Wine Dinner at Brasserie Louis

August 30, 2015 3 comments

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania I love traditions. I’m not talking about anything which is covered in dust and lasted for hundreds of years. I’m talking about simple life pleasures which you call traditions as long as it is something you do repeatedly, hopefully with joy and pleasure.

For about 5 years, we get together with group of friends for a weekend in August, which we call an “Adults Getaway”. The program for the “adults getaway” usually includes driving to an interesting small town within 200 miles radius, a wine tasting if there is a winery near by (doesn’t have to be a winery – one year we visited Hudson Distillery, for instance), a tasty dinner, a stay over at a nice B&B – but primarily lots great and fun time together.

When it comes to the tasty dinner, we usually try to control that experience as much as possible – that translates into finding local restaurant which will be willing to host us and work with us to create tasting menu, and ideally, allow us to bring our own wine which we will of course pair with the dishes on the menu.

Brasserie LouisFew weeks ago we got together for our “adults getaway” at Lewisburg in Pennsylvania. Our “anchor” for the trip was visit to the local winery, Fero Vineyards, which will be a subject of a separate post. For the dinner we contacted a few local restaurants, and finally decided to have our dinner at Brasserie Louis.

We didn’t have any specific dining theme in mind, and the suggested menu we received from Scott, owner of Brasserie Louis, exceeded our expectations – 11 different dishes – the dinner looked very promising. Now we had to decide on the wine pairings and go have fun. 11 dishes doesn’t mean we have to have 11 wines – we settled on 7 wines, as two of the desserts really were calling for the two different wine pairings.

The day arrived and we all got together (overcoming some interesting difficulties, such as flat run-flat tire, which appears to be a serious ordeal, especially during long distance travel) and here is the account of the wine dinner with all the details.

Appetizers:

We started with Shrimp Ceviche (diced raw shrimp pieces in lime juice with cilantro, bell pepper, salt and pepper) – very nicely executed dish, great flavor, touch of heat. Our wine pairing was  2014 Fattoria Laila Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC, Italy (13% ABV, $11) – wine had a good open profile with some flower and white fruit notes, but most importantly, it paired perfectly with the flavor of ceviche, complementing and enhancing the dish.

Our second dish was Wild Mushroom Tart (puff pastry with wild mushrooms, Gruyere cheese and shallots topped with greens and a balsamic glaze) – another excellent dish, with peppery arugula melding well together with the earthy mushrooms and adding lightness to the cheese. The wine pairing here was NV Anna Codorniu Brut Rosé, Spain (12% ABV, $13, 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) – one of my favorite Sparklers, Anna Codorniu always over-delivers, with good structure and good body. Here the pairing was also successful, with the wine complementing the dish very well.

Intermediate:

Our “in-between” dish was Harvest Salad (baby arugula with goat cheese, beets and candied walnuts tossed with a Champagne vinaigrette) – nice crunch, fresh, simple – and we used the same Anna Codorniu with this dish, and again, this was an excellent pairing.

And now, for the Main Course:

We started with Hand formed Crab Cake (lemon Beurre Blanc sauce, green pea risotto) – this was easily the best dish of the evening. You know how often crab cakes contain a lot of other “stuff”, various fillers (corn, peppers, etc)? This crab cake had just honest goodness of a pure, delicious crab meat – I only had anything similar in Maryland, which can be called a crab cake capital with its blue crab. This was just a “wow”dish. Our wine pairing was also excellent – 2013 Jean-Luc Colombo La Redonne Cotes du Rhone, France (13.5% ABV, $20, 70% Viognier, 30% Roussanne)  – Jean-Luc Colombo is a very good producer out of Rhone, and this was one of his higher end wines – plump, full bodied, silky – complemented mild crab cake flavors spot on.

Next up – Black Sesame Crusted Yellowfin Tuna Steak (Yuzu teriyaki glaze) – the dish was nice and simple (tuna was a touch overcooked to my taste, I like it rare), and it paired very well with one of my all-time favorite red wines – 2013 Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir Arroyo Grande Valley, California (13.9% ABV, $20). Laetitia makes an excellent range of Pinot Noir wines, where Estate is an introductory level wine – which makes it perfectly ready to drink young. Delicious California Pinot Noir profile – smoke, plums, touch of earthiness – outstanding. The pairing worked quite well by complementing and enhancing the flavors of the dish.

We continued with Duck a l’Orange (pan seared duck breast, Grand Marnier reduction) – this was an okay dish (my piece of duck was slightly overcooked), but the sauce was excellent and fresh. We used the same Pinot Noir for the pairing, and wine and food worked together well.

Taking a break from the proteins, our next dish was Ratatouille (Provencal vegetable stew of zucchini, squash, wild mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, eggplant and sweet potatoes, touch of Parmesan cheese). This was the dish where the mastery of the Chef combined with amazing Pennsylvania vegetables (I’ve traveled all over East Coast – nothing beats PA vegetables, I’m dead serious) to bring out simply a perfection on the plate – vegetables still had a crunch, and the whole dish was just another “wow” experience.

Our choice of wine for the this and next 2 dishes was 2008 M. Chapoutier Domaine de Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem Cotes de Roussillon Villages, France (14% ABV, $55/magnum). M. Chapoutier needs no introductions as one of the very best producers in Rhone, and this wine was outstanding – complex, with a touch of roasted flavors, great minerality, lavender. However, there was one problem – this wine didn’t pair well with Ratatouille, and it didn’t pair well with two other dishes. In some cases, it was indifferent (didn’t complement or contrast), and with Ratatouille it was even working against the dish. Well – it is what it is – we still enjoyed the wine and the food – just separately.

Our next dish was Lamb Chops (herb mustard crusted rack of lamb, minted demi-glace) – meat was nicely cooked, and of course lamb and mint jelly is a classic combination.

We finished our main course with Filet Mignon (grilled filet, scalloped potatoes and wilted spinach, truffled veal demi-glace) – the presentation was very interesting, with the steak knife put directly into each piece of the meat. The meat was cooked very well, and overall dish was tasty. And this was probably the only dish where Cotes de Roussillon wine paired marginally acceptable.

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Finally, we are at Dessert!

We had two desserts to finish our evening. Strawberry Zabaione (egg yolks, sugar, Marsala wine, fresh strawberries) was very tasty and not too sweet. We paired it with NV Tütidì Brachetto Piemonte DOC, Italy (7% ABV, $12/1L). Brachetto is a lightly fizzed wine with a nice fruit notes, and it perfectly complements wide range of lighter desserts – and this was a case of a perfect pairing – they were delicious together.

We finished our dinner with Flourless Chocolate Cake, which was paired with Mount Palomar Limited Reserve Port, Temecula Valley, California (18% ABV, $38). Port and Chocolate – do I need to say more?

There you have it my friends – our wine dinner at Brasserie Louis in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. What is left for me to do here is to say Thank You to the owner Scott, Chef Chris Rubino and all the staff at the restaurant who made sure we will have a great time. Cheers!

Brasserie Louis
101 Market Street
Lewisburg, PA 17837
Phone: (570) 524-5559
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How Good Celebrity Chef’s Restaurant Can be? Mesa Grill in Las Vegas

August 24, 2015 3 comments

Bar at Mesa GrillHave you ever watched any of the cooking competitions on the Food Network or any other food channels on TV and wondered – how good those chefs really are? Okay, I’m going too far – they must be good at cooking, that shouldn’t be questioned. But – many of those celebrity chefs own restaurants, and in some cases, multiple restaurants, and it is obvious that they don’t personally cook there on an average day, so how good those restaurants can be?

When it comes to the celebrity chefs, Bobby Flay is surely leading the pack. He is an Iron Chef, and he has his own show “Beat Bobby Flay”, where he is fiercely competes with guest chefs – no questions, Bobby Flay knows how to cook.

Bobby Flay owns multiple restaurants around the country. During my recent trip to Las Vegas, I stayed at Caesars Palace casino – which happened to be a home to one of Bobby Flay’s restaurants, Mesa Grill. As you can imagine, I had to use such opportunity to try it out.

We arrived at the restaurant at around 6:30 p.m., and to my surprise we were told that yes, no problems, you will have to wait only for 5 minutes (of course it was in a middle of the week, but still I was expecting a much longer wait). 5 minutes later we were sitting at the table.

Dominio de Pingus PsiLet’s start from the wine list. The wine list was reasonably sized with good diversity – California, Washington, France, Italy, Spain. There were enough of the reasonably priced wines (under $50); overall, most of the wines were prices at the triple retail. Spanish wine selection was particularly good – Rioja, Ribera Del Duero, Priorat. We settled for 2012 Dominio de Pingus Psi (14% ABV, $85 restaurant wine list price, 100% Tempranillo). This wine comes from the vineyards neighboring the main vineyard of Dominio de Pingus, one of the most “cult” wineries in Spain. The wine was perfectly restrained, with the nose of dark black fruit, firm structure on the palate, young, but well integrated tannins, licorice and fresh acidity. Great wine to have with food and without (finding this wine in the stores might be a challenge though).

And now, let’s talk food. First, the bread basket appeared, featuring Jalapeño bread, raisin and walnut bread and corn bread. All bread was excellent, but Jalapeño bread was a particular standout, delivering nice kick few moments after you would finish chewing on it.

Our appetizer was Goat Cheese “Queso Fundido” (Rajas, Blistered Serrano Vinaigrette + Blue Corn Tortilla Strips), served with house made tortilla chips. Nice presentation, great flavor, touch of heat, very tasty.

There were lots of good choices for the main course – Sixteen Spice Chicken,  Cascabel Chile Crusted Rabbit and Mango+Spice Crusted Tuna Steak all sounded very appealing, but I had to settle for Blue Corn Crusted Halibut (Warm Salsa Cruda, Sweet 100 Tomatoes, Kalamata Olives, Oregano + Jalapeno). Our waiter mentioned that Halibut was in the prime season, and somehow all the ingredients sounded very appealing, thus I had to go with it. The dish was just “wow” – great dance of flavors, very creative use of Kalamata olives to add saltiness instead of capers, perfectly cooked fish – delicious! As an added bonus I have to mention that our Tempranillo wine perfectly complemented the dish, enhancing the earthy profile – this happened to be a spot on pairing. We also enjoyed a side order of Roasted Corn (Chipotle Aioli, Lime Cilantro + Cotija) – I generally like this dish often called “Mexican Street Corn”, and the one at the restaurant was nicely done.

Chocolate Cajeta Cake (Chocolate + Vanilla Swirl Ice Cream + Salted Chocolate Crunch) Mesa Grill

Choosing the dessert was also very hard – I wanted to ask for a bite of every dessert on menu, but then I had to bully down that inner kid and we only asked for one – Chocolate Cajeta Cake (Chocolate + Vanilla Swirl Ice Cream + Salted Chocolate Crunch) – the cake was a bit dense, but overall the combination with crunch and ice cream was very tasty.

Overall, this was an outstanding dining experience, and I’m glad to see that my fear of disappointment never materialized. Of course Las Vegas became a culinary mecca nowadays, but in itself this is no guarantee of an amazing meal  – thus I’m glad to recommend Mesa Grill as well worthy your attention when you will have an opportunity. Another win for Chef Bobby Flay and a great meal for us. Cheers!

Mesa Grill
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard S
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Phone:  (877) 346-4642
http://www.mesagrill.com/las-vegas-restaurant/
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Rosé! It’s Good For Summer, And All Year Around

August 22, 2015 10 comments

Domains Roger ZannierSo tell me, dear reader – do you think Rosé is for summer, or is it a year-around wine? In January, when it is –10 outside, would you still reach for Rosè to drink with your dinner? No, you only need heavy reds, you say? But why? Your dinner menu doesn’t consist of 5 variations of the hearty beef stew, and so the wines you drink shouldn’t be just Cabernet Sauvignon from 5 different glasses.

Well, I think the real picture is not as bad as I’m hinting above. The same way as now literally every winery in the world added Rosé to their repertoire, wine drinkers developed better appreciation for Rosé, its light and playful character, and ability to complement wide variety of dishes.

And which region makes the most versatile Rosé? Provence, of course! Yes, Rosé is made everywhere nowadays, but when it comes to finesse and character, Provence Rosé is hard to beat.

I recently had an opportunity to taste the line of Rosé wines from Domains Roger Zannier, and it happened to be a great lesson in diversity of Provence Rosé.

Domains Roger Zannier Rosé line up consisted of three different wine, each one having its own unique personality. In a blind tasting I would never tell that the wines were made by the same producer. And the main quality – while extremely quaffable, these wines offer food for thoughts, they are asking you to focus and to figure out what you taste.

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For what it worth, below you will find tasting notes for the Domains Roger Zannier wines – I hope the notes will illustrate my point:

2014 Domaines Roger Zannier Château Saint-Maur Cuveé M Rosé Côtes de Provence AOP ($25, 25% Grenache, 25% Tibouren, 25% Cinsault, 25% Syrah)
C: darkest of the 3, pink and nice
N:strawberries, fresh
P: very refreshing, good acidity, touch of strawberries, nice intensity
V: 8-

2014 Domaines Roger Zannier Château Saint-Maur L’Excellence Rosé Côtes de Provence AOP ($45, 30% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 30% Mourvédre, 10% Rolle)
C: beautiful light pink
N: touch of red fruit, intense with finesse
P: perfect acidity, touch of lemon, and lemon zest, lots of strawberries, overall delicious
V: 8

2014 Domaines Roger Zannier Château Saint-Maur Clos de Capelune Rosé Côtes de Provence AOP ($65, 35% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 20% Mourvédre, 15% Rolle)
C: salmon pink
N: clearly a red wine on the nose, cured meat, onion peel
P: savory, complex, but light. Definitely thought provoking
V: 8, different and intriguing. Try it for yourself.

Three wines, three unique and different taste profiles. And an important message – first of all, these are excellent, versatile wines. And then yes, they are pink (or mostly pink) in color.

Don’t let Rosé to hibernate away from your dinner table during fall and winter – no matter what temperature is outside, there is always place for a little Rosé in your glass. Cheers!

500!

August 18, 2015 23 comments

century_club_seal_smallHere we are – another post about stats, right??? Before you click away, can I ask for a minute to explain myself? 500 has nothing to do with views, followers or any other blog statistics, no, not at all. These 500 has a bit more interesting meaning (dare I suggest so). It is actually not even 500 but 517 to be precise (but I think 500 looks cool in the title), and if you didn’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about the grape counter which appears in the right column of this blog, and it is also related to The Wine Century Club.

This post is well overdue – I submitted my Pentavini application back in March (didn’t hear anything yet). I was planning to write a few more posts explaining in greater detail how I finally got to cross the 500 grapes boundary before I would write this very post. One post was supposed to be about a great Hungarian wine tasting last June (2014) where I picked up 5 new grapes – that post never happened, unfortunately.

Finally I gave up on trying to catch up on all the “shoulda, coulda”, and moved right to this post.

When I started the Wine Century Club journey about 8 years ago, I couldn’t even imagine that I will get hooked on it so well; even when I crossed 300 grapes mark, I didn’t see it possible to get to the 500. Nevertheless, here I am, at 517, and I’m sure there will be more.

I know that many of my readers are participating in The Wine Century Club. For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, you can find all information here. The Wine Century Club is a free and open “self-guiding” group of “grape enthusiasts” (yes, you call us geeks) – people who obsess themselves with looking for and tasting as many grapes as possible – and of course having fun while doing that.

The grape hunting becomes an obsession when you scour the back label, producer web site and everything else possible on Internet to find information about the grapes used to make that bottle of wine. Once you figure out the grapes (if you are lucky enough to do it for the given wine and given vintage), your job is not done – you still have to figure out if you didn’t have already the same grape under a different name (simple example – Grenache and Garnacha), or may be this is still the same grape, only with a slightly different spelling. Once all the checks pass successfully, you can add the grape to you collection.

Today it is a lot easier to “collect the grapes”, compare to the time when I just started with the Century Club. Information is more readily available, and also there are lots more grapes which were almost extinct, but now reborn, replanted and becoming tasty differentiators for the winemakers. And more often than not, these obscure wines are a pleasure to drink. They often offer surprising depth of flavor and nuances which make this grape journey really a pleasant experience. I had wines made from Pigato, Pugnitello, Coda di Volpe, Bobal, Trepat, Listan Negro and many others, and they were delicious – what else do you need from a bottle of wine?

If you will get hooked on this Wine Century geekiness, you should know that there are some shortcuts you can take. Well, there is one shortcut which is legal – Giribaldi Cento Uve wine from Piedmont in Italy, which is made out of 152 varietals (though 50% of grapes in that wine are Nebbiolo, and the other 51% comprise 151 varietals) – however, you need to have at least the first level (100 grapes) to make this shortcut legal. I did took it, and you can read about it here.

Second shortcut exists, but it is illegal (The Wine Century Club rules prohibit using of it). Another Italian wine, Vino Della Pace Cantina Produttori Cormòns Vino Blanco, is made out of the whopping 855 varietals. This wine is produced from the experimental vineyard called The Vineyard of the World, where all those 855 (or more) varietals are growing together. Most of the information about this wine is available only in Italian, but if interested, search for it by the name, you will be able to find some bits and pieces (here is one reference for you). If you are curious to see the list of grapes, I got it for you here – you can count on your own. I have a bottle of this wine, but as usual, I don’t know what would be the right moment to open it (hopeless, I know).

Last piece of advice in case you will embrace this fun journey or you are already in, but stumbling: pay attention. Yes, pay attention to the back labels and wine descriptions. During recent Provence tasting I found out that there is a grape called Tibouren which is very often used in Provence Rosé – I would guess that I had it before, but never paid attention to. Another example – Turley Petite Sirah Library Vineyard. This particular wine is a treasure trove for the grape hunters. Here are the grapes which can be found in that bottle: Red – Petite Syrah, Peloursin, Cinsault, Syrah, Mission, Alicante Bouschet, Grand Noir, Carignan, Grenache, and Zinfandel; White – Muscat Alexandria, Muscadelle, Burger, and Green Hungarian. 14 different grapes in one bottle of wine, and many of them are very rare – not bad for a bottle of wine. And by the way, Turley Petite Sirah Library Vineyard is one delicious wine.

In case you might find it helpful, I recently updated the page which contains information about all the grapes I tried for The Wine Century journey, together with the names of the wines which I had. I have to admit that there are still 3 grapes from the original table (the one which I downloaded when I just started with the Wine Century Club) which I still was unable to try – Arvine Grosso, Irsai Oliver and Plavac Mali – they are extremely hard to find in the US. Well, the journey is not over…

What can I leave you with? Go get a bottle of wine made from the grapes which you never had before – there is a good chance you will enjoy it. The grape journey is one of the most fun journeys you can take – let’s drink to the never ending pleasures of discovery! Cheers!

Restaurant Files: Skipper Restaurant and Chowder House, Cape Cod

August 16, 2015 10 comments

Sipper RestaurantAnd we are back again to the wonderful and relaxing Cape Cod. No, I’m not lucky enough to visit Cape Cod again, but I get to re-live some happy and tasty moments while writing this post.

Skipper Restaurant (full and official name: The Skipper Restaurant and Chowder House) first opened in 1936 in South Yarmouth, and it had been around ever since, opened from April to October. I’m not sure how we found The Skipper Restaurant last year – I guess by reading some of the online reviews, but I can tell you – when we were planning this year’s trip, visiting Skipper Restaurant was unquestionable, mandatory part of the Cape Cod vacation.

Skipper Restaurant serves quintessential New England food. I’m using the word “quintessential”, which sounds big and imposing, but to me, there are few dishes which say, or better yet, scream “New England” – New England Clam Chowder, Baked Seafood, Fish and Chips and Lobster Roll would be my perfect list. You can find all these dishes at the Skipper Restaurant, and boy, are they tasty!

When it comes to the New England Clam Chowder, I don’t know what places have better bragging rights than the Skipper Restaurant, which is a triple crown holder, as the winner of Cape Cod, Boston and Newport Chowder festivals. If you like New England Clam Chowder than Skipper Restaurant is a must stop for you, as the Clam Chowder doesn’t get any better than the one which is served here. It doesn’t have anything extra, like bacon – just cream, clams and potatoes, honest, dense and delicious. I know this picture will not do justice to the dish, but then taking pictures of the soup is not that easy in any case:

Clam ChowderIt is not only seafood which is tasty at the Skipper Restaurant – they are also famous for the overabundant appetizer of onion rings – a very dangerous dish, as once you start eating those, you can’t stop! And the bread basket which shows up on the table first, belongs to the same “dangerous” category – I think we went through three of them before the main dishes arrived (and it was not because we had to wait for the long time :) ).

And our main course included all the best dishes New England cuisine can offer – Baked Seafood Sampler, Fried Calamari, Fish and Chips and of course, the Lobster Roll:

Each and every dish was excellent in its own right – fresh, succulent, flavorful and delicious – let’s leave it like that to avoid excessive drooling on your part. And of course, I have to mention the service, which was friendly, attentive and helpful –  exactly what you need to make it for the great restaurant experience.

If you plan to visit Skipper Restaurant (and if you are on the Cape Cod, I would say this is simply a must), just a bit of advice. The restaurant doesn’t accept the reservations, therefore you need to prepare to wait – but the experience worth the wait. If you are okay with an early dinner ( and considering the amount of food you will be offered, early dinner is a great idea), come to the restaurant at around 4:30 or 5 – your wait will be quite reasonable. Another “duh” advice – if you can, avoid Friday and Saturday nights – those are the busiest and your wait will be the longest.

We are done here, my friends. If you would like to experience quintessential New England cuisine, you don’t need to look further than Skipper Restaurant – I’m sure you will not be disappointed. Cheers!

The Skipper Restaurants and Chowder House
152 South Shore Drive
South Yarmouth, MA 02664
Phone: 508-394-7406

http://www.skipperrestaurant.com

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Sangria, Any Time You Want One

August 14, 2015 11 comments

Joya Sangria bottom LabelSangria, anyone? Yes, I see happy smiles and people nodding. Sangria is a refreshing wine, a cocktail, if you will, which typically combines white or red wine with various fruit (oranges, apples, pineapples, lemon, strawberries and anything else your heart desires), often enhanced with a splash of brandy. Sangria originates in Spain and Portugal, and you can often find it served at many Spanish restaurants (but not only there).

While it sounds simple – wine and fruit, right? – making good tasting Sangria is an art. You don’t want Sangria to be too sweet, but you do want to have the fruit present. You need to start with the right wine (California Cabernet Sauvignon might be a bad choice), and you need to steep the fruit in the wine to achieve robust and satisfying flavor. I’m sure anyone who tried to make good tasting Sangria at home, or ordered one in a restaurant, would agree with me – it is easier said than done.

But what if I tell you that your quest for delicious Sangria just got a lot easier? Enters Joya™ – Joya™ Sangria from Spain, to be precise. I recently got a sample of White and Red Joya™ Sangria, and was delighted with what I tasted.

Joya Sangria Red and White

Joya™ White Sangria Spain (12% ABV, SRP $12.99/750, $29.99/3L box, Airén grape, all natural essences of fresh Mediterranean citrus fruit) – slightly muted nose of fresh white fruit, peaches and guava. Palate is perfectly balanced with white stone fruit, plums, refreshing grapefruit bitterness and touch of honeydew sweetness – you can add ice and fruit, or you can perfectly enjoy it as it is. Drinkability: 7+

Joya™ Red Sangria Spain (12% ABV, SRP $12.99/750, $29.99/3L box, Tempranillo, Garnacha, Bobal grapes, all natural essences of fresh Mediterranean citrus fruit) – freshly crushed red fruit on the nose, nice blackberries and dark plums on the palate with the orange peel and mint cutting through the mid-palate. Excellent balance. Playful and very enjoyable by itself, with or without any ice and fruit addition. Drinkability: 7+

While working on this short post, I also learned an interesting fact – the word Sangria on the bottle of wine is protected under EU law, and can appear only on the wines coming from Spain and Portugal.

There you have it my friends – delicious Sangria any time you crave one, also at a good price. Drop a bottle of Joya™ in the fridge and enjoy it. Be careful though – it is really easy to drink… Happy summer, folks! Cheers!

Towards More Sustainable Viticulture

August 13, 2015 Leave a comment

grapesToday I’m offering to your attention a guest post which is a bit unusual for this blog – it is a lot more technical then we usually get here, on the pages of Talk-a-Vino. This blog post is written by Urška Krajnc (email: urska@eviti.co), Business developer of eVineyard, a vineyard management solution (and an App), helping viticulturists to grow better grapes. Hope you will find it interesting. Your comments and questions are definitely encouraged. Enjoy!

Agricultural production is one of the most important economic activities on Earth. The majority of human food originates from land, which must perform over time in a consistent manner and produce huge quantities of output. To meet the demands of the world’s growing population, farmers have to increase crop production and availability of food. This is nowadays achieved through the standardization of crops, genetic changes of plants, growth hormones and excessive use of pesticides. Many argue that changes in agricultural production are not going into the right direction. Therefore initiatives for more economical, environmentally and socially sustainable agriculture have emerged.

An important problem of the agriculture production are pesticides, which have negative impact on human health and environmental pollution. While inappropriate use of pesticides is literally directly threatening human lives in certain (usually less developed) areas of the world, it also counts for many indirect harmful effects on human health, ecosystem changes, etc. Pesticide spraying, for example, has a huge impact on the bee population in the country-side, while bees are the main pollinators of certain species of plants. In certain areas, the bee population has reduced by as impressive amounts as 30%. All this is leading to large environmental imbalances – as the pollination reduces, the flora will not flourish as it should anymore, and soon fauna will follow. And we’re a very part of that, even though we may not see it.

Similar story exists with water organisms, which are being killed by the over-usage of pesticides, drifted from the spray targets to the water flows. Pesticides affect human health also through the  residues left in food, that can be toxic to humans. Grapes are believed to be among fruits with the highest level of pesticide residues. Not only in table grapes, but also in wine, several pesticides can be found, especially when the conventional production methods of wine are followed. Therefore in certain regions of the world, more sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural production methods have developed to a larger extent. Alternative methods for large-scale growing are becoming feasible through the latest technology. The fact is that the food production needs optimization, and research has shown that an optimization can be only achieved if the resources that farmers use, are applied in a knowledgeable way.

Some of the countries are already taking steps towards the reduction of pesticides usage. France, for example, decided to reduce the amount of pesticide spraying by 50% in the time between 2008 and 2018. But even though there are national directives, and common sense leading more and more people to move away from pesticides, there are still situations where spraying is seen as necessary – and maybe in some cases it actually is, in order to avoid larger pollution later on, and to sustain the production that feeds our world today. However, a French winegrower from Burgundy probably wouldn’t agree, and would rather go to jail for a few weeks than to spray his grapevines with a pesticide that would consequently poison his soil for the generations to come. Even more, the first real cases against the corporations providing pesticides, are starting, as some people die of cancer which was clearly the consequence of long-term pesticide usage.

endless_vineyards_1The fact is that some of the pesticides are originating from military chemicals and the vast majority of them includes synthetically originated chemical compounds, developed to kill certain pests. Even here, the things are changing through the development of the natural fungicides, which don’t harm non-target pests, but work on fungus. Big steps were done also by science in predicting the disease outbreaks according to the environmental conditions, and using those predictions to spray selectively in order to prevent the diseases at the optimal time, instead of routine spraying. This scientific research is nowadays manifesting in practice through cost-effective solutions, based on sensors and data about the weather, and is targeted at the crops which are classically produced with large amounts of pesticides, like grapes.

Several wine producing countries – France, Spain and Italy under the EU agricultural policy, as well as Australia and United States of America, are systematically reducing the use of pesticides on grapevines for the last 15 years. The practical measures are taken to reduce pesticide residues and environmental pollution via usage restrictions of several dangerous pesticides and introduction of Integrated Pest Management approach. This approach has proven to reduce pesticides residues not only in wine, but also in the other agricultural products. Australian winegrowers have reduced the usage of pesticides through the use of technological solutions for strategic spray timing and through the use of more naturally produced pesticides. In the United States of America, the reduction of pollution is achieved through banning of several harmful pesticides and through the introduction of sustainable wine-growing practices, supported with the sensors and information technology, used to optimize other processes, such as irrigation. Similar practices are used throughout the Europe, which has seen a big increase in pesticide use in post World War II time, which is now decreasing.

Mountain vineyards view (Ridge)

In many European countries, the “Denomination of Origin” policies don’t allow irrigation and some other kinds of terroir manipulation in order to get the “DO” sign. But systems for smarter plant protection are always welcome and are already in place in most of the countries by big growers, with the adoption of technology now being done by smaller growers as well. Some winegrowers around the world went even a step further and applied organic wine production principals, due to the changes in market demands, led by the conscious consumers. In EU, 6.6% of the grape-growing area is treated as organic, from which one third of organic grape-growing area is in Spain. Unfortunately, on the other side of the world, in China, with rapidly growing grape production, a production and usage of pesticides is increasing.

A lot of solutions exist – we can spray very selectively by using sensors and computers that take into account the existent knowledge. We can completely avoid spraying in some cases, and in the other cases, we may use the natural fungicides that don’t harm the organisms, which were not targeted as harmful, like bees. It will take some time for all those solutions to become mainstream, but some parts of the world are already moving in that direction. It’s our, humanity’s, turn, to make healthy and sustainable future a reality. We’re not left with many other options anyway.

Wednesday’s Meritage: #MWWC19 Theme, Stumbling Upon and more

August 12, 2015 5 comments

Meritage Time!

Let’s start with the theme for the new round of the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, #19 (#MWWC19 for short). The winner of the previous round, Traveling Wine Chick, have chosen the theme, and it is (drum roll, please) … “Choice”. This theme sounds a lot simpler than many of the recent ones, such as “Crisis” or “Serendipity”, but there lies the challenge of making such a regular word a main element of the blog post. Well, good luck to all, and for all rules and regulations, please consult this post – most important is the submission deadline, which is September 14th, so you have enough time to get your creative juices flowing.

Vineyard and The Sky

Just for your viewing enjoyment – a picture from the recent trip to the vineyard – more details later

Next I want to mention that Wine Bloggers Conference 2015 (WBC15 for short) will be starting on Thursday, August 13th, and it is taking place in the Finger Lakes region. Lately, Finger Lakes wineries had been producing the wines of notice, moving past excellent whites into the world of reds. I’m sure that all the attendees will be into a treat and will find quite a few surprises, such as Saperavi wines – I heard that they are delicious, and wineries have a hard time to keep them around (sell out very quickly). I will not be attending, but I wish to all the bloggers to have a great time and taste a lot of great wines. And I’m really curious what the location of WBC16 will be – I hope it will be the Texas, as Texas wines are nothing short of phenomenal and it is time for the people to get to know them.

Now, let’s talk about an interesting subject – promotion of your blog. When it comes to the blogging, most of us write because we enjoy it – but we also want to be found and our writing to be enjoyed by others, and that is what “blog promotion” is all about. I recently came across an interesting article called 30 ways to promote your blog posts, which contains wealth of great advice. Among other tools, I saw a mention of Stumble Upon, which I heard before, but never used. I checked with some of Connecticut bloggers on Facebook, and many people find Stumble Upon a great tool, so I decided to add this capability for the blog post sharing. I learned that WordPress.com used to offer the Stumble Upon sharing button, but not anymore – but then I came across this post which provides detailed instructions on how Stumble Upon button can be added. Without talking about promotion, I found lots of interesting articles with the help of StumbleUpon – here is one example for you – “22 Foods You’ve Probably Been Eating The Wrong Way Until Now“. If you use Stumble Upon, I would like to know what is your take on it. And by the way, I don’t know if you are aware of the two pages I have in this blog, under the menu of Resources – one of them is called Best Blogging Tips and second one is Technical Tips for Bloggers – I use those pages to collect interesting articles and “how to” as it relates to the blogging – check them out.

Last for today, really a local update – I made changes to the page called Grapes of the World, to properly reflect all the grapes I tasted  so far in my Wine Century Club journey. Why is that important? Will tell you very soon.

And we are done here – the glass is empty – but the refill is on the way. Until the next time – cheers!

Restaurant Files: C Salt, A Wow Dining Experience on Cape Cod

August 4, 2015 7 comments

C Salt Wine Bar and GrilleCape Cod, a small strip of land off the coast of Massachusetts, is a vacation land. Of course people live on the Cape, as it is often abbreviated, throughout a year, but ask anyone about Cape Cod and the first reflection would be “vacation!”.

Cape Cod is located in the part of the USA which is collectively called New England, and I like to call it a quintessential New England. On Cape Cod, there is a tremendous focus on preserving that traditional “New England/Cape Cod” feeling. There is traditional style for everything – architecture, landscaping, re-purposing of the old houses as shops, bakeries and restaurants, and of course, the food itself.

When it comes to the food, it is not surprising that “traditional Cape Cod” cuisine is focused on the fresh seafood – remember, it is a strip of land surrounded by the water on all sides. So the seafood it is, and in most of the cases it is either deep fried or oven baked – we can also call it a part of that tradition. One more observation, while not directly food related (more of a cultural norm), as Cape Cod is an easy going vacation land, shorts and t-shirt are the most popular attire anywhere, including the restaurants.

Every once in a while, even during the lazy Cape Cod vacation, you might want your dining experience to be more elevated (not the Michelin-star necessarily, but a bit more than just a casual comfort food – what do you say?). I’m glad to report that this is experience is not too difficult to find on the Cape, and I have a perfect example for you – C Salt Wine Bar and Grille in Falmouth.

On outside, the restaurant looks exactly as a re-purposed cape-style house – actually I think from the back you would even never guess that this is a restaurant. I also really like the fact that the restaurant had its own parking lot in the back, which is not usual on the Cape, and looking for the parking on the busy Main street is always a hassle. On the inside, the restaurant was rather small, so we were definitely glad that we made a reservation – the restaurant completely filled up withing 15 minutes of our arrival at 5:30.

First, of course, were the drinks and the wine. Pear Martini was not too sweet and refreshing – this is what I’m always looking for in the cocktail. Overall, the cocktail list had good variety, including few of the barrel aged cocktails. The wine list was also very good, with reasonable selection of the wines by glass and half bottles (excellent selection of half-bottles). Lots of wines were priced close to the double retail, which always wins points in my book. We settled for 2011 Waterbrook “Reserve” Merlot Columbia Valley , Washington, which was perfectly classic Bordeaux style, dry, earthy and nicely restrained, excellent overall. It also worked quite well with various dishes we had.

For the appetizers round, we settled on two dishes: Crispy Thai Calamari (Lightly Battered and Fried, Hot & Sour Vinaigrette, Baby Spinach, Mango Pea Shoots, Grapefruit, Cashew) and Sesame Hoisin Wings (Ten Lightly Breaded and Crisp Fried Chicken Wings with Sesame Hoisin Sauce). While Calamari and Wings sound pedestrian, it is all the matter of execution. I would say that our family are connoisseurs of the Calamari – if we are in the restaurant, and Calamari are on the menu, 9 times our of 10 we would order them. The Calamari dish at C Salt was outstanding – a very unusual combination with mango, grapefruit and spinach, but perfectly crisp despite the presence of the fresh fruit. Really a delicious dish.

For the wings, again – what can be unique and different, right? It appears that it is not just the sauce which can be different – in this case, the wings themselves were outstanding – not a tiniest drop of fat left, they were perfectly crispy and super tender – may be the best rendition of the chicken wings I ever had (bold statement, I know).

For the main course, each one of us got different dishes (but of course we shared the taste – we are a foodie family :) ). I personally had Grilled #1 Sushi Grade Tuna (Sushi Grade Tuna Grilled Rare, Crispy Jasmine Rice Cake, Sesame Stir Fried Baby Bok Choy, Wasabi Vinaigrette, Soy Syrup, Pomegranate Syrup, Lime & Cilantro) – perfect quality fish, perfect execution, an outstanding balance of flavors, perfect amount of heat – very tasty. My wife had Five Hour Root Beer Braised Short Ribs (Caramelized Brussels Sprouts), which was a melt-in-your-mouth type of dish. Short ribs generally is one of my favorites – when cooked right (slowly), at home or at the restaurant, the flavor and texture are incredible – and this dish was a perfect example. Kids went for Statler Chicken Breast (Whipped Potato, Grilled Corn & Tomato Salad with Sriracha Aioli Drizzle, Pan Jus) and 8 oz. Grilled Filet Mignon (Organic Wild Mushrooms & Roasted Cipollini Onions, Choice of Sauce). Everybody cook chicken at home, so what can be exciting about chicken, right? Well, visit C Salt and try for yourself – chicken was delicious, great flavor, and grilled corn and tomato salad was just a perfect accompaniment.
The steak was perfect in its own right (I know I’m abusing the word “perfect”, but this is the right word to use here). The crust was perfectly crispy and satisfyingly salty to properly contrast sweetness of the meat. C Salt offers a choice of sauces for the steak, and the Cabernet reduction was simply elevating already very tasty bite to the next level. One of the very best steaks I ever had, period.

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We also took two additional side dishes to share – Roasted Sweet Potato Steak Fries and Chef Style Whipped Potatoes (mashed potatoes with addition of bacon) – both were very tasty.

What is left? Dessert! We were quite full already, but considering the great experience we had with the meal, we had to try the desserts. “After Hours” Brownie (Ale Brownie, Irish Whiskey Ice Cream, C Salted caramel, Brown Sugar) was gooey and delicious. “Mason Jar” Chèvre Cheesecake (Creamy Goat Cheese, Lemon and Poppy Seeds, Rhubarb Raspberry Compote, Graham Cracker Streusel) was fluffy and light, and it was an excellent ending to our delicious experience.

I can’t end this post without commending our server, Sarah, for the wonderful, helpful, smiley and attentive service throughout the eventing. If you are looking for the upscale dining experience in the Cape Cod vacation land, visit C Salt Wine Bar and Grille, and leave me a thank you note after. Cheers!

C Salt Wine Bar & Grille
75 Davis Straits
Falmouth, MA 02540
Phone: 774-763-2954
http://www.csaltfalmouth.com/

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Speak Up!

July 31, 2015 21 comments

wine_in_a_glassThis post is not really a rant, even though it can be classified as one. I would rather see it as a plea – not directed at someone particular, but to anyone who enjoys even an occasional glass of wine.

Wine can be intimidating at times. Heck yes, wine is often intimidating. It has an aureole of mystique. It seems to demand the special knowledge to be enjoyed, the years and years of hard study. And quite often, the “exclusivity” notion is enforced by the very people whose job is to help, to make the wine less intimidating, to make sure that “the customer” will simply enjoy the glass of wine.

True – the wine, as any other discipline, has a great depth of technical knowledge. It is not easy to make a good bottle of wine; it is very difficult to make a great bottle of wine. You need to study for many years almost 24×7, learn the exact names of hundreds of small villages in Germany, to become a Master Sommelier (there are only a few hundreds of them in the world). All of it is true. But not necessarily unique – most of what humans do today in so called “work” requires lots of studying and lots of specialized knowledge.

But wine is yet again different. While it requires knowledge to produce and explain it to others, when it comes to its basic purpose – drinking, it is, whether by itself or with the food – it is very simple. Forget all the nuances of the taste. Forget all the fancy descriptors and ratings. When it comes to the content of your glass, it is really all binary – you either like it or not.

Nobody questions their own ability to decide whether they like the burger or not. Or any other food for that matter – in most of the cases, people have no issues declaring “this is good” or “this is bad”. But when it comes to the wine, majority start second-guessing themselves. People often sheepishly say “but I don’t know much anything about the wine”. This proverbial “luck of knowledge” is used as an excused to keep quiet. People are afraid to state their opinion around wine, as they don’t want to appear disrespectful, or even worse, totally ignorant and not worthy. At the same time, when someone takes a sip, they know immediately whether they like the wine or not.

Now, let me get to the “Speak Up” part. No, I’m not advocating that everyone will start proclaiming “this is crap” or “this is nectar” on the very first sip of the wine in the various situations. For example, if you will open a bottle of young red wine, immediately pour it into a glass and take a sip, your first reaction might be “this is too sweet!”. Give this wine 5 minutes to breathe, and your next sip often will be totally different experience, with earthiness, minerality and acidity. As another example, the first taste of the cold white wine might feel extremely acidic, but the wine will mellow out right after. So, no, “speak up” is not about always declaring your opinion right away.

What is important for me is that if you drink wine even on a semi-regular basis, you know what you like and what you don’t. In case when you don’t like the wine, you also know why is that – too acidic, too sweet, too wimpy, too tannic, doesn’t taste well with food. There can be lots of reasons for not liking the wine. And it is all fine – taste is personal, and two people next to the same bottle don’t have to share the same opinion; there is nothing to speak up about here. With one exception: when the wine is spoiled.

There are many possible issues with wine, which affect its taste – these are called “wine faults”, and the end result is what we call a spoiled wine – the wine which tastes bad. This is not the case “I don’t like it”, this is the case “it is spoiled” – and nobody should drink it. Have you ever tasted spoiled milk, when the sweetness of milk is replaced with the off putting smell and sour taste? What you do with the spoiled milk? Anything but drink it, right? There are many potential faults in wine – brettanomyces (often called “brett” for short), volatile acidity, oxidation, heat damage (so called “cooked wine”), cork taint and many others (in case you want to read more, here is Wikipedia link). Some of the faults are less offensive than the others – for instance, brett is associated with barnyard aromas (so called “funk”) in the wine, which some people love (yours truly would be one of them). But most of the faults really kill the taste of wine; spoiled wine doesn’t deliver any pleasure the wine is supposed to bring.

One of most prominent offenders is the cork taint – typically caused by the cork material which was not cleaned properly – and the result of the cork taint is called a corked wine. What gives it away first of all is an aroma of the old, wet, musty basement – you know that smell, I’m sure you do. But this is not the worst part. On the palate, the corked wine is sharp, bitter, and devoid of fruit – the fruit is nowhere to be found in the corked wine. Sometimes the smell might be very minor, but then the sharp palate will give this fault away. And corked wine is something which you are not supposed to drink. Nor you should let anyone to drink that. This is the case when you have to trust yourself – and speak up.

How many of you ever been in the situation when you tasted the wine (or just smelled it) and said to yourself “this is corked”? And then, even when you are 100% convinced it is corked, you just kept quiet – you didn’t want to offend the host, you thought “ahh, may be something is wrong with me”, “but people already had been drinking the wine from this bottle for a while, how it can be corked”? Been there, done that? It’s okay, this blog is truly a non-judgement zone, please share your experiences. But I’m seriously telling you, if I may – I insist – speak up. Trust yourself and speak up.

I’ve done this many times in many different settings. Sometimes, the corked bottle is one and only, and all you can do is just to dump it or put it aside to return to the wine store (please note – most of the reputable wine stores will take the corked wine back and refund your money – they are not losing anything either, as they also will return the wine to the producer). But the best case is when the other bottle of the same wine can be open instead – and it shows all the beautiful aromas and fruit the wine was supposed to have. This is the best learning experience, of course – but even if you didn’t have that experience, you still have to speak up.

You need to understand that by keeping silent, you are not doing anyone any favors. If you keep silent, you drink the wine which tastes bad. You let others drink the wine which tastes bad. You letting down the winemaker as well. In many (most) cases, the corked wine is not even producer’s fault. And if you and others end up drinking bad tasting wine, you might say to yourself “I will never buy this wine again” – and trust me, this is not what the winemaker had in mind when the wine was produced with love and care.

You have to speak up – and you got nothing to lose. If you are wrong, and the wine is not corked but simply need the time to breathe – so be it. But I’m sure that once you experienced the corked wine, you will be able to identify it again, so if you think the wine is corked, there is a very good chance that it actually is. Trust yourself and speak up. When the next bottle is open, and everybody sigh with relief and pleasure, your host will be the first to thank you. And if you will feel happy, leave me a comment too. Cheers!

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