“Drinking Alcohol Causes Cancer!” (Whoops. Not!)

Alcohol cancerThis week, two UK publications used attention-grabbing headlines like the one seen at left.  They quoted a ‘study’ published in the journal “Addiction”.

They had but one problem.  There was no study.  Only the wishful musings of a neo-prohibitionist writing in the publication’s “For Debate” section. You may have seen the headlines making news – such is the nature of our state of journalism today – and I’m posting this to argue that moderate drinking is still more likely to lengthen one’s lifespan than to shorten it.  

Of course, being employed in the wine industry, that’s what you’d expect me to say, right? So I will leave you with a link to this more reasoned consideration of the debate.

Happy Sipping!Just Dave

Dave “The Wine Merchant” Chambers

 

Recipe – Grilled Bacon Kebabs

Grilled Bacon Kebabs imageFunny, this – “Living high on the hog” used to mean one could afford the prime cuts of meat farthest away from the pig’s belly – the luxurious loin.  But today you can’t walk down a block at lunchtime without running into an urban hipster biting into some form of pork belly.  Eating low on the hog is decidedly trendy.  

This recipe feeds that craze, featuring bacon in a rather unusual but delicious preparation – skewered and grilled. The recipe originated with Chris Morocco  over at Bon Appetit (photo by Ted Cavanaugh), but I’ve simplified it a bit so more people can prepare it using ingredients already in their pantry – unless the back corner of your condiment shelf is hiding a jar of the spicy Asian concoction known as sambal oelek, in which case add a couple TBSPs of it to the relish, by all means. 

When planning your meal you may find it easiest to purchase the bacon by the number of slices you’d like to serve each guest instead of by weight. If this is your main protein, you’ll want a good five or six slices per person.  If serving as an appetizer or side dish, perhaps just two or three.  I prepared this recipe with a thick-cut pepper bacon and can’t imagine how it would work with anything thinner.  

There are three sections to the recipe – the glaze, the relish and the meat.

The Glaze – used during the last two minutes of cooking. Can be prepared in advance and refrigerated. This recipe is sufficient for 8 slices of bacon.  Increase the recipe accordingly as your party gets larger.  And when you’re serving these, it’s bound to do so.

  • 2 Tbsp honey or agave
  • 2 Tbsp sambal oelek or Sriracha
  • 1-2 Tbsp unseasoned Rice Vinegar

Combine all ingredients and set aside.  Told you this was easy.

The Relish – liberally disperse over the dish immediately after removing from the grill.  Let sit at room temperature while preparing the grill so the flavors infuse.

  • 6 scallions, thinly sliced (just up to the green part)
  • 1 Serrano chile, seeded and diced
  • Juice from 1/2 a lime
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1+ tsp ginger, peeled and grated, to taste (substitute powdered ginger, if you must)
  • 1/2 tsp light brown sugar or squeeze of honey or agave syrup

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

The Meat

Indirect bbq heatAt this point, prepare your grill – you want a medium fire on just one side of the grill – you’ll need to use indirect heat to prevent charring.  Using metal (preferably) skewers, weave them through the meat (not the fat) every few inches, then stretch the bacon out flat, as shown in the photo above.  

Place the skewers over the indirect heat side of the grill and turn every minute or so for about 8 minutes.  Don’t leave the grill, these do require a bit of constant attention.  You don’t want the bacon to burn, but it should sizzle as it renders its fat and crisps up.  While still slightly limp but almost ready, brush the bacon with the glaze and turn every 30 seconds for another 2-3 minutes or until you can’t wait to bite into one.  The glaze burns easily, so don’t leave the grill, put your wine glass down, and focus.

Wine Pairing

The heat in this dish can prove tricky for most wines, and it is really best with a low-alcohol, off-dry white (think Riesling) or Rose. However, the “Red Only” crowd prefers to pair hot dishes with fruity, high-alcohol wines such as a CA Zinfandel.  To each his/her own, but if I were forced down the red-only lane I’d opt for a Russian River Pinot. Shop for wines here.

Enjoy!

Dave the Wine Merchant

Does Your Wine Cause Cancer?

During the course of my many solar orbits, I’ve observed broadcast news shift from dry, informative information to content that offers entertainment that shifts between feel-good stories embedded between warnings of the falling sky.  Such is the destiny of today’s deregulated marketplace.

So I wasn’t too worried when I read the headline “Weed Killer Could Be Lurking In Some CA Wines”.  But if one follows the “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” it does seem as if Monsanto’s ‘RoundUp’ is too ubiquitous to NOT become a factor in the health of some portion of the population. 

The news on wine containing traces of this popular weed killer is just the latest bit of inflammatory news.  Clearly, our entire food supply is at risk, as are our watersheds.  I tend to adopt a rational approach to such things, and intend to keep looking at the research beyond what our current broadcast news environment allows.  

I’ll keep an eye on this to see if wineries diminish their use of RoundUp, or if organically raised grapes still have traces of the carcinogenic chemical, and see if there is scientific consensus (outside of studies sponsored by Monsanto) that indicates glyphosate is encroaching into our food and water supply at a level worthy of concern. Stay tuned.

See the original broadcast here:

 (or copy/paste this link)

http://abc7news.com/health/i-team-weed-killer-could-be-lurking-in-some-ca-wines/1314832/

Where the hell is Swabia!? Wine Lovers need to know.

Jon Bonné, the NY ex pat who moved to SF to write about wine for many years, then moved BACK to NY to get married, has penned an opus to a rising-star wine region – Germany’s Baden-Württemberg and W. Bavaria –  a region collectively known as Swabia.  

Swabia artwork - PunchNow, most of my education in the German language is limited to grape varieties, soil types and the tongue-twisting words commonly found on complex German wine labels.  Such a basic facility with the language suggest the region’s pronunciation should be “SVAH-bia”.  But Google is of little help in providing confirmation of my tentative suggestion.  From Google can tell, the English pronunciation is “SWAY-bia”, while the German pronunciation is “SWAH-bia”, with a short A but still pronouncing the W.  I’m surprised the W isn’t pronounced as a V, but then, perhaps Google just doesn’t know everything (shocker).  I hope an astute German-speaking reader will comment and I can erase this confusion in a revised posting.

But what’s in a name?  The wines of Swabia by any other name would taste as sweet.

Wait, these are dry wines, so I need a better Bardian reference, but you get my drift.  The key thing is to read Jon’s article, then go out and buy some of these wines to taste for yourself.  They are lighter than their new-world counterparts, but I hesitate to use the term “Burgundian” as they are unique unto themselves.  Yet given their Burgundian origins, it’s no surprise that the German word for Pinot Noir (the flag-bearing varietal from the region) is Spätburgunder, which roughly translates as “the late-ripening grape of Burgundy”.  

And though Jon emphasizes the red wines of Swabia, it’s worth noting that the white wines are also of great interest to wine lovers – try the curiously named “Gutedel” (GOOT aid-uhl, as in edelweiss), a white variety also known as Chasselas (SHA salahh) which is worthy of note because it has not yet to be discovered by hip millennial wine bars (aka it’s still affordable).  And the Swabian Pinot Gris (Grauer Burgunder), which may be a bit higher priced but is equally and uniquely charming.

Read the article here.

Wine-Friendly Recipe – White Bean Crostini (Appetizer)

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for  drizzling
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced and 1 whole clove, peeled
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked white beans, or drained and rinsed canned beans
  • 2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 baguette, cut into 24 1/4-inch rounds
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional), shaved into strips

Directions:

In a small fry pan over medium heat, warm 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Add the minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and pour into a liquid measuring cup.

In a food processor, combine the white beans, rosemary and lemon juice. Pulse until the beans are partially pureed, 5 to 10 seconds. With the motor running, pour in the garlic oil and process until a smooth puree forms, 5 to 10 seconds more. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. 

Arrange the 24 crostini on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Bake at 450 until lightly browned, then immediately, while still hot, swipe with a whole clove of peeled garlic.

Spread about 1.5 Tbs. of the white bean puree on each crostini. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with a grind of fresh pepper and the parsley.  If using, place a slice of Parmesan on top and serve.

Wine Pairings

This dish makes it a great pairing with dry sparkling wine and most white wines with ample fruitiness.  Reds-only drinkers will be happiest when paired with lighter reds.

Book Review – Karen MacNeil’s Wine Bible (2nd Edition)

Karen MacNeil Wine Bible 2nd Ed

Amazon describes this book as “The #1 Best Seller” in their Wine Collecting category.

Do I really need to say more? What can I add that the intelligence of the collective community hasn’t already said by voting with their credit cards?  Just my opinion, I guess.

Which one might see as sycophanitc burbling.  You see, this book is utterly charming.  Informative but not pedantic.  Fun and enjoyable to read.  It is not the ONLY wine reference book you need, but it is certainly the first one to buy – the cornerstone for any wine library.

My only gripe is minor – some topics can be a tad difficult to find, as the book is organized by country/region and (at least in the advance copy I received) has no index. This makes researching a grape variety very difficult to do if using the paper version of the book, which lacks the convenience of electronic search capabilities.  BUT, for those buying a paper version, I recommend the hard cover as you’ll use it often and your increasingly well-thumbed softcover version will need to be replaced all too soon.

Karen MacNeilBut the biggest surprise to me was Karen’s warmth and lightness of tone.  Her obvious enthusiasm is shared with brevity and the perfect ratio of images to text, and does so without ever tiptoeing into the “look how smart I am” territory.  

You see, I’ve never taken a class from Karen, but I’ve met her several times and have one of her wine education video series, and she strikes me as one who is (hmmm, how do I put this?) “very precise”.  Like someone whose parking meter change is organized by coin size.  Whose floor-to-ceiling library is organized alphabetically.  Whose clothes somehow are never marred by coffee consumed from a leaky to-go cup on the way to her office. And whose writing style would lean towards the deeply informative while eschewing the engagingly captivating.  I may or may not be right about the first three, but I am very pleased to be wrong about my last conclusion!

You’ll enjoy this book, over and over again!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Guest Post: An Ode To Prosecco

By Catie Costa, author of “Love on the Rocks, A Positano Tale

An Ode to Prosecco

Tiamo Prosecco DOC, $16Oh, Prosecco!

I’ve long thought Prosecco to be the nectar of the gods. I mean, whatever the gods were drinking (at least the Italian gods), it just had to be Prosecco. I can’t think of a tastier drink (next to champagne, which I also adore) that complements so many dishes, yet can also stand alone.

Still, what makes Prosecco so special? What do we really know about Prosecco, you ask?

…Please, let me tell you:

  • Prosecco was not always the name of the beverage. It was the name of the variety of grape. Duh. Ok, I didn’t know that either.
  • The name of the grape variety was changed to “Glera“.
  • In order to be labeled Prosecco, the wine must be made in a region or regions labeled as DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata).
  • DOC regions are in Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Treviso
  • Atop the DOC regions is the epitome of all Prosecco, those from Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore (DOCG).
  • Most Prosecco today is extra dry (DOCG).
  • Asti and Moscato D’Asti should not be mistaken for Prosecco. They are sweeter.
  • The Bellini (Prosecco and pureed peach) originated at Harry’s Bar (an old watering hole of Ernest Hemingway) in Venice.
  • A Rossini is another fruity Prosecco cocktail I think you’ll enjoy. Simply pour Prosecco into a flute with pureed baby strawberries.
  • Other variations: the Puccini – Replace peach puree with mandarin juice. And then there’s the Tintoretto – replace with pomegranate juice. Fancy!
  • Prosecco is a libation that does not age well. So upon opening the bottle, drink at once! 

(Want to try a good Prosecco for a reasonable price?  Dave recommends the Tiamo DOC for less than $20!)

Love on the RocksAbout the author
Catie Costa has traveled all over Western Europe, with repeated trips to Ireland and Italy. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay area. She recently published a new fiction novel, “Love on the Rocks: A Positano Tale,” a story of two best friends, Kit and Bridget, who flee their humdrum lives in the States to spend an adventurous summer in Positano, Italy, where Prosecco, Nutella and romance abound.

Seared Chicken Breasts with Perfect Pan Sauce

Phot credit - Food Lab, a great recipe source!

Phot credit – Food Lab, a great recipe source!

I’ve known how to make great seared chicken breasts for many years, but always found the sauce too thin and runny, even when I allowed extra time for reduction or finished with an extra dollop butter.  But when I ordered the same dish at a decent restaurant, the sauce was always beautifully thick and satisfying.  So I asked if the chef would share his/her secret.  Here’s what came back – add gelatin!

I tested it, and then googled it and found the Food Lab’s recipe (click image above to open in new window), and compared both versions.  I share the highly satisfying result with you here.

Ingredients:

  • One boneless chicken breast per person (this assures leftovers) – I prefer skin on – allowed to dry in refrigerator for at least four hours, or overnight.
  • ½ cup dry white wine, unoaked or lightly oaked
  • ½ cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1½ tsp powdered gelatin (tapioca powder also works)
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (about one clove)
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • Fresh herbs, minced (any or all of chives, parsley, tarragon and chervil)

Procedure
With oven rack placed at center height, pre-heat oven to 450.  Liberally season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. 

Combine wine and chicken stock and sprinkle gelatin on top.  Set aside.

Heat a wide, flat, oven-proof skillet (stainless steel, if you have it) over medium high for 3-4 minutes; add the oil and then the chicken breasts, skin-side down.  RESIST touching the chicken for about five minutes, then check on progress – flip the breasts when the skin is deep golden brown, usually about six minutes if your heat is right.  After flipping, transfer your skillet to the oven.

When a thermometer (inserted into the thickest part of the chicken breast) registers an internal temperature of 150 degrees (6-10 minutes, depending on the size of the poultry), place the skillet on a burner and transfer chicken to a cutting board to rest before carving.

Pour off all but ~1 Tbsp of chicken fat from the skillet, then set your fire to high heat.  Add the shallots and garlic and stir until fragrant – just 30 seconds or so.  Add the stock/wine/gelatin mixture and deglaze the pan, stirring up any of the fond – the brown bits from the chicken.  Reduce by 2/3 (4-6 minutes, depending on your heat) then finish your sauce by whisking in the butter and soy, cooking for several seconds at a high boil until emulsified.  Remove from heat, stir in the minced herbs, and add any salt/pepper to taste.

Slice the chicken breasts into ¾ inch slices and transfer the whole breast to individual plates, overlapping the slices before spooning on the sauce.  Serve with choice of potatoes and green vegetable. 

Difficulty: Easy-Medium.  Time required: 45-60 minutes, depending on wine consumption.

Wine Pairing: This dish is rich enough to compliment medim-full bodied white wines, most Rosés, and even light reds such as Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or lighter Zins.

Variations: this basic recipe can be taken in a million different directions.  Think about adding sautéed mushrooms to pull it in an earthy direction, or dried cherries/cranberries for a sweet/savory direction.  Pound out the breasts and add lemon and capers and you’ve got Piccata.  Or add a bit of cumin, raisins and pine nuts and head towards Morocco!

Save 50% – Pre-Order the new book from Wine Folly

WineFollyBookAmong the many producers of wine info-graphics, WineFolly is the consistent winner in terms of creativity and the visual display of information.  And now the minds behind these reliable graphics are coming out with a new book, available for under $12 when you pre-order on Amazon (sorry, U.S. only).

Check it out here – http://bit.ly/WineFollyBookOffer

I’ve not yet seen the book, but perusing the preview on Amazon provides a good indication that it will be a useful and reliable guide to wine and the grapes that produce them.  Wine Folly seems to have brought to wine literature what DK Publishing brought to tourism guides.

Cheers!
Dave

Why I Don’t Sell Many Napa Cabs

As a rule, my wine club features unique wines.  Wines from more obscure producers, grape varieties, and regions.  But every now and then a member will ask why I don’t include some of the old familiar wines, wines of their youth, perhaps.  So I’ve come to include a mix of wines, including the occasional Napa selection from smaller producers like Four Cairn, Midsummer Cellars,  and Cathy Corison.  

In general, after reviewing wines from around the globe, I just don’t see the value in traditional Napa Cabs, unless your goal is to hold them for future sale (only problem is, few Napa producers are crafting wines to age these days!)  Don’t get me wrong, they still have great appeal, just not great value.

And this chart explains why – adjusted for inflation, Napa Cabernet grapes are at an all-time high of nearly $6,000 a ton!  

Source: NapaCabCPI-e1438036933854.png (1000×648)

Cheers!

Dave



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