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
♦ 4tsp. flour
♦ 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. Sautée 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 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!