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 trip, Segura 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!
At the hotel in Vilafranca, Spain there was a nice little library and couches where I would read before dinner. This book was written a few years ago and is hard to find but it is in English and I ordered one when I returned home. Let’s hope it actually arrives!
My interest is in pairing Spanish wines with authentic recipes from Catalan. This reminds of a wonderful young guest blogger on Joe Roberts’ 1WineDude site, Shelby Vittek (@bigboldreds) who wrote a post recently called Should Millennials Be Drinking More Wine with Food? that brought a lot of opinions to the table. It’s an age-old conversation, wine and food. I’m on the side that wine has always been drunk with food, just don’t get too hung up on the perfect pairing every time. I also believe that’s it’s really fun trying. What do you think?
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.
I am currently enrolled in a Wines and Spirits Trust certification course, it costs hundreds of dollars, requires me to drive to San Francisco every week for six weeks and I have to memorize lots of information and then take a test. It’s a lot of hard work but when I finish I should be able to look at almost any bottle of wine and tell you about its terroir and likely flavor profile.
Up to this point, I have learned everything I know through firsthand experience, traveling and tasting, interviewing winemakers and growers and absorbing as much as I could from Andrea Immer Robinson’s original Food Network TV programs and books by Chefs and Sommeliers.
One of today’s new stars is Madeline Puckett, a poised, smart and entertaining wine educator with a free online video wine course. Writer Clinton Stark described Madeline as “…a bit of a slinky goth siren, her voice like Ellen Barken.” You’ll enjoy her easy-going short videos and learn the way I did, the easy and fun way! Find her on You Tube or at Wine Folly.
I am a big fan of delicious, healthy food that looks and taste spectacular paired with affordable well-made wine. My friend and colleague, Amy Gross aka Vinesleuth has co-written a terrific ebook with delicious and simple dinner recipes paired with wine.
As you’re growing your enjoyment of food and wine together, this is a great place to start. The “ingredients” that make this book fabulous are the 19 dinner recipes call for basic ingredients, are very all-American and each dinner has a wide spectrum of wines from which to choose.
When I started learning to pair wine, I spent a lot of time and money at my neighborhood Bevmo for the first 5 years. Every night, I’d open 4-5 bottles of wine and taste them (not drink them!) with whatever meal I made. I kept notes on a laptop on my kitchen. I added books, videos and tasting at wineries to the mix and eventually taught myself to pair. If Amy’s book was available then, I would have bought it for sure!
My suggestion is download the book* and make all the recipes and try all of the wines. You can buy 2-3 wines (or more) and try them all in one night or try a different wine every time you make the dish. Don’t skip over the grapes you are unfamiliar with or think you don’t like. As I’ve written before, if you don’t like a wine/grape it’s only because you haven’t met the winemaker that you like yet. This is a wonderful opportunity to expand your horizons. (All the wines are easy to find by the way.)
*The book is Free today January 25, 2013 and $3 after that. You can download it to your computer as well as a Kindle. Enjoy!
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.
I served a lovely zippy BonterraRosé (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.
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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.
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.
Strawberry buttermilk terrine with mango-passion fruit sorbet & fresh berries
*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!
Picks & tips for people who love wine, food, travel & a pleasurable life. I hope you are enjoying a glass of wine as you peek into my world of global travel & fine living. Enamored with Mediterranean cuisine and engaging wines, I pair nightly whether it is a dinner for two or a party with friends. I believe the best way to learn is by visiting wine regions and drinking wine. I am also a Marketing, Branding & Messaging Specialist for wineries. Please look me up on LinkedIn. You can also friend me (Alana Gentry) on Facebook or follow @Girlwithaglass on Twitter. Cheers~