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Archive for the ‘Fall’ Category

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This turkey attempted to attack the car shortly after this photo was taken.

By now, on this day before the most gluttonous of all American holidays (Save the Super Bowl) known as Thanksgiving, you have probably seen a fair number of blogs and magazine articles about what wines you should bring to the table.  Oddly enough, you’ll probably also notice that no two articles agree on which wines to bring to the table even though they all declare their picks to be the best.  Well they’re all wrong…or perhaps all right depending on if you’re a wine glass half-full or half-empty kind of person.

The safest option for you would be to acquire ALL of the wines that have been recommended.  However, I understand that some of you have a limited budget and that may not be an option.  Even if you could, there’s the issue of finding the wines in the first place.  I would hope if you’re reading an article by a local wine expert that they at least listed which shops to find the wines at and how much they’re priced at, but this sadly isn’t always the case.  Most will leave you scouring the internet to hunt down these bottles and if you’ve waiting until now to do this, you’re going to be out of luck to get them by tomorrow.  The majority of seasonal wine recommendations that are given by actual wine experts are for wines that aren’t distributed to all 50 states.  At most, you have a moderate chance at finding them if you’re in a major city.  If you’re in the suburbs or beyond, don’t bother hoping your wine shop will carry them.

Given this, what wines should you go buy?  First, if you have a wine shop you like to go to, ask the “wine person” there.  Regardless of how much of an “expert” this person is, they’re the ones buying the wine for the store you like and they’ve tasted these wines so you can trust their recommendations.  If you don’t even have this, just buy some wines that you like to drink and don’t worry too much about how well they pair with the odd assortment of dishes on your table. Even pairings that seem off won’t make you unlike a wine.

For those that want to get a little more technical, here are some base recommendations that you can ask your wine shop about:

If you want to bring out any of those traditional Thanksgiving baking spices, especially clove, go for a red wine that has been aged in oak.  The aromatic compound, eugenol comes from toasted oak, and it’s the same compound in clove.

If you want to bring out the butter in your croissants and everything you are slathering with butter, get a Chardonnay that has been through the Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) process.

If your dishes are all carb/fat/savory/make-you-want-to-sleep-forever get a wine with some acid in it (usually from cooler climates) to brighten up your dishes and perhaps bring out their flavor a little more.

If you want a wine with dessert get a sweet wine (bonus points if you follow the baking spices recommendation above too).  If the wine isn’t as sweet as the dessert, you’ll notice.

Regardless of what wines you get this Thanksgiving, feel free to make fun of the person that brought their pumpkin-spiced beer.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!!!

 

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Every year as the holidays start to roll in, it seems that every wine and/or food related outlet is ready to let you know which wines you should buy in order to have the perfect experience.  I always am particularly amused by the interviews with wine “experts” bemoaning how difficult it is to pair wines with a traditional Thanksgiving meal (Revelation: It’s not).  It is also interesting to note how the “perfect” wine pairings for various holiday meals changes from year to year.  Apparently perfection is now something that can be outdone, which makes me want to start a hyperbolic series listing the More-Perfect wine and food pairings so I won’t be outdone by the likes of everyone else!  However, the idea of the perfect wine pairing extends beyond the holidays and into general food and wine snob culture.  The question I have for these people purporting perfect pairings is this: Can you define what a perfect pairing is?

Take this infographic for instance by someone at Vinepair.com.  I won’t show the image here, because it’s ridiculous, but I could probably switch every single wine/beer/liquor pairing around on their chart and no one would complain.  It’s clearly not based on anything except someone’s [unique] preferences.  Fortunately, they posted another article shortly thereafter, giving some good advice even though it was supposedly only for “Geeks”.  So, sorry casual wine drinkers, you’re going to have to stick to imperfection again this year.  (However, here’s another good article that doesn’t appear to be for geeks that may help.)

Whenever someone (expert status or not) claims a match is a perfect pairing and you really press them on why they think it’s perfect, the answer always boils down to: “Well, I liked it.”  There isn’t a metric being used that will be universally true for everyone and that’s really the crux of the issue here.  Not only do people have their own individual preferences, but the variety of what is being served at various holiday meals should negate the relevenace of any broad holiday wine and food pairing advice.  Yes, even Thanksgiving.  But I do understand the point of giving this advice; it’s to make it easier for the casual drinker to pick out some wines at the store that they can bring to dinner.  However, this is why I find it puzzling that many of these articles list specific wines down to the producer and vintage.

There are a stunning amount of wine producers in the world; so stunning that there is not a single person in the world who has tasted the offerings from them all.  If you were to pop in to a different wine store in each state and make a Venn Diagram listing all of the wines each store had, the amount of overlap would actually be quite small.  On the severely cheap end is where you find the most commonalities, because the business model of producers like Yellow Tail, Franzia, and Charles Shaw is to mass produce their product.  Region-specific wine producers though, by their very nature, can’t produce enough wine to make it available in the majority of wine shops across America (let alone the rest of the world).  So while it is great advertising for a wine producer when a wine writer from Napa or New York City annoints them as a perfect pairing for whatever holiday meal, it actually provides little to no value to a reader in Fly-Over Country (Where, surprisingly, most Americans still live) that won’t be able to pick up a bottle of that wine because their wine shop doesn’t carry it.

Therefore, if you’re a wine writer, let’s go ahead and stop the “Perfect Pairing” nonsense.  I bet I could find at least 50 other wines that would be just as good to various people.  If you’re the wine drinker though and you’re wondering what to bring to dinner this Thursday though, I will offer this:

Buy some wines you like of varying colors, bubbles, and sweetness.  The more specific they are on the label about where it comes from, generally the safer the bet.  As long as no one shows up halfway through the meal with a selection of wines that everyone unanimously prefers over the ones you brought, yours really will be perfect pairings.

Cheers.  And for those still looking for meal ideas, you can just have what I had last year.

 

 

 

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I know you’re probably being inundated with what you should/absolutely/must have for the best/most exciting/most extravagant Thanksgiving this year for wine and food and I promise I will not do that to you.  Instead, I’m just going to tell you what I’m going to have. As a bonus, I’m even throwing in the recipes.  What?!?!? Aaron is giving us recipes? That’s right. I’m going all mainstream on you.  Not just listing the ingredients like I normally do and making you figure it out, but actual recipes that you could follow if you wanted to do that sort of thing.

This year I’ve decided on a South by Southwest theme.  No, not the festival in Austin, but southern and southwestern cooking mixed together.  My mother grew up in the south, my father in the southwest…so meta.  Anyway, as always, if you want advice, send me an e-mail with what you’re having and I’ll help you pick out some wines.  Happy early Thanksgiving!

The Wines

Aperitif: Pere Ventura Tresor Rosé

Meal time: Scott Paul La Pauleé 2008 (Pinot Noir)

Digestif: Averna Amaro Siciliano Fratelli Averna (Not wine, just in case you were wondering. Amaros are hot this year, oh yeah)

Turkey

The Brine (Do the day before):

2 gallons water
2 cups Kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 fennel bulb, split
1 white onion, split
2 limes, sliced
4 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 sprigs of oregano
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Toast all the spices in a skillet until they are aromatic, then put all of the ingredients in a stock pot and simmer until the salt is dissolved and the fennel has softened a bit (10-15 minutes).  Let the brine cool, put your turkey in and cover it for at least 12 hours.  Before you’re ready to pop it in the oven, remove from the brine and pat dry.  Preheat the oven to 400F Then add the rub.

The Rub:

1 tablespoon coriander seeds crushed
1 tablespoon fennel seeds crushed
1 teaspoon  thyme
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon oregano
2 tablespoons crushed dried chilies (ancho, guajillo, etc.)
Peel of 1 small lime (no pith please) grated
1 tablespoon minced onions
4 tablespoons softened butter

Mix all ingredients together and rub all of your turkey.  Get it mostly under the skin.  Yes, your hands will get dirty.  You can wash them later.
Pop that bird in the oven at 400F for 30minutes.  Hopefully, you have a meat thermometer.
Turn the heat down to 325F and continue to cook for 1 hour.
If you have the time, turn the heat down to 250F and cook until the white meat is 165F or the dark meat is 175F, otherwise just leave it at 325 and your bird will finish up within another hour.  If you want to get crazy, go ahead and baste the turkey with the drippings that fall every 1/2 hour or so.  Expect your total cooking time to go up a little when you do this though since heat is escaping the oven.  On to the sides!

Green Chilies Sauce (Replacement gravy)

2 cans green chilies
½ quart cream
Salt/pepper

Put the first two ingredients in a saucepot and raise to a simmer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Make 10 minutes before you serve all the food.  For the advanced user, instead of the canned goods, go ahead and get 4 poblano peppers.  Stick them on the grill with the corn until all sides are blistered and blackened.  Then slide them into a sealed container or bag for a few minutes so they steam up a bit.  Peel off all the skin, then slice and dice.  Voilá. Your own chilies.

Trivia for the dinner table:  The spelling “Chili” refers to any member of the Capsicum family, many of which are used in cooking.  This can also be used to reference the dish which football fans love during the fall.  It can also be spelled as “Chile” or “Chilli”.  The “correct” spelling is debatable.  However, the country of Chile would like to insist everybody spell their name as is.  I have seen this embarrassment in grocery stores and wine shops in which they spell the country of Chile, “Chili”.  

Hot Sauced Brussel Sprouts

1 lb Brussel Sprouts
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
Salt/Pepper
1/2 cup your favorite hot sauce
1 tablespoon Oregano
1 tablespoon butter

Clean, slice of the stems, and halve the brussel sprouts then toss them with the olive oil.  Roast those bad boys at around 350 for 15-20 minutes until the edges get brown.  Meanwhile heat up the butter to melting point and mix it with the hot sauce and oregano.  Once the sprouts are done roasting, toss them in the hot sauce mixture.  Enjoy the ensuing mouth-gasm.

Grilled ears of corn

4 ears of corn
Soak. Pat dry. Grill.

Soak whole ears of corn for 20 minutes in water.  Pop on a flaming hot grill.  Rotate after you see grill marks on the bottom. Take them off when grill marks are on the other side.  10 minutes-ish to cook.

Wild Rice with cranberries

1 cup Wild rice
½ cup Cranberries
3 cups Chicken broth
1 Tablespoon sugar
½ cup chopped Pecans
2 tbsps Butter
Salt to taste

Put the rice, broth and butter in a pot and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce the heat to low and let cook for 20 minutes.  Add the cranberries, sugar, and pecans and some salt if needed.  Stir. Cover again and cook for another 30 minutes or until the rice is fluffy and you don’t see liquid bubbling around.

Pickled Okra and Jalapeños (Make at least a week in advance)

1/2 pound Okra or enough to fit into a big mason jar
1 Jalapeño, sliced
1 tablespoon Dill
2 teaspoons Juniper berries
1 teaspoon Fennel seeds
Dash of Cayenne if desired
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons Sugar
1/2 cup Vinegar
1 cup Water

Bring the water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil. Meanwhile stuff your your okra and jalapeno slices into the mason jar. Add in the dill, juniper berries, fennel seeds, and cayenne. Once the liquids are boiling, take them off the heat and pour into the mason jar until the dry ingredients are covered. Seal the mason jar closed and refrigerate for at least a week.

Pecan Pie

It’s a secret southern mother recipe. Sorry.

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Superfluous Rating: 5/5

Salmon fillet seasoned with salt, pink peppercorns and rosemary; topped with butter and lemon and thrust into an aluminum packet and put on the grill.  Red potatoes, leeks, onions, mushrooms, and asparagus seasoned with salt, pepper, and rosemary; loved with a butter and olive oil mix, piled into an aluminum packet and put on the grill.

Wine: Rudera de Tradisie Chenin Blanc 2009

Those of you with a keen eye will note a different windowed back drop. Cheers to buying a house and turning it into your own wine palace.

Notes:

There’s nothing like a cold snap during the tail end of September to remind Minnesotans that winter will be coming soon.  Nevertheless, I will be using the grill until there is a foot of snow on it; and perhaps then I might even make that the first destination when creating snow paths.  The best part of putting all your food in to tin foil or aluminum (pronounced Al-lu-MINI-um if you’re British) is that there is barely any cleanup and you can still let the food simmer in tasty juices.  And this salmon, with potatoes and veggies on the side is delightful after that.  I believe the internet people say, “Nom.”

I don’t think I’ve seen salmon popularly paired with Chenin Blanc, which is all fine and good, but this was fantastic.  This particular C-Blanc (its rapper name) from Stellenbosch, South Africa was wonderfully floral and had a bit of creaminess to it because it was fermented in oak.  Not a common process for C-Blanc, but it worked out fine to give it quite a bit of body and really turned this into a cool autumn comfort meal.

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-Norman Rockwell

Every year there are countless recommendations given out as to what wine you should be pairing with your Thanksgiving meal. These recommendations are always made with the utmost confidence that this exact wine will be the perfect match to whatever meal you have and no other wine would do. Everyone eats the exact same thing at Thanksgiving, right? The turkey, the gravy, the cranberry sauce, the stuffing; yours will taste the same as your neighbors, right? Except the pumpkin pie! Your mother makes the best pumpkin pie and everyone else’s tastes exactly the same, which is to say…not as good.  You know the scenario:

 You write down the the recommendations you found in the magazine, on-line, on the radio or on TV, while wondering if you’re spelling it right and whether that word is the producer, the type of wine or where it’s from.  Such joy you have knowing you will be bringing the perfect wines for Thanksgiving! The hunt is on! But once you get to the liquor store, the hunt proves fruitless. The store doesn’t carry those wines (assuming you wrote down the correct thing to begin with) because you live in such a small town that they don’t carry every wine in existence. Fooled again, world of wine!  You got me!  What to do? Panic? You start reaching for the boxed wine….

The idea that there are one or two wines that are a “superior” match to everyone’s Thanksgiving dinner is quite frankly ridiculous.  The problem with specific wine recommendations is that they only work for specific meals.  The specific interactions you get between the wine and food with the environment you’re in comprise the experience.  Thus, the whole point of my musings on this web log.  You have to keep in mind though that a good experience is comprised of a range of factors.  Can you have a good day when it’s raining? Yes.  Can you have a good day when it’s 67 degrees instead of 65? Yes.  Can you have a great Thanksgiving meal with a wide range of wines? Yes.

So instead of worrying yourself over whether or not you’ll be able to find the specific wines that were recommended to you, let’s give you a variety of options, shall we?  Just remember to look for the bottles that have a specific region listed on them.  First, let’s think of the flavor components of traditional Thanksgiving meals: savory, herbs, spices of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, creamy, buttery, jams, tart cranberries, the gamey-ness of the foul.  Now what wines can work well with that?

Whites:

  • Pinot Grigio
  • Chardonnay
  • Viognier
  • Tokaji
  • or some Bubbly!
I generally lean towards the medium to heavier bodied whites so they don’t get lost in all the heavy foods.  A little acid is nice and can provide some zip through the heaviness if you want to lighten it up.  The idea is to match up wines with more stone fruit components (pears, apples, apricots, etc.) which generally happen in cooler climates than ones that have more tropical flavors (mango, pineapple, kiwi) that generally happen in warmer climates.  So could you get a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley?  Yes, but I’d go with that more specifically if I were making a more herbaceous meal with lemon tones.  If you like your buttery chardonnay, it’ll go great with those buttery biscuits and mashed potatoes.  If you generally like buttery chardonnays, but feel like they are at the top of your butteriness threshold, go with a viognier.

Reds:

  • First pickings from the newly released Beaujolais Nouveaus (Gamay)
  • Grenache or  Grenache/Syrah blends
  • Pinot Noir
  • Zinfandel
  • Cabernet Franc

With the reds, the idea is not to get too far into the heavy body realm or too far into the big tannin realm.  The amounts of vinegar and salt in most Thanksgiving meals can typically match the bitterness in the tannins of the above varietals and blends.  The idea with the reds is to match up the red-fruit-jammy and herbaceous flavors while keeping an eye on the tannins.  For some, lots of tannins aren’t a big deal and they kind of like it.  But if you’re having a large number of people over, there are high chances that not everyone is like this.  So if you do want to try a more tannic red, just make sure those who don’t enjoy that sort of thing have a chance to get more vinegar, citric acid or salt in their mouths before they take a quaff.  If your fruits are swaying more to the darker end (blackberries, plums) then you can switch over to the medium-bodied dark fruit wines like Merlot, Syrah, Monastrell, etc.

Just remember, if you really like a couple wines, chances are that those can work for the “perfect” Thanksgiving meal.  You might have to make some small adjustments to your menu, but everything should work out fine.  Those of us who enjoy wine have an expectation bar at some level and as long as it meets that or surpasses it, we’re good.  We don’t fret over prefect pairings, especially if we aren’t doing the cooking or bringing the wine.  If you do have someone who you know has the highest expectation bar, go ahead and tell them to bring the wine.

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Rating: 5/5

Roasted venison loin (medium-rare) marinated in red wine, pepper, sage and gin (which apparently makes a nice Juniper Berry substitute).  On the side: Minnesota wild rice with cranberries and sauteed green beans in lemon and garlic.

Wines: Château de Ségriès Cuvée Réservée 2008, Domaine de la Ville Julienne 2007, Yoakim Bridge Zinfandel 2006

Notes: No, I didn’t drink all three bottles by myself.  If you know a hunter, which you inevitably will if you live in Minnesota and you have some venison lying around in the freezer, you have to cook it for them.  I think it’s a rule or perhaps just a good idea.  Marinating the roast made this venison extremely delectable.  To boot, the wines were mind-blowingly delicious mixed with this meal.  I think I’m still speechless from how enjoyable this all was.

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