By Sean Nelson
One of my favorite things about living in Napa is the Summer weather. While St. Helena and Calistoga roast in the hot sun at the northern end of the valley, the southern end enjoys a fairly consistent light breeze throughout the day that gives way to cool, sometimes even chilly evenings. It’s a great place to dine outdoors, especially after a long day.
On a recent perfect Summer evening, my wife and I decided to put the lemons and chicken breast in our fridge to good use and prepared a simple chicken piccata with rice and a light salad to eat on our patio.
(This is where I would normally provide a recipe, but it’s chicken piccata—breaded chicken sautéed in butter with a lemon and caper sauce is a combination you almost can’t mess up. Use your favorite recipe.) To accompany it, I selected Domaine les Cantates Jacquère Chignin,
which at $15 is one of the best values in the shop.
The grape is Jacquère, a traditional grape of France’s tiny, relatively obscure Savoie region that is found almost nowhere else in the world. This bottle makes me wonder why that is. Aromatic, minerally, citrus-driven, a bit herbacious and light bodied, its flavors make a perfect accompaniment to the tanginess of the lemon and capers. The wine was aged 6-12 months on the lees, which adds a bit of textural richness to stand up to the lightly breaded chicken. Beautifully balanced, simple and absolutely delicious!
That’s a lot of goodness for 15 bucks. Living well on a budget isn’t so hard with wines like this.
By Sean Nelson
Pairing wine with Indian cuisine can be a challenge:
not many wines are up to the task of complementing these exotic spices, non-Western ingredients and rich sauces from a food tradition that arose completely independently of wine. So when I met friends for dinner recently at Aroma, Napa’s recently-opened Indian restaurant, I was tempted to say, “let’s just have beer.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)
But, intrepid wine adventurer that I am, I decided to face the task head-on. I chose SCHOLIUM PROJECT "Steverjan - Rocky Hill Vineyard" 2014
, a skin-fermented Pinot Gris ("orange wine”) and it performed beautifully. It was rich enough to stand up to the heavy sauces and fruity enough to provide a good contrast to the spices. Steverjan’s flavors of fresh plums and dried stone fruits provided a lift to Chicken Tikka Masala, while the textural “grit” and herbaceous notes added depth and a refreshing counterpoint to Lamb Saag.
The grapes were fermented whole cluster in 500 L puncheons for about a month, then aged an additional 9 months in neutral barrels. The grapes come from Rocky Hill Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain, west of Glen Ellen. “Steverjan” is the name of the town where Radikon and Gravner, the two great pioneers of orange wine in Friuli (northeast Italy, on the Slovenian border), make their wines. This wine is delicious on its own, but it really shines when paired with the right food. Only 240 cases produced, so get some while you can!
By Sean Nelson
I think we’ve all been there: you decide to buy a kitchen gadget, dreaming of all the wonderful dishes you’ll prepare with it, only to have it sit in a back corner of the pantry, unused. This was the fate of our pasta roller for more than a year, until this past weekend when we finally braved the unknown and set out to make our own pasta for the first time.
It’s actually quite easy! 2 cups of flour (plus more for dusting), three eggs, a pinch of salt and a dash of olive oil, mixed together by hand, then kneaded to a silky consistency. Let sit for 20 minutes. Roll it out in progressively thinner sheets, dusting with flour as you go, then feed it through the cutters. Done. Simple, delicious, and vastly superior to dried pasta. Feeds 4 or so.
We made a sauce out of heirloom tomatoes and herbs from our garden
(plus a good amount of ground sausage), and served it with Casato 1 Brunello di Montalcino "Voliero" 2009 ($39/bottle).
It’s a soft, supple expression of Brunello: ripe berries, anise and mocha with plenty of oak tannins and acid to balance the fruit. At $39, this is an absolute steal and a great introduction to Brunello for the California Cabernet drinker.
By Dan Dawson
We had friends over and a blazing hot fire going. The theme: everyone cook a dish from the cookbook, "Seven Fires-Grilling the Argentine Way" by Francis Mallmann. I cooked Skirt Steak and served it with chimichurri. Here's a picture, and I admit the steak doesn't make love to the camera. Tasted good, nonetheless (as did the side of salmon you see that a friend prepared).
Not much to report on the steak. It was high quality from Napa's Five Dot Ranch. Came out medium and smoky and tasted really good with the chimichurri.
The wine of choice is no surprise considering the theme. Argentine Malbec of course!
ADELANTE Malbec, La Consulta 2013 (just $16/bottle). It's impressive how well good Malbec pairs with smoky foods. The big berry and licorice/mint spice complement the smoky meat like PB&J. Big flavor matches big flavor.
The Adelante Malbec is one of the best values in the store. Highly recommended.
One of my favorite things about summer in the Napa Valley is the Farmer’s Markets.
There’s one just down the street from my house in St. Helena every Friday. It’s quaint, idyllic and not as cheap as you would hope, but I love going all the same. I like sampling the first stone fruits of the season and then buying big when I find fruit that is at its peak. This week, the clear winner was the white nectarines. God, they were good. The perfectly ripe flesh burst with every juicy bite until it was dribbling down my beard. They were too perfect to imagine doing anything to them… I simply cut them into wedges and ate them unadorned until my stomach hurt. To wash them down, I picked a wine loaded with similar flavors
… Mas de Daumas Gassac’s 2013 White Wine ($48.)
The wine hails from a producer once dubbed “The Lafite of Languedoc”. After trying this wine, you’ll
surely agree with the nickname. A blend of equal parts Viognier, Chardonnay, Petit Manseng and Chenin Blanc, this white is floral, round, mineral-driven and loaded with myriad stone fruit. Basically, everything you could ever want in a wine. It’s like a great CdP blanc, but honestly, it’s better. Really.I’m planning on getting at least two more: one for now and another to try in another 7-8 years.
I highly suggest you do the same.
You'll thank me one day.
Stay Cool, Connor
Every few months my brother, Jordan, comes up to Napa Valley for a visit.
I like to think that it is solely to check in on his younger, more handsome brother but I fear I may be delusional here. He comes for 3 reasons: to pick up his wines, eat great food, and lastly, see his little bro. That said, he is very generous with his wines, and he has become quite the collector.
He even let Kelly and I tag along for a special day among the vines at VHR.
In addition to hitting up our usual favorites of Tra Vigne, Hana Japanese Restaurant and Terra, I always use one of my days off to cook him a feast.
This time, the stakes were high: he was going to open up a unicorn bottle, something I have wanted to try for many, many years. A 1988 Cheval Blanc.
I better not mess up this meal, ‘cause the wine was sure to be fabulous.
I opted for a play of a “Surf and Turf” special: Grilled Ribeye and Langoustine. Roasted red potatoes and mushrooms, English peas, shaved radish, micro
arugula for accoutrements. The steaks were so big, I decided to plate everything right on top, until it spilled over the sides into a heaping pile of deliciousness. The Langoustine was sautéed and then tossed into a lobster and miso cream… absolutely hedonistic. If you all don’t have a 1988 Cheval Blanc hanging around, not to worry… try this Cain Cuvee "NV10" ($35)
instead. Similar blend, classic French rustic-ness, purity of fruit and firm tannins. Maybe doesn't quite stand up to one of the greatest wines in the world, but for about 1/10 the price, it certainly has value on its side. To recap: the food was great, the wine was sublime, the company exceptional. Too bad I can’t live so well every day.
Fresh off the heels of our Arts in April event here at Back Room, I thought I’d share with you all my recipe for the Cuban Pork Sandwiches we served. The Cuban Art was (and is) gorgeous, the music upbeat and lively, the wine fun and delicious, and the food, well the food was pretty good too.
I’m paring this with Stephane Vivier’s rose of Pinot Noir 2014 ($20) that just hit out shelves. As luck would have it, Stephane had dropped off a sample bottle for us to try that very day, and it went perfectly with the Mojo-roasted pork. Be warned, this recipe takes a few days from start to finish. That said, it’s only a few minutes of actual work each day, so plan ahead, make extra and have some fun with it!
3 cups brown sugar
2 cups Kosher salt
2 medium heads of garlic, rough chopped
4 cups orange juice
3 cups water
2 TB cumin
1 bunch fresh oregano, chopped
2 TB black peppercorns
1/2 Cup olive oil
Bring to all boil, and then cool. Once cool, immerse Pork Shoulder and chill for 24 hours.
Remove from brine and pat dry.
Mojo Marinade & Sauce:
1 1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Cup Cilantro (rough chopped, with stems)
1/2 cup Mint (rough chopped, leaves only)
2 1/2 cup Orange Juice
1 1/2 cup Lime Juice
Zest of 1 Orange
14 cloves garlic (peeled and chopped.)
2 Serrano peppers (or more depending on how hot you like it!)
1/2 cup fresh Oregano (rough chop)
2 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoon chili oil
1 teaspoons Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Kosher Salt or Sea Salt
Stir and combine. Cover and coat Pork shoulder with the marinade. Chill Pork for 6-12 hours. Set oven to 350 degrees. Bring pork and Mojo marinade to room temperature.
Reserve 1-2 cups of the marinade to make the Mojo sauce. Roast shoulder until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees (roughly 4-6 hours.) Baste every half hour or so. Cool in it's juices.
Blend the reserved marinade until the solids are fully incorporated.
Bring to a boil in a saucepan and then cool. Shake well prior to use.
Butter the inside and outside some fresh, semi-soft baguettes. Fill with slices of pork shoulder, then grilled ham slices, plenty of Swiss cheese, long slices of these Bread & Butter Pickles, and a splash of Mojo sauce. Griddle the sandwich over medium heat until golden brown and melty cheese pours out the sides. Slice and serve, with a little bit of Mojo sauce on the side.
Goes great with these Tostones!
While I can’t make the argument that we have had too much of a winter out here in California, I have thoroughly enjoyed more than my fair share of hearty winter fare.
And so, as we transition into spring (or leapfrog into summer) I thought I would share with you all one last rich, decadent and fattening meal to hold us off until the fall rolls around again. Without further ado, I present to you, Milk-braised pork and creamy polenta with mushrooms.
I teamed up with my old culinary school classmate and we spent the day coming up with dishes.
We each did our own pasta course (shrimp ravioli and whipped pork agnolotti) and then teamed up on the entrée. The pork loin
was seared whole, cubed and braised in milk, stock, fennel, onions and herbs. The polenta was boiled in water and then mounted with cream, butter and heaps of Parmesan. We roasted the mushrooms separately and made a little pan jus to pour over all. It was truly hedonistic and I can safely say that no one went home hungry.For dinner, I left the wines to our guests… and they didn’t disappoint!
In addition to a 2001 William Seylem Chardonnay, a Piemonte San Vito da Uve Timorasso and a 2008 Facets of Gemstone, someone also broke out a wine that we actually have on our shelves: a 2012 Calder Wine Company Charbono from Meyer's Vineyard in Calistoga ($25.)
It was, quite possibly, the revelation of the night, in a line-up of great wines from all manner of price points. It’s low alcohol (12.5%) and bright red fruit flavors of pomegranate and crushed raspberry, plus hibiscus and a kiss of wild fennel made it the perfect match for pork. Rory Calder Williams continues to make some of our house favorites for small production, artisan wines made from lesser known grapes. Certainly helped to make our dinner party night to be remembered.
Dan's two most memorable food & wine pairings from last month:
1) Blue Cheese stuffed hamburgers and "Las Gravas" Jumilla 2010 Magnum ($65/btl).
is made by Bodegas Casa Castillo. Southern Spain, bit inland from the Mediterranean. "Big Red" country. Las Gravas is Monastrell (Mourvedre) based. Fruity, bold, and great with outdoor cookin' and eatin'. I used Michael Chiarello's "Live Fire" cookbook and took the tip to put cheese on the INSIDE of the Burger. Great idea...I'll never top a burger with cheese again. Blue cheese, good ground beef, great bun, simple on the condiments. Loads of flavor between the sandwich and the hearty wine. The magnum vanished in a hurry.
2) Nigiri and Maki Sushi at Morimoto and Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner "Lamm" Kamptal 2013 ($76/bottle).
Spicy Tuna and BBQ Eel Rolls, Hamachi Nigiri. Solid. The "Lamm" is awesome. Often tight upon release, this ain't the case with the 2013. Quickly comes together with juicy orchard, citrus and tropical fruits. The necessary green tea, white pepper and parsnip notes peak through...they'll emerge with time I'm sure. Match was great. Not exactly a marriage per se, but the levels of flavors were similar and the flavors were complementary. Didn't think as much as I just simply enjoyed.
Two Super Bowl food and wine pairings stuck out for Dan.
1) Velveeta cheese dip with diced tomatoes and ortega green chiles.
Wine match: WHITE ROCK "Reserve" Chardonnay 2012
(not available at Back Room...contact White Rock direct for the wine). Creamy texture and bright fruit in the wine meld together with this classic trashy gourmet goo.2) Blue cheese-stuffed hamburgers with Red Onion/Zinfandel Marmalade
and GREEN & RED Zinfandel
"Tip Top Vineyard" Napa Valley 2012. Also not available at this time at Back Room.
The burger and marmalade recipe comes from Michael Chiarello's "Live Fire" cookbook. I made giant 1 1/2 lb burgers and put them on focacia round loaves (cut into 6ths). Chiarello recommended Zinfandel with this burger (duh). Right as rain. Fantastic match.
For Connor, the standout pairing was Spicy Chicken Wings and Cava.
Roasted the wings with salt and pepper and tossed them in some unbelievably spicy wing sauce. I call it my kitchen sink sauce... 'cause, well, you know. Sriracha, soy, brown sugar, ketchup, dijon, fish sauce, cayenne, lime and whatever else seemed necessary at the time. It'll knock your socks off. Good thing a bottle of bubbles cures all.
The BOHIGAS Cava Brut "Reserva" ($15) was just the extinguisher for this fire. Crisp, bright with a nice zip.
Dan's two most memorable Food & Wine Matches during the holidays:
1) Moules Frites (Mussels & Fries) at Bouchon Yountville.
With a bottle of PASTOU Sancerre "La Cote de Sury - Vielles Vignes" 2013
($24/bottle at Back Room Wines.) Was tickled pink to see they served it by the glass and by the bottle. 2) Crab Bisque made by my Mom for Christmas Eve.
She got the recipe from Simplyrecipes.com. Here it is.
With a bottle of FRITH Grenache Napa Valley 2012
$32/bottle. Rich shellfish stock made with roasted crab shells, lots of herbs and some tomato paste made this an excellent Grenache dish. And it was!
December is here and I’m still knee deep in Thanksgiving leftovers. In addition to the two turkeys I made this year (one smoked, one roasted for comparison’s sake,) I also made a whole ham. Yes, a whole friggin’ ham. Can’t say that I was planning on it, really. Dave Bos (of Bos wines, naturally) raised a couple of pigs, fattened on the scraps of his organic and biodynamic wine grapes. He had them slaughtered and needed a skilled butcher to break the meat down into manageable pieces. After he gave up on finding a skilled butcher, he turned to me. I hadn’t broken down a whole animal since culinary school… man, it was a lot of fun! Butchering two whole pigs is thirsty work, but luckily Dave brought copious amounts of his Bos “Ode to Fume” Sauvignon Blanc ($26) to keep us hydrated (and happy.)
Finally I got down to the legs and wow, were they a couple of beauties! I couldn’t bring my knife to scar them,
and far grander plans began to take shape in my head. So I broke out the trash bags, my biggest cooler and a whole lot of my special brown sugar brine. 8 days and 40 pounds of ice later, these babies were ready for the smoker. I used cherry wood (soaked in cooking wine) and a small handful of hardwood charcoal for the smoker. Kept it low and slow for 8 hours at a constant 200 Fahrenheit and then brushed a brown sugar, black pepper and honey glaze all over and let it caramelize at 300 Fahrenheit for another hour. I hate to admit it, but it outshined my turkeys and became the hit of my Thanksgiving Feast. My favorite wine to match? A lovely (and inexpensive!) Alsatian Gewurztraminer from Boeckel ($18.)
The very same that is on our tasting tonight, actually. Now I just have to find another whole pig leg in time for Christmas. Happy Holidays!
Autumn is here, bringing with it some cooler temperatures and those lovely Fall colors.
There doesn’t seem to be a single grape left on the vine anywhere in the valley, and most of the 2014 vintage is already in barrel. All this amounts to my favorite time of year for throwing dinner parties. My friends on the production side are finally getting to see the light outside of their cellars and rinse the grape must and dirt from off their hands to take a much deserved rest. My kitchen friends are still pretty busy with all of the valley’s scores of visitors, but even they get the occasional Tuesday off every now and again. Me, I love to cook… and especially for my friends.