Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Restaurant Row

75 weeks down, 11.5 to go. We're in the final stretch now, with graduation quickly approaching in June. Woo hoo! For culinary students, these last 12 weeks are spent in Restaurant Row, the highly anticipated/grueling/terrifying/highly exciting (? not really sure yet!) kitchen and front of house classes. There are four public restaurants on campus, plus the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe (run by the baking and pastry students). St. Andrews and Caterina de'Medici are the more casual of the four. Everyone spends seven days in each kitchen, and one block (three weeks/14 days) front of house in the restaurant of their choice. Then, we spend one block in the kitchen of either Escoffier or American Bounty, again of our choice. Both of these restaurants are quite sophisticated and upscale, with food to match. The very last class is front of house Escoffier or Bounty.

I am currently in Caterina (lunch), working the cold appetizer station. I'm in charge of four different salads, plus a warm savory onion tart. All nice dishes, albeit simple. But our prep time is fairly short, and we can do up to 70 or 80 or more covers (customers) per service. It's definitely taking a few days for me to get back into the swing of restaurant service - very different from how the kitchens normally work for most classes. I think it'll start being fun in just a day or two!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Saturday Hike

(see the Hudson River in the middle of the valley?)

Several of my friends and I went hiking at Sam's Point (south of the Minnewaska State Park Preserve) this weekend. It was the perfect day for it - sunny but cool - except that we drove up there and started seeing snow everywhere! Although it only covered about a quarter mile of the trail, the remainder of the trail was in far worse condition - either very deep mud (almost like quicksand) or water rushing down the path. AND, we ended up on the wrong path - which meant a 12 mile hike rather 8 miles. We're all a bit sore now!

The native plants were a nice change of pace from the brown and grey of the (still) dormant deciduous forests that I see everyday. Lots of small pines and birch, tons of blueberry bushes (I've been wondering if any will be ready before I graduate. Probably not, which is really too bad. That's one (only one?) thing I'll miss!), small cranberries in the bogs, and wintergreen. Wintergreen is a small evergreen trailing plant whose leaves smell and taste exactly like Listerine and toothpaste (in a good way!). It's nice to chew on a leaf as you hike along, but since it contains methyl salicylate, too much could be harmful.

snow? now?

a snowshell!

the not-quite-a-trail


an oasis at the top of the waterfall

Verkeerder Falls, 150 feet

the "Badlands" of the Hudson Valley

cranberry bog

view of the Hudson Valley

one of many rocks

Sunday and Monday were spent in the rain, picking ramps. They're currently residing in jars of brine in the fridge, pickling to death... Yum!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Last Wines

This past Wednesday was our final tasting in class, of Spanish and Portuguese wines and various dessert wines.

My favorites:

Vinho Verde, Quinta da Aveleda, Minho, Portugal, 2008.
Vinho Verde is one of the lightest whites in the world. Slightly floral, with notes of green apple, grass, and green olive. Very high in acid with a bit of spritz, which makes for a very refreshing wine that is perfect for serving with light seafood dishes and fresh tart goat cheese.

Albarino, Morgadio, Rias Baixas, Galacia, Spain, 2007.
Another high-acid, crisp wine, but this time with richly sweet aromas of honey, cooked apples, and tropical fruits. Light to medium body - would hold its own against more substantial seafood.

Reserva, Alianca, Dao, Portugal, 2006.
Lots of red fruit aromas, especially raspberry, and some vanilla. Medium body, high acid. It was the perfect pairing for an excellent cassoulet (a hearty white bean stew with bacon, garlic sausage, braised lamb, and confit duck).

Gran Reserva, Faustino, Rioja, Spain, 1996.
A prime example of the affordability of Spanish and Portuguese wines. This 14 year old bottle could rival many from Italy and France, but only costs $30. Super-smooth with aromas of dry figs and blackberries and vanilla, a bit smoky. Very full-bodied and meat-compatible.

Riesling, Ice Wine, Cave Spring, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, 2007.
This was promised to our class if we received at least an 80% average on our first test. I know I studied long and hard after hearing that! Thankfully we did reach the mark. This wine retails for about $60 per half-bottle. It ain't cheap, but it sure is worth it! Imagine the aroma and taste of honey and warm peaches, butter-caramelized apples and warm spice, all swirled in one sweet, luscious yet crisply acidic glass. Serve with rich blue cheese, fruit and cream desserts, or foie gras.

Royal Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, Tokaji, Hungary, 2005.
Aszu Tokaji is another very sweet dessert wine, produced from botrytis/Noble-rot affected grapes. It's sweet and nutty, like honey and caramel, with bright tropical fruit flavors. Absolutely delicious, and at $35 for 500ml, a bit more affordable than a French Sauterenes or Alsatian Selection de Grains Nobles. The most noticeable difference between an ice wine and a late harvest or botrytis wine is the acidity. Ice wines are extremely acidic, but it's offset by the sweetness (almost a half-pound of grape sugar per liter!). Late harvest and botrytis wines are honey sweet but only a little acidic.

The Answers

1. The best pairing for a spicy shrimp curry would be...
a. Brut Cremant d'Alsace, France
b. Chassagne Montrachet, Cote de Beaune, France
c. Cote Rotie, Rhone, France
d. Entre deux Mers, Bordeaux, France

Sparkling wines make an excellent pairing for spicy foods - the bubbles reduce the perception of heat, and the high acid and hint of sweetness in this wine would also be very refreshing. You would definitely not want to serve an oaked Chardonnay (Montrachet) or a red (Cote Rotie), as the tannins emphasize the spice in a bad way. Entre deux Mers is one of the four lightest French whites, and would simply be lost.

2. Ullage is...
a. the empty bottle space between the cork and the wine
b. the time wine spends aging on the 'lees'
c. the addition of sugar and yeast to make champagne-method wines
d. the point when grapes transition from green to red

Ullage can be a problem in older bottles - as they age some of the wine will evaporate, allowing more oxygen to get into the bottle and oxidize the wine.

3. Which of the following is impossible to find in a store?
a. Rioja, Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain, 2002
b. Brunello d'Montelcino Riserva, Tuscany, Italy, 2007
c. Chateau Margaux, Margaux Premier Grand Cru Classe, Medoc, France 2008
d. Vinho Verde, Minho, Portugal, 2007

Some wines have specific regulations as to when they can be released. Brunello d'Montelcino must be aged four years before release; a Riserva is aged an additional year. This wine won't be in stores until 2013.

4. Which of the following is a DOCG red grape from Southern Italy?
a. Taurasi
b. Aglianico
c. Corvina
d. Connanou

DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita - the equivalent of an AOC in France. These grapes and wines must be grown and produced in specific areas under specific guidelines. The "G" guarantees the overall quality and importance of the grape/wine. Aglianico is used to produce Taurasi, a red wine from Campania.

5. Which of the following is NOT a Grand Cru varietal from Alsace?
a. Riesling
b. Pinot Gris
c. Chenin Blanc
d. Muscat

Four varietals may be grown and produced under a Grand Cru label in Alsace: Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gerwurtztraminer, and Muscat. Other grapes may be grown but the wines won't be granted Grand Cru status.

6. Which of the following would NOT be served with dessert?
a. Brachetto d'Aqui, Piedmonte, Italy
b. Reciotte della Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy
c. Gerwurtztraminer, Selection de Grains Nobles, Alsace, France
d. Muscadet Sevre et Maine, Loire, France

The first three are all sweet wines. Dry wines and sweet foods do not mix. The Muscadet would pair best with seafood dishes.

7. Which of the following would go best with a braised lamb shank and creamy polenta?
a. Steen, Stellenbosch, South Africa
b. Bairrada, Beiras, Portugal
c. Rias Biaxas, Galicia, Spain
d. Romanee-Conti Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France

Steen and Rias Biaxas are both white wines, and too light bodied for such a rich dish. Romanee-Conti is produced from Pinot Noir. Though it is a red wine, Pinot Noir is one of the lightest reds around and would still be overshadowed by the lamb. Bairrada, however, is a very full-bodied, tannic red that would pair perfectly.

8. Which label is impossible?
a. Seyval Blanc, Walla Walla, Washington, USA
b. Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA
c. Pinot Noir, Carneros, California, USA
d. Late Harvest Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

Seyval Blanc is a hybrid, a cross between the traditional European Vitis vinifera and the North American grape, Vitis labrusca (think Concord grapes). Hybrids like Seyval Blanc are grown to thwart the phylloxera parasite that only affects vinifera, and to stand up to the cold growing regions in the northern states. However, it is illegal to produce and sell non-vinifera wines in Washington State.

9. Which wine would not be served chilled?
a. Jerez Fino, Jerez, Spain, nv (non-vintage)
b. Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais, France, 2009
c. Vernaccia di San Giominano, Tuscany, Italy, 2007
d. 15 year Malmsey, Madeira, Portugal

Dry fortified wines (Fino Sherry), super-light reds (Beaujolais Nouveau), and whites (Vernaccia) should all be chilled to some degree. A sweet fortified wine such as Malmsey Madeira should be served at room temperature.

10. What would be the appropriate label for a wine comprised of 75% Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Rutherford Cabernet Franc, and 5% Redwood Valley Merlot?
a. Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa Valley, California
b. Meritage, Oakville, Napa Valley, California
c. Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
d. Meritage, North Coast, California

Every wine-producing area in the world has its own label laws. For most of the US, a wine must follow the 75/85/95 rule: that 75% of the grapes in the bottle are of the specified varietal (ie. a "Pinot Noir" from California must contain at least 75% Pinot Noir; the other 25% can be whatever you want); 85% of the grapes must come from the labeled area (unless it is estate-bottled, in which it must be 100%); and 95% must have been harvested in the specified vintage year. Please remember that there are exceptions to all these rules, especially in WA and OR.
For this specific wine you will need to add up the percents. The required 75% is Cabernet Sauvignon (true, it could be labeled "Meritage" (a blend of Bordeaux varietals) but a Cabernet Sauvignon label would be more profitable). 95% of the grapes come from Napa Valley, so it should be labeled "Napa" for maximum profitability. The more specific your label is, the more you can charge. So why call it North Coast or California Meritage when you can say it's Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Test your wine knowledge

edit: question #9 has been changed.
Wines class concluded yesterday with the big final - 90 questions, 45% of our grade. And I got 86/90!!!!!!!!
True, it was an open book test, but one that definitely required a fair amount of brainpower and wine knowledge.

Wanna try?

1. The best pairing for a spicy shrimp curry would be...
a. Brut Cremant d'Alsace, France
b. Chassagne Montrachet, Cote de Beaune, France
c. Cote Rotie, Rhone, France
d. Entre deux Mers, Bordeaux, France

2. Ullage is...
a. the empty bottle space between the cork and the wine
b. the time wine spends aging on the 'lees'
c. the addition of sugar and yeast to make champagne-method wines
d. the point when grapes transition from green to red

3. Which of the following is impossible to find in a store?
a. Rioja, Gran Reserva, Rioja, Spain, 2002
b. Brunello d'Montelcino Riserva, Tuscany, Italy, 2007
c. Chateau Margaux, Margaux Premier Grand Cru Classe, Medoc, France 2008
d. Vinho Verde, Minho, Portugal, 2007

4. Which of the following is a DOCG red grape from Southern Italy?
a. Taurasi
b. Aglianico
c. Corvina
d. Connanou

5. Which of the following is NOT a Grand Cru varietal from Alsace?
a. Riesling
b. Pinot Gris
c. Chenin Blanc
d. Muscat

6. Which of the following would NOT be served with dessert?
a. Brachetto d'Aqui, Piedmonte, Italy
b. Reciotte della Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy
c. Gerwurtztraminer, Selection de Grains Nobles, Alsace, France
d. Muscadet Sevre et Maines, Loire, France

7. Which of the following would go best with a braised lamb shank and creamy polenta?
a. Steen, Stellenbosch, South Africa
b. Bairrada, Beiras, Portugal
c. Rias Biaxas, Galicia, Spain
d. Romanee-Conti Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France

8. Which label is impossible?
a. Seyval Blanc, Walla Walla, Washington, USA
b. Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon, USA
c. Pinot Noir, Carneros, California, USA
d. Late Harvest Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

9. Which wine would not be served chilled?
a. Jerez Fino, Jerez, Spain, nv (non-vintage)
b. Beaujolais Nouveau, Beaujolais, France, 2009
c. Vernaccia di San Giominano, Tuscany, Italy, 2007
d. 15 year Malmsey, Madeira, Portugal

10. What would be the appropriate label for a wine comprised of 75% Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Rutherford Cabernet Franc, and 5% Redwood Valley Merlot?
a. Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa Valley, California
b. Meritage, Oakville, Napa Valley, California
c. Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California
d. Meritage, North Coast, California

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Wine!

Only two days of Wines left - and I'm really sad! I'm amazed by how much we've covered in just ten days, and how much better I've become at assessing wines. And yes, I'm starting to enjoy the good ones...

On Friday our class dined in St. Andrew's - it was our special wine and food pairings lunch. The menu was carefully chosen to be very wine-friendly, with two wines offered per course. Generally, for the in-class wine and food pairings we taste up to ten different wines repeatedly with each of the various components on our plate - which makes for a lot of confusion and unpleasant pairings. By only tasting two suitable wines with each dish it was far easier to compare and contrast and pick a favorite.

Anyway, here's my wine and food pairing write-up from the afternoon. Not a masterpiece by any measure, but it demonstrates the various elements of wines and foods that should be considered in pairing.


The first course of Blue Hill Bay Mussels went perfectly with Dr. Frank Celebre (New York, USA, nv). The wine had a beautifully nutty smell with aromas of yellow apple and honey. The light body, bubbles, and high acidity made for a very refreshing wine. It had a hint of sweetness and an intense fruitiness, particularly of green apple and strawberry. The light body of the wine perfectly matched the delicate nature of the mussels and the light-bodied broth. The bubbles and acidity cleansed my palate of the brininess of the mussels and the richness of the chorizo, and the fruity tones in the Celebre complemented the lightly sweet roasted peppers and onions in the broth.

I believe a nice crisp Prosecco (Bartolomiol, Veneto, Italy, nv) or Muscadet de Sevre et Maine (Chateau de la Chesnaie “sur lie” m.e.b.c., Loire, France, 2008) would also pair well with this dish for many of the same reasons: both have light bodies to match the delicacy of the mussels and broth, and the high acidity would temper the fattiness of the chorizo.

The main course featured local braised lamb with polenta and oyster mushrooms, and I thought it paired particularly well with the Reserva (Duas Quintas, Ramos Pinto, Douro, Portugal, 2003). This wine was full-bodied, bone-dry, tannic (but not overly so), and peppery with raspberry, plum, dry fruit (especially fig), leather and tobacco flavors. All of the components of the dish – the braised lamb, the creamy polenta, the mushrooms and wine-based sauce – were very bold and rich; this intensity was perfectly matched by the intensity of the full-bodied Reserva. The tannins helped to reduce the impression of creaminess in the polenta, allowing the true corn flavor to come out from behind the butter. The earthiness of the mushrooms and lamb were complemented by the earthy, smoky (tobacco, leather) notes in the wine. Interestingly, the very subtle hints of dried fig and vanilla in the wine were brought out when it was tasted with the lamb sauce, because the sauce had been prepared with the Reserva.

This lamb dish would also go very well with the Orpheus Petite Sirah (Lolonis, Redwood Valley, Mendocino, California, USA, 2005), another full-bodied wine strong enough to match the intensity of the lamb and polenta, and tannic enough to cut the richness. The earthy notes in this wine would complement the earthy, slightly gamey lamb, sauce, and mushrooms. A sparkling Rosé (Iron Horse, estate bottled, Green-Russian River, Sonoma, California, USA, 2003) would also pair well, as it is full-bodied enough to match the lamb, sauce and polenta, but with the bubbles and refreshing acidity to cleanse the palate of excess richness. The fruit tones would provide a nice contrast to the earthiness of the dish.

The Riesling (Cave Spring Reserve, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, 2007) was my preferred wine to go with the final course. I loved everything about the cheese plate, but the Riesling really tied it all together. Initially, the Riesling had the customary – and powerful – gasoline smell, along with the aroma of wet slate and undertones of pineapple, guava, peach, and mango. It was a very refreshing wine: high in acid, light in body, and full of wonderful grapefruit and ripe pear and apple flavors.

The Hudson Red was a luscious, creamy washed rind cows’ milk cheese paired with a savory tarte tatin of apple, onion and thyme. The high acidity of the Riesling helped to cut the richness of the cheese, at the same time the hint of sweetness and ample fruit flavors in the wine contrasted with the saltiness and earthiness of the cheese.

The second cheese, a sheeps’ milk camembert, was silky smooth and rich, tangy and earthy like mushrooms. It was paired with an apple chutney that was sweetened just enough to complement the bit of sweetness in the Riesling. When paired with the camembert, the minerality of the Riesling (wet rock notes) brought out the saltiness of the cheese in a very positive way. But when the cheese, chutney, and wine were all tasted together, the fruitiness of the Riesling really emerged to complement the apples in the chutney.

The last cheese was Shaker Blue, a local sheeps’ milk blue. The cheese was excellent paired with a fresh apple and endive salad, but it was absolutely sublime with the Riesling. The cheese was a classic Roquefort-style blue, which meant it was sweet and salty, a bit creamy, and very spicy. To me, it was remarkable how the hint of sweetness and fruity character of the Riesling toned down the spice of the blue, without interfering with the cream and salt. And of course the apples in the salad perfectly complemented the apple flavors of the Riesling.

I would love to pair the Brut Bollinger (Champagne, France, nv) with this cheese course. The bubbles would help to cleanse the palate of excess butterfat from the cheeses, as would the high acidity. The hint of sweetness and yellow apple flavors would match all three of the apple accompaniments, and the lovely butter and toast notes of the Champagne would match the butteriness of the cheeses and the toastiness of the tarte tatin pastry and the hazelnuts in the salad.

Another great wine for this pairing would be Gewürztraminer (Navarro, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California, USA, 2006). Like the Riesling, the high acidity would help to reduce the richness of the cheeses. Also, the hint of sweetness and super fruit-forward character of the wine would complement the slightly sweet apple pairings.

After hearing Mr. Weiss talk about pairing cheese with wine every single day, I could not wait to actually try it. This cheese course was beautifully composed and worked very well on its own already. But with the Riesling? Wonderful!
The fruit notes in the Riesling went so well with all the variations of apple, and the wine’s acidity and hint of sweetness were the perfect contrast to the salty richness of each cheese. I was curious about the tannin-with-spice rule – that a big tannic wine will only accentuate the spiciness of a dish, sometimes making it unbearable. Would the red (Aglianico del Vulture, “Il Viola”, Tenuta le Querce, Basilicata, Italy) clash with a different type of spice – that of blue cheese? It certainly did, and was quite painful. The cheese alone had been pleasantly pungent, but as soon as I took a sip of the Aglianico my mouth burned. Not pleasant. But as I stated above, the Riesling was a perfect match, and I enjoyed my first “true” wine and cheese pairing immensely.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happy Spring!!!

That's right! It's March 20, the first day of spring. The sun was out, the temperature managed to climb into the realm of the 70's, and the world is a happier place - well, at least New York is!

I soaked up all the sun I could while it lasted, by leaving my room at 12:15 and not returning until past 6:30. I walked barefoot to the FDR estate and did some homework (Wines homework/studying is unavoidable...), had a solo picnic (a seriously underrated activity, I must say. There is nothing quite like hiking out to some obscure grassy field with a hunk of good cheese and some fruit and savoring the sun and the peace of the outdoors), picked the first real ramps(!) and some more chickweed, and walked back. Of course I was just minutes from returning to campus when I ran into my friends who were headed to the fort, so I walked back out with them. The fort is absolutely perfect for vegging out in when it's as warm as today. The logs shield most, but not all, of the sun and a warm breeze wafts up from the side of the cliff. We constructed some pretty sweet "bone-mobiles", like something you would hang up in a little kid's room, but with various deer vertabrae, ribs, a couple leg bones, the odd coccyx, you know - just an everyday college activity... Actually, I think if someone were ever to find enough bones it would make a great little business - the bones could be painted different colors, maybe with a few bells or beads for added interest. It's best to start those toddlers young with their anatomy lessons...

Natalie finally got off work at 7:30 so we decided to cook steak for dinner. Keith fried potatoes and onions in duck fat while I seared the grassfed t-bone and porterhouse in more ducky goodness. We topped the steaks with a slice of butter apiece and a handful of wild greens. Mmm. The juice from the steak runs down to blend with the melting butter, the greens wilt under the heat of the steak, and it all makes for one hot-salty-buttery-meaty-bloody good mouthful. And even better, those leftovers mean only one thing... steak and eggs, baby!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In case you were wondering...

Here is a partial look at what we covered in class yesterday and today. Keep in mind that this is just the framework for the French regions and wines we are studying. We need to learn all this, plus the classification systems for each sub-region, the characteristics of the wines, their pairings, and more. Great fun! (sort of...)

Actually, I am really enjoying the class in spite of the complexity of it all. The wine tastings are very enlightening, and I feel like I might actually have a fighting chance at buying the right wines in the future!

AOC Alsace
(labeled by varietal; wines must be 100% of the labeled varietal)
Permitted Grand Cru wine grapes:
Riesling (w)
Gewurtztraminer (w)
Pinot Gris (w)
Muscat (w)
Other wines:
Pinot Noir (r)
Red and Rose
Late Harvest
Vendage Tardive
Selection de Grains Nobles
Sparkling, methode champenoise
Cremant d'Alsace

AOC Champagne
Permitted grapes:
Pinot Noir (r)
Pinot Meunier (r)
Chardonnay (w)
AOC Montagnes de Reims
AOC Cote des Blancs
Non vintage - 15+ months
Vintage - 36+ months
Blanc des Blancs - only Chardonnay
Blanc de Noir - only Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier
Rose - can be all three grapes

AOC Muscadet - light Melon de Bourgogne (w)
AOC Muscadet Sevre et Maine -
Melon de Bourgogne (w)
"Sur lie" - labeled, if left on the lees
AOC Savennieres - dry Chenin Blanc (w)
AOC Vouvray - semidry Chenin Blanc (w)
"Mosseaux" (sparkling) and "Moelleaux"
AOC Chinon - Cabernet Franc (r)
AOC Sancerre - Sauvignon Blanc (w)
AOC Pouilly-Fume - Sauvignon Blanc (w)

Northern Rhone
AOC Hermitage - Syrah (r)
AOC Crozes-Hermitage - Syrah (r)
AOC Cote Rotie - Syrah (r)
AOC St. Joseph - Syrah (r)
AOC Condrieu - Viognier (w)

Southern Rhone
AOC Chateauneuf du Pape - GMS/13 variety
blend (r)
AOC Tavel - Rose GMS/other blend (r,w)
AOC Beaumes de Venise
AOC Muscat de Beaumes de Venise - Muscat,
botrytis/late harvest

AOC Burgundy
AOC Chablis - very light Chardonnay (w)
AOC Cote d'Or
AOC Cote de Nuits - Pinot Noir (r)
AOC Vosne Romanee
Romanee Conti - Grand Cru
AOC Gevrey Chambertin
Le Chambertin - Grand Cru
AOC Cote de Beaune - Pinot Noir (r) and
Chardonnay (w)
AOC Meursault - oaked Chardonnay (w)
AOC Aloxe-Corton - oaked Chardonnay (w)
Corton Charlemagne - Grand Cru
AOC Puligny-Montrachet -
oaked Chardonnay (w)
Montrachet - Grand Cru
AOC Chassagne-Montrachet -
oaked Chardonnay (w)
Montrachet - Grand Cru
AOC Volnay - Pinot Noir (r)
AOC Cote Chalon - Pinot Noir, Gamay (r),
Chardonnay, Aligote (w)
AOC Rully - (various)
AOC Mercury - (various)
AOC Maconnais/Macon - mostly Chardonnay (w)
AOC Puilly-Fuisse - oaked Chardonnay (w)
AOC Macon Villages - unoaked
Chardonnay (w)
AOC Beaujolais - mostly Gamay (r)
AOC Beaujolais Noveau - light
Gamay (r)
AOC Beaujolais-Villages - light
Gamay (r)
AOC Cru Beaujolais - fuller bodied
Gamay (r)
AOC Fleurie
AOC Brouilly
AOC Moulin A Vent
AOC Morgon

AOC Bordeaux
Permitted grapes:
Cabernet Sauvignon (r)
Merlot (r)
Cabernet Franc (r)
Malbec, Petite Verdot, some Carmenere (r)
Semillion (w)
Sauvignon Blanc (w)
Left Bank - mostly Cabernet Sauvignon (r)
AOC Graves - dry red, dry white (r,w)
AOC Pessac-Leognon - dry red, dry white (r,w)
AOC Medoc - all dry reds, mostly Cabernet
Sauvignon (r)
AOC Haute-Medoc
AOC Saint-Estephe
AOC Pauillac
AOC Saint-Julian
AOC Margaux
Chateau Margaux - 1er classe
AOC Barsac - botrytis sweet wines
AOC Sauternes - botrytis sweet wines
Chateau d'Yquem - 1er Grand Cru
AOC Entre deux Mers - dry whites, mostly
Semillon (w)
Right Bank - dry reds, mostly Merlot (r)
AOC Pomerol - Merlot (mostly), Cabernet
Franc (r)
AOC St. Emilion - Merlot (mostly), Cabernet
Franc (r)

P.S. Wine pros - if you see any mistakes, please let me know!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Today we tasted a selection of ten different sparkling wines, from Italy, Spain, Washington, California, New Mexico, and of course - Champagne, France. Prior to the lecture and tasting I had never given sparkling wines much thought. Sure, there are really expensive ones that might taste better (or at least give the illusion that you're drinking something amazingly elegant), but I never knew just how varied they can be - from a peachy sweet (but one-note) Asti to a California Rose that smells like warm toast with butter and strawberry jam.

True Champagnes share a common theme: toasty, bready aromas, high acid and complex flavor. Three visual quality indicators of sparkling wines are:
size of the bubbles - smaller is better
mousse or foam - should be fine in texture and dense
perlage or stream of bubbles - should be consistent and persistent

And so, the favorites of today:

Blanc de Noirs, Gruet, New Mexico, non vintage
True Champagne is made from Pinot Noir (red), Pinot Meunier (red), and/or Chardonnay (white) grapes. When it is made with solely red grapes, it will be labeled Blanc de Noirs (though the wine will still be either white or rose; minimal contact with the red grape skins means that no/little color infuses the wine).
This New Mexico winery actually produces some of the finest Champagne-style wines in the country (according to Mr. Weiss, and judging by this specimen!). The wine had a faint rose-gold tinge to it - very pretty indeed - but the taste was even more charming. It smelled and tasted of strawberries and raspberries and guava, and had a good long finish (not common in sparklers).

Iron Horse Estate bottled, Brut, Green River-Russian River, Sonoma, 2004
A very sweet, yeasty aroma - like brioche - with nut, melon, and coconut notes. A wonderfully complex blend of acid, fruit and hazelnut, with a long mineral finish.

Brut, Taittinger, Champagne FR, nv
This wine's aroma caught me by surprise - no fruit, no nut, nothing except Rice Crispies - as powerful as if I jammed my whole head in a cereal box. I happen to love Rice Crispies, but it was disconcerting to smell in a sparkling wine! However, it had a nice light body, refreshing acidity with a hint of sweetness, lots of fizz, and toasty fruit flavors.

Brut Pol Roger, Champagne FR, nv
What an aroma! Fresh peaches and cream, grilled pineapple and even more peaches caramelized in butter and brown sugar. And it tasted even more sumptuous.

Brut Bollinger, Champagne, FR, nv
This one smelled and tasted of toast with butter and sugar and Golden Delicious apples, with crisp acidity and a touch of sweetness.

Asti, Nando, Piedmonte, Italy, nv
Oh yum. Our dessert wine of the day - and yet another sweet wine I would happily drink if given the chance. I could smell the sweetness before it even came near my lips - along with the scent of green apples and peaches. With its low alcohol (around 7%), citrus highlights and fruity sweetness, this is just the wine to take outside on a warm spring afternoon like today.

By the way: our class took the first (of three) Wines test today (covering viticulture, viniculture, and the New World regions and wines), and I got a 98%!!!!

I celebrated by walking to the FDR estate and flopping down on the warm dry grass to read for a couple hours. Thank goodness spring is finally here!! (well not officially until Saturday, but...)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The woods are alive with the sound of ... food!

I spent three hours outside on this wet, windy day, foraging for edibles. Nettles, baby ramps, wild onions, chickweed, wild mustard greens and garlic-mustard all made their way into my bag and eventually, my stomach.

The nettles were quickly sauteed and minced, then folded into a big bowl of grassfed ground beef, sauteed onions, garlic and ginger, along with beaten eggs and plenty of salt and pepper to make wonderful meatballs. I simmered sprouted red lentils with more garlic/ginger/onions, then topped them with butter-caramelized baby ramps and wild onions, and a big handful of crisp chickweed and mustard greens. This was one satifisying meal!

Back to the wine-swilling tomorrow!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wine and Food Pairing 101

Confused about pairing wine and food? The CIA Wines instructors, Professors Michael Weiss and Steven Kolpan, have developed a streamlined chart for comparing the intensities of the most commonly found wine varietals. It’s called the “Tower of Power” and helps to “match the power of food with the structural intensity of wine”.

Reds are on the left, whites on the right. Obviously the most full bodied white wine could only ever be as powerful as the lightest red (due to tannins in the reds), thus the staggered positioning. In general, the cooler the climate, the lighter and more acidic the wine. Hotter ripening conditions result in riper, sweeter grapes, which translates into lower acid, higher alcohol, and a fuller body.

Of course the vintner doesn’t leave it all up to the grape – the winemaking process plays a huge role in the final outcome of the wine.

Chilling the vat halts fermentation, resulting in lower alcohol wines that are semi-dry to sweet (usually Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc; sometimes Muscat). Wine can undergo malolactic fermentation (harsher malic acid converts to lactic acid, producing a creamy, smooth wine – all reds go through this to some degree, some whites do), or carbonic maceration (whole grapes ferment internally, producing very low-tannin wines meant for immediate consumption – Beaujolais noveau). I’m only touching the surface here – the possibilities are endless!

Back to food pairing. Low intensity wines should be paired with low intensity foods; high intensity with high. Foods are low intensity when they are low in fat, mild in flavor, and not salty, sweet, smoky, or spicy. Think light seafood dishes – ceviche, delicate poached fish. Fatty, rich, flavorful foods should be matched with powerful red wines. A big rib eye with seared mushrooms and scalloped potatoes? Choose an intense Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Vegetables and starch vary in intensity as well. Iceberg lettuce and white rice are about as weak as you can get, while beets, mushrooms and creamy polenta are very dense and need a fairly powerful wine.

Sauce has the ability to change a whole dish. Salmon poached in a light, acidic broth would need a super-acidic light or medium intensity wine, while salmon topped with hollandaise would need a much bolder wine with some tannin to cut the richness.

The shaded area represents the “Crossover Wines”, that in-between area where the strongest whites and lightest reds meet. These wines are extremely flexible, able to go with filet mignon or tenderloin carpaccio at one meal and fatty seafood (salmon, tuna, lobster poached in butter) the next. Rose is also a crossover, and according to Mr. Weiss it works in many situations where no white or red will.

Other important factors:

Any food that is sweet must be paired with a wine that matches or surpasses that sweetness. Semi-sweet Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Chenin Blanc, and very fruit forward New World Zinfandels often work well. For desserts and cheeses, go with a sweet or fortified wine.

Tannins and fat/blood balance each other. The tannins are reduced and the flavors of both are enhanced.

Foods that are spicy, sweet, salty and/or smoky should be paired with a contrasting wine – acidic Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, cheap/mild Zinfandel, Gamay, or Rose (still or sparkling). Acid reduces the perception of sugar, acid, and salt, and tames spice and smoke. Sparkling wines are great for battling spicy foods.

Negative Pairings:

Very salty with high tannin

Vinegars (except balsamic and very old sherry)

Many green vegetables, especially brassicas, artichokes, and asparagus. These should be prepared with fat of some sort – cream or butter or bacon (but why wouldn’t you do that?!) – or “bridged” by using some of the wine in the dish

Friday, March 12, 2010

More Wine!

From California:

Chardonnay, estate bottled Iron Horse, Green Valley (Russian River Valley), Sonoma, 2007.
We tried this oaked Chardonnay right after Iron Horse's unoaked version. The unoaked was a pale greenish-silver-straw color, versus the ever slightly more lemony yellow color of the oaked. The fragrances were worlds apart. While the unoaked was herbal and green-appley and briny, the oaked version immediately struck my nose with intense vanilla and coconut fragrances and just a touch of funky washed-rind cheese (in a good way).
Whereas the unoaked was highly acidic to the point of being unbalanced, this wine was a perfect marriage of acid and tannins, with the barest hint of sweetness and delicious vanilla and tropical fruit flavors. I definitely recommend this one - as does the rest of my class!

Gewurtztraminer, estate bottled Navarro Vineyards, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, 2006.
Looking for an exciting wine? I have found - in my extremely limited experience - that Gewurtztraminers smell totally different from other wines, and in a very delicious way - brown sugar and warm spice (nutmeg, clove), fruity and floral (orange blossom, rose, and lychee). It was a bit sweet, fairly acidic, and the taste matched the wonderful fragrance.

Zinfandel, Dry Creek Old Vines, Dry Creek Valley, 2005.
Wow. A red wine that I almost liked! The aroma was super sweet and spicy - like dried fruit and black peppercorns, and it tasted of fresh pomegranate and Black Mission figs and dried blueberries and prunes. Even though it's a dry wine, the intense fruitiness lent a touch of sweetness that stayed perfectly in balance with the tannins and acid, and the flavors lingered for quite some time.

Elysium, Quady Winery, Black Muscat, 2007.
A dessert wine made from rare black Muscat grapes. It smelled and tasted strongly of black cherry juice, and was super-sweet and caramely, and very lovable. Mmm ... to drink this with cheese ... would make me very happy ...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Highlights from Today's Tasting

Vouvray, Goulaine, Loire, France, 2007.
Made from Chenin Blanc grapes in the Loire Valley of France. A pale gold or straw color with a hint of green. Smells oddly (but strongly) of salt-cured olives, as well as guava, honey, flowers, and quince. However, upon a second sniffing the olive smell had completely dissipated and it smelled just like sweet guava. A semi-dry wine (hint of sweetness) that is highly acidic and refreshing, with very complex, delicious honey and tropical fruit flavors.
Vouvray is one of the most underrated wines, but according to this prime example, one of the best whites around!

Orpheus, Petite Sirah, Lolonis, Redwood Valley, Mendocino, California, 2005.
Petite Sirah is a distinct variety of grape, not to be confused with its parent, Syrah/Shiraz (it is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin).
This organic red wine has a superbly complex aroma of dried figs and berries, dark chocolate, black pepper, and coconut. It has a very full body, and the taste - spicy and reminiscent of fresh pomegranate, with just the right amount of tannins - would perfectly complement rich, fatty meats. One of the few red wines I've found tolerable...
(I'm currently trying to overcome my dislike of wine, particularly reds. If I say something is okay, it's an excellent wine!)

Ten year Tawny Port, Taylor Fladgate, Douro, Portugal, n.v.
Yum. Sadly, the only exceptions to my wine aversion are sweet whites (still or sparkling - particularly late harvest Riesling or Gewurztraminer, botrytis wines (Sauternes), presumably ice wine (I haven't tried any yet), the sweeter Champagne-style wines, and fortified wines). Which means I like Port. And this Port was delicious! It smelled so caramelly and nutty, like molasses and brown sugar and pecan pie, and the taste was of all those fragrances, plus fresh black figs and dried fruit and honey. It was sweet and acidic and oh so good. I would love to try it with a nice rich Colston Bassett Stilton...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

So it begins ... Wines class

Well I feel like a total slacker. The posts have been few and far between, and I'm not about to fix that today. Tonight my brain needs to recover from the onslaught of information it received in Day 1 of Wines class. However, over the next three weeks I hope to type up all my notes and post them here - a crash course in oenology for blog readers and an excellent way to drill everything deeper into my head!

The weather has continued to be fantastic - mid-50's and sunny with many opportunities for hiking in the woods. My friends and I went to see Alice in Wonderland at the local theater this weekend, and rather than pay good money for popcorn, we brought a whole layer cake in with us. Mind you, this was a homemade flourless chocolate cake, filled with fresh strawberries and a marvelous concoction of heavy cream, sour cream, brown sugar and vanilla, whipped 'till fluffy. We constructed it in a Pyrex cake pan so it would be optimally transportable (and purse friendly). So while Alice and the Mad Hatter drank tea and threw scones, we stuffed our faces with cake...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ah! Warm at last!

...Warm enough to wear short sleeves, for the snowdrops to bloom, to smell summer on the air, to realize that graduation is just over three months away...

It's in the mid-50's today (apparently it was yesterday as well, but I was holed up in my room with a cold). I went for a nice long hike in the woods and picked some chickweed, watched the birds and chipmunks, and accidentally startled some pregnant does.

Earlier we drove out to Quattro's and bought four pounds of bacon, tomato and basil pork sausages, and pheasant summer sausage.

With dinner tonight I made a nice salad of the chickweed dressed with olive oil and sliced sauteed baby ramps. So simple, but the first handpicked salad of spring is a truly wonderful thing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The most tragic event of my life

And I'm saying that with only a trace of sarcasm.

I was in 3rd or 4th grade at the time. This was when we lived on the Sammamish plateau, a dreary, rainy place. I came home from school on that fateful afternoon, hungry for comfort - it had been a bad day. My mom put a pot of water on to boil and took out a box of pasta. Nothing soothes like a hot bowl of noodles in the chilly November. I pulled up a stool to the bar counter and rested my head on folded arms. "Sweetie," my mom called after the pasta was done. I picked my head up and watched as she carried the pot over to the sink and drained the farfalle into a waiting colander, "would you like anything on your pasta?" And this is where I choked up.

You need to understand something. I haven't always been the butter queen that I am today. Yes, butter tasted good - but it was too good to be right. Eating butter was a bad thing. A very bad thing that should be accompanied by remorse and guilt and apologies. My mom loved butter then, and still does. Salt too. Every starch she ate - pasta, rice, potatoes - was dabbed with golden butter and sprinkled with salt. But we drank 0% skim milk and lowfat this and nonfat that, and butter was the epitome of weakness. Frowned upon. Only weaklings with no self control ate butter or added salt. It was unhealthy and fattening and an embarrassment to be seen eating it.

But oh how I craved a bowl of buttered noodles that afternoon. In the past I would frequently sneak a bite of my mother's pasta or rice, and it was always so yummy, sinfully good. I never let my parents catch me. I was a good daughter, and I didn't want to let them down. I wanted that buttered pasta so badly it hurt, but I couldn't say it. Even if I had the guts to answer her, it would be a quiet, shameful request. So I told myself to be strong, and answered, "No". "Are you sure? No butter or salt? How about some cheese?" This was too much. I started to cry. She was being so sweet and caring and I couldn't handle it. And she probably wouldn't even get mad at me if I did say yes. My stomach twisted up as I let out a huge sob and said "No, I'm okay". She handed me a bowl of hot but dry pasta, then began dressing hers. Two pats of butter. Several shakes of the salt. She stirred it with her fork and sat up next to me, rubbing my back. We ate in silence as the tears flowed, running into my bowl and seasoning the noodles.

And the worst part was that there was no going back. This would remain the only time in my childhood that she pushed me to ask for butter. If only I had said "yes". It would have opened the door to a new, better childhood paved with butter, rather than dry, bland noodles. If I had said "yes" I would be free to ask for butter again and again. But this one incident planted me firmly on non-hedonistic territory and there was no turning back.

Or at least for another five years.

Mmmm... Butter

It's not often that the butter served at a table overshadows the bread. But St. Andy's brings out a little three-compartment dish to go with the warm cheese biscuits, featuring Ronnybrook Farms butter - plain and herbed - and some type of compote or chutney (last week it was apple; today a pepperonata of sorts). My favorite butter-eating game is to see how little bread is required to consume the allotted amount of butter. But when the waitstaff is eager to bring more butter, at what point do you stop? Today, it was six, mostly shared by Natalie and me. That's five more than most tables ever eat. And I only ate three-quarters of one biscuit. The remainder was slathered on my fish and eaten with a spoon, my idea of dessert. Yeah, I'm crazy.

Today Sarah and I each had another riding lesson. I worked on trotting variations and some cantering. It's definitely been too long, according to my legs!

Here's a must-read from the NYT today: Hip Hop Cuisine.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Happy March!

We're that much closer to spring!

On my walk today I saw a pair of bluebirds. Is it just me, or did they return really early this year?! Maybe this couple is lazy, and they never left. Or I was hallucinating. After all, there's half a foot of snow on the ground.

But talk of maple sugaring is in the (ever slightly warmer) air. I contacted a local farm that is willing to share their stash of sap, so hopefully this weekend we can attempt to make syrup. Yes, I know we'll need 10 gallons for just one quart of syrup. But real maple syrup in any amount is a pretty special thing.