Tuesday, May 28, 2013

6 Great Reads if You're Traveling to the South of France (or only dreaming)

It's Spring and This Woman's Fancy is Turning to France.

Grape vines are flowering in wine country here in the Willamette Valley, and the sight reminds me of wonderful hours spent tramping through  vineyards, markets, and picture perfect villages in the South of  France.

But until it's time to get on the plane, I read books, wonderful books, that evoke the region, the culture, the wine and the food. I particularly enjoy books by anglophones who have settled in France, come to terms with a different pace and world view, and who share their trials and triumphs with those of us who only dream of someday .......someday....... staying longer than work and limited vacation time currently allow.

If you are lucky enough to be planning a trip, or if you are dreaming of a trip sometime in the future, feast your eyes and your senses on these great reads.

Let's start with My French Life by Vicki Archer 

Full of gorgeous photographs, the book is the the memoir of an Australian woman who lives a life between Australia, England and France and calls all three home. She, her husband and three children, purchased a derelict 400 year old mas  (farmhouse) on the outskirts of Saint-Remy-de-Provence, a village we will visit in October for one of the finest outdoor markets in the South,  Moulin Casetelas, the olive oil mill where the Archers take their olives to be milled, and lunch on Roman delicacies in the Taberna Romana  across the road from the ruins of Glanum just outside of town.

The book details the restoration of Mas de Berard with its ancient olive trees, and muses on French culture,style, the daily patterns of life in the country, and the integral role of food in French life. The prose is evocative and poetic,such as her description of the olive oil from Moulin Castelas:
"Their oil is evocative of  the Alpilles: it smells of fresh grass and olives, tastes of sweet almond trees and raw artichokes and finishes with a peppery bite, suggesting the olives were fully ripe before pressing, The texture is fine, the colour a transparent citrus green, and the taste sheer bliss."

Another favorite author is Kristin Espinasse,  author of the delicious  French-Word-A-Day blog and her two books  Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France, and Blossoming in Provence. 

As in her blog, Kristin, (wife of winemaker Jean-Marc Espinasse and mother of two very French children) tells delightful vignettes of how a French language challenged American found her way from the Southwest to the south of France, fell in love, married a Frenchman, and began raising a family. Her prose is liberally sprinkled with french words (which she puts in italics and translates at the end of each chapter) to illustrate their meaning and use in everyday conversation; but along with the language lesson, you learn a great deal about the way the French live; how they think; how they behave;  and what they value. Her humor is self deprecating, and as in her blog, she is almost painfully honest about her trials, failure, and triumphs.  But no matter where you pick up the book or dive into a blog post, you are are always, always, amused. Here is a brief excerpt, where she and her children cope with the difficulty of a bilingual (barely) household:

What's foreign can be off-putting, and at times a word is a three-eyed monster. French words baffled me for years. Now, English words intimidate my children.............
"deesh-wah-share?", he repeats after me.He sits for a moment, considering my request, and then darts out of the salon.
Entering the salon de bains, where we keep our washing machine, I find Max crouched to the floor, pulling damp clothes from the lave-ligne. Like most French washing machines, the door is on the front side of the machine just inches from the ground.
"Max, what are you doing?" I say.
You said empty the wah-share", he explains.
"The dish-wah-share! You know, knives, forks, cups..."
"Ah, le lave-vaiselle," he translates, and heads off in the direction of the cuisine.
Poor little guy with the foreign mommy, I think as I set the plastic laundry basket on the floor, empty the wah-share and head outside to hang up the linge.
What a lovely way to learn words in French.

For sheer physical beauty, I recommend Michael Jacobs The Most Beautiful Villages of Provence. with photographs by High Palmer

This coffee table book explores  stunning villages in each of the major regions of the south, from the Vaucluse and the Bouches-du-Rhone to the Var and the Alpine departments of the east.  In addition to the brilliant photographs, there are map, listings of restaurants, fetes and markets for each of the villages, and sights to enjoy.
From the flyleaf:
Provence is a land apart, a territory of outstanding beauty and distinction that has fascinated outsiders since earliest times, The Greeks, the Romans, the barbarians of the North and the Moors have all left their traces in its villages and small towns, from the hills and mountains of the Luberon to the villages perches of the Alpes-Maritimes.

Travelers' Tales Provence: True Stories by Peter Mayle, M.F.K. Fisher, Lawrence Durrell, Yvone Lenard, Alain de Botton, Kermit Lynch and many more , edited by James O'Reilly and Tara Austen Weaver

Several of my favorites include Indu Sundaresan's Tureau, Tureau . a tale of how the author came to be running from a bull-in-training named Eduard in the traditional bullfighting style of the South of France where a rosette is tied to the horns of the bull, and the bullfighters, rather than slaying the bull, attempt to grap the rosette; and when chased, leap over  the wooden barriers surrounding the ring  like circus acrobats.

There is a chapter by noted wine merchant and Negociant Kermit Lynch on the wines of Cassis (which we will also visit) with the admonition to "Drink it where it was born."

M.F.K Fisher tells us of Aix-en-Provence, the University city, City of Fountains, and former Provencial capital before the Revolution, where she begins:
So here is the town, founded more than two thousand years ago by the brash Roman invaders, on much older ruins which still stick up their stones and artifacts. I was as brash a new-comer to it, and yet when I first felt the rhythm of its streets and smelled its ancient smells, and listened at night to the music of its many fountains, I said "Of course", for I was once more in my own place, and invader of what was already mine.
Aix will be our first destination and home base for our  4 days in Provence.

Carol Drinkwater, actress and English expat who turned a dilapidated farm house into an organic olive farm in the Var, wrote Pressing the Olive: Its a virgin birth of a different kind  of her first olive harvest and finding just the right mill to press it into their very own oil.

I loved Clive Irving's  evocative description of the Mistral, the wind that  is such an emblem of the Rhone and Provence in Relish the Rhone :
This was a pervasive, inhabiting wind. It raged across the hill above, tearing into freshly bloomed cascades of yellow broom so that the color writhed. Cypresses, the most exposed of the trees, flexed acutely in the line of the wind. They signaled its direction- and identity.  The intruder came from the north, sucked down the great valley of the Rhone and into Provence like a jet stream, This was the Mistral.
And there were many, many more wonderful vignettes to enjoy.

Finally, for this post at least, I heartily recommend  Peter Mayle's Provence A-Z: a Francophile's Essential Handbook

To quote the New York Times' review," Mayle's magpie dictionary yields amusing facts....and useful information.." on everything he finds amusing, intriguing, exasperating, and just plain fun. Take the entry on Bises et Bisous (hugs and kisses) for example:

Visitors from the north are frequently surprised by the intensely tactile nature of social intercourse in Provence. Most Parisians or Londoners, for instance, are accustomed to conversations that are purely verbal exchanges conducted at arm's length. In Provence, they find various body parts being hugged and squeezed, tweaked and tapped and prodded and occasionally massaged. I have seen men and women retreat from these encounters with alarmed expressions on their faces as they examine themselves for the superficial bruises.  It takes some time for them to realize that  speech without touch. for a Provencal, is like Aioli without garlic........
For the rest, you will just have to read the book.

So there it is- six books to make you drool, sigh, laugh, and yearn for the beauty. the clarity of light, the intensity of color, and the savor of some of the most delicious food and wine on the face of the earth. There are plenty more books on my list, so look for more recommendations soon.........and if you can, come with us and live it for yourself.

For more information about our food and wine tour of  Provence and the Rhone, visit us at http://www.tasteandcompareacademy.com.

 Bises et Bisous.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Celebrate Spring with 5 Great Cheeses and Wines to Pair With Them

May 25 is National Wine Day, 

June 4 is National Cheese Day

Appropriately close since wine and cheese are natural partners, and when paired properly, each enhances the experience of the other.

May is also Oregon Wine Month

And haven’t we come a long way since the early 1970’s when those  first  pioneers defied conventional wisdom and  came here to plant their grapes.

 In less than a decade, Oregon wines gained worldwide recognition and Oregon took its place on the world wine map.

The growth of Oregon’s wine industry helped to spark a food revolution here as well. 

 Craft brewers, local micro-distillers, artisan bakers, and talented chefs created a food culture that has made us a prime destination for food travel attracting visitors from around the world. That food culture also includes a wealth of artisan cheeses, many of which have won prestigious awards at the American Cheese Society’s annual competitions

In fact, northwest cheeses have taken Best of Show in three of the past four years. 

  • Rogue Creamery’s Rogue River Blue won in 2009 and 2011.  
  • The 2012 winner, Seattle’s Beechers Handmade Cheese Company beat out 1710 other entrees with its Flagsheep: a mixed cow and sheep milk cheddar from herds of Willapa Hills near Centralia Washington. Unfortunately, only 23 wheels were made, and the demand is far greater than the supply. If you are in Seattle, you may still be lucky enough to score some at Beecher’s Pike Street Market store, but the rest of us are likely out of luck.

So in celebration of wine and cheese, here are my recommendations for delicious pairings to enjoy  with the  glorious (at least here in Northwest Oregon) spring weather

Beechers Handmade Cheese Company  Flagship

 While the Flagsheep is in short supply, Flagship is readily available. This is a semi-hard cheddar style cow milk cheese from herds in Duval, Washington.  Aged for 15 months, it has a firm texture which crumbles on the tongue with a hint of the crystal texture found in aging goudas. It is  creamy on the palate with flavor that starts  sharp and mellows to a nutty finish.  

This is a big, full flavored cheese, and would pair well with a big, fruity wine such as
 Cowhorn’s 2009 Reserve Syrah from southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley.

This biodynamic producer has consistently gotten rave reviews from the national wine press (the Wine Spectator gave it a 91), and it is well deserved.  The Reserve Syrah has lots of juicy blackberry and plum fruit and the lovely earth, leather, and peppery spice aroma and flavor of the best New World Syrahs.

Equally lovely would be the Seghesio Family Vinyards 2010 Sonoma County Zinfandel.
This is also a wine with big, beautiful fruit; and along with the dark berry, there is plenty of leather, tobacco, mocha,  sage, and sweet spice. But beware; it goes down so easily , you can forget that this wine clocks in at 14.8% alcohol. It is also a wonderful value at about $14

Crater Lake Blue  

A cows milk blue cheese from Rogue Creamery in Central Point,Oregon, Crater Lake Blue is a perennial favorite in my house for its delicious balance.

It’s not too salty, it is moist without being runny, the blue mold does not overwhelm the milk character of the cheese and allows a delicious sweetness and complexity to show through on the palate.  It is that overall balance that makes it such a good cheese to pair with wine.

Try it with one of the many port style wines from Oregon such as Willamette Valley Vineyards Quinta Reserva Port-style Pinot Noir

This ruby  port is made in a lighter style, which I find particularly appealing with the Crater Lake Blue.  Made from 100% Pinot Noir  fortified with brandy distilled from their own estate fruit. the pinot character shines in this delicious wine, with plenty of soft, juicy black cherry, strawberry and raspberry fruit aromas and flavors, sweet baking spices, vanilla, and a hint of chocolate. The finish is rich, long, and not too sweet  with hints of toasted almond and brandied cherries. Production of this wine is limited, so if you are lucky enough to score a bottle, snap it up, as it tends to sell out quickly. This wine sells for about $50 for a 500 ml bottle.

The Crater Lake Blue is as at home with a tawny style port as it is with a ruby. 
Try it as well with Ficklin Aged 10 years Tawny Port from Madera, California. Made from two of the traditional Portugese port wine varieties: Tinta Madeira, and Touriga National, the long barrel aging and subsequent exposure to oxygen changes the color of the wine from deep red to a deep copper, and imparts aromas and flavors of poached pear, honey, raisins, toasted nuts and caramel that are delicious with the cheese. It retails for around $28.

An alternative to Port style wines with Crater Lake Blue is the Brooks Sweet P 2008 Willamette Valley Riesling.
Had I tasted it blind, I would have identified it as German; not from the New World, and certainly not from Oregon. The wine is gold, with just a hint of terpines on the nose (terpines are naturally occurring hydrocarbons that develop as Riesling takes on age), along with peach, nectarine, yellow delicious apple, white flower and honey. The nectarine and apple come through on the medium sweet palate as well. There is plenty of acidity to balance the residual sugar, and the wine coats the mouth to a long finish that transitions from stone fruit to a hint of tangerine. Its flavor and acidity perfectly balance the creamy and salty notes in the cheese. (around $22)


Mount Townsend Creamery Seastack  

is a semisoft cows milk cheese crafted from Brown Swiss and Holstein milk from the Maple View Farm only 30 miles from their Port Townsend, Washington location. This is a mold ripened cheese which has a layer of charcoal ash and salt just under the rind which helps to dry the cheese. As it ages, the center remains crumbly while the layer between the center and the rind becomes runny. The flavors are citrusy and earthy, mushroomy and nutty, with a nice briny tang. This is a cheese that is born to pair with Pinot Noir.

2010 was a great year for Oregon Pinots, and a delicious wine from one of the Willamette Valley pioneer winemaking families is the Elk Cove Vineyards 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, which is also very
attractively priced at $27.

For those who have tracked the sometimes stratospheric prices of Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, you know that this is a bargain for a wine of this quality.  Produced from Pommard and Dijon clones, it is classic ripe red fruit and truffle on the nose, which beautifully picks up the earthy, mushroomy aromas and flavors of the cheese. The wine is lively with good acidity, polished tannins, and a rich finish. (91 Wine Spectator, and 97 points and Best Buy from Portland Monthly Oregon’s Best Wines 2012).

A principle of food and wine pairing is that you can either complement flavors (such as with the truffle mushroomy aromas in both the Seastack and the Pinot Noir,) or you can go in the other direction and contrast aromas and flavors.  A lovely wine to contrast with blooming rind and washed rind cheeses is Viognier, a varietal famous in the Northern Rhone Valley which has found a home in the New World up and down the west coast. This is a grape that can easily become over-ripe, alcoholic and bitter- but when grown on the right site is intensely fruity and aromatic, mouth filling, and elegant. Stags Leap Winery has been making viognier for years, and they know full well how finicky this grape can be. The Stags Leap 2011 Viognier, (about $25) gets it right with peaches and orange blossom on the nose; citrus, stonefruit and bright acidity on the palate to cut through the creaminess of the cheese, and a long lovely finish.

Pholia Farm Elk Mountain

This goat milk cheese hails from Central Point Oregon, and the cheeses are produced from a herd of Nigerian Dwarf Goats; a breed which produces a very high butterfat milk. The farm is fully sustainable, producing all of its own electricity. The goats are able to pasture most of the year, supplemented with spent grain from the Wild River Brewery, which gives the cheese a hoppy, nutty aroma and flavor.  Elk Mountain is a semi-soft mountain style  raw milk cheese made in the style of aged Tomme  from the Pyrenees. The cheeses are aged 6-8 months, during which the wheels are washed with Wild River Brewery Honey Wheat Ale which gives the rind a gold color. It is firm, dense, and slightly flaky.

In addition to full bodied ales, Elk Mountain would pair beautifully with bubbles; and one of my favorites is the Argyle 2008  Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blanc .  

2008 was a wonderful year for Oregon chardonnay,  and sparkling wines from Oregon Chardonnay were equally delightful.  This is a full bodied Blanc de Blanc with a fine bead and a delicious aroma of orange blossom, honey, brioche and pear. On the palate, crisp pear,melon, sweet citrus and white flower with a long lovely finish. (92 points Wine Spectator) Sells for about $45

A great value in domestic sparkling wines can be found in New Mexico. New Mexico, you ask? You bet.

New Mexico, in fact, is the oldest wine producing region in the US, and Gruet makes some of the best and most affordable sparkling wines using the traditional method (the method used to produce Champagne) available anywhere.

The Gruet family came to New Mexico from France where they had already been making champagne for 30 years. Visiting the region, they met several European winemakers that were producing wine grapes with good success. Given the lack of opportunity to expand production in France, they decided to try planting a vineyard at altitude (more than 4000 feet in elevation) to take advantage of cool nighttime temperatures to maintain acidity in the grapes.  The experiment was a success, and Gruet has been producing sparkling wines in New Mexico ever since, most of which sell for under $25 per bottle. 

The Gruet Non-Vintage Blanc de Noir contains a non-traditional 25% Chardonnay along with the  75% Pinot Noir. It shows lovely raspberry fruit (from the Pinot Noir), along with a biscuit yeasty note from 2 years of aging on its lees. Add to that a creamy texture, lovely mousse and pale salmon color, making this a delicious sparkler that you can afford to drink every day for around $15. 

Fern Edge Goat Dairy Fresh Chevre . I adore fresh Chevre- on salads; melted on flatbreads, baked in a gratin with fresh tomato sauce, or stuffed into fresh figs, wrapped with prosciutto, and heated on the grill. I’ve even been known to eat it with a spoon and savor the tart creamy and slightly goaty flavor as I sip a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc .  The Fern’s Edge Goat Dairy in Lowell, Oregon makes a mel- in-your-mouth creamy, herby, grassy chevre. The plain version is lovely, and the one I buy most often, but they also sell a number of flavored cheeses with herbs and fruit grown on the property. The Herb de Provence, Fig Walnut and Honey; and  Pear Anise are standouts as well.

My “go to” wine for Chevre is always Sauvignon Blanc. Its tart acidity mellows the cheese and the grassy notes of the wine complement the chevre’s grassy notes. 

Two local standouts for me are the Sullivan Steele 2011 Sauvignon Blanc from the Rogue Valley  ($22), and the Sineann 2011 White Table Wine,  made by Oregon wine maker Peter Rosback  in New Zealand from Sauvignon Blanc ($11)

The Sullivan Steele is full of peaches,melon, tropical fruit and pink grapefruit. Not News Zealand and not Sancerre, but a Sauvignon Blanc that is something in-between. The acidity is there, but this wine is smooth and bright and delicious with the cheese.

The Sineann is labeled as white table wine despite being 100% Sauvignon Blanc because it didn’t show the profile that Rosback  wanted in a varietally labeled Sauv Blanc from New Zealand. Maybe not, but as far as I am concerned, it is delicious. There is plenty of tropical fruit and grapefruit, but it is lighter, not as assertive as most Sauv Blancs from Marlboro; but it is still crisp, refreshing, and easy to drink. At $12, it is a great pour.

So dig in. National wine and cheese days are a great opportunity to invite  friends,  taste  cheeses and wines and decide which are your favorite pairings; and as Julia would say, “Bon Appetit” 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Friday Feature: 101 Uses for Leftover Wine - Make a Syrup!

OK. I know what you're thinking:  Why does this woman have so much leftover wine?

The answer is simple. I teach wine classes at a culinary school. By law (and as a matter of good judgement) we do small tasting pours. If we didn't, students would either snore through the rest of their classes, or weave a bit when serving the guests in our restaurant dining room at lunch or dinner. Not a good thing. 

So I often have  between 1/4 cup and one cup of leftovers from each of 4-6 wines.
I can't drink them all (since too much wine in the evening for me means interrupted sleep) and I hate to waste something that so many people worked so hard to produce.. 

Ergo: 101 Used for Leftover Wine

Wine Syrup

Try wine syrup over pancakes or waffles, over ice cream, over fruit, in a parfait with greek yogurt , or drizzle a bit over a piece of hard cheese.  Delicious!

To make the syrup,  wine, sugar and flavorings are simmered until the liquid  reduces and thickens; so to make it worthwhile (i.e. to get enough yield to give as a gift or serve a crowd), I save up bits and schnitzels of leftover wine by freezing whites and reds separately in  ice cube trays or in disposable plastic containers with snap on lids. I tend to favor fruity rather than oakey whites, but if you like both, I suggest making separate batches and see how the oak impacts the syrup flavor.  When enough of each type of leftover accumulates, I make a batch of syrup.

To Make 1 cup of White Wine Syrup

3 1/2 cups leftover white wine
1 cup sugar
optional flavorings:
1 vanilla bean
zest of one  well washed lemon

Combine the wine and sugar in a saucepan.
If you are using the zest, add it here.
If you are using the vanilla, split the bean and scrape out the seeds. Add both pod and seeds to the pan.

Bring the pan to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer the liquid until it is reduced to 1 cup.
Remove the vanilla pod or strain out the zest if flavorings were used.
Allow the syrup to cool , and place in a clean, decorative jar.
Store in the refrigerator. It will thicken when it cools.


To Make 1 cup of  Red Wine Syrup

3 1/2 cups leftover red wine
1 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick

optional flavorings (in any combination or none at all):

1 vanilla bean, split
2 strips of orange zest (white pith removed)
2-4  whole cloves
2 whole star anise
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Combine the wine, sugar, cinnamon, and any additional optional flavorings in a saucepan. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Remove the cinnamon stick and strain any of the optional flavorings. Allow to cool, and place in a clean, decorative jar.  Store in the refrigerator.

These syrups will last indefinitely as long as they are refrigerated, but mine never last for long.

And if you don't have leftover wine? Buy a bottle of inexpensive red or white and try the recipe out. You won't be disappointed!

Monday, May 6, 2013

One Winemaker, Two Countries, All Delicious

I first came across the name of Jean-Marc Espinasse through his wife Kristin's blog, French Word a Day recommended to me by a fellow French student at the Alliance Francais . The blog was (and is) utterly charming- written by an American woman married to a Frenchman,
with two French children, who describes life and language in the south of France so beautifully that you can't wait to visit.

She has also written two books, full of vignettes about life in their village, the 400 year old farmhouse that they rehabilitated, all dotted with french words and phrases used in context to introduce you to the  language as it is used in conversation but rarely included in textbooks.

I came to know her children Maxime and Jackie (who delighted in correcting her French faux pas), and her husband Jean-Marc, who was in the wine trade and helped his uncle with the four ancestral parcels which he had purchased in Chateauneuf de Pape.

Segue forward to Portland, Oregon in March of this year.

 I received an email from a former wine student who frequently travels to France where , he had told me, he had friends who were winemakers in the Rhone Valley whom they visited whenever they were in the region.

In the email he told me that one of those friends would be in Portland, pouring his Domaine Rouge Bleu wines and the new vintage of Domaine Banneret from Chateauneuf.

Did I want to go?  Bien Sur! (Of course!)

Googling Domaine Rouge Bleu, I learned that the winemaker, Jean-Marc Espinasse, was none other than the husband of Kristin Espinasse and the Jean-Marc I so enjoyed reading about in Kristin's lovely books; and that the Domaine Banneret was none other than the vineyard owned by Jean Marc's uncle Jean-Claud Vidal whose three hectare vineyard in the heart of Chateauneuf dates back to 1405, and which is one of only two domaines that still makes traditional Chateauneuf de Pape using all 13 allowed varietals (the other is Beaucastel).

The future vineyard at Mas de Brun
Doubly intrigued by the two connections I investigated further, and learned that Espinasse recently sold an interest in Rouge Bleu (he is still a financial partner and will continue to market the wine); moved the family closer to the Mediterranean;  purchased Mas de Brun, a property that has never been under vine in Bandol, where he is in the process of rehabilitating an ancient olive grove (with trees as much as 500 years old); clearing land and planting grasses in preparation for establishing a vineyard.

Thee wines we would be tasting would be from Jean-Marc's last vintage at Rouge Bleu, and a wine that Jean-Marc made in Sicily.

2009 Domaine Rouge-Bleu “Le Mistral” (Grenache/Syrah/Mourvèdre/Roussanne)

Crafted from more than  70 year old biodynamically farmed  Grenache , Mourvedre , and Rousanne (a few rows found planted among the Grenache), along with younger plantings of Syrah,  the wine is named for the fierce cold and dry wind that tears through the Rhone Valley for most of the year bringing cloudless skies,chasing away humidity and mold, and concentrating the grapes. 

This wine reflects its terroir:  full bodied, floral and savory, with aromas of violets and garrigue (resinous herbs that grow wild in the poor soil). On the palate, it is heady, earthy, and mouth filling with  loads of dark berry , cocoa and spice. The acidity is refreshing,  and there are plenty of  fine tannins. As good as it is now, I can't wait to taste it again in 3-5 years

2010 Domaine Rouge-Bleu "Dentelle Rouge" (old vine Carignan/Grenache) Vin du Pays du Mediterranee

Lots of smoky cherry and black current fruit on the nose and palate of this delicious, elegant wine named for the Dentelle de Montmorail, the upthrust ridges of weathered limestone that overlook the vineyard.

Dentelle  de Montmorail surrounded by garrigue
The wine is designated as IGT rather than Cote du Rhone because it draws grapes from  portions of the Rouge-Bleu vineyard both within and just outside of the boundaries of the Cotes du Rhone production zone. Whereas the Mistral will benefit from more time in the bottle, this lovely lady is fresh, joyful, and absolutely ready to drink

2010 Rosso Azzuro Nerello Mascalese "a Crush on Etna"

I found this wine to be the most intriguing of the series, and a great story.
While on vacation in Sicily in 2010, Jean Marc fell in love with the stark beauty of the vineyard slopes flanking Mount Etna; and and the flavor of a little known yet ancient varietal called Nerello Mascalese. DNA analysis has shown it to be closely related to Sangiovese and is most likely a cross between Sangiovese and an as yet unknown grape.

A 2009 article in the San Francisco Chronicle  highlighted the wines of Etna and the Nerello Mascalese as an Italian alternative to Pinot Noir.

 Purchasing fruit from a vineyard of very old vines that the family were not intending to harvest, he partnered with local winemaker Ciri Biondi to produce the 2010 Rosso Azzurro.

 I adored this wine.  As lightly pigmented as a Pinot Noir, it is red fruit and baking spice on the nose; bright cherry and strawberry, earth, and above all, spice on the palate with  subtle mineral and fine tannins.  If you can find it, do yourself a favor and grab a few bottles. Do it soon, because only 110 cases were produced.

As Jean Marc noticed my obvious delight in the wine, he stated that he would also like to  make a Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley and a Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand.  I hope he does, and I will look forward to tasting them the moment they become available.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Friday Feature: 101 Uses for Leftover Wine: Make a Pan Sauce

A pan sauce made with wine is an easy way to make any sauteed protein into something special.

It's a way of combining the fond- those tasty brown bits left on the bottom of the pan when you cook protein at high temperature, with wine and other flavors to create a savory sauce that is served with the protein.


The process is pretty simple, and lends itself to countless variations.

Once your protein is cooked, remove it to a plate and tent it with aluminum foil. Allow it to rest while you are making your sauce. The resting period will allow the natural juices to be reabsorbed back in to the protein.

Remove all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from the saute pan, and add 1 shallot, finely minced.  Saute the shallot over medium heat until the it is softened.(2-3 minutes) Do not brown.

Add  1 cup of stock (beef, chicken or mushroom) depending on the flavor that will work best with your protein,  and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of red or white wine (again, depending on your protein) , scraping up and dissolving those lovely bits of fond at the bottom of the pan. At this point you have several options: if you want a slightly sweeter sauce, add a teaspoon of brown sugar. If you would like something a bit more savory, add a teaspoon of tomato paste. For something a bit mor piquant, add a teaspoon or two of coarse mustard (good with chicken and pork) or lemon juice (delicious with fish). You might also add a teaspoon of minced fresh herbs. Or, add nothing at all.  

Simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened. To make the sauce rich and glossy, wisk in 3 tablespoons of chilled butter, one tablespoon at a time, waiting until each piece is fully incorporated before adding the next.

Do Not Boil.
The butter will bind the sauce into an emulsion which can break with excess heat.

Take the pan off the heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and you have an elegant and delicious sauce to serve with your steak, chop, chicken breast, fish fillet, or whatever you have prepared.  Enjoy!