Category Archives: wine-food pairing

Robledo Riesling and Chicken Tortilla Soup

On a cold Winter night, what better than soup as the anchor to your meal? We did this recently with some family over for dinner, with chicken tortilla soup plus ham and cheese (Havarti) croissants and a salad. OK, sounds like a nice Winter dinner; wish you could have joined us. But what wine to have, especially with soup?

Flags flying at Robledo Family Winery in Sonoma Valley

About a year ago, coming through Sonoma Valley, we stopped at Robledo Family Winery. Robledo’s is the first tasting room in the U.S. established by a former Mexican vineyard worker. It’s a little bit off the normal beaten path in Sonoma Valley, as it’s in the Southwest corner of the valley, but worth the visit. We really enjoyed tasting there, just the people and the atmosphere, but we also really enjoyed their wines. We bought, and have since consumed, their Tempranillo and Zinfandel.

The comfortable tasting room at Robledo Family Winery

For the soup dinner, though, we opened up the 2012 Robledo Riesling, from Lake County grapes. Rieslings aren’t often found in California, and when found, they’re often not that good. But this one was quite nice, finished dry (no sweetness), with good fruit on the entry, medium weight body and smooth finish. It went quite well with the soup and croissants. Regarding the soup, we made it relatively mild, with garnishments including roasted jalapeños, spicy sour cream, cilantro, and more to spice it up.

A couple more thoughts about pairing with soups. First, Riesling is often cited as being a good wine to pair with spicy foods, including Asian cuisine. I agree with this, in general. Second, when pairing with soups, consider the base of the soup – beef, chicken, etc. – and the weight of the soup. A red wine would go nicely with a beef and barley soup, for example.

Seems about time to head back to Robledo to restock, and also time to make another pot of soup for dinner.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Wine Pairing with Vegetarian Meals

What wine to drink with a vegetarian meal? All those rules about red wine with red meat, white wine with fish, etc. don’t seem to apply if there’s no meat in the dish.

First, rules are meant to be broken. Second, the rules-which-are-not-rules that I use have as much to do with the preparation of the dish, who you’re eating with, and what bottle is sitting there calling your name when you open the wine fridge, as with the nature of the meat itself. From that perspective, those rules would apply to vegetarian dishes as well. Heavier dishes get a red wine, lighter get a white wine, have fun, and open an interesting bottle.

Gustafson Family Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel

Gustafson Family Vineyard 2009 Zinfandel

We tried a new restaurant in the Russian River Valley a few weeks ago: Backyard in Forestville. It was great sitting outside on a warm evening and enjoying a very nice meal. For me, while I am not a vegetarian, occasionally that’s the dish on the menu that appeals to me. We had brought a bottle of Gustafson Family Vineyards 2009 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, Heritage Tree Vineyard, not because we knew what people were having for dinner, but because it was about time to drink this bottle, and we had some family joining us that would appreciate this wine.

Vegetarian cassoulet at Backyard in Forestville

Vegetarian cassoulet at Backyard in Forestville

The vegetarian cassoulet (a French meat and bean casserole), with mushrooms providing the flavor and texture instead of meat, had big flavors, and larger pieces/texture from the normal cassoulet ingredients. It turned out that the Zinfandel, which from 2009 was a very good vintage from a very good winery, went perfectly with this dish. The best 2009 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels (and the Gustafson is one of them) have a softness – well, maybe not softness, but not the big body that is usual in Dry Creek Valley Zins – and complexity that also paired nicely with Lori’s chicken dish that night.

By the way, we picked up this bottle on a visit to Gustafson a few years back. It’s the most distant (Northern) of the Dry Creek Valley wineries, but the drive is worth it, both for the scenery of the drive, and for the people and the wine at Gustafson.

I’m not sure if that helps with the discussion about wine pairing in general, and pairing with vegetarian dishes specifically, but at least it’s a data point for future reference.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Another Concert on the Green; Another Rosé

A great thing that’s happened in the last few years, in the small towns of the Bay Area, is adding casual concerts to weeknight farmers’ markets. In our area, our town of Windsor does this, as does Healdsburg, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa and probably others that I don’t know about and haven’t had time to explore yet.

Summer concert on the Windsor Green

Summer concert on the Windsor Green

For us, the Windsor Green is about a 5 minute drive. It takes more time to find a parking space for the Thursday evening market/concert than to drive there. Most recently, we went and heard a swing band, which had the audience dancing in the square. Swing dancing is not in my skill set, or Lori’s, but we enjoyed listening, and watching the dancers. We also enjoyed the food available from the market, plus there was paella available from Castañeda’s Market, a local market owned by our new neighbors. (To be clear, we’re the new ones in the neighborhood; they’ve been there for a number of years.) If you want paella catered for your event, you should check out their Paella Guy website.

Windwalker 2012 Grenache Rosé

Windwalker 2012 Grenache Rosé

We also enjoyed the bottle of Windwalker Vineyard 2012 Grenache Rosé, from El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills. We visited Windwalker a few years back. Loved the winery grounds; just beautiful setting in the foothills and excellent event facilities. We thought most of their wines were good but not great; however we really liked the rosé. So we purchased a few bottles. A good rosé, one where the grapes are picked specifically for the rosé and not just made from juice bled off the red wine, can last a few years in the bottle and be excellent for a Spring/Summer picnic (or a Summer concert!). (If you’re interested, I’ve written about rosés before in this space, just go use the search function on the right side of the page.)

This was just such a wine. Grenache is most often used for rosé’s in France, as it has just enough flavor and body to make a good light wine, plus if picked right has the acid to go with foods. This wine reminded me of a lunch Lori and I had at a sidewalk café in Nice, France, somewhere around 2001, which featured a nice bottle of rosé. A great memory from that trip, but also a great new memory made of music, food and wine close to home.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Qupé Is Central Coast Syrah

Family legend has it that my parents used to trade Dodgers tickets for Qupé wine. According to Bob Lindquist, owner/winemaker of Qupé Winery, there was at least one discussion about that, but it never happened. So it’s just legend. We do know that my parents met Bob just after he started Qupé, while he was still working at another winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. Lori and I will take credit for that, since we were living in Santa Barbara at the time, and took my parents to that other winery. Shortly after, my job took us to the East Coast, but my parents kept up the relationship with Bob over the next 30+ years.

30+ years of wines in the Qupé library.

30+ years of wines in the Qupé library.

In that 30+ year interval, all Bob did was to build Qupé into the leading producer of Syrah on the Central Coast of California, establish the Central Coast as a valid and valuable growing region for Rhône varietals and establish himself as one of the godfathers of those varietals in the state. That’s quite a résumé. We reconnected with Bob at last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, and he was our first call when we starting planning our trip to the Santa Ynez Valley this year. He didn’t have a lot of spare time, so he invited us to come to the winery and share their daily staff lunch. As befits a godfather, he made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: Come to the winery, located in the middle of the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard, taste Qupe and Au Bon Climat (ABC) wines (Au Bon Climat, headed by Santa Barbara Pinot Noir and Chardonnay pioneer Jim Clendenen, shares the winery with Qupe), and have lunch with Bob and the winery team.

This was one of the most memorable meals we’ve ever had. Kudos to Enrique, Bob’s cellar master, for the meal: flank steak, spare ribs, fava beans and kale, braised cabbage, salad and garlic bread, served buffet style in the winery. Aside from Bob and Enrique, joining us for lunch were Katie, their marketing person, Marc Piro, who while he has no official title is essentially the assistant winemaker, and Louisa Sawyer Lindquist, Bob’s wife. As we sat down at the table we noticed the line up of wines:

The lunch table at Qupé Winery.

The lunch table at Qupé Winery.

Qupé 2012 Syrah Central Coast
Verdad 2012 Tempranillo, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard
Armida 2013 Parmelee-Hill Zinfandel
Armida 2013 Il Campo, Dry Creek Valley (field blend of about 80% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah, estate grown)
Qupé 2011 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, Highland Bench

Since they had to work after lunch, and we had to drive, there were individual spit cups lined up on the table, as well as larger buckets. You’ll notice some white wines in the photo, but since this was really a red wine meal, I quickly skipped and spit through the whites to get to the reds.

The Central Coast Syrah from Qupé is their largest production wine. Grapes from all three vineyards that they source from are included. This is a really nice Syrah, and at $20 per bottle it’s a great value.

Verdad Wines is Louisa’s brand. She’s been in the wine business for decades herself, starting on the sales and marketing side of the business. The Tempranillo grapes come from a vineyard Louisa and Bob planted in the Edna Valley area, closer to San Luis Obispo than to Santa Ynez. The vineyard, the Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, is farmed biodynamically. Tempranillo is an underappreciated varietal in California, with our abundance of great reds. But Tempranillo, cared for properly, can have complexity and subtlety and can age well. I’m not sure how the Verdad wines will age, as we were drinking fairly young wines, but this was among the best Tempranillo we’ve had from California. While we drank and enjoyed the 2012 Tempranillo with lunch, we bought a bottle of both the 2012 and 2011, so we could compare vintages at some point in the future.

Armida is the winery our son, Brandon (Winemaker B), works for. We figured that a) bringing wine for lunch would be a good way to pay for lunch, and b) that bringing Zinfandel, the flagship grape for Armida, would be the way to go. Also, while there is Zinfandel grown in the Paso Robles area, there’s really none in Santa Barbara County, so Bob and team don’t get to try to many Zinfandels. The Il Campo was as expected, fruity and big, with the Petite Sirah boosting the body of the Zinfandel as it’s supposed to. The Parmelee-Hill was as we expected, but not what Bob expected. This vineyard is in Sonoma County, not too far from the Carneros region, and therefore is a much colder vineyard for Zinfandel than usual. And it produces a much more nuanced Zinfandel than most in California. Delicious.

One block of Bien Nacido Vineyard, near Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County

One block of Bien Nacido Vineyard, near Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County

The Qupé 2011 Syrah Bien Nacido Vineyard, Highland Bench is the flagship wine for Qupé. Bob doesn’t make a huge amount of this wine; he can’t, there aren’t enough grapes in the block. But this wine gets special care, and it shows. This was Syrah with restraint, Syrah that was showing off its style on the catwalk and you wanted to see it from all angles, noticing the little touches and subtle flair in the execution. This was Syrah produced by an experienced hand, comfortable in his own skin, not trying to impress anyone but just making the wine he wants to make.

Best. Lunch. Ever.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Barbera and Barbeque

It seems no coincidence that Barbera and barbeque sound alike, as they go together even better on the table than on the page.

Perry Creek 2011 "Altitude 2401" Barbera

Perry Creek 2011 “Altitude 2401” Barbera

On July 5th, we invited a friend over for the Women’s World Cup final (Go USA!) and barbeque. Ribs and corn and homemade cole slaw, with the ribs done in our plum barbeque sauce. To go with this, we opened a bottle of Perry Creek Winery 2011 Barbera “Altitude 2401”, El Dorado County. I am not the biggest fan of Barberas in general, however, this wine was very good with the meal.

Flying the flag on the Fourth

Flying the flag on the Fourth

This is the type of grape that grows pretty well in the Sierra Foothills, a red grape with big, bold flavors. Many of the wineries get too caught up in the big flavors, and make a wine that has just one note – the big fruit. This wine from Perry Creek was much better than that, and really enjoyable with the meal.

Perry Creek Winery in Fair Play

Perry Creek Winery in Fair Play

We visited Perry Creek last summer, as part of a day of wine tasting in the Sierra Foothills (Fair Play area in El Dorado County), while visiting Lori’s mom. (I’ve already said in my previous post that winery visits are not the only reason I visit my mother-in-law.) Perry Creek does a great job with Zinfandel, especially with their “Zinman” brand, and that was why we were there. We definitely bought some Zinman, but the fun in visiting a winery, any winery, is finding that surprise wine. On this occasion it turned out to be the Barbera. To our delight, it was just as good a year later at home as in the tasting room.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Superbowl Zin Party

Superbowl, that annual American holiday. We had a few friends over; we finally got rid of the old (15 years old!) big box low-def TV and got a nice high-def one. At least the embarrassment of the old TV is gone. Lori decided to go with a casual buffet:

Hummus and carrots
Salsa and chips
7-layer dip and chips
Spinach dip (chips, carrots, …)
Chili (crock pot chili with turkey, chicken, black beans, zucchini, and more)
BBQ chicken sliders (brought by friends)
Make your own banana split, including homemade strawberry sauce

Superbowl spread, including Ridge Geyserville Zin blend and A. Rafanelli Zinfandel

Superbowl spread, including Ridge Geyserville Zin blend and A. Rafanelli Zinfandel

I think we had enough food to feed our block, instead of the few friends we had over. I had pulled out a couple of Zinfandels, and our friends, without being told, also brought a bottle of Zin; we opened two of the three:

Ridge 2006 “Geyserville” (70% Zinfandel, 18% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah, 2% Mataro)
A. Rafanelli 2012 Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley

The Ridge Geyserville is an blend produced each year by Ridge, which is usually between 65 and 75% Zinfandel. Most of the grapes come from the Dry Creek and Alexander Valleys, right around the town of Geyserville; thus the name of the wine. (There I go talking about blends again. This one from Ridge is anything but a low end wine.)

The wines were all excellent. Perfect with chili and bbq chicken sliders and all the rest. The game, and the commercials were good this year. On the commercial side, at least there weren’t many cringe-inducing commercials, and a few good ones. The Fiat commercial with the little blue pill sticks in my mind as one of the good ones. Fortunately I can’t remember any of the bad ones.

L’Chaim,

Larry

An Eggplant By Any Other Name …

No offense, Mom, but your eggplant parmesan when I was growing up was not your strongest dish. As with a number of other foods, I have come to like eggplant as an adult. For eggplant, I think it started with baba ghanoush, then chili with eggplant, then having eggplant in various Asian dishes (Chinese and Thai especially), and finally Greek Melitzana. Unfortunately Lori hasn’t come to enjoy eggplant as much as I have, but the one dish she enjoys is the roast eggplant dip that I make. The recipe is posted on the ViciVino.com recipe page.

Roast Eggplant Dip

Roast Eggplant Dip

This recipe is as much Eastern European as Mediterranean in origin and style. Eggplant, red bell peppers, onion and garlic are roasted with spices, then puréed to make the dip. The dip has strong flavors, and a creamy consistency, but does not taste like eggplant, and does not have the texture of cooked eggplant that some people don’t like.

With those strong flavors, a good red wine is called for. Last night, serving this with friends over, we opened a bottle of Dry Creek Vineyard 2012 Heritage Vines Zinfandel, Sonoma County, which is actually a blend of 85% Zinfandel and 15% Petite Sirah. This was a nice bottle of wine, working well with the dip, and a very good value at less than $15.

Quoting Tennyson in the last post, and paraphrasing Shakespeare in this one. Somewhere an English teacher is happy.

L’Chaim,

Larry

Windy Oaks: Love and Tragedy

‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Alfred Lord Tennyson

Windy Oaks Estate 2001 Pinot Noir, Proprietor's Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains, Schultze Family Vineyard

Windy Oaks Estate 2001 Pinot Noir, Proprietor’s Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains, Schultze Family Vineyard

We opened and drank our last bottle of Windy Oaks Estate 2001 Pinot Noir, Proprietor’s Reserve, Santa Cruz Mountains, Schultze Family Vineyard last night. We went out to dinner locally, Café Esin in Danville, and brought our last bottle with us. We’ve written about Windy Oaks in general, and this wine specifically, in the past. Maybe because this was our last bottle of this wine, or maybe because it is continuing to get better as it ages, but this was one of the best wines I’ve ever had. Wow!

When wine ages — when really good wine ages — it comes together in this whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts sort of way. A young really good wine has the nose, fruit, acid, finish; all the different components of the wine. And each of the components is really good. As it ages though, and if the magic and chemistry happens, all those components come together like the different sections of an orchestra playing together. Certainly that’s what happened with this wine.

We first visited the Windy Oaks winery around 2003, about the time this wine was being bottled. The winery and vineyard sit at the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains, in the Corralitos area. From the peak of the vineyard (about 1000 ft elevation I think) you can see the town of Watsonville, and out to the Pacific Ocean. With that location and altitude they get early bud break, minimal fog, and relatively low daytime temperatures. What this means is long hang time for their grapes, which are typically harvested later than Pinot Noir grapes in Napa and Sonoma counties. And long hang times translate to a lot of time for the fruit and flavors to develop, without getting a huge amount of sugar. I’d put this Pinot Noir up against the Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Oregon and Burgundy wines without hesitation.

The good news as well was that we treated this wine to a very nice dinner at Café Esin. Our meals were excellent. While I’ve had their fish quite often in the past, last night the lamb shank with Turkish spices spoke to me from the menu, and it was wonderful. The spices were not too strong, and went with the Pinot Noir in a great way. The even better news is that we shared the wine and dinner with close friends who also love and appreciate wine. The salmon (had by two of us) and the pork were also great. 4 empty plates went back to the kitchen.

That may have been the last bottle of that vintage, but we’ve got more Windy Oaks Pinot Noir in the cellar. Still, this was such an outstanding wine, it will be missed. I guess we should go try, and buy, some of the more recent vintages.

By the way, how many of you thought, as did I, that the opening was a Shakespeare quote?

L’Chaim,

Larry

Thanksgiving 2014 – Family, Friends, Food, Merlot

I love Thanksgiving. But really, how could anyone not love Thanksgiving? 4-day weekend, non-religious and non-political holiday, family, friends, food and, of course, wine. Did I mention family? Anything cuter than 21 month old Zinnia helping her Bubie put the final glaze on the turkey?

Zinnia helping her Bubie with the final glaze on the Thanksgiving turkey.

Zinnia helping her Bubie with the final glaze on the Thanksgiving turkey.

Thanksgiving dinner is always interesting from a wine perspective because a) you can’t go wrong, b) you have guests over that appreciate the wine you’re going to serve, and c) you get to serve more than one bottle, allowing some fun wine comparisons. As Lori starts planning the food menu for Thanksgiving, I’m taking a trip into the wine cellar and planning the wine menu for appetizers, the main meal and dessert. I’ve gone in a variety of different directions for the main course in the past: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah, even Zinfandel. That’s one of the things about the Thanksgiving meal and wine pairing: with the wide variety of flavors on the table, it’s hard to go wrong. (I will admit that I’ve never had Cabernet Sauvignon with Thanksgiving; not sure that Cab would work. A little bit too big of a wine.)

This year I went into the cellar and the Merlots jumped out at me. Merlots rarely jump out at me for any dinner, and I don’t have a huge selection, but there they were, begging for their opportunity to join the holiday party. OK, why not give it a try? Merlots can be very nice wines, with great flavor and balance and great with a meal. And not quite as big a wine as Cab, usually. I added to the Merlots a bottle of sparkling wine to start, plus some whites, and then some dessert wines.

Thanksgiving wine lineup included sparkling, whites, Merlots and dessert wines.

Thanksgiving wine lineup included sparkling, whites, Merlots and dessert wines.

The final lineup was

Bodkin Wines (non-vintage) Blanc de Sauvignon Blanc, Cuvée Januariis, Sandy Bend Vineyard, Lake County

Armida Winery 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley

Armida Winery 2012 Chardonnay, Durrell Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

Mitchell Katz Winery 2011 Merlot, Falling Star Vineyard, Livermore Valley

Deerfield Ranch Winery 2008 Merlot, Sonoma County

Meeker Vineyard 2004 Merlot, Sonoma County

Eagle Ridge Vineyard 2005 Mad Lyn (Souzao grapes), Carter Vineyard, Livermore Valley

Peller Estates, 2010 Cabernet Franc Icewine, Niagara Peninsula

Yes, we did decant all three Merlots. Nice decanters on the table to go with the beautiful dinner, plus it helped the wine. My personal favorite was the 2004 Meeker Merlot, but everyone had their own favorite.

Clockwise from upper left:  pumpkin-chocolate brownie cooling on the stove, maple syrup glaze, sweet potatoes, another sauce, two different components of the gravy.

Clockwise from upper left: pumpkin-chocolate brownie cooling on the stove, maple syrup glaze, sweet potatoes, another sauce, two different components of the gravy.

Thanksgiving dinner had everything (the full 6-burners on the stove were in use, as were both ovens), and we’re still recovering from all that we ate. We hope you had a great Thanksgiving dinner too!

L’Chaim,

Larry

Spanish Fish Stew and Rioja

Lori and I had a really nice Saturday a few weekends ago, unusual in that we had nothing on the calendar. Actually, quite relaxing in that way, after having had booked weekends for the past month. So we decided to head to a matinee (My Old Lady, very good film with Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristen Scott Thomas), go grocery shopping and come home and cook together.

A week prior, when I was in Ottawa on business, I had gone to a fish restaurant for lunch, and had a delicious “Traditional Spanish Basque Fish Stew.” When I asked for the recipe, which apparently is the signature dish for this restaurant, they gave me a list of ingredients (no quantities) and very incomplete instructions. So it was time for Lori and I to try to recreate this recipe, from the Kanata Seafood Grill (Lapointe Fish Ltd.).

The Bodegas Montecillo 2001 Gran Reserva Rioja, signed by the winemaker, with sourdough baguette, as we're getting ready to start cooking.

The Bodegas Montecillo 2001 Gran Reserva Rioja, signed by the winemaker, with sourdough baguette, as we’re getting ready to start cooking.

The first thing to do was to open a bottle of wine. A number of years ago we were invited to a tasting in San Francisco put on by Bodegas Montecillo, a winery from the Rioja Alta region in Spain. Great event, with the Bodegas Montecillo winemaker, María Martinez-Sierra, and we learned a lot – well, a lot more than we knew before – about Rioja. We came away from the tasting with a couple of bottles, including the last one left which was a Bodegas Montecillo 2001 Gran Reserva, Rioja. (Signed by the winemaker, as you might notice from the photo above.) Red wines from the Rioja region are made with the Tempranillo grape, however, this was nothing like the Tempranillo wines made in California. First, the soil and growing conditions are significantly different in Rioja than California. Second, it’s the primary varietal there, and not an afterthought as in California. Bodegas Montecillo started using Bordeaux winemaking techniques over 100 years ago, and it shows. This was a refined wine that even after decanting needed at least 30 minutes to open up and be drinkable. And then, it was really drinkable!

The second thing to do was to cook the fish stew, but with some changes. For example, what was bottled chili paste in their recipe became a jalapeno pepper in our rendition. Tomato sauce became diced tomatoes. Red onion became yellow onion. (A good rule of thumb is that is the onion is to be served raw, use red onion, otherwise go with yellow onion.) There was a zucchini in our refrigerator, so that was added to the stew. Instead of serving it with a French baguette, we went with California sourdough baguette. And we recorded the quantities and techniques used for cooking the stew, and wrote the recipe, which you’ll find on the ViciVino.com recipe page. I hesitate to call this a “traditional” dish, or “Basque”. We’ll leave it as Spanish Fish Stew, and it was delicious.

You might think that a big red wine like the Rioja is a bit much for a fish dish, however, the point of the fish stew is not the fish, but the tomato-based stew. The Rioja was great with this stew; a Spanish wine for the Spanish Fish Stew.

L’Chaim,

Larry