Friday, February 17, 2012

Paella & Spanish Wine

Making Paella is a time and labor intensive endeavor. A labor of love if you will. Lacking a desire to expend either in pursuit of a dish of paella means you should find the nearest Spanish or Latin restaurant and have them take care of it for you. I wanted to try making it for myself. The recipe and cooking instructions for my paella can be found at the bottom of this post.

What I’ve done here is an approximation of paella in a classic sense for several reasons. I don’t own a paella pan, I cooked it entirely on the stove top versus finishing it in the oven and I’m not Spanish. Such trivial things never stop me, but after looking at lots of different recipes and the background on the dish, and there’s lots to be found by the way, it seems like a fair disclaimer to make.

As you will note from the recipes below I had to cook before I could cook. From start to finish I spent at least two hours in the kitchen. One of the key ingredients to paella, and many other Spanish dishes as I understand it, is sofrito. Sofrito is a slow cooked mixture of garlic, onion, green pepper, tomato and paprika. The big takeaway from cooking the sofrito was the aromas. I am sure I have smelled them before, but I have no recollection of specifically where.

Repost Note: I enjoyed this recipe with wines from a promotional kit that I received as part of a giveaway. I, in turn gave the same prize to several of my own blog readers. Much thanks to Tapena Wines for sponsoring this adventure. 

Having never made paella before I can’t really say how well it came out. It was tasty though. The rice was cooked to the right texture and the meats & seafood were flavorful meaning they had had enough time to soak up the spices from the dish. And my wife and I scarfed down our helpings.

What I am sure of after this experience is that I need to make paella several more times trying different recipes and styles. I saw recipes with all meat, all fish, the combination similar to what I did here, big vegetable presentations and an array of spice levels. With a better sense of what is possible and improved technique I am sure I could take this dish to the right place. I also need to try different wine pairings with Spanish wines. Wine clearly has a special place in Spanish culture and learning more about how it works with different foods is an exciting opportunity.



{ Recipes }


1 can crushed tomatoes (28-29 oz)
1 large Cubanelle pepper
1  onion
2 cloves garlic
olive oil
1 tsp paprika (not smoked)
salt and pepper to taste

Finely chop the onion and garlic. Chop the pepper into 1/4" (or smaller) pieces. Heat a large frying pan with a heavy bottom over medium heat. Pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Put the onions into the pan and sauté them until they are transparent, reducing the heat if necessary so as not to burn them. Add the green pepper and continue to cook for 5 minutes, adding olive oil if necessary. Be sure to stir often, to vegetables do not burn. Add the minced garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Pour the crushed tomatoes and paprika into the pan and mix well. Continue to cook for about 10-15 minutes.


2 cups Basmati rice
4 tablespoons Sofrito
1/4 + 1 Tbsp cup olive oil
5 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon saffron
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp salt
2 lbs boneless chicken thighs
¾ lb ground pork sausage
20 large shrimp, tail on
16 Steamer clams
1 sweet red pepper, cut to strips;
1 cup frozen green beans
Lemon wedges
Salt and pepper to taste

Take 1 Tbsp parsely, 2 cloves garlic, 1 Tbsp oil & salt mash into paste.
Use a wok to steam the mussel and keep ready for use; Clean the wok

Warm the vegetable stock over medium heat, add the saffron, stir well, keep warm

Using a large fry pan reheat the Sofrito over medium high heat, stirring constantly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom. Add parsley, garlic, oil emulsion, mix well. Add the chicken thigh and cook until slightly browned. Add the rice, stir thoroughly to make sure that the dry rice are sauteed well in the Sofrito;

In the wok heat the olive oil and sautee the pork sausage (chunks) and chicken thigh on medium-high heat until no pink is visible. Add the green beans & red pepper, stir.

Add the Sofrito, chicken and rice mixture to the wok. Continue to stir.

Meanwhile, bring the stock back to the boil, pour over the mixture and distribute over the mixture in the wok. Bring to a simmer, cover and simmer 8-10 minutes, mixing occasionally.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Arrange the prawns on top of the mix; Stick the mussels halfway into the mix. Cover and simmer another 8-10 minutes

Garnish with parsely and serve with the lemon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sheldrake Point Winery - Ovid, NY

( The view east from Sheldrake's vineyards. Another no-so-hot day for photos. Beautiful nonetheless. )

Dave Breeden, the winemaker for Sheldrake Point Winery in Ovid, NY is a wine-maker’s winemaker. Not knowing what that is could render this post elusive, so I’ll explain what I mean in examples as I guide you through our visit to Sheldrake in early February.

Thank you very much to Antoinette DiCiaccio and Dave Breeden for their hospitality and time with Margot and I on our recent visit. This was our first visit of the weekend. Antoinette met us in the tasting room and we set about introducing ourselves and the exploration we were on. When the WineMaker Magazine Conference hits the ground in June there are so many places that folks with even a little time will be able go to experience what the region has to offer. I didn’t know this firsthand until recently however. Since last summer I have made two trips and personally tasted over 250 wines from the region to find out. If you linked through to here from the WineMaker Magazine blog section you’ve likely already read some part of that story in my trip reports from the region.

For this point I’m going to share observations and thoughts on my time with just one of the wineries I visited and a tasting of their unfinished wines.

Dave Breeden joined our small group in the tasting room during a funny story about how a friend of ours decides when to taste the homemade wines. If it is in a small bottle, typically a fortified, dessert or specialty wine, cider or mead, he drinks it. That’s knowing what you like in a very specific way!

Antoinette bid us farewell, and Dave, Margot and I set off to the winery, a short walk up the hill behind the tasting room. When we arrived we had to quickly check on the bottling equipment to make sure it was ready for an early week bottling run. Check. We picked up glasses in the lab on the way to the tank and barrel rooms.

( Margot remarked that I always take her to the nicest places! )

Right off the bat Dave shared a glimpse of who he is with an example of the one-liners that would easily be kitchsy if they weren’t delivered contextually and authentically. In explaining the barrel regimen he has in operation he use the quip “If I wanted my products to taste like oak, I’d make furniture”. Hey wait, he sounds like my dad! No offense, and my dad can be funny. We laughed, but it was the whole group, experiencing the truth of the statement and the connection to the moment we were in that made the difference. Dave further explained that used barrels are bought when they need to rotate something out, but the neutral barrels seasoned in-house are actively used to keep the oak influence under control. When I share my feedback on the reds below you will note that I agreed with the balanced influence of oak in the pre-release wines we tasted. Most of Sheldrake’s barrel aged wines see no more than 8-9 months of oak.

The 2011 harvest was challenging for the region, and Dave confirmed that staggered and late harvests were the end to one of the worst years in memory for the active winemakers in the area. After the quantity of the fruit was determined the overall quality of the grapes was quite good, albeit a bit low in sugar. This isn’t an uncommon problem in cold-climate growing areas and one of the dynamics of an agricultural business. Tasting the wines however, it is hard for me to say that the weather alone will be any reason to judge them.

We started off with two Chardonnay’s one with, and one without oak; the oak being administered using staves of NY State oak. The oaked version is big on the lemon, with a good deal of peach and not much other than a hint of spice to make you think it was oaked. The un-oaked version was fruitier, but with a reduced lemon punch. Its acidity was a little more pronounced, making the truth of the oak influence in the first sample much clearer. It was more mellow, smoother and a tad creamy, perhaps?

Next up were a Pinot Gris blend and the Lucky Stone White. The Pinot Gris was dry and dominated by lime for me. Margot gave it her “hot day wine” designation. I agreed. The Lucky Stone White is a Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer blend. The nose gives away the Gewurztraminer, and really drew me in. It is a tart finishing wine with plenty of citrus and a small streak of sweetness. Here’s to the next hot day and I have these wines to try!

I asked Dave if Sheldrake grew any hybrid grapes for their wines. He said that they don’t and they luckily don’t have to because of the micro-climate and local geography conducive to vinifera grapes. This idea was summed up in what I think was his leading quote. With regards to the Sheldrake vineyards, “it’s a really sexy property.” I get that, rock on!

Riesling and Gewurztraminer! As I have said in earlier writings on the region, these are the wines that make up the leading story. You’ll come here for the aromatic whites wines that project the natural acidity of the grapes to just the right place, and then you will find so much more.

The dry Gewurztraminer has a beautiful palate of sweet aromas, including ripe stone fruits, white flowers and citrus peel. The density of the wine coats the tongue a bit making it almost taste sweet, but then it speeds to a dry finish.

The dry Riesling smelled and taste like ripe peach with island fruits playing a big part as well. Margot called in “pineapple juice”, which seemed apt to all. This is another nearly dry and dry finishing wine. This is really no surprise given the harvest report.

To make a semi-dry Riesling from the 2011 harvest a batch of dry Riesling will be blended with some ice wine to provide additional sweetness and aromatics that will no doubt catch the fancy of many. We were lucky enough to taste a trial blend with a still fermenting ice wine in it! Still peachy but with additional exotic fruit notes and some hard candy leanings. It also had a more pronounced tartness from CO2 still likely trapped in the Riesling used as the based. It has plenty of potential and should be available soon I can’t see what the final decisions and process did to hone the blend.

( Dave Breeden retrieving a sample, this was for a "secret" blend. )

We also tasted the ice wine on its own. The nose emanated of tropical fruits, where the wine was still quite sweet and had the “wildness” I am familiar with in dessert offering made from Riesling grapes. A kit-based Riesling dessert wine I made a few years ago was a hit because of the more lively “green” or “wildness” it expressed. This wines needs time to finish and should come together nicely.

When we got on to the reds and the Cabernet Franc, there were three to try. The first two were from the same block harvested on different dates and aging in barrels, and the third was a different block aged in stainless with the NY oak staves mentioned above. My immediate impression was of dill pickle from the nose. That could be oak. The flavor didn’t trend that way and the aromas dissipated quickly as I tasted it. Tart cherries with moderate structural tannins and a dry finish. The second sample smelled and tasted like cherries and had a certain measure of dustiness as I call it, sort of a dry soil blown into the mouth. It was also quite tart, but without the nose of the first sample it felt more exciting. The third is the same wine as the first sample aged with oak staves instead of by barrel. It was cherry driven with a little heat and a big tart finish. There are at least two wines in there, I think the first two will develop further, and could make for great blends, but the full potential of them is beyond my experience. That’s what makes firsthand exposure to the process of making artisanal wine and other fermented products so exciting, it won’t be the “same thing” every time! None of the samples was over oaked or trending close. That restraint on cool climate red wines helps retain their delicate aspects that can’t be covered up by fruit and tannins.

( Some of the newest barrels in the house. )

We tasted Merlot from the barrel, but it isn’t expected to make it into the bottle in its current form. Re-enforcing a point about “picking what you do well” and putting “focus on it”, Dave shared that a varietal Merlot was no longer made because it wasn’t creating wine that returned for the time and investment, and the Merlot actually works great as an agent in their Meritage blend, the most recent from 2010.

The 2010 Meritage reminded me of freshly picked cherries and a touch of wild herbs. The tannins were already pretty mellow, but present, and the acidity helped keep things tart and dry along the finish. I’ve said a lot about these types of blends before and my tastings keep turning up evidence that these wines attract my attention the most. Complexity is more often amped up in blends. I’ll spend the time to think about my wine. I’m looking for a downside.

There are a lot of reasons to increase the production of a winery, and if it is to keep up with demand that is clearly growing, all the better. There are plenty of reasons not to make more wine and again Dave had the perfect quote. “Having grapes is a very bad reason to make wine; sales are the best reason to make wine.” This ethic is carried out in part by selling excess of varieties of grapes they don’t have production targets for each year to other producers, something that depends a lot on the weather. In 2011 Sheldrake Point Winery opened a second tasting room, placing the newest outlet on east side of Seneca Lake, not far from the main winery on the west side Cayuga Lake. In preparation for the opening, production of some wines from the 2010 harvest was doubled. What an exciting reason to make more wine!

I asked Dave what his noteworthy wines from 2011 were and was met with the same list I felt really imparted the most character, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Cabernet Franc. Despite the report of the challenging harvest I think the wines are expressing plenty of character and might all develop into focused aromatic and tart wines that have immense drinkability with and without food. One other thing Dave said he endeavored to do was “not to screw with the wine”. Minimal intervention in these wines certainly hasn’t hurt them!

We finished with and apple ice wine, something that caught both Margot and my eyes when we toured the tasting room. Made from Cornell apples and a blend of heirloom and vintage varieties it is full of flavors and “wild”. It is plenty sweet with a dose of acidity to clean up a bit. Margot knew she was taking this home before she even tasted it!

In June Dave Breeden will be presenting to the WineMaker Magazine conference attendees in a presentation about fining. I fully expect this presentation will be experience-based, informative, provocative and funny. I’m not going to miss it. I found a video interview with Dave during my research where he discusses the Art & Science of Winemaking. In the second to last paragraph of the accompanying article there is a very compelling point about the potential for variation in the shared taste genes from one human to another. Stay tuned for more content here and at WineMaker Magazine on sensory evaluation and the science of wine tasting.

Much thanks to Annette and Dave for hosting us. We also met and would like to thank Kit, the tasting room manager, and Victor, one of the two assistant winemakers for their time with us. SheldrakePoint Winery is located on the west side of Cayuga Lake about 40 minutes North of Ithaca, NY. There are daily tasting hours both during the on and off seasons. Unfortunately they no longer have a restaurant on site and if you expect to go with a group it was be smart planning to call ahead.



Wagner Vineyards – Lodi, NY

The agricultural and winemaking history of the Finger Lakes region of New York is full of all kinds of stories, and most often these stories chronicle the lives and times of a single family. These stories are a particular type of time capsule, history being written by one generation and narrated by another.

On a recent visit to Wagner Vineyards I had the pleasure to meet Laura Wager Lee and hear her recount stories of how her father, BillWagner, and the family he helped create literally raised the winery out of the ground, blood, sweat (and likely) tears and all. A sincerest thank you to Laura, and as well Katie Roller with whom I arranged our visit.

The initial part of our tour took us a down a hallway past the tank room. On the opposite side of the walls were family and winery photos broken into different decades/groups. Laura pointed to all sorts of pictures, black & white, color, Polaroid and high res, there are photos there of vines, grapes, vineyard work and all the messy tasks of winemaking. There are also so many pictures of digging, the erecting of walls and the construction of the winery buildings. There were so many smiles in the family and company photos I could feel the excitement behind the do-it-yourself stories presented.

Wagner Vineyards has 250 acres under vine and produces a full suite of white, red and blush estate grown wines. It is one of the oldest wineries in the region, opening in 1979. With the addition of a restaurant, brewery and event space Wagner has become a very popular Finger Lakes wine country destination. Visiting in the off-season affords the luxury of time to tour and taste, but after hearing stories and thinking you are missing out on pub nights on the deck, bands, special events and the buzz of the tasting room you promise yourself you’ll fix this real soon.

In the tasting room the talk immediately turned to Riesling. Hey, I’m a sucker for it so let’s just say I love the Finger Lakes. Objectively, I enjoy tasting aromatic white wines like Riesling and believe I have developed a decent palate for these wines. With 50 acres of Riesling vines Wagner produces six styles in most years. I tasted three during my visit.

The 2008 Dry Riesling is dry and focused with a balance of moderately potent fruit and mineral aromas. A crisp finisher with a decent run of fruit to the end. The 2009 Semi-Dry is driven with orange and melon and is yet again dry enough to be a dry wine to me. The citrus laden finish cleans out nicely. I am still preferential to the 2009 Finger Lakes Rieslings, but I need a few more years to really be sure. The 2011 Select Riesling is a young wine, but is luscious and sweet with plenty of potential for aging. It was the sweetest of the three with a much riper and fuller nose. To me peach initially dominated the palate, but additional sips produced a bevy of exotic and tropical fruits. The wine has a noticeable viscosity to it, and finishes sweet.

I teed up the 2010 Gewurztraminer next, filling in more of that story if you will. Orange and white flowers lit up the nose and the palate was a tart mix of exotic fruits and ginger. The spiciness is one of the things that initially drew me to Gewurztraminer, and although it isn’t present in all wines made from the grape, I still get excited when I find one.

Moving on to reds I selected the 2010 Reserve Pinot. Touches of raspberries and chocolate were present. Light bodied and smooth. The wine is dry with some soft tannins. It didn’t resonate with me to drink right now, and any mellowing couldn’t hurt such a subtle wine.

The Meritage 2007 caught my eye and I went in for it. A blend of 55% Cabernet Franc, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot it is moderately darkly hued and projects lively aromas of cherry. I found it a little dusty, my word for dry earth minerality, and ever so lightly oaky. Adding this to my Meritage journey around the Other 46 (smaller winemaking states), I was happily impressed. This wine has aged gracefully and is drinking well.

I finished my tasting with the 2008 Vidal Ice Wine. The nose on this wine could make an honest person lie. Readers will know that I haven’t met many dessert wines that I didn’t like. Despite such experience I still find it hard not to be biased in favor of ice and dessert style wines. This wine was well built, with juicy dehydrated fruits and some wild streaks layered in honey. There is enough tartness to it to keep the sweetness manageable, something that might increase, to its benefit, with years of age.

Stepping out on the back deck Laura talked about the summer events and people spilling out onto the lawn to enjoy the natural beauty during the warm seasons. The view on our cloudy day was muted, but having been in the area on sunny warm days, I don’t need to imagine it. But that doesn’t mean Margot and I won’t be back!

Wagner Valley Brewing is the beer yang to the wine yin for the Wagner family, no wait, I made that up. Margot and I were both gunning to try some more New York state beer and Wagner didn’t disappoint. Our favorites were the Sled Dog dopple and trippel bocks, both exuded a dense malty sweetness and plenty of alcohol! Brewing these monster beers requires the complete brewing setup to be dedicated to processing the malt bill. That’s getting the job done! The Stout and the IPA are both solid beers, and my firsthand Superbowl drinking experience confirms their ability to pair with food, TV and friends. Life is good! Margot had a growler of the Sled Dog Dopplebock filled to go, don’t you just love her, and we finished our visit in the wine retail shop.

Picking a few favorites from the tasting (Select Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Meritage) Margot and I expressed our thanks and said our goodbyes. With kickoff looming we needed to get back to Ithaca, grab some sandwiches and settle in for the annual commercial entertainment. With the amount of wine and beer we hauled out to the car, we could have had a pretty big party! We’ll save that for the Spring and friends at home.

Wagner Vineyards is located on the East side of Seneca Lake, about 45 minutes from Ithaca. They have daily tasting hours, a full service restaurant and seasonal events. And don't forget the brewery. Call ahead for specific information on what’s happening when you plan to visit. Thank you Laura, Katie and the whole Wagner family and community for sharing your lives and stories with us.



Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love it or leave it, it’s Valentine’s Day. I can’t be down on the day, and that’s because I have my own history from which I can expect to have a wonderful day enjoying the love I share with Margot. I am fortunate enough for this and knowing that not everyone can say this today is troubling and not lost on me. But, press on I must.

I’ve played around with many food & beverage pairings in my blog and have at least strayed into ponderings on pairings with music, people, occasions and locations. A pairing of hearts is what’s on my mind today so that’s the pairing I planned and executed.

Margot and I met in 1995. Less than one year later, the week inclusive of Valentine’s Day, I asked Margot to marry me. On the first day of summer 1997, we were married in a beautiful garden maintained by my great-uncle Warren where he lived with his sister, and my late grandmother, Irene. Five generations of my family were assembled where we publicly declared our undying love. Sweet!

( My brother Tim, Me, Margot and Margot's sister Celeste. June 21st, 1997. )

Margot and I enjoyed the party atmosphere at Plymouth State College where we met, and our tastes precariously teetered on all sorts of edges. Along the way our drinking tastes have evolved and branched out from cheap swill beer to craft beers, small-batch wines, artisanal spirits and all drinks more interesting. Riesling was the first style of wine we both seized the same joy from, and we have enjoyed many more together since.

That’s the setup. 1995. Riesling. I found a bottle of 1995 JJ Prum Auslese Riesling from the Mosel available at Federal Wine & Spirits in Boston. A quick search of reviews convinced me the risk for the bottle was as low as it could be for its 16 or so years. The label was a bit discolored and roughed up, but otherwise the bottle didn’t offer any concerns.

Under the cap the bottle was a bit musty but the cork was solid, pliable and emerged without issue. One small piece of cork landed in the bottle. Not bad.

The color is a big, deep gold and sparkles in the light. The nose on the wine is distinctive, full of apricots, other stone fruits, honey, candied citrus with a spectrum of minerality and volatile aromas that border on chemical. On the palate the wine is tongue coating, sweet, with all of the aromatics represented. The acidity is still moderate, producing a tartness in the finish that keep things pretty well balanced. The minerality and chemical tastes are definitely represented in the reductive elements. The apricots are dried and the other fruits very ripely aged. This wine is drinking as well as I could have ever imagined. 1995 was indeed a very good year.



Wednesday, February 8, 2012

More Winter Photos From The Finger Lakes

The response to my photo post yesterday was much larger than I had imagined. Here are a few more. Give the people what they want!

( It looks a bit ominous, but it was just late in the day. )

( These gnarly trunks on the Wagner balcony drew my eye. )

( I love how the setting sun reflects in the window. )

( Empty tanks in the off season. Seems like such a crime! )

( Anyone have a straw? Can't miss this when entering Swedish Hill. )

( We saw a book about FLX winery dogs, but this was the friendliest winery animal we met. Mama Kitty at Knapp. )

( After hearing Laura Wagner Lee, co-owner of Wagner, talk about pub nights on the deck I couldn't help but think of how off far summer seems right now. )

( How could you not want to be here? West side of Cayuga Lake at Thirsty Owl. )



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Winter In The Finger Lakes - A Photo Journey

Winter in the Finger Lakes, just like in New England right now, isn't always what people think it is. No snow and cool sunny days is what we found last weekend. Made for some great shots.

( Vines awaiting the potential of a new year. )

( Something's missing! )

( Taughannock Falls State Park. West side of Cayuga Lake. )

( Western side of Cayuga Lake near Knapp Winery. )

( A winter sunset over the young orchard at Bellwether Cidery. )