested right out of the ocean.
I've found that it always helps to evaluate what can be saved from a meal. Case in point, I braised some lovely beef short ribs (purchased at the farmer's market!) in red wine, beef stock, onion, garlic, dried thyme and rosemary. After about 8 hours of braising, I pulled the short ribs out and let them cool. After cooling, I pulled the meat off the bone. I sliced some potatoes very thinly and fried them, and topped the chips with the beef, and topped that with a fresh horseradish-garlic marscapone cream. Yum. In the pot I had a LOT of leftover braising liquid. I strained the liquid and reduced that down to about 1 1/2 cups. The short ribs on fresh chips was delicious and paired perfectly with a bottle of Baron Phillipe de Rothschild Escudo Rojo from Argentina. Awesome.
The week after, Kelly and I got together with our friends Max and Marlinee for dinner. I prepared a spice crusted pork loin and served it over the reduced wine sauce. I'm so glad I saved that sauce, it went well with the pork. And it went perfectly with a bottle of 2001 Coturri Jewell Vineyards Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir. The high acidity and bold cherry fruit of the wine complemented the spice crust on the pork.
P.S. Sorry I haven't blogged lately. I'm working on my birthday trip to the Russian River!
I have been reading and hearing a lot lately about Michigan sparkling wines. I am always willing to try wines from different regions of the world, but I was even more curious because I'm a Midwesterner and I love Sufjan Stevens' album "Greetings from Michigan". My best friends Sarah and Jon also just moved to Michigan. This past Sunday Richie and Megan brought over a bottle of L. Mawby Talisman sparkling wine. It had an interesting bottle label, not garish but not too simple. We decided to start off the meal with it, I loooove starting off with bubbles! Upon first sniff I was shocked to detect aromas that I would normally pick up in top quality Champagne. The nose was giving off biscuit, orange peel, pie crust and lemon curd, along with wet stone and chalk. The palate was full of creamy texture and balanced acidity. The lemon curd had carried through along with the orange peel and a hint of spice. To me, it's absolutely thrilling to see that there are passionate winemakers crafting beautiful juice all over this country. Seek them out!
There is not many things more satisfying than putting on a great CD (or hooking up the Ipod to the stereo) and conjuring up a great meal. Music can set the town for that meal, guiding the flavor intensity and choice of herbs or spices. A great song and intoxicating aromas can draw people to the kitchen. Many will offer assistance if the right combination of scents, wine and lyrical inspiration occur. I put on different music for different meals.
For all purpose culinary music I enjoy:
Ibrahim Ferrer "Buenos Hermanos" PJ Harvey "Stories from the City, Stories from The Sea" Rufus Wainwright "Poses" and "Want 1" Imperial Teen "On" Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" Radiohead "The Bends"
This is a small list in a sea of music that I love to play when preparing dinner. The music makes everything flow so beautifully. It puts me in a glowing mood. The produce looks fresher, the fish looks just killed, the meat looks more glorious. A perfect combination of all these components can make for an ethereal experience. A great bottle of red wine, such as Peregrine 2001 Central Otago Pinot Noir, always helps too.
The Ps came to visit this weekend and, like always, it was fueled by great food and wine. On Sunday I prepared a steamer pot of clams and red snapper.
I first diced and sauteed half a large onion and five garlic cloves in olive oil in my sturdy dutch oven (thanks, mom!) After they were nicely colored I tossed in 30 rinsed and cleaned littleneck clams and put the lid on to allow them to steam. Once the clams were slightly open I added about 3/4 a bottle of Vega Sindoa Viura/Chardonnay from Spain, gave them a good stir and popped the lid back on. Once the wine had reduced a bit and the clams were half open I added the snapper filets, some sea salt and about 10 grinds of fresh pepper and popped the lid back on. After one side of the snapper had turned a bit white I flipped the filets over and added about a tablespoon and a half of butter, and returned the lid. 5 minutes later I added a small amount of fresh chopped tarragon and fresh red bell pepper (from Bluebird farmstand at the Farmer's Market) everything was done and ready to eat. On the side we had some nice grilled bread (from Simone the doughgirl at the Farmer's Market) for sopping up the buttery, garlicky, olive oilly, winey broth. Yuuuummmm.
We served 2 bottles with this steamer pot. The first was Epiphany Cellars 2005 Grenache Rose from Santa Barbara (only one case came into Memphis so don't even bother looking for it), and the second was Vina Rey 2003 Tempranillo Crianza. The rose exhibited deep red berry fruit, a nice hit of tannin and lovely complex spice character. The Vina Rey was lush and dark with earthy notes, silky texture, spicy flavors and a lovely finish. Seek it out now!
To ease the pain of my yearning for Spain, I wallowed in a delicious dinner of Spanish cuisine.
First, I prepared a lovely salad of spicy arugula (from the Memphis Farmer's Market, wow), young manchego cheese, shallot, Las Brisas Unfiltered Extra Virgin Olive Oil, heirloom tomato, sherry vinegar and Maldon Sea Salt. The best sea salt EVER!!!
We paired the salad with Ventana Riesling from Arroyo Seco Monterey. The bright acidity and off-dry nature was a perfect counterbalance with the sweet acid in the Sherry vinegar. The Riesling also cut through the richness of the cheese and stood up to the spice in the arugula.
The star dish of the night was my grandmother's recipe (Thank you Ta!) Paella. I tweaked it a bit because I can't just leave well enough alone. The Paella was filled with brown arborio rice, fresh clams, spanish chorizo, fresh shrimp, saffron, red pepper, garlic, tomato, onion, wine and edamame (sorry ta, I didn't know I had sweet peas in the freezer).
The paella was perfect with a 2003 Bacio Divino Pazzo (thanks Richie and Megan!), a blend of Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. It's rich earthiness and bright fruit flowed perfectly into the heady earthiness of the saffron. It was a bit much for the clams but I still had a bit of the Riesling left to drink with that. The chorizo's spicy garlicy deliciousness made the fruit in the wine explode! Incredible.
This meal was a nice salve for my open wounds. A good meal can always make me feel better, and transport back to where I want to be.
The Blue Fish Restaurant, located at 2149 Young Avenue 901.725.0230, will be hosting Robert Shea of Fuedi di San Gregorio winery in Italy from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm Wednesday July 26. Mr. Shea is the National Sales Director for this highly acclaimed Italian winery. The Blue Fish will be serving their regular menu for dinner and featuring these wines by the bottle and by the glass. Fuedi di San Gregorio is well known for its vineyard tactics such as high density planting and strict pruning.
I've had the opportunity to taste the Fiano, Falanghina and Aglianico and all were fabulous. The Fiano exhibits a woodsy earthy character that hits the top of your palate. The Falanghina is a crisp bright wine that follows through with good body and mouthfeel. The Aglianico is an old world wonder, big juicy red with dark red fruits and a hint of soil. The whole line is worth a try, I highly suggest making reservations for this. Call 901.725.0230 for reservations, and visit www.thebluefishmemphis.com for further information on the menu.
Here is what James Suckling of Wine Spectator had to say about the Taurasi Riserva 2001:
Daily Wine Picks July 19, 2006
FEUDI DI SAN GREGORIO Taurasi Piano di Montevergine Riserva2001 (90 points)
Ripe currant, with violets, lots of oak and a hint of charred meat. Full-bodied, with firm, velvety tannins and a long, oaky finish. Silky and fine. Best after 2007. 1,600 cases made.
I went to the Farmer's Market at Central Station downtown this past Saturday to find some inspiration for Sunday's Spanish dinner. I came upon an organic stand. The guy behind the stand said to me "hey, weren't you here a few weeks ago looking for arugula?" I couldn't believe he remembered me! He gave me a taste of the arugula that he said was harvested at 4am that morning. Wow! It's as if I never had arugula ever in my life! This little green was so spicy and pungent, it was amazing! I purchased a clamshell of the greens, and thanked him for remembering me. Last night I made a salad with the spicy arugula, heirloom tomatoes, shallots, manchego cheese, sherry vinegar, olive oil, and finished with some Maldon sea salt (Kelly's fave). It paired wonderfully with a Ventana single vineyard Riesling from Monterey.
Tuesday night Kelly and I met up at Napa Cafe to have some wine. I scanned the list and almost fell out of my chair when I saw they had Chateau Musar 1988....FOR $35!!!! I couldn't believe it. We ordered a bottle and asked them to decant it (which they were very happy to do).
It was transfixing. When I tasted the wine I tasted the vineyard. I tasted the soil the vines grew out of, the air that caressed the grapes, and the sunlight that warmed them. The wine nearly brought tears to my eyes. So rarely do I have the pleasure of enjoying a mature and affordable wine at a restaurant. We so often are subjected to current release wines that may or may not be ready to drink. This was truly special, a gift.
That wine is the perfect example of an establishment that truly cares. Go now to Napa Cafe, have a bottle of Musar (or another one from their INCREDIBLE selection), some great food, and support one of the few restaurants in town that is as passionate about wine as they are about customer service. Independent restaurants always seem to get it right. The chains could care less if you're even there, but the Mom and Pops welcome you.
By the way, Lulu Grille (also in East Memphis) is changing their wine list after many years. Stay tuned with details on that.
Kari and Adrian invited Kelly and I over for dinner the other night so I decided to take some "looking at wine". What is "looking at wine"? Well, Kelly always gets mad at me because he'll come home and ask "do we have any wine to drink?" To which I'll reply "no". He then will proceed into the kitchen where he'll open the wine fridge and gaze at the 40 some odd bottles slumbering on their sides. "What is this then?" he'll ask, "looking at wine? We don't have any drinking wine?" Funny.
So anyway, I decided to reach into my collection and take something nice over. I decided upon a bottle of Panther Creek Winemaker's Cuvee 2000 Pinot Noir. Kari loves Pinot so I thought this might be a good choice.
We started with New Age White over ice with a twist of lime. This fabulous aperitif is a semi-sparkling white wine from Argentina. It is delicious and totally gets the palate ready for food.
Adrian plated up the food which was a Southwestern smoked chicken grilled with avocado, pico de gallo and mozzarella served with spiced rice. Fantastic! I popped open the Panther Creek. It was incredible!!! The Pinot had matured into a subtle, elegant, earthy, dried cherry, hints of tea, glass full of beauty. It's sad to think that I can't get anymore of it. The cuisine was lightly spiced so it didn't overpower the wine at all.
I've been thinking about Spain a lot lately. And that's saying something because I already think about that country at least once a day. Spanish wine, food, architecture, etc. Thoughts have been constantly with me. Memories of my beautiful summer in Barcelona are resurfacing at a feverish pace. But they are starting to become fuzzy. I need to return to plug back in to my heritage and culture. I need to walk the streets and alleys of Sevilla, drink the cheapest (and best tasting!) carafe of red wine in the tiny little tapas bars in Barcelona, gorge myself on the fresh baby octopus and chorizo piled on plates on the bartop at those tapas bars.......*sigh*.
That country is calling to me.
I want my mother to take me to the places she loved so much as a child. I want to take my father to places I fell in love with while I was there. I want to walk through my aunt's apartment again and gaze out the windows at the street below.
Sometimes when I taste something in a wine or a flavor in a dish, flashes of memories return to me. Sometimes it is the interior of a cathedral in Galicia or the courtyard in the back of Tia Raquel's apartment. Sometimes it's the smell of the dust rising up from the bullring, or the scent of the trees in the hills above Barcelona.
I'll get back there again. For now, I must satisfy that pulling feeling with good Spanish wine, paella and dreams.
The conceptual artist Anya Gallacio is elevating Zinfandel to art. Anya, whose previous installations include 10,000 rose petals arranged on a gallery floor and left to shrivel, is turning her sights on the sense of place. That place being Sonoma County, her palette consisting of different Zinfandel blocks from around the county. Her winemaking collaborator in this? The world renowned Zelma Long and Barbara Lindblom. Read about it in last Sunday's New York Times. If you don't get the Times you can read it online at nytimes.com. I've always felt that wine is art. No one can dissuade me from believing I can "feel, smell and taste" the artisanal soul that goes into a bottle of wine. Yes, I know that a lot of wine out there is industrial grade plonk, but from time to time I come across a wine that makes me see and feel all those things. And I cherish every moment.
I can't help it. I get excited, near frenzy, when drinking wine and discussing wine. It might seem as if I've lost myself in it, but I'd rather like to think that I've found myself. Nothing for me is more exciting than tasting wine and deciphering every single nuance and layer. A truly exceptional wine can be haunting. The flavors, aromas and textures adhering to every crevice of my body. When a wine takes hold of me it never lets go. I taste many wines on a regular basis, I'm not talking about those typical wines. Once in a while, a wine will come along and catch me off guard, slipping inside my tongue and my soul. Those are the wines I never forget.
Since relinquishing myself to my passion for wine, I never once have had a second thought about pursuing another career path. Quite frankly, I wouldn't be any good at (much less anywhere near as passionate about) doing anything else. So why do anything else?
I am a HUGE fan of Coturri Winery in Sonoma. It's a divisive winery that you either fanatically love or can't stand. They make huge, powerful wines that are not for the faint of heart. These wines can handle a lot. Case in point . . .
Recently, Megan was sitting on my back porch munching on some Pop Rocks while Richie and I were sipping on some Coturri 2004 Merlot Maclise Vineyard. This massive Merlot spewed forth aromas of blackberry jam (and some crayon according to my friend Amy, good nose!). The alcohol was a little high (15.7%!) but didn't seem hot. We were raving about how over the top it was so Megan decided to see how it did up against Pop Rocks. Much to everyone's surprise, the wine held it's own! Which goes to show you that you'll never know when or where you might find a good pairing.
The dynamic duo brought their lovely selves over to our house Sunday evening for a little blind tasting action. Along with two bottles of wine they brought yummy blue cheese and feta cheese stuffed olives, Cabernet soaked cheddar, delicious crackers and some Danish blue. I grilled some red wine and blueberry glazed pork tenderloin. Off we go!
The first wine was white and REALLY threw me off. I smelled limestone and wet rock but thought it was a Sauvignon Blanc. Silly me. It, of course, turned out to be a Chablis, La Chablisienne Cuvee LC to be exact. Doh!
Up next was a dark and rich red wine with gorgeous dark and earthy fruit. I initially thought it was a grenache, then switched to a syrah. I should have listened to my gut. It was the 2004 Las Rocas Garnacha. For $10 a bottle everyone should by this by the case.
#3 had a ruby color and light body, but with tons of fruit. I guessed that it was a new world Italian varietal such as Barbera, Sangiovese or Dolcetto. It was revealed to be Scott Harvey Barbera from Amador County.
#4 was so dark that Megan couldn't even read through it. The intense nose just poured out of the glass, the body was medium to full and the finish lasted a good deal of time on the sides of the palate. This little lovely was revealed to be the 1999 Falcone Cabernet Sauvignon from the Garda DOC in Italy. Wonderful.
Take every opportunity to blind taste. It's humbling....but a lot of fun at the same time.
I have been out of pocket lately and I supremely apologize for the lack of posts. I have been packing my head and palate with wine knowledge in order to prepare for the Introductory Sommelier Course. I will be posting soon!
Just to let you know. I passed the Intro level, with flying colors!
Sundays are my days to cook. This Sunday was no different. Kelly informed me that we had dinner plans with our friends Scott and Dana. Since they have a son who is nearly 2, we thought it would be more convenient for them if we had dinner at their house. We packed up the dogs (Otis and Hank), grabbed the food I prepared and set off for Mississippi.
I prepared a fresh crab salad with fresh ginger, garlic, red wine vinegar, fresh lychees and olive oil. I served that with crispy focaccia crostini to spread the salad on. I also prepared a salad of sweet snap pea pods, walnuts, goat's milk feta, shallots, strawberries and spinach with a light vinaigrette.
Both of these dishes paired wonderfully with a 2005 Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir. This light pale rose has bright hints of strawberry which played well off the spinach salad. The white flower notes and light acidity complemented the crab salad very well.
Scott prepared beef carpaccio with parmesan and olive oil, an herbed cheese spread with crackers, and mini spiced burgers. All of these dishes worked incredibly well with the 2002 Coturri "Red Series" Sangiovese. This particularly wine is full bodied with an almost Amarone-like quality. Its fruit and tannin worked a perfect contrast to the beef.
My stomach is grumbling all over again.
For dessert I prepared fresh mango slices drizzled with a blue cheese sabayon. The mango was super ripe and sweet. Therefore, I felt it needed some salty richness to balance it out. I didn't add too much blue cheese to the sayabon, just enough to give it the kick it needed. It worked together perfectly, if I do say so myself, and wasn't difficult to make at all. This dish paired nicely with the season finale of The Sopranos. The sweet salty richness livened up the BORING episode. Sorry Kelly.
I should be studying right now and not blogging, but I just can't help it. I'm set to take the Introductory Sommelier Course with the Court of Master Sommeliers next week and I'm not sure if I'm ready. Maybe I'll blind taste tonight or get some reading done at work today. I should. No matter how much knowledge I think I have, there will always be more to gain. That is the reason why I got into this in the first place. I'm constantly challenged and excited all at the same time. Cheers!
In today's Dining Section of the New York Times there is an article about the Bierzo wine region of Spain. Here in Memphis Spanish wines are hot, hot, hot! People are wild about them for a number of different reasons.
1. They are absolutely delicious 2. Most of the wines are value priced 3. They offer something different
The article goes on to describe Bierzo as an out of the way region that has not sacrificed it's traditional grape, Mencia, for fashionable grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Some of the mencia vines are 40-100 years old! That's old vine for you.
Unfortunately, Bierzo's presence in Memphis is fairly weak. I did see one bottle at Joe's on Poplar and would recommend starting there.
My friends and I will use any opportunity to cook. Paula and Doug came in town from Louisville to visit; and it just so happened to be Doug's birthday. So Kristi, Jeff and I decided to prepare a birthday meal for Doug. We got together to brainstorm over coffee. Halfway through our discussion, two men sitting near us told us to keep it down. We thought at first that they were being rude, but it turned out that we were just making them hungry. We had the menu planned and our courses assigned. Off we went.
At 5 on Sunday Phil, Jeff, Paula, Doug, Kristi and Warner arrived and the feast began. I asked that everyone bring rose wine. Rose, I felt, would best pair with the spicy flavors on this menu. I also prepared a fresh pitcher of mojitos to start off the dinner.
Jeff prepared some incredible mini tostadas with spiced refried black beans topped with a mango-jicama slaw and queso fresco, puff pastries stuffed with chorizo and manchego cheese, and chipotle cheddar mashed potatoes stuffed inside a grilled red pepper.
Kristi prepared crispy jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheddar, roasted root vegetables, grilled bbq shrimp, spiced brownies and cinnamon ice cream.
I cooked grilled corn salad with avocado and red pepper in a cumin-orange vinaigrette, and a spice crusted grilled london broil.
Accompanying this spice-laden meal were some lovely wines. Rose is a perfect partner to spice. The full fruit and refreshing quality of rose complements and contrasts spicy flavors in food. The Vision Cellars Rose was full bodied and packed with cherry and berry fruit with a crisp dry finish. The Remy Pannier Rose d'Anjou had light hints of watermelon with a slight off-dry quality. Toad Hollow Eye of The Toad Rose of Pinot Noir was light, refreshing, and full of bright fruit.
Anytime is a good time to prepare a wonderful meal, but food and wine always taste better when you surround yourself with loved ones. Happy Birthday Doug!
Last week Sabrina, Patrick, Hillary and I met at Sabrina's for a little blind tasting of Sauvignon Blanc. And yes, Sabrina, at first I was a little skeptical. I've always enjoyed Sauvignon Blanc and truly believe they have their place on the table when it comes to a multi-course meal. But I've never really looked at the grape with a critical eye. This was going to be fun.
We all brought a bottle of wine and gave it to Eric to tuck away from us all. He was the master pourer, the one who held the bottles and protected them from prying eyes. Hillary brought a delectable selection of goat's cheeses, Patrick brought a tasty herbed goat's cheese and Sabrina made shrimp and grits and a killer grilled tuna steak. I prepared a fresh salmon ceviche with dill, cilantro, habanero pepper, tangerine, mango, lime and avocado.
Wine #1 was a very pale pale yellow with a tint of light green. Very clear and bright with a clean fresh look about it. We all guessed it was 1-2 years old. On the nose I detected floral notes with a bit of fresh ginger and fresh fresh citrus. The first taste was like taking a bite out of a fresh granny smith apple. It had tart bright acidity with a hint of lime zest. The consensus was that it was New World, either 2004 or 5. I guessed it was around 12-12.5% alcohol. Eric pulled off the brown bag and revealed Mulderbosch 2005 from Stellenbosch South Africa.
Wine #2 also had a light pale green tinge to it, but was a bit darker than #1. The aroma was very herbaceous with a bit of nut and lemon rind. The palate revealed a very full mouthfeel but with quite a hot finish. I guessed maybe California, 1-2 years old. We all felt that the quality of this wine was considerably lower than #1, and that it was vastly more manipulated. It turned out to also be from South Africa. It was Kumala 2005.
Wine #3 had a bit of golden color and was less pale than 1 or 2; yet was still clear and fresh looking. The scent of grapefruit practically smacked me in the face. The grapefruit aroma gave way to hints of fresh cut asparagus with light fresh cut grass and an herbaceous tone. The palate displayed sweet fruit with hints of pineapple and other tropical notes. The grapefruit characteristic led me to believe that it might have been from New Zealand. Maybe 2 years old. We all guessed that it was good quality. Eric pulled back the brown bag and revealed Cloudy Bay 2004.
Wine #4 displayed a pale almost light golden color. On the nose was a very floral aroma with a touch of ginger, some spicy characteristics and hint of lemongrass. The palate had a bit of minerality with limestone, lime zest and wet rock. It was not very mouthfilling, more razor sharp. I really fluctuated between guessing New World or Old World. The style really led me to believe it was Old World because of its elegance. I was wrong. This little wine was from St Supery, Napa Valley 2004.
All in all, this was very educational AND a lot of fun.
On a beautiful recent Sunday evening our unnamed club of wine aficionados met to indulge our taste buds. Kelly was off work so he joined us as we plunged headlong into some very delicious bottles.
First up was a 2004 Rose of Pinot Noir from Luddite Vineyards. Kelly and I picked up this bottle at Crush Wine Company on our trip to Manhattan last October. Only 68 cases of this vintage was produced! The only two places to purchase this wine is at Crush and The French Laundry in Napa Valley. The owner/winemaker of Luddite is a passionate man who strongly believes in high quality hand-crafted wines. This rose exhibited a beautiful clear strawberry color with cherry sorbet or jam, red raspberry and white flower aromas. The bright fruit and balanced acidity on the palate was beautiful. I would pair this wine with full-bodied olive oil and lightly spiced grilled pork sausage.
Next we opened a 2001 Les Cousins Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley. Beaux Freres hand selected this wine as a personal cuvee for Robert Kacher. The vineyards that these grapes were sourced from hold some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in Oregon. The nose displayed beautiful pinot fruit, spice and earth. At first taste, the acidity was too high and it almost seemed slightly bubbly. Leading Richie and Megan to think it might have undergone a secondary fermentation in the bottle, much like Champagne. After a few minutes it blew off and the wine settled down into a gorgeous almost Burgundian-style Pinot Noir. It had bright red cherry and blueberry and earth on the nose with soft supple tannins and a very long lasting finish.
Pressing onward we popped open the 2003 Domaine Chandon Carneros Pinot Meunier (thanks Bryce!). Both Richie and I were excitedly expecting a funk bomb of a wine. We were very pleasantly surprised when the wine revealed a fruit forward nose of cherry and rhubarb that continued on the palate! It was not funky at all, but a lovely fruit forward medium bodied wine exhibiting flavors of pomegranate and pie spice. It did have some earth on the nose but in no way was it overpowering. All in all I really enjoyed it. Pair this with black olives and spiced sausage.
And here we came to one of Richie's little jewels from his recent trip to Seattle; K Vintners 2004 "The Boy" a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from Walla Walla Valley. Very impressive. It had a deep dark garnet-like color and a nose that at first was extremely difficult to decipher. We were all working very hard for at least 15 minutes on dismantling the nose to get to the flavors. The winemaker had so tightly integrated the varietals that we couldn't pull out aromas. It was as if a seamstress had woven the wine together, interlocking each varietal so that the aromas of each hit all at once. Finally, we were able to detect fig, slight leather, stewed fruit and black cherry. On the palate was cocoa, huge berries and a slight tea-like character.
Next we had another well traveled wine sourced from Richie and Megan's trip to Seattle, the 2003 Boudreaux Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon. Good god! Two stellar Washington state wines in a row. Both are perfect examples of why Washington wines continue to get an exorbitant amount of press lately. I detected hints of vanilla, cola, dark chocolate and olive on the nose. The wine displayed a rich velvet texture that wallpapered my mouth. Wow! It was full-bodied and the finish went on for miles and miles.
And last, but not least, Michael finally showed up (a certain someone delayed his arrival.....hmmmmph) with a special treat...a 1988 Chateau Graud Larose. This beautifully aged Bordeaux was complex and impressive. It had an elegant aroma of leather, earth and sage. The palate exhibited a smoked meat quality, but it wasn't gamy or overpowering. The fruit on the wine had lightened but was still detectable. Pair with black olives, the olives will amplify the fruit in the wine.
Yet again another INCREDIBLE tasting. Thank you for hosting us Megan and Richie!
You never know what you're going to find when you dig around your favorite wine shop. Yesterday at Joe's on Poplar I found a 1985 Nebbiolo for around $40! The wine was the last vintage made by the original winemaker who died just before its release. They have a little informational sign regarding the wine that, I believe, stated that he died just shy of 100 years old! It's amazing to think what else might be lying around Memphis.
The Chicago City Council voted Wednesday to ban the sale of foie gras, making Chicago the first city in in the U.S. to do so. California has already passed a law that will end the production and sale of foie gras by 2012. Rick Tramanto, executive chef at Tru in Chicago, stated that "Government shouldn't be dictating what we eat, it's just not right". Mayor Daley feels that Chicago shouldn't be wasting time with foie gras and should be focusing on the "real issues in this city".
This is where the grey area lies. I consider myself progressive, liberal and eco-conscious. I also am a passionate lover of food. Supposedly, there are humane ways of raising ducks and geese to produce the rich, velvety foie gras. If so, then I say it should be allowed to continue. It is rather delicious. Is that heartless?
My father called me the other night to tell me that he was thoroughly enjoying a bottle of Hayman & Hill Pinot Noir that I had given him. Last Christmas I gave my parents a case of wine. It was comprised of really interesting and delicious bottles such as Foris Gewurztraminer, Castello di Monastero Chianti Classico and Venta Mazzaron Tempranillo along with some others. My parents have everything (except that vacation home in the Caribbean, that's coming Mom) so it's usually an interesting feat when purchasing gifts for them. I get my love of cuisine and wine from the both of them, so a gift of wine seemed natural. Also, they live in a small town in Illinois and therefore do not have access to as much of a selection as we do here in Memphis. I even found two beautiful wooden wine boxes to put them in. Which my dad, being the craftsman that he is, turned into wall art for their bar. Every time they pop open a bottle of wine from that Christmas collection, they call me to express how much they are enjoying it. Sometimes they call me to ask my advice on what wine to open with the meal they are about to have.
I can't express how good it feels to know they are enjoying my gift. My mother and father are the reason why I love to cook good food and drink good wine. The kitchen was always the heart of our home and the room that holds the most memories for me. They instilled in me an experimental palate and a desire to create and share. I'm so passionate about wine and food that it was only right to give back to that original source of passion. My beautiful niece Halei, who just turned 2 in February, already loves to cook and loves to eat. I can already foresee that she will be a great cook and I hope that I will be able to pass along that passion for cooking that my parents passed to me.
Spring, as usual, will probably last about 10 seconds here in balmy Memphis. With that being said, I guess we should prepare ourselves to make the inevitable leap to summertime wines. My list of such wines include riesling and rose.
The New York Times food section published an article in the 4.12.06 issue on German rieslings, one of my ABSOLUTE favorite styles of wine. These wines go with practically all foods, especially spicy Asian cuisine, and can run the gamut from dry to sweet to late harvest dessert style. They are perfect for sipping on a patio on an oppressively hot Memphis day. I recommend picking up rieslings from Rudolf Muller (especially the Kabinett and Eiswein), Dr. Thanisch or J.J. Prum. Great Wines and Spirits in the Regalia shopping center (682.1333) has a good stock of all of these wines, try Joe's on Poplar as well. If you can't find what your after, either shop should be able to special order for you.
For the red wine drinkers who feel they couldn't possibly stoop to drinking white wine (what is wrong with you, I mean really??) there are some INCREDIBLE rose wines out there. Rose gives a red drinker the satisfaction and body that accompanies a red wine with the crispness and cool refreshing qualities of a white wine. My favorites include: Saintsbury Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, Susana Balbo Crios Rose of Malbec, E Guigal Cotes Du Rhone Rose, Bonny Doon Big House Pink and Fife Redhead Rose.
I recently was asked to lead a food and wine pairing at a private residence in Harbor Town in downtown Memphis. The host (thanks, Joe!) wanted to have a few friends over for dinner but wanted to do something a little different. I felt up to the challenge so I agreed to do it.
To welcome the guests I had prepared a edamame dip with rice crackers. The dip had lovely flavors of garlic, ginger and a hint of soy to whet their appetites. The first course was red wine poached figs stuffed with blue cheese and walnuts and drizzled with pomegranate molasses. I paired the figs with Castellblanch Rosado cava, a bright and fruity sparkling rose from Spain. The fruit in the cava mirrored the figs, contrasted the saltiness of the blue cheese, and complimented the tartness of the molasses.
Next up were grilled chicken skewers with a pad thai dipping sauce comprised of coconut milk, peanut butter, garlic, ginger, soy, chilis and lime. This I paired with McWilliam's Dry Riesling from South Australia. The lime zest hints in the wine picked up the lime in the sauce while the spice amplified the fruit in the wine. It was a harmonious pairing of flavors that everyone should try.
The main course was marinated flank steak seared rare and topped with a chimmichurri sauce paired with Antis Malbec from Argentina. The wine's supple tannins complimented the beef while the olive oil in the sauce brought out the wine's red fruit flavors. The slight spice from the chilis in the sauce mirrored the slight spiciness of the wine.
Lastly was a chocolate souffle paired with Clocktower Port and Coturri Chauvet Vineyards Old Vines Zinfandel. What way to end! The sweet fruit of both wines amplified the souffle's chocolatey richness. The souffle also brought out a hint of cocoa that I had never detected in the Zin.
All in all I had a blast preparing the food and pairing the wine. I could definitely tell that the guests enjoyed themselves just as much.
I can't wait to do it again! Bring on a new set of tastebuds!
Recently I drove down to Baldwyn, MS to lead a wine tasting at the Old Post Office restaurant. Jim Davis, CFO of Stanford Financial Group is a native of Baldwyn and has reinvested in the town by opening this restaurant as well as a design shop across the street. The town itself lies in two counties. The county line runs straight down the center of Main Street. The Old Post Office is on one side of Main and the shop is on the other. One county is dry and one is wet. Obviously, the restaurant is on the wet side.
My friends Patrick and Deni Reilly (who are opening The Majestic Grill in the old Gordon Biersch space in downtown Memphis) brought me down to Baldwyn to lead this tasting. Patrick and I decided it would be fun to theme the tasting "Old World vs New World". We tasted a 2002 Barton & Geustier Loire Valley Vouvray, a 2000 Pine Ridge Napa Chardonnay, a 1996 Chateau Gloria Bordeaux, and a 2001 Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot.
The crowd had never really experienced a wine tasting format before and most were very eager to learn and interact with me. I had maps and printouts to show tasters so that they would have a frame of reference of where the wines came from. The food Patrick had prepared really paired well with different wines. I instructed the tasters to try the Shrimp Dill pastries with the Vouvray, the Smoked Salmon toasts or the Baked Brie with the Chardonnay, and the smoked duck with cherries with both the Merlot and the Bordeaux.
All in all everyone had a wonderful time and I can't wait to do it again. Opening up people's minds, and mouths, to new flavors is always so rewarding.
Sorry it's taken me so long to post again but I've been a bit busy.
Back to San Francisco.
On Friday we went to the Ferry Building down on the bay. Every foodie and culinary explorer in the world owes it to themselves to get there NOW! The building is packed with stalls, stands, storefronts and cafes that the mere sight of electrifies the tastebuds. The Slanted Door, the perennial vietnamese favorite, has relocated to the building; and The Cowgirl Creamery has an outpost here. At one point I had to stop and rebalance myself because my head was near explosion due to sensory overload.
We picked up some sandwiches at Lulu Petite and sat down at the Ferry Building Wine Bar for some vino. My sandwich was INCREDIBLE! I ate blood orange and tomato braised pork with fontina on ciabatta bread. Wow wow wow. It paired perfectly with the Gruner Veltliner we ordered. I truly could have stayed in that building all day long.
We descended into San Francisco International Airport after a horrible flight, and wandered into beautiful weather. It's absolutely imperative for someone involved in food and wine to travel. No matter where you live there are always exciting tastes and flavors to be explored elsewhere. These trips are necessary for inspiration. As I was saying, the weather was beautiful so we made a short trip to Cori and Joel's apartment to drop off our bags. We then walked next door to Le Zinc to sip wine and snack on the patio. I drank a sparkling rose from Burgundy, Kelly had a Rhone Valley red blend, and Joel had a Loire Valley sauvignon blanc. We split duck and pork rilletes, lamb sausage and Morbier cheese in a crepe, and crispy Camembert drizzled with truffle oil. Absolutely killer!
Cori joined us after returning for work and we set off for Cha Cha Cha, a Latin American restaurant in the Haight-Ashbury district. We split a pitcher of sangria (almost as good as my mom's but not quite) and settled into a table in the middle of the PACKED front dining room. Even though we were squashed into a small table right up against two other tables, we were having such a good time that we quickly forgot how cramped we were. The restaurant has the coolest Central American religious altars I have ever seen. They are literally everywhere in the place.
We dined on ceviche, pork quesadillas and plantains. The ceviche was hauntingly good. It was packed with octopus, shrimp, fish and scallops. I have never in my life had octopus so tender and succulent. Kelly was a little wary of it but oh well, more for me. The pork was slow cooked to perfection and seasoned beautifully. Our plantains were sweet but not cloying, and even though they were fried they were not greasy at all. They served them with a deliciously creamy black bean sauce that I literally could have poured all over myself, it was that good! After polishing off another pitcher of sangria we headed over to the Fairmont Hotel for some tiki drinks at the Tonga Room.
The Tonga Room is wild. Seriously. We felt as if we were in Bora Bora on some patio bar. It has a small lagoon where it rains and thunders every 20 minutes. They also have the stiffest drinks in town. Kelly and I shared a Lava Bowl before he and Cori shaked their groove things to the Polynesian cover band. It was soooo much fun. If you go to SF, be sure to go to Cha Cha Cha for dinner and Tonga Room for drinks.
Last week some wine loving friends and I gathered together for a tasting. We've been trying to host them on a regular basis but invariably something comes up with someone and we have to postpone. Oh well. Bryce, Elizabeth, Michael and I went over to Richie and Megan's apartment to pop some bottles. Richie had already decanted a 2002 Henschke Keyneton Estate Euphonium Shiraz. It had been resting peacefully in its gorgeous glass container, waiting to be drunk. He had also opened a bottle of 1999 Modus Ruffino to let it breathe and blossom. We all were anxious to taste this particular bottle because the 2000 vintage that Richie brought to an earlier tasting was corked. He had taken that bottle back and had it replaced with the '99, which, according to critics, was a much better vintage.
We started off with Michael's bottle, a 1998 Marcel Deiss Gewurztraminer from Alsace. It had a beautiful nose of peaches and jasmine. The mouthfeel was voluptuous and creamy with bright acidity and tasted of honey and ginger. Gorgeous wine, absolutely gorgeous. Pair this wine with gorgonzola or some other salty blue cheese.
Next up was the '99 Modus Super Tuscan. I smelled red raspberry, red pepper and fennel. On the palette was a strong flavor of leather and earth with balanced acidity and firm tannin. Pair this wine with strawberries or prosciutto. The berry flavors complement the strawberry and the earthiness mirrors the earthy flavors of the prosciutto.
Then we tasted the bottle I brought, 2002 Anderson's Conn Valley Vineyards Right Bank. This particular wine is a blend of cabernet franc and merlot. It had been quietly blossoming in the decanter that Michael brought (thanks Michael) while we were enjoying the two previous little gems. The reason I brought this wine was completely based on Michael and Richie's reaction when I suggested previously that I might bring it. They both grew HUGE grins on their face and grunted "Yeah, yeah, yeah bring that!" Okay, back to the wine. On the nose there were violets and cinnamon and hint of sweet vanilla. The taste was all sweet fruits, figs, plum; with medium tannins. TASTY TASTY TASTY!
And then we tasted the 2000 Clos Mimi Bunny Slope Vineyard Syrah (Thanks Mr. Burhop!). I was especially psyched about this wine since I've lately been drinking, and loving, syrah. The nose had hay loft notes, cedar, and what I said smelled like a berry bush in the center of a briar patch. The taste was a bursting mouthful of raspberries. I definitely think this wine could still age some more and it would still be KILLER.
Continuing with the syrah lover's wet dream, we tasted the 2002 Henschke Keyneton Estate Euphonium Single Vineyard Shiraz. It poured forth scents of chocolate, black cherry and pie crust. I could taste coffee, blueberry, earth and chocolate. In my notes I wrote "Very F***ing good"
Last of the night was a 2002 Williams Selyem Russian River Forchini Vineyard Zinfandel. On the nose was stewed fruit, raspberry & blueberry compote, and rich dark cocoa. The taste very closely mirrored the nose. I was extremely impressed. This wine was the perfect ending to a stellar tasting.
Thank you, Richie and Megan, for hosting this awesome lineup. And thank you Michael, Bryce and Elizabeth for the KICK ASS bottles you contributed.
For those of you who have not visited the Winchester Farmer's Market (at the corner of Kirby and Winchester), you are truly missing out. I took my good friends Richie and Meagan out there for the first time and they were amazed. It is so energizing to be around people who are culinary "addicts" such as myself. The three of us were hopping around the store like kids on a sugar high. Our jaws were permanently dropped as we marveled at the foreign treasures. Beautiful, but odd, products such as whole dried octopus and canned cuttlefish made me want to run home with an armload of groceries and cook. I was so inspired by all the fresh produce.
It is truly awe inspiring to see the vast array of fresh fruits, veggies, herbs and spices. All of you who love cooking and love food need to visit the Winchester Farmer's Market IMMEDIATELY!
Wine is, without a doubt, better when you share it. I'm constantly amazed at how people I don't even know will open up to me and share. At Bluefish last night a guest brought in a bottle of 2004 Ken Wright Cellars Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir. The gentleman who brought it in was nice enough to pour me a taste, and I'm very glad that he did. Unfortunately, I wasn't impressed. It tasted off balance, hot, slightly astringent, and just generally unpleasant. I was very disappointed. Ken Wright is supposedly THE MAN when it comes to Oregon Pinot. If this is a reflection of his other 2004 bottles, then I don't plan on purchasing any of them. I OF COURSE didn't say any of this to the man who shared it with me, because I didn't want to seem rude. He seemed to enjoy it and I didn't feel it necessary to spoil that. Why should I?
My wine loving friend, and co-conspirator, Sabrina and I decided to have a Super Bowl of Syrah. Neither of us care about football but we did want a reason to drink good wine. We had hoped it would be a larger affair with more people, but gradually our friends cancelled on us. That didn't stop us from popping some bottles. With it down to just myself, Sabrina, her husband Eric, sister in law Hillary, and brother in law Marc; we made it a blind tasting to add another layer of intrigue. Sabrina prepared an AMAZING braised beef stew with luscious creamy polenta. I made a blue cheese pyhllo napoleon topped with a dried fruit and port compote.
Both dishes paired wonderfully with the syrahs. While we were digging in to the lovely spread, Eric wrapped the bottles in brown paper bags and began pouring. Sabrina pulled out some tasting sheets for us to make notes on. It was a lot of fun and a real exercise on my palette. The first wine threw me at first. The fruit that was so evident led me to believe that it was new world. But the slight funk and earth on the nose made me think it was new world. After careful consideration both Sabrina and I guessed old world. This wine was Mas De Aveylands from the Rhone Valley of France. We were both correct in the region but wrong on age. We guessed 2-3 years of age but the wine was actually vintage 2000. The second wine was obvious from the start that it came from the new world. I guessed Central Coast California, but it turned out to be Renwood Sierra Series Syrah from Sierra Foothills area. The third really threw me. From the start I couldn't think it was anything BUT an Australian shiraz. It had the concentration, fruit and extraction of an Australian. Or so I thought. This wine was actually a 1999 Jory Syrah from Monterey County California. Even though I was wrong on my guess I still have to say that this third wine was absolutely stellar. Go buy it now. I saw it at Joe's, but PLEASE save me a bottle. The fourth wine was rich and full bodied, but not quite ready to be drunk. Sabrina likened it to a teenager who was rambunctious, untethered, and unsure of itself. It will be ready to go in a few years after it settles down. Go grab a bottle of Novy Garys' Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah from Great Wines and Spirits and lay it down for 2 years. You'll be glad you gave it time.
Last Wednesday Kelly and I tried to go to Encore but unfortunately they were closed for a private party. I'm actually glad they were closed because we ended up having much more fun. We decided to take a culinary tour of downtown Memphis. We started at Bluefin where I had a glass of Crios of Susana Balbo Malbec Rose. It had wonderful fruit and a crisp dry finish. We split the Rock Shrimp Risotto which was absolutely delicious. The shrimp were tender and the risotto was rich and creamy without being heavy and overpowering. Chef Robbie Alexander brought us out a fabulous Wagyu beef London Broil. It was cooked to a perfect rare with a slightly sweet drizzle and a spicy polenta cake. I urge everyone to get down there IMMEDIATELY. The food is fantastic, the wine list has everything for everyone, and the decor is modern Tokyo hip. This restaurant is a perfect addition to the Memphis dining scene.
After leaving Bluefin we headed to McEwan's. This place is always ALWAYS good. I ordered Kelly a glass of Ferrari-Carano Syrah and a glass of Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc for myself. We split the Buttermilk Fried Oysters and BBQ Duck Enchiladas. Incredible. The oysters were lovely and crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. Wonderful. The duck enchiladas are purely decadent. Rich, smoky, tender with a slight hint of spice. I could live off them if I wasn't afraid of blowing up. Our friends Wendy and John, who had just finished dinner in the other room, joined us for another glass of wine. We all headed out into the chilly Memphis night and bounced on over to Felicia Suzanne's for one last drink. Our bartender, Caroline, was lively, funny and sweet. Kelly decided she was his new best friend.
Next time you dine out, pick three restaurants that you like, or have always wanted to visit, and go enjoy them all. Have a glass of wine and an appetizer at each place. Maybe even do a course by course dinner; have an app here, salad there, dinner at another place, and dessert at another. Sample the culinary culture of Memphis!
There is a wonderful article in the San Francisco Chronicle (www.sfgate.com) about young sommeliers in the bay area. It is very energizing to read about these individuals who discovered the secret early on. To be truly happy in this world you have to pursue what you are passionate about. Does anyone know of any sommeliers living and working in Memphis?
In today's New York Times Penfolds' winemaker Peter Gago discusses the sibling rivalry between that label's St Henri shiraz and the more prominent Grange. The article is a great read. More importantly, it quotes the price on St Henri as $50. After a quick call to Great Wines & Spirits I discovered that they have the 2001 vintage in stock for $30. Run fast because I plan to buy one of the two remaining bottles. On your mark, get set, GO!
My friends seem to all operate on the same level when it comes to food. We have the capacity to prepare foods not neccessarily in the same way, but with flavors that all flow together. The other night Jeff, Kristi and Warner came over to have dinner and drink some good wine with Kelly and I.
Here's what I made: Red wine poached figs roasted with Bleu d'Auvergne cheese and toasted walnuts Shrimp sauteed in Chorizo (Spanish not Mexican chorizo) Shrimp sauteed in orange cognac, garlic, fresh squeezed blood orange juice and blood orange segments Roasted spice rubbed pork with garlic tomato jam Baby Arugula salad with red wine lavendar vinaigrette, red onion, toasted walnuts, blue cheese and dried cherries
Kristi and Warner made: Butternut Squash ravioli in brown butter Spinach and roasted garlic croustades Chocolate Cobbler with fresh vanilla ice cream
All of the flavors worked so well and played off each other in such a way that you would have thought we spent hours on the phone with each other discussing the menu. The wines that we drank worked harmoniously with all the flavors in each little dish.
Wines: Morande Grand Reserve Chardonnay Novelty Hill Syrah Osborne Solaz Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon blend Rosa Regale brachetto d'acqui Coturri Freiberg Vineyard zinfandel
The flavors in the food and wine were utterly delicious; but served along with great friends those flavors were elevated to that of a symphony. I always say that I'm happiest when I'm cooking, which is very true. But I truly think I'm even happier eating that food, drinking good wine, and surrounding myself with loved ones.
I love discovering new wines. While grabbing a bite to eat at Bari recently (awesome cheese and meat menu) I ordered a glass of Le Rive Nebbiolo. I don't have a lot of experience with this grape but it's always been on my radar. At first sniff I detected a strong tar and herbal scent. It was pretty wild. I tasted earth and dark fruit. After a few minutes the wine settled into a beautiful red wine bursting with fresh blueberry and a hint of basil. The tar scent that was so wildly interesting blew off in a matter of minutes as well. Interestingly enough Le Rive is imported by Le Vignoble, a local company based in Cordova. If I'm not mistaken it was started by a couple of brothers. Way to go guys! You really scored with this wine.
I'm drinking a bottle (not the entire thing thank you) of Bonny Doon California Syrah. I've been a HUGE fan of Randall Grahm for years now. This is another reason why. Not only is this syrah ridiculously good, but on the back label is written some very eloquent words. "True syrah is deeply and elementally feminine, no matter what the show-offy, unctuously unguented Muscle Beach shiraz-mongers might claim. Proper syrah is perfumed elegance; its power is its ability to enchant, to captivate, rather than to overpower. One is disarmed by its apparent freshness, its strangeness. One will wander the world till the end of one's days with its sublime and haunting fragrance gradually displacing all thoughts and memories, including the knowledge of one's own name". Wow. This truly encompasses what I feel when I taste a truly great wine. Haunted, shaken and delirious with the desire to continue or even elevate this flavor sensation.
What is it about wine that makes total strangers want to share an incredibly rare bottle? At Bluefish the other night I was admiring this man's bottle of Martinelli 1999 Blue Slide Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir. How could I not? This freaking bottle is rare rare rare. Another knockout wine from superstar winemaker Helen Turley. Anyway, this man practically forced me to take a taste of his bottle which I reluctantly obliged. I felt like I was imposing somehow, but good GOD I'm glad I accepted. The wine was unsettlingly good. Just the scent of it made me shiver. It had big dark cherry fruit and a nice note of leather. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. The very nice gentleman asked me later what I thought of the wine. I told him I didn't have the words.
I invited my fellow wine loving friends over for the "first great tasting of the year". Everyone brought a bottle, some brought two, and some nibbles. I poached figs in port then sliced them in half and stuffed them with Bleu d'Auvergne cheese and toasted walnuts. Next, I roasted them for a few minutes to melt the cheese, YUM! Richie and Megan brought Prosciutto, herbed goat's cheese, stuffed hot cherry peppers, and a delicious beer soaked horseradish cheese ( I don't remember the name, sorry). Sabrina prepared a earthy, hearty and beautiful lamb and white bean stew. De-licious.
First we popped a bottle of Schramsberg 2001 Blancs de Noirs (thanks Sabrina!). If anyone out there hasn't heard of this glorious sparkling wine producer, you owe it to yourself to immediately run out and buy a bottle. This is THE California sparkling house. It had a bold, bright mouthful of fruit yet remained dry with excellent acidity. I really thought it was full bodied enough to stand up to an entree, yet it was creamy enough to stand alone.
Next up was Bryce and Candace's Tablas Creek 2002 Cote de Tablas Blanc, a Rhone style blend of Roussane, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc from Paso Robles. This winery, owned by the Perrin family of Chateau Beaucastel, continues to surprise me with their wines. It had a beautiful straw-gold color with a firm viscous texture. Sabrina said she smelled ginger on the nose, so I then got some ginger out of my fridge to smell side by side with the wine. Sure enough, Sabrina was right. There was a definite bright ginger aroma in this wine. We then moved on to another wine that Bryce and Candace brought, the Craneford 2005 Viognier from Australia. Crisp acidity, bright nose, and a very interesting creamy finish. Usually viogniers have a lanolin aspect to them that can be unwelcoming if the wine isn't balanced. Someone happened to mention that it finished like an orange creamsicle, and that couldn't have been more correct. It had a distinct orange characteristic that made me want to pair it with an orange shrimp recipe of mine.
Sabrina was up again with her Andre Brunel Cotes du Rhone Villages 2000 Les Sambides. Andre Brunel might be familiar to many as the producer of Les Cailloux. This rich red paired so harmoniously with the lamb and white bean stew that I can't separate the two. This wine is a perfect example of how foods of a specific region develop, over time, to complement the wines of that same region. The earthy herbaceous quality of the stew perfectly complemented the same flavor profiles of the wine. I could smell sage and thyme, and tasted a wild earthiness.
Honestly, these wines kept getting better and better. Next up was a 2002 Zealear Bolero Syrah that Patrick brought. It smelled of woodsy blackberries and had firm solid tannins. This wine was full of fresh blueberry and blackberry flavors. It was so elegant and astonishing that Sabrina, Patrick and I couldn't help but comment on how this is hopefully the future of California reds.
My baby had been opened for an hour so I hoped it was ready. I couldn't have been more proud. The 1999 Coturri Glover Vineyards Merlot was absolutely gorgeous, if I do say so myself. The tannins were still strong and pronounced. It had a dark, very extracted purple color, with firm mouthfilling tannins. Interestingly enough, it paired quite well with my port poached roasted figs with gorgonzola and walnuts. Megan mentioned that she thought it would go well with some good dark chocolate.
Our last wine of the evening was a 2001 Coturri Chauvet Vineyards Old Vines East Block Zinfandel courtesy of Richie and Megan. It was thick and port-like, with hints of raisin and wild berry. Usually an old vine zin is more earthy and a bit drier, but Coturri's house style of zin leans more toward high residual sugar and high alcohol. This particular zin didn't disappoint in that respect. The high alcohol content was barely detectable, obviously buried underneath all the fresh fruit that was bursting out of the glass.
The two Coturri wines were a perfect ending to the evening. That zin definitely made up for the corked Modus 2000 super tuscan we opened earlier (it wasn't your fault Richie).
This Bordeaux style blend just kept getting better in the glass. As it came to room temperature and breathed, the tannins became more pronounced and sensual. I detected slight hints of vanilla. In my notes I wrote "As it is coming to room temp I'm detecting a bit of strawberry and fig jam.
Every wino in Memphis owes to themselves to check out Napa Cafe's INCREDIBLE wine list. I'm serious. It is one of the best in town. I had dinner there last Wednesday and it was fantastic. The bottle we chose was a rare Argentina gem that I had never heard of or seen before. While speaking with Rusty (who along with his fiance Glenda runs the place), I asked his opinion of three wines I was contemplating. His response was "there is no question, you are going to drink the Tikal". This interesting bottle was a heady, full bodied blend of Bonarda and Malbec from the 2002 vintage. The bottle alone was amazing, I swear it weighed 30 lbs! The wine was dark and rich in color, with an earthy bouquet, firm tannins and an incredibly lengthy finish. To start, we shared the Fried Artichokes and the Seared Tuna appetizers. For dinner we had the Shrimp and Grits and the Grilled Beef Tenderloin. The food was absolutely delicious, but I am still haunted by that wine. I highly recommend everyone dine here, but at the very least you should go and navigate their wine list
Thursday, January 26th Joe's Wines & Liquors will be pouring Spanish wines at The Vine on Madison Avenue. Tickets are $25. Contact Joe's at 725.4252 for more details. This tasting should be killer. Spain is producing some of the most exciting, and affordable, wines on the market today.
Saturday, January 28th Great Wines and Spirits will be hosting a free tasting of Southern Hemisphere wines at Salsa Restaurant. Salsa and Great Wines are both located in the Regalia Shopping Center at Poplar and Ridgeway in East Memphis. Contact Great Wines & Spirits at 682.1333 for more details. The tasting is free and all wines tasted will be on sale for the next week or two at the store. You can't beat a free tasting! The wines to be poured are sure to please. Just like Spain, the Southern Hemisphere (Argentina, Chile, South Africa, etc.) is producing knockout wines for value prices. You can't miss this tasting.