Chardonnay-Friendly Recipes

Label image - Seebass Family Reserve ChardonnayChardonnay, the top-selling wine in America by FAR, has fallen out of favor with a certain group of avid wine drinkers.  That certain group would be those in the industry – Sommeliers, retailers, distributors, and many producers. Of course, none of them will admit it, as Chardonnay pays many of their salaries.  But when it comes to selecting a wine they want to drink… different story.

I suspect this is the result of over-exposure (ask any parent about the effects of “Dora the Explorer Immersion Therapy”).  

Or maybe it’s the “Rombauer Effect”, wherein a white wine is so big and bold you taste nothing else for days.  These are Chardonnays designed to shout, to shove their way past all other distractions, grab your tastebuds and shake them until you’ve taken notice.  In other words, not wines one gravitates toward if your business is the thoughtful sniffing and sipping of fine wines to discern each fine and elegant nuance. 

Wine label - Hanzell Sebella ChardonnayBut Chardonnay fans, Fall is your season to rejoice.  Even those on the fence about these wines will have to admit they pair quite well with the sage-scented foods of fall – squash, baked pasta, pumpkin, turkey, carrot soup, yams/sweet potatoes, and etc.  So here are a collection of links to some great fall recipes that will pair well with your Chardonnay.  Oh, and if you’re short on Chard, here’s a helpful link to the Chardonnay “aisle” in my online wine shop.

Recipe Link - Easy Butternut Squash SoupEasy Butternut Squash Soup – “Once Upon a Chef”. these recipes from blogger and ex-chef Jennifer Segal are home-tested and feature her excellent photographs.  That so many talents should find their way into a single amateur blogger is the beauty of the internet.  If you’re a foodie, and even if you’re not, you really should subscribe to her email feed – you’ll be pleasantly teased by her photos in your inbox.  They just might inspire you to enjoy a meal at home, whether on your  own, with family, or a whole group.  And encouraging such communal dining is a good thing.  Put down your devices.  Pick up your spoons.  And dig in.

Image - butternut squash risotto and ChardonnayButternut Squash Risotto – “Big Oven”.  A ton of great fall recipes can be found here.  Try them all.  They’re easy.  On this one, I prefer to include some bite-sized chunks of cooked squash to give the dish a bit of a toothsome, al-dente feel.  And one can never go wrong if you give it a little Bam! of freshly crushed, dried thyme and/or sage (or better yet, the fresh version, roughly chopped before Bamming).  Best as a side dish, as a little goes a long way.

Image - cedar plank salmon with ChardonnayCedar Plank Salmon – “” – People often think Pinot Noir is the natural pairing for salmon.  But in my experience that pairing can be like a bad Match.Com date.  It all depends on the depth of the wine and the preparation method for the salmon.  To play it safe, Chardonnay is a safer bet.  

My Vancouverite brother was the first person to introduce me to this method of cooking salmon.  For hundreds of years, this most iconic fish of the Great Northwest was traditionally fire-roasted atop a well-soaked cedar plank.  Those native peoples knew what they were doing when it came to salmon, but when it comes to wine, you’d best leave it to me. The smoke and cedar/foresty aromas and flavors of this dish demand a wine of sufficient heft to match, so I recommend a new world Chardonnay with a good amount of oak, or a bit of time in the bottle, or both, such as the Diatom 2011 Hamon ($42), or the Pont de Chevalier, 2009 Knights Valley ($44).


Spring Has Sprung – Notes from a wine club shipment

Spring came early to wine country this year.  As I write this, the short-lived lupines are out in abundance, providing a purple-blue stage for the prima-donna golden poppies springing up in their midst.  And in the vineyards, bud break came early too.  Now the growers are sweating out the possibility of frosts for another month – we should be out of the woods if we can make it through Memorial Day without falling below 32°.  It was 36° last night.

Serving temperature guildelines

And gardens are burgeoning with fava beans, asparagus, snow peas and edible greens – springtime vegetables providing a welcome change from winter fare.  And when our foods change, so do the wines that go with them.  So this month’s selections were chosen with an eye (or tastebud?) toward springtime ingredients – a Sauvignon Blanc (always a favorite), Chardonnays, a lighter style Cabernet, and of course, the ever-flexible pinot noirs, among others.

But with Spring comes the promise of heat.  If it hasn’t already arrived in your neighborhood it’ll be moving in soon.  And heat impacts how we experience a wine.  As “room temperature” increases to its summer-time norm, a wine quickly becomes too warm to show its best stuff.  And for those of us without wine cellars, that means calling your refrigerator into duty for calculated periods of time until your wine reaches its ideal temperature.

To make this task as easy as possible, I’ve provided the following guide (right).  In summary, to move a bottle of wine from room temperature to its ideal temperature, count the number of degrees you need it to move and multiply by five minutes – that’s how long you’ll want to leave it in the refrigerator.  Easy.



My “Grand Cru” Club Selections ($150/quarter)

Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc Crocker & Starr, 2012 Sauvignon Blanc.  $32 (all prices before member discount)

What were you doing in 1971?  Charlie Crocker was planting grapes in Napa Valley.  You would have too, if you were a 3rd generation Californian and great grandson to the railway magnate.  Charlie’s family has a Midas touch. Great Grandad helped bring the world to California, turning it into an economic behemoth.  And there was something about a rather large bank too.  And he created and sold some successful technology companies.  You might say the Crockers were visionaries.  Which is why he planted grapes in an unknown place called Napa, way back in 1971.

The “Starr” of the show, however, is Pam Starr, noted winemaker and co-founder of this blessed venture in 1997.  I still remember the buzz surrounding this new partnership back in 1998 when I was working weekends in a Napa tasting room.  Though one can find delicious Sauvignon Blanc for a lot less, I think you’ll agree this is an intriguing and memorable rendition.  And a perfect wine for the foods of Spring.

Ghost Block Est. Cab LabelGhost Block, 2010 Oakville Estate Cabernet.  $66

If you’ve toured Napa Valley, you know the town of Yountville.  Home of the French Laundry, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty, Chandon… and Napa’s first wine grower, George C. Yount.  This wine comes from a vineyard that abuts the historic Pioneer Cemetery, and the wine’s name comes from the local lore in which Yount’s ghost wanders the area “overseeing” the modern development of the industry he began.  Sounds to me like the sort of local lore a marketing department might create.

The very antithesis of ghostly, this wine is typical Napa – big and bold, expressing blackberries, cherries, mocha and sweet pie spices.  A sure hit with any Cab lover, and a candidate for meats and veggies off your summer grill.

The winemaker – Rob Lawson – is very much alive and well.  Hopefully, he has many more years before he joins Yount on his moonlit tours as ethereal overseer.  This wine has just been released, after spending 24 months lounging in oak before bottling.  Always allocated, it’s particularly rare this year, when only 800 cases were produced.  Sadly, I have very little left, and with the approach of graduations, Mother’s/Father’s Day, and weddings, I suspect it will soon be as ethereal as Yount’s ghost.

David Fulton P.S. label 2David Fulton Winery, 2009 Petite Sirah, Old Vines, Napa Valley.  $45

Another wine of historical significance in Napa, this rare gem hails from “the oldest continuously owned and operated family vineyard in the state of California”.  Today, David’s winery is run by his Great Grandson, Fulton, and his wife, Dink.  Yes, Fulton and Dink – names almost as rare as their wine.  When I read about this wine and its historical significance, I called to see if any were available for you.  Sadly, it was not.  But then Dink contacted me with the good news that they could provide just enough for my club members.  Rare in more ways than one, Petite Sirah can age like nobody’s business.  If you can resist the urge to open this wine, lay it down for ten to twenty years.  You’ll be amazed by the complexity it develops, and only wish you’d been able to buy more.  Me too.

 Love their tagline “One vineyard.  One wine.  Made great.

Pinot Selections ($75 bi-monthly)

Affordable anderson valley pinot noirElke Vineyards, 2010 “Croppy Fetcher” Anderson Valley.  $29 (all prices before member discount)

Scene: You’re touring Anderson Valley wineries, sitting at a picnic table in Boonville as you wait for your travel partner (TP) to come out of the local coffee shop with picnic provisions.

(TP sticks head out door) Do you want a horn of Zees

(You) Whaaaaa???

(TP) You know, to ward off the chill before these Brightlighters drive out to the briny to visit the Fog Eaters for a while before checking into our hotel for a little bilching.  You can even break out the branding irons if you like.  Then we can go for a drive and watch the croppy fetchers train for the upcoming trials, or maybe even join the abbers.

Clearly, your travel partner found the crash course in Boontling while shopping for provisions.  Boontling is a dialect created by the residents of Boonville in the 1800’s.  Local winemakers often pay homage to the dying language, now spoken only by aging hippies and cunning linguists.  I can tell you that “Croppy” is the Boontling term for sheep, and a “Croppy Fetcher” is a sheep dog, but to decipher the rest of your travel partner’s paragraph, go to

The Croppy Fetcher shown on the label was Mary Elke’s sheep dog, Ben.  He patrolled the Elke vineyards for years before his demise last year, just a week before the wine was bottled.  This wine pays homage to Boontling as well as Ben, so enjoy it with his spirit in mind – joyful, simple, smart and full of life.

Rusian River PinotSmall Vines, 2011 Pinot Noir, Russian River  $55.00

When I read about a wine over and over, I want to know about it.  Especially when what I’m reading comes from multiple sources.  And they are all credible, and all say good things.  That’s how I came to spend a Friday afternoon in a small office/tasting room in remote Sebastapol sipping the Sloan Family’s pinots. 

I know the label to the right is a bit too small, but can you see the logo at the top?  At first glance it looks like a mirror reflection of two opposing grape vines.  Look closer and you see a grape vine and its ROOTS – not surprising once you learn that Paul Sloan started his wine career with a vineyard management company.  His firm still manages vineyards for some of Sonoma’s top properties, and the grapes for his wines come from these hand-picked growers.

Their wines are not the typical Russian River pinots, notable for their fruit-forward personalities and relatively short-lived (5-7 yr) aging potential.  These are wines for the ages, and will improve for years to come before stabilizing and then slowly diminishing – beginning ten years from now.  Only 300 cases produced.  Unfined/unfiltered, 13.9% alcohol, 15 months in oak (33% new).

Collectible Selections ($55 bi-monthly)

Dry Creek ZinfandelOusterhout Winery, 2010 Zinfandel, Bradford Mountain (Organic).  $31 (all prices before member discount)

Gamine – French for “a girl with mischievous charm”.  In San Francisco, it’s also the name of our local French Bistro, where Stephan, Susannah and Alex cater more to regular locals than tourists. And, oh by the way, they make the perfect French fry.

So I’m there a lot. Such as the day I stopped in for a quick lunch at the counter. Not particularly memorable, but on this particular day, at that particular time, a particular wine salesman made a delivery. Turns out he dropped off the Joseph Jewel Pinot Noir.

What are the odds? Earlier that week, our “Pinot Selections” club members had received that same said wine. It proved quite popular. So I stuck out my hand and struck up a conversation. Turns out JJ’s partner/winemaker, Micah Wirth, also crafts a Zinfandel for a San Francisco cosmetic surgeon, name of Ousterhout.

Turns out the wine is good. And so’s the price. Turns out I decide to use the wine for my “Collectible Selections” club members. And finally, turns out you made it far enough to read about it. Now it’s time to buy the wine – you won’t regret it. If you like Zins, that is. This one is classic Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel – cracked black pepper without over-the-top fruit. Delicious and satisfying.

South Africa red wine blendRED ONLY – Fable Vineyard, 2009 Syrah/Mourvedre “Lions Whisker”, South Africa (Biodynamic).  $29

First, there’s the package. Striking. Beautiful. Enticing.

But that’s just the outside. Inside is the wine. Distinctive. Nuanced. From Biodynamic vineyards. Following ‘Rudy’ Steiner’s strict practices is challenging enough. But doing so in South Africa, in a vineyard 1/3 of a mile high, where leopards, baboons, venomous snakes and brush fires add challenges of their own… well, that’s just bonkers.  One taste and you’ll be glad that partners Rebecca Tanner and Paul Nicholls are just bonkers enough to persevere.

A blend of Syrah and Mourvedre (83/17), note the flowery, dusty fruit in the nose that gives away the wine’s feminine side. Then taste the fruit, tobacco and mocha that brings a masculine yin to that yang.

As the name implies, ‘Lion’s Whisker’ has a fable behind it. “Two sisters, who had always been very close, found out one day that they would be marrying men from different villages. Distraught that they would be separated by some distance and concerned they would grow apart, the sisters went to the village healer and asked if he had any potions to help cement their bond for life. He told them that yes, he did, but he would need a lion’s whisker to make it. The two sisters spent many weeks lingering near where the lion drank from the lake so that he would eventually trust that they meant him no harm. After many weeks, one of the sisters finally reached out and pulled a whisker from the lion, and they took it to the healer. “Alas,” he said, “there is no potion after all, but if you have the dedication and bravery to make a lion trust you, you already have everything you need to keep your relationship strong forever.”

Carneros chardonnayMolnar, 2011 Chardonnay, Carneros.  $25

After more than a decade of eschewing Chardonnay, I’m coming back into its fold.  It’s not me who is changing, it’s the wine – lower in alcohol and post-harvest manipulations, the wines are more nuanced.  These layers of flavor make a wine interesting beyond the first glass.  And the 2011 vintage helped – long and cool, it allowed flavors to develop while maintaining natural acidity without spikes in sugar.

Look for Chardonnay’s tell-tale citrus zest, orange blossoms, caramelized sugar and warm vanilla cream.  Molnar is a Hungarian family, and the only winery I know of that uses only Hungarian oak barrels (33% new, in this case), which bring a uniquely delicious sweet spice note without being over-powering.  1,070 cases produced, 14.3% alcohol.

Crowd-Pleasing Selections ($35 bi-monthly)

affordable california cabernet Heron, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, Mendocino.  $14

Think climate change hasn’t impacted your wine?  Here’s a sobering stat – Since 1980, the average Napa Cabernet has increased from 12.5% to 15.5% alcohol – a 24% increase.  But Laely Heron marches to her own drum.  Seeking Cabernet from cool, high-altitude vineyards she crafts lower-alcohol food wines that still boast of phenolic ripeness.  That’s a snooty way of saying they don’t taste weedy. 

What would you expect?  Laely learned about wine in France, where alcohol levels are more reasonable.  These are food wines at a price that makes them an everyday treat.  Unlike most Cabernets, this wine easily treads the tightrope between bold and delicate – comfortable with stews, roast meats and braised dishes as well as lighter meals such as pork, roast poultry, pasta or grilled fish and veggies on the grill.

Affordable cabernet from paso roblesRED ONLY – Rock Hollow, 2010 Cabernet, Paso Robles.  $23

Cabernet.  You’ve tasted, what, maybe several hundy?  God, it’s a great grape.  King of Bordeaux and Napa.  Makes it difficult to introduce a notable Cabernet.  Which is what I’m always looking for – one that’s just a little better.  Unique.  Good value.  More than just fruit and alcohol and a high price.  Sameness stinks.

Well, this one is unique.  Affordable.  With 15% Cabernet Franc for greater complexity.  Alcohol under 14%.  So you can enjoy it with more than just steak.

Its Pedigree?  This is the value label for the Firestone family’s Curtis winery.  Yeah, THAT Firestone.  Tires.  The Bachelor.  Breweries.  Restaurants.  Wineries.  Guess I should say “THOSE” Firestones.  The family that brought fine wine – and Andre Tchelistcheff – to the Central Coast a few decades back.

I’d say we owe them a little gratitude.  You will too, once you separate the cork from this bottle.  Why are you still reading this?  Go get a corkscrew.  And don’t worry, there’s more where this came from.

affordable california chardonnaySonoma Oaks, 2010 Chardonnay, Sonoma.  $18

Rounding errors.  If you’re like me, you pay your bills to the nearest even dollar amount.  Anything less is just a rounding error.  If you’re like the government, anything less than a million is a rounding error. And if you’re the Bronco Wine Company, the production numbers on this wine are a rounding error.

But Chardonnay fans will find here an affordable friend. Despite the use of certain winemaker’s shortcuts, or perhaps because of them, this wine offers the iconic Chardonnay experience without breaking the bank. Hints of vanilla cream balance nicely with the more austere citrus; and its lower alcohol level makes it a well-behaved dinner companion for a wide range of lighter fare.

Wine-Friendly Recipe: Pork “Stew” with Andouille Sausage, Lardon and Mushrooms

Alain Geoffroy 2010 Chablis - wine club selectionMost winter stews feature beef and pair with red wine.  This refreshing alternative features pork and pairs with a Chablis or unoaked Chardonnay (see all my available Chardonnay’s here).  Equally warming during cold winter months, but less fatty.  

Ingredients (6 Servings)
– 3 lbs Boneless pork shoulder
– 2 Andouille sausage, cut into thirds
– 6 Ozs Lardons or thick bacon, cut into 1/4 inch squares
– 12-16 Ozs Mushrooms (washed and trimmed and roughly chopped)
– 12 Baby onions
– 1/3 Cup flour
– 100 g of butter
– 1 Large carrot
– 5 Ozs Water
– 1 Bottle of Chablis or un-oaked white wine
– 1 Bouquet garni (2 springs ea. tied in cheese cloth: Parsley, Thyme, Bay leaves)
– 3-4 Tbsp of butter
– 12-18 Small Red or Yukon Gold potatoes as accompaniment.

Cut the pork into 1″ pieces (or save time and have your butcher do this after de-boning the shoulder).  Place an empty stew pot over medium heat for three minutes, add some olive oil, count to five,  then add the meat, carrot and the baby onions. When the meat is browned on all sides sprinkle in the flour, stir well, then add the butter.

Stir to integrate and then add the bottle of wine, the water, and then the bouquet garni.  Simmer for ~50 minutes, then add the lardons, salt and pepper and the mushrooms, increase the heat slightly and simmer another 10 minutes without the lid, allowing the sauce to reduce. Add the sausage pieces and simmer for another 5 minutes.  If still not thick enough, combine 2 Tbsp flour and 1Tbsp butter by hand, then stir into the pot, increasing heat to maintain a steady simmer (small bubbles on the side only).

Serve with steamed potatoes splashed with your best olive oil and a pinch of coarse sea salt.

To Serve – spoon the pork into the center of a shallow dish and surround it with the sausage, then carefully pour the thickened sauce over all. Place a bunch of parsley at one side and the potatoes at the other, then sprinkle with finely chopped parsley as a final garnish.

Recipe adapted from Madeleine Berthier, Auberge du Barrage, Le Coudray-Montceaux.

Nacho Mama Surprise – Guest post

Part of my meandering career path found me in Chicago for several years, where I came across a direct marketing wiz named Elizabeth “Sunny” Heyer.   Little did I know she was also known as Naco Mama.  Here’s why.

Here’s a different take on nachos . . .  I used to make this when I lived in Boulder . . .from leftovers initially.  Take a baking dish and line with refried beans – a thin layer . . . then make ‘stripes’ across the beans using everything and anything that’s left over.  We started with a small piece of steak from a doggy bag, sliced, it made our first stripe.  Then we laid down some slices of leftover chicken next to it, then a stripe of sour cream, then a stripe of salsa, then some chopped veggies (any kind will do), and then… you get the drift!! One layer was different types of olives, then peppers – roasted or chili . . . depends on your taste. Once we added a stripe of rice and topped the whole dish with shredded jack cheese.  It’s fast, easy and you can put anything in it . . . I added cubed tofu to the rice and no one was the wiser – given that it was a meat eating, sprout stompin’ crowd.

Pop it in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes and serve with chips on the side . . . or spoon it directly into the mouth. . .  I named it ‘Nacho Momma Surprise’  and it became a huge hit at parties . . .

I always had it with wine. . . but it goes well with beer too!

Thanks Sunny!

Roast Chicken with Orange-Honey Glaze

I’m a huge fan of honey.  And this recipe was posted by some online wine friends currently on an extended tour of Australia.  Not only am I thoroughly jealous of their travels, but they also had the chance to don bee suits and inspect the world’s last genetically pure strain of bees. Pair this dish with some nice vegetables sautéed with sliced garlic and it makes an easy mid-week meal.

A Chardonnay works well with this dish, particularly if the oak is moderate and the acidity is good,  because it bridges across to the orange-and-honey glaze, the salt of the chicken and the vegetables, and, well, everything.  If your palate leans towards wines with a bit of sweetness, try a dry muscat or Riesling.  I think Viognier would work quite well, though look for one with alcohol below 14.5% if it’s to work well with this bright dish.

* Whole chicken, cut into 10 pieces
* Juice of one orange
* 2 Tbsp honey
* 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce


Pre-heat oven to 400℉.  Stir together the orange juice, honey and soy until the honey is dissolved.  Wash and thoroughly dry the chicken (some chefs recommend letting the skin dry out for a day in the refrigerator).

Baste both sides with the honey liquid. Place a rack inside a roasting pan, chicken on the rack (not touching, if possible and roast for ~50 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 185℉.

This next step is a royal pain in the patootie, but if you can baste the chicken pieces with the pan drippings every 5-10 minutes, you’ll be thrilled with the crispy skin that it creates.  Make sure the skin doesn’t burn – the sugars in the honey make it easy to do!

Dave the Wine Merchant

Chicken Cordon Bleu with Caramelized Shallot Sauce

Early in my nascent bachelor days, when I was living on my own and on a very limited budget, this was my go-to dish whenever I needed to impress a guest. Although I’ve paired it here with a new world pinot noir, I also like the higher acidity of Burgundy or New Zealand pinots, or even an unoaked Chablis or California Chardonnay, which works better with the sharp Swiss cheese than does an oaked version of same.

Ingredients (Serves 6)

6 (~ 4-Oz) skinless, boneless chicken breasts For The Sauce:
6 Slices prosciutto, fairly thick 1 Cup thinly sliced shallots
6 Slices Gruyère cheese 2 tsp tomato paste
1 1/2 Cups arugula, stems removed 2 Cups dry white wine
1/2 tsp ea. salt and ground black pepper 2 1/4 Cups low-sodium chicken broth
Kitchen twine (i.e., food grade) 1 1/2 tsp Water
1 tablespoon olive oil 1 tsp Cornstarch


Preheat oven to 350°.  Place a shallow baking pan in the oven for later.

To prepare the chicken, place each chicken breast between 2 sheets of heavy-duty plastic wrap (tip, sprinkle the wrap with water to prevent sticking and splitting).  Using a meat mallet or any heavy, flat item, pound each breast to 1/4-inch thickness.  Top each chicken breast with 1 slice prosciutto, 1 slice cheese, and 1/4 cup arugula, leaving a 1/4-inch border around edges. Fold in half (the long way) and tie with string to form a cylinder.  Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper as most will remain in the pan. (The chicken can be prepared up to a day ahead and refrigerated at this point.)

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat for three minutes.  Remove from heat, and cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of olive oil, then add the shallots and sauté 4 minutes or until browned. Stirring constantly, add the tomato paste and after 1 minute add the wine as you continue to stir.  Increase heat to high (you can stop stirring now) and bring to a boil, cooking until reduced to 1 cup (about 6 minutes). Stir in the broth and bring to a boil again. Cook until reduced by half (about 8 minutes).  Turn heat to low and keep warm.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat for three minutes. Remove from heat and coat the entire bottom with a thin layer of olive oil, then add chicken and return pan to heat, cooking until golden brown, <9 minutes total.  When ready to move the chicken to the baking pan, turn off the oven and keep warm while you finish the sauce.

When sauce is reduced by half, dissolve the cornstarch in a small bowl, stirring with a fork until smooth. Add to sauce, bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

To serve, remove strings from each breast, top with sauce and serve with polenta, a steamed green vegetable.  I like to lean the chicken half way onto the polenta to break up the symmetry.

Bon Appétit!
Dave the Wine Merchant


“Runaway” Chicken Chowder

I’m never sure if the name for this dish refers to the chicken seeking escape from the chopping block, or the recipe’s run-away popularity.  Either way, its bright orange color (and great flavor!) has made it the traditional dish at the annual family Halloween party hosted by our friend (and club member!) Laura Nagle.

It is one of the rare dishes featuring Halloween colors that is not a contrivance, but rather a memorable dish in its own right.  In fact, at the Nagle’s annual Halloween bash, it just may be as big an attraction as the candy.  At least for some attendees  ;-)

Recommended Wine Pairings
This chowder has the sweetness of the yams, a bit of a warming kick from the peppers and the rich texture of  the chicken and hominy.  To compliment all elements, I recommend an off-dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer (click to buy) or one featuring a nose-full of fragrance and a fuller body – a classic California Chardonnay or a rich white Rhône wine such as Viognier.

3 Boneless chicken breasts
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Med onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 or 2 Large golden yams,  peeled and sliced thin (2-3 millimeters)
4 1/2 Cups Chicken stock or broth
1-2 Serranno peppers seeded and minced
1/2 tsp Ground coriander
2-3 tsp Ground cumin
2 Cans golden hominy (16-Ozs), drained
2/3 Cups fresh cilantro
Toasted Black sesame seeds or toasted Rye bread croutons for garnish (optional)
Sour Cream for garnish

Remove the skin and fat from the chicken and cut into 3/4 inch cubes.

Over high heat, melt butter in stock pot or large sauce pan and stir-fry chicken, stirring constantly, just until no longer pink. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside to drain.

Add onion and potato slices to pan with 4 1/2 cups of stock. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until veggies are soft, about 20 minutes. Add the peppers, coriander and cumin and blend in the pot with a stick blender, or in batches in food processor or blender. Whatever your blending tool of choice, continue until smooth.

Return all ingredients to the pot and add the chicken and the hominy. This chowder can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for up to two days.  Also freezes well.  When ready to serve, simply heat, top with cilantro leaves and garnish with sour cream, if desired.

Serving Ideas
This chowder is welcome throughout the cold winter months. But to leverage the Halloween theme (for which this orange soup is ideal!) sprinkle with black sesame seeds or croutons made from dark rye bread.

Dave the Wine Merchant

Wine-Friendly Recipe: Coq au Vin (Chicken in Wine)

40Th Anniversary, Mastering The Art Of French CookingThis month, our wine club is celebrating Julia Child’s birthday (August 15th, 1912) and giving a nod to the hit movie “Julie & Julia” which I think will do wonders for reviving interest in Julia and her message.

This classic dish from Julia Child (P. 287 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking) can be made with either white or red wine, though red is traditional.  For this dish to be more complimentary to white wines, simply replace the red wine ingredient with white.  In general, chicken is a versatile accompaniment to most any type of wine, depending on the chicken’s preparation, seasonings or sauce.


  • 4 Ozs Lean bacon
  • 1 Oz Butter
  • ~ 3 Lb Frying chicken, cut into pieces
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • ¼ Cup Cognac
  • ½ Bottle red wine
  • 3 Cups chicken stock
  • 1 tsp Tomato paste
  • 2 Cloves garlic, mashed
  • 1/3 tsp Thyme
  • 1 Bay leaf (very small if California bay)
  • 12-24 Small white boiling onions
  • ½ Lb mushrooms, sliced medium
  • 1 Oz Flour
  • 1 Oz Butter, softened
  • Parsley, chopped

Bring 2 Qts of water to a simmer.  Cut the bacon into ¼ inch lardons and simmer for 10 minutes, then rinse in cold water and dry.

Over low heat, melt butter in Dutch oven or casserole dish, then add bacon.  Sauté until lightly browned.  Set bacon aside, leaving the fat in the pan.

Increase heat to medium high.  Dry the chicken’s skin before placing it in the hot fat.  When lightly browned, season with salt and pepper, add the bacon and cover.  Reduce heat to medium and cook slowly for 10 minutes, turning chicken once.

Add the cognac and light it (it WILL flare up to 2+ feet, so take precautions!), then shake the pan until it goes out.  Add the wine and then just enough stock to cover the chicken pieces.  Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf.  Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, take out two sauté pans.  In the first, brown the onions in butter and then add some of the remaining stock or red wine, simmering until very soft.  In the other, melt butter and oil (~1 Tbsp ea) over high heat and brown the mushrooms for about ten minutes, turning only once (don’t crowd the pan, otherwise they steam).

Remove chicken to a side dish, and simmer its cooking liquid as you skim off the fat (tip the pan).  Raise heat to a rapid boil and reduce liquid by half.  Discard the bay leaf.  Blend the soft butter and flour until smooth, then whisk into hot liquid and simmer for ~2 minutes.  Arrange chicken in dish with mushrooms and onions, baste with sauce, top with chopped parsley and serve at table!

Wine Pairings
As mentioned above, this chicken dish spans a wide variety of dry table wines – just be sure to use the same type of wine in the dish as you serve at the table.  Here are some of my favorites:

pinot noirChronicle Wines, 2006 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast $35
This is one of my favorite new discoveries.  They have employed different winemakers for their pinots and their Zins (like the Chronicle ’06 Old Vine Zin from Russian River Valley – $28) – both of which  are nicely nuanced and intelligent wines.  A very tiny producer, this may just be the poster child for the sorts of wines I seek!

store_chardbottleElkhorn Peak, 2006 Chardonnay, Vineyard Select $28
I definitely prefer Coq au Burgundy to Coq au Burgundy Blanc, but for white wine lovers, this medium-weight Chardonnay goes well from stove to table.  You may prefer a white wine with a bit less oak, which can sometimes conflict with food.  But I’d avoid Sauvignon Blanc, which I think would reduce down until its grapefruit or grassiness would be turned up to eleven on the volume meter.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote of the Day
In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport
~ Julia Child, Food Visionary, Author and TV Personality (8/15/1912 – 8/13/04)

Review: 1997 Kistler Chardonnay, Cuvee Catherine

SNC00067Caramel and toasted nuts and more nuts.  And almost the color of an amber ale.  Not much fruit left, and none of the verve and subtle minerality she had in her youth.  Such was the 1997 Kistler Chardonnay (Cuvee Catherine) we opened last night.  At least, that’s my story, and I’m stikin’ to it.

The wine was still very much alive, thanks to its acidity.  But I did not care for it, making me the oddity among the four of us at the table (not including our daughter, who did not partake).    A 12 year-old Chardonnay, even an age-worthy one from a prestige producer such as Kistler, has lost most of the attractive fruit and freshness that make Chardonnay so attractive in its youth and even in its middle age.  But after 12 years in the bottle, this elegant lady is cashing her first Social Security checks.

Yet the other three at our table insisted the wine was fine, if not even beautiful.  And it WAS.  For THEM.

We must get over insisting our opinions are right or wrong when it comes to wine.  I know this, though the knowledge comes more easily than the practice of that knowledge.  But somehow, I managed to sit in silence, pleased that they were enjoying this valuable bottle (which still sells for ~$60, if you can find the rare cuvee) while they sat in barely concealed glee that there was more wine for them.  I’d have done the same, of course, had the shoe been on the other foot.

Prime Drinking Age for Kistler Chardonnay
Generally, I enjoy premium Chardonnay (those made in a style to that can stand up to some bottle age) after three to seven years of age.  But this may not help you determine whether you’d enjoy a 12 year-old bottle of Kistler “Cuvee Catherine”.  So I turned to the Kistler Website to see what they said about the longevity of their Chardonnay’s…

There is unquestionably a trade-off between early drinkability and longevity, with the longest distance runner often being the most austere and least expressive wine in its youth.  We are always striving to strike the right balance between these attributes, combining the early appeal one expects from a California chardonnay with the staying power of a white Burgundy.

For our newer members, a good rule of thumb to remember for drinking our chardonnays is that all are delicious as young wines in the year of their release; in most vintages all wines will reach a window of optimum enjoyment between the ages of 4 and 6; for some wines the window will extend to 8 years, and for a few to 10 years or longer.

Fish Restaurant, Sausalito


By the way, our bottle of Kistler was shared with some great friends who ferried us to dinner in their boat – a relaxing way to spend a summer evening.  The wine accompanied some great sustainable seafood, prepared and served by the folks at “Fish” restaurant in Sausalito (motto: “Sustainable is the new black”).  I can’t recommend this place.  Not because it’s not great (my detractors would be few if I rated it among the top casual seafood restaurants in the Bay Area), but because the lines are too long already and if you start eating there too they’ll grow intolerable.

If you choose to ignore my advice, just be sure to bring cash – they’re old fashioned that way, over at Fish.

Happy MerchantCheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote of the Day
Wine appreciation, like love, cannot be done by proxy”  ~ With apologies to Robert Henri (American Artist, 1865 – 1929)

Tapas Recipe – Chardonnay with Steamed Clams

07CHARD-bottleIn June, 2009, this recipe was paired with the Bonneau Wines, ’07 Los Carneros Chardonnay, Catherine’s Vineyard ($28), which was sent to members of our Maya’s Collectible Selections sampling program.  Click here to find alternative wines.

The richness of fresh clams provides a great foil for chardonnay, especially when white wine is used in the clam pot.  But please don’t use this great wine for cooking!  Its beautiful nuance would be cooked off, and that would be a shame. Instead, pick up a bottle of the $8 or $9 stuff for the clam pot – the less oak influence the better, as oak will concentrate and dominate the dish.  Just be sure it’s something you would actually put in your mouth – cooking with bad wine just amplifies its flavors!

3 Pounds fresh clams, well scrubbed.  Throw out any that do not close when cleaning.  They be dead.  Bad to the bone*.
1/3 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 Ozs diced Serrano ham (a dried ham similar to prosciutto, with a somewhat sweeter taste)
½ tsp Red pepper chili flakes
1 Pinch paprika
4 Cloves garlic, minced
¾ Cup dry white wine
½ Cup water
2 Tbsp chopped parsley

Heat a large (wide bottomed) skillet over medium heat, add the oil, then the ham.  Cook until almost crispy, stirring often.  Add red pepper flakes, paprika and garlic and stir constantly for about a minute, just until the garlic is gives up its aromatics. If you take a call from your mother and the garlic burns while you’re gabbing, ya gotta start over.  Focus.

Add the wine and reduce for about a minute, scraping up any brown bits from the pan.  Add the water and bring to a simmer for 2 minutes.  Add the clams and cover.  Increase the heat to high and cook until the clams begin to open – they get tough if cooked too long, so be ready with tongs in hand and a serving bowl at the ready.  They only take about five minutes.  Throw out any clams whose shells are not open and reduce the broth for another couple of minutes..

Pour the broth over the clams in the serving dish (or place four clams on individual appetizer dishes, if using as tapas!), sprinkle with parsley and serve with a side of toasted bread.

Happy Merchant

Dave the Wine Merchant

Quote of the Day:
Researchers have found that clams reproduce at 10 times their normal rate when Prozac is introduced into their aqueous environment.  Apparently, Prozac is an effective mussel relaxer!

*Yes, I KNOW clams don’t have bones.  It’s just an expression.  Would you rather I said “bad to the mantle?”  or “Bad Quahog”??  Sorry, neither works for me.