Tuesday, February 10, 2009

More Fresh Perspective

I only drink red!

(January 21, 2009) Twain Harte, CA
Amazing to me hearing these words, “I only drink red” considering most people don’t recognize more than a handful of grape varieties in a world of thousands. Sad really, because many people cannot tell the difference between red or white wine through taste alone.
A narrow and limited method of choosing a wine to drink with food by limiting oneself to one color of wine is possibly derogatory to many foods and against the misconceived concept, that one should drink what one likes best, as a match with their food. The notion of drinking my favorite wine with any food is noticeably incorrect in comparison to when an appropriate pairing is experienced.
Wine consumption is not merely for alcohol intake and the resulting intoxication. In my opinion, regardless of color, wine is supposed to make food taste better and food is supposed to make wine taste better. Why limit one’s self? It is a detriment to the enhancement of pleasure of taste to choose just any wine to pair with any food. Granted, once the intoxicative properties start to take effect then even bad wine and mediocre food will taste better. But do they compliment each other to the point of making a memory of cosmic gastronomic experience proportions? Rarely does this occur.
I have sat at many dinner tables discussing this very issue. Often wine and food pairings are severely eschewed. Either, the wine completely covers up the flavor in foods or the wines subtle pleasurable characteristics disappear in the wake of a foods overpowering presence. In today’s market of boutique style wines of overly alcoholic, imbalanced fruit bombs, this is a common occurrence. Or bulk wine producers with their thin and watery grape juice style wines, the disappearing effect of food flavor is so prevalent you might as well just drink water and have a cocktail.
My search for white, pink or red wine to create that match made in heaven at the dinner table is always gratified by my guests’ comments of “I only drink red but this was an exceptional combination of wine and food”. For all the “red” lovers try this for a paradigm shift.

Coppo “Passione” Brachetto D’Acqui $24.00

A bright crimson cast, gushing with ripe strawberry and raspberry scents echoed by the same flavors. An enthusiastic zip, creating a snappy finish with just enough sweetness to let you know you are enjoying a beverage of fruit. But it has enough of a structure to hold up against hearty pasta and is a wine that is equally comfortable with a main course or a final one.

Pasta alla Casalinga

8 ounces pasta such as Spaghetti, linguine or vermicelli
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups San Marzano tomatoes, coarsely ground
4 anchovy filets, rinsed and chopped
2 tablespoons Sicilian sun dried tomato paste
3 tablespoons caper berries
20-pitted Kalamata olives
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon of crushed dried oregano flowers
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh basil leaves
¼ cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.
Heat oil in a skillet over low heat; cook garlic in oil until golden. Add sieved tomatoes, and cook 5 minutes. Stir in anchovies, tomato paste, capers, olives, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Toss pasta with sauce, top with Parmigiano Reggiano and serve.

Fresh Perspective

Comfort Food for Troubled Times

(January 14, 2009) Twain Harte, CA
Stoke up the fire, pour yourself a glass of wine and cook up a pot of comfort. Comfort in food and wine is never as apparent as the winter months. I really love a combination of southern American and Italian cuisine on crisp winter evening. Corn bread and beans is a dish from my youth that is a memory of comfort. Corn is used in most parts of the world. From Italy, polenta is one of my favorite versions of corn combined with rich seasoned braised meats especially pork.
Equally comforting in these times of financial uncertainty is finding a great value and perfect match of wine for these foods. After a review of a local discount wine retailer, I discovered a wonderful pairing for a pork and polenta dinner. Sometimes the barrage of unknown labels of can be somewhat disconcerting. Don’t let that discourage you from seeking out an appropriate accompaniment to your evening meal.
I intentionally seek out of the ordinary labeling at discounted wines sales locations because often-good wines are hiding there due to the fact their label is unknown, ugly or otherwise unnoticeable. Sure there are quite a few end lot houses that have less than desirable wines because the wines have out lived their appropriate sales date due to being an old vintage. But many of these wines are still very drinkable. Are they consistent bottle to bottle? Not really, but still very drinkable.
On this occasion I discovered a very reasonably priced wine that would accompany my pork and polenta dish nicely. Now this wine is not something to just sip on all by itself as it has quite high acidity, which will make it, hold up to the food. But combine this with mouth-watering pork and a creamy rich piece of polenta to swab up the remaining sauce with, it can nearly bring tears of joy to your eyes remembering some special moment in the past that has preserved the feeling of comfort in your soul.

Brumale 2006 Sangiovese di Romagna $2.99
It’s typically Italian, An ideal quaffing wine. Ruby red with violet hues. Simple and fruity, with its soft cherry and plum fruit, fragrance, Fresh, with a good, clean finish.

Polenta and Braised Pork


500grams of polenta
2 liters of Water
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
6 cloves roasted garlic
¼ cup grated parmesan
¼ cup diced smoked mozzarella

Bring water to a boil. Whisk in polenta. Reduce heat and simmer, constantly stirring, slowly add other ingredients continue simmering and stirring for approximately 15 minutes. Pour mixture in greased pan. Smooth out top with spatula and sprinkle with more herbs and Parmesan. Let sit until set up.

Braised balsamic glazed pork with radicchio

6 pork crosscut ribs
4 heads of raddichio
6 strips of pancetta
1 med. Onion
6 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups white wine
1 cup of balsamic vinegar
1 sprig of rosemary
1 sprig of oregano flowers
Extra virgin Olive oil
Salt and crushed mix peppercorns

~Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees~

Wrap ribs with pancetta and place in roasting pan

Add chopped onion, garlic. Quarter radicchio heads and place between pieces of pork. Sprinkle with herbs, salt and pepper and again drizzle with olive oil. Add white wine and vinegar pouring slowly over radicchios and pork.

Place uncovered in oven for two and a half hours. Turn pork over after 1 hour and return to continue cooking.
Check periodically and add more wine if necessary. When finished there should be at least 1 cup of liquid left in roasting pan. Remove from oven and let rest for about 20 minutes

Turn oven on broil

Turn pieces of pork over and place polenta into pan with pork drizzle a tablespoon of balsamic over each piece of pork and return to oven until polenta and pork is browned. Transfer a piece of pork, radicchio and polenta cake to each plate and return roasting pan with juices to oven to reduce until slightly thickened and pour over the pork and polenta. Top with grated Parmesan and chopped rosemary. Enjoy with the Sangiovese

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Gold of Tuolumne County is in Its Grapes

Fresh Perspective

Robert Louis Martin Jr.

Gold of Tuolumne County is in Its Grapes

(January 5, 2009) TWAIN HARTE, CA

In pursuit of the gold these hills bear, my attention is captured not in a stream, a mine, or a vein, but in some vines on a hill in the Algerine Road area of Tuolumne County.

Gianelli Vineyards is a rising star in the production of “Cal-Ital” grape varieties and the corresponding wines. Only after strolling through the vineyard with grower and owner Ron Gianelli, discussing the reasons for growing Italian varietals here in the Sierra Foothills, was it clear to me that the modern-day gold rush could be for Sierra Foothill wines.

True, the foothills have been producing wines for quite some time, but I think the Sierra gold from grapes is probably still as elusive as the precious metal.

Those growers who, like Ron Gianelli, have a vision of small sustainable family farms and low-production, high-quality wines, evidenced by positive peer reviews, and not by personal back-patting, will find that their wines are the gold consumers are looking for.

And who knows? The vineyards may evolve into world-renowned viticultural regions.

Gianelli Vineyards 2007 Sierra Foothills Vermentino

A bit austere at first, the Gianelli Vineyards vermentino opens beautifully, with citrus, spice and floral notes, and its acidic edge is mellowed by a little neutral oak. The finish is dry with a wonderful palate full of wet stone, marzipan and honey.

If you haven’t tried it yet, hurry out to find some of the last remaining bottles. I think you'll agree that this moderately priced white can certainly hold up against even hearty fare. I tried this with very nice seafood pasta with a saffron cream.

Fresh pasta with bay scallops and red pepper saffron cream


Fresh pasta

clove of garlic

1 tblsp minced red peppers

8 oz fresh or frozen bay scallops

½ cup of cream

1 egg yolk

1 tbsp chopped basil

1 tbsp minced pancetta


Cook 8oz of fresh fettuccine pasta until al dente and set aside.

Lightly fry some bay scallops with a clove of crushed garlic and a tablespoon of minced sweet red peppers in olive oil until halfway opaque, then drain and set aside scallops.

On a medium burner place the pan with the garlic and peppers. Add ½ cup of cream, a pinch of saffron threads, cracked pepper to taste bring to a boil and reduce by 1/3. Add the scallops. Reduce heat to low and continue to cook until scallops are completely opaque. Add yolk of one egg and pasta and stir as it thickens to coat pasta. Once thoroughly coated place in bowl top with chopped fresh basil and minced pancetta, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and serve. Makes 2 servings

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Sean Thackery's Orion & others

Wow! I love these wines especially the Orion.

Amazed by their Sangiovese as a new addition to their line up, well yeah at least two vintages old. but the classic blends in the Rhone style are exceptional!! These wines pair well with quail, squab and duck like you wouldn't believe.....fire up the wood oven to a mere 1500 degrees and sear the fowl and serve with some of Quady's Elysium reduced to a glaze and yes the outside appears burnt but wasn't blackened fish popular a few years back? You won't believe the wonderful flavors of this type of poultry prepared like this to arouse every post olfactory sense you may have and then adding a wine like one of Thackery's blends will awaken you in a state of nirvana for hours post deglutition of these foods and one of these wines together producing a hallucinatory state only rivaled by inadvertant illicit consumption of fungus or molds on rye bread and the subsquent reactions therof! Give it your best shot...........NOW


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Finally have time for some writing

I finally have time for a few new reviews...............to catch up I've been operating a restaurant in Twain Harte called the Prospector. I am chief cook, wine steward and diswasher etc.............I've been cooking everything imaginable and some things that are not. I have found some great wines recently though so here are a few.

Capote Velho a vinho tinto from Portugal. Wow what a deal!! one liter bottles of delectable red wine very easy to drink. With only 11.5 percent alcohol this bottle packs alot of value behind an exceedingly smooth red that pairs with just abot anything you wish to eat. Great black cherry fruit with some non descript earthiness. Makes a great summer red. Only $15

Cecci Sangiovese from Tuscany is full bodied sangiovese with moderate amount of oak and fine tannins good dark cherry & blackberry fruit and a long well rounded finish. Seek this out for as low as $10 at the wine club or 14.99 at your local wine shop.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The prospector

The prospector’s finds!

(September 19, 2006) TWAIN HARTE On the continual search for a wonderful everyday wine at an everyday price with exceptional quality, my prospecting turned up a few nuggets all you wine prospectors to take a look at. From the producers of Pavillion winery comes the new release of Grayson Cellars. I tried the Grayson Cellars 2005 Dry Creek Chardonnay and 2004 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon as well as the Pavilion Winery 2005 Yountville Chardonnay.

Grayson Cellars 2005 Dry Creek Chardonnay $9.99
A wonderful ready to drink Chardonnay showing pale gold color with aromas of peaches, pears and apricot riding on a waft of caramel and toasty oak notes. This is an extremely supple, smooth and solid wine, with a gentle texture and hints of spice lasting through the finish. It’s delicious and refreshing.

Pavilion Winery 2005 NapaValley Yountville Chardonnay $12.99
A fruit driven style of wine that shows exotic tropical fruit aromas and flavors as well as a moderately rich aromas of apple and pear. The pineapple and fig flavors are juxtaposed with a refreshingly crisp finish with an aftertaste of vanilla oak.

Grayson Cellars 2004 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon $14.99
A stylish wine, this cabernet leans to the vibrantly fruity side. The colors are dark purple red. A medium-weight palate that is round and filled with ripe black cherry, blackberry and currant flavors. Tannins are well integrated with enough acidity to make it smooth and supple on the finish.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Jewel of Lake County

After a recent visit to Lake County Scott Carpenter host of Food and Wine Coast to Coast and I returned with a selection of North Coast wines. Our first stop as it turns out and quite a surprise I might add was at a vineyard we thought promising as a source of excellent quality wine from this North Coast Region of California. Specifically, Ceago Vinegarden located in Lake County near the shores of Clear Lake, producing estate grown wines from both Mendocino and Lake Counties. I thoroughly enjoyed tasting through these four selections presented to me to try. Ceago Vinegarden is located on the north east side of Clear Lake in the North Eastern part of Lake County American Viticultural Area. Stunned by the unparalleled beauty and sense of timeless peace in these vineyards by the lake. Still in shock from the awe of the location our anticipation quickened as we discovered that the vines here are being managed with biodynamic principles to ensure the wines achieve the highest quality. I love wines of biodynamic origin for their unique quality of displaying the vines impressionistic representation of the area from which the grapes are grown.

With this said, and on a slightly serious note, in my humble opinion the special character each of these wines carries, lies in not only the effects of terroir but to special qualities that are provided by practicing Bio-Dynamic farming methods and the dedication it requires.

Everyone, people and plants benefit from Biodynamic farming. Living soil produces living foods. These sustainable farming practices help to prevent further deterioration of our planets fragile eco-systems while still providing our sustenance needs.

So here are hats off to these and other leaders in the wine grape industry helping bring awareness to agribusiness worldwide showing sustainable farming in its’ rightful place as the only solution for long-term management of our agricultural resources on this planet. For those of us who don’t like consuming poison in our dinner beverage this commitment to offering pesticide and herbicide free wines is really a motivating factor for me in making the final decision to purchase or not.

After strolling the grounds, we tasted through six wines of which four of we are reviewing here and two others at a later date. As well as our tasting room experience we also purchased the same six bottles to try with a few different dishes.

The following notes were my impressions of the wine alone as well as my observations with food prepared to have the benefit of keeping company with likes of wines like these.

Ceago tasting notes

Ceago Vinegarden 2005 Estate Grown Kathleen’s Vineyard Clear Lake Sauvignon Blanc
The green gold color is reminiscent ripening mango. The wine is packed with superb aromas of pears, honeysuckle and lychee fruit. A smooth textured mouth full of tropical fruits with just enough zing to keep it lively right through the finish. Hints of spices mingle in that liveliness together with the rich fruit to make a wonderfully refreshing and balanced wine.

Ceago Vinegarden 2005 Estate Grown Del Lago Mendocino Chardonnay
This Mendocino Chardonnay reaches out for a food accompaniment of skewered and grilled chicken tenderloins. The beautiful fruit aromas will be set off with the smoky scent of the chicken and the sumptuous tropical fruit will envelope the meat in a way that is usually associated with sauces. Yet this crisp, no malolactic style chardonnay, chicken combination will complement each other like nothing else. Try it and feel the power of this wonderful match!

Ceago Vinegarden 2005 Estate Grown Del Lago Clear Lake Syrah Rose´
A lovely salmon garnet color followed up with pomegranate, thimbleberry and dusty scented cherries and a hint of oak. This lead up of aromas is transformed into flavors of baked strawberry rhubarb pie with notes of brown spices emanating from the slightly crisp and citrus finish. Paired well with cold sliced marinated and grilled tri-tip pieces dipped in a mild Dijon with tarragon mustard and a pepper gouda on sliced sourdough.

Ceago Vinegarden 2001 Estate Grown Camp Masut Mendocino Merlot
One can’t help but love the ruby red color of this wine. It is everything the fond memories of wine, cheese, a loaf of bread and thee are made of. This supple wine displays aromas of black currant, black cherry, vanilla, sage and notes from the tack room. A long pleasurable persistent fruit finish holds up for what seemed like minutes. A wonderfully structured merlot that supported the strips of sautéed beef with mushrooms, and sweet piquillo peppers flavored by the addition of mild smoked Spanish paprika served over whole-wheat fettuccine noodles. I used some of the wine in this dish. While drinking the wine with the pasta the black fruit flavors meshed well with the deep earthy nature of the mushrooms and accented well with the smoke from the Spanish paprika. The lengthy finish emerged surprisingly even after the beef pasta flavors subsided leaving me totally satiated.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Shiraz is for the Outdoor epicure

(July 1, 2006) TWAIN HARTE  Sometimes the smell of barbeque smoke can make you salivate as well as stimulate a thirst for a big voluptuous red wine to dance with the flavors of grilling. For me Shiraz or Syrah in its many forms or styles satisfies that desire. This grape has a long history of questionable origin at least until Dr. Carole Meredith of University of California at Davis came along with results of DNA testing, authenticating its origins to the southern part of France.
The passion of France and Australia has taken hold here in the US too. With many more Syrah producers than ever ranging from far south in San Diego County here in California, all the way north to almost Spokane in Washington. I tasted a few local Syrah and a few from Australia and found a few wonderful combinations paired with various grilled meats. Check it out for yourself and try this great recipe for a rub on your grilled meat.

A Donkey and Goat 2004 Carson Ridge El Dorado Sierra Foothills Syrah $35.00
This is a very pleasant rendition of foothill Syrah. From the dark ruby color to the rustic, earthy, meaty, plum, berry and pepper aromas and flavors this wine showed well with the grilled tri-tip. A medium bodied, supple but with enough tannin to hold up to any grilled meat.

Ridge Vineyards 2003 Lytton West Syrah $35.00
Deep black purple red color tips one off to the voluptuousness of this wine. A blast of black fruits hit the nose as well as some tar and leathery notes. A supple, round mouth full of blackberry and currants ending with some fine tannins and lingering fruit flavors even paired with traditional barbeque sauce basted grilled meat.

Renwood Winery 2003 Sierra Foothills Syrah $19-$25
A garnet ruby color with aromas of plum, cranberry and brown spices fill your nose. On the palate, a rich mouth feel includes a velvety texture filled with vanilla and berry. A slight earthy note appears with smoke and spice in the finish, which seems to linger on and on. I drank this with a citrus filled cumin coated roasted chicken. It was fantastic!

Two Hands 2004 Deer in Headlights Barossa Valley Shiraz $38
Wow what a color! An exciting opaque red purple with loads of sweet berry and black currant aromas with a hint spicy oak. A focused and concentrated wine endowed with a powerful fruit structure gorgeously complex, full bodied and built for the hedonist wine drinker. You could pair this up with your grilling favorite but I pushed my food aside and took the bottle to savor all on its own.

Thorn-Clarke 2004 Shotfire Ridge Shiraz $18
A favorite of mine is this luxurious, loaded and solid full bodied Shiraz. Beautiful aromatics of anise, chocolate and black fruits as well as plush creamy texture with flavors of cherry, olive and oak. A long lingering finish making this wine appealing the pleasure seeking wine drinker. I drank this with roasted quails in a sauce of crème de cassis.

Dry Rub recipe for grilled meats

3 Tablespoons of bittersweet smoked Spanish paprika
1 Tablespoon of dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon of coarse ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried onion powder
½ teaspoon dried garlic powder
Juice of 1 lime

Place all ingredients in one gallon ziplock bag with two 8oz steaks mix thoroughly and place in refrigerator for several hours before grilling.

Hooray for Viognier

Hooray for Viognier!

(JUNE 19, 2006) TWAIN HARTE  For summer there is nothing more refreshing for the thirst and the brain than sipping on a clean, crisp and cool white wine on your deck or patio in the shade. Hooray for Viognier! For an inspirational, cool and revitalizing glass of wine reach out for something different from one of the most appealing white varieties. Breaking free from the domination of Chardonnay isn’t always easy but over the last ten years Viognier has made enormous progress finding consumers and wine growers sympathetic to its cause.

In the 1991 Grape Acreage Report for California there were a total of 79 acres planted to this varietal. As of 2005, there are 2,217 acres of Viognier planted in California. Due to efforts by Rhone variety enthusiasts in California such as Josh Jensen of Calera Vineyards and John Alban of Alban vineyards, as well as interest from growing consumer enthusiasm for wine in general, varieties such as Viognier are developing a loyal following. On both coasts interest in this wine is growing by leaps and bounds.

This non-pretentious and versatile white variety makes wines that are equally comfortable for the summer quaffing crowd as well as a companion for dinner with the most discerning of food aficionados. Upon examination, I found under $15 Viognier in a simple, light, fruity style exemplified by a fermented in all stainless steel tanks. In the over $15 dollar range I found wines with more depth, complexity and structure often with the addition of barrel aging. I tried a few in each category, so, find out for yourself, and test out a bottle of Viognier today.

Jewel Collection 2004 California Viognier $7.99 to $9.99
An easy to drink white with wonderful aromatics for a wine priced under $10. The hints of stone fruit and floral notes are accurate. Across the palate a crisp citrus flavor is refreshing and complimentary to a variety of foods. Not a cloying, sticky sweet style yet finishes with just enough sweetness to keep most of us drinking to the last drop. Drink this with some sharp white cheddar, crisp green apples and a sourdough baguette.

Peirano Estate 2005 Viognier $11.99 to $14.99
Out of Lodi a star is shining in this delicious Viognier. Aromas of peaches, apricot and plucot leads into a nice rich mouth feel showing flavors of tropical fruits and vanilla.
Peirano did well with this dry, yet fruity and crisp summer white. Paired well with a white pizza of Broccoli rape, smoked mozzarella and Italian sausage.

Pepperwood Grove 2005 Viognier $7.99 to $9.99
Begins with the floral sweetness in the nose one would expect, hints of tropical fruits and spice. The flavors echo the aromas but less pronounced. This wine is simple yet refreshing, presenting an attractive look at Viognier for under $10. Try this with some Thai green curried chicken and Jasmine rice

Dover Canyon 2004 Paso Robles Viognier $21.99
A rich creamy wine with complex aromas of honeysuckle, tropical fruits and spice. It is a nicely textured white smooth, round and generous with bright peach, nectarine, citrus and spice flavors that are well-focused, long and complex, medium to full body, and a dry finish.
Try with Smoked Spanish paprika rubbed pork chops done on the grill.

Gregory Graham 2003 Napa Valley Viognier $24.99
This wine is far from light but still retains the balance to allow easy drinking. Augmented floral aromas complimented with pear and cream are deeply embedded into the flavor profile. The rich honey and spice flavors come in the finish along with polished viscosity that slides away like a juicy piece of fruit. Drink with an eggplant tapenade topped wheat cracker and proscuitto.

Preston Vineyards 2004 Dry Creek Valley Viognier $23.99
The early years Preston Viognier was a light bodied example of this varietal. Now that the vines have some maturity the Viognier they produce is one of my favorites from this area. This attractive, plump wine emanates heady aromas of peaches and clover honey. A zippy acidity surrounds the exotic flavor combination of fruits, flowers and spices. The medium bodied mouth feel is concluded with a completely dry finish.
Drink with Kung Pao Chicken