28 June 2013

Lobster & Wine Pairing

I recently received a package of samples from LobsterAnywhere.com, a New England supplier of Maine lobster and other regional delicacies. They have some great gift combinations available, and keep in mind that the prices include overnight shipping anywhere in the United States. I got a pair of North Atlantic tails (200g/7oz each, and not the Caribbean rock lobster tails you see in this part of the country), a pint of clam chowder, and a small key lime pie. Everything arrived still frozen, a great testament to proper packaging. The box made a trip from Lowell, MA to Memphis, TN in the dead of summer with a properly packed styrofoam container and the right amount of dry ice.

Julia and I started out with the rich and creamy chowder, which was the best I've had since visiting Boston back in 2005. The potatoes managed to remain in perfect cubes without being mushy, and there were large chunks of clam meat present. The frozen soup is shipped in a plastic pouch that can be warmed up in a pan of hot water, though I let it thaw naturally in the fridge and warmed it up on a low setting in the microwave. (And I gave my bowl a few dashes of hot sauce for good measure.)

In the past I've either steamed or grilled tails whole, but this time I decided to try the proper butterfly or piggyback preparation. Simply cut the top of the tail down to the end, crack open a bit, and gently perch the meat (still attached) on top. It not only looks elegant but elevates the meat so that it does not sit in liquid during cooking. 10 minutes at 200°C/400°F is all it took, though some prefer to baste beforehand with clarified butter, paprika, and other seasonings.

The tail was amazingly tender, sweet, and delicate. Not rubbery in the slightest, and a far milder and gentler experience than any lobster tail I've had in the past. I will also note that they arrived deveined and cleaned, and no real prep beyond splitting the shell was required on my part.

The key lime pie came from the Ever So Humble® Pie Company of Walpole, Massachusetts. A crumbly graham cracker crust with a rich filling, and just the right balance of tart and sweet. Since I don't have much of a sweet tooth, I had only intended to have a quarter of the little five-inch pie, but ended up eating half of it.

What wines to serve with such a meal? My favorite wine to pair with any sort of shellfish is Sancerre. It's great with lobster, but truly shines with oysters and scallops. Lately I've also been turned onto Alsatian Pinot Gris with shrimp, and when we're talking about a big crawfish boil, if I'm not drinking beer I like an inexpensive sparkling wine like Prosecco. In general, I want something that performs well when cold (since I'm usually the one steaming or grilling or broiling), has bright acidity, and if there's a touch of stony minerals, even better. For a clambake or any other casual "hands-on" seafood dining, skip the wine glasses and drink out of tumblers or whatever is handy. (You can also check out some prior posts on lobster rolls and shrimp grits cooked in lobster stock.)

For this particular meal I went with Italian whites. I served the wines of Mazzoni, a new partnership between the Franceschi family of Montalcino and the Terlato family of Napa.

2011 Mazzoni Pinot Grigio
100% Pinot Grigio
$20, 13.5% abv.

Ripe apricot aromas and flavors dominate with a big, round body. This is not one of your watery, weak Pinot Grigio bottles, but rather a fairly substantial white wine with good acidity. I found it to work well with the clam chowder, and it held up well with the black pepper and hot sauce.

2011 Mazzoni Bianco di Toscana
90% Vermentino, 10% Chardonnay
$20, 13% abv.

This was a more gentle wine with a light peach profile, slightly musky undertones, and a bright acidic finish. Just a little touch of minerals underneath provided some well-enjoyed depth, and overall it had the right balance of characteristics to go well with the lobster tail.

Note: These wines and the food were provided as samples.

26 June 2013

2012 Las Rocas Rosado

I've said it a hundred times, but nothing says summer quite like a good dry rosé. Spain produces a lot of great rosados that are widely available around the country, and you shouldn't have too much trouble finding one. The next time you're at the wine shop, grab a couple of different rosés from around the world, bring them home, and keep them in the fridge. You'll find that they'll pair with just about anything, and can be a lot of fun to take to a BBQ or even to a dinner party as a pleasant aperitif.

This Grenache-based pink wine comes from Bodegas San Alejandro in the Aragón corner of northeastern Spain. The winery is a relative newcomer in Spain, founded in 1962. The DO of Calatayud is named after the nearby city that surrounds an old Moorish castle from the early 8th century. In fact, the name Calatayud came from the Arabic Qalat 'Ayyūb (قلعة أيوب) "the fort of Job". The history of Arabic influence on the Spanish language is fascinating, and the injection of a Semitic language into a Romance language a thousand years ago leads to a can of albóndigas on the shelf of my local grocery store.)

2012 Las Rocas Rosado
Calatayud, Spain
100% Garnacha
$10, 13.5% abv.

The wine opens up quickly with bright strawberry and watermelon aromas and flavors. It has low acidity, a round mouthfeel, and a short finish. A pleasant summer sipper, and I found that it paired quite well with some spicy pork tamales in a rich red enchilada sauce.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample.

24 June 2013

Brancott Wines of New Zealand + Contest

Originally founded as Montana, these wines were always marketed under the Brancott name in the U.S. to avoid confusion with the Big Sky Country. Now the winery has changed its name to Brancott Estate for markets both foreign and domestic. I've enjoyed their pleasant, inexpensive wines over the many years of this blog, and in the summer heat I was excited to try a pair of their screwcap-enclosed wines again.

If you like Brancott, you may be able to win a trip to New Zealand. Details below the reviews...

Let's start with the food. I found a deal on a bunch of thick-cut lamb loin chops. I prefer rack of lamb, but when the loin chops are cut this thick, they can function as mini porterhouses of delicious, tender meat. I dressed them minimally with salt and pepper, performed a hot sear over charcoal, and then let them slow cook in the cold side of a covered BBQ grill until reaching a succulent medium rare.

For a sauce, I used a variant of Michael Symon's recipe, which is a piquant mole-style sauce incorporating sherry vinegar. I substituted some dried peppers and a few other bits of magic based on prior experience with Mexican savory chocolate sauces.

Rounding out the plate is a little medley of black beans, corn, peppers, and onion, served hot, not like a salsa. The smoky lamb and tangy sauce went perfectly together, and the side dish was just light enough to not be overwhelming. When you've got this much flavor on the plate, you don't really need to eat a pound of potatoes.

I tried both of the wines with the meal:

2012 Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$13, 13% abv.

The classic aroma of grapefruit is there but it's balanced out by a riper apricot tone. Great combination of tart and soft body elements, tropical fruits on the tongue, leading to a crisp finish. Vegetal elements emerge as the wine warms up. Highly recommended with a bucket of steamed mussels.

2011 Brancott Estate Pinot Noir
Marlborough, New Zealand
100% Pinot Noir
$14, 13% abv.

Soft plum, strawberry, and just a background note of bacon fat. Medium tart acidity with a finish that is much rounder than expected. Overall a quite mild and refreshing Pinot Noir. I thought it was perfect with the lamb.

And if you're on Facebook, you can enter the Chill Hour Promotion to win a trip for two to New Zealand. I'm not eligible, and I get no kickback on this deal, but if you like these wines and want to enter, go for it!

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

23 June 2013

BWR Classic: Burns Night with Haggis Tamales and Pinot Noir

Back in 2009 I hosted a Burns Night gathering with friends and family. In addition to the haggis tamales, I also managed to find a pretty broad range of Pinot Noir styles, including a rare still white wine.

* * *

Every year on January 25, Scots, people of Scottish descent, and folks who simply want to eat, drink, and be merry gather together to celebrate the memory of the immortal Robert Burns. There's a lot of ceremony that goes along with such a gathering, but I won't go into much detail here--it's one of those things you have to experience rather than read. And yes, I happily threw out phrases in a proper brogue here and there, much to the amusement of the assembled guests. Though I scrapped the plan of wearing a sword and kilt. That would be fine if I were simply Master of Ceremonies, but with all the cooking and running around I was bound to injure myself or a dog.

Since this year marked the 250th birthday of Burns, I thought I ought to host my own Burns Night gathering. Yes, it would involve making a haggis, but I'm of partial Scottish heritage and have a certain familiarity with organ meats. My buddy Paul was willing to host, and I locked in eight other friends and family members. And just to keep things interesting I decided on an all-Pinot Noir night, since over the past year I'd managed to accumulate a bunch of Pinot that wasn't simply red wine.

We started things out with the NV Domaine Ste. Michelle Blanc de Noirs, $13, 12% abv. Columbia Valley of Washington. This is really my go-to bubbly, and if I could just keep a few cases around the house at all times I would do so. It's got a ripe strawberry profile, with lemon hints, and its pale salmon tint is beautiful. There's enough body here to stand up to a wide range of foods, and for my first course I took a slab of smoked salmon (thoughtfully provided by my parents) and made little open-faced sandwiches. Start with a base of toasted rye, add a spread of Dijon mustard, then smoked salmon, topped with sour cream and a few rings of green onions. My brother remarked that it tasted like a really good ham sandwich--and indeed, if used properly smoked salmon can serve as a delicious (and kosher!) substitute for various cured pork products.

Next up on the wine list was the 2007 Novy Blanc de Noirs from the Willamette Valley of Oregon (on the far right in the photo). $26, 13.9% abv. A real freak of the wine world: a still white wine made from Pinot Noir. I first heard about this from Michael at Midtown Stomp and I had to swing by Joe's to grab a bottle. It's been painful waiting to open the bottle, but what better occasion than a Burns Night dinner party? This was probably the star of the night, with butter and vanilla aromas with a smooth, round mouthfeel. It has a beautiful golden color with just a tint of peach. This is really spectacular but I don't expect to see much of it in the future.

This amazing wine was served with the minimalist cock-a-leekie soup. It's almost Japanese in its simplicity: just a chicken boiled in water with peppercorns and the green parts of leeks. Strain and return the chicken meat to the pot with prunes and the white parts of leeks. Remove most of the fat and serve. As usual, I served the soup in mugs for the sake of dishes and portion control.

I made a fresh salad fortified with raw leeks and fennel and served it along with the first Pinot Noir, rosado Cava made in Spain. This oddity is the NV Codorníu Pinot Noir, a chunky sparkler that won't fit in your wine rack any time soon (far left in the above photo). But as Queen wisely told us, fat bottomed girls, you make the rockin' world go 'round. Ahem. Apricot and peach flavors with a touch of raspberries.

The story of my haggis is pretty long, but I'll keep it short here. While traditionally the entrails are minced and stuffed inside a sheep's stomach, I elected to use corn husks instead. That's right: HAGGIS TAMALES. Why? They're already in single-serving sizes and are perfect for holding the filling together during a long period of steaming, the ideal semi-permeable membrane. Some may consider this blasphemy, but I found the solution far better and, in the grand economical tradition of Scotland, far more appropriate than purchasing a pre-made haggis or attempting to assemble all the original parts. Besides, there's a long tradition of haggis being adapted to local ingredients.

For my wee haggis I used beef heart, beef liver, and leg of lamb along with onions, steel-cut oats, and some seasonings. Instead of the traditional "boil until grey and flavourless" method, I just browned it all in a skillet, let cool, and then ground the mess in a food processor before stuffing in the husks. I was very happy with the results (having tasted both domestic and imported haggis in the past), but the flavor is pretty much like meatloaf or sausage. It's not quite as scary or exotic as most people think.

Before serving the haggis I of course had to recite the Address to a Haggis in the proper Scots dialect.

For a sauce--one of the unexpected successes of the evening--I just heated up two jars of red currant jelly with Dewar's Scotch. I was surprised at the reaction: aside from my father and me, no one at the table had had haggis before, and almost all enjoyed it. I poured a French rosé from Burgundy (middle photo): the 2005 Frédéric Magnien. This one was really liked by many at the table that hadn't preferred some of the previous selections, and had raspberry and lemon elements to it. While that sounds tart, it was quite smooth and refined.

For the alternate main course (I really hadn't expected so many people to eat all their haggis), I roasted Paul's leg of lamb stuffed with rosemary and garlic, and served it with roasted cubed potatoes and rutabagas. The side dish is the traditional Scots "neeps & tatties", but I chose to roast the root veggies with olive oil and a dash of maple syrup rather than boil them into a bland mush.

More haggis sauce was poured over the lamb, and we uncorked the last wine of the evening, the 2005 Beringer Napa Valley Pinot Noir. $20, with very ripe strawberry characteristics, a round flavor that was really bold and firm after all the "weaker" Pinot variants we tasted. I think this would be a great introductory Pinot Noir for anyone that wants to get to know the grape.

Bear in mind that I took pauses of 15-20 minutes between courses, no reason to force this much food and wine into people quickly. For dessert, we feasted on Dad's bottle of The Macallan 12 Year Scotch. Nice and peaty, with smoke and spice elements like nutmeg and a hint of cinnamon. Macallan is a dependable producer and I was proud to have it at the table.

Continuing with my theme of not liking to cook dessert and the fact that by this point in a dinner party I'm running low on steam, the Squirrels once again saved the day with a honey cake, made with Scotch and topped with a Drambuie glaze. We each just had a small piece but it was the perfect way to cap off the evening.

All in all it was a great evening. I enjoyed making haggis for the first time, and having the poetry and history associated with Robert Burns really helped tie everything together. My thanks to all those who helped out with the dinner, both by contributing items and being willing to eat the finished products. My first Burns Night was back in '94 with the Memphis Scottish Society, and I'm glad to have hosted the first one for so many of my friends and family.

21 June 2013

Farewell The Roommate with the NV Lenoble Cuvée Intense

After living together since 1997, The Roommate has finally gotten married. We stuck together for well over a decade through two dogs, three different residences, and many ups and downs. We're practically family after having spent most of our adult lives with each other. She's striking out on a new life on her own, and while I wish her and her new husband the best, I know that we'll keep in touch.

At the wedding, it was a pleasure to meet up with The Roommate's family, my friends Paul, Anna, Sally, and Terry, and to have the opportunity to introduce Julia to this sort of extended family that I have in West Tennessee.

While The Roommate has been mentioned on this blog from time to time, she doesn't drink (though loved opening boxes of samples and looking at the labels) and her wedding concluded with a strictly dry reception. I had no problem with that, as it's not that uncommon here in the South, and I was respectful of the wishes of the church. After I told the new groom to keep The Roommate fed regularly and supplied with Diet Cokes, Julia and I returned to Memphis. Upon getting home and taking off the suit, I realized that I had the perfect opportunity to pour a glass of proper Champagne and reflect upon the years.

I first had a vintage Lenoble served by Mike Whitfield when he hosted my 35th birthday party. Lenoble was founded by Armand-Raphaël Graser in 1915 and is a strictly independent, family-operated Champagne house. It's the best of both worlds: the spirit of a grower Champagne with the dignity of a recognized house.

NV Lenoble Cuvée Intense
Champagne, France
40% Chardonnay from Chouilly, Grand Cru from the Côte des Blancs
30% Pinot Noir from Bisseuil, Premier Cru from the Montagne de Reims
30% Pinot Meunier from Damery
$40, 12% abv.

Golden delicious apple and Bartlett pear flavors, light white fruit aromas and a clean, crisp finish. Beautiful acidity and medium bubbles. Only the slightest hint of toast on top. Excellent balance all around, and a very dignified Champagne. I love the blend of grapes here, particularly the hearty dose of Pinot Meunier. Highly recommended for a great quality-price ratio.

Cheers one more time to the happy couple, and best wishes for the future!

Note: This wine was provided as a sample.

19 June 2013

Summer Wines of Chile

It may be winter in Chile right now, but up here in the Northern hemisphere it's time to enjoy some cool, crisp, lighter wines from that country. But these particular grapes may surprise you. I'm not going to be reviewing Sauvignon Blanc or Carménère in this post.

Also, these wines were shipped with a pair of GoVino wine glasses. They're made out of flexible and recyclable polyethylene terephthalate, a BPA-free, food-safe plastic. I've used the Riedel O series in the past, but these glasses were a lot of fun for casual sipping. You can drop them or smack into them without any problem, but just don't put them in the dishwasher. I've heard they are quite popular for outdoor parties, and speaking of convenience, all of the following wines are enclosed with screwcaps.

2012 Cartagena Gewürztraminer
San Antonio Valley
100% Gewürztraminer
$17, 13% abv.

Imagine that you're playing Taboo or some sort of other guessing game, and you give the clues "Cartagena" and "Gewürztraminer". I doubt that Chile would ever enter into the guesses before the little hourglass timed out. But Cartagena is also a picturesque coastal area in the Valparaíso region of Chile. Pablo Neruda wrote there, and I'd highly recommend his saucy "Ode to Wine". Julia loved this one, with a bright nose of ripe peach with some floral undertones and just a little spicy edge. Good acidity and fairly dry. Quite a difference from the California expressions of this grape that I've tried over the years.

2012 Cono Sur Bicicleta Riesling
Valle Central
100% Riesling
$10, 13.5% abv.

This one really surprised me with a very German profile. Wet rocks and petrol, light white fruit aromas, clean finish. Great minerality, decent acidity, and a little earthy on the finish. I'm hoping that I'm tasting the red clay soils in the true spirit of tasting on terroir. A great bargain, and one that would be a perfect ringer to put in a blind tasting among friends.

2012 Calcu Rosé
Colchagua Valley
50% Malbec, 40% Syrah, 10% Petite Verdot
$13, 12% abv.

A great blend of grapes that manages to be still lighter and drier than you might expect. Ripe aromas of red cherries and plums, tart acidity, and a long finish that has just the barest hint of tannins. Dry rosés are wonderful in the summer, and this one did not disappoint. I kept it in a bucket of ice outside while I was smoking some lamb chops for dinner. On top of that, I love the dancing cow on the label, somewhere between abstract watercolors and the careful curves of Lascaux cave paintings. Highly recommended.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

17 June 2013

Lobster Salad, Vinho Verde, and a Wine Chiller

I found myself on a Saturday with lobsters, Vinho Verde, and a wine product for review. Time to multitask.

I've written about lobster rolls many times but at this point, I think I enjoy them more than a freshly steamed lobster. I grab a couple of the pre-cooked and frozen lobsters from the grocery store when they go on sale, thaw them, shell them, and then dice up the meat with mayonnaise, bell pepper, black pepper, and a few other bits of magic. Tossed on a buttery split-top bun, the lobster salad is heavenly. For the ease of serving a quick and refreshing lunch, I like sea salt and vinegar kettle chips.

Now we need something to wash down that sammich. With perfect timing, a pair of wines from Vinho Verde had arrived on the quarterly schedule. While both were repeats for me, I was delighted to try them and found them to be an excellent match on a lazy holiday weekend.

NV Gazela Vinho Verde
Vinho Verde, Portugal
Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, and Azal
$6, 9% abv.

Gazela, meaning "gazelle" in Portuguese, is using the tag line sabe bem com a vida ("goes well with life"). I've had this wine many times in the past and it's one of the best wines you'll find at the six dollar level. Crisp, light and delicate, barely any bubbles. Mild citrus notes with just a hint of flowers and tropical fruit. Easy and very enjoyable when iced down and sipped with appetizers.

NV Las Lilas Vinho Verde
Vinho Verde, Portugal
85% Loureiro, 7.5% Trajadura, 7.5% Arinto
$10, 10% abv.

Dry and crisp with aromas of jasmine and flowers, appropriate for a wine named after lilacs. This one had a rounder body and a fuller mouthfeel, and was almost entirely still. An excellent dry Portuguese white wine that plays well off the saltiness from the lobster.

The Gazela was chilled in the Cool Coat designed by Dane Jakob Wagner, included in the MODaffekt design collection. While my own house is not supplied with modern Scandinavian products, this group does have some neat products, like a combination decanter/aerator, and for some reason, the splash! bowl tickles my fancy.

The Cool Coat retails for $45 and features a freezable insert sleeve that you can't see in my above photo but does the main work of chilling the wine. You can unbutton the coat for more callipygian sparkling bottles, and the collar can be adjusted to your own desired degree of "popped".

It is expensive for something that can be replaced by a nearby refrigerator, but the stitching is perfect, the outer fabric is reflective and looks beautiful close up, and frankly, whenever I see the little white and green shirt hugging a bottle I smile a little. Maybe I'm experiencing hygge. It's very sturdy and should hold up well for years to come.

Note: These wines and the cool coat were provided as samples.

14 June 2013

Brooks Oregon White Wines

I was first introduced to the Oregon winery Brooks during the Oregon Wine Board Dinner that I attended in NYC. Despite the tragic death of the founder, Jimi Brooks, other winemakers helped keep the winery in operation during that crucial harvest and today it remains strong. Having tasted their sweet dessert wine, I was excited to sample a pair of their white wines.

Oregon has a lot of small production wineries, and this is no exception. While you may not be able to find these wines in your local shop, they are available from the company's website while supplies last.

Do not get discouraged if you don't get to try these specific wines, but hopefully you will have the opportunity to explore some of their other wines, or look into another small production winery in the Willamette Valley. If I write about a movie, everyone can watch it on Netflix within moments. But with wine, there's a limited quantity of many of the most special wines, and rather than get bothered about the inability to taste them, take it as a chance to dig into the region.

2011 Brooks Runaway White
100% Pinot Blanc
Willamette Valley, Oregon
244 Cases Made
$15, 11.3% abv.

I've learned a lot about Pinot Blanc from Alsace and Oregon, and it's amazing how such a gentle grape can have such depth and diversity. This wine is bright and mineral with notes of apricot and lemon zest. Spicy, grassy finish. Practically a steal at the price, and should pair well with a nice bucket of steamed mussels. Try playing a little old school Joan Jett or Lita Ford along with this one.

2011 Brooks Ara Riesling
100% Riesling
Willamette Valley, Oregon
300 Cases Made
$25, 11.5% abv.

The 2006 release of this wine was served at President Obama's first state dinner in 2009, and I agree that it would be an excellent match with Indian-inspired cuisine. This vintage has an exotic nose of lychee and quince, with a totally dry yet highly acidic body. Delicious when chilled. Certainly a wine that shows off the way that Oregon is able to coax unique profiles out of classic grapes.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

12 June 2013

Wines of Smith-Madrone

California Cabernet Sauvignon Chardonnay Riesling from Smith-MadroneSmith-Madrone Winery was founded on Napa's Spring Mountain in 1971 by Stuart Smith and currently produces about 4,000 cases a year. Despite having heard of this venerable Napa producer, looking back over my notes I've never actually tried any of their wines. I had always assumed that Madrone was the other half of a partnership, but it turns out to be the most common tree on the property. The beautiful flat leaf evergreen is featured on the label.

Fredric Koeppel taught me to always pay close attention to the mountain sub-appellations of Napa, and they've never let me down. These wines come from the Spring Mountain District AVA in the Mayacamas Mountains near St. Helena.

2011 Smith-Madrone Riesling
Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley
100% Riesling
521 Cases Made
$27, 12.6% abv.

Starting in 1983, they stopped calling this wine Johannisberg Riesling and simply sold it as Riesling. It's always interesting to go back and look at labels from the 70s and 80s--not that long ago--and you'll see some slightly unusual grape names, like "Pinot Chardonnay". This Riesling has a crisp green apple aroma and flavor. Bright acidity but light and dry. A perfect summertime sipper, and highly recommended for picnics.

2010 Smith-Madrone Chardonnay
Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley
100% Chardonnay
703 Cases Made
$30, 14.4% abv.

Lots of buttered popcorn on the nose of this classic California Chardonnay. Bold oak structure and an underlying flavor of ripe apricot. Long, lingering finish. This one would be perfect with a quarter of a roast chicken and fingerling potatoes with lots of sea salt.

2007 Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon
Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley
97% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, & 1% Cabernet Franc
1,434 Cases Made
$45, 14.2% abv.

On the very first sniff I got a lot of pyrazine, that molecule that gives the aroma of tomato leaves and tobacco. I love that scent, and after more swirling the wine opened up with deeper black cherry and leather aromas. On the palate it is full of dark fruit and medium tannins, leaving a long and savory finish. Well-aged and ready to drink now, though it could easily go for a few more years. Strongly recommended with rack of lamb and a cherry reduction sauce.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

10 June 2013

Interview with Jameson Fink

One of the many bloggers I met in NYC was Jameson Fink, a Seattle based wine blogger and host of the Wine Without Worry podcast. He's been blogging about wine since 2004, beating me by a year, and was kind enough to answer a few questions for my latest interview.

BWR: I'm impressed with your podcast interviews. How do you line up guests for those, and do you use Skype or something else for the conversation?

Jameson: I have been choosing my guests by dipping into my personal Rolodex of friends, at least for the first ten or so shows. As someone who is still fairly green in the podcast game I wanted to make sure that I already had a rapport with each guest that would naturally come through, mitigate any nerves, as well as show some real chemistry. And I know a lot of really cool people.

It's also important for me to use wine as a jumping off point to get to know someone better...even someone I already know. How is it I've been friends with Leah Waaramaki, Assitant Winemaker at Whidbey Island Winery, for years and somehow forgot she was a zoology major? I know, zoology majors who become winemakers are a dime a dozen, right?

And I really want to get people who are not involved in wine per se, outside of the drinking of it, on the show. Like making a White Port and Pear Conserve with Brook Hurst Stephens, who is a Certified Master Food Preserver and the enthusiastic, charming creator of Learn to Preserve. (She also worked in the wine business for years.) Or getting grilled about wine by Author/Cook/Urban Farmer Amy Pennington.

Now I am venturing out into the world of guests who I've never met before as well. So they will be sprinkled in amidst people who I find engaging, fascinating, and probably have some dirt on me. As far as recording each show goes, if I'm face-to-face with someone I just use the microphone on my HP Pavillion laptop, I set it up between me and my guest. If I'm speaking with someone remotely I call them over Skype and use G-Recorder Professional to put it all on an mp3 file.

BWR: Can you remember the first wine you ever sipped, and your impressions of it?

Jameson: I wish I could! Does a California Cooler count? I can, however, share a couple early wine memories with you. One is from my days at Grinnell College, where at an off-campus house I drank a lot of Alsatian Gewurztraminer while eating spicy vegetarian cuisine. (Note: I also drank an ocean of Milwaukee's Best Light out of Hardee’s cups.) I recall reading somewhere that wines with a little sweetness would balance out spicy cuisine, put that theory to the test, and found out that it was a success.

A second recollection is living in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago and drinking a lot of Turning Leaf and Meridian Chardonnay that I bought from my local convenience store. This was at a  time I had my first corporate job, working at a consulting firm that companies would pay to handle their benefits administration. (AKA "outsourcing") Spending money on wine with regularity became more of a reality and this was a good launching pad. I'm confident that Ravenswood Zinfandel was part of my regular repertoire as well.

BWR: You've done quite a bit of travel as a wine blogger.  What was your favorite trip and why was it special?

Jameson: Is this where I decline to give you a straight answer and say all my trips were equally outstanding? Well, they all were fantastic, educational, delicious, thirst-slaking, and informative. As someone who loves to travel, I consider myself extremely fortunate to be a part of each and every one. I would like to note one  of the biggest highlights of each trip is meeting new people and travelling with them for a week. You get a lot of time to chat and bond in the van and over meals.

But if you turned the screws on me, I’d say my trip to the Loire Valley was particularly memorable because I am such a fanboy of the wines, from Muscadet to Sancerre, and everything in between. What a thrill!

BWR:Given your home town and your current residence, I'd like to hear a perfect Chicago food/wine pairing and a perfect Seattle food/wine pairing.  No need to restrict yourself to Illinois and Washington wines.

Jameson: One of the things I miss most about Chicago is eating steak tacos at La Pasadita at all hours of the day. They have three locations on the same block, each with a different feel and loyal fans. (I prefer the one on the west side of Ashland, closest to Division.) I’d like to get those steak tacos with cheese, cilantro, and chopped onions. Then drown them in fiery green salsa. I’d get them to-go and find a place where I could wash them down with a sparkling rosé of some sweetness, like a Bugey Cerdon.

For Seattle, I'd want to sit at the counter in front of the open kitchen at La Bete. I love watching the chefs put together each dish from start to finish; it is fascinating, understated theater, and you’ve got a front row seat. The last time I was there I had a great André Neveu Sancerre, which I would happily drink no matter if I had salad,  seafood, or steak in front of me.

BWR: We met each other during Snooth PVA but didn't hang out that much. Which was your favorite tasting and why?

Jameson: The Gruner Veltliner tasting. Aldo Sohm had the presence, knowledge, and humor to probably reach non-wine geeks and make them believers. Also, it was good to recall that there's more to Gruner than just the 1 liter chug-a-lug jugs sealed with a bottle cap. I so enjoy those, but rich, powerful, age-worthy Gruners deserve big love, too.

BWR: I've found that the more time I spend writing about wine and engaging in social media, I don't get to read as much about it, even the posts written by my close friends.  How do you balance content consumption and content creation?  Do you find yourself consuming more music or movies just to focus on alternate subjects?

Jameson: Ben, with your questioning you are peeling back my layers like I was an onion on your cutting board.

I certainly am cognisant (mostly in my deepest, darkest thoughts) of the danger of becoming so wine-focused that others may think you have nothing else to offer, whether in the world of blogging or how you relate to people in the real world. And being a more well-rounded person makes you a better writer, and one more likely to attract readers who find you interesting. Not just your interest in wine. So, yes, I try to vary my consumption of what I feed my brain. Sometimes it’s Graham Greene, other times it’s Pawn Stars. As far as other blogs, I always carve out time to read posts, especially content that inspires me. The best way to become a good writer is to be a great reader.

BWR: While a lot of people think that wine blogging is just a pleasant hobby, it can be a lot of work. What's the toughest part about blogging about wine?

Jameson: For many people it is a pleasant hobby, and that’s the great thing about blogging. It can be a casual, fun outlet for your thoughts. And that’s what my blog is at the core. The tough part is trying to turn your blog into something that can offer a halfway (tenthway) decent living. I have no illusions about making any significant money from my blog. But it’s opened a lot of doors for travel, freelancing, print articles, and consulting gigs. I look at it as a résumé that I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time on for the past 9 years. Geez, that sound a little grim.

BWR: How much engagement do you have with local bloggers who write about other subjects (e.g. food, music, art, local news, etc.)? Do you get together for local Seattle blogger events?

Jameson: A lot! Besides a couple local wine bloggers who I'm in regular contact with (Sean Sullivan of Washington Wine Report and Clive Pursehouse
of Northwest Wine Anthem), I spend a lot of
time hanging out with food bloggers. Much of this has to do with being the Wine Editor for Foodista and being part of the International Food Blogger Conference. And attending Foodportunity in Seattle, organized by Keren Brown. Between those two events I’ve met so many local food bloggers, as well as ones from around the country. I’m also part of a Facebook group, Seattle Bloggers Unite, that meets monthly. (I regrettably have not been able to attend many events.)

I love to collaborate with food bloggers. I've been interviewed by Denise Sakaki of Wasabi Prime for Honest Cooking (also by Jackie Dodd of Domestic Fits in Honest Cooking), and Greg Henry of Sippity Sup for Key Ingredient. (I’ve been their Featured Foodie as well.) Additionally, you can find me on My Man's Belly, John and Elana Talk About Food, The Art of Gluten Free Baking, My Custard Pie, and the magical Cake Spy.

I’ve got a couple more food bloggers I hope to be working with, but right now it would require top secret clearance for me to discuss any details. I am a huge believer in the reciprocity  that comes from showing genuine interest in, and enthusiasm for, what other people do.

Many thanks to Jameson for participating in this interview, and be sure to follow him at Jameson Fink, @jamesonfink, and on iTunes at Wine Without Worry.

09 June 2013

BWR Classic: Kare Poaka

After writing this piece in 2010, I've heard often from British expats around the world who love the dish. Today, a reader in England e-mailed me the original recipe, listed below my post.

Round about 1990 I saw a cooking show on TV hosted by an odd chap named Graham Kerr. I knew nothing about him, but he was rather exuberant, despised cooking with alcohol, and promoted a lot of low fat recipes.

This confused me, because my father spoke of the exact same chef who went by the name Galloping Gourmet and used butter and cream in everything, juggled eggs, and swilled wine throughout the show. Each episode concluded with his signature "find a hot chick in the audience and invite her to dine on the completed meal with a nice glass of wine". (For info on his transformation and details on his biography, check the Wikipedia article.)

As this was a formative period in my cooking self-education, I remember a show in which Graham Kerr made a dish he called Kare Poaka, something from his New Zealand days. In fact, he made it as a special dish for a visit from the late Queen Mother. I remember it being odd but easy, as it was basically a stew of pork, sweet potato, coconut, and rice. I made it the weekend after the show and it went over well with the family. For years I thought it was an authentic Maori dish, but the name is just "dear pig" in the local language and further research doesn't reveal anything specifically like it. It should also be noted that, aside from the sweet potato, absolutely none of the ingredients are native to the islands, and even the local version of the sweet potato (kümara) made its way from South America around a thousand years ago.

Similar dishes are made in the Caribbean, and while I don't have access to Kerr's recipe (his book is out of print and this whole thing is curiously absent from the internet), I can remember enough to make it happen. And even improve upon it. The original was something of a starchy mess, with big cubes of pork and a mash of sweet potato and rice. I've tried to treat it more like a Thai curry, and an array of hot sauces are ideal to perk up individual bowls. Here's my rough recipe:

Benito's Coconut Pork Curry

3 lbs. Pork Scraps (I grabbed cheap packages of neckbones and boneless ribs; chicken thighs also work quite well)
1 can Unsweetened Coconut Milk (not the cocktail ingredient)
1 can Chicken Broth
1 cup White Wine
1 Small Onion, Diced
1 Large Sweet Potato, Peeled and Cubed
2 Cloves of Garlic, Smashed
1 cup Basmati or Jasmine Rice

Brown the pork or chicken. This can be done in the Dutch oven on the stovetop, or using a dish inside the oven. Either way you don't want to fully cook them, just get them brown on the outside and render out some of the fat. Pour a couple of tablespoons of the fat in the Dutch oven and sauté the onion and garlic until clear. Add in the meat and stir, then add in the liquids. (The coconut milk may be semisolid and look like yogurt--don't worry, just stir it in.) Mix well, add in the sweet potato. If you'd like, feel free to add some peppers for color, flavor, or heat. Seasonings like Chinese Five Spice Powder would be appropriate, or go nuts with ginger, cumin, lemongrass, etc.

Let it simmer with the lid askew for a couple of hours. You want the liquid to reduce somewhat. Stir gently once in a while (you don't want to smash up the potatoes), and skim off most of the fat that collects at the top. When the meat is easily shredded with a fork and tastes good, kill the heat and let it rest. Right before serving, make the rice. I like something aromatic like basmati or jasmine, but anything will work. Serve some of the shredded pork and sweet potatoes over the rice, and ladle a bit of the sauce over it. Some chopped fresh basil or cilantro would be great on top.

This goes great with a nice cold beer, but an inexpensive sparkling wine would work as well, maybe a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

* * *

Here's the original recipe e-mailed to me from reader Phil Cosson:
I have just found your Kare Poaka blog.

I have a copy of the original graham kerr book. This is a firm favourite when we have guests round. I am cooking it right now! Here is the recipe:

2 lbs pork
black pepper
1 medium onion
1 medium green pepper (i use 2)
1 clove garlic
juice of half lemon
14 fl oz coconut milk (unsweetened)
quater cup of tomato ketchup
1 tablespoon of curry powder
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 bay leaf
1 table spoon redcurrant jelly (I use seedless raspberry jam)


remove fat from pork and cut into 2-inch cubes. season with salt and pepper. Slice onion into 1-inch wide rings. Cut pepper into 1-inch cubes. Smash Garlic. Squeeze lemon. Combine coconut milk, lemon, recurrent jelly and ketchup in a bowl.


Heat 2 tablespoon sunflower oil in a large pan, add meat and fry gently. Add ohio and curry powder. Then add mustard seeds, green pepper, bay leaf and garlic and continue to fry gently, stirring.

Poor in coconut mixture. Simmer in open pot for 1.5 hours

Skim off fat and serve. If you want - you can take a quarter cup of sauce and add 1 heaped teaspoon of chilli powder to it to proide an extra 'kick' for those that want it.

07 June 2013

2011 Wine Guerilla Zinfandel

This is my fourth look at the delicious Zinfandels made by Bruce Patch at Wine Guerrilla in Sonoma. This trio comes from the Single Vineyard Collection, focusing on well-established vineyards with properly balanced field blends.

There are a lot of ways to blend wines, and on top of that, most wines that are made on this planet are blended to some degree. If I'm looking at two California Cabernet Sauvignons, I'm more inclined to go with one that was balanced out with 25% Merlot and other grapes rather than a pure Cab Sav. Blends can be accomplished by combining grapes from different vineyards or juice from different pressings, or even mixing in some previous vintages. My favorite method requires the most skill: the field blend, in which complementary grapes are grown together in the same patch and harvested and pressed together. Each variety ripens and achieves perfection at a different rate, and with a field blend you have to be careful to pick at just the right time. The field blend can be adjusted over time (which is why the best are so old) to dial in the right balance. As such, field blends generally don't have precise percentages, but in the right hands the result is wonderful.

Trying these three wines together is a very instructional experience and one that is great to share with a group of friends. One winemaker, one region, one dominant grape, yet three very different wines.

2011 Wine Guerrilla Clopton Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel
Russian River Valley
Field blend of Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet and Golden Chasselas
$40, 14.5% abv.
120 cases made

Chasselas is a white grape that I've tried in Swiss wines, and was surprised to see in this mix, though the inclusion of Alicante Bouschet brings back the great old school California blends. This one starts off bold with a nose of deep blueberry, cassis, and a hint of spice. The bold fruit leads into a milder body but with a firm tannic finish.

2011 Wine Guerrilla Carreras Ranch Old Vine Zinfandel
Sonoma County
Proprietary field blend
$40, 14.5% abv.
275 cases made

This Zinfandel was milder with red cherry and tart raspberry characteristics, a little more delicate and with a softer finish. This one is on its way to being positively sublime in a few years once it fully mellows.

2011 Wine Guerrilla McClain Vineyard Zinfandel
Alexander Valley, Sonoma County
80% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah
$35, 14.5% abv.
275 cases made

This 120 year old vineyard yields the most complex of the three wines. Aromas of earth and plum with deep, dark fruit. As it develops in the glass hints of chocolate and cinnamon are present. The wine is still quite firm with the tannins, and has a long finish. Great with a steak now, though I will be curious to see how this one develops over time.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

05 June 2013

Viña Ventisquero's Queulat Wines of Chile

Chilean winery Ventisquero Presents Queulat Pinot Noir and Sauvignon BlancChilean winery Viña Ventisquero was established in 2000 and has a pretty wide product range under several different marques. Ventisquero is an old Spanish word for glacier that is still used to name a few of them in South America. This particular line of Queulat wines is named after a breathtaking hanging glacier in the far south of Chile. (Queulat is a local Chono word meaning "sound of the waters".)

Out of the seven wines in this collection, I got to try two of them. The Pinot Noir came with a cork, while the Sauvignon Blanc was enclosed with a convenient screwcap.

2012 Queulat Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc
Leyda Valley, Chile
100% Sauvignon Blanc
$18, 13% abv.

Aromas of grapefruit pith and quince with a hint of anise. Floral elements open up with a few swirls. Firm acidity with a nice round body, resulting in a well-balanced wine. Should be great with grilled fish and fresh spring vegetables.

2011 Queulat Single Vineyard Pinot Noir
Casablanca Valley, Chile
100% Pinot Noir
$18, 13.5% abv.

Bright profile of overripe strawberries with tart acidity. Gentle tannins and a light body reveal chocolate and a little spice. I found myself craving stuffed pork chops with a lot of rosemary.

Note: These wines were provided as samples.

03 June 2013

NV Tess Red & White Blend

Peju Winery has been operating in Napa for 30 years, making serious Bordeaux-style wines under the guidance of founders Tony and Herta Peju. Their daughters Ariana and Lisa work for the winery as well, and have released their own wine called Tess that goes back to some blends the family experimented with at the kitchen table back in 1988.

The two sisters are roughly the same ages as my brother and me, and in 1988, we were still blending suicide soda mixes at the Burger King drink fountain. At the time, neither of us dared add orange Fanta into a cola mix, though now I think that the appropriate introduction of citrus could provide a necessary punch to the spicy, herbal cola elements.

NV Tess Red & White Blend
Napa Valley
Proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
$20, 13.9% abv.

The wine pours with the brick and garnet shade of Burgundy despite the absence of Pinot Noir. The nose is indecipherable--I found the Sauvignon Blanc to be the most distinct aroma, but the other grapes are all competing for attention. Yet on the tongue, the wine shows delightful acidity, bright fruit punch flavors with red berries and a touch of red apple, and a finish that provides echoes of the darker grapes used in the blend. This is a casual wine intended to be chilled and served without deep analysis, and on that scale it is a winner. Though the flavor profile is different, I found myself enjoying this far more than any Beaujolais Nouveau that I've had in the past five years, and would strongly recommend this bottle for weddings or casual occasions. As for food pairings, I put together a club sandwich with applewood smoked bacon, heirloom tomatoes, and a few slices of avocado for the California nod. It worked out very well, and this reddish wine should perform admirably with a wide array of appetizers.

Note: This wine was provided as a sample.