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ANDREA’S A-LIST JULY 2008 Summer in Napa Valley…The trees in our yard are absolutely laden with plums, peaches, nectarines and figs. The pears are coming next. The kids and I traipse through with our little red wagon and gather all that we can carry and reasonably eat within a day. We arrive back to the kitchen sticky and, in my case, guilty, as I reflect on all the canning and preserves my grandmother used to put up. If only there were time! All this bounty of fruits, and the chance to not just taste but to smell them at their heady peak, got me reflecting on what I call the “Flavor Map.” It’s a concept I introduced in my Great Wine Made Simple book that many readers have told me they resonated with. It certainly helped me when I was studying for my Master Sommelier blind tasting exam. The idea is this: you can think about the fruit flavors in wine across a spectrum, from lean to lush. For example: Lean Lush White wines: Granny Smith Apple Citrus Peach Melon Mango Red wines: Cranberry Currant Berry Plum Fig You can “map” those flavors to climate – for example, apples and cranberries grow best in cool places (think Maine, Washington), while mangos and figs grow in warm places. When you detect the different fruit flavors in wine, it’s a good indicator of the climate where the wine comes from. So when tasting a white, appley flavors suggest a cool climate varietal and source. Same with cranberry/currant flavors in a red. Even when you are not blind tasting, the flavor map is a helpful tool. Let’s say you are choosing between an Oregon (cool climate) Chardonnay and an Australian (warm climate) Chardonnay. The flavor map can help guide you to in terms of what to expect – crisp apple-citrus fruit in the Oregon Chardonnay, more exotic tropical flavors in the Aussie bottling. You can apply the logic of the Flavor Map to grapes you have never tried, too. Let’s say you see an Italian white grape from the north that you’ve never heard of – what will it be like? The fruit flavors will definitely occupy the lean end of the flavor spectrum. One other thing to keep in mind – the leaner the fruit, the lower the likelihood of oakiness. So if you are not a fan of oaky wines, look for cooler climate styles. WAIRAU RIVER SAUVIGNON BLANC, MARLBOROUGH, NEW ZEALAND 2006 Here is a wine to put the idea of the fruit flavor spectrum to the test. Back in the 1980s a wine called Cloudy Bay, now famous, put New Zealand on the wine map with its incredibly distinctive Sauvignon Blanc. It was described in a whole new set of terms previously unused in “winespeak” around the grape more commonly associated with France (the Loire Valley and Bordeaux) and California: gooseberry, passion fruit, green pepper, crushed herbs. The wine also spawned a wave of new producers looking to show the region’s clear potential for distinctive, delicious wines. This is the first of the scores of New Zealand wines I taste every year to achieve comparable distinctiveness and complexity. On the scent it is a meal-in-a-glass, with those herbal and green pepper/jalapeno characteristics making you wonder what the flavor will reveal. But on the palate, it is all gooseberry and passion fruit with hints of lime peel, green papaya and Granny Smith apple. Then, when you pair the wine with an herbal dish the more savory pepper and herb flavors are teased out. Try it with guacamole and you will taste a heightened sense of the cilantro and avocado flavors, along with more tropical fruit intensity. Pair it with an herbed omelet with chives and parsley, and those flavors sing out. Or try this simple, fun pairing for your next dinner party (or movie night, for that matter), and your guests will be tickled with your cleverness as well as thrilled with the pairing. HERBED POPCORN Serves 4-6 ½ cup unpopped popcorn kernels 3 T unsalted butter, kosher salt to taste 1 T each finely chopped fresh rosemary and fresh thyme Air pop the popcorn, in batches if needed (or use 2 bags oil-free popcorn, popped according to package directions – look for Bearitos brand). Drizzle the unsalted butter over the popped corn, tossing as you drizzle to distribute the butter evenly. Immediately sprinkle with the chopped herbs and salt to taste, tossing to combine well. Serve immediately. RUSSIAN HILL TARA VINEYARD PINOT NOIR, RUSSIAN RIVER VALLEY 2005 I am so excited to finally share this wine with you. I had the opportunity to taste it over a year ago at a blind tasting of more than 50 Russian River Valley Pinot Noirs from the 2005 vintage. It was hog heaven for a Pinot lover because the vintage was spectacular – every one of the assembled winemakers, all Pinot Noir rock stars, were practically breathless in describing the quality of 2005 in the Russian River. This is the last of this heady, luscious Pinot, of which only 391 cases were made. With most Pinot wineries having released their 2006s already, I am finding that the extra year in bottle has allowed this one to further harmonize. And it was already seamless and expressive. The scent is ripe and sweet with vanilla and ripe plum, plus a slight savory twang of balsamic, sassafras and hoisin sauce. On the palate it is plump with black cherry fruit and utter silkiness. I must tell you the story of this very simple and amazing pairing. For the Rome episode of our Local Flavor TV show, John and I descended on the gourmet shop Volpetti, a “candy store” for foodies with the most amazing cheeses, charcuterie, wines and other Italian delights that you can imagine. We had purchased pizza bianca – the famous Roman “naked pizza” which is really more like a thin, crispy- chewy foccacia that typically is split and filled with fixings for a sandwich. Our lunch would be a pizza bianca challenge, may the best filling win. Even my winner husband John had to admit that I triumphed hands-down with this contender. You will love it with the wine. I suggest you make it with purchased lavosh-type or naan-type flatbread rather than foccaccia, which in this country is usually pretty thick and kind of gummy. FLATBREAD SANDWICHES WITH BAKED RICOTTA AND FIGS Serves 4 1 lb fresh ricotta Pinch to ¼ tsp sea salt, plus more for baking Unsalted butter 2 large flatbreads (lavosh or naan) Olive oil or olive oil spray, for coating the flatbreads Maldon sea salt or fleur de sel for sprinkling, optional 6 fresh black Mission figs, trimmed and sliced Taste the ricotta and add up to ¼ tsp salt if needed. Transfer to a fine-mesh strainer or colander fitted over a deep bowl. Loosely cover and refrigerate for at least 24 and up to 36 hours. Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Butter the bottom and sides of a small ceramic baking dish. Coat with a thin layer of sea salt. Gently turn the cheese out onto the baking dish without disturbing its form. Sprinkle salt lightly over the surface of the cheese to create a protective layer. Place dish on prepared baking sheet and bake until ricotta becomes a rich nutty brown, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Cool to room temperature. Once the ricotta has cooled, cut the flatbread rounds into quarters and brush with olive oil or spray with olive oil spray on both sides, sprinkle lightly with Maldon salt or fleur de sel, and place on a baking sheet. Heat in a preheated 450º oven until the breads are warm and beginning to crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Slice the ricotta infornata ¼ inch thick and place slices of the cheese on 4 of the flatbread quarters. Top with fig slices, and then the other bread quarters, to form a sandwich. Serve immediately. INSPIRATION VINEYARDS SYRAH, DRY CREEK VALLEY 2006 Each year the arrival of Jon Phillips’ new wine releases is an “event” at our house. We organize a blind tasting of the Inspiration bottling versus some of our other favorite versions of the selected varietal - either Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Syrah. We prepare a meal, suited to the grape, to enjoy after the tasting and unveiling of the wines. For this blind tasting we included great Syrahs from California and Washington, including some past club selections, which showed beautifully. What thrilled us about this wine was the French Rhone-esque hit of black pepper on the nose. Very few New World Syrahs seem to have that characteristic, which is to me one of the notes that defines great Syrah. It also showed complex notes of charcoal and black olive along with the sweet dark berry fruit, coffee and vanilla flavors and scents. It was co-fermented with 3% Viognier – a common practice in the Rhone region of Cote-Rotie to soften the wine and brighten the aroma. As is typical of Jon’s other wines, this one is the perfect balance of Old World complexity and character with New World depth of fruit. It is delicious to drink now, but I believe it will also reward aging of 5-7 years. Taste the bottle now and, if you like it, consider putting some down to drink over the next several years. Here’s an easy recipe to pair with it. ROASTED SHRIMP TACOS Serves 4-6 2 lbs large shrimp ¼ cup plus 2 T good olive oil, divided Kosher salt to taste freshly ground black pepper to taste 1 T fresh thyme leaves 1 T red wine vinegar ½ t Dijon mustard 1 ½ cup loosely packed baby arugula leaves 2 oz Manchego cheese 2 T good quality aged balsamic vinegar 1 dozen 6-inch soft corn tortillas Preheat oven to 400º. Peel and devein the shrimp, removing the tails. Toss them in a bowl with 1 T of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix well, then spread them in one layer on a sheet pan. Roast for 8-10 minutes until just pink and firm and cooked through. Toss with the thyme leaves, then set aside to cool. Meanwhile, whisk together the vinegar, Dijon Mustard and ¼ cup olive oil to make a vinaigrette. Toss the arugula leaves with just enough vinaigrette to lightly coat, reserving the rest for another use. Cut the Manchego cheese into thin shavings with a cheese shaver or sharp knife. To assemble the tacos place some shrimp and arugula leaves into warmed tortillas, and drizzle with a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar. Serve immediately.
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