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Solving a Food and Wine Pairing Puzzle at Tadich Grill

Finding a good wine pairing for cioppino is a challenge. Cioppino is essentially a stew made with tomatoes, wine and all kinds of seafood — but always a lot of shellfish. There’s usually some celery and onion in there and plenty of garlic. Some restaurants add hot red pepper, others avoid that to emphasize the sweetness of the seafood.

Normally when we think of pairing wine with seafood, our mind goes to white wines. But, cioppino is a perfect example of why one needs to focus not on the protein but on the sauce when selecting wine. Scallops, crab and white fish could go with any number of wines. But, when you start throwing in a lot of tomatoes, plus garlic and hot pepper, the list of options shortens substantially. You can forget about Chardonnay and most other medium to full-bodied whites. They won’t have the acidity to hold up to the cooked tomatoes and will have all the charm of a mouthful of mineral oil. There are white wines that do have a lot of acidity, but many of them have neutral flavor profiles. Those wines might work as palate cleansers with cioppino, but so does water. What should you choose?

cioppino-small

Though the dish sounds like it comes from Italy, cioppino was actually “invented” by hungry San Francisco Italian-immigrant fishermen in the late 19th century. Not long thereafter, the dish moved from the fishing boats, where it was a fresh and easy one-pot lunch that warmed body and soul, to The City’s restaurants, where on cold, foggy July days it is a fresh and easy one-pot lunch that warms body and soul. It is served throughout the Bay Area, but Tadich Grill considers it one of their specialities. They serve hundreds of bowls of the tangy fish stew daily. What better place to go for advice on cioppino pairings?

Tadich Grill, which started business in 1849 as wharf-side coffee kiosk, is a busy place. Having moved to its present location in the Financial District in 1969, it’s become a lunchtime hangout for San Francisco’s movers and shakers, a mecca for well-informed tourists and a destination for truckloads of fresh fish. Tadich Grill takes no reservations, but moves people through in a hurry. Hence, conversations with the waiters are brief. “Excuse me kind sir, what wine would you suggest for the cioppino? Perhaps a crisp Sauvignon Blanc?” “No,” says the waiter. “Pinot or Zinfandel. You want more bread?” And away he trots.

Pinot or Zinfandel — that was unexpected. California serves up some rich Pinot Noir that still retains good acidity, so I could see where the waiter was coming from. Somehow though, it didn’t sound quite right. Zinfandel on the other hand seemed a brilliant call. Zesty with bold flavors yet low enough in tannins to play nice with fish, Zinfandel blends are probably also the wines the Italian fishermen would have been drinking in the 1880’s. The key, I decided, would be finding one that isn’t too high in alcohol.

While Zinfandel used to be the daily drink of Italian farmers throughout the Sonoma and Napa regions, and that of their relatives in nearby cities, at some wineries it has become like sipping whiskey. With intense flavors, heavily influenced by oak, and full body from high-alcohol levels created with extra-ripe fruit and superhero yeasts, these Zins make an impact at tastings and can easily chase a cocktail. However, they also steamroll a plate of food. Plus, drinking high-alcohol wine with food that may have hot pepper in it is almost literally throwing fuel on a fire. Reviewing the Tadich wine list, I saw four good Zinfandels, but three of them struck me as better options for a grilled steak. I chose the fourth, the 2007 Storybook Mountain Zinfandel Mayacamas Range Napa Valley ($34 retail, $50 on the wine list).

07_Mayacamas_24

The wine turned out to be perfect for the cioppino. Fresh, dark berry flavors parried the bright tomato and soft oak-derived chocolate married with the red pepper spice. Elegant and supple for a contemporary Zinfandel, the wine did not overwhelm the white fish, scallops, crab or mussels. Smooth on the palate, the Storybook went down easy and was enjoyed by all.

This was my first time at Tadich Grill and I was pleased with the experience. The prices are fair, even low for downtown San Francisco, and the portions quite large. Plenty of good San Francisco sourdough bread is provided for each table automatically too, so take care not to over-order. Dungeness crab leg cocktail and prawn cocktail appetizers were fresh tasting and included six pieces of the named seafood for $15.75 and $11.25 respectively. The Pacific Oysters Rockefeller ($19.00) also came with six pieces, but overflowed with the tasty cheesy-spinach topping and also included a huge tomato stuffed with same. That dish could easily serve as a main course. The “cup” of Boston Clam Chowder ($6.25) is thick, hearty and comes in bowl the size of a large coconut shell. I didn’t see any “bowls” of the chowder ($7.25) but can only assume the portion is large enough to bathe in.

Speaking of main courses, at $26.25, the cioppino is one of the most expensive items on the menu. But it’s loaded with clams, prawns, scallops, bay shrimp, Dungeness crab meat and white fish and comes with two pieces of garlic bread. You don’t need an appetizer and I think it’s a good value. At $17.75, the meat ravioi with meat sauce is a full plate too. Porterhouse steak was a special that evening for $21.75. It was wide enough to cover the whole plate but very thin and somewhat overcooked — ask for it rare.

And then there were the desserts. The Cheesecake ($7.25) was large but didn’t strike us as a specialty or something made on site. However, the Mixed Berries ($7.00) was a heaping bowl of very fresh and flavorful fruit. It comes with a massive quantity of Zabaglione Sauce that was flavored with something that may have been Grand Marnier. It was very good and a single order could satisfy at least three people. The Chocolate Mousse ($8.25) was the prettiest dish I saw come out of the kitchen and, while big enough to share, can be tackled by one person. The rich, not quite fluffy chocolate, is served in a cylindrical mold made from artfully wrinkled leaves of frozen chocolate and topped with a dollop of whipped cream.

As mentioned above, Tadich Grill doesn’t take reservations and that’s a policy from which they don’t waiver. However, they have a lot of tables, especially two- and four-tops, a large bar to make the wait pleasant, and move people in pretty quickly. They were able to seat my party, a group of 11, by putting together three four-tops, within about fifteen minutes and that was at 7:30 on a Saturday night.

Tadich Grill doesn’t have a website to speak of, but they are located at 240 California Street in San Francisco. That’s between Front St. and Battery St. They are open from lunchtime through 9:30pm, six days a week. They are closed on Sundays.

Storybook Mountain Vineyards is a Napa Valley winery whose 100% organic vineyard lies on the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Range. Their vineyards get direct morning sun but the harsh afternoon sun hits the vines at an angle, sparing them from its searing heat. Cool breezes come up from the San Pablo Bay to the south and over the mountains from the Russian River to the west. This keeps the average temperate for the vineyard about 10 degrees lower than for those on the valley floor. Clay soils and relatively high rainfall (due to moist air from the ocean reaching the dew point as it rises over the Mayacamas Range) allows the vineyards to be “dry farmed” for the most part. The site and weather allow Storybook to create concentrated, yet balanced, wine. Their offerings include very well-regarded Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier varietals. NorCal Wine Highly Recommends the 2007 Storybook Mountain Zinfandel Mayacamas Range Napa Valley ($34, 14.6% alc.)

All of the food and wine mentioned in this article were purchased at full price by my friends and I.

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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 outour 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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. The Storybook Mountain Winery label art is property of that winery.

Deals of the Day Template: 50% Off $50 Wine and Merlot for a Penny

These are deals I’ve come across in the last day or so that I thought may be of interest to you. NorCal Wine isn’t compensated in any way by the vendors involved.CAV_logo

 

CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen will be running a 50/50 Sale from 2pm to 5pm this Saturday, July 24. All wines on their list at $50 or higher will be on sale for 50% off.

 

AET_logo_4cp

Astrale e Terra, a producer of wine from Napa Valley’s Atlas Peak AVA, is has a special promtion going on their Estate Merlot. The wine normally sells for $32 but, if you $150 or more of any Astrale e Terra wines, you can get a bottle of the Merlot for just one cent. To get the special deal, you must order from the Astrale e Terra online store and use the coupon code FOODFRENZY.

 

murphy-vineyards

Murphy Vineyards has a summer sale going on their entire range of wines from the Sierra Foothills. Everything, except their promotional packages, is 30% off. To take advantage of the sale, but from their online store and enter the promotional code: summer2010. (Note that club member pricing is 40% all year. So, if you want even bigger savings, you know what to do...)

 

grgich_logo

Grgich-Hills Estate of the Rutherford AVA says that their mini-bottle tasting kits are back in stock. For $29.99, plus tax and shipping, at their online store, you get one 50ml bottle each of the six varietal wines they make.

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 outour 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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Winery logos are the property of their respective wineries. All rights reserved.

Robert Mondavi Winery’s Garden to Table Experience Offers Fun, Food and Hands-On Culinary Instruction

Robert Mondavi is perhaps the most revered figure in the modern history of California wines. His passion for high-quality wine, vision for what Napa Valley could offer, skills as a corporate leader and work as an ambassador of California wine around the world all played huge roles in the rise of Napa Valley as one top wine-producing regions of the world. But, revolutionary as Mondavi may have been in some respects, he was very traditional in his belief that food and wine should be served together — creating a harmonious meal and a daily celebration of family, friends and nature’s gifts.

Robert Mondavi and his winery promoted this connection between food and wine in many ways over the years. The winery building, constructed in 1966, includes a private dining room called the Vineyard Room which has been used for a wide range of events related to the combination of food and wine. In 1976, Robert Mondavi Winery initiated a series of classes called the The Great Chefs of Robert Mondavi. The first culinary series offered by an American winery, it gave attendees the opportunity to learn from and cook side-by-side with famous chefs, including Julia Child, Alice Waters, Jacques Pepin, Paul Bocuse and Rick Bayless. Later, Robert Mondavi was a major benefactor of The American Center of Wine, Food and the Arts in Napa.

Nearly 35 years after founding The Great Chefs of Robert Mondavi, the winery continues to be a leader in promoting the culinary aspects of wine and wine country living. You can sign up for lunch in the Vineyard Room or garden, courses in pairing wine with food or special dinners featuring library wines dating back to the 1970’s. For a more hands-on experience, reserve a spot in one of the winery’s “Garden to Table” events.

The Garden to Table experience lasts four hours and includes time in the garden, helping Chef Jeff Mosher prepare a meal using fresh local ingredients, a walk through the vineyard, a brief tour of the winery and then a delicious meal outdoors. The Garden to Table experience costs $150 per person, each of whom also receives a Robert Mondavi Winery apron and a hard-bound book of recipes. Garden to Table will take place every Saturday this August. Attendance is limited and reservations go fast, so sign up soon.

The winery recently gave me a sneak preview of the program. I had a great time and am sure that you’ll enjoy it too. My experience began as I and a handful of other journalists were greeted on the winery’s patio by Margarit Mondavi, Chef Jeff Mosher and refreshing glasses of Robert Mondavi Winery Fumé Blanc.

We spent a few minutes chatting with our hosts and then strolled to the adjacent herb and produce garden. There, Chef Mosher talked about the winery’s commitment to local ingredients and organic gardening. They create their own compost and even have a worm farm. After that, we armed ourselves with bowls and commenced harvesting herbs, lettuce, strawberries and edible flowers for our lunch.

Chef-Mosher-gathering-herbs-for-a-lunch

When we’d filled the bowls, we headed into the kitchen. We received a quick orientation in the kitchen, were shown where to put scraps for composting and then began to wash and chip the herbs. Chef Mosher quickly blanched arugula and tarragon. Using the very useful VitaMax, he quickly whipped up a tasty arugula puree to go with our seafood course and sweetened tarragon cream for the strawberries. [It would have never occured to me to use tarragon in whipped cream, but it was excellent.] After we had honed our herb chopping chops and gotten the food prep off to a good start, we were whisked off for a tour of the winery and vineyard with senior wine educator, Inger Shiffler.

Putting-writers-to-work

The Robert Mondavi Winery’s To Kalon Vineyard is one of the most storied in Napa Valley and it comes with a great view of the Mayacamas. In the winery proper, substantially renovated as of 2001, you’ll see something unique — 56 mammoth oak fermentation tanks. Specially made to Mondavi’s specifications by Taransaud barrel-makers in Cognac and more porous than stainless steel, the tanks allow red wine to soften through natural micro-oxidation and tannins begin resolving during maceration and fermentation. This allows the wines to be ageworthy, yet still approachable when young. Unlike old fashioned wood fermentation tanks though, these are each equipped with a precise, high-tech cooling apparatus to allow the winemakers to very carefully control fermentation temperatures.

When our tour was complete, we headed back to the patio for lunch. There was just enough time to dive into a glass of Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc To Kalon Vineyard I-Block before the first course was served. It was a delicious lunch paired with delicious wines. I’ve listed our menu below. Of course, yours will be different due to the focus on fresh, local, seasonal ingredients.

Seared-Halibut

 

The Menu

Seared Alaskan Halibut
Wild Arugula Purée, Garden Herb Salad
Meyer Lemon Beurre Blanc

2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Chardonnay Reserve
~~~~~~~~~~~

Pan-Roasted Niman Ranch Ribeye
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Green Garlic
King Trumpet Mushrooms, Baby Carrots, Broccoli Rabe
Bordelaise Sauce

2006 Robert Mondavi Winery Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
~~~~~~~~~~~

Strawberry Shortcake Garden Fraise Des Bois
Garden Tarragon Cream
Strawberry Balasamic Sorbet

2009 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Moscato D’Oro

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 outour 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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Deals of the Day: Four Tempting Deals Including Crazy Pricing for Wente Reliz Creek Pinot Noir

These are deals I’ve come across in the last day or so that I thought may be of interest to you. NorCal Wine isn’t compensated in any way by the vendors involved.

Wente Vineyards has a “Sparkling Summer Sale” going. They are offering some wines at a significant discount if you purchase in full case lots. For example, the 2007 Wente Vineyards Pinot Noir Reliz Creek is available for $120/case. Earlier in the week, I rated the wine Highly Recommended and thought it was a good deal at the $21.95 retail. At $10, it’s a steal.

Order on-line now through July 25, 2010. Visit sale.wentevineyards.com to place your order. All sales are by case lots only, no bottle sales. No phone orders. Shipping available to reciprocal states.

Pick up dates are Friday, July 30th from 10-4 pm and Saturday July 31 from 10-2 pm
Estate Winery.
5565 Tesla Road
Livermore, CA

Coterie Cellars, an urban winery in south San Jose that specializes in Pinot Noir and Syrah, is doing a “Bottle Your Own Syrah” promo. If you buy a case of their 2009 Syrah you can bottle it yourself and put your own label on. It’s an easy way to get some nice wine that you can customize for special gifts or to have a true “house wine.” Contact Coterie Cellars for an appointment.

If a mere case isn’t enough, or you want to dial in a flavor profile, Coteria can also accommodate a limited number of people in their Private Label program for a future vintage. Contact Coterie Cellars for details.

Sausal Winery in Alexander Valley is offering a 20% discount on any purchase of their 2005 Sogno della Famiglia. It's a blend of Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Carignane from their estate vineyard. The regular retail price is $32.00 per bottle, on sale for $25.60.  Club Members take an extra 5% off their already discounted price. Call the winery to buy some or just stop by.

Sausal Winery
7370 Highway 128
Healdsburg, CA 95448

Office hours: 10:00 am till 4:00 pm (Mon-Fri)
Tasting room hours: 10am–4pm (7 days a week)

800-500-2285
(707) 433-2285

Family Winemakers Tasting
If you want to taste a vast array of wines from small producers, the annual Family Winemakers Tasting is a great opportunity to do so. It will be open to the public from 3PM to 6PM on Sunday, August 22. They are offering special “early bird” pricing right now. Ticket prices for Tasting 2010 are as follows: Early Bird Special is $45 per ticket through August 1st, $55 between August 2nd and August 21st, and $65 at the door. If you have a group of 10 or more it is $5 less than the current price. For more information or to buy tickets, hit their website.

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 outour 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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Spotlight on the Rutherford AVA

Rutherford AVA, established in 1993
Napa County

The Rutherford AVA in Napa Valley is sandwiched between the Oakville AVA to the south and the St. Helena AVA to the north. It stretches from the foothills of the Mayacamas mountains on the west to the foothills of the Vaca range on the east. Both of Napa Valley’s primary north-south roads, Hwy. 29 and Silverado Trail, pass through Rutherford and many excellent wineries are located on each. Don’t overlook the cross roads and spurs though, as there are some great places tucked away.

While Rutherford is home to many distinguished wines, especially those based on Cabernet Sauvignon, even experts sometimes find it hard to distinguish them from those of Oakville. Matt Kramer1 has said, “Collectively, is there a difference between Oakville and Rutherford? Not that I can tell.”

This is because, in part, both AVAs include benchland vineyards and valley floor vineyards. The corresponding differences in soil, temperature and sun exposure change the character of the wines and make it hard to pinpoint very specific characteristics for either AVA as a whole. In fact, the valley floor wines of each may be more similar to each other than to the benchland wines of their own AVA. One can make generalizations about slight temperature differences between the two appellations — Rutherford being slightly warmer — but, in reality, the boundary between them is simply a two-lane road. Those vineyards closest to the road are likely to be very similar. Fortunately, having one’s wine thought to be from Oakville is like being mistaken for George Clooney or Charlize Theron — most people would take it as a compliment.

”Rutherford Dust” is often referred to as the defining characteristic of the Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines from that AVA. However, it is probably more closely associated with the benchland vineyards than those from the valley floor. And, as Stephen Brook2 has pointed out, “so varied are the descriptions of this fruit character that it is hard to know what is meant by most of them.” Indeed, some scholarly books say the term refers to minerality while others say it is the character of the tannins. In any case, the line between the Oakville and Rutherford benches is a thin one and the winemaking styles and oak regimes of individual wineries can also make identification of very specific indicators of the terroir, dusty or otherwise, difficult.

So how does one characterize the wines of the Rutherford AVA? More than 70% of the acreage under vine is dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon, so it must be the primary grape by which the area is judged. These wines tend to be both substantial and balanced. There is rich fruit but also a lot of tannic structure. These tannins help give the wines long lives but also encourage a person to let the wines mature in bottle for at least a few years rather than drinking them immediately upon release. The flavors tend to be dark: black cassis, black cherry, black olive and earth along with notes of mint, dry herbs and whatever the barrels bring. The typical Rutherford wine is neither thin nor gooey, neither sweet nor dominated by mineral or animal notes. It is nearly full-bodied and ripe-fruited with savory notes and a silky mouthfeel, punctuated by dusty to grainy tannins. The finish can be extremely long.

Among the white wines, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc dominate. Some say that the area is too warm for Chardonnay. However, careful growers and producers are able to turn out very fine wines based on that grape. Forgoing malolactic fermentation is one way some keep the wines refreshing. The Sauvignon Blanc can be extremely good, balancing rich fruit with herbal notes and ample acidity. It is less easy, though, to see distinctions of Rutherford AVA terroir through the white wines than through the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Details
Latitude: 38.45 degrees
Altitude: 100 ft. to 500 ft.
Climate: Warm summer days (peaks in the mid-90’s) with cooling breezes from the San Pablo Bay and morning fog in the lowlands
Annual Rainfall: 38 in.
Soils: well draining and moderately fertile in the west with sedimentary gravelly sand and alluvial, greater fertility and volcanic content in the east
Vineyard Acres: 3,518
Pests & Viticultural Risks: Glassy-Winged Sharpshooters and Pierce’s Disease; Phylloxera; frost or hard rain in the late Spring and early Fall

Primary Grape Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc

A Selection of Significant Wineries
Alpha Omega
Beaulieu Vineyard
Caymus Vineyards
El Molino
Frog’s Leap Winery
Honig Vineyard & Winery
Lieff Wines
Martin Estate
Peju Province
Provenance Vineyards
Quintessa
Rubicon Estate
Staglin Family Vineyards
William Harrison Winery

Significant Vineyards
Beaulieu Vineyard
Beckstoffer Vineyards George III
Bella Oaks Vineyard
Bosché Vineyard
Rubicon, formerly Inglenook
Sycamore Vineyard

AVA organizations
Rutherford Appellation Wineries
Rutherford Dust Society

Restaurants
Auberge du Soleil
Rutherford Grill

Accommodations
Auberge du Soleil
Rancho Caymus

1 Kramer, Matt (2004). Matt Kramer's New California Wine. Philadelphia: Running Press Book Publishers
2 Brook, Stephen (1999) The Wines of California. London: Faber & Faber

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 outour 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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved