Archive for June, 2010

Rose – A Great Wine for Sunday Afternoons

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Do you have a favorite wine? My choice would typically be a full bodied red. However, if I was eating a plate of oysters or ceviche, I would select a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.  That being said, I have become quite fond of rose wine on a warm Sunday afternoon.

Rose is pink in color, and should be crisp and dry (not sweet). The standard was set in Tavel, a small town in the southern Rhone region of France. Rose wine is always made from red grapes, typically Grenache or Cinsault. The color is lighter than a red wine because the skins are left in contact with the fermenting mixture for only a short time, perhaps 10 – 36 hours.

There are many delicious roses made in southern France; but I live in southern California where there is limited availability of French wines. I have therefore been drinking California roses. These wines do not have the same historical reputation as the wines of Tavel, but they are fun.

How thorough and scientific was my analysis of the roses of California? I would classify my study as a fun sampling rather than an exhaustive taste test. The tasting area was a bocce court.

Bocce Court

Bocce Court

Although this venue may not be typically used for wine tastings, I found it very effective. During a typical wine tasting you might compare four to ten glasses of wine; intently analyzing the color, smell, and flavor components of each glass. The bocce court method is sightly more relaxed. First, you admire the blue sky and be appreciative of the warm weather. Next, you toss your bocce ball, hopefully with the utmost precision. And finally, you quaff your rose. Delicious.

I have sampled about a dozen California roses, and most were quite good. My favorite rose is Zaca Mesa’s Z Gris. It’s dry, crisp and rather light bodied; which makes it quite refreshing on a warm afternoon. This wine is also complex and very well balanced; making it stand out above the others. My runner up is a rose from Demetria Estate. It’s interesting that Zaca Mesa and Demetria are both located on Foxen Canyon Road in Los Olivos. Note that these wines are best served chilled.

Wine tasting is not just about ratings, it’s about fun. I think Zaca Mesa’s Z Gris is a winner; but I also realize there must be many other great roses. Have you tried a rose that you like?

Slow Food Feast @ Jaffurs Winery

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Slow Food Santa Barbara is a small but rapidly growing group of chefs, farmers, importers, winemakers, and others that are passionate about food. Last Sunday we had an event at Jaffurs Wine Cellars in downtown Santa Barbara.

Jaffurs Wine Cellars is a boutique winery dedicated to producing great Rhone varietals. Craig Jaffurs began producing wines in 1994; and the wines have been getting better every year. Dave Yates, General Manager of Jaffurs, conducted a wine tasting for the group that included: Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Mourvedre, Santa Barbara County Syrah, and a Syrah from Thompson vineyard. The wines were delicious.  More details on Jaffurs can be found on their website.

Good local wine deserves good local food. We are lucky in Santa Barbara to have farms that raise both beef and lamb. It’s great to support local farmers, especially if they provide outstanding products.

Sous chef Glenn Leopold and I set up two barbecue grills in the Jaffurs parking lot to grill burgers and summer squash.  We feasted on lamb burgers from Jimenez Family Farm (website) that were stuffed with feta cheese. Equally delicious were hamburgers from Rancho San Julian (website). Several of the hamburgers were topped with a local cheese from Paso Robles called Seascape. The lamb and beef burgers were huge hits; juicy and exploding with flavor.

Slow Food members each brought a side dish to complement the burgers. The dishes ranged from asparagus to tabouli, and all were spectacular. I can safely say, nobody went home hungry.

Great wine, great food, great friends.

Vinegar – A few new favorites

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

A few weeks back I tasted some local olive oils in my cooking class. While they were delicious, the highlight of the tasting was a vinegar. It may be the best vinegar I ever tried. It’s called Allure Estates Balsamic Vinegar.  Then a light bulb went off in my head. Why do we always discuss olive oils, when vinegars are equally important in a good vinaigrette?

Allure Estates Balsamic Vinegar is made on a family farm on the Central Coast of California. The technology of making balsamic vinegar is very different from that of wine vinegar. Instead of using wine, it is made from must (juice) which is boiled down and reduced in half before being put in barrels with a small amount of vinegar for inoculation. Most of us are familiar with the superb balsamic vinegar made in Modena Italy.   Allure Estates does not claim to be a match for this Italian classic. Allure uses the Grenache grape rather than the typical Trebiano grape used in Italy. They also age the vinegar for 3 years rather then 12 as done in Italy. The final product is lighter in color and taste; and is fabulous.

Allure Estates Balsamic Vinegar

Allure Estates Balsamic Vinegar

I am not an expert on vinegars; but this product woke up my taste buds. It is fresh and vibrant. The acidity is nicely balanced with of myriad of flavors that are complex  yet reasonably light.

Allure Estates makes makes a half dozen other vinegars, and two others caught my attention. One is a Blackberry Cabernet which is not sweet or cloying, but has a subtle sweetness that’s nicely balanced with acidity. This variety  would be perfect for a salad on a warm afternoon. The other vinegar is Four Thieves, which displays herbal notes. Actually Allure blends Syrah with rosemary, thyme, sage, peppermint, garlic, and a touch of honey. I could not isolate each of these flavors, but I did appreciate the final product. Have you ever made a salad and added a grilled chicken breast to it? Well this vinegar be the perfect start to your vinaigrette. If you would like more information on Allure Estates, click here.

Lastly, I would like to mention a Sherry Vinegar that I have become quite fond of. In the past, I would typically use a Tuscan red wine vinegar when making a vinaigrette. Then I saw Spanish Chef Jose Andres on his TV show  singing the praises of Sherry Wine vinegar. So I tried Miguel & Valentino Vinagre de Jerez Reserva and loved it. This vinegar will add a rich distinctive flavor to your salads.

Tasting the vinegars of Allure Estates has opened my eyes to the breadth of flavors available to us, and I think I have only reached the tip of the iceberg.  It will be fun experimenting with new vinegars in the future, and tasty too!

Have you found a vinegar you really like?