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!
The great thing about a blog; I am able to write about whatever I am feeling or thinking or what may be inspiring me. Given the time of year and last week’s heat wave I considered an esoteric look at grilling and barbecue. But, in all honesty, the outdoor grill has never has been my forte. Cinco de Mayo had possibilities as cuisine from south of the border is infinitely more inspirational to me than a gas grill, a Weber or a hibachi--and practically anything made into a taco is delicious.However, as we approach Mother’s Day, I decided to take it home.
My Mom was a great cook which was no minor achievement for an Irish woman who married into an entirely Italian family. I’m not simply referring to pot roast or a weekday casserole. No, she was creative in her use of spices and seasoning. Mom was instinctively technically correct and taught me the importance of making food visually appealing before we had top celebrity chef royalty or cable networks devoted to food with culinary game shows and cooking competitions. As a child I would sit and play quietly each afternoon while my mom watched Julia Child or Graham Kerr aka The Galloping Gourmet. As they explained the dish featured on the episode she would comment “oooh, I think I will try that on Dad’s birthday” or “Julia is sure using a lot of cream today!”
My mom was also a great hostess and loved to entertain. Monthly cocktail parties were particularly exciting for me. Although I may not have sampled the libations, the yummy and abundant little treats made for the occasion were so tasty it was just cause for excitement-- especially if mom’s delicious mini meatballs were on the menu! I knew while the adults milled about, that evening I would host a private party of one with my own little array of goods. With a Shirley Temple stuffed with more cherries than liquid in hand, off I would go to my bedroom for an evening of sitcoms du jour and yummy bits from the gala. Mom checked on me to replenish my sustenance but eventually I would nod off to the sound of canned laughter from the TV and the comforting banter of my parents and friends enjoying a festive evening in the background.
I guess I inherited mom’s love of entertaining and hopefully, her talent of being a great hostess as I have the distinct joy and pleasure of entertaining guests at the Castello on the 'Royal Paring', a food and wine pairing experience. With one of the most beautiful settings in the world as my backdrop, and at times with a lump in my throat, I envision my mom smiling and nodding with approval at a job well done.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Italian Style Chicken Mini Meatballs
1.5 pound ground chicken 90% dark meat preferred (or Italian chicken sausage removed from casing)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan style cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons dried or 1 cup chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried or 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 TBSP sea salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 -2 Tbs fennel seed
¼ C seasoned Italian bread crumbs (optional, use more grated parm if no bread crumbs used)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine chicken, grated cheese, egg, basil, parsley, garlic powder, salt, red pepper flakes, fennel and bread crumbs. Using your hands, mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Measure mixture into approximately 1.5-ounce portions. Shape or scoop into rounds and place the meatballs in individual, miniature muffin tin cups. Bake for 15- 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
Serving suggestions: Toss in a light marinara before serving and sprinkle with additional cheese.
When pairing wine and food, while vegetables are certainly a seasonal selection; wine and vegetables rarely makes a reasonable connection. When it comes to compatibility, wine and veggies make for a challenging relationship. However, with a little pairing intervention, we can salvage this savory dilemma.
First, let’s discuss the easy ones; mushrooms, potatoes and eggplant. Denser, heavier and earthier vegetables often used in heartier dishes. Think of the earthy quality of Pinot Noir to pair with these meaty veggies. A hearty mushroom like Portobello can even take on Bordeaux varietals like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
With green vegetables, play off the green flavors of these veggies by grilling and topping with a balsamic glaze. For richness add a cream sauce or cheese (there, I finally said it…you’ve been waiting for it!). These green flavors work well with Pinot Bianco or Pinot Grigio which often have notes of green fruit and provide a less aggressive palate then grassy and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc.
Asparagus and Artichokes. These delicious little buggers get their own space as they are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. This is due to cynarin. Cynarin is a phenolic acid compound found in the green leaves and seeds of artichokes and asparagus which gives a sweet flavor to these yummy vegetables. However, it can be challenging to complement these notes with wine because the sweetness is not from actual sugars and it makes most wines, even those with low levels of residual sugar, taste bitter. A sure way to contrast these flavors is with spicy aioli, a creamy dip, or a rich sauce. For wine, try an Austrian, Gruner Veltiner. Don’t underestimate this peppery white, Gruners are not to be taken lightly. This polished Austrian has attitude to spare and can finesse the most fickle flavors--even artichokes and asparagus.
If the addition of sauce, cheese, and cream is not an option as it can defeat the benevolent intentions of serving and eating vegetables, fear not, I have a sure fire way to make veggies almost wine-friendly; meat. Therein lies my beef with vegetables.
Merlot Beef with Broccoli
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 pound sirloin beef tips, sliced against the grain 1/8 inch thick
3 tablespoons grape seed oil
10 ounces broccoli florets
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup merlot (approximately 4 ounces)
Toss together cornstarch, salt, pepper, and beef in a bowl until meat is coated. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok or sauté pan over medium high heat until hot but not smoking, stir-fry beef until just cooked through, approx. 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, transfer beef to another bowl and keep warm. Add remaining oil to sauté pan along with broccoli and garlic. Stir-fry until broccoli is just tender and garlic is pale golden, about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce and wine and bring to a low boil. Return meat to skillet. Stir until sauce is thickened.
I know; adding bacon is not playing fair but...absolutely delicious!
A little food and wine levity. When all else fails.....go back to the basics!
Cheese. It seems recently I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about it, researching it, eating it, and writing about it. What makes this bacteria induced, mold laden, milk by-product so delicious in so many ways? From mac and cheese to grilled cheese sandwiches to omelets to enchiladas… is there anything good cheese doesn’t make better? Okay, I realize that is a rhetorical question which does not qualify an answer. Cheese-heads know of which I speak; plain, sliced, melted, and even burnt as one of my personal favorites is baked oozing cheese crusted on the edge of a big pan of lasagna.
In a word; cheese is yummy!
Cheese is not to be relegated to an also ran or a p.s. it is not Ed Mac Mahon to Johnny. No, the cheese can stand alone. Consider this, if you serve bread and a glass of wine with cheese, you now have a meal once reserved for royalty or highly ranked officials of medieval Western Europe. They favored hard, well-aged, and slightly salty cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano anyone?
Perhaps it is these century-old roots at the foundation of this tasty trio’s designation as the ‘trinity of the table’; bread, wine and cheese. In fact, this mouth-watering combo has something in common aside from being absolutely delicious. Bread, wine and cheese depend on yeast and bacteria for their development. Without the changes brought about by fermentation bread would not rise, wine would be lacking alcohol and we would exist in a world devoid of cheese. Fortunately we live in a world of a cheese-lover's Shangri-La!
This homage to fromage is not intended to be a crash-course of pairing wine and cheese, but, simply an occasion to open the proverbial windows of our palate and imagine the possibilities...
String, cream and grated--gateway cheeses which gave every American cheese-loving kid their humble beginning
Eat like a king with this royal trio. Bread? Nothing fancy, sometimes basic is all you need. Wine? Castello di Amorosa 2009 Il Brigante is just the right blend. Cheese? Piave Vecchio. Parmesan is well-suited for grating; Piave is a slightly higher in milk fat which makes it a creamier option for a cheese board presentation.
Kick it up a notch. Add a reduction of balsamic to elevate this cheese pairing to a sweet and salty palate sensation.
The quintessential cheese plate typically offers a selection of 3 or more cheeses and makes use of color and texture. Combine a hard cheese and a double cream with a smoky cheddar. With the abundance of orange cheese, blue cheese and practically multicolored cheese; it is easy to add a splash of color.
A conventional grilled cheese becomes an amazing culinary creation by using distinctive cheeses and experimenting with flavors. Pictured is Cotswold, a variation of Double Gloucester with the addition of chopped onions and chives. Cotswold is creamy, buttery, sweet and mild. Served with roasted sweet peppers- it is dangerously delicious.
La Tur is an Italian triple cream from the Piedmont region of Italy and is made from an equal mixture of cow, sheep and goat milk. Typically with double and triple creams I prefer a bright white wine like Pinot Bianco or a dry Gewurztraminer. Here, I served La Tur with a dollop of orange blossom honey on a fig and oat cracker. Paired with Il Passito, the crown jewel of Castello di Amorosa-- this was cheese and wine nirvana!
Ah, spring-- Vernal Equinox! Vernal refers to spring and equinox is derived from Latin meaning “equal night” as days and nights are approximately equal everywhere. Increased daylight and the promise of warming temperatures brings the reawakening of flora and fauna. Spring refers not only to the time of year, but also to a season of rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, resurrection, and regrowth; literally to ‘spring’ forth.
In Wine country, the dry winter grass has greened; the yellow –orange mustard is almost blindingly brilliant. Birds are chirping as they ready nests for soon to be hatched chicks. The low croak of frogs around the pond echoes and the rhythmic chirp of the night’s crickets are a sure sign of mild evenings.
In the vineyard, young fragile buds break through as grapevines begin their annual growth cycle.
The extra winter blanket is folded and tucked away and the windows are now opened to welcome a fresh breeze each morning. A big glass of iced tea in the afternoon is suddenly more appealing than a hot mug of Earl Grey and a day at the coast requires umbrellas intended for shade instead of showers.
Spring also holds the possibility of picnics, baseball games, back yard barbecues and dining al fresco. Days off spent indoors seems sacrilegious when the warm sun demands our presence. For dinner; thoughts of salads and grilled kebabs are edging out from the shadow of winter’s hearty soups and casseroles and a perfectly chilled white wine seems like a great way to end a day as we linger a little longer each night before twilight.
As you ease into Spring, relax a bit later each day, stop and smell the green—and if there is snow on the ground outside your door, hang on! You’ll be rolling into spring before you know it.
A beautiful Spring day in the Carneros region of Napa Valley!
First, a stop by Domaine Carneros for sparkling and then a cheese pairing at Artesa Winery. This is what I call a ’market research' day!
After a long day of tough research (ahem), dinner has to be qucik and easy. This Asian cabbage slaw is flavorful, easy to make, and packed with healthy veggies. The 2012 Castello di Amorosa Pinot Bianco is an elegant juicy fruit- laden white; light, zippy and refreshing. Perfect with this Rainbow Sushi Roll and exotic Asian flavors.
Asian Cabbage Slaw
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin (or white wine vinegar)
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon grape seed oil
½ large white cabbage, shredded
1 cup thinly sliced scallions
¼ cup toasted almond slivers or cashew pieces
2 ounces broken ramen noodles
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Mix soy sauce, mirin, water, sesame oil, red pepper flakes and brown sugar in a small pot over low heat. Heat, stirring, just until the sugar has fully dissolved. Whisk in the grape seed oil and set aside to cool.
Place the cabbage, scallions, almond slivers, and uncooked noodles in a salad bowl. Pour half of the dressing over and toss until every piece of vegetable is coated. Add more dressing until the salad is well coated. The remaining dressing will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for at least 1 week.
Garnish with sesame seeds or mandarin orange slices.