Friday, November 18, 2011

A Chill in the Air, Some Whites for your Glass

I had a couple of requests after the last column (“A Chill in the Air, some Reds for your Glass") for a companion piece on cool-weather whites. As I ease into fall, I tend to think about white wines less. I don’t usually get a craving for a big glass of pinot grigio on a day where the wind is whipping the heat from my bones, but I can’t lose sight of them altogether. Dinner parties, social events, or perhaps the occasional 80 degree day in December might call for whites, albeit slightly heavier ones. Here are a few that you might want to stash away:

Yalumba 2010 Viognier – I haven’t had a lot of luck with inexpensive Viognier lately. Viognier’s a great blustery-weather white. It’s probably got my favorite white wine aromatics, but the inexpensive ones can taste a little bit “oily” and have an alkaline aftertaste. Not pleasant in my opinion and not my usual cup of tea. Still, since it had been a while and after happening along a few offerings from South Australia, I thought I’d give the grape another whirl. I was pleasantly surprised to find this one. The Yalumba (great name, too – Aboriginal Australian for “all the land around”) has plenty of peach and floral scents on the nose, followed up by a nicely balanced peach flavor. It’s “weighty without being heavy,” if that makes sense. Viognier is a great choice with a traditional turkey meal and it also works well with spicy stuff. As a bit of a warning, this is a high-alcohol white. It clocks in at 14.5%, which is around cabernet sauvignon level. Not to worry, the alcohol is masked with a little residual sweetness. Swirl well and approach gently. $9.

Villa Maria 2008 Marlborough Riesling – Staying with the Down Under selections, we pop “next door” to New Zealand for this extremely food-friendly Riesling. I found it to be a intriguing mix of some of my favorite “traditional” Riesling styles. My best description would be “dropping a hunk of pineapple into a glass of Alsace Riesling.” Alsace Rieslings are almost always bone dry and full of mineral flavors, while the pineapple reminds me of Pacific Northwest dry Riesling. Trust me – for some reason it works. The Villa Maria has a lovely tropical-fruit-and-flowers nose. I picked up lots of minerality at first taste, blended with the aforementioned pineapple. The burst of fruit quickly yields to dryness and flint on the finish. If you enjoy “drinking rocks” as I do, you’ll love this wine. At around $13, this is a nice alternative to more expensive Alsatian offerings.

Adler Fels “Kitchen Sink” (NV) California White Table Wine – I’m honestly not sure why I picked this wine up. I was browsing the California white section for a sauvignon blanc. Since I’d used “everything but the kitchen sink” in a work context that day, the faucet on the label caught my eye. I took that as a sign. I read the back label and thought, “Huh…Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Gewurztraminer. That should be fun.” I thought it might have a little more oomph than a sauvignon blanc for the meal I was planning, and I wasn’t disappointed. Even though it’s comprised of over one-third California chardonnay, it’s still a fruity, acidic white. My first taste yielded lemons and tangerines. The finish is surprisingly crisp even with its nice weight. I thought it was very pleasant on both palate and pocketbook for around 10 bucks. What was the meal? Orecchiette pasta with chickpeas, greens, and grilled calamari (sounds weird, tastes nummy). Flavors from all directions made friends in this pairing. I would imagine it would stand up to cream sauces as well.

Gruet (NV) Blanc de Noirs – I would be remiss in putting together a whites column without throwing in a sparkler. One of the primary differences I find between French sparkling wines and other sparklers like cava is the “creamy” flavor that accompanies the fruit and the bubbles in the French offerings. There’s usually also a pleasant, somewhat “yeasty” aroma in the bouquet that reminds me a little of freshly baked bread. When I got a sip of this little number from New Mexico, I thought it was about as French-tasting as any inexpensive sparkling wine I’ve sampled. I found berries and cream on the tongue with good “mousse” (WineSpeak for “bubble strength and feel). The finish is toasty and pleasant. We cracked this as an aperitif for a recent dinner party for our neighbors (including Dinner Club Jeff) and it got raves. Around $12-13 and well worth it.

Wine and Dinner of the Month Club – November 2011

This month’s meal was a simple affair, but no less tasty.  The wine was a Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which said on the label it was good with grilled rib eye or braised lamb shanks.  We had braised lamb recently and I wasn’t really in the mood for a big rib eye, but some strip steak fit the bill.  I don’t really have any recipes this month except for the dessert, but I think it’s mostly self explanatory.

  • Mushroom Bruschetta with Parmesan Cheese
  • Grilled Strip Steak with Sautéed Mushrooms, Turnip Puree and Purple Broccoflower
  • Green Salad with Walnuts and Steamed Beets
  • Apple Fritter Rings

  • 2006 Kunde Family Estate Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

I started out early in the day by marinating the steaks in olive oil, garlic and a little salt and pepper.  When I was ready to start dinner, I baked a small baguette and sautéed some chopped mushrooms.  I sliced the baked bread and brushed olive oil on both sides of each slice.  I rubbed some garlic on each side as well and then topped the bread with the mushrooms and a little parmesan cheese.  I put these in the oven and let them bake at 350 degrees until the cheese melted thoroughly.  I had already decanted the wine and Christine and I sat down for the appetizers.

After the appetizer, I started the main course.  First I started boiling the potatoes and turnips for the puree.  After these were cooked, I put them in a food processer with a little butter, buttermilk, salt and pepper.  You really just have to experiment to get the right consistency.  Mine was a little loose, but it worked out okay.  I threw the steaks on the grill since they did not need a lot of time to cook and started steaming the broccoflower.  Once I brought the steaks in and the broccoflower was ready, I sautéed some more mushrooms and plated it all up.  Now, you may ask yourself, what is broccoflower?  Well, it’s a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.  I was planning on having broccoli as the side, but when I was in the grocery store I saw the broccoflower in purple and orange and green and decided to have a little fun.  I think it added a nice and unusual splash of color to the entrée.

After the main course, we had a green salad with lettuce that Christine grew in our community garden, steamed beets from the local farmers market and walnuts from our local…grocery store.  Okay, so the walnuts probably weren’t that local.  In America the salad is usually before the main course, but Christine likes to have it the Italian way after the entrée as a little bit of a palate cleanser, particularly with a nice vinaigrette dressing.  I agree that it does make for a nice transition.  Give a try sometime to mix things up.

Finally, I prepared the dessert.  This recipe actually came from the December issue of Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine.  We had some Northern Spy apples from Hidden Valley Fruit Farms near Lebanon, OH that are delicious cooking apples.  I first cored, peeled and sliced two apples to make little apple rings.  I dredged these in a batter and dropped into 350 degree vegetable oil in a cast iron skillet.  They cook really quickly with one turn half way through.  After they had a chance to dry a little on some paper towels, I tossed them in a little cinnamon/sugar mixture and served them warm.  The batter gives them a nice crispy texture and the cooked apples inside are like apple candy.  And the best part is that they actually came out looking like the picture in the magazine (well, enough of them did for this picture).

As far as the wine, it was an excellent pairing with the bruschetta, the steaks and salad.  The richness of the wine nicely balanced the earthiness of the meat, mushrooms and the root vegetables.  However, as you might expect, it did not go so well with the apple rings.  They were far too sweet to go with the dryness of the wine.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Wine and Dinner of the Month Club–October 2011

After being chastised by my editor for tardiness last month, I made sure to get this entry written in time. I did; however, my lovely assistant had a month of intense work and travel and in her not-so-usual way, submitted the article late. She also thought she deleted the photos, but happily found them included with the Hallowheeling “Pollination” photos.

In early October Christine and I were in Washington, DC and went to dinner with her parents at Taste of  Morocco in Arlington.  After enjoying all the great flavors, I decided that this month’s dinner would be a Moroccan feast.


  • 2007 Wild Horse Central Coast Chardonnay

Though it looks involved, the entire dinner was really pretty easy.  There was some prep time involved, but once you got past that it all went quickly and a lot of it could be done ahead of time.  I was home for the day so I was up early working on the meal.  The first thing I did was bake the cake to get that task out of the way.  Next I prepped the salad ingredients which involved slicing dates and pealing and cutting up the celery.
It was helpful that this step could be done ahead of time and the ingredients stored in the refrigerator until dinner time.  Next I started on the bastilla.  The ingredients for this dish can be prepared ahead of time as well and assembled later.  After preparing everything and putting it in the refrigerator I even had a little extra time to go outside and work on the deck.  Who says I can’t multitask?

About half hour before we planned to eat, I started cooking the bastilla, placing sheets of phyllo dough in an oven proof pan, adding the filling, and cooking it for about 15 minutes.  While it was cooking I stuffed the dates with goat cheese and almonds and started cooking the couscous.  You may remember the stuffed dates from an earlier dinner.  At that time I stuffed the dates with parmesan cheese and walnuts.  This time I switched to goat cheese and almonds for a more Mediterranean twist.

After we had the stuffed dates, I assembled the salad by mixing the celery in with coarse salt, shaving some parmesan cheese on top and sprinkling it with balsamic vinegar.

I served the warm bastilla with the couscous on the side.  The bastilla was filled with an egg and chicken mixture surrounded by an almond, cinnamon and sugar mix.  Additional sugar and cinnamon is sprinkled on top creating a delicious combination of savory and sweet.  I have to admit, when I researched bastilla, chardonnay did not come up as the best pairing, but we thought it actually went very well.  The chardonnay was crisp with a bright acidity that complimented every course.

We ended the night with a slice of orange cake before heading off to our local theater company to see Debbie Does Dallas the Musical.  But that’s another story.