Wine 101: Orange Wine

For the last few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of orange wines being produced in California, and the term “orange wine” is one that confuses people a great deal. People often think it’s wine made from oranges, others just dish out a blank stare when told they are drinking an “orange” wine. The truth is, orange wines have existed for as long as people have been making wine.

So what exactly is orange wine? Simply defined, orange wine is made from white wine grapes fermented while in contact with their skins, much like a red wine, whereas traditional white wines are made by pressing the juice from the grape right after harvest, separating the juice from the skins and fermenting the clear juice by itself. Some “white” wine grapes have a little color to their skin, like Pinot Gris/Grigio, which can be any color from blue/gray to copper in color. During fermentation, orange wines extract color, tannin, phenols, and texture from the skins, just like a red wine (most red grapes have clear juice, red wine gets it’s color from the skin contact during fermentation as well).

Here in California, orange wines are very trendy with modern winemakers. In Europe, orange wines have existed for ages, but there are a few mavericks making exceptional “modern” orange wines as well. Orange wines can be an acquired taste, as most people don’t expect a white wine to have tannins – the compound that leaves you with a “dry” feeling in your mouth – the same stuff that gives black tea it’s grippy texture. There aren’t a ton of orange wines on the market, in comparison to red, white, and rosé – but it’s safe to say that orange is the fourth color in the wine world.

Like all wines, there are many styles of orange wines being made. Some see “extended maceration”, where the wine is left in contact with the skins well after primary fermentation is finished. These wines can be rich, tannic, viscous, and very akin to red wine. Some are only in contact with the skins until primary fermentation is finished (which can take 2 weeks or longer), and then pressed off the skins to new vessels to finish malolactic fermentation, or to age. Some producers of orange wine use huge clay amphorae to ferment and age their wines, which can produce wines with a slightly oxidative character and mineral component. However the wine is produced, one thing is consistent across orange wine production – the juice is left in contact with the skins during fermentation.

You may also hear of orange wine being referred to as “skin-fermented white wine”. This is my preferred term for this type of wine, because not all orange wines are actually orange in color. Some may be yellow, golden, copper, or even slightly pink. However, not all white wine grapes have tinted skin. A great example of a white wine that is skin fermented and not totally orange is the Dirty & Rowdy Skin & Concrete Egg Fermented Sémillon. 75% of the juice is fermented on the skins, while 25% of it is pressed directly after harvest and fermented in concrete egg (another type of fermentation/aging vessel). The wine itself is not actually orange, though it does have a slight golden hue due to the golden skin of the grapes. This is why I prefer the term “skin-fermented white” – it’s a bit more politically correct.

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Orange/Skin-Fermented White wines are the ultimate food wine. They tend to have lots of acidity and pair well with a variety of dishes. I especially enjoy them with seafood, as they often have a slight brininess or salinity to them, which is an excellent match to salty, briny seafood. They are also great with cheeses, grilled vegetables, rice dishes, and grilled poultry.

Here at Winelandia, we enjoy orange wine so much, we have quite a few of them for sale in our online shop. Orange wines are best served with a slight chill, so order some today to enjoy this week during our epic heat wave!

Dirty & Rowdy 2013 Skin-Fermented & Concrete Egg Sémillon, Yountville (CA) – $33
A bright, fresh, mineral-and-herb driven skin-fermented white wine from an organic vineyard in Napa Valley.

Radikon 2010 S Pinot Grigio, Friuli (Italy) – $40
A deep and intense orange wine from the benchmark orange wine producer in Friuli. 2 weeks of skin contact gives this muscular and complex orange wine it’s beautiful copper hue and structure.

Jolie-Laide 2013 Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley (CA) – $27
A beautiful Cali orange wine made from a very rare grape grown in the Russian River Valley. Two weeks of skin contact and a skilled hand make a gorgeous orange wine that’s full of summer fruit aromas and delicate texture.

Rafa Bernabé 2012 “Benimaquia” Moscatel, Alicante (Spain) – $23
Made from the highly floral and aromatic Muscat grape, this skin-fermented and amphora aged orange wine is intensely perfumed, electric on the palate, and beautifully structured.

Rafa Bernabé 2011 “Tinajas de la Mata” Moscatel/Merseguera, Alicante (Spain) – $23
A gorgeous wine made from moscatel & merseguera, it’s delicately structured with a cider-like bouquet and plenty of fresh acidity. A great wine for a person who enjoys tea.

How To: Cook, Clean and Crack a Dungeness Crab

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I’ve been eating Dungeness crab since I was very young – growing up in the Pacific Northwest, it’s almost a requirement. Even as a kid, I refused most vegetables unless they were covered in cheese sauce, and I didn’t much care for meats. I ate a lot of potatoes and potato products, and I ate seafood like it was goin’ outta style. Put a bucket of steamed clams, or a pile of crab with a small dish of butter, and watch it all disappear within minutes. I think that’s where I got comfortable with the phenomenon of working for your food. These days, the harder I work, the more I enjoy it. Chestnuts, oysters, foraged mushrooms, cracked crab – and that’s why at least once every winter I buy crab from Pillar Point Harbor down in Half Moon Bay, still squirming as I carry it off the docks, and cook it, clean it, and eat it at home over some newspaper and great conversation.

Cooking and cleaning crab is NOT a pretty job, but it doesn’t take that long and it’s not that hard. There’s nothing too precise about it at all, really. It requires a bit of muscle and a somewhat strong stomach, a stock pot, and about 20 minutes of your time. Start with a fresh, live crab.

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Dungeness season starts in November in the Bay Area, and you can get crabs at Fisherman’s Wharf (believe it or not, they do still sell fish there!), Pillar Point Harbor, or any number of seafood shops. The closer you are to the fisherman, the less you’ll pay by the pound. I paid between $5 and $7 per pound this year. Most crabs are somewhere around 1.5 to 3lbs. I budget a full crab per person, and then you’ll have leftovers for crab cakes, crab dip, crab salad, crab omelets… The list goes on. Anyway, the hardest part (physically, I mean, and maybe morally) is to get the crab in the pot. They will likely struggle. It’s best to pick them up by the butt (as illustrated above) either with tongs or your hand, and try to put them in the pot upside down. Their legs will flail and fight, so try to put the lid down quickly, and then tuck in any remaining legs that refuse to go in initially. About the pot – an inch or two of water set to boil, and a steamer basket if you have one – but don’t worry if you don’t – is all you’ll need. Once the water is boiling, drop your friend in and cover him with the lid. Hold the lid down until you’re sure the struggle is over. Set a timer for 12-15 minutes – 12 minutes for a little 1.5 pounder, 15 minutes for a larger crab, and wait. Now your crab will be the beautiful, vibrant orange you see in the first photograph.

Next, we move on to the cleaning. It’s gross, I’m not going to lie. For a long time, I made my best friend (my ersatz boyfriend) do it for me because I was squeamish. Now I can do it, but I still don’t like it. I never will. Run copious cold water over the crab to cool his insides (yes, it is a boy, you can tell by the pointy apron you’re about to snap off.) Then, bend his apron back, as shown. Get a good grip close to the base of the body, and snap it all the way off. You should reveal an indentation that you can stick your thumb into.

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I’m holding the crab steady with my dominant hand here – my left – and putting the thumb of my right hand into the indentation. Slide it in as far as you can, and get a good grip with both hands. You’re going to pop the top off the entire crab. Restaurants save this part of the carapace for presentation at the table, but since we’re eating at home, you can just discard it when you’re done. Anyway, get a grip, grab it tightly, and pull it away from your other hand. P2010054

Now, it’s likely a bunch of gross crap will fall out into your sink. Don’t let it go down the drain, even if you have a garbage disposal. It’s probably going to make your kitchen and pipes smelly, and we don’t want that. Scoop it all into the garbage or compost. You’ll be left with a sad, topless crab that looks something like this. This is the grossest part, so just get it over with carefully but quickly.P2010056

Essentially, you’re pulling all of the guts and gills off the crab and leaving the body meat behind. If it’s not stuck inside a crevice of shell, you probably don’t want it. There is some red stuff, some yellow stuff, some fibrous white stuff, some squishy white stuff… You want to get rid of all of it. Some of it is crab butter, but since I don’t have a taste for it, I’m not going to tell you about it. Just scoop and pull all of it off the body and toss it. Once you get the majority off, start running water over the crab again to rinse any bits off. You’ll reveal a clean white interior shell, beautiful white meat, and the red of the exterior shell showing on the legs. Once you’ve rinsed and picked all the yellow, red, and white goo and gills off the body, your crab will look like this.P2010057Take one hemisphere in each hand, with the round portion fitting inside of your hands. There will be a large indentation down the middle where the crab’s organs and gills were. Your thumbs will fit nicely in this space. Snap the crab in half this way, with one half of a body and legs broken free from the other half.

That’s it! Now, what to drink, and how to serve? I love to eat my crab with drawn butter and lemon. Some like mayonnaise, some like olive oil. You can even throw it on a baking sheet, baste it with garlic and oil, and roast it in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes to infuse it with those flavors. So many options!

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As for the wine, I’ll always pick something white – fresh, dry, lean, minerally, and especially bubbly. Sparklers pair excellently with shellfish of all types. You can’t go wrong with a Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc, a Champagne, a Chablis, or Sauvignon Blanc. We paired crab in a beautiful salad with the 2012 Frantz Saumon Mineral + from our recent club shipment – it was sublime.

What do you drink with your crab? Have you ever prepared one at home? If so, how do you do it? Let us know!

 

Recipe: Creamy Dungeness, Avocado & Citrus Salad

P2010108The California Dungeness crab season usually runs from November to May. This local delicacy is highly regarded as one of the tastiest crustaceans in all of the sea. Dungeness crab is succulent and sweet, which makes it an excellent compliment to a wide variety of flavors.

In this recipe, we combine sweet Dungeness crabmeat with tangy seasonal citrus, creamy Hass avocado, and slightly bitter endive. We bring the variety of complimentary flavors together with a lemony tarragon crème frâiche dressing, and serve the salad atop “spoons” of Belgian endive. It’s surprisingly easy to make – the most important thing to remember is the quality of the ingredients you use. Taste the citrus before you buy it, make sure your avocado is perfectly ripe, and ensure your crabmeat is as fresh as you can get it.

This recipe was created to pair with the 2012 Frantz Saumon Minéral + Chenin Blanc offered in Winelandia’s winter wine club collection. The richness and texture of the dish is perfectly complimented by similar components of the wine, which also has juicy acidity and a taut mineral edge that makes what’s already a delicious dish even more delectable.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer

Ingredients:

12 oz fresh Dungeness crabmeat (if using live/whole crab, get a 2 lb crab)
2 medium cara cara oranges or 1 ruby grapefruit, peeled, segmented, and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium hass avocadoes
2 Belgian endives, separated into individual leaves

-Dressing-
1 cup (8oz) crème frâiche
2 tbsp. + 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 tbsp. + 2 tsp. chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. finely ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Combine ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Set aside.
  2. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise, around the seed. Remove the seed and cut the avocado into a grid pattern with the tip of a knife, being careful not to cut through the avocado skin or your hand. Scoop the cubed avocado out of the skin with a large spoon.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the crabmeat, avocado cubes, and citrus pieces.
  4. Dress the salad with the prepared crème frâiche dressing, a little at a time. Dress to your taste – you will probably have some dressing left over. Gently fold the dressing into the salad with a large spoon, being careful not to mash the avocado.
  5. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.
  6. Scoop the prepared salad into the endive “spoons” and arrange on a serving plate. Garnish with more fresh chopped tarragon or fresh chopped chives.
  7. Open a chilled bottle of 2012 Frantz Saumon Minéral + Chenin Blanc and enjoy with people you love.

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Recipe: Nobu Miso Black Cod

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Most people who know me know that I am not much of a traditionalist. Although my father’s side of the family was devoutly Catholic and from Eastern Europe (tradition, anyone?), my mother’s side of the family was very much a bunch of rough-and-tumble ‘Mericans from Oakland, CA. I was the third generation in my family to be brought up in Oakland, and as a result I feel that most of the “culture” I have is a mish-mash of old-world sensibilities rooted in the soils of the Bay Area.

So, what does that mean exactly? For one, it means I don’t cook turkey on Thanksgiving. It’s a ridiculous holiday to begin with, and I cringe every time someone wants to go around the table to say what they are thankful for. Come December, my Christmas tree is adorned with disco balls, chickens, and Star Trek memorabilia. I shop for holiday wrapping paper in the Birthday section. My husband is Jewish, so every year we throw a Christmukkah party (although this year, it was Thanksgivingukkah). My point is, we don’t follow any rules, and we have a great time.

Today I am going to share with you one of my favorite Winter dishes. I’ve served it twice as the main course for Thanksgiving. Anyone who has spent T-Day with us and experienced this Miso Black Cod will tell you about the time a crowd of people stood in my kitchen after dinner was finished, picking the leftover scraps of black cod from the serving platter. I made it again this year, but with a more all-encompassing Japanese theme. Turkey can suck it.

The great thing about this dish is the ease of preparation. It may seem fussy (3 day marinade? Searing in the broiler?), but I assure you that it’s not as hard as it sounds. It’s all about patience and technique. The 3-day marinade changes the fish in a way that is hard to explain – it becomes firmer while still being melty, tender, succulent, and other-worldy. I’ve tried to speed it up and do a 1-day marinade, and it really isn’t the same. So give yourself as much time as you can – 2 or 3 days is ideal.

blackcod_freshThe most important thing to consider when making this dish is the freshness of the black cod. You are going to be marinating it for 3 days, and under normal circumstances I wouldn’t touch 3-day old fish with a 10 foot pole. My working theory is that the salt in the miso acts as a sort of cure, slowly drawing the moisture out of the fish. My advice is to get your black cod right from the source (fisherman), or as close to the source as you can. I get my fish from One Ocean Seafood – the owner does FREE home delivery, and if you work with him you can find out what days he gets his fresh-caught local fish on. My Thanksgiving black cod (from Monterey) was caught on Tuesday morning and served on Thursday evening.

Black Cod, also known as Sablefish, is a very oily fish that is not actually cod at all. Because of it’s high oil content, it is difficult to over-cook. This is a great recipe for people who are not normally comfortable cooking fish. We get it locally here from Monterey and Half Moon Bay – buy the local stuff if you can.

Anyhow, here’s the recipe. It’s from Nobu Matsuhisa, a celebrity chef who owns the high-end Nobu restaurant chain. If you’ve ever seen the $30 “Miso Black Cod” on the menu at any Japanese restaurant (many places serve variations on this dish), this is what you’ll get – although yours will be better and much cheaper.

Nobu Miso Black Cod

Ingredients:

For Saikyo Miso Marinade
3/4 c. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
1/2 c. saké (Japanese rice wine)
2 c. white miso paste (aka shiro miso)
1-1/4 c. organic white sugar

For cod
4 black cod fillets, about 1/2 lb. each
3 cups prepared Saikyo miso

Method:

Make the Saikyo miso marinade

  1. Bring the saké and mirin to a boil, and boil for 30 seconds (this cooks off the alcohol).
  2. Lower the temperature to low and add the miso paste. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined.
  3. When the miso has dissolved completely, turn the heat back up to high and add the sugar.
  4. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  5. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
  6. Reserve a small amount of the miso marinade for serving.


Prepare the black cod

  1. Rinse the black cod fillets and pat dry with paper towels.
  2. Trim any ugly bits from the fillets.
  3. Place fillets into a non-reactive bowl or container and slather with the cooled Saikyo miso marinade.
  4. Cover tightly and place in the refrigerator.
  5. Flip the fillets once during the 2-3 day marinade.


Cook the black cod (2-3 days later)

  1. Pre-heat your broiler.
  2. Remove the fillets from the container and wipe off the excess miso (but do not rinse).
  3. Cut the marinated fillets into 4-5 oz serving-sized pieces.
  4. Place the fillets skin-side down on a broiler-safe, foil-lined, low-rimmed dish or on aluminum foil.
  5. Place fillets into your pre-heated broiler and broil for 3-5 minutes, or until the tops of the fish begin to blacken and caramelize (see photo). Remove from broiler.
  6. Pre-heat oven to 400F. Place fillets into the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes.
  7. Remove the bones from the cooked fish with a pair of tweezers prior to serving, or just warn your guests that there will be small bones in the fish.

That’s it, really! You can serve this with a little bit of the miso marinade you reserved on day 1 on the side. Nobu recommends serving with a stalk of Hajikami, which I have never been able to find commercially (I make my own). You could serve it with pickled sushi ginger instead. This dish is also complimented well with cooked greens such as spinach. The slight bitterness is a nice counter-point to the sweetness of the fish.

As for wine pairing, any white wine with little or no oak would be great with this. I would suggest something with a tiny bit of residual sugar (but not a sweet wine) and medium to full body. Our 2012 Two Shepherds Grenache Blanc comes to mind. It would also be fantastic with Champagne.

Let us know if you have any questions about this recipe in the comments.

Secret Wine Club: Jura

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis weekend, Colleen and I hosted another wine tasting for our friends. The theme was Jura wines.

The Jura is a a cool-climate, mountainous region in France between Burgundy and Switzerland, and is composed of six regions including Arbois, Macvin du Jura, Côtes du Jura, Crémant du Jura, Château-Chalon, and L’Étoile. Within these regions, wines are produced from poulsard, trousseau, savagnin, chardonnay, and pinot noir. White, red, rosé and sparkling wines are produced from these grapes.

The most famous wine from the Jura is called vin jaune (literally, yellow wine). This wine is made from the white savagnin grape which is picked when it’s very ripe. The finished wine is put into large oak barriques, and is allowed to evaporate through the staves of the barrel until a pocket of air forms at the top. A special strain of indigenous yeast forms a veil (or voile, au Français) over the surface of the wine, imparting a unique salinity and oxidative quality that gives vin jaune it’s trademark aroma and flavor. Vin jaune is quite intense, an acquired taste, and very hard to find.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMany white wines from the Jura have a similar (but not as intense) oxidative quality to them, since they are often made in the same method. However, the difference between vin jaune and standard white wine from the Jura is the duration for which it’s aged. Vin jaune must be aged for a minimum of 6 years, while other white wines aren’t required to age for as long. Some whites from the Jura are aged in a barrel without that pocket of air, creating wines that are still very uniquely Jura, but much fresher in flavor and less intense.

The red wines from the Jura are very unique as well, and a little more approachable than their white counterparts. The reds are light but structured, with aromas of fruit, spice and earth. Poulsard makes the lightest of the red wines, while trousseau makes more robust (but still pretty light) reds. Pinot noir is also grown in the Jura and made into red wine, but the straight varietal wines are difficult to find.

Our wine list for the evening:
2011 Les Dolomies Savagnin, Côtes du Jura
2009 Domaine de Montborgeau Chardonnay/Savagnin, L’Etoile
NV Phillipe Bornard “Tant-Mieux” Pétillant Naturel of Poulsard
2012 Michel Gahier Trousseau, “Les Grands Vergers”, Arbois
2011 Jacques Puffeney Poulsard, Arbois
2006 Jacques Puffeney Vin Jaune, Arbois

Choosing the correct food pairings for these wines was really fun, as they are wonderful with food and the Jura has some really interesting regional culinary specialties. Wild mushrooms seemed to be quite common in the Jura, and in the winter I’ve been told that potatoes topped with melted raclette are a staple. The Jura is also a fly-fishing destination (weird, right?), so I wanted to make something out of freshwater fish. We also found some regional cheeses, and a rustic cream tart sort of thing called a Toétché, for which I could only find a recipe in French. Our resident Francophile Colleen was able to follow it just fine, no surprise there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur menu for the evening:
Toétché (above)
Trout rillettes
Fresh baugette
Sautéed wild mushrooms (yellow foot, black trumpet, oyster, hedgehog)
Warm salad of roasted rose finn potatoes and wild mushrooms
Morbier & Comté cheeses
Wickson apples
Breakfast radishes with cultured butter and grey sea salt
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found that the Toétché paired perfectly with the vin jaune. This made me very happy, since I wasn’t sure what the Toétché would even taste like. Big ups to Colleen for making it come out perfectly, it was absolutely beautiful and delicious. The morbier and comté cheeses were also wonderful with the white wines, although they did not pair particularly well with the reds. The trout rillettes were lovely with all of the wines, while the apples provided a nice, palate-cleansing counterpoint to all of the savory foods. I especially loved the breakfast radishes with cultured butter and sea salt, while others in the room weren’t so enthused (I learned of this snack from a Frenchman who was so graciously hosting me at a winery some time ago). Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I find that radishes are an excellent vehicle for butter. The sautéed mushrooms were lovely piled atop fresh bread and enjoyed with the poulsard and trousseau.

As for the wines, we found that most people loved the ‘Les Dolomies’ ($28)– a white savagnin aged in a topped-up barrel. It was fresh, rich, and awesome with food. The Gahier trousseau ($39) was definitely the stand-out, everyone really loved it (it was my favorite as well). The Puffeney vin jaune ($80) was intense, too intense for a lot of people in the room. I also wish I’d opened it earlier and possibly decanted it, but my decanter was full of the Bornard ‘Tant-Mieux” ($32)which was absolutely reductive, sweet, and generally awful (not surprisingly, it tasted much better the next day). A friend also brought a bottle of Chardonnay from Côtes du Jura, which was great to balance out all the savagnin in the room.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI hope everyone who came had a great time and learned a lot about these rare, unusual wines. I had a blast curating the list and finding foods to pair. I hope that everyone took away some useful knowledge and would feel confident ordering a glass from the Jura section on the wine list at their favorite French restaurant.

Recipe: Clams with White Wine and Shallots

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When Tala and I were planning Secret Wine Club: Loire a few weeks ago, we had very little idea of what we were going to drink or serve up until a few days before the event. The one thing that was certain, however, was that we would pour a Muscadet, and we’d pair it with clams. This pairing is off-the-charts successful, and we both recommend you try it – but the recipe and the wine do stand on their own as well. More of a technique than a recipe, I’ll tell you what you need and what to do.

Ingredients:

Clams – the smaller the better, cherrystone, manila, and littleneck are three types that come to mind. You’ll want around 1lb per person for an entrée, or somewhat less as a snack or an appetizer. (I would not be lying if I said I could eat 2lbs by myself if you let me. Just sayin’.)

Shallot – 1 or 2, depending on how many clams you’re preparing, chopped

Garlic – 2 cloves, minced

Butter – 2 tablespoons

Olive Oil – 1-2 tablespoons

White Wine – about 1 cup (anything dry will work, I used what I had open, which was a Chardonnay, but if you’re pairing the dish with a Muscadet, and you can stand to give some up, use that!)

Water – about 1 cup

Parsley – about 2 tablespoons, chopped

Crusty Bread, sliced

Rinse your clams under cold water just to make sure there’s no debris on the outside. If you’ve bought them from a high-quality seafood shop like Hog Island, you won’t have to worry about sand on the inside, either! Start by drizzling the olive oil and melting the butter over medium heat in a saute pan with a tight-fitting lid. Once the butter is melted, add in the chopped shallot and stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until softened. You don’t want to color the shallots. When the shallots are softened, about 3-5 minutes, add in the garlic and saute for about 30 seconds. Turn the heat up to medium high, and add the wine and the water. Once the liquid is simmering in the pan, add the clams, spread in the pan evenly, and cover with the lid. Wait about 2-3 minutes, and check on the contents to see if the clams are starting to open. Give ’em a shake to redistribute. Cover and wait another 1-2 minutes. After about 5 minutes, most of the clams should have opened. If most are still closed, give them a bit more time. After 5-7 minutes total, turn off the heat, first transfer the clams to a serving bowl with tongs or a spoon, and then pour the pot liquor (all that delicious stuff with clam juice, wine, water, garlic, shallot, butter, and olive oil in it!) over the clams. This helps distribute the good stuff into each little clamshell, so that when you’re eating them, you don’t need to dig at the bottom of the serving bowl!

Make sure you serve the clams with an empty bowl at the table for the shells, and several slices of warm, crusty bread. Sourdough is great for this, as the tang and the sweetness and the fragrance of the clams all go together quite nicely. You can dip your bread in the pot liquor. That, my friends, is heaven.

Variations: This recipe is very flexible, and very forgiving. You can use a sweet onion, or even leeks instead of shallots. You can add some cubed bacon or pancetta or crumbled chorizo to the shallots and saute until cooked through. You can swap the white wine for a nice light, crisp beer. You can use a vegetable or chicken broth instead of water, for richer flavor.

Ever since I learned how easy it is, I almost never order them in restaurants, because I can make them at home in 15 minutes or less! This is one of my favorite things to eat when I’m alone, because it’s easy, fast, and delicious. Have you ever prepared clams? Maybe you were too nervous until now? Let us know!

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Secret Wine Club – The Loire Valley

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Last Saturday, Colleen and I hosted another Secret Wine Club with our awesome friends. The theme this time was the Loire Valley. We featured wines from all corners of this swath of land, which runs along the Loire River, just South-East of Paris. This region produces primarily Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne, and Cabernet Franc. The wines can be light and acidic with ample minerality or dark and brooding with weedy, earthy, red fruit undertones. I was on wine duty and Colleen was on food duty. We were quite excited to shop for the party.

Colleen and I like to do a mix of traditional and unconventional food pairings. We find that we are able to demonstrate “What grows together goes together” as well as “Look at everything you can do with California’s bounty” this way. Below you will find the wine list along with the foods we paired.

2010 Domaine de la Louvetrie Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur lie
Melon de Bourgogne from Muscadet
Manila clams sautéed in white wine, shallots, and butter with parsley.

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2012 Thirot-Fournier Sancerre
Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre
Herbed mixed green salad

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Le Pepie rosé Loire Vin de Pays
Rosé of Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley
Sweet peppers stuffed with fresh goat cheese & herbs

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2012 Henry Marionnet Touraine
Gamay from Touraine
Sausage, watercress and gruyere flatbread

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2011 Tessier “Le Point du Jour” Cheverney Rouge
Gamay/Pinot Noir blend from Cheverney
Mushroom, onion & gruyere puff pastry tarts

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2011 Bernard Baudry “Les Grezeaux” Chinon
Cabernet Franc from Chinon
Bonne Bouche and Terra aged goat cheeses with Acme Bakery Herb Slab crostini

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2004 Jerome Lenoir Chinon
Cabernet Franc from Chinon
Home-made pork terrine with Acme Bakery Herb Slab crostini

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2009 Francois Chidaine Vouvray Petillant Naturel
Petillant-Naturel of Chenin Blanc from Vouvray
Apple cake with whipped creme fraiche

All of the pairings were an absolute hit. I especially loved the goat cheese & herb stuffed peppers with the rosé and also the clams and Muscadet, a classic pairing. The favorite wine of the evening was the Gamay from Touraine. The favorite snacks were the pork terrine (aka “Pork Butter”) and the puff pastry tarts with mushrooms, onions & cheese. I found it especially interesting to try a fresh Chinon next to one with some age. We also learned that Shelley does NOT like brett on her wine (“It smells like a corpse!”) and that sparkling Vouvray with a little age is quite delicious. Regardless, everything was great, and the best part of it all is that none of these wines cost more than $25 retail. They can be enjoyed any night of the week.

Do you have a favorite Loire Valley wine? Let us know in the comments.

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.

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.