Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bubbly and New Year’s, the tradition…. the dilemma!

(Originally Published December 2010)

New Year’s eve does not seem complete without something effervescent in a tall slender glass to raise when one says so long to the old year and welcomes in the new year. But what to pour and what food to pair with it can leave a hostess a bit frustrated.

There are plenty of misnomers that swirl around sparkling wine that add to that frustration, a few are: 

Champagne is the best all the rest are of a lesser quality… So untrue!! First, Champagne is sparkling wine. Second there are laws that specify that only wine from the Reims -Champagne region of France may be called Champagne. These laws were set forth in 1891 with the signing of the Treaty of Madrid and reaffirmed in the Treaty of Versailles after World War I. There is no question that there is quite a mystique associated with fine French Champagne, but there are fine sparkling wines produced all over the world.

Sparkling Wine will give you a headache…. Both true and false. If you drink too much of any alcohol it will give you a headache. This reference is aimed at the Charmat method or bulk produced “bargain” sparkling wines, where often extra sugar is added to mask other less desirable tastes. The two best tips is look for Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionnelle (which is in the bottle fermentation) on the bottle and drink in moderation (bubbly seems to go down faster than any other wine.)

Sparkling Wine is only for special occasions or dessert… Nope, it should be consider for pairings just as you would wine. As for desserts many are too sweet to pair with a Brut sparkling wine (the most common type of sparkling wine) a Demi-sec sparkling wine maybe better suited for dessert

This last myth, combined with the time of the year and that I just adore bubbles, became the inspiration for article. So perplex hosts and hostesses take a deep breath and relax as I prepare to show how Sparkling Wine can pair with two very different dishes for two very different meals: An appetizer and breakfast…Just in time for New Year’s Eve Celebrations and the morning after.

The sparkling wine selected is Thibaut-Jannison’s Virginia Fizz made from 100% Chardonnay in the traditional method (Methode Traditionnelle).Virginia Fizz along with another wonderful sparkling wine, Blanc de Chardonnay, come form a partnership between Claude Thibaut and Manuel Jannison. Yes, that would be the same Manuel Jannison that is the head of the world renown Champagne house Jannison et Fils in village of Verzenay (France).

Claude Thibaut, a member of a four-generation champagne making family, has spent the majority of his career outside the Champagne region of France making fine sparkling wine for wineries in Australia, California and Virginia before launching his own endeavor nearly 5 years ago. Mr. Thibaut is regarded as one of the best if not the best sparkling wine maker working on the East Coast, and some say the entire US. Claude Thibaut and Manuel Jannison quickly moved into the elite of East Coast winemakers for not only there excellent sparkling wine but also when the Obama’s selected the Blanc de Chardonnay to be poured at their first State Dinner (yes, that one with the gate crashers.)

1)     Appetizer: Baked Brie with Raspberry Preserves
2)     Breakfast: Bacon and Cheese Frittata with fruit

Virgina Fizz is an effervescent creamant styled sparkling wine. It has a creamy texture that is soft and full.  Yeasty and green apples are the scents detected in the aroma. At 1.5% residual sugar, Virginia Fizz is classified as a Brut (to be classified a Brut the wine must have less than 3 grams sugar per liter). The creaminess of the Brie complemented the smooth texture of the Virginia Fizz and the Raspberry preserves, with just a touch of sweetness, made the apple and peach notes of the sparkling wine pop. This was simply a delightful combination and with each sip the tiny bubbles of the Fizz held up to the heaviness of the appetizer.

Breakfast… especially after a night of celebrating is not what a weary host or hostesses wants to tackle. A frittata is a simple and fast way to provide a breakfast that will dazzle your guests and make them think you were up at the crack of dawn to prepare the meal.This bacon, cheddar (sharp) cheese and green onion frittata paired with fresh fruit is a beautiful and yummy way to greet the morning.  Pair with it the Virginia Fizz you have a very special morning meal.

This was a heavenly pairing. I don’t level that compliment often and to be honest I surprised even myself. The Virginia Fizz pulled out the savoriness of the dish while building on the creaminess of the frittata. One may be tempted to make a Mimosa to pair with the frittata, if you did you would be missing out on an incredible pairing of the Virginia Fizz (by itself) with the frittata. The texture and the flavors of the frittata are truly enhanced by the Virginia Fizz and almost dance in your mouth. This would be missed, as the texture of the Virginia Fizz would change if orange juice were added.

So as this year draws to a close the following quote comes to mind.
“Let our New Year’s resolution be this: that we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word” Goran Persson

Viognier and a Founding Father's Dream

 (originally published June 29, 2010)

“We could in the United States make as great a variety of wines as are made in Europe, not exactly of the same kinds, but doubtless as good.”  - Thomas Jefferson, American president and Renaissance man, (1743-1826)

Wine making in Virginia, like many things in the Old Dominion, dates back to 1607 with the settlement at Jamestown. For most of the following 400 years, Virginian winemakers would toil in their endeavor to create a thriving Virginia wine industry.  Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington planted and tended to vines with nary a bottle produced. It would not be until the 1800’s that Virginia winemakers would see their first success when they turned their attention from struggling to grow European grapes to the native North American grapes, particularly the Norton red wine grape. At the Vienna World Fair in 1873, a Virginia Norton red wine was named “best red wine of all nations.” Later, at the 1889 Paris World Fair a Norton wine  received a Gold medal. With later  discovery that  European grape vines could be grafted onto American root stock and thrive, the Virginia wine industry finally began to experience growth. Any growth that was achieved, however, was soon dashed by Prohibition where thereafter it would take several decades for the Virginia wine industry to stage a comeback. Recovery finally took hold in the 1970’s with the establishment of six new wineries. Today, Virginia boasts over 140 family owned vineyards and has six American Viticultural Areas (“AVAs,” being Eastern Shore, Monticello, Northern Neck, North Fork of Roanoke, Rocky Knob and Shenandoah Valley).

To celebrate Virginia’s increasing success and popularity in the world of wine, I decided that the focus of my first article would be one of the grapes that has enjoyed a starring role, Viognier. My first encounter with this varietal was in 2005 at the Mt. Vernon Spring Wine Festival. At that time, I was a devout red drinker and shied away from most white wines. I was coaxed into taking my first sips of Viognier by a proselytizing vintner who was so passionate about his wine that it was infectious. From that first sip, a passion for Viognier quickly developed. I wanted to know as much as I could about this wine (of which I had been previously unaware). In the course of five years I have come to learn that it is generally accepted that a well-crafted Viognier smells of jasmine, honeysuckle, peach blossoms and, at times, apricots and vanilla.  If a winemaker elects to adhere to  a traditional Old World style of winemaking (such as, a la Condrieu in the Rhone Valley) the Viognier wine will be delicate, subtle and lean rather than  lush with a plump fruit forwardness which is characteristic of what is deemed a New World style of winemaking. In Virginia, Viognier represents both styles and personal preference ultimately dictates which wins.  Viognier thrives in Virginia because it can survive the region’s late frosts of early spring and seeks the heat and humidity of the summer. Due to its adaptability to the region’s climate, Viognier has definitively put Virginia on the Wine World’s map.
To show off the prowess of Viognier in Virginia, I chose to feature  Horton Vineyards (“Horton”). Located near Charlottesville in Orange, County, Virginia, the winery initiated its first plantings of the Viognier grape in 1992. Horton’s owner, Dennis Horton, took a gamble planting his first eight acres of Viognier  when only 300 acres of the grape were growing in the entire world. . Established in 1977, Horton Vineyards is now one of Virginia’s largest wineries.  Horton Vineyards released Viognier in 2008 under two labels: Horton Vineyards and The Tower Series. Additionally, Horton Vineyards produces a NV Sparking Viognier. Given the diversity of the winery’s offerings, all three examples of Horton’s Viognier were featured for this article to demonstrate the grape’s versatility.

Inspired by that winemaker from five years ago, I invited a few close friends over for this wine and food pairing. These friends, like me many years ago, were staunch red wine drinkers who shied away from many white wines unless they were quite sweet. Confident that I could demonstrate that  wine (regardless whether red or white) paired with the right food could be delightful, I embarked upon the task of dispelling my guests’ generalized notions of wine preferences. Yes, my wine and food reputation within my circle of friends was on the line.

First course, an herb infused cream cheese and goat cheese spread with fresh baked lightly salted pita chips paired with  Horton Sparkling Viognier NV. 

Goat Cheese is a natural pairing with Viognier. My intent with this pairing was not to overpower the wine with the herbs (which is easier said than done). The herbs in this particular spread included garlic, shallots, chives, basil and dill. Dill is the tricky herb to include  as it can be quite overpowering. The Horton Sparkling Vioginer is a Brut (meaning, “dry”) and made in the Methode Champenoise tradition. It is a bright, crisp tasting wine with hints of citrus with predominant notes of lemon. Given that it is a dry sparkling wine, it does not  overpower the palate yet adeptly brought out the earthiness of the goat cheese and texturally paired well with the softness of the cream cheese. This sparkling wine will pair well with light appetizers that are not overtly spicy. It is an easy drinking festive wine that can easily be enjoyed by itself.    

Second Course, ) Grilled Fresh Asparagus wrapped in Prosciutto paired with  2008 Horton Vineyards Viognier. (insert photo 3)

I choose to experiment with this pairing. I had been reading how some Viognier fans had been pairing foods that focused on the contrasts that the wine could solicit from food. One bite of the prosciutto wrapped asparagus and one was almost over powered by the prosciutto. After taking a sip of Horton Vioginer, however, the bold and spiciness of this wine contrasted beautifully with fattiness of the prosciutto and complimented the nuttiness of the asparagus. Quite honestly, I did not expect such a delightful outcome, not because of the wine but because I chose to pair it with a plate that was not an intuitive pairing for Viognier.  The 2008 Horton Viognier is quite an aromatic wine setting forth most notable scents of honey and citrus. The wine isvery drinkable and is styled to  hint of its classic Rhone style roots. This wine can be easily sipped by itself or paired with any of the classic Viognier pairings (such as goat cheese, shellfish, salmon, or white meats).

Third Course: Honey and Almond Glazed Salmon (Baked) over spinach paired with the 2008 Tower Series Viognier. 
For this pairing I returned to the more traditional food paring that can make Viognier truly shine. The 2008 Tower Series Viognier was a slightly subtler wine than the one with the second course. The aromas were very light and delicate.  Citrus notes were predominate but you did pick up slight oak.  To the eye this wine seemed light, but on first sip I was surprised that is was more  medium-bodied than I expected. On the palate the citrus notes were strong and as it finished,  hints of vanilla could be detected. After taking a bite of the salmon, the honey glaze brought out more of the other floral notes that are common for Viognier and hints of apricots and peaches emerged. The medium body of this wine balanced nicely with the salmon and complimented the earthiness of the spinach.

The result at the end of the evening is that I may have just converted  more people into being fans of Viognier. To that proselytizing winemaker from 2005, I tip my hat to you and say thank you so very much.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Taming of the Spice, Traminette

Editors note: This article was originally published on May 24, 2011

Spring in the Mid-Atlantic is a test of patience and the constant question of how long will we have Spring weather this year, 1 week? 2 weeks? It seems that winter weather likes to stretch as long as it can and Summer weather likes to start as early as it can. This past weekend was the first really glorious Spring weekend in the Washington, DC region. As I sat out on my patio enjoying the fleeting hours of daylight a cool breeze started to ever so slightly pick up. This is a time of juxtaposition. Warm days cool nights, shaking off the dreariness of winter and welcoming in the rebirth and renewal that Spring offers. Boots give way to Flip-flops, snow shovels give way to garden trowels. The contrast during this change of seasons is where I drew my inspiration for this month’s article.  A Traminette paired with a Spicy Asian inspired grilled steak salad.

When someone finds out that wine is a subject I enjoy, I am invariably peppered with questions especially about food pairings. “What wine goes with spicy food?” is often one of the first questions asked. I remember fondly how I learned the answer to this question. It was 1997 in Dublin, Ireland and a classmate of mine had discovered a delightful Indian restaurant not far from our dorms at Trinity College. When we sat down to dinner the wine list was presented and my classmates sent it my way with the joking comment “let the Californian pick the wine?” I nervously smiled and was slightly daunted as this was one of my first experiences with Indian food. Never being shy to ask a question, I asked the owner what he would recommend and he said “if you we were going to have a spice dish an off-dry Riesling or Gewürztraminer would be ideal.” I selected the Gewürztraminer and let the owner pick the perfect wine that would go with our dinners and our student budgets. The result was a delicious memory and a great lesson learned.
While I am a strong believer in drink what you like, there is special synergy when the pairing of the wine and the food is a perfect match. For those that follow the rule Red wine with red meat white wine with white meat or lighter meals, while it is a good rule of thumb, if always followed there are some wonderful pairings that would be missed.  This month’s  pairing is an example of a pairing that would be missed. The reason is most would focus on the fact that it is a steak salad and would think, steak equals red. The word in the description to focus on is “Spicy”. Spicy foods offer an opportunity to pair wines that leverage the bold flavors offered that are often muted due to the heat of the hot peppers that are often central to the dish. Besides leveraging the bold flavors, an off-dry wine also tames the heat or spiciness of the meal.

Traminette  is a cross of the French America hybrid Joannes Seyve 23-416 and the German Gewürztraminer. In the mid-sixties at the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign, Herb C. Barrett set out to produce a large clustered table grape with the flavor of Gewürztraminer. The result was sent to the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station grape breeding program. Traminette was born and gained popularity because it produced wine of excellent quality, was a good producer, showed partial resistance to several fungal diseases, showed a cold hardiness while retaining a similar characteristics to it parent; the Gewürztraminer.  Traditionally, Traminette has slightly spicy notes with nice apricot and honey overtones.

The Traminette featured is a 2009 Barrel Oak Winery Traminette. Barrel Oak Winery is one of the newer wineries in Virginia. Nestled in the hills of Fauquier County in the heart of Northern Virginia’s horse an wine country, Barrel Oak Winery opened, Memorial Day weekend 3 years ago. Barrel Oak Winery has demonstrated that making great wines can be environmentally friendly while creating an inviting experience for the visitor and their four legged companion. Yes, dogs are very welcome at the winery.  In fact a quick glance at the Winery’s web page one quickly sees the acronym B.O.W. The winery’s commitment to being environmentally friendly is equally evident and began with construction of the winery. The winery and tasting room sit on top of a hill with the wine making operation and cellar below the tasting room in a structure built into the hill.

This sub-terrainian structure leverages the insulation provided by being underground thus reducing costs of cooling. However Barrel Oak goes further, the winery’s  cooling and heating system is Geothermal. The Geothermal heating and cooling system offers a cost savings while lowering the carbon foot print of the winery. This environmentally friendly mind set extends throughout the wineries operations. The bottles and boxes are made from recycled materials, the grape skins after pressing are composted, and the hilltop tasting room is a vast 2 story open space with windows and doors that can be opened to provide the natural cooling that cross ventilation offers.   
When visiting this award winning winery, a visitor should take some time to take advantage of picnicking on the expansive patio area overlooking the vineyards, neighboring horse farms, the historic John Marshal house and a portion of the estate’s 70 acres.
Spicy Asian Grilled Skirt Steak on a bed of Napa Lettuce, green onions, water chestnuts, with toasted almonds, sesame and ramen noodles and garnished with grape tomatoes.

I have said in a past article that I love to grill, that was January and after knocking off the icicles and sub-freezing temps with a howling wind really put that statement to the test. Grilling on a late spring afternoon is so much more pleasant.  The steak was marinating for the better part of the day in a marinade of classic Asian spices with a strong pepper base.  After firing up the grill and while waiting for the charcoal to achieve the perfect cooking conditions. I toasted the ramen noodles, almonds and sesame seeds and prepared the spicy pepper vinaigrette reduction for the salad dressing. As both cooled, the charcoal became ready for the meat to be placed on the grill. The Skirt Steaks were placed on the grill. Given the cut of the Skirt Steak, thin and long, meant this would be a quick cooking process.  In no time the steaks were being turned and then removed from the grill. The steaks were left to rest as the Napa Lettuce and green onions were chopped up.  The toasted mix of almonds, sesame and ramen noodles were combined with the Napa lettuce, green onions, water chestnuts and were tossed in the spicy vinaigrette reduction dressing. The Steak was sliced up into think pieces and placed on top of the salad mixture.

The nose of the Barrel Oak Winery 2009 Traminette is very floral with hints of its parent the Gewürztraminer. At first taste, notes of honey, apricots, citrus and spices emerge; there is a slight hint of jasmine on the finish. There is crispness to this wine as one would expect with a wine that was fermented and aged in stainless steel.  

Taking the first bite of the grilled skirt steak, the spiciness of the chili peppers in the marinade are very notable. The spiciness and heat are toned down once the wine is sipped. The jasmine and tea rose notes of the wine are now really noticeable and the honey overtones mix nicely with soy sauce and chili paste that are part of the backbone of the marinade. The Barrel Oak Winery 2009 Traminette also pulls out the sweetness of the spicy pepper vinaigrette. The woodiness of toasted almonds ramen noodles and sesame that would have been muted pop with the wine. 

This pairing is a wonderful marriage of complexity, spiciness, sweetness and textures all complimenting one another.  The Barrel Oak Winery 2009 Traminette, due to the right amount of acidity has a strong backbone to hold up well to the complexity of the marinade and the texture of the Skirt Steak but also it compliments and brings forward the slight sweetness of the Napa lettuce. The paring also demonstrates how an off-dry white wine like this Gewürztraminer hybrid with a little bit of residual sugar can temper the spiciness, bring forward the flavors hidden is the dish without the wine’s own flavor profile getting lost.

For lovers of spicy food, I really encourage you to explore the off-dry white wines like the  Barrel Oak Winery 2009 Traminette . Not only will it tame the heat it will add a pleasurable dimension to your meal. Here’s to the beautiful days of late spring and early summer and to the wonderful culinary adventures ahead!