Category Archives: wine-food pairing

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 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.



Just Another Family Get Together

Lori and I went up to Santa Rosa a couple of weekends ago, this time with another relative, but again to see the boys and their families. Of course we had dinner together at the end of the day. (And we watched Game 4 of the World Series, with the San Francisco Giants winning that game and ultimately the World Series!)

Actually, this relative was Lori’s aunt, and she was up visiting us to celebrate her 85th birthday. Lori’s brother and wife drove from Reno to meet us, and the dinner was really her birthday party. We brought up a couple of bottles from the wine cellar for the event:

Audelssa 2001 “Mountain Terraces” Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley

Aver Family Vineyards 2007 “Blessings” Petite Sirah, Santa Clara Valley

The Audelssa 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon in the decanter, about an hour before dinner.

The Audelssa 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon in the decanter, about an hour before dinner.

I wish I could remember the story behind us acquiring the Audelssa Cab, but my memory isn’t that good, and neither is my discipline at keeping notes on wines. The Aver Blessings I remember well. We were at a PS I Love You – Dark & Delicious event in 2010 at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda. PS I Love You is the Petite Sirah industry advocacy organization, and Dark & Delicious is a great event showing off different wineries and interesting food pairings, all around Petite Sirah. We had recently visited the Aver tasting room in the Gilroy area, and enjoyed their Petite Sirah. Then they were at the event, and a magnum of the 2007 Blessings was part of the silent auction that night. Mine, mine, mine! I can’t remember what we paid for it, but I considered it a great deal (steal!).

Winemaker B decanting the magnum of Aver Family Vineyards 2007 "Blessings" Petite Sirah

Winemaker B decanting the magnum of Aver Family Vineyards 2007 “Blessings” Petite Sirah

How many dinners do you have where it makes sense to open a magnum? Well, it made sense that night, as we had enough people to drink it and very good food (barbequed hamburgers, maybe not as elegant as for the usual 85th birthday celebration, but very good nonetheless) to pair with it. I’m not a huge fan a Petite Sirah – that’s more Lori’s – but this was even better than we remembered it. Sometimes Petite Sirah is made to just emphasize how big and bold and tannic it can be. But bigger is not always better, and a bit of restraint with this wine allowed the grape, and the wine, to really shine.

Nothing against the Audelssa Cab, which was actually a very good Cab and also went well with the meal, but this night was PS I Love You.



Enkidu and Café Esin

When bringing a bottle of wine to a restaurant, what wine should you choose? We recently went to dinner with some friends of ours and wanted to bring a bottle of wine. To choose the bottle, we considered

– how much our friends appreciate and drink wine
– did we have a bottle with a story behind it
– what is the cuisine at the restaurant

Enkidu 2006 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Tina Marie vineyards; in the decanter at Cafe Esin.

Enkidu 2006 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Tina Marie vineyards; in the decanter at Cafe Esin.

For the first, our friends are not big wine drinkers, but they do appreciate a nice bottle. For the second question, most of the bottles in our cellar have some sort of story behind them. And for the third, we were going to Café Esin, near to us in Danville, and their style is Mediterranean. Given that information, a Pinot Noir seemed like the right choice, so we pulled out a 2006 Enkidu Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Tina Marie Vineyard.

We also checked that the restaurant didn’t have this wine on its wine list.

Pinot Noir is nice because it will match well with almost anything except the lightest fish and heavy steaks. In this case, two of us did get fish, and the other two ordered chicken. One of the fish dishes was salmon, which is a classical pairing for Pinot Noir. The other fish dish was yellowtail, a member of the tuna family, but not nearly as big as Ahi in flavor. However, the dish on this night was served with vegetables and chanterelle mushrooms in a broth, and the Pinot Noir went great with that. In this case, the fish was there for texture, with the vegetable-chanterelle broth providing the flavor. (Delicious, in case you were curious.)

Yellowtail with green peas, chanterelles and more at Cafe Esin.

Yellowtail with green peas, chanterelles and more at Cafe Esin.

The story behind the wine: In 2008, at the inaugural Wine Bloggers Conference, we met Phillip Staehle, Enkidu winemaker and owner, at a Syrah tasting held at Kick Ranch Vineyard. In a clearing in the vineyard were around 10 tables, one for each winery that made Syrah from Kick Ranch grapes. It was a great way to understand what the individual winemakers were doing with quite similar grapes. The Enkidu Kick Ranch Syrah was one of our top two wines at that event. So a year later, while wine tasting with some friends, we took them to the then newly opened Enkidu tasting room in Kenwood in Sonoma Valley. We enjoyed the wines again, enjoyed their tasting room, and came away from the tasting with some of their “Humbaba” Rhone blend, as well as the Pinot Noir. Now we’ve drunk the last bottle in the wine cellar; time to go back! Of course, the other part of the story is the name of the winery, “Enkidu”. A memorable name, especially once you’ve read the story behind the name. I can’t really do it justice, but I suggest going and reading up starting on the Enkidu website.



Whirlwind Trip to the Central Coast

My head is still spinning! We are back in Dublin, getting back to our regular routine after having a whirlwind 5 day trip down to the Central Coast wine region. We left last Thursday morning and drove about 2 hours south and found our first winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands wine growing region of Monterey County. We stopped at Pessagno Winery in Gonzales just outside of Salinas. Then we drove about 10 minutes farther south to Hahn Estates in Soledad. Both of these tasting experiences will be written in a future blog. We stopped for lunch in Soledad and had a delicious Mexican meal.

We then hit the road for our destination of Buellton which is about 1/2 hour south of Santa Maria and about 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara, smack dab in the middle of the Santa Barbara Wine Country. We checked into the Marriott Courtyard and had just enough time to unpack and change into something nicer for our anniversary dinner we were about to venture on.

We went to Mirabelle Restaurant located at the Mirabelle Inn, just off the main highway in Solvang. Larry and I were celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary a couple days early due to the fact that we were going to be busy at the Wine Bloggers Conference on the actual day of our anniversary. We looked at the menu and decided to go with the Chef’s Tasting Menu with with the wine pairing. This turned out to be a very delicious meal, and however great the service was, it was a bit rushed and we found ourselves done with our 4-course meal in 1-1/2 hours!

It turned out to be alright since we still had quite the agenda ahead of us with registration and expo with wine tasting back at the hotel. We even had an excursion at 10:00 that evening to Standing Sun Wines where there was a wine tasting of that winery but also over a dozen other wineries were represented there from the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Association. They had a beautiful display of desserts of which I passed on since we had just had dessert with our meal. After we sampled wines for awhile we then sat outside around their fire pit and enjoyed meeting fellow wine bloggers.

The next two days were filled with wine tastings, both from the U.S. and from around the world; food pairings, seminars, workshops, keynote speaker, excursions to wineries, blog awards, etc. When Sunday morning came around and we finished the last 2-hour workshops we were ready to start heading back north. We only had to go one hour as we were heading to San Luis Obispo. We were going to be staying right in town at a very nice boutique hotel, the Granada Hotel and Bistro. Our room was ready and they let us check in at 1pm! We ordered in room service to our room and watched the final game of the World Cup. We enjoyed this very much as we had been watching a great deal of the games throughout the world cup series. After the game was over we walked around town, did some shopping and found a nice restaurant, Luna Red, where we ordered happy hour snacks and sangrias.

The next morning we left to head back to Dublin with stops at 3 wineries in Paso Robles, lunch and a massage. The wineries we stopped at were Niner Wine Estates, Sculpterra Winery and Sculpture Garden and Derby Wine Estates. Each of these were very different from each other and we really enjoyed our experience at each of them. We had lunch at Berry Hill Bistro in the square. We left Paso Robles around 4pm strategically planned so we would miss most of the work traffic up in San Jose. We got home around 7pm. All the animals were good and very happy to see us. We brought in all the literature and business cards that we acquired over the long weekend and now need to decipher through it all. That will take some time. Keep posted as I will be writing more details about the specific wineries, restaurants and highlights from the Wine Bloggers Conference, #WBC14.



Wine Bloggers Conference 2014

We are getting ready for another road trip. This time we are heading down south to Buellton which is in Santa Barbara County. It’s about 1/2 hour north from Santa Barbara. We are heading there specifically to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014, #wbc14. We went to the first and second wine bloggers conference when they were held up in Santa Rosa. The first year, 2009, they concentrated on the wines from Sonoma County and in 2010 they concentrated on the wines from Napa Valley. We had so much fun and met so many nice and interesting people. This year we are very much looking forward to learning more about the Santa Barbara County wines. We will be doing a lot of tasting wine, pairing wine with food, wine blogging, learning and networking with other wine bloggers.

We are leaving Dublin on Thursday and stopping along the way at two wineries in the Central Coast region. More on those in a later post. We are going to be staying at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott and going out to dinner at Mirabelle Restaurant in Solvang. This restaurant was suggested highly to us by my brother-in-law. After 2-1/2 days at the conference we will end our stay in Buelleton by watching the final Wold Cup game. Once that game is over then we will be heading up to San Luis Obispo to the Granada Hotel. This is a small boutique hotel near the center of town. There we will be celebrating our 34th wedding anniversary. We will most likely have dinner in the bistro at the hotel. On Monday we will drive back up to Dublin stopping at one or two wineries along the way.



Edna Valley Wine Tasting

We recently celebrated my
mother’s 80
th birthday by gathering the family in Pismo Beach.  Lori has already written about the
celebration, and about wine tasting in Paso Robles, on her
.  On the way to Pismo we
stopped for wine tasting in Edna Valley. 


Edna Valley is about 45
minutes south of Paso Robles, still in
San Luis Obispo County.  We had never been to any of these
wineries before, so Mom’s birthday was a great opportunity to explore a new



We stopped first at Tolosa
.  Great views there, and
a beautiful tasting room.  We had
arranged a special tasting for Mom and Dad, and Lori and I, and also our
younger son Jacob and his family, including their first child, 5 months old in
the picture below.  The special
tasting was a wine and cheese pairing as follows:


2011 Chardonnay (No Oak) <-> Bucheron


The No Oak Chardonnay is
crisp, fruity, light.  The Bucheron
is a goat’s milk cheese from the Loire Valley in France, fairly mild, a little
bit soft.  The No Oak Chardonnay
was our favorite wine of the day. 


2010 Chardonnay <-> “Lamb Chopper”


A more conventional
California Chardonnay, paired with a sheep’s milk cheese from Holland. 


2010 Pinot Noir <-> Taleggio


This is a cow’s milk cheese
from an area northeast of Milan, Italy. 
This was the favorite cheese among those of us who like soft


2010 Cabernet Sauvignon <-> “Barely Buzzed” 


This is a cow’s milk cheese
from Utah, semi-firm, with the rind rubbed with espresso and lavender.  Unique and delicious. 



This was a relaxed and fun tasting. 


Next we went to Saucelito
Canyon Vineyard
.  This was a
completely different wine tasting experience for a few reasons.  Where Tolosa has a large and immaculate
facility, Saucelito Canyon is small and quaint.  Tolosa was Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Saucelito Canyon was
Zinfandel.  Where Tolosa was a
relaxed and special tasting, at Saucelito Canyon we were joined by my brother
and sister and their families, and the noise level went up considerably.  Fortunately they have a really nice
outside tasting area that we took over, so as not to disturb their other guests
inside the tasting room. 


Here’s what we tasted: 


2011 Sauvignon Blanc:  Good, but we came here for the Zinfindels.  Let’s move on. 


2011 Zinfandel
“Backroads”:  A lighter bodied Zin,
with nice fruit.  Bought a couple
bottles of this, and opened one last night when we cooked a turkey breast.  Worked quite well. 


2011 Dos Mas:  Zinfandel plus two more:  Grenache and Petite Sirah.  Those two more gave it a bit more
oomph, and a nice finish.  This was
the favorite of a few people in our group.  And it comes in a bottle with a slightly unconventional
shape, which makes it different and unusual. 


2011 Muchacho:  Zinfandel and Tempranillo.  OK, we’ve tasted blends like Dos Mas
before; they’re fairly common.  I
can’t remember tasting another Zinfandel-Tempranillo blend.  And why not, why haven’t other
winemakers put these two grapes together before?  This was great; my favorite and the favorite of a few others
in our group. 


2011 Zinfandel Estate:  For those purists who like just the
Zinfandel and only the Zinfandel, especially when it comes from 100+ year old
vines.  This wine is a tribute to
the winemaker being able to get out of the way and just let great grapes make
great wine.  The other favorite of
some of the group.