Category Archives: Wine, Food, Sonoma

Wine and Culinary Smörgåsbord

The last 24 hours have been a wine a culinary smörgåsbord.

It all started late yesterday afternoon with the annual event The Hog in the Fog put on by the Russian River Valley Winegrowers. We were invited by my new employer and how could we turn that invitation down? There was fog (it’s Russian River after all). And there was a hog, several in fact, as well as chicken and beef. The event gets its name from being a pig roast and because it goes into the evening, when fog is usually present, they added the fog. Straightforward and to the point – just the way I like it.

The first 2 hours of this event is a huge wine tasting with over 40 wineries offering up outstanding wines from the cool climate Russian River Valley.This area is mostly known for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but the reality is that there are many other varietals grown there including Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Zinfandel among others. We sampled to our hearts content. Luckily there were a few vendors with food, bread and chocolate to keep us from over-indulging.

Then at 6:00, we feasted on grilled chicken, sliced beef and the most amazing pulled pork in a freshly made tortilla. Do I need to mention there was more wine to go along with the food? We continued to enjoy one of our favorite varietals, Zinfandel. Then to top it all off, there was brick oven baked apple pie a la mode. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any dessert wine.

Then today we drove to Cloverdale and met up with our good friends that live up there. We took a short walk to Ruth McGowan’s pub. Out friends have been wanting to take us to this place since they moved up there. Mostly because they have a Dry Irish stout (think Guinness) that they have been raving about. So, we got a pitcher. And, wow, it did not disappoint.

Back in 2005, my wife’s family and I took a trip to Ireland for about two weeks. We really fell in love with Guinness over there. It’s different because they don’t put all the preservatives in it. This Dry Irish Stout was the closest thing I’ve tasted to a real, true Guinness since that trip. It was awesome.

But wait, this is a wine blog. Ok, we went back to their house and opened a bottle of this….


This is an imported French Champagne that’s sold at Family Wineries in Kenwood. I recently tasted there and picked up a bottle. And because all gatherings need a bottle of bubbly, I thought today would be a good occasion to open it. It contained some of my favorite Champagne qualities: creamy texture with tons of yeasty, bread-y aromas. I love that it has the word Dizy on it. It’s actually a town / region in France, but I like the irony.

Then we fired up the grill and shortly after dove in to these….

That’s no ordinary burger. It was assembled with extra special ingredients and lots of  love. Love in the form of bacon. Our friend cooked up an entire pound of bacon, chopped it up in a food processor and then incorporated it with about 3 lbs of hamburger meat. It was complete and total indulgence and worth every calorie.

To round out our day, we had homemade Maui vanilla bean and Callebaut dark chocolate chip ice cream….

I’m done. I don’t think I’ll ever need to eat (or drink) again. Well, until tomorrow anyway.

Cheers!

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Meritage (Martini, Oyster Bar & Grill)

Last night we celebrated my last day at my job by going to one of our favorite restaurants in Sonoma….

Meritage (Martini, Oyster Bar & Grill), located just steps off the Sonoma plaza has some of the best food in town. The produce used in the dishes is picked fresh that morning (often by chef Carlo Cavallo himself). We almost always end up eating three courses of food here and last night was no exception.

We started with Pan Fried Oysters….

You likely won’t believe it, but I’ve never had oysters before. I figured this was a good way (and a great place) to start. The appetizer did not disappoint. It was very flavorful and the acid from the lemon added a nice brightness to the dish. We also had parmesan truffle fries and bruschetta too. Both very tasty.

And, of course, I started with a martini (because when you go to a restaurant with the word martini in the name, it’s a requirement)….

This one was a Hendrick Gin martini with olives. My new favorite bar drink.

Wait, no wine? Yes, of course there was wine. Two bottles, in fact….

A 2009 Cuvaison Zinfandel from Bald Mountain Vineyard up on Mt. Veeder. These vines are about 45 years old and are producing some outstanding fruit. And a 2002 Arrowood Vineyards Reserve Cabernet. Reserve at Arrowood means a barrel select from all mountain fruit.

Wine tasting tip: Reserve does not have a legal meaning, so ask the source of the wine what it means for their winery.

For the main course, I chose a New York strip steak with mashed potatoes and vegetables….

I didn’t like it all….

If only I had thought about scraping up the sauce with one of the pieces of bread.

As if I wasn’t stuffed enough already there was then dessert! Starting with house made gelato…

And their version of creme brulee, chocolate torte and panna cotta….

Not to be out done by the refreshing sorbet….

The amount of flavor that Carlo packs into his cuisine is really quite amazing. The food and the friendly staff keeps us coming back again and again. Next time you’re in Sonoma go for a visit. You won’t be disappointed.

Cheers!

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Dessert Wines

I have a major sweet tooth. It’s been that way forever. As a kid, I would always have a stash of candy around (I still do). If I earned a dollar I would bike down to the local store and buy 10 Jolly Ranchers. But I almost always shared my stash. And now, with my life so engrossed in wine, it’s only natural that my sweet tooth would be fulfilled with dessert wines, right?

I’m fascinated by the process that most late harvest dessert wines go through to get to their sweetness. The grapes are kept on the vines for an extended period of time so the brix (sugars) are really high. The sugar levels can range based on region and varietal, but generally are much higher when picked than a typical wine from the same grape.

Not all of this sugar will be converted into alcohol during the fermentation process leaving behind residual sugar. Sugar that’s left over will then create the sweetness in the wine. At some point (when the wine-maker deems it appropriate) the fermentation process will be stopped.

But wait, there’s more!

In really special spots throughout the word a good mold called botrytis can grow on the grapes. This good mold concentrates the juice by removing some water content from the grapes. It literally dehydrates them. Less water = more juice. That is a very good thing. The mold is sometimes referred to as noble rot. Some Chardonnay producers will actually use a few percent of botrytis infected grapes to increase the richness in their Chardonnay wines.

This year, as mentioned in a previous post, everything was late harvest. By my estimation most late harvest wines will be picked between now and mid-December, but some may not happen at all. We’ve had some significant rain in the area already which means that beautiful botrytis may turn into bad mold ruining the otherwise great late harvest wine. Bummer.

Most late harvest wines I’ve come across in Sonoma have been made from one of three white grapes: Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer. All of these offer different flavor profiles keeping life interesting for me. When I’m out tasting wine, I always ask if they have a late harvest offering. Most of the time it’s not on the menu.

Since I love sweet things, I usually try to pair this type of wine with different desserts. I’ve tried everything from cookies to cakes and tarts to ice cream. But some appetizers and cheeses are extremely nice as well. Here are my top three dessert and late harvest pairings.

1. Molten Lava Chocolate Cakes

2. Apple Pie or Tart

3. Peaches or Apricots reduced down with some of the wine and poured over ice cream.

Yum!

So here’s the deal: Don’t fear the dessert wine. Okay? It’s not out to get you. Just because it’s sweet doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Just think of what you might want to sip it with. Most wines are designed to be paired foods and this type of wine is no different. Some may be too sweet to sit down and just enjoy a glass. They need food to counter balance some of the sweetness in the wine.

If you try to pair them with different desserts and you still don’t like it, then I guess all I can say is, “More for me”!

Cheers!

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Real. Simple. Food.

If I had a food show on T.V., I would call it Real. Simple. Food. And that’s the way I like to cook. My food is not fancy. It doesn’t have strange ingredients that you’ve never heard of. It’s designed to be affordable, tasty and good. Really good.

No, I’m not a professionally trained chef – and I would never claim to be. In fact, when it comes to my cooking I tend to be fairly humble. The last (and only) cooking course I ever took was in 7th grade. I learned to cook because my mom went back to college and most of her courses were at night. Someone had to pick up the slack. My dad can “cook” toast. And even at that, he burns it almost every time. He says that he likes it that way. My sister never really had the desire and cooks enough to get by with two little kids. She has recently taken up baking and is doing a great job.

But enough about all that – it’s just an intro after all.

Tonight we had real, simple, food. I made Mac n Cheese (the hard way).

Pork chops.

With a blackberry / raspberry port wine reduction.

Grilled corn and fresh French Bread.

Seriously, this is easy food. The hardest part for me (typical) was choosing the wine for tonight.

We started with a 2007 Chardonnay from Michel-Schlumberger in Dry Creek Valley.

This valley sits up in the northern part of Sonoma County and is considered a warmer valley. The grapes for this wine actually come from Dry Creek. Let me  tell you, Dry Creek is not where we normally turn to for Chardonnay. It’s actually a rare grape in that region which is better known for its Zinfandel and Sauvignon Blanc.

I was expecting a big, bold and buttery Chardonnay. What I got instead was a beautifully balanced wine with aromas of apples, baked bread and quince. In the mouth this wine got even better. Full, rich and not buttery, but with a lighter finish. During the glass plus that I had, the wine kept getting better and better. Let’s just say I was truly impressed.

With dinner, I chose a Malbec out of the Rock Pile region by Keating Wines.

Keating Wines is a small producer, who is  about ready to open a tasting room south of the town of Sonoma, with some really killer wines. I was first introduced to Keating Wines about two years ago and just fell in love with this Malbec. He also produces small amounts of Petite Sirah and Merlot, with some Cabernet and Zinfandel coming in the near future.

Most of the Rock Pile Viticulture Area is planted to Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, but there’s also a few Bordeaux varietals up there too, including this Malbec vineyard.

I’ve found this to be one of the best Malbec’s in Sonoma County. The fruit is ripe, but not too much so. There’s an excellent  mouthfeel that leads to a long, dry finish, but it’s not overly tannic.

I think it was a great choice for the meal and it paired perfectly with our pork chops and port reduction.

No meal is complete without dessert….

Yes, that’s a Tinker Bell plate. It’s leftover from my daughter’s birthday. My wife made these amazing Nutella butter cookies and we had some vanilla ice cream too. The sauce is the same port reduction that we used on the pork chops. Again, it’s simple. One sauce, two purposes. Everything really doesn’t have to be complicated, just make sure it’s real.

Cheers!

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