Valter Scarbolo – Taste his Wines, Celebrate his Land

As I sat at lunch adoring this luminous, copper-colored wine, Valter Scarbolo said, “Every single grape must be perfect to make that wine.” Which meant that at the time of harvest, each Pinot Grigio grape would have to be healthy, perfectly ripened, and free from any marks and blemishes, to become this delicious liquid rose gold he calls Scarbolo Ramato XL Pinot Grigio. Certainly, I made sure to indulge to the very last drop.

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Then, not more than ten minutes went by while having lunch at Inyo in Las Vegas with newly-met friends from the food and wine world, I felt like Valter was offering to take us on a virtual trip to his vineyards, located 5,800 miles away in northeastern Italy in the region of Friuli.  How could I resist his contagious energy and enthusiasm? Valter, with his robust personality and bright, expressive eyes, talked about how he acquired a passion for viticulture and viniculture from his father and set out to expand his family’s winemaking traditions. He grew to love each vine as a beloved friend, while holding the utmost respect for the land, as well as the wildness of nature that creates day-by-day challenges … and gifts.

His vineyards, located on the right bank of the river Torre in Lauzacco, is about an hour northeast of Venice.   He and his family also own a popular road-side tavern called La Frasca.

As he introduced his wines, he spoke with passion about the land where the grapes originate – how the earth (red, clay-heavy soils with alluvial deposits, minerals and chalk) provides excellent drainage and imparts unique characteristics of the region’s wines.   He explained how the cool Alpine breezes and warm marine flow from the Adriatic create the optimal thermal balance, allowing grapes to mature more slowly and evenly, resulting in rich flavors, well-defined aromas and a charge of acidity. And, while the area takes its cues from neighboring Austria and Slovenia, the wines are very much “deeply rooted” and unmistakably Friulian.

Dominated by small, family-owned producers, like Scarbolo, Italy’s northeastern corner – Friuli Venezia Giulia – has long been a powerhouse of fine white wine production. The ubiquitous Pinot Grigio, as well as other whites like Sauvignon and the local Friulano, have contributed to fresh, modern whites since the 1970s. Increasingly accomplished reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the native Refosco are also found in this magnificent region.

“Friuli is the frame of a beautiful canvas,
colored with paint of our white wines.” – V. Scarbolo

Clearly, Valter is his land’s best ambassador.  He wanted me to not only visualize the area but to also “taste the land.” With each sip, I was gently reminded that the vines are trained for lower yields, and that all his grapes are carefully harvested by hand and vinification and aging is carried out meticulously to demonstrate full varietal expression.

So with that, I’ve listed his offerings below, followed by my casual and very personal descriptions. Look them up for more refined tasting notes at Scarbolo.com. Then, go taste them!

Scarbolo Pinot Grigio – Pinot Grigio with character! Apples, honey, elegant minerals. Fresh, light, absolutely loved it.

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Scarbolo Sauvignon Fruity, like peaches and tropicals, herbaceous and great acidity. Want more!
Scarbolo Friulano Pure, chalky, wildflowers, super enjoyable and picnic-perfect.
Scarbolo Merlot Soft and silky, bright and juicy – unlike any Merlot I’ve had.
Scarbolo Cabernet (Cabernet Franc 70%/Cabernet Sauvignon 30%) Driven by one of my favorite varietals (Cabernet Franc), I was captivated by the deep ruby in color.  It’s rich, robust, and delicious.
Scarbolo Ramato XL Pinot Grigio Skins spend six days with the juice, resulting in the copper hue. Gorgeous, remarkably special, crushed red berries, silky.
My Time A “super white” with a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvingon, and Friulano, Valter dedicates this wine “to life.” There’s great meaning behind this wine, and I find it to be inspiring and delightfully delicious – fruity, exotic, mineral, elegant, perhaps my favorite from this list.

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Scarbolo Campo Del Viotto (100% Merlot) An exciting and fascinating way to interpret Merlot, approximately 40% of the clusters are dried out for 20 days. Aged in barriques, the color is intense ruby, the experience – voluptuous and powerful.

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Scarbolo Refosco – A native Friulian varietal that dates back to the Roman Empire.  Amazing, fruity, spicy and what I call “playfully romantic.”

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“Wine is the vessel that carries the Spirit of the land,
its culture and traditions.” – V. Scarbolo

Valter is tenaciously passionate about his wines and it stems from the respect that he has for the land and “what happens under the sky” – even if it’s unfavorable.  He mentioned how a devastating tornado blew the roof off his winery years ago and how it undeniably tested his determination.  However, nature’s wild setback made him and his family stronger and more committed to producing wines that reflect the richness of the land.

After tasting his wines, I asked him how he came up with the art on the label, which depicts a set of agricultural wheels. He said that while he had asked designers to offer him specs for his consideration, ultimately it was he who sketched out his own design. It’s profoundly symbolic of his story. The wheels represent the daily work, the continuous evolution and the new challenges that each day brings.

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It’s perfectly clear how much dedication and love he puts into his work. The unmistakable bottles, graced with his unique trademark, reflect his philosophy and passion and give true meaning to Scarbolo wines, which make tasting them all the more amazing. Keep the wheels turning, Valter!

A Picnic Favorite: Pesto Chicken Sandwich

Sandwiches are the perfect picnic or summer get-together solution.  They are easy to make in advance and they travel well.  One of my all-time favorite sandwiches is the pesto chicken sandwich. Stacked with lots of flavor and textures, it actually gets better as the day goes on.

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To make 4 Sandwiches:
1 Ciabatta loaf
1 cup basil pesto (homemade preferably)
Burrata cheese (1 ball split open)
1/3 cup cream cheese
1 roasted red bell pepper (jar or fresh), sliced
Fresh basil leaves
2 breasts of chicken (from whole rotisserie chicken), sliced thin
5 slices or more of prosciutto
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Optional:  tomato slices and arugula

Directions:
Split bread in half lengthwise.  Generously coat the chicken in pesto and arrange onto bottom piece of bread.  Spread burrata and cream cheese onto bread halves. Drizzle both halves with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a layer of the rest of the ingredients.  Assemble* and slice.

*The picture shows how I assembled two sides (for photo purposes only).  The BETTER way to assemble is to place all ingredients on the bottom loaf, spread the cream cheese on the top loaf, then slap it together!

chicken pesto sandwich

Summertime Rosé Wines at Marché Bacchus

Rosés are a masterful match for almost any dish. These wines are versatile because they fall in between the extremes of red and white — less intense than a big, tannic, mouth-busting red, but with a little more depth than a super-light white.

I recently enjoyed a special lunch prepared by Chef Luciano Pelligrini at the quaint Marché Bacchus French Bistro in Las Vegas.  The luncheon was accompanied by a sampling of rosé wines  presented by John Matthew Smith, a well-known wine authority of Wirtz Beverage Nevada. All the wines were rosés – dry, refreshing, absolutely riveting – from places that beautifully express their terroirs.

In addition to the line-up was a sweet surprise, which wasn’t a rosé at all.  It was a German riesling that paired nicely with dessert.

Marché Bacchus luncheon feature summer wines.
Marché Bacchus luncheon featuring summertime wines.
Lettuce Wedge Salad, heirloom tomatoes, red onion, bacon and blue cheese dressing.
Lettuce wedge salad, heirloom tomatoes, red onion, bacon and blue cheese dressing.
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Pan-seared Scottish salmon with roasted tomato sauce and ratatouille.
Creme Brulee_Marche_Bacchus
Crème Brulée

 

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Reuling Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast 2013 is enticed with passion fruit, strawberry compote, earth and slight mineral edge.

Below is a list of wines that were poured during the luncheon. What’s truly special about Marché Bacchus, besides the waterfront patio setting, is the wine shop, which boasts over 950 different labels of American and International wines.  Any of these wines are available for purchase, to be taken home, or enjoyed with your dining experience at Marché Bacchus.

While rosés are great suggestion for warm weather, don’t let temperature dictate what you enjoy; they are perfect year-round.  Enjoy!

Champagne Ayala Rosé Majeur
Le Grand Courtâge Brut Rosé
Pierre Boniface Les Rocailles Apremont 2013 (Savoie)
Chateau de Calavon, Coteaux d Aix-en-Province Rosé 2013
Domaine De La Bastide Blanche, Bandol Rose 2013
Chateau Beaubois Costieres des Nimes Expression Rose 2013
Domaine Collotte, Marsannay Rosé 2013
Reuling Vineyard, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast, 2013
Albert Bichot, Savigny Les Beaune Rouge AOC 2011
Chateau du Donjon, Grande Tradition, Minervois 2011
Dr. F. Weins-Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett 2013

San Francisco designer Tawnya Falkner moved to Nuit St. Georges in Burgundy to follow her passion relating to travel, food and winemaking. The result in Le Grand Courtage, a new gold-medal winning French sparkling wine.
San Francisco designer Tawnya Falkner moved to Nuit-Saint-Georges in Burgundy to follow her passion relating to travel, food and winemaking. The result – Le Grand Courtâge, a new gold-medal winning French sparkling wine.

 

Marche_Bacchus_wine_shop_las_vegas The wine shop at Marché Bacchus French Bistro.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken tortilla soup is something that I’ve been making for many years. Hearty, fresh, delicious and super easy to make, it’s my go-to soup when I have left over chicken.  Best of all, the family loves it.  Here’s my recipe for chicken tortilla soup.  I don’t measure anything, so everything below is approximate.  Please adjust to satisfy your taste.

Soup:
1 cup left over cooked chicken meat (skin removed)
1tbsp. olive oil
6 mini sweet peppers, seeded and chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
12 grape tomatoes, halved
2 tsp. cumin
1 tbsp. taco seasoning mix
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
3 quarts chicken broth
Juice from 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste

Suggested Toppings:
Shredded cheese (cheddar, jack, etc)
1/2 cup cilantro chopped
Tortilla strips (see recipe below)
Jalapeño salsa (see recipe below)
Lime wedge
Avocado slices

Tortilla Strips:
Corn tortilla strips
Non-stick canola spray
Salt
Pepper
Taco seasoning

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Directions:  Stack 8 corn tortillas and cut into thin, strips.  Spread evenly on cookie sheet, spray with canola oil, sprinkle dry ingredients onto tortilla strips, bake in 400 degree oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown.

Jalapeño salsa:
4-5 jalapeño peppers, seeded and halved
1 bunch of fresh cilantro, trimmed stems
5 basil leaves
5 mint leaves|
1/4 cup olive oil to start (add more if needed)
salt and pepper to taste
juice from 1 lime
Directions:  Combine all ingredients in a food processor and add enough oil to make a smooth consistency.

Directions for soup:
Combine chicken, onion, peppers, olive oil and brown over medium heat until onions are translucent. Add chicken broth and rest of soup ingredients. (I usually hold the tomatoes back until the very end). Bring to boil, then simmer for 45 minutes- 1 hour.

Ladle hot soup into bowls, top with suggested toppings and serve.

Orange Wines are Deliciously Gorgeous

Yet here’s another reason why orange continues to be my favorite color – orange wines. I recently had a chance to try this gorgeous copper-hued wine, the 2011 Paolo Bea “Santa Chiara” Umbria Bianco.

Why is it so special? This one hails from Umbria, Italy. Often referred to as the “green heart of Italy,” it’s the only Italian region without access to the sea or international borders. Wines from here are not exactly famous, but they are interesting, delicious and definitely worth seeking. Next, orange wines are generally not widely available. In other words, they are rare treasures. Such is the case of this wine producer – Bea’s wine-making practices focus on high quality artisanal wines, however, their production is low.

Paolo Bea’s “Santa Chiara” 2011 is a fascinating orange wine with a unique field blend of Grechetto, Malvasia, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Garganega. If these are all white grapes, then what makes the wine orange? To clarify, it has nothing to do with orange fruit. Orange wines are white wines produced more like reds, with prolonged contact of crushed grape skins and seeds. This contact produces the distinctly beautiful hue. Ranging in color from butterscotch to tawny brown, they can also vary from vintage to vintage.

Often made in clay vessels or wooden barrels, this is an ancient wine making style that has recently been revitalized by Italians and Slovenians, and are produced today by enterprising winemakers worldwide.

It’s not easy to describe the “Santa Chiara.” It has a very different and unique aroma and quite generous in flavor – with spice, cantaloupe-like, rustic, earthy good funk going on in the glass.

Generally speaking orange wines often possess the body and tannins of red wines and the fruit and minerality of white wines, which it probably why I like it so much.  They are stylistically unique, and many offer earthy savoriness, with a richly textured mouth-feel.

Some claim orange wines to be a fad, but I think they offer a wealth of virtues. They are quite hard to find, however.

As for trying one out, look for a restaurant with a solid Italian wine list. In Las Vegas that would be none other than B&B Ristorante (The Venetian) and Carnevino Italian Steakhouse (The Palazzo).

Coffee from Vietnam Brews Hope

Occasionally, I’ll drop in to the thrift store to hunt for treasures, such as an overlooked vintage Bauer or McCoy pottery.  But, this time I came across a display of coffee from Vietnam.  It wasn’t too surprising, since Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world, after Brazil. But, what I didn’t know was the partnership between the coffee farmers in Vietnam and The Salvation Army.   If you haven’t already heard of this coffee,  it’s a good story.

Pleiku, which is located in central Vietnam, is largely covered with coffee plantations.  The local people live in small villages wedged between the plantations, and through years of isolation, these communities have developed their own language and culture. In an effort to help these poor communities,  The Salvation Army started a partnership with the Pleiku coffee network in 2009 with the purchase of 44,000 pounds of beans. It’s been going strong ever since.

In general, the world loves Arabica coffee beans, but what is largely grown in Vietnam is Robusta, which has a harsher, stronger taste. Its higher caffeine content (double that of Arabica) also makes it slightly more bitter.

Cafe La V _coffee_love_and_relish_blog

The Salvation Army hired a San Francisco coffee company to come up with the right blend:  75% Robusta from Vietnam and 25%  Arabica from Guatemala. If you’re wondering what this blend tastes like, think Café Du Monde without the chicory.  What you’ll find in The Salvation Army stores is called Cafe La V.  The brown foil bag features a big map of its country of origin. I love the saying on the back, which reads, “FRESH HOT HOPE.”

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While Robusta is generally regarded as inferior to Arabica, it’s still good coffee.   The slightly bitter, earthy flavor of the Robusta is balanced with the more delicate sweet flavor of the Arabica.

Try preparing the coffee Vietnamese-style by adding one to four tablespoons of rich and gooey sweetened condemned milk to your cup.  Knowing that the proceeds from the purchase of this coffee assists local farmers and various projects in Vietnam makes each sip a sweet “feel good” experience.

A bright salad for spring

As soon as the weather turns warmer, I’m dreaming of a farmers market-fresh celebration on my plate. A bright, spring salad is a perfect way to celebrate.  It can be as simple as tender greens tossed with vinaigrette, or add more interest and flavor by mixing in seasonal treats like peas, asparagus, and radishes.

What makes this springtime salad so colorful is the red cabbage slaw.  The acidity adds a bright, fresh flavor and the ingredients offer a fresh, crunchy texture.  The recipe for the slaw is below.  It yields enough for a week and keeps well in an airtight container.

Combine together:

mixed baby greens

sliced red onions

fresh mango

avocado

red cabbage-apple-jicama slaw (see recipe below)

 

Dressing:  squeeze of half lemon, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper

Red Cabbage-Apple-Jicama Slaw

2 cups of sliced red cabbage

1/2 granny smith apple julienned

1/2 jicama julienned

4 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1 jalapeño seeded and chopped

1/2 cup cilantro chopped

1 tsp celery seed

1.5 tsp salt

1.5 tsp sugar

Mix it. Taste it.  Make adjustments, as needed to your liking.  Seal tight and let it marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

 

 

 

Burgundy tasting with Clive Coates in Las Vegas

Clive Coates, MW (Master of Wine), one of the world’s leading wine authorities and also known for his books about Burgundy wines, led a Burgundy tasting in Las Vegas hosted by Wirtz Beverage Nevada.  Held inside Wirtz’s Alchemy Room, a cutting edge beverage education and development lab, the tasting featured a flight of red and white wines by Albert Bichot and Louis Jadot.

I was honored to be in the same room with this well-known British author and lecturer, who is so respected around the world.  Coates published THE VINE, an award-winning independent fine wine magazine from 1984 to 2005. Read by oenophiles the world over, THE VINE received numerous awards, including a special commendation for its “considerable contribution to the knowledge and understanding of wine” from the Wine Guild of Great Britain. Coates, who holds a lifetime of distinguished activity in the field, has been recognized by the French government, which awarded him the Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole. He has also been honored with a “Rame d’Honneur” by Le Verre et L’Assiette, the Ruffino/Cyril Ray Memorial Prize for his writings on Italian wine, and the title of “Wine Writer of the Year” for 1998/1999 in the Champagne Lanson awards.

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In Burgundy’s 138-mile span from Chablis to the southern limit of Beaujolais, the climate and soils vary greatly.  But, what all the subregions have in common is fidelity to the two main grapes of the Burgundy region -Chardonnay and Pinot Noir- and hands-on approach in the vineyard and cellar.

John Smith, a fine and rare wine expert at Wirtz Beverage is also a long-standing member of The Chevaliers du Tastevin, the most exclusive wine society in the world.  He spent a lot of time in Burgundy during the same time Coates would be visiting properties to write his reviews.

“I find that he [Coates] encapsulates the people and their life with great accuracy,” says Smith.   “He has the singular ability to translate the passion of the vignerons over multiple generations. His writing has a gentle elegance that emphasizes the life and passion of a small, yet extremely diverse lifestyle. More importantly when he taste wines, he comments in such a way as to bring the wine to life.”

It is Smith’s hope that through this tasting, we learned that unlike many winemaking regions of the world, nowhere else has the passion for the terroir and the wines produced. Certainly, Coates, who resides in Burgundy, brought this famed region directly to us that day.   He presented a magnificent combination of history, science, anecdotes and judgments, mixed in with the occasional phrase he likes to use: “a jolly good wine.” Lucky for us, he referred to some of these wines as such:

BURGUNDY WHITES

(CHARDONNAY)

Louis Jadot Chablis 2012

Louis Jadot Santenay, Clos de Malte Blanc 2012

Louis Jadot Mersault 2012

Louis Jadot Chassage Montrachet, Morgeot Blanc 2012

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 BURGUNDY REDS

(PINOT NOIR)

Bourgogne Pinot Noir Secret de Famille 2012

Albert Bichot Savigny-les-Beaune 2012

Albert Bichot Beaune Clos de l’Ermitage 2012

Pommard Clos de Ursulines, Domaine du Pavillon 2012

Gevry-Chambertin Les Murots, Domaine du Clos Frantin 2012

Clive_Coates_Wirtz_Alchemy_Room_Pinot_Noir

Hoppin’ good time at Great Vegas Festival of Beer

I was happy to be part of Nevada’s largest craft beer event, Motley Brews’ Great Vegas Festival of Beer, which celebrated its fifth anniversary with more than 6,000 festival-goers filling the streets of Downtown Las Vegas in April, 2015.

Craft beer fans and newbies, like myself, grabbed a pretzel necklace (I call it a “snacklace”) and indulged in an endless flow of more than 400 iconic craft brews served by over 100 breweries while indulging in craft beer-inspired dishes by some of Las Vegas’ top chefs.

pretzel necklace
A must-have: The “snacklace” to get you through the beer event.

 

“This festival is a celebration of craft beer, great food and even better people,” said Brian Chapin, founder of Motley Brews. “Las Vegas has been such a great supporter of our events over the past five years, and it’s because this city welcomes us with open arms thatwe are able to return year after year with a bigger and better event.”

Brasserie Saint James
Brews offered by Brasserie Saint James.

 

In honor of the celebration, Motley Brews and CraftHaus Brewery created a specialty fifth anniversary beer, dubbed “Motley in the Haus,” which was an Xtra Pale Ale brewed with five different hop varietals. Alongside the anniversary beer, kegs were tapped by breweries from near and far, including Old School Brewing Co., Hop Nuts Brewing Co., Tonopah Brewing Co., Alpine Beer Co., Rough Draft, The Bruery, Banger Brewing Co., Deschutes Brewery, Watsach, Green Flash, Big Dog’s, Joseph James Brewing and many more.

One of my favorites, and a brewery to watch, is Brasseries Saint James from Reno. Using local ingredients and water from the artesian well below their historic building, the brewery’s success has quickly fermented, as Brasserie Saint James marked its second anniversary last fall with a Great American Beer Festival gold medal in the saison category and top honors as the Mid-Size Brewpub of the Year.

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Certainly, it was a good time for a lot of folks that day.  A portion of the proceeds from the event went to the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation and Nevada Craft Brewers Association. Here’s to another round for putting on a great event and making such an impact in the craft beer movement!

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Brunch for a large bunch: Shirred eggs

Preparing brunch for a large group can be daunting at times.  However, I’ve found that shirred eggs are an excellent brunch dish because they’re easy to prepare.  Plus, with the host of ingredients available to put inside, the dish is extremely versatile.

The French have a similar preparation called “en cocotte,” in which eggs are placed in a small dish and baked inside a water bath.  Although shirred eggs also are baked in small dishes called ramekins, most recipes call for them to be baked directly in the oven, not inside a water bath.  I take it a step further by baking them in a muffin pan, which allows me to have 12 eggs done and ready to serve at once.

You can vary the doneness of the eggs by adjusting the baking time.  Begin checking them after 10 minutes for soft-set eggs with runny yolks. Thick-sliced sourdough toast makes a perfect accompaniment, along with seasonal fresh fruit.

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1. Grease the bottom and sides of a 12-muffin pan with butter or nonstick cooking spray

2. Add milk to just cover the bottom of each cup

(A little side note on the reason why we add milk –  the oldest known reference to shirred eggs was published in the late 19th century defined “shirr” as “to poach eggs in cream instead of water.”

3. Crack one egg into each cup

4. Top with grated Parmesan cheese

5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper

6. Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for approximately 10 minutes

7. Use a knife to score around the edges of the egg. Remove each egg carefully with a spoon and serve on a platter with your favorite garnish

Optional:  After step 2, you can add pre-cooked ingredients to customize the recipe, such as crumbled bacon, chopped ham, sausage, sauteed mushrooms, onions, asparagus, peppers, and raw spinach leaves.

Consider how quickly you can prepare shirred eggs and just how much easier it has become to feed a large group.   In fact, encourage your guests to join in to customize their own shirred eggs. Who wouldn’t want a little help in the kitchen?