The first time I saw the man who would eventually become my husband I was dumb-struck (quite a confession those who know me will attest). Just my type; tall, dark (it was summer), and handsome. After a chat over a glass of vino (what else?), I made the fatal mistake of telling him I thought he was smarter than I was. I say fatal mistake as it is now 24 years later and he won’t let me forget that statement.
Our friends often tell us they have never met 2 people more suited for each other, meant to be together. Better together as 1 than separate as 2. Like peanut butter and jelly, milk and cookies, peas and carrots……it just works.
Perfect pairings certainly enhance and intensify and one thing which is singularly good, but with food and wine, perfect pairings take on a new meaning. If you have ever been on the Royal Pairing Tour at Castello di Amorosa you may have experienced a few of these perfect pairings. A rich pate’ with Castello’s award winning Il Passito comes to mind. Sommeliers agree this match is perfection. Popular wine writer Karen Macneil says “this luxurious pairing comes perilously close to maxing out the human tolerance for pleasure”. An endorsement like that certainly piques the imagination. But, must perfect pairings always be so lofty, and quite candidly, so costly to be perfect? Does perfection have a price? A rule of thumb, pair rich with rich and humble with humble. One of my affordable favorites, a simple roast chicken (any grocery store’s rotisserie is fine), and a bottle of Pinot Noir. The rustic flavors of a simple roast chicken, a loaf of crusty bread and the earthy tones of Pinot Noir are magical together. When selecting your pinot go for light and fruity bottlings from Sonoma. For my dollar Castello’s Los Carneros Pinot Noir is the perfect choice with a hit of clove balanced with bright fruit. This Valentine’s Day, a day dedicated to perfect pairings, celebrate this dynamic duo with your honey. Light a couple of candles, put in your favorite music, pour a couple glasses of vino and relax.
Throughout the year, connect with your inner match-maker; go forth and discover new and exciting pairings.
And remember, perfection is in the eyes of the beholder……
Cheers and Happy Valentine’s Day
Mary Davidek C.S., C.S. W
Big juicy burgers. Big healthy baby. Big hotel suite. Big expense account. Mr. Big. But big wine? In our super-sized reality is big always better?
Since big is often a matter of perspective and can be vague in usage, to better understand big as it relates to wine we need to go to the source; to the vineyard. In wine, big is typically synonymous with Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Napa Valley. Since Napa is home to some of the most expensive agricultural land in the United States it is understandable how big enters the picture. Cabernet grown in this lush valley thrives. Upon examination this petite powerhouse of a grape resembles a small dark blueberry more than a familiar table grape. As a matter of fact, all grapes are called berries. Cabernet berries are tightly clustered and the skin is thick and darkly pigmented. But this power is not just skin deep. With the largest seed mass of any black grape, the tannin to juice ratio is only one factor when defining big – as there is nothing passive about this aggressive little berry. However, it is all part of the big reveal. We must look to the winemaking team and the philosophy espoused by each winery and the fruits of their labor for ourselves.
Since I do not drink wine that assaults my palate, when drinking Cabernet I seek out plush, velvety and elegantly styled wines. Some critics may argue this type of cabernet disappeared with payphones and library cards. I disagree. Classically styled Cabernet, while not prolific, is available.
Under the direction of Dario Sattui, one of Napa Valley’s biggest success stories, the winemaking team at Castello di Amorosa strives to produce wines with sophistication. Executive winemaker Brooks Painter utilizes “tannin control” techniques from vineyard to production. The result is palpable.
In the vineyard, Castello’s Cabernet is picked at 25 degrees brix (sugar level). But aside from sugars, Brooks and his team monitor the maturity of the tannins by tasting the fruit from each vineyard block as harvest approaches. Once the juice is in the tank the cap of solids (skins and seeds) is reintroduced to the juice via punchdown or gentle pump-over to limit the over-stimulation of phenolics (natural organic compounds in the juice).
But regardless of the winemaking philosophy or the vineyard geography, the real test is largely subjective and that individual perception or preference is ultimately the biggest player in the equation. The big reveal is how you perceive the wine you are drinking. Thus the debate on big wine continues.
When does size matter? There is one point on which we can all agree…….
A big glass of wine is always better.
Mary Davidek, C.S., C.S.W.
Romantic love will be in full celebration as guests express their love for each other at Castello di Amorosa’s cupid-friendly Royal Hearts Gala on February 16, 2013. A reception kicks off the festivities at 7:00 p.m. followed by dinner seating at 8:00 p.m. The winery’s name embodies the spirit of this gala --- “Castle of Love.” The evening will also include a performance of excerpts from Shakespeare’s works on love.
Castello di Amorosa welcomes special guest chef Alejandra Schrader, a Top 10 Finalist in Fox’s MasterChef USA Season 2. “To say we are thrilled to have Chef Schrader showcase her culinary skills is an understatement,” said President, Georg Salzner. “I’m sure she’ll dazzle us with menu she’s creating. We are looking forward to the menu and the evening,” he adds.
Currently a private chef in Los Angeles, Shrader has participated in high profile culinary festivals such as “Taste of Chicago,” the world’s largest, as well as food and wine festivals in Washington, D.C. and Palm Desert. “I have had the opportunity to learn directly from renowned chefs like Mary Sue Milliken from Border Grill and acclaimed Ricardo Zarate of Picca and Mo-Chica (Food & Wine Magazine’s 2010 Best Chef),” Shrader explains.
“I was fortunate to compete and present my dishes to Judges Chef Gordon Ramsay, Chef Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich,” Chef Schrader explains. “From well over thirty thousand auditions all over the country, 100 people were brought to Los Angeles to compete for the title of MasterChef; and I was one of the lucky ones. I am proud to be part of the MasterChef family and it will be an honor to prepare special dishes for the guests at the Castello’s Gala.”
The Royal Hearts Gala will include a VIP reception with hors d’oeuvres in the Tasting Room followed by a 4-course meal in the Grand Barrel Room. Cost is $195 for the winery’s wine club members and $225 for non-members.
Shakespeare in the Vines will perform selected scenes from Shakespeare’s most romantic plays and sonnets during dinner. Shakespeare in the Vines is an acting troupe which specializes in the works of William Shakespeare.
A top finalist and fan favorite on FOX's popular show MasterChef with Gordon Ramsay, Alejandra has established her presence in the culinary world. She has performed cooking demonstrations all over the United States at prestigious food and wine festivals such as this year's Taste of Chicago, the largest food festival in the world. She has shared the culinary stage with renowned chefs like Roy Yamaguchi, Aaron Sanchez, Sara Moulton, Mark Peel and Graham Elliot. Since the end of MasterChef, Alejandra has done appearances on TV shows like Access Hollywood Live, Cafe CNN, NBC’s Today in LA, and Primera Edición (Univision, Spanish TV). Her recipes and interviews have been featured in high profile magazines like InTouch Weekly and Taste of Home. She owns a private chef business in Los Angeles; she is also writing her first cookbook and working on exciting new media projects. More at http://www.alejandraschrader.com/
Chef Alejandra Schrader
As 2012 came to a close and we ran in another year of beginnings, fresh starts and clean slates, I reflected on the past 365 days. How did 2012 Measure up? Did I live each day to the fullest of did I just do time?
Each January first we received a one year sentence and thus begin the process of tuning the proverbial page on birthdays, dentist appointments, holidays and oil changes. Is this the measure of a year? Flipping pages…simply doing time.
What about grapes? How will the 2012 vintage measure in Napa Valley? With near idyllic weather conditions dominating the growing season, vintage 2012 shows great promise. We will know the extent of this hopeful success in the years ahead when we taste the matured wine. Until then we will keep watch on this cellared expectation as we sample from the barrels…and wait. I recall tasting the 2009 Il Barone Just a few years ago. Drawn from the barrel the young Cabernet was tannic, aggressive, almost abrasive in its blatant immaturity. Last month I pulled the cork on a bottle and the seductive notes of black cherry and licorice jumped from the bottle. The once angry tannins are settling into a presentation of refined strength. Time has served it well.
From today forward, this is how I will measure my years… my vintages. How do I know if 2012 was a success? There are beautiful memories and experiences that I will savor for years to come as well as “learning moments” that I cannot say, that at this time, I can look upon so fondly. Perhaps in a few years I will look back fully able to appreciate and comprehend all I experienced in 2012.
Before this potential is realized, however it needs to do some time.
Happy New Year
Mary Davidek, C.S., C.S.W.
Having a birthday on or near a holiday has its good and bad points. Obviously, friends and family gather to frolic and take part in festive merriment. Unfortunately, said merriment typically has little to do with the birthday and everything to do with the holiday. Me, I share my birthday with a Turkey. November 25th is always crammed with either celebration preparation or post-feast recovery. Every 7th year my birthday is THE day and the turkey proves a formidable rival; pumpkin pie with birthday candles does not have the allure of butter cream frosting with bright neon pink birthday wishes.
My mother was sensitive to this scheduling conflict, thus, when I was very young I was appeased with a trek to the toy store and carte blanche up to $25. In my teens, it was off to the movie theater with my friends for whatever movie was making its blockbuster holiday premier and a pizza sleep-over. As I grew up and eventually, out, we took on a new tradition. I was crowned the decision maker as to what to do with the turkey left-overs. Finally, the bird’s day in the spotlight was over, literally left-over.
A few of my favorites were fairly ordinary; Shepherd’s Pie, Turkey pot pie and Turkey noodle soup were regulars. As I got older, the requests were a bit more sophisticated. Turkey and sour cream enchiladas met with approval and when I requested Turkey Taquitos--that was a keeper.
However, one of my favorites was nothing inventive, creative or inspired by culinary vision. Regardless of my left-over request, turkey salad on mini cocktail bread made an annual appearance and truth be told, I would have forgotten about the other gastronomic explorations in favor of the plate of petite pleasers. As I came of age to share a bit of vino, a glass of bubbly or a fruity rose was included in the party.
I no longer compete with the bird, instead, we are allies. I happily share my birthday with the invited guest and relish the tasty treats it provides.
I thank the bird as left-over memories fill me with happiness.
Not only a great way to use the turkey, but with this salad you can toss in fennel, celery, apples, onion, or cranberries. The La Fantasia has bright berry notes and a slight effervescence; what a way to welcome the holiday season.
My first attempt at preparing Thanksgiving dinner sans mother was 1995, a rite of passage. This particular meal was not a small intimate dinner for myself and my husband, this feast included 2 harsh scrutinizing critics; my step children.
We rented a cabin near Lake Tahoe as we thought it would be the ideal setting for a mountain holiday. The prospect of a Turkey day snowfall and a warm fire seemed perfection. Unfortunately, my mother hurt her leg 3 days before the trip which left more than travel arrangements to rearrange, she was chef de cuisine!
Finally, Thanksgiving Day arrived which meant the inevitable trip to the grocery store, but first, a phone call to Mom. Amidst tears (mine), frantic note taking (me), and some tricks (hers) I was set to create a yummy meal. With list in hand, including the deal-breakers (nothing with carrots, nuts, or mushrooms for Mikaela and for Philip; no peas, cauliflower, or squash). *sigh*… off to the market.
I bought more than was necessary but I was in no position to make last minute shopping trips, this was a one-time performance. Turkey breast; check. Wine; got it. Yams, mashed potatoes; easy. Wine; yes again. Gravy; not too difficult. Biscuits, the kids love little crescent rolls. Pie and whipped cream, double check. Wine; yes, will need a 3rd bottle. But (cue Jaws theme) what about stuffing! The very stuff of which Thanksgiving can be made or broken. I got the stuff on everything but the stuffing! And my Mother‘s stuffing was the benchmark, the Alpha, the Omega of stuffing. Turkeys were honored to be served with this stuffing. How could I have forgotten such a fundamental Thanksgiving Day dish? After all, I had watched her make stuffing for almost 30 years! That’s 30 Thanksgiving dinners! Wait…um….er…..yes. Ok, thanks Mom, I got this.
We sat cross-legged at the coffee table in the middle of a cozy living room, a fire was crackling and the snow was falling. Thanksgiving dinner 1995 garnered rave reviews, the critics were delighted and the stuffing was just right.
Some very traditional ingredients plus a few additions; cornbread stuffing mix, broth, butter, salt, pepper, sweet onion, apple, fennel , dried cranberries, salt, pepper, grape seed oil, and sausage. Lean turkey or chicken sausage is usually my preference, but for stuffing, I want the extra richness of pork sausage.
Sauté onion, fennel and apple in grape seed oil. Grape seed oil brings complex fruitiness and is great for sauté. If available, use fennel instead of celery, it has a sweetness that compliments the onion and tart apple. This sauté has incredible aromatics.
I prefer cornbread but any stuffing mix will work. Add dried cranberries for a splash of color and a hint of acidity. Mix with browned sausage and sautéed veggies. Add melted butter and broth per instructions increasing broth amount by 1/5th. Bake at 350 for approximately 40 minutes, remove foil and bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes.
Pinot Noir and Thanksgiving is a given at my table but with the abundance of savories it is hard to decide on a style of Pinot most suited for the big feast. Castello di Amorosa 2011 Los Carneros Pinot Noir is on the lighter side of the Pinot Noir spectrum, perfect for turkey and all the trimmings. Seductive notes of mulled spice on the nose and a mouthful of bright fruit, this will complement the entire spectrum of Turkey day dishes. To make this Pinot pop, serve at 62 to 65 degrees.
My inaugural blog is inspired by the season (harvest, Thanksgiving) as well as a pivotal election year. Lately, I have found myself churning with thoughts of presidents, Thanksgiving feasts and, of course, wine. For some inexplicable reason this combined into one seemingly implausible package when suddenly an image of Thomas Jefferson became etched in my mind. After a little cyber-searching clarity was resumed; apparently, for me, nothing says ‘Thanksgiving’ like Thomas Jefferson, Brussels sprouts, and wine!
Although the exact origins of Brussels sprouts are not known, Thomas Jefferson is credited with introducing these curious plants to the United States and they were planted at Monticello, his Virginia home. Jefferson loved wine and became one of the world’s most quoted wine connoisseurs. He said ‘wine is a necessity of life’. Well, along with great wine our nation’s 3rd president also had quite an appetite for interesting food and was known for his sophisticated palate. Jefferson frequently hosted lively dinner parties and would often tantalize and intrigue his guests with new delicacies and served delicious wine and unusual foods to promote stimulating conversation. I can only imagine the questioning glance of an inquisitive guest as a platter of odd mini- cabbages were set upon the table and unexpectedly found them to be deliciously savory little vegetables.
With mouthwatering dishes, wine flowing, animated discussions and laughter filling the air……….I then pictured a pleased Thomas Jefferson, content and giving thanks.
Shucked Brussels Sprout leaves Sautéed with shallots and pine nuts
(Aka How to Convert Brussels Sprout Haters into Brussels Sprout Lovers!)
Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable as are cabbage, broccoli, and kale. They contain healthy amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid and dietary fiber and are believed to protect against certain cancers.
It takes a bit time but it is oddly therapeutic. Once shucked from the core, the green leaves of the sprout don’t have a bitter tang. 1 pound of Brussels sprouts shucked leaves serves 4.
Sea salt, pepper (white or black), butter, pine nuts, shucked leaves, shallots, chicken stock
Lightly sauté pine nuts and shallots in 1TBSP butter and sprinkle w/ salt. Remove from heat.
Sautee sprout leaves in 1 TBSP butter and season w/ salt and pepper. Add 2 to 5 ounces chicken stock as a light braising liquid. Boiling sprouts results in significant loss of nutrients but sautéing or roasting does not. Add pine nut and shallot mixture once the sprouts begin to cook down.
Although veggies are not typically wine-friendly, the butter and pine nuts make this a match for Chardonnay. Castello di Amorosa’s Reserve Chardonnay offers just the right touch of juicy pear and stone fruits balanced with a texture of creamy nutty tones that compliments the richness of this dish.
For extra goodness, sprinkle with grated parm.
Consulting winemaker Sebastiano Rosa has been here during harvest working with Brooks Painter, Director of Winemaking, and Peter Velleno, Associate Winemaker. We welcomed some friends to meet him on October 9, where he shared wines from his winery in Sardinia (Montessu and Barrua from Agricola Punica). It was also a chance to taste several vintages of La Castellana, Il Barone and Il Passito with him.
LUPO GOES TO EUROPE
My long-haired German Shepard Lupo is famous for being the Castle winery dog. Whenever I am at the Castle, Lupo, my best friend, is there at my side. He has become popular and well known to our customers. He has even become somewhat famous gracing the cover or interior of several winery dog books. And yes, his name means ‘wolf’ in Italian.
As I ease into semi-retirement, I travel to Italy for more prolonged periods to stay at my monastery, now finally refurbished after 3 years and 6 months of restoration. For years I had made promises to myself to bring Lupo to Europe with me, as he and I suffer greatly when we are apart for extended periods. For weeks after I would depart he would go to the Castle searching for me, hanging out at my car, not eating---hoping I would arrive. Hearing this always saddened me.
This past April, I decided to go to Europe for 12 weeks. I just had to bring Lupo irrespective of cost or trouble. It wasn’t easy. Many airlines didn’t want dogs at all. Others would only take smaller dogs. Lupo weighs 122 pounds. Other airlines that would take a large dog didn’t fly where I wanted to go. I kept hearing no at every turn. Finally, I found an agency that could do it for about $4,000. As a last resort I was willing to pay the money, but I kept researching until a godsend happened. That godsend was LUFTHANSA. They agreed to take him and even walk and water him in Frankfurt, the stopover. And the cost was only $400 each way plus the cage. Not only does Lufthansa give great service to passengers, they really treat animals well.
But still I wasn’t sure. Friends said 11 year old Lupo might die on the long, 15 hour flight and layover. Others said he would suffer greatly, and I shouldn’t do it. Then there was all the paperwork with the vet, the state of California, the vaccinations, etc. But the vet assured me it could be done safely. And since Lupo sleeps most of the time anyway, could lie down, stand up and turn around in his cage (also equipped with lots of water) I decided to do it. I wish I could lie down on a flight.
I had to fly to Rome instead of my usual destination, Florence, as a bigger plane was needed, but it worked. Upon disembarking in Rome, I nervously looked for Lupo. As soon as he saw me he howled with delight. I promptly let him out of his cage, and he did an extraordinary thing. He christened Leonardo Di Vinci Airport by pooping in 5 different spots on the polished marble floors – which I had to clean up, but Lupo was healthy and happy, and we happily drove off to the monastery.
In Europe, I took Lupo everywhere with me, traveling through much of Italy, Germany and Austria. We hung out together every day, and he slept near me at night. I used to allow him to sleep in bed with me sometimes when he was younger and smaller. He was allowed into all restaurants and hotels with me. Nobody refused him. He was even offered meat and bones at restaurants. Europeans have a different mentality about animals. He was a good---and pampered---watchdog at the monastery as well.
Lupo and I had a great time together. He is one of the most well traveled dogs I know. I do wish he had studied Italian harder to communicate with that country’s dogs better. And thankfully he didn’t soil the San Francisco airport on our return, probably out of respect for American soil. I vow now that every time I go to Europe for a month or more my best friend Lupo will be with me.
Castello di Amorosa's "Capture the Flavor" video contest on our Facebook page is in full swing. One of the recent entries can be viewed by clicking: