Day Trip: The Sonoma Coast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery year around the beginning of September, it gets really warm here in the Bay Area and in some of the foggy, freezing, coastal towns nearby. Some call it the Indian Summer. I just call it Summer, as it’s all I’ve ever known. What we experience from June through the end of August is NOT summer, just ask any local. Anyhow, our summer finally came around, luring the fog back over the ocean, finally exposing our coastline to the late summer sun. Colleen and I took the opportunity to drive north and visit the extreme Sonoma Coast.

The California coast in the summer is a sight to behold. Highway 1 runs from North to South, offering expansive views of oceanside cliffs, sandy beaches, waterfalls, sycamore trees, pastures, azure waters, and blue skies for miles and miles. When I see the coast, it warms my heart and reminds me of why I pay a zillion dollars a month for rent to live in the Bay Area. I can drive an hour north or south and visit it anytime I want. I was practically raised on the beaches of Bodega Bay, my mom hauling us kids around with her as she explored the places that I still find myself drawn to today. These memories were the preface to our adventure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first stop on our route was Bodega Bay, a small coastal town that sits right on top of the San Andreas fault. This adorable little village offers many amenities to people passing through, including a market, taffy shop, several restaurants, an ice cream parlor and an adorable little wine shop called Gourmet au Bay. All we had to see was the Wine Tasting sign and we pulled right into their parking lot. Colleen and I weren’t sure what to expect, but we were gleefully optimistic about the prospect of wine tasting on this beautiful, sunny day.

Upon entering, we noticed rows of wines for sale, with a wine bar selling wines by the glass in the back. We took a closer look at the wines offered for retail sale and noticed some of our favorites. The selection here is mostly local wines, or at least wines from vineyards that are on the Sonoma Coast. The prices were reasonable, and if we were from out of town and looking for a special bottle to take home, this would be a good place to buy one.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter inspecting the retail offerings, we made our way to the back and spied the wines by the glass. We settled on splitting a glass of Vermentino, and it wasn’t until then that we realized Gourmet Au Bay had a patio on the water. We deployed our huge sunglasses and took our tasty wine outside to enjoy with a spectacular view of the namesake Bodega Bay.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGourmet au Bay is located at 913 Hwy 1 in Bodega Bay, CA 94923.

After taking in the view and slowly sipping on our glass of Vermentino, we packed up and journeyed north to check out some of the beautiful beaches Bodega Bay has to offer. When I was little, my mom took us to a tiny beach called Shell Beach for family adventures. I remember scrambling over the huge rocks, poking sea creatures in tidal pools with my finger (don’t try this at home), making sand-angels, and eating peanut butter sandwiches while watching the waves crash on the inhospitable shore (this is not a place you go swimming!). I thought it would be neat to show Colleen this beach and tell her stories about my family’s visits.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can find Shell Beach by driving north of Bodega Bay for several miles, until you see the sign for Shell Beach. It’s farther north than most of the other beaches in the area, so keep driving even if you think you’ve passed it. This is a wonderful spot to stop at and enjoy your peanut butter sandwich, or just to take in the views. If you are lucky enough to be there during low tide, you can walk pretty far down the beach and see some of the less-traveled areas. I recommend always bringing layers, as even on this hot day the fog line was just over the highway, and the beach was pretty foggy and cold.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter spending a few minutes torturing Colleen with boring family stories about the beach, we got back into the car and continued north. Our mission was to find a cow suitable for photography for the blog, from here on out known as the Picture Cow (not to be confused with a Gift Horse). If you’ve ever driven around here, then you are familiar with the miles and miles of green pastures inhabited by happy California dairy cows. If there’s any one scene that embodies the Sonoma Coast perfectly, it’s a serene cow munching on grass, mooing gently into the breeze. Eventually, we found the Picture Cow near Fort Ross.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPleased with our Picture Cow findings, we continued north until we reached our only planned destination, the Fort Ross Vineyard. Having been pleased with their wines at the Family Winemakers tasting a few weeks ago, we thought we would visit their winery and taste through their offerings without the madness of the event. It’s one of the only winery tasting rooms open to the public on the Sonoma Coast, and they don’t require an appointment to enjoy a tasting. To find it, continue north past the town of Jenner (right past the mouth of the Russian River) and hang a right on Meyers Grade Road. Go up the hill, following the Winery signs, and you will see it on your right. Be sure to take in the views as you drive, as the highlight of this trip is not the destination, but the sights along the way.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe enjoyed our flights of wine on the lovely patio of the tasting room. This place is very fancy, not your typical rustic Sonoma tasting room. The wines are remarkably California in style, with their Chardonnay being rich, bold and buttery. We quite enjoyed all of the wines, but the 2010 Symposium Pinot Noir was our favorite. We picked up a bottle and will be posting a review here soon, so stay tuned for that.

After saying our goodbyes to the friendly folks at Fort Ross Vineyards, we turned south to meander back home, with at least one more destination in mind. If Colleen and I have any one thing in common, it’s our lust for oysters. Delicious, briny, fresh, succulent oysters, gently plucked from the beautiful Tomales bay. Little did Colleen know, I had a special bottle of wine in the cooler, waiting for this occasion. We made a bee-line back down to Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall, CA. To get there from Fort Ross, just drive south on Highway 1 until you reach it. You have to do a little jig to stay on the highway once you pass Bodega Bay and it makes a left turn for Petaluma, just keep an eye out for the signs to stay on Highway 1. Once you turn right to stay on the Highway and head towards Marshall, just continue south until you see the farm on the right.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a normal day, you might not get as lucky as we did at the farm. The most cost-effective way to enjoy oysters here is at the Shuck-yer-Own picnic tables, which generally require a reservation made months in advance. Lucky for us, it was late in the day, and there was a vacant picnic table for us to shuck our own oysters at. You can also buy pre-shucked or BBQ oysters from the stand in the back, but you will pay a lot more that way. We decided on 3 dozen oysters total; 1 dozen Kumamoto (our fave), 1 dozen X-Small Sweetwaters, and 1 dozen Atlantic. If there is any duo on earth that can put away 3 dozen oysters, it’s the Ladies of Winelandia. We grabbed our oyster knives and got right to business.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShucking an oyster is a learned skill. It’s not as easy as those guys at the oyster bar make it look. I’ve shucked hundreds (if not thousands) of oysters, and I still struggle with it. My only advice is to never give up, and keep on shuckin’ until you become a master. I haven’t gotten there yet, but I will die trying. I love oysters so much, it won’t be a problem.

Wine and oysters are a match made in heaven, and there aren’t many white wines I wouldn’t pair with them. The only white wine I would avoid is anything with oak, as the woody or buttery flavor can clash with the fresh, briny oysters. I stashed a bottle of Robert Sinskey’s 2012 Pinot Gris in the cooler before we left, which on this hot day was closer to cellar temperature when we opened it. I wanted it to be ice cold, desperately, so we devised a technique we dubbed Ice Mountain to keep our wine cold. Worked like a charm. I encourage you to use our patented technology should you find yourself in a similar predicament.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Robert Sinskey 2012 Pinot Gris was perfect with these oysters. It’s rich, full-bodied, bright, pure, fruity, and refreshing. If Robert Sinskey does anything right, it’s white wine. They are some of my favorite from California, and they are one of the few producers to make a 100% dry Muscat, which is absolutely insane. If we are lucky, we might offer some Sinskey white wines on Winelandia.com once we start our retail operation.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was getting late in the day, and we needed to start heading back home. We decided to take the scenic route, meandering through Nicasio Valley and stopping at the reservoir to enjoy the last bit of sunshine before landing back in reality. The sun was getting low and casting a lovely golden hue on everything surrounding us. It’s days like this that remind me of why I started Winelandia. I want to share these experiences with people who weren’t lucky enough to be immersed in it their whole life, showing them the hidden gems along the way, and how to find ways to make the experience even richer. The landscape of California and the fruits of the vineyards, farmland and pastures have inspired me for decades. I am grateful to share these experiences with our readers.

If you want to replicate our adventure, feel free to reach out to me directly (tala@winelandia.com) and I will send you a map with all of the side-missions and destinations. I certainly hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Urban Parklet Picnic: Sherry on 11th St.

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Recently, it came to my attention that I might be a fan of sherry. After all, I love oxidative white wines from the Jura, and especially Champagne made in a slightly oxidative style. I was given a bottle of Manzanilla sherry, presumably because the giver thought I am an old lady. He was right. The first thing I did was call up my Old Lady Partner in Crime (OLPIC), Colleen. We decided that this bottle of sherry needed to be enjoyed at 3PM on a Thursday, at a parklet on a busy street because, why not?

Sherry is an incredibly inexpensive Spanish wine made in a solera and under flor. Because of the process, sherry takes on a very distinctive, oxidized, nutty aroma, which can be an acquired taste. The type of sherry we had, Manzanilla, is typically a lighter, fresher style of Sherry than it’s cousins. The color was light straw, the aroma strong and enticing. The flavors were saline, nutty, and mouth-filling, with an incredibly long finish. The acidity was crisp and refreshing, a nice balance to the unique flavor. As this sherry opened up, it became even more delicious and complex, and Colleen and I were both big fans.

We paired this wine with a hard Spanish cheese, peppadew peppers stuffed with chèvre, castelvetrano olives, and a few hunks of Tartine bread. Sherry is one of the few wines that pairs well with both very salty or pickled foods, and I was very pleased with the outcome of our pairing. We snarfed up that whole block of cheese lickety-split.

If you are a big fan of weird wine that doesn’t break the bank, go pick up a bottle of Sherry from Ruby Wine in Potrero Hill (which is where mine was from), or your friendly neighborhood wine shop. You will be very pleased with the price, and you can go then spend all the money you saved on some fancy hard Spanish cheese, and some Jamón Ibérico de bellota (pata negra only, please). Whatever you end up doing, be sure to enjoy it slowly, as the sherry we had really evolved with some air.

Wine Review: 2012 Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris

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Update 4/30/14: You can buy the new vintage of this wine here!

Do you love white wine? Are you a fan of things that are both unusual and delightful at the same time? Do you get real excited when you find fancy things that don’t break the bank? This 2012 Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris from the Russian River Valley is all of those things, and it’s one of my favorite wines of the summer.

Trousseau Gris was once widely grown in California under the name Grey Riesling. It’s a mutation of the red Trousseau grape, native to the Jura region in France. There is very little of it left here in the Golden State, but the Fanucchi-Wood Road vineyard in the Russian River Valley grows about 10 acres of it. This vineyard has created a name for itself through some very skilled winemakers (Pax Mahle of Wind Gap also makes a wine from this vineyard) and the wines are highly sought-after by insatiable wine geeks like myself.

Jolie-Laide Wines is a very small operation run by winemaker Scott Schultz in Forestville, CA. He produces just a few wines, and this was the first one I ever tried of his. Colleen and I were at the Punchdown in Oakland and we spied a Jolie-Laide 2011 Trousseau Gris on the menu. We have had Trousseau Gris in the past, from Wind Gap, and we loved it. It was no surprise we loved this one, too.

The hallmark of this wine is the velvety texture and spicy character it gets from the cold soak it receives for several days prior to pressing and fermentation. This process gives the wine a unique richness without being over-wrought or tannic, like many skin-contact white wines can be. It has an undeniable Trousseau Gris fruit profile, including stonefruit and citrus, which is reminiscent of other wines we’ve had from this vineyard. It has enough acid and freshness to balance the viscosity, richness, spice, and fruit. This is a balanced wine in the purest sense of the word, expertly made, by one of the nicest people we have ever met in the wine industry.

If you see this wine in a shop, and it’s hard to miss because of the sexy babe on the label, be sure to pick up at least a few bottles. At around $24, you won’t find another wine of this quality for the price. I would put my money on this wine aging gracefully for at least a little while, as it has the stuffing to do so. It’s a great food wine, like all wines we feature on Winelandia, and I suggest serving it with whole grilled fish stuffed with citrus & cilantro. Add on a side of grilled veggies, and you will be sure to impress your guests.

Have you tried this wine? Tell us what you think in the comments!

Editors Note: We previously stated that this wine was skin-fermented, which is incorrect. It received a 5 day cold-soak prior to fermentation. Thanks to the winemaker for clarifying!

Seasonal Foods: Sanddabs

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Do you love fish? I sure do, especially if it’s sustainably harvested. Here in the Bay Area, we have an abundance of local fish to choose from. Much of it is caught along the coast of Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Bay. Many of you may be familiar with Seafood Watch, a program run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium aimed at helping consumers make good choices when it comes to buying seafood. I like to use their iPhone app which helps me determine if the fish I’m about to buy is on the Best Choices or Good Alternatives list. You’d be surprised by some of the members of the Avoid list.

A few days ago, the SF Chronicle published an article on Pacific Sanddabs in their Food & Wine section. I had seen sandddabs many times before being sold by my local fishmonger. I never thought twice about them, but this article really piqued my interest. I decided to set forth on a mission to find San Francisco’s finest Sanddabs. I did eventually find them at none other than the 18th Street Bi-Rite Market for $10/lb. By Bay Area seafood standards, they are a steal. Move over King Salmon! While sanddabs are not on the Monterey Bay Aquarium “Recommended” list, they are on the “Good Alternatives” list and that’s good enough for me.

I wanted to make the preparation simple so I could highlight the delicate, nutty flavor of the fish. I ended up settling on lightly dredging them in flour and pan-frying them in neutral-tasting rice bran oil, then serving them with chive Beurre Blanc. I roasted up some carrots and cooked some French lentils to serve with them, staying on the French trajectory. The outcome was fabulous, and I’m now hooked on sanddabs.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have been squirreling away a bottle of Chablis that I wanted to open with some white fish, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. I really do love Chardonnay, especially if it’s French. Chablis is one of the best values in Burgundy, and this bottle only set me back $29. I picked it up at Ruby Wine in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill and I sure am glad I saved it for such an occasion. The pairing was lovely, adding a nice crisp counter-point to the beurre blanc while not overwhelming any of the ingredients in the dish. 2010 was a cool vintage in Chablis and many of the wines made that year have a ton of racy acidity. This wine also had a prominent mineral backbone, a hallmark of Chablis, which was a great compliment to the briney character of the sanddabs. Chablis is a very versatile wine, but I love it most with seafood.

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Are you a sanddab fanatic? Do you fish them yourself, or prepare them in a special way? Let us know in the comments.

 

Wine 101: Beginner’s Guide to Wine

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Most new wine drinkers are completely overwhelmed by the numerous and mysterious options when they walk into a wine store. It’s completely justified – that feeling of being totally lost. It’s not your fault, either. While most domestic wines are labeled with the type of grape the wine is made from, many European wines are not. Instead they have the region, the country, the house that made the wine, or just a funky picture on the label. Moreover, the labels generally don’t say a word about what it tastes like, what food to pair with it, or any other indication of what’s in the bottle. How on earth will you know which wine to pick for dinner?

In this post we will go over some of the common types of wines you will see in a wine shop, what they are like, what foods they pair with, a general price range, what stemware to choose, and where they are grown.

Cabernet Sauvignon
This grape is originally from Bordeaux but has gained a solid foothold virtually every wine market in the world. It’s one of the most widely-recognized varietals due to it’s widespread availability, ease of cultivation, and easy-to-pronounce name. It generally produces a very robust wine which can be appealing to a new wine-drinker’s palate due to it’s richness of flavor and enticing aromas. It can be very expensive, collectible and age-worthy. Still, if you know nothing about wine, chances are you’ve still had a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Major Regions: Napa, Bordeaux, South America
Type of Wine: Red
Stemware: Large, tall-sided, tulip shaped Bordeaux glass
Flavors/Aromas: Currant, tobacco, blackberry, green pepper, spice, oak
Structure: Full-bodied, low acidity, medium to high tannin
Food Pairings: Beef, blue & aged cheeses, lamb, bittersweet chocolate
Price Range: $15-$80

Zinfandel
This fun, delicious, rustic wine is a staple in the New World, even though some believe it originated from Croatia. It counts for 10% of wine grapes planted in the US. While much of the Zinfandel vines grown are slated for “White Zinfandel” production, red Zinfandel is where it’s at. It can be made in many different styles and is a great wine to pair with food. It’s a wine that anybody can love, it was my gateway wine for sure. You can walk away with an exceptional bottle for around $25.

Major Regions: Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles, Italy
Aliases: Primitivo, Crljenak Kaštelanski
Type of Wine: Red, rosé
Stemware: Medium-sized, tulip-shaped Viognier glass
Flavors/Aromas: Plum, black/white pepper, spice, vanilla, blackberry
Structure: Medium to full bodied, low to medium acidity, medium tannin
Food Pairings: BBQ, burgers, pork, beef, lamb, pizza, grilled sausages, turkey, ribs
Price Range: $10-$30

Pinot Noir
Since the debut of the movie Sideways, Pinot Noir has experienced a renaissance in America. It’s seen greater plantings, higher prices, increased sales, and wider availability. Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult to grow and make good wine from. It prefers a cooler climate and longer growing season to warmer climates. Pinot Noir is famously grown in the Burgundy region of France (it’s one of three grapes legally allowed in Champagne), California, New Zealand, and is even gaining popularity in Oregon state. It can be difficult to warm up to, but it’s seductive textures and earthy aromas are bound to pull you in.

Major Regions: Sonoma Coast, Russian River Valley, Burgundy, Willamette Valley
Types of Wine: Red, rosé, sparkling, sparkling rosé
Stemware: Large, wide, tulip-shaped Burgundy glass
Flavors/Aromas: Cherry, mushroom, forest floor, resin, mineral, earth, herbs
Structure: Light to medium bodied, medium acidity, fine tannin
Food Pairings: Roasted chicken, duck, lamb, mushrooms, salmon, roasted pork
Price Range: $25-$60

Chardonnay
This oft-maligned grape variety has been a staple in the New World while quietly making world-class, highly collectible wine in the Old World. Chardonnay is considered a ‘neutral’ grape, which means the flavor profile is easily manipulated through farming and winemaking practices. More importantly, it showcases the vine’s terroir very well when grown in mineral soils. The style of wine can vary wildly from stony, acidic and mineral to viscous, buttery and rich. I recommend finding examples from Chablis or the Russian River Valley with neutral oak treatments if you are just getting started.

Major Regions: Burgundy, Sonoma, Napa
Types of Wine: Sparkling, white
Stemware: Large, wide, tulip-shaped Burgundy glass
Flavors/Aromas: Green apple, butter, mineral, citrus, toast, melon, lemon
Structure: Light to full bodied, low to high acidity, no tannin
Food pairings: Butter & cream sauce, chicken, crab, fish, lobster, pork, vegetable dishes, corn, cheese, herbs
Price Range: $15-$60

Sauvignon Blanc
There isn’t a grape variety more polarizing than Sauvignon Blanc, yet it’s prolific on the shelves at your local grocery store and wine shop. It’s often grassy, pungent or tropical aromas can be off-putting to some, but delectable to others. It’s originally a wild grape from South West France, but has earned a reputation in Bordeaux & Sancerre while gaining widespread popularity throughout the New World. It’s usually very crisp and good with food or just by itself. It’s also one of the few wines that can pair with brussel sprouts, artichokes, broccoli and asparagus.

Major Regions: Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Bordeaux, Napa, New Zealand
Types of Wine: White
Stemware: Medium-sized, tulip-shaped white wine glass
Flavors/Aromas: Gooseberry, grass, melon, tropical fruit, grapefruit, green pepper, citrus
Structure: Light bodied, medium to high acidity, no tannin
Food Pairings: Seafood, goat cheese, oysters, artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chicken, herbs, peppers, salad, tomatoes, vegetable dishes
Price Range: $10-$40

Pinot Gris
Also known as Pinot Grigio, this grape is the mutant cousin of Pinot Noir. It has white juice and rose-colored skin, which means it can make crisp white wines or copper-hued skin-fermented wines. This is one of the best-selling wines in the world due to it’s approachability, food-friendliness and wide availability. It grows well in cooler climates and makes excellent wines in Northern Italy, Alsace, Oregon and Germany. It’s best to drink Pinot Gris while it’s young as only Alsatian examples age well.

Major Regions: Alsace, Loire, Burgundy, Germany, Oregon, Northern Italy
Types of Wine: Dessert, white
Stemware: Medium-sized, tulip-shaped white wine glass
Flavors/Aromas: Spice, flowers, pear, apple, melon
Structure: Light to full bodied, medium to high acidity, no tannin (unless skin-fermented)
Food Pairings: Salmon, shellfish, antipasto, goat/sheep cheeses, fried chicken, roasted pork, prosciutto
Price Range: $10-$30

Cava
This sparkling wine is the hallmark of Catalonia, an independent nation in the North East corner of Spain. It’s all over the place in Barcelona as well as in the refrigerated section of your supermarket in the US. Don’t let the price fool you – Cava is one of the most delicious and inoffensive sparklers out there. It’s usually made from a blend of traditional Spanish grapes in the Methode Traditionelle (the same method used in Champagne). In Barcelona, it’s served by virtually every restaurant for 5-10 Euro per bottle and is the perfect accompaniment to tapas. If you are looking for an inexpensive, crowd friendly wine for a party or celebration, pick up some Cava. For about $15 you can get a pretty good one.

Major Regions: Catalonia
Types of Wine: Sparkling, sparkling rosé
Stemware: Champagne flute
Flavors/Aromas: Lemon, green apple, nuts, brioche, mineral
Structure: Light bodied, medium acidity, no tannin
Food Pairings: Serrano ham, olives, fried fish, cheese, sushi, BBQ, tapas
Price Range: $7-$20

Rosé
Pink wine isn’t just for girls! Contrary to common belief, rosé isn’t usually sweet. Lots of it being made these days is mostly or completely dry, and sugar is only used to balance out the bracing acidity of some wines. By no means am I talking about White Zinfandel, Blush wine or anything made by Franzia or Carlo Rossi (avoid those like the plague). Some of the finest rosé wines come from the Provence region of France, but excellent variations can be found all of the world. Although rosé can be made from any red wine grape, they mostly taste very similar. It’s not meant to be thought-provoking, but it’s delicious and affordable. This summertime gulper is best enjoyed ice cold, on a warm night, with some light fare.

Major Regions: Provence, Sonoma, Oregon, Loire, Champagne
Types of Wine: Rosé
Stemware: Medium-sized, tulip-shaped white wine glass
Flavors/Aromas: Strawberry, watermelon & watermelon rind, herbs
Structure: Light to medium bodied, medium to high acidity, no tannin.
Food Pairings: Salmon, charcuterie, cheeses, grilled fish, crab, pizza, BBQ, eggs, pork, salad, grilled shrimp, picnics
Price Range: $10-$25

Is there a type of wine that you’re curious about that you’d like us to cover? Let us know in the comments.

Nine Delicious, Affordable Wines Perfect for Summer

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis last weekend, Colleen and I hosted a tasting with some friends of ours in her home. The theme was Summertime Wines. We have had some unseasonably pleasant weather in the past few months and we decided it was a suitable topic of discussion; there are so many wonderful, affordable, easy to drink wines out there that just beg to be consumed on a warm summer afternoon. We put together a list of some really great wines we have been dying to try, Colleen cooked up an amazing tasting menu to go along with them, and we invited some friends over to experience it all with us.

I made sure to head over early so I could “help” Colleen with the food and set everything up… and by “help” I actually mean “bring over a kick-ass bottle of real Champagne for us to drink before anybody else gets there.” We enjoyed a bottle of Emmanuel Brochet NV Le Mont Benoit Extra Brut ($68), which we both loved. It was full of brioche, mineral and fruit with a super creamy mousse, zippy acidity and mega drinkability.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce all of the food was prepared, glasses were set out, paper plates were in place and the droves of thirsty friends arrived, we started popping corks & twisting screw caps. Don’t let a screw cap scare you off, tricking you into thinking the wine is of inferior quality. Many “drink now” wines are bottled under a screw cap because they are cheaper, non air-permeable and more sustainable to use than the traditional cork. If you don’t need to age a wine, there’s really no need for a cork.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur wine list for the evening:

2002 Chateau Tour Grise Brut – Saumur, France
Certified Organic & Biodynamic, 30 year old Chenin Blanc (100%) vines grown in limestone soils. Dry. Brioche, tangerine, white flowers, mineral nose; honey, yeast, meyer lemon, kumquat on the palate.

2011 Domaine Rimbert Blanc – Saint-Chinian, Languedoc, France
Organically farmed Marsanne, Roussanne, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Carignan Blanc. Picked in the early morning to preserve acidity. Conservative use of SO2.

NV ‘Il Brut and the Beast’ – Valli Unite, Piedmont, Italy
Organically farmed Cortese & Favorita. Produced in a commune of 15 families in Piedmont. Honey, bright green herbs, mineral on the nose. Slightly sweet & effervescent.

2012 Ameztoi Rubentis Rosado – Gipuzkoa, Spain
Petillant-naturel from the Basque region of Spain, blend of Hondarrabi Zuri (white) & Hondarrabi Beltza (red) grapes. Grown near the Atlantic ocean.

2012 Lioco Indica Rosé – Mendocino, CA
Stainless steel-fermented rosé of Carignan. 60 year old vines, dry farmed & head trained in Mendocino. Aromas of nectarine pit, orange blossom & rock dust lead to the flavors of wild strawberry, watermelon rind & kaffir lime. Bone dry & high in acid.

2012 La Clarine Rosé – Sierra Foothills, CA
Organically farmed, native yeast fermentation, no added SO2 during winemaking, minimal SO2 at bottling. 62% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, Semillon & Viognier. Aromas of mineral, earth & blood orange.

2011 Matteo Correggia Anthos – Piedmont, Italy
100% Brachetto grown in sandy soils. Stainless steel fermented & aged. Medium bodied; aromas of red fruit & rose petals. Limited use of SO2.

2009 Domaine Dupasquier Gamay – Savoie, France
100% Gamay aged in used foudre. Aromas of earth, iron & mineral with tart cherry & bright acid on the palate.

2010 Hexamer “Quarzit” Riesling – Nahe, Germany
Bouquet of tropical fruit, stony minerals & citrus. Bracing acidity matched by ample sweetness make this a balanced but bold riesling. These grapes are grown in soils composed of Quartzite and clay which lend a ton of minerality to this wine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConsidering the fact that we had such a spectacular wine list, Colleen felt it was only appropriate to make a humungous spread of food to go along with the wines. After all, when you are pouring this many wines, it’s a good idea to make sure people aren’t hungry. Plus, all of our wine selections were loaded with acidity and when you have wine with acid, the natural next step is to enjoy it with food.

Our food pairing menu for the evening:

Bagna Cauda with Poached Vegetables
Emmental Gougeres
Fromage Fort on Toasts
Pepper Steak Crostini with Whipped Horseradish Creme Fraiche
Green Bean Salad with Cherry Tomatoes & Sauteed Shallots
Basil Peach Financier

One of the best things about wines that are suited for warm weather is that they are extremely food-friendly. I love rosé with salad, gougeres with anything oxidative, slightly sweet cakes with an off-dry wine. Colleen made the steak crostini served at room temperature to go along with the two red wines we were serving slightly chilled. The Financier were just a little sweet, mildly herbal and absolutely delicious with the off-dry Riesling.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe crowd favorite wine of the evening was the Ameztoi Rubentis Rosado. This pink wine is a cult favorite in the Bay Area; it’s already sold out from the store we got it at. It’s super fresh, light, aromatic, fizzy, thirst-quenching, mouth watering and perfect in every way. Best of all, it was only $22. The runner up was the Matteo Correggia Anthos Brachetto. This wine was absolutely stunning with feminine, sexy aromas of rose petal & bright red fruit. Everyone was blown away by how prominent the rose aroma was from this light-bodied red wine. Not everyone wants or expects their red wine to smell like a flower, but it was a welcome surprise to all of us. At $19 per bottle, there’s no reason not to pick up one or three if you find this wine in a store.

All of these wines (Champagne excluded) were between $18 and $24 each, and there was not a single wine we didn’t love in the whole lineup. Most of these can be purchased at Ruby Wine in Potrero Hill, SF. Last time I checked, there was still some of that Brachetto left. I would highly recommend you make your way up the hill to grab a few before they’re gone for good, I know I will (and these ladies, below, probably will too)!

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Chez Panisse is back and better than ever

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A very sad thing happened recently. Chez Panisse caught fire and had to shut down for several months while the restaurant was rebuilt. I was quite sad about this for a few reasons: First and most importantly, the restaurant’s cultural significance in the Bay Area fancy food scene. Secondly, I wanted to go for my birthday again this year. I had gone last year and it was amazing.

Several weeks ago, I caught wind that Chez Panisse was going to be reopening and they were taking reservations. Serendipitously, the first night they were to open for dinner was June 24th, my birthday. Meant to be? Absolutely. I called and called until I finally got through and made reservations for my birthday dinner.

I was excited to find out that Monday happens to be their local’s night. They tend to have a more rustic menu and it’s a little cheaper than their typical menu. Considering I just left my job, this was perfect for us. I looked up the menu on the website the day of our reservation and saw that they would be serving one of their signature dishes, the seafood bouillabaisse. Three courses were $65 per person and the wine pairings were an additional $30 per person.

We arrived right on time for our reservation and I got a few snaps of the new patio dining room from the outside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe inside of the restaurant didn’t look too different from the last time I was there. Considering I had only been inside once, it seems plausible that it has changed a bit and I simply didn’t notice. It was still a lovely copper hue with classy fixtures and comfortable seating. We were seated promptly and got to catch a glimpse of Alice Waters buzzing around the restaurant, greeting friends & customers and basically looking all business.

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The first course was a salad of haricots vert, roasted sweet peppers and frisée served with a crouton topped with fresh porcini mushrooms. The wine pairing was the highly sought-after Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé which has incredible roundness, richness and complexity for a rosé wine. The pairing was lovely.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe second course was the classic Chez Panisse seafood bouillabaisse. The broth made with fennel, tomato and saffron was very rich and complimented the local white fish, shrimp & clams beautifully. The wine pairing for this was a 2007 Domaine de Terrebrune Bandol (80% Mourvédre & 20% Grenache). At first I was surprised that such a rich red wine was being paired with the fish stew, but upon inquiring about the pairing with the server he told me that it’s a classic. Sure! Sounds good to me, and it was actually very nice.

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The final course, dessert, was a lovely Santa Rosa Plum galette with wild fennel ice cream. It was definitely the highlight of the meal and it even came out with a cutesy birthday candle. I’ve had a lot of galettes in my life and this was definitely one of the best. It showcased the complex flavors of the Santa Rosa plum and the wild fennel was an incredibly harmonious compliment to the galette. The wine pairing for this course was a sweet muscat, but I didn’t catch the producer or vintage. What does it matter, anyway? I love sweet muscat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI have to say I am glad I came back here for my birthday. It’s an institution and sets the benchmark for restaurants all over the Bay Area. I was so honored to be able to enjoy dinner on the opening night of the newly rebuilt Chez Panisse. If you have ever thought about going, I highly recommend it. The easiest way to get reservations is by calling a month to the day before the night you want to eat there at 9AM until you are able to get through. It’s worth the redialing, I promise!

Seasonal Foods: King Salmon

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In the Bay Area, there aren’t many things the locals take more seriously than baseball (Go Giants/A’s!). One of those few things is food. Case in point: Dungeness crab, Hog Island oysters, farmer’s markets, Berkeley Bowl/Rainbow/BiRite, Cioppino, countless “New American” restaurants featuring local ingredients, Mission burritos, food trucks, pop-up restaurants, dim sum, and brunch in general. Your average Bay Arean knows more about farming, fine dining, international cuisine and cooking than most Americans. Our airport has the finest food of any I’ve ever been to. Finally, some of the best meals are the cheapest, served from trucks on the street with a side of grilled green onions. What’s not to love?

Once a year, starting in late May, we start to see local King Salmon hitting the markets and restaurants. These delicious beasts spawn in the Sacramento river and are a delicacy in our Bay Area culture. In 2008 & 2009 there was no King Salmon season at all. In 2010, the season only lasted 4 days. Needless to say, this fish is expensive! Prices vary greatly by location. I’ve seen it for as much as $28/lb. at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and for as little as $19.99 at Sun Fat Seafood in the Mission.

King Salmon is aptly named. Also known as Chinook Salmon, it’s salmony in color, slightly sweet and has a lovely texture. This is one of the salmon species you can eat raw. The skin is the best part, absolutely wonderful when it’s pan-fried with sea salt until crispy. It’s excellent for curing, or prepared in the way I feel is best: Simply pan roasted in olive oil with salt, pepper and a slice of lemon.

We have a farmer’s market in my neighborhood on Thursdays afternoons, and our fresh fish vendor had King Salmon for $22 a lb. I bought a 3/4 lb piece, cut it into two, and pan-roasted it simply with salt & pepper. Served with matchstick carrots & ginger in a honey & olive oil glaze, topped with melted leeks, accompanied by a wedge of lemon and a side of brown rice.

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We enjoyed a bottle of Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Russian Rivery Valley Pinot Blanc alongside this lovely meal. It’s surprisingly rich on the palate for such a young and light-bodied wine. Pale straw in color, it has notes of stonefruit, mineral and citrus with a nice acid backbone and delightfully long finish. It was perfect with the fish and vegetables. Unfortunately this wine is no longer available for purchase, but it was $25/btl. retail when I bought it. Dutton-Goldfield has a wonderful wine club, you can opt out of any offering and the discount is 20%. They are definitely worth checking out if you are in Sebastopol; they make lovely Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc & Gewurtztraminer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll in all, I can’t complain that this was my dinner. I feel very fortunate to have these exceptional-quality ingredients at my fingertips. I love to cook seasonally, and while I love King Salmon, I probably won’t think about it much for the rest of the year because I will be distracted by other seasonal delights. Think of tomatoes, hard winter squash, chanterelle mushrooms, apples and garlic scapes.

Easy Meals: Nectarine & Burrata Watercress Salad

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of our favorite seasonal foods here in the Bay Area is stonefruit. Colleen loves it so much, she got peaches tattooed on her back. True story. I was at the Alemany Famer’s Market today to stalk the sour cherry vendor (2 more weeks…) and snagged a tasty-looking sample from a neighboring stall. All they had were yellow nectarines, which happen to be my favorite.

Holy moly! They were amazing. So sweet, juicy, tart and creamy – the perfect stonefruit. I picked up a big bag of them for $3/lb (organic, too) with no real intentions for them other than shoveling them into my face.

I left the Alemany market, took a detour for the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and found that Cowgirl Creamery is now selling mini 4oz. tubs of burrata. While I have no issue plowing through a full 16oz of this sweet, creamy, heavenly cheese, I decided it would be better for my heath and pocketbook if I bought the little tub. It’s the perfect amount for two people and it only cost me $5.

I remembered a cheesemonger once told me that the perfect accompaniment for burrata was stonefruit. I then recalled a salad I recently had at Eno Wine Bar in Union square with grilled peaches, peppery greens and burrata cheese. It was heavenly, although the peaches were under-ripe. I thought I would do the concept justice and make my own rendition at home with perfectly ripe fruit. I picked up a big bag of watercress from County Line Harvest and took my bounty home to Brisbane.

My husband and I enjoyed this lovely salad accompanied with a peppery champagne vinaigrette and a bottle of Wind Gap 2012 Trousseau Gris. Trousseay Gris was once widely planted across California, but these days there’s only about 10 acres of it left. It creates a wine that is delicate and fresh with aromas of honeysuckle, mineral & citrus. It’s so fresh and delicious, I thought it would be a lovely compliment to our summery salad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe pair was a match made in heaven. You can pick up this wine for yourself for the super low price of $24. It’s hard to find a wine this delicious and well-made at this price point, so I suggest buying up as much of it as you can if you see it in a store.

The salad was very easy to make, the recipe is below.

Nectarine & Burrata Watercress Salad with Black Pepper Vinaigrette
(serves 2)

Ingredients:
1/3 lb. watercress, pepper-cress, spring mix, arugula, or whatever
1 tree-ripe yellow nectarine or peach
4 oz. burrata
Olive Oil
Champagne vinegar
Pinch of salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Put the greens into a large bowl.
  2. Pour equal parts champagne vinegar & olive oil (about 1 oz each) into a 4 oz canning jar with a lid or a small bowl.
  3. Add salt and pepper to the dressing.
  4.  Put a lid on the jar and shake the dressing, or whisk in the bowl.
  5.  Cut your nectarine or peach into pretty slices.
  6.  Cut your 4 oz. of Burrata into wedges.
  7.  Pour the dressing onto the greens and toss.
  8.  Plate equal parts of greens into two separate bowls.
  9.  Fan out your stonefruit slices and place them in the center of the salad.
  10.  Garnish the stonefruit slices with two wedges of burrata.
  11.  Drizzle the burrata with olive oil and give it another grind of black pepper

Enjoy your amazing salad and wash it down with copious amounts of California Trousseau Gris.

 

Secret Wine Club: Domestic Pinot Noir

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery month or so, my friends and I get together to pitch in some money and taste wines we normally wouldn’t try. Colleen and I take turns hosting these events from our homes. Generally we have a theme such as Domestic Pinot Noir, French Chardonnay, Syrah, or Rhone Whites. We usually have around 12 people that come, which is the perfect number for a tasting since a bottle of wine contains approximately 25 oz. That means each person ends up with a tasting-sized pour and can go back for seconds if they want to revisit.

Our last tasting’s theme was Domestic Pinot Noir. To determine the event’s theme, we conduct a poll within the group. Domestic Pinot Noir has been a close second for the last few polls, and this time we decided to pick it because we love to honor the underdogs of the world.

I collected examples of wines produced from this noble grape from many of the important growing regions in the US. This included Willamette Valley (OR), Russian River Valley (CA), Anderson Valley (CA), Sonoma Coast (CA), Santa Cruz Mountains (CA), and Los Carneros (CA). While most of the wines were red, we did have one Rosé and a Pinot Noir-dominant sparkling wine. I felt it was important to show people that PN doesn’t just make red wines, but also pink and sparkling.

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Our wine list for the evening:

2012 Paul Mathew Rose of Pinot Noir – Russian River Valley
2008 Robert Sinskey Three Amigos Vineyard – Los Carneros
2009 Neely Spring Ridge Vineyard – Santa Cruz Mountains
2010 Hirsch San Andreas Vineyard – Sonoma Coast
2010 Porter Creek Fiona Hill – Russian River Valley
2010 Knez Winery Pinot Noir – Anderson Valley
2010 Cristom Mt. Jefferson Cuvée – Eola-Amity Hills (corked)
2007 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve – Willamette Valley

Pinot Noir produced domestically is very different from its Burgundian forefathers. It tends to be more fruit-forward, higher in alcohol, and less mineral-driven. However, that isn’t always the case. American winemaking styles dictate some of the outcome, while terroir & weather dictate the rest. California does have some rocky limestone soils, but it is in much smaller and less consistent swaths than the soils of Burgundy (which have tons clay & limestone). Burgundy was under the sea approximately 150 millions of years ago. Sediment created by ocean life, which settled to the bottom of the ocean over long periods of time, eventually fossilized into limestone. Seashells can still be found in the vineyard soils of France.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA(this Hirsch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir has a very prominent mineral character)

Mineral soils are largely what produce “minerality” in wines, that stony or earthy backbone which you may or may not notice. Thusly, wines grown in mineral soils can have a mineral character, although it can be quickly overshadowed by unbalanced ripeness and heavy-handed winemaking techniques. You can still find domestic wines with a mineral element, although they can be hard to weed out and expensive. Domestic wines historically have been produced with much riper grapes, more oak, and with more manipulation than fine Burgundy. There has been a shift in recent years for domestic Pinot Noir producers to make wines that are a more pure expression of the terroir. I hope this is a trend that sticks around.

Back to the tasting: I believe that wine should be enjoyed with food, so I love to create a tasting menu to be served along side the wines being poured. Pinot Noir can be so different between producers and regions that it allowed me to pair all sorts of foods. I like to stick with “classic” pairings, and then do a little bit of experimentation.

Here’s a list of foods that were paired:

Smoked duck breast, seared & thinly sliced
Roasted beet salad with vinaigrette & meyer lemon infused shaved fennel
Seared king trumpet mushrooms with roasted white spring onions
Flatbread with morels, roasted red spring onions & mozzarella cheese
Truffled ricotta & asiago ravioli with arugula, olive oil & shaved parmesean
Herbed camembert, aged gouda & sea salt crackers

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TL;DR – Pinot Noir loves mushrooms, cheese, onions, fennel, herbs, beets and duck. You could also do no wrong with herb roasted chicken or vegetarian dishes.

The crowd favorite of the night was the Neely Santa Cruz Mountain PN. It was lovely; brooding, balanced and complex. My personal favorites were the Iron Horse Brut X and the Hirsch San Andreas Vineyard PN. The Iron Horse is one of my favorite Green Valley wines of all time; bone dry with an ethereal creaminess while still having a crystalline structure. The Hirsch stood out in the crowd because of its mineral backbone and earthy character; it was unlike any of the others in the room.

I am looking forward to the next Secret Wine Club and hope everyone who came is too.­