Wine & Food

Catalan Spain in Sonoma CA

Catalan Festival

Enjoying Gloria Ferrar’s hospitality in California after visiting sister wineries in Catalan Spain.

 

Why do I advocate drinking global wine? It satisfies my desire to dream about other places, cultures and people, and it’s a favorite game, quite entertaining.

Food and wine is an easy way to explore the world. Chianti with Italian Foccacia sandwiches at San Francisco’s Mario’s Bohemian Cafe was my first introduction to pairing, at age 23.  (For lots of pairing ideas, pop over to here.)

I enjoy comparing grapes from different parts of the world. Pinot Noir, for instance, is quite different if it is from Germany (called Spätburgunder), Chile or California. Each region in each country (like Santa Barbara vs. Russian River) produces wine with a unique flavor profile. One could spend her whole life becoming an expert on just one grape and how it differs in all of the world’s regions.

A lover of the unusual rather than the common, I’d rather have a South African Viognier over a bulk Napa Chardonnay.  And if I am offered a Napa Chardonnay, I’d prefer the one produced in a small batch than the big brand name on the grocery store shelf.

Next time you go to the grocery store, I enourage you to try something new, if the wine is within your budget, what have you got to lose? You can find lots of ideas throughout Girl with a Glass by using the search bar at the bottom of this page or you can go directly to Wine Picks.  To get started, pick a grape you like (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc or Merlot), get some ideas of countries that I recommend for that grape, go to your wine store and find a bottle from the region you’ve picked.  Don’t worry if you can’t find the exact wine that I recommend, this is about exploring your palate and exploring the world.

 

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If you have ever been wine tasting, you have experienced tasting five wines in one sitting.  Now imagine this at every lunch and every dinner for eight days.  The trick of course is to not drink full glasses.  Eat small amounts and sip a bit of wine with each bite.  Wine writers don’t normally use dump buckets during meals but I have been in situations where I have left the table and dumped my glass if we have several wines to get through and I don’t like a wine enough to finish it.  I only have so much room for wine, food or alcohol and it’s better to admit it than not enjoy myself.

As would be expected, in Spain, Cava producer, Segura Viudas served sparkling wines with meals.  I’ve always enjoyed sparkling wines but I rarely served them with meals.  I was serving sparkling wine only when it was the main event.  I would pair appetizers with it, but the food was chosen to complement the wine. With our hosts, I had the opportunity to taste sparkling rosé and white wines with various courses and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. The wines are light, refreshing and lower in alcohol.  I learned that the right (dry not sweet) Cava pairs quite well with various foods. There’s a special bubbly stopper that you can buy to keep an open bottle fresh.

I am still a habitual still wine person preferring lower alcohol white wines and well-balanced reds (if a red has higher alcohol, as long as I can’t taste it, I don’t mind). During my tripSegura Viudas Creu de Lavit was served at most meals.  It’s a still white wine made from a Spanish grape called Xarel-lo.  It’s imported to the states and part of their excellent Heredad Collection.

On a side note, while I expected to be happy when a still red wine was served, I found that it made me much sleepier than the other wines.  My trip to Spain has fundamentally changed my perspective on pairing wine and food, what a surprise!

 

 

 

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304 Tapas

I just made up the number 304, but I think it could be the number of “tapas” I ate in 8 days in Spain.  The very first night, our host, Toni, who is a marketing and p.r. guy for Freixenet, explained to our group that a few pre-selected tapas would be served and then if we wanted we could have a main course.  We had to decide before we saw the tapas and thank goodness I had declined the main course.  Each of us was served three tapas the size of the pictures above.  Five courses (3 tapas, main and dessert) was the smallest meal we had the entire trip.

The pictures above are not from that meal, I picked each one for different reasons.

Spanish Style Prawns over rice.  I’m not even sure if calling these “prawns” is correct.  I looked on this website to find the name but still not sure.  This type of dish was on many menus…very common and delish.

Fresh Pea Soup.  This is one course of a 9 course meal and while all of the courses were delectable, I was quite taken with the pure freshness of the peas. It reminded me of what chefs in California are all trying to achieve–farm to table freshness.

Arugula and Tomatoes over Linguini.  This was my “main dish” in a three course meal I enjoyed following a Spanish guitar concert at Church of Santa Ana in Barcelona. I booked the concert and dinner for the Saturday night I was on my own in Barcelona. I chose this picture to share how easy it is to enjoy fabulous flavors in a healthy meal. It was dressed with Balsamic vinegar and oil. (Spanish olive oil is my favorite, I suggest looking for olive oil from the Siurana region.)

Blue Cheese Stuffed Pancake. This was a simple dish that was more about flavor than presentation. I took a picture because I appreciated that the chef didn’t feel compelled to serve only “pretty” dishes. I loved the flavor and would like to learn how to make it.

Vanilla Ice Cream on Berries.  We were served ice cream on fruit at several meals. I like a small, fresh and refreshing dessert.  Funny thing, often this was the first dessert course followed but yet another one!

Our pairings included lots of young Cavas and white wine which I will write about in another post.

 

 

 

 

 

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Here’s an original, super easy & delicious salad recipe I made for a quick week night dinner.

Duck Confit Salad

  • 2 Seasoned Duck Legs
  • 3 oz Goat Cheese
  • 1/2 cup Blueberries, Bosenberries or other small berries
  • 2 cups Mixed Spring Lettuce
  • 1/4 cup sliced Green Onions
  • 2 tbl Balsamic Vinagarette
Costco and Whole Foods both carry already cooked duck legs.  All you have to do is cook them for 15 minutes at 400°F to crisp up the skin.  Once they are cooled, they fall off the bone; chop/shred the meat and discard the bones.  While the duck legs are cooking, toss two cups of mixed greens into a large salad bowl.  If you are using frozen berries, defrost them. (I always have bags of organic mixed berries in my freezer for smoothies, I just picked out the strawberries for this recipe.)  Toss the balsamic vinagarette, lettuce and sliced green onions.  Add pieces of goat cheese and the berries.  Mix well.  Place on individual plates and top with duck. Serve with crackers and goat cheese mixed with honey.

Pairing
I served a lovely zippy Bonterra Rosé (a dry Sangiovese, Zinfandel & Grenache blend).  Rosés or light reds (like a Grenache or certain Pinot Noirs) will work well: just be aware that a light red wine with medium acidity pairs well because it honors the tangy goat cheese while earthy red fruit compliments the fat bird.

 

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Silvaner

 

I enjoy wine from all over the globe, but many German wines that I receive* are too sweet for my palate.  I’m always excited to get a Silvaner because the best ones are dry (the opposite of sweet) and pair perfectly with Springtime seafood and salads.  I served this 2009 Graf v (von) Schönborn with fresh white shrimp, cilantro, garden limes, chopped red onions and a little salt and pepper over broccoli/carrot slaw. The wine is light in body, low-alcohol (12%) with stone fruit and a bit of lime. Absolutely lovely and easy drinking.

When I visited Germany, I advocated to wineries that reaching more American wine lovers requires making their labels more user-friendly.  This producer gets it.  Here’s what the wine label would look like if the usual German “rules” were followed.

2009 Graf von Schonborn
Schloss Schonborn Hallburger Schlossberg 
Silvaner 
Kabinett Trocken
Franken, Germany
Seriously. Great for geeks but too much information at once for wine enthusiasts who are learning about new grapes and wines.  This wine has all the necessary details on the back of the label. (By the way, the green marks are my notes indicating I’m going to review the wine.)
* This wine was provided as a sample.

 

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Pairing Petite Sirah

My Petite Sirah checklist has evolved over years of tasting.  As a newbie, I thought 1) they are all around 15% or more in alcohol; 2) when they are young they are too in-your-face (not in a good way); 3) I have to use my brain to pair them (unlike a Merlot) and 4) they mostly cost over $20 a bottle.  After ten years as a PS fan, now I know, 1) many Petite Sirahs are actually 13.5 but if they are well balanced, who cares if they are 15? 2) The best ones are not released too soon and it is definitely a grape to cellar; 3) after so many years of pairing, I relish a challenge and 4) even though most Petites are $20 and up, I’ve never thought of them as expensive because they are such hard-to-get unique wines and there are several larger producers like Bogle that sell for around $10.

Consistent with it’s current multiple personalities, Petite Sirah can be paired with lots of different food depending on winemaker style, terroir and age.  I’ve enjoyed easy-drinking Bogle with tri tip, mushrooms, Worchester, red pepper and brown garlic rice.  In 2007, I wrote enthusiastically about a memorable pairing of a 2004 Guenoc Petite Sirah with apple bourbon pork chops.  The ’08 Harney Lane reminds me of popcorn.  A winemaker recently told me that a Chef shocked him by creating a perfect pairing of mint chocolate chip ice cream and a brownie with his Petite.  He said it was one of the best pairings he’s tasted in a long time.

This is one reason Dark & Delicious is my favorite event of the year, every vintner is paired with a food station, the way I think all tastings should be.  One of the best pairings this year was BBQ pulled pork on a rice crisp with micro-greens by DK Catering.  I did not expect the rice crisp to work but it was the true genius of the pairing.  Another surprise winner was a special paella from Venga Paella Catering paired with Berryessa Gap’s field blend with 86% Durif (Petite Sirah’s other name).  The winemaker is a UC Davis researcher who believes strongly that it’s all about terroir so he does very little “tinkering” to make signature and expressive wines.  Berryessa Gap also advocates pairing food with Petite and has an annual Paella party in May.

Many Petite producers have recipes on their web sites and grilled meats are popular.  Smoking Loon suggests trying a burger with a Balsamic reduction sauce with their Petite.  My pairing trick for unfamiliar wines; look up the winemaker’s notes online or on the back of the bottle and then create a menu that reflects some of the descriptors, e.g. blackberries, smoke, cinnamon, etc.  I also open the wine while I’m cooking, taste it and adjust my recipe accordingly.

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Easy, quick and healthy.

Clam Linguine

  • Linguine pasta for 2 people
  • 1 can Snow’s Minced Clams
  • 2 tbs quality olive oil
  • 3 tbs white onion (chopped)
  • 1/2 cup sliced brown mushrooms
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1 tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp tarragon
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley (chopped)
  • shake of red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper

Prepare the linguine in boiling, well-salted water until al dente.

Open the clams and discard the liquid.  Heat oil on medium high in a non-stick pan. Saute onion and mushrooms. When mushrooms are sweating (well-cooked), reduce heat to medium.  Add garlic, 1/2 of the wine, lemon juice and tarragon. When wine is almost gone, the mushrooms and onions will be infused with flavor. Add clams, rest of wine, and parsley. Stir in red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste.  Add drained pasta to the pan, mix well and serve hot.

You can use fresh clams but the idea for this recipe is quick and easy–thus using canned.  I also purposefully omit clam juice unlike most recipes because I think it’s better just to use wine.  The clams are not the star in this version, all the flavors melted together makes this dish special. Btw, Snow’s didn’t sponsor this post, it just happens to be my favorite brand.

Pairing

It doesn’t have to be a Sauvignon Blanc: any unoaked or lightly French-oaked white wine with a hint of lemon will work.  If the wine has a lot of lemon or citrus, it overwhelms the dish.  The earthiness is more important (parsley, mushrooms, red pepper flakes). A well-balanced light-bodied earthy red is another option.

Serve with petite whole grain rolls and a Caesar salad.

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When I was in Germany, we were treated to nightly food and wine pairing dinners. They ranged from elegant to homespun…all delightful.  At 8:30pm after an 11 hour flight, I began my immersion into genuine German food & wine.

Here’s the menu (and interpretations) just like I experienced it. Don’t glaze over all the German words like I once did, here’s an opportunity to learn so you can enjoy the truly fabulous wine of Germany.

Aperitif

  • 2009er Durbacher Plauerlrain Klingelberger (Riesling) Kabinett trocken

*Definition: the year is treated like a verb in German wine, therefore it is a ’2009′er. Durbacher is the name of the wine region/village. Plauerlrain is the name of the winery and Klingelberger is the local name for Riesling. A Kabinett is a lighter style of German white wine. Trocken means dry in style.

1st Course

  • Chervil cream soup with pike balls
  • 2009er Durbacher KochbergGrauer Burgunder dry
  • 2009er Durbacher Steinberg Weiber Burgunder late vintage dry

*Chervil is an herb with a slight licorice flavor, also called gourmet’s parsley. It’s great in light dishes like soup. Pike balls are made of white fish. Now you already know that Durbacher is the region and Kochberg is the winery.  Grauer Burgunder is the German equivalent of Pinot Gris (France) or Pinot Grigio (Italy).  Although it says “dry”, they could have written Trocken. The second wine, Weiber Burgunder is the same as France’s Pinot Blanc. Late vintage dry means it was harvested late and made in the dry style (fermented so the sugar level is low). The German term is Spätlese.

2nd Course

  • Pork Medallions roasted with sage & Parma ham, vegetable from the market & thin noodles
  • 2008er Durbacher International Pinot Noir QbA dry
  • 2006er Durbacher Stienberg Red Wine Dry – matured in Barrique barrels (Cabernet Sauvignon x Merlot x Lemberger x Pinot Noir)

*The typical German meal that I experienced consisted of meat and noodles. The first wine served with this course represents the region/village wine.  QbA designates a “fine wine from a certain place.”  The second wine is a blend of grapes made in French oak barrels. Lemberger is a German grape that is hated by certain connoisseurs and appreciated by others…see my post about the Grand Tasting.

Dessert Course

  • Strawberry buttermilk terrine with mango-passion fruit sorbet & fresh berries
  • 2008er  Durbacher Kochberg Spatburgunder Weissherbst Auslese
  • 2008er Durbacher Plauelrain Scheurebe Beerenauslese

*The first wine is a rosé (Weissherbst or Weiberherbst) of Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder).  Auslese means selected harvest. The last wine was very unique to Germany: Scheurebe is a grape and Beerenauslese is a style (very sweet, late harvest), the link goes to a wonderful pyramid from Wines of Germany (my hosts) that shows sweetness levels of German wines.

Thanks to my writer buddies who interpreted everything for me as we drank and ate. Quote of the evening regarding the last wine, that wine is tooth throttling sweet!

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Starmont Winery, Napa (photo courtesy of Merryvale.com)

I’m always looking for a good value white wine that I can enjoy after work while I cook dinner.  These are usually grocery store wines as opposed to the wines I get direct from a winery.  When I find a wine I like, I buy a case, stock them in my wine refrigerator and enjoy them for months.

Some past favorites include Bogle Chardonnay (2008) and Dry Creek Vineyards Chardonnay (2008).  I’m not always in the mood for Chardonnay; I went through a Beringer Pinot Grigio phase, but winter calls for a bigger, rounder wine.

My latest find is not cheap per se but it is extremely good value at $20 (Costco).  Wine Spectator gave the Merryvale 2008 Starmont Chardonnay 90 points and I wholeheartedly agree.

Here’s some tips for finding a value wine to love:

  • Try different wines within your price range.  Buy one bottle.  If you like it, go back and get 3 more.  If you love it, get a case.
  • Value wines bought at grocery stores can be in inconsistent from bottle to bottle. I believe it’s usually a storage problem–the wine has gotten too hot, cold or disturbed in transit. (This is why I buy all my best wines direct from the winery or a trusted wine shop.)  To protect yourself, have 3 bottles on hand, if one bottle is bad, open another one to enjoy and return the bad bottle.*
  • Vintages matter.  Most value brands strive for consistency in taste from year to year, but in my opinion, not all of them succeed.  I have loved a particular value wine for a year, then the next vintage just doesn’t have the same flavor,so I drop the brand for awhile.
  • When it comes to box wine or $3 wine, you can do better. I encourage folks to enjoy wine, don’t just drink it to relax from a busy day. Cheap and convenient is never good criteria for picking out wine.
  • Don’t get into a rut.  If your friend, family and neighbors all know your favorite value brand, it’s time to try something new.

*Some grocery stores might give you a problem with returning a bottle of wine.  They are protecting themselves from people who want to return a lot of wine after a party. Be firm, if the wine is corked or tainted in some way and you’re taking the time to return it; insist that they replace the bottle. If they don’t, shop elsewhere in the future, and let them know.

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Port – Full of Surprises

Port has always intrigued me, what is this wine that isn’t wine?  For years, I tried it by ordering it in restaurants and friends would introduce me to a supposedly-great Port; I enjoyed it but it never rocked my world…until recently.

In February 2009, I visited Prager Portworks in Napa and wrote about the visit.  I distinctly remember four remarkable points they made: 1) their Port is dry not sweet; 2) they insist it can be paired with food; 3) they named it after their daughters/nieces etc; and 4) an open bottle will be drinkable for months.

I bought 4-5 bottles and kept them in my temperature-controlled wine refrigerator. The interesting part is that I uncorked them in February ’09 and shared them with friends for 16 months. They all held up over time except one that was not stored properly (re-corking is okay but not as safe as using a rubber enclosure.)

On June 25, 2010 Hubby & I took out an open 2004 Aria White Port to enjoy with dessert.  That’s when Port rocked my world.  I didn’t expect it to be very good, having been open so long, but au contraire, it was better!  It was one of those rare tasting memories that will forever be seared in my brain.

So, next stop Prager Port to restock.  I’m so looking forward to kicking back and spending some time with these extraordinary Port makers.

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