Nude Wine Harvest Demands New Phrase

You’ve undoubtedly heard the phrase, “Once in a blue moon“, indicating something that doesn’t happen often.  A “Blue Moon” is the astronomical term for that rare month in which two full moons can be seen (about once every 2-3 years).  Oddly, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual color of the moon.

Nude grape harvest by the full moon?But there’s no phrase that describes the occurrence of two full moons in a single night.  And I think we need one.  At least, we will when Australian winemaker Mike Hayes adopts his latest plans to harvest by the light of the full moon, sans clothing.  And we’re weeks away from harvest in the Southern Hemisphere, so astronomers will have to work quickly.  I implore all such star gazers to put down your pens and the Times Crossword, gather ’round the water cooler and get to work.

Harvesting in the nude by the light of a full moon may seem like a thinly disguised stunt designed to gain visibility for his winery, Symphony Hill (a notion I’ve not yet written off!).  But the winery already enjoys considerable fame without resorting to cheap tricks – they’ve won armloads of gold medals and were recently listed as one of Australia’s 5-star wineries by the nation’s top guru, James Halliday.  Still, un-oaked Chardonnay enjoyed a bump in sales, presumably, after adopting the generic term “naked Chardonnay”, so who’s to deny the path to success?

Hayes says the idea was just part of the knowledge he brought home after studying ancient winemaking techniques while studying on his Churchill Scholarship.  The scholarship funds global travels so Hayes can study old world winemaking techniques and obscure grape varietals.  I want to get me one of them scholarships. 

Hayes says the ancient tradition of nude winemaking made sense.  Clothes made from animal hides were not easily washed, and quickly hosted numerous strains of bacteria.  Many of these microscopic bugs would have no affect on the wine, but a few did, and therefore wine was traditionally crushed by the feet of workers wearing nothing but their birthday suits.  

Odd, that.  I’d have thought the wine’s alcohol would have killed just about any unwanted bacteria.  But hey, who am I to put logic in the path of a good story?

Happy Merchant Cropped for webCheers,
Posted by (a fully clothed) Dave Chambers
www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com 

 

Take Israeli wine out of the liquor store ghetto

Kosher Wines on the riseA good friend and customer of mine went to Israel a few years ago.  He went with his Chinese wife and a couple dozen members of his extended Jewish family.  He was a bit leery of the whole affair prior to going, I mean, traveling with your immediate family is challenge enough, but aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews,  cousins…  

But when he came home he was excited.  Not only had they had a great and memorable visit, but he’d discovered the wines of Golan Heights Winery and couldn’t wait to tell his wine merchant buddy about them.  He couldn’t bring me any of the wine, but he did bring one of the winery’s hats, which is on permanent display in our home (I really do need to get a better hat model).  

This seems as good an intro as any to the subject of Kosher wines, which have been seeing a huge upsurge in quality over recent decades.  Hence this timely (and particularly well-written) guest post from Juda Engelmayer.  Enjoy:

 Guest Post By: Juda Engelmayer

Having become somewhat of a wine enthusiast over the years, I have tasted many fine wines from all over the world, and have toured wineries in the United States and abroad in pursuit of a recreational oenophile’s whimsy.

Over the past 20 years or so, the market for kosher wines – don’t laugh – has grown, as post Baby Boomers acquired money and taste, and began seeking finer alternatives to the old style syrupy sweet Malaga and Concorde Grape selections of Kedem and Manischewitz.

My late step-mother loved to tell this story. She went to a local liquor emporium known for its kosher wines, and asked for two gallon-sized bottles of ritual (Kiddush) wine, one Malaga and one Concorde. The owner pulled her over to the side and said, in a low voice, “You know, you don’t need to drink that anymore. We have a large selection of really good kosher wines.”

“I know,” she said, with a tinge of regret. “But my husband loves this stuff.”

That was over 15 years ago, and the “large” selection is now a huge one.

In a sense, kosher wines have become ultra-westernized, and along with the fine cars, nice homes, single malt scotches, boutique distilled bourbons and golf outings, kosher baby boomers now collect fine wines.

kosher wines

Fine wine and kosher used to be contradictory terms, but with the rise of so many wonderful vineyards in Israel, the race to produce the best kosher wines soon expanded to Spain, Australia, France, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Australia, New York, California, and every other place non-kosher wines have been made for centuries.

Grapes, like all foods that grow in the ground, are inherently permissible foods, as is the alcohol produced during fermentation. Any wine can be “kosher,” and some kosher consumers accept that they are. A biblical prohibition prohibiting “pagan wine” ceased to be a problem in the first millennium, according to the rabbinic literature of the period, but social contact with non-Jews was an issue, so the ban on “non-kosher” wines continued. “Cooked wine,” on the other hand, was permissible, even during social contact with non-Jews. Thus, “mevushal” (cooked) wines became the standard until only recently. Why that is so is subject to debate. To get into that debate here is beyond the scope of this article. Besides, it would force me to examine why I can do tequila shots in a dark bar with my non-Jewish friends, but sitting down with them for a sedate dinner with wine is frowned upon.

Needless to say, the cooking process does sound as if it will certainly make any wine taste off as compared to typical non-mevushal wines. Yet, two important phenomena have occurred in the past two decades: flash pasteurizing, which maintains the essence of the flavor and qualities while super heating the wine; and the growth of wineries in Israel that are controlled and staffed by Orthodox Jews. These developments have allowed for an increased production of non-mevushal wines.

Now, I am good friends with Jose DeMereilles, the owner of and inspiration for the kosher New York bistro, Le Marais. He is not only a master chef, but a wine connoisseur who enjoys traveling around in search of the best. At his restaurant, he has some of the very best mevushal wines (they must be mevushal, because kosher certification agencies insist on it).

In recent years, he has come to know Israeli and Spanish wines of the kosher variety, and now buys them for his own home. He once believed that kosher meat could not taste as good as the non-kosher equivalents he served at Le Marais’ sister eatery, Les Halles, the home of chef Anthony Bourdain. Then Jose perfected the aging process for Le Marais, and his food now ranks among the best eateries in its class, kosher or non-kosher.

He also remembered a time when kosher wine was undrinkable and unthinkable for non-Jews, but has come to respect greatly the wines made today. That leads to his thought about wine marketing.

When you go to most, if not all, liquor stores that carry kosher wines, the kosher wine is sectioned off, and few real wine lovers will stop in the kosher section. What a grand idea it would be for Israel’s wineries — any kosher winery for that matter — to be displayed in the regional sections alongside their non-kosher peers.

This is where my public relations and marketing background comes into play, alongside my enthusiasm for wines. Kosher wineries now make a bulk of their revenues off the Jewish, and kosher in particular, consumers who enjoy good wines. That Jews are not big drinkers is a myth, but the number of Jews who drink only kosher wines is limited, and that limits market share. Consumers who want to see kosher wine sales really soar and who want to support Israel on a larger scale should work on a campaign to lessen the emphasis on kosher wines and increase the awareness of the regions where they come from.

There are few “Israel” wine sections in wine stores across the United States. There are French, Italian, Spanish, Chilean, New York, and Californian sections, as well as every other country where wine is made. Yet the Israel sections are found only among the kosher wines, and the kosher wines from every other country are relegated to that small section, as well. Take that section away, market Israel as a wine-producing nation unto itself, and place it among its fellow regions, then put the kosher wines from every other country within its own regional section. Kosher Italian with the Italians, kosher French with the French, and so on.

Kosher wineries such as Tura, Castel, Recanati, Rothschild, Elvi, Capcanes, to name a few, are perfect for the tables and cellars of both connoisseur and high-end restaurant. There is no reason they have to be put in sectioned off in ghettos in the liquor store.

Juda Engelmayer is an executive at the New York PR firm, 5W Public Relations.

California’s Foie Gras Ban, 6 Months Later

Sonoma Foie Gras - out of business with the stroke or a regulator's pen!Tomorrow night, I’m attending a “Speakeasy” dinner, one held at an address known only to the lucky attendees.  It invitation came complete with secret password for entry.  But unlike a prohibition-era Speakeasy, this dinner doesn’t feature illicit alcohol.  It features Foie Gras, a gourmet food ingredient turned into contraband last summer.

In July, it became illegal in California to farm, prepare, buy, sell or think about the artisanal delicacy known as Foie Gras – the liver of certain types of fattened fowl.  The ban was in response to the successful campaign by some very radical animal rights activists, the most extreme fringe even resort to hideous and violent measures against chefs who support and serve Foie Gras.  They even threatened their family members – imagine receiving photos of your kids at school along with a threatening note, and you’ll get an idea of what these chefs endured.

“But what of the fowl”, you may ask?  You see, the animal rights groups, with whom I find myself in sympathy on many issues, objected to the forced feeding – gavage, as the French call it – that is usually used to fatten the bird and their prized livers that become Foie Gras.  And to hear a description of gavage, well, it does sound quite cruel – forcing corn down a funnel and through a tube inserted into the mouth/throat of the bird in order to fatten it suddenly and quickly – resulting in a liver that is several times its pre-fattened size. 

But here’s the rub – left to fend for themselves, these birds naturally gorge every fall in preparation for their long migratory flight.  You see, they don’t stop to eat very often, sort of like our family vacations with Dad at the wheel.  

So, aside from the funnel and tube, gorging is a natural part of their birdly existence.  If you’re interested in such things, I encourage you to watch this great video by Dan Barber as he describes his visit to the award-winning Foie Gras farm in Spain, of all places, where no gavage is used at all.  It is well worth the time, as is his follow-up presentation about his failed attempt to replicate this experience back home in New York.

But even if your scorecard still comes down in favor of the animal activists, even if only slightly, I do have to wonder why they chose to do battle over such a minor part of our food chain.  Ever since Upton Sinclair published “The Jungle” in the early 1900’s, we’ve yet to truly clean up the beef industry.  And you’d never eat cheap supermarket or fast food chicken again if you saw how they were raised.  And then there’s the issue of the sea lice infecting farm-raised salmon, and how they’re now spreading to the wild salmon outside the high-density farming containers.  All of which would have been far wiser bogeymen to pursue if you’re an activist whose goal is to reduce animal cruelty and improve the planet’s food supply.  (a thoughtful list of 8 foods to go after before Foie Gras appears here).

So I’m looking forward to tomorrow night’s dinner, with Foie Gras served three ways.  And given the guest list, the wines are sure to be memorable, with at least one bottle of Sauternes and a domestic “ice wine” from Tudor Vineyards to provide the classic sweet-salty deliciousness that have attracted international gourmands to this classic combination.

Cheers!

Lila Farms Olive Harvest 2012

Lila Farms olive oil - blossoms in 2012Our olive harvest took place this past weekend.  We can not be sufficiently profuse in our thanks to those who trekked the 2.5 hours to our humble farm, and helped harvest 600 pounds of olives – enough for up to 10 gallons or 38 Liters of oil.  Work began a week earlier… no scratch that, it actually started with the Spring flowering, when our olive trees exploded with tiny little flower buds (see photo) that look deceptively like, in their early pre-flower stage, little baby olives.  Sadly, the vast majority are infertile, and will expire unexercised  so to speak.

Of the remainder, tiny olives will form, though they are a long way from finding their way into the picker’s bin and the olive press.  Betwixt and between, the fruit is subject to the whims of Anderson Valley’s barely hospitable olive climate, assuring that Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory will once again prevail.

Laptops are critical for gathering field data in modern olive farmingWe’ve grown fairly adept at rating the spring bud break and the fall fruit yield of each tree on our farm (photo, left).  We walk the rows, laptop in hand, rating each tree on a scale of 0 – 3, and by a fairly simple set of calculations, we’ve been able to estimate with a fair degree of accuracy, the resulting amount of oil the farm will produce in a given year.

Preparing dinner for 70 - 2012 Lila Farms olive harvestAs December draws near, our harvest invitations go out to friends and family.  The event is a lot of work for all involved, but a lot of fun as well.  Food and drink flow throughout the day, and into the early evening, and conversations ebb and flow from tree to tree.  

This year produced a record number of guests who accepted our invitation – almost 70 – so a week before the harvest we bought more food than the US Army. Our 2012 menu included pulled pork sandwiches, and we started slow roasting the meat on Wednesday, with three 5-hour batches finding their way through our ovens over the course of two days.  Thanks go out to friend and neighbor Rick Wallace, who helped cook for six hours on Thursday evening in exchange for nothing but a bit of wine and a bite of dinner.  Ok, a lot of wine.  But still.  That same night marked the beginning of our wave of cancellations – illnesses, a theft, exhaustion, and competing holiday plans, all took their toll.  We knew early on we’d have way too much food!

Lila Farms olive harvest 2012 - daybreakThe weekend before our harvest saw one of the worst storms of 2012, with flash flood warnings, road closures and power outages.  So we were pleased to see the day break on Saturday with our farm sitting above the fog bank, and nearly clear skies.  We set out the first of three waves of food and then welcomed the ever-reliable Sverak family – the first to arrive by a long shot – and we commenced to pickin’.  It was about 10AM.  

Big Red, our 1978 F-250, rose once again from the ashes

Oddly, we have no photos from the 35-40 people who arrived to help during the day, and hope that our attendees’ sea of cameras produced some shots you’ll deem worthy of sharing.  But what we CAN tell you is that, as the afternoon wore on, it became very clear that we had far more fruit than daylight.  Even with 70-80 hands hard at work (well, assuming two each), we knew we would have to leave at least a hundred pounds on the trees, as we had to have the fruit to our milling appointment by 8:30 Sunday morning.  

Dusk at Lila FarmsHere’s the odd thing.  There was no management, no overseer, no verbal agreement to keep going – just a group of friends eager to share our challenge and hated to admit defeat.  Ever pick blackberries and find it difficult to leave because there was “just one more unpicked spot” around every corner?  Yeah it was sort of like that, only without the thorns.

harvesting Lila Farms after dark!After sunset, we worked by car headlight and headlamps until the cold crept into our knuckles and other aging joints, and we recessed to the warmth of our kitchen, den and living room.  I’d selected wines to accompany pulled pork – Anderson Valley Pinot Noir from Phillips Hill, a Berger Zweigelt from my select import portfolio, and for those with contemporary palates, a Zinfandel from Speedy Creek – among a host of other wines from my portfolio.  And for the beer lovers, Anchor Steam’s Celebration Ale was a delicious pairing, offsetting the pork’s spicy dry rub with its round and rich Holiday spice notes.

2012 Lila Farms olive harvest partyOnce inside, we celebrated December birthdays (all five!) and rewarded our hard-working friends with some good conviviality.  It was a fairly early evening, however, as we had to get up by 7AM for the one-hour drive to our 8:30 appointment at the olive press the next morning.

Lila Farms 2012 Harvest goes to crushOur little four-car caravan toted almost 20 yellow bins to the press at Dry Creek Olive Oil Co., where our 579 pounds of fruit was turned into oil.  

Lila Farms 2012 Harvest gets a bathThe fruit gets washed before being crushed, because there aren’t that many people who like spiders in their olive oil.  

After crushing, the must is warmed up to 80 degrees (max) to help extract the oil – this is the process known as “Cold Press” you’ve likely seen on the labels of  better olive oils.  Though higher temperatures extract additional oil, its more bitter and lower in quality. 

How much oil did we get this year?  A gallon of olive oil generally results from each 60 – 80 pounds of fruit.  But this year’s heavy rains increased the water content of our olives so our yield required far more olives – 89 pounds – to produce each gallon of oil  So our total for this year’s harvest was just 6.5 gallons of oil for all our valiant efforts.  

Fortunately, a good time was had by all, and we thank all participants for their enthusiastic contributions. 

Cheers!  Dave

Lila Farms lost and found - 2012 olive harvest

P.S. Lost and found photo – add to this a pair of blue gloves (kid sized) and socks filled with rice.  Contact me if any of these are yours!

And now – our public photo gallery, courtesy of our talented volunteers:

Bucket Heads Sveraks Bucket Heads Lila Farm olives by Mo Sverak The Sverak Family 2 - some of our most reliable pickers! Tree on Lila Farm at the 2012 olive harvest IMG_1904 IMG_1912 IMG_1915 IMG_1918 IMG_1919

To Your Health! The health benefits of wine.

“À Votre Santé!”  This classic French toast means “To Your Health” and is a common phrase heard as wine glasses are raised around the world.  Today’s posting is by guest author Lily Harper, who contributes a piece listing the health benefits of wine, and helping us to draw the line at what constitutes “too much of a good thing”.    So the next time you raise your glass and say “À votre santé!” remember the words to live from a cartoon character from my childhood – “Moderation in all things”.  And then, once in a while, remember too the adjunct provided by my Philosophy professor  “(including moderation!)
_________________________________________________________

Many have asked themselves, “Is wine good for my health?” Despite being a tricky question, the short and simple answer is: yes, wine is good for your health if taken in moderation and as part of an overall healthy diet.

The non-alcoholic phytochemicals and the alcohol content in wine have been proven to reduce the risks related to cardiac diseases, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease, and some types of cancer. What matters most when it comes to the health benefits of drinking wine is the amount taken. This is a very tricky situation where all the health benefits that were derived from wine can be quickly lost as consumption rises. If taken more than the recommended amount, the health benefits turn into health risks. The issue has been debated and researched for quite some time, and some experts have determined recommended and safe amounts of wine that can be effective if one is to derive the health benefits; for men, the limit is set to two glasses daily while for women, it is recommended to limit the intake to one glass per day.

Health Benefits

It has been established that moderate intake of wine can raise HDL-cholesterol, and this reduces the risk of heart diseases. The HDL-cholesterol is considered to be good cholesterol that helps in thinning blood. This regulates the flow of blood and reduces multiple health risks including sometimes fatal strokes caused by blockages in blood flow. It is important to ensure a regular intake of good cholesterol in order to reduce the risk of a stroke.

Wine also contains flavonoids and resveratrol which are non-alcoholic phytochemicals. These chemicals act as antioxidants and thus, reduce the risk of cellular damage in the body. Although the quantities of these chemicals are low in wine, their impacts are positive. Resveratrol has also been proven to prevent blood clotting. Recent studies have also shown that resveratrol reduces the risk for coronary heart disease and significantly increases cardiovascular health. Compared to white wine, this chemical is found in a higher concentrations in red wine. The concentration depends upon whether the skin of the grape is used in the wine making process. In the case of red wine, extended skin contact is what gives the wine its color, so the proportion of resveratrol is high. On the other hand, the skin is typically separated from the juice before the production of white wine, so it has a lower proportion of this beneficial chemical.

Wine has also been proven to enhance longevity. A Finnish study of 2,468 men over a time span of 29 years proved that individuals who drank wine had 34 percent lower mortality rate than those who drank beer.

It has also been established that drinking wine reduces the risk of type 2 Diabetes. According to research conducted on 369,862 individuals over a time span of 12 years at Amsterdam’s VU University Medical Center, individuals who took moderate amounts of wine had 30 percent less risk of developing type 2 diabetes as against those who did not drink wine. Another study conducted on 3,176 individuals over a time span of 8 years proved that moderate intake of wine reduces the risk of strokes related to blood clotting.

It has also been suggested that moderate wine drinkers have a lower chance of getting cataracts as compared to nondrinkers or beer drinkers. This was proved by a study conducted in Iceland, which showed that moderate wine drinkers are 43 percent less likely to develop cataracts, compared to others.

So we can see that moderate consumption of wine yields an impressive number of health benefits.

Things to Remember

However, despite the positive aspects of moderate wine consumption, it must be noted that these health benefits can only be derived when it is taken in moderate amounts. Just as some drugs can save lives, addiction to the same drug can result in severe consequences and the same is true for alcohol abuse. Where on one hand, moderate use of wine increases good cholesterol, its extended use may increase triglycerides that can increase the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.  Therefore, an individual must maintain the fine balance between beneficial effects of a good glass of wine and sever consequences of an addiction.

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Lily Harper writes on behalf of the Coalition Against Drug Abuse (drugabuse.com) who offer a range of treatment options for those struggling with addiction. She is a health writer who specialises in encouraging people to seek a healthier lifestyle and where possible avoid the unnecessary early adoption of drugs and other treatment for minor ailments.

A Helpful Wine Tasting Reminder – Swirl & Sniff

dave the wine merchant with glass of syrahMy brother recently echoed a common frustration among wine drinkers – “I can’t recall aromas or flavors well enough to be a good wine taster”.  Well, taste and scent memory arecritical skills if you want to be successful with food or wine.  How else can one hope to think up the perfect pairing for a wine, or the seasoning to add to a dish?  But it takes work, just like toning a muscle or memorizing multiplication tables.

And our modern world is of no help – scents assault us at every turn, so manufacturers make them stronger and stronger.  We recently returned from a trip where our noses were assaulted by the scents of the flight attendant’s perfume, the deodorizer in the airplane’s bathroom, the soap shop whose open door allowed fake soap scents to waft a full block away, the potpourri in the hotel lobby and even the detergent used on our bedding and towels. These manufactured scents pervade our noses like muzak invades our ears, a subliminal foundation that makes it more difficult to be consciously aware of, say, the scent in our glass of wine.  If you want to be a better cook, gourmand, or wine taster, make an effort to turn off the constant hum of aromas in your daily existence.

Cheers!

P.S. Wine Tasting Etiquette – never wear cologne or other scents of any kind when attending a wine tasting. You may not smell it after five minutes (by then, your sense of smell has become de-sensitized to it), but everyone else can!

Review of Dave the Wine Merchant’s “Pinot Selections” Wine Club

Some time ago, I came across a new site dedicated to reviewing wine clubs.  But all of the reviews I saw were for huge clubs, the big industrial sort that buy unknown wine for $50 a case and sell it for $12 a bottle (a very enjoyable 188% markup, if you’re counting).  So I wanted to see if they’d review a small personal club like we run.  They were more than happy to, as long as we sent them the samples.  Whatch what they had to say:

 

For more information on all of our wine clubs, click here.

 Cheers!  Dave the Wine Merchant

 

Top Wines – Wine Club Members Speak Out

Favorites from this week's wine club member tasting

This week we had a good turn out for our SF tasting, though we missed some of our regular attendees.  None of those in attendance were from our Pinot Selections club, and as a result I think the appreciation of this noble grape may have slipped a bit from past tastings.  That said, the affordable Banshee ($25) held its own.

We tasted through all 11 of the wines selected for my various wine clubs, and attendees had an opportunity to place an order that night and save 10%.  Here were the favorites:

  • Trinitas, 2008 Meritage, Oak Knoll AVA $55. A blend of four of the five classic Bordeaux varietals (all but Petite Verdot), led by Cabernet.  Trinitas Cellars just celebrated the grand opening of their new hospitality facility, which features a tasting room bored into the hillside where guests taste in a cave-like environment complete with a babbling brook (and free of bats, I presume, though I was sadly unable to attend the opening soiree to see for myself!)

  • Trinitas, 2009 Mysterium (Red Blend), $25.  A complex amalgam of five red grapes, led by Zinfandel and Carignane, this is fruity and spicy and full of yum, for those that enjoy wines that feature more fruit than earth.  Very California.  Very flirtatious.  Just nosed into second place by a bottle or two.

  • Diatom, 2011 Chardonnay “Hamon”, $42.  This is a big wine, from Winemaker Greg Brewer of Brewer-Clifton fame.  At 16.3% alcohol, it’s a white wine that’s definitely packin’ some heat, particularly on the finish.  But the wine is also big and complex and interesting enough to show more balance than I’ve ever seen in a wine over 15%.
  • Domaine Fontanel, 2010 Cotes Catalanes (Grenache/Syrah 70/30), $16.  This wine was voted the best value of the lot, for its relatively modest price tag and its less-than-modest demeanor, which is just an overly-wrought way of saying this is a lot of wine for the money.  From the Languedoc region in Southern France, you can almost smell the lavendar and dried sage brush and herbs next to the fruit and spice.  Nice stuff.

I thank all the Bay Area members and customer who could attend.  We’ll postpone this summer’s club shipment until after the heat has passed, but we’ll still be holding a summer tasting event – sign up on our email list or join Dave the Wine Merchant on Facebook to learn  the details.  Hint – it will feature six (at least) great summer wines from different parts of the word, allowing you to understand typical styles and determine your favorite.  A fun evening is assured, even if we have to pretend it’s a hot summer day in foggy San Francisco.

Cheers,

Dave

Recipe : Roasted Pork Belly on Kale Salad

Dave the Wine Merchant - Roasted Pork Belly on Kale Salad with aromatic white wines
14 people. 6lbs of pork belly. Gone in 60 minutes!

This recipe is a bit time consuming but well worth it!

I first tasted this dish at the Anderson Valley Alsace festival (now known as “White Wine Weekend”). It was prepared by Beau MacMillan, the Executive Chef at Arizona’s Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa.  I’ve adjusted some of the ingredients and procedures to make the recipe a little more home-friendly, for those of us who don’t benefit from a team of prep cooks. 

Pork belly is generally available through most good butchers these days, but you may want to call ahead just to be sure.

The preparation begins with the rub applied to the meat, which remains on for a brief 2 hours before the meat is seared and then slow-roasted.  The recipe is broken into three sections – one for the meat, one for the dressing, and one for the salad (photo, left).

Wine Pairing

Pair this with a rich and aromatic white wine or a good dry to off-dry rosé.  Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, unoaked/lightly oaked Chardonnay or Riesling would be among my top picks.  Rosé fans will like the way the wine plays off the sweet-tart nature of the ingredients, and how the fruit complements the pork.

(Serves 4-6)

Ingredients – Pork Belly

  • 1-2 lb. Pork Belly (ask your butcher to remove the thin, tough skin on top of the fat)
  • ~1 Cup Salt
  • ~1.5 Cups Sugar (I use a mix of brown and baking sugar)
  • Zest from one orange, one lemon, and one lime
  • 2 Sprigs fresh rosemary, stripped from stems and chopped

Combine all ingredients, place half in a non-reactive pan, place pork top, meat-side up, and massage the remaining  rub into the top and sides.  Cure pork belly for ~2 hours. About 20 minutes before it’s done curing, pre-heat your oven to 475F.  Rinse the rub off the meat and place in a roasting pan, fat-side up.  Roast at 475F for 15 minutes, reduce heat to 250F and cook for another 30+ minutes – checking every five minutes after that, removing it from the oven when much of the fat is rendered and the meat is done but still a bit pink.  If the fatty top is not caramelized and bubbly, put it under the broiler for a minute or so – but watch it closely, and don’t take any phone calls from mom.

Ingredients – Soy Sesame Vinaigrette

Yield:  approx. 1 cup                                                                                       

  • 1-2 Tbsp. Olive oil
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Ginger, chopped fine
  • 1/2 Tbsp. Garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 Tbsp.   Green onion, chopped fine
  • 1 pinch   Red chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup   Rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup   Mirin
  • 1/4 cup   Soy sauce – low-sodium highly recommended
  • 1/4 cup   Brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp.   Cornstarch (dissolved in 1/4 cup water)

Heat a saucepan over medium heat for couple of minutes. Add the oil, wait about 30 seconds, then add the garlic, ginger, green onion and chili flake. Sauté until fragrant (about 30 seconds) and then add remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer a couple of minutes until thickened.  Strain and cool (alternative – I liked the idea of a wilted salad, and although kale isn’t prone to wilting, I opted to heat the dressing and apply it to the kale salad just before serving.)

Kale Salad Ingredients

  • 1-2 bunches of Kale (1/2 – 1 pound)
  • 1 C Fresh blueberries or golden raisins
  • 1/2 C dried cranberries or cherries
  • 1/2 C pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • 1/3 C Sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 C Shredded carrots
  • 1 Tbsp Chopped mint

Wash kale, remove and discard stems, then chop.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, dress with the soy-sesame vinaigrette (hot, if you so choose) toss lightly and season with salt to taste.  Serve family style on a large platter, or on individual salad plates.  Top with pork belly cut into 1-inch slices.

Recipe originally from Beau MacMillan, Executive Chef.

Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa
5700 E. McDonald Drive
Paradise Valley, AZ  85253
480.607.2302| Main

“#1 Resort in the United States” – Condé Nast Readers’ Choice Awards
“#1 Resor in Arizona” – Travel + Leisure 500 Best Hotels in the World for 2012

 

Memory Lane and the Oakville Grocery

Historic Oakville Grocery in Napa Valley wine country
Oakville Grocery reopens May 22nd!

You may have seen the news that the historic Oakville Grocery building, newly renovated, will be re-opening tomorrow.  I couldn’t help but smile at the news, as it brought back memories of my entry into the wine business.

Just across the street from the store, just about where the photo at left was taken, you’ll find the Cellar Door tasting room for participating producers from Napa Wine Company.  I worked there on weekends, under the patient and jovial tutelage of Andy Gridley (now of Gridley Family Cellars).  I spent my weeks working at Charles Schwab’s headquarters, and my weekends in Napa.  I stayed in the guest room of friends in St. Helena, and we spent my few non-working hours enjoying the many sites, sounds and tastes of the valley in the summer time.

Right around noon at the tasting room, Andy would say “I’ll buy if you fly”, and I’d venture out to forage for food at one of the small handful of nearby options.  Oakville Grocery was a favorite spot, full of hand-selected gourmet items targeted to tourists without budget restraints.  They also had a corner on the valley’s beautiful people, who seemed to rotate through their staff with regularity, and all of whom were surprisingly friendly, given the crush of people one encountered during peak hours.

I can’t wait to get to Napa soon, to see what the renovations have meant for this old icon.  Add it to your list as well, for your next trip to Napa wine country.  (and for help with your trip planning, check out the iPhone app – NapaWineries)