Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Mine grows in boxes and pots.  I just got my EarthBox planted with Brandywine and Big Girl tomatoes, and some arugula and heirloom lettuce seeds - not visible yet, obviously.  Of course, we also have mint, thyme and sage in front.  (The parsley and basil are coming soon.)


I can't wait to see how it will grow.  Oh, the salads I shall make!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Weekly Winery Adventure: In which we taste some Superb Napa Cabs and a Knock-Your-Socks-Off Cab Franc

My friend and fellow blogger, Bon Vivant, recently scored an invitation to a private tasting at the Napa Wine Company and, lucky me, I got to participate too!  BV had tasted a couple of these wines at JV Wine & Spirits recently, and after her enthusiastic review, I was eager to give them a try.  The wines we tasted were from Hoopes Vineyard, and its sister label, Liparita, produced by the same winemaker, Jason Fisher.  Both labels make well structured 100% Cabernet Sauvignons, sourced from various Napa appellations.  What a taste treat! 

We were greeted by our host, Brian Bowman, who escorted us into the barrel-storage facility at Napa Wine Company, where these wines are made.  Our first sample was the 2006 Liparita Stags Leap District Cabernet.  I tasted black cherry, with hints of chocolate and raspberry, and dreamed of a classic roast beef pairing with it.  Next up was the 2006 Liparita Oakville Cab, also lovely, fascinatingly different from the first wine.  I tasted berries, plum, and a hint of unsweetened chocolate, and craved a braised or even grilled preparation to pair with it.  Next we tasted the 2006 Hoopes Vineyard Oakville Cabernet, with notes of cassis and leather and black pepper, with a hint of vanilla in the finish.   

I simply can’t pick a favorite – I loved them all, though I’d probably pair them with different things.  If I need a reason to return to my early love of Napa Cabs, these wines might do the trick!

Brian also treated us to barrel tastings of the 2008 Liparita Stags Leap Cab (black fruit, blueberry), the 2008 Liparita Yountville Cab (strawberry jam), and 2008 Hoopes Cab (black current, black pepper) – all of which promise to be amazing! 

Back in the tasting room with just a few minutes to spare before our next appointment, we tasted the 2006 Volker Eisele Napa Valley Terzetto, a blend of Cab, Merlot and Cab Franc.  It had lots of currant notes, and BV and I thought it would be The Bomb paired with a Turkey Molé. 

Our next stop was a trip to Sullivan Vineyards, one of BV’s favorites.  I had never visited before, and wasn’t disappointed.

Here is the list of wines we tasted, each one a big hit:

·    2006 Napa Valley Chardonnay – floral, lightly oaked, hints of honey, tangerine, Meyer Lemon
·    2006 Red Ink – a blend of 81% Cab, 19% Merlot, delicious.  I think it would pair wonderfully with the Kobe Beef Burger I had at the Boon Fly Café not long ago.  I bought some.
·    2006 Estate Merlot – big and balanced with eucalyptus notes
·    2007 Right Bank Bland – 75% Cab Franc, 25% Merlot, probably my favorite of the day, delicious currant notes.  I am a huge fan of well-made Cab Francs, and this wine was so big and complex, I gotta say I was blown away.
·    2005 Cabernet – smoky with notes of black cherry and blueberries
·    2005 Coeur de Vigne – delicious Bordeaux blend of 50% Merlot, 37% Cab, 5% Cab Franc, 8% Petit Verdot, with notes of cassis, leather, a hint unsweetend chocolate

Every bit as delightful as the wines themselves was our host, Asa Baird, who regaled us with stories and food pairing tips while he poured the wines.  Thanks Asa!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Book Review

What a long time since my last blog post!  My energies have been focused on business, and on my Sister Blog, Sonoma Freelance.  However, I am returning to the blog to report on a wonderful book that has stimulated a lot of thought of late, particularly in my thinking about some food and wine pairing events I’m planning (about which, stay tuned for future posts).

Mock Turtle gave me this lovely gift (thanks again, MT!), and I’ve really been enjoying reading through it.  It’s What to Drink with What you Eat, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (New York: Bulfinch Press, 2006).  This fascinating and beautiful book (absolutely stunning photos) contains a vast wealth of information on food and beverage pairings, incorporating contributions from sommeliers and restauranteurs from across the country. 

There is a very useful chapter called “Food and Beverage Pairing 101” that lists very practical considerations to help the reader analyze various wine and food characteristics that help inform pairing decisions.  Fascinatingly fun are the encyclopedic chapters called “What to Drink with What you Eat,” and “What to Eat with What you Drink.”  Each is comprised of an alphabetical list of foods and beverages, respectively, and the beverages – or foods -  that might compliment each.  Ever wonder what to drink with, say, celery?  Sauvignon Blanc, apparently!  Or tortillas?  Chardonnay, especially from New Zealand!  Naturally, the lists of possible beverages for certain foods are quite long; the list for oysters, for example, goes on for pages.  These chapters also include interesting quotes from chefs and sommeliers, and even the occasional delicious sounding recipe.

The last two chapters may be the most fun of all.  "At the Table with the Experts" contains descriptions from famous chefs of their restaurant pairing menus and the strategy that went into them.  Last is the fabulous “Desert Island Lists” of leading experts who were asked the question, what 12 bottles would they take with them to the proverbial desert island.  Their comments - and lists - are highly entertaining!

I’m going to be studying this book for some time to come, but here is a thought which I found so arresting, I had to bounce it off Bon Vivant after her fabulous Michael Chiarello inspired "Wines of the World" dinner party over the weekend.  One of the sommeliers interviewed states that it’s more important to match a wine to a person than it is to match a wine to the food.  Creating a memorable food and wine experience for others isn’t about displaying your own knowledge; it’s about making your guests happy.  There is a huge emotional component to enjoyment of dining experiences that might be colored by one’s comfort level with particular varietals or styles, or any number of other things.  If we ignore that emotional component and focus just upon the “science” of what pairs best with what, we may fail to create the enjoyment we’re aiming for.  The sommelier went on to give the example of a customer who really wanted a big, bold red wine because that was his idea of the best wine in the world.  So the sommelier served him the monster Cabernet with the caviar first course (Bon Vivant and I were appropriately aghast), and the sommelier kept his own preferences to himself.  Because it’s about making the guests or customers happy, not about imposing wine pairing rules on them.

This resonates with my belief that successful entertaining is not merely, or even primarily, about preparing the perfect food and pouring the perfect wine, even though we strive for that.  It is about creating the perfectly magical, memorable dining experience, the laughter and conversation and sharing and joy that can come from sharing a great meal with others.  And creating that experience is my goal when I entertain.

(Nevertheless, take note friends: there will be no big Cabernets served with caviar at my parties.  Just sayin’ . . . .)