When pairing wine and food, while vegetables are certainly a seasonal selection; wine and vegetables rarely makes a reasonable connection. When it comes to compatibility, wine and veggies make for a challenging relationship. However, with a little pairing intervention, we can salvage this savory dilemma.
First, let’s discuss the easy ones; mushrooms, potatoes and eggplant. Denser, heavier and earthier vegetables often used in heartier dishes. Think of the earthy quality of Pinot Noir to pair with these meaty veggies. A hearty mushroom like Portobello can even take on Bordeaux varietals like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
With green vegetables, play off the green flavors of these veggies by grilling and topping with a balsamic glaze. For richness add a cream sauce or cheese (there, I finally said it…you’ve been waiting for it!). These green flavors work well with Pinot Bianco or Pinot Grigio which often have notes of green fruit and provide a less aggressive palate then grassy and citrusy Sauvignon Blanc.
Asparagus and Artichokes. These delicious little buggers get their own space as they are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. This is due to cynarin. Cynarin is a phenolic acid compound found in the green leaves and seeds of artichokes and asparagus which gives a sweet flavor to these yummy vegetables. However, it can be challenging to complement these notes with wine because the sweetness is not from actual sugars and it makes most wines, even those with low levels of residual sugar, taste bitter. A sure way to contrast these flavors is with spicy aioli, a creamy dip, or a rich sauce. For wine, try an Austrian, Gruner Veltiner. Don’t underestimate this peppery white, Gruners are not to be taken lightly. This polished Austrian has attitude to spare and can finesse the most fickle flavors--even artichokes and asparagus.
If the addition of sauce, cheese, and cream is not an option as it can defeat the benevolent intentions of serving and eating vegetables, fear not, I have a sure fire way to make veggies almost wine-friendly; meat. Therein lies my beef with vegetables.
Merlot Beef with Broccoli
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 pound sirloin beef tips, sliced against the grain 1/8 inch thick
3 tablespoons grape seed oil
10 ounces broccoli florets
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup merlot (approximately 4 ounces)
Toss together cornstarch, salt, pepper, and beef in a bowl until meat is coated. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in wok or sauté pan over medium high heat until hot but not smoking, stir-fry beef until just cooked through, approx. 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, transfer beef to another bowl and keep warm. Add remaining oil to sauté pan along with broccoli and garlic. Stir-fry until broccoli is just tender and garlic is pale golden, about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce and wine and bring to a low boil. Return meat to skillet. Stir until sauce is thickened.
I know; adding bacon is not playing fair but...absolutely delicious!
A little food and wine levity. When all else fails.....go back to the basics!
A great perk of living/ working in wine country is the opportunity to be exposed to a wide variety of wines and winemaking styles. One of the obvious ways to expand one’s palate in this area is going out and exploring the myriad of tasting rooms and wineries available (and with over 375 in Sonoma County and 400+ in Napa Valley, there are many important decisions to make!). Basically, we in the wine world lead a rough life of roaming around beautiful rolling hillsides and valleys covered in leafy green and gold beauty searching for whatever our taste buds desire.
Just another day at the office...
Like I said, life’s hard sometimes.
But what about experiencing wine after hours? Or what if you don’t have the ability to drive 20 mins to an hour to get to the nearest winery? Well there are plenty of opportunities to explore new vintages and varieties from the comfort of your own home. Why not try hosting a wine tasting party?
A group of us at the Castello get together on a regular basis for wine tastings, and it always ends up to be an enlightening, delicious, and fun way to try new wines and hear impressions from everyone. We’ve had evenings dedicated to a specific varietal (such as Pinot Noir), winemaking styles (Old World vs New) and wine regions around the globe. Our most recent tasting focused on the wines of Spain. We sampled Riojas, Priorats, and Tempranillos with Spanish cheeses and Tortilla de Patata, a classic Spanish egg and potato appetizer made by our very own resident Spaniard, Maria!
Spanish wine tasting night with the Castello crew (and friends!)
Throwing a wine tasting party can be fun and easy, and is a great way to connect with friends over a few bottles of delicious vino! Here are a few tips for planning your own wine tasting night:
What you need:
♦ Wines (obviously) – Make sure to have enough wines for your party to taste! It’s generally a good idea to keep these get-togethers between 6-12 people so everyone has a chance to sit around the table and share their thoughts and stories about the wines being poured, and it’s a good plan to allot about a half bottle’s worth of wine per person at the tasting, though having an extra bottle or two on hand never hurts “just in case”! Keep the pours around 2 ounces for each wine, especially if you have a wider selection to taste through.
♦ Glasses – Always make sure to have enough glasses for all guests present. It’s usually nice to have at least 2 glasses per guest, especially if you want to evaluate your wines side-by-side. It’s fine to reuse the glass for multiple wines, as long as you’re not going from a red to a white or sweet (you don’t want to make your own “rose”)
♦ Dump Bucket – Have a vase or pitcher off to the side for people to dump any wine they don’t want to finish (remember, the more wines you consume, the less you’ll be able to taste!)
♦ Water – Place a water pitcher on the table with glasses for guests to sip from between tastings. Sparkling water is even more helpful in warding off the dreaded "palate fatigue"
♦ Snacks – Small bites make a delicious centerpiece at the table. Try to find foods that pair with the wines you’ll be trying; cheeses and charcuteries with a fresh baguette are always a good idea, and you can even ask your guests to bring an appetizer they think would complement the wines.
♦ Wine charms/ glass markers – These are helpful to keep track of which wine is in which glass. If you’re on the third round of tastings and trying a California Cabernet next to a French Bordeaux, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a little reminder to keep you focused on what’s in front of you. If you don’t have wine charms, dry erase markers or even stickers work well (as long as they peel off easily)
♦ Notepads/ pens – These are especially useful for guests who want to remember which wines were tasted and which were their favorites. Great to hang on to for the next time you’re trying to remember a delicious wine you had to pair with dinner!
You can even segment notes to help guide your guests through their tasting with categories like Color, Nose, Taste, and Finish
Things to avoid:
♦ Perfume/ cologne – Remind your guests to refrain from wearing any strong scents, as this can detract from the overall tasting experience (as nice as your Chanel No 5 may smell, nobody wants to be drinking it)
♦ Scented candles/ flowers – Same reasons as above (nobody wants to be picking up "essence of Pumpkin Spice" in their Pinot Bianco)
Who needs candles when you can make your own centerpiece from corks and Champagne cages?
There are plenty of great themes you can have with a tasting party. Here are a few to start you off with:
♦ Varietal tasting – Pick a grape and see how the results differ based on where it’s produced and who is making it. Examples: Try Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, Sonoma, Carneros, and Oregon to see how terroir affects the outcome
♦ Old World vs New World – Choose wines from a specific “Old World” region (think Europe) and compare them with their “New World” counterparts. Examples: Italian varietals (Sangiovese, Barbera, Pinot Grigio) vs. their California counterparts
♦ Vintages – Pick a specific wine from your favorite winery and see how that wine changes with each year. Examples: A vertical tasting of Castello di Amorosa Cabernet Sauvignon from 2008 – 2010
♦ Blind Tasting – Break out the brown paper bags and test your senses! See if you can spot the difference between a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Riesling vs Moscato. The sky’s the limit!
And finally, the most important part of a wine tasting party: Have fun!! Whichever wines you choose, you'll be sipping, swirling, and savoring a great evening with good friends!
So many glasses, so little time…
Cheese. It seems recently I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about it, researching it, eating it, and writing about it. What makes this bacteria induced, mold laden, milk by-product so delicious in so many ways? From mac and cheese to grilled cheese sandwiches to omelets to enchiladas… is there anything good cheese doesn’t make better? Okay, I realize that is a rhetorical question which does not qualify an answer. Cheese-heads know of which I speak; plain, sliced, melted, and even burnt as one of my personal favorites is baked oozing cheese crusted on the edge of a big pan of lasagna.
In a word; cheese is yummy!
Cheese is not to be relegated to an also ran or a p.s. it is not Ed Mac Mahon to Johnny. No, the cheese can stand alone. Consider this, if you serve bread and a glass of wine with cheese, you now have a meal once reserved for royalty or highly ranked officials of medieval Western Europe. They favored hard, well-aged, and slightly salty cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano anyone?
Perhaps it is these century-old roots at the foundation of this tasty trio’s designation as the ‘trinity of the table’; bread, wine and cheese. In fact, this mouth-watering combo has something in common aside from being absolutely delicious. Bread, wine and cheese depend on yeast and bacteria for their development. Without the changes brought about by fermentation bread would not rise, wine would be lacking alcohol and we would exist in a world devoid of cheese. Fortunately we live in a world of a cheese-lover's Shangri-La!
This homage to fromage is not intended to be a crash-course of pairing wine and cheese, but, simply an occasion to open the proverbial windows of our palate and imagine the possibilities...
String, cream and grated--gateway cheeses which gave every American cheese-loving kid their humble beginning
Eat like a king with this royal trio. Bread? Nothing fancy, sometimes basic is all you need. Wine? Castello di Amorosa Il Brigante is just the right blend. Cheese? Piave Vecchio. Parmesan is well-suited for grating; Piave is a slightly higher in milk fat which makes it a creamier option for a cheese board presentation.
Kick it up a notch. Add a reduction of balsamic to elevate this cheese pairing to a sweet and salty palate sensation.
The quintessential cheese plate typically offers a selection of 3 or more cheeses and makes use of color and texture. Combine a hard cheese and a double cream with a smoky cheddar. With the abundance of orange cheese, blue cheese and practically multicolored cheese; it is easy to add a splash of color.
A conventional grilled cheese becomes an amazing culinary creation by using distinctive cheeses and experimenting with flavors. Pictured is Cotswold, a variation of Double Gloucester with the addition of chopped onions and chives. Cotswold is creamy, buttery, sweet and mild. Served with roasted sweet peppers- it is dangerously delicious.
La Tur is an Italian triple cream from the Piedmont region of Italy and is made from an equal mixture of cow, sheep and goat milk. Typically with double and triple creams I prefer a bright white wine like Pinot Bianco or a dry Gewurztraminer. Here, I served La Tur with a dollop of orange blossom honey on a fig and oat cracker. Paired with Il Passito, the crown jewel of Castello di Amorosa-- this was cheese and wine nirvana!