Category Archives: food and wine

Sourdough, Memorial Day Weekend, Wine

Lori’s sourdough loaf.

Lori has been working on her sourdough starter, just like everyone else in the Bay Area, California and the world.  She calls her starter “Seymour”.  Technically it should be called Audrey II, but everyone remembers the name Seymour, and the line “Feed me!”, and so the starter became Seymour.  (The only other thing you remember from Little Shop of Horrors is Steve Martin as the dentist.) 

The key to enjoying sourdough, though, is not the starter, it’s what you do with the starter.  Sure, anyone can make a loaf of bread.  Almost anyone; I couldn’t.  But what about dinner rolls, which can conveniently become slider buns?  What about sourdough pancakes and waffles?  (Shout out to our friend Marybeth Binder who made the glass mosaic custom backsplash for our stove when we renovated the kitchen a couple of years ago.)  Personal opinion is that the blueberry sourdough waffles were much better than the pancakes. The crunchy and soft of the waffles just worked.

For the sliders, I worked from another recipe from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.  It was modified to half ground chicken, half ground beef, with grated zucchini, diced onions, minced garlic and jalapenos added in, plus spices like cumin.  Then there was a yogurt sauce, with lemon zest and juice, and sumac.  Really good; might not ever make a conventional hamburger again.  We paired that with a bottle of 2017 St. Anne’s Crossing Primativo, Sonoma Valley, Shumahi Vineyard.  Great dinner. 

Pink Pinot Noir for Memorial Day barbeque.
Lori practicing 6 foot social distancing in our backyard.

The sourdough blueberry waffles were brunch on Memorial Day.  For dinner, a social distancing dinner in our backyard with kids and grandkids, we did a simple chicken barbeque with corn on the cob and a salad.  It was a warm day, and roses were the order of the day.  We opened two roses of Pinot Noir, one the 2017 from Balletto Vineyards, the other the 2018 Lazy Creek Vineyards (now owned by Ferrari Carano).  Both were quite nice, and had more body and bite than usual for rose of Pinot Noir.   

2015 FEL (Cliff Lede) Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley: delicious.

Last, but certainly not least, was the bottle of 2015 FEL Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, that we opened Saturday with dinner.  We didn’t cook, but supported one of our local restaurants and brought in dinner from Valette.  Great restaurant in Healdsburg, when you get a chance to travel to the wine country again.  FEL is the second label from Cliff Lede Vineyards in Napa (named from Cliff’s mother’s initials), which we visited about 3 years ago, just after the 2017 Tubbs Fire.  This was a really nice Pinot Noir when we visited, and even better now.  A great example of Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. 



Smoked Sausage and Lentil Stew with Pinot Noir

Here’s a nice easy recipe for our busy days staying at home.  It takes a little bit of preparation in sautéing the onions, carrots and celery, but really the prep work takes less than 30 minutes.  Then into the crock pot, and don’t think about it for 7-8 hours.  When ready, open a bottle of wine (no shortage of wine in our house), and enjoy your dinner!  The recipe is here

2014 Luminous Hills Estate Grown Pinot Noir, Oregon, Yamhill-Carlton

For the stew, I opened the wine fridge and grabbed a bottle of 2014 Luminous Hills Estate Grown Pinot Noir, Oregon, Yamhill-Carlton.  We visited Luminous Hills sister winery, Seven of Hearts, about 3 ½ years ago, and wrote about that fun visit.  That trip was my first time spending a long weekend tasting Oregon Pinot Noir, and I loved it.  The Luminous Hills Pinot was one of our favorites, with a really nice balance to it when we first tasted, and again when we opened the other night with the stew.  Not overly fruity, but a good balance between the fruit and the acid, slightly lighter body, with a bit of earthiness to it.  It showed well with the stew, or the stew showed well with the wine, or they both paired quite well, depending on your point of view. 

Pepé providing writing help.

I occasionally get a bit of writing help from our kitten, Pepé (black and white and named in honor of Pepé Le Pew, my father’s favorite cartoon character).  Here you can see him looking over my shoulder checking my work. 



Wine, Food and Shelter-in-Place

Thank you to The Princess Bride.

Sometimes a movie will have the exact message for the time we’re in.  The Princess Bride gives us the Pit of Despair, but it also gives us hope in a few ways.  (“He’s only mostly dead,” comes to mind.)  And the good guys do win in the end, exacting their revenge, the romantic leads coming together and riding off into the sunset.  So I hope everyone is doing well; stay safe! 

Lori and Rigel at the top of Foothill Regional Park, after she broke her wing, before shelter-in-place.

This shelter-in-place thing has been complicated by the fact that Lori broke her arm (two places, elbow and wrist) just before shelter-in-place went into effect in our area.  Also, Lori has allergies and asthma, both of which place her in a higher risk category with COVID-19.  Combined together it means I’ve been doing the shopping and cooking.  Not crazy about doing the shopping, but I’m having fun cooking.  It’s been interesting also because we’re finding new ways to use leftovers.  Have to use the leftovers; don’t want to waste food at this time, or really any time.  One of our favorites is to use the leftover vegetables in a frittata.  There’s a nice recipe on our website here, just keep the eggs and cheese and change the ingredients to whatever is in the refrigerator. 

Wine has been going well too.  We may not have 3 months of food in the house, but we’ve got more than 3 years worth of wine.  There’s also been a special event, as I had a birthday recently.  Here are some of our recent meal highlights: 

Star Lane Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon “Roots”, Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara County

Lamb Tagine Smothered in Onions, with Star Lane Vineyard 2011 Happy Canyon (Santa Barbara) Cabernet Sauvignon “Roots”.  The lamb shanks slow cook in one pan, the onions slow cook in another pan, then they come together for an hour in the oven.  Melts in your mouth.  Add a really nice Cab, and it’s a great dinner.  Also had artichokes with this meal, as it’s Spring and artichokes are fresh and selling for 2 for $3 at the local Oliver’s Market.

By the way, the lamb shank bones made a great stock for a soup, adding lentils, beans, rice and some vegetables. Very hearty soup, and very good with the rest of the Star Lane Roots.

Soquel Vineyards 2013 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, Lester Family Vineyard, Partners’ Reserve

Falafel, hummus, tabbouleh, tzatziki and cucumber, with Soquel Vineyards 2013 Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains, Partners’ Reserve.  Homemade everything except the pita bread, and it was wonderful.  Soquel Vineyards has been a favorite Pinot Noir of ours for 20 years now, and this bottle reminded us of how good their wines are, and how good a Pinot Noir can be. 

Martorana Family Wines 2016 Mozzafiato, Dry Creek Valley, a wonderful red blend.

Neighborhood wine party:  Maybe shouldn’t have done it, but needed to see and talk to and share stories with other people.  So we organized a small get together with two other couples (the next two houses), used one of their patios, brought our own wine and stayed 6 feet apart.  Religiously.  Went in the side gate, not through their house.  Drank a lot of wine, which felt pretty darn good that evening.  In this case, we were drinking a Martorana Family Winery 2016 Mozzafiato, a Dry Creek Valley blend.  Pretty sure Zinfandel was the main component, but likely it had a few other grapes hanging out; couldn’t find the exact blend.  Really nice. 

Tres Sabores 2013 Zinfandel, Rutherford Estate, Napa Valley

Not everything we’re cooking is gourmet. The Tres Sabores 2013 Zinfandel, from their Rutherford Estate in Napa Valley, was opened for a dinner of sloppy joes. OK, we made up our own spice mix, and we used a combination of bulk sausage and ground chicken instead of ground beef, but it was still sloppy joes. Darn good comfort food, with a darn good wine.

While we hope this is over soon, we’re hoping even more for the health and safety of our family, friends, community, country and world.  This isn’t an abstract 6-degrees-of-separation thing for us, as we know at least one person that’s been hospitalized and put on a ventilator.  Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones. 



Winter Wine Tasting

The remains of Soda Rock Winery’s main building.

We had some friends visiting us last week, and as we like to do with visitors, we took them wine tasting. This was winter wine tasting, with gloomy skies and temperature not much warmer than 50 F.  We didn’t let the weather slow us down.

So sad: Soda Rock Winery.

We started off at Soda Rock Winery; thought we should support them after the damage they took in the Kincade fire a few months back.  Soda Rock had one of the most memorable buildings in Sonoma County, but the fire took care of that.  The brick front and the wild boar statue are still standing, as is their barn-like building. The rest is gone, with just twisted metal and ash still remaining.  They’ve moved their tasting into the barn, added some space heaters and some lights, and it’s like they’re a startup winery with the tasting being done in the barrel room.  

Soda Rock’s “new” tasting room.

Soda Rock is in the Alexander Valley, and as such focuses on the Bordeaux varietals that grow best in that area.  We tasted through wines that employed the five primary grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot. The single varietal wines and the blends were quite good, and the help in the tasting room was great. Knocked down by the fire, but Soda Rock is roaring back.

From there we went to Healdsburg, and had lunch at an old favorite, El Farolito. Great food, an impressive collection of Tequilas, and the ability to make those into great margaritas. However, there was another winery to go, so we held off on the hard stuff.

The entrance to Leo Steen Wines.

It was a short trip within Healdsburg to Leo Steen Wines, located not on the square but in the southeastern part of the town near the Russian River. Leo Hansen, the proprietor of Leo Steen Wines, joined us for the tasting. He has an interesting perspective on wines, wanting to make unique wines at reasonable prices (less than $35 per bottle). It’s also a nice place to sit and relax and taste. We spent about 1 1/2 hours there enjoying the wines and ambiance and good company.

Interesting art and decor inside the Leo Steen tasting room.

In particular, he is focusing on Chenin Blanc, with three different versions of this varietal, sourced from three different regions. One was from Mendocino County, one from Dry Creek Valley, and one from Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County). All good, all interesting with layers of flavor. There was also a Riesling, which was wonderful: tasted like a Riesling, smelled like a Riesling, but with just enough differences to let you know that you weren’t in Germany. The last wine we tasted was a Grenache (100%). There are starting to be a few solo Grenache wines made in California; this was one of the best we’ve tasted.

A relaxed tasting of Leo Steen wines.

No reason not to go tasting in the winter, and many good reasons to head out to the wineries.



No Wrong Wine for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving buffet, with (L -> R) squash soup, turkey, lamb, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce and sourdough dinner rolls

There is always the question this time of year:  What wine(s) should I have with my holiday meal?  There are two answers that I give.  First, choose wines to go with the meal, and second, there are no wrong wines, so long as you enjoy the bottle.  Usually there are loads of appetizers, then you’re going to have the main course which could be any number of meats, alone or in combinations. 

For our Thanksgiving, we started with appetizers of plain brie, brie with jalapeño jam over it, liver pâté and hummus.  With that we served a 2015 Arista Riesling and a 2016 Pride Mountain Viognier.  When we needed to open up a red, we started with a bottle of the 2016 Armida PoiZin Reserve.  Then for the meal, which featured both turkey and leg of lamb (and squash soup, salad, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, homemade cranberry sauce and sourdough dinner rolls), we went with a magnum of 1992 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon and a 1995 Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Martini Cab was particularly interesting, because it was their generic California, low-end Cab, and still had the $7 Trader Joe’s price tag on it.  But it was made in a time where Cabs were all being made to age at least a bit, and it was still good.  Not great, but still good, still quite drinkable.  By the way, 13% alcohol for that Cab. 

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!



Goat close up

Pennyroyal Farms Cheese Tasting

Goat close up
Close up with one of the goat herd at Pennyroyal Farms.

For a week in March the focus of Sonoma County turned slightly away from alcohol (wine and beer) to cheese, with the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival (CACF). Part of CACF is holding cheese education and tasting events at various creameries in the area.  Lori and I decided to attend the event at Pennyroyal Farm in Anderson Valley (Mendocino County).  Yes, not quite in Sonoma County, but only about an hour drive from our house.  

Here’s the agenda we had for the event:  

10:45 – 11:00              check in

11:00 – 12:00              tour of the farm

12:00 – 1:15                lunch in the creamery

1:15 – 2:45                  cheese tasting/pairing

Pennyroyal Farms makes cheese and wine, and raises the goats (lots of goats) and sheep for their wine. They also grow some of their own grapes.  They’ve got a great backstory:  two young women meet in the Fermentation Science major at U.C. Davis, one interested in wine, the other in cheese.  A few years later some land becomes available in Anderson Valley, and they join together as partners, realizing both their dreams together.  

The tour is fun and educational: vineyards, the goat barn for both the mature and baby goats, the milking shed, the cheese-making operation.  They’re not making their wine on site right now, but there are plans to expand the current buildings to add the winery facilities.  

For a change of pace I had pre-ordered the vegetarian meal for lunch, and it was delicious.  They served their Sauvignon Blanc and one of their Pinot Noirs with lunch, for a nice accompaniment.  Then we had the cheese tasting, and pairing with various drinks, including hard cider, wine and beer.  Their cheeses were all wonderful, but especially notable was the Laychee, a fresh cheese with a soft, spreadable texture that is hard to stop eating. (They only gave us enough for the tasting, but we bought more and brought it home, and it was hard to stop eating it!)  

Pennyroyal Farm picnic benches and view
Pennyroyal Farm is a great place for a picnic.

If you can find their cheese in the store or restaurant, don’t hesitate to purchase.  And if you’re in Anderson Valley for the wine or the beer (Anderson Valley Brewing Company is one of the best microbreweries around), take a break and go for the cheese.  Or bring a picnic lunch and buy a bottle of wine there.  You’ll enjoy your time at Pennyroyal Farms.  



Lamb and Zinfandel, A Classic Pairing Updated

I bought a new cookbook a few months ago, but haven’t had the chance to do anything with it (aside from reading and drooling) because of the kitchen remodel. My favorite cuisine: Middle Eastern. Thanks here to my brother and his family, because while waiting to meet Lori in downtown Santa Rosa, we all went into the Barnes & Noble bookstore. I wouldn’t have found the cookbook (Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi) without the old-school wander through the aisles.

Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, showing the Braised Eggs and Lamb on the cover.

But the kitchen is done now, so no more excuses. And friends were going to come over for dinner, and cousin Diego was in town. We cooked up the recipe shown on the cover of the cookbook, Braised Eggs with Lamb. At least we got it looking pretty close to the cookbook picture! Actually it tasted pretty darn good. This is the sort of recipe that I really like making. Essentially a one pot meal, nothing especially fancy about it, just good ingredients and flavorful spices. Cumin, sumac, pine nuts and pistachios are the flavor anchors for this dish.

Braised Eggs and Lamb on our stove.

With the lamb and the unique flavors, we needed a special wine to go with this. We pulled out a 2010 Armida Winery Zinfandel, Sonoma Coast, Parmelee-Hill Vineyard. This vineyard is nearer to the cool Carneros region than to the warm Dry Creek Valley, where Armida and so many other wineries get so much Zinfandel. As a cool climate Zinfandel, it’s got different characteristics than a typical Zin; less fruit forward, a bit more body, more layers to the flavors. This sort of Zinfandel ages well, and at 8 years this wine is just hitting peak. The subtleties of the wine matched well the complexities of the flavors in the lamb dish. An excellent pairing.

2010 Armida Zinfandel, Sonoma Coast, Parmelee-Hill Vineyard.

We decided ahead of time to decant the wine. Also, I had stood the wine up for about 24 hours ahead of decanting, to allow sediment to go to the bottom of the bottle. We did this based on experience with older Zinfandels, and for show (always nice to serve from a decanter). As we saw when we finished decanting, the bottle did have some sediment left in it.

If you look carefully behind the Armida label you can see the sediment left behind in the bottle.

Lamb and Zinfandel: always a good combination.



Harrison Clarke for Rhônes

At the Wine Bloggers Conference last year, one of the sessions was on Ballard Canyon AVA Syrahs. Ballard Canyon is one of the newest AVAs in the Santa Ynez Valley, and has made its reputation based on the Syrahs and other Rhône varietals that are typically grown there. I tried Syrahs from 7 different wineries in that session, with typically two vintages per winery.

Panel on Ballard Canyon Syrahs at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

Panel on Ballard Canyon Syrahs at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference

One winemaker on the panel described Syrah by comparing the wines from this varietal to the dancing hippos from the movie Fantasia, but substituting the dangerous animals of the Nile for the cute animated hippos. (The music to that scene is Dance of the Hours, by Amilcare Ponchielli.) Not a bad analogy: Syrahs can be big and bold and graceful, and dangerous to novice winemakers.

Regarding the wines from the seminar, my favorite was the 2010 Syrah from Harrison Clarke Vineyards. It was still a bit young, but to my tastes a better balanced wine than any of the others, one that would have been great with a meal. So when Lori and I went to Santa Ynez Valley in July, a visit Harrison Clarke was high on our list.

We started with a tour of their vineyards, about 12 acres currently planted, with Roger Harrison. An interesting walk, as we seemed to stop every 5 steps for another 2 minutes of discussion about one aspect or another about the vineyard: differences between the top of the hill and the bottom, differences between the edge of the vineyard near a tree and the middle of the vineyard, differences between newer and older vines, differences between the Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre that they have planted their. Roger is in the vineyards every day, and his love of the grapes was obvious. By the way, they’ve also got a great view from the vineyard down Ballard Canyon.

Hilarie Clarke outside the Harrison Clarke winery.

Hilarie Clarke outside the Harrison Clarke winery.

We then adjourned to the winery and tasted with Hilarie Clark, whose love for her wines was as compelling as Roger’s love for his grapes. She’s no novice; the wines were big and bold and graceful, as I remembered from a year ago. Not only are they growing other Rhône varietals, they are making those wines. So we tasted Syrahs, and GSM (Grenache / Syrah / Mourvèdre) blends. There was also a very nice rosé of Grenache. We liked it all, but choices had to be made. In the end, the wines that made the cut and got taken home with us were

2011 Eve e Marie (70% Syrah, 30% Grenache blend)
2011 Cuvee Charlotte Syrah

Now we have a dilemma: We want to open these wines, but we also want to let them age for a few years or more. It’s a tough problem, but somehow we’ll face up to the challenge.



More Pink, Now For Summer

I talked about rosés before, using them as a sign of Spring. Well, rosés are equally good, if not better, for Summer. Good rosés are cold, crisp, light, flavorful; everything I want on a warm day sitting outside. It might not be what you drink with your barbequed meal, but it’s what you drink until the meal is ready.

Here are a few that we’ve had recently that we really liked:

Bonny Doon Vineyard, 2014 Vin Gris de Cigare, 35% grenache, 18% mourvèdre, 16% grenache blanc, 12.5% roussanne, 8% carignane, 8% cinsaut, 1.5% marsanne, 1% counoise
Dragonette Cellars, 2013 Rosé, Happy Canyon (Santa Barbara County), 70% grenache, 25% mourvèdre, 5% syrah
Windwalker Vineyard, 2012 Grenache Rosé, El Dorado County (Sierra Foothills)

No accident that these are all made from Rhône grapes. These grapes typically have the fruit, the acid and the body to not get washed out in a light rosé. These are the grapes traditionally used for rosés in France.

The Bonny Doon was brought over to our friends’ house for a recent barbeque get together. Appetizers served that afternoon included salsa and guacamole, and grilled shrimp. Bonny Doon has been making Rhône varietal wines since the beginning, and Randall Grahm is one of the Rhône pioneers in California. This was delicious.

2013 Dragonette Cellars Rosé

2013 Dragonette Cellars Rosé

The Dragonette was opened at my parents’ house a few weeks ago, just as an afternoon drinking wine. I had never had it before, and now I’m looking forward to visiting the Dragonette tasting room in Los Olivos (Santa Ynez Valley) when Lori and I vacation there later this month.

Windwalker Vineyard 2012 Grenache Rosé, El Dorado County

Windwalker Vineyard 2012 Grenache Rosé, El Dorado County

The Windwalker we picked up on a wine tasting run through the Sierra Foothills while visiting Lori’s mother, who lives in the area. (Winery visits are not the only reason I visit my mother-in-law. Really.) Another Grenache based rose, with about 70% of that varietal as the base. Again just opened as an afternoon drinking wine, and hit all the right points.



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?