Saturday, January 30, 2010

Wines & Beverages: Food and Wine Pairing!

Learning about wine has been extremely developmental in understanding tasting physiology, the interaction of flavor components, and the elements of balance.  Obviously, this is never more apparent than when the world's of food and wine verge to create the study of food and wine pairing! Some say it is easy, whites with fish and reds with meat. Others over complicate it taking it to the extremes of determining which chemical components harmonize to accentute the individual elements of food and wine. Whichever way you choose to pick out your glass of wine, maybe this will shed some light on the versatility of food and wine pairing.
 "The White Bean Soup" exercise. This exercise proves that almost any wine can go with just about any food, based on a few key accompanying ingredients. Remember, balance is the key! With bean soup, the simple assumption is that only simple whites and maybe a Pinot Noir can be paired with this.  But, say you add some mushrooms, salt, parmesan, rosemary garlic oil, and a spoonfull of soffritto to the bean soup and now you have a delicious Cabernet Sauvignon pairable soup. If you only drink Chardonnay, add a little bit of creme fraiche, tarragon oil, and a pinch of salt and you have a big, oaky Chardonnay pairable soup.
That is what is great about food and wine pairing.  You can't really change the wine, but you can always manipulate the food to better harmonize with the wine.
Here are the wines that we played around with for the "White Bean Soup" exercise:

  • St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc, 2008, Napa Valley. ~$19

  • Merry Edwards Chardonnay 2006, Russian River Valley. ~$75

  • Dehlinger Pinot Noir, "Goldridge" 2006, Russian River Valley. ~$43

  • Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Knights Valley. ~$19
Food and Wine Pairing is also classically defined. Classic Pairings have stood the test of time and are generally recognized as "can't miss!" Take for example a slightly sweet Weingut Weingart Schlos Furstenberg Riesling Spatlese, 2004, Mittelrhein, Germany with a spicy Coconut Thai Curry.
Goat Cheese is classically paired with Sancerre or Sauvignon Blanc. We tested the pairing with a Stoneleigh Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Marlborough, New Zealand ~$21 with fresh and aged goat cheese. Homerun! Next up was the classic pairing of roasted meat with Cabernet. We tested a Provenance Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Rutherford, Napa Valley ~$33 with chocolate and coffee powder and also a sweet spice rub. Lesson learned from the classic pairing, keep it simple! Medium-rare meat with a heavy dose of salt and a Napa Cab go together like (insert your chosen metaphor here: bread & butter, peas and carrots, peanut butter and jelly, Cheech & Chong, etc.)
Some of the most classic pairings come to us from the "Old World."  Namely, Sauternes and Foie Gras! How bout this tasting for a bunch of snotty-nosed chefs-in-training! A Chateau Siglas Rabaud 1973, Sauternes, France ~$$$ from the Narsai donation to the CIA. I've died and gone to Bordeaux! Another classic is Port and Stilton. Graham's Late Bottled Vintage 2003 Porto ~$22 with premier English Stilton. Right on the money! Next up Chocolate and Madeira. We tried a Blandy's 10 year Rich Malmsey Madeira with dark chocolate. Not the greatest pairing in my opinion but a much better one than when we brought the Cabernet Sauvignon back out to test the "Chocolate and Cab" pairing that is so popular now a days. I'll just enjoy my Cab with my steak and then enjoy my chocolate at the end of the meal. Next up, we will test these food pairings in the restaurant setting! Cheers!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Wines & Beverages: Alsace, Germany, & Hungary!

This week is flying by and we are tasting a lot of wines and getting familiar with some unfamiliar wine growing regions. Our focus today would be the white wine producing Alsace, France, Germany, and Hungary.  Yes, Hungary......they make more than just paprika.

What kind of wines come out of the Germanic-French town of Alsace? None other than top quality Riesling, Pinot Gris, and the ever hard to pronounce Gewürztraminer (ga-VERTZ-trah-mee-ner). Sorry Napa Valley, but I find myself desiring these cool, refreshing, acidic, floral, and fruity whites more and more often than these monsterous, stubborn, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon's I have been tasting around the Valley.

When thinking about German wines, the first one that always comes to mind is Riesling.  But, Germany has a pretty wide range of wines in its portfolio including Gewürztraminer and some unique cool weather reds. Just south of Germany, Austria is credited with being the top producers of Gruner Veitliner (GROO-ner VEHLT-ly-ner). All of these wines are well worth a try the next time you are serving your favorite fish dish, asian food, or anything with a little spicy kick.

Remember, Hungary also makes wine and most notably highly sweet dessert wines. If you are looking for a dessert wine that can be a dessert itself, look to this 2005 Royal Takaji at 5 puttonyes.  What does 5 puttonyes mean? It is a sweetness distinction but other than that, I think it just means tasty! Sorry, note the wine geek terminology that you are used to, but tasty works just fine for me. Cheers!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Wines & Beverages: TCA and Sensory Evaluation!

We learned how to make some wine in our first day in Wines & Beverages, and now it is time to taste some wines that other people have made. That sounds like a lotta fun but............

......we would be starting off our tasting with defective wines.  I am sure everyone has had that awkward experience of opening a highly prized bottle of something deep in the cellar only to be greeted by an aroma of nail polish, or band-aids, or burlap sacks, or wet cardboard instead of cherries, figs, and vanilla. Maybe this has occurred when you bought something really nice off of the wine list at your favorite restaurant only to be embarrassed as your guests tell you the wine you picked smells like you just washed your pet Schnauzer in their glass. Here are some helpful tips to identify that problem wine and send it back for a new bottle:
  • Acetalaldehyde: Smells like severely oxidized apples or Sherry. Natural attribute in Sherry.
  • Acetic Acid: Nail polish remover, dry erase marker. Volatile acidity.
  • Mercaptans: Rotten egg, sulfur. Hydrogen sulfide.
  • Brettanomyces: Band-aid, medicinal. 4-ethylphenol or 4-EP.
  • Brettanomyces: Burlap, barnyard compost. 4-ethylguaiacol or 4-EG.
  • TCA: Moldy, mildew, wet cardboard. 2,4,6 tricholoroanisole.
  • Sulfites: Sulfur smell.
That is enough with defects. Now let's focus on how this professional tasting thing really works.

Blind tasting is the most proven way to develop a non-biased sensory response. Little information is shared about the type of wine, the producer, or the region the wine comes from. Their will be plenty of time for that, but for now, we are just learning how to taste.

From the bottle and into the glasses. We always work from left to right and it is an understood standard to start with dry whites and work you way down the row to the big reds or dessert wines.  We sketch rough notes on our wine tasting sheets that include appearance, color, odor, acid, sugar, tannins, body, flavor, finish, and of course FOOD PAIRING suggestions. You can have a bunch of chefs-in-training tasting wines without thinking about that!

At the end of the day the bags are removed and the wines are revealed. Were we able to tell that #2 was a Sauvignon Blanc, or that #5 was a Pinot? Maybe yes, maybe no, but we have 3 weeks to develop that ability. Here was the tasting lineup for today:
  1. Lazy Creek Riesling 2006, Anderson Valley, Mendocino County. ~$24
  2. Shannon Ridge Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Lake County. ~$18
  3. Dutton Estate Chardonnay, "Dutton Palms Vineyard" 2005, Russian River Valley. ~$42
  4. Bokisch Rosado, "Terra Alta Vineyard" 2007, Clements Hills, Lodi. ~$11
  5. Acacia Pinot Noir 2007, Napa Valley, Carneros. ~$21
  6. La Sirena Syrah 2004, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbera. ~$45
  7. Joseph Phelps, Cabernet Sauvignon 2006, Napa Valley. ~$54
  8. Runquist "Z" Zinfandel, "Massoni Ranch" 2006, Amador County. ~$21.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Wines & Beverages: Grape Growing and How Wine is Made!

Welcome to 2010 here at the CIA and welcome to the last semester for AOS 6 here at CIA-Greystone. After a long Christmas/New Year's break, it was time to get back to learning how to wine & dine. Well, for the next 3 weeks we will be putting that dine part aside for an intensive education on the wine part. Leading our class will be Mr. John Buechsenstein, better known to many in the wine world as one of the founders of Sauvignon Repulic ( But to us, he is simply John B.

John B. knows a lot about food, but he knows a lot more about wine.  Especially making wine! No better teacher than a world-renowned artisan winemaker to show us how to make some home-made jug wine.

So no, we won't be hand picking and crushing some of Napa Valley's finest grapes; rather we will be using a little grape fruit concentrate out of the can instead.  Remember, this is home-made jug wine people. Don't turn your nose up at us.

There she is. The yeast concentrate has been diluted to make 26˚Brix (sugar concentration), the yeast has been proofed and added, a little bit of this and a little bit of that went in (nutrients, sulfites), and now we just let her ferment. More to come.........

Day one included all the basics including what glasses go with what wines. A lot of tradition goes into the style of glasses and even a little bit of scientific theory backs it up.  After all, it is pretty important that the correct flavor molecules needed to reach the olfactory epithelium located in the nasal cavity actually make it to as many receptors as possible......................but when it really comes down to it, some glasses are just cool to drink wine from. End of nerd story.

The flute is ready to hold some Roederer Estate Brut, MV, Anderson Valley. ~$23

Glass two would like some Cline Viognier 2007, California. ~$10

Not quite a Burgundy, but made from Pinot so into the Burgundian glass this Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, 2008, Los Carneros goes. ~$22

Bordeaux glasses love Cabernet's and Alexander Valley provided this Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005. ~$69
I hope this has wet your whistle because we have got a lot more to go from every wine-making corner of the world in the next few days.
Note: Professional wine tasters spit, some more elegantly than others, but they always spit, dribble, or excrete before swallowing. Even tastings of $70 Cab! It is a sad end for many of these wines, but we must persist in our educational endeavours during these tough times.  Cheers!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Restaurant Experience: Neela's Indian Restaurant!

New Year's Eve, the Mrs. and I headed out to downtown Napa for a culinary celebration for the exiting of the exciting 2009. After a recent introduction to Chef Neela Paniz at the 2009 World's of Flavor at the CIA-Greystone, I have anxiously awaited the opportunity to try some of her northern and southern province-themed dishes at Neela's Indian Restaurant in Napa.

Amuse to start the meal.

No New Year's Eve dinner is complete without some bubbles to celebrate. Luckily for us, a recent visit from Vernon and Janet Walnofer from Southern California left us gifted with a bottle of Wiens Family Cellars California Amour de L'Orange Sparkling Wine.  This 100% Chardonnay wine, made in the méthode champenoise, is uniquely enhanced with a slight natural orange flavoring to give it a unique flavor composition which we found perfectly matched the bright, spicy, and exotic flavors of Chef Neela's Indian dishes. Maybe the Weins Family could create Amour de L'Tamarind for this specific pairing in the future!

You can't try eveything on a menu the first time you visit a restaurant, but Chef Neela has a created sampler dishes that showcase specific categories of her menu. This is great for introducing unfamiliar Indian cuisine to novice dinners as well as offering multiple selections for ambitious first time restaurant patrons. Here is the Non-vegetarian sampler of  (left to right) Unday Ki Chutney, Kathi Rolls, Rassols, and Shrimp Samosas along with a spicy pumpkin chutney and Tamarind dipping sauce.

You don't need a grille, a smoker, or a braising method for your meats in most Indian dishes, just a tandori oven! Here is the Tandoori Sampler of Seekh Kabab, Chicken Tikka, and Shrimp with a Mint Chutney.

Saath Mein translates to "along with."  So along with our sampler platters we also got the Dal of the Day....

......some Naan.....

.....some Paratha.....

.....and some Chapati.

From the Mrs. and I, Cheers to a great year gone by and cheers to all the life-changing decision making of 2010!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year's 2010!

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year's for 2010. Keeping the tradition with Black-Eyed Pea and Braised Rainbow Chard "Happy New Year's" Soup.
"Together Again in 2010." The motto that might have more meaning than any of us realize!