Happy Moscato Day!

When I was a little kid, everyone got a glass of sparkling wine for celebrations. All the adults would get a glass of champagne, and the kids got tiny cordial glasses filled with moscato d’asti. Fast forward to today, when a liquor delivery truck covered in a giant ad for pink moscato tried to run me right off the Bay Bridge! Moscato has come a long way from those fun family occasions to mega buck in the wine business. What has happened to moscato in all this time? It’s flavored and colored and sweetened beyond what I remember. Let’s take a look at some of the traditional styles of muscat and moscato and the foods that pair with them.


Muscat is thought to be one of the oldest wine grape varieties, and is planted in every major wine country in the world.  The dry style of muscat is commonly grown in Alsace and some regions in Spain. With it’s orange blossom and tropical fruit aromas and crisp finish, dry muscats are a great match for spicy foods or difficult to match Pan-Asian cuisine. I love these wines with Thai green curry shrimp, grilled fish with mango salsa, fish tacos, or Morracan-style chicken made with preserved lemons. Here are some great examples of the dry-style of Muscat:

Muscat


Moscato d’Asti, or any other fizzy moscato, has exploded in popularity. Since 2011, sales have grown by 70+% and show no signs of slowing down. While there are all kinds of flavored moscato or moscato colored red or pink, nothing beats a traditional Moscato d’Asti. With it’s lively aromas of peach and nectarine, gentle bubbles, and softly sweet style, this fizzy wine is a charming and pleasing wine. Many people use this wine as a cocktail, but I enjoy it with many foods. Moscato d’Asti is an awesome match with any fruit and cheese platter. Try it with a grilled pear & blue cheese salad that is dressed with a champagne vinaigrette.  A Waldorf salad with grilled chicken, grapes, and apples is another great match for Moscato. Here are some of my favorite Moscato d’Asti:

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Dessert-style muscats are awesome wines especially for you folks that love chocolate. The rich and aromatic wines from the South of France, Sicily, or Australia are a great way to finish any dinner party with a bang. You can match them up with a blue cheese and fig cake cheese course or even something simple like store-bought pound cake with peach sauce. A chocolate cake soaked in Grand Marnier has a best friend in dessert-style muscat. A warm peach & blackberry cobbler with or without ice cream is another delicious pairing. Here are a couple great examples of a dessert-style muscat:

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As you can see, the centuries old muscat grape is as versatile and fresh as ever. It is more than a pool-side sipper or something the kids drink while at the club. Have this wine throughout the meal, and enjoy it with your favorite summer fare. As they say in Italy “Faciamo brindisi!” with a glass of Moscato!

Food & Wine Fridays: Mother’s Day Brunch

Ok… How many times have you made pancakes for Mom on Mother’s Day? Surprise her this year with sophisticated brunch that pairs up well with wine or mimosas. These dishes are easy to prep ahead to time so that you can enjoy a glass of wine, too!

 

The Croque Madame

The Croque Madame

This variation on the classic Croque Monsieur is a wonderful brunch sandwich. I have simplified it a bit to make it easier to cook for your hungry family. Served with home fries of a light salad and you have a meal fit for the Madame of the house!

Pro Tips: You can make the Mornay Sauce the night before. It’s easier to scoop and spread when chilled. First thing in the morning, prep the sandwiches on a cookie sheet to save yourself some time, then all you need to do is broil them and fry eggs at brunch time. This recipe makes 2 sandwiches, but it multiplies easily to feed a crowd.

For the Mornay Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1Ž4 salt
  • dash of nutmeg
  • 4 ounces grated gruyere cheese (I have also used emmanthaler or white cheddar)

For the sandwiches:

  • 4 slices of good white bread ( The traditional bread is the French pain mie, but I use buttermilk bread or potato bread also)
  • Dijon mustard
  • 3 ounces of thinly sliced deli ham ( I love black forest ham)
  • 2 ounces grated gruyere (or 2 thin slices)
  • 2 large eggs fried sunny side up
  • freshly ground pepper to taste

To make the sauce:

  1. In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour to the butter and whsk well to make a roux.
  2. Cook for a couple of minutes at medium heat to cook out any floury taste, but do not brown.
  3. Whisk in the milk and continue cooking until the sauce can coat the back of a wooden spoon.
  4. Season with salt and nutmeg.
  5. Remove from heat, and whisk in the cheese.
  6. Cool the mixture and keep in the refrigerator over night.

Sandwich assembly:

  1. Heat your oven to broil.
  2. Toast the bread.
  3. On a baking sheet, lay 2 of the slices of bread and spread a thin layer of the mustard.
  4. On each slice of bread with 1.5 ounces of the ham, 1/4 cup of the mornay sauce, and 1 ounce of the grated cheese.
  5. Top each sandwich with the remaining slice of bread and then 1/4 of mornay sauce.
  6. Broil the sandwiches until they are golden brown and delicious.
  7. Place the sandwich on a plate, top with a fried egg, and season with the pepper. Stand back and watch your favorite Madame say, “oooh, la, la!”

Wines to go with:



Shrimp and Asparagus Omelet with Avocado

Shrimp and Asparagus Omelet with Avocado

This a super omelet with an easy “make ahead” filling. The avocado adds the lush richness of a hollandaise sauce without the trauma of trying to make it.

Pro tips: Remember, asparagus is a basically a flower. The tightest and most closed spears are the freshest.

For each omelet you will need:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 6-8 u 25 shrimp
  • 4-5 asparagus spears cut in pieces
  • 1/3 of an avocado sliced
  • butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

The night before, blanch the asparagus in salted water and drop into ice water bath to stop the cooking. Drain and store in the fridge. Blanch the shrimp until they just turn pink in a mix of water, white wine, a couple lemon slices, and salt and pepper. Drop them in an ice water bath to stop the cooking and store in the fridge.

The next day, in a pan with butter, heat up the shrimp and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk 3 eggs in a bowl with a tablespoon of water to keep them loose. Heat a sauté or omelet pan on medium, and add a pat of butter to the pan. When the butter is melted and foamy, add the eggs. Keep them moving in the pan to create a nice round base. To the side of the pan opposite from the handle, add your filling. Hold the handle firmly and tip the omelet onto the plate flipping the empty half over the filling. Garnish the top of the omelet with a shrimp, slice of avocado, and an asparagus spear. This is also a great dinner omelet!

 

Wines to go with:

 

Tartrates in Wine

The definition of a tartrate (according to dictionary.com) is, “a salt or ester of tartaric acid.” But in the wine world, we know tartrates as “those little pieces at the bottom of your bottle that look like glass shards.”

tartrates2For those not familiar with tartrate crystals, seeing them at the bottom of your wine bottle or wine glass could cause alarm. But not to fret, tartrate crystals are a natural occurring substance in some wines and are totally harmless.

How do tartrate crystals form?
When tartaric acid and potassium combine under very cold temperatures, they create a compound known as potassium bitartrate, which is basically a salt. Typically this happens during fermentation and the crystals attach themselves to the fermentation vessel walls, not in the wine.  But in some wines, more complex ones, the crystals may form at a later state, such as in the wine bottle.

Do all wines have tartrates?
Nope. There is a method called “cold stabilization” that can separates the tartrates from the wine and then the wine is filtered to remove them. Actually, higher end wines are more likely to have tartrates since many are not fined or filtered in order to preserve the nuances and complexity of the wine. Though they are found in both red and white wines, they are typically more noticeable  in white wines.

So what do I do with them? 
Most tartrates settle to the bottom of the bottle, so unless you have the last glass, you’re unlikely to get any. But you can certainly pour the wine through a fine mesh sieve to remove them should they be nuisance. Otherwise, put them to good use as salt on your meal :)

 

New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc and Center Stage

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For 50 years, the wine industry has been bringing Sauvignon Blanc to the world as one of the best food wines one can serve. A very distinctive varietal, with historical roots that go deep into the Bordeaux and Loire Valley, Sauvignon Blanc was always meant to go with food. Oysters, mussels, crab and other joys for the sea are just so much better when this match is brought out to the dining room. What makes this wine so enjoyable?

While other varietals are often served due to their easy-drinking style, Sauvignon Blanc demands food service. Why? One word: acidity. Sauvignon Blanc is an aromatic variety. It is also high in acid. What does acid do? Makes our mouth water of course. Therefore, matching that acidity with food is the most ideal way to bring out the undertones and other nuances of Sauvignon Blanc. The meal does not have be fancy, it just as to be good. Classic matches such as linguine with clams, raw oysters on the half-shell and grilled mussels are always a hit with most anyone who enjoys food and wine together. Over the past 2 decades, Sauvignon Blanc has taken center stage, and no where has claimed the grape so uniquely as New Zealand. Grapefruit and grass, gooseberry and green pepper, an array of aromatics jump out of your glass.

Over the last decade, I have found a treasure trove of pleasure that the Kiwis have happily sent into the marketplace and now drink these wines on a daily basis. While I still long for Sauvignon Blanc from France, Chile and the USA, I am incredibly grateful that New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are so available to wine lovers everywhere. One of my current favorites is the 2014 Cloudy Bay; it is a super standout!

So pick up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc today, on #SauvignonBlancDay and enjoy!

Malbec: Did I find God in the vineyards?

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Did I find God in the vineyards? That must have happened because I can’t even explain it normal terms. On January 16, 2012, in a little town called La Consulta, my colleagues (Thane, Neil, Peter, Brett) and I tasted something magical. We flew in from the US on a Tour de Argentina and Chile to meet with some of those countries’ superstar winemakers. But no moment of this trip was greater than the time with we spent with Karim Mussi Saffie, Proprietor and Winemaker of Altocedro in La Consulta, Mendoza. The plan was to check out the winery, the vineyards, taste wines, eat food and drink, but what transpired was more than we had expected.

It began innocently enough, I had already spent many quality moments with Karim in previous (both in the United States and in Argentina) we even rode horses together once in the Andes. Now we were here. At one moment, Karim was looking at me with his intricate and sometimes devilish grin. I had no idea what he was up to but knew he was super excited to pour this wine for me. I was just taking notes and photographing everything in sight. Then he served it: The 2009 Altocedro Gran Reserva Malbec. My brain spun into another space and time. I found myself in a corridor of Bordeaux varieties. Where was I? In the Médoc, the Napa Valley, Walla Walla Washington? The wine’s intense dark fruits and sweet earth took Malbec to another level. When I came back, I just saw Karim grinning from ear to ear. This is only an example of where a good Malbec can take you.

Where is Malbec going? For decades it was known mostly as the grape from Cahors. More learned wine folks also knew the grape from the Southwest of France, where it is called, Côt. But as the world spins, most consumers saw Malbec as that “value” red wine from Argentina. If one just needed a Cabernet-like wine in the $10 to $20 range, Argentina Malbec was the answer. But somewhere in the night the grape was screaming, “There is more to my existence than being the wine at cocktail parties and barbecues.” Yes, in addition to being a great value red wine, Malbec has scaled the mountain to become one of the world’s great varietals.  It takes the Bordeaux blends from the region to a new level, producing wine that is complex and balanced. Age-worthy? Definitely – just check out an older vintage from Catena.  Malbec has spoken. Enjoy it’s possibilities and most definitely taste the 2013 Altocedro Año Cero Malbec and get a glimpse of the Mussi magic!

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