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Cooking as an Ultimate Expression of Love, or Early Valentine’s Day Experiences

February 13, 2018 10 comments

I’m always happy to admit that Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. Of course this is a personal statement, and of course, I perfectly understand that I’m lucky to be able to say it wholeheartedly, as this is not a universal truth.

Outside of presents (which is fun), overpriced flowers and cheesy cards (nevermind all the heart-shaped chocolates, I don’t even want to mention those), Valentine’s Day is all about food and wine. Many years ago, we ditched the tradition of oversubscribed and underdelivering restaurants, offering strictly timed moments of celebration in favor of homemade dinners, which also include the whole family.

Valentine’s Day dinners at home offer a lot of pleasure in itself – you get to contemplate and select the menu, and you have an opportunity to touch lots and lots of bottles until you grab the one which somehow, magically, will become “it”. And then you get to cook that dinner, and most importantly, if everything works as you are hoping it will, you get an extra dose of happiness looking at the happy faces around the dinner table. By the way, if you need any wine recommendations for the Valentine’s Day, I wrote a few of them in the recent years – here and here are two of my favorite ones.

This year, Valentine’s Day dinner came in early – we will be leaving for vacation exactly on the February 14th, thus in order to maintain the tradition of family celebration, the dinner had to take place earlier – on Sunday before the Valentine’s Day. And so the next idea was – why don’t we start early on Sunday, let’s say with a nice breakfast?

What is your favorite celebratory breakfast meal? Eggs Benedict is definitely one of my favorites, so that was an easy decision. Smoked salmon is one of my favorite choices for the eggs benedict, so the prep for the breakfast started two days prior, first by making smoked salmon (you can find the recipe here).

This is Valentine’s Day dinner, so we need to up the game, right? What can elevate breakfast better than some crispy bacon? Yep, bacon it is!

Traditional Eggs Benedict are served on top of the English muffin. Truth be told, I don’t like English muffin – not with eggs benedict, not by itself. So my choice of bread? A fresh biscuit. I have friends who can easily whip a batch of biscuits on a moment’s notice, but I have my limits – thus buttermilk biscuits by Pillsbury work just perfectly for me.

Next, we need to make the Hollandaise sauce. It is somewhat of a tedious process, involving a double-boiler and some serious skills – unless you have a recipe from Suzanne, which is very simple and guarantees a perfect result – as long as you follow it precisely. The Hollandaise came out perfect, both taste and texture, so last prep step was to poach some eggs. All you need to do is to get hot water with vinegar to borderline boil (it shouldn’t be actively boiling, so take your time to adjust the heat) in a deep skillet, then carefully crack the eggs, set the timer and voilà. To my shame, I have to admit this is where I failed – I set the timer for 10 minutes (this is what I read in one of the recipes online), and this was a mistake – I completely overcooked the eggs. I believe the right time would be 5 minutes at the most.

Another important step – let the eggs cool off after cooking (ice bath recommended) – I didn’t do it, and as the result, Hollandaise was not covering the eggs properly – oh well, it was still really tasty. So the last step was to assemble the Eggs Benedict – the biscuit on the bottom, then smoked salmon, bacon, egg, and Hollandaise.

Now it is time to make dinner. More often than not, simplicity is your friend when it comes to food. Going the simple route, our Valentine’s Day dinner plan was simple – steak and potatoes.

For the potatoes, we have a recipe where potatoes are thinly sliced on the mandoline, then slices are stacked at the little angle and fried – it is a great recipe except that my fingers and mandoline are not great together, but love requires sacrifices, right?

And for the steak – you can’t beat the simplicity of the pan-fried filet mignon:

Where there is steak, there is also wine. As I mentioned, after spending good 20 minutes going through the different shelves of the wine coolers, I pulled out the bottle which happened to deliver an insane amount of pleasure – 2005 Neyers AME Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

I like to know critics scores for the wines, but only out of curiosity – my buying decisions are not based on those scores at all. Besides, my own take on the wine rarely correlates with the critic’s opinion. Except for this wine – when I read Robert Parker’s description, to my surprise and delight, it was well aligned with the way I perceived it – so here is Robert Parker’s take on this 2005 Neyers AME:

” 93 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

The finest 2005 is the Ame (which means “soul” in French), a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon cuvee fashioned from a parcel of the estate vineyard in Napa’s Conn Valley. Perhaps because of that, it possesses more minerality along with licorice, black currant, and cedar wood notes. Dense, full-bodied, rich, and impressively endowed, with good acidity, tannin, and extract, this 600-case offering will be at its best between 2009-2018. Range: 91-93“.
I would only disagree on one point – “best between 2009 – 2018” – it is 2018, and while the wine was perfect, it will go on for at least another 10 years before it will show any sign of age – but I will not be able to prove it to you as this was my last bottle. Nevertheless – spectacular wine, impeccably balanced. This is the type wine which makes people say “OMG, from now on, I’m not going to drink anything else”.
We need to finish dinner with the dessert, right? So what comes to mind when you look at the egg whites left after you make Hollandaise sauce? Egg whites omelet? Sure, but this is pedestrian. Meringue? Yes, now you are talking! So our dessert of choice was Pavlova of sorts, which is, as I learned, one of the national desserts of New Zealand!
Here you are, my friends – our early Valentine’s Day dinner experience. Happy Valentine’s Day! Cheers!

Happy New Year 2018!

January 1, 2018 9 comments

Want to wish my readers and their families happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 2018, with lots of great experiences, new discoveries, exciting moments, love and laughter with family and friends, and lots and lots of delicious, memorable wines!

 

Christmas at Newport Mansions

December 25, 2017 16 comments

New England has no shortage of beautiful places, full of history and character. One of such beautiful places is the town of Newport in Rhode Island. For as long as I live in Connecticut, Newport is always a “goto” place to visit, at least once a year. While Newport’s history generally aligned with the one of New England, with first inhabitants appearing there in early 1600, it shot up to prominence in the late 1800s, when the town became The Destination for the summer residences for all of the wealthiest families in the USA (you can read about history of Newport here).

While those summer residences were called “cottages”, they are typically known today as Newport Mansions. Just to give you a frame of reference – the biggest “cottage” in Newport, The Breakers, has 125K sq. ft. of total space, out of which about 62.5K sq. ft. are livable – yep, that’s one summer cottage. Each mansion is built in its own, unique style – the architecture, the features, everything was done in the unique fashion with lots of attention to the details.

We always visited Newport during spring, summer or early fall, exploring mansions, walking along the coastline and enjoying delicious fresh seafood. All along those many visits, I always saw the ads for Christmas at Newport Mansions, but somehow, the plans never worked out to go and see it – until this year.

We were planning to visit our friend in California, leaving before Chrismas and coming back shortly before the New Year. But my wife couldn’t take the time off, so we decided to split the vacation into two parts, and first spend a few days in Newport, to finally see the Christmas decorations.

Similar to the visit to Copenhagen earlier this year, the weather didn’t cooperate – almost freezing rain on the way to Newport, and then the rain for the whole Saturday. Well, that didn’t stop us from getting tons of pleasure from the stunningly beautiful mansions. We visited The Breakers, Rosecliff and Marble House – out of these three, The Breakers and Marble House were specially decorated for Christmas; Rosecliff didn’t have any special decorations but was hosting an exhibit of the works of the Pierre Cardin, which was an interesting addition to our program.

From here on, let me simply inundate you with the pictures of beautiful Christmas at the Newport Mansions. And yes, put it on your bucket list – you will not regret it.

Our Saturday morning view:

Newport, RI

The Breakers fully compensated for this:

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The view from the window at The Breakers, usually magnificent, was rather gloomy:

The Breakers

The Breakers

But still, the decor was there:

The Breakers

The Breakers were the home for Cornelius Vanderbilt, railroad magnate – of course a little train exhibit is the most appropriate – and fun!

The Breakers

Rosecliff – in the cake

The Breakers

The Breakers – cake version

The Breakers

The Breakers

Next, the Rosecliff:

Rosecliff

Rosecliff

Rosecliff

Rosecliff

The biggest dancing floor in all of Newport Mansions

Rosecliff

RosecliffAnd Pierre Cardin’s Exhibit:

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Sunday morning looked a lot better:

Newport, RI

Visit to the Marble house provided a beautiful ending to the trip:

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House, Cake edition

Marble House

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving Day Experiences

December 3, 2017 5 comments

Thanksgiving is one of my most favorite holidays. It revolves around food. Before you beat me up, of course, it is about family, friends and lots and lots of good reason to be thankful – but still, the food is at the core of this family gathering. This makes me double-happy – I get to spend time with the family and cook my heart out – and let’s not forget the extra bonus – I have a reason to chose special wines.

Since this blog started, there was only one year when I didn’t post about Thanksgiving. Otherwise, I did my best to talk about food and wine experience of this special day, sometimes even with few posts on the subject (you can find those posts here). This year, I had two resolutions for my Thanksgiving dinner. First, it will be simple – which means no Turducken, for instance. Second, I will serve only an American wines – to be more precise, only the wines from California. As Napa and Sonoma greatly suffered from the recent fires, this was only logical to embrace Californian wines to support the people there.

Thanksgiving Wines 2017

First, let me say a few words about the food. Turkey is a cornerstone of Thanksgiving – at the same time, it is hard to cook a whole turkey in really an exciting way. Over the years, we tried lots and lots of different recipes – with stuffing and without, turducken, smoked, deep fried, deboned… Some were definitely better than the others (turducken is typically a standout), and some of those preparations can be very laborious. Thus this year, I decided the smoked turkey is the way to go.

This was not a random decision – earlier this year I discovered so-called PBC (Pit Barrel Cooker), which I absolutely fell in love with. In the past, I had to spend literally a whole day, dancing around my simple smoker, trying to maintain the temperature and still ending up cooking all the food in the oven. PBC changed that dramatically – no need to precook ribs anymore, just start the fire, hang your piece of meat and come back in a few hours to enjoy. Based on all the prior success, smoking the turkey was simply a done deal.

This might be the simplest turkey I ever have done. Buy already brined turkey (many stores sell pre-brined turkey, which greatly simplifies your life), rub it generously with PBC All-purpose rub, start the fire and just hang it inside the PBC – you can estimate the cooking time based on the size, and of course, use the meat thermometer to make sure the turkey is cooked through.

Thanksgiving smoked turkey

Another dish I want to mention is the dessert. I got a recipe from a friend, many years ago – however, it was also a while since I made this dessert. I wanted to find a similar recipe online, just to use it as a reference – but failed. So here is the recipe without the usual ingredients and measurements, as here you can make everything approximately. Let’s call this dessert

Crepes Napoleon with Wine-poached Pears and Cranberry sauce

You will need the following:

  • 4 firm pears, I recommend Anjou, carefully peeled, halved and cored
  • 10-12 crepes (can be more, can be less, depending on how many layers do you want)
  • 1 lb cranberry sauce (canned is fine, fresh is better)
  • 1 bottle of port – you can use red wine too, but then you would need to add sugar.
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Put peeled, halved and cored pears into the large pot, cover it with wine, add cinnamon stick and nutmeg, and put it on the stove. Once liquid started boiling, reduce heat and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let peras to cool off completely in the wine, preferably overnight (when cool enough, put the whole pot into the refrigerator). Next day, thinly slice pears and put aside. You can also reduce the wine for a later use – it is quite delicious.

You can buy crepes or you can make crepes. If you will decide to make them, Alton Brown has an excellent recipe – this is what I used.

Crepes Napoleon

Once crepes are made and cooled off, you are ready to start making the Napoleon! Take a plate you will serve the dessert on. Put the first crepe on the bottom. Thinly spread cranberry sauce. Cover with another crepe. Now take slices of pear and put them around the crepe in a single layer. Cover with another crepe, spread cranberry sauce, cover, put pears and continue the process until you will be satisfied with the overall height of the Napoleon. I recommend a round of pear slices on top with cranberry sauce in the center, but of course, you can make your own decoration. Cover (plastic wrap will do) and put it in the cool place for the flavors to be absorbed into the crepes. Later on, slice and enjoy!

Time to talk wines!

Holiday celebration should start with the sparkling, isn’t it? Finding tasty California sparkling wine is really not a problem. One of my favorite California producers, Field Recordings, offers an interesting selection of the sparkling wines, with most of them packaged in the cans (yes, cans). I had a can of NV Field Recordings Methodé Aluminum Edna Valley (11.9% ABV, 100% Pinot Noir), and it provided a perfect start for the evening – fresh, supple, with good body weight and a nice touch of a fresh bread – definitely was a crowd pleaser.

I wanted to have a full California wine experience, so next, we moved on to Rosé – 2016 Conundrum Rosé California (13.1% ABV). Truth be told, I’m not a fun of Wagner family wines – Conundrum, Meiomi, Caymus – doesn’t matter, they generally don’t work for my palate. So I threw in the bottle of this Conundrum Rosé simply because it was available – I thought we will open it, taste it and move on. Boy, was I wrong. This wine had beautiful strawberries all the way on the nose and the palate, supported by tons of herbs – lavender, mint, basil. Perfect mouthfeel with very good presence, but not overwhelming and with good acidity – this wine was enjoyed to the fullest.

We drink with our eyes first – thus the label on the 2014 Durant and Booth Blanc California (14.6% ABV, $36, blend of Chardonnay, Grenache Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Roussanne, Greco di Tufo) was extremely drinkable and very promising (the label represents the art technique called water marbling – you can read more here if you are as intrigued as I was). I brought this wine from California after attending Wine Bloggers Conference 2017, where this wine was presented to us at the Napa Valley Vintners lunch – I plan to write a separate post about this event).

As you can tell, this wine is made from quite a few grapes, and I’m typically a bit concerned if the chorus will sing harmoniously. Oh yes, it was  – starting from the beautiful touch of butter and vanilla on the nose and the palate, then immediately offering silky plumpness of Roussanne with a gentle touch of butter and tropical fruit on the palate – this delicious wine was gone in no time.

Next, it was the time to move on to the red wines. We started with 2014 Acorn Alegria Vineyards Cabernet Franc Russian River Valley (12.5% ABV, $38, 93% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Merlot, 2% Petite Verdot, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon and Tannat). All Acorn wines are made from a co-fermented blend of grape varieties which are growing at Acorn’s Alegria Vineyard. This Cabernet Franc had a beautiful open nose with a touch of mint and cassis – the same continued on the palate with more cassis in a smooth, round package, supported by some herbal notes and perfect acidity. It was unmistakably Cabernet Franc, but also unmistakably California Cab Franc, without much of the green bell pepper presence and fruit dominant, but perfectly balanced.

Our last red was coming from the California region I was not really familiar with until now – El Dorado County (it is not only gold you find there, yep). 2015 Boeger Barbera El Dorado (15% ABV) was another wine I brought back from California after the same wine bloggers conference. I tried few of the El Dorado wines at the conference and was not very impressed, so I looked at it as an interesting experiment. Another score! This wine was dense and brooding, with tar and tobacco on the nose, and surprisingly polished dark fruit on the palate with sweet tobacco undertones. To make things even more interesting, I can tell you that we didn’t finish the wine during dinner, so I pumped the air out using the usual Vacuvin, and put the bottle aside almost for 10 days. After 10 days, the wine was still perfectly fresh and enjoyable, which makes me wonder how long this wine can actually age.

Time to finish our Thanksgiving dinner with the dessert. As our planned dessert had cranberry sauce in it, I decided to go with Cranberry wine for dessert. Tomasello Cranberry Wine New Jersey (9% ABV) was a perfect pick for it – good acidity, tart cranberry profile, it played perfectly with our dessert – while the wine was not from California, it still provided a perfect finish for our celebration.

Here we are, my friends. How was your Thanksgiving? Did you enjoy more the turkey, the wines or the company? Cheers!

 

Happy New Year 2017!

January 4, 2017 2 comments

Lots of festivities right around the January 1st prevented this simple post from going out, but – it is still very appropriate to wish all of you and your families happy, healthy and peaceful New Year 2017!

As this blog is about wine, food and life, I wish you lots and lots of amazing experiences – memorable wines, memorable meals, memorable journeys, and most importantly, meeting and spending time with people who truly make you happy.

marani winesI don’t want to spend much time talking about last year, 2016. It was not an easy year for my personal blogging – while there was no shortage in amazing experiences, the writing was not happening as effortlessly and generously as I would want it to be. Oh well, 2016 is a history, no point at pondering at it any longer.

Going into 2017, I don’t think I will be able to reasonably increase the number of posts – I plan, however, to make them more systematic than the last year. I will continue to run the interviews with winemakers – this now is one of my most favorite themes on the blog. I plan to write more regularly about wines we drink during the week. I still have lots to write about from 2016, so yes, you should expect to see those posts from time to time. I would love to bring back the wine quizzes, but I don’t think that would happen. The bottom line is – the fun journey will continue!

new-year-winesHappy New Year, my friends! Cheers!

Celebrate with Ferrari!

December 29, 2016 5 comments

Would anyone argue that holidays are better with Ferrari? Both of eponymous Italian hallmarks of quality would greatly enhance one’s holiday, but one of them – the car  – is a bit less accessible to the general populace, so let’s talk about the one which is – sparkling wine from a beautiful region in the Italian Alps – Trento.

More than 100 years ago, Guido Ferrari recognized the potential of the green slopes to grow world-class Chardonnay. While Chardonnay is an undisputed star of the still white wine, its swan song might be delivered best with the bubbles. Champagne comes only from Champagne, but Méthode Champenoise is successfully used around the world to produce sparkling wines easily rivaling Champagne in quality.

This is what Guido Ferrari set out to do in 1902 – produce world-class sparkling wines – the task which he completed successfully. As Guido Ferrari had no direct heirs, in 1952 he sold the winery and vineyards to the Bruno Lunelli, a friend and wine merchant. Now in the third generation, Lunelli family proudly continues Ferrari traditions into the 21st century.

Earlier in the year, I had a virtual conversation with Marcello Lunelli, a winemaker at the Ferrari winery – you can find that post here. Then during summer I had an opportunity to meet, talk to and taste the wines together with Camilla Lunelli, Managing Partner at Ferrari, who visited New York on the occasion of attending The World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards ceremony, where Ferrari was sponsoring The Art of Hospitality Award (it went to Madison Eleven restaurant in New York city). As we combined conversation with the tasting of the wines, I want to share here my brief notes about both the winery and the wines we tasted.

Camilla Lunelli, Ferrari wines

Today Ferrari is producing about 2 million bottles per year. They are working in close cooperation with the network of 500 growers and employ 8 agronomists who work literally around the clock to ensure the quality of the grapes. All Ferrari vineyards are certified organic, which is something not to be taken lightly – think about the work required to convince 500 growers to change their ways, to adapt Best Practices developed by Ferrari and get certified (it took most of the growers between 3 and 5 years to change). Talking about the vineyards, an interesting side note: Trento is a mountainous region, and all Ferrari vineyards are located on the slopes which provide for large temperature shifts between day and night, which is significant for the development of the Chardonnay grapes.

Italy is the biggest market for Ferrari sparkling wines. However, when I asked which market is the next big one after Italy, I got a surprising answer – it is Japan! (Yeah, I knew it is not the US, as Ferrari wines are hard to find in the US stores).

I also asked what would be an interesting food pairing for the Ferrari sparklers, and Camilla recommended Rosé sparkling wine with Pizza (yes, I can see it) and then bubbles with the BBQ, which is something I will need to try.

Okay, let’s get to the wines now, shall we?

NV Ferrari Brut Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $25, 100% Chardonnay) – Delicious. Perfect acidity, lightly yeasty, refreshing, clear acidic finish.

2007 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – complex nose, minerality, complex palate with musk undertones, full bodied and refreshing

2009 Ferrari Perlé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $38, 100% Chardonnay) – we didn’t taste this wine with Camilla – I recently got a sample of 2009, so it was a good opportunity to include it here. On the nose, fine fizz, mostly closed nose with just a touch of an apple. The palate showed toasted bread notes, restrained, good acidity, tart, very clean and austere. Perfectly reminiscent of a good Champagne, however, too astringent for my personal enjoyment. I would definitely prefer 2007.

2008 Ferrari Perlé Rosé Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $59, 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay) – Delicious nose, hint of strawberries, yeast, great concentration, complex, toasted bread, refreshing.

2008 Ferrari Perlé Nero Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $79.99, 100% Pinot Nero) – great nose, plump, open, full-bodied, lots of fruit on the nose, fresh baguette, not just yeast or toasted bread, toasted caramel, butterscotch

2006 Ferrari Riserva Lunelli Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $56, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from the single area around Villa Margon. This wine is aged in neutral Austrian oak casks. Excellent, seriously complex nose, with a touch of tropical fruit; tremendous palate – roasted meat, super-complex, delicious.

2004 Ferrari Riserva del Fondatori Giulio Metodo Classico Trento DOC (SRP $120, 100% Chardonnay) – the grapes for this wine come from a single high altitude vineyard called Maso Panizza. The wine has the classic nose, great acidity, it just screams “classic vintage Champagne” all the way.

Here you are, my friends – a full range of beautiful sparkling wines, worthy of any celebration you will have. I wish they would be a bit easier to find in the US, but these are the wines worth seeking. Cheers!

Holiday Gifts for Wine Lovers, 2016 Edition

December 21, 2016 Leave a comment

bottle_wine_presentsIf there is one overarching theme for my 2016 posts, it can be expressed with one word: “late”. No matter how useful my advice will be, the major present-buying holiday takes place in mere two days, so yes, it is truly late. But – the comforting thought is: if you got a wine lover, an oenophile in your life, wine is always, always an excellent present. Or anything related to the wine for that matter. Except for the 5th identical book – oh well, nothing wrong with re-gifting, right?

Now, when it comes to the presents for the wine lovers, I already covered the subject quite extensively over the past few years. I checked what I wrote before, and was happy to realize that all or practically all of my advice still stands – thus, allow me to simply give you a reference to the older posts – if you are still looking for the present, you might find my suggestions helpful.

Back in 2014, I wrote a series of posts on the subject of wine gifts which I called “Practical and Pragmatic Guide”. It is practical and pragmatic, as I not only tell you what to buy but also provide recommendations for the gifts I wouldn’t buy – definitely practical and pragmatic. The series consisted of 3 parts:

Part 1 – Wine gifts – this post provides a general introduction for “practical and pragmatic”, and it is talking about various wine gifting options.

Part 2 – Wine Accessories – openers, pourers, decanters and lots more – what makes sense, what doesn’t.

Part 3 – Wine Education – books, classes, experiences – everything the wine lover might really appreciate.

Here is also a post on the same subject from 2011 – while it will not give you much new information conceptually, it has more recommendations as to where to buy the wine.

Before we part I want to mention that I created now a collection of useful wine gift items on Amazon. All the books there are personal recommendations and all the accessories are split into different categories to simplify navigation.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Better late than never, eh? Happy Holidays and happy last minute gift hunting! Cheers!

Lodi Thanksgiving – Wine Notes (There Was A Turducken Too)

December 10, 2016 7 comments

Yeah, I know – it’s been more than two weeks since Thanksgiving… Well, okay – let’s still talk about it.

I gave you some ideas about the Thanksgiving wines and food with my earlier post, so let me just start with the “prep” picture again:

thanksgiving prepAll the birds you see in this picture were converted into a Turducken – chicken inside the duck inside the turkey, all fully deboned except the legs and wings of the turkey. The dish was conceived in the 1980s in the South, popularized around the country in the mid-1990s, and now freely available for order most everywhere (or at least this is my impression).

Deboning takes a bit of a skill, but nothing impossible. There are different schools of thoughts as to how to assemble the birds and what to put between the layers – I used two different types of sausages – you can see them in the picture above. Overall, I tried to follow the recipe on Serious Eats, which is one of the very best “turducken how to” instructions you can find – “tried” is the best way to put it, as I made a few essential mistakes (not cooking the chicken fully first), which led to slightly overcooked dish – nevertheless, it was very tasty, and I would gladly do it again, despite the need to put in the work. Here are my “step-by-step” pictures, from the deboned chicken to the final dish:

There was plenty of other dishes at the table, but turducken was a star.

Now, let’s talk wine. As you can imagine, Thanksgiving gathering is a not the right place to take detailed notes on the wines. Therefore, I’m sharing here my general impressions.

The day before Thanksgiving the Fall shipment arrived from Field Recordings, and the first bottle which caught my attention was a California Pét Nat:

Pét Nat is a short for Pétillant-naturel, a sparkling wine made with méthode ancestrale, when the wine is bottled before the first fermentatoin is finished – very different from traditional méthode champenoise, where the sparkling wine is made with secondary fermentation in the bottle, done with addition of yeast and sugar. Pét Nat are typically fresh, unfiltered and unpredictable, which makes them even more fun than traditional Champagne. This 2016 Field Recordings Pét Nat Arroyo Grande Valley (100% Chardonnay) was delicious – fresh, creamy, with aromas of toasty bread and fresh apples – an outstanding rendition of Chardonnay.

This wine was the only deviation from Lodi. Our next wine was 2015 LangeTwins Estate Grown Sangiovese Rosé Lodi (12% ABV). While cold, it was crisp and loaded with cranberries, perfectly delicate, without any excess of sugar. As it warmed up, the strawberries took over, mellowing the wine out and making it slightly bigger in the body – and delicious in a whole new way. In a word, a treat.

I can’t describe 2013 Borra Vineyards Heritage Field Blend Lodi (14.5% ABV, 70% Barbera, 10% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Alicante Bouschet) with any other word but riot – tar, tobacco, roasted meat, herbs, dark, muscular, yet round – unique, different and irresistible  – the bottle was gone in no time.

2013 Bokisch Vineyards Graciano Lodi (14.5% ABV) was yet another treat – bright, clean, with a good amount of red fruit, herbal underpinning and firm structure. I’m very particular to Spanish grape varietals, and this Graciano rendition was definitely a world class, reminiscent of the best classic versions of the same from Rioja.

NV Lucas Late Harvest Zinfandel Lodi (15.8% ABV) happened to be an enigma. When I tasted the wine at the winery, the wine was mind boggling – rich, concentrated, and perfectly balanced. This wine is quite unique as it is made using the appasimento process, with the grapes partially dried under the sun for a few weeks to concentrate the flavor, before pressing. The bottle which I brought home, was a poor relative of the one I had at the winery – it was not bad, but was completely lacking the opulence and depth of the one I had at the winery. Oh well – this is still one of the pleasures of the wine drinking – you never know what you will find in the bottle.

That essentially concludes the report from our main Thanksgiving celebration. Next day, however, we left to see our close friends in Boston, and at their house, we had two unique wine encounters. One was 1993 (!) Nissley Fantasy Sweet Rosé Wine Lancaster County Pennsylvania (made out of Concord grape). The expectation was that the wine already turned into a vinegar, but instead, we found a port-like wine, with lots of sweetness and also some acidity, so well drinkable overall.

The last surprise was 2006 Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz Australia (14% ABV), which was still well drinkable, with good concentrated dark fruit, touch of spices, good balance and full body. Well-drinkable 10-years old red wine shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – but this was actively ridiculed by all the aficionados “creature label” wine, which is not expected to last that long. The bottom line – this wine still delivered lots of pleasure.

Now we are fully done here – this is the story of my Thanksgiving celebration. Did you have any memorable wines this last Thanksgiving? Any unique and interesting dishes? I would love to know. Cheers!

Lodi Thanksgiving

November 24, 2016 14 comments

Thanksgiving is definitely one of my most favorite holidays – maybe because it is so centered on the food. Of course it is about families and friends getting together, and giving thanks for many many things which comprise our lives – we all have a lot to be thankful for. Nevertheless, the food on Thanksgiving is essential, it is a canvas of gathering, and even more importantly so if you are hosting the gathering.

lodi wines

For many years we visited our close friends to celebrate Thanksgiving together with them. This year we are hosting Thanksgiving dinner at our house, which gave me a pleasure of doing a boatload of cooking, and – I’m sure you expected that – to select the wines for the dinner.

Thanksgiving is a quintessential American holiday, so choosing to serve the American wines comes easy and logical. But then America is all about freedom, so of course, you can drink whatever you feel like, I’m just talking about my personal choices. About a month ago I visited Lodi region in California (my second trip there, after Wine Bloggers Conference back in August), and while I was tasting through the line of delicious wines at Bokisch Vineyards, it dawned on me – this year, we should celebrate Thanksgiving with wines from Lodi. Now, as it is almost time to get to the table, this is exactly what we are doing.

Lodi is somewhat under the radar (and believe me – I would love to keep it like that, for it to stay the best kept secret for a few oenophiles only), but totally unique and totally unexpected region, which produces unique and delicious wines. Lodi is a California appellation, yet it produces the world class wines absolute majority would never associate with California. Look at the wines I’m planning to open. Sangiovese Rosé from LangeTwins – yes, an Italian star, Sangiovese, right out of the Central California. Graciano from Bokisch Vineyards – yes, Graciano, the unique grape from Rioja in Spain – this was the wine which prompted this whole “Lodi Thanksgiving” idea. Or how about Borra Vineyards Heritage, a field blend (!) of Barbera, Carignane, Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouschet – here is another core Italian varietal, Barbera. I don’t have a Lodi white wine, this is where Turley White Coat should do, as it contains Grenache Blanc and Verdelho from Lodi. Unique grapes, unique and, most importantly, delicious wines – this is what makes Lodi wines such an easy choice for me.

The Thanksgiving dinner will include the infamous “3 in 1″ bird, the Turducken, and lots of the side dishes – you can see some of the key components in the picture below.

thanksgiving prep

I have an ambitious plan to report on the dinner right after its completion – that might never happen, but I will try. By the way, do you care to guess what wine is hiding behind the wrap? Maybe name the grape, and maybe even the producer? How are you going to celebrate? With what wines? Is there a dish you are looking forward to making or, at least, eating? Happy Thanksgiving! Cheers!

3 Sensual Reds For Your Valentine’s Day

February 13, 2016 11 comments

As the Valentine’s day is getting closer, I want to succumb to the popular trend and offer you some wine recommendations for that special overcommercialized-pink-hearts-everywhere-please-buy-at-least-something holiday.

Any day is what we chose to make out of it – including the holidays. What I like about Valentine’s day is that if anything, it is a celebration of love – and that I support wholeheartedly.

Are there special wines which are better suited to celebrate love and romance? Of course, however, I don’t have in mind any wines with special aphrodisiac qualities, or anything which will make one magically more desirable after staffing oneself with 32 oz of hearty porterhouse stack. Instead, I want to talk about sensual wines.

What is a sensual wine? First of all, this is the wine of impeccable balance and harmony – fruit, acidity and tannins are perfectly present and well noticeable, but everything is precisely weaved together, nothing sticks out, you just want to say “wow” after each and every sip. It is the wine which has luscious mouthfeel, it rolls of effortlessly, offering layers and layers of pleasure. But every sip still holds a mystery which makes you want to know “what is next”, it is like work of an artist which gives you just enough curves to let your imagination go wild. It is so easy, effortless to drink that you simply can’t put the glass down, as every sip leaves you desire for more. A beautiful foreplay, if you will.

Of course the truth is in the eye of the beholder, and if you tired of me talking nonsense, feel free to click away. However, if you will allow me, I will be glad to recommend three of such wines to extend the pleasure of your Valentine’s Day. As an added bonus I want to mention that you will not need to break the bank to get either one of these wines.

Let me start with 2012 Kaiken Ultra Malbec Uco Valley, Argentina. When I tasted this wine for the first time, I was blown away by the silky layers, succulent fruit and perfect balance; I couldn’t find better way to describe this wine than to call it “sexy” – this is a perfect example of the sensual wine.

Sensual wine number 2 is 2011 Emiliana Coyam Colchagua Valley, Chile. Very similar to the previous wine, it is velvety, smooth and layered. And mind-blowing. The fruit is bright and clean, and delivered with a tight core of round tannins; overall, a perfectly playful wine.

Third sensual wine I want to recommend is 2013 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon. Of course Oregon is a world power when it comes to Pinot Noir. Talking about Oregon Pinot, I would typically use terms such as “powerful”, “thought-provoking”, of course “elegant” is quite appropriate too. However, “sensual” would be a perfect descriptor for this Willamette Valley Vineyards Pinot. Abundance of the fruit and berries which are rarely found together in one glass – cranberries, strawberries, blueberries, all clean, vibrant, layered, polished and practically effervescent. Ultimately seductive, as you can’t put the glass down until every drop is savored out of that bottle. As sensual as the wine can be.

Here we go, my friends – a few recommendations to make your Valentine’s Day even more romantic and yes, sensual. Cheers!