White Wines From The Old World And New

Growing season in Southern California is year round, but some vegetables susceptible to chill start dying off in the fall. My next-to-last harvest of eggplants and tomatoes included heirloom varieties of white and yellow eggplant (White Beauty and Thai Yellow Egg) from Hirt's Gardens seed company. Browse the Hirt's website for unusual varieties of vegetables, fruits and flowers--like these miniature Mexican watermelons that are only 1-2" at maturity and the fractal-like Romanesco broccoli.

An invitation to a dinner party spurred me to whip up this appetizer with eggplant, tomato, garlic and cilantro from my garden:
3 cups eggplant (about one large globe or a half dozen Japanese eggplant)
2 cups ripe tomato (about one giant heirloom or 7 Roma tomatoes)
4 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. basil
spray olive oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup minced cilantro
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/4 cup pistachio nuts
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil a pot of water and pop the tomatoes in for a minute or just until the skin bursts, remove, cool, seed and slice them. Peel and coarsely chop the garlic--not too small so the pieces do not crisp in the roasting process. Peel and cut the eggplants into bite sized pieces and lightly salt them. Spray a baking pan with olive oil and spread the tomato slices and eggplant on the bottom. Press the garlic into the tomatoes and spray the top well with olive oil. Sprinkle the basil leaves on top. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the tomato is soft. Stir the vegetables together and bake another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the eggplant is soft and the juice from the tomato absorbed, remove from the oven to your serving dish. Stir in the olive oil, cilantro, lemon, pistachio nuts and pepper. Wait to add salt to taste, as it may not be necessary.

Serve with pita wedges, a soft cheese like Brie or Fontina, and a crisp, refreshing glass of the 2008 Carmichael "Grigio e Bianco" Pinot Grigio or 2009 Rex Hill Pinot Gris--both available from Touring and Tasting for purchase with FREE shipping on or before Nov. 3rd.

Thanksgiving Wine Pairing 101
This is the first in a four part series:  
What To Pour With Your Thanksgiving Feast
  1. Today: Light And Crisp White Wines
  2. Nov. 4: Fruity And Medium Bodied Red Wines
  3. Nov 11: Oaked Or Full Bodied White Wines
  4. Nov 18: Rich And Powerful Red Wines

For perfect Thanksgiving wines, there are some easy guidelines, backed by science and years of tradition. However, your own taste and preference takes precedence--if you prefer Cabernet Sauvignon with turkey or Chardonnay with everything, then your taste buds rule!
Here are some basic guidelines:
  • Balance oils and butter fat with acidity--heavy gravies and sauces rich with butter and oil will be overwhelming with a viscous, buttery-tasting wine liked oaked Chardonnay that has gone through malolactic fermentation. The wines in our free shipping special were chosen to have crisp acidity to balance heavy food.
  • Match the texture and intensity--light and medium bodied wines go well with lighter meats, such a turkey or fish, a bold red wine would overpower the lighter foods, for example, a powerful Zinfandel overpowers delicate foods but finds its match in spicy bbq ribs. The texture of a wine matters: the mouth-feel and weight should complement the food. Medium-bodied whites such as this week's wine special will do well with soups, vegetables, rolls and turkey.
  • Look for complementary flavors--just as one squeezes a bit of lemon on fish, a crisp wine with a lemony zing will refresh your palate between bites. The slight saltiness of ham will be balanced with a wine with fruit forward taste like the Challenger Ridge Viognier.
  • Avoid known mis-matches--the science behind taste has discovered the chemical compounds behind flavors. For example, limonene in creates a citrus flavor. So, knowing some science can help us avoid some bad matches: iodine in fish reacts with tannins in red wine to give an unpleasant metallic taste. Artichokes contain cynarin that makes a wine paired with it taste cloyingly sweet, unless they are cooked in a deep-fryer, which neutralizes the cynarin--a good reason to pair them with a robust, tannic Sangiovese. Other traditionally avoided pairings are dry wines with very sweet foods which will make them taste bitter, herbal or grassy wines like Sauvignon Blanc with red meats, and Cabernet Sauvignon with white meats.
Good wine pairings with Pinot Grigio: pastas with cream sauce, crabcakes, prosciutto and melon, smoked salmon, hazelnuts, cream of vegetable soup, risotto, or scalloped potatoes or vegetables, turkey.

Good wine pairings with Viognier: chicken and turkey, grilled fish, apple salad, dishes with cinnamon.


The Gentrification of The Land And How Exports Shape Rural America

Photo George Naylor --Farm Bill Basic

In the 1980s, a crisis hit farmers hard. A loosening of export policies in the '70s allowed huge grain exports to the hungry Soviet Union, jacking up commodity prices. Removal of restrictions on lending by our Federal Land Bank led to a boom in farmland prices and ballooning debt. Like the speculative real estate boom prior to the mortgage crisis we face today, farmland in the '80s experienced a bubble, which popped when the oil embargo sent interest rates soaring into the double digits. Family farms, some held for generations, had to go on the auction block as families across the Midwest declared bankruptcy.

Domestic and alcohol abuse and suicide rates jumped and some farmers broke under the pressure. In Iowa a farmer killed his banker and wife, then himself. In Minnesota a farmer and his son killed two bankers. Small towns in rural areas went into decline as the population moved away to find employment; many never recovered and now are ghost towns.

I was thinking of this as I took the drive from Santa Barbara north to Monterey along Highway 101 last weekend. I spent a great deal of time driving this route in the '90s to Paso Robles. After the cluster of Andersen's Pea Soup, hotels and gas stations at the junction with Highway 246, there was a seemingly endless drive through brown rolling hills devoid of anything except a few native coastal oaks and some cattle in widely spaced fenced pasture. It was a two color, two hour drive--just brown land and blue sky, except for two or three brief months when the former turned green with spring rains.

Star Lane Vineyard, Santa Ynez
Two decades later, the land looks positively pastoral. Green blocks of grapevines rake across the hills, festooned with sparkly strips to shoo the birds from the fruit. Winery signs punctuate the edges, and grand establishments can be glimpsed among hills, now verdant year round. We witnessed the same in our trip to the Willamette Valley where the transformation is even more noticeable. Old, worn stores and restaurants with their paste-on letter signs missing parts of words and light-up marquees, ringed now with only a few working bulbs, are cheek-by-jowl with shiny glass, brushed concrete and steel restaurants, bakeries and gourmet cheese shops.

What has happened is stupendous in its implications for rural areas: in 1995, there were only 944 wineries in California, now there are nearly 3000. In Oregon, there were 71 in 1990 and over 400 today.
Read through the biographical information on winery owners and you'll find individuals successful in other careers who had the big bucks necessary to establish their own winery: actors like Fess Parker, lawyers like Bob Hartenberger of Midnight Cellars, corporate executives like Lisa Pretty of Pretty-Smith or bankers like Selim Zilkha of Laetitia. With wineries has come a welcome infusion of capital into rural areas, as wineries need a support system: hotels for tasting room aficionados, gourmet restaurants, vineyard and winery employees, winemaking supply companies, schools for the children of the new residents, internet service...the list goes on and on. The business of wine has revitalized rural areas and given winemaking states a huge economic boost. Exports have played an enormous part of this growth. In 1995, the U.S.A. exported about 143 million liters of wine overseas, in 2009 over 413 million liters were exported. The economic impact on California by the wine business is estimated to be over $51 billion and over $103 billion on the US economy. So, the next time you enjoy your glass of wine, give a toast to yourself for helping to boost our rural areas and contribute to American jobs!

This week's wine pairing recipe!
2 lbs. beef fillet or top rump roast
Salt and pepper
1 lbs. frozen puff pastry
4 Tbsp. semolina flour
2 egg yolks + 2 Tbsp. warm water
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. garlic powder or 2 cloves of garlic, diced fine
2 Tbsp. powdered thyme
Dijon mustard or horseradish sauce, as condiment

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sprinkle the beef on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan and sear the meat on all sides. Transfer to a baking pan and put into the oven for 10 minutes for medium rare, 20 minutes for medium, 30 minutes for medium-well or 40 minutes for well-done. If you like your meat rare, don’t put it into the oven and skip this step. When roasted to the desired doneness, remove from the oven. Let the meat sit and cool for several minutes.

In the meantime, set out the puff pastry to thaw. Stir the egg yolk and water in a small bowl. Mix the garlic, semolina flour and thyme together and rub all over the meat. Roll out the puff pastry to about 1/4" thickness. Lay the beef on top and drape the puff pastry around it, brushing egg yolk on the "seams" so the pastry will seal and cutting off excess with a sharp knife. Try and get the main seam under the beef, and tuck the ends underneath. You can use a cookie cutter to make decorative shapes with the remaining pastry--attaching with some egg yolk. Brush all over with the egg yolk mixture, and return to the baking pan and oven to bake for 30 minutes or until pastry is golden brown.

Let the beef sit for 10 minutes after removing from the oven before slicing and serving. Serves 4. Pair with a powerful California Cabernet Sauvignon.


Old MacDonald at Bandon Dunes, Oregon

Lodge with Bandon Dunes Course behind, then the ocean.
Part of the 32 acre practice area
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort opened in 1998 on the spectacular, wild coast of Southern Oregon after the Scotsman David McLay Kidd spent three years getting to know the land and designing the first course, Bandon Dunes. Pacific Dunes, designed by Michigan architect Tom Doak opened in 2001, and four years later was named the best golf course in the U.S. by Golfweek Magazine, putting it ahead of Pebble Beach. Now, there are four unique 18 hole courses, with the inland Bandon Trails added in 2005 and Old MacDonald in 2010, which is rated #10 out of the top 100 courses by golf.com, plus a two enormous driving range with unlimited balls for guests, a six hole practice course and apparently another course under development. The resort is lovely and treads lightly on the land with wildlife in abundance. We were looking for Fred, the porcupine we heard lived outside our porch, but only saw many sweet-faced deer grazing just steps from the door and on the fringes of the courses.

We played Bandon Trails the first day, the employees' favorite and the only one not on the water, though we did get some ocean views. It's more protected and proved to be an excellent choice on the first day when there was wind for the other three courses. The first photo is a look at the carry on one of the men's tees--the triangle in the center of the photo is the fairway and green.

Hole 7 has a nasty elevated green, with sloping sides on all sides, this side shows a deep bunker waiting to snare any balls that don't land within the green's small center. I had a bad time and took an 8 here.
I think this was hole 10 where my tee shot landed to the right of the fairway and this was my view to the pin which you can barely see on the right side of the green. Of course, I managed to get in the sand but luckily managed to chip out and onto the green. At this point I already had sand in my shoes and hair, so was getting used to it!
Looking back from the 18th green, ocean in distance.

Old MacDonald was my first experience playing links golf and I loved it! The fairways are hard and tight and the balls roll forever. The greens are almost indistinguishable, just mowed a bit shorter. The wide fairways are deceptive in that the course looks easy, but it is laced with bunkers that are either incredibly deep (often 10 ft. high on the greens side) or impossibly huge. Also, the greens are enormous and undulate. Our wonderful caddie Shane said that they hid elephants under the greens and they do look that way--with enormous bulges and ridges and valleys.
 I was at the lip of this bunker from hell and tried to chip up to the green (pin just out of the shot on the right) but flubbed and ended up in the sand again and couldn't get out. I was so nervous on the front 9 of this course due to being paired up with some big shot golf course owner that I just picked up my ball on this hole so I wouldn't slow down the pace of play.
Hole #5--Paul hits a smooth wedge shot on this par 3 and gets a hole-in-one! His first in 40+ years of playing golf. A great achievement on a beautiful course on a day with perfect weather. A day to remember!

 A great view just before making the turn--not a bad place to get a lemonade and soak in the scenery.

This was one of my few triumphs--it doesn't look so steep, but this was an uphill hole with two bunkers and I managed to get into both of them. My tee shot went into the first, I hit it into the second, somehow managed to chip it up to the green and had one putt for a par 4!

Thanks to awesome and encouraging caddie Shane, I managed to loosen up and start hitting the ball better on the back 9. On 18, he handed me my hybrid which I swore never to use again, and essentially said "trust me!" I hit two good fairway shots with it and made a long putt to make par!
If we're fortunate enough to return to Bandon Dunes Resort, the next time we'll play Pacific Dunes and Bandon Dunes courses. By the way, the food is excellent at all the of the venues and the sweet potato fries are the best I've had anywhere.


On The Great Oregon Wine Trail

Sunrise over Willamette Valley from Black Walnut Inn


I'm playing hooky again from the Culinary School wine class, visiting Oregon to help find unique, artisanal wines for the Touring and Tasting wine clubs. Well, truth be told, it's more "r and r" with wine tasting, golf and Shakespeare, but we're getting a brief look at the terroir of Oregon and getting to sample some nice wines. Perhaps our visit can help you plan a wine country trip to the area. The photo at left is taken from the balcony of the very plush Black Walnut Inn, that sits on top of the Dundee Hills with a panoramic view of the Willamette Valley.

The Oregon Wine Board has a comprehensive site packed with information. If you look at their map, you'll see the four main viticultural areas:
  • Willamette Valley,
  • Eastern Oregon 
  • Southern Oregon
  • Columbia Gorge
Fine Oregon wines are finding international recognition, particularly Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley, which is of the same latitude as France's Burgundy, with the cool growing season needed for the temperamental grapes. Thin-skinned grapes, Pinot Noir, and its "cousin" Pinot Gris, are  prone to mildew, rot and disease. It takes a brave vineyard manager to grow them, but the rewards are gratifying. Black Walnut Inn's 2007 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir is a good example, with aromas of violets and roses and a ripe cherry flavor. The Dundee Hills AVA lies at the heart of Willamette Valley and is the result of basalt lava flows in the Miocene. The red "Jory"soil is brick-red, silty, clay loam and produces brillant, structured wines with good minerality. The terroir is also expressed well in the Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards wines.

Exploring Wine* states: "Pinot Noir is a very finicky grape that defies definition when it comes to style and expectation in the finished wine. Pinot Noir celebrates both its sense of place and the human touch; depending on where it is grown and who is growing it, this varietal may produce a wine very unlike its nearest neighbor or the most distant vineyard".  A tasting at Trisaetum, in the neighboring Ribbon Ridge AVA, proves the above assertion by producing Pinot Noirs in a completely different style, not only from its neighbor, but from the different blocks of its Estate vineyards.

We had a lovely time with Margie Olson, owner of Torii Mor Winery, along with her husband Donald. Their vineyard is perfectly situated on the south side of the Dundee Hills, with great sun exposure and breezes, and thick Jory soil sitting on basalt--the grape roots reach 30 feet and more down into the bedrock for a nice minerality. Besides great terroir, they have artesian water (some of which they bottle), a panoramic view of the valley and Mt. Hood beyond and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) GOLD Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. A little bit of paradise on earth! In addition to brillant Pinot Noirs, Torii Mor also produces Pinot Gris, Syrah, Viognier, a Rhone blend and a port. Margie had just returned from a very successful trip to Las Vegas where their wines were placed in many restaurants, including the Bellagio.

We also enjoyed the view and terrific wines at Winderlea Vineyard and Winery with one of the owners, Donna Morris. Their sustainably built winery is familiar from Sunset Magazine and their wide-open balcony was crowded with noisy customers enjoying their wine tastings. Winderlea Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays can sell out quickly, understandable given their character and finesse.

2010 has been a difficult vintage in Willamette with a cloudy summer and cool temperatures. We heard that vineyards had to be aggressively farmed this year, with both grapes and leaves thinned to allow the remaining grapes more sun to aid in ripening. Grapes in most vineyards are not pulled yet as the sugar level is not quite up and showers are forecast starting tomorrow. You can almost feel the tension in the winemaking community as they hope for one last spell of sunshine so they can bring in their grapes before the real rains begin. The bright spot is that the flavor of the grapes has already developed--we had a taste of them off the vine--so this 2010 vintage may be stellar, despite the anxious wait for harvest.

You can enjoy this tasty treat at the lovely Brookside Inn centrally located in the wine country of Willamette Valley, surrounded with acres of waterfalls and gardens, or make it at home and enjoy it with a chilled glass of the 2009 Rex Hill Pinot Gris.
4 Tbsp. butter, in two parts
1 bunch scallions, chopped
1 -2 ears fresh sweet corn on the cob (or 3/4 cup frozen)
3 cups water
3/4 cup course ground corn meal
4 oz. goat cheese
3 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence, in two parts
4 Tbsp. sour cream
8 eggs
8 slices cured salmon
The night before, brown the corn, scallions and 2 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence in 2 Tbsp. of butter. Set aside. Put 3 cups water in a pot and bring to a low boil and slowly whisk in the corn meal. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Stir in the corn/scallion mixture and the goat cheese. Spoon into 8 individual tart pans and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning:
Remove the polenta cakes from refrigerator and allow to warm to room temperature. Melt the other  2 Tbsp. of butter in heavy skillet on medium heat and brown the cakes in the butter.
Serve topped with a poached egg, cured salmon and a sour cream garnish. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 Tbsp. Herbs de Provence. Serves 8.
* Culinary School class text: Steven Kolpan, Brian H. Smith and Michael A. Weiss, "Exploring Wine" Third Edition, (The Culinary Institute of America).