Every once in awhile, you come across a wine and food pairing that surprisingly just makes sense. I wasn’t planning to have wine this evening. I was preparing the traditional Szechuan dish Ma-Po Tofu, which, with its spicy bean sauce and lip and tongue numbing Szechuan peppercorns doesn’t exactly scream “pair me with wine!” However, part of the recipe required a tablespoon of rice wine, which I didn’t have on hand, so I substituted a splash of the Picpoul Blanc I had open in my fridge. Picpoul Blanc, a white variety most commonly found in the Languedoc and southern Rhône regions of France, is known locally as “lipstinger” for its high acidity and citrus characteristics. The wine on hand was actually a domestic version of the obscure old world variety–Bokisch Vineyard’s Tizona Picpoul Blanc, grown in the family’s Terra Alta vineyard in the Clements Hills region of Lodi. Coming from the Central Valley of California, the wine wasn’t quite as lip-stinging as its French counterparts, but was lively and fresh and with its lemon blossom and stone fruit palate, and it actually complemented the lip-numbing effects of the Szechuan peppercorns in the Ma-Po Tofu. While Picpoul and Ma-Po Tofu may not be an obvious choice, it is sure to put a smile on anyone’s lips!
Making homemade pizza is a passion of mine. I love the smell of the dough rising and the various topping combinations you can make. My husband keeps trying to get me to me to make an all meat pizza, but for me, that would be a heart attack waiting to happen. Plus after overindulging during the holidays and eating and drinking our way through Europe, I’ve been trying to cook things that are at least mildly healthier than our usual gluttonous feasts. So tonight I went vegetarian and topped the pizza with some quickly blanched broccoli rabe, sautéed cremini mushrooms, and finished it off at the end with some spicy Calabrian chilies. I always like a good Zin with my pizza, so I had the opportunity to open a recent wine club selection from Ridge, the Kite Hill Zin. Kite Hill comes from a section of the York Creek Vineyard in Napa Valley. This is the only vineyard Ridge sources from in Napa, and it’s a good one. They usually bottle a Zin called “York Creek,” but apparently this year the wine deviated from the typical flavor profile of York Creek, so they dubbed it a different nomenclature. Indeed it did taste quite different from any Ridge York Creek I’ve had in the past. Missing was the characteristic black pepper that I find in many Napa Zins. It did still have the depth, structure and dark fruit from the Petite Sirah, but it seemed much riper in style, leaning toward mixed berry fruit compote on the palate. While both the wine and the pizza were enjoyable, they may not have been ideal complements. The pizza had a bit of an earthiness to it with the mushrooms and the bitterness of the broccoli rabe, and therefore might have been better with a more rustic wine from Italy or even a Zin that wasn’t quite as fruit forward. Yet the fruity component did help mellow out the Calabrian chilies—those little bastards were SPICY! Still, not every wine pairing is ideal, but it’s always fun to experiment.
Pistachio Crusted Chicken with Mustard Herb Cream Sauce is possibly my favorite thing in the world to cook. It’s one of those dishes that I no longer need a recipe for because I’ve made it so many times. The first time was with my good friend Jenny when I was a junior at UC Santa Cruz. I lived in the newest apartment complex on campus which was well-equipped with a big kitchen. Jenny and I had just discovered epicurious.com, and we loved trying out new recipes. This one was a hit, and since then I have cooked it for friends from New Mexico to Panama, and it usually finds its way to my dinner table at least a couple times per month. While there are a number of crisp dry white wines that go well with this dish, my favorite is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Who doesn’t love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc? It’s like the loveable puppy of the wine world. It’s so easy to drink, so vibrant and pleasure-inducing, that it’s hard not to drink a whole bottle at one sitting. The wine I chose tonight was Fire Road Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. This is a great bargain wine that my husband and I often buy by the case. It’s vibrant acidity and lovely passion fruit and gooseberry notes are a delicious welcome to any dish that requires a dry white wine. It works particularly well with the pistachio crusted chicken as the racy acidity cuts through the creaminess of the herb sauce, and the fruit flavors complement the pistachios and herbs nicely. This meal is fabulous served with a side of roasted potatoes and sautéed greens, and matched up with the Fire Road is bound to put a smile on anyone’s face.
Here’s the link to the recipe:
By Kareasa Wilkins
After overindulging the week of Thanksgiving, I was ready for something healthier. The local Whole Foods had some good looking halibut, and I had some farro and spinach on hand, so tonight we did pan-seared halibut with preserved meyer lemon farrotto, and spinach salad. The wine: the 2013 Valdesil Godello Sobre Lías. Godello, a relatively obscure grape variety native to Spain once was on the brink of extinction, until winemakers in the Valdeorras region, just east of Rías Baixas, began reviving it in the 1970s. Though it still accounts for a small percentage of Spanish wines produced, Oz Clark, in his seminal Grapes and Wines: The Definitive Guide to the World’s Great Grapes and the Wines They Make declares it a contender for “Spain’s most interesting white grape.” Valdesil is a family-run winery that’s been dedicated to the Godello grape since the late 1800s. The Valdesil Godello Sobre Lías sung with the pan-seared halibut, offering notes of apricot blossoms, honeycomb, and a slight minerality. The wine had a decent amount of acidity, though not as much as Spain’s other white wine gem, Albariño, and the opulent weight of the wine worked well with the firm white fish. For anyone looking to try something new, or just have something nice on the table to pair with fish, the Valdesil Godello Sobre Lías is an excellent choice.
By Kareasa Wilkins
I had a shload (for those of you that can’t put two and two together, that’s shit load) of olives left over from the paella party. I don’t know, maybe I’m the only one who likes to snack on olives, or maybe I just buy way too many olives and then other people bring olives and we end up with an olive explosion. Luckily, with this overabundance of olives, I can make pasta puttanesca, a stinky spicy salty southern Italian style pasta named for the women of the night. Tonight I made a lovely version with bucatini (the sipping straw style spaghetti) from Abruzzo. Sadly, my wine supply is running a little low right now and I didn’t have a single Italian wine on my shelf. I was hoping for a zippy Sangiovese or something more rustic from the bottom of Italy’s boot, but sometimes you’ve gotta go with what you have, and the closest thing I had to Italian was Ridge’s 2012 Primitivo. Ridge is of course famous for Zinfandel, which is genetically identical to Primitivo. The grapes for the Ridge Primitivo are grown in the Dry Creek Valley region of California, so why would they put Primitivo on the label rather than Zin? Well, it turns out that this wine is made from Primitivo vine cuttings that were taken from southern Italy and transported to the Lytton Springs vineyard in Healdsburg. It was an experiment of sorts to see how it would compare to the Zins grown in the same vineyard. This wine was not at all what I expected, but wow, was it a showstopper. I had a bottle of it about a month ago and it was somewhat closed and just kind of tasted like an earthier version of Zinfandel. Tonight when I opened it, it was all black and purple fruit with this amazing velvety tannin structure. In other words, the Petite Sirah that it’s blended with was really showing through (it’s 88% Primitivo with Petite Sirath making up the other 12%). This wine was really a knockout, though I think I was hoping for something with a little more acidity and red fruit to go with the whore’s pasta, not the big bruiser that this turned out to be. But in any case, the wine was phenomenal, and while I enjoyed the hell out of drinking it tonight, it will likely be even grander in the years to come.
By Kareasa Wilkins
I haven’t drunk Beaujolais in awhile. When I was first learning about wine, I always felt like Gamay (the grape in Beaujolais wines) was kind of a pedestrian grape–light and, well, grapey, it just seemed like the purple Otter Pop of wine. But as I tried more and more Cru Beaujolais (Gamay at its best from one of the top 10 villages in the region), I found that Gamay could be quite charming…exciting, even. Depending on the village and the producer, Cru Beaujolais can exhibit bright red fruit, spiciness, and exotic flowers; some even have enough tannin and structure to age. So tonight when I was at my local wine shop looking for something to go with my turducken sausage from Smokey Ridge Charcouterie, I decided to put Gamay back on the table. I opted for the Domaine des Nazins Brouilly. I really don’t have much experience with Brouilly, even though it’s the largest of the Beaujolais Villages. I tend to buy wines from Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent on a more regular basis, but I figured it was worth a shot. I have to be honest, when I first opened the wine it was a real snoozer–totally closed on the nose, with just a slight earthy character. However, as the evening went on, it opened up to reveal a pretty floral nose and some dark cherry on the palate. It was a light bodied wine, which is relatively typical of Gamay, but the acidity was nice enough to cut through the grease of the turducken sausage. The turducken sausage, arugula cranberry & persimmon salad, and mashed butternut squash made a nice prequel to Thanksgiving, and while not mind-blowing, the Domaine des Nazins Brouilly was a fine accompaniment to it.
I love to cook. I experiment with new recipes all the time; I subscribe to all of the food magazines; my method of relaxation after a long day at work is curling up on the sofa with a cookbook. Yet in spite of my zest for preparing something new and unique all of the time, there are a few classics that come to my dinner table on a regular basis. Roast chicken is one of them. Besides the fact that my husband loves it, there is a simplicity to roasted chicken that satisfies the desire for comfort food, yet also inspires the gastronome within. Around the world, restaurants may be given Michelin stars for entrees that look like science projects, but the top culinary artists will often say you can tell how good a chef is by something as seemingly simple as his or her roast chicken. And roast chicken can be quite simple, but there are also a number of things you can do to add your own signature to it. Add some harissa spice for Moroccan flair, simmer some chiles and chocolate for a Oaxacan mole style, or simply rub with olive oil, salt and pepper for a classic flavor. I like to stuff mine with lemon, thyme, and onion, which release nice aromatics as the chicken sits in the oven. I also like to lacquer the skin in butter and herbs de Provence before browning it to perfection.
There are a number of wines, red or white, that pair well with roast chicken. Lighter style reds such as Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, or Italian Dolcetto work well with the chicken. A medium bodied Chardonnay, citrusy Rueda, or Rhone white is nice on the white end of the spectrum. I have tried this recipe with many different wines, yet there is one wine that I come back to again and again with my roast chicken—the Holly’s Hill Viognier. Holly’s Hill is a small, family owned winery in the Sierra Foothills that specializes in Rhone varietals. I have been a fan of their wines for at least a decade, and I always love their Viognier. Tonight we opened the 2014 vintage. The 2014 is gorgeously aromatic with notes of white flowers, apricot skin and ripe nectarines. Not extremely weighty, it is a medium bodied wine with relatively high-octane alcohol (14.9%), though it doesn’t taste hot on the palate. It lends itself remarkably well to the juicy chicken. This makes an easy weeknight meal, but is also impressive enough for weekend company. Serve it with rosemary roasted potatoes and sautéed kale or an arugula salad for an enticing feast.