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TBIFOM #01: Drink Your Backyard

(The Bottle In Front Of Me is a series of regular, brief tasting notes from the Rogue Estate's resident wine guy, Ian.) Drink your backyard. The most important mantra any food obsessive has heard repeatedly over the last decade or so is to eat local, and drink local. In the world of wine, this mantra is largely laughable for 99% of the world's population. I count myself in the 99%, along with large swaths of Asia, Africa, anybody in inland South America, most of Eastern Europe, and all but about six U.S. states. But I'm really close to being able to drink local, and it's getting better all the time. For this, my first regular posting of tasting notes, I chose the most local wine I could find, from my neighborhood store, in its current release (2010) which was a better year than most in recent memory. 2010 Pelee Island Pinot Noir (About $13) Learn more about the winery: Learn more about the bottle in front of me: SEE: Clear medium red, with a light pinkish rim, indicative of youth. SWIRL: Bright color, with weak legs on the glass. SMELL: Very bright lively aromas of cherries, with a slight fragrance of strawberry and cedar. Clearly Pinot Noir, but reserved. SIP: Very dry, tart cranberry that washes thinly over the tongue, nice acidity with a bit of initial bitterness that softens over time. Tannic, old world style, honest, and designed for food. SAVOR: Tannins last throughout the finish, with hints of graphite and leaves. Final impression: Would buy again, but there may be a few more satisfying Pinot's in this price range, mostly from larger producers in California. Pair with: fresh air, light cheeses, vegetable dishes, and mildly flavored game such as rabbit or quail. P.S. If you live anywhere near southeastern Michigan, you owe it to yourself to spend a day visiting Pelee Island. Drive to Leamington (Canada's tomato country) in the late Summer or early Fall, take the ferry, and spend a day biking and picnicking on a very relaxed, beautiful island.

The Vertical Workout – French Rosé

TASTE.  Tasting wine is truly an exercise.  You can gulp, or sip, or quaff without paying close attention--enjoy your meal perfectly, and maybe even get a good buzz. For most people, that's enough.

Those people are missing out.

I'm hoping you've tried at least once to focus and TASTE.  See, swirl, smell (twice), sip, swish, spit and savor.  That's one classic technique for wine tasting, and if you take notes in-between those steps, you'll learn.  A lot.

It may feel pretentious and all-too elevated at first, but that's just our common prejudice about wine. You'll get over it.  When we TASTE we're exercising our tongue and the connection it has to the space in our brains that's all about wine, flavor, and memory.

One really cool exercise that most of us don't get to do is a vertical tasting.  A vertical tasting is simply tasting the same wine from the same wine-maker over multiple years.  For the rich (or connected) this can mean tasting wines over many years, decades, or even a century.  But you and I may not be so rich or connected.

You don't actually stack the glasses for a vertical tasting.

The point of this workout is to show you that even the same wine, from the same grapes, from the same vineyards, can vary perceptibly from one year to the next.

The key variable is the weather, which is no small variable.  Rainfall, temperature, and sunlight affect grape sugar levels and yield massively.  Wine-makers adjust with the time and the way they pick fruit, how they press, and how they use their craft to optimize what nature gives them.  It's all about adaptation and improvisation. And THAT is a real workout.  Ask any winemaker. Good wine takes sweat.  Drinking it should involve at least a respectful amount of effort and focus.

The payoff is that you learn a lot more about the wine, the region, the weather, and your own personal preferences.

I recently managed to find a French Rosé at a shop with two consecutive years in stock.  Rosé is an interesting subject for a vertical tasting because Rosés are not made for consistency and age.  They are made for Summer refreshment and immediate enjoyment.  Nevertheless, I expected subtle differences anyway, and I took notes:

Domaine Faverot 2009 and 2010 Rosé (AOC Luberon)

Domaine Faverot Rosé

"Mom always said you were her Faverot!"

The color: Both a beautiful bright light pink, but the 2009 showed a slight tinge of amber at the rim, typical of age.

The aroma: Floral, sweet strawberry aromas dominate. The 2009 exhibits a more sugary/bubble gum scent, while the 2010 smells tighter with a light anise note.

The taste: Both wines had the characteristic bright tart acidity that makes Rosé so refreshing, and great with food. Citrus, melon and berry flavors were up-front in both. I found the 2009 to have a medium body but a fuller, longer finish. The 2010 seemed to have a fuller body, but was slightly more tannic, almost "puckery". My fellow taster found the tannins and acid to be off-putting, but I found the balance of the 2010 to be more satisfying than the 2009 which seemed to have one-note throughout.

Take some time to work your own palate, focus and take notes. If you find the chance to try a vertical tasting, grab it. You'll have a healthier appreciation in no time.

Wine Rules.

It's been exactly one year since my first post and joining the culinary firehose that is the Rogue Estate. Seems like it's an appropriate time to reflect, and share a few things that I've learned in the last year.  I was ostensibly invited to join in for my wine pairing talents.  So let's talk pairing.

Not really a wine-guy.

Wine RULES, like San Dimas High School Football RULES. That Google-able movie reference out of the way, part of the problem with wine pairing is that "rules" can be intimidating.  In America "rules" are meant to be broken.  And stomped on.  And given poorly-considered tattoos at 3am. We don't DO rules. Calling them "traditions" doesn't help, either. We need a new word for guidelines on picking wines to go with food.  So I'm going to go with "wins", as in FTW (it means "For The Win", Nana). What follows are a few widely held views on what makes for a good wine pairing, translated into my own corse language.  Presumably, volumes have been written on each of these concepts, but I'm hoping this serves as wine pairing crib notes for you.

Decisions, decisions.

Wine Win #1: Drink what you like. Ah, the mantra of the un-experienced wine drinker, and the ultra-experienced wine drinker alike.  The un-experienced wine drinker has never had that AHA! FTW! moment that a great Alsatian white paired with a raw-milk Swiss mountain cheese provides.  They've never paid enough for a Bordeaux to see what it does to a simple beef stew.  Fizzy wine is for New Years' Eve, not oysters (who would eat a raw oyster anyway?) The ultra-experienced wine drinker is the opposite.  She's drunk her way through the Rhine, the Rhone, Piedmont, South Africa, and knows that her favorite boutique Sonoma Chard goes with almost any meal that she really likes.  Good for her. Drink what you like is a win for the experienced, but shuts off a world of discoveries for the newly curious. That's a wine fail.  One of the better wine bars in my area has two pairing recommendations listed on their menu with every dish.  The first is "classic", and the second is "experimental".  I adore this approach because it caters to the novice and the adventurer alike.  If we get the expert Chard lover out of her rut, that's a WIN. Wine Win #2: White with Fish and Red with Meat This old chestnut is under attack from almost all sides lately, but for the novice it is generally a safe place to start.  I can't think of any whites that would hold up to a good burger or steak.  Similarly, there aren't any reds that come to mind that could avoid obliterating a pan-seared trout or battered cod.  However, as the cuisine becomes more complicated, nagging little exceptions arise.  Curry-rubbed pork loin?  Viognier.   Salmon or air-cured charcuterie?  Dry Rosé.  What about duck or goose?  Well, it's fatty, so go with acidic, then pair the color of the wine based on how it's prepared or seasoned, and which part of the animal is on the plate.  Confit and dark meat go perfectly with Chinon Cabernet Franc, but roasted pheasant breast pairs nicely with a Pinot Gris.  Actually damn near everything pairs nicely with Pinot Gris.  WIN! Wine Win #3: Opposites Attract Simple, but effective.  One of the great qualities of a wine (or indeed beer) is to refresh, or clear the palate between tastes of food.  Acidic wines work wonderfully with fatty foods.  Sweeter, low-alcohol wines can help tame spicy meals, and tannic, dry wines can help when a dish has a lot of caramelized sugars.  There are a lot of pitfalls and land-mines here, so experiment, take notes, and learn from them.  One of my favorite winning contrasts is a crisp cool Alsatian white with molten Swiss cheese fondue, or Raclette. Wine Win #4: Location, Location, Location This is the crowd-sourced rule that relies on generations of foodies and wine geeks. Before blogging, before Parker, before printing presses could distribute tasting notes, people who ate and drank local (because there were no other options) learned how to tweak the grapes they grew, the animals they raised, and the recipes they designed to work in great harmony.  You can't comfortably dismiss centuries of human culinary experience passed down to us.  So if the dish is typically Tuscan, drink Tuscan.  Argentinian? Go Argentinian.  This works for anywhere, even areas where wines are not made.  Hunan dish?  As much as the industry will push a Dry Riesling or Gewurztraminer, you may win harder with a local black tea. Wine Win #5: The Art and the Frame I recently saw an old acquaintance that I hadn't seen in fifteen years, and learned that he had spent all that time in wine distribution.  Over the course of an all too brief conversation he asked me about my interests and preferences, gave me a couple great tips on wines to explore, and also offered another great wine rule.  This rule may be original, or an ancient selling tool, but I loved the poetry of it, and its relevance to pairing.  Here's a misquote, but it captures the idea. "A dish and a wine is like a painting and a frame.  If the painting is rich and complex, you'll want a simple clean frame that does not pull your attention away from it. And vice-versa. If the dish is the complex painting, choose a simple wine to frame it.  If the wine is extraordinary, make sure the dish is a simple frame that does not distract from it."

Where's your focus?

It's a great rule to win by, but it requires a more sophisticated understanding of food and wine flavors to be able to put it into practice.  Don't match a particularly complex Italian wine with an intricate and bold puttanesca sauce.  Don't be afraid to season your cutlet with only salt and pepper, if you've got a dynamite Burgundy that you opened an hour ago.  Art and frame FTW! So that's a little about what I know. What are your recent food and wine pairing wins?

The Making of a Great Couple

The featured wines of the evening

Ian and his wife Linda recently made a trip to the northern Michigan wine country of Old Mission peninsula and brought back a pirates cache of wines. So, the mission he set before us, should we choose to accept it, would be to construct a menu around four of the wines they brought back. He sent us the list with the tasting notes and pretty much said, "go crazy!" Due to extenuating circumstances I ended up planning most of the meal. It was a huge learning experience on my part, as I'd never really started with the beverages as the impetus for creating a menu. This did not intimidate me, however, I saw it more as a challenge, and challenges are always a learning experience. At our meetings it's usually a given that once a menu is set Ian will bring wine pairings and I'll have beer pairings in tow, but since the focus of the evening was the food/wine interactions, I thought it best to leave it alone and approach the barley derived offerings from a different angle. I used them as intermezzos, rather than to pair with the dishes on the table. My concept was to use them to bridge the gap between courses, and create a flow of interconnected flavors with each dish and it's wine accompaniment.

Little cups of seawater, naturally self contained, needing little to no alteration...

The first course, as requested by Ian, would be oysters to pair with Chateau Chantal's "Tonight". A slightly sweeter than usual sparkler. With a drop or 2 of Tabasco on the Blue Points that were selected to counter the sweetness of the beverage (and because Tabasco on Blue Points just kicks ass) the mollusks and fizzy made a great couple. The brine of the oysters, the acidity and slight kick of the Tabasco countered and complimented the mild acids, sweetness and carbonation of the sparkling wine. Course one down, and a great success.

The first two beers of the evening.

To lead us into the next course I chose a beer from the Rogue brewery. Their Chipotle Ale, a light beer in Mexican style with mild smoke from the peppers and almost unnoticeable heat. The spice tied into the Tabasco used on the oysters and the smokiness was a crescendo into the curry used in the next food/wine selection. The next offering may have been the star of the meal. An Asian style soup, leaning heavily on Thai influences, that included pork loin, madras curry, a carefully selected small variety of vegetables, and coconut milk. Garnished with fresh cilantro, Bosc pear battons, crushed toasted cashews, and thinly sliced scallions, it met the wine chosen (Brys Estate Gewurztraminer) and it was love at first bite. The wine is a semi-sweet, so I used lime zest in the recipe, rather than juice, since the wine had it's own balance already. So I knew adding the lime juice, and all the acid that comes with it, to the soup could possibly over power the mild acidity of the wine. Lemongrass would be another option, and equally well suited, but I didn't see any when I hit the market. The sweetness of the pears and the brightness of the cilantro made the semi-sweet wine dance on the tongue, while the curry played well with the nose and mild dryness. The toasted cashews did their fair share, too, in bringing out the minute hint of oak in the wine that might otherwise have gotten lost in the melee. Without ever tasting the wine ahead of time, I'm happy to say I nailed this one! Everything about the pairing came together better than I could have hoped for! (Recipe for this soup here) The beer chosen to flow us into the next course was again a brew from Rogue. The Morimoto Black Obi Soba ale. Since I've already reviewed this one, I'll spare you the details, just click that link for tasting notes. It did it's job in tying the curry and pork into the next course. The mild notes of roasted nuts and caramel did well to tie the curry in the soup to the glaze on the roasted leg of lamb, the maple on the squash, and the cranberries in the risotto. (Review of this beer here) This was the main event. Mustard/Plum glazed roasted leg of Lamb, risotto of barley with Michigan cheddar and cranberries, and maple roasted spaghetti squash. This plate was built around the wine 2 Lads Cabernet Franc. While I would suggest using a smaller cut of lamb than a whole leg since not every bite gave the caramelized plum glaze that was the key to the pairing for the lamb and the wine, it still, by no means, sucked! Ian discovered this the hard way, as he went straight for the interior of the leg. Missing out on the glaze, he commented that the lamb wasn't matching the wine very well. Though, he recanted after scooping up some of the glaze in the bottom of the roasting pan, lamenting his decision to go solely for the less done cuts. Can't really say that I blame him though. Duck would be a great pairing as well, if done in a similar style. All that aside, the plate and the wine went together quite nicely. Not as well as the other courses, but by no means a failure. The fruit and berry in the nose and pallet of the wine mingled well with the plums, and cranberries on the plate, while the mustard and maple interacted with the mild tannins in the wine.

After the Lamb, and before dessert.

The next course was a beer chosen to be a pallet cleanser, leading into dessert. This was the wild card, as I had no clue what dessert would entail at this point, but I knew what to look for toward those ends. I was looking for something that was light, acidic, and possibly had some citrus related ingredients. I settled on Dogfish Head's Namaste. I had never had this one before, but by the label it seemed to fit the bill. A lighter beer brewed with coriander, orange peel, and lemongrass, it seemed only appropriate given all the Asian influences of the meal. Not nearly as 'over the top' as most offerings from that brewery, and as a palette cleanser, it did it's job well. By the time i finished a small glass of it I could no longer taste the lamb. Our resident baker, sadly, could not attend this time out, so dessert was a last minute purchase of apple-caramel crumb cake. "Anathema!" you might be screaming right now, especially if you've been following this site AT ALL! Even the best laid plans can fail, however... While not ideal, it did manage to play with the 45 North Peach Cremant well enough (though the spongy texture of the cake was very 'Twinkiesque'). 45 North's Peach Cremant is a light sparkler with white peach juice, so it paired with the apple and caramel sufficiently. Though, by the end of the meal we were almost on overload so the simplicity was probably a good thing. To be honest, I was really hoping to completely miss the mark at least once. Insane, say you? Why would I possibly want to disappoint THIS crowd?! It would have taught me what NOT to do in food/wine pairing, which can sometimes be a more valuable lesson than getting it right. It is my hope that this post gives you a better understanding of the intricacies of food and beverage pairings. Many factors need to be carefully considered to find that perfect match, if such a thing exists. Oak, acid, specific fruits, specific nut, specific berry, and even "dust" flavors are all terms that have been used in wine tasting notes, so the foods paired with them need to ebb and flow with the beverages. Even cooking technique needs to be considered. Coffee and peach? Might sound like an odd pair, but not if you grill the peaches! As we did this summer on our pizza night with a grilled peach turnover and vanilla ice cream paired with a coffee stout. The coffee amped up the vanilla and grilled flavors to a "punch in the mouth" level and the sweetness of the stout put the caramelized peaches on a pedestal. So here's to learning experiences! I hope you have a few of your own in the kitchen. Jack... (Click here for the full photo gallery of this meal) Chateau Chantal Rogue Chipotle Ale Brys Estate Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale 2 Lads Cab Franc Dogfish Head Namaste 45 North Peach Cremant

Chef’s Night: Lamb Enchanted Evening

Food pr0n gallery from our chef's night dinner on 11/29/2010. The objective? Match meal courses to the Northern Michigan wines Ian and Linda brought back from their upstate adventure. Jack handled most of the planning with Ian's guidance on the wine profiles. We ate very well. Recipes coming soon. -/// "Rogue Estate Chef's Night - 11/29/2010"

From R.E.: Lamb Enchanted Evening, posted by Bob Perye on 12/01/2010 (53 items)

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A consummate nerd, yet still plays well with others.