Archive for the ‘wine pairing’ Category

The CorkPopper LocaPour Project: What to Eat with the 2010 Tablas Creek Vermentino

13 Sep

Tablas Creek

Tablas Creek, located in the westernmost reaches of the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (“AVA”) along California’s Central Coast and formed as a partnership between a well-known wine importer and Chateau de Beaucastel, a famous estate in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape area of France’s Rhone Appellation d’origine Controlee (“AOC”), boasts a broad range of fantastic wines made from mostly Rhone varietals.  With BabySo fast asleep in his stroller, JSo, LoSo and I sidled up to the bar as Cindy, our guide, poured us two glasses (JSo was our designated driver for the day) of the first wine of the day, the 2010 Vermentino ($27/bottle).  Though Vermentino (also known as “Rolle”) can be found in Southern France, it is most widely recognized as an Italian varietal, making it feel like a bit of an oddity among Tablas Creek’s decidedly Franco-centric tasting list.*

2010 Tablas Creek Vermentino

Crisp and cool, this wine was a welcome initial offering on a warm, sunny day, with a nose and palate dominated by citrus zest and limestone but with more acidity and fruit (passionfruit?) on the tongue than would be presented by its Italian cousin, the Pinot Grigio.  Though this wine intrigued me in a way I still cannot pinpoint, I was initially reluctant to purchase a bottle for a CorkPopper Dinner because I couldn’t immediately identify what I would cook with it.  As our tasting wore on, however, I kept wanting to return to the Vermentino, a sign, as LoSo pointed out, that I should probably just get a bottle anyway.  How funny, then, that it is precisely this wine that ended up inspiring my first Paso Robles CorkPopper Dinner – Lemon Risotto with Summer Squash, Zucchini and Seared Scallops.**

Lemon and scallops are, of course, an obvious pairing with a wine that presents as much citrus and mineral as the 2010 Tablas Creek Vermentino.  But it is the slight sweetness of the squash and zucchini, which temper the tartness of the wine, and the creaminess of the risotto, which compliments the wine’s acidity, that really make this pairing sing.  Best yet, with scallops purchased from the local fish market*** and summer squash and zucchini perfectly in season, it is a meal that just screams for a warm summer evening on California’s Central Coast.  Done and done.
Lemon Risotto with Summer Squash, Zucchini and Seared Scallops

Serves 6

7 cups well-seasoned chicken broth, as needed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 1 1/3 cups)
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 pound yellow summer squash, diced into 3/4-inch pieces
1/2 pound zucchini, halved and sliced into 3/4-inch pieces
8 large diver scallops
Freshly ground pepper and sea salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese
Zest of 1 lemon (about 2-3 teaspoons)
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian Parsley

Lemon Risotto with Summer Squash, Zucchini and Seared Scallops


Warm the chicken broth in a medium pot over low heat.  In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-high heat until it begins to ripple but before it smokes.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until fragrant and translucent, about 6 minutes.  Add the rice and continue to stir until the grains begin to make a crackling sound.  Add the wine and stir until the liquid is almost fully absorbed.  Turn the heat down to medium, add the squash and zucchini, and stir to combine.  Begin adding the chicken broth 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the rice to absorb each 1/2 cup before adding more.  You want the broth to just barely cover the rice each time and for the mixture to gently bubble.  Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to stand there stirring the risotto the entire time.  Just give it a stir every couple of minutes to ensure that the heat and liquid are being evenly distributed among the rice grains.

While your risotto is bubbling away, pat the scallops dry with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper.  Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat, again until it ripples but before it smokes.  Add the scallops and sear about 2 minutes on each side until they have a nice caramel colored crust but are just barely cooked through in the center.  Cut the scallops into quarters and set aside.

After about 25-30 minutes, your rice should be tender all the way through but still slightly al dente.  Add another 1/2 cup of chicken broth and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add the cheese and stir to melt.  Add the scallop pieces and stir gently to combine.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice to taste.  You want it to taste fresh but not tart, so add the juice slowly, tasting as you go.  Your risotto should be creamy and should spread out when ladled into a large bowl rather than stand in a mound.  Serve immediately.


* Unlike France’s AOC rules, the AVA rules in the United States do not dictate which grape varieties may be grown in any given region, giving vineyard owners the freedom to plant whichever grape varieties they believe will grow best in their vineyards’ particular soil and climate.

** This recipe was adapted from a New York Times recipe for Lemon Risotto with Summer Squash.

*** I got my scallops from the nice folks down at Giovanni’s Fish Market on the Morro Bay Embarcadero.  Look for the brown building with the line down the block of people waiting for either fish n’ chips or barbequed local oysters.


The CorkPopper LocaPour Project: What to Eat with the 2008 Cowan Cellars Bennett Valley Drystack Vineyard Syrah

14 Feb

Though December 2010 was technically Bennett Valley’s month in the CorkPopper LocaPour Project, it took me some time (what with the holidays and my crazy day job and all) to get my act together and (1) gather all the Bennett Valley wine I wanted to include, (2) actually cook a proper CorkPopper Dinner, and (3) find time to write about it.  It may be a month and a half late, but here it is – the final installment about Bennett Valley in the CorkPopper LocaPour Project.  Consider it my Valentine’s Day gift to all of you.

I’ve mentioned before that when I had the pleasure of travelling to Bennett Valley for the Westerhold Family Vineyard 2010 harvest, I was lucky enough to spend time not only with the Westerholds, but also their winemaker, Russell Bevan, and another local winemaker, Jim Cowan of Cowan Cellars.  It was Jim and me that helped to barrel Russell’s Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon.  And at the harvest dinner I cooked for everyone that night, Jim was kind enough to share with us a bottle of his 2008 Drystack Vineyard Bennett Valley Syrah, a big, bold wine with Syrah’s typical dark fruit and pepper but also some intriguing notes of smoke, rich soil, and dried fruit that distinguish it from many versions of the varietal, which can often present as syrupy or jammy.  I asked Jim if he could send me a bottle so that I could cook a dinner around it, and he was kind enough to do so,* along with the 2007 and 2009 vintages as well.**  Thanks Jim!

I knew I needed a fairly decadent meal to stand up to the brooding richness of the 2008 Cowan Cellars Drystack Vineyard Bennett Valley Syrah, so I opted for one of my favorite proteins – rack of lamb.  My regular followers are probably rolling their eyes right now, saying, “Rack of lamb again?”  But while I admit that I cook an awful lot of rack of lamb, I encourage you all to continue reading, as this dish is something special.***  Lamb has a unique flavor that works well with assertive wines such as this one, and, although making a Syrah sauce might seem like a no-brainer pairing, the addition of the figs brings out the wine’s notes of dried dark fruit and helps mellow out some of the earthiness.  Served atop mashed potatoes laced with creamy triple-cream Brie and studded with crispy shallots, this is truly a special occasion type of meal.****

Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb with Syrah-Fig Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients for the Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 1 large bone-in lamb chop (about 1.5 pounds), cut into about 2-inch pieces
  • 1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 2 large shallots, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 large carrot, roughly chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 4-5 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon dried herbes de Provence
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea salt
  • 1 bottle of Syrah
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups dried Mission figs, sliced in half
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Ingredients for the Lamb:

  • 2 racks of lamb, frenched and trimmed of excess fat (each rack should come with 8 riblets)
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Sea salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus an additional 2 tablespoons for searing the meat

Preparation for the sauce:

Heat the grapeseed oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the lamb pieces and brown on all sides.  Remove the lamb pieces to a bowl and then add to the pot the onion, shallot, carrot, garlic, and dried herbs.  Season with about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Saute until the vegetables are soft and starting to brown.  Add 1 cup of the figs, the wine, the broth, and the reserved lamb (along with any accumulated juices).  Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to low.  Simmer uncovered until the liquid has reduced by half, about 2 hours.

Using a fine mesh sieve or colander, strain the sauce into a large bowl, pressing on the solids to get as much of the liquid out as possible.  Spoon off any fat from the surface of the sauce and return it to the pot.  Add the remaining figs and continue to simmer over low heat until the sauce has reduced to about 2 cups, about 45 minutes.  Make a paste with the butter and flour and then mix the paste into the sauce.  Continue to simmer, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened so that it coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 2 minutes.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  (Note: The sauce can be prepared a day ahead.  Just cover, chill, and rewarm before serving.)

Preparation for the lamb:

Season the lamb fairly generously with salt and pepper.  In a medium bowl, combine the fresh herbs and 2-3 tablespoons olive oil.  Firmly press the herb mixture onto the lamb, covering all of the meat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center of the oven.  Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add one of the lamb racks to the skillet, meaty side down, to sear.  You should start to see a nice brown crust forming.  Flip the rack over after about 3 minutes and sear the other side, leaving it for about 2 minutes.  Repeat with the second rack.

Arrange both lamb racks together in the skillet, meat side up.  Place the entire skillet in the oven and roast about 20-25 minutes or until a meat thermometer registers 135 degrees for medium-rare.  Remove the lamb racks to a cutting board and cover them with foil for about 15 minutes.  Slice the rack into individual riblets and arrange atop of some creamy Brie and Crispy Shallot Mashed Potatoes (recipe below).  Drizzle with the Syrah-Fig Sauce and enjoy.

Brie and Crispy Shallot Mashed Potatoes

Serves 4


  • 3-4 large Russett potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces St. Andre (or other triple-cream Brie cheese) at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk (or if you want to be really devilish, heavy cream)
  • Freshly ground pepper and sea salt to taste


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the potatoes and boil until soft, about 20 minutes.

Heat the oil in a medium non-stick pan over medium-high heat.  Add the shallots and sauté until crispy brown, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so that they do not burn.

Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot.  Mash the potatoes with a masher until they have the desired consistency (some people insist upon perfectly smooth mashed potatoes while others like some chunks).  Add the cheese, butter, and milk and stir to combine.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add the shallots just before serving so that they remain crispy.


* Disclosure: I received this wine as a sample.

** The 2007 vintage is not available for sale to the public, so I’ll be saving that one for myself.  As for the 2009, Jim recommended that it be given some time in the bottle, and, though I am not known for my self-restraint when it comes to wine, I’ll be doing my best to cellar that one for a couple of years.

*** As is often the case with special dishes, this one takes some time, so please plan ahead if you want to give it a go yourself.  You should give yourself at least 3-4 hours to get the sauce right.

**** J and I were lucky enough to share it with LoSo and JSo, who are expecting BabySo this summer.


Happy Bastille Day!

14 Jul

July 14 in France is Bastille Day, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the large tower in Paris in which the monarchy imprisoned detractors (and stored massive amounts of munitions).  Celebrated by the French as a symbol of the rise of the modern French nation, Bastille Day is also celebrated the world over by those of us who appreciate any possible excuse to pop the cork on a delicious bottle of French bubbly.  I, of course, am no exception, so feast your eyes on this – my version of a French meal to celebrate Bastille Day…..

A Petit Champenoise Brie with some lightly toasted (and deliciously crunchy) French baguette and a sparkling Andre et Mireille Tissot Cremant du Jura.

Grill-roasted chicken stuffed with grapefruit and tarragon and served with grilled grapefruit, greens, and a crusty French baguette.

À la vôtre!!


Welcome Home!

27 Jun

Yes, it’s true.  I am a lucky, lucky woman….

J's Shrimp and Scallop Risotto with Shitake Mushrooms and Asparagus.... Heaven in a bowl.....

Paired with a 2009 Estate Grown Babcock Sauvignon Blanc, it is nothing short of the perfect “welcome home” meal.



Ask L: What Kind of Wine Should I Serve at Thanksgiving Dinner?

19 Nov

Thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday.  I mean, how could it not be?  It’s an entire day dedicated to doing nothing but cooking, eating, drinking, and spending time getting increasingly inebriated with your closest friends and family.  This great American holiday is nearly upon us again, of course, and I’ve been receiving quite a few requests for Thanksgiving wine recommedations.  Well, I’d just like to say that I’m not ignoring those requests.  On the contrary, I’ve been thinking a lot about them and trying to figure out how best to respond.

Earlier today, however, as I was scanning some of my favorite wine blogs, I came across this great post over at Vinography, which sums up quite succinctly exactly how I feel about wine at Thanksgiving (but was having trouble articulating).  For those who might not have time to read it on your own, let me sum it up: Thanksgiving wine recommendations are useless.  There are too many kinds of food and too many competing flavors (not to mention attendee preferences) to ever come up with the “perfect” pairing for Thanksgiving dinner.  So, you ask, what should one do when trying to decide what wine to bring to Thanksgiving dinner?  Easy.  Open several bottles of various kinds of wine and let people choose for themselves.  At the very least, it’s an interesting social experiment.  Just make sure to get something you know YOU like!


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