Prepare Your Own ‘State Dinner’ for Presidents’ Day

Serving beautifullyPresident Barack Obama hosted his first state dinner in March of 2010.

Guest Chef Marcus Samuelsson joined White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford in creating an Indian-inspired menu that featured wine with each course. More on that in a moment.

With a new administration in place, led by a President who does not drink, it will be interesting to see what types of menus are developed for the next round of state dinners. President George W. Bush also was a non-drinker by the time he took office, but that did not stop wine from being served to White House guests.

Back to the first Obama state dinner, which we examine here in recognition of Presidents’ Day: It was a meal with some intense flavors, yet prepared with ingredients that would make it fairly simple to emulate, if not duplicate, at home.

Let’s take a look at the dinner, course by course, and I’ll suggest some presently available wines to substitute for those served at the time…

• Potato and Eggplant Salad, made with White House arugula and topped with an onion-seed vinaigrette. Wine: 2008 Modus Operandi Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California.

Substitute wine: 2014 Osseus Sauvignon Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley, California. This is a zesty wine showing some varietal “grassiness” that melds perfectly with arugula.

• Red Lentil Soup with Fresh Cheese. Wine: 2006 Brooks “Ara” Riesling, Willamette Valley, Washington.

Substitute wine: 2015 Carl Zuckmayer Riesling, Rheinhessen, Germany. You need a crisp and juicy wine when pairing with a flavorful soup, and this one would work very nicely.

• Roast Potato Dumplings with Tomato Chutney, and Chick Peas and Okra or Green Curry Prawns, served with collard greens and coconut-aged basmati. Wine: 2007 Beckman Vineyards Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley, California.

Substitute wine: 2013 Clefs des Legats, Cotes du Rhone, France. This is a Grenache-based blend that is fragrant, spicy and Indian food-friendly.

• Pumpkin Pie Tart with pear tatin, whipped cream and caramel sauce. Wine: Thibaut Janisson Brut, Monticello, Virginia.

Substitute wine: Almost any sparkling Brut wine will work. Because pumpkin is such an assertive flavor, the wine needs to be fairly neutral in flavor, but possessing bubbles to help soften the pumpkin filling’s mouthfeel.

There you have it — a DIY state dinner. Happy Presidents’ Day!

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes, Wine Buzz

How Better Science Produces Better Wines

Harvest of bunch of chardonnay grapesIt’s truly amazing to see how far “sustainability” has come since the 1960s, when a group of people my parents labeled “hippies” first brought widespread attention to the concept.

Today, we take recycling for granted, both when preparing our trash for pick-up and in many of the restaurants we frequent. In countless businesses, “going green” has become a mantra, sometimes motivated by law, but in most cases by a sense of wanting to do the right thing for Mother Earth.

The wine industry — and despite the romance we associate with wine, let’s not forget it is an industry — has done a remarkably good job in this area. Not only are individual wineries embracing earth-friendly practices in their cellars, but they’re extending those practices to their vineyards.

In fact, in terms of meaningful scientific advancements over the past two decades, a vast majority have taken place in the vineyard.

Part of the science revolves around matching the proper varietal clone to the right vineyard site. Part of it involves making sure each grapevine receives the right amount of nourishing sunshine it needs to produce perfectly ripened grapes.

But most of it has to do with embracing age-old farming methods that enable weeds and pests to be controlled sans pesticides, and the soil to be enriched by recycling the natural byproducts of winemaking.

The Earth-Friendly Wine Club was founded to shine the spotlight on wineries and vintners who take their environmental responsibility seriously.

It also was founded to give wine lovers who embrace “green” practices in everything they do an opportunity to support like-minded people.

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Posted in Wine and the Environment, Wine Buzz

Wine-Related Desserts That Are Sure to Impress

Grilled peaches, mascarpone & mint  leavesYou know how they say that the first time is always the best?

The first time I ever tried to make a Valentine’s Day dessert, I searched the family cookbooks (this was before every recipe ever concocted could be found online) for something appropriate.


So I decided to check my Mom’s recipe box, and was surprised to come upon a recipe — handwritten on a 3×5-inch index card, as all her recipes were — for “Peaches With Riesling.”

That sounded good, and better still, the instructions indicated that it was super-easy to make. So I decided to give it a try.

These are the ingredients:

  • 2½ cups Riesling
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 5 sprigs tarragon
  • 4 peaches (ripe but firm)
  • Whipped cream

Here’s what Mom wrote on the card…

  1. Put Riesling, sugar, vanilla bean and one tarragon sprig in saucepan. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat.
  1. Cut peaches in half and remove pits. Add peaches to saucepan and let them simmer. Turn every so often, checking on how tender they are. (Water temperature should be just below boiling.)
  1. When peaches are tender, remove from heat and allow them to cool completely. When cooled, refrigerate for 90 minutes.
  1. Top each peach with whipped cream, and garnish with a tarragon sprig.

My Mom’s recipe card did not mention the following, so I will add it here: This dessert is delicious with a glass of Riesling.

Here are a couple other wine-related desserts I’ve heard good things about, and will be trying soon:

Almost any sweet treat is appreciated on Valentine’s Day. When wine is part of the recipe, it adds to the enjoyment. And when you make the dessert with your own hands, you’ll score big-time romance points.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

A Novice’s Guide to Pairing Chocolate and Wine

Valentine's Day CelebrationThere are those who will tell you that there is no chocolate that pairs well with wine, and no wine that pairs well with chocolate.

These are not “bad” people. They simply are people with whom I strongly disagree. There actually are a number of wine-and-chocolate pairings that work quite nicely… which means you need not skip one in favor of the other this Valentine’s Day.

Here’s a look at some of the pairings my fellow wine lovers embrace, from milder chocolates to more intense renditions…

  • White Chocolate

Technically not chocolate by definition (because it contains no cocoa), we’ll include it here because, hey, we’re not big on technicalities. Because its flavor is so mild, white chocolate benefits from a wine with sweet fruit flavors — a wine like the Moscato d’Asti from Il Conte d’Alba.

  • Milk Chocolate

Get your hands on a milk chocolate-covered truffle filled with strawberry, cherry or raspberry cream. Then pair it with the Pink Moscato from Atelie. Then smile.

  • Dark Chocolate

The pairing possibilities multiply with dark chocolate, as a number of “bigger” wines pair well with this “bigger” chocolate. A rich, nutty Port works nicely when chocolate is the lone flavor. When you add fillings such as dark cherry or raspberry cream, then you can pair the chocolate with wines like the 2015 Sophie’s “Palm Block” Shiraz from Australia, or the 2014 Criss Cross Zinfandel from Lodi, California, which is just as intense as the chocolate.

One word of caution when it comes to dark chocolate: Stick to bars or truffle coverings that are between 35 and 70% cocoa solids. If you go above 70%, the chocolate will overpower all other flavors, including those of the wine.

And since no Valentine’s Day is complete without chocolate AND wine, that would be a true tragedy.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

TMZ Says Wine Is on the Way from Lady Gaga

Champagne Cork PoppingBased on her performance during half-time of Sunday’s Super Bowl game, one could get the impression that Lady Gaga is capable of pretty much anything.

And that would include making wine, according to TMZ.

“Grigio Girls” was a bonus track on Gaga’s 2016 album called “Joanne.” It was dedicated to a friend who has cancer, and told the story of how a circle of friends would get together, crack open a bottle of wine, and cry for her.

The chorus of the song:

All the Pinot, Pinot Grigio girls
Gather ’round now
Watch your blues turn gold
All the Pinot, Pinot Grigio girls
Keep it real cold
’Cause it’s a fired up world

Now, TMZ says “Grigio Girls” will be the label for a line of wines, wine coolers, wine cocktails and wine punches.

Although not confirmed, TMZ adds, “We’re guessing Pinot Grigio will be the flagship product.”

While we’re waiting for Lady Gaga’s project to officially launch, we’ll be drinking three Pinot Grigio wines from Italy that are outstanding renditions of the variety, all from the 2015 vintage.

The Viaggiatore showcases lemon, lime, green apple and melon notes, and is a wonderful companion to fresh shellfish or oysters mignonette.

The Ca Solare is floral, crisp, fresh and fruitful, and pairs perfectly with lemon-herb chicken.

And the Avito is packed with honeyed fruit flavors; it’s the wine to pour when serving pasta with a white sauce.

How good will Gaga’s wines be? We can’t wait to find out, especially if they’re as good as her Super Bowl performance. Meanwhile, the Viaggiatore, Ca Solare and Avito bottlings could be considered benchmark examples of Pinot Grigio, and certainly worth emulating.

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Posted in Wine in the Glass

How to Be a Romance Hero With a ‘Pretty’ Meal and Wine

Juicy meat with sweet sauce on black platePinot Noir is the wine of romance, and in case you you’ve been watching too much football lately, I should remind you that there’s a very romantic “holiday” coming up next Tuesday.

Pinot Noir often is described by any number of “S” words: smooth, silky, seductive. These are qualities that are ideal for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner.

But what if you want to surprise your significant other with a romantic meal at home, and don’t have a lot of time to cook? The recipe that follows is easy to prepare and looks as pretty on a plate as Pinot Noir looks in a glass — and this dish pairs perfectly with Pinot.


Raspberry Gastrique Ingredients

  • 2 cups ripe raspberries
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Sea salt (to taste)

Raspberry Gastrique Preparation

  1. Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottom saucepan and cook over a medium flame. Mix ingredients with back of a spoon and bring to a low simmer, stirring often. Adjust heat to medium-low, and cook until mixture becomes thick and syrupy (about 13 minutes).
  2. Pour through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl, then return to saucepan.
  3. Add a sprinkle of salt (to taste).

Pork Chop Ingredients

  • 1 large pork chop
  • ½ tablespoon butter
  • Pinch of dry mustard
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Pepper (to taste)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Pork Preparation

  1. After allowing pork to sit at room temperature for an hour, preheat oven to 400 degrees F for 15 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle both sides of chop with salt, pepper and mustard.
  3. In a heavy-bottom, oven-proof skillet, melt butter, and immediately add pork.
  4. Sear on one side for about 2 minutes, achieving a crusty brownness.
  5. Cook for 5-8 minutes, depending on thickness of the pork chop. (Note: The pork needs to be cooked to 145 degrees.)
  6. While pork is resting, pour most of the fat from the pan into another pan, then add chicken broth, shallots and thyme. Whisk together with browned bits at the bottom of the first pan.

Final Steps

  1. Pour some of the gastrique on a plate, top with sliced pork, and top pork with a drizzle of the gastrique and a drizzle of the new pan sauce.
  2. Top that with a few fresh raspberries.
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Rooting for the Falcons? Open a Bottle of Merlot

Fresh homemade burger on wooden serving board with onion rings and glass of red wineI am a life-long Green Bay Packers fan. My Dad was born in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. But even though they obliterated the Packers in the NFC Championship Game, I will be rooting for the Atlanta Falcons in this Sunday’s Super Bowl.

I have my reasons…

  • Not every sports fan agrees with this, but when my team is knocked out of the playoffs — be it in football, baseball or basketball — I want the team that beat “us” to go all the way. That way, we can always say that we lost to the best team that season.
  • The Falcons have been around for 51 years and have never won a Super Bowl. Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, has been around 38 years and has won four Super Bowl games. I like to root for the underdog.
  • Ann’s Snack Bar. This is the REAL reason I want the Falcons to win — as a tribute to Miss Ann Price, who passed away in 2015 after running her eight-stool snack bar in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta for close to four decades.

Ann’s Snack Bar was (and is — it’s now operated by her sister and three brothers) known for the Ghetto Burger, a double cheeseburger that includes chili, bacon, grilled onions, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. You can see what it looks like, and hear from Miss Price herself, in the YouTube video below.

Miss Price ran Ann’s Snack Bar her way, complete with posted rules such as, “No cursing in the snack bar,” and, “No sitting or standing babies on the counter.” If you were willing to follow the rules, and wait outside until a stool became available inside, you could eat one of Miss Price’s burgers, cooked to order on a very small grill.

There are other places in Atlanta for good burgers — Holeman & Finch’s, Bones restaurant, One Eared Stag — but there’s nothing so sloppily wonderful as the Ghetto Burger from Ann’s Snack Bar. It has been at Atlanta institution for almost as long as the Falcons — and with a much better record.

This Sunday, if you’re a Falcons fan, you may want to try making your own version of the Ghetto Burger. If you do, and as long as the chili you use is not too spicy, I’d suggest opening a nice bottle of Merlot to accompany it.

My choice: the 2015 Bilgola “Estate” Merlot from South Eastern Australia. It’s medium-bodied, food-friendly, and the perfect companion to a flavorful burger.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes, Wine in the Glass

Don’t Waste a Sick Day — Drink Wine on Super Bowl Sunday!

Football SnacksIf you’re a football fan, you know that there’s one more game to be played this Sunday, and you’ve probably been soaking in all the stats and stories that the sports media has been cranking out this week.

I’m not sure whether anyone has reported on it yet, but there’s an interesting “wine story” connected with the game. You may know that the quarterback of the New England Patriots, Tom Brady, was preceded by a QB named Drew Bledsoe. What you may not know is that Bledsoe now is a winery owner.

His estate is called Doubleback. It’s located in Walla Walla, Washington, and it’s not unusual for visitors to encounter Bledsoe in the tasting room. Pretty cool for a football fan.

Now, here are a couple of fascinating “wine numbers” associated with Sunday’s game between the Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons…

  • $4,800 — Average price for a Super Bowl LI ticket — enough to purchase 22 bottles of 2006 Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne, a floral, fresh and fruitful sparkling wine that would be perfect for toasting the winning team — especially if it’s the team you’re rooting for.
  • 1.23 billion — The number of chicken wings that will be consumed this Sunday. Since most wings have at least a bit of a “kick” to them, my wine of choice to drink with them is Zinfandel — the “bigger” the better. The wine we’ll be pouring is the 2013 Grey Wolf Vineyards “Big Bad” Zinfandel, which we’ve already enjoyed with a grilled, marinated leg of lamb.
  • 51.7 million — Number of cases of beer sold on Super Bowl Sunday, which no doubt contributes to the next number…
  • 1.5 million — Number of people who call in sick to work on the day after the Super Bowl.

Don’t be one of the 1.5 million and waste a sick day. Drink wine this Sunday!

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Posted in Wine Buzz

Why I’m Voting for Wine Samplers Over Wine Growlers

Vintage oak barrel on rack on old wooden table still life with copy spaceThe Rolling Stones famously informed us that we might not always get what we want, but we just might get what we need.

In the state of Washington, some wine drinkers are getting what they want, but if new legislation passes, it may not be what they need.

What they’re current getting is wine in refillable containers known as growlers. The consumer takes the growler to its winery of origin for refills.

Nothing wrong with that, as the winery maintains total control of its product.

The new proposal, however, would allow consumers to refill growlers at grocery stores and other designated wine retailers.

Some winery owners, interested mainly in selling wine, support the bill, which you can read more about at The Spokesman Review. Others, however, are concerned about oxygen mixing with the wine during the transfer process. Oxygen exposure hastens a wine’s aging and can impact quality.

Some winery owners simply aren’t willing to surrender quality control during the “bottling” process — and the good news about the proposed legislation is that they would not be forced to. All wineries could continue to sell wine in bottles, with no requirement to use growlers.

I’m not complexly anti-growler. I think if you live near a winery and are hosting a party at which all the wine in the growler would be consumed, the growler could be a fun conversation starter. But for anyone planning to consume wine one meal at a time, the bottle continues to be the best bet.

Rather than growlers, you’d be much better off stocking up on quality wine with a Vinesse wine sampler. Not only are you guaranteed fresh and perfectly protected wine, but in most cases, you get three different tasting panel-approved wines to compare, contrast and enjoy.

Growlers have their place when a winery is handling the refills. But I’m not convinced that a grocery store is a good place for a growler refill.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

How to Pronounce Some Common Wine Words

Couple having dinner in a luxury restaurantWhy can virtually everyone look at a word like Champagne and pronounce it correctly, yet have so much trouble with other words associated with wine?

The answer is simple: Pretty much everyone has heard of, sipped and enjoyed Champagne, but lots of “wine words” are quite tricky to pronounce correctly.

Take Vin de Pays, as an example. That looks pretty straightforward, right?

Vin… deh… pays.

Wrong… right… wrong.

The correct pronunciation is vahn-deh-pay-ee.

A few other “wine words” and how to pronounce them…

  • Malbec — mall-bek

Celebrate your knowledge with a glass of 2013 Hector Durigutti Malbec from Argentina, a full-bodied and fruitful wine that showcases notes of black cherry, blackberry and gobs of chocolate.

  • Semillon — say-mee-yawn

Practice it while drinking the 2015 Ricardo Santos Semillon from the Mendoza region of Argentina. It’s a rich, viscous wine with notes of peach, melon, and red and yellow apples.

  • Viognier — vee-own-yay

The 2015 Domaine Vision — and I’m pretty sure that’s not pronounced like the word associated with eyesight — Viognier would be a wonderful wine to drink while practicing your pronunciation. It has an alluring orange blossom aroma that leads to impressions of peach, apricot, vanilla, coconut, toast and cedar.

  • Loire — lwar

I’ve found that spooning some peanut butter in my mouth helps with the pronunciation of this appellation of France.

  • Shiraz — sheer-az

You’ll need a lush, intense rendition like the 2015 Thomas Goss Shiraz from Australia’s McLaren Vale growing region for this one, because it’s certain to spark a debate.

I’ve saved this one for last because even some “wine pronunciation guides” get this one wrong, as do many sommeliers. In fact, I’ll often order Shiraz in a restaurant by pointing to its line on the wine list, so I can hear how the sommelier pronounces it. If they get it right, I know that they know their stuff.

As noted above, the correct pronunciation is sheer-az. Think of it as the last syllable rhyming with pizzazz.

Yet most people will look at the word and pronounce it like this: shi-raws.

And that’s just shi-wrong.

How do I know this? Because I have asked literally dozens of Aussie vintners, and to a man (and one woman), each has pronounced it sheer-az.

There occasionally is a slight variation to shee-raz. But that’s rare. And not one has ever said, “shi-raws.”

When I mention to those vintners that many people do pronounce it “shi-raws,” their typical response is: “They must be Americans.”

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Posted in Wine Buzz
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