Monday, December 26, 2011

Crispy Kale and Sauvignon Blanc

Those of you who know me probably think my blog was hijacked – I mean, really, a post about not only Sauvignon Blanc but also a vegetable? What have I done with Wine Lush???!!

It really is me. I still like my steak extra super very purple rare. I still have a love affair with Chardonnay. I still generally dislike veggies. And I still rarely eat dessert and don’t care that much for chocolate.

Feel assured? Ok, so a bit ago a friend (Mrs. V) introduced me to crispy kale and has strongly encouraged eating “super veggies” to help make amends with my liver. Well, she is today proud, as I like a super veggie. Now before you get excited, it is tossed in olive oil and lightly salted, but it’s a way for me to enjoy a veggie with a ton of vitamin C & A and with fiber, calcium, & iron too!

Here’s the instructions:
  • Rinse and dry kale – note, it shrinks WAY down during cooking so use a lot
  • Toss lightly – or even lightly spray – in olive oil
  • Lightly salt – I use sea salt or if you can find it, smoked salt
  • Cook on cookie sheet at 400 degree for 10 minutes, turning half way through

It can be a side or an appetizer and is very easy. I’ve never had it with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, but it goes well with American Sauvignon Blancs- we recently had it with the Joel Gott and it paired nicely. Just a little herbal complement with some acidity to cut through the salt. Delish! (well, for a veggie ;)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hot drink recipies pt 2

And as promised, here's the other 3 from

Vin Chaud
Courtesy of Noir Bar at Charles Hotel, Cambridge, MA
  • 1 750ml bottle Pinot Noir
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1/3 cup Cognac
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 orange peel
Combine wine, sugar, cardamom pods and cloves in a large saucepan and bring to a simmer, about 15 minutes. Strain out the spices by pouring the mixture through a cheese cloth. Add the Cognac to a mug and ladle the mulled wine over it. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and orange twist. Makes 4 drinks.

Happy Swallows
Courtesy of Willy Shine of 1534, New York City

  • 5 ounces black tea, brewed 
  • 2 ounces Disaronno 
  • ¼ ounce fresh lemon juice 
  • 3 rose petals 
Combine the hot tea, Disarrono and lemon juice into a coffee mug. Garnish with the rose petals.



Rum Ta Ta 
Courtesy of LOKaL, Chicago
  • 1 750ml bottle of white wine (sweet works best)
  • 10 cloves 
  • 2 cinnamon sticks 
  • 2 spoonfuls honey

In a saucepan, bring the wine to a simmer, about 10 minutes. When heated, the add cloves, cinnamon sticks and honey. Let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Let cool for 45 minutes before serving.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hot drink recipies

About 2 years ago, I posted a recipie for my Hot Toddy- a standy for the winter. Today I was reading Wine Enthusiast and ran across a few more - I'll publish my hot toddy today along with 3 of WE's recipies (giving credit for the bar they originally came from as well) and tomorrow I'll post 3 more:

WineLush’s Hot Toddy 
  • ½ shot bourbon 
  • ½ shot triplesec/cointreau/grand marnier (whichever you have)
  • 1 shot brandy
  • 1 tbs honey
Fill mug with hot tea. (personally I use Orange Spiced (black) Tea or Orange Passionfruit & Jasmine (green) Tea.


And 3 from


The Beale End All

Courtesy of Chaim Dauermann of Inoteca e Liquori, New York City 
  • 2 ounces spiced rum
  • 1 ounce Montenegro Amaro 
  • ½ ounce lemon juice 
  • ¼ ounce Demerara sugar syrup 
  • Dash of Regan's Orange Bitters 
  • Dash of Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel Bitters 
  • 4 ounces hot water 
  • Orange peel, for garnish

Combine all ingredients, pour into a coffee mug, and garnish with an orange peel.


Midnight Cowboy Haut Chocolat
Courtesy of EDGE Bar at Four Seasons Denver, Denver, CO

  • ¾ cup milk 
  • 1 hot chocolate powder packet (your choice of any gourmet brand)
  • 1½ ounces Jack Daniel‚Äôs Tennessee Whiskey
  • ½ ounce Amaretto
  • Whipped cream
  • A pinch of allspice 
  • Marshmallows, for garnish 
In a saucepan, heat the milk, then add the hot chocolate powder and mix until the chocolate is well incorporated. Add the Jack Daniels and Amaretto to the hot chocolate mixture. Pour into a coffee mug and top with whipped cream and a pinch of allspice. Serve with marshmallows on the side.



Death by Hot Chocolate

Courtesy of 39 Degrees at Sky Hotel, Aspen, CO
  • ½ ounce Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur
  •  ½ ounce Baileys Irish Cream
  •  ½ ounce Navan Vanilla Cognac
  •  1 hot chocolate powder packet (your choice of any gourmet brand)
  •  Marshmallows, for garnish

Combine the liqueur, Irish cream and cognac. Add the powder packet of hot chocolate and garnish with marshmallows.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Napa & Sonoma, here we come

So Mr. Lush and I are finally making it to Napa Valley in January. I've been before only for a couple days, but it was many years ago - when tasting fees were $5-10 instead of $20! We're going for a long weekend and will likely spend 2 days in Napa and one in Sonoma.

We're joining a couple wine clubs of places we know we will like prior to going, so we can get tasting fees for free. But we're also looking for some small scale hidden gems we've got some good ones from GMWC, but are always looking for some more recommendations.... do you know of any?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

Caymus dinner

Mr. Lush and I (along with Mrs. G) went to the Caymus Dinner at a local grocery store, Schnucks. (actually, the dinner featured the Wagner Family of wines, including Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon & Conundrum, the Belle Glos Pinot Noir, Meomi Pinot Noir, and the Mer Soliel Chardonnays)

The menu:
The winemaker/owner, Chuck Wagner:
The food:
The smoked trout paired well with the unoaked Chard (the Silver), really brought out the flavors, but it was really smoked butter bomb with the oaked Chard. The shrimp paired better with the oaked chard, but it wasn't nearly the spot on pairing as the trout.

I missed taking a pic of the Coq Au Vin, but it was far better with the Belle Glos Pinot; the Meomi was really heavy vanilla/marshmallow. (I've had other vintages and its not the same, so its possible it was too young - it was a 2010)

The dry aged ribeye was also fantastic. (although of course I wasn't able to order it my preferred "purple rare" ;) it was exceptionally tender - we used a butter knife to c ut it! It was paired with (shocker!) the Napa Cabernet (cheaper one; runs about $60ish) and the Special Selection ($110ish), both 2009. The Napa Cabernet was also pretty heavy on the vanilla, but it was young, so one hopes it would mellow and balance out over time. The Special Selection Cab was great - although of course it needs age as well- it was a more typical "cabernet sauvignon" with dark fruit, casis, etc. We've personally never had luck with the heavy vanilla going away with age, but its worth noting that we haven't had a ton of them - we're talking 3 or so, max. The Special Selection was better with the ribeye, but both were good. (we splurged and bougth a bottle of the Special Selection; the dinner was a good deal and we got a 6 bottle mixed pack so we got it for 10% off)

And for dessert- POPCORN ice cream with the Condunrum. (It was AWESOME!)

Here's us with the winemaker:

Mr. Lush bought a bottle of 2003 Caymus back in 2007, and I asked him when we should drink it. He said to email him - he'll go home and have some and let us know. (man, do I wish I could just pop home and open a bottle just because!!) When we visit Napa in January we hope to see Chuck again and of course, have some more Caymus!! All in all, good times!!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Rappin with Andrea Robinson

As promised, here’s the info on the Cheese Seminar at the NYC Food and Wine Festival.

The Cheese Seminar was led by Laura Werlin and Andrea Robinson. Now, I’m not sure if they were trying to top Mark’s sabering, but this seminar started with Andrea rapping. Yes, RAPPING. Luckily, I had a much better view of her and got a good shot.


Awesome, right???

Here’s the pairing menu – now, they told us that some of the cheeses might pair better with other wines, so this would be an experiment for all of us and to find what we liked. And it was – some pairings were spot on, some paired better with other wines (in my opinion) and some just didn’t pair perfect with anything.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sushi Seminar - with sabering!

Earlier month I had the pleasure of joining (the future) Mr. and Mrs. V at the New York City Food & Wine Festival. We attended two seminars, sushi and cheese. I’ll tell you about the sushi seminar first; stay tuned later this week for the cheese seminar.

The sushi seminar starts off with a bang-literally! Mark Oldman attempts to saber a bottle of bubbly and before he gets a chance, the cork flys out and shoots across the room! HA! Now, I’ve been lucky enough to see a couple successful saberings in my day, but I was happy that he decided to chill another bottle and give it another whirl later in the seminar. Note: Sabering can be very dangerous. The bottle must be very cold and you must hit the bottle at the exact spot, otherwise it can shatter and explode in your hand; I’ve seen the aftermath of that and it’s NOT pretty. Also, the force of the bubbles shoots the top – and the freshly cut glass ring-out ward, so make sure to point it away from anyone or anything. Here’s the video of the successful sabering: (I apologize for the bad angle- he was pointing the bottle towards the brick wall.

Ok, back to the food and wine. Here’s a copy of the menu. The pairings were perfect, wonderful – of course, some of the wines I didn’t care for without the food, but they were really very well paired.

And, here’s a door hanger that sums up Mark’s thoughts on wine – drink bravely. (so try something new, forge ahead into unchartered territory, pair things together that may not work, etc) LOVE IT!!!!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

$50 in free wine - today only

Just got an email from Wine Enthusiast - Spend $50, get a $50 merchandise coupon....use code 50for50

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wino Road Trip in July

My wine club’s theme this month is “Wino Road Trip”. Its basically to encourage us to drink wines from the US that would not be in normal repertoire; so no wines from California, Oregon, Washington and no wines from Missouri or Illinois, since those are local to us. Since wine is made in all 50 states, this should be somewhat easy; of course not all states distribute and so it likely won’t be without some creative pre-ordering!
In my research, I found a blog post by Time Magazine’s Joel Stein: "Fifty States of Wine" in 2008 – you can find the article here. Its an old blog post, but funny:

I'm not sure why my instinct, upon learning that all 50 states make wine, was to try one from each. If I found out that every state has a water park, I wouldn't try to go to each one. That's because water parks can't get you drunk.”

(he SO had me at this one!)
I learned a few general truths. White is easier to make than red. Wines made at golf courses are not good.”…. “I also learned that you can make and apparently sell some truly disgusting wine: six of the bottles I tried with a dozen friends were unanimously deemed "undrinkable." But 11 of them were quite good”……

So, not counting Cali, Washington, or Oregon, the other states that had an “excellent” wine were: Colorado, Delaware, New Hampsire, Kentucky, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Pensylvannia, and Texas. (For the record, the wine from Missouri was “good” and the wine from Illinois was “bad”, although its worth noting that the wines were selected at random AND the blog post was from 2008)

You can find the list of all the wines where you can filter out the best (or worst) here

Another more recent blog post can be found here. (and I apologize to the other five million wine bloggers, I don't have time to find all of your posts!)
So, I guess wish us luck, as we try some new wines out….and if you have any good recommendations, feel free to send them our way! Check back in August for the results!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 17th: A global toast to celebrate my birthday!

Ok, ok, in truth it’s a global toast to celebrate the anniversary of Robert Mondavi’s birthday, which (would have been) June 18th. However, the toast is on my actual birthday, June 17, so its just another reason to celebrate!

At 2pm Pacific time (or 4pm for us in the Lou) please raise a glass and toast Robert Mondavi for his groundbreaking movements in wine, me for my birthday, and all who love wine!

You can also watch the toast (for Robert Mondavi, not me) online- from the Mondavi website:

Please join us in celebrating this special day. We will be offering a complimentary glass of Fume Blanc in honor of Mr. Robert Mondavi’s , as well as enjoying festive music on our lawn. At 2:00, Margrit Mondavi, and our winemaker, Genevieve Janssens will be hosting a live toast. Website:

Monday, June 13, 2011

The bubbly process

My wine club’s theme this month is Celebrate! Bubbly and Chards! While I was looking up information for my selected wine (to be discussed tomorrow) and that it was produced using the traditional method of making Champagne, I realized that I really didn’t know what the other methods were. I knew the traditional method (called either Méthode Champenoise / Méthode Traditionnelle) was the “best way” to make sparkling wine, but I didn’t know what the difference actually was.  Now I do (and so will you):

There are 3 (ok 4, if you count directly injecting carbon dioxide into the wine) methods of making sparkling wine.
  • Méthode Champenoise / Méthode Traditionnelle
  • Transfer method
  • Metodo Italiano (Charmat process)
All sparkling wines are made from still wine, so they go through harvest, pressing the grapes, first fermentation, and blending steps, which are nearly identical if its going to be still wine or sparkling wine. At the triage step, the process differs from still wine: After blending, the winemaker adds the Liqueur of Tirage, a blend of sugar, wine and live yeast that will begin the wine's second fermentation.

The second fermentation is where the methods differ. In the Méthode Champenoise the bottle is topped with a top like a beer cap and the wine is aged while it undergoes the second fermentation process (at least one year for non-vintage and three years for a vintage sparkling wine.) After fermentation, the next step is riddling, where the wine is slowly (over the course of 6-8 weeks) rotated and turned from a horizontal state until totally upside down and the sediment is in the neck of the bottle. The bottle neck is dipped into a brine solution to freeze the liquid, the pressure in the unfrozen part of the bottle forces the frozen sediment out and a dosage (sugar and sometimes brandy) is added to adjust to the final dryness. The bottle is then topped with the cork and wire cage.
In the Transfer method, the wine is transferred from the bottles to a pressurized tank where the sediment is filtered out and the wine is rebottled.

In the Charmat process, the entire second fermentation process is done in a large pressurized tank. The result in this process is that the carbon dioxide has less time to integrate with the wines so there are larger bubbles that dissipate faster. Usually prosecco is made using this process (hence the name).


Friday, June 10, 2011

Drink that leftover watermelon with the Mint Melon Breeze

Yep, I said drink, not eat. Good news, my fellow watermelon-loving lushes. I have a new use for watermelon and liquor – one that doesn’t include keeping it the freezer overnight. Mr. Lush and I modified a recipe in the Food and Wine Annual Cookbook (love that cookbook by the way) and made a lovely summertime cocktail. (since we changed the recipie, we get to rename it of course!)

This will make around 2 pint-size, or 4 smaller Mint Melon Breezes:

First, you’ll need some simple syrup. If you don’t have some, its easy to make but needs to cool a bit before using it. Take equal parts sugar and water and boil or microwave until it reduces by half. Let it cool. That’s it – that’s simple syrup. (I actually use ½ sugar ½ Splenda, but to each their own) 

After you have your simple syrup, blend:
  • 2 cups cubed/sliced watermelon
  • 5-8 mint leaves
Strain. Mix with:
  • ½ c blueberry pomegranate juice
  • 1 ½ tbs simple syrup
  • 1oz Cointreau
  • 4-5 oz of tequila, we used El Espolón Repasado
(Note, if you use cheap tequila, use more simple syrup)

Shake, pour over ice into glass with half sugar rim. Top with mint sprig and garnish glass with watermelon slice.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pairing with spiced duck

Yesterday I posted a recipe for Grilled Spiced Duck with Blackberry sauce and as promised, here’s the wines we had both the first night and with leftovers:

The first night we had it with the 2007 Simi Valley Petit Sirah, which we bought at a Black Friday cyber sale for half off - thanks to Scotchguy:

100% Petite Sirah; Inky, almost black in color with powerful flavors of intense, jammy fruits that mingle with dark chocolate and pepper. The tannins are firm and muscular creating a luscious mouthfeel and smooth finish.

It was FANTASTIC with it. The fattiness of the duck really needed a tannic wine and this was perfect with it. It really picked up the blackberry in the sauce and was complementary with the spice rub. If I recall, we poured the glasses about 30 minutes before we ate, so it got some air. If you're drinking it without food, I'd recommend at least an hour, but it really is a food friendly wine.

For leftovers a few days later, we had the 2004 Red Head Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, a selection from Gold Medal Wine Club:

Red Head Ranch sits on one of the oldest recorded vineyard sites in San Luis Obispo County, planted in Paso Robles by the Klintworth family over 100 years ago. This 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon and 25% Petit Verdot, expresses Red Head Ranch's signature style: elegance and focus of fruit, producing wines that are supple and accessible. The wine press seems to agree, as Wine Enthusiast magazine names the wine among the Best of the Year and calling it "rich and robust, this soft, full-bodied Cab has a nice array of red and black cherry, black-berry jam, cedar and coffee flavors. Polished tannins help make it classy." The 2004 Red Head Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon was also awarded a Gold Medal at the Orange County Fair Commercial Wine Competition, in addition to a Silver Medal at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. The Petite Verdot was of excellent quality in 2004, hence a greater percentage (25%) of the blend as compared with the previous bottling. Its addition to the wine adds robust character that has resulted in a more complex, cellar-worthy wine. Try pairing the Cabernet Sauvignon with braised lamb shanks, burgers, and anything off the grill.

It was excellent as well. Very smooth – the age of the wine smoothed out the Cabernet, but the 25% Petite Verdot and the 50% new wood adds some additional tannins that once again, go great with the duck’s fat.
Both wines had typical dark berry characteristics which went well with the blackberry sauce, and the cedar notes paired well with the spices used. I'd say I liked the Petite Sirah a bit more with the duck, but loved the Cab as well and it was possible to drink it without food. Its rare you can order a wine with so much age on it – actually I just checked the winery website and they are sold out of EVERYTHING! Guess I’m hitting GMWC’s website for some more!!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Grilled Spiced Duck with Blackberry Sauce

A couple weeks ago Mr. Lush and I tried our hand at grilling a duck again. We’ve done it before, but duck is very fatty and it comes frozen solid, so it takes some planning. It actually came out fantastic, here’s the recipe. Stay tuned for the wine pairings tomorrow!

Grilled Spiced Duck with Blackberry Sauce

Blackberry Sauce: 
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 quart blackberries
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ tsp coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Mix vinegar with cornstarch. In a medium saucepan, boil the vinegar mixture over high heat until reduced by half, about 7-10 minutes. Add the blackberries and cook, stirring very gently, until they are just softened, about 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the blackberries to a bowl. Add sugar and coriander and boil the liquid over high heat until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 3-5 minutes. (this is a good point to pause if desired, you can resume this next step when the duck is off the grill and is resting before cutting) Carefully pour the accumulated juices from the blackberries in the bowl into the saucepan and boil for about 1-2 minutes longer. Season the reduction with salt and pepper.

Spiced duck

Take 1 whole duck, thawed (ours was about 7 lbs), skin on. Score with a knife in crosshatch pattern. (“score” in this case means really cut through as much of fatty skin as you can)

Mix together the following seasonings and rub all over duck:
  • 2 tablespoons ancho chile powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

Prepare grill/coals. Put drip can directly underneath duck and arrange hot coals around the pan. Grill the duck breasts side up for about an hour. The fat from the duck breasts will drip down through the rest and keep it moist, although be careful when you remove the duck from the grill – the fat will also sit in the cavity of the duck, so tilt it when you remove it so the fat drips to the pan. Transfer the duck to a carving board and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing. Serve the duck with the blackberry sauce.

This was a slightly modified recipe from Food & Wine magazine - we used whole duck instead of duck breasts and tweaked the spices, plus we personally preferred the sauce without the blackberries, it was fairly sweet, but you can pour the sauce over the blackberries.

Bon Appetit!

Friday, May 20, 2011

An alternative for those of us who can't purchase a case of Silver Oak

Just got this email from, looks like they bought some of Silver Oak’s cellared wines…. While you likely could’ve always bought them from Silver Oak, its nice to see them on a general wine merchant site, so you can get one or two bottles and fill up a half case or case with something less costly. (for those of us who can’t afford a case of Silver Oak!)

From their email:

Today marks our most expansive and exciting Silver Oak Cellars offering. Beginning with Silver Oak's latest 2006 Napa Valley and Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon releases, we've also sourced an incredibly rare allocation of Silver Oak's library wines with vintages dating back to the early 90's, including Magnums, Double Magnums and 6 liter Impérial formats. Quantities are extremely limited and we strongly encourage collectors to make their selections as soon as possible. If you don't see some of these on our site, it means that we've sold out!

Twomey Too! With a dedicated following of its own, Silver Oak’s sister winery, Twomey Cellars, skillfully produces hand-crafted Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. By design, these wines are food-friendly and enjoyable upon release.

Click here to visit the site.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinqo De Mayo wine deals and recs...and tequila too!

Many think Cinqo De Mayo is just for margarita lovers, but I had a couple of wine specials hit my inbox today that I thought I’d share with you…. 

If you do want a wine today, I'd recommend a white spanish wine (for obvious reasons); a Verdejo or Albarino. Iff you're going for something spicy to eat, maybe a white blend from California that has a little bit of Viogner, Riesling, or Gewurztraminer in it, to balance out the spicy, with a little bit of Sauvignon Blanc, to pair with the cheesy goodness that most mexican food is known for. I'd recommend a few readily available at most grocery stores such as 7 Daughters, Shoofly Buzz Cut, Kendall Jackson Summation or Conundrum, althought that one is typically a bit more full bodied/closer to Chardonnay.
Now if you’re in the mood for a high class margarita or just something smooth to sip on, ScotchGuy recommended some good tequilas in a recent article, Some tequilas are worth sipping, not swigging. We gave El Espolón Repasado a try and it’s excellent for the price (we got it for $18- a Resposado for $18!). We are margarita snobs - Jose doesn't even make it into the house - so we had it in our Lush Margaritas with Cointreau.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Enjoying the grape journey

You know, it felt good to be thrown a “wine curve ball” and to take it in stride, like in my last post. Sure, I have a wine blog and so obviously I enjoy wine and enjoy learning about it. However, as you might have figured out, I don’t desire to know all about wine or even to have a career in wine – unless I can be an importer, travelling all over the world in search of great wine of course (feel free to front me the startup money for that venture!) – I just enjoy drinking it and I like to know a little bit about it. My knowledge is to complement my enjoyment – I get tired of analyzing wine and overthinking it. For example, by the end of Blind Ambition Month (October, where we try every wine blind), I can’t wait to just open a bottle and have the only think I think about is “Do I like this?”.

I enjoy being able to try something new and to learn about it. I like comparing similar wines and finding out why I might like one or the other – like we do in my wine club. I even enjoy trying something I previously didn’t care for and seeing how my taste has evolved. I enjoy picking out a bottle at a work dinner and having multiple people really enjoy it - a few weeks ago I did just that... I saw a bottle of the Kenwood Jack London Cabernet Sauvignon on a restaurant menu for $40. Normally it retails for about $30-33, I usually buy a couple bottles when its on sale for $25ish, so I knew it was a good deal (low markup) for $40 and it was fairly soft and easy going, and sure enough, everyone who had a class enjoyed it - and I didn't break the expense account! It wasn’t an overly impressive selection or an amazing life altering wine discovery, but everyone looked to me to order something, I did, and it was a success.

It’s the little things like that, that keep me learning about this ever evolving drink. Perhaps one day I’ll pursue a career in it, and I certainly commend those who study and increase their knowledge, but for now, I’m happy learning a little bit now and then. I encourage all those who are interested in learning about wine to not be intimidated – sure, there IS a lot to learn, but you don’t need to be a "certified" anything to know what YOU like, and in the end, isn’t picking something you enjoy what you’re really after? Next time you’re taste a wine you like, google it. Check out the website. Read the tasting notes. Notice what you like about it, so you can then replicate it. And if you care to, look up the ones you hate – so you can know what to avoid! (sometimes I think that's even more important!!)

Keep trying new things – try the wine flight next time you go out and take the sheet home with you. If you do want to start keeping notes, there are a ton of wine apps available for your smart phones and remember, you don’t have to keep a volume of wine notes either – just jot down enough to remember what to look for again and what to avoid. And most importantly – relax and enjoy what you like! Take a class if you want, but if you don't, then don't! The knowledge, however much you want to learn, will come eventually. Just enjoy the grape journey!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Vouvray and Foie Gras

For our anniversary, we went to Chez Leon, a French place in Clayton. (well, we really went to Curacao, an island in the south Caribbean as our anniversary trip, but for the celebratory state-side dinner, we went to Chez Leon) I had ordered a Vouvray before deciding what I was going to have for dinner - we all know I love my Chardonnays, but I thought I'd try something else that night. Now, I will be honest, I don’t often drink Vouvray and its probably been about a year since I had a glass, but I didn’t remember it being quite as fruity/sweet as this one was. The menu just said “Vouvray” (with no reference to body style) so I didn’t even think about sweetness being a factor - I was just thinking medium bodied, slightly fruity, likely food friendly.

Made from Chenin Blanc, it CAN be sweet- maybe not Sautnernes’ level sweetness, but sweeter. Usually the sweetness is noted on the label (Sec, demi-sec, moelleux, and doux –which I’ve never had, but I hear its almost syrup-like) but as I said, in this case, the menu just said “Vouvray” and the bottle was never shown. My fault for assuming, it was significantly sweeter than I expected, but still good and seemed food friendly, which of course, most French wines are slightly high in acidity, so I decided to order the seared Foie Gras with it. I was torn between the Foie Gras and the Escargot, but went for the Foie Gras and I was glad I did. I’ve heard it goes well with Sauternes, so I thought it might go well with the slightly sweet Vouvray, and I was right, it was great with it! (score one for remembering pairing tips!) The Foie Gras itself was fantastic, melted in my mouth!

For dinner we had the duck and the lamb scallopini, both were very good. We brought a bottle of 1999 Gevrey Chambertin with us - I read in the reviews their wine list was a bit limited. We opened it earlier in the dinner and poured a glass while we enjoyed our appetizer and salad. It needed a bit of air, Gevrey Chambertins (100% Pinot Noir from the north part of the Burgundy Region in France) are often blackberry, cherry, slightly earthy - but in a good way, not in a musty basement or barnyard way- the fruit usually dominates and the earthiness adds complexity and depth. In this case, since it was a bit older, the earthiness dominated a bit more than desired when we opened it. It was almost musty- but that dominance dissipated after about 30-45 minutes- the fruit characteristics were a bit darker and richer, and the finish went on for ever. It went fantastic with the lamb, which had a berry sauce/compote of some kind, and very well with the duck, although the orange sauce wasn’t a perfect match – I thought it paired better than Mr. Lush did.

All in all a good dinner! The service was a bit slow, but it was a nice evening, the food was really good and with their Prix Fixe menu, not too bad on the wallet. (although a better deal with our Groupon!) We'll be back!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Stock that Cellar at the Grocery Store

As I've mentioned in previous posts, occasionally the grocery stores around here have good deals- exceptionally good deals. Its worthy to note, however, that their "orginal" prices are either inflated just for that sale, or always inflated, so don't take the "Savings of" literally - buy with caution or look it up first.

Today, I was lucky enough to stumble across one. The Schucks off 141 and Clayton and I saw the Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon - not the "Starmont", which is their lower end, but the middle of the road. They had the "before" price of $71 and it was on sale for $32. Now, I know $71 isn't really the retail price, but nontheless, I estimate it at around $55, maybe $60 and determine its a good deal either way and pick up a bottle. I get home, look it up, and am I happy to see that its priced direct from the winery at ..... $65! It recently was rated a 92 by WS, so that's probably why-I do think it retails for closer to $50-55 normally, but either way, it was a good deal, its just now a GREAT deal! Combine with the fact that if you buy a mixed 6 pack, you get 10% off (even if the other 5 bottles are cheapies, you still get 10% each one), it was a nice buy!!

So get thee to the grocery store, check out the good deals. They typically carry rather mainstream stuff, so get a couple prices of a few things, or have your smartphone handy, and stock that cellar!!!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Stuffed Dates and....well, we're still looking for the perfect pairing

Recently we had some gorgonzola stuffed bacon wrapped dates. These appetizers are amazing, by the way- sweet, salty, wonderful! (take dates, remove pit, stuff with crumbled gorgonzola, wrap in bacon, bake in 375-400 degree oven for 15 minutes.)
However, because of the many flavors involved, its a little hard to pair with wine. We went for a Sauvignon Blanc- specifically the Provenance Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. It has a bit of Semillion and is aged for 5 months in oak, so its no surprise I like it. (for those of you who don't know, I'm not a huge fan of Sauvignon Blanc - most, especially those from New Zealand, are a bit too acidic and grassy for me, so typically if I like it is has a)some oak aging b) a bit of Semillion or c) both.)
We hoped the slight acidity would cut through the bacon, but we didn't want too acidic or tart, because the dates themselves are a bit sweet. Well, it wasn't a home run pairing, I'll tell you that. It wasn't horrible or offensive; the wine is good, the dates were good, they just didn't really show each other off. We think the acidity was right, but the flavor pairing was off - perhaps it was too citrus for the dates?? We think next time we will try a dry bubbly with it? We'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fun with technology

Last weekend while helping Mr. Lush research "web 2.0" technologies for the classroom, I discovered a fun site called Wordle. You can type/paste a collection of words, a link to a del.ic.ious account, or in my case, a link to my blog, and it will pull together a word collage:

You can modify the size, to some degree, the color, and the direction of the words. Also, it lets you remove a word you think maybe doesn't fit, and re-fresh to grab new words. A bit dorky, but fun!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lush Valentine's Day Dinner at home

Mr. Lush and I avoid restaurants on Valentine's Day weekend, and enjoy making a nice meal at home instead. We celebrated last night since our meal required a little bit of prep. It was really good, and a couple tweaks here and there, it could've been fabulous, so I thought I'd share our menu (including recommended modifications), which was Filet mignon with brandy peppercorn cream sauce, grilled lobster tails, and smokey mayo encrusted asparagus. For dessert we had grilled peaches and poundcake with ice cream. Of course, most recipies are geared towards 4+ portions, so they require a bit of modification, so here's our menu for two (with prep steps at the bottom), along with pairing recommendations.

Filet Mignon with Brandy Peppercorn Cream Sauce
  • Rub 2 4oz filets with coursely cracked pepper an hour before hand.
  • Finely mince 1 clove shallot and add 1 tsp cracked peppercorns
  • 1/2 c low sodium beef stock/broth
  • Combine and reduce by half (about 10-15 minutes)
  • Strain sauce if desired
  • Mix in 2 tbs brandy
  • 1 tbs peppercorns
  • 1/4 c cream
  • Reduce on medium heat to desired thickness (about 10-15 minutes)
Top filet with sauce or serve on the side for dipping. Pair with a big red wine - we had the 2002 Beringer's Private Reserve Cabernet, which was really good, but not as big as we needed, it kinda got lost with the peppercorn. I'd recommend something a bit younger, maybe 3-5 years old, aged in American Oak.

Grilled Lobster Tails:
  • Thaw 2 6-7oz Lobster Tails (weight in shell)
  • Using kitchen scissors, cut off bottom of lobster, cut in half and skewer each half
  • Mix in food processor:
  • 1/8c butter
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 clove shallot
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • dash cayenne pepper
Brush mixture on tails about 30 minutes before grilling, reserving 2 tbs for grilling. On medium high heat, grill tails shell down for 4 minutes, brush remaining mixture on lobster, turn, grill for 2-3 minutes. Serve with clarified butter and lemon wedges, if desired. Pair with buttery chardonnay - we had the Kendall Jackson Grand Reserve.

Smokey Mayo Crusted Aparagus
  • 1/4 c mayonnaise
  • 1/8 c olive oil
  • 1 tbs lemon juice
  • 1 tbs garlic powder
  • 1 tsp smoked sea salt
  • 1 tbs paprika
(note, you can also use regular salt and smoked paprika)
Mix together ingredients, toss 1 bunch asparagus, and let sit for 30 minutes in fridge. Prior to putting on grill, put in freezer for 5 minutes. Grill until desired doneness.

Grilled Peaches and Poundcake:
This doesn't really even call for a recipie - cut 1 large peach into 6 wedges, cut 4 1+ inch thick slices of poundcake. Grill until slightly charred. Top with ice cream - we had both creme brulee ice cream (my favorite pairing) and caramel ice cream (Mr. Lush's favorite). Pair with a late harvest riesling - we had the Chateau Ste. Michelle Harvest Select Riesling.

Now, I'm not gonna lie, this meal requires some prep. Here's the order in which we prepped things:
  • Rub filets with peppercorns.
  • Mix sauce for asaparagus, set aside.
  • Mix sauce for lobster, set aside.
  • Start the Brandy peppercorn sauce (to reducing by half). Mix remaining sauce ingredients, set aside.
  • Cut peaches and poundcake, set aside.
  • Prep lobster tails on skewers.
  • Take a kissing break! Have a glass of wine, some apps, relax. 
  • Brush lobster tails with sauce, set aside.
  • Toss asaparagus in sauce, set aside.
  • Light grill.
  • 10-15 minutes before your food is done, re-start the Brandy Peppercorn sauce.
Enjoy your dinner, and don't forget to laugh with each other, Cheers!

PS-for dinners that need multiple wines for pairing, use a wine saver like vacu-vin or use half bottles - a good website for half bottles is Half Wit Wines.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

L'Ecole Apogee Pairing Dinner and Vertical

Last weekend the wine club had the pleasure of having a vertical tasting of the L’Ecole Apogee. We had the 1999, 2003, 2005, 2006, and 2007-not a full vertical, but enough to see what holding on to a bottle can really do.  The 2007 was decanted for a couple hours, the 2006 was decanted for an hour or so, and the rest were not.

Dinner was paired with a horseradish and herb encrusted strip loin, prosciutto wrapped asparagus, bean salad, and Gruyere scalloped potatoes.

For the strip loin crust, I took 
  • 1/2 c prepared horseradish
  • 4 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 tbs thyme
  • 2 tbs garlic
  • 2 tbs dijon mustard
  • 1 tbs of red wine vinegar 
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
I made it into a paste and rubbed the strip. (which was really a whole KC strip loin) Our, unfortunately, was a bit overdone and over marinated, but it was really good. In the future I would recommend marinating a for a 6 lb roast for 1-2 hours, and then cooking it in a roasting pan - uncovered- at 350 for 1.5 hours. That will give you some rare and medium rare options in the center-we marinated it for about 7 hours and it was a bit too strong for my liking, but I don't LOVE horseradish and it was a *smidge* too strong for the wines, but not much, so I think cutting down the marinading time would help.  (We cooked it for 2 hours and it was just medium in the center.) Everyone was polite, and said it was fine, but those who know me know I like my meat mooing, so it was WAY overdone for me.
So, should I make it again, that's what I'd do - if you really like horseradish you can use a tougher (and much cheaper) roast and marinate it for 6-7 hours. It was very tender. See Mr. Lush (right) in the too-small apron, getting ready to slice up the roast-isn't he dashing?? :) It was a fun event, of course, thanks to those who made it and contributed to the meal, a special thanks to Ms. G for having the 99 and 03, as well as looking up the (large amount of) information, and special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. D for hosting the event!!!

Now, onto the wines….they were all wonderful, but the 99 was a smidge past its prime. We had it a few months ago and it was perfect, and I think we just missed the window of perfection. While that makes me sad, it reminds me to keep better tabs on what we have, so we don’t miss our window. I’d rather drink a wine a few months too early than a few months too late! However, it was still very good. The 2003 and the 2005 were probably my favorites, the 2007 was just too young, it was a bit hot.

The 2006 was good, got better with a little air. The 2006 is still available if you look for it, so I’d keep an eye out and if you can find a bottle for less than $40, pick it up and forget about until 2013-2014. I certainly think these wines have the capability of aging 10+ years, but because I don’t have the finances to hold onto tons of bottles for 10 years, I’m shooting for 7!!!!

Luckily, because of a mix up, I was “forced” to buy a couple of the 2006 Perigee at a really good deal (around $31), a similar blend from L’Ecole, so we’ll lay those down for a couple years. I’ll let you know how they go!!!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

Last night we participated in Clayton Restaurant Week and tried Jimmy’s on the Park. I had the tuna tartar and the smoked duck, and for dinner we brought a bottle of the 2005 Chesterfield Cellars Pinot Noir. Its no secret I love pinots from Monterey County  , and Santa Barbara county is a little south of Monterey (see map), but very similar flavor profile. (more dark fruit than strawberry) It was delicious with the smoked duck, and our dinner companions, Mr. & Mrs. N, said it went well with the Pork Loin as well. Both had a dark fruit based accompaniment, which the wine complemented. It had enough body and tannins to keep up with the fatty duck, so I couldn’t be happier with my choice of what to bring. And, Jimmy’s corkage fee was only $15! Everyone enjoyed their meal, although the portions were a tad small and they have an interesting fireplace theme throughout the restuarant, so it was perfect for a January dinner!

We’ve also had the 2005 Chesterfield Cellars Barrel blend (55% cab franc and 45% cab sauv) before and it was also delicious, and a bit cheaper than the Pinot. ($32 vs $48) Both were selections from Gold Medal Wine Club- luckily the re-order price for the Barrel Blend was under $20, so we were able to pick up a couple bottles of that one!!

I expect Chesterfield Cellars might make an appearance in the Lou because of the name, so keep an eye out for it at the West County Wine shops!!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cheap and ageable....who knew?

We have a tendency to hoard and age our expensive bottles, scouring over reviews to see when the peak time to drink them will be, yet we drink cheap wines too young and whine about how we can’t get any good cheap wines. Well, last weekend I had a wine that reminded me we CAN age cheaper wines too!!!

In Dec 2007 I wrote about how the new (then) blend releases from Mondavi and Kendall Jackson surprised me. Last weekend, for wine club’s Poor Man’s Night, I picked up a bottle of the 2006 Robert Mondavi Vinetta – Schucks (local grocery store chain, for the non-Lou readers) had it on sale for 9.99 and they had a 2006 and some 2008. Well, I picked up the 2006 and low and behold, it was really good! We opened the bottle around 4:50 and had an ounce to determine if we should decant, decided against it, left it uncorked and then tasted it again around 6. It was surprisingly good, especially stacked up against its younger but similarly priced competition. A lot of cheap cabernets have had really strong vanilla undertones lately-I think it’s the winemaker’s way to cover up lack of quality wine making by over-toasting the barrels, so this was a nice change. Good dark fruit, cassis....

So here’s what I’m thinking – next time you want to buy a couple bottles of $50 wine, go buy a bottle of something like this, with enough cabernet it in to age (over 70%), let it decant for a couple hours or aerate it, see what happens. If it softens a bit and there’s not a dominating vanilla (or other) flavor, then grab a case. (I have found, so far, that if you keep a wine with a dominating flavor, especially vanilla, it doesn’t ever go away…..but if you like smores, at least you can drink it with that!)

Or, if you happen to see the 2006 Vinetta at your local grocery store or wine shop, pick up a bottle, its ready to drink now!!!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Awesome Deal on Gold Medal Wine Club

Just got an email deal from Gold Medal Wine Club....its a stellar deal to add a new series or sign up for the first me for the promo code..... (and so you can let them know I referred you, of course!)