Sunday, December 14, 2014

2009 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera

I've got friends who are Amarone addicts and for a long time, I didn't see what all the fuss was about.

Amarone comes from the Valpolicella district in Northeastern Italy's Veneto region, made from a blend of grapes (primarily Corvina) that have been dried. The grapes are picked in bunches and kept in drying rooms (with warm temps and low humidity) to "raisinate" for weeks to months. Traditionally, wines were dried on straw mats. This super-concentrates the sugars and flavors of the grapes, yielding big red wines with high alcohol and intense flavor.

When I first tried Amarone, I'll admit that I didn't exactly splurge for the good stuff. There is a lot of hot, bitter, cheap Amarone out in the world, but the good stuff is just lovely.

Masi Winery is one of Amarone's premier producers and their wine does not disappoint. It is amazingly both powerful and restrained. Black and red fruits are ample, including plums and cherries, and somehow the nose and taste is both dried and raisiny, yet fresh. Medium tannins and bright acidity give the wine great structure. I probably drank it too early, this wine easily will only get better with more bottle time, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Definitely sweetness in the nose along with herbs and sweet pipe tobacco. Really well integrated, especially for being 15% alcohol, with a nice long finish. Just delicious and I'll be definitely drinking again.

Almond Tuiles - Elegant Holiday Cookies

To be perfectly honest, I don't bake cookies very often. Yes, I am obsessed with French macarons,  but in general when I'm baking I'm much more interested in experimenting with fancy pastries than drop cookies. It's not that I don't like cookies. From oatmeal or chocolate chip to homemade oreos, I honestly can't think of a cookie that I don't like, but with just two of us in the house, I never know what to do with dozens of cookies. Tuiles, on the other hand, I can devour by the dozens.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Comparative Tasting 2012 Chateau Bonnet Beaujolais, Saint-Amour and Moulin-A-Vent

I love side-by-side tasting. Nothing makes similarities and differences more apparent than by tasting wines together.

I'm a big fan of Beaujolais, especially during the holiday season. People rave about the ease of pairing Pinot Noir to lots of different foods, but Gamay is even easier. Low in tannin, happy with fruit, Beaujolais is easy drinking, easy pairing, and if you get one of the 10 established Crus (villages) you can get complexity and quite a tasty wine for a really good value.

Both of these bottles of Beaujolais fit that bill. I drank them over two days to see how they compared to each other and how well they held up. Day one there was tasty fruit, raspberry, strawberry jam, they both drank like simple Pinot Noir. Either bottle would be a welcome addition to a holiday table, and both have the characteristic tutti-fruity quality that is to be expected in Beaujolais. But side-by-side, there were definite differences that I'm certain I would not have picked up on had I tried these one at a time.

They both had similar, if not identical tasting notes, yet side-by-side, I definitely preferred the Moulin-A-Vent. It had just a bit more weight and complexity than the Saint-Amour. Either would pair beautifully with turkey and gravy, yet they both had enough substance to hold up to an herby pork roast, not to mention an assortment of holiday sides. These are pop and pour bottles, neither was as good the second night. Perfect for a Christmas party, they are easy drinking enough to please non-wine drinkers, and interesting enough to serve people with more discerning palates.

Italian Wedding Soup

Meatballs, greens, broth...what's not to love? 

I had my first bowl of Italian Wedding Soup, not surprisingly I guess, at a wedding several years ago. I remember somewhere being told that this soup got it's name by being traditional at weddings to give newlyweds sustenance for their newly wedded bliss (wink, wink) but that story seems to be more urban legend than actual food fact. No matter. Whatever the origin, meatballs and greens in a savory broth just makes for a good meal. And now that winter is here (just 2 weeks until Christmas!) I'm craving comforting, warming and nutritious meals to break up the all party food and beverages I'm consuming.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Ginger Citrus Tea Concentrate

It's that time of year again. Sniffly, sneezy, coughing, cold and flu season. I don't know about you, but with all the craziness of the holiday season it seems like I have to fight off illness at every turn. And when I feel anything coming on, I make a batch of my ginger citrus concentrate.

What makes this gingery, citrusy concoction so wonderful is that it serves so many purposes. Ginger is great for you after all, not only your immune system but your digestive system, and the citrus adds punch and a ton of vitamin C. Served hot, the spiciness of the ginger is extremely soothing on your throat and nasal passages. Served cold, it feels like a health kick tonic.

It all starts, as you would expect, with ginger. Lots of it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2009 Henri Bourgeois Pouilly-Fume La Demoiselle de Bourgeois

Sauvignon Blanc is an easy grape to love, and when it is grown in the Loire Valley of France, it's even better. I'm a big fan of Sancerre (another region in the Loire) and in general, Pouilly-Fume (not to be confused with Pouilly-Fuisse which is Chardonnay from Burgundy) doesn't disappoint.

Tonight's wine is a perfect example.  Yellow in color with a nose of dried apricots, grapefruit and wet rocks, there is nice bright acidity on the palate with hint of smoke and vegetation coming through. Very well balanced, drinking really smoothly, with a long finish and a fuller body than I would've predicted. This is happily enjoyed with dinner or all by itself.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tomato Soup

I have a confession. I really like Campbell's tomato soup. I always have and I suspect I always will. Heat up a can of that tomato goodness and serve it alongside a wonder bread grilled cheese sandwich (of course using American cheese singles, you know, the ones in plastic) and I am a happy girl. It seems like such a contradiction. I'm the girl who makes grilled cheese sandwiches with artisan bread and clothbound cheddar. I'm the girl who avoids pre-made, processed foods whenever possible. I champion made-from-scratch home cooking, and yet, canned tomato soup (and yes, boxed mac & cheese) still make my crave-able list.

2012 Gary Farrell Chardonnay Rochioli-Allen

Chardonnay, especially when made in the United States, was a tough sell for me. I found the overly oaky, buttery styles heavy handed, clumsy, and really out of balance. It's not that I hate oak in white wine, or that I dislike the flavor profile of Chardonnay. I was having a specific negative reaction to the trend towards big and oaky wine that had been the standard in California for years. Fortunately, there are more than a few American winemakers who agree with me and make Chardonnay that I want to drink.

One such producer is Gary Farrell. I fell in love with the winery a few years back when I first visited Sonoma. I find Gary Farrell wines to not only be consistently well-made, but beautiful expressions of the grape with power, big flavor, yet still finesse and balance. It was Gary Farrell that helped me love Russian River Pinots and old vine Zinfandel, and today's Chardonnay is another gorgeous example. Yes, there is oak and a butteriness from the malolactic fermentation, but the wine is still fresh and vibrant. There is stone fruit and apple on the nose with a hint of orange and buttered toast coming through. There is enough acid for structure and a smooth, long finish that keeps you coming back. Really enjoyable today and I bet it'll only get better over the next few years.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Coop

With the success of Cask & Larder, Orlando seemed ready for more Southern cuisine. Enter the folks of 4 Rivers Smokehouse (the BBQ joint that is an obsession for some Orlando residents) and you have The Coop, a casual take on classic Southern comfort food in Winter Park.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

2011 Frei Brothers Zinfandel Reserve

 I was a latecomer to the Zinfandel fan club. There are so many unbalanced, hot, jammy, fruit bombs out there that I didn't feel much love for the grape. Then I started drinking Ridge wines, and my world turned upside down. Finally, Zinfandel that held onto the luscious fruit, but with balance and restraint. From there I started seeking Zins out and my affection for the grape has grown larger and more fervent.

So when I enjoy a bottle like the 2011 Frei Brothers Zinfandel Reserve, I have to share. Here we have a classically styled California Zinfandel, high alcohol, jammy fruit, full bodied, but balanced. Tasty and complex enough that you can drink it by itself (while watching late night tv) or if you want something to enjoy with food. This is definitely a wine to go with meat, from burgers to steak, bbq and more, and at roughly $15 (and easily found in grocery stores), it won't break the bank on a Thursday night.