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April 2014

Sorry, folks, but I forgot about March’s food blog.
It was my birthday month, and I got a bit distracted in all the revelry. But my distractions bore unexpected fruit. For my birthday, I was whisked away to Sonoma Square for a birthday dinner at The Girl and the Fig. It was my first time there, though it had been on my radar for the last four years. Sonoma is just so far away!  Nevertheless, I finally made it, and The Girl did not disappoint (The Fig isn’t in season just yet.) I went with the order everything and find a way to eat it all mentality: Charcuterie Board, Mussels and Fries, Beet Salad, Croque Madame, Duck Confit—a veritable feast (for two.) beets

Everything was excellent, if you haven’t been already, I recommend it highly. Great food and very good value to boot. One of my favorite things about the place: their Rhone-centric wine list. I knew this going in, in fact, it was a primary reason I was taken there. You may not know this, but I love me some Rhones. From their list: Truchard Roussanne 2012 and Campovida Marsanne 2012 by the glass. Both top notch Cal-Rhones but I was itching for the real thing. Enter J.L. Chave St. Joseph Blanc “Celeste” $32. Yes, $32. For the producer, the region and the quality, I have no idea how we are able to sell this wine for so little. It’s everything you could want in a Roussanne—floral and waxy with notes of stone fruits and an incredibly long finish. Best paring: the Beet Salad, with spring greens, goat cheese and pistachios. High acid salad, relatively low acid Roussanne plus the shared bitter notes of the wine and the pistachios. Delish.

Convivially Yours,


February 2014

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Back Room Wines now carries sake.
I am quite excited about this. With the amount of Japanese food that I both cook and consume, sake comes into play quite frequently (the picture for this month’s blog is my homemade Tonkotsu Ramen.) Up until about a year ago, I suffered from the same misconceptions that most people have about sake… It’s only for sushi, or to drop in your beer, it tastes like nail polish remover, etc. etc. But then I ate at Hana Restaurant in Rohnert Park and met Stuart Morris.

Stuart is a master sake sommelier. One of a very select few (in fact, I think 1 of 4 in the world outside of Japan.) He knows his stuff. If you don’t believe me, come taste with him here at Back Room on February 7.  At Hana, Stuart showed me how versatile sake can be as a food pairing, and how, like wine, there are different styles of sake suited for a wide array of dishes. I remember him pouring me a sake that we now carry here at Back Room: Gunma Izumi Honjozo ($24). It was right out of the fridge and very cold. He suggested I have it with my Japanese Saba (mackerel) that had been lightly torched. The sake was crisp and full of minerality, but with a roundness that I typically associate with chardonnay. It was perfect with the briny and iron-loaded Saba.

But then he brought me the same sake, slightly warm, to enjoy with my Tonkotsu ramen. I couldn’t believe it was the same wine. It was still round, but this time loaded with deep, nutty flavor and subtle nuances of mushrooms. It too, was perfect with Chef Ken Tominaga’s pork ramen. One sake, two very different meal pairings. Very cool indeed. So, as you might have surmised by now, I am very excited for Sake and its future here at Back Room Wines.


January 2014

Nothing like starting the New Year off by having your eyes awakened to something new.
Black-eyed peas and collard greens certainly did the trick for me this year. Apparently, this is a well-established tradition for much of the South, though I had certainly never heard of it. I must say, it is the perfect meal to cap-off a night of over indulgence. After soaking the peas for a day and thoroughly cleaning the collards, I simmered both in a healthy amount of pork stock with chopped onions, celery and carrots. For the collards, I added a nice slab of Berkshire pork belly that I had seasoned and seared. I always seem to err on the side of adding pork belly, and hey, if I’m cooking southern food, I certainly think they’d approve of my choice.  My favorite part about the meal was that it was certainly idiot proof (another good thing for New Year’s cooking.) You simply simmer everything until it’s tender, season it until it’s delicious and spice it up with hot sauce to your heart’s content.
 And while all of that is going on, throw on a bowl game (or the Winter Classic) and choose your favorite bottle of bubbles. In this case, I happened to pull a bottle of Domaine Collin Cremant de Limoux Brut Rosé ($16) from the fridge. This wine has scaled the list of my favorite house bubbles in the brief few weeks that we’ve carried it at the shop. It’s bright, beautiful and amazingly complex for a value-priced sparkling. In fact, I hesitate to even recommend this, if only because I want our entire supply to myself. It’s delightfully tart with sweet berries and a touch of creaminess to round off the long finish. A truly remarkable wine that worked perfectly with the spicy collard greens and hearty black-eyed peas. Hope this finds you as hungry and thirsty as I now am!

Happy New Year,


December 2013

Uggh… Too much Turkey!!!
It was delicious, but I most certainly plan on staying away from birds for a while… at least until I get inspired to roast a Christmas goose. On that note, I decided to pop-in for a visit to Chef Jason Toji and the good people at Press Restaurant in St. Helena last week. Not a turkey in sight… just some of the best steaks you’ll ever eat. I love sitting at the bar when I go, it’s just a very comfortable and casual space. Plus, you can get out of there with a nice app and entrée for under $50. I went with the Kampachi crudo to start. It’s lightly cured in seaweed and served with mushrooms and a light dashi broth. sheepVery crisp and clean with delicate nuance of flavors and aromas. I paired that with a glass of Massican Annia ($28). This white blend is similarly crisp and elegant, with a brightness that screams to be paired with crudos and lighter dishes.

For my main, I got steak… naturally. The skirt steak at Press is one of my favorites. Hard seared, medium rare with a finishing sprinkle of Maldon salt. It’s juicy, tender and full of robust flavor. All it needed was a wine that could make it sing even louder. Luckily, I had brought a bottle of Inherit the Sheep Cabernet Sauvignon ($80). The 2010 vintage that we just got here in the shop is a truly exceptional wine. Not as ripe as the ’09 but I consider that a good thing. It is unmistakably fruity, plums and berries abound, yet with a slightly floral aroma that lends it a sense of elegance. It has a beautiful, long finish. Like many of the 2010’s I have encountered thus far, it drinks amazingly now, but can also be lain down for ten years or more.

Cheers and Happy Holidays,

November 2013

I was carving my Halloween pumpkin the other night, arms deep in seeds and pumpkin guts when I suddenly realized something… it’s squash season! (I’m not always the brightest light bulb, to be sure.) Naturally, the thought of all those brightly colored and deeply rich autumn squashes made me hungry.Squash
On top of that, we had our first real cold snap of the season here in Napa.

I immediately thought of soup. Delicata and Butternut squash soup with Kale pistou and bruleed Marshmallow to be exact. I caramelized some onions in a deep pot, added the peeled and cubed squash with just enough vegetable stock to cover. I simmered it all for about an hour and then pureed it with a stick blender and mounted it with a healthy pat of butter. While it was simmering, I blanched a bunch of kale and shocked it in ice water.
Then I blended that with pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice and salt until it was a nice creamy pesto texture. Lastly, I torched a marshmallow for a hint of burnt sugar deliciousness. Topped it off with some local micro-greens that I picked up from the St. Helena Farmer’s Market and a light sprinkle of sesame seeds… it was almost perfect.

But of course, I needed a wine to make it all complete. I went to my favorite red wine region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and settled on the lovely La Ferme du Mont “Vendange” CDP ($44). For the money, it is one of the best CDP’s I have ever had. The Grenache truly shines in this wine; with an elegant core of strawberries and raspberries, a delicately lighter body and some lovely acidity to cut through the heavy starch of all that squash. Now, the meal was perfect. And all because I decided to carve a pumpkin.

Cheers and a Happy Thanksgiving,

October 2013

Harvest is wrapping up and all my friends in the business are very excited about the 2013 vintage. Sure, it’s been a challenge—early heat, mild August temperatures and a few late season showers—but that’s half the fun! As for me, I eagerly look forward to fall here in Napa Valley. Sure, Harvest is exciting, the changing of the leaves are always beautiful and the scorching days of summer are behind us… but I am referring to something far more carnal. Menus are a changing throughout Napa, with a shift towards the richer, earthier, meatier and heavier dishes porchettaguaranteed to keep me fat and happy into the cold California winter. Ok, it’s not that cold. Who cares?                                                              
Thankfully, Chef Hiro and the Terra Restaurant Crew have me covered. Stopped in for dinner the other night with my brother and had a feast. Staples such as the Miso-Black Cod are good any time of year, but as for seasonal dining, I loved the roast suckling pig.
 Served with mouth-tingling porchetta spices, a perfectly crisp sweetbread and luscious porcini mushroom sauce, this dish just makes you all warm and happy on the inside. I paired it with a lovely Sicilian wine off our shelves, the Occhipinti "SP68" Rosso, Terre Siciliane IGT 2012 $28. The earthy aromas of the wine jumped right into line with the roasted, spicy pork while the bright, red fruits on the tongue elegantly cut the richness of the dish (and helped to ensure I could finish the whole thing.) All in all, it was a perfect night filled of great company, killer food and delectable wine. Here’s to hoping the fall finds you enjoying your own share of such evenings.

Cheers! Connor

September 2013

Late Summer in Napa Valley makes me think of two things. One, steer clear of Highway 29 whenever possible, and two, Napa’s tomatoes will finally be ripe. I never truly enjoyed tomatoes until I moved up to Napa Valley. Possibly because I had only experienced your generic greenhouse supermarket tomatoes, and possibly because I still thought tomatoes were to be kept in the fridge with your other veggies. Regardless of the reason, tomatoes were nothing more than an ingredient for pasta sauce or a condiment for French fries.

I know better now. The varieties of heirloom tomatoes throughout Napa Valley are truly incredible. And this is the time of year to indulge. Green Zebra’s just might be my favorite for juiciness and overall flavor, though the Golden Teardrop tomatoes are great for their texture and bright acidity. Brandywines are my personal favorites for Caprese Salad, San Marzanos for making sauces. I put these tomatoes and others on as many things as I can and use them in as many ways as possible from mid-August to early November. And then I stop eating them all together. Cold turkey. I always mean to can and store them for the winter, yet never get around to it. And there is simply no true replacement for them in the offseason.

So now is the time… to make gazpacho, fresh salsa, tomato bisque with grilled cheese, sofrito-based sauces, Caprese salads, homemade pizzas and more. My mouth waters at the very thought of it. My favorite wine with most of these dishes tends to be a medium to light bodied Grenache, though any light or medium bodied red will do the trick. The other day I made gazpacho from a mixture of heirloom tomatoes that included Cherokee Purple’s and Brandywine’s.  I topped the chilled soup with opal basil and pickled cucumbers, celery and peppers. The Chateau Des Tours Cotes du Rhone 2009 ($37) was a perfect match as the spicy black pepper notes served as an ethereal seasoning for the soup. If white wines are your thing, or if it is just too damn hot to open up a red, try Massican Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2012 ($28). It’s crisp, aromatic and refreshing, with enough acidity to hold up to our juicy Napa heirlooms. Eat ‘em while you can. If not, well, I guess that means more for me. Happy Harvest Napa Valley!

August 2013

I bought a pre-marinated “Napa Valley Rub” Flat Iron Steak from Napa’s
Five Dot Ranch yesterday.
Grilled it over gas flame along with Farmers’ Market corn. With it, we drank the
Silverado Vineyards Merlot “Mt George Vineyard” Napa Valley 2008 ($35). Appropriate as I can see Mt George from my Coombsville home. While Silverado Vineyards is, generally, too big a winery to “work” at Back Room, this Mt George Merlot is tiny production by their standards (a few hundred cases), and right in line with the limited-production wines we champion.
I really like the wine’s spicy-soil nose and slightly dried berry and more earthy spice flavor, then smooth lingering finish.
It’s unmistakably Merlot, and one that will make you truly appreciate the grape in its finest form (for a very fair price!). Cedar, cocoa, tobacco, curry, soy…could be classified as an “Umami Wine.”

The food match: Five Dot’s Napa Valley rub is olive oil and garlic based with a grab-bag of dried Italian herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary).
The meat is vacuum packed in the rub/marinade and sold as a grab & go at their Oxbow Public Market stand. I grilled it for about ten minutes on each side (Flat Iron is flat, but it takes longer to cook than, say, a flank steak). I think you know where I’m going with this: the match of wild, aromatic herbs on meat and in wine was excellent. The mild beef flavor and Merlot’s natural mildness were complementary. It worked really well. Even though Merlot is no longer poo-poo’d by the masses, we don’t sell lots of it, and honestly I don’t suspect we ever will. Good, “classic” Merlot is like Syrah: there’s an acquired taste quality to it, I find. I recommend you try this pairing and I think you’ll see what I mean.

July 2013

Back Room's 11th Annual Hot Dog & Wine Day was on June 29 (it's always held the Saturday before July 4). Best Dog and Wine match was the Chicago Dog and
Copain "P2" Red Wine 2012 from Anderson Valley. The "P2," a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, is just a great food wine in general. In stock at the moment but not for long.
Speaking of Hot Dogs, here's Dan's Shoulda' Been Blue Ribbon Chili recipe. It was served on the Chili Dog along with
"Open Range" Red 2009 by Casey Flat Ranch. Tasty! Here it is:

I got this recipe from Hernaldo Garay, the Sous Chef at The Olympic Club, where I worked two years as a culinary apprentice. It’s a great chili recipe - so good, I used it in a Chili Cook Off competition in Calistoga twenty years ago. My table was next to the eventual winner (I finished second). When the eventual winner tasted my chili before the judges arrived, he made a dash for his spice rack. Life ain’t fair, even in chili.

This recipe will serve 10-12 hungry chili eaters comfortably. Serve with cornbread and/or steamed rice and you’ll have enough for a Super Bowl Party of 20. You could feed a football team chili dogs. This recipe has some kick. On a scale of 1 to 10 for heat, I’d give it a 7. If you have any questions about the recipe, please call or email me.

1. Cook until done, then blend 1/4 of this and add back:
1 lb pinto beans, soaked overnight, covered with water
2 Tablespoons chili powder
1 Tablespoon dried or fresh thyme

2. Set aside beans. In a big, heavy pot, heat 3 Tablespoons vegetable or olive oil.
Then add 2 to 3 pounds of your preferred meat (depends how much meat you want)
Pork and/or beef is good...not too lean. Stew meat is good, or perhaps a ground pork shouolder. 
Cook through and degrease.

3. Add to meat and cook for ten minutes, all coarsely chopped:
2 small green bell peppers, 1 yellow onion, 1/2 bunch celery,
5 cloves garlic, 1/2 cup canned jalapeños with the juice, 1 T Dijon Mustard.

4. Add these tomato products (quality canned products are ok):
Three cups diced tomatoes with juice, 2 cups tomato puree, 1/2 cup ketchup
Also add . Stir everything together.
(I find folks like different amounts of tomato in their chili. You may want to start with 2 cups diced tomato and 1 cup puree, then decide for yourself if you want more. The ½ cup ketchup seems to be the right amount).

5. Mix these spices in a separate bowl then add to the pot:
1/4 cup chili powder, 2 T Paprika,  2 T beef base, 1 T dry mustard, 1/2 T Cumin,
1/2 T red pepper flakes,  1 t cayenne, 1 t dry ginger, 1 t oregano, 1 t black pepper,
1 t allspice, 1 t thyme,  1 t sage, 1/2 t celery seed, 1/2 t ground cloves.

6. Add 1 cup strong black coffee. If you prefer to use 1 cup espresso, go for it!
Then add ½ to 1 cup water to get a nice chili consistency.

7. Cook for one hour then add your cooked beans.
Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference.
Now serve, fridge, or freeze.
I like to serve the chili with home-fried tortilla strips & sour cream.

May 2013

Krug and EpoissesAn outer-body food and wine experience recently. Made time stop so I could engage all my senses to the great food and wine pairing in front of me. It was lunch at Bond Winery. The Bond Cabernets and the roast lamb was outstanding, but this is what stole the show:
Perfectly ripe Epoisses cheese and
Krug Champagne "Grande Cuvee."

Epoisses is gooey, musky cows milk cheese made in the village of Epoisses in Burgundy. It stinks in the best way (fans of such stinky cheeses know what I mean). Krug is, well, Krug. Wine up to 15 years old is in the cuvee, and it's aged 6 years on its lees before disgorgement. Alone, these two gustatory wonders are worth walking across town for. Together: KABOOM. The earth, musk, texture, umami and concentrated fruit are remarkably similar in the two. Then the acidity in Krug makes for just the right contrast.
I highly recommend you try this pairing. If $200 is too much for a bottle of Champagne (yes, that's what Krug sells for now), there are plenty more outstanding Champagnes of the Krug style for well under $100 I can recommend.

March 2013

I’m challenged to give food pairing suggestions for Napa Cab beyond red meat. I don’t eat that much of it. In fact, last time I had beef was a file at Napa’s Fish Story, and I had, of all wines, Littorai Pinot Noir. It was OK.
Well, I’ve come onto something. Holly cooked chicken thighs in our tagine with the spice Ras Al Hanut, a Morrocan (and other Northern African country) spice mixture. Ras El Hanout means, in Arabic, “Head of the Shop,” referring to this spice mixture to be the best the spice merchant  has to offer. The warm spices used usually include cardamom, chili peppers, clove, nutmeg, peppercorns, turmeric and coriander. The recipe may change depending on where you are in north Africa.
Preparing the dish is easy. Sautee onions and garlic then add the skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs and brown. Add chicken stock and a generous portion of Ras El Hanout, cover and cook for a half hour on the stove top. The result is a rich, warm, spicy, flavorful dish of chicken and sauce. Serve with roast potatoes, couscous or rice.
The wine we drank, and went surprisingly well with it (didn’t know what to expect, really) was the FISHER Cabernet Sauvignon “Coach Insignia” 2007, $85/bottle. My tasting notes include, “Dark luscious berry-cherry, black truffle, black currant, dark soil, decadent mouth feel.” The 10% combined Malbec and Cabernet Franc add to the wine’s spicy side. Toasty French oak complements the clove and nutmeg in the Ras El Hanout. It’s a great match. The recipe Holly has calls for rabbit with chicken as an alternative. I’d like to try it with rabbit. Turning the table a bit, I think Merlot would be a natural match with this dish.
I’m glad to have a Napa Cab recommendation on the blog for you this month.

February 2013

Second Skylark F&W Blog entry in three months. And a red wine this month. First since May!
Was a January mid-week, family outing to Sonoma (went to get Talia a passport). Late lunch at the slightly famous “The Girl and the Fig” restaurant on Sonoma Square. French bistro style with a focus on Rhone-style wines. And that’s what he had.

SKYLARK “Red Belly” 2010 ($22) is a blend of Carignane (63%), Grenache and Syrah.
The old vine Carignane (planted in the 1950s) is from Redwood Valley, a remote wine region between Ukian and Willits up Highway 101 heading towards Eureka (my hometown). The wine is strong while showing restraint: perfect for a table holding beef tartare, roast octopus and potato salad and a shrimp/onion omelette with frites. My online notes read: “Red and blue fruits spiked with black peppercorns, anise, lavender and allspice. No oak to speak of. Delicious alone, for sure, and REALLY GOOD at the meal table.” All the flavors working in unison. No one flavor trying to be loudest, strongest, or trying to “win.” This is a good thing, esp when it’s a late afternoon family time. 

January 2013

Enjoyed dinner at La Toque during Holiday Week. We were guests of a one of my best customers who loves fine dining. For starters, let me know say that, for Haute Cuisine, Chef Ken Frank’s La Toque Restaurant is as good as any. I highly recommend it for a special dinner out.
We had La Toque’s wine pairing with the 9 course menu and it was outstanding. (La Toque offers the best wine pairings anywhere. Chef Frank really does think about the wine as he creates his menus). Being the wine guy, I did bring something nice: a magnum of ALBERT GRIVAULT Meursault “Perrieres” 1er Cru 2008 ($175. 750 ML bottles: $84). It’s a beautiful white Burgundy that’s drinking fine now and has a long life ahead of it, too. As much about texture as flavor, I sense the limestone-heavy soil in its rocky/chalky mouthfeel. Preserved lemons, smoke, flowers and quince paste come to mind. But what mostly comes to mind is very good Burgundy.
I kept my glass of Grivault for a few courses. It’s versatile with myriad foods. My BEST pairing with it was the “Paella Negro” (Paella blackened with squid ink) with Spot Prawns, Manila Clams and Mussels. The dish is earthy, dense, complex and still light on its feet. The earthy squid ink and rice matched the soil-driven wine. The fish and the wine’s high tones made harmony.
Was a special pairing and a special dinner all-around.

December 2012. Second Blog Entry at Fish Story!

We drank the SKYLARK Pinot Blanc “Orsi Vineyard” Mendocino 2011 ($19/bottle) at the local restaurant Fish Story last week. Had not carried this wine for 4 vintages. Not sure why: it’s so good, and food friendly, too!
The Pinot Blanc comes from an old vineyard near the town of Hopland in Southern Mendocino County. The owners and winemakers are two wine professionals in San Francisco.
John Lancaster and Rob Perkins run the wine program at the excellent Boulevard Restaurant.
Back to Fish Story. My wife Holly, daughter Talia and I had a dozen Miyagi Oysters on the half shell, clam chowder, Dover sole in a truffle jus, classic shrimp cocktail and a couple other menu items. Twas a big assortment of flavors that called for a versatile wine, and really something white. Skylark fit the bill, and it’s one of the best value wines on the Fish Story list, too (don’t tell them I picked out a good value jewel for ya).
Lot of fruit here: green apples, apricots, Meyer lemon and fresh lime. GREAT acidity, yet with a richness in its core that makes it “work” with heartier sauces and fish preparations. It didn’t stand out, but it didn’t shy away either. Like a good referee, the wine did its job perfectly without being noticed.
Why do bottles of white wine disappear so quickly? I know: they’re so much easier to drink!

November 2012
I made enough guacamole for a hungry basketball team last weekend.
It was for a guacamole contest, but because of a schedule snafu I couldn’t attend. We ended up with a huge bowl of very good guacamole at home as we watched the San Francisco Giants win the World Series. Not a bad night!
Let me just say that, since it was a contest, I made a really good guac. Nothing fancy beyond the roasted Padron peppers. Other ingredients: cilantro, green onions, lime juice, garlic, salt and avocado. And chunky: mashed with a wire whisk.
Got me to thinking: best wine with guacamole. Not hard: Sauvignon Blanc, and preferably Loire Valley (or New Zealand) Sauv Blanc. Why? The grassy and/or herbal notes of Sauvignon Blanc are the perfect foil with the green dip that’s not just for Mexican restaurants and Super Bowl parties.
I opened a bottle of Domaine du Tremblay Quincy 2010 ($18). Quincy (pronounced CAN-see) is a village and appellation about 30 miles southwest of Sancerre.
Like Sancerre, it is always 100% Sauvignon Blanc grown in very rocky/chalky soils. My notes include grapefruit, tangerine, sea air, green apple, and thyme. Cilantro is not in my notes, but it could be because it’s there if you use a little imagination. The wine has a pleasant "greenness" that matches the cilantro and green onion.
And the acidity, like the lime juice, brightens up the richness of the guacamole. Wish I could really convey how good this pairing was. I’ll do my best to write out the guacamole recipe if you ask (I didn’t use a recipe for this). And I’ll VERY GLADLY send you some Quincy.

September 2012
I had the great and gluttonous opportunity to check out the sandwiches from Napa’s newest gourmet food truck: Pastranomy.
They’re serving lunch in Downtown Napa at the corner of Main and Clinton Streets (two blocks north of Back Room Wines).  They are now on my “normal” lunch circuit. Their sandwiches are really good, and for under $10 this good, to me, is a value.
Their Pastrami Sandwich is moist, flavorful and rich yet still light. The Reuben is melt-in-your-mouth delicious when warm. The Corn Beef Sandwich is lean yet moist. The Rye bread is the real deal, as are the potato latkes.
The wine? Well, the other day I drank a whole bunch of Southern French Rosé from Moulin de Gassac. The “Guilhem” Rosé 2011 ($11/bottle) is half Syrah/half Grenache.
Understated fruit, good texture and acidity, and of course dry.
Another winner: the fantastic value Der Pollerhof Gruner Veltliner 2010 Liter bottle for $14. Washes down the meat like a dream. Buy me a sandwich, bring it down to the shop, and I’ll pour you a glass of either. Sound like a deal?

July, 2012

Two Fourth of July week food & wine stories to share with you.
Both involve Italian wines at friends’ homes. Wines were Rosato and Vin Santo.

On Fourth of July evening, I dug into a grilled cheeseburger before watching fireworks set off at the Napa fairgrounds, not far away.  These friends bought from me, and served me (I sell it and drink it...pretty good deal, huh?) the SCILIO Etna Rosato 2011 ($18), a darker, heartier, spicy and slightly tannic Rosé. The grape is Nerello Mascalese, and the vineyard is on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily.
Interestingly, we poured this wine in last weekend’s Rosé Weekend at Back Room Wines, and not many really liked it. It’s a Rosé to go with food. Alone it’s too strong, or too “different.” With certain foods, it shines.
Needless to say it shines with the cheeseburger (and a fantastic cheeseburger at that!). The beef, the cheddar and all the fixins’ “tamed” turned the Rosato’s aggressiveness into a complement of black pepper and wild berry fruit flavors. This is a
Rosato/Rosé I can see being enjoyed through the winter, if there’s any left by then. Good Thanksgiving dinner table wine!

Yesterday (Sunday), we went to friends for burgers again. This time, LAMB burgers (the Rosato would have been good here, too, but we drank other pink wines). Responsible for dessert, I brought a bottle of PIAZZANO Vin Santo dell’ Empolese 2003 ($35/half bottle) along with biscotti and strawberries. Served the Vin Santo in glasses wide and shallow enough for easy dunking. Yummy, and the fresh strawberries were a refreshing addition to the mix, I thought.
Both wines are available currently at Back Room Wines.

JUNE 2012
Food & Wine Blog material practically fell into my lap yesterday.
My two ladies and I went to
Napa's Angèle Restaurant for a late brunch. I had an itching for a bottle of Rosé before we sat down. Sit down, reviewed wine list, and "we'd like the Domaine du Dragon Rosé 2011 ($18 retail) please." This Côtes de Provence Rosé is a popular one at Back Room: always on the crispest, spicy, almost austere side. Very food-complimentary to say the least.

We started with Country Pate, cornichons and stone ground mustard. Then Salad Nicoise and Duck Confit Hash and Poached Eggs (Angèle's poached eggs are glorious, by the way-lightly breaded and deep fried). Food was great, wine was perfect, company was devine. Wish I could replicate the experience with your purchase of the Dragon Rose, but I must leave that to you.

MAY 2012

Last week it was pretty warm here in Napa. Marissa and I like to drink red wine with dinner, even when it's hot outside. That can sometimes become an issue, especially when we go with fun summertime foods like chilled taco salad. When you might go for a nicely chilled Rose wine (or a beer), we often like to find a well-fruited red wine and take it down just a few degrees. The latest successful pairing happened just last week when we made a very basic taco salad. The wine of the night was a newly released Napa Valley red wine. Mostly Zinfandel, then Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot, "Por que no?" is a delicious bright wine with tons of sweet red berry fruits (no, the wine itself isn't sweet), spicy undertones and a very easy-drinking texture. I think all of that fruit lends itself well to a slight chill, as well as for taco salad. Or burritos. Or out of a paper cup at a taco truck. Just saying...

April 13, 2012

Holly, Talia, and I were treated to dinner at San Francisco's Benu Restaurant Saxon Brown Cabernet 2005recently.  5 hours, 16 courses. The food, wine and company were all outstanding. The time flew by. Benu opened about two years ago with Head Chef Corey Lee coming from The French Laundry after a long stint as Head Chef.
The flavors here are well defined, a little exotic and intense yet not heavy. “Our dairy bill is very low here,” Head Sommelier Yoon Ha told us. This is the most obvious difference between the cooking here and The Laundry.
It was a splendid dinner and evening (and Talia, 11 weeks old, was extremely well behaved).
I brought a bottle of SAXON BROWN Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005 ($60), recently released. We tried it, love its richness, complexity and bottle bouquet, and brought it in immediately. You may have already purchased some from us. Read my online tasting notes here.
Saxon Brown Owner/Winemaker Jeff Gaffner bought fruit from two Valley floor vineyards, one of them “Lewelling Vineyard” in St Helena (the other is behind Caymus Winery). Under 300 cases made.

It was Yoon’s decision on which course to pair up with the Saxon Brown.
He chose to serve it with the duck breast braised in Shaoxing rice wine, celery and scallions and served with steamed black truffle bun. Good choice, Yoon! The richness of the duck worked nicely with the mellowing Cab. The star, however, was the black truffles in the bun. Wowza! Wine and food matching each other in richness and earth. I pick out the sweet yet subtle oak on the nose then soy sauce and bittersweet chocolate flavors as the key complementary flavors to the dish. I haven’t thought about black truffles and Cab together as much as with Pinot or Chardonnay. I will from now on.

March 1, 2012

This blog entry is a little bit embarrassing. Until last week, in the 34 years that I have been on this planet, I had never roasted an entire bird. Not a turkey, a chicken, or even a game hen (granted, I have only been cooking for about 16 of those 34 years, but still). There had always been something very nerve-racking to me about serving a potentially dry bird, and I had successfully avoided it for a long time. That is, until now.

Anyway, last week, I had a bottle of 2008 Buoni Anni Sangiovese from Santa Barbara’s Santa Ynez Valley that I was dying to open, and I knew that a rustic, authentic Tuscan meal was in order. I finally decided to get over my bird-roasting fears, and I went out and bought a 4-lb chicken. The treatment was simple: butter, onions, garlic and rosemary went into the chicken, and the chicken went into the oven. Easy at that. As the bird was roasting, I popped open the bottle and gave it good decant. Immediately it was classic Sangiovese on the nose: lots of wild cherry and a bit of Italian herbs and white pepper.

The chicken came out perfectly. I exhaled and poured the wine and took a good drink. It was silky and juicy with lots of sweet red cherries and raspberry liqueur flavors. I tried the chicken again, and then again the wine. It matched the rosemary component of the chicken flawlessly. Sangiovese can be a tough customer in California, but this one was spot-on.

February 2, 2012

Crisp, fruity white is the go-to wine in my home. Perfect pre-dinner sipper and, often, a good match with the vegetable and fish-heavy meals we cook. We cook a lot of Chinese and Southeast Asian dishes too, and crisp white pairs well with these.
I put together Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps with chicken & shrimp the other day and shared with friends along with a bottle of BELTANE RANCH Sauvignon Blanc, Sonoma Valley 2010 ($22). Cilantro, mint, basil, garlic, chili flakes, lime juice, fish sauce and peanuts make the flavors in this classic, easy-to-make dish. Great pairing, and I'll tell you why in just a moment.

Beltane Ranch is a winery, vineyard & farm (sustainable/organic), B&B, cattle ranch and olive oil producer in Sonoma Valley. They've grown Sauvignon Blanc and sold their grapes for a long time, and recently started making their own. Winemaking notes: whole cluster pressed (this makes white wine particularly fruity, which this is), fermented in a combo of steel and neutral French oak, aged on its lees for six months. 550 cases made.
We find our most popular Sauvignon Blancs, Beltane Ranch for example, are VERY FRUITY and VERY DRY. Smell and taste fresh peaches, pineapple, grapefruit and Meyer lemons. Tangy, medium-bodied and a bit creamy, Beltane Ranch SB works as well on the front patio with chips and dip as it does with my Lettuce Wraps. And back to why the wine worked so well with these wraps: this wine is all about its fruit. SB's common grassy/herbal flavors take a backseat, so the cilantro, mint and basil in the lettuce wraps make for a nice match with the wine's abundant fruit. And going with my complex food/simple wine match principal, the wraps' myriad flavors and the wine's simple deliciousness work well together. Give it a try and let me know what you think.  

January 3, 2012
Christmas dinner for Marissa’s family and me is never really about the wine. It’s about the food. Just kidding. Actually, we had quite a smattering of wines for Christmas Eve dinner, and one really stood out above the rest. First the food: this year it was very traditional (and delicious): ham, cheesy potatoes, peas & warm rolls. For these types of dinners, I try to keep it very basic with the wine. A variety of solid wines usually suffices, as we are all too busy talking and enjoying the holiday to worry about perfect pairings. However, one bottle made me stop and take notice: Broc Cellars Carignane "Carbonic" Alexander Valley 2010. At $23, this 120 year-old-vine, dry-farmed, head-trained Carignane from northern Sonoma County was a show-stopper. Partial carbonic maceration made for a very fruity, very lively wine. There were aromas and flavors of wild red strawberries, black pepper, sweet raspberries, wild fresh thyme and anise. The word festive comes to mind with this wine. The light tannins, big fruit and medium acidity were a perfect match for a perfect Christmas Eve.

December 28, 2011

Went to the Bay Area’s best sushi restaurant, Sushi Ran, in Sausalito, Marin County on Boxing Day. Perfectly fresh sashimi, amazing texture…the Hamachi was truly like butter. It was Holly and my Christmas treat to each other.
I had a bottle of Laboure-Roi Corton Charlemagne 2004 in my collection from I don’t know where.
(It’s not for sale, by the way). Good choice with Grade A+ sushi, don’t you think?
It was! Nose was nicely developed with honey, preserved lemon and filbert notes. Impact of fresh lemon/peach in the mouth with grapefruit, quince and hazelnuts playing roles. 30 second finish that’s best described as “Ahhhh, Burgundy.” Perfect foil to the hamachi, jack, uni, etc. I won’t forget this meal, and neither will Holly.

December 1, 2011

I included this note in our Thanksgiving week email communique. Many find it interesting if not helpful or both:
For traditional Thanksgiving meal, rich Chardonnay is my #1 choice. Turkey, stuffing, butter, root vegetables, sage, garlic, gravy: all are naturals with buttery, creamy toasty Chardonnay. Invest in a good one, at least $20. "Cheap" Chardonnay will have the flavors you want to match.

If you insist on red, drink Pinot Noir, and choose more subtle ones (Oregon, Anderson Valley, Burgundy) over the bigger styles. If you're lucky enough to have aged Pinot Noir, as in 6-12 years of bottle age, all the better.

If you insist on drinking Cabernet Sauvignon, it should be mature: 1990s to early 2000s. I suggest you serve beef if you're going to drink Cabernet. Merlot is much better choice.

Spicy reds, like Syrahs, Zins and modern blends, will work if you're making a spicy Cajun or BBQ turkey (or beef). Otherwise, save them for another day.

Young Italian reds are OK, not great, in this situation. My notes re Pinot Noir apply here: go more delicate if you do choose Sangiovese, Barbera and such.  Mature Barolos, Brunellos and such will work pretty well, just like very good, mature Cabernet. If you're serving duck or goose instead of turkey, then they're a good call.

Aromatic varieties like Viognier, Chenin Blanc, Riesling and such are good with appetizers. Not so great with the dinner. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are also for the appetizers unless you're doing a crab/fish feast.

Aged German Riesling is an exception, with it's developed umami flavors. Anything from the 1990s or earlier can be grand on the dinner table.

Pinot Gris, Alsace style, is my 3rd choice for a white. If it's rich, oily, a little spicy and formidable, it can be a wonderful match. And it's not "too aromatic" for turkey dinner, a la Viognier or young Riesling, for example.

Consider drinking a nice dessert wine after dinner. If you're like me, it's easy to forget the sticky wine. I'm always looking for the right occasion to pour dessert wine. What better day than Thanksgiving?

And this is the recap from my Thanksgiving dinner:
My frank wine recommendations for Thanksgiving dinner received lots of good feedback.
(If you missed this in the Thanksgiving week email, write me and I'll send it to you).
Two wines I drank on Turkey Day I found particularly memorable.
Not only EXCELLENT, they were WONDERFUL TURKEY DINNER matches.
KALIN CELLARS Semillon Livermore Valley 1998, $26. 13 years old and current release Semillon from this cult-ish producer. Umami flavors of dried porcinis and beef stock complement still-fresh lemon zest and grapefruit. Outstanding with the carrot ginger soup, radicchio salad and Brussels sprouts.

NEIMAN CELLARS Chardonnay Napa Valley 2009, $69. In my recommendations I put rich Chardonnay on the top of my recommended list with turkey, stuffing, spuds and gravy. 122 case production Neiman (pronounced N-EYE-man) Chardonnay has butter, spice, toast, fruit (pear/apple/lemon), custard-like richness and complexity. And acidity...must have acidity to balance like the elephant on the tightrope. Turkey or not, put this wine up there with Kistler, Kongsgaard, Ramey and all the big Chardonnay boys.

November 9, 2011

I love Braised Beef Short Ribs. How can you not? When they’re bad, they’re still good. And when they’re really good, well. My favorite recipe includes Adobe Chiles and French roast coffee. Good recipes online are endless online for short ribs, so I’ll leave this to you. Substitute a cup of liquid listed for coffee, and add a tablespoon or two of Chile Adobo, in sauce. Just enough to add a noticeable kick.  Ask me for my recipe and I’ll provide.
I made my short ribs for friends on a recent chilly fall night, and with them we drank Back Room’s private label Cabernet,
CORSAIR Napa Valley 2008 $45/bottle. Corsair’s sweet spicy oak, dark luscious fruit and undeniable richness go hand in hand with similar qualities of the braised beef short ribs. Yeah, go rich and rich, turn up the volume! Highly recommended.

October 6, 2011. By Chris FosterOrin Swift The Prisoner
I have Mondays off (my lovely girlfriend Marissa does not). That usually means a nice mid-day meal for me somewhere in downtown Napa. This week,  I met my good friend Deirdre at Norman Rose Tavern for a leisurely rainy day lunch. The shrimp and corn chowder that I started with (glass of Navarro Pinot Gris to pair) was amazing, but the real reason I was there was for the burger. Living in a land of truffles, foie gras, wild nettle cresta di gallo (huh?), and lots and lots of other things I can't pronounce, sometimes you just gotta get back to basics with a big 'ol cheeseburger. I also revisited an old wine friend with said burger, Orin Swift's "The Prisoner." Yep, it's big, fruity, and unapologetic. Just what I wanted. I hadn't actually sat down with a glass of The Prisoner for at least five years, and this seemed like the perfect time: rainy day, juicy cheeseburger and a great friend and conversation. It was simply delicious and simply perfect.

September 6, 2011
Sometimes I cook for the wine. Sometime I pick the wine for the dish.
Last night was the latter.

Two Old Dogs Sauvignon BlancThe dish: head of cauliflower sliced vertically into ¾ inch wedges (florets will fall off the slices, and they’re just fine to use). Lightly coat the cauliflower in olive oil and a little salt and either grill or roast in a 450 degree oven, turning once or twice, for about 25 minutes. You should have nice dark brown marks all over your al dente cauliflower. The dressing: one minced garlic clove, 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice, a quarter cup olive oil, a quarter cup chopped black oil-cured olives. Whisk the dressing and toss with the still-warm cauliflower. (I added a tablespoon of chopped parsley to the dressing  last night for because of the wine I chose). To match, I brought home one of our favorite 2010 Napa Valley Sauv Blancs: “Two Old Dogs” Sauvignon Blanc by Herb Lamb Vineyard ($26/bottle).  It’s very dry with medium-high acidity and tastes of fresh lemons, yellow grapefruits and Granny Smith apples.  Just a pinch of garden herbs makes for a classic, yummy Napa Sauvignon Blanc. Great match! The cauliflower is just a little richer than the wine, so the “refreshing” nature of the SB came through. The olive, lemon and parsley was matched by same/similar flavors in the wine.  I grilled the cauliflower this time, and I found that the opposites attract here (grilled cauliflower and steely nature of the wine). While I admittedly match wines with meat most of the time, I’m particularly stoked to have this groovy vegi dish/wine match for you.

August 13, 2011

My latest food addiction from Oxbow Public Market is Kitchen Door’s Kobe Beef Burger. Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico
The burger has melted onions, swiss cheese (also very melted) and “secret sauce,” a Thousand Island-type dressing that reminds me of the sauce I used as a fry cook in the ‘80s. No lettuce, pickles or such on the burger, and it’s served with fries.
I brought this burger home last week as Holly was out with friends (she thinks Kitchen Door should name it the “When Holly Has Plans Burger.” I just so happened to have a bottle of BADIA a COLTIBUONO
Chianti Classico “Estate” 2008
on hand. I expected good things with this pairing, yet I still underestimated it.
What a team! Sangiovese firm wild cherry, peppery spice, green herbal edge, and ruby grapefruit-ish acidity melded nicely with the beef, cooked down onions and sweetness in the sauce. The burger and fries is a rich dish…this Chianti’s acidity is refreshing between bites. I was convinced that the acidity is key when, a couple nights later, I got the burger again (I told you I was addicted…and Holly was away again) and had a lovely local Zinfandel with it. Nice, but the acidity wasn’t there and the pairing fell flat. Go Chianti go!  Makes me think a crisp, cool climate Pinot Noir will work. Next time!

July 12, 2011
Beef and Cabernet Sauvignon are joined at the hip here in Napa Valley as Cab is The King.
As much as I love the pairing, it still comes in second in my steak-pairing preference. You may know I’m a card carrying member of the Syrah fan club, so it ain’t no big surprise to know that steak and Syrah is my number one choice. I put them together last night with, as expected, glowing results.
Baldassari SyrahNo big deal on the meat. Costco NY Strips. Good price, and we were shopping there on Sunday. The steaks are good, not great. I soak them in dark soy sauce for 15 minutes (a trick I learned from Chef Klaus at The Olympic Club) sprinkle with a little sea salt and grill away along with garden vegetables and tiny parboiled potatoes. Steak cooked to medium rare, vegetables cooked until done yet still with a little crunch.
Holly and I drank the BALDASSARI Syrah “Nolan Vineyards”
Bennett Valley 2007 ($20)
. This wine has been a big hit through 2011. We’ve recommended and sold it often with many glowing customer reviews.  It’s dark, robust, spicy and meaty…a bit like St. Joseph (Northern Rhone Syrah) in a very good vintage. Black cherry liqueur, oil cured black olives, herbs de Provence, fresh sweet blueberries, bacon. Notice a few flavors that taste good with red meat? You should.
Syrah spice, smoke and rich fruit match the bloody, marbled, grilled New York. The Provence herbs with the grilled vegis (and meat) are a match. Baldassari Syrah is medium/full bodied and high intensity…plenty big and full flavored to match with the big-flavored grilled dinner I made. Beefsteak and Syrah. #1 in my playbook. When Cabernet is the wine, go with the lamb. Think I have the makings of my next Food & Wine Blog here…

June 1, 2011Dan's BBQ Ribs
I made some glorious baby back pork ribs last night.
The ribs themselves were fine, nothing special, from the local market. I spice and mesquite salt rubbed them, sit half a day, then hit with a little Oloroso Sherry, wrapped in foil and slow cooked in the over for 2 ½ hours. They steamed in their own juices and the Sherry, coming out super tender. Next day it’s to the grill for heating through, grilling, and finishing with Jack’s BBQ Sauce from Nashville (a gift from Holly years ago…about time I used it!). The taste was as good as the picture suggests. To accompany: dirty rice and simple green salad. Fantastic: I was stoked (still am as it’s lunch today).
A good meal calls for a special wine. And for me, that special wine is a bargain.
FERAUD BRUNEL Côtes du Rhône Villages 2009, $19.
Laurence Feraud of Domaine du Pegau and Andre Brunel of Les Cailloux (two of my favorite producers in the whole wide world) team up to Feraud Brunel Cotes du Rhone Villagesmake Feraud Brunel wines. This is a blend of 70% old vine Grenache, 30% Syrah. The wine starts shy with violets, black pepper and briar patch. 20 minutes of air and BOOM it moves to blue fruits, spice box, cocoa, tobacco, soy…dreamy good. Richness and balance. A wonderful expression of the Southern Rhone.
The wine boasts plenty of richness and sweet sensations to match the spicy/sweet BBQ Sauce. The smoke/spice rub, and sherry, cooked deep into the meat at dinnertime, matched the wine’s depth. And the dirty rice, with its liver and Cajun Trilogy (I snuck in some Adobo Chili too) was almost as good with the wine as it was with the ribs.
Happy boy am I. Holly loves to see me when I’m so happy with a dish I cooked.
Feraud Brunel Cotes du Rhone Villages 2009 will be served in our Southern Rhone Valley tasting this Friday night. Sorry, no ribs, I won’t have the time. Anybody care to make a run to Barbers Q?

May 2, 2011
I felt like showcasing a new, wonderful Napa Cabernet called Lazy Susan Ranch to some friends/customers the other day.
So I went all out. It wasn’t fair, really. My friends had no choice but to fall in love with the food, the wine, and the two together.
The wine is LAZY SUSAN RANCH Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($75) from Napa’s Diamond Mountain District. The property was first planted to Cabernet in 1879, and the current owners bought the property in 2002. Jim Barbour manages the vineyard and Mark Herold makes the wine. An All Star line-up! 2006 was the first vintage of Lazy Susan Ranch. This 2008 is the first vintage we tried and sell.
The food choice was easy. Lamb chops marinated in fresh rosemary, garlic, red pepper flakes and extra virgin olive oil. Grilled over high heat to get the sear and keep the inside perfectly rare. Served with roasted little Yukon Golds with roasted garlic cloves. Roasted some Brussels Sprouts too.
The wine, on its own, is smashing good. Smell smoky, toasty oak, smoked poblanos, minerals, bittersweet chocolate, black truffles, boysenberries and black cherries. Has mountain grip that cuts the finish short right out of bottle. Remedy for this is an hour decanting or 2+ years in the cellar. I obviously chose the former option.
The sweet meat of the lamb chops and the sweet Cab fruit. The oak and the grilled flavors. The cassis-y mountain Cab flavor and the faint gamey flavor of the lamb chops paired with the rosemary from the marinade. The youthful tannins in the wine melted with the yummy fat on the edge of the lamb chops.  Is this heaven? No, it’s a great red meat and Napa Cab pairing.

April 4, 2011
I had a great food and wine match last night at home.
My wife Holly has taken quite a few Thai cooking classes (from Kasma Loha-unchit…we recommend her Thai cookbooks).
Holly made Drunken Noodles, a spicy Thai dish commonly made with wide, flat noodles, different fish, BBQ pork, garlic,Picollo Gavi Thai chile peppers, Thai basil…like Paella, there are as many versions as there are cooks with inspiration. And Holly is inspired! It’s fantastic (and is my lunch today, for which I am very grateful and happy).
The name doesn’t come from the noodles being soaked in liquid or sauce. The Thai lore story goes that a drunken husband came home and his wife fed him. It took a full flavored, spicy, powerful noodle dish to satisfy him. (I also read that it’s a good hangover dish…that story works for me too).
The wine pairing. 2nd Italian white in as many months. We’re really digging them, and you should too.
PICOLLO ERNESTO Gavi di Gavi “Rovereto” 2009 ($17). Cortese (the grape of Gavi) meets Gruner Veltliner in its white pepper spiciness (Holly added a good dose of white pepper to the noodles, BTW), grapefruit/lime flavors, lightness yet great intensity. Pure flavors, fresh, fine acidity. The wine easily matched the intense Drunken Noodles flavor and also refreshed the senses. This Piedmont white wine is a star with many, many dishes. Tamales? You bet. Fava Bean Salad with Feta cheese? Fantastic. Get yourself a few bottles.

March 2, 2011
Had a fantastic lunch at Bottega Napa Valley Restaurant on Sunday.
Bottega was created, and opened, in 2008 by Chef Michael Chiarello. My wife Holly are in agreement: it's our favorite restaurant in Napa Valley (with respects given to about ten others we like A LOT). Quality of food service, atmosphere, value...put them all together and if it was a competstion it would be #1 on our list. Thank goodness it's not a competition!
Lunch was accompanied by a bottle of SCARPETTA Pinot Grigio IGT delle Venezie 2009 ($17/bottle). Scarpetta, owned by Boulder, Colorado restaurateurs Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Patterson, is from Italy's Friuli region (as is the culinary inspiration at their restaurant Frasca). Sourced from three vineyards in Friuli, Scarpetta boasts more weight and layers of flavor than most Pinot Grigios. Taste apricot, white peach, lime, minerals, coriander and green apples.  A Snap of acidity at the end makes your mouth water. It's steel-aged and bottled young to keep all the freshness.
We started at the bar, while waiting for a table, with a quartino (a quarter bottle) to share.
It was so good we ordered a full bottle at the table to drink through the whole lunch.
We shared five dishes.
I'll tell you about two of them.
We started with one of Michael Chiarello's signature dishes, "Green Eggs & Ham." It's a soft-boiled egg that's peeled, rolled in Panko bread crumbs, and flash-fried. (We're told the Bottega chefs lose over half their eggs when they cut the top off, as you see in the  picture. I wonder what happens to all the broken eggs?) It's served with olive oil-poached asparagus, a cream/Cambazola/thyme sauce and diced proscuitto. Amazing...a pleasure of contrasts in textures, flavors and temperatures. The acidity cut the fat in the yolk and sauce, and yes, it matched with the asparagus just fine. (poaching the asparagus in olive oil no doubt makes it more wine friendly).
Risotto with pan-fried Petrale Sole was mighty fine, too. The food/wine contrast, rich with refreshing, was a winner. The acidity and searing flavors of the Scarpetta held up well to the bold flavor of the Risotto. Delicate Sole and good Pinot Grigio is an easy match. Lunch is a perfect time to enjoy the Scarpetta. Especially at a great restaurant like Bottega.

February 2, 2011

Went to Morimoto last weekend for a sushi fest. Sauvignon Blanc is a natural for the sushi and sashimi, and the best one on the Morimoto list, to our taste, is the JOSEPH KENT Sauvignon Blanc “Joie de Vivre”
Napa Valley 2009
. It’s $24 here at Back Room (a little bit more at Morimoto). Taste profile of the “Joie de Vivre” is grapefruit, pineapple, lemon curd, apple sauce. It’s dry but so fruity you could mistake it for a little sweet.
The wines creamy side matches so well with the hamachi and mackerel, we find. Good match with the wasabi and ginger too as the wine is a little bit “exotic.” Spicy tuna and “Joie de Vivre?” You betcha! It’s bold enough to hold up to most any spicy sauce. We didn’t touch on the Morimoto tempura this last visit, but I can assure you it’s a no brainer.

January 3, 2011
Salesman left me an almost full bottle of CARTHA Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2009 ($28) early in the day. It’s a perk of the business. The Pinot is darn good. Coming this week. Here are my notes. Clif note version: lots of fruit, smooth/seamless, juicy, unmistakably Pinot Noir, just a delight to drink and a good price to boot. I called Holly at noon. “I have a nice bottle of Pinot for us to drink tonight,” I said. “I’ve got just the thing to go with it” she said, and no more.
What could it be?Roast Chicken

I got home around 7:30 and she had the BOUCHON COOKBOOK roast chicken in the oven! Brined, twined and rested, now roasting. Ah, this is the life.
A delicious combination. The sweet meat and the velvety, fruit-forward Pinot were a fine match. Holly wasn’t disappointed by the wine, either. One drink and she practically sang “this is yummy!” Get this Pinot. Cook the chicken. Do either by itself and you’re a winner. Do them both and you’re a Food & Wine Champion!

December 7, 2010
I still remember a dinner of Grilled Wild Salmon and Wild Mushrooms with a bottle of Bethel Heights Pinot Noir at Wildwood Restaurant back in 1998. The place, the food, the wine, the winter season made it all so comfortable, delicious Witness Tree Pinot Noirand correct. Almost 13 years later, it’s funny I haven’t tried to replicate that meal more often. I’m sure I’ve tried with forgettable results…
With a recently-arrived bottle of WITNESS TREE Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2008 ($27) in hand, I figured it time to try again. I think I’ll remember this one because it was delicious. Blogging it helps the memory too ;-).
No wild salmon to be had right now, so good farm raised salmon, nice and fresh, from Whole Foods did the job. Cremini mushrooms sautéed in red onions, garlic chives, fresh thyme. Made a bed of roast fingerling potatoes and fresh arugula. Salmon lightly seasoned and grilled on the Weber outside (chilly, dry night…good reason to start sipping the Pinot as the salmon finished). Then to keep the earth flavors prominent, I cooked down a couple handfuls of chopped chanterelles in butter and parsley. Perfect to make a tower!
Creminis, then spuds/arugula, salmon and finally the chanterelles. The Witness Tree, with its flavors of wild red cherries, cola, red roses, Indian spice, sweet plums and dry herbs match the body and intensity of the food, with a good balance of complimentary and contrasting flavors both. Both the food and the wine, tasting of the land, is comforting on a cold late autumn evening. What a treat. So good, we should have guests over next time.

November 1, 2010
Last Thursday’s Zind Humbrecht tasting was a refreshing respite from our myriad, wonderful local wine events.
The very dry Z.H. Pinot Gris "Rotenberg" 2008Zind Humbrecht Riesling Heimbourg and sumptuous Z. H. Gewurztraminer- Wintzenheim 2007 were superb. The most complete wine we tasted was the ZIND HUMBRECHT Riesling “Heimbourg” 2008 ($45). So very delicious...a glorious example of the grape. My tasting notes read: “Pretty, restrained nose of Eureka lemons, honey, jasmine and spearmint. Taste tangerines, Granny Smiths, cream and grapefruit. Wet stones and lemon zest on the 30 second finish. Not a completely dry wine, but tastes like it is.”
It’s unquestionably a food wine. But what food? The food and wine daredevil that I am (HAH!), I walked across the street to The Bounty Hunter and ordered their Artichoke Spinach Dip. Artichokes and wine? Yes, it’s very doable…especially when the artichokes are joined by parmesan, prosciutto (so umami!) and garlic. It’s rich, intense, perfectly salty and even a little tart…I bet it’s lemon juice that the artichokes soaked in.
Wine’s acidity and artichokes work together. Since artichokes make wine taste acidic anyway, best to go with a wine that’s high acidity is part of the allure. This “Z.H.” has it. Strong flavors of the dip and the intensity of great Riesling in general is a fit. Lemon flavors in both are a match. Great match. Wouldn’t mind eating and drinking like this every day. 

September 8, 2010
Oysters and Muscadet. Is there anything better?
When the oysters are crazy-fresh and the Muscadet is one of the best, like the LOUIS METAIREAU - Domaine du Grand Mouton Muscadet, Sevre et Maine, Sur Lie 2009 ($16), the answer is no. It's the BEST. Holly and I went to Hog Island Oyster Bar at the Oxbow Market for my birthday today. With our friend Brigit we consumed two dozen British Columbia oysters. Forgive me for forgetting the name-not one of the usual suspects. Looked a little clam-like and were (in the words of our server) "sweet and deep." That the were. The Muscadet, with all its tart, briney, juicy, leesy flavor was cold, very crisp and wonderful. Holly, by the way, loves good raw oysters more than anything in the word (besides me). Kumamotos are her favorite. She ate 23 of them before we tied the knot!

August 9, 2010
Summer’s bounty is in full force.
Our garden is pumping out zucchini, Japanese eggplant , green beans , kale (a winter vegi, but doing quite well for us now) and fresh herbs like nobody’s business. What we don’t grow or aren’t ready (particularly the tomatoes), we get at our Farmers Market.
Good old ratatouille is a great way to “wipe out” a big bowl of garden veggies in one evening. And who doesn’t like a one pot meal?
Now, I’ve been a fan of ripe, slightly herbaceous local red wines with food since my French Laundry days. M Autumn Merlot
What local wine do I recommend to pair with the next five courses for a party of two? Merlots and the occasional Cabernet Franc I found were the best fits with sea bream, then the beef or lamb, then cheese.  Versatile yes, but more importantly Merlot’s earthy, herbal and spicy side makes it a better food wine than Cabernet (generally speaking of course). And with vegis, especially, riddled with fresh herbs and tomatoes, Merlot is really good.
My ratatouille last night had all the usual, delicious suspects + green beans and kale. Cooking time was a half hour. Quick and easy…how we like it. The wine: M. AUTUMN Merlot Napa Valley 2007, $32/bottle. It’s the first release for wine country veteran Ryan Hodgins (formerly of Acacia, and winemaker for Breggo in Anderson Valley). The warm 2007 vintage, married with the cooler Coombsville fruit used, makes for a particularly intricate Merlot. Boasts a Bordeaux-esque earthiness with black cherry, pomegranate, tobacco, black currants and truffles and tobacco. Soft finish is subtle but long and intriguing. 120 cases made.
The earth notes of the squash, eggplant, kale, onions and garlic, plus all the fresh basil and thyme, then the fresh fruitiness of the vine ripe tomatoes make for an excellent match on many levels.  And don’t forget the texture…the ratatouille: soft and satisfying in the mouth, like the M. Autumn Merlot.
Any good Merlot that’s not trying to be like Cabernet Sauvignon will work with this dish. That said, I strongly suggest you check try the M. Autumn (sold at Back Room Wines)!

July 23, 2010
A perfect food and wine pairing last night. Taqueria Maria's Prawn Burrito and LA FLOR Malbec Rosé, Argentina 2009 ($13). Taqueria Maria, a block away from Downtown Napa on Third Street, is one of my latest favorite places for good food for excellent Taqueria prices. And I'm slightly addicted to this burrito. Prawns cooked to order with onions and peppers, served with choice of beans (I choose black). Comes with the works.
La Flor Malbec Rosé is imported by Paul Hobbs. It's full of tangerine, strawberry, melon and spice flavors. Fermented dry, and with more forward fruity/spicy flavors than many pink wines. Not the place to break down why it works. It just does. Really well. Wherever you are, find a good prawn burrito (Hi-Tech will do in a pinch), or make it yourself, and try La Flor Malbe Rosé with it. Thank me later.

July 10, 2010

When I tasted the BODEGA RANCHO Syrah "Que Syrah Vineyard" Sonoma Coast 2007 ($36)  about a month ago, I knew it was destined for a food and wine blog. With it's very Rhone-ish nose of black olives, Moroccan spices, and bacon married with wild strawberries and currants, all tucked into a cool-climate, higher-than-average acidity frame, makes for a food & wine match par-excellence.
With friends coming over, I pulled out my "Gas Grill Cookbook" and choose a soy/dry sherry marinated flank steak, grilled along with sweet onions and bell peppers. We all loved it. Soy and Oloroso sherry have an umami flavor that's a natural with gamey Syrah. The marinade infused the flank steak...that's what flank steak does. Little crustly flavor from the grill and we were all set. Other matches with Bodega Rancho Syrah: Chinese BBQ pork ribs (you know, the red ones), sausage/mushroom pizza (add the chili flakes at the end) and sharp cheddar cheese. 

June 5, 2010

Last night Back Room Wines hosted a book signing and tasting for “100 Perfect Pairings” by
Jill Silverman Hough. Jill worked with my wife Holly at COPIA as a culinary instructor, and now is on her own as a food writer and recipe developer. Her new book, “100 Perfect Pairings,” is informative, easy to follow, and full of little tid-bits of food & wine pairing information. You can find it in most well-supplied bookstores and online.
We matched three of the dishes in her cookbook (which she prepared) with three wines. All were outstanding of course. Might be because of the season, but the top pairing seemed to be the first one: PROSCUITTO-WRAPPED ASPARAGUS with TARRAGON AIOLI and the
WALTER HANSEL Sauvignon Blanc, Russian River Valley 2009 ($16).
Asparagus is notorious for being downright nasty to wine. Not the case! As this pairing showed. With lots of herbs and lemon in the aioli, and the umami-accented Proscuitto, the combination of savory, creamy and tangy was just about perfect with the wine.
Walter Hansel Sauvignon BlancSpeaking of the Walter Hansel Sauvignon Blanc 2009, folks just loved drinking it at last night's book signing. Full of fruit: apricots, Granny Smiths, grapefruit and pears. No oak, good acidity and fine texture, the Walter Hansel drinks almost as well just by itself, nicely chilled. Note I said almost…good wine is always better with the right food.

May 1, 2010

My food and Rosé wine epiphany occurred in 1994. It was with a Rosé I bet you haven’t heard of: Reeves Portugais Blau Rosé from Lake County. Won’t linger on this wine because (I don’t think) the label exists anymore. It was very good: dry, spicy and pleasant.
The epiphany came when the chicken came off the grill. Marinated in garlic, herbs, pepper and lemon juice, then crusted nicely over the coals, the chicken alone was delicious if not memorable.
What sticks with me from that meal 16 years ago is how the wine truly changed with the tasty protein in my mouth. The berry fruits, shy without food, blossomed with the chicken. Don’t recall the flavor profile, but I imagine it was raspberries and plums and more peppery spice and wild herbs complementing the food.
I recreated this meal the best I could last week. Rocky organic chicken marinated in garlic, herbs and sherry vinegar, then on the rotisserie. L'Hortus Rose 2009
The wine:  Bergerie de l'Hortus "Rosé de Saignee"
Coteaux du Languedoc 2009 $14.00
From the Pic Saint Loup region, Languedoc, France.
This is half Grenache, 1/3 Mourvedre, 1/5 Syrah (or close to it).
L’Hortus farms byodynamically and makes an outstanding portfolio of wines. L'Hortus Rosé: plums (the flesh and the spicy skins), pink grapefruit, black peppercorns, wild herbs, wild cherries. It’s very dry, but with substantial fruit in the mid-palate to give sweet sensations. It is my favorite 2009 Rosé wine (so far).
It was absolutely delish with our rotisserie chicken and accompaniments! (Know what, we made Rice a Roni to go with. And we liked it.) As I recalled from 1994, the fruit came forward and the wine-spice worked perfect with the marinade and roasted flavors. I love Rosé wine and roast chicken. I really do!

March 16, 2010
It’s still winter officially, but the spurt of nice weather has people and things (like trees and vines) thinking spring.  Since the clocks had just sprung ahead last Sunday morning, all the more reason to go al fresco. I wasn’t  exactly prepared for a BBQ, so into the ‘fridge I went to see what I could find. BINGO: Big, prawns in the freezer, already peeled & deveined.  And what’s this? A package of sliced Prosciutto from Trader Joe’s?  Off goes the BBQ Cover!
Having nibbled all day at The Napa Valley Mustard Festival (a good event BTW), Proscuitto-wrapped & grilled prawns was about all we needed. I found a dandy pear chutney in our fridge door. It will make for even more food & wine match fun (the wine is coming up shortly).
I thawed the prawns, brushed lightly with mustard (the Grey Poupon sample mustard that we picked up that day), Wrapped them in Prosciutto, carefully-inserted one toothpick and ready to roll. Low, direct heat on the gas grill, and keep an eye on them as they progress from perfectly-cooked to dried out erasers in about ten seconds. Dab with pear chutney and they're ready. Let’s talk about the wine.
Wind Gap Winery was started by Pax & Pam Mahle in 2007. Wine professionals Wind Gap Chardonnaythrough and through, I’m particularly familiar with Pax’s history as wine merchant and winemaker as we met in the mid 1990's. I admire how he seeks perfection in his wines while keeping a bright-eyed respect and wonderment for Mother Nature and what will happen to the wine.
WIND GAP CHARDONNAY, Sonoma County 2007 $41 is rich, lip-smacking wine with that balances its heavy frame with layers of flavor. Taste poached spicy pears, peaches, preserved lemons, hazelnuts, caramel and freshly-toasted croissants. Sounds pretty good, huh? For a little  more info on how it’s made, read here.
Four distinct food & wine matches going on here. 1. Richness of prawns and the rich wine. 2. Grilled/toasty flavor with the creamy/caramel/hazelnut Chardonnay flavors. 3. Salty Prosciuitto and briney shrimp with the subtle mineral flavor of the Wind Gap. 4. Lastly, the Pear Chutney (on the mild side, not very spicy now sweet) brings out the pear/peach/lemon flavors in the wine. Mmmmm Mmmmm, groovy match. Anyone can do it, just be careful to not dry out the prawns! Buy Wind Gap Chardonnay here.

February 23, 2010

I had no idea until last Sunday how good fried oysters and Manhattans were together.
Holly and I stopped by a Napa Valley restaurant you probably haven’t been to: The Olive Tree. Not the Olive Garden: the Olive Tree. It’s been around for 35 years and is at the southern end of the Silverado Trail in Napa. Sexy it is not. I guess someone goes there. Full bar and old-time menu. Smampi style prawns, Chicken Cordon Bleu, that sorta thing. We stopped in mostly out of curiosity, and after a Sunday of cleaning rain gutters and shopping, a cocktail was a good idea.
2 Makers Mark Manhattans. We got cozy and decided to try the fried oysters. They were nicely done! Fresh, medium sized oysters, breaded and lightly fried served with an OK tartar sauce and a good horseradishy cocktail sauce. Briny oysters, fried breading and the sauce (esp the cocktail sauce we decided with the Bourbon was outstanding.)
Now, we don’t sell Makers Mark here as it’s all over the place. Our Bourbon of choice for Manhattans is BLACK MAPLE HILL Kentucky Small Batch Bourbon, $35.
With Amarena cherries! Don't sell these at the moment, though. Hard to get!
We have them at home.

February 6, 2010

Had a hankering for good, hard-shell tacos last week. Destination last Wednesday night was Las Palmas Restaurant, just 5 blocks from Downtown Napa. I recommend it for many reasons, but the hard tacos weren’t anything special. Really have to make these at home for best results.
Best discovery for me & Holly at Las Palmas was the food & wine match:
Ceviche Tostadas and BRIDESMAID White, Napa Valley 2008 ($20). Bridesmaid white is mostly Sauvignon Blanc with a scooch of Semillon, about 5%, in it. (It’s called, simply, “white” because some vintages have more Semillon in it…Bridesmaid makes a good red wine, too, BTW). Las Palmas’ ceviche, with calamari and whitefish, is tangy, fresh and a little spicy. It’s hard to beat at the price. $3 per tostada I think. Bridesmaid white is full of tangerine and lemon flavors with orange, green apple, grapefruit, melon and pineapple coming up behind. Add a little lemongrass and thyme and you have a tasty white wine that’s almost as good by itself and as it with ceviche or such light and bright foods.
Las Palmas Restaurant, 1730 Yajome St, Napa. (707) 257-1514.
Buy Bridesmaid White Wine Here.

January 17, 2010

Holly and I had the pleasure of a cooking day with Prima Ristorante Owner & Executive Chef Peter Chastain yesterday.  Peter prepared (with a little assistance from us and our hosts, Charla & Dave of Alamo, CA) a bevy of seemingly simple (when prepared by an outstanding chef, that is) and delicious dishes originating in and around Campania, Abruzzo and Marche in Southern Italy. Holly took copious notes until the wine took over, and I tried to memorize the best I could while enjoying the moment. Beyond useful tips (for example, we now know how to make “wing dings”), we took an appreciation for the region, the food, wine and great cooking.
The dish I guess that most firmly burned into my memory, and the one I most want to make, is BRAISED RABBIT. Simply seasoned, seared with onion & garlic, a little tomato paste, stock and white wine, in four hours it turned into a rich, glorious dish. Serve perhaps with a crust of good bread and a simple salad of peppery greens, it’s a dreamy dish. We drank an Aglianico from the wine region Taurasi, in Campania, on the Atlantic side (at just about the shin). A good match indeed.
Of course, it got me to thinking what at Back Room Wines would be the best match, and I’ve got it. LA VALENTINA Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2006 ($15). For this wine we’re on the Adriatic Coast, almost directly across the country from Rome, with this wine region. Mid-calf, if you will. Here, the Montepulciano grape makes good, strong wine, and though it’s well-recognized for good wine, it’s under-appreciation makes for very good values. This is good: dark berries, pepper spice, good acidity & tannins, soil. Tasty on its own, but one drink and the gustatory wheels start turning. Grilled & braised dishes are perfect. Back to the rabbit: rich but not heavy, a touch gamey, spices, herbs, comforting. The wine boasts the same qualities with the acidity to keep the palate alive and the body welcoming more. Comfort food at its Southern-Italian finest. Can’t wait to do it all again, this time at our home.

January 9, 2010
Delicious F&W combo the other night at home.
A customer, who happens to be the Chef for Acacia Winery, dropped off a Tupperware of homemade Kimchee. I’ve always wanted to make Kimchee, it’s not hard, just takes time. But I digress.
A New York Strip Steak, simply grilled, with steamed rice & kimchee is a delicious dinner. Going with what the freezer gave me, I thawed a bag of Trader Joe’s Korean style spare ribs. Then on the grill for ten minutes, served with Jasmine rice, and PRESTO we’re eating well.
Wine match? How about beer? Yes, beer is good with it. But Holly & I wanted wine. A PRESTO meal deserves a delicious PRESTO wine, so out of the wine fridge appeared the MAIPE Malbec, Mendoza, Argetina 2008. Very happy drinking from bold nose to impressively long, fine finish. And at $11/bottle, an exceptional value! Blue & black fruits, a little fresh violet, Asian peppercorns, just enough acidity, good tannins, showing it’s “stuff.” And a fine match with the soy & spice in the ribs. Kimchee match worked. Spice, vinegar, and the meatiness of cabbage (do with me on this one). And don’t forget the fragrant, musky scent of hot steamed rice!
Sadly, the Maipe Malbec ’08 is almost gone (in intrigued, hurry and order before it's too late). Take this Food & Wine Blog/recommendation as an Argentina Malbec recommendation as much as anything else. Salute!

December 29, 2009
Holly and I are so crazy about Thai food that we hosted a dozen friends, including my parents, for a Thai Christmas dinner. Thai food & wine: where do you go with this? The old stand-by is Alsace and German varietals: Gewurz, Riesling, Pinot Gris. Fine indeed, but I’m a little bored by the knee-jerk reaction of Asian Food and Germanic wines. I want more!
Next time you have really good Asian food, be it Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese or another Asian country that uses a lot of spicy peppers, herbs, fish and vegetables, try Sparkling Wine throughout the whole meal. And if you want me to be more specific, go Brut Rosé Sparkling Wine. Kiss of red Pinot fruit, more fruit-forward than Blanc de Blancs or Blanc de Noirs, more “fun” than a still wine. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? No specific wine recommendation here. We have perfect Brut Rose suggestions for you, but I’d rather leave you with the big picture.  

December 28, 2009
I’m a sucker for REALLY good, rich California Chardonnay. I got spoiled early in my wine career with Marcassin, Kistler, Kongsgaard & the like. A cross to bear, you think?
Went traditional this Christmas Eve. After our Christmas Eve Social in the afternoon, went home for cold, fresh cracked Dungeness crab. Enjoyed with, amongst other things, my caramelized garlic/lemon mayonnaise. (I’m not shy to share my technique when asked). The style, for me, is a no-brainer: rich, buttery, well made Chardonnay. Now, I know many prefer to go the other way and drink very crisp, like Sancerre or Muscadet, but I prefer to match RICH with RICH. The wine will be my flavor of the month, if you will: L’ANGEVIN Chardonnay, Russian River Valley 2007, $40.
Warm buttered biscuits, poached spicy pears, hazelnuts, apple crisp. And yes indeed, for all this gooey deliciousness, a fresh breath of acidity keeps it all in balance. With rich, fresh crab meat dipped in garlicy mayonnaise is my kinda gustatory party. The match was spot-on. I respect a crisp, clean, mouth-freshening white instead, but I like to go FAT in this case.

November 27, 2009

I bring you one food & wine pairing revelation. Seems obvious, you might know it,  it’s new to me. Craberry sauce & Pinot Noir. Good Oregon Pinot Noir in particular. We had SOTER Pinot Noir “Beacon Hill” Yamhill-Carlton 2006 ($48). Holly makes cranberry sauce on the barely-sweetened side. It’s particularly tangy and a very good spread on turkey (and turkey sandwiches). Bright, tangy cranberries and the high tones of Soter Pinot Noir match. Orange zest in the sauce and citrus zest notes in the Pinot work together. The sauce isn’t spicy, so the Pinot’s allspice flavor makes it almost seem like it does. I’m a fan, and might eat more cranberry sauce now that I’ve discovered this.

November 17, 2009

Hope it’s no surprise to you that grilled quail is not a normal meal for us at home. Looking through the garage freezer Sunday morning, I found a pack of six quails near the bottom, in a deep freeze and almost forgotten. Just almost-they were destined to be dinner that night!
The wine in mind just arrived to Back Room Wines
AUGUST WEST Pinot Noir “Rosella’s Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands 2007, $40/bottle. Owned and made by the talented Ed Kurtzman (especially when it comes to Pinot Noir-he makes ROAR and Freeman Pinots as well), the August West is rich,soft, spicy and eager to please-even those who don’t favor Pinot Noir usually.
How should I flavor up the quail? I got it, Chinese Five Spice! I made a paste with Five Spice Powder (the spices are Szechuan peppercorn, clove, cinnamon, fennel and star anise. Get a good five spice please, not the “value” kind at the grocery story. Don’t know how long it’s been around!) and sesame oil. When the consistency of wet sand, I rubbed the dickens out of those chickens (I know quail aren’t chickens, but I like the rap) and put them in the fridge for a few hours (the longer the better). Then hot grill, direct heat, all sides, before I covered and finished over indirect heat. Total cooking time was about 25 minutes. Depends how hot your grill gets, really. To accompany, we sautéed Brussels Sprouts leaves with shallots, garlic, chorizo, pinenuts and a squirt of fresh lemon. VERY TASTY!
Santa Lucia Highlands Pinots are famous for their spice, and the August West is spicy indeed! Five spice comes to mind (thus my inspiration), along with mocha and soy sauce. And lots & lots of sweet berry fruit, of course. The five spice, grilled flavors and gamey quail were perfect with the August West. If quail is not in your future, chicken works well, especially dark meat. I’m thinking of trying the five spice rub with rack of lamb.
Buy AUGUST WEST Pinot Noir “Rosella’s Vineyard” Santa Lucia Highlands 2007, $40/bottle

November 4, 2009

Must admit, it’s hard to keep track of the best Napa Valley winery “experiences.” So much to choose from, you know. It takes a little get-up-and-go to appreciate who’s doing a really good job.
Holly & I went to Darioush Winery on Silverado Trail last Sunday, and it was wonderful. I highly recommend a drop-by tasting, and for something really special, their wine & cheese pairing I’m sure is the bomb. I’ve seen the wine & cheese tasting, but haven’t done it (yet). It’s $50 and a great value considering the wine, food & knowledge you get.
We did enjoy “The Quintessential Wine Experience,” a tour of the winery and then a tasting in owner Darioush Khaledi’s wine cellar (underneath the winery). Four special wines, with gourmet “nibbles” prepared by La Toque Restaurant,  made for a great Sunday afternoon.
I want to share with you two of the food & wine pairings. First, Russian Osetra caviar with Krug Champagne “Grand Cuvée.” You know, the pairing may sound cliché to you, but it’s darn good. Just about the best caviar on the planet and arguably the best Champagne in the world. Both strong flavored and simultaneously smooth and debonair (like that?). Descriptions really don’t do the pairing justice. When in such a situation, I DO suggest skipping the blinis and go pure caviar…perhaps a dollop of crème fraiche and a sprinkle of chive. We currently have the KRUG Champagne 1995 in stock, $245/bottle.

All three reds we had were mighty fine. 1994 Mouton Rothschild was soil, tobacco, dry herbs and dried berries/cherries. As interesting as it was delicious. The “Darius Two,” a special reserve blend only available to Darioush club members, was coy at first, then budded into a fine marriage of brilliant berry fruits, jasmine, white rocks, spice and subtle oak. Pairing #2 in my story, culled from the rest because I have the wine for sale, is the sliced rare duck breast with dried fig and the DARIOUSH Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006 ($85/bottle). The wine starts high on the oak meter (all new French oak aged), then the super-concentrated fruit emerges to balance the wine nicely with a half hour of air, I find. The Darioush Cabernet is one of the most concentrated, rich AND silky Cabernets you will find on the Napa Valley wine route. Not cheap at $85, yet well worth it in context of the other highly acclaimed Napa Cabs available. The pairing: the duck meat softened the already supple tannins, the faintest gaminess of the duck married nicely with the earthy, meaty underpinnings of the Cab, the dried fig and the rich fruits go hand in hand. The deliciousness of the Darioush Cab got a great big exclamation point with the duck/fig accompaniment.

October 26, 2009

In last Friday’s “Wine Advocate 92+ Tasting,” the winner among winner’s (considering value) was the ARTADI Rioja “Vinas de Gain” 2006 ($25/bottle). 100% Tempranillo, 40 to 60 year old vines, a year in  French oak, about 40% new. Serious wine for a relative bargain. Taster agreed!
As delicious as it is sans-food, this is a particularly good wine to cook for. But what? I was inspired by a post-tasting bite at ZuZu, the Spanish Tapas restaurant a block & a half down Main Street. LAMB BURGERS!
Holly & I shared a glass of the suggested Priorat with it and it was nice. The ZuZu dish was two lamb patties with a quinoa salad and a tasty dressing (I forget what was in this dressing). For home cooking, I’m going traditional: bun, dressing, etc.).
I went online and found a recipe for Lamb Burgers by Ted Allen (Queer Eye For The Straight Guy). I followed it pretty closely (which I don’t always do). Grilled outside on a cool autumn evening.
Very tasty with the Artadi Rioja “Vinas de Gain” 2006. I recommend you try this.

For four or five burgers, depending how big you like them.
Mix together with your hands:
-1 ½  pound ground lamb (purchase ground, or buy leg of lamb and grind yourself…be sure to have a 75-25 proportion to meat and fat)
-1 tablespoon chopped capers
-1 teaspoon lemon zest (Finely chopped. I used the Microplane)
-1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
-2 Tablespoons parsley, chopped
-1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
-1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Form into four or five patties (don’t overwork the meat-handle just enough so they stay stuck together).
Grill to desired doneness. 5 minutes per side on a hot grill or skillet, more or less.
Served on high-quality toasted buns or firm bread that won't fall apart as you enjoy. Good with grilled red onions and either a cucumber/mint raita, or traditional burger condiments.
Lettuce is good…I like to put chopped raw green cabbage on it.
Pour everyone a glass of Artadi Rioja and have fun.

October 20, 2009

Karen Cakebread, Owner & Winemaker of Ziata Winery, asked me for dish I like to make to match with her delicious Sauvignon Blanc. I don't make Calzones often, and honestly the store bought pizza dough is the only way I succeed. Three cheers for Trader Joe's! Just stay away from the Charles Shaw. This is really good and I really think a non-cook can make it with some success. The Calzone flavors (shrimp, goat cheese, olives, red peppers, thyme, spinach) are naturals with the zingy and fuller-bodied Ziata Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($24/bottle).

Shrimp, Goat Cheese &

Tasty Vegetable Calzones

A variation of a recipe I've used from Gourmet Magazine.
Ziata Sauvignon Blanc
1 pound medium sized shrimp, tails removed, peeled & deveined
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
3 large red bell peppers
1 1/2 tablespoons cornmeal
1 large onion, halved and sliced lengthwise
1/4-1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), divided
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
5 ounces baby spinach (8 packed cups)
12 oil-cured black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
1 pound store-bought pizza dough, thawed
1/2 pound fresh goat cheese

1. Marinate shrimp in 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil and half your chopped garlic, chili flakes, and salt & pepper to taste.

2. Grilled whole red peppers on your grill or gas stove top (or, in a 500 degree oven) until at least 75% of the skin has turned black. Put in paper bag to steam for 10 to 15 minutes. Take out of bag, cut open, remove insides, peel and roughly chop. Set aside.

3. Preheat oven to 500°F with rack in lowest position. Sprinkle cornmeal on a large baking sheet.

4. Cook onion with 1/4 teaspoon salt in 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in shrimp, red peppers, olives, and pepper to taste. Remove from heat (it's OK if the shrimp aren't cooked yet-they'll cook enough in the calzone).

5. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 14-inch round, then cut into quarters. Roll out 1 quarter into an 8-inch square (keep remaining pieces covered) and arrange with a corner nearest you. Put one fourth of filling on lower half, leaving a 1-inch border, and top with small chunks of the goat cheese (in proportion to the number of calzones you'll be making). Fold dough over to enclose filling. Seal edges. Beginning in 1 corner, stretch sealed edge outward, pinching and rolling dough up over edge to resemble a rope, working your way around. Transfer to baking sheet. Make 3 more calzones in same manner. Cut 3 steam vents in top of each and brush with remaining tablespoon oil.

6. Bake until golden-brown, 13 to 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes before serving.

October 5, 2009
Best wine to pair with Caesar Salad? Good question. Pairing wine & salad has been a no-no since the beginning of wine-time (any definition of wine-time will do) because vinegar-y salad dressing is a vinous clash waiting to happen. Just like anything, however, there are delicious ways around it.
I made Caesar dressing yesterday, resorting to memory from my Dining Room Captain days at Red Lion Inn, Eureka CA. Polyester uniform, down to the bowtie, was the fashion in the mid 80s, and I wore it proudly. I made Steak Diane, Scampi Style Prawns, Cherries Jubilee and others, including classic Caesar Salad. I made a pretty darn good one, and last night’s Caesar was pretty good too. I’ll spare you the recipe, but email me and I’ll tell you what I do.
It was fun to make, and just about as fun to think & drink wine. I suggest three different white wines, each for different reasons. All three are available here, and I’ll tell you why each one works with my tasty Caesar salad in a different way.
TREMANI Pinot Gris, Russian River Valley 2008, $15.Tremani Pinot Gris
Think of crisp, good, Italian Pinot Grigio with the Tremani Pinot Gris. Cool climate gives ample acidity & TANG! Green apples, apricots, lemons (zest & juice) in the taste. Nice texture…a pleasant surprise for such a tangy, refreshing white wine. The Caesar match: I like to make it on the lemony side so it’s bright and refreshing. The Pinot Gris matches it with its zing of acidity and citrus/green apple flavors.  And the acidity cuts through the creamy mayonnaise.
ENKIDU Chardonnay “Tin Cross” Alexander Vly '08 $26.
You get it all in this artisan Chardonnay. Sweet butter (50% “ML”) green apples & grapefruit (cool climate gives nice acidity), light toast and caramel (barrel-fermented, 1/3 new Frenchh oak, lees-stirred). Rich, creamy mouthfeel, long finish of juicy/tangy fruits, sweet butter and toasty croissant. The Caesar match: Garlic & Chardonnay are a great fit, and a good Caesar has plenty of garlic. Butter/toast in Enkidu, not too much complements the pungent yet not-too-strong raw garlic. Anchovies, in the dressing and on top, are oily and rich, like Enkidu. Good parmesan, also in the dressing and on top, has an earthy buttery flavor that marries well with the wine. And don’t forget the croutons! Fresh, crunchy and garlicky, it’s fine.
MAS FERDINAND RICHTER Riesling “Estate” Qualitatswein, Mosel 2008 $16.
Mosel Valley Riesling boasting crazy-good intensity, fruit and minerality. Picked at Kabinett & Spatlese levels…you’re getting $25-30 wine for this modest price. Stone fruits, slate, lemon & grapefruit. Speaks of Mosel Valley. Riesling lovers, here’s your next house wine.  The Caesar match: I forget this at times, but Riesling is rich and mouth-coating. Even a supposedly “modest” Riesling like this one has a liquid cashmere quality to it. It’s a nice fit with the rich Caesar dressing (which is basically an anchovy/garlic/lemon aioli). Mosel slate and anchovies are a match, as is the wine’s high acidity with the lip-smacking lemony-ness of the salad. Here’s a secret: this is Subjective Dan’s first choice.

September 27, 2009

As difficult it may be to fathom, there ARE other places to buy good wine in Napa. Not as good, but worthy of consideration. Here's one, OXBOW WINE MERCHANT in the Oxbow Public Market, just 400 yards from BRW (I've stepped it off). Holly & I were dropped by there last Sunday for a quick bite. Following our standard routing, we ordered one appetizer (sometimes we get 2) and one entree and share.
This day it's Beef Carpaccio & Fish Tacos (Surf & Turf!). On this toasty Indian Summer day, I went to their fridge for a cold bottle of something good. And there I see, front & center, FRANCOIS PINON Vouvray "Tradition" 2007 $21/bottle. Even though I carry it, and it’s just 400 yards away (I’ve stepped it off), it was here, cold, and perfect with our
Surf & Turf. Bring it on!  
The Pinon Vouvray “Tradition” ’07 is a brilliant expression of Chenin Blanc: peaches & grapefruits with a big smack of acidity and chalky earth. Lip-smacking good with a big nose, full mouthfeel and long juicy/zesty finish. Enough richness to hold up to the beef, and the acid/mineral edge was great with the capers. As for the spicy fish tacos: no brainer. White fish, cilantro, peppers: lemon/peach, chalk, zest. Delicious! And we had some left over and took it home. Next night: spring rolls! Blog worthy as well, but can only give Vouvray so much space. Salute!

September 20, 2009

Since last Christmas Eve, when we last enjoyed, Holly and I have dreamed of revisiting Lucky Atrea The Choir White WinePig. What is it? It's served at SolBar, the restaurant connected to Solage Resort in Calistoga, and it's a slow-roast pork shoulder served with sesame crepes and butter lettuce leaves, and oodles of groovy condiments. Roast peanuts, gingered pineapples, cilantro and rice noodles to name a few. It's a make-your-own taste delight that serves two (at $37, a good value, and unless you have two big appetites, you'll take some home with you).
We went to SolBar on a warm, late-summer day with a slight threat of sprinkles, so dining outside somehow seemed more memorable. The Lucky Pig was as good as we remembered from last Christmas Eve. And, knowing the dish, I found the right wine to go with it,
ATREA "The Choir" Roussanne/Viognier, Mendocino County 2007, $19/bottle. What a great pairing with comparable flavors in food & wine that all got along in the mouth. Honey/floral nose & ginger pineapple. Spicy nose & the cilantro & peanuts. "The Choir" is weighty enough to hold up to the flavorful pork so tender you don't need teeth to eat it. You gotta try it. But, if Lucky Pig is not in your future, make or buy fresh spring rolls with all the aromatic fixins and have with the wine.

September 12, 2009
After last Friday's "Is it $15 or $50?" tasting Holly & I scurried over to
Azzurro Pizzeria & Enoteca for a quick bite.Needing to order in a hurry as the kitchen was ready to close, I went to my favorites: "BBLT," soft pizza crust topped with Romaine lettuce, blue cheese dressing, bacon bits and summer tomatoes (it's a seasonal dish, and the season is waning). Our other choice, Salsiccia (spicy Italian sausage) pizza with mushrooms (special order). This pizza is my favorite year-round. Not a bargain at $17.95 for a "personal pizza," but the quality justifies the price!
We brought a half-bottle of SEGHESIO Zinfandel Sonoma County 2008 ($24/750 ML bottle, half bottles are $16). Look up "Sausage & Mushroom Pizza Wine" in the dictionary and you won't find it listed. But if you did, you'd find Seghesio Zinfandel there.
This was my first taste of the '08 Seghesio "regular" Zin, and it's outstanding. Spicy, dark fruit, more briary than jammy, bold...a classic Big Zin without being too too big. The '07 of this wine was the one that got big kudos from Wine Spectator and disappeared in a flash (no small feat with over 15K cases made!). The '08 is just as good. Who knows if it'll receive as lofty reviews from thosewho write for the wine-masses. However, because of the critical review raising demand, this wine won't be around for too long.

September 4, 2009
Lunch at Ubuntu Restaurant, just around the corner. Seriously, for bursts of flavor, created with flair and inspiration, it competes with French Laundry and the rest. Don't go to fill up. Ubuntu is for the senses. And appreciation for food-meets-art.
Brought a bottle of Courier Sauvignon Blanc "Ryan Vineyard" Napa Valley 2007, $45/bottle. Skin fermented SB, so it has a very golden hue. Rich, viscous, honeyed, exotic, minerally. And a glowing lunch companion with the Ubuntu menu.

September 1, 2009

Had a delicious red meat/red wine pairing at home last week.
I suggest you do the same. I can help.
Long-time customers and friends were in from Manhattan. Good reason to marinate two racks of New Zealand lamb and grill outside. To accompany, I grilled new potatoes, asparagus & radicchio (coated in balsamic & olive oil…ask me about the radicchio ice water bath). The lamb was great. “Best rack of lamb I’ve ever had,” one said. She has good taste.

For the marinade,
combine 2 T chopped rosemary, 2 T chopped garlic, 2 T Dijon Mustard, 1 t salt, 1 t cracked black pepper, 1 t red chili flakes and 3 T EVOO. Mix thoroughly, coat the rack, and put in a Ziploc bag for 12-24 hours.
These amounts are good for one rack. Increase the recipe as necessary.
We drank MEYER VINEYARD Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2005, $48/bottle. Meyer, the 2nd label for Hestan Vineyard, is made by Mark Herold. You might know of his golden touch with Cabernet Sauvignon. If you don’t, try the Meyer for a delicious lesson. Spice, richness, depth of fruit, texture of cashmere, sense-enveloping. All of this and NOT $60-150/bottle. It competes with such wines I feel. You wanting a super-premium Napa Cabernet, with all the sweetness, spice and punch of flavor that makes Napa Cab famous? I’ve got other suggestions of course, but the Meyer is tough to beat.
Oh, how was the food & wine pairing you ask? C’mon, what do you think? 

August 24, 2009
Sometimes the food is picked before the wine, sometimes the other way around.Herb Lamb Cabernet 2004
Last Sunday, the wine came first: a bottle of HERB LAMB Cabernet Sauvignon (Almost Howell Mountain) Napa Valley 2004. Jennifer Lamb gave me the bottle when the 2004 was released, two years ago (we're just about to get our case of 2006, very limited, very rare.)
Wine's set: what to eat? BEEF! To Five Dot Ranch in the Oxbow Public Market we go. My mind was made on Ribeye, New York Strip or Filet Mignon before we arrived. But the choice? The modest London Broil-a childhood favorite. Grilled perfectly (no modesty!) with Sauteed fresh Chanterelles (now I'm just showing off) and heirloom tomato salad. Oh, what fun Holly & I had.
Herb Lamb Cab '04: a great lesson that wine is ALIVE! Poured out so dark and rich from the bottle, I knew it would be a big, concentrated son of a gun. But tight! So tight. The more "giving" 2004 vintage had me thinking it'd be awesome. It was in many ways, but dang it, wish I'd stashed it away for a few more years. Wish I could report "live & learn," but you never know about wine. It's happened before with other great ones: Chave, Beaucastel, Paloma...sometimes they'll shine and sometimes they'll be just too hard to get. When that happens, you just gotta enjoy the evolution. Holly & I sure did! Salute.

August 14, 2009

Who doesn't love a snack? I bet you, like I, could survive on small, tasty snacks rather than larger meals. It's easier to be creative, less clean up, and it seems easier to pick a wine that you (or at least I) want to drink.
Last Sunday at home was a big cleaning day. Our afternoon reward: Holly made a "classic" hummus. We scooped with pita chips and fresh green beans.
Our favorite wine to open in the fridge is the ALLIMANT LAUGNER Cremant d'Alsace, Brut Rose, $20. Can't get enough of it. So good, fruity, crisp
and delicious from beginning to end. Not to be overthought: all the flavors taste great by themselves and even better together.

Speaking of snacks, now in the wine bar, every day and all day, a classic mid-day taste sensation on the menu board: Dry Sherry & Snacks to Match. EMILIO LUSTAU Dry Amontillado Sherry "Los Arcos" $17.
A small glass of Amontillado with Ossau Iraty (Basque sheep's milk cheese), artisan salami from Creminelli (from Washington state) & almonds. All for $12. What could be better? Only one thing: a can of Serpis Anchovy stuffed olives. Makes me think Hemingway at the Spanish cafe, drinking & writing. If you don't want to write, we have plenty to read here as you imbibe.

August 8, 2009
Uva Trattoria Italiana is a popular Italian restaurant with the locals. In Downtown Napa, two blocks from Back Room Wines. Full bar, music on the weekends, can accomodate larger parties. The food is spotty-if you know what to order then  you'll be happy. For example, they've always made a good Arancini with on marinara sauce. We went to Uva last night, after our Friday Night Tasting (Southern Rhone was the theme), for a quick bite.
Calamari Fritti: bland, disappointing. Almost as if they worked at it to eliminate the flavor.
Spaghetti Frutti de Mare. Very good. Bold, slightly spicy tomato/wine sauce, thin spaghetti cooked well, lots of good seafood. I'd order this again.
Had a bottle of Honig Sauvignon Blanc 2008. At $30, not a bad price for it on the wine list. We drank it up no problem. Place had a good buzz going on at 10 P.M. Full of folks, decent band, a little bit of dancing, bachelorette party going on...recommended. Just stay away from the calamari.
August 6, 2009
The Green & Red Zinfandel Chiles Canyon ‘07, with the roast chicken, was as good as expected. This wine hits the spot! Dark rich cherries, fine Zin-spice, kiss of sweet oak, full bodied, balanced, just right. With seasoned chicken skin it’s the bomb. Couldn’t help but drink almost the entire bottle between the two of us. I recommend it highly.
With Zin in glass, I also played with a couple of sweet, summer, heirloom tomatoes. How to make this more unlikely match a pairing to remember? To find the answer, I went for taste comparisons rather than contrasts.
The sweetness of the tomato and the wine are easy, and it worked. The Zin’s “sweetness” came out more. As for the spice, three things: extra virgin olive oil, cracked black pepper and chopped fresh basil. Pepper in the oil and black pepper matched that in the Zin nicely. The minty-ish spice of the basil matched with the mint/licorice note in the wine. Oh, one more thing: Balsamic Vinegar. Getting back to match sweet with sweet again. And it did! Great match that you can do at home. But be sure to get good, vine-ripened tomatoes. Won’t work too well with hot house tomatoes.
Buy Green & Red Zinfandel 2007 here.
August 5, 2009
Seems the #1 favorite meal of great chefs, most notably Thomas Keller, is roast chicken. The simplicity and comfort of a well-roasted chicken not only tastes great-it feels good & safe too. Thoughts of Mom feel nice, but right now, a good, quick meal after a  hard-working day is the motivation.
Tonight, after a stop at Silo's Jazz Club, we'll get down with a Rotisario roast chicken (from the Oxbow Public Market) along with sauteed chard from our neighbor's garden.
The wine: keeping it local tonight with Green & Red Zinfandel, Chiles Canyon 2007, $23. I've been a fan of Green & Red wines since I moved to Napa in 1992, and this '07 is the most memorably tasty wine from them since '94. Rich fruit, perfect complement of sweet, peppery spice, silky, intense and still perfectly balanced. It's a perfect dinner table wine as it can marry with most appetizers, pretty much all main dishes and move nicely into cheese at the end (which we might have to do). Check out the blog Thursday morning (Pacific Time) for a report...the meal will be great, but I guess the anticipation is even more exciting.
July 31, 2009
Three doors down from the shop is a very average Chinese restaurant called China Light. There doing something right as they've been there for longer than I've lived in Napa (1992). Must say that I'm hooked on the Pork Chow Mein. Good noodles, vegetables and pork. All is fresh and hot, and the sauce is pretty good: strong, balanced, not too heavy.
The wine? Not that I'm sipping on a glass at 1 P.M., when I'm chowing the chow-wouldn't make it to the end of the day. I did, and do, sample, however, for the sake of information, and my recommendation is BLOCKHEADIA RINGNOSII Sauvignon Blanc "All Tank" Napa Valley 2007 $18/bottle. I'm wanting the aggressive flavors and acidity of Sauv Blanc with this dish. Want it to hold up to the food and refresh the palate at the same time. This no-oak, bright acid, green apple/lime/grapefruit flavored white from former Napa Restaurateur Michael Ouellette fits the bill. Honestly, I can't think of a better type of wine with Chow Mein than a very crisp, assiertive, no-oak Sauvignon Blanc (could be from Cal, New Zealand, Chile, France...) Buy Blockheadia Ringnosii Sauvignon Blanc here.

July 28, 2009
Are Napa Cabs and fresh, Farmers Market produce like oil & water? With a plethora of produce out there (much from friends with greener thumbs than ours), you'd assume it's all Sauvignon Blanc, Rose wines and crisper Chardonnays these days. While it's my preference, you can go vegi and drink big Cabs very nicely, thank you.
I'm thinking about our latest new "Big Cab," SODA CANYON CELLARS Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2007 $50/bottle. This is Beau Vigne's third label, and it's as good as most winery's #1. No kidding! Click over to my description for more info. I'm going to play and report back. Key elements: caramelized onion & garlic. Soy sauce, black bean sauce, peppery olive oil (think I'll make a marinade out of these things), heavy roasting (it being summer, our new Weber gas grill will play a role. How will it be. At least good, maybe great!
Buy Soda Canyon Cellars Cabernet 2007 here.

July 6, 2009
I made Carnitas last week. It's ridiculously easy to do. I got up early on Sunday morning and got started so they'd be done
before noon and I could relax a while before company came over. The recipe comes from customer Dan from Millbrae and it's just below this Blog entry. Tender yet crackly/crispy as good Carnitas should be with stronger sweet-spice element to it than most. Served with Guacamole, radishes, grilled onions, lime wedges, salsa and Cojita cheese. The match you're thinking of is probably Margaritas and Dos Equis (that's what comes to my mind first), but this is a Food & Wine Blog, so I had to pick a dy-no-mite wine for me, Holly and our guests. I think pink.MAS AMIEL Rosé "Le Plaisir" Côtes du Roussillon 2008, $18/bottle, was a big hit. From Southwest France, where Grenache reigns supreme in fine winedom. Wild cherry, blood orange, white & black pepper spice, good bite of acidity, juicy and very food friendly. It matched the spice, the meat, the salt and the herbs in our made-to-order Carnitas tacos. Pork shoulder is good &'s good value fine eating!
Buy MAS AMIEL Rosé "Le Plaisir" Côtes du Roussillon 2008 here

Dan from Millbrae's Carnitas
Serves Eight
4-5-pounds boneless pork should, cut into 5-inch chunks, trimmed of excess fat
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons canola or neutral vegetable oil
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon chile powder
2 bay leaves
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly-sliced
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder

1. Rub the pieces of pork shoulder all over with salt. Refrigerate for 1- to 3-days. (You can skip this step if you want. Just be sure to salt the pork before searing the meat in the next step.)

2. Heat the oil in a roasting pan set on the stovetop. Cook the pieces of pork shoulder in a single layer until very well-browned, turning them as little as possible so they get nice and dark before flipping them around. If your cooking vessel is too small to cook them in a single-layer, cook them in two batches.

3. Once all the pork is browned, remove them from the pot and blot away any excess fat with a paper towel, then pour in about a cup of water, scraping the bottom of the pan with a flat-edged utensil to release all the tasty brown bits.

4. Heat the oven to 350F (180C) degrees.

5. Add the pork back to the pan and add enough water so the pork pieces are 2/3rd's submerged in liquid. Add the cinnamon stick and stir in the chile powders, bay leaves, cumin and garlic.

6. Braise in the oven uncovered for 3½ hours, turning the pork a few times during cooking, until much of the liquid is evaporated and the pork is falling apart. Remove the pan from the oven and lift the pork pieces out of the liquid and set them on a platter.

7. Once the pork pieces are cool enough to handle, shred them into bite-sized pieces, about 2-inches (7 cm), discarding any obvious big chunks of fat if you wish.

8. Return the pork pieces back to the roasting pan and cook in the oven, turning occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated and the pork is crispy and caramelized. It will depend on how much liquid the pork gave off, and how crackly you want them.

June 25 2008

The town of Sonoma has a fantastic Portuguese restaurant called La Salette. The food is flavor-packed, hearty and thoughtful. A wood fired oven roasts away behind the sous chefs. We've only dined here twice, yet it's on our top ten restaurants in Wine Country. Visit two, on a rainy Sunday early-evening (pre-movie at Sonoma's Sebastiani Theatre), was perfect. I spotted the BALDASSARI Syrah, North Coast 2005, $27 at Back Room Wines, and ordered it to match
our entire meal. Fire roasted fresh sardines with a warm onion compote, seared sea scallops on sweet potato puree, then lamb...a grilled chop + braised leg in a special sauce. All were outstanding dishes on cold winter evening. You're on your own to get the dishes, but I have the Baldassari Syrah for you. It's a blend of "Unti Vineyard" in Dry Creek Valley and Coombsville (Napa Valley) fruit. Thus the North Coast designation on the label. Here's a great example of balanced, fruity, spicy, luscious California Syrah. Nose has black pepper, juicy blueberries and blackberries, black olive, licorice and mocha. Loads of berries & plums, medium body, silky texture, deft touch of oak. (1/3 new American, 2/3 once-used French). 142 cases made. BUY Baldassari Syrah here

June 16, 2009
Growing up, I was always a little different than other kids when it came to food. Even though I grew up in a household of pre-made hard taco shells and Irish-Italian Spaghetti Sauce (got you wondering on that one?), I remember declaring in my Junior High School Newspaper (Falco's Crier, if anyone's interested) that my favorite food was Coquilles Saint Jacque. Even though my pairing at the time was 7-Up, a wine match, someday, was inevitable.I'm off of Coquilles Saint Jacques now, although I wouldn't decline a serving. Sea Scallops prepared more simply is my thing. A little lighter, although not light, is my preference. Butter is good. I admit the following dish is in my future and not my past. That said, I have no doubt of its success. I tasted last week and brought into Back Room Wines one of this world's classics: Domaine des Baumard Savennières 2005 ($29/bottle). It's Loire Valley 100% Chenin Blanc, as Savennières must be. Always very good, sometimes great, the 2005 is the latter. Rich, luscious, nutty, creamy...its texture and flavor profile reminds me of a rich, minerally Chardonnay. This is not the most common comparison, but the hazelnut/toffee flavor and creamy texture makes the comparison fair. And tasty!

This is what I intend to do:
1. Get a half dozen beautiful and bountiful fresh sea scallops from my fishmonger. Will serve 2.
2. Clarify a half pound of sweet butter. This recipe won't need a half pound, but I'm out and could use for another day.
3. Pan sear the scallops to a rich, dark brown crust, while still being almost-raw on the inside. The scallops will be very lightly salt-and-peppered before.
4. Cover the sea scallops and keep warm. Don't cover them all the way as you want the crusty top & bottom to stay that way!
5. In the same pan, add 1/4 cup citrus juice. You could use many types of juice, but I'll use freshly squeesed Meyer Lemon juice because the sweet/tart of Meyer Lemons will be a fine match with Savennières.
6. Scrape all the tasty, crusty stuff from the pan and reduce the juice by 2/3.
7. Add 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme and 2-3 Tablespoons roast, chopped hazelnuts. Cook for a minute or two.
8. With the heat on low, add cold, whole butter one Tablespoon at a time. Do this until you have a back-of-spoon coating sauce. Maybe 4 Tablespoons? I'm not certain...can let you know soon. Rich scallops (and spuds) - rich wine. Creamy dish - creamy wine. Buttery/toasty dish - butter-textured/toffee flavors in wine. Meyer Lemon - lemon/pear flavors in wine. Hazelnuts - hazelnuts. Thyme - earthy/chalky wine.
9. Finally, make your gustatory tower: a. Starch of choice. I choose creamed Yukon Gold potatoes. THEY NEED TO BE HOT! Make a small pile in the center of the plate. b. Three scallops on the potatoes (starch). c. Top generously with the sauce. Use it all, even if it looks like it'll be too much. You'll eat it. d. Serve two glasses of Domaine des Baumard Savennières 2005, chilled.The marriage: Holy cow, I can't wait to make this now!
Buy Domaine des Baumard Savennières here.

March 25, 2009
I rarely cook meals at home that best match with Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Honestly, I rarely drink Cabernet at home as I taste so much of it at work. I had reason to last night, however. A Cabernet from a well-struck 3 iron away from our home: Ackerman Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2003, $75 at Back Room Wines.
Ackerman Cabernet appreciates a well-prepared meal. Rarely a customer for steak, I decided to take advantage of a burgeoning spring day and start up the Weber grill. Just the two of us, Holly and me, so one Ribeye steak was perfect. Soaked in dark soy sauce for one minute, dusted with fresh cracked pepper and grilled to medium rare.
To accompany: quick-sauteed Brussels Sprouts leaves and pantry-cleaning Rice pilaf (various nuts, dried fruits and fresh herbs in long grain white rice). I like compound butters, so I pulled some wild mushroom and garlic butter from our freezer to top the steaming beefsteak. Ackerman Cabernet almost-famously leads with the earth. You smell the soil, typical of Coombsville Cab, where it's from. Soy sauce, porcini mushroom and meat on the nose (see where I'm coming from with the dinner?). With time, as in 40 minutes, the Napa fruit emerges. Dark cherry, blackberry, currant: classic. Softening tannins, with the structure that remains melting into the expensive aged Ribeye. This was umami heaven at home.
BUY Ackerman Cabernet 2003 here

New Years 2009
The dish: Crab, Shrimp and Scallop Cakes with Roasted Poblano Hollandaise (found in "Without Reservations" cookbook by Joey Altman). The chef: my wife Holly. The place: friend's house in Napa. The wine: Chardonnay "Gamble Ranch" Napa Valley 2006, $39 at Back Room Wines. How's the match? EXCELLENT. The Sbragia Chardonnay is VERY rich. Stick of butter, pineapple cake, hazelnuts, oily and lush. The richness of the fish cakes, especially with the hollandaise (egg yolks & lots of butter!) calls for an opulent white. The roast poblanos and the wine's toasty oak was a great match.
The trend around here has been toward non-buttery, leaner Chardonnays. I prefer the luscious, buttery ones like this Sbragia in most cases. We'll include the recipe with purchase of the Sbragia Chardonnay "Gamble Ranch." It's an easy recipe-Holly was intimidated by the hollandaise, but it turned out to be a breeze to make.
BUY Sbragia Chardonnay here
Christmas 2008
The dish: Spicy shrimp lettuce wraps with Nam Pla Dipping Sauce. The place: SolBar Restaurant at Solage Resort & Spa in Calistoga. The wine: ZMOR Dry Gewurztaminer, Russian River Valley 2007, $25 at Back Room Wines. How's the match? VERY GOOD. The Zmor Gewurz is cruelly underrated. Delicious on its own, and a stunning food-wine.
Flowers, honeycomb, spicy peach, pineapple, lychee, grapefruit... groovy sensations from nose to finish. The fleshy shrimp match it on size. The lime, chiles and garlic in the sauce was a fun match of strong flavors. This is an easy, healthy dish to make. Find nam pla sauce online, and pick up celophane noodles & fish sauce at most Asian markets.
BUY ZMor Gewurztraminer here


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