“No favorites…” I was reminded by Dry Creek Kitchen’s wine director Rolando Maldonado. As if each bottle of wine was a child of his own, not one would be singled out. Of course, he’s right. Every bottle and varietal is so perfectly suited to certain foods and/or occasions. But, the selection of Sonoma County wines he showcased paired so harmoniously with every dish, I tended to exclaim, “I love this! They go so well together, perhaps my favorite!”
I hadn’t been to Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg, CA in 10 years. But, last week I had the opportunity to dine there again with two close friends during a work trip. I loved it then, and I love it even more now. We met Rolando, who maintains Dry Creek Kitchen’s focus on all-Sonoma County wine selections. Rolando honors the traditions and people of Sonoma County by offering bottlings of passionate producers, burgeoning varietals, and well-loved classics. In collaboration with Dry Creek Kitchen’s chef, Rolando creates pairings that highlight the flavors and ingredients of Sonoma County to deliver truly memorable dining experiences. Below are visual highlights from the evening. Delicious food. Delicious wine.
The setting: A cold, rainy February night in the charming town of Healdsburg. After tromping through soft, rain-soaked vineyard soils while witnessing unusually early bud break in neighboring Geyserville, I was ready to drink some wine.
Cut to: Interior of Charlie Palmer Dry Creek Kitchen, with a staff committed to gracious conviviality, the atmosphere is welcoming, natural, and elegantly California wine country.
Let’s face it. I’m no Joan Miro. Which is why I’m always so impressed by the creative and artistic abilities of others. But lately, I’ve been making the attempt – to sketch while I sip.
Here I was, taking notes of the many different wines along the way, when I suddenly started to notice that words on paper alone weren’t actually helping me remember what it was that I had tasted.
I can usually recall the occasion and the company with which the wine was shared (“A toast to new friends!”) I also typically remember the food that accompanied it. (“Remember that incredible pot roast we made…?”) But after a while, some of the basic information just starts to fade (“What was the name of the producer again?”)
So, one day I started sketching the label alongside my notes. Oh, I don’t spend too much time on it (as you can see). But, it seems to be just enough time to take notice of a few key visual characteristics. This helps me remember. My olfactory and gustatory senses are working all the while, of course 🙂
You see, unlike a sommelier or a wine merchant who handles bottles upon bottles day after day, I only get to see and/or taste a wine sometimes only once. And, I’ll also add that the wine app that allows you to snap a photo of the label wasn’t helping me too much, either.
So, if you see me take out my little red notebook, don’t judge. I’m studying wine by smelling, tasting, doodling … and now remembering! It’s old school, but it works.
For two decades, Napa Valley’s top winemakers have auctioned futures of innovative, one-of-a-kind wines for the unique portfolio of wines known as Premiere Napa Valley. This day-long extravaganza of barrel tastings, lunch, and bidding takes place on Saturday, February 20, 2016, with a full week of parties and educational tastings leading up to Premiere. What a week it will be!
Proceeds from the event support Napa Valley Vintners nonprofit trade association in their efforts to promote, protect, and enhance the Napa Valley appellation. In 2015, an arousing display of uniformly passionate bidding on a range of unique wines resulted in a new record $6 million fundraising total for the Napa Valley Vintners.
As a preview to the 2016 event, Napa Valley Vintners brought six winemakers to Las Vegas in November to offer Premiere Napa Valley barrel samples and a panel discussion led by Master Sommelier Lindsey Geddes. Held within the grand arches of Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas‘ dining room, along with trade professionals and buyers, I had the opportunity to taste the current releases and barrel samples, as well as hear from the following vintners/winemakers (you can search all the 2016 lots here).
Jimmy Kawalek, Ancien Winery
Ancien Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Ancien Winery, 2013 Los Carneros Pinot Noir
Steve Reynolds, Winemaker, Italics Winery and Reynolds Family Winery
Italics Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Italics Winery, 2012 Coombsvile Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Reynolds Family Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Reynolds Family Winery, 2010 Stags leap District Cabernet Sauvignon
Matt Wood, Newton Vineyard and Domaine Chandon
Newton Vineyard, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
Newton Vineyard, 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
Michael Scholz, Winemaker, St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Sample
St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, 2012 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
The experience in Las Vegas was just a small sample of what Premiere Napa Valley will bring in February in Napa, but an exciting representation of the quality and diversity of the Napa Valley AVA. At Premiere, the wines will be previewed and then live-auctioned before an invite-only audience of licensed wine buyers. These wines are truly unique from year-to-year and may be a varietal blend, or a single vineyard expression, a delicious and artistic collection of sub-appellations, or a remarkable vintage.
This year marks the 20th anniversary. And, for those around the world that cannot join, an online auction will be unveiled, offering 25 lots featuring unexpected varieties and early release date wines in 60, 120 and 240 bottle lots.
I consider myself fortunate to experience this on February 20, 2016, and I can’t wait to share more when that time comes!
Select photos: Bob McClenahan for Napa Valley Vintners
Butternut squash soup is just one of those things we associate with fall and winter. It’s hearty and delicate at the same time, savory, and absolutely delicious. It’s no wonder it becomes a favorite in our kitchen. While I’ve tried many versions, this is the recipe I stick to. I adopted it from a chef at Lake Sonoma Winery in Dry Creek Valley about 15 years ago. They were serving it with Russian River chardonnay on a chilly January day.
What makes this soup so awesome is its two secret ingredients – ginger and coconut milk. Both Asian-inspired additions transform the traditional, mellow butternut squash soup into this aromatic and flavorful winter warm up that’s simply hard to resist. The ginger adds the spice element and the coconut milk makes it silky and distinctly creamy, without it being too heavy. Serves 4-6
1 large butternut squash (peeled and cut into large pieces)
2 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 small onion (cut into quarters
1 small carrot (cut into large pieces
1 celery rib (cut into large piece)
2″ knob of ginger (peeled)
3 cans chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
salt for later adjustments
Garnish ideas: fresh chives, fried sage leaves, sour cream
Sauté butternut squash, onion, carrots, ginger, and celery in oil and butter over medium heat until onions become golden brown. It’s OK if the butternut squash gets a light touch of browning. It just adds to the savory element of this soup. Add the chicken broth and simmer until all ingredients are soft – approximately 35-40 minutes. Cool slightly, then puree in blender. Return puréed soup into original pot and keep at low heat. Add coconut milk and stir until blended evenly. It’s important to keep the heat low-medium. You don’t want to boil this soup, or milk solids with appear. Once thoroughly heated, taste and make adjustments by adding salt, if necessary. Garnish and serve immediately. I prefer fried sage leaves.
If you love it, make sure to come back and comment here!
Archeologists have traced the origins of wine-making back to 8,000 years ago to the country of Georgia. Wine was produced – and continues to be produced today – using clay vessels called kvevri. Essentially, fermentation of red and white wine in clay involves prolonged contact with the skins. In wine circles, the term “amphora” is commonly used to describe this style of wine.
It goes something like this: perfectly mature grape bunches are placed into kvevri that are sunken into the ground, a stone lid secures the top, then it’s opened the next spring or summer to skim the finished wine from the grape bunches that have accumulated at the bottom.
Georgia has been producing natural wines like this, without the use of chemicals, foreign yeasts, or filtration long before it became a stylistic trend. In the last decade, however, winemakers in other parts of the world, especially Italy and Slovenia, have embraced this ancient way to making wine, and they deserve some attention.
While amphora wines can be made with red or white grapes, the wines made with white grapes end up with an attractive orange hue. Typically, these wines have more body and structure than a normal white wine, and may even have noticeable tannins, due to the time spent with the skins. When in Las Vegas, try them at the following places listed below. The sommeliers have provided the dish they’d pair with each one:
Josko Gravner Ribolla Anfora, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy 2003 Taste at:Twist by Pierre Gagnaire, Manadrin Oriental Pair with: Roasted Tomato “Provencal”Ratatouille of Vegetables, Diced Baby Squid, Saffron Fish Soup
Sommelier’s Notes: “This is a super complex dish with the earthful flavors from the ratatouille, the “sweetness” of the squid, the saffron brings the lightly aromatic flowery thing. All of these you would find in something like Gravner’s wines. Just a whole lot going on.” – Will Costello, Master Sommelier/Wine Director, Twist by Pierre Gagnaire @ Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas
COS Pithos Bianco, Vittoria, Sicily, Italy 2012 Taste at:B&B Ristorante, The Venetian Pair with: Grilled Octopus with Fagioli Marianati and Spicy Limoncello
Sommelier’s Notes: “The COS Pithos Bianco has the delicacy to compliment seafood while offering the power to stand up to the flavorful char on the octopus, as well as the spice of the limoncello vinaigrette.” – Kirk Peterson, Beverage Director, B&B Hospitality Group, Las Vegas
Josko Gravner, Ribolla Anfora, Friuli-Venezia-Giulia, Italy 2005
Taste at: Bazaar Meat, SLS Pair with: Whole Turbot, Josper-Roasted with Olive Oil and Salt from La Coruna, Spain
Sommelier’s Notes: “The Turbot is a large flat fish found primarily in shallow waters close to shore, it has bright white flesh, a delicate flavor and can have a slightly oily texture. The texture of the fish provides contrast while the simplicity of preparation of the Turbot compliments the flavors of the seafood and wine pairing.” – Chloe Helfand, Lead Sommelier, SLS Las Vegas
A few more producers:
Luigi Tecce, Campania, Italy Frank Cornelissen, Etna, Sicily
Adega José de Sousa, Alentejo, Portugal
Rose.Rabbit. Lie., a modern supper club inside The Cosmopolitan Las Vegas, was given three distinct names that would convey a unique meaning to each person who entered. Unlocked by three simple words, the name acts as a personal riddle or prophecy. The unique logo is in a shape of a key, which loosely conveys membership and exclusivity, while the three turns in the key coincide with the triplet name and intertwines dining, drink and entertainment concepts.
It’s a place of curiosity, discovery and participation.
Such was the case on that September evening in Las Vegas at a Champagne Taittinger tasting event held at Rose.Rabbit.Lie. I was invited by Peter Johnston, Director of Sales, Fine Wine Division, of Wirtz Beverage Nevada, to experience Taittinger in a social setting among an intimate group of about 40 influential wine professionals.
Inside a cozy, walnut wood-paneled lounge bar called the Study, a relaxed ambiance set the tone for a convivial vibe. Live music, light bites and good company created a unique communal setting to taste and discover Taittinger’s more casual side.
Champagne Taittinger (pronounced tet-ahn-zhay), is one of the few remaining family-owned and operated Champagne houses. The estate is one of the three most extensive in the Champagne region of France, with vineyard holdings of 752 acres, including prestigious Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims regions. Unlike most large houses, Champagne Taittinger relies primarily on estate grapes for its portfolio of Champagnes.
Taittinger is situated above miles of chalk tunnels and cellars. These 4th century Roman cellars once belonged to the Benedictine monks of the abbey of Saint Nicaise and are perfect for the slow ageing process required for great Champagne.
Unique to Taittinger are the higher proportion of Chardonnay in its wines that gives Taittinger its signature style – elegance, finesse, and delicacy. This has earned the House worldwide recognition and accolades over the years. Also, the time devoted to aging the wines before release – most often greatly exceeding the legal requirement – is a practice that has become a Taittinger hallmark.
What we tasted that evening:
Taittinger Brut La Française
A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier wines from at least 35 villages. The high proportion of Chardonnay (40%) is unique among fine non-vintage Champagnes. The presses are located in the vineyard for immediate pressing of the fruit after the manual harvest, and the resulting must is cold fermented under temperature-controlled conditions. After resting until the end of winter, the wine is blended, and then the final cuvée undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle in Taittinger’s cool cellars. The aging of Brut La Française on the lees for almost 4 years more than doubles the legal minimum of 15 months. This extra time in the cellars allows the wine to reach the peak of aromatic maturity, and the result is a delicately balanced Champagne, known for its consistently excellent quality.
Les Folies de la Marquetterie
This single-vineyard cuvée is produced exclusively from grapes grown at Les Folies, a Taittinger-owned vineyard with a south/southwest exposure in the heart of the Champagne winegrowing region. A green harvest ensures that the final harvest has optimum sweetness and aromatic maturity. Only wines from the first pressing are used and each plot is vinified in small volumes, with certain lots in large, old oak casks. Slow aging for five years in bottles brings the flavors of this Champagne to perfect harmony.
Comtes de Champagne Rosé The Comtes Rosé is made from 100% Grand Cru grapes and produced only in exceptional years. The Chardonnay grapes come from the most renowned vineyards of the prestigious Côte des Blancs, and the Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims. Only juice from the first pressing is used in order to ensure the structure and long aging potential that is so essential to this exceptional Champagne. 12% of the Pinot Noir is blended in as still red wine.
Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Produced only in exceptional vintage years and intended as the ultimate expression of the Taittinger style, this wine is composed entirely of Chardonnay grapes grown in the top vineyards of the prestigious Côte des Blancs. Only the first press juice is used. A small proportion (5%) of the blend spends three to four months in new oak barrels, enhancing the intrinsic qualities of the final blend. Prior to disgorgement, the Blanc de Blancs is aged for 10 years on the lees in 13th-century chalk cellars that were once the property of Saint Nicaise abbey.
A frosty beverage or chilled rosé wine may do the trick during the hot summer, but quite honestly, the kid in me wants popsicles. Moscato d’Asti is a semi-sweet, lightly sparkling, low-alcohol wine from Piedmont, Italy. When made into fruity Moscato d’Asti popsicles, they are a cool and delicious treat. Furthermore, they are super easy to make and perfect for a summer gathering.
1 cup assorted fresh strawberries and blackberries, puréed
(use whatever fruit you desire!)
6 small plastic disposable cups
6 popsicle sticks
1 cup Moscato d’Asti
Spoon pureed berries into each cup, then add an equal amount of Moscato d’Asti into each cup. Freeze approximately 1 hour (times may vary) until a popsicle stick can be inserted into the center of each cup. Note: Fruit will settle, so stir frequently during the early freezing process. Frozen fruit throughout the mixture will help the popsicle stay frozen longer. Freeze until solid. At time of serving, remove from freezer, let stand for 1 or 2 minutes until the popsicles easily slide out of cups. Serve immediately. Enjoy in the shade!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Scarbolo Refosco – A native Friulian varietal that dates back to the Roman Empire. Amazing, fruity, spicy and what I call “playfully romantic.”
“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.
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!
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.
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
Salt and pepper
Optional: tomato slices and arugula
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!
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.
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