January 1983 Newsletter
Please count your blessings twice for living in California! Forget the weather, forget the lifestyle, those are all extra plus. It's the wine I am talking about. We spent 6 days in Lincoln, Nebraska over the holidays. There was nothing in the stores! Nothing worth picking up and reading the label! Nice stores, wonderful people, but no wine with wine experience potential. Now this is the capital of Nebraska, you know! Well… maybe I hit the wrong shops!..." No offense, Lynn and Brent" (our son and daughter-in-law); "keep drinking the stuff you reconnoiter on your visits to California".
In contrast, just plan to spend 4 days in Monterey late next November, at the California Wine Festival. You will be overwhelmed with California wine! I spent 4 days working hard, picking from the 90 odd wineries showing over 450 wines, and did not finish them all. It is open to the public. The tab last year was $250 for 4 days of lectures, seminars, 3 exquisite lunches, 1 gala buffet dinner and wine taste, and 2 additional extravaganza wine tastes. Limited to a 1000 attendees, it attracts both trade and consumer enthusiasts. Top deck organization by Joan Keisel, the director. If any of you have an interest in next years event, drop me a line, and I will see that you receive the announcement.
This months selections speak for themselves.
Wines evaluated last month: 324
Rejected: 254, Approved: 68, Selected:2
COLOMBARD. 1981. VILLA BACCALA
Villa Baccala is a brand new label on the wine scene, and this wine is their first release. If their subsequent wines have the same quality for the price, they are on their way to better things. I ran into their booth at one of the trade shows and was surprised to see only one wine being offered. Well… that is all they had for now! A lowly Colombard. It was impressive however, so I tucked it away for showing when a suitable slot appeared in our monthly scheduling.
William Baccala, an insurance executive from Newport Beach, Ca. purchased the vineyard and winery in 1979. He spends all the time he can spare at the vineyard, which is located in Senal Valley in South Mendocino County. The vineyard was planted with old Colombard vines (the oldest in the county), when he acquired the property. He has since planted Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
On the vineyard, located 3 miles north of Hopland, is a 100 year old farmhouse which is being restored. It sits on a knoll off of Highway 101, and will make an ideal tasting room and office complex, when finished. Target date for opening is in May and tours will be ready in June. If you are in the area, call ahead and stop by. Tell Fran Foley I sent you. She is a charming person, and serves as VP of the winery and is vineyard manager.
Colombard or French Colombard is a lesser white grape that has been used over the years for blending. Its history in California goes back 100 years when it was brought to this country from France as a vigorous growing white grape. It was first called West's White Prolific, then Winkler, and now by its correct name:
French Colombard. It does better in the warm climatic regions. Every so often, a California winemaker will attempt to do something special with the grape. This Villa Baccala is an example. Several notches above the table wine category, it shows very well for its modest lineage and price.
The wine is lemon yellow in color. It has a dominant fresh fruity aroma with a distinct varietal character that is penetrating. The taste is fruity, soft at onset, but a pleasant acidity comes into play in the second half of the taste. Refreshing. Serve with light lunches - sandwiches, poultry and seafood salads. Superior aperitif or table wine.
Cellaring Notes: Not for ageing. Ready now.
Wine With Food
The absolute crowning touch to a meal, in I my opinion, is the serving of a wine with dessert,.. or maybe, for dessert. It is so much more substantive than the traditional cordials or liqueurs with their loud flavors. The alcohol content is less, and therefore there is hardly any harsh bite to the beverage. The flavors are more subtle and more harmon¬ious with the preceding or accompanying dessert. (Some recently invented and intro¬duced liqueurs have such a strong artificial flavor that they have a downright sickening effect on me).
As we said last time, the trick is to match the sweetness levels of your wine and dessert In addition, when you can do some flavor complementing, you will achieve the ulti¬mate in harmony.
Before we look at some dessert groups, and see what wines could be considered, let me mention a couple of potential clashes. Citrus or other acid oriented desserts will be difficult to match with any wine. The acid tends to throw the balance of the wine off and you will not have a pleasant flavor. Best to pass up on the wine with those lemony creations. Chocolate is another tough one. A rich chocolate flavor is hard to match with any wine. It would be best to omit a dessert wine with or after this most popular flavor. I was surprised recently at the International Food and Wine show, when a representative from the Australian wine booth suggested I try their locally made Madeira style wine with a chocolate from the next booth. I did,... and it was rather good! Their Madeira wine was rich and sweet, and a dominant burnt sugar flavor. It seemed to complement the chocolate candy. I have not had it with chocolate desserts of various types like mousse, pie, or ice cream. I will have to try that sometime when I run across the wine again.
Here are my recommendations for wines with some of the groups of desserts:
Fruit pies and tarts: Muscat or Moscato wines, Malvasia wines, California or import Cream, custard, or pumpkin pies and tarts: Late harvest California Johannisberg Riesling, German or Austrian Auslese grade wines.
Pecan or mince meat pies: California Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. Barsac, Monta-bazillac, or lesser Sauternes from France. Malmsey Madeira.
Custards, puddings, souffle, mousse, ice creams: California Late Harvest Chenin Blanc. Vouvrey demi sec or doux from the Loire.
Cheesecake: Panache, Malaga wines.
Cakes, pastries: California Angelica, Sweet Marsala.
Fruit: Chateau La Salle, California ruby port, Malaga wines.
Fruit-cake, Dublin cake (Irish soda cake): Cream sherry, California or Spain. Zabaglione: Sweet Marsala.
Do not be afraid to experiment with dessert wines. They are much more adap¬table and will respond more broadly to flavor matching. Once you are familiar with the different ones, you will find them fun to serve as part of your dessert course.
Some fine sweet wines hold a place for themselves in the course of meal service These are the better Sauternes from France, the Tokays from Hungary, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines from Ger¬many and Austria, Vinage Ports from Portugal, aged Madeiras, and the better California answers to the same imported styles. These are usually served for what they are, as dessert or after other dessert and coffee; alone. They are so special that they should be enjoyed for their own complex flavor sensations. Unsalted, fresh-shelled walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds make excellent companions. The conversation will surely turn to the ambiance of your meal.
As I mentioned in the last issue, I dis-covered a novel approach to dessert in Flor-ence, Italy. I was there for my Northern Italian Wine Survey trip. If you are ever in Florence, do not miss the experience of dining at Tratorria Omere. It is in the out¬skirts of the city, and is a charming country style eatery. The dishes are authentic Tuscan and the atmosphere is what you expect romantic Italy to be like. On their menu, they had Vin Santo listed under dessert. It is an Italian dessert wine specialty that is not commonly found here in the United States. I ordered a glass. It was served with a dish of small dry cookies, and I was told that I had to dip the cookies in the Vin Santo, and eat them in between sips of the wine. The cookies were hard baked, and they had almond halves embedded in the crust. The last time I saw anything dunked in a beverage was at a doughnut stand back home! I was not too sure this was the right thing to do, but looking around me I saw a couple of other people doing it, so I tried it. It was an absolutely delightful flavor combination, and made for an excellent dessert I have since found the same cookies imported from Florence at better Italian grocers in San Pedro and some of them have Vin Santo too. The cookies are called Ghiottini alla Mandorla. Try this sometime, but not for a formal black tie dinner! The dipping might not be very proper.
Reprint of a column by the Cellarmaster
Paul Kalemkiarian in the REVIEW
AMARONE. 1974. RUFFINO
When you visit the Ruffino people in Italy, you get the feeling everything is under control. They are one of the giants of the Italian wine industry, yet all details are handled like it was a personal enterprise. They were on my itinerary last November, on my Northern Italian wines and foods survey trip. I visited their vineyards and winery in Pontassieve. This charming town is nestled in the hills of Tuscany between olive orchards and vineyards. Ruffino makes a variety of wines here, but foremost is their Chianti, still made by the old traditional "governo" method.
I spent a day with them, learned a lot about their wines, did some comparison tastings, and experienced authentic Tuscan cuisine at Ristorante Girarrosto (if you are ever in Tuscany, a detour is worth a visit to this eatery. Their roasted meats are unequalled, and the antipasto with Tuscany virgin olive oil is a feast in itself).
The House of Ruffino was started by two cousins in 1877. Ilario and Leopoldo Ruffino lived in Tuscany, and their claim to fame was their tireless effort to make the best Chianti possible. Over the 106 years, the firm which is still family owned, has added other wines to their line. It was their Amarone that started my interest in researching their wines.
The full name for this wine is Recioto Della Valpolicella Amarone. It comes from the Veneto wine region of Italy, and is a made from the same grapes as regular Valpolicella ( a well known, young red wine from that region). The grapes are local ones: Corvina Veronese, Rondinella and Molinara. The lower and middle portions of better bunches of grapes are removed and the "rece" or ears of the bunches are left on the vines to mature fully. They are picked, dried on racks in well ventilated rooms for 40 - 50 days, then crushed and vinified. The resulting wine is at least 14% alcohol, full bodied and dry.
This Amarone is brilliant brick red. Deep fragrant bouquet with complexities still developing. It has a full body, glyceriny, with a flavor that explodes in your mouth to a fruity, dry, bold character that shows breed. The long finish ends with hint of bitterness that is complementary. Serve at room temperature (65*) with robust red meat entrees, roasts and steaks or sharp cheese.
Cellaring Notes: Will mellow and develop further complexities for up to 15 years. Well worth tracking.
Adventures in Eating
Everybody has 2 bits to say about what was good or bad about the year 1982, and the soothsayers are busy forecasting 1983. So far the outlook doesn't seem so hot. As for me, I just go on thinking about all the wonderful tastes that are still waiting to be discovered, knowing well, that a lifetime will not be sufficient for the experience of it all.
So look into your refrigerator, and see if you have a leftover ham shank or butt end that needs loving attention. To paraphrase a recent Colonel Sanders ad. "Pot Chuck", I suggest the old split pea soup tradition for using ham bones, but launch into a custom of the old American South, using that same ham piece.
This black-eye pea casserole is a tradition in the "old south", and is usually served on New Year's Eve. It symbolizes good health and good luck in the year to come. Now all of us can use some of that. Plus, black-eye peas are high in protein and easy on the pocket book.
BLACK EYE PEAS
1 lb. black eye peas
1 small ham bone
3 Qts water
½ lb. cubed ham
1 onion, diced
1 Tb. lard
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Salt and Pepper
5 bay leaves (I use less)
Place peas in pot and rinse several times. Add water, onion, garlic, and lard. Cover and cook slowly for one hour on medium heat. Add ham bone. If there is enough meat on the ham bone, you will not need to add the extra 11 lb. of meat. I just cut it up after it has stewed and add it to the peas. Add bay leaves, cover, and cook slowly to a creamy consistency; about 2 hours. It gets nice and thick like a soup. Add salt and pepper. I love red pepper to give it a little nip, so add that too if you like. Serves 8.
This is a hearty food, and served with a salad and crusty french bread, makes a most delicious change of pace for a meal. It can be used as a party casserole, but I would not recommend it as a side dish with another meat. Bon apetit.
You all... have a very good year now.
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