Friday, June 28, 2013

Sloppy but Good

The seafood market had a surprise two days ago - they had some fresh shrimp with the heads still attached.  99+% of the shrimp we see in this area is headless and ready to go, but these were different and it was only the second time I've seen them in this area.

The shrimp I've eaten in areas where this is common have been some of the best I've eaten, and an old southerner once told me that they are juicier if you grill them with their heads.  The photo shows the start of the process.

They were marinated in garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and red pepper flakes and then put on metal skewers and tossed on the grill grate.  They got two minutes on each side and then got a five minute rest period.

Definitely messy to eat with all the peeling and pulling, but well worth the time and effort.  An the old southerner was correct, they were incredibly juicy and had picked up just enough smoke flavor from the grill to act as a highlight to the sweetness of the tail flesh.  Good stuff.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Last Bottle

There was a small, pan seared filet of beef tonight with a wine pan sauce and some pasta with mushrooms.   The wine was the last bottle of an old friend, a 2005 Sly Dog Cellars, Bin 92, Red Hills, Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon. 

I loved this wine when I opened the first of the five bottles I eventually bought, and I loved it just as much tonight though the wine was a little different than the first bottle.  The flush of youth was gone and was replaced by fully mature wine with flavors of red cherries, a dark plum or two, and a nice blend of cinnamon and allspice.  The tannins and acid survived, though the tannins were a bit softer than the previous bottle - which was two years ago.  The finish was long and at the very end the tannin cleaned the palate and refreshed it.    It remains a delicious bottle of wine that is not overdone in any way.  Totally balanced and wonderfully delicious.

2005 Sly Dog Cellars, Bin 92, Red Hills, Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon.   13.8% alcohol and $15.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Perfect Pairing?

I love the occasions when everything seems to come together, especially since those occasions are all too rare.  We had one of those moments last night when a very impromptu meal came very close to being perfect. 

It began with a trip to the market where there were just out of the ground spring onions - pungent, sweet and moist.  They same store had just cranked out some fresh fettuccine so some of that came home with me.  A month or so ago I bought some fresh peas and after several meals froze what I couldn't eat and I took them out of the freezer.

While the pasta boiled I diced a spring onion and a small bit of guanciale and sauteed them in a small amount of butter until some of the fat rendered from the pork and the onions were soft and sweet.  In went the peas and two tablespoons of heavy cream and things simmered until the peas were warmed through. 

Next in was the cooked pasta and some of the pasta water and a bit of fresh thyme and tarragon.  A grating of pecorino Romano cheese and some black pepper finished things off.  It seemed a bit flat so I added some grated lemon zest and that helped, but it still wasn't what I was looking for.  The final piece of the puzzle was about three mint leaves finely chopped and added to the mix along with a bit more pasta water to thin things out. The result tasted fresh and new without any thought of being heavy. 

The wine was a 2011 Kinkead Ridge Riesling and it was a remarkable compliment to the pasta.  The aroma was light and breezy, fresh and alive.   The flavors of apple and green grapes matched well with the pasta and the cream, but sense of minerality in the wine really shined through with the herbs and lemon zest.  The small bit of mint heightened everything.  Meals like this certainly make one forget some of the experiments that didn't come together. 

2011 Kinkead Ridge Ohio River Valley Riesling.  12.1% alcohol and $13.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Greek Mussel Stew

As mentioned below I'm on a mini-crusade to actually fix some of the recipes I've saved over the years and a Greek mussel stew was one of them.  It had a twist that surprised me so I understand why I saved it.  I'm used to cooking mussels in white wine and some aromatics or just in their own juice, but this recipe called for cooking them in rose' wine.

They were steamed in the wine until just opened and then removed from the pan and the resulting broth was strained into a bowl, removing any grit in the process.  Some onions saw time in the pot with olive oil until softened and then in went a clove of garlic, some hot pepper flakes, a pinch of ground allspice, a small tin of diced tomatoes, a small sprig of fresh oregano and the reserved broth.  That was cooked down for about ten minutes to concentrate the flavors.

While the broth was cooking I separated the mussels from their shells and a good handful went into the bowl, while a few stayed in their shells.  When the broth was reduced and thickened just a bit it was ladled over the top of the mussels in the bowl and topped with a few in the shell and a sprig of oregano.  There was no added salt in this recipe as the saltiness of the mussel liquid was more than enough.  A few bread sticks, a glass of the rose' wine and ---- a good time was had by all.

The wine was the 2012 M. Chapoutier Belleruche rose' whose first glass went with the halibut below.  With a fresh nose of crisp, young  fruit and flowers the wine smelled like spring.  Light body to the wine but it had wonderful flavors of strawberries and oranges.  Good stuff.

2012 M Chapoutier Belleruche Rose'.  12.5% alcohol and $10.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Summer Fare


It was a fine meal, and when they finished with it they were all happy and exultant. They were beautifully drunk and happy, with that golden, warm, full-bodied and most lovely drunkenness that can come only from good rich wine and mellow ale and glorious and abundant food - a state that we recognize instantly when it comes to us as one of the rare, priceless, the unarguable joys of living, something stronger than philosophy, a treasure on which no price can be set, a sufficient reward for all the anguish, weariness, and disappointment of living....

Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River
Halibut in a ginger, lemon butter sauce with a tuna and faro nicoise style salad.  The wine is a 2012 M. Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes du Rhone Rose. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Almost Summer

Where the bee sucks, there suck I
In a cowslip's bell I lie;
There I couch when owls do cry.
On the bat's back I do fly
After summer merrily;
Merrily, Merrily shall I live now
Under the blossoms that hang on the bough.

William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens
A few days before summer officially starts and the lavender is nearly in full bloom, and the flowers are full of bees.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Langhe Nebbiolo 2004

I am truly a pack rat when it comes to recipes.  The computer holds way too many and there are files of recipes clipped from magazine, newspapers, etc.  Some are organized, but most are not.  Most I have never prepared - they just sounded good and they got clipped or copied.

Yesterday I decided it was time to go through one section of the computer files and actually cook some of the ones stored there.  First up was Ducketta, a play on the Italian Porchetta.   In this case a pocket was made in the flesh of a duck breast and a mixture of crushed fennel seed, rosemary, garlic, olive oil and parmigiano reggiano was stuffed in it.  It was seared on the skin side until the fat rendered, flipped over and tossed in the oven for five minutes.  While it was resting the cork came out of a bottle of 2004 Gianfranco Alessandria Langhe Nebbiolo and the contents went into a decanter. 

Earthy aromas and a smell of fresh cut flowers popped out with some swirling.  The wine was light in color and had just a touch of orange at the edges.  The body was mid-weight but the flavors were clear and sharp - dark red berries, clean earth and that sense of tar and roses for which this area is famous.  The tannins were strong but soft.   The wine was fully mature and turned out to be an ideal match with the duck - especially with the fennel seed in the stuffing. 

2004 Gianfranco Alessandria Langhe Nebbiolo.  14% alcohol and $16 a few years ago.

Friday, June 14, 2013

26 Year Old Napa Cabernet

I just returned from a trip to visit friends in Illinois, drink some wine and visit a very good small restaurant.  The wine highlight of the trip is pictured above, a 1986 Raymond Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from the heart of the Napa Valley.  The wine had a special meaning for us as we were all part of a group that visited Raymond in the year this wine was made. 

I'm always cautious with a Napa Cabernet this old, and to that point I took a back up bottle in case this one was over the hill.  The backup bottle still has its cork and foil intact.

The cork was in excellent shape and came out easy.  There was sediment in the wine so we did pass it through a fine mesh funnel.  The aromas of bright, happy cherries immediately poured out of the glass.  The was an undercurrent of cinnamon and faint aroma of earth and vanilla as well.  The color was just beginning to fade to orange on the edges but still retained a good degree of darkness at the center.  The wine was full bodied and mouth filling with cherries and currants leading the way.  The tannins were soft but well structured and the acid was still great. This tasted more like a ten year old wine than a twenty-six year old wine. 

Dinner was prime strip steaks from the grill and some gnocchi with sage and brown butter that paired perfectly with the wine.  Just an ideal combination.  Tremendous wine.

1986 Raymond Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.  13.6% alcohol. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Soft Shell Crabs

One thing that I do less and less of as time goes on is deep fry food.  Last night was a big exception because there were fresh, soft shell crabs in the market and some just off the plane day boat scallops. There is something fresh and and springlike about soft shells. Their unique taste and a quick deep fry amplifies that for me by giving them a crunchy exterior and a warm, moist and sweet interior.

They were dredged in seasoned flour, dipped in an egg and milk wash and then coated with panko crumbs and placed in 350 degree oil in a wok.  They got one turn and were allowed to drain while the scallops got the same treatment.

The sauce was spicy to say the least; mayonnaise spiked with a good dose of sambal oelek, hot chilli oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and a pinch of five spice powder. 

The wine was a 2010 Hiedler Gruner Veltliner from Austria.  With an unusual nose of kiwi and melons I was prepared to not like this wine, but the spicy food made a difference.  The flavors of very ripe, green grapes and a bit of lime matched well with the crab and the mid palate sweet note tamed the heat of the sambal oelek.  Good body and length of finish and the blast of acid at the end redeemed this wine.  Still, it was an unusual nose.

Good meal.

2010 Hiedler Gruner Veltliner.  12% alcohol and $15.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

1991 Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett

Two things that are rarely found in this area are older German wines and older German winemakers, and yesterday I found both.  Dr. Dirk Richter of Weingut Max Ferd. Richter was in the area and was hosting a drop in tasting of some of his wines.  Two years ago Dr. Richter was here and we had a good discussion while he was hosting a tasting.  The most surprising thing about this tasting to me was his response when he arrived.  We shook hands and he said, "You were here before and we had a good discussion...."  I accused the owner of the wine store of tipping Dr Richter off, but he insisted that he never talked to him before he arrived.  I considered what small ego I have to be flattered that I was remembered.

Once again while he was pouring wine we had a great discussion about his vineyards and my preference for one of them in particular, Veldenzer Elisenberg, a monopole to his weingut - or a vineyard wholly owned by his winery and not shared with others.  The soil composition in this vineyard is slightly different in that it contains a fair amount of quartz in the mix along with the usual blue slate.  It gives the wine a distinct flavor profile that appeals to me.

Among the wines Dr. Richter brought with him was a 21 year old Kabinett wine from the Graccher Himmelreich vineyard.   After tasting several other wines this one proved to be a shock and a pleasant surprise.  The wine looked fresh and new in the glass with no darkening of color that I expected on a 21 year old wine.  The nose was crisp and sharp with an initial hint of kerosene that soon gave way to lime zest.  The flavors were tart and sharp with a good dose of lime overlaying a bit of cream.  The residual sugar was almost entirely gone and the wine now was more like an extremely deep Austrian riesling.  There was no suggestion that this wine was as old as it is.

The 1991 vintage was not one for the ages, though most old charts rate is as good.  I would be perfectly happy drinking this wine regardless of the vintage rating, and along with several of the newer releases a bottle of this wine found its way home with me.

1991 Weingut Max Ferd. Richter, Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett. 8% alcohol.

Friday, June 7, 2013


I took a bottle of wine with me on the recent California trip because one of the folks I was having dinner with out there is fan of northern Italian wines.  It was more than well received.

The wine was a 2004 Produttori del Barbaresco Ovello Riserva.  It got about an eight hour decant before being appreciated.  The wine was still very young looking in the glass and was very closed when it went into the decanter.  A small sample got a couple of minutes of swirling before sipping.  Tightly wound but full of flavor, it definitely needed the decanter time to soften some tannins. 

By the time dinner was ready the wine was blooming in the glass.  The cliche' of tar and roses was in full effect, but there was a subtlety to those aromas.  They sat on top of a bouquet of clean, dry earth and dark red fruits.  The tannin had subsided to a supporting roll and the fruit and earth flavors were wonderful  The acid was great and the body was muscular and fit without going to any extreme.  The drying tannins kicked in again at the every end and the wine just begged for another sip or two.  The only regret is that I didn't take my second bottle with me, because it would have disappeared as quickly as the first one.  Great stuff.

2004 Produttori del Barbaresco Ovello Riserva.  14% alcohol and $55 several years ago.

Monday, June 3, 2013


With the color that paints the morning and evening clouds that face the sun I saw then the whole heaven suffused.

Dante Alighieri, the Divine Comedy
Almost autumn like weather here this evening with clear skies and cool temperatures to cap a beautiful day.   Some pasta with fresh thyme, dill, oregano, chervil, chives, parsley, rosemary, sage, mint and tarragon dressed with only olive oil and a grating of pecorino Romano cheese.  There was a 2012 River Village Cellars white wine from a couple of posts below that was a near perfect match.  Nothing to interfere with pure flavors.  The last glass was on the patio watching the sunset pictured above while Scott the Gordon Setter kept guard against squirrels and cats. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sempre Vive 2006

The first wine I drank on the recent California trip was a pleasant surprise.  There were steaks on the grill and our hosts handed me the key to their wine cellar and said, "pick a wine."  I explained that the process might take two hours, but they insisted.

After poking around a bit I found a wine that I had never tasted, nor had I ever heard of the wine, Sempre Vive Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from the Romeo Vineyards near Calistoga.  There were two vintages and I pulled out the 2006 primarily because there was only one bottle left of the 2004. 

This was a big wine by any description, but one that had moved into an elegant phase.  It had dark colors and no fading at the edges and a nose of fresh fruit and light touches of cinnamon and oak.  It had full flavors of dark cherries and plums with hints of spice and a touch of graphite.  The acid and tannin provided a solid base for the fruit.  The finish was long and ended with a bit of fruit and enough acid to keep the wine fresh tasting.  Very good blind choice and delicious with the steak. 

Sempre Vive translates as always alive.

Romeo Vineyards Sempre Vive Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Old Vines.  14.1% alcohol and price unknown.