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.


  • 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)

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 –

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.


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)



CorkSharing – Wine App Review


Having learned my lesson the hard way (it’s a long sob story not worth any more pixels), I appreciate good wine apps.  I recently came across Bryan Petro’s “CorkSharing” (wine tourism app for iPhone and Android) and thought it worth sharing.

CorkSharing was designed for those who like to plan their route in advance and who enjoy a little preferential treatment upon arrival.  The app allows users to visually scan a map of a wine region showing an overlay of participating wineries.  Users can then click on a winery’s red dot to review their self-reported details and, if all looks good, to book a tasting appointment. 

From a winery’s perspective, the app automates the reservation process, from booking the appointment to taking payment for the tasting fees (CorkSharing takes a 15% booking fee – there is no other cost to participate).  The company currently has more than 600 participating wineries from around the globe.

To see more on how it works, here’s a helpful video demo:


Winery Sign-Up Process
If you run a winery tasting room and would like to test CorkSharing, sign up for it here.

Tasting Event Promotion
Holding a tasting event you want to publicize? Post it here.


My App Review

My vision for our failed iPhone app was to allow wineries to book reservations, as CorkSharing does, but also to push promotions to users once their device was within a reasonable distance.  Imagine a slow day in your tasting room, and the ability to post an instant promotion of limited duration.  Generating more TR traffic for you, and providing greater value for customers seemed like a great deal.  

CorkSharing gets you much of the way there, and seems a likely candidate among wine apps to go the distance.  However, they desperately need more wineries on board before the app reaches critical mass, and they are constantly working on this.  Unlike other apps, they don’t scrape data from winery websites in order to create the appearance of endless choices (only to disappoint users who click on winery after winery not participating in the booking).  

The app is free and easy to use.  Even at this early stage it’s worth downloading.  Any wine lover planning their next trip will find it useful!

Just DaveCheers!  

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.”


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 – 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.













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.


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.

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


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.  


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



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 -

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

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.


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


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.

champagne pop 2

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



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