Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Casey McClellan owner/winemaker at the exceptional Seven Hills Winery in Walla Walla, WA. I've been obsessed with his wines lately, the riesling, viognier, syrah, tempranillo, merlot....all so delicious & vivid. Book your spot now for the Seven Hills Wine dinner at Napa Cafe on Thursday February 11. Only $65/person plus tax & gratuity. For reservations call 901.683.0441.

So Casey, what is distinctive & unique about the Seven Hills style?

There are several aspects to this. First, we have access to a number of very well known, old vineyards. So we start with very high quality grapes, and the wines reflect their vineyard personalities. Our house sytle is to produce wines that are compatible with mealtime. This means that we use ripe fruit, but do not seek to make wines that are over the top in tannin and alcohol. The wines are balanced between ripe fruit character, moderate use of new oak, structure, and a lift on the palate of appropriate acidity. They are wines that are comfortable to drink the whole way through the bottle and the meal. In today's wine scene, this restrained style with integrity is distinctive. They have character, will age well, and taste like wine not oak.

How do you select the vineyards that you source from when you do source such as for the riesling & viognier?

I look for growers that have experience and commitment to quality fruit, foremost. Then evaluate the sites and how they express the fruit character and balance that is essential for the Seven Hills wines. I believe in long term commitments, so that we enhance quality together and become accustomed to each others working style, and I can better know how the vineyard responds under different vintage conditions. I think this kind of carefully thought out, long-term fruit sourcing delivers more quality to the consumer, and is more productive for both the winery and the grower.

Would you say that the WA wine industry is genial & filled with camaraderie?

I truly find this to be a very affable, friendly industry. People are into winegrowing and winemaking because they want to be here. There is a great sense of building the State and the Walla Walla Valley AVAs reputation together.

How do you tell the winery's story in context to the greater Washington story or do you? How do you tell the Washington story if at all?

As one of the pioneering wineries in the Walla Walla Valley, a big part of our story is longevity, commitment and integrity. My family has been in Eastern Washington for over 130 years now. We have a strong sense of place, and attachment to the land. Its wonderful to be able to pull out old red wines from the late 80's from our cellar to share --something that less than 20% of Washington brands today can do. Its a sense of heritage. The overall State story is very important. As a small (although 2nd to California in the US) wine region, we need to share the story of the overall region. Washington has its own unique climate and wine styles, and we all need to share that with people around the US. I focus on the consistent vintages, high quality, accessible wines, and the value for money at every price point that Washington delivers.

What is your favorite pairing that you've had recently with one of your wines?

Two come to mind immediately: Viognier with a whitefish baked on Clementine orange skins or with a Cauliflower risotto-delicious. I also had our 2006 Cabernet with a lamb loin sauced with a demi glace and it was a fantastic pairing.

What would you pair with Memphis BBQ ribs?

I LOVE MEMPHIS BBQ. Bill Huddleston took me to a couple of places when I first came to Memphis that I still remember. So.. a few ideas:
Syrah, for its ripe broad fruit and naturally smoky characters. Viognier, because its soft, sweet fruit and peachy-orangey aromas. Tempranillo with its red and black cherry fruit and soft palate-it also seems to have natural smokiness. Here's another kind of unusual idea: Riesling-possibly- because its slightly sweet, and can handle mildly hot foods. Maybe we should test that thought together sometime.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wine Dinner at Napa Cafe with Seven Hills Winery

Walla Walla, WA is producing some of the most exciting wines on the planet, in my opinion. On Thursday February 11 the city of Memphis gets a chance to experience them firsthand as Napa Cafe hosts a wine dinner with Seven Hills Winery. Price & start time haven't been announced yet but this will surely sell out so call for reservations now. Napa Cafe is a gem of a restaurant in Memphis. Combine that with the outstanding wines from Seven Hills & this will be sure to be one of the most exciting dinners this year. Call 901.683.0441 for reservations. Don't miss this one.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Little Wine A Little Snacking A Little Talking

We hadn't seen our very good friends Justin & Amy in quite some time. Well at least it SEEMED like a long time & that is good enough. There shouldn't really be a reason to see close friends (actually at this point they are family, not friends) aside from wanting to. Kelly grabbed some cheeses & olives from the store as I poked through the wine fridge to see what we should open. J & A showed up with a Darioush Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 Napa Valley. Damn! This was such a nice surprise & what a treat. I thought that I should open something that would balance the cab out. Something spicy, something old world. Sooo I brought out a Domaine Les Aphillanthes Vielles Vignes 2006 Cotes du Rhone-Villages.

The Darioush was luscious & soft. At first it was almost zin-like with a jammy fruit note & a sort of blackberry, raspberry kind of thing going on. But after a bit of time it got bolder & bigger. The tannins became more pronounced but never got abrasive. They remained soft & supple. It was delightfully unique!

The Aphillantes was heady with spicy aromas of oil cured olive, clove, earth & dark red fruit. It had a lovely dark core of fruit on the palate & a round voluptuous texture. Absolutely gorgeous! I wanted that glass of wine to last forever.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Porkaholics rejoice! Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen’s annual Swine & Wine Dinner will be held on Wednesday February 3rd & Thursday February 4th. You have two opportunities to sample the same pig laden menu. Cost to attend is $75 plus tax & gratuity. Chefs Andrew Ticer & Michael Hudman are virtuosos of pork & will be sure to wow with a multitude of deliciously creative courses. Exquisite Italian wines from a host of different areas will be paired with this pork-tastic meal. To make reservations please call 901.347.3569.

You know I'm going to be up in this dinner gettin down on some swine! Tell them you saw it on my blog.

Monday, January 18, 2010


It's been a hell of a week. Shoving an entire store into a space less
the two-thirds the size is exhausting. So I decided to treat myself to
a nice bottle. Peering into my wine fridge I saw a bottle of Patricia
Green Cellars Balcombe Vineyard Pinot Noir 2006 that I brought back
from my last trip to Chicago. Nothing can soothe a tired soul like an
extraordinary glass of wine. Sipping on this transports me back to
Oregon. The earthy, spicy aroma filled with dark berry fruit & a
luscious caressing texture....aaahhh. That's just all I need right now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Little Red Comfort

I'm sipping on a River Aerie 2005 Columbia Valley, WA $15.99. Owner/
winemaker Ron Bunnell is a Memphis boy but that's not the reason I
love this warm comfy bottle. It delivers fruit, spice, lush texture &
moderate weight for a good price. I find myself going back to the
glass again & again for a sip. I'll drink to the insanely talented
Memphis musician Jay Reatard who passed away today. May he find peace
in the afterlife.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Ok. I have been away from my blog, neglected it even?, for quite sometime. I'm very sorry about that. I could use some excuse about the holidays being very busy, etc. Most of that is true however I just haven't had much to write about. I promise to return very soon!

Friday, January 01, 2010

God's Fungal Gift

My very good friend Justin invited me over Tuesday for what his wife Amy dubbed "Truffle Mania 2009". He had just purchased some fresh truffles from Italy that were nestled snugly in some arborio rice. I guess the easy way out would have been to just make a rich pot of truffle risotto but with Justin nothing is pedestrian when it comes to the culinary. We texted back & forth on some ideas & I settled on making a truffled mushroom souffle while he planned on whipping up 3 different courses. I knew that the wine had to match the earthy elegance that the truffles would imbue the dishes with. I settled on a 1997 Argyle Riesling Knudsen Vineyard Willamette Valley, OR ($-unavailable) & a 2007 Cooper Mountain 5 Elements Mountain Terroir Pinot Noir ($32.99).

Oregon wines have an earthy beauty that I think is just unattainable in pinot noir from most other New World regions. And the riesling is the hidden gem from this Pacific Northwest region. With 12 years in the bottle the Argyle expressed something I've never gotten except from Mosel riesling!

Since I had never made souffle before this Justin so graciously led me through the process. I first made a mushroom duxelle with fresh creminis, reconstituted dried porcini, wine, butter & shallot. That went into an egg custard with grated Comte cheese. We next whipped the egg white with a little cream of tartar. We then folded in some of the mushroom duxelle, shaved truffles & custard. The remaining duxelle went into the bottom of the souffle ramekin with shaved parmiggiano & butter.

Justin plated a fresh tomato salad with rice wine pickled fennel, sunflower sprouts, truffle oil & grated truffle. Amazing.

Up next was a miso soup with mirin-marinated tofu, collards & shaved truffle.

Then it was on to my souffle which I was very proud of if I do say so myself.

The Cooper Mountain was exactly what we needed. It had a plush texture that was nicely balanced & not too rich or heavy at all. The wine was elegant, earthy with hints of mushroom & truffle & a dried cherry note on the long, luscious finish. This pinot lit up all the sensors throughout my body.

I unfortunately don't have a good pic of either of the next courses but I will say that Justin's pasta carbonara with fresh noodles & shaved truffle made me not miss the bacon.....almost....The pasta was luscious & creamy with a beautiful sweet earthiness that was hauntingly delicious.

To cap it all off we had affogato which is rich vanilla ice cream with fresh espresso poured over. Perfect ending to a perfect meal. Thanks Justin & Amy!!