Monday, December 30, 2019

Classical Winter Wine & Food Pairings

                                         Winter does not necessarily mean only red wine

With nearly three months of winter before us, it’s time to bring out the colder weather wines, as well as recipes for their accompanying foods.  Winter wines are bold and powerful, and the dishes served with them need to match the wine’s intensity.  For many this time of year means big reds, however, there are some formidable whites that can also work beautifully.   And, let’s not forget wines such as Port, both a perfect winter aperitif, as well as a gorgeous dessert wine for this time of year.

Below is my winter list, arranged in alpha order by grape varietal.

Barolo & Barbaresco
Both of these Italian red wines are made from Nebbiolo grapes grown at the base of the Italian Alps.  Nebbiolo harvested in the town of Barolo is called Barolo, while Nebbiolo harvested in the nearby commue of Barbaresco must by law be called Barbaresco.   Known for robust tannin and high acidity, these wines need equally substantial foods.   Julia Child’s veal with mushroom cream sauce, or a pasta with a cream sauce of porcini mushrooms and/or truffles are perfect matches.

Oaked Chardonnay
Winter is a time for full-bodied whites and an oaked Char fits the bill.  The oak barrel gives the Chardonnay structure by adding tannins to the wine’s profile, along with the addition of complex butter, caramel and nutty flavors.  Oaked Chars can support luscious cream sauces and rich shellfish such as crab, scallops and lobster.

Cabernet Sauvignon
It goes without saying that all Cabs should have some age on them.  Cabernet grapes are hugely tannic, thus time is required for this varietal to be drinkable.   A smashing wintertime pairing is either a prime rib or a rack of lamb.  But, another classical coupling is a Bolognese-sauced pasta, or even a pizza---no kidding, try it…you’ll like it!

Aged Riesling
With time in the bottle the Riesling varietal changes dramatically.  Young Rieslings offer a fruity profile----varying from lemon in cold growing areas to apricot nuances in warmer climates.   Aged Rieslings not only become fuller and richer, but the wine’s taste and aromatics morph into something with petrol nuances.  For some, aged Rieslings aren’t enjoyable.  However, for many, an aged Riesling served with the right foods can be nirvana.   Perfect pairings are a pork roast with braised cabbage, or duck and goose.

There are many types of Port and one size doesn’t fit all for matching them with food.  Tawny Port, which presents rich and nutty flavors, works well with salty items such as Parmiggiano Reggiano and/or nuts.  Vintage Ports (which are extraordinarily powerful with intense fruits, chocolate and spices), can stand up against a blue cheese such as a Stilton, or a well-aged power-house Cheddar.

If there’s ever a classical winter wine, it’s a Zin.  As most Zinfandels are a heavy alcohol wine, they must be served with a food of equal weight in boldness.   Think rich, unctuous wine-braised short ribs, or a hearty beef stew with root veggies.  But, beef is not the only match.  Chicken can work but it’s all about how it’s prepared.  My favorite method is a recipe marinating it for 24 hours with balsamic and aromatic herbs, then cooking it with onions, prunes, capers and green Olives.  Here the recipe:

Have a wonder-filled wine winter.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

World's Best Cranberry Sauce (Really!)

Nearly 40 years ago a dear foodie friend of mine shared her recipe for an ethereal cranberry sauce which she had learned in a San Francisco cooking class. (Thank you, Beth Izmirian).  It’s been on every Thanksgiving and Christmas table of mine ever since.  The recipe was developed by the culinary luminary Perla Meyers.  Perla was not only one of the pioneers of farm-to-table philosophy, but authored nine cookbooks over her illustrious career during the 1970's-90’s.

So what makes this cranberry condiment the best on the globe?   One of the reasons is that it has both apples and pears which give it great texture (plus these fruits add depth of flavor rather than a one note cranberry).  Another is the plumped raisins which offer a lovely sweet contrast to the tart cranberries.  The fresh squeezed orange juice, zest, and the Grand Manier further infuse multi layers of orange.  The last reason it tops the best-ever list is its color.  Humdrum cranberry sauce is all one color (also only one flavor profile).  The world’s best, however, offers a wide assortment of color due to the lighter colored apples and pears, as well as the golden raisins or the dark currants.

Recipe inventor Perla Meyers actually named this dish a cranberry chutney.  While chutney doesn’t quite ring true for me (they are spicy and/or have vinegar), I still refer to it as Perla intended out of homage to this extraordinary food personality.  The chutney keeps for a couple of weeks in the frig, and if there is any leftover (usually not) I serve it on top of a log of goat cheese…it’s magical and colorful pairing for a holiday appetizer.

  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 12 oz. fresh Cranberries
  • 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 TBLSN orange zest
  • 2 diced Pears
  • 2 diced Apples
  • ½ cup currants or light colored raisins
  • ¼ cup Grand Marnier liquor

Cook the first six ingredients in a sauce pan over medium heat for 30-40 minutes (add currants/raisins during the last 15 minutes of cooking). Remove from the heat and let cool for approximately 30 minutes.  Last, add the Grand Manier.

BTW:  it’s best made several days before serving.

Enjoy the world's best, and have the best-ever Holiday Season.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Yule Love these 7 Bubblies for the Holidaze

       Representing 4 countries & ranging from $85-20, these bubbles are guaranteed winners

The holidays aren’t the holidaze without sparkling wine.  Below is my fave list for non-vintage bubbles.  There’s the real-deal Champagne, but there’s also a super-duper sparkling wine from Burgundy at half the price.  The wines are listed alphabetically by country.  One of my personal favorites is a bubbly from Italy’s premier sparkling wine district, Franciacorta.  England is also on the list…don’t laugh as British fizz has beat out some of the most respected French Champagnes in many blind tastings.  Last, there’s an American bubbly that I particularly enjoy.  All but one are under $55, and three are $25 or less.


          ~ Wiston Estate Brut:  this one has won more medals than any other English fizz.  $40


          ~ Billecart Salmon Champagne:  this one has been a long-standing winner in my book.   $85

~ Gosset Champagne:  Consistently well-made wine and a cut above the others in the over $50 category.  $55

~  Ployez Jacquemart Chamapagne:  one of the best price/quality I know of.  Difficult to find, but worth seeking out.  $50

          ~  Veuve Ambal Brut Cremant Grande Cuvee:  Made in Burgundy (which is contiguous with the Champagne district), Cremant is the legal term for any sparkler from Burgundy.   $20

          ~  Ferghettina:  This winery’s vintage sparkling wines are the bomb, but this list is only about non-vintage.  Located in the lake district of northern Italy, Ferghettina’s non-vintage is an absolute delight. $40

          ~  Roederer Estate Brut Anderson Valley:  this one is a perennial winner in my book and a great value.  $25

Enjoy the Holidaze with one of these bubblies. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

A Spicy Holidaze Cocktail

     This festive cocktail epitomizes the smells & delights of the holidays

On WineKnows’ recent trip to England to explore the country’s international award-winning sparkling wine industry, we also visited a gin distillery in the Cotswolds.  It was here that I was introduced to spiced gin.  Like a pumpkin pie that has just been removed from a holiday oven, this gin exudes pungent nutmeg, fresh ginger, just-grated cinnamon sticks, and decadent clove oil (all, of course, with the requisite backdrop of juniper notes).

I can’t take credit for this stunning holiday cocktail as it comes from a book I found in the distillery’s giftshop, Gin Tonica by David Smith.  Fortunately, one does not have to go to England to find the spiced gin as it is imported into the USA (call the importer, Palm Bay, at 561.893.9998 to find the store nearest you), or purchase it online.  Also available online is the Cranberry Tonic…it’s pricey but, come on….. it’s the holidaze!

Holidaze Gin & Tonic  (makes 4 cocktails)
  • 7 oz Darnley’s Spiced Gin
  • 2.5 C Double Dutch Cranberry Tonic
Decorate with fresh rosemary sprigs, fresh cranberries, and thinly sliced fresh ginger.

A few English tips for making any great gin and tonic:
  1. Use a chilled glass (or quickly chill it by adding a full glass of ice & stirring for 15 seconds with a sure to pour out any liquid from the melted ice).  
  2. When adding the tonic pour slowly as this helps the tonic to keep its fizz.
  3. Let the drink rest for 30 seconds to allow flavors to integrate with one another.
Have a spicy and very merry holiday season!