Some wines make us gush. Some foods make us sing. And when the exact right combination of wine and foods comes along, it's not hard to go full-on operatic. When Carl and I tasted the just-released 2019 Cadenza Vineyards Albariño with dinner foods specially chosen to make its acquaintance, it was one of the best matches we'd tried in quite a while. Cue the aria...
In a blog post from late September, I recorded a couple of notes about the grape's history here in our Cadenza Vineyard. We also surmised that "It should pair wonderfully with light seafood dishes including shrimp and scallops." Well, now that the wine is ready for the dinner table, I decided to put that prognostication to the test.
For dinner, I made Fettuccini Alfredo, one of the easiest and most delightful pasta dishes in my repertoire. If I'm using fresh pasta, the entire preparation of the dish (including grating the Parmesan) takes only about a total of ten minutes.
To grace the bed of pasta, I also cooked shrimp and scallops in butter (laced with smashed garlic cloves) and finished them with a spritz of lemon and a bit of fresh dill.
All that remained to prepare was the spinach salad, with a fresh lemon-based vinaigrette, and a bottle of our lightly chilled Albariño.
Wow. The dinner foods and wine met each other so seamlessly that Carl called the pairing "ridiculous." When sipping the wine, the edge of bright citrus is first evident, but then it combines in tone and texture with the cream, pasta, and sweet seafoods. The wine and food integrated not just in flavor but also in a textual way, silky and delightful.
This new (to Cadenza Vineyards) style of white wine is a real joy for foodies. Both the big dash of Viognier and its treatment in neutral oak barrels in the cellar make it more than a one-note wine. It was certainly fun to welcome it onto our table, and I'll look forward to inviting it again soon.
Cheers! The 2019 Allegro Petit Verdot has arrived!
Back in mid-September I wrote a post about this grape's growing potential at our vineyards in The Brogue and Stewartstown. As the 2020 wines now sit, full of potential in their fine oak barrels, the 2019s are starting to appear in Allegro's tasting rooms.
Our 2019 PV was grown in what was then called Martha Clara Vineyards (now RGNY), a beautiful site on Long Island's North Fork. The fruit was wonderfully ripe, and the wine is well balanced between bright fruit, acidity, and body.
Traditionally, recommended Petit Verdot food pairings include dishes which are quite bold and rich, including beef and lamb. With our first bottle of the 2019, I made a family favorite one-pot recipe in our instant pot: Pulled Pork with Biscuits. The rich and tangy barbecue flavor met up nicely with the acidity in the wine, and the flavors definitely complemented each other as well.
As colder weather eventually begins coming our way, there's not much I enjoy more than planning for lots of opportunities to enjoy bold red wines, alone and with all kinds of satisfying foods. A red wine night tends to be a good one.
Well, yes--sometimes I do have this. (Cue Tommy Shaw: "I've got too much...") As I write this, the election results are still pending, ballots are still being counted, and we're being asked to go against our American nature and be, of all things, patient. What to do, when we're tired of waiting? Well, sometimes I just start chopping.
My huge boxes of fruits, veggies, and herbs from my CSA (Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative) have stopped coming, as of this week, now that the summer season has ended. Thanks to their generosity, however, the veggie drawers in my fridge have still been overflowing from the bounty of the past few weeks. Sometimes our meals focus on just one veggie or two, but on other days I just pile up a huge variety, turn on some loud tunes, and get out the big knife.
One of our favorite fall veggie feasts is a supper of roasted vegetables. Roasting is so easy and so rewarding. I just turn on the oven to 400 degrees, rub a variety of chopped vegetables with extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper, and get everything (including sprigs of fresh herbs and smashed garlic cloves) roasting in shallow layers. I check on them every ten minutes or so, stirring things up, and usually everything is done within about 30-40 minutes. We eat the veggies in large bowls, piled on top of buttered pasta.
This week, our roasted veggie night included an incredible array of colorful root vegetables, including Chioggia (candy cane-colored) beets, watermelon radishes, and sweet potatoes.
Our wine of choice with this roasted bounty was Allegro's 2019 Steel Chardonnay. This light and fruity wine (with no oak to clash with the veggies' natural roasted sweetness) was just right.
Tuesday night found me in the warm and welcoming home of my friend Tracie, social distancing but enjoying time together while the polls across the nation began to close. Part of what made being there so instantly wonderful was the smell of the stew on the stove: Bigos (Polish-style hunter's stew, complete with big hunks of carrot, potato, and bacon).
I was so inspired by Tracie's stew that yesterday afternoon, waiting, with--well, yeah--still too much thyme, etc., I decided to keep the stew train rolling, and I got to work making one of my own.
Chopping everything for my hearty Vegetable Stew took almost an hour, but I wasn't in any hurry. Round one of chopping included the onions, carrots, peppers, and celery. Round two was all the fresh herbs I could find, plus garlic. Then came the potatoes and cabbage. Once everything--including barley, red wine, and tomatoes--was together in the pot, there was still a good hour and a half until supper, plenty of time for the house to become scented with goodness and for me to make a fun batch of "Fluffy Cathead Biscuits" and get them in the oven.
We tried both Allegro's 2017 Merlot (some of which I had already stirred into the stew) and our 2019 Dry Rosé with dinner, and actually ended up preferring the Rosé. Again, the vegetables' inherent sweetness came through in the stew's flavor, and the fruity wine paired well.
While I undertook these culinary tasks, the world didn't change much. No presidents were announced; no world-views changed. But I did. Mindfulness of good food, of good work, is good for me, no matter how much I am asked to wait or worry. The warmth and scents of home cooking make our homes welcoming places. Food and wine bring us together, and will always bring us together, no matter what.
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...
Recently our CSA surprised me by including in our fruit share a package of regionally-grown organic muscadine grapes. This is a native grape variety most often associated with the South. When I told Carl about them, he right away exclaimed, "Scuppernong!" That left me with questions.
It turns out that scuppernong grapes are the type of muscadine grape that Carl is most familiar with. When people mention either name to southerners, it seems that just about everyone has a memory of being at a home which has grapevines growing somewhere in the yard. Muscadine grapevines. People are quickly drawn to the memory of popping the flesh of these thick-skinned grapes into their mouths, savoring the tart-sweet taste, and spitting out the seeds.
Carl's mom is from North Carolina and his dad from Tennessee, so he immediately recognized the variety, though it is seldom grown this far north.
Back when I worked in our tasting room, it did seem that every time I poured our sweet Harmony wine or Suite wine it would evoke in people the exact same experience. Over and over, people would tell me that the wine immediately transported them to memories of their grandparents' or parents' houses, where the native Concord or Niagara grapevines in the backyard put forth those familiar bursting flavors.
Muscadine is a different species--Vitis rotundifolia--than Concord or Niagara grapes, which are members of the Vitis labrusca species. All are native to North America, but are associated with different regions.
As unfamiliar as I was personally with muscadine grapes, I did immediately know what I wanted to do with the ones which found themselves in my kitchen. I am a huge fan of the PBS series called A Chef's Life, which follows the experiences of North Carolina's wonderful chef Vivian Howard. I had recently watched an episode from season 1 in which Howard focused on muscadines. In the episode she spoke with a local winemaker about making muscadine wine and she developed muscadine grape menu items for her restaurant, Chef & The Farmer. I remembered her topping a pizza with a muscadine grape spread, caramelized onions, and blue cheese. I had wondered what this tasted like, and now I set about to find out for myself.
Rather than making a whole pizza, I decided to put together a batch of flatbread, which all members of my family really like and which only takes about an hour and a half (including rising and cooking time) to make. While the flatbread was rising, I roasted the grapes together with shallots, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
For supper last night, we topped the flatbreads with a variety of toppings, including the grape/blue cheese combination. It was complex and surprising, a blend of sweet, tangy, and creamy flavors which was really memorable. My recipe is here.
Since I seem to have spices on the brain, it feels like a good time to compose an ode (or at least a post) about autumn's favorite: cinnamon.
There is really nothing that smells and tastes more evocative of the season than cinnamon. It comforts and enlivens all at once.
Allegro produces two sweet wines which are finished with an infusion of cinnamon: Fusion, which is a sweet spiced red, and Apple Cinnamon. Way back in the day (in the early 2000s, and even before our time here), Allegro made an Apple Wine. Looking for gift ideas around the holidays, I started ordering spices (cinnamon, clove, orange peel) in bulk and making little spice sachets to bundle with a bottle of that Apple Wine.
While that gift bundle was certainly a success, Carl decided to release me from my sachet-tying days and add the spices to the wines themselves. Thus were Fusion and Apple Cinnamon born, released in late September of 2004.
Both Fusion and Apple Cinnamon can be warmed gently and served as mulled wines, a favorite comfort beverage as the weather turns colder. Serving wine this way always brings to mind Germany's famous Glühwein, which we have enjoyed together at Christkindlmärkte in Aachen, Köln, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
For me, cinnamon has associations which date back to long before I was a part of a winery making spiced wines. I actually named my first cat Cinnamon, an homage to her coloration. (She was a beautiful cat but a rather spicy one, likely due to my tendency to squeeze her a bit too tightly. Here is photo proof...)
One of my favorite breakfasts growing up was my mom's cinnamon swirl bread, the recipe taken from her trusty Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book. She would make it for Christmas mornings and other times as well, and would toast our slices by putting them under the broiler for a few minutes. I remember choreographing the eating of a warm buttered slice, following the swirl from the outside in, so that my last bite would have the optimal amount of cinnamon and sweetness.
Recently my son and I went on a noble quest to figure out the very best French Toast recipe. We thought for a while about what kind of bread might make the best recipe, and it wasn't long before we hit upon the idea of using cinnamon swirl bread as the base.
I baked two loaves of my new personal favorite Cinnamon Bread recipe (from The Pioneer Woman) and, for brunch a couple of weeks ago, Dylan turned it into French Toast by dipping the bread into a whisked mixture of 2 eggs, 1 cup of milk, 1 T. sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, and a pinch of salt. (There wasn't a need to add cinnamon to the wet ingredients, since the bread is already loaded.) I can honestly say that it's the best French Toast I can remember having.
Now I'm craving cinnamon bread...
I have also really grown to appreciate cinnamon in savory dishes, particularly Indian ones. When I am cooking Indian recipes, I add cinnamon sticks, cloves, and cardamom pods to the rice, and the scent of the rice cooking is like a pre-dinner aphrodisiac. Cinnamon is a prominent member of garam masala, as well, which seems to find its way into nearly every Indian dish.
Some of my other favorite sweet recipes showcasing cinnamon include:
-Blueberry Muffins: I enjoyed sharing these jumbo muffins, topped with a cinnamon sugar blend, with Allegro's employees this week. Trying to help keep people's energy up through harvest...
-Homemade Applesauce: Now that fresh apples are rolling in from my CSA (this week we got Fuji and McIntosh), I have dusted off my recipe for homemade applesauce. It's really just a ratio of apples to water, sugar, and cinnamon, quite easy to make. Nothing makes the house smell better.
-Cinnamon Granola: I have tweaked this recipe through the years, and this is a lovely crunchy (but not too crunchy) version, flavored generously with cinnamon and vanilla.
-The. Best. Apple. Crisp.: This recipe contains cinnamon both in the caramel sauce which is tossed with the apples and in the oat crumble that goes on the top. Yum.
One year ago I went through something of a renaissance as a home cook. Among other things, I took a look at all of the spices in my hardly-used spice drawer and realized how many different spices hadn't been touched in years, perhaps even decades. Many of the spices were long expired and some still sported labeling on their caps which my mom had neatly done when Carl and I moved into our first house over 20 years ago. It was time for a change.
I threw out nearly all of the dusty and crumbling spices. They filled a garbage bag.
Then, as the fall progressed, I began cooking more and more and becoming more adventurous with new recipes and techniques. With each grocery run, I would add another spice or two back to the drawer and cabinets, as I worked my way into wonderful Mexican recipes, Thai recipes, Indian recipes, Italian recipes. My spice repertoire (and drawer) grew fuller and fuller, and increasingly I also began adding more fresh herbs to our suppers. The hobby fed itself as it fed us.
Last week, quite late at night, while we waited for our snickerdoodle cookies to bake, my son and I actually reorganized the spice drawer, which had become so full it rarely wanted to open without a fight. My "home blends" of cajun, taco, and curry spices needed to be rehomed, as did the whole Indian section.
When I have an afternoon free, one of my favorite things to do is to devote myself to creating a feast of Indian-style foods, enough to become a lunch buffet for the rest of the week. I bake naan and make paneer and raita, replenish my curry base, simmer dal for an hour and create three entrées with a variety of proteins, veggies, and spice levels. Very little makes me as happy as knowing how to create happiness through food, and the spices play a huge role in that.
So for me, getting rid of the old really did open up a space for a wonderful expansion of our food lives.
The reorganized spice drawer makes me gratified, like an accessible store full of potential energy and flavor. Cheers to lifelong learning about good taste and the spice(s) of life!
The pumpkin spice wars are back again in full force, the calendar page has turned to September, and harvest has begun. As much as I like to keep seasons in their place, it's hard not to jump the gun just a bit, anticipating the foods and wines of the next season, my personal favorite. There's a quickening in fall which brings me back to life.
This week I let myself indulge in just two autumn recipes, needing to taste more than pure anticipation. The first was a large pot full of Butternut Soup. This version has curry powder, cumin, and a kick of cayenne. It's creamy and golden and perfect as an easy autumn lunch. I haven't yet found its perfect wine partner, but I'm open for suggestions.
The second indulgence was sparked by the season's first apples, a Minnesota-born variety called Zestar! (Yes--the exclamation point is part of its trademarked name.) These cold-hardy apples are really pretty and very tasty, light and flavorful and crisp. Because they are known for having a bit of brown sugar quality, I knew exactly which recipe would fit them: an Apple Crisp recipe which begins by making a bit of homemade caramel sauce, which is tossed with the apples before being put into the baking dish. The caramel flavors make this a notably delicious fall breakfast or dessert.
I had two of Allegro's fruit wines in mind to pair with this dessert, but the first choice was so successful that I never even opened the second bottle. The winner accompaniment is Allegro's Funk: a sweet-tart cranberry and grape blend. Honestly, it's been a while since I have come up with a food and wine pairing which is this successful. Each sip complements each bite; each bite enhances the next sip. The cranberry and apple and caramel and cinnamon...all of it just works. Almost-autumn has never tasted so good.
"They" may say that necessity is the mother of invention, but perhaps it can also be leftovers.
From this evening's happy hour, I have a case in point. As a member of a generous regional CSA, I am always working diligently to stay on top of the bounty of veggies, fruits, and herbs which come our way every week. Two weeks ago, we had gotten a beautiful box of blackberries as part of our share, and I used most of them making a version of our beloved Berry Custard Cakes. We had just a few berries left over. These kinds of refrigerator orphans stick in my mind--the last thing I want to do is waste anything that we get from our weekly shares.
A few luscious blackberries. What to do, what to do...of course! Muddle them. I set about coming up with a blackberry cocktail.
I also happen to have had, sitting compellingly in my kitchen bar, the most beautiful bottle of Pennsylvania gin that I've ever seen: Chester County's Revivalist Summertide Botanical Gin. It's lovely and light, and it has some great bright citrus notes. Lemon plus blackberries: the idea became even tastier.
The resulting refreshing cocktail is a Blackberry Lemon Sipper, made with muddled berries, lemon, triple sec, plum bitters, and summer's gin.