Today’s Life Lesson – Always Pick Up The Phone!

McBrides #3

Always pick up the phone?  I know that seems like weird advice, what with more and more companies/charities/candidates employing an ever-expanding phalanx of thick-skinned sales people to call during the dinner hour all hours of the day.  It’s tempting to let all your calls go to voicemail!

But imagine what might have happened if you had ignored a call like this one, coming in from an unknown number…

“Hi honey, this is your father.  I know we’ve never met, but after your mom and I split I went away for a long time. Like your mom, I too have terminal cancer and want you to know before it’s too late that you have a half sister.  My brother and his wife are going to help you find her.”

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That’s essentially the phone call that reunited Andrea and Robin McBride as they told us their story over lunch at San Francisco’s Sens restaurant on Thursday.  The sisters now constitute a fair percentage of America’s female winemakers, and an even larger percentage of winemakers of color.  And if we slice that pie even thinner, they are the only American winemakers who can call themselves “African American sisters”.

After meeting for the first time in 1999 (one was raised in New Zealand, the other in Monterey, CA) they discovered many similarities, including a love of wine.  To make a great story short enough for the space available, in 2005 – the same year I launched the Sideways Wine Club (though their story is a bit more exciting) – they decided to become importers of New Zealand wine.

Their first shipment consisted of just a single pallet – about 55 cases, because that was all the cash they could afford to risk.  It was hardly worth the paperwork!  But they took those wines from account to account and through pluck, charm, intelligence and hard work, they leveraged that first pallet into a sizable import company with over a dozen representatives.  Along the way, they related stories of how their gender and race led some to assume they were “the assistants”.  They said they never took it personally, and just let their wine do the talking.

Their first venture into winemaking started in New Zealand, with a brand called Eco.love – three wines with a commitment to sustainable production that resonates with the female millennials that are their primary customers.  Now they’ve partnered with Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines to launch their California brand TRUVÉE (Tru Vay – poetically enough, French for “to find”), introduced in January of this year.  

The TRUVÉE brand has launched with two wines, each produced in quantities of about 10,000 cases, and each priced at $15.99 (retail).

McBride Sisters

TRUVÉE 2013 Chardonnay – this lightly-oaked wine (50% “with oak”, 50% Stainless Steel) is from a number of top Central Coast sources, Edna Valley, Bien Nacido, Chalone and others.  Their goal was to span the Old World and New World styles with a wine that was in the sweet spot for what our industry classifies as “Super Premium” wines (keep in mind that only 4% of wine sold costs more than $20).  This was a nice, every-day Chard that paired very well with all the dishes Sens served us on Thursday.

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TRUVÉE 2013 Red Blend – A Rhône-style wine that blends Grenache (primarily San Benito), Syrah (Chalone), Zinfandel (Paso Robles) and Merlot (San Lucas Valley).  Lighter-bodied and very approachable, I tasted the red wine with each of the dishes and it spanned nicely, the tannins sufficiently tame to pair well with Sen’s lower-fat Mediterranean dishes, and the acidity sufficiently high to remain refreshing.

All in all, I was pleased to discover the sisters and their wines.  There are many, many good wines out there, but I suspect that five years from now this brand will be among the winners.  Because even a good wine does better with a good story, and there is no better story than that of Andréa and Robin McBride.  I wish them all the success they deserve.

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Guest Post – Food & Wine Pairing, Basic Guidelines

Food And Wine PairingsGuest Post by Lily McCann.

Food and drink articles and programs often stress the importance of combining food with the right type of wines. There can sometimes to an element of snobbery attached to this subject as at the end of the day, enjoying food and wine is a subjective experience and people can try and enjoy any combination that suits them. That said, most people that have pursued food and wine pairings with a passion find the basic principles behind matching food and wine to be useful and likely to help you find some combinations that you really enjoy.  So in very simple terms, here are some guidelines that can be easily followed.

Staying Local
Traditional advice is to combine regional wines with foods of the same region, and this wisdom rarely fails. Claret or Rioja with roasted lamb, Loire Valley whites with goat cheese or Muscadet with fresh shell-fish are classic combinations and their success outlines some of the principles that can guide the best pairings of food and wine.

Balancing Food & Wine
Ensuring that food and wine have a similar weight or mouthfeel is the first guideline for masterful pairings. Simply put, delicate dishes taste better with lighter wines while rich foods fare better with something bigger. This is the origin of the old rule of thumb “fish with white and meats with reds“. Chicken and pork will usually work with either (except for the more extreme examples of each), though both can be pulled towards one end of the color spectrum or the other based on the sauce they are cooked in and the cooking method. Of course, these rules are there to be broken, and (for example) fish can be enjoyed with red wine (but ideally a wine low in tannin and high in acid) such as Pinot Noir or Bardolino.

Acidity
Crisp, un-oaked white wines are generally seen as a good accompaniment to shellfish and fish dishes. This is even truer with fish (or any dish) prepared or served with vinegar or a wedge of lemon as the acid alters the threshold at which our palates perceive acidity in the wine – pairing such a dish with a flabby wine low in acidity would make the wine taste sweet or oaky or simply “bad”. If a food has an acidic dimension, choose a wine that has marked acidity and preferably unoaked as opposed to oaked.

Red wine and meat
Many red wines are loaded with tannins that can overcome the flavor of many foods. Choosing fatty foods that provide a protein or cream barrier will make both the wine and the food taste more pleasant. Tannin molecules latch onto the nearest available protein and if nothing else is available, your gums and teeth will do, which is why drinking a tannic red wine makes your mouth feel “dry” – it steals the slipperiness from your saliva!

When the tannin molecules have a decent steak or lamb to occupy them, a young red wine will seem softer and more approachable. Soft creamy cheeses perform a similar task, providing a coat of protein for the palate and as such they pair more favorably with young red wines than do hard cheeses. A diet of red meat, red wine and soft cheese may not be the healthiest way to eat every day, but there are plenty of healthy living blogs such as those highlighted by KwikMed that provide a range of lower fat recipes that can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. For other meats such as chicken and pork cooked in roasts or casseroles, try livelier, fruitier red wines (Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and cooler weather Zinfandels) that don’t contain as much tannin.

Fusions Foods
Fusion foods are arguably responsible for the breakdown in the traditional food and wine pairing guidelines. These inventive combinations of flavors from different parts of the world can leave wine lovers wondering where to start. But rest assured, the guidelines mentioned above still apply – when pairing wine with fusion foods simply consider its acidity, sweetness, protein and heat and go from there. Spicier dishes are best combined with un-oaked white wines, softer red wines or wines with a touch of sweetness and lower alcohol. If a dish has a lot of sweetness to it, the wine must be even sweeter than the dish for the pairing to be pleasant.

Enjoy It!
As stated above, the most important thing is always to enjoy your food and wine paring no matter how you combine them. And don’t worry – you will still probably select some bad pairings upon occasion. Just make a mental note of the combinations that worked well for you and think about why the worked using the guidelines above for body weight, tannin, acidity, sweetness, and alcohol levels. If you can build a good repertoire of food and drink combinations that you know you enjoy, you can return to them whenever you like.  Or venture out and be a bit more adventurous!

Wine Video – Mas Grand Plagniol 2013 Dry Rosé

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In search of an affordable, dry Rosé you can drink from now until Thanksgiving? Look no further.

Aromas bound enthusiastically from your glass when you pour this Rhône blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault.  

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From Costieres de Nimes in the South of France (see map).  This region used to be part of the Languedoc, but was re-assigned to the Rhône valley because the region’s wines more closely resemble those of the Rhône than the Languedoc. 

Nicely crisp and refreshing. A staff favorite! Learn more here:

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It's hard work, but somebody's gotta do it

It’s hard work, but somebody’s gotta do it

 

Cheers!

Dave the Wine Merchant

The World is waking up to German Pinot Noir!

I’ve been wondering how long it would take for this to happen.  German Pinots offer some of the most affordable and pleasurable discoveries any Pinot lover could wish for.  So it was no surprise to see this headline in today’s issue of “The Drinks Business” publication out of the UK.

According to chef Martin Lam, interviewed for this article, it has helped tremendously that German producers are switching their labeling from the traditional German word “Spätburgunder” (SPATE bur gunder) to the more internationally recognized “Pinot Noir” (same grape, different name).  But a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

I particularly liked Lam’s quote “…the top drops from Baden should be treated with the same respect as a top Burgundy“.  And while this quote dips its toe into hyperbole, the truth is that the grape’s German name is a direct nod to the vines that gave birth to their vineyards, and the style is similar in its lightness.

German States with major Cities - worldatlasbook.com

German States with major Cities.  Baden is Southwest, just above Switzerland.  Image from worldatlasbook.com

The Baden area (Southwest Germany, see map) is East and a bit North of Burgundy, and this area is home to some of Germany’s best Pinots.  I encourage you to ask for these from your favorite wine merchant, and to keep a watchful eye for some of them to appear in the Pinot section my own curated inventory at DaveTheWineMerchant.

Read the full article here – Lam: World is waking up to German Pinot.

Cheers!

www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com 

P.S. For a regular source of new Pinot Noir discoveries, please consider my Pinot-Only wine club – click here for more info!

Film Review – “A YEAR IN CHAMPAGNE”

Year in ChampagneWhat a charming way to spend 82 minutes.  Read the rest of my review if you like, but I won’t be offended were you to opt instead for a quick download, a bottle of your favorite bubbly, your favorite movie companion and a quick call to your boss apologizing for some sudden 24-hour  malady.

Download this movie from iTunes here.

What?  You’re still here? Guess I’d better get on with the full review.

This film’s award-winning director, David Kennard (Cosmos, A Year in Burgundy) is based in Mill Valley, CA.  This factoid has nothing to do with the quality of the film and everything to do with my desire to tip my hat to the talent pool in the Bay Area.

In this, his second of three “A Year In _____” films, Kennard has replicated his success with “A Year in Burgundy”, also a joint project with the esteemed wine importer Martine Saunier.  

Martine has a fine palate – I lust after some of the wines in her portfolio – and she represents some of France’s finest producers.  The fact that the wineries in Kennard’s film are limited to producers she represents takes nothing away from the film itself. Though it likely makes other importers greatly jealous, she likely took more flack from other producers SHE represents who didn’t appear in the film.

I intended to watch this movie on my own, but our 12 year-old daughter wandered into the room as I was starting the DVD, and she was sufficiently moved to watch the film to its satisfying end, enjoying the process of making champagne as told in each of the film’s four seasonal sections.  She even asked intelligent questions, and for the first time understood how the secondary fermentation process creates bubbles in each individual bottle.  I also think the riddling rack might have its next young Riddler in the wings, at least, until she tries the repetitive job for about ten minutes.

Kennard’s film is poetic, a paean to the featured wine region, without being cloying. The music and the photography alone make it worthy of your limited free time.  But his film also provides intelligent insights into the essence of the region, into its wines, of course, but also the history, people and foods that are the foundation of these wines.

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This is not a film for learning ABOUT wine.  You can get the more raw information in far less time from any basic introductory text.  This is a film that lends a better UNDERSTANDING of wine, and what makes them fascinating and uniquely different, one from the other.  

Trust me, “A Year in Champagne” will leave any wine buff smiling.  Especially if you follow my suggestion to watch it with a bottle of your favorite bubbly well chilled and close at hand.

Happy Merchant

Cheers!
Dave

www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com 

 

Duck Breast With Mustard Greens, Turnips, And Radishes

Duck Breast with Mustard Greens, Turnips, and Radishes Recipe

This Bon Apetit recipe is easily adapted – don’t care for turnips?  Try small red potatoes (sauteed or roasted in the duck fat!)  Not big on Mustard Greens?  Substitute Frisee, or a mild rocket/arugula, or if you strive for “painfully hip”, chopped kale in the sweet Asian dressing you’ll find in my recipe (search this blog for “pork belly kale”.  But whatever you do, try this recipe for the duck breast.

Ingredients
SERVINGS: 8
3 pounds boneless duck breasts (3–4)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons English mustard powder
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 radishes, thinly sliced
4 small turnips, scrubbed, thinly sliced, plus 2 cups torn turnip greens or kale
6 cups torn mustard greens; plus any mustard flowers (optional)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Flaky sea salt

Preparation

ACTIVE: 1 Hour  TOTAL: 1 Hour
  • Preheat oven to 400°. Score the fat side of each duck breast ⅛” deep in a crosshatch pattern; season both sides with kosher salt and pepper. Heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil in a large ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium. Cook 2 duck breasts, skin side down, until fat is rendered and surface is deeply browned and crisp, 10–15 minutes; transfer to a plate. [Note, I ALWAYS save the rendered fat before proceeding!  DC]  Wipe out skillet and repeat with remaining duck and 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil.
  • Arrange all duck breasts in the skillet, fat side up, and roast in oven until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of breasts registers 135° (~5–8 minutes). Transfer to a cutting board and let rest at least 5 minutes and up to 2 hours.
  • In a small bowl whisk Dijon mustard, mustard powder, lemon juice, and (while whisking) gradually add 3 Tbsp. olive oil; season mustard sauce with kosher salt and pepper.
  • Toss radishes, turnips, greens, flowers (if using), vinegar, and remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large bowl; season with kosher salt and pepper.
  • Thinly slice duck. Scatter greens over a platter (or two) and top with duck. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve with mustard sauce alongside.

Recipe by Alison Roman

Photograph by Christopher Testani

Cheers!  Dave

Recipe – Perfect Homemade Meatballs

meatballs_bowlMeatballs are delicious when perfectly made.  Otherwise, they’re better relegated to your slingshot than your table.  The key to the perfect meatball is minimal handling – don’t touch your meatballs too much and they won’t end up being too dense.  And as you likely know, dense, gummy balls will end up as over-cooked chunks of gravel.  Probably not what you had in mind.

That said, here’s a great meatball recipe of only moderate complexity.  Have your butcher grind the three types of meat, and if he/she complains just find a new butcher. This is simply part of their craft.  Or should be.

Ingredients

  • ½ pound ground pork butt
  • ½ pound ground lamb
  • ½ pound ground bottom round (beef)
  • ½ cup frozen spinach thawed and drained thoroughly
  • ½  cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 teaspoon salt (preferably kosher or sea)
  • ½  cup bread crumbs, ¼ for mixture, ¼ for rolling.
  • Herbs and spices to taste (probably about a tablespoon of any or all of the following: basil, parsley, red pepper flakes, pepper, garlic powder (not salt))

Lightly mix everything with the exception of ¼ cup breadcrumbs, emphasis on lightly, try not to squish or squeeze.  Cover and place in the fridge for an hour or up to overnight to let the flavors mingle. 

Preheat oven to 400’.  By hand, form the meatballs into the size of golf balls. (keep it gentle!)  Roll the balls in the bread crumbs, and don’t worry if they aren’t perfectly coated.

Bake for 15-20 minutes in a mini muffin pan.  If the balls will be cooked a second time, say as part of a pasta sauce, err on the lower side of the time range.  If eaten as is, go for the higher end.  But because ovens vary, be sure to test one before you declare them done.

Wine Pairings

If your meatballs are to be served as a stand-alone appetizer, they will pair well with any number of red wines or even Rosé or sparkling wine.  But if served over pasta with the traditional red sauce, the tomato sauce drives the choice – it’s acidity requires wine of equal measure, such as Chianti, domestic Sangiovese, or other varieties from Northern Italy (Nebiolo, Barbera, etc.)

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Recipe courtesy of Paul “Rad” Radcliffe!

Winemaker Cathy Corison Earns Raves From NYT

Corison 2011 NV CS - LabelWine collectors on my special calling list know of my ongoing love affair with the wines of Cathy Corison.  A lucky few were able to acquire a limited amount from my measly, preciously small allocation.

I’d discovered the sublime joy of Corison Cabernet almost two decades ago when I was lucky enough to attend a vertical tasting featuring five different Corison vintages.  I remember each wine being delightful in its own right, with a recognizable style that bound the very different wines together – like siblings that have a strong family resemblance but entirely unique personalities.

Well, as part of her anniversary celebration, Corison flew to New York for a vertical tasting of ALL TWENTY FIVE of her vintages – 1987-2011 (her current release).  Wine writer Eric Asimov tells you all about it here in the full article.

Cheers!

Everything in moderation (including moderation?)

Today’s NPR news feed includes a story I’d call “news-ish”.  That’s my term for what the news/entertainment industry calls “human interest stories”.  Such stories get more viewers/listeners/social media likes, and therefore they’re replacing solid news.  But who am I to complain?  I sell wine for a living, and what could be more “Human Interest” than that?  Despite the wine industry’s unique internecine squabbles, we rarely make headlines outside the “human interest” category.

This particular article reported on how women (not men?) who actually COOK the recipes they see demonstrated on TV’s cooking shows tend to be 11 pounds heavier than the women who simply WATCH the shows.  For the record, correlations have also been found between the number of people who drowned in a swimming pool in a given year and the number of films Nicholas Cage appeared in during that year.  That’s the thing about statistics – it can be tricky stuff.

The trim Giada de’Laurentiis

The writer thought this finding called into question the wisdom of cooking at home to obtain healthier food, and even called into question the writings of food proponents such as Michael Pollan.  But in the end, the story concludes on a note of common sense.

When asked how she can cook such high-fat dishes on her show and still maintain her trim figure, celebrity chef Giada di’Laurentiis replied “I eat a little bit of everything and not a lot of anything.  Everything in moderation.”

And that’s just sound advice whether putting food on your plate or wine in your glass.

Happy Merchant Cropped for webCheers,

Dave the Wine Merchant

If my Lottery Picks were as prescient as my wine picks!

If my Lottery Picks were as prescient as my wine picks I’d be writing this from one of my homes overlooking a pristine beach.

What started my wistful thinking was the news in my inbox with the results of an interesting data analysis.  A Pinot producer that was one of my early “bets” turned out to be the top-rated Pinot Producer on CellarTracker, the world’s most extensive database of wine tasting notes and ratings from wine collectors around the globe.

Go ahead, guess who it was in the top spot… Kosta Browne?  Sea Smoke?  Kistler??  Peter Michael???  Au Bon Climat???  All good guesses.  But all would be wrong.

The top spot went to “Sojourn Cellars”.  

When I first discovered their wine, six years ago, I knew they had something special going on.  Owner Craig Haserot stood in my kitchen and poured six of their wines for me, and I selected their 2007 Sonoma Coast Pinot for my “Pinot Selections” Wine Club.  Despite their relaxation-inspired logo, they had just burst onto the wine scene with great gusto, and if you’ve ever met Craig you know that’s the only way he approaches everything in life. If you squint a little bit and employ just a modicum of imagination, his size and demeanor might remind you of another Sonoma pioneer whose surname started with “H” – one A. Harazthy.

A. Harazthy, early CA Wine PioneerCraig Haserot, contemporary CA wine pioneer!

According to the data analysis of Cellar Tracker, Sojourn Cellars out-ranked all of the prestigious producers listed above.  And their favorable reviews are not limited to the online pinotphile, they’ve caught the attention of professional critics as well, rarely scoring less than 90 points from the likes of Wine Spectator, Pinot Report, Wine Advocate, et al.  

I’m proud to have supported them in their early days, and to have introduced them to you, my friends.  Congratulations to Craig Haserot and Erich Bradley.

(Note: I currently have a very small quantity of one Sojourn Cellars Pinot in stock.  I recommend it highly. The 2012 Russian River pinot from Wohler Vineyard ($48)

Why is this man smiling?  Good times are about to happen...

Why is this man smiling? Good times are close at hand…

Cheers!

Dave

866-746-7293



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