Monday, January 30, 2006

Culinary Collective

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

Jeff made:
Carmalized onion, raspberry habanero cheesecakes
Goat's cheese cheesecakes
Spinach phyllo pockets

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.

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.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Wow factor

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.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Words of wisdom

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.

Sharing pt. 2

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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


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).

Recent wines I've tasted

Mazzocco Matrix 1999
blend: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec
color: rich, translucent purple
nose: plums, sweet spices (cinnamon?), toasty oak, blueberries, leather, tea, earth

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.

Worth seeking out.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Dinner at Napa Cafe

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

Upcoming Wine tastings

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.