Monday, July 28, 2008

Albarino and Oysters

Sunday was a rather lazy day, and a welcome one. Scott got a long run along the river and both he and Ellie spent some time having their hair trimmed.

Dinner was totally simple and delicious. There was a special on oysters at the market so eighteen of them found their way to the grill in the early evening. Along with them came a Legado del Conde 2006 Albarino. All I added was an ear of fresh corn, a couple hard rolls and a butter and lemon juice sauce for the oysters. The butter was a little special since it contained parsley, chives, shallots, garlic, dill, and red onion. It was perfect for dipping the oysters. It's a compound butter that the market makes and sells and it just seemed the thing for the oysters.

The Albarino was tart, crisp and totally refreshing. The label looked refreshing and that's exactly what the wine was. Albarino continues to be a wonderful summer wine and a great wine with seafood. A dipped oyster and a sip of wine, and that procedure was repeated over and over until the oysters were gone. They were a perfect compliment to each other. The rest of the sauce, with some of the wonderful oyster juices now in it was great for dipping the remainder of the hard rolls. Bread and wine was never so good.

The only down side was the slick, green, synthetic cork in the wine bottle fought a battle with the cork screw. Once I got the cork out it was so slick it took a pliers to grasp it firmly enough to force it to give up the corkscrew. The wine would have been better served with a screw cap.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Red on Red Overindulgence

Once in a while one needs to overindulge - and today that opportunity presented itself.

The local market had a special on porterhouse steaks so one rather large one left the market on a 'permanent loan.' The beef is a Coleman steak from Colorado. Totally natural, no antibiotics or hormones are used in raising the calves. They are grass fed and then fattened at the very end on corn. With the price of corn skyrocketing thanks to most of it going to ethanol production, a steak like the one pictured here may be out my price range soon. Sprinkled with a pepper mix, it was tossed on the grill until medium rare. The smoke perfumed the entire neighborhood and even the new, cat owning neighbor was sticking her nose out of the door and sniffing the wind. Scott and Ellie were waiting for the cat to make an appearance, but she was a no-show today.

There was a baked potato with Greek yogurt and fresh chives and an ear of local Silver King sweet corn to complete the meal.

Looking for something big in the wine department I opted for a 2004 Cascabel Shiraz from Australia, a wine that has been resting in the cellar for two years.

Ripe, bordering on over-ripe, the wine smelled of dark plums, blackberries and raw meat. Sadly, I found it over-extracted and too low in acid to really compliment the steak. A good, ripe, impressive wine that would have been better served as a stand alone wine rather than with a meal. It was too low in acid to clear the palate between bites of the steak. The food and the wine fought with each other to see which could produce the biggest flavors, and there was no respite.

The wine was well made and probably was accomplishing what was intended by the winemaker. A little more acid and a little less fruit and the wine would have been great. Not a bad wine - just not my style. The second bottle in the cellar will wait for a couple of years.

The steak? Earthy and full flavored with the correct amount of fat to make the taste linger. There are several slices left over and they will make a great appetizer before oysters go on the grill tomorrow afternoon.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Peaceful, Easy Feeling

Every so often the weather is perfect, and this evening certainly falls into that category. Those wonderful Canadians sent us a cold front last night that dropped the daily high temperature from 91 yesterday to 77 today. The front also pushed out all the humidity. This evening temperatures are already down into the mid 60 degree range. This is like Christmas in July.

To celebrate and enjoy I left work a little early and stopped at the market. I brought home two, Icelandic, lamb rib chops and tossed them on the grill. There were rosemary roasted potatoes to go with the chops; small, local redskin potatoes quartered and tossed with olive oil, salt and fresh rosemary and done in the oven until crisp on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. An ear of local corn completed the meal.

Pictured above is my first Gordon setter, Rob, who would have turned 30 this year. The old guy was totally crazy over lamb and would lie by the grill or in the kitchen and guard the grill or oven in case a burglar tried to make off with whatever part of a lamb was cooking. It was always a given that I could never live in the country with Rob because if he ever found out that lamb chops came from sheep he would have eaten a few. I always found it a shame that he died before they started selling lamb and rice dog food. He would have loved it. Even after all these years eating lamb still brings back happy memories of that old dog.

While the potatoes were roasting and the charcoal was working toward its peak I opened a 2006 Chateau Suau white Bordeaux. Crisp and sharp on the entry the wine had a mellow core to it and was perfect with a dip of goat cheese, scallions, hot sauce and flaked crab meat. Grass and figs were the main flavor profile. Nice finish and a good wine for $13. It's a simple white Bordeaux and is probably at its peak. I'll finish it tomorrow with a small piece of fish.

With the lamb there was a 2004 Kinkead Ridge, Ohio River Valley Cabernet Franc. Nice dark cherry fruit up front with hints of bright red cherries mixed in. Good acid and plenty of soft tannin to carry everything else along. Very balanced wine with a nice finish. It seemed a little short in the finish at first but the second glass - poured from a small decanter - solved that problem. The third glass was the best and was a perfect foil for the lamb. The fruit of the wine and the gaminess of the lamb were a great match. I have said it several times, but here it is again; it's wonderful to have a local, Ohio winery producing great wines that match with good food.

In honor of their great, great uncle Rob, Scott and Ellie got some lamb fat as an after dinner snack. My dessert was a small glass of 18 year old Caol Isla single malt whisky. Definitely like Christmas in July.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Janis Joplin and Balloons

Had I read the local paper I would have known that this weekend was the hot air balloon fest. The dogs knew as they barked for most of the morning as nearly a hundred balloons passed over head this morning.

By 10:00 AM the temperatures were already into the low 90 degree range so I spent most of the day inside. We watched a DVD called Festival Express which features a remarkable performance by Janis Joplin singing "Cry Baby" to a huge crowd in Winnipeg so I decided to play around a bit with editing software with the photo of the balloons. I liked the sweep of the roof of the medical center with the balloons above it even before I changed the coloring to somewhat reflect Janis.

Dinner? We grilled veal, loin chops that were marinated in olive oil, garlic, lemon peel and juice and chopped rosemary then added grilled corn on the cob and the rest of the asparagus from yesterday.

I also called San Francisco to wish a happy birthday to a very good friend and I gave him three wines to choose among for dinner tonight and with the temperatures in mind he selected a 2007 Verget de Sud Rose de Syrah.
Verget is one of my favorite producers of French wine with most of it being white Burgundy. Since reading the new edition of The Wines of Burgundy by Clive Coates, MW I cannot drink a bottle with out thinking of his description of 'Maison Verget."
"Jean-Marie Guffens is vociferous, rude and indiscreet, irritating rather than congenial. But he has shown with his own domaine Maconnais wines that he not only loves his metier but knows how to do it."
The syrah rose is a vin de pays Vaucluse and is bright, lively, fruity and very dry. For $11 it is excellent. My friend and his wife are going out to an oyster bar for dinner which made me somewhat jealous until the veal came off the grill and the wine was opened. I'm still jealous that the temperature in Larkspur CA is in the mid 70's and they are eating the oysters outdoors on the patio of a restaurant. Life is good, but sometimes it can be even better.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Halibut, Sweet and Spicy

One of the best things about the period from March to mid October is fresh Alaskan Halibut. I would be hard pressed to choose between halibut and Alaskan Salmon.

Today was the halibut's turn. It was a simple preparation. I dusted the fillet with chipotle powder and seared it flesh side down in a small skillet over high heat. It was flipped over to skin side down and then the skillet was popped into a hot oven for eight minutes.

The eight minutes were long enough to quickly seam some thin asparagus spears.

Prior to this I made a fruit salsa with chopped mango, fresh tomatoes, dice jalapeno chili, minced red onion, chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice, a dash of red wine vinegar and three drops of my favorite habanero hot sauce, Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally.
There is such sweetness and delicacy in the halibut that it amazes me how well it stands up to spicy things. The chipotle powder gives it a crust with a little bite to it and, the peppers and hot sauce give it another flavor dimension. They play off each other like a couple dancing a seductive tango on your tongue.

The wine was a 2005 Markus Molitor Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett from the Mosel. The wine is on the sweet side for a Kabinett but it had such wonderful acidity that it matched perfectly with the fish and the salsa. I was getting some stone fruit on the front end, but it ended with an aftertaste of lime and minerals. A totally refreshing wine, and at 7.5% alcohol one that could be sipped all evening. As it warmed a little the lime in the finish became more pronounced. At $17 a bottle it is a great bargain.

Scott and Ellie were more than happy to get the halibut skin as a snack after dinner before heading out to chase a new cat that moved into the neighborhood today.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Too Much Barking

It's finally very hot and humid and that means it's summer here in Ohio. That also means that the windows are closed and air conditioner is running. That didn't stop a fit of barking this evening from Ellie and Scott. They were at the front door and barking when I went to look and saw nothing.

As soon as I was back in the kitchen they started again. I went back to the front door and saw nothing. They were "properly castigated" and I returned to the kitchen only to have them start again.

This went on for more than several minutes until the barking changed to a loud howl!

I live near a medical center that has a large field and this time I looked across the street and a large, hot air balloon was rising above the roof of the main building and heading directly toward us. The dogs don't like the hissing sound that the burner on balloons make and that was no doubt the cause of the barking. They knew before there was any visual evidence what was going on - and they were not happy.

Things finally settled down and I was able to get back to a bottle of 2007 Cline Viogner. Fruity and floral and just barely off dry it is a very good bottle of wine for $10. It carries only a 'California' appellation but it is what it intends to be, just a refreshing little bottle of wine to drink. It's correct enough that it hints at more expensive bottles and makes me think of a Condrieu. Good chilled and good as it comes to cool room temperature. I can't recall ever having had a wine from Cline that I didn't like.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Science of Wine

Last night over a glass or two of Rose de Fayel I finished an excellent book by Jamie Goode, one of my favorite wine bloggers. Like his blog and his website the book is highly readable.

As an amateur I read enough about wine and run across terms that I would like to know more about without searching for research papers on the internet. Just about everything is covered in this small book (200+ pages).

Pruning and trellising, irrigation techniques, micro-oxygenation, alcohol reduction, etc. are all covered here in sufficient detail that I now have more of a working knowledge of these terms. The book will remain in an accessible spot as a handy reference the next time an article starts to reference reverse osmosis or wine-flavor chemistry. The photos, graphs and charts included are great and a good source of information in themselves.

My only complaint about this particular edition is that it is difficult to follow the sidebars and subsections. They are a little 'chopped up.' This is a matter of book design and not writing and is the only thing I don't like and appreciate about the book.

The Science of Wine from Vine to Glass. Jamie Goode (2005) University of California Press.

I'm straying from wine for my next book as I just purchased a copy of The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics by Leonard Susskind. His last book, An Introduction to Black Holes and String Theory was fascinating and I'm sure this one will be also. I'll start the book as soon I learn what wine goes with theoretical physics.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Every Day Should Be Saturday

Despite a couple of no shows the wine tasting on Saturday proved to be a success. The weather turned warm after the morning rain but the red wines were still good.

The wine list was interesting since it was four California Cabernets and one Rioja. The wines were a 2004 (instead of 2002) Opus One, a 2005 Stags Leap Wine Cellars Artemis, a 2004 Brookdale Napa Valley Cabernet, a 2003 Vinoce Mt. Veeder red wine and the 2001 Roda I Reserva.

There was not a bad wine in the bunch and the group consensus started at very, very good and went up from there. At the end of the day we decided not to select a group favorite because the voting would have placed at least one of the wines in last place and all were good enough to not merit that.

That said, I still ranked the wines in my mind and they are listed in that order here.

The Opus One was decanted for two hours and was full of ripe, dark cherries, cassis and plums with soft, smooth tannins. There was some great acidity, but the most striking thing was that the wine was in total balance at such an early point in its life. Elegant, yet full flavored it finished with some great length. Interestingly, by the time we got to the last sample the fruit seemed to recede and tannins became very gripping on the finish. The wine retails for around $150 in the stores.

The Roda I Reserva was a surprise hit with the group and a close second to the Opus on my list. It was decanted for an hour. Black and bright red fruit, some earth and herbs a little vanilla oak in the nose and taste. Very smooth tannins, wonderful acidity and an improbably long fruity finish made for an excellent wine. The wine is still young and several more years in the cellar will pay a great dividend. I remarked yesterday about a quality/price ratio and this wine was a steal at the original price of $50 and at a replacement cost of $70 is still a good buy.

The Vinoce was a wine I have never tasted before, and one that I was totally unfamiliar with. It was a most interesting wine and is listed as a 'proprietary red wine.' The blend on this vintage is 60% Cabernet Franc, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Merlot, all from estate vineyards on Mt. Veeder in the southwest corner of Napa Valley. No question that these were mountain grapes as this wine was full of concentrated fruit and heavy tannins. It still retained some acid, and was flirting with being over ripe without ever slipping over the edge and being overblown. I liked the hint of clean dirt in the finish. At just less than $50 it might be interesting to see how this wine develops.

I really couldn't choose between the Vinoce and the Stags Leap Artemis though they were certainly different wines. Since it's an an Olympic year let's call the Vinoce a weightlifter and the Artemis a swimmer. Though it carries only a Napa Valley appellation this wine was so typical of the Stags Leap area that it was no surprise that it contained grapes from both Stags Leap Vineyard and Fay Vineyard. There was ripe fruit with hints of herbs and a a touch of tobacco that wrapped itself around the tannins. Perfectly balanced, lighter than the other wines, but an excellent wine for $55. The Vinoce might overpower you with its strength, but the Artemis just charmed you with its elegance and finesse. I also found it interesting that at the end of the day the Opus One closed up and was tannic while the Artemis was still blooming.The 2004 Brookdale was my least favorite wine of the day but one that I still thought was very good. There was ample fruit, ample tannins, nice balance and everything was correct about the wine. No question it was a well made wine. What seemed lacking to me was any sense of character or individuality. I've tasted this same wine under may different names and labels. The fruit was a blend of several vineyards in Napa, but there was just not enough individuality to make me take notice of the wine. $45.

There was no question that the appetizer of the day turned out to be American Bison mini-burgers, ground bison mixed with jalapeno peppers and a little onion and then grilled. There was a cilantro sauce to go with the burgers and it was good, but it clashed a little with a couple of the wines. Since there was some Maytag blue cheese on the cheese plate we began crumbling that over the top of the burgers and that complimented every wine on the table.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Roda I and the Big Event

The Big Event is a "gang of eight" affair this afternoon. Eight of us are each bringing opening a "bottle of our best" to share. Everyone is also bringing an appetizer to go with the wine. The event was actually scheduled for April but too many of the group had scheduling problems.

I've had this bottle in the cellar for a couple of years and decided it was time after being reminded of how good Roda wines are by another wine blogger. This wine is 100% Temperanillo from Rioja. I tasted it before buying two bottles several years ago for less than $50 and thought it needed at least a couple of years. So today it is time to try one of the two. Some internet research revealed a $70+ replacement cost so I now have a quality - price ratio to determine after tasting it today.

My appetizer? Some sliced Serano ham and some grilled baby back ribs with Spanish seasoning.

I do know what one of the other bottles at the event will be, a 2002 Opus One. One of the folks is very big fan of Australian Shiraz so I expect one of those as well. Two are big fans of California cabernet so I suspect we will see two of those. My guess is that every wine will be red, though even I toyed with taking a white, a 2005 Chateau Carbonnieux.

Fortunately the Ohio weather is cooperating today. It's pouring rain at the moment but the temperature is only in the mid 70 degree range.

Notes and details late tonight or early tomorrow morning.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Wild Coho Salmon

A delicious evening tonight. The weather was fantastic with clear skies and temperatures in the lower 70 degree range. The only thing better than the weather was the salmon.

Pictured above is an eight pound coho salmon fresh from Alaska (with the camera lens cap added for perspective). I filleted it into two halves using my trusty ulu, then tossed it on the grill, flesh side down. After a couple of minutes it was flipped over and basted with a barbecue sauce of butter, catsup, Worcestershire Sauce, soy sauce, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and black pepper. It took about seven more minutes to finish cooking.

We tried three wines. The 2006 Meranda Nixon Traminette is a local Ohio wine. Traminette is a hybrid grape, a cross between Gerwurztraminer and Seyval Blanc. It retains some of the spiciness of the Gerwurztraminer but the addition of the Seyval Blanc makes for an interesting combination. It was almost an auslese in style with residual sweetness, but balanced by some nice acidity. Not a bad wine for $12, but nothing great. Not especially good with the salmon but it made a nice drink after dinner.

The Biltmore Estate reserve chardonnay from 2004 is a North Carolina wine. It had a front end that was a little sweet, but there was a nice, dry finish. As it opened up over the course of the evening some oak and vanilla came through. Good wine and very old world in style. Again, not a great wine for $22, but more than drinkable. The acid in the wine was good with the salmon but the vanilla that popped out wasn't.

The Julienas I have talked about before. It was very good and went wonderfully with the salmon, having just enough tannin and acid to refresh the palate between bites. The mature fruit was a nice counterpoint to the fish.

Good friends, good wine and good food. After a long and poor week it was a great way to end things.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

What a disaster the week was at work, but it is ending well.

With what should have been a 32 hour week leading up to the Fourth of July, I managed to log just shy of 60 hours because the marketing department suffered a case of cranial/rectal inversion and there was no one around to tell them they were insane. The week included almost 18 hours yesterday, but a mere 8 hours today which was the official holiday. Scott and Ellie were upset because they were convinced I didn't love them any more.The weather is very unlike early July here with the high temperature reaching only into the mid 60 degree range today instead of the usual, upper 80 degree range. It also rained for most of the day. With that in mind, I managed to sneak home at lunch and throw a chuck roast in a low oven to braise the afternoon way. When I got home for the evening it was perfectly done and the only thing left to do was boil some egg pasta and make some fresh gremolata to toss over the finished product.

There were two additional chores. First, I fed the dogs and poured some of the braising liquid over their kibble, and added a couple of the carrots from the braising liquid. They are convinced I still care about them, though they are still plopping their heads in my lap as a reminder as I type this entry.

Immediately following that I put a 2005 Vina Alarba Old Vines Grenache in the fridge to chill for a few minutes and poured a glass of 2007 Verget de Sud Rose of Syrah, Vin de Pays that was already in the fridge. The rose was a welcome, bright and fresh antidote for the week and the grenache was perfect with the braised roast.

Tomorrow is the real party for the holiday as there is a ten pound, wild, Alaskan sockeye salmon waiting to go on the grill and some pinot noir and Beaujolais to taste along side it. Yes, there will be friends to help eat the fish.

There will be a glass of Scottish whisky to end the evening for an additional celebration. Yesterday (July 3) would have been my parents 70th wedding anniversary. That deserves more than a glass, but any more than that and I will fall asleep in the recliner.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Sawtooth Ale

Long, hot, busy day at work yesterday and by the time I got home the last thing I wanted to do was cook. There was some breast meat left on a chicken carcass and some leftover fennel, apple and juniper berry slaw. The chicken had been earmarked for the stock pot, but there was enough meat left on it for a light snack so the dogs and I picked the carcass clean. I ate the good parts and they got bites of rest.

There were a couple of bottles of open wine in the fridge with a vacuum stopper in them, but I was also very thirsty. There were also two bottles left from a six-pack of Left Hand Brewing Company's Sawtooth Ale sitting in the fridge, so off came the top of one of those.

This is a brewery in Longmont CO, and since I have friends that live in Longmont and frequent the place I own a couple of glasses, a hat and T-shirt with the logo on it. Their Sawtooth Ale is a British bitters style beer. Tart, sharp, low alcohol and imminently refreshing and that was just what I wanted and needed.

A month or so ago the New York Times did a tasting of this style of beer and the Sawtooth was the panel's favorite. Good choice, and it was so refreshing I drank the second one.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

In The Library

The worst part of ordering books from Amazon is that something else usually catches your eye before completing the checkout procedure.

That was the case with A Wine Journey along the Russian River by Steve Heimoff. I was ordering another book and this one begged to come along for the ride. I'm glad it did.

As with my previous foray into books on the site, this is not be taken as a review, only as my impressions of the book.

It's exactly what the title says. Heimoff starts at the far north of Sonoma County and follows the Russian River to the ocean, focusing on wines, wineries, vineyards and winemakers along the way.

A major part of the book looks at the geologic events that shaped the river over the course of time and how this relates to soils and wine. Very interesting and informative stuff. More of the book deals with the early settlers along the river. Familiar names pop up frequently. Again, this is interesting stuff.

The sections of the book dealing with wine aren't to be ignored, though the thing that shone through clearest to me is that Heimoff and I have opposing views on what constitutes a good cabernet sauvignon based wine. He is more fruit forward and more extracted than I am. Much more.

One good example of this difference is his high praise for Simi Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon. I've tasted it on three occasions and always found it overbearing, over ripe and overly alcoholic. Not my cup of tea, though the story about how it got its name is fascinating.

Heimoff also seems disappointed in this part of the book that in a taste-off between Sonoma and Napa cabernets one winemaker was able to identify 90% of the wines as to their origin. Heimoff seems to have been hoping that the Sonoma wines would be indistinguishable from the Napa wines. Again, it's a difference of opinion, but I would have been (and was) delighted that someone could tell the difference - not because one was better than the other but only because they were different.

Of course the lower end of the Russian River flows through prime pinot noir country and here Heimoff and I are in more agreement. With the exception of Calera and Hanzell the best California pinots I've had came from the Russian River Valley. Rochioli, Dehlinger, and Williams Selyem are some of my favorites, though they are now getting out of my price range. He's also correct that Rochioli makes one of the very best Sauvignon Blancs in California.

On my last two trips to California I have avoided Napa in favor of the southern end of the Russian River Valley, and then into the Dry Creek Valley so he is writing about an area I love to visit, and an area whose wines I like. I worry that some of these wines are starting to get too big, but that's a too long discussion for here.

The book finishes on the Sonoma Coast where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean.

Bottom line - well written and a good and enjoyable read.

A Wine Journey along the Russian River (2005) by Steve Heimoff. University of California Press.