Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Good Day

Saturday morning was primarily errands but the rest of the day was just relaxing and playing. The new satellite television system was up and running late Friday so whereas I used to complain about nothing to watch on TV when I had 40 stations to choose among I can now make the same statement when I have nearly 200 stations to choose among.

I forced myself to put down the controller long enough to grill an aged rib eye steak and roast some garlic and rosemary potatoes. The steak was finished with just a touch of olive oil and lemon juice. We're still overdosing on vine ripe tomatoes so there was another tomato, basil and mozzarella salad. I will miss this dish in the winter.

The wine was a 2006 Gianfranco Alessandria Barbera D'Alba. There was a fragrant but somewhat closed nose of not totally ripe red cherries and some vegetables. The front end was more about fully ripe, but very tart, sour cherries. Bright and forward acidity, medium body and a little clean dirt on the finish. This was a good choice for a well marbled steak as additional breathing time opened up the wine and it lost its vegetable aroma. The finish was fresh and clean, but not tremendously long. At $16 it's a very good wine.

This is the fourth wine I've had from this producer and I've mentioned the Dolcetta D'Alba previously in this blog. This is a small producer (10 acres) that for some reason has a presence in the local market. I was fortunate enough to taste four of the wines when the winemaker was through the area last fall. The Dolcetto remains one of my favorite food wines. I own several bottles of the 2004 Langhe Nebbiolo. At $22 I thought it was the best value in the lineup, true nebbiolo character at a decenet price and one doesn't have to wait too long to enjoy it. The 2003 Barolo San Giovani was the star of the tasting. A modern style Barolo there was tons of fruit and acid and depth but unmistakable nebbiolo character. At $80 a bottle it was a little pricey, but it was a tremendous wine. There is also a reserve 2005 Barbera D'Alba in the $35 range, but that wine was gone before I got a chance to taste it. From top to bottom Alessandria is simply an excellent producer of moderately priced wines.

To finish the evening there was a small square of dark chocolate. That wasn't a good choice with the wine as there wasn't enough depth to the wine. The 200 day old Gorgonzola cheese was a much better choice for the last glass of the evening. That was a nice pairing.

I have no idea what today will bring, but Monday (a holiday) will start with a trip to a couple of nearby Ohio vineyards. It's nearly time for the harvest and if the weather holds the 2008 local vintage should be outstanding.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Earlier this week I opened a 2006 Bogle Petit Syrah. When the cork came out of the bottle the unmistakable scent of blueberries came with it. The wine was big, as a PS should be, but it was well balanced and very forward. The tannins were soft rather than harsh and there was a good dose of acid and just a hint of sweetness at the end. There was some cinnamon and some red currants in the mix as well. It was a good drink with a small piece of pan seared pork. This is a Petit Syrah to open and enjoy and not one to stash away until it softens. There were about three glasses left in the bottle so it was vacuum corked and put aside until the next night.

As an experiment I made a blueberry cobbler, full of blueberries, lemon and cinnamon and topped with a sweetened biscuit crust. While it cooled I reopened the Bogle. It had mellowed into a very good little wine and matched well with a couple of chicken thighs.

After dinner came the grand experiment. First a bite of blueberry cobbler and then a sip of wine. The small dose of sweetness at the end of the wine was perfect with the cobbler, and the entire experience was like being immersed in a blueberry bush both in aroma and taste. The two more than complimented each other, they had a large dose of the same flavors. Blueberries, cinnamon and lemon (acid) all matched up together.

This coming winter when blueberries are prohibitively expensive I may just open another bottle of Bogle Petit Syrah to enjoy the taste of summer.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Burgundy and Bunnies

They were tasting a young, white Burgundy at the market today and it was very attractive and well priced at $16. Two bottles came home with me. The wine was a 2006 Domaine Hubert Chavy Bourgogne 'Les Saussots.' The nose was about apricots sprinkled with lemon juice with some mild butter action. There was also an hint of another aroma I couldn't recognize, nor could a couple of others at the tasting counter, but we all agreed that something else was going on with the wine. The taste was green grapes, lemon, lime, butter and what turned out to be the aroma that we were picking up on - cloves. It wasn't strong and it wasn't at all offensive, it just added a dimension to the wine. Medium weight, wonderful acidity and a hint of oak on the finish made for a nice wine at this price.

The weather today was oppressive with temperatures in the low 90 degree range and humidity working its way up the scale to match. August is finally in Ohio in full force so grilling was out of the question.

I stopped at the local farmer's market and bought some just dug carrots that looked very good. I passed by another booth and they were selling the first rabbits of the season. That's one of the promises that Autumn and better weather is on its way. I brought a young rabbit home to go with the Burgundy.

I cut the rabbit into serving pieces. With the scraps I made a small pot of rabbit stock. The rabbit pieces were salted and peppers and sprinkled with fresh rosemary and placed in butter and olive oil in a hot glass dish and roasted for about 20 minutes. They were turned and sprinkled with chopped garlic and shallots and roasted for another five minutes. Finally I added some white wine and rabbit stock and roasted the rabbit for another five minutes or so.

While the rabbit was roasting I blanched some of the carrots in water with chunks of fresh ginger and made some herbed rice.

When the rabbit came out of the oven I removed it from the dish and swirled some butter into the remains. The carrots were quickly sauteed in butter with a grating of fresh ginger. The results are pictured below.

The rabbit and the Burgundy were wonderful together. The acidity in the wine cut the butter in sauce and the nuance of cloves matched well with the rosemary on the rabbit and the ginger in the carrots.

There are some leftover scraps that will find their way into Scott's and Ellie's dog food tomorrow morning, and they even had a small taste of it as a treat after diner. Wagging tails showed approval. I agreed - the food and wine made a great pairing.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Summer Harvest

It's a good year for tomatoes and basil in Ohio and tonight's dinner featured both of them.

There was fresh tagliatelle pasta, just picked and chopped red and yellow tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh oregano, grated Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses all tossed together with a good olive oil. The pasta was perfectly cooked, the red tomatoes sharp with acid and flavor, the yellow tomatoes smooth and mellow, the basil aromatic and pungent, the cheeses salty and deep and the olive oil almost unctuous. The just cooked pasta served as the only heat source for the rest of the ingredients, warming them without altering their taste.

There was a large slice of toasted Italian bread and the second half of a bottle of rose de Fayel to complete the meal.

Come the dead of winter I would make a deal with the devil for a meal like this.


The world loves a good scandal and the U.S. wine market certainly has a nice one surrounding The Wine Spectator and its annual awards for restaurant wine lists.

Briefly, the publication presented an award in the current issue to Osteria L'Intrepido di Milano. The problem was the restaurant was a fake and the wine listed was loaded with wines that the publication had previously panned.

So how does a restaurant win the award? It submits its menu and wine list and a check for $250. Worldwide there are 4128 restuarants on this years list. At $250 each that is just more than $1 million (US) that the publication received from the restaurants that won. Add in those that didn't receive the award and it starts to go way beyond serious money.

I have mixed feelings about The Spectator. I used to love the publication, and I've been reading it since it was in tabloid newspaper format in the late 1970's. I now find that it is pretentious, elitist and self glorifying - all the things I dislike about parts of the wine world. Still, the publication does some wonderful articles and while I don't subscribe any more I still buy issues when the articles interest me.

As for their wine reviews, here's a backhanded compliment to their chief California critic Jim Laube. He is consistent with his reviews and 95% of the time I don't like the same wines, or style of wine, that he does. Yes, that means his reviews are useful to me, but probably not in the way he intends.

There are few people in the world who don't at least smile when seeing an egotistical or conceited person totally embarrassed and caught up in their own web. The Spectator will recover and go on down its happy path but if I close my eyes I can hear a line from the old I Love Lucy television series - the one where after one of her crazy escapades goes sour Ricky looks at her and says in his Cuban accent, "Lucy, you got some 'splainin' to do."

Monday, August 18, 2008

♫Only Two Things that Money Can't Buy♪

...and that's true love and homegrown tomatoes.

A great song by Guy Clark and so true, but home grown tomatoes in August are way beyond great. In a normal year they are the best thing about August in Ohio, though this year the weather is giving them a run for their money.

The above plate contains both a red and a yellow heirloom tomato, two day old, fresh mozzarella, just picked basil, a touch of sea salt and some extra virgin olive oil (pressed in January 2008). The tomatoes were treated like wine, chilled to a cool room temperature without being cold. The cheese was warmed to the same temperature. The result was a beautiful plate whose beauty was only exceeded by its taste. Health food at its finest.

The tomatoes were grown in a friend' s garden and I stopped on the way home from work to pick them. The basil was from my front yard and the cheese was made on Saturday. It's hard to be much fresher than that.

I added an ear of fresh, white corn and a pan roasted, small, wild, Alaskan salmon fillet and a glass of 2006 Firesteed pinot noir from Oregon. All good.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Perfect Score

Sometimes it all comes together -- and today it did.

The August weather here in Ohio continues to be more like late October with little humidity, day time temperatures in the low 80 degree range and night time in the mid to low 50 degree range. That is ending in a day or two so today was all about enjoying it.

Both dogs got walks this morning and Scott is happy to report that the park along the Great Miami River is once again free from Canada Geese and more than one tree and one bag from a fast food restaurant have been properly anointed.

Since they both had such a good time I decided we needed to drink a "dog wine" this evening. I opted for the 2004 Frem, a Barbera d'Asti from Italy. I know of no wine that has a Gordon Setter on the label so the English Setter on the Frem label was more than sufficient. The wine is a cooperative wine from the Piedmont region. It was full of bright cherry fruit and great acidity. There was also some fully ripe raspberries going on with this wine. All that fruit was laid over the top of a earthiness that smelled like freshly turned earth in the spring. It was a great combination of tastes. There was some oak, but one had to search to find it. The wine was fresh, alive and delicious and well worth its $19 price tag.

Having chosen the wine it was necessary to find something to go with it. We opted for grilled rib lamb chops and a very un-basic macaroni and cheese. The dish used tubetti pasta with a sauce that included Swiss, Gruyere, Parmigiana Regiano and Pecorina Romano cheeses, a little Dijon mustard and finished with a dose of white truffle oil. Everything was combined into a casserole, sprinkled with bread crumbs and popped into the oven. The result was cheesy and fragrant and had a great, crunchy crust to match the creaminess of the pasta and sauce. It smelled wonderful baking and even revived the dogs who decided to ignore their dog food in hopes of some pasta.

I added some fresh asparagus and called it a meal - which is pictured below.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Old Aquaintences and Tuesdays

Today was a personal holiday, meaning that there comes a point where one needs to get away from work and make the day totally your own.

There were zero plans other than one errand and to watch whatever the Olympics had to offer, but that changed with a 10:00 AM phone call informing me that the local market managed to locate a bottle of wine in which I had expressed an interest. The only 'must do' thing on the schedule was to buy dog food to keep Scott and Ellie happy, and since the pet store is nearly next door to the market there was no reasons not to pick up the wine. The wine in question was a 2004 Michel-Schlumberger Cabernet Sauvignon from Sonoma's Dry Creek Valley. More on it in the future. The weather cooperated also as the string of very un-August weather continued with temperatures that finally hit 80 degreees after an overnight low in the mid 50 degree range.

At the market after putting several things in the hand basket I ventured into the wine department. There was a wine distributor there pouring four bottles of wine for the store personnel to sample. I asked one clerk for the bottle I ordered, turned around and immediately recognized that not only was the distributor there, but so was the winery owner. We made eye contact and I asked, "It's Susan, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is," she replied somewhat surprised.

Long story short - a little over two years ago I attended a winemaker's dinner for the Jocelyn Lonen winery from Napa Valley and the owner, Susan Curtis, was there. We drank some wine, ate some decent food and had a nice discussion over the course of an evening. I purchased some of their wine and have added a bottle or two since then.

Once again we got into a nice discussion about wine (and golf) and tasted some very nice wines. My favorite was the regular bottling of the 2005 Cabernet. Good berry and plum fruit, nice tannin and good acid. With a medium weight and a $36 price tag it proved to be a very good wine. The 2004 Founders Reserve ($90) was a very impressive wine and fully flavored, but it was approaching over extraction and near a weight that I find less pleasing. Well made and delicious, but I preferred the regular bottling.

The reverse was true of the two Chardonnays they were pouring. The regular bottling ($25) was a little too buttery, almost bordering on butterscotch. It was from the Carneros region of southern Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The Russian River Valley Reserve ($45) was much more restrained and a much better wine. Sharp and tart and refreshing, it was a wine I liked.

That only left dinner, and that was a small, three rib rack of pork with Italian spices done on the grill. I added a Risotto Milanese with peas and saffron and some roasted carrots. The wine was a Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon. Light and refreshing and not to be taken too seriously. Just a good simple red. It was a good day. And since the Olympics are in progress and seem to be about records I'll just note that this is the 100th post for this blog.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Simon & Garfunkel on the Grill

Perhaps the title should be Scarborough Fair chicken?

In any case it has been a magnificent day here in Ohio, and very much un-August. The high temperature reached only 77 degrees and the low tonight will be near 50 degrees with low humidity. I expect 90+ degrees and high humidity this time of year. The upshot is that it wasn't necessary to pay the power company to run the air conditioning today and that meant that dinner could be a treat.

Pictured above is a Simon & Garfunkel chicken. If you are old enough to remember the song that began...
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
...then you will understand the seasoning on the free range chicken that was cooked on the charcoal grill over indirect heat. Completely crisp skin, moist flesh and a wonderful herby character from being rubbed inside and out and under the skin with the S&G herbs; parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. All were chopped together, mixed with just a tiny bit of olive oil and then the bird was totally coated with the mixture.

We added some basmati rice with fresh oregano and some carrots with chopped fresh ginger wrapped in foil and cooked on the grill with the chicken.

The wine of the evening was a 2006 Gianfranco Alessandria Dolcetto d'Alba. Bright red cherry and raspberry flavors with more tannin than I am used to seeing in a Dolcetto. There was also some oak and that wonderful acid that this grape produces. A long, wonderful finish was also a surprise as most Dolcettos seem a little short to me.

It was a tremendous compliment to the chicken and the carrots.

As the temperatures continue to drop through the evening the patio is calling and I believe I hear bagpipes in the distance - and that means a glass of single malt Scottish whisky to finish the night. After a second listen I believe the pipes are calling for an 18 year old Highland Park.

Life is good.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

This week was the end of the financial quarter at work so there were too many hours and a Saturday involved. Thank heaven for friends.

Saturday, after finishing the quarter, we had an invite from some friends to come for dinner.

After seeing that the dogs had their exercise and a good meal we drove about ten miles to what turned out to be a mini-feast. To start the evening there was a 2005 Verget Macon Vergisson "La Roche" as a warm up to pan seared halibut with a quinoa , corn and black bean pilaf. The 2005 Verget mini-burgundies are outstanding and among my favorite expressions of chardonnay. Tart and refreshing with good fruit and only proper oak highlights this $20 wine is a total pleasure and a true bargain if one could find any more of it.

The second bottle was way beyond good. Several months ago I reported that one of my favorite wines at a Rhone tasting was a 2006 George Vernay Condrieu, Terraces de l'Empire. That wine made a reappearance in my life and it was a joy to have more than a taste. It has a viscoscity and mouthfeel that makes one think it is going to be sweet, and then it surprises you by being dry and fruity. There are peaches and apricots and maybe even some lychees in the taste. The finish is remarkably long and pleasant. Truth be told, the $22 Macon was the better match with the fish, but the Condrieu is a wine I could sip all evening and never tire of.

Thanks to to an internet friend and a wonderful blog today was another seafood treat that was a variation on a recipe he published. It was a stew with shrimp, halibut and small steamer clams in a tomato, wine and saffron broth. Add a wonderful 2007 Chateau Noel Saint-Laurent Cote du Rhone Blanc and a couple of slices of crusty bread and it was almost a perfect Sunday meal.

The wine was a blend of viognier and marsanne, and was refreshing with crisp fruit and good acidity. The wine makes no claim to being serious, but it cetainly was perfect with the spices in the stew. At $13 it is a true bargain. After drinking a tremendously upscale viognier wine on Saturday one could pick up the nuances of that grape in this Sunday blend. With a $57 dollar price difference between the wines the choice is obvious. The Condrieu is worth its price and a true treat, but the Cote du Rhone is much more in tune with my pocketbook.

The weather this weekend was spectacular, almost like mid-May or mid-October in Ohio. Clear skies, low humidity and cool evenings are very unusual and very welcome visitors in early August. The weather people tell me that the hottest temperatures of the year (mid to upper 90 degree range) are in store beginning tomorrow and lasting until next weekend when they expect a cold Canadian air mass to hit the area and make things delightful again. That means that tomorrow's dinner will be the leftover seafood stew served over some pasta.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Ladies of Spain

Those of you who stop by here on a semi regular basis know how much I appreciate the wines coming out of Rias Baixas area of Spain, notably those made from the Albarnino grape.

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent article on some of the female winemakers from that area, and it's a good and interesting read.

Ladies of Spain