Monthly Archives: August 2011

Wine Not? Touring the Central Coast of California

We just arrived in Napa, finishing our short (but awesome) tour of the Central Coast of California. The trip dispelled a lot stereotypes I had of the region. After visiting Napa (located north of the Central Coast), I thought that area was way too hot to grow Pinot Noir. But after exploring the area morning, noon and night and donning too many sweaters to count; I found the area has the perfect growing conditions for Pinot – warm summer days and cool (very cool) summer nights. Take a look at our first episode of Wine Not? We’ll add more throughout the trip and over the next few months. We promise, our camera skills will improve 🙂

P.S….out-takes video to come!

Wine Review: The Prisoner 2009

A special guest blog appearance by our Cooked author – Jaclyn Poole….

Believe it or not, there was a time when I wasn’t a foodie and really didn’t know much about wine.  It all started one night in Columbus, Ohio. I don’t necessarily remember the occasion, but myself and my boyfriend (husband now) decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner out. It was at that dinner that I was introduced to what is still one of our favorite wines – The 2009 Prisoner, the flagship wine of Orin Swift Cellars.

Overwhelmed by an extensive wine list, we asked the server for advice. All we really knew was that we enjoyed red wine and since it was a special occasion, we weren’t being too price conscious. Our server suggested the Prisoner because he was on a big Zinfandel kick.  But this particular wine was blended with several other varietals; Cabernet, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Charbono, Grenache and Malbec …to be exact. And they all blend together perfectly.

The color of the wine was the first thing to grab our attention; an opaque shade of ruby that seemed almost solid as it settled into the glass. We allowed the wine to open as we decided on our meals; shrimp and grits to split, barbequed mahi-mahi for me and a caramel seared pork chop for
the hubby.  These don’t seem like entrees you’d usually pair with a deep, bold Napa red – but I am convinced this wine pairs well with everything!  And that night it did.

The aromas of the wine surprised us – strong blackberry and raspberry – reminiscent of a summer fruit salad, sweet and tart. From the first sip you know you’re drinking something great; a powerful, full bodied burst of cherry flavors with pops of pepper on the tongue.  But wait, that’s not even the best part. The best part is the long finish. A velvety finish and softens the throat and warms your chest.  The wine offers plenty of tannins, but they’re subtle which is why it pairs well with so many different meals.

We sipped the wine slowly, even enjoying it with dessert and ever since then we have had at least one bottle of the ’09 Prisoner in our house at all times. Believe me, you won’t regret trying this one.

Wine Not? Touring California Wine Country

This weekend Al and I leave for a two-week long “research” trip to investigate vineyards from Santa Barbara to Sonoma. We’re also using this trip to kick off a new video/photo blog section we like to call Wine Not? Wine Not? will feature the answers and information about wine and the industry that you’ve always been dying to know. We won’t reveal too much more, but see below for a sneak peek on some of the topics we will be covering over the next month.

You can also follow our upcoming trip on this blog and our Twitter page.

Upcoming Wine Not? Topics

  • Can you really open a wine bottle with your shoe?
  • What does a grape bunch look like?
  • What’s the difference between California and European wine?
Have a question you’re dying to ask? Message us here, on Facebook, Twitter, or send it by email!

Prosciutto and Melon Makes a Meal; Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc

My favorite meals usually start with a traditional recipe that’s been flipped upside down and turned into something completely different; while still keeping the flavors that made it great to begin with.  Does that make sense? To explain further, this meal is the perfect example. Everyone loves the traditional Italian appetizer of melon and prosciutto. The sweet, creamy melon versus the sharp, salty prosciutto defines a sweet and salty balance perfectly. The only problem is, prosciutto and melon on it’s own is not substantial enough to be a main course. Not until now that is…

A full flavored, acidic wine like the 2010 Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with the pungent anise flavor of fennel and in this dish fresh fennel adds a needed crunch.  This vintage has a background aroma of melon that is begging to be brought to life, and fresh melon will do just that. Since we have three of the four S’s of a culinary experience (sweet, salty, savory), we might as well add the 4th (spicy) with a homemade chili oil.  Not too spicy to overpower the vibrance of the wine, just spicy enough to add a punch of flavor.

4 red snapper fillets, skins removed
4oz prosciutto, thinly sliced
Salt, pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 ripe mangoes
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
ÂĽ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon, finely diced chives

Lightly season snapper with salt and pepper.  Prosciutto will provide some salt, so be careful with what you add.

Cover one side of snapper with slices of prosciutto (however many it takes to cover top and sides of fish). Press into the fish and let rest 5 minutes.

Heat olive oil in non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add snapper, prosciutto side down and cook until crispy, about 3 minutes. Flip fish and cook on opposite side for another 3 minutes. Remove from pan and keep warm in oven. Continue with remaining fillets.

Remove peel from mango and cut flesh off center pit. Slice into rounds, about ½ inch thick.

Wisk red pepper flakes and EVOO in small dish until incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To plate: First layer several slices of mango on the bottom of the plate. Then layer in slices of fennel. Top with fish and then drizzle just
about 1 teaspoon of chili oil. Decorate plate with chives.

Beer for Dessert

Southern Tier‘s stout series is simply amazing for those that appreciate chocolate, coffee, and crème brĂ»lĂ©e,(who doesn’t?). The stout series offers seasonal releases of different beers brewed with a variety of dessert worthy flavors. They include: Choklat, Jah’va, Mokah, Oat Imperial, and Crème BrĂ»lĂ©e which was recently released.

Brewed with the typical malts (2-row pale) and hops (columbus & horizon), the brewery also adds dark caramel malts, vanilla bean and lactose sugar to the mix to create the signature finesse and sweetness of the beer. Not only a best seller, Crème BrĂ»lĂ©e, is also my favorite beer that Southern Tier produces…so when it arrived last week I was excited. However, not in the beer drinking mood this weekend I decided to use the beer in a dessert rather than drink it for dessert.

So here’s my extremely simplistic recipe I came up with for the beer. Please keep in mind that my sister, not I, is the cook (see her blog here) and this is about as complicated as dessert gets for me. If you want to try on your own, buy Crème BrĂ»lĂ©e here.

Crème Brûlée Shortcake
serves 2 


  • 2 vanilla pound cake rounds (available at Fresh Market, or your local bakery)
  • Coconut Creme Gelato (can substitute for vanilla)
  • Chocolate Syrup
  • Southern Tier Crème BrĂ»lĂ©e
1. Unwrap the vanilla pound cake rounds and place on a plate
2. Scoop 1 large serving of the coconut cream gelato into the middle of the pound cake
3. Pour Crème BrĂ»lĂ©e over the creation, using enough to create a “moat” around the cake
4. Top with chocolate syrup


Salmon Wellington with Fleur du Cap Chardonnay

The two staples in the wine world: Cabernet and Chardonnay.  Feature both options at a party and your friends will be satisfied with either.  All Chardonnays taste the same – that’s what we all think isn’t it? Well the 2009 Fleur du Cap Bergkelder Selection Chardonnay is an exception to that rule. The heavy oak flavor and thick buttery finish you picture when you think Chardonnay doesn’t exist here.  With a well-balanced weight and fullness, zesty citrus flavors and just a touch of vanilla oak aftertaste, this Chardonnay stands out among the rest.  If you are a “traditional” Chardonnay lover; give this one a chance and if you think you don’t like Chardonnay – this one may change your mind! (Especially if paired with the right meal to really enhance the aromas and flavors).

Sticking with the theme of “exceptions to the rule” a mornay sauce (a bechamel sauce with cheese added) is one of those: no cheese with seafood.  It can be done! A mild parmesan cheese melted into a thick, herbed cream sauce draping over a crisp puffed pastry layered atop soft, buttery salmon. YUM!

4 fillets fresh Atlantic Salmon, skin removed
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg,beaten

Herbed Mornay Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
Splash Chardonnay
1 cup milk
ÂĽ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
Pinch cayenne pepper
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
ÂĽ cup total fresh dill, basil, tarragon

Tomato Salad
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, cut in half
½ shallot, sliced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt/pepper to taste
Fresh basil

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut each sheet of puff pastry in half vertically. Place one fillet of salmon in the middle of each ½ sheet
  3. Lightly season salmon with salt and pepper. Fold edges of pastry up and around salmon, using egg wash to seal.  Completely cover salmon so no parts of the fish are exposed.
  4. Place all pieces on baking sheet and brush entire outside with egg wash.  Bake until golden brown, 10-12 minutes.
  5. For the salad, mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and let sit until salmon is finished cooking.
  6. Heat butter in small saucepan over medium heat.  Add flour and whisk for 1 minute.  Add wine to deglaze and let cook for 1 minute.  Add milk, cayenne, nutmeg and salt, continuing to whisk. Let cook until thick, 3-5 minutes.
  7. Remove from heat. Add parmesan cheese and mix until melted. Add herbs and check seasoning.

Planning a trip to California wine country

Planning wine tripAl and I will be departing for what has become our bi-annual exploration of California wine country. In our two weeks of meetings and wine tasting we’ll travel through Santa Barbara, Monterey, Napa, and Sonoma. On the itinerary? Some old favorites and top sellers and places that we have always wanted to visit. What is more important than our actual plans and meetings, however, is what I can our ‘free’ time to explore the undiscovered. With that in mind, I thought a post on some tips on planning a wine country trip to California (or any other wine production region) was in order.

1. Leave “FREE” time: Yes, it is important to see Domaine Chandon or Robert Mondavi once in  your lifetime…but do not let those bigger types of wineries dominate your days. Our go-to plan, start out with a bigger winery in the morning each day and talk to the tasting room managers, they’ll give you the secrets to the small, hidden gems and sometimes even set you up with tasting.

2. Four wineries a day, no more: There is a point, for everyone, where you cannot taste anymore wine. We’ve found, in general, that comes at four wineries. Pick three to four to visit a day, take the extended tour and tasting, enjoy and then go have a nice, big meal.

3. Pack snacks: More and more wineries offer cheese and appetizers at their tasting rooms. But you will be tasting a lot of wine. Keep the car full of crackers and sparkling water to keep your palette (and head) clear.

4. Splurge for the expensive tasting: A $100 tasting fee sounds like a lot. But trust me, if a winery is charging a large tasting fee there is a reason for it. It is awesome, and they don’t want everyone invited to it. So go, it may be the best tasting of your life.

5. Do not sign up for the Wine Club: Most wineries would kill me here, but if you have a great experience at a winery take the information for the wine club home with you. Think about it for at least one week and then, if you want, sign up. I see too many people (like myself) get caught up in the fun of the tasting room experience and arrive back home with more club memberships than they can count on one hand. Wine clubs are a financial and culinary commitment, make sure you can afford (and drink) all that wine that you agree to purchase.

Winery Review: Silver Palm

Silver Palm WinesGrapes from premium vineyards across the North Coast, a winemaker with over 20 years experience, and artisan winemaking techniques usually translates into a $40-$50 bottle of wine…especially when that wine is Cabernet or Chardonnay from California. But Silver Palm has managed to accomplish all of those items and keep its wine reasonable – very reasonable.

It’s been our go-to table white and red for months, but after having it with dinner over the weekend (and being reminded just how good it is) I decided to take a deeper look at the winery. Silver Palm is owned by Kendall Jackson, but unlike its parent, the goal of this winery is to produce small-lot wines that will best be served at a high quality restaurant or connoisseur’s table rather than used as stackers in a grocery store. Melissa Bates, winemaker, sources fruit from only the best vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties to create complex and well-balanced wines. Currently the winery only produces two wines: Cabernet and Chardonnay which are crafted to pair perfectly with traditional cuisines for these grapes.

Cabernet Sauvignon
A blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cab Franc, 4.2% Merlot, 2.6% Petite Sirah, 2.2% Petite Verdot, the fruit is sourced from 50% Mendocino, Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and the Sonoma Coast. Surprisingly, it is also a blend of vintages (2007 – 2009), but with 95% of the fruit from the 2008 vintage it is bottled as such.

The wine shows a brilliant, purple color and shows aromas and flavors of dark cherry, blackberry, spice and toast. The medium tannins provide a backbone without the drying and bittering feeling of some bolder wines.

A blend of 98% Chardonnay with 2% Viognier from Sonoma County and Mendocino County, this vintage is the premiere of the Chardonnay for Silver Palm. The wine is fermented entirely in stainless steel, preserving the fruit characteristics to showcase the strong aromas of tropical fruit (pineapple, melon) paired with hints of apple and pear that is the Chardonnay grape’s signature. Of the wine, Bates says “For the premier release of our Chardonnay, I chose to present the varietal in a chic and elegant manner.” Elegant and chic it is.

Duck with Pomegrante Sauce; Pair with Terra Andina Pinot Noir Reserva

Duck is one of those dishes that tends to scare home cooks. It is a meat that requires love and attention but the result is so delicious and elegant; perfect to entertain with. Pair this Duck and Red Wine/Pomegranate Sauce with Terra Andina Pinot Noir Reserva to really impress your guests. The combination of black cherry and raspberry aromas the 2009 Terra Andina offers are highlighted by the Pomegranate Sauce without replicating the same sweet notes. The smooth tannins can work well with a less fatty meat (such as chicken) but I think this Pinot Noir needs a slightly fattier meat, such as duck, to really bring the whole meal together.  And don’t forget to have your vegetables!  We also added some
lightly cooked brussel sprout leaves (cooked in duck fat) to add some green to the dish. 🙂

2 duck breasts
2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, finely diced
½ Terra Andina Pinot Noir
ÂĽ cup beef stock
ÂĽ cup pomegranate juice
1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped
Pinch cayenne
1 lb fresh brussel sprouts, leaves removed
1 tablespoon olive oil

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon butter to a small saucepan. Add shallots and cook until soft. Add wine, beef stock, pomegranate juice, thyme and cayenne. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer and cook until reduced by half.  Just before serving add remaining tablespoon of butter.
  3. Let the duck breasts come to room temperature on the kitchen counter while heating a cast iron skillet with medium-high heat.
  4. Generously season both sides of the duck with salt and pepper and add to the skillet, skin side down. Allow some fat to render and the skin to crisp, about 7-10 minutes.
  5. When the skin is crisp, flip the breasts.  Using a spoon, empty most of the rendered duck fat from the skillet into a small dish.
    Add the skillet into the preheated oven to finish cooking (another 7-10 minutes for medium). (Removing extra fat  from the skillet will prevent the chance of a fire in the oven).
  6. When duck has finished cooking, remove from skillet and let rest for 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of reserved duck fat to skillet and then add brussel sprouts. Season with salt and pepper and cook until soften and crisp around the edges.
  7. Serve the duck on top of a bed of brussel sprouts with plenty of the sweet sauce. Enjoy!

Terra Andina Pinot Noir Reserva 2009:

Wine in a keg? What’s next in the wine world?

Recently I read an article from Inside Scoop in San Francisco about local restaurants serving wine out of a keg? I have to admit at first, I was a bit taken back. I mean this is wine we are talking about being tapped and served by the glass. But after further thought, maybe this isn’t such a bad idea?

Let’s be honest, most wines by the glass at restaurants are crap, swill if you will. Sutterhome and Coastal Vines, no matter how you serve them, will never be a premium product. But a good go-to glass at the bar? Sure, and you bet restaurants will continue to serve it for years and years. Most of these bottles are opened when ordered, and then kept in a cooler and served over the next few days or until the bottle is empty. The only problem with this process is that you are dealing with a product (wine in general) that is really only suppose to last a day or two at most after its opened. If you are that person that orders a glass of White Zin on day three, your wine is not as good as it was on day one…fact.

So back to the keg. A keg provides a cool and oxygen-free environment for the wines. There is no more bottle waste for restaurants and consumers are getting a fresh glass every time. The non-waste issue gives restaurants more flexibility on their wine-by-the-glass list by reducing the potential cost of lost inventory if say a Gruner Veltliner is not the most popular wine on the list. Not to mention the environmental issue of reducing all that material (bottles, corks, foil) by switching to a reusable resource.

Disturbing at first, yes. But kegs in the wine industry may just make an appearance outside of San Francisco yet, and might have a positive impact on the industry.