ANDREA’S A-LIST SEPTEMBER 2008 September in Napa has been a mixed-up month of very cool days interspersed with scorching heat spikes that confuse the heck out of the vines and the vintners (as well as make it hard for us to find a safe window for shipping wine). For Napa’s signature reds, it is a bit of a harrowing harvest for many growers due to the dynamic temperatures now, and the lead-up conditions from spring. Frosts in March and April reduced yields 10% or more in some vineyards, and rainfall was down, at a time when a lot of water sources needed for late-season irrigation were depleted during the frosty nights of spring when sprinklers are used to protect the emerging buds from the cold. The impact on quality is yet to be determined – some producers are saying things look great because, while the frost reduced their vineyards’ yields, the resulting smaller berries and clusters are giving great flavor and concentration. I’ll keep you posted! A new page…As June saw the passing of the great Robert Mondavi, 2008 also marks the launch of his family’s legacy wines. As you may know, after the Robert Mondavi Winery went public, Wall Street profitability pressures created personal and professional challenges for the family members that ultimately proved too difficult to overcome, resulting in the sale of the winery and its brands to Constellation, a giant winery conglomerate. Robert’s two sons pursued their own paths, and this year both have launched a signature wine. M by Michael Mondavi ($199) is a 100% Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine from his Animo Vineyard in the lesser-known Atlas Peak subdistrict of the Napa Valley. Michael’s brother Tim, his children, his sister Marcia Mondavi Borger, and Robert’s wife Margrit, have launched Continuum ($125), a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from a long-owned family vineyard in Oakville. Both inaugural releases are from the awesome 2005 vintage. Both brothers seem to describe their wines in almost anti-cult Cab terms – in other words, they are going for structure and longevity rather than massive oak, alcohol and fruit density. It will be interesting to see where the wines go. As Robert would say, ―This is just the beginning.‖ For this month and next, I have really focused on wines that I think would be great for the Thanksgiving feast coming up. Therefore, you may want to taste them soon so that there is time to re-order any that will make the cut for your gathering. It’s one of my favorite meals of the year! PROTERO GUMERACHA CHARDONNAY, ADELAIDE HILLS, AUSTRALIA 2005 Elegance and minerality are attributes most professional tasters associate with so-called ―old world‖ (European) wines; and vibrantly ripe fruit is associated more with the new world. This wine expertly and elegantly fuses both profiles. Increasingly, that is what I am looking for in the wines I choose for the A-List, because it is a style that rewards current drinking, as well as cellaring. Protero is named for the geology of this vineyard’s soils, from the billions-of-years-ago Proterozoic period, when cellular life first began. The vintners’ objective is to shepherd the characteristics of this ancient dirt into the bottle, while showcasing the vivid and lipsmacking fruit quality of which Chardonnay is capable when grown in the sunny, yet relatively cool, Adelaide Hills district of South Australia. And so the wine delivers a bracing chalky mineral note in the scent and finish, book-ending a burst of peach and melon fruit, shot through with frisky acidity that stretches the flavors into a long finish, and portends the wine’s ability to improve in the cellar over five years or so. This is one of those great bottles that will bring you back to Chardonnay. SMOKED SALMON PASTA WITH PINE NUTS 2 T pine nuts 2 T unsalted butter 2 T shallots, finely minced 1 lb angel hair pasta 4 oz smoked salmon, diced 6 oz ricotta cheese 2 T fresh lemon juice 2 T chopped fresh chives, plus extra for garnish 2 oz grated Parmesan Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper Heat a large stockpot of water to boiling for the pasta. Meanwhile, in a heavy skillet on medium high, toast the pine nuts, shaking the pan frequently, until golden brown. Remove from the heat and set aside. Return the skillet to the heat and add the butter. When it foams, reduce the heat to medium-low, add the shallots and cook, stirring until soft and beginning to brown. Meanwhile, liberally salt the pasta water and add the pasta, cooking according to package directions. Chop the pine nuts fine. When the pasta is cooked, use tongs to add it to the skillet with the shallots. Turn the heat to low and add the salmon, ricotta, lemon juice, chives, Parmesan, pine nuts, salt and pepper to taste. Toss with tongs to combine all of the ingredients. Serve immediately. Serves 4 DUTTON-GOLDFIELD DUTTON RANCH PINOT NOIR, RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY 2006 We talk of terroir – that untranslatable-from-the-French word that refers to the expression of a wine’s birthplace (its vineyard) in the wine itself. I believe in many cases that true terroir is also an expression of a wine’s parentage, meaning the people who have spent the time coming to understand their vineyards and the vines in them, just as deeply attentive mothers and fathers come to understand and then to nurture as best they can the uniqueness of their children. This wine possesses the 3-way signature of vineyard owner Steve Dutton, Pinot Noir winemaker-extraordinaire Dan Goldfield, and the vineyard itself. Steve is an unassuming, salt-of-the-earth grape farmer whose fruit finds its way into countless famous Pinots (and Chardonnays) produced by others. When he says his and Dan’s goal is to make a wine they’d enjoy drinking at their dinner tables, you can picture either of them dishing up an unassuming roast chicken, in their jeans, maybe even eating at the kitchen table. Save for the incredible price for what you get, all the seriousness and finery around this wine are in the bottle. Dan Goldfield knows this terroir so intimately, and clearly adores it the way one might appreciate the natural beauty of the fresh-faced girl-next-door to the surface sex-appeal of the beauty queen. When I first tasted it blind, in a huge lineup of other 2006 Russian River Pinots, I loved the fact that it had a sort of split personality. The exuberant cherry and cranberry fruit that burst forth in the bouquet and the flavor made the wine immediately embraceable. Yet as the layers unfolded I found tasting the wine to be like peeling an onion, with something new to discover under each subsequent layer – cardamom spice, soft hints of coffee, a zing of rhubarb, and some ruby red grapefruit notes, then back to a richer dark berry fruit and a textural lushness associated with more opulent styles of Pinot. I am confident this will continue to evolve and delight for 5-7 years in the cellar, so I am picking up some extra to enjoy in the years to come. PLANK-COOKED SALMON Serves 4-6 Special equipment: one cedar cooking plank (sold in hardware and some housewares stores) 1 ½ pounds center-cut salmon fillet, 1 inch thick, skin removed Extra virgin olive oil Salt and pepper ½ tsp finely grated orange peel (grated on a microplane, orange part only) 2 cloves garlic, minced ½ cup chopped fresh oregano, basil, parsley, or a combination Soak the cedar plank in water to cover for 30 minutes. Preheat a grill to medium-high. Coat salmon fillet lightly in oil on both sides, then season both sides liberally with salt and pepper. Put the fillet skin-side down on the cooking plank, and spread the orange peel evenly over the fillet. Sprinkle on the garlic and fresh herbs. Place the plank on the grill and, as soon as it begins to smolder, reduce the grill’s heat to medium and close the cover. Cook salmon with the cover closed until done, approximately 10 minutes for 1-inch thick fillets, medium rare. GOOSECROSS SYRAH, NAPA 2005 I relate intimately to the inspiration behind this label. Our vineyard, too, is in the flight path of thousands of Canadian geese, which stop to rest and refuel in and around our irrigation pond all throughout the fall migratory season. Are they headed to winter in sunny San Diego? Or maybe they press on to the exotic rusticity of Cabo (take me with ya!). Their arrival ushers in the season for big reds and lusty, comforting meals. This Syrah is a dandy way to kick it off—great price, plus big and bold flavors that are like a bear-hug for your palate. As I’ve said before, 2005 was a near-perfect vintage for Napa. This is one of those rare California Syrahs whose enveloping, luscious boysenberry and licorice flavors are interwoven with the smoke and tarry qualities that make the grape a standout as a stand-alone, and that distinguish the California Syrah style from those of France’s Rhone Valley, and Australia’s top Shiraz districts (Barossa, McLaren Vale). I’ve been on a pizza kick lately. Using store-bought flatbread, fresh-made toppings, and unique cheeses, this to me is comfort food that’s also fast. Happy autumn! BROCCOLI RABE & OLIVE PIZZA Serves 4 1 head broccoli rabe, trimmed and sliced at 1-inch intervals Kosher salt 1 pkg store-bought flatbreads (either individual pitas, larger naan, or lavosh-style bread) Extra-virgin olive oil ¼ cup pitted, chopped Kalamata olives 4 oz mild aged goat cheese such as Spanish Nevat, Italian Tuma di Paja, Coach Farm aged sticks or Laura Chenel aged crottin Freshly ground black pepper, if desired Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a large pot of water to boiling for the broccoli rabe. Liberally salt the water and add the broccoli rabe. Return to a boil and boil for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, place flatbread(s) on a cookie sheet and brush with extra virgin olive oil. Drain the broccoli rabe in the colander insert of a salad spinner, and spin dry, emptying the spinner bowl of liquid as needed, until no more liquid collects. Set aside. Scatter the olives over the flatbread(s). Press the broccoli rabe firmly with the back of a spatula, or squeeze with your hands, to remove any remaining moisture. Distribute the broccoli rabe among the flatbread(s) and sprinkle with additional extra virgin olive oil. Slice the cheese very thinly and distribute uniformly over the broccoli rabe. Season the pizzas with freshly ground black pepper if desired, and place in the oven. Bake until the pizzas are warmed through, cheese is melted and the edges of the flatbreads are crispy. If you prefer a crisper crust, use 2 spatulas to carefully place the flatbreads directly on the oven rack for baking. The baking will take about 10-15 minutes total.
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