May 2002 Newsletter
Wines evaluated last month: 230
Rejected: 200 Approved: 30 Selected: 2
SUPERIOR STAND INS
We're featuring two domestic wines this month. We couldn't help it. When another extraordinary opportunity comes along, we dare not pass it by. That opportunity was the Laetitia Pinot Blanc. Here is a bonafide $19.00 bottle of wine that we can bring to you for less than half the price. How could we say no? Just don't tell too many people, they may get really upset when they find their receipt.
Pinot Blanc is the Rodney Dangerfield of white wines. As long as people don't know what it is, they love it and think they are drinking a fabulous Chardonnay. The flavor profiles are quite similar, even to the professional tasters; it just doesn't have the cache, or the price of Chardonnay. No matter. We think you'll like it as much as we did. Like a lot!
Oftentimes, Merlot is mistaken for Cabernet Sauvignon, usually a soft, engaging and eminently drinkable Cabernet. In this case, our old reliable friends at Pedroncelli have done it again. Here is a Merlot that has all the properties that great Merlot is supposed to have. Besides Cabernet's cherry fruit and licorice, there is Merlot's unmistakable spicy edge and rich, smooth flavors that keep you asking for more. But don't wait too long. More is not what we have less of. It won't be around long. Think Meitz on this gem.
The story of the Pedroncelli family winery begins nearly a hundred years ago. In 1904, San Francisco grocer/winemaker John Canata built a small winery and planted Zinfandel vines in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley, long revered by early Italian immigrants as a place reminiscent of their homeland.
Canata made his wine, loaded barrels full of it onto his wagon, and set out on the day-long journey to San Francisco. Each trip ended with a ferry ride for Canata, his wine, his wagon and his horses. Customers would bring their own jugs to the market and fill them directly from the barrels; neither corkscrew nor fancy label was necessary in those days.
By 1927, another Italian immigrant, young John Pedroncelli, had saved enough money to purchase the 90-acre Canata property. Although Prohibition had stopped wine production, the vineyards had continued to produce the large, nearly black, berry-and-pepper-flavored grapes favored by the local home winemakers.
The winery is now run by the second and third generation Pedroncellis. Jim heads the marketing and John, Jr., handles production and vineyard management, although it is impossible, especially in a family run operation to stick strictly with one part of the operation. Ask Jim about winemaking and John about marketing and they'll keep you interested for hours.
Dry Creek Valley is widely recognized as one of California's finest vineyard regions. Only 25 miles from the Pacific Ocean, the valley enjoys a climate of warm days and cool nights that enables grapes to develop generous fruit at maturity. The Pedroncelli family's 120 acres of vineyards are situated on the valley's eastern benches and hills, where well-drained, gravelly soils help concentrate varietal character.
This is one of the choicest areas for growing Merlot. The warm days build a robust character and flavor. The cool nights help keep the acids and tannins in check to produce wines of uncommon balance. Add to this the Pedroncelli's Old World roots about value and you have a combination that can't be beat.
Bold, concentrated cassis and berry flavors enhanced with a touch of vanilla. Sings with our balsamic steak recipe on page 6.
Will improve with
another year or two
in the bottle. Serve
cool, about 30
minutes in the fridge.
Laetitia Vineyard and Winery is located in the Arroyo Grande Valley appellation of San Luis Obispo County. Planted in 1982, the vineyard site was chosen for its ideal Burgundy-like climate, featuring a thin band of fog in the morning, intense sunshine during the day and gentle coolness in the evening. The microclimate is further influenced by the soft ocean breezes generated by the Pacific Coastline a mere 2 1/2 miles away.
All of the wines from Laetitia are created from the finest quality grapes, using a combination of Old World style and modern winemaking techniques to best enhance the varietal characteristics. The Pinot Blanc achieves its ripe citrus flavors and smooth finish from nine months of aging in French oak barrels.
It has been 13 years since winemaker Eric Hickey worked his first harvest with his father Dave Hickey making sparkling wine during his high school summers at Laetitia then known as Maison Deutz. "It's the thrill of bringing in the new grapes, the challenge of making the best wine from those grapes, and the satisfaction of seeing people enjoy the wine that drives my passion for winemaking." After finishing his schooling, Eric took on the position of cellar master in 1994 when the first still wines were made at the winery. He credits the majority of his winemaking education to his time spent making wine with world-class French, Australian and American winemakers. This education, coupled with his passion and understanding of the Laetitia vineyard led him to being named Winemaker at Laetitia in May 2000.
Pinot Blanc is a very respected grape in France. It reaches its pinnacle in Alsace where it produces finely honed wines of delicate balance and longevity. It is also grown, rather obscurely, in Burgundy where it has often been mistaken for Chardonnay. This is because under the certain conditions, it can resemble the bold, broad flavors and oak influenced style of Chardonnay along with the complex properties of Alsace Pinot Blanc. Laetitia has been able to straddle both and give us a wine of great depth and complexity.
Pineapple and banana flavors blast out of the glass mellowed by hints of vanilla and peach nectar. Imposing enough for our Vietnamese fritters on page 6.
Perfect now. Serve
chilled, about 2
hours in the fridge.
Adventures in Good Food
2 garlic cloves
8 ounces skinless sea bass or halibut fillets, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 egg white
1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla)*
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce*
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon oriental sesame oil
8 ounces crabmeat, drained
8 ounces cooked shrimp, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
Vegetable oil (for frying)
*Available at Asian markets and in the Asian foods section of some supermarkets.
With machine running, drop garlic cloves through feed tube of processor and chop finely. Add sea bass and next 8 ingredient and process just until blended. Transfer to large bowl; stir in crabmeat, shrimp, cilantro and red bell pepper.
Pour enough oil into heavy large skillet to reach depth of 1 inch; heat oil over medium-high heat to 350°F. Working in batches, drop rounded tablespoonfuls of fritter mixture into hot oil. Fry fritters until golden brown and cooked through, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer cooked fritters to paper-towel-lined plate; drain. Arrange fritters on platter with lettuce leaves. Serve with Chili-Lime Sauce.
*Available at Asian markets and in the Asian foods section of some supermarkets. Makes about 20 fritters.
5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup finely grated carrot
2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)*
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce*
Whisk lime juice, 1/4 cup water, carrot, fish sauce, sugar and chili-garlic sauce in medium bowl to blend.
Makes about 1 cup.
Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.
3/4 pound 1/2-inch-thick boneless sirloin steak
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons medium-dry Sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
Pat steak dry and season lightly with salt and pepper. Spread 1 teaspoon sesame seeds evenly on one side of steak.
In a large heavy skillet heat oil over moderately high heat until it begins to smoke and add steak, sesame-seed-side down. Spread remaining teaspoon sesame seeds on top of steak. Cook steak 1 1/2 minutes on each side for medium-rare meat and transfer with a slotted spatula to a small platter. Keep steak warm.
Pour off almost all fat from skillet and add garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook garlic mixture over moderate heat, stirring, 10 seconds and add Sherry. Boil mixture until almost all liquid is evaporated and remove skillet from heat. Add soy sauce, vinegar, and honey and bring to a simmer, stirring. Add butter and stir over low heat until incorporated. Spoon glaze over steak.
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