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

CorkSharing – Wine App Review

CorkSharing-full

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!  
Dave
www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com 

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.”

20150514_124301

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.

20150514_140656

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!



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