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Oregon Photo Recap… and Who Won The Harry and David Basket

 

Thank you all for entering the Harry & David Cheese & Salami gift basket giveaway. It was awesome to be able to share the delicious treats I was able to sample on my media trip. Rebecca Graham was selected at random using random.org’s third-party random drawing program, and I’ll be  excited to hear her thoughts  on the delicious gift. I’ll also talk about some wine that will pair with the delicious treats in an upcoming article.

The Jacksomeville Magnolia Inn B&B

The Jacksomeville Magnolia Inn B&B

The Harry & David media tour starts with 12 bloggers meeting at the Jacksonville Magnolia Inn, a fantastic Bed & Breakfast in Jacksonville, Oregon. We sat around and enjoyed each other’s company and of course, some great Oregon wine.

wine and nibbles at the JV Magnolia Inn

wine and nibbles at the Jacksonville Magnolia Inn

Delicious Oregon Wine

Delicious Oregon Wine

my room at the Jacksoneville Magnloia Inn

my room at the Jacksoneville Magnloia Inn

My room had a great “Manly” feel to it with the cigar band photos and the various musical instruments. The flowers would have made Robin happy.

Our first night in Oregon, we went over to Sandy Coughlin’s home for dinner. Sandy and her husband Paul were amazing hosts, and put on an absolutely wonderful welcome meal for us. The evening was capped off with their very talented daughter playing the violin for us. It was a captivating moment.

Reluctant Entertainer author Sandy Coughlin sets the mood

Reluctant Entertainer author Sandy Coughlin sets the mood

Bamboo surrounds the table at Sandy Coughlin's home

Bamboo surrounds the table at Sandy Coughlin’s home

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Sandy used a number of Harry & David products, all of which were fantastic. She also used a few of their new “Easy Entertaining” items, including the lobster risotto, which was superb. It was so good, that we’ve decided to place an order of several of the items for our Thanksgiving dinner. Of note, the Crab Quattro Formaggio mac and cheese was to die for.

Sandy made a great appetizer with Harry & David Royal Riviera Pears, Sweet Potato Butter, Goat cheese and flat bread. It was delicious!

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One Bite Appetizer of Amazingness

One Bite Appetizer of Amazingness

Our next day started with a tour of the Harry & David Royal Riviera pear orchards. Orchard Director Matt Borman spoke to us about everything from the method Harry & David uses to graft the pear trees on to quince rootstock to maintain a reasonable tree height, to the use of gravity flow and reservoir water to irrigate the orchards. The views were spectacular, as was the fruit!

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Harry & David Royal Riviera Pears

Harry & David Royal Riviera Pears

A few fun facts about the Harry & David orchards:

  • There are 40 degree temperature swings during the Royal Riviera pear growing season
  • These pears are winter harvest, unlike Bartlett pears which are summer harvest
  • There is a team of 300 people that hand harvest the 14,000 tons of Royal Riviera pears annually
  • The quince rootstock that the pear trees are gown on limit their height to about 8 feet
  • The Harry & David team puts out about 1,300 bee hives annually

The next day we had the opportunity to tour the Harry & David operations. From their chocolate factory (and yes, Charlie is in the chocolate factory) to their production lines to their basket assembly lines, Harry & David was a high quality shop through and through. Of all the things that I was impressed by, the longevity of employees was remarkable. Two of our tour guides had 25 years with the company, and during the visit we watched a 50 year employee be celebrated by their coworkers.

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A few fun facts about Harry & David treats

  • Tankers deliver 40,000 pounds of liquid chocolate to Harry & David each week
  • Harry & David uses 4-5 million pounds of chocolate a year
  • They make their own chocolate for Harry & David gifts

The team at Harry & David works hard to deliver quality gifts to their customers every day. It was a lot of fun to meet the people behind the company, and have a back stage pass to all the delicious goodies. I’ve been a long time customer of Harry & David, and this sponsored media trip strengthened that relationship. There is no doubt Harry & David will be on my holiday table this year.

Harry & David team member sorting pears

Harry & David team member sorting pears

Holiday Elves

Harry & David Holiday Elves?

Other bloggers/writers who attended this media trip:
Aggie
MaggyDaraBrenda, Brian, Sommer, Heather, Gaby, Julie, CarrieKelly (from Martha Stuart Living), and Sandy

Carrie Minns of Le Pomme de Portland sips wine

Carrie Minns of Le Pomme de Portland sips wine

We had some great Oregon wines during this trip, aside from the new line of Harry & David wines. I did not take many tasting notes, but a few that we sipped on are:

  • Cowhorn 2011 Spiral 36 – white wine blend of viognier marsanne and roussanne
  • Trium 2006 Grower’s Cuvee – red wine blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc
  • Brandborg 2011 Gewurztraminer
  • Slagle Creek 2008  Farmstead Red – red wine blend
  • Domaine Paradox pinot noir
  • Dr Bergstrom 2008 Late Harvest Riesling dessert wine
  • Merrill Cellars Cotes du Rogue Blanc 2010. 50% Viognier 50% Marsanne

Do you have a favorite Oregon wine? Have you tried any? Let me know below!

Pairing Wine With A Crockpot Chili Recipe

slow cooker crockpot chili and wine pairing

Easy to make slow cooker chili

As the weather gets cooler, people are looking for easy, hearty meals for fall. I’ve seen a lot of people searching for chili recipes, and the wine to pair with them. Chili in our house is a very hot topic, no pun intended. Robin used to make this interesting “tomato soup” that she called chili. I didn’t love it. I was given an award winning chili recipe that I loved, but it made most people cry from the heat. So, when I found this slow cooker chili recipe, I had to make it. And, of course, pair wine.

During my trip to Oregon with Harry & David, I had the chance to meet 12 awesome bloggers. The 11 women and 1 other guy were all super talented at both writing and photography, and have inspired me to amp up my blog! I decided a fun way to do that would be to take their recipes, make them myself, and pair wines with them. This is the first of such projects, and I hope you enjoy it. Brenda’s crockpot (slow cooker) chili recipe on A Farmgirl’s Dabbles is fairly easy to follow and make. She found it in a magazine, played around to make it her own, and it’s been her “Ole Faithful” ever since.

When making her recipe, for the chili powder, I went with 3 Tablespoons from her 3-6 TBS range. I also went 2 chili powder and 1 chipotle powder, since I wanted some smoke and depth to the flavors. I’d probably use 3 TBS of chili powder and 1 TBS of chipotle powder next time. Other than that, the recipe is pretty easy to follow. So, lets talk wine and chili pairing!

clean slate 2009 riesling mosel germany

The Clean Slate 2009 riesling from Mosel, Germany

I know you’re saying “Matt, wine with chili? No way! It’s beer!” I assure you that while a nice craft beer goes well with chili, wine can go equally as well. There are a few wine option for chili pairing, and in general they are zinfandel, shiraz or syrah, riesling, malbec and tempranillo.

The first wine I paired with the chili was the 2009 Clean Slate riesling from Mosel, Germany. This wine was a sample I received over a year ago. It had a screw cap, and I was concerned that after a year, it would be “done.” However, many German rieslings can age for quite some time, and still taste fantastic. This $10 white wine is actually two vintages old now, and was crisp and fresh and full of flavor. The bouquet had feint petrol and river rock scents, and the palate shows nice stone fruit (apricot and nectarines), with really nice acidity. Acidity comes across sometimes as citrus flavors in white wines, and this German riesling had a hint of lime that turned immediatly into peach nectar. However, the finish was a flinty minerality that kept it from being too sweet or syrupy. Well done at $10, definitely a buy, and available in grocery stores (at least in Florida).

Penfolds Thomas Hyland 2010 Shiraz

Penfolds Thomas Hyland 2010 Shiraz

People often ask “How can I tell a wine is good just by looking at it?” This wine answers that question, “You can’t.” While you can form general ideas about a wine if you know the grape, the area, and the producer, there’s NEVER a guarantee that you’ll have a good wine in the bottle. Forget the fact that wine can be cooked, corked, or dead, it’s a fact that the same grape, from the same area, even in vineyards separated by only a road, can taste completely different. When I grabbed this $22 bottle of Penfolds Thomas Hyland 2010 Shiraz at the grocery store, I figured I’d be ok. Penfolds is a fairly big name, Shiraz is a grape that Australia does well, and I’m a sommelier. I know my stuff. Right? Well, sort of. I know my stuff because I taste a lot of wines, and this was one I hadn’t had before.

The Penfolds Thomas Hyland 2010 Shiraz nose was sweet spice from the oak, more than any fruit notes. What fruit was there was dark, blackberry and plum. The approach was just dry, sweet wood, without much else to it. Frankly, this wine is a disappointment. Too much oak, not enough fruit, and no spice to speak of. Definitely not what I expect from an Australian shiraz. I pressed on.

Gnarly Head 2010 Old Vine Zin

Gnarly Head 2010 Old Vine Zin

The third wine I had with my chili was the Gnarly Head 2010 Old Vine Zin. This is a grocery store wine I often have on hand. I was turned on to it in 2008 by a twitter friend, Duane, while I was doing an event of 5 other grocery store zinfandels. For the price, which is $10, it offers great fruit, nice spice, and has not disappointed me in four years. Sure enough, this red wine and chili pairing was perfect. The wine had plum, prunes and blackberries with a sweet spice element to it. The finish was a hearty burst of black pepper, and all in all it stood up very well to the chili.

A Farmgirl's Dabbles crockpot chili hit the spot

A Farmgirl’s Dabbles crockpot chili hit the spot

Happily, this chili and wine pairing was a success. Even though one wine disappointed, two of the wines absolutely rocked, especially at $10. Brenda’s slow cooker chili is a cool weather meal we can make fairly easily, and enjoy for a few days. And, of course, pair wine with.

What is your favorite beverage to drink with chili? Let me know below!

Mushroom Soup, Red Wine & A Giveaway

using Harry & David soup mix for a great meal

Harry & David soup mix gets doctored

I learned about Harry & David’s new wine collection during a media trip with 12 other food writers. One of them was Sandy Coughlin, of Reluctant Entertainer. While Sandy is anything but a reluctant entertainer, her site and book are focused on helping those who are. Sandy offers tips and tricks to make even the most novice entertainer look like Martha Stewart. Sandy made our first night in Oregon spectacular, since hosting 12 people who write about food or wine can’t be easy. Using products from Harry & David’s store, she threw an amazing dinner party. One of my favorite items of the night was her mushroom soup, and I was blown away to learn it came from a bag, with some added love. I could not wait to come home and make the soup myself, and pair some wines with it. Keep reading, and I’ll show you how Sandy kicked up this soup, talk about the wines that pair, and tell you how you can win a gift basket from Harry & David.

A hearty meal of Harry & David mushroom soup and pinot noir

A hearty meal of Harry & David mushroom soup and pinot noir

Mushrooms go well with many dishes, and many wines. People saute mushrooms for burgers or steaks, fold them into omelets, or grill them and eat them on their own. In terms of wines, mushrooms will go well with a host of them, including cabernet sauvignon, unoaked chardonnay, malbec, zinfandel, and of course pinot noir. In fact, there are some who think that the perfect mushroom pairing is pinot noir, whether from Oregon or Burgundy, or even California. I happen to be in that camp, and decided to buy two bottles of pinot noir at the grocery store while picking up the fixings for the soup.

Francis Coppola 2010 Directors Cut Pinot Noir

Francis Coppola 2010 Directors Cut Pinot Noir

The first grocery store pinot noir I picked to pair with the mushroom soup was the Francis Coppola 2010 Directors Cut, Sonoma Coast, California. The lighter of the two options for the pairing, the Coppola ’10 Director’s Cut pinot noir has a bouquet of field strawberries, with earthy notes surrounding the red fruit. The acidity was noticeable on the nose, along with some smoky scents. The palate was a bit more fruit forward, more red raspberries on the palate than the strawberries on the nose, with a nice mix of smoke and cooking spices. The soup tames the fruit a little, and works very nicely. For $18.99, this was a well made, fresh pinot noir with nice length and good acid for food without being noticeable.

Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir 2010

Laetitia Estate Pinot Noir 2010

The second grocery store pinot noir was the $21.99 Laetitia 2010 Estate Pinot Noir, Arroyo Grande Valley, California. Not a very expressive bouquet, dusty red raspberries mix with faint scents of cocoa. The palate shows round red raspberries, fresher than the notes on the nose. There is a good bit of sweet spice from the oak used to age the wine, but it’s well integrated. The finish is long lasting, with those sweet spices turning into a dusting of black pepper. There are medium tannins, noticeable but not gripping.  With the soup, the red fruit tastes a little darker, with some earthy notes more prominent.

win a Harry & David cheese and salami basket on agoodtimewithwine.com

win a Harry & David cheese and salami basket

I am a “put your money where your mouth is” kind of person. While my expenses for this trip were paid by Harry & David, I purchased quite a bit of their products before being invited on the trip. I only write about products, wine or businesses I believe in. I’ve long believed in the quality that Harry & David offers, and now Harry & David wants to make a believer out of you. I am excited to offer a giveaway of one of Harry & David’s gift baskets, one focused on pairing with wine. The rules of the giveaway are simple:

  • Giveaway Open to US Residents Only, employees of Harry & David and their relatives are not eligible
  • Giveaway runs from Monday October 22nd 7:00am EST through Wednesday October 24th 11:59:59 pm EST
  • Enter by leaving a comment below stating why you want to win this Harry & David cheese and salami basket
  • Bonus Entries are available for the following (each require a separate comment)
  • Tweet the following then comment below: Wine, Mushroom Soup & a @HarryandDavid gift basket giveaway by @mmwine http://budurl.com/hadsalm
  • Like then comment below: Like both A Good Time With Wine on Facebook and Harry and David on Facebook
  • From the A Good Time With Wine Facebook page, share this post then comment below
  • Limit 4 entries per person

The description of this Harry and David gift basket is fantastic. Two gourmet new world Beehive cheeses and two handcrafted old world Creminelli salamis make this gift a savory delight for any meat and cheese lover. Award winning cheese coupled with some of the finest gluten and dairy free salami out there make for a lovely anytime gift. I’ll post a few wines to pair with it in the near future.

leeks for Harry and David soup

Add most of one leek to the soup

Sandy inspired me to doctor up the soup, not that it needed it. For one bag of Harry & David Wild Mushroom & Leek soup mix, you need two tablespoons of butter (in addition to the package directions), one leek, and two medium portobello mushrooms. Slice and rinse the leek with water, and pat dry. Melt the butter in a large skillet on a medium heat, then add the leek. Saute for 4-5 minutes, until they are tender.

saute leeks until tender

Saute leeks until tender

Slice portobello mushrooms and saute with leeks

Slice portobello mushrooms and saute with leeks

Slice the portobello mushroom in half-inch pieces, and add to the tender leeks. Saute for another 5-8 minutes, until the mushrooms are tender. Then, add to the soup mix in your 5 quart pot or bigger, and cook according to the package instructions.

Enjoy Harry & David Mushroom Soup with pinot noir

Enjoy Harry & David Mushroom Soup with pinot noir

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway! Harry & David will ship the winner the basket directly, and you’ll have a good time with wine!

 

 

Budget Wines For Everyday

Decent Wines For Just A Few Bucks

Decent Wines For Just A Few Bucks

I’m often asked to recommend cheap wines that can be found in grocery stores. Many people hear about Two Buck Chuck, which now sells for $3 or so, and wonder if it’s any good. During my trip to Oregon, someone asked me about Two Buck Chuck right before the Harry and David wine dinner. I’ve not had Two Buck Chuck in recent years, and my first taste was a long time ago. However, I took a run to the local Total Wine, which has a much bigger selection of good wines under $10 than the grocery store, and have eight wine options that wont break your budget.

Conte Priola Pinot Grigio Veneto 201

Conte Priola Pinot Grigio Veneto 201

Our first budget wine is a $7 option from Italy. The Conte Priola Pinot Grigio – Veneto 2011 has a fragrant nose of spiced pear and yellow apples. There is a smokey, spicy note that translates from the bouquet to the palate. There is very nice acidity, which comes across as citrus notes. An easy drinking, simple wine. Not very complex, just a back yard sipper.

Kemblefield 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough

Kemblefield 2011 Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough

Moving to Marlborough, New Zealand, we have the $9.99 Kemblefield 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. The bouquet is bursting, big kumquat and tangerine and lime on the nose, mixed with herbal notes. The palate is very refreshing, great citrus notes like pink grapefruit, mixed with tangerine and even apricot flavors. Very fresh fruit, that may come across a touch tart from the acidity. Good structure, and well made for under $10.

Generation Green Chardonnay

Generation Green Chardonnay

Vying with the Two Buck Chuck line is Generation Green Chardonnay, costing a scant $3.99. The nose show scallions and apricots, and the palate is smooth and light. There are toasty apple flavors mixed with toasted breads and vanilla creme. There is a good bit of green and spice on the mid-palate and finish, showing the oak that the wine is aged in. This wine is in a bottle made from lighter weight glass, helping to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. Definitely a bit more green than our next option, but also half the price!

Cloud Break Chardonnay 2011

Cloud Break Chardonnay 2011

Our next white wine also comes from California. The Cloud Break Chardonnay 2011,  costs $7.99 at Total Wine and is one of their big sellers. The bouquet is fresh pears and yellow apples. The mouth feel is fuller, showing toasty bread topped with a nice pear and yellow apple compote. There is a good bit of warming spice on the finish, that shows the oak aging and barrel fermentation. It’s not over oaked, however. Don’t fear splinters when you sip this budget friendly white wine.

Barefoot Cellars Chardonnay

Barefoot Cellars Chardonnay

For those who love a more fruity, almost sweet tasting wine, this $5.99 bottle is for you. I used to jokingly say “I prefer my women barefoot, not my wine.” That was, until I met Barefoot Cellars long time winemaker Jennifer Wall! She had me taste the Barefoot line again, and I had to retract my comment. The entire Barefoot line is fruit focused, and clearly people like that style. Barefoot sells millions of cases of wine a year. So, while it may not be the most complex wine you’ll put in your glass, for $6 or so per bottle, this is an easy drinking, back yard, feet up and relax kind of wine. The chardonnay will show fresh fruit salad, pears and apples, and have just the slightest hint of spice and vanilla.

Pepperwood Gove Pinot Noir

Pepperwood Gove Pinot Noir

Moving on to red wines, our first option is one of Suzanne’s picks. The Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir is $6.99 in Publix grocery stores. This pinot noir has bright fresh strawberries and red raspberries on both the nose and the palate. There is a little bit of tannin, which dries the mouth and offers the slightest hint of smoke.  The finish seems very long. If you are a fan of more fruit forward red wines, this $7 option would be right up your alley.

Ropiteau Pinot Noir 2010

Ropiteau Pinot Noir 2010

Moving to France, we have the Ropiteau Pinot Noir 2010 for $9.99. The bouquet shows dried strawberries that are earthy and subdued. The palate is very dry, and the earthiness and old world flavors come through. There may be a little too much oak for some on this wine, which shows in the tannin and spice on the finish. The oak is not overwhelming, as the fruit still shows. However, the spice from the toasty oak definitely makes a firm showing. This could use some food, whether that be a host of cheeses, some nice grilled salmon, or even a breast of duck dish.

Radius Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Radius Cabernet Sauvignon 2011

Finally, we have the Radius Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 from Washington state. The nose is bright red cherry, and highlights the super simple, super fruit forward nature of this wine. Not complex at all, there are fresh ripe cherries and raspberries, with just a hint of spice and tannin on the finish. This wine is all about young, fresh, vibrant fruit, and is a super easy sipper. There is no food necessary for this $8.99 porch wine.

This list is by no means a complete resource of budget focused wines under $10. As a matter of fact, I plan on highlighting more options in the coming months. I’m not the only person focusing on these value wines, however. Jay, the store manager at the Palm Beach Gardens, Florida Total Wine put up signs in each of the grape variety sections in the store, highlighting their under $10 wine options. The big pink signs are hard to miss, but customers find them very helpful.

What is your everyday budget wine?

Harry and David Launches Wine Collection

Gift giant Harry and David Launches Wine Brand

Some of Harry and David’s wine collection

The air was thick with the scent of fermenting grapes. The heady aroma of yeast working it’s magic entranced me from the second I stepped off the bus. The building’s cold, dimly lit exterior could not shroud the fantastic things happening inside it’s walls. Inside Pallet, Linda Donovan’s new custom crush facility in Medford, Oregon wine was being made, and I had to have some. A new partnership, Linda was making wines that will be exclusively available from premier gift company Harry and David.

Long known for their high quality gifts of fruit and food, gift giant Harry and David is poised to enter the wine business. Their brick and mortar retail stores actually carry an impressive selection of wines. A recent media trip to Medford, Oregon had me browsing in-store bottles ranging from Oregon locals J Christopher and Ken Wright, to various producers from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. While you are already able to order gifts of wine from Harry and David, this is the first time the company is putting their name on a bottle of wine.

Tracy Kaiser, Harry and David Sr Director of Merchandising, talking about the wine collection

Harry & David’s Tracy Kaiser talking about the wine collection

The Harry and David wine collection currently consists of 9 wines. All of the wine comes from Southern Oregon, with a focus on the Rogue Valley. Future vintages will focus on even more narrow appellations in the southern Oregon wine region, including a single vineyard offering from Illinois Valley. The Harry and David wine collection consists of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, viognier, and gewürztraminer as white wine options. The red wines in the collection are pinot noir, merlot, syrah, tempranillo and  a blend called Royal Crest Red. The Harry and David Royal Crest Red wine is a blend of 60% Merlot, 30% cabernet sauvignon and 10% carmenere.

During a sponsored press trip I had the opportunity to taste most of the Harry and David wine collection at a fantastic media dinner held in Linda Donovan’s new custom crush facility, Pallet. Located in Medford, OR, Linda purchased an old commercial building that was in a state of disrepair. Putting a lot of work in to the building, including pouring new concrete ramps and patching up holes in the floor, Pallet boasts over eight fermentation tanks, and a fantastic new press that was pressing the 2012 vintage of riesling during my visit. Linda consults with a number of wineries and has a beautiful barrel room for aging the wines of both Harry and David and her other clients.

Winemaker Linda Donovan on Harry & David wine collection

Winemaker Linda Donovan on Harry & David wine collection

The Harry and David wine collection will be priced from $15 to $30, and should be available online in early 2013. Winemaker Linda Donovan captures the terroir of Southern Oregon and the Rogue valley by focusing on grape varieties that do well there. The wines should be nice to sip on alone, or pair with foods. For the launch dinner, Harry & David’s Chef Tim Keller used many of the company’s soon to be released Easy Entertaining ready to serve dishes to pair with the wines. Some highlights included the Easy Entertaining Chardonnay Turkey with crisp apples and toasted hazelnuts, and a Bellini topped with Steelhead salmon and pickled creme fraiche. Tim was preparing these dishes for 13 food and wine writers, and did a great job impressing us with his creativity using the ready to eat Easy Entertaining meals Harry and David will soon offer.

Bellini using Harry & David Steelhead Salmon

Bellini using Harry & David Steelhead Salmon

The wines were practically barrel samples, bottled a scant few weeks ago before our dinner. The company will be sending me samples to taste and discuss in the near future, but there were two Harry and David wine collection standouts for me. For only $15, the sauvignon blanc had a nice melon and orange citrus nose, with a great orange citrus palate, balanced with a little green herbaceous note that offered some depth without being very prominent. The second standout is the $20 Pinot Noir. A very nice expression of what the Southern Oregon wine country has to offer, this wine had a palate of nice red berries, but not over ripe jammy fruit. It was balanced nicely with spice and smoke from the oak aging.

At $15 This Harry and David Sauvignon Blanc is a buy!

At $15 This Harry and David Sauvignon Blanc is a buy!

As a long time customer of Harry and David, it’s nice to see them offer wines that will showcase the terrior of Southern Oregon. They already offer gifts of fruit, cheese and food from the Pacific Northwest, and it’s only logical that they offer wines from their home. Look for tasting notes and pairing ideas in future articles, including my using the Harry and David Mushroom soup mix to pair with… Well, just come back soon!

Making Meatballs and Pairing Red Wine

Recipe for Sicilian meatballs paired with red wine

Sicilian meatballs paired with red wine

I can’t think of anything that brings people together better than food.  The notion of breaking bread goes back to biblical times.  However I’m sure the first time Ogg charred a hunk of brontosaurus, he invited Brugg for some and they told stories about when Trobb fell in the tar pit. Food, regardless of cuisine, transcends age, race, and political affiliation. That is why it’s very important to me that my son, now 13, not only gains an appreciation for good food, but also learns how to prepare it.
Even a 13 year old can cook this recipe for Sicilian meatballs

Even a 13 year old can cook this recipe for Sicilian meatballs

You would think that when teaching a 13 year old to cook, I’d start with something basic like pasta or grilled cheese.  I’m a fan of the Go big or go home philosophy folks, so we went with Sicilian style meatballs.  It’s a recipe I found in Food & Wine September 2007 magazine, and after making once right after reading, I saved the recipe for future use.  My son helped me when I first prepared them, so perhaps there was a tie to the dish. We started by reviewing the ingredient list and reading through the steps twice. It is important to understand the steps and the order in which we will use the ingredients, as well as having everything ready before we turn on the oven.

Batasiolo Sovrana and Heitz Cellars red wines to pair with meatballs

Batasiolo Sovrana and Heitz Cellars red wines to pair with meatballs

Before I give you the recipe, I will of course tell you about the wines paired with this fantastic meal.  My selection was Beni di Batasiolo 2009 Sovrana Barbera D’Alba. I paired this Italian red to not only stay on theme with an Italian meal, but also because the grape pairs well with the beefy meatballs while being able to handle the acidic tomatoes.  Like Ogg, I invited Brugg to break bread and share the meal.  Brugg is actually my friend Kirk, who brought his red wine contribution to the meal.  He chose a bottle of Heitz Cellar 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, another wine option that works well with meatballs and tomato sauce.

The Beni di Batasiolo Sovranna 2009 is a Barbera d’Alba. The barbera grape is grown in various places in in Italy, and this one is from Alba, a region in Piedmont, Italy. The bouquet is full of dark berries, violets and the oak notes of spice like cinnamon. The palate is medium to full, and dusty old world flavors come across at first. Dried strawberries and dried raspberries mingle with white pepper. It’s a full flavored wine bursting with taste. There was firm acidity on the finish of the wine, and it lends itself to be a wine to pair with food.

Tasting notes for Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana 2009 Barbera D'Alba

Pairing Beni di Batasiolo Sovrana 2009 Barbera D’Alba

Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is a Napa Valley, California wine. The bouquet is gorgeous, a sensual nose of mocha laced dark cherries. There are subtle spice notes that waft from the glass as well. The palate is full, but silky. Beautiful notes of chocolate cherries, but not sweet. The oak aging fills the glass with lovely spices.

Both the Beni di Batasiolo Sovranna and the Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon wines work so well with a meal of meatballs and tomato sauce. One did not stand out over the other as a better pairing. The Barbera D’Alba from Batasiolo became a bit less acidic and fruit took more of a center stage with sipped after a bite of meatball. For the Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon, the sweetness of the fruit and mocha are a little more subdued with the meal.
Tasting notes for Heitz Cellars 2007 Cabernet sauvignon Napa Valley Red wine

Sipping Heitz Cellars 2007 Cabernet sauvignon Napa Valley Red wine

Back to the recipe. Your mise en place includes
  • Two 28-oz cans of crushed Italian tomatoes
  • Four slices of white bread
  • 1/4 cup of water (drinking quality)
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries or currants
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Kosher salt (about 2 tablespoons)
  • freshly ground pepper (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 3 large cloves of garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon died marjoram
  • 2 lbs ground beef (chuck)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 cups vegetable oil (for frying)
ingredients to make perfect Sicilian meatballs

ingredients to make perfect Sicilian meatballs

In a 5 quart or larger sauce pan, pour the Italian tomatoes in and season with salt and pepper. I added about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 tsp of pepper, then added more slowly throughout the simmer, to taste. Add the 1/4 cup EVOO, stirring to combine. Bring to a boil (medium high heat), then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes (low heat).

After your sauce is on low and simmering, in a large bowl soak the 4 pieces of bread in the water. If you need less water to soak the bread, use less. If the bread is still dry, add a little more. Once the bread is saturated, squeeze out the water and place bread in another bowl. Mash the bread into a paste, then stir in the beaten eggs, garlic, parsley, marjoram, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Mix until smooth and well combined. I like to stir the sauce every 5 or 10 minutes while mixing and rolling out the meatballs.

mixing the ingredients for perfect italian meatballs

mixing the ingredients for perfect Italian meatballs

Add the ground beef, cranberries (or currents), pine nuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Mix these ingredients until well combined. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, slowly add and mix in the bread crumbs. Kneed the mixture until it is firm enough to roll into balls.
You will roll the meatballs into about 36 meatballs, each about 2 to 3 tablespoons of mix. Tuck the pine nuts and cranberries inside as much as possible.I placed my meatballs on a cookie sheet covered with wax or parchment paper while rolling them out. Once you’re about finished, turn your oil on medium-high in a large, no-stick skillet. Did you remember to stir the simmering sauce?
roll your mixture into 36 meatballs

roll your mixture into 36 meatballs

Heat the vegetable oil until shimmering. I check the oil by putting a tiny piece of meatball in. If it doesn’t immediately start to sizzle, it’s not ready. Once it starts sizzling, then you’re ready to cook.  Work in batches, placing about 10-12 meatballs into the oil at once. I recommend using a slotted spoon to roll them into the oil gently, to prevent splattering.
You’ll cook the meatballs for about 12 minutes, turning at least 3 times throughout that time to ensure each side is done. Never turn your oil past medium high or the meatballs will burn. Using a 12″ skillet or frying pan will allow you to place about 12 meatballs in it. A 10″ pan will of course accept less. Transfer the meatballs to a plate that is lined with paper towel, and continue cooking the rest of the meatball mixture.
using an all-clad skillet to cook Italian meatball recipe

using an all-clad skillet to cook Italian meatballs

Once finished, place all of the meatballs into the sauce. Again, use a slotted spoon to gently roll them in, to avoid splatter.
After all of your meatballs are in the sauce, allow them to simmer on low for another 30 minutes. I like to gently stir every 10 minutes to allow the meatballs on top to get to the bottom and continue to cook evenly.
delicious and easy Italian Sicilian meatball recipe

delicious and easy Italian Sicilian meatball recipe

Personally I like this dish without pasta. Fill a bowl with a few meatballs and some sauce, sprinkle with a little more Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and serve. Some bread to sop up the sauce is all I like.  Robin, my son and Kirk all had some pasta with theirs and were quite happy. As for teaching my son how to cook, he made the entire meal, including frying the meatballs. He did so well, he went to his mom’s and made this awesome Italian meatball recipe it for her birthday the next week.  Maybe we will do Boeuf Bourguignon next!

Wine and Dine: Napa Cellars 2009 Zinfandel and Stacey Ribs

Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009

Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009

Cooler weather typically means people find themselves reaching for cozy food and wine pairings. While you may not live in a cool climate, you still may change your eating and drinking habits in fall and winter. One dish that really works in warm or cool climates is BBQ baby back ribs. They’re hearty and delicious, and can be made indoors or out. And, since Zinfandel works so nicely with barbeque, I’d recommend pairing BBQ ribs with Napa Cellars Zinfandel 2009.

Napa Cellars is part of the Trinchero Family Estates portfolio. They own or market a host of labels, from Sutter Home to Newman’s Own to Napa Cellars, and even Fre alcohol free wines. I received several samples from this past vintage release of Napa Cellars wines to review. Since I’ve already written about Napa Cellars Chardonnay when pairing with shrimp,, I thought I’d take this opportunity to focus on one of their reds.  Coming in at $22, this Napa Zinfandel has powerful, big fruit without being over the top jammy.

The Napa Cellars 2009 Zinfandel is 88% Zinfandel and 12% Petite Sirah, and is aged 14 months in French and American oak, 10% of which is new. The bouquet and palate are very similar, with chocolate and raspberries on the very inviting nose. The palate is fresh red berries surrounded by baking spices, cinnamon and a herbaceous note as well. The finish is very long, with a predominantly spice and pepper note. There’s a little cocoa that dances around that fruit and spice, adding a layer of complexity that was nice. Letting it breathe for 15 or 20 minutes did not tame this powerful wine, which was 14.7% ABV. However, it’s big without being jammy or hot, and that makes it worth trying.

Stacey Ribs on my Traeger Smoker

Stacey Ribs on my Traeger Smoker

Now, the ribs part requires a story. Our family loves to grill, smoke, and cook in general. I respect vegans and vegetarians, and apologize to my plant eating friends. This recipe is not going to please your palate.  However, PLEASE feel free to post your favorite vegan or vegetarian recipe below, and I’ll try it, pairing it with some delicious wines.

One thing that makes it to the table at almost every cookout is ribs. I have several recipes, from a 6 plus hour smoke, to a 1 hour grill, to baking them in the oven. All of them are tasty, but Stacey Ribs have all but cemented their place as our favorite. Stacey is Robin’s cousin, who is an amazing hunter. The man lives to hunt. And he’s apparently equally as good at cooking what he hunts. In eight years, Stacey has only been to two or three events at the same time as us, but this year at the lake house was the best. He rolled out his trailer barbeque and fired up the coals. He then cooked some of the best baby back ribs I had ever had, earning the name “Stacey Ribs”. The preparation was simple, and the results were divine.

Cousin Stacey Queing Ribs

Cousin Stacey Queing Ribs

While the coals were heating the BBQ pit up to 325 degrees, Stacey peeled off the silver membrane from the ribs, and seasoned both sides with Everglades All Purpose seasoning, salt, and pepper. He tossed the ribs onto the grates, indirect heat, and let them cook for an hour and a half, turning two or three times. Then, during the next 20 minutes he basted each side with some BBQ sauce, mentioned below. He pulled the ribs off the grill, let them sit for 5 or 10 minutes, then cut and served. They were tender, moist, and flavorful. The simple preparation was very exciting, and the sauce was some of the best I’d had in ages.

Smoked Ribs on my Traeger SmokerI did the exact same preparation with my Traeger grill, and it was incredible. The Trager holds the heat constant, and produced a nice smokey flavor. I used apple wood pellets, as I light a lighter, sweeter smoke. And while the seasoning and smoking are important, I think the finishing touch was the sauce that Stacey used. He picked it up at  gas station in Kenansville, FL. From what I gathered, the company was small and just sold locally to the gas station. Stacey picked up a bottle while driving by once, and swore by it. I looked the shop up online, ordered a few small bottles, and the rest is culinary history.

Jimmy Bear's BarBerQ Sauce

Jimmy Bear’s BarBerQ Sauce

The sauce is Jimmy Bear’s Original BarBerQ sauce. They sell it online, and accept paypal. I ordered two of the 16 oz bottles, and cooking two racks of ribs used about 1/3 of a bottle. I didn’t dissect the flavors, but it seems to be a mustard base with honey flavors. The spices are excellent, and it’s a great balance between savory and sweet that worked perfectly on the pork ribs. I think the sauce, the ribs, and wine all made a perfect pairing for a good time with wine.

In addition to your favorite vegan or vegetarian recipes, what foods do you find yourself making and eating more of as summer ends? What’s on your table these days? I’d love to know, so comment below.

Sipping Stepping Stone Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wine

When people talk about Napa Valley wines, especially Cabernet Sauvignon, they often talk about lofty prices of hard to get wines like Screaming Eagle and Scarecrow. And while there are definitely great wines at lower prices in Napa, California, like Hartwell which can come in around $80, that is still above some people’s wine budget. That’s when a wine like the Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon fits perfectly in your glass. It’s a great expression of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, at a price that doesn’t make you feel like you just bought a whole vineyard.

Stepping Stone is the sister label to Cornerstone Cellars, a venture with managing partner Craig Camp and Drs. Michael Dragutsky and David Sloas who started the label in 1991. I had the chance to try the Cornerstone Cellars 2004 Howell Mountain Cab Sauv a year or so back. While I didn’t write up a review, I thought it was delicious, and I was quite sad I opened it when I did. I felt it could have aged for another 2-3 years, if not 10. So, when I was given a shot to try the 2008 Stepping Stone Cab Sauv, bottled in May 2010 after spending 18 months in 50% new French oak barrels and released 9 months after bottling in early 2011, I was quite excited. At just $35 a bottle, I believed we’d have a great Napa wine under $40 to talk about.

Get a Wine Decanter

Get a Wine Decanter

First, a word about decanting, or just aerating wine. Do it. Stop being so impatient. It’s not rocket science, and will improve the taste of just about any red, and even some white wines you’ll drink.  If you don’t have a formal decanter, which my God, if you’re a regular wine drinker, get one, then just pop the cork, and pour out a smidge of wine into a glass. That will allow air to get into the neck of the bottle and start oxidizing the wine. I won’t get into why decanting works, just know you should. Some wines need more air than others to “open up”, and that part sort of IS rocket science. Just know that 10-20 minutes sitting and breathing is almost always the right thing to do.

Tasting the Stepping Stone 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, the nose was a sweet cherry, with some notes of blueberry and brambles. Yes, I taste with my nose first. Some 80% of what things taste like are based on smell, so taking a nice sniff of the wine will start producing taste patterns. The palate was big fruit up front, dark cherry and blueberry, followed by a nice earthiness. I let this decant for about an hour after my initial taste. I noticed the mouthfeel was full but silky, round flavors of dark cherry, mocha and a beautiful herb and forest floor note. There were fine, well integrated tannin, and this wine was just a pleasure to sip. Even at 14.9% ABV, there was no heat on the finish, and it was a well made wine. At $35, I’d say it was worth every penny. Tim Lemke of Cheap Wine Ratings wrote up a number of the Stepping Stone wines, and agrees the Cabernet Sauvignon is a good wine.

Cabot Coop Private Stock Cheddar and wine

Cabot Coop Private Stock Cheddar and wine

Food pairings for this Cabernet Sauvignon would be the typical red meat such as steaks, as well as lamb or veal. We enjoyed it with some amazing Cabot Coop Cheddar cheese, and think it’s a perfect pairing. The two dance together in a delicious harmony. The Stepping Stones 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is a great wine on it’s own however, and you can enjoy it just sipping on a glass with friends. I know I did.