12 July 2010

Online Cava Tasting + A Great Dinner for Two

On Thursday, July 22 at 7:00 p.m. (CDT), I'll be hosting an online tasting at Whining & Dining, the food blog of my hometown newspaper The Commercial Appeal. Normally I don't post notes ahead of time, but I happened to pick up an extra bottle and decided to serve it for yet another entry in the Dinner with Lady A series.

For this particular tasting, I selected the NV Segura Viudas Aria Estate Brut from the Penedès region of northeast Spain. $12, 11.5% abv. 60% Macabeo, 20% Parellada, and 20% Xarel-lo. This Cava is crisp with firm lemony acidity and nice small bubbles. Not quite as creamy as a high end Champagne, but more in that direction rather than cheaper fizz with giant bubbles. Slightly nutty, with almost an almond flavor in the background. Excellent quality/price ratio, and a good sort of bottle to keep around for casual drinking.

As a twist, I'm also suggesting that people pick up a little 200mL bottle of Crème de Cassis to make a classic cocktail. Kir is just white wine with cassis liqueur, and most people know the bubbly version as a Kir Royale. Technically that's only made with Champagne--with any other sparkling wine it's merely a Kir Pétillant.

How much to add? Just pour a capful in the bottom of the glass, then pour in the sparkling wine. The strength of the kir is really up to personal preference; as long as you're between the color of cooked salmon and smoked salmon you're in the right range. Obviously more cassis will increase the sweetness and black currant flavor, and you can always add some more of either ingredient if you need to balance it to your liking. It's a lot of fun, it's a great use for leftover sparkling wine, and the liqueur will keep forever in the cabinet.

With the Cava, I served blackened barramundi. I've had this fish a few times in restaurants, and have recently discovered it in the frozen fillets section of the grocery store. It's always nice to buy fresh fish, but on the other hand I try to stock up the freezer with a variety of different fish, the kind simply vacuum-sealed in clear plastic with a small white label. Makes it easy to inspect the quality and proportions of the fillet. Here I just brushed it with a little butter, dusted on the blackening spices, and gave it a quick char on each side. This fish was fairly lean, and I went easy on the butter so it wasn't too heavy for a first course. Spicy food traditionally goes great with sparkling wine, and while I didn't pile on the heat here, it was still a harmonious pairing.

With the second course, another bottle of wine was needed. While getting the Cava at Kirby Wines (big thanks to Angela Moon for help selecting both!) I also picked up the 2007 Cupcake Petite Sirah from the Central Coast of California. $12, 13.5% abv. Smooth and relaxing, violets, blueberries, currants, touch of chocolate. Really great value and perfectly aged wine. This wine is so mellow that you'd never guess it came from a powerful grape like Petite Sirah.

I like to try different things with steak. Here I took a thick ribeye, cut it in half to form two smaller steaks, and trimmed them up a bit. Both were marinated in soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, and then wrapped in bacon. I baked the steaks at low temperature until rare, and then let them rest. When it was time for serving, I threw them under the broiler to crisp up the bacon and produce a nice crust. Quick, simple, and perfect when you're entertaining someone.

I topped the steaks with onion marmalade. This is one of the most stupidly easy things to make, and you're liable to find all the necessary ingredients in any kitchen. Here I used white onions, red and white wine vinegar, and threw in a splash of the red wine for flavor. You really can't screw this up, and it's so delicious. Save the leftovers to spread on toast in the morning, where it makes a nice little onion tart. The carrots were just boiled for a bit, drained, and then pan fried with just a dab of butter and some dried thyme. A simple and elegant companion to the rich and savory steak. Lady A was particularly happy with the way the steak came out, and hadn't had the marmalade before.

Per the usual arrangement, I put her in charge of dessert. Almond croissants topped with a little powdered sugar. About an hour after dinner, I warmed them up in the oven and threw a little ice cream on the side. Oh, pure heaven. Flaky, buttery, rich and delicious.

Once again, a successful and interesting dinner for two with a pair of great yet inexpensive wines. Please feel free to pick up a bottle of the Aria and join us on the 22nd for the online tasting--no login or registration required, just go to the Whining & Dining site, pop open your wine, and join the online conversation about the wine and cocktail.


Kimberly said...

Hey Benito,

What camera are you using now? Your pics look amazing!


Benito said...


Thanks for the compliment! For the past two years pretty much everything has been shot with the Nikon D40. If something looks nicer than usual it means I spent a little longer with lighting and post-processing. :)

When I need something simple that will fit in my pocket, I carry a little Canon Powershot A480.


Samantha Dugan said...

I've always found that bubbles and spicy are a tough combo. I have read that other places but I find that the spice kills a great bottle and the bubbles make the burn even worse. That being said it looks like a lovely meal and one of my favorite desserts, (aside from blue cheese and Madeira) is a split croissant, buttered and grilled or crisped up on a griddle with vanilla ice cream.

Benito said...


I like the spicy food + inexpensive sparkler combination, can't vouch for the effects with proper Champagne. With Thai food for instance, I think it's a much more enjoyable match than the standard Gewürztraminer.

I think it has something to do with beer being the best natural match for the world's hot cuisines, and cold bubbly wine is the closest approximation. :)


Amy (Sing For Your Supper) said...

I'm so thrilled I found this blog! I've been searching for a great wine blog, and yours is so informative and helpful! Great site! Thanks!


Benito said...


Glad you like it! I've sent some additional information and sites you might enjoy through the contact portion of your site.