Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jeff's Wine & Dinner of the Month Club: The Last Hurrah!

Editor's Note: It is with a heavy heart that I present the last entry of Jeff's Wine & Dinner of the Month Club. What started as a birthday present for his lovely wife, Christine the Pie Queen, turned into a two-year labor of love for the Vine. Many thanks from the bottom of my Vinous heart for his well-written, love-driven, good-eatin' entries. 

Jeff, if you didn't live across the alley, I'd sure miss you...

This is the final entry for the Wine and Dinner of the Month Club.  I started this as a present for my wife – a paired wine dinner cooked by me each month.  It’s been very well received and I plan on continuing to prepare the meals each month for Christine, but I won’t be blogging about them.  Thanks to all my readers and enjoy this month’s entry.  With the exception of the Coq Au Vin, for which I provide a link, the recipes come from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, Third Edition © 2010 by The Editors at America’s Test Kitchen.  January is also Christine’s birthday month, so I added an extra dessert wine as a special treat.

French Onion Soup
German Chocolate Cake

2008 Gerard Raphet Burgundy
2008 d’Arenberg The Nobel Wrinkled Riesling

I woke up early on the day I was preparing the dinner and started the Coq Au Vin.  This entailed browning the chicken and layering it over the chopped vegetables in the slow cooker.  I set the cooker on low and went about my day.  Don’t be surprised if the recipe seems oversized.  The chicken and vegetables cook down considerably and while I thought we were going to be eating leftovers for days, we actually had just enough for the two of us with a little for one serving left over.

Later in the day I started the French onion soup.  I cut the recipe to one quarter what was called for and it came out to be the perfect amount for two.  I simply cut up the onions and sautéed them in a sauce pan.  The recipe calls for using a Dutch oven, but we don’t have one so I improvised with the saucepan and it worked just fine.  Once the onions are dark and sticky (about 30 minutes) you add beef and chicken stock and some other ingredients and let it simmer.  In the meantime I baked a baguette and cut it into some slices to top the soup.  When the soup was ready, I dished it into our new soup bowls (given to us by Christine’s parents for Christmas) and floated the bread slices on top.  These I topped with some shredded Gouda cheese and put into the oven until the cheese melted.  The recipe called for Swiss cheese, but we had Gouda in the refrigerator so, again, I improvised.  The soup was hearty with a smoky flavor and was excellent with the Burgundy.

After the soup course, I dished up the Coq Au Vin.  This dish can be served over rice or couscous, but I didn’t think it needed anything added to it, particularly since we had already had the soup course.  However, I did serve it with the rest of the baguette.  After being in the slow cooker all day, the chicken literally fell apart, so it made sense to eat it more like a stew (thank goodness Christine’s parents gave us four soup bowls for Christmas).  Like the soup, the Coq Au Vin was hearty with deep rich flavors that went very well with the Burgundy.  Even novices like Christine and me can appreciate wine pairings.  A light white wine would have been swallowed up by the rich flavors of either the soup or the Coq Au Vin.

Finally, we had dessert.  Christine’s favorite cake is German chocolate, and it’s become a tradition for me to make it every year for her birthday in January.  I paired with the d’Arenberg Noble Wrinkled Riesling.  The wine was a very sweet dessert wine but not cloying.  The cake, while being sweet, is made with semi-sweet chocolate so it is not overly sweet.  I actually think this helped it pair well with the wine.  If the cake had been too sweet, I think it would have been a little overwhelming given the sweetness of the wine.

And now, a word from Christine the Pie Queen:  

I have thoroughly enjoyed my two years of wine-paired meals that have been amazing (ribs!), fun (WV debauchery and KY neighbor brunch!), at times strange (jell-o!), fattening (four cheese lasagna!) and just plain wonderful, cooked and served with love by my hubby. Thank you Jeff!

How does one motivate their partner to start cooking?  What is my secret, sly recipe?  Well, I did it with a little help from a friend of mine at The Naked Vine.  Mike had been the inspiration for Jeff to start brewing beer and making hard apple cider (both of which he does extremely well) and so, I said to Mike, “Now, how can we get Jeff more interested on the food side?”  I do the majority of the cooking around the house and just wanted to share that “joy” with Jeff.  Along comes my birthday and Jeff decides to buy me 12 bottles of wine for the next year.  He goes to Mike for wine suggestions and *BOOM* Mike sees his opportunity and suggests pairing each of those wines with a home-cooked meal…the rest now documented in pixels.  Quite a success story!  Thank you Mike!

And thank you, Jeff and Christine! Cheers!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Naked Vine Live -- French Reds

Hello all! Looking for something to do this week? Truck on down to the Party Source on Wednesday evening. My pal Danny Gold and I will be pouring French reds from the major vinicultural regions. The show gets going at 6:30 on Wednesday the 25th. Tickets ($20 -- and you get a $5 gift card) are available by clicking here.

Come on down. Learn some basics. Drink up.

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Year’s, New Zealand

Welcome to 2012, everyone! May it be an excellent year for us all. This year’s started off with a bang here, thanks to the welcome return of the Naked Vine New Year’s Feast & Festival of Sloth.

For the last couple of years, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I haven’t been able to prepare our usual table. For the uninitiated, we usually pick a theme or region of the world, get a bunch of wine, hunker down, and cook a raft of recipes to pair with them. This year, we decided to do New Zealand. Why?

Well, aside from the whole notion of discovering new cuisine, I’d picked up a couple of relatively high-end New Zealand pinots in my wine-shopping “travels” a year or so ago, and I wanted a good excuse to do a side by side tasting. So, armed with this notion, we took to the reference sources to find foods and to the wine stores to collect other wines. Here they are:

We quickly discovered that New Zealand hasn’t historically been a big contributor to international cuisine. New Zealand is historically known for the “boil-up,” a Maori dish of boiled pork, squash, and whatever else is lying around. Since we both prefer low country style if we’re just going to boil meats and such, we needed to be a little more creative. Thankfully, the invasion of hobbits also brought along some very interesting Asian & Australian fusion cuisine, so we decided to approach it from that angle. (Maybe not completely authentic, but hey…it’ll be tasty…)

New Zealand, of course, is known for sauvignon blanc. They make unique versions. Many of the commonly found ones are from the Marlborough region, although there are more and more available domestically from Hawkes Bay and Wellington. (Together, these latter two are called “East Coast” wines – and they are the “first grapes to see the sun each day” because of their geographic location.)

Another difference this year…the advancing of years first gave us the idea to do our little culinary adventures in the first place and do an all-day feast. The still-advancing years (and our wildly successful “Channiversary” celebration) had us stretch New Year’s Eve into a full weekend’s better-paced gluttony. So, away we go…

Friday – New Year’s Eve Eve

Our first course was a “New Zealand Fish & Chips.” Baked sweet potato fries alongside some mussels, steamed in a red vermouth and garlic sauce. (No real recipes for these. The sweet potatoes were cut into strips, coated with olive oil and tossed with salt, pepper, and garam masala. The mussels were – well – steamed up with the aforementioned sauce.) Next to this little bit of yumminess, we put Cloudy Bay 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. ($20) The Cloudy Bay was a very pleasant, mineral-laden sauvignon blanc with a strong lime-citrus flavor. Just before I served the mussels, I added some parsley to the sauce, and that worked nicely, playing off the traditional New Zealand-y herbal flavors in the wine. We kicked our little adventure off with a bang, to be honest.

Next up was a roasted red pepper soup with seared scallops, paired with Villa Maria 2009 Cellar Selection Marlborough Riesling. ($17) This is the first New Zealand Riesling that I can remember trying. Based on my experiences with the sauvignon blancs, I expected this to be a big, fruity Riesling. I couldn’t have been more off. This is a lean, aromatic wine that really reminded me more of an Alsatian Riesling than anything else – although it had a wee bit of sweetness there. Actually, this became a theme with the non-Sauvignon Blanc wines we tried. Most of them were lean and minerally, regardless of varietal. As for this one, I found lots of lime and lavender on the nose. “Crisp and cool” was my note.

The food pairing note I have was simply “OH MY GOD IS THIS GOOD.” This was easily the best pairing of the whole weekend and was honestly one of the best hand-in-hand food and wine pairings that I’ve had in the last year. I can’t begin to explain why. It just works. Trust me. It’s an easy recipe, too. Try it. Trust me!

Saturday – New Year’s Eve

A lazy New Year’s Eve in front of us, we spent the day relaxing on the couch, watching crappy bowl games, as is our tradition, and we started getting peckish. For Christmas, we’d been given a Hickory Farms-style sampler, and one of the cheeses was something called “Brick Cheese.” Turns out it’s a cross between cheddar and swiss, and one of the recommended pairings is Chardonnay.

I braved the crowds and brought back a bottle of Oyster Bay 2009 Marlborough Chardonnay ($11) from the store to go alongside. This was a really interesting wine. As we were discovering, this wine was full of crisp citrus and mineral flavors, but the oak gave it a little bit of butterscotch. with a little butterscotch from the oak. Again, lime was a major flavor in the mix. We decided that, had it been from anywhere else in the world, we would have thought it to be a sauvignon blanc. It reminded us of Sancerre (a French Sauvignon Blanc) a little. You know, it actually went really nicely with the Brick.

The dinner hour came near, and it was time for what I thought would be the main event, cracking open these two pinot noirs from Pyramid Valley Vineyards. These pinot noirs, called “Earth Smoke” and “Angel Flower” are from adjacent vineyards, one of which faces north – the other facing east. I was curious to see the differences. These were both from the 2008 vintage, so they may have been a little young. Still, I thought it would be tasty. We decided to pair them up with grilled beef medallions with a cauliflower-broccoli hash, but we wanted to try these wines first.

These may have been the two lightest pinot noirs I’ve ever tried. They looked almost watery, but they were fully-formed, although super-delicate wines. I think they were definitely young – probably a couple of years away from full maturity. They were…well, like nothing I’ve ever had. I started with the Angel Flower. My note says, “I have no frame of reference for his wine. Smells like wind blowing across a meadow and pond. Delicate and fascinating. A wine to be drunk rather than paired.” That said, there really wasn’t much else to this wine other than the interesting delicateness. There were some spice and some berry flavors, but nothing overly strong. The SPinC said that the smell reminded her of the “Divinity” dessert from Stuckey’s that she’d long ago sampled on the byways of  the Midwest on the drive to Grandma’s house.

The Earth Smoke had, as implied by the name, a little bit of a smoky, earthy undertone – as well as some strawberry but still, the delicacy of the flavors were hard to catch. The SPinC said that these wines “don’t taste like anything in the world, and I don’t  know if they’d pair with anything in the world.”

Still, we tried. We put together the meal – and, not surprisingly, even something as simple as the grilled beef overwhelmed it. We pulled a random Australian pinot noir from the rack, and it was a better match. I didn’t regret opening the wines at all to assuage my curiosity, but I’m glad I have a couple of other bottles in the cellar to stash for a couple of years.

After that, we had a fire in the backyard, then popped a bottle of bubbly as 2011 came to a close…

Sunday – New Year’s Day

We slowly recovered from our revelries and finally got the energy up to do some exercise. By this point, it was mid-afternoon, so we decided to split our last day’s meals up. We figured we’d be fine with one dish for the day. This time, we went with a Kim Crawford 2008 East Coast Pinot Grigio ($12) to go alongside a spicy ginger ground pork in lettuce wraps. Something a bit lighter, you know. Turned out to be a very nice pairing. The pinot grigio was quite tasty, full of apples and pairs, again with a backbone of that lime and mineral. Cooled down the heat of the pork nicely and just made for a nice little meal.

For that evening, we decided to just have some leftovers and relax. We figured that we’d do the last pairing the next night. Well, you know what they say, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

Monday – Black Ice

I had to go to work on Monday. My office doesn’t have windows, so I didn’t realize that while I worked away that afternoon, the roads were slowly becoming covered with a bizarre black ice event. There was a 30 car pileup on the interstate, which I didn’t hear about until after I almost fell on my ass going to my car. On the way home in bumper to bumper traffic, my car overheated. (The mechanic told me later that my radiator had actually exploded -- a “baseball-sized hole” in the top of the radiator qualifies as an explosion in my book.) I was stuck for three hours in 20 degree weather on the side of I-275, waiting for a tow. Needless to say, I didn’t feel much like cooking when I got home. So, we strung things out for another day.

Tuesday – The Finish

I make a killer risotto. And one of the recipes we’d found during our research on New Zealand cuisine was a Mediterranean-inspired risotto with asparagus and mint. Now, this would have been a more appropriate meal for springtime, but hey…it’s summer in New Zealand, right? Since I had feeling in my extremities, I cooked this up for us to enjoy to close out the feast. We had this with the And Co 2009 Sauvignon Blanc – an SB from Hawkes Bay. It had a fascinating top – it was sealed with a beer cap. (Which, honestly, would be the best way to seal any wine for longevity.) We took one sip and just looked at each other for a second. 

It’s unlike any other EnnZedd sauvignon blanc we’ve ever tried. It bills itself as “old world wine in the new world” and it certainly tastes more like a white Bordeaux than a Marlborough sauvignon. The nose is full of almonds and apples. It’s medium bodied, braced with more apple and pear flavors and just a hint of herb. There’s barely a trace of bitterness. Seriously, I felt like the “bitter” taste buds on the back of my tongue were taking a rest. Then came the meal. The asparagus risotto couldn’t have found a better pairing. Since asparagus makes most wine go bitter, the complete lack of bitterness allowed everything to mesh – the creamy risotto flavors and the milder fruit went hand in hand. This was a strong runner up pairingwide to the soup.

Automotive strangeness aside, I’d chalk this up as a success – and I would definitely recommend trying New Zealand whites other than their famous Sauvignon Blancs – especially if you’re a fan of minerally offerings like you’d find in Oregon or France.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Naked Vine does Simply Naked

On the heels of my review of the Dreaming Tree wines, Megan at Constellation (thanks again!) asked me if I’d like to give the “Simply Naked” line of wines a try. The connection, after all, is reasonably obvious. I said that I’d be happy to give them a run. Any excuse for more of The Naked.

Simply Naked markets itself as the “nation’s first complete line of unoaked wines.” I thought this was an interesting twist. I appreciated when California started easing back on the heavy oak on Chardonnay, but I hadn’t given much thought to what might happen if a winemaker did, say, cabernet sauvignon entirely in stainless steel.

The wines are produced with grapes sourced from vineyards across California. The wines are the brainchild of winemaker Ryan Flock, who is also the winemaker at Talus and Elkhorn Peak wineries.

These wines should be fairly easy to locate. All of them have a suggested retail of around $10. Here’s my thoughts on this lineup:

Simply Naked 2010 Unoaked Chardonnay – This is a fairly straightforward unoaked chardonnay. The nose is floral with a just little bit of citrus. On the palate, the dominant flavor I got was melon with just a tad of earthiness. The finish is slightly alkaline and has a touch of honeylike sweetness from some residual sugar. I thought it was a decent enough wine as an everyday selection, although I wouldn’t call it outstanding. 

Simply Naked 2010 Unoaked Merlot – At first sniff, I was greeting with a big, plummy, “traditional fruity merlot” nose. I completely expected this to be a straight-up fruit bomb. When I got a taste of it, it turned out to be much more subtle than a lot of inexpensive California merlot. I thought it had some nice dark fruit flavors and solid, nicely balanced tannins. The finish is smoky and evenly dry. I really liked this wine, to be perfectly honest. Exceptional with chocolate, too. A keeper.

Simply Naked 2010 Unoaked Pinot Grigio – Dropping the old snoot into the class gave me a nose of lime and peaches. The body is heavier than I expected. There’s certainly a little weight – perhaps more in line with what I’d expect from a sauvignon blanc. There seems to be a bit of residual sugar, which likely adds to the weight. It still comes across as reasonably crisp with flavors of lime and apple juice. The finish is fairly light, fruity, and has an interesting hint of smoke. Interesting to me, but probably not for everyone.

Simply Naked 2010 Unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon – Like the merlot did, the nose made me brace myself for fruit-bomb land because of the big plum and blackberry scents. The body is more tame. The fruit on the palate is somewhat subdued, moving from blackberries into tannin and hanging out there for awhile. It seemed a bit imbalanced, though, so I gave it some air for awhile and came back a couple of hours later. Unfortunately, even with air, there’s much the same flavor – fruit forward, then the tannic tug at the end. Fairly simple and plonkish. Not my favorite.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

A cool thing for Kinkead Ridge

Our friends at Kinkead Ridge winery in Ripley, OH recently earned themselves a pretty cool distinction. Here's the release from Kinkead:

Kinkead Ridge featured in 1000 Great Everyday Wines from the World's Best Wineries

As reported by the Wine Buzz Magazine (www.thewinebuzz.com), two Kinkead Ridge wines are featured in the recently published "1000 Great Everyday Wines from the World’s Best Wineries" (DK Publishing, 337 pp.; $25). Former Wine Spectator editor Jim Gordon and his team of writers/tasters identify a range of good and affordable wines (which he equates with “the price of an entrée at a good restaurant”) from around the world with character that reflects their origin. France gets the most ink, followed by Italy, Spain, Germany, California and other wine-producing regions.

“The rest of the U.S.,” which is everywhere but the West Coast, gets a mere two pages. Ohio merits a mention of Kinkead Ridge Winery for its Cabernet Franc and Viognier-Roussanne, long lauded by an enthusiastic fan base for their high quality.

Interspersed among the recommended wines are charts on how to read labels, profiles of grape varieties, tips on doing a home tasting, and many other useful tidbits for the wine enthusiast.
I can attest to the quality of these wines. Congrats to Nancy and Ron!