In all honesty, Halloween has never been my favorite holiday. I don’t have a sweet tooth, I never liked to dress in costumes and fright movies terrify me. With three older brothers I was often the victim of pranks and shenanigans and I am quite certain my irrational fear of monkeys and primates can be traced to the mischief my brothers concocted which turned grade school trips to the zoo into angst ridden rituals. The only aspect of Halloween I truly warmed to was the fact that traditionally Halloween marks the beginning of the holiday season. Fall and winter vegetables replace summer fruits and the conspicuous cornucopia of harvest prevails. Bring out the blankets and smell the spices wafting in the chilled autumn air.
I know, I know… it's Halloween and fright-night festivities may be on the agenda; perhaps not a trick-or-treat outing but maybe a cozy dinner party with a few friends followed by a few favorite movies. And just because it’s a holiday spotlighting pumpkins and candy corn does not mean we should throw thoughts of food and wine pairing to the jack-o-lantern! Take a cue from one of the most ominous and frightening movie monsters in history, move over Freddy and Jason—Hannibal Lecter gets my vote for Halloween’s classic scary movie poster- boy! Hannibal is creepy, petrifying and unnervingly disturbing and yet even while shackled in chains and full facial restraint he maintained a pompous arrogance. This notorious villain has one quality I can’t fault; he certainly cared about pairing his meals with the correct wine! *ahem* Plus, he obviously loves vino Italiano which makes Hannibal Lecter Castello di Amorosa’s gruesomely detestable official “Fright Knight’.
Savor this Halloween with a delicious and super easy comforting classic -- replete with fava beans and a nice Chianti…. (Sangiovese, of course!) Pop in a DVD and enjoy.....
♦ Easy Crock Pot Lamb Shanks
Brown Lamb Shanks in grape seed oil in large pan
Season generously with Salt and Pepper
Place browned shanks into crock pot and top with the following:
- 1/2 C red wine
- 1/2 C beef stock
- 1 can (14 oz) Italian style diced tomatoes
- 1 tsp Italian Seasoning
- 8-10 cloves of diced garlic
- 4 large sliced mushrooms
- 1 TBSP Worcestershire
- 1 sweet onion cut into large slices
Place crock pot on low 6 -8 hours, remove shanks and plate with sauce and vegetables
Mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic, broth and red wine create a delicious sauce.
Sangiovese, the primary grape grown in the Chianti region of Tuscany, is a very important varietal at Castello di Amorosa. Sangiovese also provides a spine of bright red cherry in blends like Il Brigante and La Castellana.
The Silence of the Lamb Shanks, fava beans, and a nice 'Chianti' in true Castello style!
During the Harvest season, there are always exciting things going on around the Castello, and today on the Crush Pad was no exception. Today, for the first time at the Castello, our winemaking team reserved a small lot of our Don Thomas Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon for fermentation directly in French Oak Barrels.
Traditionally, the fermentation process takes place in stainless steel tanks, where the must (skins and seeds of the grapes) are cold soaked with the juice before yeast is added. The cap, or layer of skins and seeds that get pushed to the top of the tanks from the activity taking place during fermentation, is broken up by either the punch-down or pump-over method, both of which ensure an even distribution of the color and flavors we wish to impart into our red wines. After five to eight days in these fermentation tanks, the juice is pressed from the skins and seeds and pumped into French Oak barrels for aging in the Castello’s extensive underground cave and cellar system.
Barrel fermentation means that the freshly destemmed grapes and their juices are pumped directly into French Oak barrels whose heads have been removed. Dry ice is added to cool the berries before the barrel heads are secured to seal in the must. The barrels are then laid on a rack that allows them to be rolled back and forth daily to ensure the cap stays moist and the oak is evenly introduced to the fermenting must and juice. Typically, two full barrels of must and juice will amount to one barrel of wine. The process of fermenting the juice in oak barrels helps to impart an added silkiness to the tannins and a rounder, more lush mouthfeel, especially to Bordeaux varietals. This extremely labor-intensive method of fermentation is typically reserved for only the most exclusive of wines, and the highly-acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignon from the Don Thomas Vineyard is an exceptional example of the quality of grapes deserving of such treatment.
The Don Thomas Cabernet Sauvinon clusters are conveyed into the berry sorter/ destemmer as a lucky tour group watches
The new French Oak barrels are filled directly from the destemmer
Our Cellar Supervisor, Chema, overseeing the juice and must being pumped into a special French Oak barrel that has a door in place to make filling and emptying easier
The deconstructed barrel waiting to be resealed with the juice and must inside
Dry ice is added to the must before the barrels are resealed to help cool off the berries
Resealing the barrel heads before they are sent into the cellars to begin the fermentation process
The barrels are stored in a special temperature-controlled room in the Castello's cellars during the fermentation process.
For the last 19 months, I have been on a journey of more healthful eating. This has included only small quantities of lean meats with most animal proteins in the family of fish and fowl. Most of my daily caloric intake comes from fiber via fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. I thought I was doing great; losing pounds, gaining stamina….I felt renewed…invigorated... healthy. However, while a high-fat, high-calorie diet increases the risk of gallstones, apparently a very low fat weight loss plan can also cause issues. While a low fat diet allows you to lose weight, with smaller quantities of fat and oil to break down, the gallbladder does not contract or empty as frequently, and, as a result, this may produce a build-up of bile and possibly an increased risk of gallstones.
With my gallbladder permanently out of the equation, I've taken time in the last few weeks for a little research…. along with a little lab work (i.e. cooking in the kitchen) in an effort to repair my relationship with fats and oils.
Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. Although oils are not a food group, they provide essential nutrients and are therefore included in USDA recommendations of what to eat. Most fats should be polyunsaturated (PUFA) or monounsaturated (MUFA) fats. Oils are the major source of MUFAs and PUFAs in the diet.
My research eventually took me to an article published by Bon Appétit. Who better than the good eating experts to help guide me in my search for healthy and tasty oil? “Some fat is actually good for you,” the article quotes Alice H. Lichtenstein, director of the cardiovascular nutrition laboratory at Tufts University. “But, to get the most from fats, you need to go beyond olive oil. Open your cupboard to new flavors, cooking temperatures–and health benefits–by diversifying your oils.” In the number one position of most healthful oil on Bon Appétit's list—grape seed oil! High in polyunsaturated fats and vitamin E, grape seed oil has a high smoke point, which makes it a good substitute for olive or vegetable oils for a sauté or stir-fry, and because it has light and clean flavors on the palate, it lets top-notch ingredients stand out.
I remain diligent when it comes to healthy eating and food choices. However, as a discerning skeptic my cynical tendencies combined with my resistance to change has always played second string to the great equalizer; taste! Donning a lab coat for this foray instead of an apron, I must experiment. I made a few fairly standard favorites where I traditionally used olive oil and substituted grape seed oil.
The results were en-lightening!
The process begins on the conveyor for these yummy clusters. Ready to go into the hopper where the stems will be separated and then composted.
Although we are a world of organic goals, long term sustainability is realistic and achievable now. The stems are separated from the clusters and prepared for composting and provide vital nutrients in the vineyard.
After fermentation and a final press of the skins, the pumace is taken and the seeds will be separated and dried.
After several months, the dried grape seeds are ready to be pressed and oil is extracted from the seeds. The oil is obtained through pressing and grinding seeds with the use of stainless steel presses. Since grape seeds are discarded as part of the wine making process, the extraction of the oil is an efficient and sustainable use of a byproduct.
The best oils are cold pressed. Although pressing and grinding produces heat through friction, the temperature must not rise above 120°F for any oil to be considered cold pressed. Cold pressed oils retain their flavor, aroma, and nutritional value. Sample cold pressed grape seed oils at Castello di Amorosa on the Royal Food and Wine Pairing tour.
Since grape seed oil is lighter than olive oil, I was having a problem with a pool of oil accumulating at the bottom of the salad bowl. Problem solved; when making salads, I now add the seasonings and toss it which coats the lettuce with the seasoning giving the oil something to adhere to. Light, healthy and the lettuce retained its crispness.
I drizzled a little Sauvignon Blanc grape seed oil and basil on the bruschetta bites—delicious!
Stir fry and sautés are my favorite use of grape seed oil. Since grape seed oil has a higher smoking point than olive oil, veggies and meat are added to a hotter pan. Plus, the grape seed oil gives off very little flavor in a sauté and this really lets the ingredients shine.
As summer comes to a close and long hot days become abbreviated and alleviated with cooler temps and sweater worthy evenings--September is here. With it, the beauty of harvest and fall is underway. Undeniably my favorite time of the year; the anticipation, the realization of another season. Nervously…… we wait. The hopes, the expectations— will it be as good as last year? Will this year bring the success of another triumph? Will we get the points and revel in great scores? It has finally arrived.
That’s right… are you ready for some football!?
Regular season NFL starts this week and the pigskin is finally back in action. Of course, while the football is being passed and punted on the gridiron the red zone has officially been crossed at my house. Bring on the pigment!
All wine grapes contain clear juice. Although there are a few varietals with tinted juice it is extremely rare. Red wine becomes colored or pigmented in the winemaking process. The liberated or pressed juice of black grapes are fermented in contact with the skins. Since the skins contain all the color, fermentation with the skins extracts this color to the juice and resultant wine. The skin of black grapes also contains complex elements that not only result in this pigmented juice, but imparts tannins and many healthful antioxidants.
My match-up this week includes Cabernet Sauvignon; and since it doesn’t get much more pigmented than this thick-skinned varietal… well….. this pairing calls for a pepper spiked little pig of my own to mark the occasion.
Cheers, or as they say on the field—get ready for kickoff!
No need for binoculars! View this action live and in person from the proverbial 50 yard line! Fall is the time of year for a trip to wine country. Watch the winemaking process from Castello di Amorosa’s home field, the crush pad!
Talk about score! Robert Parker gave Castello di Amorosa’s 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon 91 points! This 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is brawny with loads of muscle yet exhibits a graceful and elegant mouth feel. Brooding deep dark fruit with a hint of spice box and black pepper. Touchdown!
Simple, quick and delicious. This meal won’t keep you away from important plays! I sprinkled the tenderloin with sea salt and garlic powder then very generously coated it with coarse ground pepper. Bake at 350 degrees until the center of the loin reaches 150 deg. Let rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. The peppery seasoned tenderloin plays off the dark fruit of the Cabernet. After Sunday’s match-up this makes for incredible sandwiches to enjoy the next night...during Monday Night Football!
If you’ve attended the Royal Food and Wine Pairing at Castello di Amorosa it comes as no surprise --you know my affection for Gioia, Castello di Amorosa’s Rosato of Sangiovese. Perhaps one of the most versatile food wines available as the pairing possibilities for a well-made rosé are seemingly endless. Traditionally, rosé wines are dry, light, and fruity and carry appeal for white and red wine drinkers. Any black-skinned grape can be made into a blush or rosé wine. The longer the skins remain in contact with the juice and pulp, the more pigment is imparted and, thus, the redder the juice or wine becomes. Rosé is produced by limiting the contact of the skins of black grapes with the juice; for Gioia, it is approximately 36 hours. As we weather the dog-days of summer and celebrate with picnics, grill parties and backyard entertaining, Rosé indeed seems to be on everybody’s mind…and palate. This is a perfect opportunity to explore the aforementioned ‘pairing possibilities’.
Let’s put my theory to the test…let the pairings begin!
Castello di Amorosa’s Gioia, Rosato of Sangiovese has a bright and beautiful salmon colored hue. Serve this chilled rosé with tasty apps or a light and seasonal dinner.
Full-bodied rosé wines are a great match for terrines, pate, and Italian salumi. The fruit notes of Gioia compliment the gamey meats and the acidity provides just enough ‘zip’ to cut through the fattiness of these tasty selections.
Roasted red pepper hummus is a yummy app with a chilled rosé.
Olive-based tapenades with anchovies, capers and light vinegar are prolific in Italian cuisine. The saltiness of the olives is a perfect back drop for fruity Gioia.
Forget the margaritas! Salsa provides a hint (or a lot!) of spice—cool crisp Gioia with the tomatoes and cilantro atop a salty tortilla chip is delicious. Yo tengo chips and salsa!
No time to make a caprese salad..no problem. Caprese bites are a quick and easy alternative.
A favorite on the Royal Food and Wine Pairing menu, cream of tomato basil soup. A touch of cumin adds Mediterranean flair and chilled Gioia is a refreshing contrast to this warming comfort soup.
Margherita Pizza is named for the first Queen of modern Italy, Margherita De Savoia-(l85l-l926). Margherita pizza is a thin crust pizza with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. For a peppery freshness, try it topped with leaves of arugula. Thank you Queen Margherita, you would have loved this pizza with Castello’s Italian style Rosato of Sangiovese, Gioia.
Hot wings and Gioia was my husband’s favorite pairing. This duo takes me back to circa 1985 ordering buffalo wings and a bottle of chilled white Zin! I was definitely on to something—fruit and spice makes everything nice!
Pasta with marinara sprinkled with Asiago and served with Gioia was a simple meal on a hot summer evening.
Research suggests that eating oily fish once or twice a week may increase your lifespan by more than two years and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease up to 35 percent. That combined with a relaxing glass of wine and we may have found the fountain of youth! I loved the grilled smokiness of the delicate salmon meat which was complemented by the crisp berry burst of Gioia. This healthy pairing was incredible; grilled sockeye salmon from our friends at Great Alaska Seafood http://www.great-alaska-seafood.com
A cool watermelon salad tossed in cold pressed grape seed oil and light vinaigrette. Flavorful red onion and a few crumbles of feta combine for a surprising palate of sweet, salty and tangy. Castello di Amorosa’s Gioia completed this palate of fruity crispness.
Kanpai! Talk about a mixed marriage! Rosé is a natural for exotic spices.
The dictionary defines reduction as the act or process of reducing. This is concise and fairly straightforward. In the kitchen, reductions are equally concise and straightforward. Reducing is simply the process of thickening a liquid i.e. soup, sauce, wine etc. by heating. This slowly causes evaporation thereby intensifying the flavor of the liquid. Using a pan without a lid is preferable (which allows the vapors to escape) until the desired volume is reached.
For this segment and by popular demand (Thanks, Rose!) I am going to specifically address balsamic vinegar reduction.
There won’t be much more except a note from personal experience. Reducing balsamic vinegar makes me look like a culinary genius (thanks, balsamic & heat!) and it is a great way to add richness, texture, and sweetness to savories and desserts. It elevates the ordinary.
As my grandmother said, "alla gioccia".. good to the last drop!
Mary Davidek C.S., C.S.W.
Ingredients; just 1. A good balsamic need not be expensive. Castello di Amorosa balsamic is delicious and affordable at $18 per 500ml.
Reduce over medium-low heat to just under a simmer; approximately 195 degrees seems the optimum temperature. Use a large pan so the vapors can evaporate more rapidly. Increase stirring as it thickens.
500 ml or 17.25 ounces reduced to 4.5 ounces in slightly more than 1 hour. Store at room temperature or refrigerate for up to one year.
The perfect complement for a caprese salad.
Baked chicken breast with balsamic reduction.
After removing the chicken from the oven, they were finished in the reduction pan which gave the chicken a delicious balsamic coating.
Berries drizzled with balsamic reduction topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. The acid in the berries evokes a dark chocolate note from the balsamic.
Firm cheese like Piave Vecchio or Pecorino dipped into a balsamic reduction adds just the right sweetness to these salty cheeses. The 2009 Il Brigante has a bit of Malbec which heightens the jammy notes of this cabernet blend.
This decadent dessert is a tasty surprise for the palate. Double dark chocolate gelato with balsamic reduction adds just a touch of savory. Sprinkle with salted almonds and all the bases of the palate are covered with this rich finale.
We hosted our annual Midsummer Medieval Festival on June 22 this year, and our guests (and staff) had a fantastic evening filled with wine, food, and a whole array of medieval games and entertainments. Please enjoy a few of our favorite moments from the event below, and we're looking forward to next year's festival already!
It was a perfect June day in the Napa Valley as our guests arrived for a glass of wine on our Il Passito patio before the Joust
Our president, Georg Salzner, graciously welcomed our wine club members and their guests to the festivities (and even found a fair maiden whose costume matched his!)
A few of our guests in their medieval finery welcoming the knights to the Joust!
Sir William and his companions, our noble knights of the Joust
Everyone eagerly awaiting the start of the Tournament
A fair guest was invited to challenge one of the knights, whom she soundly defeated in battle
He graciously gave her a rose in thanks for not being too rough on him
The knights displayed their skill on horseback in a number of Tournament events
The highlight of the evening: the Joust!
Noble Lords and Ladies of the Tournament
Our guests were enjoying the chance to be noble (and not-so-noble)
A talented troupe of singers entertained as our guests learned the "latest" dance steps
Fire Dancers mesmerized the audience with a spectacular evening finale in the Courtyard
Even the Supermoon made an appearance above the Castello as the festivities drew to a close.
Want to see even more pictures from this great event?
Red, White and Bleu …… Let Freedom Ring!
Freedom; no single word in the English language is more synonymous with America. Case in point, "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness" is a well-known phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence as is inalienable rights which the Declaration says all human beings have been given. Even when certain ‘dry” movements (prohibition 1920-1933) threatened one inalienable right, the powers that be eventually restored this right and true freedom was reinstated.
Without starting a political debate, let’s just talk about the fun stuff! We have the right to eat what we like and drink what we choose. In the United States we boast more than 3,700 certified wineries and in Napa, there are more than 450 wineries in this relatively tiny valley. It is obvious happiness has been justly pursued. For the purpose of this blog and this holiday let’s concentrate on a quintessentially American if not, Californian grape; Zinfandel.
Also known as Primitivo, Zinfandel is planted in nearly 15% of all California’s vineyards. Many debates have ensued as to who can rightly lay claim to this popular cultivar’s origination but DNA fingerprinting revealed it is genetically equivalent to Croatian grapes (which I will spare you the pronunciation of) as well as the Primitivo variety traditionally grown in the Puglia region of Italy. Eventually, this grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century, and became known by the name "Zinfandel". Zinfandel thrives in Napa’s Mediterranean climate as well as other growing regions of California. Geographical and climatic differences are expressive and many; robust and tannic, fruity and candied, complex and aromatic.
As stated, this is about fun, freedom and the right to pursue both. This 4th of July, you will find me celebrating the red, white and blue with another red, white and bleu. Castello di Amorosa Zinfandel (Primitivo) and a yummy burger off the grill. I like 2 cheeses to top my burger, a little white cheddar for creaminess on the palate and a few bleu cheese crumbles for a salty zing. With all the usual burger suspects present and accounted for-- this red white and bleu is perfect to get you in the mood for a night of fireworks.
Happy 4th of July—Let Freedom Ring!
Mary Davidek, C.S., C.S.W.
Everything for our decadent 4th of July burgers.
Remember, on the grill or the stove--160 degrees is the safety zone for hamburger.
Castello di Amorosa's Zinfandel from Russian River Valley is spicy and fruity with hints of potpourri and dried Bing Cherries. Just big and bright enough for the Bleu and Cheddar.
Happiness pursued and achieved--enjoy with your firework spectacular!
Recently, Jeff of "Stay Rad Wine Blog" came "back to the Castle" to review our 2012 Mendocino County Pinot Grigio, pairing it with a scrumptious looking Mac n' Cheese. Here's what he had to say:
"Color: Very pale yellow. Think of the color of hay.
"Nose: Massive amounts of honeysuckle (maybe due to the 3.8 g/L of residual sugar) create a nice backdrop for the green apple and honeydew fruits. The nose isn’t overly sweet. There are plenty of wet rocks to balance everything out.
"Taste: There is a surprisingly nice petrol note to this wine which provides for a very fun, viscous mouthfeel. As with most Pinot Grigios, there is a brightly acidic backbone to this wine that delivers a variety of citrus fruit flavors of lemon and lime zest. There is a nice combination of honey and minerality at play here too.
"Score: I get it. Castello di Amorosa makes wines consisting of mainly Italian varieties of grapes, and no self-respecting “Italian” winery would ever label a bottle as “Pinot Gris”, but… This is not one of those ordinary, 20-dollar, flat-lemon-lime-soda-tasting, Italian Pinot Grigios that have been taking over your local super market in recent years. This drinks like one of those rich, subtle, and intriguing Oregonian Pinot Gris that I have been grooving on in recent months. Stylistically, these guys have done everything right with the grape they call the “Grey Pine”. At 87+ points, you may want to introduce this Pinot Grigio to your favorite housewife."
Check out the rest of his review on his blog here, and be sure to scroll down to see his fantastic comments about our 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir as well!