Ah, Valentine’s Day. I’m never quite sure what to make of this holiday. On the one hand, I can think of lots of reasons to boycott it: those who are not currently in relationships either end up feeling left out or like they need to engage in special anti-Valentine’s Day activities while those who are in relationships are often duped into believing that they must lavish their significant other with expensive flowers and gifts in order to show their affection (or, in order to avoid sleeping on the couch that night.) How lame! On the other hand, however, I do always feel like I should do something nice for Robert on Valentine’s Day just so he knows that I care and am not a complete curmudgeon. Usually, this means planning a special dinner. Nothing too extravagant, just a nicer-than-average meal.

A nice meal in my household almost always involves some kind of seafood. Salmon, mussels, lobster; all of these are wonderful foods that can easily be transformed into a romantic meal. This year, I decided to make Mussels, Clams and Shrimp with Saffron Risotto and Green Olive Relish. Similar to a Spanish paella, this rice & seafood stew seemed suitably romantic for the occasion (but also very easy – a bonus!) And, because no fancy dinner would be complete without wine, I decided to turn this Valentine’s Day into a winesday. Though it’s not a traditional dish, the stew seemed Spanish enough that it should be served with a Spanish wine. I’ve been pretty excited about Spanish wines recently. I haven’t yet tried a Spanish white, however, so, for this winesday, I picked up a bottle of Condes de Albarei 2006 Albariño at The Spanish Table.

Albariño is produced primarily in the Galicia region of Northwestern Spain as well as in Northern Portugal where it is known as Alvarinho and is used often as a component in Portugal’s famous Vinho Verde. Albariño is widely considered to be one of the best of Spain’s white wine grape varietals. It thrives particularly well in the Rías Baixas D.O (Denominación de Origen.) Wines labeled “Albariño” from the Rías Baixas are 100% varietal whereas wines simply called “Rías Baixas” are made up of 70% or less Albariño grapes. Albariño is now also being grown in small amounts in Australia and North America.

It is believed that there is a genetic link between Albariño and Riesling. Both grape varietals grow extremely well in cool climates. Albariño wines are known for having very distinctive aromas, similar to those of Riesling or Gewurztraminer. Aromas and flavors often found in Albariño wines include oranges and citrus, grass, nuts, peach, and melon. Typically, these wines are very high in acidity and low in alcohol (alcohol levels are usually around 12% to 12.5%.) Some Albariño wines even have a touch of effervescence. These wines are meant to be drunk young; their vibrant flavors and aromas diminish within a few months of bottling.

Based on the descriptions above, the Condes de Albarei 2006 Albariño certainly seemed to be a good example of this type of wine. The nose was quite sweet and floral like a Gewurztraminer, but, unlike a typical Gewurz, the wine was bone dry and citrusy in flavor. This contrast between the sweet aroma and the acidic palate made me appreciate the wine even more. Very unique! Our dinner was delicious. The saffron rice was creamy and flavorful and provided a striking backdrop for the black mussels. And the green olive relish added an unusual but tasty touch. A simple salad was all that was needed to round out the meal. I also splurged on a Nutty Brownie and some cookies from Three Girls Bakery in the Market for our dessert. Maybe this makes me a sucker after all, but what Valentine’s Day would be complete without chocolate?

I’ve been so busy lately with knitting group meet-ups, work parties, and other random appointments; my home cooking has really suffered as a result. Like some kind of harried mom or overworked career woman (of which I’m neither), I’ve been relegated to putting together quick and easy – dare I even say “30 Minute” – meals. As someone who favors calm and order and routine above all else, this has been a slightly stressful month for me. Things are finally starting to settle down, however, and I am gratefully finding myself able to return to a more normal cooking schedule. And, that means it is winesday time!

This week’s wine was a gift from our good friend Jason: Clos Pegase 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon. I think this is my first time featuring a Cabernet Sauvignon on winesday. I don’t drink too much Cab, not because I don’t love it (I do) but because I am usually looking for lighter, fruity reds that can be served with vegetarian fare. Cabernet Sauvignon is the opposite of light and fruity; it is gutsy and full-bodied with lots of tannins and powerful flavors, all of the qualities that go wonderfully with…a rich, juicy steak. But, for vegetarians, as well as everyone else, it should be noted that Cabernet Sauvignon can also be paired with many different kinds of cheese, particularly blue and aged cheeses (and who needs a steak when you could be eating lots of cheese instead!)

Clos Pegase Winery is located in Napa Valley, near the town of Calistoga. It was founded by Jan and Mitsuko Shrem in 1983 and is known for being somewhat of a landmark in the wine world. Feeling the need to create something above and beyond your average winery, Jan commissioned renowned Princeton architect Michael Graves to build a “temple to wine and art” on the grounds, a place designed to showcase Jan’s extensive art collection. In addition to Graves’ beautiful structures and the equally beautiful sculpture garden surrounding the buildings, 20,000 feet of aging caves were also excavated from the rocky knoll rising above the winery, including a dramatic Cave Theater where concerts and specials events are held.

Clos Pegase is an estate winery which means that they grow, vinify and bottle all of the wine that they produce. They sell approximately half of their grapes to other wineries in the area, but the best grapes of the harvest are reserved for their own wines. Over 15 different wines are produced at Clos Pegase; primarily this is Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. They also produce, in small quantities, other varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel. Clos Pegase’s winemaking style has been described as balanced, with respect to tannins and acidity, and food friendly, avoiding high levels of oak and alcohol.

In keeping with the idea that Cabernet Sauvignon matches well with cheese, I decided serve the wine with macaroni and cheese. Now, I’m not talking macaroni and cheese from a box here (nothing against boxed mac and cheese; it certainly has its place, but I think it is much better suited to a fruity Beaujolais than a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.) No, for this winesday, I served up an ultra-deluxe homemade four-cheese macaroni and cheese (which I made with ziti pasta instead of macaroni just to separate it from its boxed counterpart that much more.) I used a blend of Maytag Blue and Beecher’s Flagship cheeses with smaller amounts of Havarti and Parmigiano Reggiano thrown in for added flavor and texture. On the side, I served spicy mustard greens. It was so delicious. Robert and I don’t eat too much cheese so this was a real treat.

The wine was wonderful. It was a deep, rich red color with aromas of dark cherries and vanilla. It tasted like black cherries, black currants, blackberries…all the black fruits! Unlike many Cabernet Sauvignons I’ve tried, this one wasn’t too heavy with the tannins. They were certainly there but, rather than drying your mouth out to desert-like conditions, these tannins were smooth and silky giving the wine a satisfying mouth-feel. This was a very nice bottle of wine, and a good match to my uber-rich macaroni and cheese. Thanks Jason!

For this week’s winesday, I picked up a bottle of Barnard Griffin 2005 Fumé Blanc. I’m always looking for new varietals to showcase on winesday so it seemed like the perfect choice. Well, it turns out that Fumé Blanc is just another name for Sauvignon Blanc. It’s all a marketing ploy (apparently designed to sucker in newbies like me.) Oh well, the point of winesday is to learn about wine; now I know Fumé Blanc is just a made up name. But, I love Sauvignon Blanc so I didn’t mind!

Barnard Griffin Winery is located in south-central Washington where the Yakima, Columbia, and Snake rivers all meet up. They have been producing award-winning wines since 1983; one of their most highly regarded wines, in fact, is the Fumé Blanc. The 2005 Fumé Blanc is said to have aromas of fresh flowers, herbs and vanilla. Complex melon and citrus flavors are backed by a hint of grassiness. The 2005 vintage shows good acidity and crispness.

For dinner, I made a recipe from my brand new cookbook: Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson. This is a really great cookbook for anyone interested in eating a bit healthier (but not too healthy, butter and cheese are certainly not taboo in this book!) Heidi provides great recipes and ideas for how to incorporate more whole grains, natural sweeteners and so-called “super foods” foods into your diet. I’ve had great success with the few recipes I’ve had a chance to try. Her Wild Rice Flour Pancakes proved to be deliciously rustic, perfect drizzled with warm maple syrup. The other night, I made Giant Crispy and Creamy White Beans using the jumbo Greek beans I got in my stocking this year. In this recipe, the beans are cooked until tender, sautéed with butter until crisp on the outside and then tossed with onions and greens. Be sure to check out Heidi’s wonderful blog, 101 Cookbooks, for more great recipes.

The recipe that I made for winesday this week was Heidi’s Clemenquat Salad, a crunchy winter salad made by combining clementine wedges, sliced celery, slivered kumquats and toasted walnuts in a lemon vinaigrette. I didn’t actually choose this recipe because I thought it would be a particularly good match with the wine (riesling might have been more appropriate) but because the recipe just looked so darn good (Heidi takes amazing food photos that will make your mouth water.) Plus, I had never actually eaten kumquats before. I always was drawn to kumquats as a child. Of course! They looked like oranges meant for small dolls, what child wouldn’t want to play with them? But, somehow I was never able to convince my mom to buy them for me. I think she thought I wouldn’t like them, and she was probably right. They are more of an adult flavor.

The salad was delicious. The bitter/sweet flavor of the kumquats and clementines paired nicely with the vegetables and walnuts. I threw in some baby spinach to make it more salad-like. I served the salad alongside smashed celery root & potatoes and red snapper with the lightest of all curry-cream sauces (I thought a bit of curry would add an exotic touch consistent with the unusual fruits in the Clemenquat Salad, but I kept it very light so as not to conflict with the wine.) The wine was great as well. It was a nice, not too overly crisp Sauvignon Blanc, falling more towards the tropical fruit end of the scale than the super grassy, super zippy Loire Valley style Sauvignon Blancs.

For this week’s winesday, I picked up a bottle of 2002 Semele Ribero del Duero from producer Bodegas Montebaco. Ribero del Duero is a wine-producing region that is located along the banks of the Duero river in northern Spain, just southwest of Spain’s most famous wine region, Rioja. Ribero del Duero almost exclusively produces red wine, most of which is made from Spain’s signature grape, tinto fino (aka: tempranillo.) Other varietals are grown mainly so that they can be blended with tempranillo, a common practice in Ribero del Duero. The Semele wine that I bought is 90% tempranillo and 10% merlot.

I’m always struggling to find vegetarian recipes (other than pizza and pasta) that can be paired with red wine. This week, when I was browsing recipes on epicurious.com, I noticed that there were a lot of Mexican dishes being matched up with Spanish reds such as Rioja and Ribero del Duero. This struck me as interesting for two reasons: 1) I never really think of Mexican food as being good wine food because it is often so spicy, and 2) Spanish food and Mexican food are very different from one another so why would the wine from one country be such a natural fit for the cuisine of another? But, I decided to roll with this idea and pair my wine with a homemade tortilla soup. Instead of topping the soup with the traditional crispy corn tortillas (which, I suppose, means it can no longer be called tortilla soup,) I served it with fancy quesadillas on the side.

My soup turned out good, but the quesadillas were the real hit of the night! I was inspired by this recipe for Roasted Squash, Red Pepper, and Jack Cheese Quesadillas, although I took it my own direction. I roasted acorn squash, onion and garlic together until well-browned and then pureed everything in my food processor. To assemble the quesadillas, I spread a thin layer of the squash puree on a flour tortilla, added some grated Beecher’s jack cheese, sprinkled on some smoked paprika (a Spanish ingredient that, however weakly, ties the meal back to the wine,) topped it with another tortilla and then seared the whole thing in a pan until it was browned and crispy on both sides. It was really good. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I slathered the outside of the tortilla with butter before cooking it! The squash puree helped keep everything melted and soft (I absolutely hate it when melted cheese starts to solidify as you are eating it.) And, the squash flavor wasn’t overpowering at all. In fact, Robert commented that it seemed like the quesadillas were simply made with some really good, mysterious cheese.

Tempranillo is one of my favorite grapes so I was excited to try it from a wine region other than Rioja. I was particularly intrigued by the description at the wine shop, “black as night with tootsie roll.” You’ve got to love those unusual wine descriptions! It was quite dark indeed. It had a nice dark cherry and spice flavor. Like all tempranillos I’ve had, this wine was very drinkable, by which I mean well-balanced and easy to drink lots of. While it may have been a bit heavier on the tannins than I anticipated, something I try to avoid when pairing red wine with vegetarian food, the tannins were smooth, not harsh. The wine actually went really well with the meal (particularly those creamy, cheesy quesadillas!)

On our way down to Georgetown the other day, Robert and I decided to swing by Esquin to pick up a couple of bottles of wine. I normally prefer to shop at my neighborhood wine shop because it is close to home and has a quirky charm. But, Esquin also has its pluses. Namely, that it is huge! If you are looking for a special or unusual wine, Esquin is the place to go (although, even they didn’t have the delicious Pericles that I tried at Crave last month.) Because Esquin has such a broad range of choices, I felt that I should try something a little bit different so I picked up a Croatian wine: Marko Polo 2005 Pošip. This was exciting for me because, well, trying a wine from a new region is always exciting, but also because I am one quarter Croatian myself!

Like most other European countries, Croatia’s wine making history dates back to before the rise of the Roman Empire. Still, it is only relatively recently (since Croatia declared their independence from Yugoslavia in fact) that Croatian wine has started to gain a presence in the world market. Croatia is divided into two large wine areas: the interior and the coastal area. Many of the interior vineyards were destroyed during the war, so the coastal region remains the most prosperous area of the two.

Like neighboring Greece, Croatia has many indigenous grape varietals including Malvazija, Dingač and my wine of the week, Pošip. Pošip is made on the islands of Korcula and Peljesac. Many consider it to be Croatia’s best wine. Pošip is typically a very dry wine with a golden color and full-bodied flavor. And, here’s a twist: with its high acidity and robust alcohol content (13-14%) Pošip can be paired not only with seafood but also chicken and even steak!

As intriguing as the idea of pairing a white wine with steak sounds, I don’t eat steak so I opted for a more standard seafood pairing instead. Since my family is doing Greek food for Christmas this year, I used this winesday as an opportunity to practice my Greek stuffed squid recipe. The squid are stuffed with a delicious filling of rice, mint, currants and pine nuts and are baked in a light tomato sauce. They are very good, but the squid have a real tendency to explode in the oven, no matter how lightly I stuff them. Thus, the practice run. I could care less what the food on my own plate looks like as long as it tastes good, but I certainly don’t want to serve exploded squid to guests for Christmas dinner.

Alongside the stuffed squid, I served grilled pitas with tzatziki and rosemary-roasted vegetables. The food was tasty, but ALL of my squid exploded. Every single one. That’s the first time that has happened. Hmmm…perhaps we will be serving stuffed grape leaves at Christmas instead.

The Pošip was great. It was much more citrusy than I expected given that it is so full-bodied and can be paired with meats. I generally think of citrus flavors with lighter wines and tropical fruit flavors with heavier wines so it was interesting to taste a very full-bodied wine with such light, lemony flavors. It almost reminded me of a really good retsina, minus the pine. It was a perfect match to the food!

For this week’s winesday, we are heading way down south to Argentina. I was looking through my past winesday entries, and I realized that I had yet to showcase a wine from Argentina, or any South American country for that matter. I’ve done wines from France, Greece, New Zealand, Austria, even South Africa but never Argentina. Argentina is actually the 5th largest producer of wine in the world so I’d say this winesday was long overdue!

Although Argentina has been making wine since the 1600s, its wine industry is just now starting to get some recognition. The main reason for this is that, up until recently, most of the wine produced in Argentina simply wasn’t very good. It was made from inferior, uninteresting grapes and most of it never left the country. In the 1990s, as internal demand for wine declined, many wineries in Argentina started looking to export more of their wine. However, in order to have a successful export business, improvements in the quality of the wine needed to be made. Many of Argentina’s wineries outfitted themselves with modern technology and began replacing the old, inferior vines with better varietals. As a result, wines from Argentina are now good and will only continue to improve.

Argentina produces its fair share of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, but its top wine, arguably, is Malbec. Before Argentina popularized this grape, Malbec was primarily known for being one of the grapes used in blending Bordeaux wines. Now, because Malbec really thrives in Argentina, it gets to shine all on its own. To me, this makes Argentina a very exciting wine region. It’s one thing to make a really good Merlot or Chardonnay. But, to have your own signature grape that no other region is growing in any significant quantity? That’s pretty cool in my opinion.

Malbec is a very dark grape. Not surprisingly, it produces wines that tend to be very rich and full of dark fruit. Malbec wines are juicy and jammy and have plenty of soft tannins. Like most red wines, they go well with meat (particularly Argentina’s beloved beef!) However, because of their fruity character, Malbecs are said to be a good match for a wide range of foods including fish dishes and Mexican or Indian food.

My Malbec of choice for this winesday was Enrique Foster 2006 Ique Malbec. The sign at the wine shop described this as having all of the characteristics of an Argentinian Malbec so I figured I couldn’t go wrong there. For dinner, I decided to make Orecchiette with Baby Turnips and their Greens with spicy Italian sausages on the side. I picked up some baby turnips at the farmer’s market last weekend, and this seemed like the perfect way to use them. I love anything on orecchiette pasta. Orecchiette means “little ears” but they look more like little suction cups to me. At one point during the meal, I looked down at my plate and there was a pea-sized turnip perfectly nestled inside one of the orecchiette cups. It made me so happy (I get a big kick out of silly little things like that.)

The Ique Malbec was dark purple in color (and your teeth will be too after a few sips!) As I expected, both from knowing the typical characteristics of Malbec beforehand and just from looking at the dark color of the wine itself, the flavor was rich and deep. It tasted fruity, but more like dark, dried fruit than fresh fruit; somewhere between plums and prunes. It went well with the food but would also be great as a sipping wine on its own. Two thumbs up for this Malbec!

There is a theme to this week’s winesday, but it was a purely unintentional one. Normally, when winesday rolls around, I pick out a special wine and then try to plan the perfect meal to serve with it. That didn’t happen this week. This was probably the most impromptu (read: poorly planned) winesday of all. When my CSA box arrived this week, the items contained within it practically required me to make squash soup, and squash dishes aren’t that easy to pair with wine because they have a tendency to be on the sweet side. I know this because I just served squash soup a couple of winesdays ago. I was originally planning to serve a Sauvignon Blanc that I had on hand but, when I was at the store picking up some last minute ingredients before dinner, I bought a completely different wine on impulse. No, this was certainly not the most well thought out winesday.

The theme that brings it all together (and keeps this winesday from being a complete disaster) is that all of the major elements featured this week come from sources located within 100 miles of my apartment. If you spend a lot of time reading food blogs like I do, you have probably heard about the 100-mile diet. This is a movement that challenges people to eat only foods that are grown within 100 miles of their home, the idea being that eating more locally is better for you, the local economy and the global environment. While, there is some debate about whether consumption of local goods really is better for the environment (e.g. it may actually take more energy to grow beef in Britain than it does to grow beef in New Zealand and then ship it to Britain,) it can never be a bad thing to support your local economy. Even better, since local produce doesn’t have to be bred for shipping, it usually tastes better. Fellow Seattleites can read up on the local chapter of the 100-mile diet at Sustainable Ballard.

My CSA box comes from Boistfort Valley Farm which, according to Google Maps, is located 99.5 miles southeast of my apartment. This week, my box came stocked with spicy chilies, cilantro, one huge orange kabocha squash and a link to a recipe for Butternut Squash Soup with Green Chili-Coriander Chutney. Even though it isn’t a great wine pairing, how could I not make that soup when all of the required ingredients were sitting right in front of me? The recipe calls for butternut squash, but I figured the kabocha would be a fine substitute. Orange kabocha is a very strange squash it turns out. When cooked, it has a dry, chalky texture, almost like a roasted chestnut. I’m not sure I would like it roasted or steamed as is, but it made a beautiful, velvety soup. And, what a brilliant orange color! Most squash soups are a golden yellow hue, but this was bright, bright orange. I’m curious to see how it compares to the green kabochas we are supposed to be getting soon.

This week’s wine comes from Lopez Island Vineyards. Lopez Island is part of the San Juan Island group and is located about 100 miles northwest of Seattle (the winery itself is actually 99.8 miles from my apartment.) Since the island is on the cool side of the Cascades, Lopez Island Vineyards focuses on growing cool weather grapes including some unusual varieties such as Siegerrebe and Madeleine Angevine. Like most of the island wineries, they also have a nice selection of fruit wines. I decided to try the 2006 Madeleine Angevine. This is a white wine grape from the Loire Valley in northern France, one of my favorite wine producing regions. The Lopez Island Vineyards 2006 Madeleine Angevine won the gold medal at the Los Angeles International Wine Competition. It is also organically grown!

Rounding out the meal was a loaf of bread from Tall Grass Bakery (7.4 miles away) and a salad of escarole and Cameo apples (also from the box.) I topped the salad with Cranberry-Orange Chevre from River Valley Ranch in Fall City, WA (27 miles away.) Everything was delicious but, as I fully expected, the soup wasn’t a perfect match with the wine. This is too bad because this wine was really, really good. It was crisp with flavors of grapefruit and tropical fruit. It deserved to be paired with something perfect like steamed mussels.

While I can’t claim to know where Tall Grass gets their flour from, and I seriously doubt the coconut I used in the chutney was local, I think this meal comes pretty darn close to qualifying as a 100-mile diet meal. From an ethical standpoint, I felt really good about this meal. The fact that it was all delicious only made it better!

For this week’s winesday, I am highlighting one of Robert’s wine picks: Kiona 2003 Lemberger. I always love it when Robert chooses the wine or has a suggestion for what to make for dinner. It makes my job so much easier. I was particularly excited about Robert’s selection this week because Lemberger is a new grape for me. As an added bonus, this wine comes from my home state of Washington! I like to do my part to support the local wineries whenever I can.

Not to be confused with the stinky cheese of a similar name, Lemberger (also called Blaufränkisch or Blauer Limberger) is a wine grape of Austrian origin. In the Old World, it is grown mainly throughout Eastern Europe, particularly in Germany and Austria. Lemberger’s main presence in the New World is in Washington State where it happens to grow really well. Kiona Vineyards, located in the relatively tiny Red Mountain AVA on the eastern edge of the Yakima Valley, was actually the first winery in North America to plant Lemberger grapes. Their Lemberger always wins lots of awards and has even been referred to as the “gold standard” for Washington Lemberger.

Stylistically, Lemberger wines tend to be very fruit-forward with mild tannins and a light to medium body. Berries and plums are among the typical flavors found in these wines. They are most often compared to Beaujolais, a wine commonly described as “juicy.” Because of their light and fruity character, Lemberger wines are able to be paired with a wide range of foods. Meat, cheese and pasta dishes are all fine, of course, but I’ve heard of people pairing Lemberger with cold cuts, BBQ and even Mexican food. Hey, why not? A wine this juicy is halfway on its way to being a sangria!

This kind of food compatibility is perfect for me; since I don’t eat meat, I always have a harder time finding foods to pair with red wine. I decided to serve the Lemberger with a simple fall meal. I had some beautiful Delicata and Sweet Dumpling squash in my CSA box so I combined them to make a squash soup. Squash can be tricky with wine because it is so sweet. To counter this, I opted for a creamy, buttery style of soup. I stayed away from ingredients that would add further sweetness, such as apples or cinnamon, and instead flavored the soup with rosemary and plenty of cream. I served the soup with melted gruyere croutons and a salad of arugula, roasted beets, apples and hazelnuts.

The Kiona Lemberger was, not surprisingly, very fruity. It had flavors of blackberry and blueberry (think blueberry syrup, not fresh blueberries.) As the evening progressed, it began to taste a bit like an Ocean Spray Cran-Something Cocktail which sounds bad but wasn’t. This was a very tasty wine. Like Beaujolais, this would make an excellent wine choice for the winter holidays. Good job, Robert!

Wow, two whole weeks without a single post. That’s just shameful. I’ve been so busy lately, and obviously my poor blog is suffering as a result. I was off on a sewing retreat with my mom and sister the weekend before last and, this week, work has been just crazy. All I want to do each day is come home and veg out and make easy, ordinary (and therefore unblogworthy) meals. But, it is winesday once again, and my blog can no longer be ignored!

This week, I decided to serve a white Burgundy: Joseph Drouhin Saint-Véran 2005. Saint-Véran is a small village located in the French Alps right next door to the more famous wine producing town of Pouilly Fuissé. Although both appellations are part of the reputable Macon region of Burgundy, wines from Pouilly Fuissé tend to be more hyped and thus more expensive. The wines from little-known Saint-Véran, though of similar quality to those of Pouilly Fuissé, are often a better deal.

Joseph Drouhin is one of the most popular producers of Burgundy wine. Not only are Drouhin wines widely available in the United States, they also have a reputation for being consistent and of high quality. The Drouhin family is based in Beaune, France but makes wine in many different appellations throughout Burgundy. They also have a winery in Oregon! Oregon’s Willamette Valley has a climate similar to Burgundy’s, and the Drouhins have capitalized on that, making top notch Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here in the Pacific Northwest since the late 1980′s.

White Burgundy comes primarily from one grape: Chardonnay. But, unlike the big California Chardonnays that most people in this country are more familiar with, white Burgundy is typically left unoaked. This is great for people who, like me, fear the big oak wines. The Drouhin Saint-Véran is a perfect example of this style of wine. Instead of wood and vanilla, the nose of this wine is very floral, having more in common perhaps with a Gewurztraminer than a California Chardonnay. The wine is zesty with bright flavors of apples and citrus. Since it is a Chardonnay, however, this wine has plenty of body to offset its crispness.

The fuller body of white Burgundy makes it a good match for heavier fish dishes and light poultry or pork. It can also be paired with rich quiches. I was initially thinking of pairing it with scallops, but the halibut cheeks at my fish market struck my eye instead. I’ve never made halibut cheeks before. I honestly didn’t even know that fish had enough cheek on them to constitute an entire meal. Do all fish have edible cheeks? I don’t know! Maybe salmon cheeks are delicious, and I have been missing out this whole time. I’ve never seen them at my fish market before, though. It’s probably one of those delicacies that you only get when you catch your own fish. One of these days, I swear I’m going to learn to fish…

Compared with fillets, the halibut cheeks were quite dense. They had an interesting striated texture, similar to crab or scallops. They seemed to release a lot of water in the pan so I wasn’t able to get as good as sear on them as I would have liked. Still, they were tasty. I served the cheeks with a rosemary-cream sauce on a bed of sauteed tatsoi (similar to bok choy but with much slimmer stems and a mustardy flavor.) On the side, I served oven-roasted Rose Finn fingerling potatoes, golden beets and carrots. Although it was a beautiful, sunny day, the roasted root vegetables really put me in the mood for fall! With its robust apple flavor, the Drouhin Saint-Véran is the perfect accompaniment for fall foods.

Whenever we are up on 15th Ave, Robert and I make a point of stopping by our local wine shop. Sometimes, we are lucky and happen to come in on a day that they are hosting a wine tasting. Unfortunately, our timing is usually off, and we end up walking in just at the tail end of the tasting after most of the customers have left and the cheese plate has long since wilted. The shop’s proprietor, busy with other tasks at this point, will wave his hand across the multitude of open wine-stained bottles on the counter offering us to help ourselves to whatever is leftover. We keep meaning to actually go to a tasting at the scheduled time one of these days. But, until we are able to drum up the foresight and planning that that would entail, we’ll continue to happily sip on the leftover dregs.

A couple of weeks ago, the wine shop featured wines from Maryhill Winery in Glendale, Washington. I overhead someone say that the customers were most enthusiastic about Maryhill’s 2004 Sangiovese so I made a point of sampling that one. Maryhill Winery is one of a small, but growing, number of Washington wineries producing Sangiovese. Sangiovese, of course, is the most widely planted grape in Italy and is responsible for such famous Italian wines as Chianti and Brunello. Although Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are still the most famous Washington reds, lesser known grapes, such as Sangiovese and Grenache, are beginning to make their mark here. In fact, although Maryhill Winery produces its fair share of the big name reds, it claims to focus more of its efforts on producing excellent Syrah and Sangiovese.

Last night, I served Maryhill Winery’s 2004 Sangiovese with pizza. Not a real creative match, but what can I say? Sangiovese is made for tomato-based dishes such as pizza. Since I didn’t want to overpower the wine, I kept my pizza very simple. I topped it with crushed tomatoes, sliced Sungold CSA tomatoes, purple basil and fresh mozzarella. It was a wonderful match! The sweet tomatoes and soft spiciness of the basil went beautifully with the fruity, spicy wine. Unlike many of the Italian Sangioveses I’ve tried, the Maryhill Sangiovese is not very acidic. It has enough acidity to be a good match with food but isn’t tart like some Italian wines can be (perhaps this is the Washington influence!) Robert impressed/annoyed me by completely nailing the description of this wine after just one sniff. “Cherry and cinnamon,” he shouts out. What does the wine label say about this wine? Flavors of cherry and cinnamon! And he claims to have a terrible sense of smell. I’m not buying it. Meanwhile, my idiot palate told me nothing except that the wine I was drinking was delicious and certainly worth seeking out.

Newer Posts »« Older Posts