31 August 2006

The Wine Century Club Followup

Back in May, I applied for the Wine Century Club, an organization honoring those who have tried at least 100 different grapes. I filled out the application, provided dates and the offer to provide producer, region, and vintage notes on each grape tasted as well.

Once again, in my defense, several of the odder grapes were tasted as parts of European blends. However, I also tried a few single-varietal wines that were not included on the application form, but I added them and I received credit for those. (I've also tried several more grapes in the interim, and as always welcome any challenge to my tasting of any of these grapes. A friend of mine has a case full of wines from Bulgaria waiting for a tasting, and I can assure you those grapes won't show up on any mainstream list of wines.) And honestly, you could probably spend a month in Italy and taste more than 200 grapes easily.

Since then, I'd completely forgotten about the club. Until today.

Let me set the stage, since so many wine anecdotes involve beautiful women, luscious sunsets, and idyllic landscapes. I prefer to bring a little realism into the wineblogging world.

It was five in the afternoon. I was home from work early, and was dressed in my typical après work garb of khaki shorts and a t-shirt, no shoes. I was in the backyard tending the tomato vines, and my t-shirt was speckled with yellow pollen and the bright green blood of tomato hornworms. To make things more wonderful, it had started raining. I struggled to pick any of the nearly-ripe fruit to avoid any cracking (a big influx of water can cause tomatoes to split). Then I heard the bad brakes and slipping transmission of my local postal carrier, and trod out front to receive the mail. Along with the usual junk mail, bills, and other detritus, there was a large envelope, handlettered, all the way from London!

Once inside, I opened the letter to reveal my certificate admitting me into the Wine Century Club. Even though I'm a member of the New York chapter, the application was processed in London, printed there, and mailed from there. So now I've got to find an A4 frame here in the middle of the United States...

30 August 2006

2004 Piccini Chianti

Based on a warm review from the local wine merchant, I purchased a bottle of the 2004 Piccini Chianti, a steal at $9. It's full DOCG and is made from Sangiovese and Canaiolo. I drank it with some spinach tortellini covered in a freshly prepared alfredo sauce. I added a handful of diced fresh tomatoes and a healthy dose of basil to punch up the flavor. Top it all of with some grated grana padano, and man that was tasty.

The wine has classic Chianti aromas and flavors, but fortunately it escapes the pitfalls of other bargain Italian reds. I'd highly recommend this for any casual Italian dining.

A note on tortellini... I ate handmade tortellini in Italy frequently. The sign of a good trattoria in Tuscany was often an elderly woman in the back corner tenderly tucking little rounds of pasta and filling into delicate shapes. I was spoiled, and didn't eat it much upon my return, finding disappointment at every turn. I've never attempted to make it by hand over here, but I've tried various frozen and fresh varieties without much luck, but finally found an imported Italian version from Gia Russa. (You won't see it on the site, but here's the product.) It's dried but not bone dry; the pasta is slightly flexible. Yet it doesn't have to be refrigerated. Boil for eight minutes, drain, and serve with the sauce of your choice. I'm keeping the leftover pasta and sauce separate, in case I decide to make a nice Bolognese sauce tomorrow.

29 August 2006

Lindemans Framboise Lambic

Confession time: this is the first time I've ever had a fruit lambic. I had been a little leery of these over the years, assuming that they would be overly sweet. But a trusted friend demanded I try one, so I picked up a bottle on the way home tonight.

For my first lambic, I chose the Lindemans Framboise Lambic. Obviously this would be a great dessert beer, going well with things like cheesecake or chocolate, but I just had it alone after dinner. Tremendous flavor. The purest, most delicious concentration of raspberry flavors you can imagine, but not any sweeter than real raspberries. Instead you get firm tartness and some earthiness from the hops underneath.

As you can see, it pours beautifully. And in fact, if you didn't know it was a beer, you could probably sneak it in behind something like an Italian brachetto d'acqui or spumante rosso without arousing too much suspicion. Though it's a little pricy for a beer ($6 for this 355mL bottle), it's still cheap compared to a bottle of wine. The store I went to also featured a peach version; I can't wait to try that out.

One last note: this came with a cork and a bottle cap, as you can see in the photo. I've seen some beers that use a champagne-style enclosure with a mushroom cork and a wire cage, as well as some that use a clasp and a rubber or plastic stopper. The cork shown above was smaller than a regular wine cork, and was composed of lots of small bits of cork like a champagne cork, but without the natural disk at the bottom.

27 August 2006

Benito's Carrot Harvest

Follow the link below and you can read the story of my attempt to grow odd colored carrots (yes, they're supposed to be purple). Fortunately I didn't put too much effort into this project, so the pitiful results don't bother me too much. I've still got tons of delicious tomatoes coming in!

Benito's Carrot Harvest

25 August 2006

Combinations #5: Roundup

Here's the roundup for my first hosting of the Combinations challenge. It's always fun coming up with a recipe for a dinner party, but it's a whole different ballgame coming up with something for a lot of people you've never met to cook. I hope that all of you who participated were able to find ingredients or substitutes easily, and that you enjoyed preparing and eating the meal. I'm delighted to see the range of wines selected for this recipe.

Without further ado, here's the combinations chosen for Grilled Mint Julep Lamb Chops and Slow Cooked Green Beans:

A little lower on this page you can see my entry, using the 2003 Rock Rabbit Syrah. I made this dinner the same day I posted the challenge--just wanted to make sure everything was as good as it sounded in my head.

The first outside entry came in from Mickey at Kitchen Inferno, who opened a bottle of Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from Oregon. I recently had a bottle from the Burgundy side of that family, and will have to give this a try.

Next up came a truly southern post via Australian blogger Edward at Wino Sapien. Edward selected the 1994 Black Label Coonawarra Cabernet. The lamb I used in my dish came from Australia, so it all comes full circle.

The final contribution came by way of the Contributions founder, Andrew of Spittoon. He and I were thinking alike, and he used a Syrah/Shiraz, in this case the 2005 Ravenswood Lane Off The Leash Red Max from Australia. Sorry it didn't work out as well for you! On a side note, I've been in several bars (and a few homes) where a spittoon was in use, though not for wine... In the South and West, a spittoon or cuspidor is used for spitting while chewing tobacco, one vice of which I've never partaken. Woe unto he who accidentally knocks over the spittoon on his way out of the bar.

Thanks to all of the participants, and I hope we meet again in a future Combinations challenge.

23 August 2006

2004 V. Sattui Pilgrim Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel

Here's my second report on a Sattui wine, another gift from Dad. Today, for reasons that I won't get into, was a bad day. Had to call in sick to work, lots of automotive repair in the driveway, mowed the yard, repaired the weedeater, and attended to other gloriously fun duties. After all was said and done, I felt like rewarding myself. There was a steak in the fridge, plenty of ripe tomatoes, and a bottle of 2004 V. Sattui Pilgrim Vineyard Lodi Zinfandel. It's also an Old Vine wine. I don't have any real opinions on young versus old vines, though I'm providing the information anyway. Pictured at right you can see the wine and the steak, in this case a decent-sized T-bone. Not my favorite cut of beef, but nothing to sneer at. And yes, I did cook the steak. I enjoy beef rare, but not that rare.

I usually salt and pepper my steaks before grilling, but I decided to upgrade the procedure a bit. I replaced my old black peppercorns with a much more aromatic blend of white and black peppercorns, and for salt, I used coarse French grey salt. The latter is mostly due to the influence of Michael Chiarello. I didn't use his branded grey salt, but got some from a local spice shop. God, that stuff is delicious. I can eat it straight, and it's wonderful with my tomatoes.

The wine is wonderful. It's definitely a Zin, but even at 14.5% alcohol, it doesn't have a hot aroma or flavor. On the nose I get some leather and a hint of coffee, as well as the rich dark cherry you'd expect. Particularly when paired with hearty fare, this is a remarkably light Zinfandel for its age. Flavors are bold and fruit-forward, but not jammy or succumbing to the California Zin stereotypes. On its own there is a bit of tannic bite on the finish. It's time like this when I wonder why I don't drink more well-made Zinfandel.

21 August 2006

Combinations #5: My Entry + Comments!

First off, I just discovered that I'd hit a setting on the blog that required comments to be verified, but I never received the notifications. So for all of you that have been posting comments over the past couple of months, you should now see them. I'll try to respond to any questions over the next week or so. Honestly, I thought people just stopped commenting!

And let this post serve as a reminder to send in your Combinations entry! Entries are due on the 24th. Due to the international readership, I'm not going to cut off entries at 0000 GMT. However, I'll publish the roundup sometime on the evening of the 25th. Once again, you can e-mail me or you can drop a comment in this or the original thread.

Here's what I did for my own Combinations challenege... I followed the recipes I laid out in the initial post, though I cooked the chops a little differently. I did use the grill, but banked all the coals on one side. I heavily seared both sides of each chop, and them moved them over to the cool part of the grill to allow indirect heat and smoke to finish them off. In order to provide aromatic smoke, I used an old stave from a red wine barrel. (These are pretty cool, but having them around the house makes it look like I'm awaiting a vampire invasion.)

For some bread, I decided to make johnnycakes. For those of you overseas, johnnycakes are essentially pancakes made with cornmeal. The name is a matter of some debate, but many believe the term to be a corruption of journey cakes, meaning that you'd make a batch before going on a long trip, which in the colonial period meant walking or riding a horse.

Johnnycake tends to be more of a Yankee term. Around here, we call them hoe cakes, as in you could cook them on the back of your hoe (a farming implement, not a woman of ill repute) while taking a break from working in the fields. Don't believe me? You can order the mix online, though they're dead simple to make from scratch.

For the wine, I chose the 2003 Rock Rabbit Syrah from the Central Coast region of California. First off, I felt an American wine was appropriate, though those from the South tend to be lacking. And I love Syrah with lamb--something about those black pepper and dark fruits seem to be a perfect fit for the aromatic flavor of grilled lamb. Rock Rabbit Syrah can generally be found for $10-13, and is one of my favorite bargain wines.

My dining companion and I polished off two lamb chops a piece, and they were delicious. The sauce worked out well, the beans were savory and amazing, and the johnnycakes were pure heaven with some soft butter and honey.

Remember, send me your entries by August 24th for inclusion in my final wrap-up!

11 August 2006

2003 V. Sattui Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

When I think about my wine firsts, I can generally credit Vittorio Sattui Winery from the Napa Valley. Dad started getting sampler cases from this winery every year when I was around twelve, and by the age of fourteen (circa 1990), when I got serious about cooking and curious about wine, I started getting a chance to try some of those wines. As a teenager, my favorites were the Johannesburg Riesling and the Gamay Rouge (the latter perhaps sparking an early love with rosé). I got to cook with some of the Chardonnay, and started to appreciate the subtle flavors in Cabernet Sauvignon beyond the big tannins and bold presence.

Note: V. Sattui wines are only available at the winery or via mail order, so don't go asking for them at your local wine shop.

Dad hasn't been receiving these wines every year since then, but once in a while he gets a case. And thus it comes to pass that I was given a bottle of the 2003 V. Sattui Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, along with the admonition to eat it with a decent piece of meat. Fear not, Dad.

I fixed a simple yet delicious supper: grilled ribeye with a simple salad. The ribeye was about an inch thick, boneless, dark red, and heavily marbled. Cooked medium rare over hot coals after seasoning with good salt and pepper. For the salad, I used some spring mix, some of my microgreens, a dash of homegrown cherry tomatoes, some shredded Parmesan cheese, and a freshly made balsamic vinaigrette (with just a dash of honey).

Pure heaven.

And as for the wine? Delicious. Deep cassis aroma with just a hint of fig. The flavors amplify those aromas, with a little black cherry added. It's quite smooth with a hearty meal, though on its own the tannins will dry your mouth a bit. Very deep color with good structure and balance. While amazing now, I'd love to see how this tastes in a few years.

06 August 2006

NV Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne

Here's my entry for Wine Blogging Wednesday #25. It's not technically a Champagne, but it's only about 60km from the edge of the region. I politely requested an honorable mention in the writeup, but I don't want to screw anything up and cause the first major blogging scandale of the wine blogosphere.

This was an impulse purchase, as I find it hard to pass up a bargain sparkling wine from a region that knows how to make it... Thus I find myself in possession of a $13 bottle of NV Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne from the region of Chablis, France. The main site is still under development. It's made from 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. It's got a yeasty aroma, with crisp lemony flavors and fairly large bubbles. A short finish, and when served ice cold, quite refreshing.

What was the occasion for opening it tonight? Mom and Dad took out the girlfriend and me for dinner. We ate at Pasta Italia in Collierville, a suburb of Memphis. It's a sort of classic northern Italian trattoria run by a chef from Modena, Michele D'Oto. He came by the table, and I got to break out my college Italian, much to the amusement of the girlfriend, who got kissed on the hand by the chef. Signore D'Oto and I chatted for a while, and over the course of the evening I got to talk to the other Italian employee as well as a few fellow diners from the old country.

(And I've mentioned this before, but I don't have a drop of Italian blood in me. I've been to Italy, I love the food, I speak the language fairly well, and use the nickname Benito. I'm not trying to mislead anyone, but I love hanging out with Italians.)

Dad and I each knocked back a bottle of the 2003 Castello di Brolio Chianti Classico, a great entry-level Chianti that's remarkably mellow and well-rounded for such a young Italian wine. Dad and I also had the osso buco, while the women went for pasta. Great food, and the dinner was ended with Vino Brulé, a hot mulled wine. (Or try your luck with an original Italian recipe.)

Dinner took a good two hours--that may seem rough for American diners, and in fact, Mom was getting a little impatient at first, but I loved it. When I was in Italy I adored the long, leisurely dinners with plenty of wine. You spend more time talking with each other, with the waiters, the owner, fellow diners, the guy dropping off a last minute delivery of fish for the fritto misto... I don't think I had a single dinner over there that lasted less than an hour. And those are the meals you really remember. Not the ones cooked in five minutes and wolfed down in ten.

Fortunately, the girlfriend was driving, and dropped me off at the house after dinner. I got comfortable, and while full from dinner, still wanted to extend the warm feeling for a while. I didn't have any still wine in the house, and didn't want to sip Bourbon, but I had a classy sparkler sitting in the fridge. And thus I popped the cork on the Simonnet-Febvre Crémant de Bourgogne, poured it in a Champagne flute, and started writing this post.

Two glasses later, I'm a happy ragazzo. Alla tua salute!.

My Tomatoes

For those readers who have been following the progress of my unusual tomato varieties, I have a big update. Follow that link, and you'll see photos of each of the six different tomatoes I've been growing this summer, complete with all sorts of data. And yes, I've got tasting notes to go with them.

This project has been a lot of fun. Not only has it been immensely relaxing to come home from work every day and tend the vines, but I never could have anticipated the great pleasure I would get in giving away luscious, ripe tomatoes to friends, family, and neighbors. And most of these are the kinds of tomatoes you can't exactly find in the grocery store, so it's a unique and delicious treat for those who get to eat them.

I may have mentioned this before, but all of these tomatoes were grown perfectly organically. The seedlings weren't certified organic, nor can I technically call them organic based on the USDA specifications, but I planted them in ground I tilled by hand, and have fertilized them with nothing but compost I've made on my own out of grass clippings and vegetable-based table scraps. This wasn't an ethical decision, and I purchase a lot of produce both organic and not, or local-farm-raised-but-not-technically-organic. However, I love the idea of being able to eat my tomatoes straight off the vine, free from pesticides, herbicides, or other chemicals. And as for the compost, well, that's free and makes good use of refuse that would otherwise go in the trash.

Tasting Notes for August 5, 2006

The theme for this blind tasting was South America.

Wine 1: 2005 Casa Silva Sauvignon Blanc. Colchagua Valley, Chile. Powerful fruit, mostly peach flavored but dry, light, and refreshing. Lovely wine. $15.

Wine 2: 2005 Casa Lapostelle Sauvignon Blanc. Casablanca Valley, Chile. Thin and creamy, slightly bitter finish. $13.

Wine 3: 2004 Marques de Casa Concha Chardonnay. Maipo Valley, Chile. Thin, mild wine. Some banana aromas and flavors with a hint of lemon. $17.

Wine 4: 2004 Finca La Escondida Reserva Chardonnay. San Juan, Argentina. Buttered toast aromas, mild flavors and smooth finish. Classic Chardonnay. $16.

Wine 5: 2005 Don Rodolfo Torrontés. Argentina. No website found. Honey and flower aromas, dry but with full fruit flavors. Wonderful. $12.

Wine 6: 2004 Tikal Patriota Bonarda-Malbec. Mendoza, Argentina. Black cherry, dry and complex. Medium tannins and overall excellent balance. $26.

Wine 7: 2003 Antis Malbec. Mendoza, Argentina. Dry and mild, very thin with a few hints of raspberry. $15.

Wine 8: 2004 Paul Hobbs El Felino Malbec. Mendoza, Argentina. Plum aromas and flavors, great construction. Nice wine. $31.

Wine 9: 2004 Ruca Malen Yauquen Cabernet Sauvignon-Malbec. Mendoza, Argentina. Great black cherry flavors, firm tannins, and a long finish. Oddly savory for an inexpensive wine. $10.

Wine 10: 2005 Altos Las Hormigas Malbec. Mendoza, Argentina. Harsh alcohol/cough syrup aroma, but a fruity and slightly creamy taste. Mild tannins. Might need some time to breathe and open up. $15.

04 August 2006

Combinations #5: Combinations Goes South

Andrew has asked me to host this round of the Combinations food and wine challenge, and given that I've lived in Memphis, Tennessee my entire life, I decided to come up with a Southern cuisine-inspired meal. This provides some unique challenges, as many of the ingredients that define your more traditional and delicious Southern meals are regional specialties that aren't necessarily available across the US, much less overseas. So I've attempted to come up with something that should be doable for everyone, and I've tried to include some alternate options in case you can't find something.

The meal: Grilled Mint Julep Lamb Chops with Slow Cooked Green Beans
Quantities are set to feed two, you should be able to adjust from there for larger groups

I wanted to put together a meal that shied away from the standard Southern stereotypes (everything fried, covered in gravy, etc., not that those things aren't delicious when cooked properly), while at the same time building on some of our strengths: the lamb dish is grilled, and the sauce is a sort of high-class BBQ sauce. The side dish is definitely traditional, but there's a chance you haven't had beans like this if you haven't visited the South.

Note:The day before cooking, take about a half cup/125mL of Bourbon (or Jack Daniels or whatever whisky/whiskey you have available and put it in a jar or separate bottle. Add in a small handful of torn fresh mint leaves, and allow to steep overnight. When you're ready to prepare the sauce, strain the Bourbon and discard the leaves.

Slow Cooked Green Beans
You'll want to start these at least an hour before you want to serve dinner
  • 1 quart/1 liter of fresh green beans, washed with the ends snapped off (frozen can be substituted, but fresh is always better)
  • 1 ham hock (a smoked pig ankle--substitute a large handful of diced salt pork, ham or lightly cooked bacon if necessary)
  • 1/2 diced onion
  • dash of sugar
Fill a pot about halfway with water and bring to a simmer. Add in your pork and onion, and then the beans and a dash of sugar. Allow to return to a light simmer, and then cover with a lid. (If you're leaving out the pork for health or religious reasons, you'll want to add in a little salt.) Allow to cook until the beans are tender. If you want crisper beans, this will be about 30 minutes. But if you want fuller flavor, cook on low heat for two or more hours. (This can be done in a crock pot.) If using a ham hock, about half an hour before serving, remove the hock, shred the meat, and return to the pot. To serve, use a slotted spoon or tongs and allow to drip thoroughly before serving on a plate. However, there's nothing wrong with serving them in a bowl with some of the residual liquid. It's quite tasty.

Grilled Mint Julep Lamb Chops
  • 1/2 cup/125mL Bourbon (see note above)
  • 1 small handful torn mint leaves (see note above)
  • 1/4 cup/60mL molasses (substitute sorghum or honey if necessary)
  • 1/2 cup/125mL Dijon mustard
  • 4 lamb loin chops (mine were about an inch/2.5cm thick)
  • salt and pepper
You can either grill these over coals or gas, or you can broil the chops in the oven in a roasting pan. Either method will work fine. Make the sauce first by combining the strained mint-infused Bourbon, the Dijon mustard, and your molasses in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until thoroughly combined. This can be left on the stove for half an hour or so at low heat in order to keep it smooth and liquid. For the lamb chops, salt and pepper all sides and grill until done to your desired doneness. Same thing for broiling--just make sure you don't burn them. I hate to be vague here, but it's going to depend a lot on the age of your lamb, the thickness of the chops, and the temperature of your heat source. Just try to cook the chops the way you like your steak and you should be fine. Allow to rest for ten minutes before serving. Top with some of the sauce, serve the beans on the side, and it wouldn't hurt to have some hot buttered rolls or cornbread to go with it.

Your entries are due on August 24. Just e-mail me with the word "Combinations" in the subject line and I'll include your various responses.

To clarify two of the ingredients, here's some photos. When I talk about green beans, I'm talking about these:

They may be longer, shorter, thicker, thinner, all depending on variety and local season. They may also be known as string beans, French beans, pole beans, filet beans, bush beans, snap beans... These are all slightly different, but most should work for this recipe. Just don't cook them as long if you're using thin, delicate beans.

And here's what a ham hock looks like:

If you've got a dog, this may look like something in the "smoked animal parts" section of your local pet store. However, these are pretty easy to get here in the South. This one cost me 75¢. Now, once again, don't go crazy trying to find these wherever you happen to be. Above I suggested using a handful of diced salt pork, ham or cooked bacon. There's got to be some sort of cured pork product available locally to you. If you've got a local butcher who sells ham, you can ask for one of the small end pieces, or you can even use the bones from something like a spiral sliced ham.

02 August 2006

2003 Bogle Phantom & Happy Birthday Paul!

Dinner tonight was a spur of the moment idea. I had a bottle of wine sitting around waiting for the proper meal. I had a 1.25 lb ribeye resting in the fridge. It was my best friend's birthday (or close to it), and my biggest tomato had reached a state of perfect ripeness. Some would call this a perfect storm; I called it dinner. I dropped Paul an e-mail last night, he responded in the affirmative, and dinner was on.

Nothing special was done with the meat, aside from the usual ground pepper and kosher salt on the outside, as well as letting it rest at room temperature for half an hour before being grilled over hot coals until nicely rare. The tomato shown in the photo is a slice from my biggest Brandy Boy specimen, weighing in at little over a pound (about half a kilogram) and dusted with kosher salt. Also pictured are some blueberry corn muffins (recipe may follow some day), as well as some grilled radicchio quarters with fresh mozzarella, using a recipe from the great Michael Chiarello. Everything had powerful flavors and deep intensity. In the background, you might see the remnants of a mint julep in a highball glass. I had bourbon, and lots of mint, and sugar in the pantry. Plus it's hot outside, so why not?

Paul's a big fan of the Bogle Petite Sirah, so I served the 2003 Bogle Phantom. I've been extremely happy with all of Bogle's $10 offerings, and this was my first foray into their higher end line. The label is dark and mysterious, but it's a really delightful wine. This is a mixture of 59% Petite Sirah, 39% Old Vine Zinfandel, and 2% Old Vine Mourvèdre. Surprisingly mild beginning, with a full bodied mouth feel and a slightly tart finish. 14.6% alcohol, so it's a little strong, but not overly harsh. Deep, dark plum and cherry flavors, some blackberries. The Zinfandel really helps with the body, providing a rich full experience without being too much. Elements of leather and tobacco show up later in the drinking of this wine. I'm really impressed with this wine, and it went exceptionally well with the unique meal at hand.

01 August 2006

Healdsburg Wines

Last November and December, I blogged about three wines that I got from my father. He'd recieved a sampler case from Healdsburg, California, and passed along a few to me. To recap, the wines reviewed were as follows, with pricing that was absent from the initial posting:

2004 Duxinaro Chardonnay $10
2003 Mama Mia Zinfandel $25
2002 Avenue Cabernet Sauvignon $35 (I'm really proud of that article, by the way)

Recently, I got an e-mail from Christie Love, who works in sales for these wines. Here's her contact info. And just to recap, I'd highly recommend all three of these wines, especially teh Avenue Cabernet Sauvignon.

Christie Love
The Wine Shop
331 Healdsburg Ave.
Healdsburg, CA 95448-4105
707-485-7073 (Direct dial)