Subscriber Miriam D. asks “Can you speak about Syrah vs. Zinfandel and are they the most similar?” A good question in light of today being #SyrahDay, an event hosted by the Rhone Ranger group, whose mission is to promote wines made from the 22 varietals that call the Rhone Valley their spiritual home. Of these varietals, Syrah and Grenache are in a constant battle for top position.
Miriam, I’m no ampelographer (botanists who specialize in the identification/classification of grape vines) – but as you can see from these two images (Syrah on left, Zin on the right), the two appear fairly similar on the vine – both varieties produce large clusters, and both can be difficult to get color extraction (color differences shown here may be misleading, as they are not from the same photographic source).
In terms of how they taste once in your glass, the similarity diverges a bit. Both varietals are quite flexible, and can be made in wildly different styles. The current fad is to produce both varietals in an extremely ripe style, which
produces dark wines one cannot see through, huge-bodied wines (Winemakers often add acid to keep them from being flabby), that deliver alcohol levels that can flirt with those of Port wine (and which can be almost as rich, sweet and fruity). Such wines are popular during the cocktail hour, which is how many Americans drink their wine.
In contrast to this body-builder-on-steroids approach, both varietals can express a more delicate and food-friendly style which is seeing an increase in popularity among the “alternative” crowd. This style is more common when the grapes come from a cooler climate, and is marked by lighter wines (sometimes the Zins will have a transparency that rivals Pinot) that emphasize white pepper and floral notes.
So yes, both varietals have a variable fruit profile and this peppery note in common. As a result both are often recommended for similar pairings – usually with foods that express a grilled and/or peppery note to serve as a natural bridge between the food and the wine.
Let’s assume you’ve been handed a glass of each wine (each one made in a similar style) and asked to identify which is which. How would you discern? You can identify the Syrah by its darker fruit (Plum, dark cherry) profile and (if made in the lighter style) a hint of lavender on the nose. By contrast, the Zin will express a brighter fruit profile that evokes bramble berries. Syrahs also have a natural chemical element, especially as they age, that comes across as smoked meat/bacon or beef jerky or sometimes liver pate.
But don’t be surprised if, without the ability to taste the two side-by-side, an experienced taster follows the white pepper path instead of the fruit path, and confuses these two kissing-cousin varietals.
Hope that helps! If anyone has other suggestions for Miriam, please add them as comments, below…
After moving to the Bay Area from the Midwest in 1994, most weekends were spent fueling my wine passion in Napa or Sonoma. Being single and new to the area, these were often solo trips, which meant I had to confer with no one about what wine to taste, where to eat, or how much to spend. This freedom was greatly appreciated until it came time for dinner, when it would have been nice to share a meal with someone and rehash the events of our wine-soaked day.
But one solo dinner I recall fondly was eaten in a small restaurant called Girl & The Fig. At the time, it was situated in Sonoma’s Valley of the Moon, and its warm glow rekindled memories of bistros enjoyed while biking through the Provencal wine country. Every wine on their wine list was either from the Rhone valley or made from Rhone varietals, and their menu was crafted to match the warm and welcoming foods of Provence.
Although “French Bistro” is one of the most over-used restaurant concepts, this one was different. Owned by the very special Sondra Bernstein, Girl & The Fig was infused with the spirit of the Rhone and I was smitten. The Bistro became my preferred dining spot for many future trips – and I became something of an evangelist for it.
I watched with pleasure as Sondra tirelessly added successful venture after successful venture – cook books, an iPhone app, a line of packaged food products, a line of body products, two restaurants, bio-dynamic farms behind each of her restaurants, a catering company and probably several more things I’m forgetting.
I’ve become casually acquainted with Sondra and her business partner over the years, and was most pleased that she agreed to provide a recipe to pair with domestic Syrah-based wines. I think this dish would work well with a broad range of red wines such as Cabernet, Zinfandel and any red Rhone blend. This dish can be made year-round, but it resonates for me during the cold Fall and Winter months, when oven braising fills the home with warmth and aromas that beat back Winter’s chill.
Ingredients for Pork Shanks (Serves six)
6 Pork Hind Shanks (we prefer Niman Ranch)
Salt & black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, quartered
2 stalk celery, rough chop
1 small carrot, peeled, chopped
4 crushed cloves of garlic
1 bottle white wine (unoaked, preferably)
1 bay leaf
5 black peppercorns
4 sprigs thyme
2 quarts pork or chicken stock
Procedure for Braised Pork Shanks
Preheat oven to 350’. Season the pork shanks heavily with salt and black pepper. Over medium heat, add the oil to a hot sauté pan and then sear the shanks until browned on all sides. Remove from pan and keep warm.
Meanwhile, heat a braising pan (deep-sided roaster) over medium heat and then add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic and half the bottle of white wine. Bring to a boil and reduce until almost dry. Add the seared shanks to the braising pan along with the bayleaf, peppercorns, thyme and enough stock to just cover the shanks and vegetables. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and move to the heated oven for 1-1.5 hours or until the shanks are just tender.
Remove from oven and when sufficiently cool, remove the shanks from the braising liquid and set aside keeping warm. With a fine mesh sieve, strain the braising liquid and skim any remaining fat from the top. Add the remaining half bottle of white wine to a large saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and continue reducing the wine until almost dry. Add the braising liquid and simmer while continuing to skim off any fat that forms on the top. Reduce to a thickened consistency.
Ingredients for Soft Polenta
2 cups water
2 cups milk
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup polenta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Procedure for Soft Polenta
Add the water, milk, olive oil and butter to a medium saucepan, season with the salt and bring to a simmer. While stirring with a wire whisk, slowly add the polenta and beat into the liquid. Simmer and continue to stir for 10 minutes. Add the Parmesan cheese, adjust the seasoning, continuing to stir, cover and keep warm.
Ingredients for Broccolini
3 Bunches broccolini, tough stems removed
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
Salt and white pepper
Procedure for Broccolini
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Blanch the broccolini for no more than 60 seconds, then shock in an ice water bath until cool and drain. Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium low heat until melted; add the broccolini, season to taste and heat till warm. Alternatively, roast the broccolini in the oven until just crispy, and once plated, top with a small amount of the Gremolata.
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, cleaned from the stems
3 tablespoons capers, chopped
2 lemons, zested
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 horseradish root, peeled & grated
Mix the parsley, chopped capers, lemon zest, garlic, olive oil, and grated horseradish. Season with sea salt.
Spoon the warm polenta into the center of a warm bowl, place a sixth of the warm broccolini onto the polenta, top with a braised pork shank. Nap the shank with the white wine braising sauce and garnish with the gremolata.
“the girl & the fig” • 110 west spain street • sonoma, ca 95476
Sometimes one must eat dinner alone, though I must admit I don’t care to. To offset such misfortunes, I turn solo meals into a treat with a recipe that’s satisfying but easy enough to justify cooking for one. This is such a dish, a favorite from my bachelor days. But please don’t feel compelled to save it for a night on your own – it works just as well for two. Or a crowd.
There are two keys to success here. A heavy pan (a well-seasoned cast iron skillet is ideal) and freshly ground peppercorns. I recommend green peppercorns here, as they are significantly milder than their black counterpart, and won’t fight the wine. If black peppercorns are all you have, use half the amount called for. And while steaks are welcome at my house in all seasons, the backbone of mild heat that runs through this sauce will warm the cockles of the coldest Winter-chilled heart! A great cold-weather dish. (Image from Shawna’s Food Blog – click to find another recipe for comparison)
1 Steak / person (about ¾ pound if bone-in)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Shallot – minced
¼ Cup cognac (or red wine, in a pinch)
¼ Cup red wine
2 tsps green peppercorns, roughly smashed
1/3 Cup cream (or a bit less, with a good pat of butter whisked in at the end)
Salt & freshly-ground pepper to taste
Heat a heavy frying pan over medium heat for several minutes. Season the steak with salt & pepper and prepare your ingredients. Remove pan from heat, add oil and quickly tilt to coat evenly. Return to heat and add steak – do not move until it is time to flip! Cook to preferred doneness, remembering the meat continues cooking after removing it from the pan. Cover and place in warm oven. (Alternatively, grilling the steak adds nice complexity)
In the pan, adjust the fat so there is a scant tablespoon. Add the minced shallot and sauté a few minutes until lightly browned. Pour in cognac and deglaze the pan. Add the red wine, raise heat to med-high and reduce liquid by ¼. Add the peppercorns and whisk in the cream. Reduce sauce until it coats the back of a spoon. Whisk in cold butter, if using, and serve as desired – this sauce is nice whether served as a base, a topping or on the side. And don’t under-estimate its deliciousness when used to top potatoes or steamed vegetables!
Wine Pairings – Pair this with bold reds such as Zinfandel, Syrah, Rhone blends or new world Cabernets or Bordeaux blends.
Many of my suggested wine-and-food pairings are discoveries I’ve made after trying them at some of my favorite eateries. While this may seem like an open-court layup, you’d be surprised how often such pairings fail to inspire much more than a shrug. Not so with Bistro Jeanty, whose tomato soup is a great side for a robust grilled cheese sammy!
INGREDIENTS (Serves 6)
1/2 Stick (+ 1 TBSP) unsalted butter
1 1/2 Tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Yellow onion, peeled, halved and sliced
1 1/2 Lbs Ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
3 Cloves garlic, minced
2 Cups (1 Pint) Heavy cream
1/2 Bay leaf
2 Pinches Ground white pepper
1 Scant tsp whole black peppercorns
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp Thyme
1 Package frozen Puff Pastry
1 Egg beaten with ½ Tbsp water
In large stockpot over medium-low heat, melt the half stick of butter. Add onions, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Cover; cook 5 minutes or until onions are soft (do not let brown.)
Add tomato paste; cook gently, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and if needed, 1/4 cup of water (only if tomatoes are not ripe and juicy). Simmer over low heat 30-40 minutes, or until tomatoes and onions are very soft. Purée through food mill (Phillipe Jeanty prefers a food mill, but a stick blender followed by straining with mesh sieve are just fine).
Return soup to stockpot and add cream, pepper and remaining butter; season with salt. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cooled completely. Divide soup among six 8-oz. ramekins, soup cups or bowls.
Roll puff pastry to 1/4-inch thickness and cut 6 roughly round shapes slightly larger than the tops of bowls you’ve chosen. Paint the rounds with egg wash and place, washed-side down, over the cups, making sure the soup does not touch pastry. Press overhanging dough against sides of cups, pulling lightly to make a taut lid. (Can be assembled 24 hours in advance if refrigerated and covered.) Cut unused pastry into strips for dipping – roll in coarse salt, herbs, or Parmesan for added flavor.
To serve, lightly paint top of dough with egg wash. Bake at 450F 10-15 minutes or until dough is puffed and browned (do not open oven in first several minutes of cooking to prevent dough from falling). Bistro Jeanty is in Napa Valley’s Yountville. You must eat there on your next visit! http://bistrojeanty.com/
The day before Leslie became Superwife, we held a rehearsal dinner at a San Francisco restaurant called Andalu, where their specialty dish – cola-braised short ribs – was among the night’s most popular dishes. Several years later, Andalu’s founding chef, Ben Devries, left to start a restaurant named Luella, and has enjoyed great success there as well. Ben and his wife have made Sunday nights at Luella into family nights, with a separate menu for kids, while maintaining a full menu for the parents.
About that time, Ben and his wife, enrolled their daughter in the same school our daughter attends. So he and I sometimes find ourselves watching school events from the sidelines, as we discuss the latest trends affecting our livelihoods.
Here’s the Devries-inspired recipe for Coke-braised short ribs – a perfect pairing for Syrah (click here to view my current inventory of compatible wines for this dish). It is simple and delicious, but it does take some time…
Ingredients (Serves 6)
4 Lbs pork ribs
1 Red onion, halved and sliced
Salt & Pepper
¾ Cup red wine vinegar
1 Liter Coca-Cola
2 Tbsp sugar
2 Quarts Chicken Stock
Water to cover
Preheat your oven to 400. Season the ribs with salt and pepper. Heat a deep roasting pan over high heat for three minutes, add oil and sear the meat until golden brown on all sides – about 7 minutes total. Remove the ribs from the pan and set aside. With the pan still on high heat, add the Coke and reduce by ⅔. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Return meat to the liquid, cover and put in a 400 degree oven for 2 hrs or until meat falls off the bone.
Remove from the oven and let rest, preferably overnight. Reheat in a 400 degree oven until hot. Remove meat from the pan, place remaining sauce on stove top at medium heat and reduce until syrupy. Return ribs to sauce until ready to serve.
PICKLED RED ONIONS Place all ingredients in sauce pot, bring to a boil, and turn down to a simmer for 5 mins. Take off flame and let cool. To make sharper add more vinegar; to make sweeter, add more sugar.
TO SERVE: Place ribs over a bed of mashed potatoes and top with pickled red onions. Serve with Syrah or other Rhône-style wine.
Cheers! Dave the Wine Merchant Dave@SidewaysWineClub.com
I took my first of many wine vacations in 1988. I was staying in what was then the small town of Healdsburg, quaintly nestled in Sonoma. When it came time for dinner, the owners of the Camelia Inn B&B directed me to one of the few restaurants in town back then – Bistro Ralph. I’ve been in love with that place ever since.
I recently introduced some friends to Bistro Ralph, where we shared a leisurely lunch. The combination of this lamb burger and the Rhone wine we selected was so memorable, it’s become one of my favorite easy meals.
This recipe originally appeared in the December, 2008 shipment to our club members. It played chaperon to a bottle of the Tous les Jours syrah from Andrew Murray Vineyards, and that youthful wine remained well behaved under its careful tutelage.
Ingredients (serves 4 – 6)
1 Red onion, peeled, halved and sliced
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Cup Crumbled Goat cheese, or to taste
1 ½ – 2 Lbs ground lamb
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp cumin
Freshly ground black pepper and Kosher salt, to taste
4 -6 Good buns
1-2 Heads Bibb lettuce
Heat a sauté pan over medium high heat until hot, add the olive oil then the onion. Sauté until well caramelized and dark but not crispy – 10-15 minutes. Add the balsamic and integrate well, remove from heat and add the goat cheese. Stir to coat and melt slightly. Set aside. Can be re-heated
In a large bowl, combine minced garlic, thyme, cumin, pepper, and salt. Add the ground lamb and combine. Be careful not to over-handle the meat (and I caution those of you with dirty minds to get them out of the gutter right now) or the consistency of your burger will be mushy.
Form 4 patties, each about 3/4 inch thick. Place on a medium-high grill for 4 to 6 minutes per side, or broil or sauté for ~5 minutes per side.
Brush buns with olive oil, toast slightly, scrape once with a peeled garlic clove, and set aside.
Assembly– Place burger on bun, top with lettuce, then with onions. Spread goat cheese on underside of top bun, pour a glass of wine, and call me if this isn’t transcendent.
To those following my recipes (thanks Mom!), I apologize for including onion tart recipes two months in a row. But as I flipped through our old copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” this particular version evoked a visceral reaction (i.e., hunger) and a memory (i.e., fond) of a 1996 bicycle tour through Provence.
Perhaps it was the beautiful scenery, or maybe the number of calories we burned every day, but by lunch time I was game to try anything I could recognize on the menu. In what may be a male extension of never asking for directions, I equally refused to break out the translation book to interpret French Menus – I figured an occasional culinary surprise might make the trip more memorable. I mean, what could possibly be so bad?
Except for ancovies, which I hated. Until this little tart came along, gave me a seductive wink, and took me for a ride I’ll never forget. If prepared properly, the anchovy adds a barely discernable enhancement you can’t quite identify as “fishy”.
A very wine-friendly dish, as long as the wine is not too tannic – the saltiness from the olives and ancovies only serves to enhance the roughness. Otherwise, pair this with most any medium-to-full bodied white or light-to-medium bodied red. Avoid dry rosé wines at all cost, unless you feel you deserve a heavenly experience!
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Lbs chopped onion
1 Herb bouquet (4 parsley sprigs, 1/4 tsp dried thyme, and 1/2 bay leaf, tied in washed cheesecloth)
2 Cloves unpeeled garlic
½ tsp Salt
1/8 tsp Freshly ground black pepper
Pâte Brisée Tart Crust, partially cooked (recipe follows, below)
16 Stoned (pitted) black olives – the dry Mediterranean type
1 Pinch of ground cloves
8 Anchovy fillets, whole
Cook the onions very slowly in the olive oil with the herb bouquet, garlic and salt for about an hour. Discard the bouquet and garlic. Stir in ground cloves and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread the onions in the pastry shell. Arrange anchovies over the onions in a sun-burst shape. Distribute the olives evenly across the tart and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake in top third of oven for 10-15 minutes or until bubbling hot.
Pâte Brisée (Short Crust Pastry)
1 ½ Cups all-purpose flour
Scant ½ tsp Salt
Pinch of sugar
6 Tbsp chilled butter, cut into ½ inch pieces
2 Tbsp Chilled Crisco, Lard or other
6 Tbsp ice water
(Ratio for a “short” crust = 2 parts Flour to 1 part Fat)
Julia’s recipe was written 25 years before the food processor, but I think she’d have found it a useful addition to her kitchen. So I recommend its use to simplify the making of your pie crust and assure fool-proof results!
Combine the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of your processor and pulse briefly to combine. Add the cold butter while pulsing repeatedly just until it combines with the flour and resembles small gravel or clumps of oatmeal. With the motor running, drizzle in the ice water just until the dough comes together in your bowl – stop as soon as it forms a ball. Remove everything from the bowl, dust with flour, kneed twice or thrice and then form into a ball, flatten to about an inch thick, wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze for 15 minutes or refrigerate for an hour.
Remove your crust and let it warm for just a few minutes. Unwrap it and sprinkle four over a flat surface and begin rolling out your crust, working from the center to the edge, turning ¼ turn, roll, turn, roll, turn…and repeat until dough is sufficiently thin and well shaped (add flour to rolling surface as needed.) Place crust in an 8” tart pan, and bake at 400 (F) for ~9 minutes. Remove and cool completely before filling.
When I first tasted this dish, it was paired with a Rhone wine. I have difficulty imagining a more perfect pairing, but this first wine is a bit pricey for many budgets, so I’ve also included a very food-friendly Merlot (and no, I don’t need to hear the old joke again) as an affordable alternative. I’ve also suggested a blush wine, one of the sign post wines of Southern France, and perhaps the most versatile of the still wines when paired with food!
Peay Vineyards, 2006 Estate Syrah “La Bruma”, $47″
I’ve selected this subtle, cool-weather syrah to go with the pissaladiere recipe. Its subtle aromas and flavors of pepper, lavendar and just-ripe blackberrry are intriguing on its own, but also provide a nice foil for a wide range of medium-to-heavy dishes. From the talented hands of Winemaker Vanessa Wong, formerly of Peter Michael Winery, the Sonoma Coast appellation is undoubtedly proud of this iconic example of their vineyard’s capabilities. (If sold out, click here for alternative suggestions)
Andrew Lane, 2005 Merlot, St. Helena $18
Like Miles Raymond in the movie “Sideways”, I am not a big fan of most Merlot. They can be the dumb blondes of the wine world, wallowing around in the shallow end of the pool with the likes of sweet white Zinfandel. Not this one. A relative Rhodes Scholar. An impressive wine in its own right, I’d dare say you’d peg its price tag well above its modest tarif if tasted in a blind tasting. (Sorry, no image available! If sold out, click here for alternative suggestions)
Though this wine was not included in our club shipment, that is not a reflection of a lack of quality. In fact, it’s the only blush wine in my portfolio this year. Which is saying something. It’s just that, after four years of evangelizing blush wines, then being stuck with excess inventory after their purpoted popularity exceeded the reality, I finally realized that these wines were best relegated to the specialty shelf. For those of us who enjoy these great, dry wines, you’ll not be saddened once the cork is separated from this bottle!
A saignee from Elkhorn Peak’s estate pinot production, this wine is relatively deep in color, despite just 8 hours of skin contact at relatively cool temperatures. It’s flavor is true to type – red fruit notes of strawberry and cherry, with enough acidity to evoke a squeeze of lemon over the whole fruit pile. See if you don’t also find a bit of sassafrass in there!
A Note On The Recipe
This recipe originally appeared in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” Volume One, P. 171 (picture on right). Published in 1961 by Knopf and 1966 by Penguin Books. It’s available through ecookbooks.com for $24 (as of tonight, anyway) at http://tinyurl.com/qedfru
Dave the Wine Merchant
Quote of the Day
“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook”
~ Julia Child, American Gourmet Food Pioneer, Author and TV Personality (8/15/12 – 8/13/04)
This recipe was originally paired with the Peay Vineyards 2006 Syrah “La Bruma” in the June, 2009 shipment to members of our Grand Cru Selections
The sauce used here is not the typical BBQ sauce often used in meatball recipes. There is no vinegar to offset the sweetness of the peppers and tomatoes – instead, the counter-balance is provided by the lamb’s natural richness, and the onion/garlic/herb combo. I think you’ll agree it works well with a softer, elegant Syrah – I partnered this dish with the cool Sonoma Coast syrah from Peay Vineyards, their 2006 “La Bruma” ($47). See other syrah choices here.
1 1/2 Lbs. ground lamb
1 Cloves minced garlic
1/2 Cup breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp chopped parsley
1 Egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp Coriander
1/2 Cup minced onion
1/4 tsp Kosher salt
1/3 Cup diced red pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl – minimal handling assures better texture in the finished meatball, so mix gently and stop as soon as ingredients are combined.
Using a small (1 Tbsp) scoop or a soup spoon, form about 48 small, roughly-shaped meatballs, placing each in a baking pan (with sides). It’s best if they don’t touch. Bake for 12 minutes, remove and turn off oven.
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper
½ Cup diced onion
28 Oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 Clove minced garlic
3 Tbsp minced parsley
½ Cup dry red wine
While meatballs bake, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and stir until lightly golden, ~5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, wine, and black pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat until the wine reduces by half.
Add the tomatoes and simmer on low for 12- 15 minutes more. Add the meatballs and heat through, then add the parsley just before serving. A handful of short bamboo skewers turn this potentially messy dish into an easy stand-up meal.
Dave the Wine Merchant
Today’s featured wine is named La Bruma (The Fog) after the frequent morning mists that cover the Pacific Coast where the Peay’s vines call home.
The winemaker – Vanessa Wong – says this wine has less pepper than the 2005, which I find surprising, since the pepper notes are what registered most in my taste memory. They remind me of the peppery Syrah-based wines of Provence, only without the rough-hewn nature of those delicious but brawny wines.The wine is delightful, and will really kick butt if left in a dark, cool place for another half decade or so, if you have such a place and the will power to use it.
Look for floral notes sitting atop pie spices and warm, dusty blackberries. A bit of Beef Jerky and smoked ham (or is it Asian pork ribs?) on the palate, and a dark fruit and peppery finish that lasts for several minutes. The scuttlebutt in the industry is that there is more Syrah available for sale than the market can bear, particularly if the wine is priced over $30. If that’s true, it’s only becaue more of them don’t taste like this one. This is a wine you’ll enjoy getting to know.