Friday, February 27, 2009

Barbera D'Alba

There were a few extra minutes last night so we quickly seared a small fillet of beef in a skillet and popped it into the oven. There were some three cheese ravioli dropped into a pot of boiling water and a small salad. When the fillet came out of the oven the skillet was set over heat and de-glazed with some wine and beef stock and a touch of Dijon mustard. A small pat of butter was swirled in to finish the sauce and the ravioli were tossed with a little pesto. Nice meal in 20 minutes.

The wine was good also. It was a 2006 Enzo Boglietti Barbera D'Alba. In the glass it was dark, but almost neon purple on the edges. This purple was almost "Barney" purple. The nose was all about fruit with bright cherries and bright, crisp red plums. That's exactly what came through in the taste. The acid was good and the tannins were minimal. That little burst of cherry sweetness at the end was balanced by just enough acid to make it a delicious drink. This wasn't a wine to ponder, it was just a great little wine to drink.

As for the photo, your eyes are not going bad. Boglietti runs his name from bottom to top and the letters seem to be turned in whatever direction struck the winery's fancy when they labeled the bottle. Of course it's a lot more important what's in the bottle than what's on it, and this was a good, little wine.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sole Food

Home early last night so that extended the weekend cooking for another night. We purchased some fresh, lemon sole over the weekend and it needed to be cooked. The photo above is the result.

Sole is easy to cook, but due to its very thin nature it's also easy to ruin. The fish was dusted lightly with flour and salt then sauteed for one minute (30 seconds per side) in a medium hot pan in butter and olive oil. Once the fish was out of the pan a handful of pre-toasted pine nuts was added, then a little white wine and parsley. As soon as the wine reduced (another 30 seconds) a small knob of butter and some lemon juice were swirled in and the entire contents poured over the fish. White Basmati rice and a salad completed the meal.

The wine was interesting. It was a 2006 Chateau de Cailac, a white Graves. The wine was 80% sauvignon blanc and 20% semillon. Definite oak in the nose along with some fig aromas and some herbs and grass. On the taste the fruit was full and round and the figs weren't as strong as in the nose. The oak added a vanilla aspect, but the acid and tartness of the sauvignon blanc balanced everything out.

White Graves has become so expensive in the U.S. market that I don't buy it often, and this bottle was a loss leader out of a store in New Jersey. Very nice wine for the price of $15.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lazy Sunday

Cold, windy and snowy all day yesterday so the only time we ventured out was for Scott's walk in the park. No geese, as we never made it to the river park so he had to content himself with chasing two rabbits.

The wine of choice for the evening was a Cascabel Tipico, 2004. An Australian wine of 40% Grenache, 40% Monastrell (Mourvedre)and 20% Syrah it was definitely in the Chateauneuef du Pape style.

There was an up front taste of bright strawberries from the Grenache, some darker cherries from the Monestrell and some red plum and a touch of pepper from the Syrah. It was a full wine with more than medium weight at 14% alcohol but it was nicely balanced and provided a moderate finish length. Nice acid from the Grenache made it clean tasting and there was enough tannin to match the weight. Good wine but not one to turn a cartwheel over, but at $24 still cheaper than a Chateauneuf du Pape.

Dinner was a small sirloin steak pan grilled in a cast iron skillet with a pan sauce of some of the wine, a little beef stock, a little Dijon mustard, a splash of Worcestershire sauce and some butter. There was also the last of the Gorgonzola and walnut ravioli tossed with olive oil and Pecorina Romano cheese and a small salad.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Country Captain

There is an interesting story behind tonight's meal of Country Captain. It is a recipe that originated in either Charleston, South Carolina or Savannah, Georgia. Little question that it is a prime dish in that area of the coastal lowlands. It's also said to have been a favorite meal of Franklin Roosevelt and George Patton when they were in that area.

It is chicken thighs lightly floured and then browned in oil and butter. The thighs were removed and the grease drained, and two strips of bacon were added to the skillet until brown and crispy. The bacon was removed and onions, celery, bell peppers, red currants, and curry powder were added to the bacon drippings and sauteed until they begin to soften. When the veggies were just softening a can of crushed tomatoes was added and the whole thing reduced for about 15 minutes.

A layer of sauce was ladled into a casserole, topped by the chicken thighs, then the rest of the sauce. The whole thing was covered in foil and baked for half an hour. The foil was removed and the casserole baked an additional 15 minutes. The chicken was served with white rice and topped with the crumbled bacon and some toasted almonds.

The onions, chicken, curry and currants gave the dish a distinct aroma of earthiness and warmth. The peppers added a fresh green taste and the bacon added some smokiness.

We opened two wines, a 2005 Guigal Cotes du Rhone and a 2007 Koonowla Clare Valley Riesling from Australia. The Cote du Rhone and the curry definitely didn't care for each other though the fruit component was nice in the wine. The Riesling was just amazing with the dish.

The wine smelled of lime peel and lime juice, kerosene and white, spring flowers. There was some great acidity and an oiliness in the mouthfeel that reminded me of a well made Viogner. The lime and some barely ripe peaches and apples were in the taste with just little traces of the kerosene peeking through to make things interesting. It stood up well to the curry and the bell peppers and cleaned the palate between bites of the chicken. A very, very good wine by itself, it was almost perfect with the Country Captain.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Leftovers and a Remembrance

No, not sun spots, just a skillet full of shrimp in a saffron and cream sauce.

We cooked a Spanish style shrimp a couple of days ago, so tonight the rest of the container of shrimp was introduced to Italy. For lack of a better description let's
just call this a Mediterranean phase in cooking.

A few, very finely sliced onion were sauteed in olive oil, then some garlic and a chopped tomato were added. Once all of that was fragrant we introduced some Vermouth. Once the vermouth was added the saffron and some Italian seasoning went into the skillet. At the end some heavy cream was added along with some red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Just before serving some freshly cooked penne pasta was added and the whole was thing tossed together with some freshly chopped parsley.

The wine of the evening was a definite link to the past. To quote Star Wars, 'a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away...."

My first ever purchase of a bottle of wine was from a friend and his father who had just opened a wine store. They served me a glass of Lambrusco and I thought it was great. At the time that was the "in" wine in the U.S. After more than several cases it began to taste sweet and these folks introduced me to a modest Bordeaux wine, Chateau Timberlay. It was the proverbial long, slippery slope that lead to where we are today.

On a sad note, I realize that this was more than 30 years ago - though it seems like only ten.

I had not seen Lambrusco in the local market for a long time until I saw it a couple of weeks ago. For old times sake I picked up a bottle of a much better wine than I drank when I first met Lambrusco. Fresh, fruity and effervescent at 7.5% alcohol it was just a delightful partner for the shrimp. Full of acid and truly fresh fruit and just a little fizz it made a wonderful pairing with the food. Who cares if it was a red wine in a white wine situation!

There are many more memories of Lambrusco, but most of them are other stories that will probably surface if this blog gets some longevity. The wine made for a fun evening and that's what's really important.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Spanish Night

Home early today so that meant there was time to cook in the middle of the week. Somehow it all turned out to be Spanish.

Dinner was garlic shrimp served over rice. Olive oil was heated in a large skillet and four, minced cloves of garlic were added along with a dried, chopped pasilla pepper. The shrimp and Spanish smoked paprika were quickly added and flash cooked. White wine was added soon there after and then a tablespoon of butter. The pan was shaken to mix the wine and butter. A handful of chopped parsley was tossed in and the entire thing was then poured over a mound of rice in the center of the plate. A squeeze of lemon juice dinner was served.

The wine was a 2007 Laxas Rias Baixas, and a quarter cup of it was used in the cooking. Tart, sharp, lemony and minerally, it was a perfect match for the shrimp and rice. The shrimp were definitely spicy without being 'hot" spicy. They reeked of garlic and what sauce was left was mopped up with some crusty bread. It had the "Scott" seal of approval since he stood near the table eating crusts of bread dipped in the sauce. The tail was in constant motion.

After dinner was just as good. There were some olives and smoked almonds and a little Spanish goat cheese. The after dinner wine, pictured above, was a Barbadillo Amontillado Sherry. Medium brown and nutty, it was just a delicious drink to finish off the evening. A sip was wonderful with a little acid, some preserved lemons, a little nuttiness and just the right amount of oxidation to bring it all together. Sherry is definitely an under appreciated wine.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Almost Heaven

Sometimes I pull a bottle out of a rack in the cellar and think, "Too good for tonight. Save it." I put the wine back and move on. Other times I pull out the bottle and think, "Why not."

Yesterday was definitely a "why not" night. All the original plans for the evening were canceled so we were just winging it when I pulled out this bottle of 1996 Louis Jadot Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru Les Petits Monts. I purchased the wine about four years ago as the last bottle in a mixed case of less expensive, every day wines. I needed twelve for a 10% discount and this was wine #12.

Les Petits-Monts lies just uphill and adjoining the Grand Cru vineyards of Les Richebourgs and La Romanee, two sections of the holy ground for Burgundy lovers.

I opted to roast a free range chicken with just a little salt, pepper, lemon juice and thyme. A side dish of fresh steamed asparagus mixed with walnut and Gorgonzola ravioli and finished with olive oil and cheese served as the side dish.

When the chicken came out of the oven and was resting, and while the ravioli and asparagus were cooking I pulled the cork on the wine. When the wine hit the glass there was a bouquet dominated by clean, rich and freshly turned earth. It smelled like spring planting in the garden. The color was medium dark and as the wine swirled some of the earth went away and was joined by rich, red cherries. There was a full and rich mouth feel to the wine with cherries and raspberries playing with each other. There was good acidity and soft, integrated tannins to coat the tongue. The finish was concentrated and long and almost succulent. I was duly impressed and delighted.

With the food and over the course of the evening the wine improved in the glass. There was good acidity to cut through the chicken and refresh the mouth and the depth of the fruit just kept increasing. It took four hours to drink the bottle and the last glass was the best. This was a rare treat of a wine that was fully mature but showing no signs of fading. The standard is now set for the 2009 wine of the year, and that standard is very, very high.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kinkead Ridge Friday Night

The wine of choice for last night was a local wine, a 2005 Kinkead Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon.

There was a really nice bouquet when the cork came out with dark fruits and sweet oak. The color was medium dark and after a few swirls and a sip there were definitely some cassis and black cherries and just a hint of tobacco. A little more swirling and the tobacco faded. This was the first time for this wine other than tasting it at the winery when it was purchased on release. It has settled and matured nicely in the bottle into an extremely drinkable wine. There is nice acid, and there's a tremendous balance between the fruit and the oak. It's a sweet oak taste with soft tannins that sort of envelop your tongue. There's enough in this wine to last a few more years, but it is excellent right now.

There was a small, pan seared fillet mignon with a sauce made from the wine, a little Dijon mustard and some beef stock. All that was reduced and then finished with a little butter. We added a side of pasta with the last of some pesto for the rest of the meal.

For dessert there were two biscotti, covered with dark chocolate on one side. These were dipped in the last of the wine and with the fruit in the wine it made for the world's best chocolate covered cherry taste.

The photo is Cabernet Sauvignon grapes growing at the Kinkead Ridge vineyard in September of 2008.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Nice Dolcetto

There's a lot to like about a fresh Dolcetto and the 2007 Mauro Veglio is a prime example. Dark purple in the glass the nose was all about blueberries, a bit of dark plums and maybe a violet or two. The taste was the fruit in full with soft tannins and just a hint of black pepper at the very end. That finish reminded me of what California Zinfandel used to be before the "over the top" crowd pumped it up to something less than it was by making it much more than it should be. Dolcetto is a low acid wine and this one was no exception, but combined with the tannin, the fruit and the medium weight it all went together quite well.

The weather was great so there was a grilled veal chop, some fresh pasta with pesto and a small salad. Nice meal, nice wine.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Spring Preview

We were granted a preview of spring by the local weather gods yesterday as the morning started sunny and temperatures climbed into the mid-50 degree range. Though it clouded up in the afternoon the temperatures stayed pleasant all day. The windows were opened and there was fresh air flowing through the house. It also meant that things were warm enough outside to give Scott a rudimentary grooming by clippering his head and neck, trimming the feet and nails and just generally making him look like a Gordon setter again.

Another benefit was that all the snow and ice melted off the outdoor grill. With that in mind the excursion to the local market was pointed toward grilling. The market is celebrating "Italian Month" and featuring products from and inspired by Italy. That included a wine tasting featuring two Italian wines, a 2004 Tuscan red blend by Antinori and an E. Pira & Figli 2001 Barolo Via Nuova. The blend was sangiovese, cabernet, merlot and syrah and was $16. Nice and fruity and full flavored with moderate tannin to it, I thought it was just a touch short of acid. Nice wine, but not for me. The Barolo was a different story. It smelled of both fresh, tart cherries and dried ones with the pungent bite of tar and oak in the nose. It was definitely a modern style Barolo because the oak was evident. The taste had the cherries and the tar, but I had the first glass out of the bottle and it was still extremely closed. The naturally high grape tannin from Nebbiolo and the tannin from the oak were raging a battle on my tongue leaving it dry and parched. When the tannin finally faded there was a sweet fruit at the very end. The bouquet in the glass was still wonderful so two bottles came home with me and were stashed in the 3 to 5 year section of the cellar and a note was made to decant the wine before drinking.

There was also a special on strip steaks and two of those came home with me for dinner along with a $10 Chianti. We roasted some golden beets and made the salad pictured above with spring greens, a round of sweet red pepper and some crumbled goat cheese, all dressed with a lemon juice and olive oil vinaigrette. The steak was delicious and there were oven roasted, red skinned potatoes as well. The $10 Chianti was drinkable, but not memorable.

We left the bedroom window open all night and the only downside was two cats doing what two cats do when they are of different sexes. Scott was not amused and spent most of the night with his head in the open window guarding against further cat incursions.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Wine of the Year - 2008

Too many notes to review and too little time caused a delay, but we finally have the TDFBW wine of the year. It's very nice having lots of notes to review when discussing wines consumed in 2008.

The most interesting thing is that five very different wines were in the final consideration. There was a Rioja, a Chablis Grand Cru, a Napa Rutherford Cabernet, a Barolo and an Alsatian. While I don't publish scores on the blog I do have my own little system of ranking wine in my private notes and it ranges from "wow" at the top, and works it way down to "are you kidding me" at the bottom. 2008 was a good year because there were no "AYKM" wines, meaning there were no total duds. Of course one could make the argument that even a total dud has value because it can always be used as a bad example.

The wines that got the top ratings were (in vintage order):

1996 Staglin Family Vineyards estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley

1997 Zind Humbrecht Pinos Gris Rangen de Thann Clos St. Urbain

1998 Luciano Sandrone Barolo Le Vigne

2000 Domaine La Roche Chablis Grand Cru Blanchots

2001 Bodegas Roda Rioja Roda I Riserva
It took some doing but in the end it came down to the Cabernet and the Barolo with the final difference being that while they both evolved nicely with some air one of them continued to perfume that air even when the decanter was swirled.

The Sandrone Le Vigne was decanted, but tasted immediately and offered a very tight nose of sour cherries and some oak and not much more. The taste was dominated by the tannins but there was good fruit depth there as well.

It was then put aside for three hours while some beef braised in red wine, pancetta, and herbs. When dinner was ready the wine was poured into the glasses. The nose had opened to bright, tart cherries, a little cinnamon and vanilla and some flowers, primarily violets. Those cherries and just a hint of sweet red plums were in full force. There was great acid and while the tannins were still there they softened enough to be in total balance with the depth of the fruit. The finish just lingered for what seemed like a minute. Over the next hour or so the violets and cherries continued to force their way into the room and the wine continued to get better. It was a sad moment when the last drop was gone.

The best decision was that there was only one glass of any other wine early in the process so judgement wasn't compromised by excess. This was just a tremendous wine.

The best part is that there is one more bottle of the 1998 Le Vigne in the cellar, as there is for the Staglin and the Roda I. None will be consumed in 2009 as all three should continue to get better, but I can hear 2010 calling already.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Italian Style

The 2003 Ferrari Carano Siena has been in the cellar for two years after I found it in a local store.

The wine is a blend of Sangiovese (mostly) with Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon playing supporting roles. The nose was very closed on opening so I decanted half the bottle and let it breathe for fifteen minutes. While still somewhat closed it did begin to offer some fruit and spices.

There were strawberries in the taste but the bright cherries usually in Sangiovese were tempered somewhat into a darker tasting cherry and almost a blueberry taste. That was probably the tempering from the Malbec and Cabernet. There was earth and some cinnamon and vanilla in the taste as well. Definitely full flavored with surprisingly mild tannic grip on the sides of the tongue. The acid adequate and it made for a nice, but not great wine. Normally around $25 the sale tag was still on this wine for $15 and that makes it a good wine. It was fully mature.

With the wine we ate a fillet of farm raised salmon that was pan seared and then quickly baked. I topped it with a dollop of pesto sauce. The pasta was fusilli and the sauce was a small amount of milk, some red pepper flakes and a nice chunk of fresh Gorgonzola all cooked together. A very easy dish to fix, it was better with the wine than the salmon.

Scott ate some of the leftover pasta and some of the salmon skin in his dog food and judging by the amount of movement in his tail it was greatly appreciated.

Snow is moving in again this morning. The weather people yesterday were calling for little to no accumulation, but this morning they are now going for 1 to 3 inches.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Shaking Beef

We ate Shaking Beef for the first time several years ago at the Slanted Door, a wonderful restaurant in the Ferry Terminal Building in San Francisco. A year or so later the recipe was published and I saved it. Yesterday while cleaning out a file I discovered it again. All the ingredients were in the house except for fresh watercress, and it wasn't even in the local market. Undaunted we plunged ahead.

The dish is tenderloin of piece cut into serving pieces and marinated in sugar, salt, pepper, chopped garlic and neutral oil for two hours. It is then browned and pushed to the side and sliced red onions and spring onions are added to the wok (or cast iron skillet). At the last minute you add a vinaigrette of rice wine, rice vinegar, dark and light soy sauce, fish sauce, salt, pepper and a little sugar. When everything bubbles you serve it. At the restaurant they serve it over a bed of watercress. There's also a separate dipping sauce of lime juice, salt and pepper.

It's quite amazing in taste and the best part is that it pairs beautifully with Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. The wine of choice last night was the 2007 Leitz Einz Zwei Dry, a clean and crisp Trocken Riesling. The wine cuts through the richness in the beef, but it plays beautifully with the fish and soy sauces and the lime juice. I especially like the texture of this dish as the beef is soft and wonderful and the crispness of the red and spring onions gives one a little crunch. I missed the watercress, but the rest of the meal was wonderful.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Picpoul in the Snow

A long, long week (the end of a fiscal year) ended yesterday evening. Too many hours working meant little food and no wine. That changed about 8:00 PM last night when we opened a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet that spent about half an hour chilling in a snowdrift. This southern France wine is made from the Picpoul Blanc grape.

Bright and clear color of green gold and a definite lemon and mineral bouquet to it. The flavor was sharp and tart and very lemony from start through the finish. The wine was refreshing and at 12.5% alcohol just the thing to recover from too many hours working. The photo is the empty bottle sitting back out in the snow. The bottle is now in the trash as Scott ventured by just after the photo was taken an "anointed" it in his most usual way.

Speaking of the snow - the great thaw is making a guest appearance today as temperatures are to be in the low 40 degree range without a cloud in the sky. The sun is warm enough that a couple of windows were opened for a short time to allow fresh air to blow through. Back to cold weather tonight and more snow tomorrow and Tuesday. Also, here's the roof line of the local medical center with the sunlight shining, as opposed to the post below with the gray clouds occupying the sky.