Friday, April 30, 2010

Summery Bean & Bacon Salad

The weather is starting to turn warm in New England and that is when I start looking forward to cold salads for lunch and as sides at backyard parties. Packed with fiber and protein this dish offers several good things all complimented with a little bacon. Who could ask for anything more?

Summery Bean & Bacon Salad

¾ lb fresh green beans
1 can red beans
1 can Garbanzo beans
1/3 cup roasted Piquillo peppers
2 Tbsp canned diced green chilies
6 slices bacon
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. fresh ground pepper


Cook bacon, let cool and crumble. Chop onions and sauté them in the leftover bacon fat until golden . Let cool. Drain and rinse canned beans. Wash and remove the stems from the fresh beans. Cut beans in half. Chop Piquillo peppers. In a large bowl, combine the beans, peppers, chilies, onion. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Then, pour over the beans and toss like a salad. Add bacon and lightly toss again. This salad is best chilled in the fridge for a few hours before serving or overnight. Before serving mix well.



Spicy Food & Wine Parings

Sara from the OneTribeGourment blog brings us a recipe for Moroccan Style Chickpea Soup with a Spicy Harissa that was featured in today's Foodbuzz Top 9.

Pairing wine with anything can be a challenge without practice and experience, but spicy cuisine has offered me some unique experiences as I have grown to love pairing wine with food. I have found good matches for Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, Asian and others.

My general rules are to find a wine with nice fruity and/or flowery aromas, some residual sugar to help moderate the heat and enough crisp acidity not to destroy the flavors of the food. For this dish I would recomend the Ironstone Obsession Symphony from California. This wine has the up-front aromas, is off-dry and has a slight feel of small bubbles that are crisp on your tongue. The wine reminded me of a drier Moscato which would be another wine I would recomend trying with some spicy foods although some selections are too sweet and overrun the food.

This dish is comfort food as so many cultures define it and I think this down to earth wine will both match the food and the mood of enjoying it.



Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lets do Spain for Lunch!

The recipe for "Basque-Style Grilled Cheese with Etorki, Piquillo Peppers, and Chorizo" from the Foodbuzz Daily Top 9 caught my attention this morning. Check it out here.

I have to admit that the most familiarity I have with the Basque people is from their riders in the Tour de France each year. I am not familiar with Basque wines as a subset of Spanish wine so I won't try to recomend a regional wine with this dish. I am recomending a pairing of Tempranillo or Rioja Crianza (Tempranillo is likely the majority grape in Rioja blends) that is on the young side. The youth of the wine should ensure the fruit flavors are present which should meld well with the spice in the Chorizo and creaminess of the cheese. Varietal bottlings of Tempranillo are often low on acid which will help the peppers and chorizo be represented well.



Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wine Pairing with Hummingbird Cupcakes

Natalie at Natalie's Killer Cuisine has published a recipe for Hummingbird Cupcakes. This was included in today's Foodbuzz Top 9. Check it out at

Now that is a tasty dessert! My wine pairing suggestion would be a Late Harvest or Ice Wine style from the Vidal grape. I have had several of these from the Ontario, Canada and Finger Lakes, NY regions. The stone fruit (peach, apricot) and honey flavors will meld well with the banana, coconut and pineapple. The sweetness in the wine shouldn't be off balance with the sweetness in the cupcakes, but if less sugar were used (if you are concerned about such things?!?) I might suggest the Late Harvest over the Ice Wine as it might be just a little bit less sweet and not knock out the cake.



Foodbuzz Daily Top 9 -

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blog Housecleaning

I have been making some changes to the blog as I make it a key part of my sommelier education and training program. Hopefully I will be able to increase readers and get feeds of my blog hosted elsewhere so like minded folks might read even one article. The focus has never been just wine and the tag cloud to the right will show you how I am tagging my posts for easier indexing by topic. You will continue to see posts on food, pairing, beverages of all kinds, destinations and of course my home winemaking.

If you have suggestions for things you would be interested for me to research and post here please shoot me an e-mail ( or post a comment. I am eager to learn about many things food and drink and helping to bring that information to others, like a teacher maybe?, is a wonderful way to sharpen my skills.

I added the Foodbuzz Today's Top 9 widget to the right as well. Foodbuzz is a social networking site for foodies, and they are kind enough to offer free widgets that link back to their user published recipes and blogs. Very cool indeed. I am always looking for new tastes and textures and I expect I will find inspiration there. One plan I have is to offer pairing suggestions for recipes/dishes that show up in the list. The recipe authors are responsible for the recipe and preparation information and I hope to be able to offer up serving and pairing suggestions to make a complete experience. I'll start this off with a selection from the date of this post (4/27). You can use the link below to find the recipe after that date, but the widget lets you scroll through all of the items being featured on a specific day.

Strawberry, Caramelized Pear & Blue Cheese Salad

Salads with sweet ingredients can be a wonderful meal or meal starter, especially with the tart flavors in the blue cheese to counterbalance the sweet. We often use this mechanism with the Strawberry wine at wine tastings. My recomended pairing for this salad would be a medium dry Riesling. The wine should not be too sweet as I would expect it will overpower the delicate sweetness in the salad; a little bit will join up with the salad quite well. A drier Riesling will work, but it might oppose the salad too much so I would be careful to select from a region that is known for a bit of residual sweetness, like the Columbia Valley in WA. For this reason I would not recomend Sauvignon Blanc which is typically dry, but I would for a salad with more vegetables and some herbs in the dressing. If you try it let me know what you think.



Monday, April 26, 2010

GQ's Bucket List of Beer - One Hell of a Party!

GQ just released their "Bucket List" of 50 beers to try before you die.

A quick scan of the list definitely makes me sure that any self-respecting microbrew/craft beer lover will have already strolled down this list a bit, or should.

I have only had a couple of these, but have had many of the styles made in small batches at pub only or home settings. The range of flavors, aromas, textures and varying amounts of alcohol are sure to offer lots of unique experiences. The top six list of a good place to start, but the rest shouldn't be overlooked.

Over the weekend I put back a couple of pints of the Smuttynose Imperial Stout and IPA as well as a bottle of the Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. The first and third are higher on the alcohol spectrum which lent itself to more sipping and enjoyment than guzzling. Both of the IPA's had nice fruity notes in the nose and plenty of hops, but not overwhelmingly so. The Imperial Stout was truly enjoyable. It had a nice nose and was rich with some chocolate and coffee undertones. It was creamy and light which is always a surprise for such a dark beer. Having a stout with my favorite sandwich at Biederman's in Plymouth brought back many nice memories.



Sunday, April 25, 2010

Malbec Lineup

We gathered some friends for a mutual birthday celebration and used the occasion to taste and compare three different Malbecs. Next month I will be making my first Malbec, and I was interested in trying several different selections and collecting feedback on the aromas, flavors and textures that I might aim to created in my own wine.

We tasted the following wines:

Bodegas Escorihuela Don Miguel Gascon Malbec Mendoza 2008 (Argentina, $14.99)
Clayhouse Vineyards Paso Robles 2008 Malbec (California, $13.99)
Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec Mendoza Lunlunta 2007 (Argentia, $23.99)

The food pairings included a cheese plate containing, brie, smoked gouda and dill havarti with crusty bread, oil and crackers. We moved on to dinner of Margot's meatloaf, bacon & cheddar potato skins and broiled asparagus. Dessert was chocolate cake.

First up was the Gascon which due to lack of aeration, bad serving temperature or something else tasted flat to everyone. It presented itself with very low acidity, mild aromas and flavors and Richard comment it tasted "rusty". Pete and I returned to it later and it had opened up a bit, but still tasted off and lifeless. As I write this, the next day, I am tasting it again and it is more aromatic and flavorful, although still a bit understated. All of this suggests some air is necessary before serving this wine. This wine was underwhelming enough that no food pairing notes were taken.

Next in line was the Clayhouse, which from the very first sniff caught everyone's attention. Dark purple in color it was a pleasure to pour this wine and imagine what aromas and flavors awaited me. I found this wine a bit drier and more acidic than the Gascon, but with the intense fruit in this wine those attributes were well needed. The group shared thoughts on the fruit with my suggestion of raspberry garnering some objections. Cindy suggested black currants and Wayne added choke cherries, with currant being widely agreed upon. This selection went very well with the dill havarti for me, the spiciness of wine matching very well with the hit of dill in the cheese. I finished this bottle earlier today and found it even more pleasant with some air.

The final selection was the Catena Lunlunta. I specifically selected this more expensive wine to evaluate how price affected our experiences with the wines. The aromas of the wine were less pungent than the Clayhouse, but felt cleaner and more focused. This wine had the fullest body of the three and offered more refinement in the flavors as well. This wine was spicier than the two previous and slightly more tannic with a noticeable "teeth cleaning" sensation. It paired well with the brie matching the mild earthy flavors in the wine with the usual funky brie flavors. Wayne clearly enjoyed this bottle, specifically asking for it to be passed his way again during dinner. I very much enjoyed this wine and would buy it again for a special occasion, but I would be more apt to stock the Clayhouse as my house Malbec.

In the end the Clayhouse inspired the most conversation. Pete and I returned to it a bit later and found that although the air had helped it open, the increase in temperature made it taste harsh and hot.

This was a very fun and rewarding experience. I took a away a good impression of the range Malbec can span and a better understanding of where I can hope to take my home crafted version.



Saturday, April 24, 2010

Belgian Beers On Deck

I decided I would add some beer to my slate of beverages for summer enjoyment. I have brewed some amount of beer every year since 2003, but it has certainly declined in volume since I really got into the winemaking.

First up is a Belgian White made with wheat malt and infused with coriander and orange. I am using a traditional recipe and Belgian Wit yeast in hopes of sticking close to the style here. This is a lighter beer that can be enjoyed with or without food, but the citrus and spice does provide some pairing opportunity that I will not miss taking advantage of. I brewed it yesterday and it is already fermenting away happily.

Today I am going to make what I plan to call Jay's Belgian Trappist Monster. I am starting with a trappist dubble recipe that will get a secondary fermentation with two pounds of dark brown sugar and some additional Saaz hops. The Trappist/Abbey style yeast is going to go nuts with all the sugar, but you won't hear any complaints from me. I expect this guy is going to be high in alcohol, aroma and flavor. While it will definitely be enjoyable on its own I expect the food pairing opportunities, including with dessert, will abound. I'll be out in the front yard brewing this one this afternoon, so if you drive by throw a wave my way and I'll lift my glass of whatever I am enjoying as I brew!

Once tasting comes around I will post an update.

Tonight we are hosting a multi-birthday/anniversary party with and for some friends and I am using the occasion to do a Malbec tasting to get some feedback to feed into my first Malbec batches next month. I'll definitely take notes and post the feedback this week.



Don't support H.R. 5034

House Resolution 5034 brought by beer & wine wholesalers nationwide is designed to ensure they are the ones who control what wines and beers are available in your state and that direct shipping is no longer permitted. This is greed at its finest. Don't let this BS shut down small businesses in our and other states and let fat cat idiots decide what we can access in our local stores and have shipped directly to us.

The video below explains this and reminds us that if we care we should act.



Thursday, April 15, 2010

Montreal's Food & Drink - April 2010

From the last post you can get a feel for the mission we were on to experience some of the distinctive beverage offerings found in Montreal. That mission is continued here.

Before I left for the trip I was reading a recent issue of Imbibe magazine that did a lineup of coffee stouts including the Imperial version from Dieu Du Ciel! based in Montreal. I planned to seek it out, try it and bring some home. Oddly I had forgotten when I organized the pub tour that this brewer does have a downtown location, as well as retail distribution, but had chosen locations closer to the hotel so we missed a visit. We did end up finding the beer at the IGA.

We also picked up the Rosee d’Hibiscus at the same time and sampled both at the hotel and brought the remainder home for future tastings.

Peche Mortel Imperial Coffee Stout ( 9.5% ABV)
6 pack for $14 CAD + tax

Smells like a Starbucks mocha!
Tastes like high cacao (85%+) dark chocolate
Strong smoke and coffee tastes
Triple chocolate cake with espresso dark chocolate sauce
Small sharp bubbles, but not overpowering
Will enjoy the remaining ones of these for sure!

Rosee d’Hibiscus ( unfiltered what beer infused with Hibiscus and spices, 5.9% ABV)

Pale red color
Strong floral and citrus nose
Tastes of flowers, spice and orange
Tastes like a hoppy/grainy rose wine

Next up was dinner...

Le Milsa
1445 Bishop St.
(514) 985-0777

Le Milsa is a churrascaria style restaurant with rodizio service. In Portuguese churrascaria is roughly translated as “barbeque”. Rodizio represents a fixed price offering where “meat waiters” bring various grilled meat offerings to the table until patrons signify they are full/done.

Le Milsa does not disappoint in the above definition. With ten meat offerings including, chicken, chicken sausage, pork, lamb, filet mignon, rib roast, sirloin, prime rib, strip steak, and turkey wrapped in bacon, you can be sure your cholesterol and salt numbers are going to go in the wrong direction! Served along with salad, bread, rice, sweet potato and spicy mushrooms many flavor combinations are possible.

All four of us, Margot, Gerry, Eloy and I, went with the standard menu and paired our meal with the following wines.

Bodega Norton Malbec Mendoza (vintage not acquired)
Errazuriz Estate Shiraz 2008 from Chile

The strategy I had for the wine was to have two different reds. For the first I looked for a subtle and focused wine to complement the richness of the grilled meats for which the Malbec did performed nicely. For the other I wanted a wine with more fruit and a bit of spice to counter balance the seasonings and take the flavors in another direction. The original choice was a California Zinfandel, which was not available, so the Shiraz was selected and played the part well. All of us agreed that both wines paired with the different meats differently and that all pairings were enjoyable.

One of the other experiences I was hoping for at Le Milsa was to try cachaca or a drink made from it. Without fail the Brazilian national drink, Caipirinha, similar to a traditional white rum daiquiri from the Carribean was on the menu. This drink contains cachaca, muddled lime and sugar served over ice. Somewhat sweet with good lime flavors, this drink was very pleasing and made for a great post-meal digestif.

We weren’t quite finished. With dessert, which was a choice of ice cream or grilled pineapple, we all also tried a strong coffee drink that included Gran Marnier and Crème de Cacao. Though I was originally worried that the coffee and pineapple flavors would not pair well, Margot was surprised by the perfect match due to the cinnamon coating on the pineapple. The flavors of the coffee were fantastic and its ability to promote laughter all around propelled us out on to the streets of Montreal for a brisk walk home.

Now that is making memories!

I did try a couple of other beers during the trip that are also worth mentioning.

Unibroue Ephemere - a tribtue to the green apple.

The green apple aroma was present right away and was unmistakable. It faded fast however, something I do believe to be a flaw. As for flavors I would say that my taste buds were still working, but were not picking up the fruit. It tasted like a typical light unfiltered ale without any other tangible flavors or aromas. This was not terribly memorable, but Unibroue makes many other styles I do like and will return to frequently.

We stopped at the Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington Vermont for lunch on the way home. I tried two of their house brewed beers that had unique descriptions on the menu.

Tulach Leis

Flemish style sour red ale
Fermented with Brett (also used in the Saison at Le Cheval Blanc)
Complex beer with pronounced aromas and flavors
Definitely sour and a bit yeasts
Not an everyday drinker unless this is your bag
Paired well with sweet potato fries and onion rings

Forbidden Fruit

This is big beer competition winner for them
Brewed with 500 lbs of local raspberries
Strong beer – no ABV determined
Sour mashed and oak aged
The fruit is unmistakable in the nose and flavors
Good on its own and would be good with fruit pie
No real pairing attempt was made, just enjoyed it solo

It was a drag coming home from such a whirlwind tour, but there was little choice. We have already started scheming up where we will go the next time.



Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Montreal Pub Tour - April 2010

Our first Montreal pub tour was back in May of 2009. Here is the link to that entry and the fun we had.

The plan this time was to hit a few new places and of course try some new beers. We ended up choosing 3 places, including Brutopia from the first trip, and tasted 12 styles of beer before the night was through.

809 Rue Ontario Est
(514) 522-0211
Sherbooke Metro Stop (Orange Line)
Le Cheval Blanc offers a combination of house brewed and unique import beers. All selections written on floor to ceiling chalkboard adjacent to the bar. The pub was nearly ½ full when we arrived around 5 PM, new patrons at a pretty good clip.

Euro feel / dark with a punk edge. Maroon and green color palette with funky feel, café or diner like with an eclectic collection of musician pictures hanging on the wall. We could not help feeling like Kerouac could start reciting at any time while the crowd snaps their fingers in approval. Our waitress with her bright red hair and combat boots made us feel surprisingly at home. Though her English was spotty and our French limited we managed to speak the language of beer quite easily!
Cream Ale ( 5.4% ABV )
Creamy – bitter + strong after taste
Smells like warm butter
“Repeat favorite in the making”
Would be great with hot buttered popcorn

Cask Drawn Warrior IPA ( 6.4% ABV )
Yeasty and hoppy nose
Served at cellar temp
Smoky, rich and strong

Margot – ”A serious beer drinkers beer; not for the faint of heart.”

A contemplative customer enters and walks right to the chalkboard
and thinks, “Maybe I will try something I have not had.”

Blonde Lager ( 5% ABV )

Sharp and refreshing
Neutral aroma
Slight citrus taste in the finish
Would be good with a slice of orange/lemon
This feels like a classic “I wanna drink beer” beer

Noire ( stout, 4.1% ABV)

Strong mocha nose
Low carbonation
Margot – “I never like dark beer, but could drink a pint or two of this”
Tastes like a dark chocolate latte
This feels like an “experience beer”

Saison Blanc ( 6% ABV)

This beer is re-fermented with the while yeast Brettanomyces
Perfect for fish, fried or not
Clove and banana nose reminiscent of other Belgian styles
This is a “pairing or food” beer
Very dry, not as rich as Belgian dubble and tripel style

245 Sherbrooke West
(514) 543-9750
Place-des-Arts Metro Stop (Green Line)
Benelux is located in an old bank with the vault used to create a more private space in the back. Definitely a place to see and be seen with a very different clientele, think younger and hipper, than Le Cheval Blanc. Busy on a Friday night after work.
We added some food to the mix here.

Tex-Mex Chicken Panini (contained mushrooms and a spicy sauce which was light). Green olives on the plate as well – it was good with crunchy bread, but not super-special. Hit the spot with and after the beers

Chips (didn’t find out if they are made on site or not). Kind of like Cape Code plain chips
Bock ( 6% ABV )
Mild nose and medium body
Somewhat earthy, a little chocolate flavor

Olives and mushrooms paired very well with it

Lux Rouse ( Red Ale, 5% ABV)
Standard red ale.
Good but not memorable, we both agreed
Did not pair well with panini

Moonboot ( Belgian, 9% ABV )

Very clean, served in snifter so good aromas were very accessible.
Aromas and flavors were on par with typical Belgian double/triple fermented styles
Metallic smell from the glass was a little weird
The alcohol was not perceptible, but did not take long to make itself known!

1215 Rue Crescent
(514) 393-9277
Lucien-L'Allier Metro Stop (Orange Line)
Bruopia was the only stop that was a return visit. This choice was based on the solid selection from prior visits and close proximity to our hotel. It turned out that, with the exception of the Raspberry Blonde, the beers didn’t impress as much this time which might mean we would only come here to drink the selections which we know and could expect to be safe. Those are good and are worth it.
Smoked Porter
Subtle flavors, mildly bitter
Woody, reminds a bit of maple sap (not sugar)
Lighter smoke than expected
Didn’t pop, I actually didn’t finish it

Raspberry Blonde
This is our current and continued favorite in Montreal
“Will it beat the Noire?”
Smells like raspberries
Tastes of raspberries and citrus
“Raspberry lemonade OR iced tea?”
Grain and malt flavors are very perceptible and in balance

Smells like ginger sautéed with butter
Mild/low carbonation
Smells better than it tastes, not spicy and no perceptible sweetness
Medium dry
Better as a late drinker when unique tastes are not as crucial
Needs a little sweet and a little citrus
One observation is that the lighter beers made for better night drinking, which makes sense but was obvious in practice.
We weren't finished yet, but I'll save that for my next posting.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sommelier Away!

I met a recently certified Level 2 Sommelier last week. Thanks to Margot and her networking through Leadership Greater Manchester, we had a wonderful evening out with new friends.

Over dinner at Mangia in Hooksett we talked about wine from what seemed like A to Z. We covered making it, paring it, serving it, prices and quality, favorites, interesting regions and seeking out new styles and of course drinking it! I was also lucky enough to get some gracious feedback on the Ancient Fire 2008 Amarone #2 and 2009 Pinot Grigio. Both are drinking well right now and for a made-at-home product both seemed to be very well received.

The big outcome from the conversation was that I have decided to pursue Sommelier certification. This is something I looked into several years back, but not knowing anyone who was on the path, I had prematurely concluded that without restaurant/food service experience I would be at a disadvantage for this challenge. This myth was debunked with supporting evidence that suggested many of the people who pursue this certification do NOT in fact work in restaurants, his own story is one of a food & beverage manager for a local country club, and that with what I already appear to know I may be better prepared than I had thought. What a huge boost this was.

The next day I reviewed the curriculum available on the web site of The Court of Master Sommeliers and have already begun putting a plan to gain necessary knowledge and experience into action.

This choice sets me on a path to sit for the two days of instruction and exams to complete Level 1 in the summer of 2011 in Boston. If I feel ready sooner I could travel to another city to complete this level ahead of that schedule. Completing Level 1, and 90% of people do on the first attempt, will not earn me the title of Certified Sommelier, a designation reserved for Level 2 and above. The four level program culminates in an invitation only final evaluation that only 178 people have passed worldwide to date. With years of study (both textbook and practical, woo hoo!) ahead of me I am thoroughly excited and expect to be sharing this with all of you as willing students of science!

For now I am pursuing additional experience in the following areas:
  • Worldwide Wine Regions
  • Sales & Service, including Beverage Program development
  • Food & Wine Pairing
  • Mixology

My blog will figure prominently into this adventure as a place for me to share my experiences, recipes, pairing highlights and drinking recommendations. Of course I will still be making wine and keeping you all up to date on that, but I will be scaling back a bit in order to free up time and resources for this new challenge.

Cheers and wish me luck!


Cider Celebration

The conclusion of the Ancient Fire 2009 cider making was a gathering of friends a few Saturdays back. There was good friends, good food and of course, cider.

We sampled several of the finished ciders, including a batch made from the Rudesheimer yeast and a batch made with Traditional Cider yeast right from the spigot! We also sampled the three flavored ciders, strawberry, cherry and raspberry.

A few notes in are order to help with the reactions as described below.
All of the ciders ended up being between 8% and 10% ABV which is a bit higher than originally intended. No harm I guess…

The cider made from the Rudesheimer yeast is gold in color, has a good apple nose and is medium-dry. With plenty of apple flavor and a good balance of sweet and tart it is very pleasing to drink.

The cider made from the Traditional Cider yeast is about the same color and has a similar nose. This batch is a drier style which ends up being a bit more tart, but no less pleasing.

The flavored ciders are sweeter and were intended to have a serious infusion of fruit flavor. The strawberry appears to developed a flaw which has resulted in it being drier and flatter in taste than when it was bottled. As long as this doesn’t continue it will be drinkable. The cherry and raspberry don’t appear to have the same flaw and were both easily recognizable. The raspberry is much sweeter than the other two which serves to mask the alcohol, which may be dangerous down the line.

The response to the two unflavored styles was very positive with a pretty split decision on whether the medium-dry or the dry style was better. The flavored styles also received mixed reviews, with the strawberry being the least liked and for good reason.

We didn’t plan any specific pairings, but the hit of the evening was the candied bacon, thank you very much Cindy!, with the raspberry cider. I can’t really say much except you had to be there. It is the national food and drink pairing of Ancientfirestan, an emerging world power.

The experience of making several distinct styles of cider was truly rewarding and this reward will continue to pay off for months to come. I will not likely make cider again in 2010 and thus will have to ration it to carry its loyal consumers into the next year and next adventure.