Wednesday, December 31, 2008

To Share or Not To Share

Happy New Year! As the holiday season winds down and New Years resolutions kick in, many wine lovers are closing their cellar doors (temporarily), drinking less or at least less of the good stuff. Which brings me to an age-old question, asked by wine lovers young and old...Do you share your good bottles with your non-wine-geeky friends? And for an esoteric twist on the question...Should you?
I've asked several wine-loving friends this question, and have gotten varied answers. Many say, no, save the good stuff for those who will really appreciate it. Some say, yes, if wine is your passion, share it with those you love; they may never again have the chance to taste Perrier-Jouet Fleur Rose or ZD Abacus. You may even have a budding aficionado in your group, and it could be that special glass that he or she gets from you, that starts a life-long love of wine!
My favorite answer came from one of my favorite people. I asked my friend Tammy for her opinion on Christmas eve. She responded by asking what time our party started. Then she went on to suggest that we open that bottle of Domaine Carneros Le Reve fifteen minutes before the start of the party. "If anyone happens to arrive on time, they'll get a wonderful treat, if not..."

Thanks to everyone for reading my blog in 2008! Look for more in '09!

Monday, December 15, 2008

What to do about Cork Taint?

Nobody likes a "corked wine." Even if you don't know what a corked wine is, I can pretty much guarantee that you wouldn't want one. A wine that is corked, is a wine that has been tainted by a bacteria called 2,4,6-trichloranisole, or TCA, that has infected the cork. TCA gives wine an off-putting smell that has been described as wet cardboard, smelly socks and damp basement. It is estimated that between 3% and 10% of all wines are corked. So, if you drink wine fairly regularly, you've probably been exposed to cork taint. There are many different discussions surrounding the problem of corkiness; there's the cork vs. screw cap debate, the issue of having better sanitation at cork-producing facilities, and the biggest question for the consumer...what does one do when one gets a corked wine at a restaurant? The answer in every case is SEND IT BACK. Do not be shy, nervous or self-conscious about it. It is what you are supposed to do.
What I want to address today is wines-by-the-glass. In a perfect wine world, when you order a glass of wine in a restaurant, it should never be corked. Every bottle of wine opened in a restaurant that is to be poured by the glass should be checked by the person who opens it. I started to wonder how often this simple one-second operation is not performed after being served two glasses of corked wine the other day. We were having brunch at what is definitely considered a nice restaurant in Denver on Saturday and the menu offered unlimited Prosecco for $12. Sounded good to me with my Eggs Benedict. And the first glass was. But, before I could finish it, the server came around with a bottle and refilled my glass with corked wine! When I brought this to his attention, he took my glass without argument and promptly came back with one that was fine. Halfway through that glass, back came the bottle, and, you guessed it - the corked refill. We were paying our tab and leaving at that point, and I was taking my daughter to the Nutcracker and not really in the mood to wear my wine-police hat, so I didn't say anything. But it did get me wondering - did the staff just dismiss my complaint and keep pouring from that bottle? Or, did they just continue to open and pour bottles without checking for cork taint? Either is inexcusable. Restaurants that do not check bottles as they open them are doing a disservice to both their patrons and to the wineries they represent. Since the average diner does not recognize cork taint, here's what happens - Joe Diner gets wine, doesn't like wine, either drinks it or leaves it, but his dining experience is less than what he had hoped for, and he decides that he will not order that wine ever again. Or, worse, he decides never to order any wine made by that winery again. Distributors will always pick up and credit restaurants for corked bottles, so there is no reason to pass off corked wines on customers. Do restaurateurs not realize the far-reaching consequence of this small act of neglect?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

What Are You Making For Christmas Dinner?

We usually start the discussion shortly after Halloween. Beef Wellington is always a favorite, as is the standing rib roast. We're leaning towards Cassoulet this year. Cassoulet is a dish that originated somewhere in the south of France. There are many variations, from the gourmet to the canned. Yes, you can buy canned Cassoulet in France! I think you'd be hard-pressed to find it canned in the US. It's a stew/casserole consisting of white beans, sausage and duck or goose confit. We made it once before; we bought the duck confit. We're thinking about making the confit ourselves this year. That, however, is a job requiring over a quart of duck fat! Hmmm...
The Bob Cratchit in me has always wanted to make Christmas goose. My sister sent me a recipe. Does anyone else have one? Please share it with us if you do.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Nice Wine Surprise & A Book Review

Seasons Greetings! I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving.
The weather this past weekend was atrocious. Cold, snowing, windy & dark. So, Sunday evening found my daughter and me watching football and snacking on salami, olives, Sonoma Jack cheese and pate'. What? Don't all 5-year-olds snack that way? OK, she has foodie parents, she's been chowing on salmon roe at the sushi bar since she was one-year-old. Maybe she's a little different. A glass of wine was in order, but I didn't want to open one of those special bottles I'd recently pulled from the cellar without my husband. And I was not about to brave the elements for a glass of wine. I looked in my meager wine rack that still held a few bottles from my distributor days. There was a bottle of Chateau Le Prieur, St. Emilion Grand Cru, 2002. I'd sold a few cases of it, but never tried it. So, I pulled the cork, and what a lovely surprise! Currents and a bit of leather on the nose, followed by a lovely, silky wine on the palate, with well-integrated tannins and plenty of fruit. Sorry, but you probably will have a difficult time finding this wine; the current release is the 2005 vintage. You can find it for about $42. And with '05 being hailed as the Vintage of the Century by some, it's surely a great value. (I haven't actually tasted the 2005, so buy at your own risk!)
I just finished a fun wine book. Red, White & Drunk All Over, by Natalie McLean. Natalie is what I hope to be. She's a wine writer with a well-read website, and a free monthly e-newsletter, Nat Decants. Check her out; she's funny, entertaining & knowledgeable. And tell her about me! A quote from Entertainment Weekly, on the front cover says "McLean's engaging and practical, and perfect for the novice." I don't really agree with that statement. First of all, I wouldn't call the book a guide, although there is a chapter on food & wine pairing which is very approachable, and helpful for novices. The rest of the book, however, is for those interested in wine and wine people. It's a compilation of stories about McLean's experiences and conversations with people in all aspects of the wine world, from vintners to merchants to critics. I really enjoyed the book. She's informative without being dry and funny without being silly. What I love most about her is her unabashed admission that she likes to catch a buzz drinking wine! That's a subject that most wine writers completely ignore. As if that has nothing to do with their reasons for drinking wine! It's a fun, fast read. I recommend it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

There's Something About a Wine Cellar

It started when I was young. My grandfather would take me down to his wine cellar and let me explore. I loved the musty smell, the dust-covered bottles and how happy he always was in his cellar. I was fascinated by the big bottles; he had a 5-liter of something that was as tall as I was! His cellar mostly contained French wines, as was probably the case for most collectors of his day. Burgundy was his favorite. I can't tell you specifically what was in his cellar, but we wine geeks of today would definitely drool. I've often said that I probably drank some of the most amazing wines of my life before I turned 18!
Today, I have a much smaller cellar, but I love being in it all the same. It takes some effort to get there; two people have to lift the floor boards in my office to gain access. That makes it all the more special. Last week, we went down to pull up some wines for the holiday season. I sat on the dirt floor and many people will we have for Thanksgiving? Christmas? What am I thinking about serving? Will we do any other entertaining during the holiday season? How many parties will we be invited to? Having answers to none of these questions, I began grabbing. A double magnum of Raymond Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1997; it was highly rated on release. A 2004 Pax Alder Springs Vineyard Syrah, Mendocino County, made whan Pax was still the winemaker. A 2003 Imagery Sunny Slope Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma Valley. A 1994 & 1995 vertical of Grgich Hills Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (pre-colored labels!) I'm looking forward to trying these cellar gems and sharing my impressions with you. Now, about the menu.....

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Election Night Dinner

I received an e-mail on Nov. 3, from my Dad. He had copied my sister as well. "What are you making for dinner tomorrow night?" he asked. You see, I couldn't help being a foodie; it's in my genes.
It may seem oddly complex for a night that one wants to be glued to the TV, but we made Peking Duck. In honor of election night, we re-named it, "Bush's Lame Duck." In reality, it is not a very difficult meal to make. The Chinese pancakes are probably the hardest part. But, it is time consuming and you have to plan ahead and start it the night before. I think that what stops most people from trying is that most recipes tell you that you have to hang the duck overnight in a cold place. You can get the exact same effect from putting it on a rack in the fridge. Recipes abound on the internet. The Food Network, , has five. The basic procedure is: pour boiling water over the duck twice, then hang or chill overnight, uncovered. The next day, baste with a soy/honey/sesame oil mix and roast in the oven. Seriously, it's that easy. You do have to make the Chinese pancakes though. Please, please, please do not use flour tortillas. The pancakes aren't that hard, and significant others and children can help. They are worth it.
What to drink? I like beer. A lager or pilsner. For authenticity, have Tsing Tao. But Pilsner Urquell, Stella Artois or your favorite would do just fine.


In our home, the holiday season starts on October 28, my husband's birthday. We always make a fabulous meal, and drink fabulous wine. This year was no exception. We had horseradish and dijon mustard encrusted filet mignons with potato gratin with bacon, leek and gruyere. Our wine was Anakota Cabernet Sauvignon, Helena Montana Vineyard, Knights Valley, 2003. Sometimes, a meal just turns out perfect. This was one of those times.
One of the key components of the meal is fresh horseradish. If you can get beyond the phallic nature of the root, it is worth trying. When grated, the flavor is more intense, yet less bitter than the bottled kind. It is also not as gloppy, so mixed with the dijon mustard, it adhered perfectly to the steaks. If you are going to make this dish, sear the steaks first, let them cool, then put on the horseradish/mustard mix and finish in the oven to your desired temperature.
I got the gratin recipe from Fine Cooking Magazine, Oct./Nov. 2008 issue. Let me make a plug for this glossy. There are a zillion cooking magazines out there; I read a lot of them. Many are good. Many are women's magazines in disguise; many are travel magazines in disguise; some are self-improvements magazines in disguise. Some even have political agendas. If you want a magazine that is all about great recipes and cooking techniques - period - then Fine Cooking is the choice for you. It is my absolute favorite cooking magazine. Check it out at
We were thrilled with our wine pairing. Anakota produces two wines, both Cabernet Sauvignons. They are both produced from high-altitude, single vineyards on Mount Saint Helena in Knights Valley. The Helena Dakota vineyard is at an elevation of 750 feet, and the Helena Montana (which we had), is at 950 feet. This wine was concentrated and full of dark berries - blackberries and black currents. It was incredibly smooth; the tannins so well integrated, that I give it "Drink Now" status.
Sometimes the wine and food just melt in your mouth....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


There's something about meatballs. If you grew up in an Italian family or an Italian neighborhood (I did both), you know that there's more to meatballs than just your average comfort food. They say that bread is the staff of life; Italians think it's meatballs. They define a meal, a family, a discussion, a culture. Italians recognize their own families' meatballs like Scots recognize their families' tartans.

My own earliest meatball memories surround my great-grandmother, Nana. Born Tessie Cerami, she and her sister Josie came over on a boat from Sicily, at ages 16 and 14, through Ellis Island and made their way to Ossining, NY, where they married two brothers and lived next door to each other until their deaths, some 70 years later. Nana was the stereotypical Italian grandmother, from her clunky black shoes and wrinkly nylons to the crucifixes, visible from every vantage point in her house. Nana always had a pot of tomato sauce, filled with meatballs, simmering on the stove. Family lore said it was the same pot she put there circa 1940; she just kept adding more sauce and more meatballs. And she always had a meatball sandwich in her purse; it was the cure-all for whatever ailed you. Scrape your knee - have a meat-a-ball-a-sand-a-wich; break up with your boyfriend - have a meat-a-ball-a-sand-a-wich. As she got older, it was harder to trust the sandwich-from-the-purse, not knowing if it had been made that morning, or three weeks prior.
Nana served wine, though I can't tell you what it was. All I can say is it was red, and served in teeny-tiny glasses. I serve red wine with meatballs today, but in much larger glasses. If you've read my blog, you know that I like serving regional food with regional wines. This holds true for Italy, more than any other region. I could go into a long wine-geeky dissertation on why this is so, but here's what it boils down to: the high-acid in many Italian reds stands up to tomato sauce like no other wine can. Would I recommend sitting on the porch and sipping a nice Chianti as an apperitif? No. But with meatballs, pizza, eggplant parmesan - you bet. Chianti is in the Toscana region; Chianti Classico is a smaller region within Chianti, in theory, producing higher quality wines. Here are a few reliable producers of Chianti that you may want to try: Marchesi de' Frescobaldi, Badia a Coltibuono, Ruffino, Banfi, Folonari, Rocca delle Macie. Most produce wines in a variey of price ranges.
"Mangia!" As Nana would say.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Falling for Fall

I love fall. I love the cooler weather, the changing leaves, wearing sweaters and making fires in the woodstove. I especially love the changes in cooking and wine drinking. While our summers are filled with salads and Sauvignon Blancs or grilled anything with a luscious Rose', as the weather turns cold, both the food and wine get warmer. I look forward to making stews, braises and anything topped with a pastry crust at this time of year. My tastes in wine, red or white, turn to the more full-bodied varieties.

Here's a dish I love making at this time of year:

Tarragon Chicken & Biscuits

1 lb. boneless chicken (breasts or thighs or a combination)
1 c. sliced mushrooms
2 Tbs. chopped, fresh tarragon
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1/2 c. white wine
3/4 c. chicken stock
1 c. heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste
Biscuit Dough (recipe follows)

Make the biscuit dough first. To make the recipe easier, you can use store-bought, refrigerated biscuit dough, or make the dough from a mix.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the chicken into 1" chunks. Salt & pepper it. Heat oil in a large skillet and add chicken. Saute chicken until almost cooked through - approximately 8 minutes, adding the mushrooms after 4 minutes. Pour off any liquid and add the white wine; cook until wine is reduced by about half, then add the chicken stock and the heavy cream. Cook until the cream thickens, adding more if the mixture is drier than chunky soup. Add the tarragon and mix to combine. Taste for salt & pepper.

Pour the mixture into a 9" x 9" baking dish and top with blobs of the biscuit dough. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until the biscuits are golden on top and the filling is bubbly.


2 c. all-purpose flour (I highly recommend King Arthur Flour)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 stick butter (cold)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. buttermilk

Mix all the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into small pieces then blend into the the flour with a pastry cutter or your fingers. You can leave some larger chunks of butter. Mix in the buttermilk. You'll have a sticky, lumpy dough.

OK - a couple of disclaimers. I'm not a cookbook author, and I don't even often write down my recipes. So, consider everything I've writen as approximate and use your cook's intuition. The chicken mixture needs to be quite wet, souplike, in fact or it will dry out in the oven. So add more liquid as needed. Oven temperatures vary, as well as cooking times at different altitudes, so keep an eye on it.

So, what to drink? My recommendation is an Oregon Pinot Gris. I like the King Estate's Signature Collection Pinot Gris. Two others to try are Ponzi and Benton Lane.

I hope you'll try my recipe. Let me know how it turns out. More cool weather recipes to come!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Should Pinot Noir go Rose'?

I'm not a big fan of Pinot Noir Rose'. Before you conclude that I know nothing about wine and might be better off blogging about some other subject, hear me out. First of all, yes, there is some really good Pinot Noir Rose' out there. The Oregon winery Van Duzer consistently makes one. Kenwood makes a nice one from the Russian River Valley. But, give me my choice of grape for Rose', and I'll pick Granache or Syrah any day of the week. Here's why: When I think about the characteristics that attract me to Rose', I think of the crisp acidity of a white wine combined with the richness and body of a red. Now, let's think about Pinot Noir - Are richness and body two words we often use to describe this grape? Elegance- Yes.Depth & complexity- Of course. But, if I'm using the terms richness and body to describe a Pinot, I'm usually also wondering if it was grown somwhere much to hot, or if it's been blended with (gasp) Syrah.
Obviously, a Rose' wine will not have the richness and body of its red counterpart. This is by design, caused by the much shorter skin contact time. So, why would we want to use a grape that is already light or medium bodied to make a wine that will reduce its body even further? I say, let's use a big juicy, intense Syrah or Grenache and preserve a little of that richness.

Here are a few that I like:

Mas de la Dame, Rose du Mas, Les Baux de Provence
A treat in pretty much all vintages, and the 2007 delivers what I like: Crispness, a bit of minerality and lush strawberries and roses. Syrah, Genache, Cinsault.

Pax Rose, Sonoma County
This is a big Rose'. The 2007 is mostly Granache. It's not cheap, but worth the occasional splurge.

If you're looking for a great value Rose', try the Crios de Susana Balbo Rose' of Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina. Again, using a full-bodied grape, gets you that in the wine. The 2007 is definitely a porch-pounder. Drink it before the weather turns cold!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I love paella. I love eating it and I love making it. But, I don't make it very often, for a few reasons: 1. Although not complicated, it is time-consuming, 2. It really is best made for a crowd, and 3. Your crowd must eat all genres of food, since the dish traditionally contains meat, poultry and seafood. A visit from cousins this past weekend gave me an occasion to pull out the paella pan. Yes, I own a traditional Spanish paella pan, and if you plan on making paella more than once in your lifetime, I suggest you get one too. A paella pan is a shallow, steel pan with a dimpled bottom and two handles. Smaller ones can be found with diameters of about 14" and they can run to over 30" in diameter. The pan makes a great presentation as well; traditionally, the pan is brought to the table and guests serve themselves directly from the pan. Really, this is the only way to serve paella. Not only does it make for a dramatic presentation, but it keeps the food hot, allows the flavors to continue melding and adds to the fun and communality of the meal.
I am a big fan of serving regional food with regional wines. It really gives the meal a story, and a sense of place. And I find that these are generally just great pairings. Makes sense, no? So, I chose three Spanish wines for our dinner, a white, a red, and a rose. The white, the Nora 2006 Rias Baixas Albarino didn't make it to the dinner table. It was polished off with our tapas-style appetizers of olives, salted almonds, salami and cheese. Honestly, I was elbow-deep in paella while this bottle was going around, and didn't pay much attention to it. It was definitely nice, fruity and crisp with a medium-body. It was a good pairing with the apps, but I would have preferred Sherry. I love Sherry, but we'll save that for another post.
So, the paella pan came hot, to the table and we (four adults, and four little girls aged 4-13) dug in. The wines we had left were the Vega Sindoa 2006 Navarra Rose (50% Garnacha, 50% Cabernet Sauvignon) and the 1995 Marques de Arienzo Rioja Grand Riserva. I put the family on the spot, asking which wine they preferred with the dinner and why. The unanimous choice was the Rose. I was a little bit concerned that it might have been past its prime, but it was right on the money. Everyone used words like crisp, refreshing, palate-cleansing. It definitely was all of those things, but it had a good amount of body and structure, making it stand up to and with the complex flavors of the dish. As for the Rioja, the first word that comes to my mind is "yum." (I know that professional wine reviewers don't use that term, but it's my blog and I'll use it when I deem appropriate!) It had that fabulously earthy nose of an aged old-world wine, but you could still smell the fruit. And it burst onto the palate with brambly dark berries and cooked plums. I agreed with the group that it wasn't the best wine with the dish, but not with their reasons. Most said it was too big for the dish; I thought it was too delicate. I get what they were saying, it still had quite a bit of structure. But, to me, it had such subtle complexity, that the in-your-face complexity of the paella ran roughshod all over it. All in all, a great meal.
Dessert? Ice cream sandwiches....for the kids of course....

Thursday, July 31, 2008

First Post

I've been officially out of the wine business for four months. After eleven years, it's still hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that I'm no longer selling wine. Small revelations help me to recognize my new life; I read wine magazines differently. I browse through them leisurely, looking for new wines to try (Is this the intended purpose of these magazines?). In my former life, I'd scan through, looking for good reviews of my products, cursing when I found a bad one. When I eat out, I read the wine list to see what I'd like to drink (Again, I ask, is this what one is supposed to do with a wine list?). I've been planning to start my blog on the joys of wine since my official departure from the wine business, but found I wasn't ready. I needed some downtime. The last few years of my career were anything but joyful. This is not going to be a wine industry blog, but, after so many years in the business, I'm sure that my thoughts and ideas will stray in that direction periodically. So, I'll start with some disclosure. When I left the wine industry, I was, and still am, somewhat disillusioned with the direction it has taken. Over the past few years, we've witnessed wine becoming a commodity. The "animal labels", as they are referred to in the business, led by Yellowtail, followed by the likes of Little Penguin, Naked Zebra, Tall Horse, Cool Fish, Blue Fish, Herding Cats, Four Emus, Funky Llama etc., etc., etc., are a group of inexpensive wines of questionable quality that have become industry leaders. The push to sell these wines, along with other kitchy-named brands like Fat Bastard, Mad Housewife, Screw Kappa Napa, and (I kid you not) Used Auto Parts, has completely overshadowed the qualities that once described the wine industry - passion, quality, pride, history. I'm not saying that all of these wines are bad; some are of decent quality and very affordable. Most retail for under $10. And, these wines have done a service to the wine industry in general. They have created more wine drinkers. Large displays of inexpensive wines with cute labels lure beer drinkers into the previously intimidating wine sections of retail stores on a daily basis. Broadening the wine market is something that makes everyone in the wine business happy. A hard-and-fast statistic is hard to come by, but the general consensus is that only about a quarter of the US population ever drinks wine. For an industry to thrive, it needs consumers, the more the better. Enough said.

This blog will concentrate mainly on wines made the old-fashioned way. Wines made from grapes grown by actual people with actual vineyards, and actual wineries with actual addresses. Sure, there will be some exceptions, but that's the general idea. I'll share my wine discoveries with you and hope you will share yours with me. I'll discuss food & wine pairings and great restaurant meals. We'll have some book reviews and winery profiles. An occasional travel log blog. I'm very lucky to be able to call some brilliant winemakers and fascinating winery owners my friends, and hope to have some of them in for interviews in the near future.

Thanks for coming on this wine journey with me. It should be fun!