Aventine Glen Ellen to Host Special Winemaker Dinner

Tues1Whenever I’m in California’s North Coast wine country, I make the time to have a meal at the Rutherford Grill in Napa Valley.

The food is fabulous (never had a bad or even merely a so-so meal), the wine list is packed with both stars and under-the-radar gems, and the corkage policy is hard to beat (zero… nada… nothing… as in: “We want you to have a good time”).

No doubt because of that policy, along with the wonderful food, it’s not unusual to see winemakers or winery P.R. reps having lunch or dinner with clients, and a half-dozen bottles (or more) seemingly jockeying for space amid the plates and glasses on the tables.

Indeed, my fiancée and I met up with friends there a few weeks ago, and my French Dip (thinly sliced roasted prime rib piled high on a house-made French roll, and substitute mashed potatoes for the French fries, cole slaw, very wild rice or seasonal green vegetable) resulted in a plate that really did not need dishwasher intervention.

On that same trip, our group had an opportunity to sample a restaurant that is taking the “Sonoma side” by storm: the newest iteration of a City-by-the-Bay eatery known as Aventine Glen Ellen. One of my co-travelers and long-time friends wrote this lavishly illustrated blog about the experience.

Aventine Glen Ellen is more upscale than the Rutherford Grill, to be sure, and the focus is on Italian fare. You can read more about the concept and check out menus here.

Tues 2We sampled an array of appetizers, main courses and desserts, and just like at the Rutherford Grill, there wasn’t anything I didn’t love. My fiancée is still raving about the Raviolo Di Fromaggio and the caramelicious Budino.

If you need even more of an “excuse” to check out Aventine Glen Ellen, the restaurant will be hosting a winemaker dinner on March 31, featuring the patriarch of Sonoma’s fabled Sebastiani family, Sam Sebastiani, who will be sharing the family’s La Chertosa wines.

Here’s a look at the menu:

  • Antipasto — La Chertosa Reserve Chardonnay, Sonoma Valley, 2012; Crudo — ahi tuna tartar with basil and pine nuts, sweet shrimp, marinated baby octopus, yellow frisee, blood oranges and lemon vinaigrette.
  • Primo — La Chertosa Reserve Zinfandel, Fra Paolo, Amador County, 2012; house-made veal tortellini, English peas, fried porcini, sage cream sauce.
  • Secondo — La Chertosa Reserve Sangiovese, Sonoma Valley, 2012; roasted prime beef tenderloin, roasted Sicilian sun-dried tomato, and seared polenta in a red wine thyme sauce.
  • Formaggi — La Chertosa Cabernet Sauvignon, The Winemaker Remembrance, Napa Valley, 2010; Shaft’s Bleu Vein, aged 24 months, and Estero Gold Reserve, aged 15 months, served with Mostarda di Cremosa, candied pecans, lavender honey and grilled focaccia.

We’re told that La Chertosa is named for the magnificent 14th century Renaissance monastery in the Tuscan valley of Farneta, Italy, where the Sebastiani ancestral roots began. There, Sam’s grandfather, Samuele Sebastiani, learned to make wine in the “Old World” style.

Samuele came to Sonoma in 1893, and found that Sonoma resembled Farneta in three ways:

  • It boasted a mild Mediterranean climate.
  • It had the same red soils.
  • It was blessed with gently sloping hillsides.

He founded Sebastiani Winery in 1904, one of the first wineries in California.

In creating his Sonoma winemaking style, Samuele employed the time-honored techniques taught to him by the Chertosinian monks in Farneta. Sam continues to utilize those techniques in crafting the harmonic flavors for which La Chertosa wines are known.

And come the evening of March 31 (beginning at 6:30), lucky diners will be able to sample La Chertosa wines with the exquisite cuisine of Aventine Glen Ellen for $100 per person, exclusive of tax and gratuity.

As you might imagine, reservations are required for what promises to be a most memorable evening. The number to call is 707-934-8911.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

The Perfect Dish for a Cold Night… and Zinfandel

Red_Wine_Pouring2On cold winter nights… and goodness knows we’ve had enough of those lately… you need food that will warm you up.

This dish is just the ticket, and it pairs perfectly with Zinfandel, a variety currently on sale through tonight on Vinesse.com.

This recipe yields about 8 servings, which makes it perfect for sharing with friends, along with a bottle (or two) of Zin.

SMOKED SAUSAGE CASSOULET

Ingredients

  • 2 bacon slices
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 (14.5-oz.) cans diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 (15-oz.) cans Great Northern beans (or other white beans), rinsed and drained
  • 1 pound lean boneless pork loin roast, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/2 pound reduced-fat smoked sausage, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 8 teaspoons finely shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 8 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preparation

  1. Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, and crumble. Add onion, thyme, rosemary and garlic to drippings in pan, then sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Stir in crumbled bacon, salt, pepper and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
  1. Place half of beans in a large bowl, and mash with a potato masher until chunky. Add remaining half of beans, pork and sausage, and stir well. Place half of bean mixture in a 3 1/2-quart electric slow cooker, and top with half of tomato mixture. Repeat layers.
  1. Cover and cook on low for 5 hours.
  1. Ladle into bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley.
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Posted in Wine Buzz

5 Fascinating Facts About Zinfandel

zinfandelEverything from peperoni pizza to barbecued meats, and from thick, juicy steaks to dark chocolate goes with Zinfandel — depending on the style in which it’s made.

Here are five fascinating facts about this expressive, personality-packed variety…

  1. Zinfandel may be the most versatile grape variety of them all.

It can be used to make sweet blush wines (known as White Zinfandel), dry red wines, dry rosé-style wines, sweet dessert wines and even Port-style wines. That diversity also makes it extremely versatile with food.

  1. The term “Old Vine” has no legal meeting.

Just like “Reserve” or “Vintner’s Choice,” it’s simply a designation the wineries may choose to include on a wine bottle. “Old Vine” is particularly common on Zinfandel bottles, simply because most of the oldest grapevines in California — some dating back to pre-Prohibition years — grow Zinfandel grapes. (The Grandpere Vineyard, located near Plymouth, Calif., was planted in 1869 and is still producing wine-worthy grapes.)

  1. Zinfandel is genetically connected to Primitivo.

Both have been shown to be the genetic equivalent of Crljenak Kastelanski, a Croatian grape variety.

  1. White Zin probably saved Zinfandel.

It was the 1970s. America’s love affair with wine was kicking into high gear, with a strong focus on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Up and down the state, Zinfandel vineyards were being eyed for either uprooting or grafting over to Cabernet — a variety that performs best in warmer climes, just like Zin.

But when the sweet blush wine known as White Zinfandel was accidentally created by Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery (the result of a stuck fermentation), a new product category was created, White Zin became uproariously popular, and countless Zinfandel vineyards were spared — some of which are being used for making red Zinfandel today.

  1. As of 2013, there were 48,638 acres in California devoted to Zinfandel, led by San Joaquin County’s 19,098.

San Joaquin was followed, in order, by these counties: Sonoma, Fresno, Madera, San Luis Obispo, Mendocino, Amador, Sacramento, Napa and Merced.

And if you check out Vinesse’s latest Zinfandel Sampler, you’ll find three different American Viticultural Areas represented — a sign of Zin’s adaptability and versatility not only when it comes to food, but also in where it’s grown.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

Long Island Winterfest: Good Music… Good Wine… Good Weather?

Randy-Napoleon_Laurel-LAkeBecause you can’t hole up inside forever… here’s hoping the weather cooperates as the 8th annual Winterfest gets ready for its second weekend on the North Fork of New York’s Long Island.

With a music component known as “Live on the Vine,” the Winterfest features impressive numbers, as detailed on the event’s website:

  • 6 weeks of exciting events.
  • 13 world-class wineries.
  • 19 magnificent venues.
  • 128 electrifying performances.

Jazz was the focus of early festivals, but the music mix has expanded over the years to include rock, world, folk, blues and other genres.

Smithereens, 10,000 Maniacs, Stanley Jordan, Roomful of Blues and Amy Helm are among the more familiar names set for this year’s Winterfest. You can view the full performance schedule here: http://www.liwinterfest.com.php53-18.ord1-1.websitetestlink.com/all-upcoming-events/

Good music. Good wine. Good food (at several of the venues). Now, if only Mother Nature would cooperate with some good weather!

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Seeing Red: A Varietal Struggle in Ribera del Duero

White_Wine_PouredA great deal of red tape must be cut through to make possible the making of white wines in the Ribera del Duero growing region of Spain.

But, according to this report from Decanter, that process has begun.

To clarify, white winegrapes already can be — and, to a very limited extent, already are — grown there. But they are not eligible for D.O. (Denominación de Origen) status, which is viewed as a seal of approval and a barometer of quality in Spain and much of the European Union.

Ribera del Duero is known for its (red) Tempranillo wines, and Vinesse has featured numerous renditions through the years. According to Decanter, growers and vintners would also like to be able to craft D.O. renditions of Albillo, Pirules, Malvaisa, Viura, Verdejo, Albariño, Hondarrabi Zuri, Palomino, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Treixadura and Viognier.

What will it take?

It begins with a formal proposal, which already has been drafted and presently is in the hands of vineyard owners, who must demonstrate strong support. After that, the government of Spain must get behind the effort. Then, finally, the proposal must be approved by the European Union.

Yes, the amount red tape is daunting. But if the effort is successful… and if, as we suspect they will be, the wines are good… it’ll be time for another type and color of tape: white ticker tape.

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Posted in The Wine Business

Pinot Days Chicago Is Less Than a Month Away

pinotdays“Snow Days” will magically morph into “Pinot Days” in less than a month — which should come as a welcome relief to residents of Chicago, who have been shivering through another frigid winter.

Pinot Days Chicago is scheduled for Saturday, March 21 in the Lakeview Terrace room on Navy Pier, the Windy City’s top tourist destination.

The Grand Festival will run from 2 to 5 p.m. that day, and tickets are priced at $75 per person. A VIP ticket, which costs $50 more, gets you in two hours earlier and includes a special tasting and seminar. (The VIP event is sold out, but there is a waiting list.) And if you’d simply like to get a one-hour head start on the rest of the Grand Festival attendees (entrance to the main tasting at 1 p.m.), the cost is $100.

Leading up to the event, a number of local restaurants will be hosting winemaker dinners, local wine bars will be offering food-and-wine pairings, and even some downtown boutiques will be offering samples. All will have one thing in common: Pinot Noir.

The list of participating wineries numbered more than 65 when last I checked, and you can view the updated list here: http://www.pinotdays.com/Exhibitors.asp?Year_id=2015&Loc_ID=CHI

Giving some serious thought to going? You can find a ticket order form here: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/8th-annual-chicago-pinot-days-tickets-12324726589

Based on the list of wineries and the venue, I can pretty much guarantee you a great time, no matter which “experience” you select.

As for the weather… good luck!

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Posted in Wine Buzz

How Olivia Pope Holds a Wineglass: It’s Downright… Scandalous

Woman with glass of wineThere’s a big scandal brewing over “Scandal,” the political thriller that debuted not quite three years ago on ABC-TV.

Actually, so as not to be drawn into the scandal, let me re-phrase that: There’s a big scandal FERMENTING over “Scandal,” since the scandal involves wine, and wine is fermented, not brewed.

Got that?

Anyway, the scandal revolves around how the character Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington, holds a wineglass.

On the series, Pope is portrayed as something of a wine connoisseur. At the very least, she drinks a lot of wine — red wine — and she drinks it in a big glass that reportedly has helped spike wineglass sales at Crate & Barrel.

Here’s where the controversy comes in: Pope doesn’t hold the glass like a wine lover would — by the stem. Instead, she holds it by the bowl.

The horror!

This dichotomy has been pointed out by a few wine critics, including Eric Asimov. Some of those critics (Asimov included), in turn, have drawn scorn for their stances from various websites and blogs.

All of this is good for filling column inches on newspaper pages and generating clicks on websites, but let’s get to the heart of the matter: Does it really matter how one holds a wineglass?

Well, I am here to tell you definitively, in no uncertain terms, without a shadow of a doubt: sometimes.

The reason commonly cited for not holding a wineglass by its bowl is that the warmth of one’s hand can warm the glass and, by extension, the wine. But for that to happen, one would have to hold the bowl with both hands for several minutes — and even then, if the wine were served at the proper (fairly cool) temperature to begin with, it’s not going to damage the wine. Not to any perceptive degree, anyway.

Holding a wineglass by its stem basically has become a “signal” indicating wine knowledge and appreciation, much like wearing the cap of a sports team signals that one is a fan of that team.

So, are the producers of “Scandal” missing the boat by not insisting that the show’s red wine-loving character hold her wineglass “correctly”?

That’s one for the critics to debate.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Savoring the Scenery of Sonoma… Slowly

Poppies in the VineyardsSome of my best friends are bikers.

No, not hell’s angels, or other motorcycle riders — even though “Sons of Anarchy” became a staple in our household during its just-completed run.

I’m talking about bicycle riders.

I love to listen to the stories they tell about their bicycling trips. Something they all share — no matter where they go — is enthusiasm about seeing the world up close, at a slower pace than is afforded when one is traveling by car.

I know people who have biked in France, Germany and even the Swiss Alps. Each locale offers its own special scenery, creating unique memories for those on two wheels.

But when it comes to diversity, Sonoma County is the destination most often mentioned. And it’s not just wine lovers waxing poetic about the different types of grapevines. My bicycling friends love Sonoma because the scenery can change dramatically with a mere turn in the road, as can the type of cycling.

Some of the paths follow old railroad tracks. Many pass through vast stretches of grapevines for as far as the eye can see… including up terraced hillsides.

There even are roads and paths that overlook the Pacific Ocean, and some that climb through steep mountain passes.

Diverse? You bet.

We love Sonoma County for its diversity of winegrape varieties and the wonderfully expressive cuvees they produce. But we also love Sonoma for its scenery — scenery that is best savored slowly, on two wheels.

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Posted in Wine Buzz

How Many Wine Glasses Arrr Necessary?

Glasses of wineUnless you’re a pirate and plan to drink your wine straight out of the bottle after your fellow swashbuckler has taken a swig, you need glassware.

Which brings us to today’s Wine FAQ…

QUESTION: A friend of mine insists on serving white wine in one type of wine glass (kind of thin, but not as thin as a Champagne flute), and red wine in another type. What’s the purpose of that? Is it really necessary?

ANSWER: Necessary? No. You can drink pretty much any kind of wine in any kind of glass. But if you want to get the most out of a particular wine, the shape of the glass does matter.

Generally speaking, the bowls of glasses used for red wine are larger and wider. This allows one to swirl the wine aggressively, which helps to release all of its aromas and flavors. As another generality, red wines are more complex than whites, and need that exposure to air to fully reveal themselves.

Most wine judges will tell you that you really need only three types of glasses — one for white wines, one for red wines and one for sparkling wines — but the Riedel glass company has developed an entire line of glassware around specific varieties. The line is called Veritas.

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Posted in Wine FAQ

Stay In and Warm Up With This Delicious Dish

Lamb chopsStaying in tonight to escape the cold? Well, it’s still National Drink Wine Day so you’ll just have to find a way to do your duty.

Here’s a heart-warming, satisfying dish that pairs perfectly with Syrah, (a.k.a. Shiraz), Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel.

This recipe yields 4 servings.

HERB-CRUSTED RACK OF LAMB

Ingredients

  • 1½ lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 racks of lamb
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds, crushed
  • 6 cups watercress leaves with tender stems
  • 2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar

Preparation

  1. Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with 1 inch cold water. Season with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until tender (about 13 minutes). Drain.
  1. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Season lamb with salt and pepper.
  1. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook lamb, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over (about 7 minutes). Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet, placing fat side up.
  1. Mix garlic, parsley, dill, mustard, cumin, and 1 Tbsp. oil in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  1. Spread herb mixture over lamb and roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat registers 130 degrees for medium-rare (about 20 minutes). Transfer to a cutting board and let lamb rest 5 minutes before cutting into double chops.
  1. While lamb is resting, heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes and watercress and cook, tossing, until watercress is just wilted (about 1 minute). Mix in vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Serve lamb with watercress and potatoes.
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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes
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