Like many people, I enjoy my foods and wines seasonally. During the summer, I like my foods and wines light and zippy; I tend to prefer dry whites and rosés to reds. But, once "sweater weather" comes around again, so do the dry reds. By Christmas, I've usually gone all the way to port.
Harvest is in full swing, the late afternoon sunlight is slanted and gorgeous, and it's time for wonderful red wines. For our happy hour yesterday, Carl and I broke out a bottle of the 2017 Cadenza Vineyards Merlot. What a lovely wine!
Its backstory: In 2015, we planted three acres of Merlot on the very best part of our Brogue ("Cadenza") estate vineyard. This was the hillside which East Coast viticulture expert Lucie Morton called our "heritage vineyard" site, worthy of planting vines which would resonate for decades to come. On a frigid, snowy day in March of 2014, Carl had gotten bud-wood from friends Ed and Sarah at Black Ankle Vineyards in Maryland. The 181 clone vines were virus-free, and Carl also wanted them for the dark fruit character of the Merlot grapes. The canes were sent to Herrick Vines out in California, where they were grafted and planted. Then, in 2015, cuttings of the Merlot were shipped back to us for planting.
In the harvest of 2017, our estate Merlot were ready for their first picking (in what was called third "third leaf" autumn). 2017 was a good growing year and the crop came in at 1.5 tons per acre, about half of what we can expect from more mature vines. Carl was pleased with the long-anticipated Merlot, which he had thought would be put into a rosé but which instead was already ready to be in the mix of 2017 vintage dry reds.
The 2017 Merlot was fermented in tanks, rather than bins, to bring out its fruit character. Then it found its way into eight barrels, where it remained for twenty months, after which it was bottled, John Crouch-style, unfiltered and unfined. Some became our first estate Merlot, and the rest, which had been picked a little later, went into our 2017 Cadenza VIneyards Bridge and 2017 Cadenza Vineyards Cadenza. The varietal Merlot also includes 16% Cabernet Franc and a smidge of Cabernet Sauvignon.
As Carl says, this 2017 Merlot tastes of potential. It has a nice balance of concentration, tannins, acidity, and alcohol, and even high and low flavor notes. There's some definite power, although it is still too young to have a lot of complexity. In the making since that spring of 2014, the wine tastes fittingly like fruition, and is a harbinger of the many estate-grown Cadenza Merlots to come.
Cadenza Vineyards wines are available only at Allegro Winery in The Brogue or online at www.cadenzavineyards.com.
The very best days are Pizza Shop days.
I love pizza. Seriously. I also love making it. In our kitchen, Pizza Shop days mean time and effort, all of which is worth it, no matter what. Because...pizza.
Yesterday was a Pizza Shop day because of a very special bottle of wine. Carl's recent visit with our long-time friend Mike Fiore at neighboring Fiore Winery & Distillery in Maryland netted him a bunch of great stories and a seriously wonderful bottle of wine: Fiore's 2014 Sangiovese.
(More on that wine in just a bit...)
When it comes to making homemade pizza, my routine stays pretty much the same each time, though the toppings don't. Here are my tips and tricks for great pizza:
1. The dough: I use a variation of a recipe from my wonderful friend Margaret: For two pizzas I mix together 1 1/2 cups of water, 3 T. of extra virgin olive oil, 1 T. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 1 cup whole wheat flour, 3 cups of white bread flour, and 1 T. yeast. Then I knead them into a soft dough and let it rise for an hour while I get other ingredients together. These pizzas will bake at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes.
2. The stones: Pizza has to be baked on stoneware. This is non-negotiable.
3. The sauce: My go-to for marinara sauce comes from a 2018 Epicurious recipe for Sunday Stash Marinara Sauce. The recipe makes about 12 cups of sauce--enough to be portioned into 4 batches, most of which I freeze. It's a fun recipe to make--I love crushing the peeled tomatoes in my hands, and an immersion blender is always a good time.
4. The cheeses: I tend to use a variety of cheeses, including mozzarella (shredded and fresh), Fontina, and Gruyère. I definitely don't skimp on the cheese--for a decent cheese pizza, I've been known to use nearly four cups of cheese. Freshly-grated Parmesan is a must.
5. The toppings: I tend to mix things up quite a bit. One of my favorites is making a white pizza with olive oil, cottage cheese, and veggies (such as seared mushrooms with fennel seeds) in the mix. Every single pizza I make has a generous portion of minced garlic (1 to 2 cloves per pizza) somewhere in the balance of toppings.
I think that's about it. Last night's pizzas were accompanied by a simple salad of mixed greens and watermelon radishes from our CSA. I am currently obsessed by radishes, and these are the absolute prettiest. My go-to vinaigrette includes juice from 1 lemon, 2 T. white wine vinegar, 2 T. extra virgin olive oil, and pinches of garlic powder, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
And...that beautiful wine, Fiore's 2014 Sangiovese. It was like tasting Italy.
Carl really treasures his friendship with Mike and Rose Fiore, which extends back to when we first came to Allegro in 2001. Mike is an excellent storyteller. He also really appreciated John Crouch--Allegro's co-owner and winemaker before us--and understands this region's promise for winegrowing and winemaking.
One thing which I find really interesting is how different Allegro's wines and Fiore's wines are stylistically. Since Allegro, and Carl's winemaking, use Bordeaux as a point of reference, tasting regional wine with such Italian characteristics is an exciting difference.
Honestly, Carl was floored by the wine. He described it eloquently, noting its "electricity." The wine, from six vintages ago, is vibrant, full of fruit, and "zinging" with acidity. Earthy undertones ground the wine, which is truly a great accompaniment to foods (including all that pizza!). It's a great blend of tradition and life.
Here's how Carl describes Mike's bold style: "As a winemaker, Mike always swings for the fences. Every single time. And this time, he hit it out of the park."
This wine is on Fiore's current wine list, and next time (soon--very soon), we will be picking up a case. I'll keep those pizza stones warm...