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 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's 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!
“Movement: an act of changing physical location or position or of having this changed”
I have been exposed to substantial movement lately. As most are aware, early in the morning of Sunday August 24 a 6.1 magnitude earthquake jolted Napa Valley from its pre-dawn slumber; the largest earthquake in Northern California in 25 years with the southern end of Napa Valley at the epicenter. The quaint downtown area of Napa sustained major damage with shocks of destruction to outlying hotels, grocery stores, homes, schools, and wineries. Some of the damage inflicted was to buildings with construction dating to pre gold rush era while others were newer buildings with modern architecture and aesthetics. The quake’s movement was quick and destructive as it ripped through this otherwise sleepy valley. Fortunately, there were no human casualties and the injuries, although numerous, were not life-threatening. My husband and I were in Napa in the rural north east end at the base of Mt George near Coombsville, a bit removed from the hardest hit areas but we knew ....this was a big one
Fortunately, our fragile belongings were safely sequestered up-valley as 2 days prior to the quake (!) we had packed several storage and moving boxes and relocated them to our new residence in St Helena. The northern part of the valley shook and rattled but the quake did not have the ferocity it exacted upon Napa. Back in Napa, we were safe, the cats were a bit freaked out but unharmed and our belongings were secure in their new hillside abode.
As a native Californian I am no stranger to earthquakes but this one hit me in a peculiar way, this earthquake was symbolic. I was physically and emotionally drained from weeks of packing, moving and organizing. This movement sent tremors of emotion and exhaustion, the aftershocks seemed relentless from weeks and days of sorting through old photos and memorabilia. These aftershocks triggered moments of reminiscence and nostalgia; earthquakes to my soul.
Along with long-forgotten mementos, I also found a few heavily guarded bottles of wine, treasures tucked away for the perfect moment. Buried far within the wine cooler I glimpsed a familiar red wax, yes, I had to dig deep for this gem. I began at Castello di Amorosa in the spring of 2008 and on one record breaking extraordinarily challenging day we were all rewarded with a bottle of wine of our choosing…any bottle. I selected a 2006 Il Barone and tucked it away for a rainy day. Obviously, I had forgotten it. I recalled this cabernet from it its youth; firm, young, chewy tannins but intensely cloaked with hidden layers of brooding black fruit not quite ready to reveal. The rainy day had come and gone but for this bottle, ‘no day but today’.
Movement. It is moving.
To celebrate our big move and to honor the recent big movement of Napa Valley I opened the rediscovered 2006 Il Barone. My husband and I sat on our deck overlooking the hills of St. Helena, we raised a glass to all we had accomplished and the movement sure to come.
It moved me.
The 2006 Il Barone has moved gracefully into a polished and plush Cabernet reminiscent of the balanced beauties of Napa Vallley's 1990's. With notes of ripe red berries and hints of smoke and leather this wine has more to reveal in the coming years.
We finished the bottle at one of our favorite Napa Valley no corkage restaurants. A prime rib french dip with a bit of creamy horseradish and a side of fries was all this Cabernet needed to move us!
This is the time of year when writing a food and wine blog becomes a challenging task to complete rather than an opportunity for relaxed easy banter I usually tackle with enthusiasm. The weather is still quite warm but the nights now bring the crispness of autumn. Excitement for the fresh lighter fare of summer has given way to the anticipation of comforting fall favorites. Maybe it’s the angle of the late summer sun or the knowing that harvest is rapidly approaching. Labor Day is days away, summer is rounding third.
Suddenly-- a change of season.
My creativity is obviously on a late summer vacation and my vapid thoughts are in need of inspiration.
So, I went to the grocery store and wandered the aisles….searching. How to bridge this canyon of bland? This growing crevasse of food and wine apathy. The space between. The blah. The doldrums.
Then, I saw it. A warm halo of light illuminating its golden perfection; a roasted chicken.
(Maybe the ‘warm halo of illuminating light’ was actually a warming oven?)
Few foods can adapt to the season…or to wine… quite like a roast chicken; a winged chameleon of flavor. Season with sea salt, black pepper and a touch of lemon juice. Refrigerate this bird for a few quick meals on the fly and serve with summer veggies and a cool crisp Pinot grigio. Added win--leftovers make yummy soft tacos!
Let’s beef this chicken up. Root vegetables are a perfect hearty addition. Rub a touch garlic and rosemary to the skin of this bird. Cover with foil and pop in the oven for 10-15 minutes and serve with roasted potatoes. Pinot Noir and roast chicken is a time honored classic and nothng short of inspiring!
I hate the heat. I do. I cannot mince words or flower this up--- at all. I also acknowledge as a native Californian I am not the greatest barometer for uncomfortable temperatures. I am too hot when temps soar above 90 and too cold when the mercury dips below 60. I guess as grapes are concerned, I would be Pinot Noir; a little fickle and I respond to temperature extremes. Precisely why Pinot Noir is not prolific in Napa Valley. …summers can get hot!
Napa Valley is a Mediterranean climate which among other climate indicators translates to a long growing season due an optimum diurnal variation necessary for yielding successful wine grapes. A diurnal variation, or the difference between daytime and night time temps of almost 35 degrees means the sugars in the grape go into semi hibernation in the evenings thus arresting or slowing the ripening process. Even when the valley floor reaches 95 degrees, nighttime ushers in a welcome cool down courtesy of the big air conditioning to the west, the Pacific Ocean. Most evenings warrant a wrap or light sweater when dining al fresco or while watching star-filled nights unfold.
Lucky Napa Valley! Less than 5% of earth's land surface is blessed with this amazing mediterranean climate!
These evening temps are a welcome reprieve but I just can't get past the heat and the constant craving for something cool and refreshing on my palate. My shopping cart at the grocery store has been jam-packed with fresh summer fruit, thirst quenching beverages and frozen treats. Luckily, our appetites also diminish a bit when the temps soar so refreshing fruit and veggie platters have been consumed with enthusiasm. Dessert? Well, that is simply a no-brainer---enter the simple and delicious Fantatini! Made with lightly effervescent and slightly sweet La Fantasia. Simply pour over a frozen fruit sorbet and this yummy chilled finale is the perfect respite.
So chill it down…and when old man winter brings on the big chill-down (it may actually get below 60!), we will have to come up with another excuse to partake in this tasty concoction.
Gold medal winner La Fantasia is a proprietary blend of red grapes and is a perrenial favorite. Just a bit of effervescence brightens the fruit notes of this lightly sweet wine.
Grab some fresh fruit and a frozen sorbet and get ready for instant delicious.
A sweet finale on the Castello di Amorosa Royal Pairing, the Fantatini. Recipe?... Simple. Scoop and pour!
Most national days are in celebration of exactly what you would expect a ‘national’ day to celebrate. For example the national day of the United States, the 4th of July, marks the signing of a declaration of independence from a colonial power. Some countries mark the day the colonial power actually left their occupation for such freedom celebrations. Other countries like Germany and Italy celebrate unification and others like quirky Austria celebrate its declaration of neutrality. A handful of countries such as the United Kingdom and Denmark have no national holiday to celebrate. However, few countries can top France for the utter cool factor of its national day which commemorates the day an angry mob stormed a prison.
Angry mob storms the Bastille!
In France July 14, commonly referred to as la fête nationale, became an official holiday in 1880. From the beginning, speeches, parades, and fireworks, along with public revelry, were part of the celebration. Likewise, Francophiles throughout the world have taken up the observance of Bastille Day, celebrating with dinners of French cuisine, concerts of French music and enjoying all festivities with French wine.
Regardless of your origin, your nationality… your roots-- It's Bastille Day! Celebrate the onset of the French revolution in the spirit of equality and liberty. In honor of this day, I have put aside my affinity for all things Italian and opened a couple of bottles of vin du France.
Okay, so maybe a hamburger is as American as it gets but the fries---definitely french!
Castello di Amorosa-- encircled by lovely vines and waiting to be stormed!
Summer is a time to relax and watch a baseball game, munch on a hotdog, linger over a backyard barbecue and indulge in a few guilt-free s’mores by the campfire. Heavy comfort foods traditionally don’t hold much appeal when the mercury climbs, but, with a few variations and use of fresh seasonal ingredients pasta is one pantry staple that is never out of season. True-- pasta is a favorite comfort food in cold weather months. However, with quick and easy variations we can create light delicious meals which are easily transported for dining al fresco and provides yummy left-overs. As the temperature rises, simply exchange heavy additions for fresh seasonal veggies and farm fresh produce; corn, peas, tomatoes, and backyard herbs. And don’t put the red wine glasses away waiting for autumn’s first frost. Light-bodied reds like Pinot Noir and Sangiovese are just right with summertime favorites like King Salmon or pasta salads.
Make a pasta salad with garden fresh produce and serve with an ear of sweet summer corn. Experiment with salad-friendly shapes like rotelli or farfalle which helps grab the dressing and the veggies.
Build a heartier dish by adding Italian Salami, salty cheese or briny olives. Toss together in a light vinaigrette and serve with a tasty herb ciabatta. Castello di Amorosa’s Italian-inspired Napa Valley Sangiovese comes alive with this light but satisfying salad entrée. Serving temps are vitally important with these lower pigmented grapes. Target 62-65 degrees, this allows the bright fruit notes to shine through without becoming dulled by warmth.
“There is no ‘there’ there”. Gertrude Stein’s often quoted prose is commonly used to describe something that lacks soul, culture, life, or identity. While Ms. Stein was referring to the faceless existence of city-life, some critics have proclaimed this lament when speaking of grapes grown in and the wine making efforts of America.
The French speak of ‘terroir’ when referring to winemaking and the wines of France which is to say grapes are a reflection of the region in which they are grown; the soil, the climate, the aspect of a hillside, the amount of rain, the surrounding vegetation, etc. The United States’ AVA system has been criticized as nothing more than a weak effort to create a false sense of place in the wines prodced -- an illusion-- as they state, there is nothing ‘there’.
I decided to look beyond Cabernet Sauvignon, the reigning king of grapes for my initial attempt at disproving this theory and thus directed my attention to a varietal that, in my humble opinion, is ‘place’ personified. Pinot Noir, the thin skinned red wine grape of the Burgundy region of France has become increasingly popular with wine-buying wine-drinking Americans. It is a classic, elegant, food friendly wine—its enigmatic character and appeal as elusive as it is obvious.
Pinot Noir grapes are grown around the world but they flourish in cooler growing regions. In Oregon, the Willamette Valley is nearly the same latitude as the famed Burgundy region of France and has become synonymous with world class Pinot Noir. Oregon producers have found their sense of place as the Pinot fruit embodies the sophistication and finesse of a great Burgundy yet displays layered earth and bright red fruit summoning unrestrained California productions.
The rolling green hills of temperate Willamette Valley provide the perfect place for cool-climate loving Pinot Noir
California Pinot Noir is more mercurial stylistically without any one style from this large and geographically diverse growing area. From Santa Barbara and the Central Coast to the south and Sonoma County and Anderson Valley in the northern half of the state, diverse topography and weather patterns separate this region of more than 450 miles. From Santa Barbara and the Central Coast we find opulent wines with definitive Pinot Noir fruit that reflects its warmer and more southern roots with a controlled strength. Cooled by the San Pablo Bay, the Carneros region straddles both Napa and Sonoma Valley and shows hints of spice and brightness unique to these cooler vineyard sites of this sun-drenched area. North of Carneros we find the Sonoma Coast where Pinot shows depth and earthy complexity with some of California’s most acclaimed Pinot Noir producers firmly planted in this lush pacific expanse. Further north of Sonoma we find California’s newest Burgundy-like super star in the highly praised and sought after Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. Here the ocean cooled valley floor rarely sees summer temps above 85 degrees….even in the height of the season. Pacific marine influence floods the valley floor with morning coastal fog providing slow even ripening. Enthusiasts agree this temperate region yields fruit of subtle distinction.
A Pinot Noir trio from Castello di Amorosa; Los Carneros, Anderson Valley and the highly acclaimed King Ridge of Sonoma Coast. Each with expressive fruit and character from unique vineyard locations.
As far as American winemaking efforts, maybe we have not come up with anything quite as mysterious as ‘terroir’ to encapsulate the distinctive place of our wines….maybe we never will. But, as the saying goes, sometimes the best part of the journey is getting there.
Dungeness Crabcakes with Rainier Cherry Pinot Noir Reduction
For the reduction-
10-15 ripe cherries, pitted and chopped
10 ounces Pinot Noir
1 Tbsp Seasoned Rice Vinegar
Pink peppercorn to taste
Add all ingredients to sauce pan. Slowly reduce over medium heat.
We are getting ready for a wedding in our family, my step-daughter is getting married in September. Last week my husband and I had a pre-nuptial trip to Boise, Idaho for talks of wedding plans. This was all to be considered and discussed at a dinner which included my husband’s first wife along with the future parents-in- law, yikes! Decisions had to be made on apparel, cakes, invitations, shoes, music, relatives and ever-growing extended families. The evening was an interesting and diverse mix of people with varied relationships and ages spanning from 25 to 65. There were enough backgrounds and life events to fill a night’s conversations with entertaining and thought-provoking stories. No topic was out of bounds or taboo as we covered everything from the best way to ripen avocados to current affairs to wedding invitations. It was a great evening of fun, laughter and growth. As we were tidying up my step-daughter said to me, “wow, tonight was certainly an interesting blend”.
Which, of course, made me think about wine. Totally understandable as the evening had consisted of at least 4 different bottles of vino and they were-- blends. While some varietals like Pinot Noir or Chardonnay are best as a single varietal because blending can overwhelm the unique characteristics of thin-skinned grapes, many varietals suffer from this imposed solitary confinement. Wine blends often deliver increased complexity and are more interesting than single varietal wines. In fact, some of the world's greatest wines are made from a blend of grapes rather than a single varietal.
Some of the most prestigious wines in the world are blends. Bordeaux wines from the left bank of the Gironde River in France are typically blends of Cabernet Sauvignon with Merlot and Cabernet Franc. When blending Bordeaux varietals in the U.S. they are known as Meritage blends.The pronunciation is often subject of debate but the correct usage rhymes with heritage.
Sassicaia is approximately 15% Cabernet Franc blended with Cabernet Sauvignon to create one of the most sought after and priciest Super Tuscan wines made.
Robert Parker of Wine Advocate described Castello di Amorosa ‘s Super Tuscan blend, La Castellana as “Full-bodied, lush and seductive”. La Castellana marries Sangiovese and Merlot with Cabernet Sauvignon to create this blended masterpiece.
Blending gives the advantage and potential of adding complexity to the resulting wine and provides a tapestry of multiple flavors and aromatics. It also offers an opportunity to achieve balance-- the happy ‘marriage’ of fruit, acid, tannin, alcohol, and oak that makes great wines sing in perfect harmonic splendor and not-so-great wines seem full of wrong notes and missed opportunities.
People and grapes, we’re not so different.
Mikaela and Jon getting ready to embark in life as a blend, cheers to a happy marriage!