Showing posts with label wine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wine. Show all posts

Monday, May 16, 2011

Wine From California, By Way of Social Networking

I love networking – in person or online. I love to meet new people, share stories, and often find out what a small world it is! Online networking and social media let you really see the connections like friends of friends, shared interests, and new opportunities. Over the past year, I’ve connected with many of my twitter and blog friends on LinkedIn. I noticed a few months ago that many of them started joining food related networking groups and thought that it would be a good idea to join too.

Not long after joining the Food Blogger Connection group on LinkedIn I saw a post from Jonathan Boring, Social Media Marketing Manager from the California Wine Club. He was looking for everyday wine drinkers who would be interested in trying out some of their wine selections. The criteria for reviewers were pretty simple; bloggers without expert wine knowledge. That’s me! While I’ve been honing my tasting skills, I do not consider myself an expert in any way. I generally know what I like and have a preference for roses, cabernet francs (or blends with it), and whites on the drier or grassier/citrusy side (very technical description). And after my trip to Spain last year, I’ve been seeking out new and interesting Spanish wines to try.

Back to the California Wine Club - a family business that has been shipping wines since 1990. A quick look at the website will give you a great overview and history of the business. Bruce and Pam Boring select wines to send out as part of their monthly wine club. They have a variety of different memberships – from all California producers to small international wines to aged cabernet. They work with smaller wineries that produce limited quantities. For us here in the Northeast, that might mean wines that aren’t available regularly in our neck of the woods.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to participate, due to the restrictions on wine shipping to MA. However the California Wine Club ships by certified freight carrier, so the wine was promptly delivered right to my door. For my first review, I received two bottles from the Robledo Family Winery in the Sonoma/Carneros area of Sonoma. The well packed bottles came with a 12-page booklet describing the wines, the winery and winemakers, recipes, and information about more wine club offerings. This shipment included a 2005 “Los Braceros” Red blend and a 2007 “The Seven Brothers” Lake County Sauvignon Blanc.

This post will cover the red wine, Los Braceros Red Blend. The wine is a blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The tasting notes in the booklet were extensive noting awards, the color, flavors, aromas, weather conditions, aging process, recipes and more. The suggested retail for this wine is $30 and the restaurant price is listed as $45-$50. The wine was bottled in July 2007 and released in September 2008. Only 3000 cases of the wine were produced. I decided to taste the wine alone, and then incorporate into a recipe and enjoy it with the meal.

Using skills I’ve picked up at various wine tasting events, I started first by pouring a glass and observing the color. A nice, deep red (almost a self portrait up there!). Next, I swirled and sniffed. Then a small sip to let it spread over my tongue. Spicy, peppery, and tangy with a little bite. Using a very scientific explanation – it made my tongue tingle and want to take another sip. Not my favorite in terms of red as a sipping wine, but I could see how you would like this wine if you liked a spicy and peppery red. For me, I thought I would like it better with food (and I did). I could imagine it paired with a nice juicy steak right off the grill.

The recipe included in the booklet was a recipe from Maria Robledo for Chiles Rellenos. She picked a bold and spicy dish to pair with the family’s red wine blend. I decided to make a bold red wine tomato sauce and meatballs to pair with the wine. I started by pulling all of the vegetables out of the refrigerator and chopping them into equal sizes for sautéing. In incorporated the wine while sautéing sliced mushrooms. I let the wine come to a bubble and reduce with the mushrooms. The mushroom sauce would have been delicious on its own topping grilled chicken or steak (note for next time!). It had a beautiful color, aroma, and flavor.

I paired the sauce with homemade meatballs over spaghetti and served with toasted bread. The wine gave the sauce a great kick and depth of flavor and paired well as a drink.

I’m excited to open up the Sauvignon Blanc next and share my review. I think it will be a perfect companion to some of my favorite spring dishes.

Don’t forget to check out the California Club website. They have a few different membership options and a lot of fun information about the wineries that they work with. What’s nice about their membership is that you don’t have to commit to a full year – there are no joining fees and you can cancel at anytime. You can also pick all red or all white and pick shipments for monthly, every other month, or quarterly delivery. If you do decide to check them out, make sure to mention that I sent you. You can also keep up with them on their Facebook page.

Los Braceros Hearty Tomato Sauce

1 cup each chopped:
fresh spinach

Olive oil
3/4 cup Los Braceros red wine blend
2 cans fire roasted diced tomatoes, no salt added
1 can tomato paste
Salt and pepper

Set up a slow cooker or large pot with lid
Pour diced tomatoes and tomato paste into the pot
Assemble chopped celery, carrots and onions together
In a large sauté pan, cook celery, carrots, and onions over medium heat in a little olive oil until softened
Remove from the pan and add to the slow cooker or pot and return skillet to the stove
Add mushrooms to the pan and cook until they start to brown
Add wine, bring to a bubble and then let cook for 3-4 minutes until wine starts to reduce
Pour mushrooms and wine into the slow cooker or pot and return skillet to the stove
Add the spinach to the skillet and wilt
Add wilted spinach to the slow cooker or pot and mix together well
Set the slow cooker to the high 4-hour setting, put the lid on and let cook
I prefer a smoother sauce, so after 4 hours I used my immersion blender to blend the vegetables together

Quick and Easy Meatballs
I made these on a Sunday and had plenty of leftovers for lunches and dinners throughout the week. I served them with pasta, as subs, and just on their own.

Makes 24 tablespoon sized meatballs

2 lbs ground beef
2 eggs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely diced onions
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray
In a large bowl, beat the two eggs together
Add ground beef, parsley, and onions and use your hands to combine
Add breadcrumbs, starting with 1/2 cup
Mix together, adding breadcrumbs until the meat is still moist, but holds together well
Using a tablespoon, gently form meatballs and place them on the baking sheet
Bake for 10 minutes, and then flip them over
Bake for 10-15 more minutes until fully cooked through
Serve with sauce and pasta or on a toasted roll with cheese!

Disclosure: I was sent two bottles of wine at no charge from the California Wine Club to review. I was not compensated financially. The opinions are completely mine!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Food is Fun: A Weekend of Delicious Eating

Winter in Boston means fighting the desire to stay inside to cook, watch movies, and snuggle up under a warm blanket on the couch.  Last weekend I had two great events to motivate me to get dressed up and head into the city. Both events were at fabulous Boston hotels and filled with delicious food and delightful company!

My extravagant winter weekend started on Saturday at the 5th annual Gamma Phi Beta Boston Alumnae Chapter High Tea. A group of alumnae met at the Taj Boston for an afternoon of mini sandwiches, rich pastries, and great conversation.

Our group loves tea at the Taj. The service staff is fantastic and we always have a wonderful experience. The Taj Royale is a manageable amount of treats (if you didn’t eat lunch!). My absolute favorite is always the egg salad sandwich. Thankfully you don’t have to share anything as they give you one of each item. No worrying that you won’t get your favorite!

While the sandwiches are delicious and paired well with my vanilla earl grey, it’s the pastries that really steal the show. They are decadent and some are topped with gold leaf. The lemon curd is rich, tart, and creamy and it was hard to put down. On top of cherry scones it was even better! Renee could make a meal of scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam alone. She talks about them for days before tea. You can see her setting up her photo shoot below.

Some of the ladies at the table didn’t polish off their pastries like me….and we took home delicious packages for a late night snack!

After an indulgent tea, I went to bed without dinner. The next morning I woke up excited for my second adventure of the weekend. I decided that a fabulous brunch deserved an equally fabulous outfit and got myself ready to head downtown. I skipped breakfast to leave more room for total food overload. My destination was The Langham Hotel for the City Brunch in Café Fleuri. I met up with 14 fellow food lovers, the Boston Brunchers to experience the extravagant Sunday brunch.

Thanks to the Langham, my brunch was complementary. I did splurge on a delicious grapefruit mimosa ($9) and made sure to leave a generous tip for our fantastic server, who asked us why we weren’t live blogging through the meal. Our answer? We were too focused on food to think about blogging or tweeting while eating! I was not required to ‘review’ brunch and the opinions below are my honest thoughts about my meal.

If there is one breakfast food I love more than eggs, it is smoked salmon. The City Brunch did not disappoint when it came to salmon offerings. I started with the house smoked maple cured salmon topped with finely diced eggs and red onions. My next stop for salmon was the rolled-to-order sushi station. The salmon nigiri was a beautiful shade of coral and melted in my mouth. Ask my table mates, I had at least 2 pieces of salmon on my plate at all times. Even for dessert (salmon nigiri and a chocolate chili brownie). Just look at the beautiful offerings:

One of the other unique offerings at brunch were the hot out of the fryer beignets. After one bite I can see why they pass these out one at a time. If they were on the buffet everyone would overdose on them! The sugary exterior enclosed a light, airy, steamy interior. I savored each bite with a cup of hot coffee making it last as long as possible.

I think I finished the meal having taken at least five trips to the buffet. Some trips resulted in just one or two items and I ended up not finishing all of my dessert. The chocolate croissant bread pudding with caramel sauce was a decadent end to the meal, but it was almost too rich for the amount of food I had already consumed.

More fun than the food was the company! The Boston Blogger scene is filled with friendly, unique, creative, and fun people! No matter who ends up at your table, the conversation is lively and enjoyable. It was great brunching with everyone!

Top photo, left to right: Justin, Katie, Meghan
Bottom photo, left to right: Emily, Athena, Renee, Brian, Bianca, Sarah

After a lavish brunch most people would head straight for the couch and spend the afternoon in a supine position. When it comes to food adventures, I am not like most people. I don’t regularly have the car in the city and wanted to take advantage of it. Renee nicely agreed (well, I was her ride home) to join me for a trip over to Central Bottle Wine and Provisions and Flour Bakery and Café. I love the Blue Room (same owners as Central Bottle) and chat with Central Bottle on twitter, so I knew we were in for a great experience. Of course you can’t visit a wine & cheese shop and not taste the cheese. There was house marinated goat cheese, aged gouda, creamy cow’s milk cheese and more. I chose a tangy little Bijou Goat Cheese from Vermont and Renee took home a wedge of mimolette and Cabot clothbound cheddar. It was impossible to leave without picking up wine also.

I spotted a red that looked interesting – Marche Rosso Fontezoppa. I chose it because I know that I like the grapes in the blend (50% sangiovese, 40% cabernet, 10% merlot). Another bonus, it was $11! When it came time to pick white, I had no idea what I wanted. Thankfully I was able to explain my likes/dislikes to the friendly staff who presented me with four different options in my desired price range. I haven’t opened that bottle yet, so I’ll save it for another post. I paired the red with a variety of dishes and it was dry, coated my tongue (which I love), and kept me going back for more. I paired it with a grilled goat cheese, fig, and lavender sandwich and a hearty bowl of lentils with a garlicky balsamic vinaigrette.The flavor paired well with the bold flavors in the food and was perfect for a cold wintery day.

And of course I should mention what delicious treats I got at Flour! I was so full from brunch it was hard to decide. Since the hubby didn't enjoy either of the meals (he did get the leftover tea pastries), I picked something I knew he would like. I took home two beautiful cornmeal lime cookies. They were the perfect combination of sweet and tart. The lime glaze on top was amazing - I need to try to make that at home!

Now you can see why Healthy Snacks Wednesdays are so important! When you know you have a lot of weekend eating on the schedule you have to be more healthy during the week. Don't forget to enter the giveaway for two vouchers for your choice of Veggie Patch products. You can enter through Tuesday night.

What fun food adventures do you have planned for this weekend? I hope they are delicious!

Taj Hotel (Bar, Cafe and Lounge) on UrbanspoonCafe Fleuri on UrbanspoonFlour Bakery + Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Kosher with a Kick (and friends!)

If you're a food and wine person in Boston and you're on Twitter (or follow any other foodie communication source), chances are you've heard about The Urban Grape in Chestnut Hill.  They've only been open 12 weeks, but they have definitely made their presence known in the community.

My first trip to The Urban Grape was back in July for a Budget-Friendly tasting hosted by Michelle over at The Economical Eater. It was a great introduction to the shop. TJ (the owner) and his staff not only poured great tasting wines, but also taught us a lot! From different grapes to the different regions to the weight of each wine, I felt like I took a crash course in Wine 101 when I left.

I've been trying new roses for the last year, and I asked staffer Kate for some suggestions on new-to-me bottles (or boxes) to try.  I picked up some budget friendly roses, a kicking riesling, and headed home with my purchases.

A few weeks later, another favorite blogger of mine Robin (from Doves and Figs), sent out a note that she was hosting a Jewish holiday themed tasting at The Urban Grape: Kosher with a Kick. I'm pretty sure I signed up the same night. Since the hubby is not a wine drinker, I invited our friend Avi to join in the kosher wine fun!

I'd been corresponding online with TJ and Hadley (the lovely, enthusiastic owners) and was excited to get back to the shop for some more learning and wine.  What really kicked the evening up a notch (sorry...) was that The Fireplace provided delicious food pairings for each wine we tasted.  If you haven't been to The Fireplace, you are missing out. Every meal starts with fresh, warm bread. And of course everything they serve after that is also fresh, mostly local, and delicious. Now on to the tasting...

First up, a sparkling wine paired with artisanal New England cheeses, figs, and homemade garlic crackers. I'm pretty sure that Manischewitz doesn't make a kosher sparkler. This was a little sweet, but not Manischewitz sweet. TJ gave us some great information on how kosher wines are prepared and Robin shared some stories of her holiday traditions. She also gave great tips on holiday decorations, since Martha doesn't really have a Jewish New Year decorating guide. You can see her vases of apples in the photo below.

Next up, was a white wine paired with a delicious "gourmet potato chip" topped with smoked salmon. There was more food than people, and I wouldn't turn down a second bite of something so delicious. This wine was  smooth and paired great with the salty chip and salmon. I think Avi liked it too!

While I was snapping photos, we made some new friends who were also enjoying the salmon. We started chatting with Jordan and Noah and found out that they were new to the area and fellow food lovers! Before the night was over we had made plans for a brunch involving smoked salmon and a challenge for me to find a way to serve brisket as part of breakfast (I think I've got an idea...).

The next two wines were paired with two different tarts. The wine served with the first was my favorite of the night - a kosher pinot noir from Italy. Not only was it delicious, it also had a fabulous label. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they will tell you that if it has a spiral design I will buy it!  The second tart served was unbelievable. And as we all agreed, it was the foraged mushrooms that put it over the top. Buttery crust, gruyere, and foraged mushrooms. I think you would describe this as having umami. Savory, rich, umami.

Before we finished up with the dessert course, TJ took some more time to explain what makes a kosher wine kosher and why traditional kosher wines were never that great. In the past, they would bring the wine to a boil and almost pasteurize it, changing the flavor (almost a cooked flavor).  These are considered mevushal wines, meaning that anyone (Jewish or not) can uncork and pour the wine and it still remains kosher. I actually had never heard about this (we always had Manischevitz at our family meals). There are many articles online if you search, this post would be very long if I tried to summarize all the details.  The Urban Grape stocks a lot of kosher selections, and more coming in every day. There are kosher wines from all over the world - and as TJ put it, they are great wines that happen to be kosher. But they do have concord grape in the back if you have a craving for something sweet.

I was intrigued by the dessert pairing - a 10 year single malt kosher scotch with Taza chocolate cake with caramel and whipped cream. I've never really tried scotch, so my take will be very different from an experienced scotch drinker. The first sip made me do a 'wow, that's strong' head shake and scrunched face.

Then, the smokiness hit me. It was like I was standing downwind from a campfire. I gave it a few more sips, but it was just too smoky for me. But the cake was to die for. I love Taza and this cake showed off its unique stone ground deliciousness. Sorry for the bite missing in the photo, I couldn't help myself.

Taza Chocolate Cake and Kosher Scotch

What a wonderful evening! It was great to see Robin and her husband Mark, meet Noah and Jordan, and finally meet Hadley in person! It's always nice to have a face to put with the tweets. I took home refills of the two roses I bought on my first visit plus a bottle of the kosher pinot noir. It's going to be a treat for our Rosh Hashanah dinner on Wednesday night.

Thanks to Robin, The Fireplace, and TJ and Hadley for hosting a fabulous night!

Me, Hadley, and Robin


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