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Expect the Unexpected?

November 15, 2021 Leave a comment

Wine is meant to go with food.

Food is meant to go with wine.

Together, food and wine are supposed to give you a much better experience than two individually.

You already know all of this.

And yet this is theory. When met at the table, sometimes food and wine actually work together and deliver a heavenly, memorable experience. Sometimes, food and wine just coexist without interfering. And sometimes they clash, ruining the experience completely.

The food and wine pairings typically work in one of two cases:

  • Food and wine are professionally paired. The chef and sommelier work together, adjusting the flavors of the dish to work with the wine which was selected as a pairing.
  • Food and wine come from the same place and had been playing together nicely for centuries. Think about Beef Bourgogne paired with Bourgogne wine – I think we can trust this combination, don’t we? Or would you ever question Chianti with the pasta with nice red sauce?

Now, for most of the time, we are not traveling and we are not eating at the high-end restaurant, yet we still should be able to enjoy the elevated food and wine experience at home – the rules are simple, right?

Maybe the rules are simple indeed, but we need to tread carefully. Beef Bourgogne is made with Bourgogne wine, and all Bourgogne reds are made from Pinot Noir. So what would happen if we will make the dish with actual Bourgogne, and then try pairing it with a nice big Pinot from California? There is a good chance that you will not enjoy that combination, not at all.

Chianti is made out of the Sangiovese grape (predominantly) – but don’t try to pair your pasta with the Sangiovese from California – again, there lies a great opportunity for disappointment.

I’m not saying that Beef Bourgogne will never work with the California Pinot – find a more restrained version, such as Sanford Pinot Noir, for example, and you might be fine – or better yet, simply cook the dish using the same wine you want to drink. Similarly, there are some California Sangiovese that might perfectly complement and elevate your favorite spaghetti dish, such as Castello di Amorosa Sangiovese – but you should expect some trial and error on the road to perfection.

I love Georgian wines. I would gladly drink Georgian Saperavi on any day. I love Georgian cuisine – properly made, the flavors are incredible and so is the pleasure you will derive out of each and every dish. And considering that wine is an indelible part of the Georgian lifestyle literally for thousands of years, it is rather logical to assume that Georgian wines should work perfectly with Georgian dishes.

While I love Georgian cuisine, this is not the food I would generally try to make on my own, I prefer to defer the cooking to a few of the Georgian restaurants which we have in reasonable proximity, even though the experience is typically a mix of hit and miss. However, when my sister in law sent me the video with the recipe of the Georgian dish called Odjakhuri, the video looked so good that I decided that I must make the dish as soon as possible, considering that the main ingredients are near and dear to me from the childhood – meat and potatoes.

Back in 2015, we visited a winery in Pennsylvania called Fero Vineyards. In addition to all of the traditional east coast wines, the winery also was making the wine out of my beloved Georgian grape, Saperavi. I tried the wine during our visit, liked it very much (Fero Saperavi made it to the 2015 edition of my annual Top Dozen wines of the year list as #12), and brought home a bottle. After I decided that I will make an Odjakhuri for the Friday night dinner, I realized that I have no Georgian wines on hand – but then I remembered that I had a bottle of Fero Saperavi which I had been looking for a good reason to open for quite some time – and what can I be a better reason than trying it at a family dinner with Georgian dish?

To tell you the truth, I had no idea how it is going to work. First, the bottle I had was the 2013 Fero Saperavi. Who knows if the wine from Pennsylvania can age for 8 years? The wine might be gone already, way gone. But even if the wine is not gone, would Saperavi from Pennsylvania work with the flavors of the dish? Local wines work with local dishes because they went through a slow process of alignment over hundreds of years – well, maybe that is one of the reasons. And here we have a dish with the supposedly proper flavor profile, and proper grape from totally different terroir – everything is possible…

When I was opening the bottle of Fero, I had no expectations. Let me take that back. When I was opening the bottle of Fero, I was expecting that the wine will be past prime. And even if it will be still drinkable, that it will not work with the dish, not for a second. And I’m glad I didn’t make any bets with anyone because I lost on both counts.

The wine was perfectly fresh. It had a ruby color, not hinting at any age. On the nose, there were cherries and herbs, nicely restrained. On the palate, the wine showed a hint of cherries, sage, gamey undertones, tobacco. Perfectly live, perfectly fresh, excellent acidity, medium-plus finish.

The wine also perfectly complemented the dish, enhancing and elevating the flavors and creating a better experience.

Was this pure luck on both counts? The wine was perfectly drinkable and it complimented the dish very well? I don’t have an answer, I’m just reporting on the experience, and raising the question – where are the wine and food pairings created?

This pretty much ends my story about expecting the unexpected, but before we part, I want to leave you with the recipe for this simple and delicious dish.

Disclaimer: Odjakhuri in translation from Georgian means “family”. So as a family meal, I’m sure there are tons of “correct” recipes for this dish. The recipe which I’m sharing is exactly the one we made, thus this is the one I recommend.

Apology: I would love to share a video with you, but an actual video that I have is in the Russian language. Still, I believe it will be useful even without understanding the language, so here it is:

Odjakhuri – Georgian meat and potatoes family dish

Ingredients:

  • Meat (pork, beef, chicken) – 2 lb
  • Potatoes (Russet would work the best) – 4 lb
  • Red onion, medium size, sliced – 4
  • Garlic, chopped – 4 cloves
  • Cilantro (can be replaced with parsley), chopped – 2 tbsp
  • Hot pepper, sliced – 1
  • Coriander, ground – 1 tsp
  • Sweet paprika – 1 tsp
  • Cayenne pepper – 1/2 tsp
  • Dill (dried) – 1/2 tsp, optional
  • Black pepper, ground – 1/2 tsp
  • Salt, by taste
  • Olive oil

Steps:

  1. Potatoes: Preheat oven to 375F. Peel potatoes and slice them into the pieces about 1 inch in size. Put into a large bowl. Add olive oil (you can use any oil you like for roasting), coriander, black pepper, cayenne, paprika, dill (if using). Mix everything together. Line roasting pan with parchment paper and arrange potatoes preferably in a single layer. Roast for 45-50 minutes – check readiness, potatoes should be crispy but shouldn’t be overlooked. Once ready, get it out of the oven and put it aside.
  2. Meat. Meat should be prepared as it would be for a kebab. Ideally, it should be sliced into 1-inch cubes and marinated overnight. You can, of course, just roast the meat without marinating it, but marination will add to the flavor of the dish. In our dish, we used bone-in pork loin, I just cut the meat off the bone. If you will be using pork, look for darker meat, it is less prone to drying up while frying.
  3. Once you put potatoes in the oven, you can start on the meat. Heat a small amount of oil on medium-high heat in the cast iron dutch oven, and fry the meat until ready. If meat is not marinated, use salt, pepper, and any other spices you would like. When ready, get the meat out of the pan. make an effort not to overcook the meat.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low, add 3 sliced onions and sauté them slowly, pay attention not to burn them. When almost ready, in about 12 minutes, add garlic and let it cook for another 3 minutes. Now it is time to assemble the dish.
  5. Reduce heat to low. Return meat to the dutch oven, add roasted potatoes. Add fresh cilantro (or parsley), sliced hot pepper, and last sliced onion, mix everything lightly (try not to crush the potatoes). Let the dish heat up, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, to let the flavors meld. In 10 minutes, turn off the heat, serve and enjoy!

There you have it, my friends. If you don’t have Saperavi on hand, try it with any wine you’d like, and expect the unexpected. Cheers!

Remembering Last Summer – Fero Vineyards in Pennsylvania

August 20, 2016 3 comments

Fero Vineyards GlassDoes it make sense to write about a winery visit a year after? Well, I will leave you to ponder at that question, and will just go ahead with my post.

We have a tradition which we keep going for many years now – adults getaway. One weekend in August, we all get together for the two days of food, wines, laughter and simply enjoying each other’s company. These trips usually take place within reasonable driving distance (3 hours or less) for all people in the group (we all live in a close proximity to the New York city), and winery is always a good choice for the first stop.

Lucky for us, oenophiles, the wine bug caught up everywhere in the US, so there is no shortage of interesting wineries to visit along the East Coast of the United States. Our choice last year was the winery in Central Pennsylvania, called Fero Vineyards and Winery. The choice was not random – one of the grapes they use in the wine production is Saperavi. This is definitely not a common choice  – however, a rapidly (I think) growing trend among Eastern USA winemakers, in Finger lakes and other regions. Having been exposed to many amazing Georgian wines, where Saperavi is a king, I was very intrigued at a perspective of tasting the local rendition of such wines.

Had all the arrangements made to meet with Chuck Zaleski, a winery owner and winemaker at Fero. Chuck was taking time for this off his busy schedule, as he was participating in the town fair where he was pouring his wines.

Just curious – do you think everything is going boringly well, or do you expect a twist in this story?

So yes, the twist happened – in the form of a flat tire. About 70 miles down the road, the familiar sound appeared – anyone who had a flat tire knows what I’m talking about; if you never had one – keep it this way. Not a problem, I thought – while the spare tire is very awkwardly located in Toyota Sienna, under the cabin floor, right in a middle – at least I knew where it was. Next ten minutes of jumping around the car ended up in a grim realization – the spare tire was not there. Angry call to the dealer (luckily, it was Saturday) lead to a discovery – all wheel drive Toyota Sienna cars don’t have a spare tire as there is no space for it – instead, they are equipped with run-flats. To make long story short, after arriving with the smoldering tire to the closest dealership and waiting for about 3 hours, we were able to get on our way (of course I fully realize this was still a very lucky outcome).

As we were at least 3 hours behind the schedule, the decision had to be made – should we visit Fero (Chuck, of course, was not there) or forget it all together, just drive to our B&B and relax after such an ordeal. I’m glad the love of wine prevailed and we decided to stop by the Fero Vineyards first.

Fero Vineyards Sign

Fero Vineyards If you will look at the line up of the Fero Vineyards wines, you would find the closest match in Germany or Austria – of course with the addition of Saperavi. Despite the fact that we didn’t manage to meet with Chuck, he still took care of us, by leaving a bottle of Saperavi for us to taste, as the winery was sold out of their last vintage. We tasted through almost a complete portfolio of Fero wines, so here are the highlights for what I liked the most (as usual, there were too many wines, too little time):

2013 Fero Vineyards Grüner Veltliner Pennsylvania – dry, crisp
2013 Fero Vineyards Dry Riesling Pennsylvania – German style, nice minerality, good fruit
2013 Fero Vineyards Pint Noir Pennsylvania – dry, classic nose, crisp, very nice
2013 Fero Vineyards 1812 Lemberger Pennsylvania – crisp, crushed red fruit, pepper
2012 Fero Vineyards Pinot Gris Pennsylvania – nice, simple
2014 Fero Vineyards Pinot Noir Rosé Pennsylvania – residual sweetness, light, balanced, excellent overall
2014 Fero Vineyards Semi-dry Riesling Pennsylvania – excellent, nice touch of sweetness
Fero Vineyards Concord Pennsylvania Table Wine – yes, this is rather sweet, but if you like Concord, this was a classic, restrained and delicious

2013 Fero Vineyards Pinot Gris Pennsylvania – crisp, minerality, excellent
2013 Fero Vineyards Estate Lemberger Pennsylvania – roasted fruit, good concentration, excellent
Fero Vineyards Late Harvest Riesling Pennsylvania – nice touch of petrol, good touch of sweetness, excellent overall
2013 Fero Vineyards Saperavi Pennsylvania – excellent, nice concentration, tannins, crushed blackberries, pepper notes

I’m definitely intrigued by this Saperavi wine. Fero Saperavi has a character of its own, as you can see from my tasting notes above. I would love to taste it side by side with its Georgian counterparts, of course blind. And let’s keep in mind that Saperavi grows in the Balkans (never tasted it), Finger Lakes (also never tasted it), and probably some other places I can’t even think of. Can someone please put together an exciting blind tasting? Or this might be a great subject for the #winestudio session…

Well, I still have a few bottles of Fero wines left, including 2013 Saperavi (courtesy of Chuck, yes) – but I want to give it at least a few more years. See, this is how oenophiles build their excitement…

And we are done here. If you are looking for the great East Coast wines, Fero Vineyards must be on your short list. And who knows, may be you will be lucky enough to taste their Saperavi. Cheers!

Top Twelve of 2015

February 8, 2016 7 comments

In the 5 years this blog exists, I always summarized my wine experiences of the year with the list of most memorable wines. For the 2010 and 2011, the top lists included exactly 12 entries. However, 2012, 2013 and 2014 lists comprised of a first and a second dozens for the total of 24 wines or even more.

There were lots and lots of great and spectacular wines in 2015. But it is February of 2016 already, so I will simply limit the list to only 12 wines. Okay, of course not only 12, but I will stay as close as possible to the 12 – which makes it a fun challenge in itself, as now I need to go over the bigger list again and decide what to include into the  one and only. From here, it makes sense to explain how this Top Wines list is built.

The Talk-a-Vino Top Dozen list is simply based on the memorable wines of the past year. I don’t take into account color or style of the wine. I don’t take into account price. I don’t take into account availability. What matters for this list is that one look at the name of the wine is enough to say “ohh, yes, I remember that” – these are the wines which left the biggest impression.

Done with all the explanations, let’s get to the list, shall we?

14. 2012 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco Benefizio Riserva DOC ($45) – I have a weak spot for a good Italian Chardonnay, and this wine was just that – classic, clean and beautiful.

13.  Changyu Red Wine Blend Ningxia, China (~$36 on the wine list in a restaurant in Beijing) – this wine was definitely an unexpected surprise, especially after unsuccessful first encounter with the Chinese wine. Classic round Bordeaux-style, with perfect balance and lots of pleasure in every sip.

12. 2013 Fero Vineyards Saperavi, Pennsylvania ($25) – Saperavi of course is best known as the star Georgian grape. However, it is quickly rising in popularity in the eastern US. Fero Vineyards might be a good example as to why – this wine had a characteristic Saperavi tartness over firm structure and nice earthy profile. It was my first and successful experience with the New World Saperavi.

11. 2014 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley ($24) – of course we are all familiar with “white Pinot Noir” in the form of the Champagne and other sparkling wines. But this was a still wine, and it was clean, crisp and unusual, just if you would think about.

10. 2010 Massena Mataro Barossa Valley, Australia ($35) – I still have to write this post, as this wine was a surprising find in the Mourverde single-grape wine tasting. The wine was powerful, luscious and delicious.

9. 2014 Sangiovanni Leo Guelfus Piceno Superiore DOC, Marche ($20) – organic and superbly refined. I don’t drink a lot of Piceno red wines, as they are scarcely available in the typical wine store. This particular wine showed perfect silky layers and beautiful balanced fruit. An amazing QPR at a price.

8. 2010 Turley Zinfandel Tofanelli Vineyard Napa Valley ($45) – it was the smell which made me think of this wine over and over again. Fresh berries with spices, just unstoppable. Smell is the best part of wine drinking – and this wine was offering an infinite pleasure.

7. 1994 Chateau Lilian Ladouys Saint-Estéphe ($15) – love surprises. When I picked up a bottle of this wine at the local store, my only thought was “what do I have to lose”. After two hours in decanter, after the first sip, my only thought was “I really, really hope they still have it in the store!”. Outstanding.

6. 2010 Irwin Family Tempranillo Piedra Roja Block 22 Sierra Foothills ($36) – Best US made Tempranillo. Don’t think I need to say anything else. You disagree? Try this wine first, then let’s talk.

5. 2009 Quinta do Tedo Vintage Porto, Portugal (~$70) – After been told that 2009 was a very bad year in Portugal, I didn’t expect to find any Vintage Porto from 2009. The one I tasted during the visit to Quinta do Tedo was absolutely magnificent as all the young Porto wines are – powerful, full of fresh berries and in-your-face greatness.

4. 2014 Abbazia di Novacella [Kerner, Gruner Veltliner, Sylvaner, Sauvignon Blanc] Alto Adige, Italy (~$20) – yes, that is a whole bunch of wines for one single entry, but there is no way to chose only one. Spectacular aromatics and mind-boggling deliciousness (yes, I’m getting very excited as I even write this) across all.

3. 2011 Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Giramonte Toscana IGT ($150) – I can’t tell you too much or too little about this wine. Instead, I will use just one word – finesse.

No, there is no mistake down below. Both wines are #1 – best of the best from the 2015.

1. 2011 Quinta do Tedo Grand Reserva Savedra Douro ($30) – Spectacular – only as the best Portuguese Reserva wines can get. Espresso, dark chocolate, eucalyptus – there is no end to the descriptors you can apply to this wine. Truly outstanding and pretty much a steal at the price (problem is to find it anywhere outside of the winery).

1. 2011 Emiliana Coyam Colchagua Valley, Chile ($35) – imagine your mouth is full of ripe blueberries and wild strawberries. Now swallow all that, and take another handful of those fresh berries and eat them too. Repeat until happy smile will show on your face. Yes, that was my impression of this wine. Outstanding.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Better late then never, that is the way I see it – yes, this is a late post, but I still wonder if you had any of these wines on your own and if you did, what do you think of them. Or if any of the wines from 2015 are still in your memory, I would love to hear about them too. Cheers!

 

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