Grilling… and Wine Pairing… Secrets Revealed

Barbecue GrillAs I noted in a blog post a few years ago, pretty much everything I know about barbecue comes from Steven Raichlen, who has written several books on the subject.

Raichlen’s books… and over-cooking quite a few chunks of meat before I’d had a chance to read those books.

“The Barbecue! Bible” is perhaps the most comprehensive barbecue tome out there — comparable in detail and readability to Karen MacNeil’s “The Wine Bible.”

Raichlen also has written a book devoted exclusively to sauces, rubs, marinades, bastes, butters and glazes, as well as a step-by-step “how-to” book on the subject, perfect for barbecue newbies.

Read all three books, and you’ll know everything you’ll ever need to know about barbecue… and a whole lot more.

The go-to beverage at most backyard barbecues is beer. And that makes perfect sense. When the weather is warm to hot, and when the food is hot and perhaps a bit spicy, a nice cold brew can be mighty refreshing.

But if you’re looking for something beyond mere refreshment with your barbecue — a beverage with flavors that complement the flavors of the food — wine can work just fine.

Of course, it needs to be the right kind of wine, or you could end up with a pairing that does neither the wine nor the food any favors.

So, what kind of wine pairs best with BBQ? The key to any food-and-wine pairing is to zero in on the key flavor of the food.

Take chicken, for example.

Cook chicken in a frying pan or deep fryer with just some oil and minimal seasoning, and almost any white wine would make a good pairing partner. Just chill it down for a half-hour or so, and enjoy.

But what if you were eating Chinese-style orange chicken? In that case, a wine that shows off some orange-like nuances would be ideal. Think: Muscat, Orange Muscat or Moscato.

And so it is with barbecue. Now, to cover all the wine pairing possibilities with all the different styles of barbecue would require a very thick book rather than a relatively short blog. So, we’re going to concentrate on the backyard barbecue: meat (beef, chicken, pork, etc.) cooked slowly over fire, topped with some sort of semi-sweet sauce.

What’s the key flavor of the food? Most likely, it’s the sauce. So, we need a wine that not only plays off the texture and succulence of the meat, but also complements (and won’t be overwhelmed by) the flavor of the sauce.

bbq715Fortunately, those parameters are not as limiting as they may seem. There actually are numerous choices. Here are our favorite pairing partners for a backyard barbecue:

  • “GSM” (a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre—either from southern France or Australia)

Check out today’s sale from Vinesse for some specific barbecue-friendly wine ideas.

And here’s one tip you may not read in very many wine blogs: It’s perfectly okay to chill down a red wine before serving it. In fact, with barbecue fare, we highly recommend it. Thirty to 45 minutes in the refrigerator before serving is ideal.

Chilling basically doubles the pairing enjoyment factor. Not only do you get the complementary flavors of the food and the wine, but the “coolness” of the wine helps mediate the “heat” of the food.

When it comes to food and wine pairing, both similarities and “opposites” can be complementary.

Happy grilling!

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Posted in Wine Buzz

What Kind of Wine Glasses for a Summertime Party?

Outdoor catering. Food events and celebrationsWe get lots of questions about stemware. Here’s one that came in recently…

QUESTION: We’re going to have a party, and my wife suggests we use our stemless glasses for the wine. I think that would be tacky. What do you think?

ANSWER: Stemless glasses have several advantages, not the least of which is that they don’t break as easily as glasses with stems — which might be a consideration at a party with lots of people bumping elbows.

Also, keep in mind that Italian families have been drinking wine from tumblers for generations. So if your party includes Italian food, that would give you a good “excuse” to keep the stemware in the cupboard and use those stemless glasses as part of your party’s “theme.”

In the summertime, we tend to consume more “casual” foods, including at our parties — pizza, barbecued fare, and so on. In our opinion, that makes a more casual approach to the wine glassware perfectly acceptable.

A party should be about fun. So don’t sweat the stemware, and instead concentrate on selecting a nice mix of wines that will appeal to the vast majority of your guests. For ideas on this topic, go to:

When you check out that blog, you’ll see that our opinion on stemless wine glasses has evolved over the years. That said, we’re still absolutely opposed to serving good wine in plastic cups.

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Posted in Wine FAQ

An Unexpected Cheese (and Wine) Discovery

CheeseFactoryPart of the fun of traveling is getting lost.

Last fall, my fiancée and I discovered a wonderful tapas restaurant in Barcelona simply by walking around without a map. Later on that same trip, we found a cheese-making operation by taking a wrong turn in a Swiss monastery.

The monastery is the Engelberg Abbey, which I wrote about in yesterday’s blog. We’d been told about its massive organ, and decided to go early in the morning since our body clocks were still adjusting to the time zone changes from America’s West Coast, and we were wide awake.

Either we are easily confused (not out of the realm of possibility) or the signs were not real clear, but we ended up entering through the wrong door. Before disappearing too far into the jowls of the giant abbey, however, we were spotted by one of the monks who approached us saying, with his right hand held out, “No, no, no!”

We apologized profusely, explaining that we meant no harm, and then he apologized for his tone of voice. Then he asked us, “Are you looking for the cheese factory?”

It probably wasn’t a wise thing to do in a monastery, but I then lied, “Yes, we are.” While saying those words, I was thinking, “Cheese factory?!?”

That little wrong turn led to one of the many memorable experiences on that trip that were totally unplanned.

It turns out that this was the only cheese factory in Switzerland — a country known for its cheese — located within the walls of a monastery. If your timing is good, you can watch cheese being made by hand, including the monastery’s specialty, the Engelberger Klosterglocke, a mild cheese that’s pressed into the shape of a monastery bell.

CheeseDisplayYou can buy cheese — many different types — in the deli that we described in yesterday’s blog, along with an array of other treats, many made by Engelberg residents in their kitchens. And, as also noted yesterday, you can purchase wine.

The deli will prepare picnic baskets or boxed lunches, and has seating for those who would prefer to eat on the premises. We shared a tasty ham and cheese sandwich toasted to blissfully buttery perfection on a fresh bun. It was wonderfully flavorful and gooey.

It wasn’t just the surprise that made visiting the Engelberg Abbey cheese factory so much fun. Thinking about it later, I realized that it also was about experiencing the intertwining of old and new.

Here in America, we tend to plough over our historic buildings to make way for new ones. In Europe, those old buildings tend to be preserved, even if it’s only part of a crumbling brick wall surrounded and re-supported by the steel beams of a modern structure.

At the Engelberg Abbey, the contrast was provided by the modern dairy, with its state-of-the-art, stainless-steel equipment, housed by the monastery’s ancient walls.

And we never would have seen that contrast… or savored that crunchy ham-and-cheese sandwich… had we been afraid to get lost.

If all this talk of good cheese has made you hungry, I wouldn’t blame you, but before you run out and buy up the store, you can make sure you’ve got great wines ready to pair with cheeses of all types by grabbing Vinesse’s Cheese Pairing Reds Collection on sale now.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Wine in the Deli: My Kind of Monastery

EngelbergIt was at a beautiful monastery in the Swiss Alps, in a postcard-worthy village called Engelberg, where I learned something extremely important about wine: It’s no big deal.

Before the boss hands me a pink slip, let me explain what I mean by that.

Here in the United States, many people think of wine as a special occasion beverage. They’ll go out after work for a beer or a cocktail, but a glass of wine is reserved for a birthday, an anniversary or a fancy meal.

Yet in most of Europe, including Engelberg, Switzerland, wine is consumed almost every day. The quality of the wine may vary by occasion, but the gift of the grape is ubiquitous.

When my fiancée and I walked through the gates of the Engelberg Abbey, we encountered not only beautifully landscaped grounds, but also a gift shop, a cheese factory and a bistro — a bistro selling wine.

“This is my kind of monastery,” I remember thinking to myself. No wonder the poet, William Wadsworth, fell in love with this mountain village (see below).

I also recall thinking that while wine may not be an essential part of life, it certainly makes living more fun. And where’s the sin in having some fun on a daily basis? At the monastery in Engelberg, it’s certainly not thought of as sinful.


For gentlest uses, oftimes Nature takes

The work of Fancy from her willing hands;

And such a beautiful creation makes

As renders needless spells and magic wands,

And for the boldest tale belief commands,

When first mine eyes beheld that famous hill

The sacred Engelberg, celestial bands,

With intermingling motions soft and still

Hung round its top, on wings that changed their hues at will.

— William Wadsworth, 1770-1850 (excerpt)

Tomorrow: The story of the cheese-making operation at the Engelberg Abbey.

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A Deliciously Different Take on ‘Red Wine With Fish’

zinThe now legendary book, “Red Wine With Fish,” helped explode some of the myths associated with food and wine pairing.

The book was built around a truly sublime match: Pinot Noir with salmon. No trip to the Pacific Northwest is complete without at least one meal featuring that wine and that fish.

Pinot Noir and Zinfandel are light years apart in their aroma and flavor spectrums, and yet Zinfandel also can be an excellent pairing partner for salmon — if the fish is prepared so that it has a little “kick,” and when the cooking method is grilling.

The recipe that follows yields 4 servings, and the perfect pairing partner for this main course dish is Zinfandel — including any of the bottlings featured in today’s sale from Vinesse.



  • 2/3 cup barbecue sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 4 salmon fillets (appx. 6-oz. each)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, minced


  1. In a small bowl, combine the first six ingredients. Set aside 1/4 cup.
  1. Moisten a paper towel with cooking oil. Using long-handled tongs, lightly coat the grill rack.
  1. Grill salmon, covered, over hot heat for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork, basting occasionally with barbecue sauce mixture.
  1. Top with reserved sauce, and sprinkle with cilantro.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

The Vinous Secrets of Napa’s Mount Veeder

Mount-VeederMount Veeder was named for the German Presbyterian pastor, Peter Veeder, who lived in Napa, Calif., during the Civil War Era and enjoyed hiking on the mountain, where the Douglas Firs and Bristlecone Pines reminded him of the forests of home.

It was during those Wild West days that winemaking on Mount Veeder was first recorded; in 1864, Captain Stelham Wing presented the first Mount Veeder bottling at the Napa County Fair, a wine hailing from today’s Wing Canyon Vineyard.

The Germanic thread continued with the founding in the 1880s of the Streich Winery (today’s Yates Family Vineyard) by Ernest Streich, and the Fisher Winery (today’s Mayacamas Vineyards) by John Henry Fisher of Stuttgart.

Commercial scale production arrived on Mount Veeder in 1900 when Theodore Geir, a colorful and flamboyant German-born Oakland, Calif., liquor dealer, bought the property that would later become the Christian Brothers’ Mont La Salle Winery (today’s Hess Collection Winery).

By the late 1890s, there were some 20 vineyards and six wineries on the slopes of Mount Veeder.

Prohibition diminished the vineyards, which revitalized beginning with Mayacamas Vineyards in 1951 and Bernstein Vineyards in 1964.

During the 1960s, Mount Veeder became a haven for people seeking a lifestyle closer to nature. Among them were Arlene and Michael Bernstein, whose 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon was the first wine to bear the Mount Veeder designation on the label.

With the first California vineyard planted to all five of the classic red Bordeaux varieties, the Bernsteins also were the first in the state to produce a Meritage-style wine using all five grapes.

Based on Mount Veeder’s incomparable mix of steep slopes, predominance of seabed soil, and proximity to San Pablo Bay, the area was deemed distinct enough that American Viticultural Area status was granted in 1993.

From the deep roots of the pioneering German farmers, Mount Veeder wines continue to reflect the impassioned spirit of the vintners who grow them.

Update:  Vinesse Today reader Jim Caudill of The Hess Collection wrote in with this correction:

…a small botanical correction is in order….There are no bristlecone pines in the Mount Veeder AVA or anywhere in Northern California for that matter. We do have a few Knobcone Pines around here but even those are not particularly common.

I know this does not matter to most people, but to anyone who knows anything about native vegetation, this kind of error keeps us up nights. (I do care, but I’m sleeping quite well, thank you.)

The Mt. Veeder Appellation Council brochure contained the same error in its draft stage, but it was corrected so that it now reads “Douglas Fir, Knobcone Pine and Redwoods.”

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles

A Temecula Food, Wine and Music Getaway

ThorntonJazzAttack1We know that the right food paired with the right wine make beautiful music together. But when you add actual music to that equation, well… now we’re talking about a symphony of sights, sounds, aromas and flavors — a tremendous sensory experience.

That’s why, each summer, thousands of people flock to the Thornton Winery in Temecula, Calif. — surrounded, roughly, by San Diego, Orange County, the Inland Empire and the Pacific Ocean — for Thornton’s Champagne Jazz Series.

Concert-goers may purchase a ticket just for the show, then buy their food and drinks a la carte. Or, they may opt for the Gourmet Supper Package, and nosh on a three-course meal as the evening’s performers prepare to take the stage.

Three stars of the smooth jazz genre — Richard Elliot, Peter White and Euge Groove — performed under the banner of “Jazz Attack” on May 30, and will return for an encore concert to conclude the 2015 season on October 18.

That May evening, the supper package’s first course was a Jazz Salad, with mixed greens, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, Midnight Moon cheese and Brut Rosé vinaigrette.

The main course was a perfectly cooked and juicy Lemon Pepper Breast of Chicken, with rustic mashed potatoes, garden vegetables and rosemary jus.

Dessert was Hazelnut Truffle, with hazelnut gelato and a chocolate truffle.

Wine is not included with the supper package, but it is available. Which brings up our only quibble with the experience: Wine can be purchased strictly by the bottle, not by the glass. For some couples, a full bottle may be too much to consume at one sitting. But that’s a minor complaint about an otherwise highly enjoyable convergence of food and music.

ThorntonDinnerJust up the street from Thornton, you’ll find the perfect place to relax before a concert, and to unwind and get a good night’s sleep afterward. The owners of the Churon Winery and the Inn at Churon Winery like to describe their property as “where a bit of France and rolling vineyard hills of Temecula wine country meet.”

That’s an apt description. As you wind your way up the grapevine-lined entrance to the Chateau and Winery, the stately 40-foot-high Grand Lobby Rotunda comes into view. The tasting room is located on a lower level, down a winding staircase, and is where guests of the inn enjoy their evening wine hour.

The inn has 19 large vineyard-view rooms, priced from $179.95 to $295 per night; three over-sized luxury suites, priced from $250 to $395 per night; and two deluxe suites, priced from $275 to $450 per night.

Each room features a gas-burning fireplace (three of them in the deluxe suites), French doors opening onto a private terrace or balcony, and a king or double queen beds with down blanket bedding. In addition to the evening wine hour, guests awake to a gourmet breakfast.

Here’s a useful strategy for Thornton concert-goers staying at The Inn at Churon: Arrive around 3 p.m., check in, and settle into your room. When the wine hour begins (the time may vary by day of the week), head downstairs and sample the fine wines made at the estate. The pours are generous, so you may need to pour out some of the wine if you’re driving.

Then at around 6:30, hop in the car and drive the short distance to Thornton. If you’ve purchased the Gourmet Supper Package, you’ll be directed to a parking area that’s adjacent to the entrance for table seating. A reserved table — which you’ll share with another couple — will be waiting for you, and the food will begin to be brought out in just a few minutes.

And not long thereafter, the music… and the magic… will begin.

• For the rest of this year’s Champagne Jazz Series schedule, click here. For The Inn at Churon Winery reservation information, call 951-694-9070.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

An Authentic Wine and Tapas Experience in Chicago

bombollaWhen it comes to reviewing food or wine, the older I get, the more I realize that absolutely nothing beats experience.

When talking about experience, it’s important not to confuse it with age. I’ll take a 25-year-old restaurant reviewer who has graduated from an acclaimed culinary school any day over a 55-year-old reviewer whose only real knowledge encompasses the weekly meals he has eaten on somebody else’s dime through the years.

I was reminded of the difference between experience and age during a recent visit to Chicago, a fabulous restaurant city where I lived for 13 years beginning in 2000. During my tenure there, the “benchmark” Spanish restaurant — at least, according to one of the noted critics in town — was Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! Looking back now, just the name should have been a tip-off that perhaps the dishes produced there were not an authentic representation of Iberian Peninsula cuisine. But the food tasted good and, in my mind, I gave the restaurant an enthusiastic ¡ole!

Then, last fall, I went to Spain. I quickly came to realize that my hunch about Café Ba-Ba-Reeba!’s name was correct. I was quickly blown away by the different ingredients, different flavors, different preparations, different textures, and general wine-friendliness of the dishes, not only at the fine restaurants, but even at the ubiquitous tapas bars.

(That didn’t mean that Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! wasn’t good. It was just… different.)

So when I returned to Chicago for a visit, one of my goals was to find an authentic Spanish restaurant. As it turned out, I didn’t have to look too far. In fact, I didn’t have to look at all. After a sublime meal at Topolobampo, Rick Bayless’ acclaimed sister restaurant to the even more acclaimed Frontera Grill, I asked my server for a suggestion. He recommended Bom Bolla in the Wicker Park neighborhood.

When I stepped through the door, I felt as if I were back in Barcelona, with a large horseshoe-shaped bar dominating the space. It was obvious that this was a place for noshing.

Since I still don’t claim to be an expert on Spanish cuisine, I asked my server for some recommendations. As each dish was described, I perused the roster of adult beverages, looking for a complimentary Cava, red wine, white wine or rosato (rosé). There are lots of by-the-glass selections, so one could easily get carried away; the good news is that taxis are easy to hail in the Windy City — no designated driver necessary.

Adding to the authenticity is a nice selection of Spanish beers, sherries, vermouths and ciders.

It turns out that the owners of Bom Bolla are the same people behind Chicago’s most acclaimed bubbly bar, the venerable Pops for Champagne. As far as my satisfied palate was concerned, just as they bring bliss to sparkling wine drinkers, they have nailed the concept of a Barcelona tapas bar.

And I would not have been able to tell you that without the experience of having been to Barcelona.

• Bom Bolla is at 1501 N. Milwaukee in Chicago. Call 773-698-6601 for further information or directions. On the Web: I noted a few comments on Yelp about the length of time it took to get certain dishes, but that was not my experience. As is the case with any new restaurant, it can be wise to wait a few months before visiting to give them a chance to get their service and prep processes up to par. I did not have that choice, and I can honestly say I was not disappointed by either the service or the food.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

A Swiss Souffle for the Wines of Summer

EngelbergCowI have to admit I was never much of a cheese guy until my fiancée and I visited Switzerland last fall.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always liked cheese. And I’ve studied wine and cheese pairings for years because I’ve been lucky to have a handful of mentors who really know their stuff in that area.

But Swiss cheese is different. Let me be clear: I’m not talking about what is commonly referred to as “Swiss cheese” here in America — a white cheese, often with holes in it. I’m talking about the gamut of cheeses from Switzerland, including the Gruyere called for in the recipe that follows.

I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps the cows are happier in Switzerland (like the one shown here, which we encountered during a nighttime stroll through the village of Engelberg). Whatever the reason, their milk sure does produce some amazing cheeses. So, try to find some Gruyere from Switzerland to use in this recipe.

Then when it’s time to eat it, open a Rhone style white blend or a rosé-style wine like those featured in today’s sale on summer whites & lights.


You’ll need metric measuring tools for this dish, as it’s provided by Cheeses from Switzerland. It also requires a 1.5-liter soufflé dish. This recipe yields 4 servings.


  • Butter for the bottom of the dish

Bechamel Sauce Ingredients

  • 300 ml milk
  • 50 g butter, cut into pieces
  • 50 g flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Pepper from a mill
  • A little nutmeg

Soufflé Mixture Ingredients

  • 150 g freshly grated Gruyere
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 egg whites, beaten with 1/4 tsp. of baking powder


  1. For the bechamel sauce, whisk together the milk, butter and flour in a stainless steel pan, and bring to a boil on medium heat, stirring continuously.
  1. On low heat, reduce to a thick sauce for a further 5-10 minutes, and season.
  1. For the soufflé, mix the cheese into the hot sauce and allow to cool a little.
  1. Mix in the egg yolk.
  1. Carefully mix in the beaten egg white in two halves, and then immediately transfer the mixture into the soufflé dish.
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C.
  1. Bake for 35-45 minutes in the lower half of the oven.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

It’s Okay for Wine Drinking to Be Fun

Round_Barn_ImageAt the Round Barn Winery in Baroda, Mich. — in a wine region that’s basically across Lake Michigan from Chicago — they make no bones about what their products are all about.

(In fact, although the Web address remains the same (, the estate’s logo has added two words to share the billing with “Winery.” Those two words are “Brewery” and “Distillery.”)

So, while most wineries will periodically issue a “Calendar of Events,” Round Bar this year has been distributing its “2015 Party Guide.”

The fun started in May with a Sangria Party in celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and since then Round Barn has held a Spirits of Summer Celebration (marking nine years of distilling vodka, rum and whiskey)… Wine & Wags (at which visitors could bring their canine friends)… and Reds, Whites & Brews (featuring microbrews, beer demos and live music).

If you missed those events, there is no need to despair. There’s plenty of fun still to come at Round Barn this year. Here’s the remaining schedule of… er, party guide:

  • August 1-2 — Art & Music at the Vineyard. Featuring Michigan artists showcasing original works of art.
  • August 22-23 — 23rd annual Harvest Party. Handcrafted wines, live bands and grape stomping. The whole family is invited.
  • September 5-6 — Fruits of Labor Party. Live music, drink specials, a kids’ area and more.
  • September 12 — Vintage Vineyard Foreign Sports Car Show. Stroll among classic cars while enjoying cocktails and music.
  • October 31 — HalloWine Party. Dress up and join the Round Barn staff in costume for some “spooktacular” cocktails.
  • December 5 — Sippin’ With Santa. Bring the kids to meet the man in red at a holiday party benefiting Toys for Toys.

For event details, check out Red Barn’s website, or call 800-716-WINE (9463). Then… party on!

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Posted in Wine Buzz
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