20 Things to Eat With (Red) Zinfandel

Why do we love Zinfandel?

zinLet us count the ways…

Following are 20 dishes we can think of off the top of our head that can be excellent pairing partners for (red) Zinfandel — like the wines included in this Vinesse collection.

Some are common pairing partners, while others are suggestions that may be new to you or may not seem to make sense. But all are tried and true, recommended by at least one member of our tasting panel.

As always, the best advice when undertaking any food-and-wine pairing is to experiment. Keep an open mind. You may just find a combination you love.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here’s that list…

  1. Barbecued pork ribs
  1. Leg of lamb
  1. Pepper steak
  1. Italian sausage
  1. Spare ribs
  1. Venison
  1. Turkey (yes, with the Thanksgiving feast)
  1. Pheasant
  1. Rotisserie chicken
  1. Lasagna
  1. Spaghetti and meatballs
  1. Duck
  1. Quail
  1. Tuna
  1. Bouillabaisse
  1. Cioppino
  1. Chili and beans
  1. Tri-tip steak
  1. Beef stew
  1. Pizza

Okay, let’s make it 21 so I can include my personal favorite: hamburgers.

Yes, I am a simple man…

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

A Little Taste of Vienna in Mammoth Lakes

grunerveltliner In early August, Michelle and I met up with a couple of friends at a wonderful restaurant in San Diego, Calif., called 100 Wines. Only on that night, a better name would have been 99 Wines, because the one wine on the list that we wanted — the one wine on the list that would have made for an absolutely fabulous evening — was not available.

In case you missed it, you can read about that experience here.

Well, our faith in mankind was renewed several weeks later when we decided to dine at a restaurant called Austria Hof in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

We went there for one reason: to see how close we could come to reliving one of the most memorable meals of our lives, which we shared in Vienna, Austria in the fall of 2014. That meal is chronicled here. It consisted of a giant wiener schnitzel, a big scoop of potatoes, and glasses of Gruner Veltliner wine to wash it all down.

We’d come close at the aforementioned restaurant in San Diego, only to learn that the Gruner Veltliner on the wine list — the very same label we’d had in Vienna — was out of stock.

We had gone to that restaurant in San Diego with no expectations other than having a fun evening with friends, and we definitely had that, along with an excellent meal. This time, our expectations centered on a single dish: wiener schnitzel. We’d done our research, and we knew it was on the menu, along with a handful of other German/Austrian specialties and several American dishes.

At Austria Hof, if you order wiener schnitzel, you’ll get, as the menu describes it, a breaded and sautéed pork cutlet, served with choice of mashed potatoes or spaetzle and red cabbage.”

PORK cutlet?!?

Then we read on: “Provimi veal, add $5.”

There was no question: We would be upgrading to veal.

I didn’t even ask for the wine list. I simply asked our server, “Do you have Gruner Veltliner?”

“I’m 99 percent sure we do,” he answered. “It may not be the one on the list, but let me check.”

He checked. It was not the one on the list. But we didn’t care. It was Gruner Veltliner, and it was the type of wine we wanted to have with wiener schnitzel.

The reason that pairing works so well has to do with the acid level of the wine. Gruner Veltliner’s bright acidity helps mitigate the fatty quality of fried food, and even though Austria Hof’s wiener schnitzel could hardly be called “greasy,” it certainly possessed some fat. Flavorful fat. Good fat (not from the perspective of a heart surgeon, buschnitzel2platest in terms of satisfying one’s taste buds).

Michelle and I split an order of schnitzel and, as you can see, there was plenty for both of us.

Figuring it would be at least a year before we could return to Austria Hof, we decided to take a dessert to go. Several hours later, as well as the next morning, the apple strudel did not disappoint.

Now, I know what you’re wondering: How did the meal at Austria Hof compare to the meal in Vienna?

Honestly, it’s not a fair comparison. In Vienna, we were on our pre-wedding honeymoon, so I don’t think there’s any way the best meal of that trip — which that meal was — will ever be topped.

But if you ever find yourself traveling along Highway 395 in the Eastern Sierras — a main north-south connector between Southern California and Reno — we’d highly recommend this restaurant. We saw lots of people eating lots of different dishes, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

By the way, Austria Hof also is a lodge, so if you reserve a room along with a table at the restaurant, you could consider sharing a second bottle of wine.

You can check out the menu and find a link to the lodge here: http://austriahofrestaurant.com.

And to the folks at 100 Wines in San Diego: All is forgiven.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Our Wine Travel Log

Wine Tasting Is Coming to Town of Mojave

French wine village vineyard wine barrels and cart.We were on the way to Bishop in California’s beautiful Eastern Sierras for the 25th annual Millpond Music Festival, and didn’t want to make the drive from Orange County all in the same day. So we headed out after work and after rush hour, and spent the night in the little town of Mojave, near Edwards Air Force Base.

There, on a small table in the hotel lobby, I found a single flier promoting the Mojave Gold Rush Festival. And in the lower left corner of the flier, in lettering almost as large as the festival logo, were two words: WINE TASTING.

I took a closer look to see if I could learn more about the wine component of this small-town event.

I learned that on the Friday evening of October 7, there would be a Kick-off Dinner and Dance at the Mojave Café, described as a “family-friendly event” where the “Golden Queen” would be crowned and “Mr. Whiskerino” would be named.

I noticed that there would be a parade along K Street the following morning, led by the famous 20-mule team and Borax wagons that had helped put the community on the map. After the parade, the fun will move to Mojave East Park for photo-ops with the mules, a horse riding demonstration, a search-and-rescue and safety vehicle show, a petting zoo, a dunk tank, a horseshoe tournament and more. Small Town America at its best.

The flier indicated that the festival would end on Sunday morning, October 9, with a pancake breakfast. What else?

But nowhere on that 8.5-by-11 sheet could I find any information about the wine tasting.

So, I did what any tech-savvy person would do: I Googled “Mojave Gold Rush Festival.” And that provided a link to the event’s Facebook page where, lo and behold, wine information could be found. Well, sort of…

During the main festival hours on October 8, there will be wine tasting at a pop-up venue they’re calling the Dirty Feet Saloon, which will be located near the vets’ building. Quoting a post on the event’s Facebook page: “3-4 wineries coming… woohoo!”

It’s nice to see such enthusiasm for what could barely be called a “wine flight” at some venues. It just goes to show that there is an audience for wine almost anywhere; sometimes, it’s just a matter of looking for it.

Rather than spending the following night in Bishop, we decided to spend the final night before the festival began in nearby Mammoth Lakes, hoping to catch some early fall color.

We didn’t. But we did have a very memorable meal that will help us forget about the disappointing one we’d had in early August in San Diego. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

One More Reason to Love Lambrusco

pizza-setSo, remember last week’s blog about Lambrusco?

There’s something I forgot to tell you.

On average, Lambrusco has between 20 and 25 percent fewer calories than other wines you’re probably drinking on a regular basis.

According to the website Fat Secret, a 5-ounce glass of Cabernet Sauvignon has 123 calories. Same for Merlot. If you’re a Chardonnay person, you’re saving only one calorie per glass compared to your Cab- and Merlot-drinking friends.

If you drink another of our favorite “pizza wines,” Zinfandel, know that it contains more calories than the others: 131. That’s because Zin generally has a slightly higher alcohol level.

Indeed, alcohol is the key to Lambrusco’s lower caloric level because it’s relatively low in alcohol. On average, a 5-ounce glass of Lambrusco has just 98 calories.

So, the next time you have a slice of cheese pizza, moderate its 272 calories with a 98-calorie glass of Lambrusco — like the one included in our Pizza Pairing Collection.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Some Additional Thoughts About Pairing Wine With Pizza

Waiter taking order at restaurantI don’t always agree with wine critics, particularly some of the better known ones.

I guess it bothers me that a small handful of individuals can have so much influence over an entire industry.

There’s no doubt in my mind, for instance, that when big, buttery, oaky Chardonnays began getting 90-plus ratings from a couple of big-name critics, a lot of vintners changed the way they made Chardonnay to emulate those big ratings-getters.

In a similar manner, the term “pizza wine” has fallen into disrepute because, when it’s written or uttered, it’s done so with a negative connotation. The critic is basically saying, “This is a wine that you don’t want to serve with a fancy gourmet meal; it’s only good enough for pizza night.”

To me, that’s an insult to good pizza and a lot of perfectly good wine — and I suspect the folks at California Pizza Kitchen and other purveyors of gourmet pizza would agree.

If you’re dealing with a really good pizza, you’re experiencing some very tasty flavors — mozzarella and other cheeses, well-seasoned tomato sauce, spicy pepperoni, meaty mushrooms, zesty green peppers and so on. And such flavors deserve a complementary wine, not some flavorless jug from the supermarket.

The classic vinous companion to pizza is California Zinfandel. It embodies just the right combination of acid, fruitfulness and spiciness to complement virtually any type of pizza, with the exception of Hawaiian-style.

But Zin isn’t the only option. As we noted in yesterday’s blog, there now are high-quality renditions of Lambrusco that make absolutely perfect pizza pairing partners.

I’ve also had great pizza dinners with Syrah, Primitivo, Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the “G-S-M” (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) blends of Australia. Chateauneuf-du-Pape, because it’s often somewhat herbal, is a great match when the primary pizza topping is green pepper.

And what about Hawaiian-style pizza? It’s a challenge mainly because of the pineapple, which eliminates all red wines from the equation. What I like to do is order it with just a small amount of tomato sauce, and then pair it with sparkling wine — Blanc de Blancs, Brut or Rosé. It needn’t be a well-aged, vintage

Champagne. In fact, I prefer a youthful, fruit-forward sparkler — or, now that high-quality renditions are available, a bubbly Lambrusco. Give it a try; you may be pleasantly surprised.

Don’t let those snobby critics prevent you from enjoying two of life’s guilty pleasures — pizza and wine — together.

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Posted in Editor's Journal

Pizza Time… and Time to Give Lambrusco Another Chance

Pouring wine into glass and backgroundFor a country that makes so much wine, why do some of Italy’s vinous products get such a bad rap?

Perhaps the answer can be found in the question. Maybe the sheer number of wine types produced virtually guarantees that there will be some for which people don’t care. After all, the quality spectrum of wine, not just in Italy but in most wine-producing countries, can be quite wide.

In the case of Italy, the three types that have caught more than their share of abuse through the years are Prosecco, Chianti and Lambrusco.

Well, in all three cases, the image does not align with reality. Not in the wine world of 2016, anyway.

Prosecco was sometimes referred to as “a poor man’s Champagne,” and it’s an apt description if all you’re taking into consideration is price. But as Italian estate after Italian estate has proven, great sparkling wine can be crafted outside the Champagne region of France. Michelle and I even served Prosecco at our wedding, as I noted in this blog: https://blog.vinesse.com/2015/11/27/so-many-reasons-to-be-thankful-including-a-wine-filled-wedding/.

For many people, when they thought about Chianti, they envisioned some type of innocuous red wine housed in a type of straw-covered bottle aptly called a “fiasco.” Truly, many of those wines were pretty bad, but today’s Chianti bottlings are all about quality. In fact, for the past 20 years, there have been strict guidelines for Chianti wines, ensuring that at least 75% of the cuvee consists of Sangiovese — the same variety used to make Italy’s coveted Brunello di Montalcino wines.

Which brings us to Lambrusco, perhaps the most lampooned of the three and, for much of its existence, deservedly so. But as with Prosecco and Chianti, what you thought you knew about Lambrusco doesn’t apply today.

Lambrusco’s poor reputation dates back to the 1970s and 1980s, when most of the bottlings that found their way to the States were fizzy, sweet and cheap — which, in the minds of many, placed them in the same category as wine coolers.

During that same period of time, however, Italians were drinking Lambrusco of a different type — red sparklers with a more earthy personality, perhaps just a touch of sweetness, and extremely refreshing. In other words, wines that are absolutely perfect for serving alongside pizza, particularly when topped with spicy pepperoni or sausage.

For as long as I’ve been with Vinesse — and that goes back to year two of the company — I can’t recall a Lambrusco being offered. I could be wrong about that, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

But after tasting the absolutely beguiling Caprari Lambrusco, the tasting panel decided to include it in a special Pizza Pairing Collection that also includes a bottling of America’s go-to “pizza wine,” Zinfandel. It’s a wine that would work equally well with a Margherita pizza as it does with pepperoni.

If you haven’t tried Lambrusco since those “Reunite on ice” commercials were ubiquitous on the radio, the time has come. If you enjoy being delightfully surprised as much as I do, this is your opportunity.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes, Wine in the Glass

Food-and-Wine Pairing Made Easy: 4 Tips

Beautiful young couple with glasses of red wine in luxury restaurantWhen matching wine with food, flavors are important. That’s fairly obvious.

In fact, we talk all the time about matching wine with the dominant flavor of any given dish. For instance, a filet mignon calls for a different wine (I’d recommend Cabernet Sauvignon) than a pepper steak (Zinfandel) or a tri-tip (Syrah).

But because there are literally thousands of possible combinations, learning them can be a daunting task. We’ve found it’s much easier to deal with flavor “types,” which pares the pairing possibilities to a much more manageable number.

Here are four very basic tips that cover probably 90 percent of food-and-wine matching situations…

  1. Proteins and fats in food benefit from tannins in wine.

That’s why Cabernet Sauvignon — the variety with the “biggest” tannins — is the go-to wine when you’re indulging in a thick, juicy steak.

  1. Acid doesn’t match with much of anything… except acid.

So, pour acidic varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc or Gruner Veltliner when you’re dining on a dish with a citrus juice-based sauce, or salad with a vinaigrette dressing.

  1. Sweet-and-spicy is not just an Asian cuisine concept.

If Tex-Mex, Thai or Indian food is being served, and if your dish has a bit of a kick, you can beat the heat with an off-dry or semi-sweet wine such as Riesling — to go with the old standby: sparkling wine.

  1. Sweets for the sweet.

When indulging in dessert, keep in mind that the wine needs to be just as sweet or sweeter than the dessert. One exception to this “rule” involves dark chocolate, which actually can pair beautifully with some dry red wines.

But that’s another blog for another day…

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes

Red Wines at the ‘Right’ Temperature for Fall

Wine refrigeratorWith fall approaching, many of us will be drinking more red wine more often. After a summer of imbibing mostly well-chilled whites, the ol’ palate is ready for some soul-warming reds — wines that will go with the more hearty fare we’ll be eating.

Which brings up the question: At what temperature should red wine be consumed?

For as long as I can remember, the standard answer has been “room temperature.” Only one problem: When that advice initially was given, the man giving it probably lived in a drafty castle that was not equipped with any type of heating system — other than, perhaps, a fireplace.

In other words, “room temperature” back then was a good deal cooler than “room temperature” today.

Obviously, a more precise answer is needed, and we have one: Red wines should be served at between 58 and 69 degrees.

The recommended temp varies slightly from varietal to varietal, but not enough that it would make a big difference if you were to simply stick within that range.

Since “room temperature” at your home more likely falls within the 70- to 75-degree range, this means you should place a bottle of red wine in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes prior to opening and serving.

If you forget to do that, simply fill a bucket about three-quarters full with ice, add water up to about the same level, and place the bottle in the bucket. It should be at the “right” temperature in about five minutes.

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Posted in Wine Cellar Notes

How to Stock Your Home Wine Cellar (or Rack)

White Rose and Red WineWhen you’re first “getting into” wine, learning about all the different varieties and growing regions and aging regimens and customs can be a daunting experience.

At the very beginning of what, for many, becomes a life-long journey, all that most people want to know is what types of wine they should have on hand to cover just about any type of occasion that could arise — planned or unexpected.

So, the Vinesse tasting panel and I put together a list of “go-to” wines that would make just about any home wine cellar (or wine rack) prepared for handling just about any type of culinary or social event.

If space is an issue, keep a few bottles of each type on hand, and then replace them as you use them…

  1. CHARDONNAY. America’s favorite white wine. The variety with which almost any guest would be familiar. The perfect wine to sip while catching up with friends.
  1. SAUVIGNON BLANC. The wine to serve with shrimp, crab cakes, scallops or other seafood specialties. Bright and refreshing.
  1. CHENIN BLANC. A flavorful and versatile food wine — great with fish, chicken or salads. Before Chardonnay took the crown, it was the white wine king of California.
  1. GEWURZTRAMINER or RIESLING. If you enjoy Chinese or Thai take-out, either of these varieties will match beautifully. Also great with Tex-Mex. Serve well chilled to help counterbalance the spiciness of the food.
  1. CABERNET SAUVIGNON. The king of red wines. Great for special occasion toasting, or to accompany a thick, juicy steak.
  1. MERLOT. The “mellow” red. Easy drinking and delicious.
  1. PINOT NOIR. Grilling salmon? Burgers? This is the wine to uncork.
  1. ZINFANDEL. The perfect pizza wine. And we mean that in a good way.
  1. CHAMPAGNE/SPARKLING WINE. Even people who think they don’t like wine will drink a glass of bubbly on occasion.
  1. DESSERT WINE. For the guest with a sweet tooth, or for an after-dinner treat, have a sweet variety such as Muscat Canelli or Moscato on hand.
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Posted in Wine Buzz

A Mushroom That Tastes Like Maple Syrup… and Some Fine Wine

mushroomsMy late Mom’s side of the family came from Vermont, so even though I grew up in Southern California, we always had an ample supply of real Vermont maple syrup in the house. Anytime a relative from the Green Mountain State came to visit, they knew that the unspoken “cost of lodging” at the Johnson house was a metal tin of syrup.

So when I read that there is a type of mushroom that apparently tastes like maple syrup and can be used to make delicious ice cream, I had to learn more. It’s called the candy cap mushroom, and it grows only along the northern coast of California.

Learning led to yearning, and now I really, really want to try this mushroom and see if the maple claims hold syrup… uh, I mean, water.

Well, it turns out that the candy cap is one of the mushroom types that will be available for tasting at the Mendocino County Mushroom, Wine & Beer Festival, to be held November 4-13 at various venues around the county. To view a complete schedule of events, click here: http://www.visitmendocino.com/mendocino-county-events/category/event-types/food/mushroom-festival/

There are a number of events that include wine as a component, beginning on the very first day of the festival with tastings and pairings at various venues along Highways 101 and 128. Some of the participating wineries open their doors only a few days each year, so this is a rare opportunity to sample their wares and, more than likely, meet the winemakers.

The festival’s signature event this year is the Mushroom, Wine & Beer Camp on Nov. 5, an adults-only day of delicious food, exclusive beer and wine, and camp fun — all while helping to raise important funds for the Mendocino County Museum.

As the event’s website describes it, guests will “stroll through beautiful old-growth trees and golden meadows as you are greeted by the winemakers and brewers of Mendocino County, who offer tastings to complement mushroom dishes prepared by local chefs as part of the Annual Mushroom Cook-Off Contest. Later in the day, enjoy a BBQ of organic meats while taking part in activities such as mushroom foraging, hiking, home brew making, arts, crafts and more!”

Sound like fun? The cost is $90, which, compared to the fees for similar events held in big cities, is a bargain.

Heck, I’d be willing to pony up that amount just to try a mushroom that tastes like maple syrup.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Wine Buzz
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