All posts by Sean

Mon Nouvel Amour

Have you ever noticed how aromas can bring back vivid flooding memories of days gone? This lovely little wine did that for me..

I hadn’t really ever heard of Jurançon much less ever had one of these regional wines, but my wife brought this back to me from a girls’ trip to Paris. I was intrigued to say the least. Jurançon is in Southwest France, by far the up-and-comer in the French wine kingdom.

I’ll call this the poor man’s Sauternes. Incredible sweetness, acidic and complex, this wine had me baffled upon first taste. I wasn’t expecting this in the wine. The viscosity obviously was the first clue I was dealing with residual sugar, but the complexity blew me away.

I love a good dessert wine or one of those nectars that makes me want to eat four pounds of seared foie gras while enjoying glass after glass of wine. This was it. Crisp bracing acidity that was highlighted by very ripe if not close to overripe fruits, think about a pineapple you’ve waited too long to cut. Unctuous sweetness meets acid, that’s all I could think of. Then the flavor memories hit.

  1. My Grandmother only bought golden raisins, she preferred their lightness and acidity versus dark raisins. She took this a step further, she ALWAYS plumped her raisins in warm water as soon as she bought them. She would then drain and dry them and transfer them to an old butter dish and put them on the counter for my Granddad to enjoy at his leisure. If he didn’t eat them fast enough, they would begin to ferment. The sweetness magnified.
  2. The next wave of flavor hit me reminding me of the chain-link fence in my backyard during my youngest years. The fence hanging with dense succulent honeysuckle vines.  I could stand out at the fence in the early morning for hours…pulling honeysuckle blooms off and sucking the sweet nectar from them. The vines were always covered in butterflies and I would be out there with them, eating as many as I could while the morning dew was still dripping from the leaves.
  3. My grandmother also made a fruit cocktail cake that was my brother’s favorite cake, every year, every birthday there was a fruit cocktail cake. It was dense and sweet; the canned fruit had now been baked into a sweet batter with cinnamon and toasted coconut. My mouth waters as I sit and type this. Grandmother would always pour me a bit of the “light syrup” the fruit was canned in. A mind-blowing treat for a 4-year-old.
  4. My first experience with lychee fruit was in my early thirties. I was attending a sparkling wine symposium taught by the magnificent Master Sommelier and Master of Wine Karen McNeil along with heralded wine maker Hugh Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards and Holly Peterson-Mondavi, an accomplished chef and wine professional herself. One of The French Laundry’s sous chef were in this week-long class with me, and he introduced me to lychee fruit. Textural and flavor explosions..

This Jurançon was all of these memories rolled into one massive memory meteoric jolt.

Pair this with panna cotta to seared foie gras…I wish I had cases of this in the cellar.

Oldie but a goodie..

As I was looking for some wines to use for decanting lessons, I ran across this bottle amid many others that I knew would be full of sediment and most likely turned to vinegar over the years of possible improper storage. As I  removed the capsule, my surety of its acetic acid transposition were surprisingly quelled. Not only was the capsule still tightly secure, the cork was in perfect condition, It hadn’t sunk into the bottle and there were no signs of seepage anywhere. Perfectly intact. Rather than reach for a Durand or even a Ah-So, I continued with my trusty corkscrew.

The worm found solidity in the cork, it still squeaked with every turn of the screw. As I slowly pulled the cork from the neck, I was anticipating for the smell of TCA(corked), sauerkraut, or vinegar. Instead, I was met with cigar box, leather and an easy hint of cooked black fruits; plums, black berries and slight hint of volatile acidity. I was blown away.

I reached for the candle and decanter, I had to find out what was going to happen once oxygen found its way into the picture. I stared through the shoulders of the bottle into the candle as I slowly poured the wine into the decanter, waiting for the first wisps of smoke from the sediment. The smoke trail came only at the end of the bottle, never really pouring off any large sediment particles from the bottom of the bottle. Again, I smiled in amazement.

I poured a couple of ounces into my wine glass and gave it a swirl. There were no off aromas as I had expected, just the smell of a delicious older wine, muted fruits, hints of volatile acidity. Slight spices from barrel aging still lingered. The age of the wine was showing, cooked fruits, tobacco, leather, but an acidity that amazed me. Monterey County wines are known for acidity and this was no exception. The brick-red wine with hints of ruby hue, body that held well, it was truly a work of art. While this was past it’s true prime and on the way toward the Dark Side of the Force, I was blown away by it. 1974 was 2 years before the famed Judgment of Paris that put American wines on the map. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to drink this in its heyday.

Still…what a find and testament to fine wine making. This is one for the books.

The Little Sweet One

Quite the misnomer, little and sweet have nothing to do with this wine. Dolcetto is known as the “sweet little grape”, but produces magnificently structured wines. Dolcetto could be considered the everyday drinking wine in the Piemonte region of Northern Italy, yet is relatively unheralded here in the U.S. In body and style, it’s a cross between the light fruity style of a Pinot Noir, with a lightly spicy kick more like a California Zinfandel. This 2012 bottling of Napa Valley Dolcetto from Pavi holds true to that form, ringing with bright red cherries on the front end of the palate, a smooth tannin quality across mid palate, ending with wonderful toasty baking spice melange no doubt from 3 years in French Oak before finding its way to the bottle.

We enjoyed this bottle with a Thai Red Panang Duck Curry I created. The curry itself was full of exotic flavors from lead-off flavor of the curry itself along with the back up cast of ginger and garlic, sesame oil, lemongrass, five spice, broccoli rabe, coconut  milk and of course duck breast. This Dolcetto held its own and more with all of those spices and drank beautifully on its own as we prepared this meal. Food, friends, family and fantastic wine..what more could you ask for? Look for Pavi wines at www.paviwines.com. Cheers!

Pavi….Pinot Grigio….as it should be

 

I have a little story to tell….

I have had the amazing opportunity to move to the Napa Valley, into a small cabin that sits atop the hallowed Howell Mountain. My cabin is aptly named Pine Cone Palace. Its amazingly fitting. Quaint..secluded..charming..Howell Mountain…on top of that, I am now an Instructor at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone www.ciachef.edu…just a little bit of Heaven on earth if I do say so myself.

Through another amazing turn of events, a story could occupy a thousand websites, I met Pavi Micheli Lawson over this last weekend. She is a realtor that just happened to be showing homes to a group of my friends looking for a retirement home here in the Valley. As lady luck would have it, I had the fortune of being her passenger for two days as we scoured Napa Valley looking for homes for my friends. I asked her background and history here in the Valley and as it turns out..her name is on a wine label. Pavi. Yes…a winery bears her name..as a Certified Sommelier and Certified Specialist of Wine, of course I was intrigued..beyond floored..

Now to make a very long story short, we stopped for lunch at Sunshine Market (www.sunshinefoodsmarket.com) for a quick lunch and to regroup from wine tastings and home tours. As we were waiting for the afore mentioned home seekers to gather their lunch, Pavi introduced me to Henry Gomez, the Wine Specialist at Sunshine; what an incredibly great person and wine buyer! As I perused the cold wine case to find something to go with my freshly rolled sushi..I saw it. 2013 Pavi Napa Valley Pinot Grigio. Well of course I had to buy it, who the hell wouldn’t with the name sake standing next to you? But I had a sense, from her charm and grace, that the wine would be just as compelling, and it was.

Let’s talk about this fantastic Pinot Grigio now. Even at first sight this Pinot Grigio is different, just as the varietal expects itself to be. For those that don’t know, Pinot Grigio is a mutation of the varietal Pinot Noir. As the grapes reach veraison, the term for grapes as they turn colors and ripen, Pinot Grigio (Gris in French) changes color oddly. Some are red, some are green, and some are an odd color in between. Grigio and Gris equal grey in Italian and French. This Pinot Grigio, has a slight depth of color indicating a little more skin contact in the crush, 8 hours in fact. Skin contact imparts a tinge of color and tannic impact on the mid palate, and combined with a 13.5% alcohol content and bright acidity, this wine sings. It is exquisite and mature, brilliant and beautiful without any pretense. Straight forward elegance and beauty, it’s unlike any Pinot Grigio I’ve encountered. It has a hefty weight and mouthfeel; mid palate tannins and crisp acidity make it a natural with higher fat dishes and fish. The fruits are pear and lemon with stone fruits and honeysuckle on the finish, which is long and complex. Extraordinary wine. This is one to find and buy a case of. Even as a Pinot Grigio, which aren’t meant to age, I could lay a case of this down in the right temperature range at 45-50F for at least another 2 years, to allow the mild skin tannins to mellow. This wine is exquisite. At $15-$21 it’s a crime to not buy at least a case.

it’s fall ya’ll… Here’s my Butternut Squash Soup recipe

I think it’s time that summer go away and fall officially arrive and stay.. I’ve had enough of the heat and humidity and I’m ready to start cooking some of my favorite things…and here is the recipe for one of them…

This recipe makes about 6 servings. It is deliciously sweet yet savory, with a smooth creamy texture that invites you back bowl after bowl. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Soup

 

  1. 1 large butternut squash, cut in half lengthwise, seeded
  2. 1 granny smith apple, peeled seeded and small dice
  3. 3 celery ribs, small dice
  4. 3 carrots, small dice
  5. 1/2 yellow onion, small dice
  6. 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus 1 teaspoon
  7. 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  8. 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  9. 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  10. 4 cups vegetable stock, heated
  11. 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  12. 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  13. 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Brush the flesh of the squash with a little butter and season with 1 tablespoon of the salt. Place the squash, flesh side down on a sheet pan and roast for 40 minutes or until the flesh is nice and soft.
  3. While the squash is roasting saute the apple, onion, celery, carrot, and garlic in butter. When the vegetables are soft, add the dry spices and saute another 5 minutes.
  4. Add the heated stock and allow to boil for roughly 10 minutes.
  5. Remove the squash from the oven and CAREFULLY (its going to be smokin’ hot) scoop the flesh out from the skin and add to the pot.
  6. Using an immersion (stick blender), blend the ingredients until smooth and creamy. If you do not have an immersion blender, wait for the soup to cool and use a regular blender. DO NOT, I REPEAT, DO NOT USE A REGULAR BLENDER WITH HOT INGREDIENTS!! YOU CAN GET SERIOUSLY BURNED!!
  7. Season the soup to your liking.
  8. Serve hot and enjoy!

Hooray for Vouvray!

Yes…I stole that from Jane Nickles, the Director of Education and Certification of The Society of Wine Educators. But, it couldn’t be more true. Vouvray, made from the grape varietal, Chenin Blanc, is a classic. Chenin Blanc is a phenomenal shape shifter when it comes to wine making. Jancis Robinson, the Undisputed Queen of the Grape, describes Chenin Blanc thusly, “Chenin Blanc is a magical chameleon of a grape, although remarkably few of the thousands of growers who harvest it each year even realize that magic is there”. Chenin Blanc thrives in the Loire Valley, specifically the Anjou-Touraine area, quite possibly the best growing region for this varietal, With that being said, don’t discount the Chenin Blancs grown and produced in South Africa where this grape makes up close to 20% of all plantings in the country.

Now, lets talk about this particular bottle; Champalou Vouvray imported by Kermit Lynch. The wine is remarkable. Extremely food friendly with a pear and mineral nose, backed with a grassy hint in the end. It has a pleasantly crashing acidity, fresh lively lemon flavors and hints of minerality that balance this wine perfectly. Quite honestly, I think this sexy ass wine could turn me into a day drinker if I’m not careful. This latest heat wave here in mid-September has me looking for ways to cool off and try to ignore it, and this temptress Chenin is fitting the bill nicely. When Janis notes this varietal, Chenin Blanc, is a chameleon she means it. This particular producer, Champalou, turns their juice into 6 different wines, ranging in sweetness levels and even making a fantastic sparkling wine from it.

So again, as I have mentioned in my previous posts, step out there and try something new. Chenin Blanc is definitely your friend.  Have a very Happy Wine Wednesday!

Bubbles a la España

So…..a few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to get invited to a Spanish wine tasting. I had the day off; I pondered the invite for about 3 milliseconds and replied, “Hell yes!” Spanish wines, over lunch…duh. My lunch was hosted by some of my favorite people in the wine biz here, Jesse Fincannon, @fitchio  and Catherine Doyle @catherine_anni, of Thirst Wine Merchants @thirstwine. Quality people. Quality company and QUALITY portfolio. The wines were supplied by The Well Oiled Wine Company. Lunch was provided by Smoke on Cherry Street @smokeoncherryst. Seriously…. Need I say more? Between the locale and the folks involved in this soirée, I can’t imagine a better set and setting for lunch.

The first item on the tasting block was this delicious Cava. Fermented the traditional way, Méthode Champenoise, actually meaning “in this bottle”, this little beauty had amazing toastiness from the time spent on the lees, or the yeast cells causing the original fermentation to begin with. Time on the lees creates a toasty, bready aroma that really separates quality bubbles from the rest of the pack. It also creates a phenomenal mouth-feel, adding a hint of creaminess to the bright acidity inherent in quality sparkling wines. The acidity in sparkling wines is attributed to the grapes that are harvested and crushed before the sugars really have a chance to develop, in essence picking them before the grape reaches full maturity and sugar acid balance. The grapes in this particular Cava are as follows, 35% Parellada, 35% Xarello and 30% Macebeo. Most people outside the wine industry have never heard of these particular grapes, but they are indigenous to Spain and are the most popular for their sparkling wines. 

I loved this wine. Toasty and bready aromas with a creamy mouthfeel, complimented by the bright acidity and crisp finish, showing peachy, apple and citrus flavors, this sparkler will pair with most anything. This is an elegant little bottle of bubbles in any restaurant , yet approachable enough on the budget to be a Saturday morning special on the patio at home.

Go find some and enjoy this groovy little bottle. Happy Wine Wednesday! #fitchio #catherine_anni #thirstwine #welloiledwineco #tulsasomm #tulsasommelier #wine #spanishwine #cava #getsomm

A Classic Example of Terroir

The year was 1999 and I was attending culinary school  at Johnson & Wales in Charleston, SC. I was working part-time waiting tables at a historic restaurant to make quick cash. One night as I was standing in the “Bubble Room”, I noticed a bottle of sparkling wine from a producer named Gruet. I had never heard of them before. I picked up the bottle, turned it over to read the backside, and lo and behold it was produced in New Mexico. I scoffed..”New Mexico? Seriously? What in  the world is a winemaker in New Mexico doing producing sparkling wine?” Ah, naivety. I went to the liquor store and purchased a bottle. Guess what I discovered. Quite simply, that Gruet was producing world-class sparkling wine. I have been a fan of their sparkling wines ever since.

Fast forward 17 years, my dear friend and fellow Sommelier Heather Ezell had made a trip to New Mexico to visit one of her favorite wineries, Gruet. She texted me and asked if I would like some wine, which I promptly answered, “Hell Yes!” I thought she was bringing me some sparkling, but instead, she hands me this delicious find, Gruet Cabernet Sauvignon.

One night as I was cooking dinner, Grilled Greek Seasoned Lamb finished with a rosemary and thyme infused olive oil, I decided to open a bottle of the Gruet Cabernet. I could not have choreographed a better pairing. It was ridiculously good. The Cab starts with dark cherries and baking spices and beautiful purple flowers on the nose, the flavors are accentuated by more savory herbs on the palate with rosemary, vanilla, caramel and cedar notes on the finish. All of these nuances are wrapped in velvet-like tannins…so smooth….As I sat and pondered this wine, I couldn’t help but think of the aromas that abound in New Mexico. This of course make me think of the terroir that would be associated with the vineyards. I think this wine really speaks New Mexico. Earthy, spicy, ripe fruits wrapped in a woodsy wrapper, and delivered beautifully. Rustic and charming.

I’ll be making a purchase of many of these bottles for my enjoyment, I recommend you do the same.

 

 

 

Can I have some cheese with that wine?

Cheese. Wine. The ultimate party starters, right? Well, yes they can be, but they can also be disastrous. There is a knack for pairing cheese with wine, but it can be made simple by following a few suggestions. Here are a few items to help you, courtesy of Oklahoma’s own “Cheese Wench,” Amanda Jane Simcoe:

  1. Terroir – a fancy French word that basically means “sense of place”. Where is the cheese from? Find a wine from the same region. Their flavors will complement each other. Europeans have been making cheese and wine for centuries, they know a little bit about making flavors work together. Classic examples of this are French Chevre and a Loire Valley Vouvray, which is Chenin Blanc.
  2. Body/Texture – is the cheese really creamy? A Triple Cream Brie? Camembert? Epoisses? Simcoe says look to the “scrubbing bubbles”. Champagne and sparkling wines should be your choice, let the acidity and bubbles refresh your palate between bites of cheese like this.
  3. Big Bold Blue – Blues can range from mild all the way to slaps in the face sweat sock stinky and sharp. It’s mold, after all, that makes the blue veins in cheese. Personally the stinkier the blue, the more I like it. I love the sharpness, and the contrast between the creaminess and the funk. Try a nice Port with cheeses like this, the sweetness of the Port, the elevated alcohol in them and the mouth feel all make Port our favorite choice with the sharpness of blue cheese.
  4. Proper serving temperatures and storage – One of Simcoe’s biggest pet peeves is serving cheese at the wrong temperature. Cheese should be served at room temperature to let the cheese bloom. When the cheese warms, the fats loosen up and the cheese becomes more permeable. When serving cheese at parties, cut the cheese cold and only put out the amounts of cheese you think you will be using. Wrap the rest of the cheese and place back in the fridge. Once the fats have surfaced on the cheese, which part of the blooming process, they will not go back into the cheese. This makes for the dry crumbly cracked cheese that we have all experienced. Wines need to be served at their proper temperatures as well. Most people serve their white wines too cold and reds too warm. Proper temperature lets you experience the wine as its meant to be enjoyed. Enjoy your white wines in the 43-55 F range. Drink your reds in the 50-64 F range. The key to knowing the proper temp for your wine is this: Bubbles coldest, working your way to heavier bodied wines on the warmer end of the scale. The same goes with the reds. Lighter bodied the coolest, working your way to the biggest and boldest being the warmest.

If you have any questions about proper temperature for a certain wine, ask your favorite wine store sales person. They know more than you think.  Some are Certified Sommeliers, Certified Wine Specialists or even Educators. They are there to and love to help, do not be intimidated by them.

Get out there and enjoy some cheese and wine!

The next blog will feature specific wine and cheese pairings from local stores that are affordable and practical! Stay tuned..

and now for something completely different…

Austrian Dry Red Table Wine. Yes, I said Austrian and dry and red in the same sentence. This is the 2013 Berger Zweigelt. Zweigelt is the grape variety and probably not many people have ever heard of it much less tasted it. This grape is the result of a crossing of St Laurent and Blaufrankisch. Gesundheit! This crossing was performed by Dr Zweigelt (there’s a theme here) in 1922. Now in all seriousness, this is a delightful wine. It’s berries in a glass. As Terry Theise says, “The wine is raspberries and bacon; racy and “sweet,” the tangiest face of Zweigelt, the point where it just heaps a bucket of berries into your glass while bacon sizzles in the next room.” I don’t know about you but I love raspberries. And bacon. When I  taste this I think to myself this little beauty also has hints of cinnamon, loads of ripe tart cherry, violets and black pepper. The tannins are light and easy. Zweigelt is the perfect wine for grilling meats like pork, steaks, fish, poultry and it’s great with cheeses and some lighter fare as well. So skip the Pinot Noir, Barbera and Beaujolais aisles..head over to the Austrian aisle and take a step out your comfort zone.  Throw a slight chill on it, give it a swirl and enjoy something completely different.

2013 Berger Zweigelt, Austria
2013 Berger Zweigelt, Austria