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A Beer-Themed Lunch

MusselsThe name of the place is Esquin Wine Merchants, but we do love (and sell) some good beer as well. I recently attended a beer-themed lunch (can’t tell you how much I enjoyed typing “beer-themed lunch”) at Quinn’s that recharged my passion for beer and, delightfully, introduced to some unexpectedly excellent beer and food pairings.

As a wine guy, my brain has been programmed to think Muscadet whenever mussels are involved. It’s not a bad thought–especially when Pepiere is involved–but I was really surprised by how well one of the beers paired with mussels. I figured it would be the lightest-style beer (the lager or the Hefeweisen) but the mussels turned out to be sensational with the Orval Trappist Ale.

Duck TerrineAnother great pairing was the Samuel Smith Organic Cider with the Duck Terrine. The sweetness and acidity of the cider was a nice counterpoint to the richness of the terrine; duck is a meat that really lends itself to having a fruit component added. In this case, in liquid form.

Veal BreastThis veal was served with a trio of beers (Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, their Oatmeal Stout, and the Ayinger Celebrator Bock) that were all complimentary with the dish. Definitely a heartier beer was in store for this very rich meat; I’d have to say the Stout and Bock were better by a hair.

Apricot TartFinally desert: an apricot and apple tart. It was served with the Lindemans Framboise, which I have to admit I find too sweet. But the tartness of the fruit seemed to tame the sweetness a bit and bring out the acidity of the Lindemans.

I left Quinn’s very full, and full of respect for how well beer can pair with great food. Am I giving up my Muscadet anytime soon? Um, no. Never! (In fact, I’ve got a bottle in my fridge right now.) But I was reminded that the world of beer has many of the qualities that make wine so compelling. There’s a rich history, full of great stories. And it’s delicious.

Full disclosure: Lunch was provided by the distributor and importer.

Exploring Virgina Wine Country

Afton Mountain VineyardsI recently attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA and a highlight was visiting the lovely wineries of Nelson County, with the Blue Ridge Mountains as a backdrop. I had no idea what to expect as far as the wines were concerned, and was thrilled to discover something that they already know in Virgina: there is some really good wine being made there. Here are a few of my favorites from my all-too-brief afternoon in the wine country:

Flying FoxPetit Verdot? From Virginia? Whaaaa? Yup. We started our day at Flying Fox Vineyard and, after a couple of (unoaked and refreshing) Viogniers, dove into a vertical of Petit Verdot: 2006, 2007, and 2008. I was so impressed with the 2006 that I ended up bringing a bottle home with me. The tannins had really smoothed out and and it was drinking beautifully.

Well-aged Virginia CabernetProbably the coolest, most unexpected wine came courtesy of the generous, affable Tim Gorman, winemaker at Cardinal Point Winery. How about a 1993 Virginia Cabernet? More than just a curiosity, it was a very tasty, well-aged Cab. Minty. Mellow. Yum.

Tim Gorman of Cardinal Point WineryTim’s a really cool guy. Animated, passionate, and humorous, he poured for us one of my Wines of The Trip: The 2009 Clay Hill Cabernet Franc. Fantastic! Would have loved to try this wine with a nice chill on it. (Especially considering it was 100 degrees in Charlottesville. With soul-crushing humidity, too.) Why didn’t I buy one? (Commence hand-wringing regret.)

One last shout-out to the vintage sparkling wine from Afton Mountain Vineyards. (Just checked out their website and dig their motto: “Grapes don’t grow in ugly places.” The photo at the top of this post is from my visit to Afton Mountain; I trust that vouches for their motto.) Their (hand-riddled!) 2008 Tete de Cuvee, corked just a few weeks prior to our visit, was a lovely sparkling wine with a nice richness. It’s a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend; thanks to the relative altitude of the vineyards, and one of the only places with a (thankfully) constant breeze, the odds are stacked in their favor to be succesful with Pinot and Chard.

Although clear across the country, and probably little-to-no distribution here in Washington, my trip to Virginia reminded me how lucky I am to live in a state with such a vibrant community of wineries. When you keep an open mind and cultivate a sense of adventure, you never know what you might discover.

Tuna and Prosecco: A Delightful Lunch

Tuna and Prosecco
I’ve always been a big fan of Prosecco, the charming and thirst-slaking Italian sparkling wine, for festive and casual bubbles imbibing. At a recent lunch at Serafina, I was reminded what a great food wine it is as well. Prosecco belongs on your lunch (and dinner) table!

The Proseccos we enjoyed were from Valdo, a shop favorite. Their Brut DOC is a machine here at Esquin. The staff loves it and so do our customers. They also make an excellent Rosé Brut, though don’t call it Prosecco! The Italian wine laws in the region have recently changed to protect the good name of true Prosecco; it has to be made from the Glera grape and in a specific geographic area. The Rosé is made from the Nerello Mascalese grape (surely you’ve heard of it) and is a joy to drink. Ultra-fun! It was perfection with the Calamari, especially with the touch of chile flake giving a little heat. (The Brut DOC was no slouch with it, either. I was alternating back and forth between the two.)

Calamari

Most unexpectedly, the Prosecco even worked with a sweet pea and ricotta ravioli (with taragon butter and sauteed pea vines, to boot) The sweetness of the peas was a nice match with the DOC Brut, which has a whisper of sweetness.

Sweet Pea and Ricotta Ravioli

But my favorite pairing was with the tuna at the top of the post. I devoured it with two special Proseccos from Valdo: The “Cuvee di Boj” and “Cuvee Fondatore”. Both have DOCG status, which denotes the highest quality in the Prosecco region. These Proseccos were drier, more elegant, and most harmonious with the tuna and its melted leeks, fingerling potatoes, and frisee salad with a basil-grapefruit vinaigrette.

It was a wonderful lunch made even more wonderful by convivial dining companions and and special guest Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, the President of Valdo. Hard to think of a more personable and genuine ambassador for the region and the wines. Bravo!

Full disclosure: I was a guest of the importer and distributor who provided the food and wine.

A Twist on Washington Red Wine: Comparing Cork and Screwcap

Hogue Genesis Merlot 2003
The cork versus screwcap debate gets most contentious when talking about how red wine will age when sealed under one closure versus the other. So it was a rare treat to be invited to attend a seminar hosted by Hogue Cellars to taste five bottles of 2003 Hogue Genesis Merlot, each sealed under a different closure. How, at 8 years of age, would each red wine fare? (Read my previous post to see how Hogue’s screwcap-sealed Riesling performed starting with the 2004 vintage.)

After sampling the red wine in glasses A-E we found out what kind of closure was used to seal the bottle:

  • A: Saranex* screwcap (with nitrogen dosing)
  • B: Saranex screwap (no nitrogen dosing)
  • C: Synthetic cork (low oxygen ingress)
  • D: Natural cork
  • E: Synthetic cork (moderate oxygen ingress)

*Saranex is a barrier film that is more oxygen-permeable than a tin liner.

My favorite? The Merlot in D, sealed with a natural cork. As Co Dinn, Director of Winemaking for The Hogue Cellars, stated, it showed “how well cork can do when you get a good one.” Even though we were discussing Hogue’s shift to 100% screwcap closures with their 2009 vintage, this was not an exercise in cork-bashing and Co’s respectful attitude and thoughtful critique of a variety of closures was much appreciated.

My least favorite was the Merlot in Glass A.  It just tasted flat. Which seemed to confirm Hogue’s decision not put any nitrogen in the headspace (area between wine and closure). The red wine needs that extra oxygen for development of secondary characteristics over time. As far as B, C, and E, they all had qualities I enjoyed and good balance between tannin and fruit; D and A just happened to stand out for reasons good and not-so-good, respectively.

Rather than looking at this issue as a battle between cork and screwcap, I found myself most intrigued about the research that Hogue did into finding the right screwcap and accounting for variables (such as sulfur level, addition or omission of nitrogen, and measuring oxygen ingress) to fine-tune the process to enable a red wine to age properly. If you really want to nerd out, there is much more information about Hogue’s screwcap study. (Including spider graphs! Which just sound cool.)

So how do you feel about putting reds sealed with a screwcap in your cellar?

A Hogue Riesling Vertical

Hogue Riesling Vertical
When you get a chance to taste a vertical of wine, normally images of something very fancy-pants, precious, and expensive come to mind. But at Hogue’s presentation/tasting detailing the results of a new study about alternate closures (and switch to 100% screwcaps starting with the 2009 vintage), their humble Riesling shined. We sampled a vertical from 2004-2009, all sealed under screwcap. The 2004 was still lively-tasting, showing some secondary characteristics and a little bit of a funky, earthy finish; one to guzzle-up in the near future. (Maybe I’m splitting hairs a bit about the finish; keep in mind this is a sub-$10 Riesling. The 05 is still going strong; I don’t think it’s even plateaued yet.) All the Rieslings had good balance between sweetness and acidity; much more refreshing than cloying. This is the second time I’ve taken part in this tasting and I’ve walked away with the same thought: “Why am I not stashing away a case (or more) for a few years?”

Director of Winemaking Co Dinn gave us an interesting background in all the trials and tests to determine how wine ages when sealed under screwcap. This was especially daunting as, he explained, “People who make screwcaps are capmakers, not winemakers.” Co’s team at Hogue had to do a lot of research into how the wine in the bottle was affected by oxygen transfer. It was also great to have Gary Hogue in attendance. He spoke of his farming background, and how when his family went into the wine business he “couldn’t even pronounce Gewurztraminer.” Gary also talked about the reason the company started experimenting with alternate closures: “When you have your name on a product and there is a problem, you’re embarrassed.”

After the round of Rieslings we got into the reds. Five glasses of 2003 Genesis Merlot–each from a bottle sealed with a different closure–were set in front of us. We would find out after trying the lot which was which. Now this was really interesting. So interesting, in fact, that I think it deserves a separate  post. (Stay tuned.)

So what’s your take on wines sealed with a screwcap?

Pairing Wine With Tofu Tacos

Marination Mobile
In our never-ending quest to eat from food trucks as much as possible, the staff recently got tacos from a regular favorite, Marination Mobile. As I am trying keep my cholesterol from reaching quadruple digits, I ordered the tofu tacos. (They describe the tofu on the menu as “sexy” but I can’t go there. I did eat four of them, so it certainly has undeniable appeal. There will be a second date.) They have a nice refreshing cabbage slaw and a creamy, tangy sauce. I’m not sure what the tofu is marinated in but it was really good. (My efforts to get Marination to divulge the ingredients was unsuccessful. Though they did reveal to me on Facebook that the sauce was “Nunya Sauce–as in nunya bidness.” That’s cold.)

Marination did, however, offer what I thought to be a great wine pairing, a Sancerre. A racy, zesty Sauvignon Blanc with a bit of richness would be great with the slaw and the creamy, uh, “Nunya” sauce. Especially with a squeeze of lime juice. I think it could even handle a bit of the pickled jalapenos. If you got a little spicier (and I did with some Sriracha) I think an off-dry German Riesling or Washington Riesling would work, too. (For the local wine, I’d go with Poet’s Leap.) But I’m leaning towards Marination’s pick or maybe a dry Riesling, like one from Australia.

What would wine would you match with these tacos?

Pairing Wine With A Fried Chicken Sandwich

Fried Chicken SandwichI was really excited to eat at the brick-and-mortar location of a favorite food truck around Seattle, Skillet, and had picked up a tip on twitter to try the fried chicken sandwich. And though I enjoyed a beer with my lunch, I’ve been thinking about what wine I would pair with it the next time I stop by or get one to take home.

The fried chicken has some fennel seed in the crust and comes with a kale slaw and pickled jalapeño aioli on a potato roll. (Note: a salad was offered in place of the fries. Suggestion denied.) Fried food has a real affinity for bubbles, so that’s the direction to go. I’m dreaming how they would refresh between each bite, and tame the slight heat from the jalapeño. Naturally I am recommending you have Champagne (especially a non-vintage with a lighter/crisper style), but if you are feeling less indulgent any high-quality Cremant, Cava, or Prosecco will do nicely. If you must drink a still wine, I think a Sancerre or racy Sauvignon Blanc, with some grassy, herbal tones would really work well with the fennel seed and kale.

Any other suggestions? I’m willing to do as much research as necessary. Though I may have start thinking about the salad option more seriously.

Belated thanks to Jane (@callingindead) for inspiring this post.

A Loire Chateau Lunch

muscadet 054
I would have been content just to stroll through the gate at Chateau l’Oiseliniere, gaze at this stately, elegant, iconic home, and turn around and head directly back to the van. It was, however, an embarrassment of riches as I as able to tour the surrounding vineyards, sample a variety of delicious Muscadets, and have one of the most charming home-cooked lunches imaginable. If I didn’t have the photos to corroborate the previous two sentences, I might have though it was all a reverie brought on by my penchant for 19th Century French literature. So rather than gauzy, filtered memories, I have some sharp images to share.

muscadet 064
Above is proprietor Georges Verdier showing us that flowering has begun on the Melon de Bourgogne vines, which means that harvest should begin in about 90 days. Our lesson in grape growing over, it was time to sample the fruits of his labor. We found out that Muscadet is not only popular with those of us who love crisp, dry, refreshing white wines, but also (strangely enough) with felines:

muscadet 093
Our appetites primed by a dizzying array of bracing, memorable Muscadets, we went into the dining room to find a black olive, spinach, and onion tart with a whole wheat crust. This was no quiche; it had just enough binder to keep it together. I thought this would be more of a dish for a rosé, but the briny black olives brought out the salty, mineral-tinged aspect of the Muscadet. Brilliant.

muscadet 101
Next it was time for some white asparagus. I found myself counting my blessings for being in the Loire in time for both strawberry and asparagus season. We enjoyed a white asparagus custard surrounded by a green pea puree. Whoever says asparagus is difficult to pair with wine needs to try it with a richer-style, vegetable-loving Muscadet.

muscadet 106
We finished with langoustines atop a simple salad of garden-fresh vegetables. This seemed to be the penultimate dish to have with Muscadet, which is simply one of the finest wines to have with seafood, period.

muscadet 112
Here is the ubiquitous “I was there” photo that I include not out of vanity but to illustrate I have pen and paper by my side, dutifully taking notes. And although you can’t see it, I have actually glued myself to the chair I am sitting in, as I thought this was the most rational plan to make sure I never had to leave. Please forward my mail care of Chateau l’Oiseliniere.

muscadet 105

Full disclosure: I am a sponsored guest of the Loire Valley Wine Bureau on this trip.

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