Cinco de Mayo, like St Patrick’s Day are regional celebrations that do not limit participation based on heritage or ethnicity. Across the United States every 5th of May brings colorful festivities and parties filled with fruity margarita concoctions, icy cold cerveza and tasty foods from south of the border. I was raised in a heavily Mexican-American influenced area of Southern California and well, let’s just say I know my around a carniceria. Carne means meat so technically a carniceria is a meat market but used as a word for a neighborhood market with a meat counter, fresh produce and other grocery items. Cinco de Mayo meant we were heading to our friend's home for an evening of delicious food, fun and drink.... but first a stop at the carniceria. I can still smell the smoky aroma of grilled Carne Asada and the sweet spice of the marinated carnitas wafting from the busy market. Orders were made early as this was a big day, regardless of a school night or weekend Cinco de Mayo does not wait for Seis de Mayo.
As I have mentioned I am of Irish-Italian heritage and while Mom’s pale Irish skin and grey-green eyes stuck out in the olive-skinned mix, her tortilla making skills were top notch! Freshly-made hot tortillas could “melt the ice-cold heart of any poor sot” mom would say and she was so right…warm to the touch and impossible to resist; zesty salsa fresca, chips and guacamole, charred and smoky barbacoa tacos, fragrant and spicy chile verde, all so mouth-watering and intoxicating.
For bebidas (drinks!) at some time during the party they would put the margarita salt aside and set the beer on ice as the southern Italian in my dad needed to have a bit of vino with every meal regardless of the occasion and Cinco de Mayo was no exception.
Just a few of the favorites….
The Best Guacamole!
Although avocados have natural oils, the addition of olive oil adds a textural emulsification that takes guacamole to the next level. Of course, olive oil or garlic had to eventually enter this equation somehow!
2 large ripe Haas avocados (just slightly soft to the touch)
½ small lemon, juiced
1 small roma tomato diced
1 cup finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1/2 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Expedia Viewfinder teamed up with Castello di Amorosa to reveal what about the winery makes it a royal experience.
Napa Valley, California, is an iconic destination perfect for those who want to learn about wine, sip rare vintages, and visit more than 400 wineries located in the area. Although there are plenty of choices for wine connoisseurs, only one will make visitors feel like royalty: Castello di Amorosa.
At Expedia Viewfinder we wanted to discover what makes this winery so regal, so we turned to our friends at Castello di Amorosa. Together we reveal why this is a must-visit winery in Napa:
The property on which Castello di Amorosa stands was purchased more than two decades ago by Dario Sattui, who came from a winemaking family. With Sattui’s passion for medieval architecture and knowledge of Italian design, the idea to recreate a castle in California was born. Castello di Amorosa was constructed to emulate the authentic 13th-century Tuscan castles owned by Italy’s elite. Every element of design and furnishing was chosen so that visitors can experience the majestic nature of an Italian fortress.
The castle is certainly part of this winery’s allure. However, oenophiles know that the vineyards are the most superb feature of all. More than 30 acres are devoted to growing merlot, sangiovese, and primitivo grapes, but the cabernet sauvignon grapes are the vineyard’s pride and joy. Castello di Amorosa embraces the concept of “terrior,” which is a French term used to describe the perfect blend of warm climate, sunshine, rich soil, and ideal location.
For more than 100 years, Napa Valley has been recognized as a prime spot to grow California grapes that blossom to perfection. The soil is made up of a diverse array of coastal rock and eroded seafloor from the Pacific Ocean, resulting in rich nutrients that give the grapes their divine flavor. During a visit to Castello di Amorosa, tour the vineyard to see these grapes on the vine or witness the harvest.
The Royal Food & Wine Pairing Tour
The crown jewel of any visit to Castello di Amorosa is the Royal Wine and Food Pairing. It’s truly a luxurious experience that broadens guests’ knowledge of local wines, while simultaneously letting them nosh on delicious bites. After a tour of the stately property, Mary Davidek, an expert sommelier, explains what makes each wine special and describes its perfect match.
Samples of the food and wine pairing menu include a 2012 reserve chardonnay served with a tomato and butternut squash soup, a 2011 sangiovese with chicken and fennel meatballs, and a 2011 La Castellana reserve blend accompanied by Cotswold cheeses and a homemade baguette.
On your next trip to Napa Valley, tap into your royal side and toast the sweet stuff at the grand Castello di Amorosa. Marvel at the sumptuous architecture, tour the pristine grape vines, and sip on the sublime vino.
Written by Expedia Staff Writer
Returning from a vacation typically means back to the grind, even when the 'grind' is a beautiful castle winery in a picture perfect vineyard, vacations are rejuvenating and refreshing. As I was looking at pictures from our trip I realized the majority of the images were not of lush ocean tropical landscapes but of the delicious foods and amazing wines we enjoyed. Fresh seafood flown in from Alaska from our good friends and travel partners Tim and Carol Berg (www.great-alaska-seafood.com) dominted the menu during our time in Maui. I admit, Alaskan seafood in Hawaii may not be the norm but our 49th and 50th states definitely made for delicious pairings! Next year...maybe Lomi-Lomi Salmon on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula!
The best seafood salad dressing and certainly one of the easiest-
Combine 4 parts Mayo to 1 part spicy cocktail sauce and 1 tsp sesame seed oil
Hawaiian Portuguese inspired Paella made with fresh clams and linguiça paired with Sangiovese and yes, the biggest king crab legs this side of Hana!
I am getting ready to go on a 1 week vacation. Trust me-- this does not happen often as I usually opt for sporadic 3 day get-a-ways rather than a week or more at a time. However, once a year my husband and I travel with our good friends (also from Napa Valley) leaving our vineyard paradise for a far off island paradise. That’s right…we are Maui bound. I love love love living in this idyllic vineyard Avalon but hey, a girl’s gotta travel to keep it fresh and lively and I need to spend a bit of quality wine and dine time Island style.
Ciao to the vineyard scape.......
I will report back with delicious seafood creations, all the latest island food trends and of course, interesting pairings with our favorite Castello wines to tie it all together.
Did I mention I am bringing two cases of wine? Yes, I know…just two.
Travelling with wine was once standard and as easy as boarding with a laptop (or a lap-dog!) is today. I had a rolling carrier and would stuff it full of bottles, on board it was tucked it into the overhead compartment. This made for easy access on long flights if the Merlot du jour or the in-flight chard was well, not worthy. I would uncork a bottle (yep, corkscrews were okay too!) and enjoy. Quite often, I shared with my row mates and neighbors and once, a flight attendant even enjoyed a (very) tiny sip! It was a (very) long flight.
Although security restrictions make travelling with wine a bit challenging; it is nothing a little creativity and a nifty new design combined with smart packing can’t overcome.
If you are packing your suitcase and hoping to include a couple of bottles remember, you can’t carry wine on the plane so the bag must be checked. Make sure the bottle is surrounded by clothing and not on the perimeter but safely in the interior. Roll a bottle in jeans or a sweater or thick clothing or shoes to provide a bit of cushion.
If you are not the trusting or adventurous packing type, padded plastic bottle jackets seal tightly and will provide a little extra assurance to protect your liquid asset.
Because sometimes you need more than a bottle, the styro case transporter is the perfect solution. Rolling castors make it easy to maneuver and provides peace of mind. Treat like a piece of luggage and on the trip home, replace with new wines you’ve discovered or other trinkets for safe transport. These rolling wine suitcases are available throughout wine country and of course, the Castello boutique.
I love a game of chess, deep thought and out-maneuvering, strategy and calculating, all while carefully not giving up your advantage. Chess is also an apt metaphor for many life situations; social posturing, politics of work, positioning friends, and dare I say…family? Business is a place we commonly employ schemes and strategies, even the business of wine can pose circumstances which entail positioning and thoughtful approach. Admittedly this may seem counter-intuitive; to many, wine is perceived to be artistic and cerebral. Wine evokes romance and esoteric conversation, not strategy or offensive and defensive tactical maneuvers. However, as in all business, great success requires planning and navigating. After all, for a winery, in the vast world of palate-pleasing if one only makes wine one likes or prefers, you may appeal to, well, one.
Which brings me to my point…and yes, I have one.
At a recent staff meeting the topic du jour was the release of the Castello’s much anticipated Pinot Noir from the Terra de Promissio vineyard in Sonoma County. Certain die-hard cab-loving staff members were having a bit of a challenge wrapping their mind and palate around this particular bottling. Full disclosure, this is not a Cabernet lover’s Pinot. No, the Terra de Promissio vineyard is planted with prized Burgundy clones, the fruit displays structure with finesse and elegance rather than some Cali Pinot Noir’s cab-like vim and vigor.
This pedigreed vineyard is located on a 50-acre ranch in Sonoma, overlooking the town of Petaluma in an area of much viticultural success known as the Petaluma Gap. Caution; an internet search result may yield directions to an outlet mall so include the term ‘Pinot Noir’ if searching for info about the Petaluma Gap. (unless you are looking for jeans or a sweater!)
The “Gap” is actually a wind gap named for the coastal mountain opening that stretches east from the Pacific through the town of Petaluma and south to San Pablo Bay. This marine cooled gap creates perfect growing territory for cool temperature loving thin-skinned Pinot Noir grapes.
With the acquisition of Terra de Promissio fruit, Castello has advanced on yet another strategic post of wine making and palate-pleasing, classic old world meets new world Pinot Noir. This base is covered…the palates are pleased. Good move.
Now, back to the point I assured you I would make. While it is true, Cabernet Sauvignon is the powerful king of the sun-drenched Northern end of Napa Valley, Pinot Noir is most certainly the reigning queen from Sonoma.
And, just like the game of chess……it is the queen who takes the game.
Chinese Five Spice Chicken Thighs
Five Spice is a preblended mixture of Star Anise, Cloves, Cinnamon, pepper and ground Fennel Seed and is a tasty rub for pork, salmon and poultry.Five Spice doesn't overwhlem Pinot's subtlely, instead, the bright red fruit notes of the Terra de Promissio Pinot Noir create a perfect complement for this exotic spice rub. This quick and delicious preparation is also ideal for chicken legs or appetizer wings.
Rinse and dry chicken pieces.Preheat oven to 375 degrees.Coat the chicken with a dry rub of Chinese Five Spice. Place the chicken thighs in a pan and into oven and bake for about 25 to 35 minutes – until completely cooked through (an inserted thermometer should read 170 degrees). Serve with rice and enjoy!
While most of us have a go-to favorite wine taking permanent tenancy in the ‘most preferred’ zone, often we explore other varietals-- particularly when entertaining or in my case, looking for the just-right pairing. Entertaining and pleasing guests with diverse palates, seasonal influences, even extreme weather can bring wine-drinking-enjoying challenges. When it is 100 degrees and the mercury is soaring it can be a test to feign enthusiasm about a glass of inky rich Cabernet for the thick Porterhouse grilling on the ‘cue. Likewise, when you spy frost on the pavement and the windshield is icy, a chilled crisp white wine may be less than heart-warming. What to do when some of the satisfying hearty wintertime favorites are rich and creamy and just screaming for…. well….not a red wine.
My winter white is chardonnay. Specifically, Castello di Amorosa Bien Nacido Vineyards Chardonnay. This is not the ‘Castello sommelier’ pontificating on the many virtues of this award winning chardonnay, this is me, the ‘wine drinker’ who is generally not excited about most California chard.
Castello's Bien Nacido Chardonnay is different—this fruit is exceptional. The vineyard is located on the central coast of California and exposed to the Pacific. The coastal morning fog provides cool temperatures early in the day but warm late afternoons drenched in the Pacific sun. This gives the slow ripening grapes longer hang time on the vines while enjoying the real estate and the luxurious coastal influence. The juice shows its mettle when barrel fermented but not over manipulated so the gorgeous bright backbone of zippy acidity shines through. This balanced chard displays a soft nuttiness with fruit and focus. Juicy Comice pear, white peach and light vanilla flavors; full bodied and rounded--perfect for the rich creamy cold-weather foods we crave.
While winter white may not conjure up warm cozy images outside--
when you are inside, winter white can be an absolute delight!
Quick and Easy Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo
½ lb. fettuccine, uncooked
1lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1-1/4cups chicken broth
4oz. Mascarpone ( sub cream cheese)
1/2 cup Grated Parm, divided
¼ tsp. garlic powder
1/4tsp. white pepper
Cook pasta to slightly firm. Sautee chicken in large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat 5 to 7 min. or until done, stirring occasionally. Remove from skillet. Mix flour and broth in same skillet with whisk. Stir in Mascarpone, 2 Tbsp. Parm, garlic powder and pepper; cook 2 min. or until mixture boils and thickens, stirring constantly. Stir in chicken. Drain pasta; place in large bowl. Add chicken mixture; toss to coat. Sprinkle with remaining Parm.
And then….it rained. Napa Valley along with most of Northern California is finally getting relief from the drought of the past several years. While the grapes did their job, at times flourishing in the dryer than normal conditions, wine makers and vineyard managers were tenuously hopeful the next season would restore more normal weather patterns to replenish dwindling water reserves. So far, the Fall/Winter season of 2014 has been quite rainy with more precipitaion in the forecast; it seems the vineyard rain-dance performances have done the trick. The local mountains now have a foundation of snow and all are optimistic for a white winter in the Sierras to refresh our local rivers, streams and reservoirs.
As much as I would like to curl up by the fire and enjoy a good book with a glass of vino-- the Christmas Cards are beckoning (maybe New Year’s greetings?), the gifts are nagging to be wrapped (thank goodness I stocked up on sparkly gift bags!) and the box of twinkle lights liberated from storage is (soon to be) sparkling. Since this is the time of year amok with shopping and work and weather, making dinner can be challenging and often, low on my list of necessary accomplishments. Thank goodness, for me it is not a worry tonight. In the winter, each week I make a large pot of soup to supply plenty of left-overs and satisfying quick meals. This Tuscan White Bean chili is one of my favorites. When it is cold outside—a hearty bowl of a soup and a glass of red makes it easy and delicious to stay warm on the inside.
Warm Holiday Wishes, from our castle to yours.
The Castello is especially beautiful in the rain…
It can also chill me to the bone
But, this will warm me from the inside out!
Tuscan White Bean Chili with Spinach
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 28 oz. can tomato puree
1 cup beef bouillon
1 sweet onion, roughly chopped
3 15 oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 lb. Italian chicken sausage
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 bags fresh baby spinach
Salt/ pepper to taste
1 tsp. sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Red pepper flakes, oregano and basil to taste
Brown ground beef and sausage drain off fat then place in large pot. Sauté onion and garlic in olive oil. Add spinach and add 1 Cup bouillon to wilt. Add to pot and combine remaining seasoning and ingredients. Adjust liquid level (additional broth if desired). Simmer on low for approximately 30 minutes. Finish with grated parm.
Serves 6 people, or 2 people for a week!
This is an extremely busy time of the year and I don’t see a clear window of nothing-much-going-on until 2015 (yikes)! Aside from standard work activity along with not so standard work activity (see link below), November brought birthdays (including mine!), weddings, anniversaries, and, of course, the big one--Thanksgiving. Factor in necessary travel and shopping for these celebrations and it adds up to ‘I don’t have time to insert activity here'.
This is also the season for parties and entertaining; from the office to the dining room holiday festivities are everywhere. Some of this merrymaking is planned but others are more…well… impromptu. While pop-up happenings are intended in the spirit of cheerful tidings these bombshells… er, I mean pleasant surprises.. can be stressful and hectic. To facilitate the fun and merriment while reducing the stress, keeping just a few indispensible items in the fridge and pantry make last minute entertaining truly entertaining. I keep an arsenal of all ‘the fixings’ on hand throughout the holiday season. When these easy apps are paired with the right wine you are transformed into an accomplished and relaxed holiday-entertaining pro.
I call these go-to bite-sized nibbles ‘Five Easy Pieces’.
Check out the provided link for a 30 minute interview about the Castello and the food and wine program; ‘The Royal Pairing’. This was a fun radio segment on CRN Digital talk radio.
The ammo; hummus, pesto, mascarpone, goat cheese, mushrooms, ground sausage, dried fruit and nuts, deli roast, sliced chorizo, baguette, crackers, creamy horseradish sauce. These items have a long shelf life and perfect to keep on hand.
Serve roasted red pepper hummus with a chilled glass of Castello’s Rosato de Sangiovese, Gioia.
Now that is what I call a joyful tiding!
As long as the Gioia is chilled serve a sliced baguette with a light spread of mascarpone topped with chorizo. A spicy bite for sure but so delicious with this bright and sassy rosé.
For this topper I browned sausage and then added sauteed finely chopped mushrooms sauteed in butter. To the final mixture add a couple generous tablespoons of chopped nuts and cranberries and brown a bit more. Served on crostini this tasty bite almost mimics a deconstructed holiday stuffing.
This is a crowd pleaser, even if it is a small crowd! I rolled deli roast beef around a sprinkle of shredded mozzarella and a generous smear of creamy horseradish. Heat in the oven until the cheese is melted. Delish with a full-bodied red blend like the 2010 Il Brigante.
If you have ever tasted with me at the Castello on the Royal Food and Wine Pairing you know how delicious a cracker with pesto and goat cheese can be. The Castello 2013 Pinot Grigio is bright, succulent and juicy; a perfect yet simple mouth-watering duo.
Shorter days have arrived; the vineyard’s yellow tinged foliage marks the beginning of the end of another season. The grape vines now fall into a slumber until next spring when young buds will emerge and another harvest is in the making. Time marches on.
This Sunday clocks move forward one hour. Most people remember the changes with the catch phrase "spring forward, fall back," referring to the season when the changes take place. The U.S. government initially started Daylight Saving Time during World War I to save energy for wartime production. The federal government enacted Daylight Saving Time as a permanent change in 1966. In 2007, the time period was extended by four weeks as a means to save energy through longer daylight hours.
This means our days start and end earlier. Sunlight becomes a treat to be savored and quick night fall commands a need to bulk up-- sweaters and jackets make their yearly trek to and from the dry-cleaners, extra blankets are on the bed and shopping lists reflect a need for substance.
I was feeling a bit chilled last night as it dipped down to the low 60’s and I found no warming compassion from my Minnesota raised husband! As he was fixed on game 7 I put the finishing touches on a meal sure to warm us both. After a summer of imposed solitude and dormancy the oven was back in action, now generating welcome warmth and oozing with savory aromas permeating the house.
Game 7 ended with the Giants bringing it back by nabbing a 3rd World Series championship in 5 years! We ended the evening with a great meal and a toast to the Giants, great champions and a beautiful fall. Without light there is no dark. Without cold, where lies the value of warmth? Without ‘fall back’ we would not ‘spring forward’.
World Series 2014 took the bay area to Kansas City which made me crave BBQ. The sauces found in KC are tomato-based, with sweet, spicy and tangy flavor profiles. My store bought sauce was a tad too sweet so I stirred in a bit of mustard and a dash of red pepper flake.
Fall back was perfect with yummy baby backs cooked low and slow paired with a real throw- back, one of my favorite wines produced at the Castello, 2006 Napa Valley Merlot. This Merlot was voted best of the vintage in Napa Valley and ageing perfectly. Secondary notes of dried herbs in the background but plush fruit and soft smoky plum up front, this is Merlot at its finest.
Gewürztraminer, misunderstood and often mispronounced, how did such a unique grape come to be so abundant in modern winemaking and in such diverse regions?
First of all to understand the grape we must dissect the name itself. The German language can be quite redundant, often running a number of words together to create one word. For a glimpse into this as well as a little fun, try this link-- http://mentalfloss.com/article/54048/heres-how-crazy-long-german-words-are-made
(Imagine if Barbara served this with Barbera!)
To complicate this further and make matters even more confusing, Gewürztraminer is actually Italian!
Near the tip of the Adige Valley on the shores of Lake Balzano, lies the town of Termeno aka Tramin. Since the area is only a few miles from the Austrian border, and the land has been occupied by Austria several times (pick a war, any war), the town is called Tramin in German. In fact every mountain, river, street, town or other landmark is named in Italian AND German and because of this cross-culture the denizens of this region are bilingual. To translate:
The name of the town is Tramin…
“er” means from in German...
“gewürz” is German for "spice"
There you have it… "the spiced grape from Tramin"
To clarify; a German word for an Italian grape grown in Austria, I mean Italy! This is confusing.
Enough with geography-- let’s talk wine.
Gewürztraminer is known for its crisp pear and apple notes, spicy attributes, intense fragrance and distinct color. Gewürztraminer is commonly associated with sweet wine, however, Gewürz is made in different styles depending on the level of ripeness at harvest .When picked late in the season like Castello’s Late Harvest Gewürztraminer this wine displays honey-apple with succulent peach nectar-like qualities. Perfect with a not too sweet desert or a cheese course…or combined into one grand finale.
Keep it a bit savory with this sweetie. Remember, apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.
An off dry or slightly sweet Gewürztraminer like Dolcino is harvested at normal sugar levels and fermented to leave a bit of residual sugar. This is my choice for pairing with spicy main dishes like Andouille Sausage Jambalaya.
The classic dry Gewürztraminer may be the most versatile and my personal favorite. This wine displays ginger, crisp stone fruits and a tell-tale hint of lychee. Mix it up a bit with this mixed up wine, rich and hearty Italian dishes with savory basil and lemon in a light cream sauce are contrasted perfectly with classic dry Gewürz. Farfalle pasta catches all of the goodness in each and every bite... with a sip of Gerwürz….das schmeckt gut. Or is it delizioso?...well, in any language--yum!