Friday, March 9, 2012

A Toast to Seasonal Transitions: Seyval Blanc

 By Kitty Maloney
Originally published September 2010

Since I moved to East Coast I have really come to appreciate the splendor of fall. Several days last week, the crispness of fall nipped at you in the early morning. That was followed by summer’s last stand; a mini heat wave just in time for the Autumnal Equinox. The change of seasons is a time period of compliments and contrasts from this I drew my inspiration for this month’s article.

I selected a wine from a recent trip through the Heart of Virginia Wine Trail, Lake Anna Winery’s Seyval Blanc. The day I visited the winery was a day of contrasts… what started out as a sunny late August day quickly turned to a dark and stormy day. Taking refuge in the tasting room of the Lake Anna Winery there was note of fervor in the air. This was due to the arrival of the storm, as the winery was in the process of harvesting grapes… rain is not a welcome visitor during harvest.

Lake Anna Winery is located outside of Fredricksburg, VA, near the entrance to Lake Anna on the Heart of Virginia Wine Trail. The vineyard was founded in the early 1980’s by Bill and Ann Heidig. At that time, the intent was to grow grapes to sell to other wineries. In 1990, after many successful crops and watching several other wineries will awards for wine made from their grapes, Bill and Ann decided to launch their own wines. In 2000, Eric and Jeff, two of the Heidig’s four children, took over the winery and with the addition if winemaker Graham Bell in 2002, winery continues to thrive and produces many award winning wines.

Seyval Blanc, a hybrid grape, as it is a cross between and old world wine grape and a native American grape developed by a the Father and son-in-law Hybridizing team, Bertillee Seyve and Villard. Seyvl Blanc thrives in colder climates, is quite disease tolerant, has a short growing season (roughly 100 days) and  produces larges clusters of medium sized fruit.  Today it is one of the most successfully grown grape varietals in the Eastern US, Eastern Canada (notably Ontario) and the UK. Seyval Blanc is traditionally made into crisp white wines that are well balanced. Tasting notes tend to be green apples, pears and a citrus element in the aroma. The wine tends to have a long finish, with a minerality similar to white Burgundy and Sauvignon Blanc from the Bordeaux or Loire Valley, has contributed to Seyval Blancs success especially in the Midwest and Eastern United States. The color of Seyval Blancs tend towards the pale yellow or golden color similar to that of a Sauvignon Blanc.  

In the spirit of the changing seasons the menu for this paring highlights the transition of the seasons as summer fades into fall and paired with Lake Anna Winery Seyval Blanc 2009.

1) Cordon Bleu inspired Chicken stuffed with prosciutto and swiss cheese on a bed of garlic mashed butternut squash.
2) Orecchiette Pasta with sautéed mushroom, onions and summer squash with a light herb chevre sauce.

As the mushrooms and onions were slowly sautéed, the chicken was pounded out to roughly 1/4 inch thickness, herbed, layered with the prosciutto and cheese, rolled and pan baked. The butternut squashed was cubed, brought to a boil and reduce to simmer until fork tender. As the orecchiette neared the ending of the cooking time the summer squash was added to the sauté of onions and mushrooms to cook until tender. The orecchiette is than added to the vegetable sauté and the herb chevre sauce is stirred in until all the vegetables and pasta were lightly coated.

The first taste of the chicken roll with the interplay of the creaminess of the swiss and the saltiness of the prosciutto slight overpower the chicken, but followed by a sip of the crispness of the Seyval Blanc the flavors balance out and the blend nicely. The minerality of the Seyval Blanc clear the palate of the creaminess of the swiss and the mashed butternut squash but does not overpower the taste of each. The acidity of the wine cut through the saltiness of prosciutto allowing the wine and chicken to strike a pleasing balance.

A sip of wine confirms that this is a traditional Seyval Blanc with its citrus nose with notes of green apples and pears. It is crisp and well blanced wine with a long finish that is quite pleasing. 

When tasted with the Orecchiette pasta vegetable sauté, the Seyval Blanc provided an interesting interplay of enhancing, contrasting and balancing the flavors of the various ingredients of the side dish. The wine brought out the sweetness of the vegetables, enhanced the herbs in the chevre sauce. The creaminess of the chevre sauce truly enhanced the crispness or minerality of the wine. The combination of the sweetness of the vegetables and creaminess of the herb chevre sauce allowed for a blanced interplay between the pasta and the wine, as pasta would not be a normal pairing to a Seyval Blanc.

Seyval Blanc is a delicious crisp wine that is a beautiful alternate to either Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. It is delightful to sip on its own or with a chicken or seafood meals as we think about our summer adeventures and look forward to what the fall holds in store for us.

If you happen by the Lake Anna Winery be sure to say hello to Bandit, you will have a hard time not giving him your wine crackers.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Curling up with Comfort Food and Merlot

By Kitty Maloney
Originally published February 2011

As the cold days of winter march along, the shortest month of the year can seem to be the longest and something hearty, warm and comforting sounds quite appealing. Thumbing through recipes I came across a recipe for Shepherd’s Pie and immediately I knew two things: one, I wanted to substitute buffalo meat and two, I had the perfect wine to pair with this dish, a 2005 Williamsburg Winery Merlot Reserve.

Now the discerning reader will pause and think, “Wait she wrote Shepherd’s Pie but she is not using Lamb, she is using beef… wouldn’t that make it a Cottage Pie?” Technically the distinction between Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie is the principle ingredient used:  Shepherd’s P:ie equals lamb (mutton) and Cottage Pie equals beef. However, in the United States the terms and ingredients are often used interchangeably, so it would not be surprising to see Shepherd’s Pie on a menu or recipe where the principle ingredient is beef.  I would not be true to my Irish roots if I did not also point out that Cottage Pie is often used in Britain and Shepherd’s Pie is used in Ireland. So for me, this will be Shepherd’s Pie (but feel free to call it want you want).

A few notes about cooking with ground buffalo: Keep in mind that buffalo is very lean and slightly sweet in flavor (think well aged beef). This flavor profile is important to note when you are pairing with wine and adding spices to the recipe. I came across several recipes that added in another lean meat (chicken, turkey or beef with 4% fat.) for texture and for just a little extra fat that holds the dish together ( I added ½ pound of lean ground beef). Alternatively, if you do not want to add another meat into the recipe or if you are grilling (as in buffalo burgers), you may want to lightly (and I mean light) add or coat with a light cooking oil to help prevent over drying of the meat.

The wine had been, like a dollar burning a hole in a pocket, beckoning from the wine rack since it was purchased last August on a visit to the Williamsburg Winery. Why pair it with comfort food? That seed was planted by our host, a knowledgeable gentleman that was our guide for our reserve tasting at the winery, as he poured the Merlot. Normally I would have not favored the merlot; I would have tasted it, made some note and waited for the tasting of the more robust Cabernet Sauvignon, not for any other reason but out of habit. No there is no “Sideways” tantrum out of this wine drinker regarding Merlot; I just gravitate towards a bigger red wine. But something about this Merlot lingered long enough to catch my attention. I asked for another taste and was intrigued.

In 1985, the Williamsburg Winery was founded with the goal of developing wines that reflect the qualities of  Virginia and its various micro-climates. It is located in the heart of Williamsburg, not far from the area known as Colonial Williamsburg. In the early 2000’s, after winning many awards for its wines and the arrival of Matthew G.R. Meyer as the winemaker, the Williamsburg Winery endeavored to place its wines on the world stage. This endeavor was met with great success,  over the course of the decade their wines have won several international awards.
Merlot, what to say about merlot? There is so much written about it. Merlot is one of the best known varietals in the world and became quite a media darling in late 1991 due to Morely Safer’s report for 60 Minutes entitled “The French Paradox.”Although, the wine referred to in the 60 Minutes segment was red wine, it was Merlot that benefited the most of growing popularity of red wine. Merlot with its soft tannins and subtle flavors are easily approachable for most new to red wine. It was not until 2004 and the independent film “Sideways,” that Merlot hit a rough patch. All it took was a tantrum by the movie’s character Miles when he says to the character Jack, “If anyone orders merlot, I am leaving. I am not drinking any (blank) Merlot!” Following the movie’s release, Merlot sales decreased and almost overnight a negative bias towards the wine took hold. A sad turn of events for Merlot but do not fret for it is still quite popular as it is allegedly the second most popular wine in the United States.

The Pairing: Williamsburg Winery 2005 Virginia Merlot Reserve and a Buffalo Shepherd’s Pie.

In my opinion, Shepherd’s Pie can tend to be on the bland side so I added lots of savory green herbs, cumin, garlic and a few additional interesting twists. The first was adding in a little ground Jamaican allspice. The second twist was that I replaced half of the beef broth (as called for in the recipe), with the Merlot. The last twist was the roasted garlic that was added to the mashed potatoes. Shepherd’s Pie definitely puts a cook’s knife skills to the test with the dicing of the carrots, onions and celery but the finer the dice the best the blending of all the ingredients when the are all incorporated into the baking dish. Such labors, however, are well worth the effort.
At first taste of the Merlot, the wine had good body with soft lush fruit that is classic to the Merlot varietal. There were notes of herbs, cocoa, leather and wood with a finish which was delicate and lingering. The nose of this wine was filled with delightful herbal notes and a touch of vanilla.

When paired with the Shepherd’s Pie, the herbal notes of the wine were brought forward by the earthiness of the pie. The wine’s well-balanced tannins helped keep the mashed potatoes from over powering the wine. The strong texture of the buffalo was a nice match to the merlot’s tannins. The sweetness of the vegetables brought forward the more jammy flavors of the fruit notes found in the merlot. I think one of the keys to this very well-rounded pairing were the herbs in the Shepherd’s Pie, especially the ground Jamaican allspice. Jamaican allspice suggests a blend of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Those flavors square nicely with chocolate and vanilla nuances found in the wine. Further, since allspice is made from a dried fruit, it also compliments the berry and apple notes of the Merlot.

If you are ones of those that turned his or her back on Merlot in the mid 2000’s, I invite you to give the varietal another try. Pick your favorite comfort food and pour a glass Merlot. I promise that you will marvel at the pairing.

The Perfect Foil for Old Man Winter

By Kitty Maloney
Originally published January 2011

On an early January evening, as a cold winter wind tussled around objects not secured, a hardy meal with a delicious red wine was needed to soothe the soul and take the chill off. The thought of toiling with the outdoor grill sounded both inviting and insane, as it was 24 degrees out (not factoring in the wind chill). But undaunted, I braved old man winter’s temper tantrum and headed out on the patio to start the charcoal grill. Why? you may ask, because of a wonderful bottle of Petit Verdot from Pollack Vineyards and the lovely London broil that had been marinating for the better part of the day. Oh and I still believe you can grill year round (file that under you can take the girl out of California but you can not take California out of the girl.)

Petit Verdot is one of the five “Nobel” black varietals allowed planted in Bordeaux is often thought of as more of a blending grape than a stand alone varietals. It is the late bloomer of the classic Bordeaux blends ripening quite late, sometimes as late as early autumn. In addition to the late ripening, Petit Verdot can be an inconsistent in producing fruit and can be affected by seasonal conditions more than other varietals. For these reasons, and in particular the  late ripening, lead to Petit Verdot falling out of favor in Bordeaux and by the 1960’s many of the vines were either abandoned or routinely replaced for Cabernet Sauvignon. However with the advancement of viticulture technology and techniques, Petit Verdot is enjoying the beginning of a comeback in its home region. In the New World Petit Verdot is much more successful, especially in the warmer growing regions such as Austrialia, California and Chile. The region with most total acreage planted of Petit Verdot is Australia. Planted in suitable growing regions and careful cultivation Petit Verdot produces fruit that is dark red to black berries with think skins in clusters that develop in small and loose clusters. Today in Virginia, Petit Verdot is growing in popularity and dare I say becoming “trendy”. Before someone scoffs at the comment, I should note, I really enjoy Petit Verdot and its current moderate price…

Petit Verdot, while notably a blending grape because of its strong flavors and tannins thus adding structure to most blends, is enjoying some growth as a stand alone varietal. Although stand alone bottling of Petit Verdot is on the rare side, each year there is a growing number of vineyards producing it in small quantities. The main reason is a little Petit Verdot goes along way; winemaker generally use only 3 to 6 percent of Petit Verdot when they blending it with other wines How does one translate this to the a single bottling of the wine, Petit Verdot is an extremely robust, big tannin big flavor profile red,. Most stand alone bottlings of this varietal can easily sit on your wine racks for years. Should you open while this wine is still on the young side, decanting will mellow out the tannins.     

Pollack Vineyards is a small family-owned vineyard just west of Charlottesville, Virginia on the Monticello Wine Trail. Founded in 2003, Pollack Vineyards released 320 cases of a Meritage blend in 2005. Today Pollack Vineyards produces approximately 5000 cases of wine. All of Pollack’s wine are grown on the estate in five distinct vineyards on the property. All grapes are hand harvested into lugs, sorted and cooled before crushing. Pollack makes several wines in small lots in order to bring out the unique qualities from the vineyard it was grown. 2008 saw the addition of a beautiful and large tasting room that opens on to a beautiful patio that allows visitors to enjoy their wine while taking in some of Virginia’s spectacular wine country.  

The wine selected was a 2007 Petit Verdot. Before decanting a small sampling of this wine was in order. The aroma was herbaceous and at first taste you were met with the heavy tannins you would expect from a Petit Verdot. On the palate, this was a big robust make your taste buds take notice wine. One could detect dark berries with a hint of cocoa in the wine. The finish, as expected was long due to the wine’s structure and tannins. I knew this wine would be an excellent pairing with menu of the evening. After the initial tasting, the wine was decanted and left to breathe for approximately an hour, while I braved the January winds to start the grill and prepare the rest of the meal.

1) Grilled Marinated London Broil
2)  Chipotles en adobo Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Broccoli

Given Petit Verdot robust nature and structure, it naturally pairs with tasty read meat (think steak), plus the wine can stand up to most marinades. This was a plus as I had a marinade recipe that I wanted to test out. Chipotle in Adobo sauce is another flavor that can be tricky to pair with due it strong flavor profile and the heat generated by the seeds (note: in preparing this side dish most seeds were removed.) The broccoli was seasoned with an herb mixture (mainly oregano and thyme) and steamed.

The first bite was the Chipotle en Adobo mashed potatoes and the pairing with the wine was spectacular. The herbaceous notes of the wine paired well with the smokiness of the potatoes. Since the wine was decanted the tannins were softer than the initial tasting. The now softer wine had a velvety texture with a long, lingering finish with still enough structure to hold up against the creaminess of the potatoes. There were earthy notes to the wine that were not as noticeable until paired with the potatoes.

Now to taste the wine with the London Broil. The London Broil look glorious coming off the grill, so I knew my decision to brave the elements was the right one. The Petit Verdot hit all the herb notes and nicely pulled out while tempering the sweetness of the marinade. The velvety texture of the wine complimented the smooth texture of London Broil. The Petit Verdot was well matched for the flavor profile of this meal, nicely comparing, contrasting and highlighting subtle flavors while having the structure to stand up to the heavier texture of the meal. This meal was definitely a very delightful pairing (that must be repeated).

As most of the country is engulfed by very unseasonable cold (and I mean downright cold) weather, this is the perfect opportunity to snuggle up under a cozy blanket in front of the fireplace with a nice glass of red wine, the Petit Verdot (after decanting) would be a worthy selection to be in that glass.