Archive for October, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner – The Great Pairing

Thanksgiving is the largest family and friends gathering of the year next to Mother’s Day. But, no other gathering creates more anxiety or frustration with what to make, who to invite and what to pour with the “Big Bird”. Today you are inundated with more ways to fix the turkey than bottles of wine in your favorite corner market. We can prepare our turkey in the Southern Comfort style, the new urban farm fresh style, Southwestern style, Mediterranean style, Italian style, Pacific Northwest style, with French influence, Spanish influence, Big Apple retro and politically correct and bipartisan for all our feuding politicians in D.C. But it always comes down to what wine to bring to complement what course and how do you find the best wine for the “Big Bird”?

Over the years I have made at least 30 Thanksgiving dinners and to this day, I am almost sure, I have never fixed the turkey the same way twice. I have roasted the “Big Bird” at least twenty ways, cooked it in a brown paper bag, smoked, fried, cooked breast side up, breast side down, sugar brine cured, soaked in milk all night and have loved every one in its own way, well almost every one. I have paired the “Big Bird” with every type of wine, Bordeaux’s, Burgundies, Alsacian, and California in every price range. Some were great matches, others were okay and some, well we won’t talk about them.

During my crusade into cooking I started on the only obvious parallel adventure, building my eclectic wine cellar. Like my cooking journeys, my wine collecting has taken many absorbing, stimulating and yes, fascinating turns. I started out in the early 70s collecting all the monsters of California from Heitz, B.V., Caymus, Chateau Montelena, Diamond Creek, Mayacamas and Spottswood. Then in the 80s I found France, Spain, Italy and the rest of the world of wine. Then came the 90s and I was off on my multifarious adventures that have taken me down the road of the exotic and rare wines of the world. During these reincarnations of my cellar I went through three complete transformations. Today you will find bits and pieces of all my enterprises in my cellar and I am still looking for the mystical perfect wine for the “Big Bird”.

The old mantra, white wine with white meat, is a bit old but has evolved since it was first proposed. The two classic wines for turkey, as I learned, are Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer and after many experiments the basics are still basically true. The logic behind this mantra was, with turkey there are lots of different rich flavors from the spices on the turkey to the yummy, rich gravy. You don’t want to overpower the rich flavors but you do want to complement them. Finding fruit forward wines with the right amount of body and flavor are what you want to look for.

Realizing there are about 10,000 grape varieties in the world, you have many choices. This Thanksgiving why not try one or two of those exotic, rare wines to complement your festive holiday meal.

Whites are always a good start to the meal with the appetizers and will work right into the meal.
2006 Alta Vista – Torrontés, from Mendoza, Argentina. Light, crisp, fruity wine with great balance and notes of mango, papaya with a hint of summer jasmine.
2006 Marc Bredif – Vouvray – Chenin Blanc, from Loire Valley, France. Medium bodied, notes of peach, apricot fruits with hints of flowers and quince. The acidity is well balanced with a pleasant herbaceous complexity, a hallmark of a great Vouvray.
2004 Vina Nora – Nora De Neve – Albariño, from Rias Baixas, Spain. Full bodied and crisp with notes of apricots, pineapple, citrus and minerals. This is a fully mature wine with the complexity and flavor to stand up to any turkey and deliver a great food pairing.

Reds are also best when they have a fruit forward component that has good acidity and a fair amount of texture.
2006 Marc Bredif – Chinon – Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley, France is a great alternative to Pinot Noir with beautiful cherry, strawberry, raspberry fruit with spices and black pepper with well integrated tannins.
2005 Foradori Rotaliano – Teroldego from Trentino, Italy. Red plums with spices of cinnamon, clove, allspice, black cherries, black plums and hints of a mild pepper finish with balanced acidity that finishes with a velvety texture.
2007 Cantine Sant’Agata – ‘Na Vota – Ruchè from Piemonte, Italy. Bright plum with hints of violet, hay and vanilla on the nose and aromatic spices of cumin, cardamom and pepper. The wine is perfectly balanced and delicate with a lingering persistence that brings you back to the glass over and over.
2007 Viñedo de los Vientos – Tannat from Atlántida, Uruguay. Scent of dry autumn leaves, cacao bean, Asian spices, hints of morning dew, brilliant, bright fruit aromas of bush ripe blueberry and raspberry up front. On the palate, intense dark fruit, polished tannins with a mild gamey nature that defines the true Tannat grape expression.

To top off the holiday event, why not try one of the most fascinating dessert wines in the world?
NV Viñedo de los Vientos – “Alcyone” – Dessert Tannat from Atlántida, Uruguay. This wine is full of the most radiant and vibrant flavors of winter flowers, Madagascan vanilla bean, wild apple mint, marshmallow and a white cacao soufflé. Pablo combines the methods of making Barolo Chinato and Marsala that brings all these flavors together to create this unique wine. A must try!

This Thanksgiving venture out into the world of exotic and rare grape varietals that will amaze you and your guests and change some of your thoughts on great wines to serve with the “Big Bird”. It changed my perspective!

Cheese of the Month – Cashel Blue

Being Irish and a lover of blue cheese, it’s only fitting that I start my ‘Cheese of the Month” with a cheese that is near and dear to my heart, Cashel Blue, a semi-soft blue cow’s milk cheese. It is unique, as it is Ireland’s first farmhouse blue cheese. Cashel Blue is made on the dairy farm at Beechmont, by Jane and Louis Grubb near Cashel in the valley of the Suir River, County Tipperary, Ireland.

In the late eighteenth century, the family Grubb was part of a sect called the Anabaptists who were persecuted in England. The family fled to County Tipperary, Ireland where they became butter makers and millers. In 1978 Louis Grubb returned from working as an agricultural research worker in the west of Ireland to the farm he was born and raised on, along with his wife, Jane, and daughter, Sarah. Louis first established a commercial dairy and later decided to make cheese. Jane had been a chef and with a love of quality food and after researching various styles of cheese identified the need for an excellent blue cheese from Ireland. In 1984, two years after first looking at cheese as a way of diversifying the farm, Cashel Blue began.
The Grubb’s make most of their cheese from milk from a herd of Pedigree Holstein Friesian cows that are all from a “closed” herd (meaning that new stock is only replenished from existing cows within that specific herd) making it a true farmhouse cheese. The remaining small amount of milk is brought in from local Tipperary farms and is closely monitored. The Cashel Blue herd is fed a specific high protein based diet, together with the lush grass of Tipperary’s limestone pastures. Cashel comes from the name of an enclosure for herds of cows in the middle ages.

In 2001, Sarah returned to the family enterprise with her husband, Sergio Furno, following a time working for a French cheese-maker in the Alps and a winemaker in Piemonte. Sergio, originally from northern Italy, met Sarah while at the university in Wales. After school they both worked various jobs in the wine industry in England, Ireland, France and Italy, fine-tuning their tasting skills and business acumen and nurturing their love of food and wine.

Cheese is not a simple commodity, but a gourmet product which develops with age, changing in form and flavor. Quality is taken seriously at every step in the production of Cashel Blue. Initially, on a very small scale, with 8 wheels of cheese being produced a day, using an old brewer’s 90 liter (20 gallon) copper vat. The cheese was sold in the local Country Market in Fethard and to a few specialty shops in Dublin and Galway. Within its first year, Cashel Blue’s reputation for high standards was established as a result of winning the Supreme Champion at Clones Agricultural show, (at the time the principle Irish cheese show). Today over 200 tons of Cashel Blue Irish Farmhouse cheese is sold by the Grubb family, helped by a team of ten local staff.

Cashel Blue has a beige rind, which develops a pinkish cast as it matures and the paste changes from firm to a soft texture. At about six weeks of age, the cheese is firm and crumbly with a tangy flavor; from six to twelve weeks, the cheese develops a fuller flavor while changing to a softer creamier texture. The mature cheese is moist, creamy and semisoft with a voluptuous texture.

Cashel Blue Farmhouse cheese, when young, is a very mild blue with less salty flavor than other blues. As it ages it develops a much creamier texture and a stronger, more piquant flavor of dried herbs, woody leaf notes with a hint of sweetness and salty butter with the tangy notes of a great blue.

This Cashel Blue works great with any dish where blue cheese is called for. Use it over a fresh salad when young and crumbly, in a sweet tangy salad dressing, great in a blue cheese soufflé or in any casserole where you want a rich creamy sauce with just the right pungent flavors to accent the complete dish. At its ripest, it will ooze at room temperature necessitating spoons for scooping onto crusty walnut bread, plain crackers such as Bremner or fresh whole wheat bread.

When pairing with wine, I recommend:
2005 A&P de Villaine
– Bouzeron – Aligoté from Burgundy, France. There is a very pleasant slight sweetness to this blue cheese that balances well with the crisp mineral flavors of the Aligoté.
2006 Marc Bredif – Chinon – Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, France. This same sweetness balances well with the red berry fruit and pleasurable acids of this great wine.
2005 Palmina – Santita – Malvasia from the Santa Yenz Valley, California. A beautiful rich sweet wine that plays off the sweetness of the blue cheese. Add some roasted nuts and dried fruit and you have the perfect dessert.
NV Viñedo de los Vientos – Alcyone – Dessert Wine from Atlántida, Uruguay. This is the most incredible red dessert wine I have ever tasted. Packed with vanilla, chocolate and apple mint, it works unbelievably well with the sweetness and salts of this marvelous cheese.

Winery of the Month – Viñedo de los Vientos

Atlántida, Uruguay

Viñedo de los Vientos (Vineyard of the winds) has been in the Fallabrino family since 1947 but the story starts way back in 1920. Angelo Fallabrino migrated to Montevideo, Uruguay running away from the First World War. A native of Alessandria, in the Italian Piedmont, Angelo knew how to make great wine and he founded one of the largest wineries in Uruguay. His son, Alejandro, followed in his footsteps. A brilliant winemaker, Alejandro was one of the most innovative persons in the Uruguayan wine industry in the 70s and 80s. Sadly, in 1991 Alejandro passed away and his father Angelo followed in 1995.

In 1995, Pablo, one of Alejandro’s three sons, inherited Viñedo de los Vientos vineyard. In 1997, Pablo decided to start his own winery. To achieve this he brought state of the art equipment for the winery from Italy. March 1998 was Pablo’s first vintage and over the next three years he perfected his winemaking skills. Pablo, a laid back good natured surfer, is the perfect catalyst to create a world class winery. During this time, Pablo developed his product line and his vision for winemaking. His approach is not to over think the wine making process; instead, he runs with his instincts, takes chances and makes extraordinary wines with his own personal signature.

Today the old vines have been replaced with plantings imported from France and South Africa. The varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Trebbiano, Tannat, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Nebbiolo were planted over the past 17 years transforming this 37 acre vineyard into a world class viticultural property.

Viñedo de los Vientos is located where the River Plate Estuary, the largest in the world, meets the Atlantic Ocean. This region provides clean cool ocean breezes and an ideal climate for the maturation of wine grapes. This region is also host to the largest concentration of bird species in the world where you can find more than 150 species of birds to observe. Surrounded by wetlands, the ecosystem is wild and perfect. At Viñedo de los Vientos, they practice sustainable agriculture with no insecticides and only a very low grade fungicide to control downy mildew. They practice “non till farming” keeping the native cover crops between the rows that they mow. Alejandro, Pablo’s brother, is an environmental activist and runs a project on the Uruguayan coast for the protection of the sea turtles. The project is called Karumbe. For more information go to
The most unique varietal on the property is the Tannat grape of which Pablo makes five different versions. Don Pascual Harriaque, a Basque immigrant, first introduced Tannat to Uruguay in 1870 from his native town in the Maridan Valley in southwestern France. It was so perfectly suited to the native soil and climate that soon it became the national grape of Uruguay and is the most widely planted grape varietal in the country.

Viñedo de los Vientos – 2008 Platinum – Estival
This unique Uruguayan blend with Alsacian flair denotes Uruguay’s winemaking style and the quality of its white wines.
Composition: 60% Gewürztraminer, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Moscato Bianco
Characteristics: Its silky white fruit tones are accentuated by passion fruit, pineapple, apricot, peaches and pears with floral notes of zucchini flowers. The finish is amplified with an almond cream that matures on the palate. This wine is dry with lots of rich fruit flavors making it ideal with Asian and Indian food.

Viñedo de los Vientos – 2007 Platinum – Tannat
Tannat is best known for developing rich aromas and vigorous complexity on the palate. Like Shiraz for Australia, Malbec for Argentina and Sauvignon Blanc for New Zealand, Tannat is the wine of Uruguay.
Composition: 100% Tannat
Characteristics: Prominent scent of dry autumn leaves, cacao bean, Asian spices, hints of morning dew, Brilliant, bright fruit aromas of bush ripe blueberry and raspberry up front. On the palate, intense dark fruit, polished tannins with a mild gamey nature that defines a true Tannat grade expression.

Viñedo de los Vientos – 2006 Angel’s Cuvèe – Ripasso de Tannat
Intrigued with the rich ripe wines of the Valpolicella and Valtelina regions of Italy, Pablo decided to produce “Ripasso de Tannat’ in the style of the great Amarone wines of that region. During harvest, the team walks down each row, clipping the stem to the cluster to stop the circulation of fluids to the grape while allowing the clusters to hang on the vine. The dried grapes are then allowed to raisin and are handpicked a month later and refermented with Tannat wine. This wine is then aged for 18 months in 60% new French oak and 40% in neutral French oak. Very limited production.
Composition: 100% Tannat
Characteristics: This wine is unfined and unfiltered. Strong white truffled earth tone flavors, refined gaminess, wooded forest notes, roasted fennel, fig and chocolate. Rhubarb marmalade accents with sweet raisins and star anise on the palate finishing with a pleasant hazelnut character.

Viñedo de los Vientos – NV Dessert wine – Alcyone
Alcyone, a Greek demi-goddess, was the daughter of Eolo and Ceyx. They were very happy together till Ceyx perished in a shipwreck. Alcyone in desperation threw herself into the ocean. Out of compassion, the gods changed her into a Halcyon bird. Since Alcyone made her nest on the beach and waves threatened to destroy it, Eolo restrained his winds and made the waves calm for seven days, so Alcyone could lay her eggs. These became known as the “Halcyon Days” when storms never occur. This wine is one of the most unique dessert wines made in the world and is very tranquil and soothing as you relax and enjoy it.
Composition: 100% Tannat
Characteristics: This wine is full of the most radiant and vibrant flavors of wild flowers, Madagascan vanilla bean, wild apple mint and a white cacao soufflé. Pablo combines the methods of making Barolo Chinato and Marsala that brings all these flavors together to create this unique wine. A must try!

Viñedo de los Vientos – NV Dessert Wine – Alcyone Reserve
This great unique wine is produced like the regular Alcyone but fortified with pure grappa and aged for 12 months in new French oak barrels.
Composition: 100% Tannat
Characteristics: Sweet grappa aromas with a touch of vanilla invade the nose. On the palate, chocolate, mint and almond flavors mingle together to create an incredible singular flavor with an extremely long finish

How to Taste and Enjoy Wine Part Two “The Bottle”

Now that we have tackled the fear of “the Glass”, it’s time to move onto the bottle. “The Bottle” is less daunting and much easier to control, just by following a few simple rules. Today, we will dispel some local myths and review some ways to handle those annoying problems, such as how to order, store and enjoy your next bottle of wine. Wine is a living organism and, as such, should be treated with respect. How you treat, store and serve your wine will provide you with great enjoyment or fearful moments of frustration and disappointment. 

 How to order wine at a restaurant is the most daunting task most of us face when out with friends, associates or clients. What wine should I order? How much will it cost? Will I get stuck with an outrageous bill at the end of the meal? Will I like the wine I order?

 These are all legitimate questions we face when ordering wine at a restaurant. So, let’s begin. When you are unsure, follow these masterful rules to control your fate. First, try to decide what you and your guests want to order. If they want some wine to start, you may suggest everyone order a glass of wine of their choice and then relax and decide the evening’s meals. Once you have the menu decided, ask for the Sommelier or Wine Steward and take your time to discuss the menu choices. And, this is the most important tip; with the wine list open ask the Sommelier to point out several recommendations to accommodate the food menu you just discussed. This way you can be presented with different wine pairing and see what the prices are for each wine. No surprises at the end of the meal. You can create a discussion with the rest of your guests and involve them in the process. Everyone likes to be part of these dining decisions and you become the focal point of the process. This is also a great learning opportunity for you to master the art of ordering wine at a restaurant.

 The wine is ordered and presented at the table. You have control of “The Glass” and you evaluate the wine, (which you learned in the last article). There are only a few secondary choices to make. With a white wine, do you order an ice bucket? My preference is no, but it’s your choice. The wine is already chilled and probably too cold to really enjoy. Ask to have the wine poured and the bottle set on the table. As you eat and drink your wine it will gradually open and reward you with great flavor and food pairing. We tend to acclimate to the richer, complex flavors of a wine as it gradually opens and evolves as we eat. With a red wine, “do I decant or not?” There are two reasons to decant, first and foremost, we decant older wines to separate the sediment from the wine to retain the brilliant clear color and flavors of the wine or to give a big young wine the opportunity to open and mature for a more rewarding experience. Again, discuss this with your Sommelier for another opportunity to learn wine service at any restaurant.

 Now let’s take up wine storage at home. Proper storage will allow your wine to age and mature gracefully rewarding you year after year. What do you do with a bottle of wine you open and don’t finish? Red or white, you can store it in the refrigerator for up to three to four days depending on the quality of the wine. With a white just take it out and enjoy. With a red wine, take it out of the refrigerator and let it stand for at least 20 minutes so it can warm up before drinking. I also recommend you store the wine standing up with the cork in it. For storing your wine in the house, I recommend a wine storage unit but if you are just beginning, the idea is to protect the wine from its two biggest enemies, heat and light. The temperature of your wine is important but a constant temperature is the best for the wine. The best place to store your wine is in the middle of the house in a place as cool and dark as you can find. Try picking a closet in the middle of the house. Store your wine in a case box turned on its side and shoved into the back of the closet.  Another great hint is, never buying more than two to four bottles of any wine unless you have the resources to build a large cellar and stock it with as many bottles as you please. The only exception is your house wines, buy it by the case. When you buy cases of wine you will limit the amount of wine you can collect with limited space and as you grow your cellar; your taste preferences will change.  There is nothing worse than opening the first bottle of a case you purchased two years ago and say to yourself, why did I buy this wine? Don’t worry, the more choices you have to select from the longer your wines will last in small quantities and reward you.

 And last, but by no means least important, don’t get into a rut buying only one type of wine. There is a great big wonderful world of wine for you. There are about 10,000 grape varietals to explore and many enjoyable moments to experience the joys of wine. So drink, experiment and build a cellar that speaks of you and reflects this great big world of wine.  

 Again, I hope this helps you on your journey experimenting and learning about the wonderful world of wine.

How to Taste and Enjoy Wine – Part One “The Glass”

The ability to taste and enjoy wine at home or at a restaurant is no great secret. Most of us feel intimidated and self conscious when at a party or giving a party or at a restaurant with friends or associates. The etiquette of the glass can strike fear in the most stalwart of us, reducing us to a fearful shell, intimidated and watching everyone around you to make sure you don’t commit a WINE faux pas.

Relax; take a deep breath, exhale and take heart; there is help. There are only a few simple things to remember for you to “take control of the glass”.

The glass:

Any good wine glass with a bulbous shape and a stem will work for wine drinking. The better the glass the more your tasting will be heightened and the more you will be rewarded as you enjoy your wine. You can enhance the aromas and taste of a wine if you find glasses that come to a flat edge at the top rather than a rolled edge. This allows the wine to aerate properly and gives you a much truer aroma and taste. Fill the glass no more than half full, I prefer about one third to half full, this allows me to swirl the wine and not spill it. This also allows the wine a great opportunity to open, concentrate in the glass and reward you as you sniff and taste the wine. Now the swirl, the most awkward and fearful ritual of the glass. How do I execute this maneuver and not spill it all over me, the table or worse yet a friend?

Now the trick: Always leave the glass on the table; this cuts your chance of mishap by two thirds. Now, with the glass on the table place your index and middle fingers on top of the base and rotate the glass in a very short, rapid circular motion, this will feel awkward at first but as you practice you will get better and faster.

Use the stem to hold the glass when drinking, not the bulb. This accomplishes two tasks, first you will not warm the wine with your hand and second you will never leave ugly finger prints on the glass. The first is most important for the enjoyment of the wine. You want your white to stay cold and your red to not get too warm. The second is just esthetics and pleasing to the people around you.

Never add ice cubes to wine, this dilutes the wine and flattens the taste. Keep your wine in an ice bucket if you like it very cold.

Now the greatest fear! You’re at a restaurant, you order the wine, and the waiter presents the wine, pouring you a taste. You look around at the others at the table and you are totally alone facing their stares. The waiter is waiting and you, glass in hand, have seconds to render an analysis of the wine, signaling the waiter to pour the wine. You sheepishly pick up the glass, swirl it in hand, and take a quick taste as everyone awaits your prognostication. Fearful and shy you say “Okay”.  Take control; you now know how to swirl the glass without spillage and this moment is yours. Take your time, swirl several times, this aerates the wine, raise the glass and sniff at least twice and then taste. This ritual is purposeful and needed to confirm your wine choice. You are searching for off odors, such as a corked wine, or odd flavors in the wine. If the wine is corked it will smell like wet cardboard. If the flavors are off it could be oxidized or flawed from the winemaking process. You are in total control so be brave and shine.

I hope this helps to quell some of your greatest fears and starts you on the road to confidence and enjoying wine, now that you can “take control of the glass”.

Watch for my next article “the bottle”.