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Wine & Dine

Boudin & Beer (and Wine) in New Orleans

Boudin & Beer was a pre-event for Emeril Lagasse's 2011 Carnivale du Vin. Both took place in New Orleans this past weekend. Proceeds went to the Ermeril Lagasse Foundation which works "to improve the quality of young people's lives." It does this, in part, by being a major supporter of thinigs such as the NOCCA High School Culinary Arts Program, the Edible Schoolyard at Green Charter School and the St. Michael Special School.



Boudin & Beer brought together more than 30 New Orleans restaurants, out-of-town friends of Emeril and craft brewers to showcase the local food scene. It was a walk-around tasting festival and the focus was sausage, but the chef's got very creative. There was an overwhelming array of great food.

Boudin & Beer was held at The Foundry in New Orleans Warehouse District.


Attending the early VIP portion of the event allowed me to get some good photos, try a wide assortment of the food and chat with many of the chefs.

Emeril Lagasse, here with Eva Swan, was on hand to meet with folks throughout much of the event.


Emeril's Delmonico restaurant also represented with food, offering what I'll call "deconstructed sausage."


At the other end of the spectrum was this dish from Paul Prudhomme's K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. He and Chef Paul Miller turned a pig into andouille sausage and combined that with chicken in these grillades, served on cheese grits. It was tremendously good. The meat was tender and flavorful, the sauce rich and tangy but not "spicy." The grits were fabulously creamy.


Chef Paul Prudhomme was there all evening himself, greeting guests.


There were so many different preparations of sausage, boudin, etc. that I can't do justice to them all here. Instead I'll highlight some favorites. But first, Iet's take a detour and talk wine. While the official beverage of the evening was beer and Abita was a primary sponsor, there was also one winery in house. And it was from California.

PRESQU'ILE from the Santa Maria AVA was pouring Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I had not tried their wines before because they are south of "NorCal." However, it didn't take long for me to start thinking about paying them a visit. The wines were very good and are well worth seeking out. The Sauvignon Blanc bears a strong aromatic resemblance to the best versions from South Africa — not a coincidence as the winemaker hails from there. However, the palate was solidly Californian, though leaner and more restrained than many. A very refreshing wine. The Chardonnay was good too, but I found myself going back for the Santa Maria Pinot Noir. It offered earthy red fruit, spice box and savory herb with a supple palate and only 13.7% alcohol. (It's sold out at the winery, but I just bought their two single-vineyard Pinots to try.)

Presqu'Ile winemaker Dieter Cronje, above in black-tie casual, was pouring along with winery president Matt Murphy. Dieter was very interesting to talk with and I'm looking forward to continuing our discussion at the winery soon.


Napa Vailley winemaker Pam Starr (Crocker & Starr, Adastra, Bridesmaid and, formerly, Spottswoode Estate) was in attendance with her husband Norm Larsen. Pam told me that the 2011 vintage was the toughest she's seen in California during her 29 years making wine here. However, all of that experience — and a lot of knowledge gained from places such as Bordeaux that regularly deal with poor weather — worked to her advantage. She's very confident about the vintage for her labels.

Betty O'Shauhgnessy (O'Shauhgnessy Winery) was at the event too, as were Gary Pisoni (Pisoni Vineyards) Dan Kosta (Kosta Brown), Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat) and Bob Cabral (Williams-Selyem). So was chef/vintner Michael Chiarello (Chiarello Family Vineyards) who would prepare one of the courses the following evening. He told me that his winery got the majority of its fruit in and most of it was in pretty good shape. He lost about 25% of the Cabernet Sauvignon. "That Botrytis," he said shaking his head, "snuck in like a cat."

While we're talking Iron Chefs (Michael Chiarello is currently a contestant on "The Next Iron Chef"), here are former-Iron Chef Mario Batali and Chef Mark Ladner (a frequent Batali helper on Iron Chef).

Mario Batali is a good friend of Emeril's and has been a big fundraiser for his foundation. He offered food at both Boudin & Beer and Carnivale du Vin this year.


At Boudin & Beer, the Batali dish was a very good blood sausage (Biroldo in Italian). It's served at a restaurant in Eataly called La Birreria.


Chef Mark Ladner was a key part of the Batali efforts on both nights. He's executive chef at Lupa, Otto and Del Posto, where he's been given much of the credit for that restaurant's gaining a four star rating from the New York Times. Ladner was quiet but very personable.


Back to boudin...

Among my favorites was this Smoked Boudin with Apple Brandy Chutney from Rouses, largely on the strength of the chutney. The apple chunks were just firm enough and the chutney flavoring on the sweet side, yet tangy. It would have made a great pie.


Another standout was this dish from Hilton Riverside Hotel. Both of the Italian sausages were excellent and the Fennel Pollen Boudin Balls beat hush puppies hands down.


Some restaurants innovated by using unexpected proteins in their sausages. There were scallops, duck and antelope, among others.

Mr. B's Bistro went that direction too. They served Rabbit Sausage with Pear and Chili Chutney.


Commander's  Palace, the New Orleans icon at which both Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse got their starts, used antelope. And they "kicked it up a notch" with complexity. The sausages also included poblano peppers and pepper jack cheese. on top was a sauce of Grand Marnier, grilled onions and whiskey-coated cranberries.

New Orleans is a city where places that sound like local grocery stores, and often are local grocery stores, make great food too. Some of the best po-boy and muffaletta sandwiches are found in markets. City Grocery is not one of those places though. It's a full-on, two-story restaurant with fine dining on the ground floor and a bar with casual food upstairs. For Friday's event, they stuffed quail with boudin, sauced it with Creole mustard creme and topped it with a crunchy something that looked like a pork rind but was less dense and much more delicate in flavor. More please!

Speaking of more, I did go back for more of the fare from Crescent Pie & Sausage Co. I went back twice in fact. One lady I met went back five times.

The dish was Chaurice with "homemade" mustard and pickles. I didn't try the mustard. The chaurice (a Creole pork sausage) didn't need it. But that's not why people kept going back. It was the pickles! They were quite possibly the best I've ever tasted. Bread and butter pickles on the sweet side of sweet and sour, they were thinly sliced and generously spiced with allspice, cinnamon, cardamom and who knows what else. The best news I heard all night was that the guys from Crescent — Bart C. Bell and Jeff Baron — are opening a shop next to the restaurant and will be selling various sausages and canned items that they make, such as those pickles. I can't wait!

You may also enjoy our coverage of Carnevale du Vin.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to All photos by Fred Swan. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

A Unique Pairing of Wine and Chocolate

Wine and chocolate pairings are popular and often delicious, but don’t always enlighten. Typically, some form of dark chocolate is offered with Cabernet Sauvignon or a sweet red, such as late harvest Zinfandel. With so many different types of chocolate (and wine) available, there is room for more create combinations that are not just tasty but interesting.

That was my experience at Benessere Vineyards. They offer chocolate and wine tastings year round. My pairing included three wines and three chocolates, all of which were good. Two were somewhat conventional pairings based on red wines, though the bacon-infused chocolate with old vine Zinfandel was a clever touch. The first pairing was a real surprise though.

We were sipping on 2009 Benessere Pinot Grigio Carneros and basking in the sun when Eric Hensel, Benessere’s director of hospitality, brought over a bowl containing a broken up chocolate bar. To our surprise, he told us that the chocolate was meant to go with the Pinot Grigio.


The wine is a good on its own. It has ripeness of fruit that might surprise frequent sippers of Italian Pinot Grigio. It’s not sweet though, with just 0.3% residual sugar. The Benessere wine oozed aromas of honey, apple, cardamom, vanilla and orange blossom. Somewhat surprisingly, flavors on the palate are more briny and citrus-oriented, though these more austere notes are backed by cooked green apple and nectarine. The mouthfeel is creamy yet balanced by acidity which also lends an interesting, slightly dusty texture.

But with chocolate? I’ve had chocolate with white wines before, but usually sweet whites such as Moscato d’Asti, Orange Muscat, or Sauternes. I was dubious, but gamely took a bite of the chocolate. It was milk chocolate with slivers of almond and the name Lindt embossed in every square. The chocolate was sweet, but not overly so, and the almonds crunchy and toasty. A bit of creamy chocolate coated my mouth after I swallowed.

Curious now, I took a sip of the Pinot Grigio. The citrus flavors of the wine were emphasized and the body seemed lighter than it had on its own. The wine cut through the chocolate that had coated my mouth, refreshing my palate. The almond flavors of the chocolate were highlighted. I was hooked and my preconceptions dashed.

Benessere Vineyards is a bit off the beaten path, north of the town of St. Helena and a few hundred yards to the east of Hwy. 29 (see map). When the weather is good, sitting at one of their outdoor tasting tables under the arbor is a very pleasant way to taste wine. If it’s cold or rainy, or you’d rather belly up to a bar, they have a nice little indoor tasting counter.

Benessere is open daily from 10am until 5pm, by appointment only due to local regulations. In most cases, you should be okay if you give them a call while you’re driving over. If you’d like to do a wine and chocolate pairing though, it’s best to give them one day advance notice. That way they can ensure they’ve got plenty of fresh chocolate on hand.



If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. Banner photo cropped from a work by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos, used under GNU Free Documentation License. All other photos by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.

Review: Food & Wine Magazine App for iPad

Food & Wine Magazine has released an app for iPad. They previewed the app at the 2010 American Wine Awards ceremony last Tuesday night and released it on Thursday. The app is essentially a digital version of their magazine with an attractive interactive interface and some extra features made possible by its digital nature. The app and the inaugural issue — “the wine issue” — are free for now. There will be a fee for subsequent issues. Whether or not you buy future issues, I think there’s more than enough value in the current one to justify your time in downloading it.


Speaking of downloading time, as with most iPad magazines, getting the app itself is very quick but the magazine files are large and takes a few minutes even on WiFi. You only have to go through that process once for each magazine though, so it’s not a big deal. The attractive design and stunningly good photos alone make it worthwhile. (The photos in the print version are very good, but on the iPad the food shots practically leap out of the screen — absolutely gorgeous.)

The iPad issue also gives you more than just a shiny copy of the printed publication. There is extra content. In the current issue, there are videos of chefs Michael Chiarello and Mario Batali demonstrating cooking techniques and recipes. (The videos are well done, but the app crashes every time I close the video window.) There are also 100 new wine pairings that were put together expressly for this iPad issue.

Here’s a list of the primary articles included in this issue of Food & Wine for iPad:

  • Batali’s Eataly - Covering Mario Batali’s new 50,000 square foot “artisanal-food-and-and-wine market and restaurant complex.” Recipes are included.
  • Trendspotting - The focus is on Italian-American food.
  • Chef Recipes Made Easy - Seattle chef Jason Franey’s recipes are tweaked for home chefs.
  • Well-Being - Seamus Mullen, a finalist on last year’s “The Next Iron Chef” series from Food Network, offers healthy tapas recipes.
  • The Gastronaut Files - Domenica Marchetti shows how to make ravioli.
  • Fast - Grace Parisi of Food & Wine offers 9 recipes for good food you can make quickly.
  • Travel - A guide to the “best wine & food” in Canada.
  • Sonoma Vineyard Lunch - An article, recipes and videos focused on the wines of Jamey Whetstone’s Whetstone Wine Cellars and wine country lunch prepared by Michael Chiarello.
  • Wine Lessons - Sommeliers give their advice on 12 different topics, from “essential gear” to good values in sparkling wine and their favorite web sites.
  • Wine and Food Pairing - Recipes for 8 tasty-looking dishes and pairing suggestions.
  • Trends - Wine country art and art related to wine.
  • 100 Bottles to Drink Right Now - A list of wines that executive wine editor Ray Isle thinks you need to try. [Can anyone drink 100 wines "right away?"]
  • 2010 American Wine Awards - Find out which wines really got F&W tasters excited.
  • Italy's Lazio - “Eat & drink like a Roman”
  • Where to Go Next - 5 new favorite hang-outs for sommeliers.
  • Buying and Pairing Guide - Wines from Food & Wine’s 100 Bottles list are arranged into lists by color and price point, then paired with a recipe.

As good as this iPad-azine is, there are things I’d like to see enhanced, or added, in future issues:

  • Shopping lists - Give me a button after each recipe that sends a shopping list to Mail or Notes.
  • Links - There are a couple of links that take readers to the Food & Wine webpage that itself has links to certain cookbooks on Amazon. That’s not enough. Shouldn’t every chef's name link to a bio? Personally, I think every wine name should also link to the winery, though I imagine that F&W feel they should get paid for that. Restaurants and shops have their addresses, phone numbers and urls listed, but the urls aren’t clickable. This is 2010 folks, if you’re going to include a url in a digital publication, make it functional!

                                    Clickable icons and scrolling for recipes, but non-functional urls

  • Interface tweaks - The app is very interactive. There is a lot of scrolling and tapping. Changing the orientation of the iPad can change the layout and make more content visible. There’s also a fairly helpful introduction to the interface that pops up when you first open the issue (and is accessible thereafter via the table of contents). And the “recipe index” is marvelous. But I get the impression that the graphic designers won a few too many battles against the human factors/user-experience people. 
For some recipes, there is a fixed header (with the title and a photo) that takes up so much room in landscape mode that the scrolling window for the recipe below is too small to be practical.
 Photo links are easy to spot — marked with a camera icon — but text based links blend in too much with the body text. 
The video buttons (““tap for video” WATCH MARIO cook!”) are cool, but please tell me WHAT he’s going to cook. Don’t make me watch the video to figure it out
  • Finally, I think digizines like this should interact with my digital life more. It would give me a richer experience and be better for the publishers and their advertisers. Why aren’t there opportunities to Tweet things like “check out the the great list of wines in the Food & Wine iPad app?” Why can’t I “like” the app or a recipe on Facebook? Why can’t I tap the address of a listed restaurant to add it to my Contacts? Why can’t I tap the date in the ad for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen to add the event to my calendar? Publishers need to accentuate the “digi” and move beyond the “zine.”

These mild-mannered suggestions aside, the Food & Wine app for iPad looks great and, if you drink every listed bottle and make every recipe, will keep you busy and gaining weight for at least four months. Check it out!

If you enjoyed this article, please share it! Icons for popular sharing services are at the right above and also below.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All art in this article is from screenshots of the Food & Wine Magazine app for iPad and belongs to them. All rights reserved.

Wine Pairing Disasters: Cupcake Edition

cupcake_pajamas”Gourmet” cupcakes took over America a couple of years ago. Cupcake shops popped up all over. You could get cupcakes delivered to your home while watching cupcake-themed reality shows in your cupcake-motif pajamas. Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess I suppose.

Food and wine pairing is also somewhat out of hand. Matching food and wine perfectly can elevate a meal. It might change the way you look at both the food and the wine. Perfect pairings are rare though, and often in the mouth of the beholder. Despite the hype, the important thing is simply ensuring that the food does not decrease your enjoyment of the wine, or vice versa. Unfortunately, there are some combinations of food and wine that are almost certain to fail.

Cupcakes are, technically, food. As such, they can be “paired.” That does not make it a good idea. Bikinis are outdoor clothing. Deep-frying turkeys is an outdoor activity. But deep-frying a turkey while wearing nothing but a fetching two-piece is a poor idea. So, too, cupcakes and wine.

I bring this up because, just this weekend, I walked into a winery tasting room that was co-located with a boutique cupcake vendor. The recommendation was to get a sampler of tiny cupcakes to taste with specific wines. But the wines were table wines, not dessert wines. Cringe.

One of the principle rules of food and wine pairing is that a wine should be at least as sweet as the food with which it is paired. This is particularly true when it comes to desserts. If the wine is less sweet, its complex, fruity flavors will be flattened by the sugary bulldozer on your plate. Depending on the wine, it may taste sour, bitter or simply dull and devoid of fruit.

Now you might say, “That’s okay. I like wines with a bit of sweetness.” Regrettably, “a bit of sweetness” isn’t enough. To understand why, let’s look at the sugar content of two different cupcakes.

Paula Deen has a recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes on Mmmmm. Red Velvet! The sugar content is terrifying though, 31 grams per cupcake1. That’s more than you’d find in a 12oz can of Coke or Pepsi (27 grams). To approach the tooth-aching sweetness of Deen’s cupcake with wine, you need a full-on, super-sweet dessert wine such as a Pedro Ximenez (212+ grams/liter) from Spain or Sélection de Grains Nobles (256+ g/l) from France.

Elizabeth Faulkner's Pumkin Cupcake. Photo: c3lcius_bb / Flickr

Our second cupcake recipe is much less sweet than Deen’s, but it’s still a wine killer. Elizabeth Faulkner, formerly of Citizen Cake (and Citizen Cupcake), makes Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting that total 22 grams of sugar per serving2. To match these cupcakes’ sweetness with wine, you’ll want a Dulce Sherry (160+ g/l) or Tokaji Aszu-Eszencia (180 g/l) from Hungary.

You can certainly pair cupcakes with dessert wines such as those I suggest above. However, those wines are so sweet in and of themselves that most people choose to drink them as, rather than with, dessert.

When we were kids, we ate cake with a glass of cold milk. Milk is creamy, low in acidity and the cold temperature reduced our mouths' sensitivty to sugar. And milk doesn't have wine's complex range of flavors, nor does it cost $20/gallon. The milk was perfect, gently coating our little mouths and tempering the cake's sweetness. Sometimes kids know best.


1One-and-a-half cups of granulated sugar for 24 cupcakes, plus 4 cups of confectioner’s sugar for the frosting.
2One cup each of brown sugar and granulated sugar, plus 1 cup of powdered sugar for the frosting.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Cupcake Pajamas by PJ Salvage. All rights reserved.

Food and Wine Pairing, Zinfandel Style

ZAP 2010 is officially rolling. Tonight, the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers kicked things off with an event they call Good Eats and Zinfandel Pairing. It could also have been called Mountains of Food and Plenty of Red Wine. I guarantee that nobody left hungry tonight.