The Perfect Paella and Wine Pairing?

Paella and wine are a natural, because they both come from wine country–Spain’s wine country.  “But the whole country of Spain is wine country,” you are thinking.  And you are right!  And the whole of Spain is Paella country – everywhere doing it a bit differently, as it is with wine.  Arguably the classic Paella is Paella Valenciana – from the Valencia region in southeastern Spain which is coastal, and thus the classic usually is loaded with tender-sweet bivalves and other shellfish, along with chorizo sausage and sometimes meat.

I have adapted my paella recipe for the reality that most of us don’t have access to either great shellfish or great chorizo.  We do have access to Pimenton Ahumado, or smoked paprika, in many markets or on Amazon–and it is a great addition, really enhancing the wine affinity of an already wine-loving dish.  What about saffron – the classic seasoning of paella that is derived from the stigmas of the saffron crocus flower?  Once you imagine the cost of harvesting a spice from the wispy centers of crocus flowers you will appreciate why I made that ingredient optional too.

The wine more than completes the flavor palette–I paired mine with Finca Sandoval from the Manchuela D.O. in Spain – an up-and-comer that, like many emerging Spanish regions, makes it to our shores thanks to that treasure-hunter Spanish

vintner and wine importer, Jorge Ordonez.  Name that grape:)  What would you pair with this dish?  Here is the recipe for Easy Paella

Tour de France–Bikes, Bites, Bouteilles

The best view of the Tour de France is surely through a glass of Rhone Rosé from beneath the jagged peaks of the Montmirail that punctuate the southern Rhone course of the 16th stage. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to pull off both simultaneously :). But I’ll take any day

my Chène Bleu Rose and Maillot Jaune (Tuna Crudo dressed accordingly); amazing twilights and breakfasts at La Verrièrre, a remote medieval villa where 60-year-old Grenache and Syrah vines kept my wine glass steeped in spice, character and an ancient monastic wine tradition, syncopated with the modern rhythms of poolside ping pong; and a medieval love story truer than Romeo and Juliet which is being lovingly retold, via the estate’s wine.

Héloise, she of these true-life star-crossed lovers, is commemorated in a blend of predominantly Syrah with a touch of Viognier and Grenache. It’s the elegant yet structured one of the two, and the 2007 bottling with dark and smoky notes shot through with tendrils of fragrant sweet tobacco and bacon, shows she is headed for stellar cellaring potential. Her suitor’s tribute bottling, bearing his name Abèlard, is based on the estate’s 50+ year-old Grenache vines blended with a bit of Syrah, and surprises with its juxtaposition of meaty, red-fruited fleshiness, floral-pomegranate-spice aromatics, and intense concentration. Chène Bleu’s proprietor and vintner Nicole Rolet told us the story that sadly for Heloise and Abelard, the discovery of their illicit love affair was punished with his castration and lives forever apart, connected only by the letters they exchanged until their deaths. So then: it felt that for us the only thing to do was reunite them at the table to marry with our roasted partridge. They tussled playfully, each a delicious partner, neither upstaging the other, each teasing out new nuances of character in the food, the mood and each other as the evening floated into twilight. That felt very, very right.

Happy Auction Napa Valley!

Bon Appetit’s piece on their ’10 Favorite Hotels’ in this month’s issue features two of my favorite hotels in the US, who also happen to be big fans of The ONE – Blackberry Farm and the Inn at Palmetto Bluff. I was thrilled to see these two tremendous properties get the nod from Bon Appetit, and it also got me excited for Auction Napa Valley (May 31-June 2), at which Blackberry Farm’s Chef, Joseph Lenn, a brand-new James Beard Award winner, will be cooking. I can’t believe it’s been three years since BA featured The ONE as their Smart Buy of the year (see below) – it seems we all have great taste!

Congratulations again to both Blackberry Farm and the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, and here’s to a lively and successful Auction Napa Valley weekend!  Watch for my video updates all weekend long.

A Toast to the Golf Masters with Master Somm Wines

Just one champion will don the green jacket this weekend at the fabled Masters Tournament. A few other visitors to the Augusta National Golf Club will have the chance to sip from a certain green-stemmed wine glass created just for the Masters by yours truly.  To celebrate, I plan to fill my glass with wines from the Masters.  Read on so you can, too.

People often ask me, since I live in Napa–do I plan to make my own wine?  It’s very true that sooner or later, after serving so many great wines, visiting world-class wine regions, working harvests and helping winemaker friends at blending trials, many Master Sommss find it hard to resist the allure of trying their own hand at winemaking. And with 3 acres planted to Sauvignon Blanc on our Napa Valley property, I could actually make estate wine.  But (for now at least), with so many great wines on the market–including from my Master Somm colleagues–I am happy to just keep tasting and telling you about others’ vinous handiwork.  Here are some great Master Sommelier wines to check out.

Scarpetta Pinot Grigio, Friuli, Italy – Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey is one of those guys who was born to be a restaurateur.  He exudes that genial and masterful deference to the food, the wine and his guests that makes one feel a sense of excitement and utter well-being to spend a few hours in his care at Frasca Food & Wine (his fine dining-but not fancy-restaurant) or the more casual Pizzeria Locale, both in Boulder, Colorado.  When Bobby and Frasca’s Chef/Partner Lachlan Mackinnon left their pedigreed posts at the French Laundry to create a very special Italian dining experience, they didn’t just dip a toe into the boot of Italy.  They dug deep into the northeastern Friuli region, notable for its unique cuisine style and very distinctive wines that include my all-time favorite Italian whites. Launching a wine based on Friulian grapes and terroir was a natural compliment to their restaurant venture.  This bottling is a great introduction to Scarpetta wines.  And it is far from your garden variety simple-and-citrusy Pinot Grigio.  It has much more depth on the palate, with a distinctive ripe Bartlett pear flavor and palate weight that carries it far beyond salad or the salumi plate to richer dishes like herbed polenta with goat cheese, as well as cuisines with an exotic spice element such as Indian or Thai.  Pick up some bottles of this wine for spring and summer sipping, and look for it next year on a Delta flight – it’s the first Pinot Grigio I’ve ever chosen for in-flight because I think it will really show beautifully at 30,000 feet.  Also make a pilgrimage to see Bobby and his adorable and elegant wife Danette at Frasca in Boulder (maybe on your way to see both of us at the Food & Wine Magazine Classic in Aspen this June?).

Gramercy Cellars Tempranillo Inigo Montoya, Walla Walla, Washington – I remember when Master Sommelier Greg Harrington passed his Masters exam.  It was in 1996 (when I passed) at the age of 26—making him the youngest-ever American to pass the exam.  After piloting wine programs for Chef greats like Joyce Goldstein, Wolfgang Puck and Emeril Lagasse, Greg with his wife Pam did a 180 and headed to Walla Walla wine country.  They had sensed something distinctive in the region’s wines, and I couldn’t agree more.  For at least a decade now I have been impressed with the sense of place expressed in many of Walla Walla’s best wines.  The region has made fast-paced progress in figuring out what to plant where, and how to farm it, to capture balance, earthiness and distinctiveness—all the signs of a great terroir.  When I served this wine to my husband John (whose palate prowess actually rivals that of many a Master), he got that it was Tempranillo, but guessed old world, Spain.  I am sure Greg would be honored by that! I got pretty new American oaky-coconut scents in the nose, and grippy, tarry tannins and bruised black plum fruit on the palate.  The wine is lusty and interesting now with a subtle cheese such as Manchego or Idiazabal, but if you have the patience to wait, I believe it will morph like a butterfly and be something truly amazing in ten years or so.


On the “First Date of Christmas”..Let the Romantic Holiday Wine and Food Pairings Begin!

Last holiday season, my husband John came up with the idea of the “12 Dates of Christmas”–meaning “kitchen dates,” on which he is quite the expert–lucky me:). It’s simple – make dinner a chance to “court in the kitchen” and either win her heart or, in our case, just keep the fire stoked.

This year for the First Date of Christmas I took kitchen duty, and the first theme of this “!2 Dates” season – The Taste of Things to Come. On the menu? Chicken smoked and roasted in my Camerons stove-top smoker. It’s like a dress-rehearsal for the smoked ducks that are our family tradition for Christmas Day dinner, and gives us some yummy smoky bones for a stock. So, it’s no Partridge in a Pear Tree on this First Date of Christmas–but how’s a Hen in an Oak tree (I smoked the bird with oak chips)–a lot tastier, huh?

I bought a plump free-range bird, seasoned with salt and pepper and stuffed aromatic thyme branches from my CSA share beneath the breast skin. Important: butterfly the bird by cutting through just to the side of the backbone, so that you can lay it flat to fit in the smoker. This also speeds up the roasting time. (You could remove the back bone completely but then you have less flavoring for your stock:)

I completed the meal with CSA dry-farmed potatoes cooked in smoky stock, then mashed, and Brussels sprouts blanched then sauteed with sweet, sweated shallots–just like I learned in cooking school.

What’s your guess for the wine I paired? The photo gives a little hint!

Visiting Burgundy Wine Country

Visiting France’s Burgundy wine region is an easy foodie side trip from Paris, thanks to the TGV service to Dijon (yes, France’s mustard HQ is also the gateway to Burgundy wine country). Here’s a little taste of what it is like to visit the home of the world’s most magical Chardonnay whites and Pinot Noir reds.

Putting The ONE Through Its Paces: Auberge Friday Flights New Lineup

Click on the following link for the complete new Friday Flights lineup, with my preview notes. I’d love to hear what you think!

Auberge Friday Flights New Lineup Sept 21, 2012

Melon (the white grape from the Loire Valley used in Muscadet but in this case from Oregon!), Viognier (indigenous to the Rhone Valley in France, but a Sonoma version), Graciano (a Paso Robles California version of a bit-player red grape in Spanish Rioja), and a 2003 Tuscan Italian classic Brunello di Montalcino.  What will Auberge du Soleil Wine Director Kris Margerum dream up next?

I am in his debt, for putting The ONE stemware through its paces with such a creative, diverse lineup.  You could only find this on a great list–one cultivated for decades by the same guy, Kris.  Thank you!

Here is the lineup for this week:

The ONE White Wine Flight $19
2009 Roots Melon de Bourgogne Yamhill-Carlton Oregon (that’s the grape of Muscadet)
2010 Pride “Mountain Vineyards” Viognier Sonoma County (that’s the grape of Condrieu in the Rhone)
2009 Joseph Drouhin “Reserve de Vaudon” Chardonnay Chablis-France (you know Chardonnay/Chablis)

The ONE Red Wine Flight $27
2003 Villa a Tolli Sangiovese Brunello di Montalcino-Italy (Brunello is the local name and clone or version, for Sangiovese in this little pocket of Tuscany)
2008 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc Saint Helena (love Pam Starr-her Cab Franc was the first and is still the best varietal Cab Franc I’ve had from California)
2007 Bodegas Paso Robles Graciano Central Coast-California (what???  I’m headed up on Sunday to check this one out!)

I got engaged at Auberge.  I’ll look for any excuse to return but this is really something.  If you are in wine country this week you are in for a treat. Stop by!

Friday Flights at Auberge Bistro and Bar in The ONE!

Few places on earth have the view, the food, the service and the amazing wine list that you will find at Auberge du Soleil.  It is Nirvana in Napa. I got engaged there, and return often to enjoy the memories and make new ones.

Speaking of new, and one–the Auberge Bistro and Bar has introduced Friday Flights–a white and red flight that changes each Friday.  The flights are the brainchild of Auberge’s gifted and long-time Wine Director and friend, Kris Margerum.  Several years ago, Kris was one of the pro palates I turned to for help in refining my The ONE red stem.  So the launch of Friday Flights seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to collaborate.  You get 2 oz pours of each of 3 completely different wines, served in either The ONE for white or The ONE for red-the choice of flight is up to you, of course!

You will more than likely want to try both, because Kris is creating with these flights the rare opportunity to cherry-pick the extraordinary Auberge list and try wines rarely available by the glass.  For example, the launch week featured Staglin Chardonnay 2009, and bottled-aged Bordeaux from the Fronsac district.  If you are coming to wine country for Labor Day Weekend, here is what’s in store:

White $20
2009 Rudd Sauvignon Blanc-Mount Veeder–happens to be one of my favorite Napa Sauv Blancs
2010 Horse & Plow “Filigreen Farm” Pinot Gris-Anderson Valley–Anderson Valley in Mendocino County is becoming quite well-known for grape varietals from the French Alsace region
2006 Domaine Huet “Le Mont” Chenin Blanc Demi Sec-Vouvray–A geek favorite that Master Somm’s adore

Red $23
2006 Alain Graillot Syrah-Croze Hermitage–Any more, only great somm’s with great wine lists can get this wine. When you taste its abundance of black pepper on raspberries flavors, you’ll see why.
2007 Vision Cellars Pinot Noir-Marin County–Its “in the blood” of visionary vintner Mac McDonald. From his bio: “I was born the son of a Texas Moonshine maker. My Father, Sue, was considered by many to be the finest Moonshine maker in all of Texas, because of the fine grains he used to make his corn whiskey. My Mother Elbessie, along with her brothers and sister, made wine from the various fruit we grew.” I love his Pinots.
2008 Paradigm Merlot-Oakville–Produced by wine goddess Heidi Peterson-Barrett from the estate fruit of Marilyn and Ren Harris, in the heart of Oakville.  It’s aptly named.

Locals’ tip:  Auberge Bistro & Bar doesn’t take reservations which is kind of cool, but of course it will be packed this weekend.  Go between lunch and dinner, or late, to be sure of grabbing a spot.  Leave room for the burger (best in Napa Valley!) or the thin-crust funghi pizza. Here is a video from the terrace to give you a sneak peek.  Enjoy!

Napa’s Famous Foodies

As I believe Yogi Berra said, “if there is a fork in the road, take it!” He must have been not just a baseball legend, but a foodie, too.  My husband John and I are for sure on that team, and I bet you are, too.  We’re lucky to be able to ask our friends the best places to go, since many of them are great vintners, chefs, food and farming artisans, and of course somm’s.  I hope you will enjoy hearing their perspective and that you will share your own, too.  Since I live in a truly great foodie destination, Napa Valley, let me cordially invite you…c’mon, what are you waiting for?

Napa – Lunch at Auberge du Soleil

Happy Auction Napa Valley week! I thought it would be great to share some  videos from my neighborhood, in honor of our annual wine auction that raises millions for local community charities supporting health care, education and more.

Chefs Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Ken Frank of La Toque, and the grande dame Margrit Mondavi herself, can’t be wrong:  they all say that Auberge du Soleil is one one of the not-to-be missed Napa experiences.  They recently expanded their outdoor dining terrace which has the most extraordinary views of Napa Valley from its heart in the Rutherford AVA.  Our locals’ tip:  ask to sit on the bistro side (same views) where there is a modestly-priced menu with fantastic pastas and salads, and the valley’s best burger (sorry, Taylor’s aka Gott’s Roadside Tray Gourmet – I prefer your fish tacos over your burger!).  Say “hi” to the top-notch Somm Chris Margerum and ask what he’s got special by-the-glass.  He’s not shy about pouring the good stuff.  You won’t want to leave!  (And if you’ve got the jack, this is the one of the top hotel experiences, ever.)  And Friday Flights featuring my The One stemware are launching June 22.  Hope to see you there!