The First Date of Christmas – Labor-of-Love Black Beans and Pork Tenderloin

If a dish is a labor of love does that qualify it as date-night food? In my book, yes–and my husband John’s lovingly flavor-layered black beans are exactly that.

And of course tenderloin is just plain sexy in both name, and in nummy-ness, when he prepares it this way: the loin is split and scored to create nooks and crannys that take up the seasoning and increase the surface area available for the char imparted on a white-hot grill.

Paired with a very singular wine – a Barboursville Vineyards Reserve Nebbiolo 2012 from Virginia – it makes for a memorable first-date-of-Christmas meal. Why the Nebbiolo? Well, it has the bewitching earth-tobacco-gamy savor of great Nebbiolo (think Barbaresco from Italy) that’s perfect with the lusty earthiness of the beans and the crunchy-silky tenderloin. And, it’s from Enoteca Wine Shop in Calistoga, where the great wine merchant Margaux Singleton’s sublime tastes and discovery talents have made her selections frequent features on our date nights. The wine’s spice notes perfectly parallel the spices in the dry rub John uses on the pork…

… (and another John tip: season with smoked salt to further enhance the wine affinity), and its bracing acidity helps to pop the flavors in the rub, as well as the bacon-y-earthiness of the beans. Because it’s tenderloin, a hot, quick fire is key to wrapping the meat’s interior tenderness in a crunchy-smoky char. It all adds up to a heavenly marriage between the plate, the glass, and the couple. Here’s to a lusty first date of Christmas (and hopefully, many more to come–the kids’ activities make it a busy time of year so we’ll squeeze in as many “dates of Christmas” as we can!)

A perfect wine and cheese pairing for holiday gifting.

Whether there’s a wine and cheese lover on your gift list, a gourmand, a boss for whom you never know what to buy, or you’re invited and want to show up with something thoughtful and festive for the host, I have the perfect pairing for you–Pinot Noir and Comte cheese. I discovered this pairing on our recent trip to Burgundy for the Hospice de Beaune wine auction. It was four days of vineyard visits, tastings and meals that always, always ended the deliciously traditional way–with a course of local cheeses as the last pairing for the marquee wine of the meal, a French red Burgundy which is of course, Pinot Noir at its ultimate. This mind-blowing pairing defines synergistic, teasing more from both the wine and the cheese than either reveals on its own–and given the legendary complexity of Burgundy and the flavor-packed Comte, that’s saying something. Here’s the lowdown on both the cheese and the wine:

Pinot Noir – Make it a French red Burgundy if you can because the subtlety and firm acidity make Burgundy the perfect Pinot choice for this match. I chose Jean Bouchard Santenay for this pairing because it’s fairly broadly available and doesn’t break the bank the way Burgundy can, and if you do want to splurge on the wine, Burgundy is a pairing that will make the most of it. As a backup plan to Burgundy, a structured and subtle Oregon Pinot Noir such as Sokol-Blosser would be perfect. Either way, you’ll get abundant sour cherry, red currant and pomegranate fruit, and subtle sweet spice and mushroomy earthiness, all of which scream, “Pair me!”

Comte cheese – Also called Gruyere de Comte, this protected-origin cow’s milk cheese comes from the Franche-Comte region of France. It is a firm, pressed cheese with a brushed natural, inedible rind. Eaten straight as a partner to the wine (with a hunk of crusty bread if you like), the cheese smells both nutty and a little tangy like buttermilk. The crystals crunch gently in the mouth and then the cheese melts and spreads as you chew, tasting at once nutty, mushroomey, and buttery-sweet. (Yes, please!)

During the Hospice festivities I also had the chance to taste Comte paired with Burgundy’s benchmark Chardonnays – both a powerful barrel-fermented Albert Bichot Corton-Charlemagne, and the more elegant Long-Depaquit Chablis Grand Cru. Both were marvelous matches with the Comte, and worth the splurge. I hope you enjoy this wine and cheese pairing, and I look forward to hearing what you think!

My Napa: Visit some of my favorite wine country stops this holiday season.

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As a Napa Valley local, I am always proud to show off our beautiful home to visitors. Any time is a great time to be here, but this season is especially nice because the valley is beautiful, wineries have decked the walls with festive lights and greenery, and many are donating tasting room fees to fire recovery–a way for you to help!

Old School Wine Growing At Bichot in Burgundy

Four days in Burgundy for vineyard visits, technical tastings, more than a few decadent meals (bookended by foie gras and bewitching cheeses) and the Hospice de Beaune wine auction, reminded me why this region and its wines are so special. From the limestone in the Cote de Beaune to the marl of the Cote de Nuits, it’s about the soil, and farming the fruit in that soil to optimize the potential of each distinct plot. Here at Chateau Gris in the appellation of Nuits-Saint-Georges, they grow violet-scented, structured Pinot Noir, as well as a rarity – Nuits-Saint-Georges Blanc based on  Chardonnay. Only 4 producers make Nuits Blanc, and the bottling from Albert Bichot’s Chateau Gris estate is marvelous – saline, savory and almost masculine. You could even serve it with meals featuring roasted or grilled meat and you’d be thrilled.

These special plots are given the royal treatment by Bichot’s viticulturists, who farm them organically by hand. Using horses to cultivate the vineyard avoids compacting the soil versus the weight of a tractor, and less compacted soil is healthier, with better air exchange. This aids in the distribution of soil nutrients and the transfer of those nutrients to the plant. That results in greater plant health and thus, better grapes that make great wines. John preferred the Nuits Blanc, while I was partial to the violet- and lavender-scented Nuits-Saint-Georges rouge. Both are worth the search. I would pair the blanc with a saffron-scented dish such as saffron-garlic shrimp or even paella. For the red, a simple roast chicken or mushroom pasta would be heavenly.

Thanksgiving Pairings Inspired by My Delta Sky Club Wine Picks

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When it comes to Thanksgiving wines that pair perfectly with the big dinner, here is what you want: Spicy – from oak, or from spice-sparked grapes like Tempranillo and Sangiovese, to pick up the many lusty flavors of the meal; Nutty – also from oak barrel fermentation and/or aging, to complement the caramelized flavors in many traditional Thanksgiving dishes

After the Fires: Napa Comfort Cooking and Pairing

Following the wine country wildfires, returning to the keyboard has been hard. What to write that would be healing, pay tribute to the incredible work of firefighters and first responders, and celebrate the spirit of community and hospitality that is bringing wine country back so fast? Then it hit me: wine country comfort food

The Ultimate End-of-Summer Food & Wine Pairing – No grill needed.

The knock-your-socks-off end-of-summer pairing is a no-heat, no meat even, match with Napa Cabernet or really any favorite red wine with some grip and spunk. Tomatoes+basil+Cabernet=music for your mouth.

Bargain Bubblies & Roses for Summer

In this heat, we need summer bubbles and roses to cool things down and perk up our palates for all that delicious summer salad and grill fare. I have recently discovered some great bottlings that are made even greater by their bargain price tag …

Riesling 101

First, ditch your snobbery about Riesling. A lot of people hear Riesling and they think “sweet” and “no thanks.” My theory is that as soon as people spot the traditional long, thin bottle, they have flashbacks to Liebfraumilch.