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Amazing appetizer to serve with Champagne

Dats Stuffed With Goat Cheese Best Appetizer for Champagne

Dates stuffed with Goat Cheese

If you’re like us, you have a ton of cookbooks that you sift through before every party. And if you’re like us, there’s one or two recipes that you always go to for those parties. Maybe they are easy recipes, or maybe they are amazing recipes to pair with wines. Or, perhaps they’re just great appetizers that get the party off on the right foot. I’d like to share one of our favorite recipes, taken from Williams-Sonoma, Entertaining, by George Dolese, that fits all of those categories. This recipe is easy, makes great appetizers, and those appetizers are perfect to pair with Champagne.

This delicious appetizer is so easy to make, my 12 year old son was the chef. He had a tiny bit of help from us, but in general, he did everything from preparing the dates, to stuffing them, topping them, and baking them. Therefore, even if you have no cooking skill, you can make a perfect appetizer to impress your guests.  We’ll cover the recipe step by step, and recap at the end.

Dates Stuffed With Goat Cheese

The Williams-Sonoma Entertaining book recommends you use Medjool dates, however, our grocery store just had “dates” and they worked fine. I don’t like to discriminate. Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees.

Lightly oil a baking dish that is just large enough to fit your dates in a single layer

making goat cheese stuffed dates Coat Pan With Oil

Coat Pan With Oil

Take a paper towel and use it to wipe the oil on the pan, removing excess. You want your dates to not stick to the pan, but you aren’t deep frying them. That’s for Paula Dean!

Put 1 TBS of olive oil in a small fry pan and warm on medium heat for 1-2 minutes.

Warm Oil in frying pan for dates stuffed with goat cheese

Warm Oil in frying pan

Once the oil is warmed, you’ll pour 2 TBS of plain breadcrumbs (or panko)  into the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until they are evenly golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes.

cooked breadcrumbs for goat cheese stuffed dates

Golden brown breadcrumbs

Remove pan from heat and transfer crumbs to a plate, letting them cool. While the breadcrumbs cool, start pitting your dates. Using a sharp paring knife, slit the top of each date lengthwise, and carefully pry the pit out.

remove pits for dates stuffed with goat cheese

Pit the dates

Be careful not to make the slit on top of the dates too long, or your goat cheese will ooze out when baking. It takes a little practice, but you’ll get it. You want to make a little pocket in each date to stuff the goat cheese into.

date pocket for goat cheese appetizer

date pocket for goat cheese appetizer

Once all of your dates are pitted, you’ll begin filling them with the goat cheese. Using a small spoon, gently fill each date with enough goat cheese that it just crests the top of the date.

Stuff your date pockets with goat cheese

Stuff your date pockets with goat cheese

Once all of your dates are stuffed, arrange them in a single layer in your lightly oiled pan. Top each date with some of the toasted breadcrumbs.

Top Dates with toasted breadcrumbs

Top Dates with toasted breadcrumbs

Once all of your dates are stuffed and topped with breadcrumbs, you’re ready for the bake. Bake dates on 375 until warmed, about 10-12 minutes.

Bake Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates for 10 min on 375

Bake Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates for 10 min on 375

Remove from oven and carefully transfer to serving dish. The dates will be hot, so use a spatula or tongs.

Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates

Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates

These dates are simple to make, and delicious. They’re a surefire appetizer to serve at any party. The dates also  pair perfectly with Champagne or sparkling wine.

We paired our dates stuffed with goat cheese with an excellent Champagne from Vilmart & Cie, the NV Grand Cellier Brut, Premier Cru.

Champagne Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier Brut Premier Cru

Champagne Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier Brut Premier Cru

The Vilmart & Cie “Grand Cellier” Brut Premiere Cru is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. The Brut NV Premier Cru Grand Cellier is the first in a line of specialty and Tete de Cuvees in the Vilmart line up. The blend is aged 3-5 years on the lees before degorgement, which helps create a full and rich mouth feel. This is a great NV Champagne incredible length, sophistication and mineral strength that is not usually found in non-vintage Champagne. The high percentage of Chardonnay provides a fresh apple and light tropical fruit note that is a beautiful and harmonious balance between crisp and full. Alder Yarrow from Vinograpy rated this $73 Vilmart & Cie “Grand Cellier” Champagne between 9 and 9.5 out of 10.

If you make these dates, let me know what you think. And more importantly, let me know what Champagne you pair them with.

 

Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates

ingredients

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 T fine dried bread crumbs or panko
  • 24 large dates, preferably Medjool
  • 1/4 lb soft fresh goat cheese

directions

  • Preheat oven to 375. Lightly oil a baking dish just large enough to hold dates in single layer.
  • In a small frying pan, over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the bread crumbs (or panko) and cook, stirring constantly, until they are evenly golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and transfer crumbs to plate, let cool.

  • With a small knife, make a small lengthwise incision in each date. Carefully remove the pits. Stuff 1 t of goat cheese into cavity left by the pit.

  • Arrange the dates, with goat cheese side facing upward, in the prepared dish. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top. (The dates can be prepared up to this point 24 hrs in advance. Store, tightly covered in refrigerator.)

  • Bake the dates until warmed through, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and serve warm.

A toast – to #Champagneday

Matthew Horbund with some Veuve Clicquot

Matthew Horbund with some Veuve Clicquot

If you aren’t a user of Social Media platforms, such as Twtter, you probably have no idea why the pound sign, #, is in this article title. Likewise, you probably have no idea what #Champagneday is, or why I’m toasting to it. First, that pound sign is called a Hashtag, and allows twitter to aggrigate tweets or posts about a specific topic, in this case #Champagneday. Anyone who tweets with the word #Champagneday will be shown if you search for that hashtag.  More importantly is what Champagneday stands for. It’s sponsored by the Champagne Bureau, the PR firm for the region that produces amazing bubbly, and it’s purpose is to promote Champagne, as well as raise awareness that true Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France.

Now, a good friend in the wine business said “If they spent more time talking about Champagne, instead of worrying about the name and where it comes from, more people would drink it. Then we wouldn’t need a day about it.” That may be true, as Richard Auffrey points out that America’s Champagne consumption lags behind other sparkling wine consumption, The US drinks about 17 million bottles of Champagne, out of about 127 million bottles of sparkling wine in total. I find it hard to argue that perhaps more energy should be spent promoting Champagne as a whole, rather than protecting the name.

The Champagne Region Of France

The Champagne Region Of France

However, it does make sense to note that true Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France. The soil, or terrior in wine geek speak, as well as the micro-climate of the Champagne region of France produces great conditions for growing the three grapes that go into Champagne. Those grapes are pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier, the last poorly pronounced as pee-no moon-yay. And while some sparkling wine made in other parts of the world have carried the name “Champagne” in the past, I believe agreements on labeling will have that coming to an end.  Branding is big business, and protecting the name “Champagne” has definite business impact.

Enjoying Pol Roger Champagne

Enjoying Pol Roger Champagne

Now, lets get to the business of #Champagneday. On Friday, the 28th of October people around the world, or at least in my house, will be enjoying Champagne and sharing their thoughts on it. We will write blog posts about it, post about it on Facebook, and of course, tweet about it.  You can always follow me on Twitter, to see what I have to say. You can also follow the #Champagneday Hashtag to see what everyone, worldwide, is saying about Champagne.

I’ll be tasting at least 7 different Champagnes with friends on Friday evening, and will do my best to capture notes about them. I’ll share tasting notes, as well as general food pairings for Champagne, along with educational tidbits about Champagne in general. I hope you connect with me via Twitter or Facebook, as I love talking about wine,  and Champagne is indeed wine! I also hope you participate in the event. Champagne is a fun adult beverage that should not be reserved for special days and celebrations. Life is short, celebrate Friday with Champagne. You’ll thank me.

Toast The Royal Couple With Champagne

Prince William and Kate Middleton (pic:Reuters)

Prince William and Kate Middleton (pic:Reuters)

On Friday April 29, 2011 Prince William of Wales will marry Catherine “Kate” Middleton as millions across the globe tune in. Whether you are wholly uninterested, or throwing your own Royal Wedding Party at home to watch the affair, one thing that should hold your excitement is the bubbly served at the event. There had been lot of speculation about who’s sparkler will be served, but it has been confirmed that it will be a true Champagne, from Pol Roger.

As the second largest consumer of Champagne in the world, England has a long love affair with Pol Roger Champagne. Began in 1849 in Epernay, France, Pol Roger was the Champagne of choice for Sir Winston Churchill from 1908 until his death in 1965. Sir Winston Churchill was such an influencer of the producer that upon his death in 1965 they added black borders to their lables, and in 1984 they released a prestige cuvee bearing his name. The top of the line, the Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill is a premium Champagne, bold, like the man who is it named after.

However, you do not need to be a Royal or British elite to sip and savor the bubbly served at the Royal Wedding Friday. The Pol Roger Brut Reserve White Foil is reasonably priced at approximately $40 USD, but has all of the finesse and flavor you expect from a fine Champagne. Pol Roger Champagne is imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, and distributed widely throughout the country.

While I’m sure the chef’s of the Royal Wedding will be pairing caviar with Champagne, you can pair foods with Champagne that are a little more budget friendly. Salty foods go well with brut Champagne, from smoked salmon to tater tots. I’ve served “pigs in a blanket” and a spicy brown mustard with Champagne before, knocking people’s socks off. And if you’ve watched “7 Year Itch”, the delightful Marilyn Monroe educated everyone that potato chips pair perfectly with Champagne.

I’ve put up tasting notes about Pol roger Brut Reserve White Foil Champagne before. It was part of a number of sparkling wine recommendations for Valentine’s Day. However, it can clearly be served at many, and any, occasion.

The following is a press release from the Champagne Bureau, with information about the origins of Champagne.

Comite Champagne Logo

Comite Champagne Logo

Amid the hubbub surrounding the Friday, April 29, wedding of Catherine Middleton and Prince William, one detail is not to be missed: the happy couple will be honoring tradition by serving Champagne at the reception.

England is the second largest consumer of Champagne, after France and ahead of the United States, according to the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the trade association comprised of all the grape growers and houses in Champagne. By choosing Champagne to celebrate their marriage, Catherine and William are following the custom of many other royal weddings, including that of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.

“Champagne only comes from Champagne, France, but it is consumed around the world at celebrations large and small,” said Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, the U.S. representative of the CIVC. “Given the prestigious nature of the occasion, it is fitting that guests at the royal wedding will have the chance to toast to the couple’s good fortune with a glass of authentic Champagne. For those of us who will be watching at home, enjoying the event with a glass of Champagne is a lovely way to join in the celebration.”

Champagne is only produced in one unique region, which covers less than 80,000 acres and lies 90 miles northeast of Paris. The grapes are handpicked and processed in accordance with strict regulations and an intricate hands-on method, carefully developed and cultivated over 300 years. While there are many other good sparkling wines produced around the world, only Champagne is the traditional wine of royal weddings and coronations.

About the Champagne Bureau

The Champagne Bureau is the official U.S. representative of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), a trade association which represents the grape growers and houses of Champagne, France. The bureau works to educate U.S. consumers about the uniqueness of the wines of Champagne and expand their understanding of the need to protect the Champagne name. For more information, visit us online at www.champagne.us. Follow us on Twitter at ChampagneBureau.

Valentine’s Day Wines Made Easy

Wine for a Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine’s Day

Everyone likes options. While I tossed out a few great picks in my latest CBS Segment on Valentine’s Day and Superbowl Wines, some friends asked for a few more selections. Of course, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of perfect wines for the day of love. However, these are a few wines that I’ve sipped in the past few months that will work well for most of your Valentine’s Day needs.

Whether starting your night with a sparkling wine or pairing a Champagne with your meal, I’ve got three selections that I absolutely love. The first two are under $20 and widely available, and hail from the Alsace. Domaine Lucien Albrecht is one of the oldest leading Alsace family owned estates, tracing its roots back to 1425. The Albrecht Brut and Albrecht Brut Rose are two lovely sparklers from France, the Brut crisp with tart apples, the Brut Rose has notes of plums and tart cherries. Both of these sparklers make a great aperitif, and pair nicely with a cheese plate perhaps with goat cheese or Brie.

Lucien Albrecht 2009 Sparkling Gift Box

Lucien Albrecht 2009 Sparkling Gift Box

If you’d like a sparkler from Champagne, the Pol Roger Non-Vintage Brut White Foil is a great option. It cost approximately $40, and is delicious. Though a brut, meaning dry Champagne, I found the palate a little softer and fruit forward. It wasn’t as dry as perhaps the Pol Roger Pure Non-Vintage, another $40 option that is delicious. Again, perfect as an aperitif, and a beautiful pairing with fruit, cheeses, or even popcorn. Yes, popcorn! Champagne loves salty foods, so popcorn, potato chips and oysters are a natural pair. For those who’s French is as poor as mine, the name is pronounced pawl roh-ZHAY.

Pol Roger Non Vintage Brut White Foil

Pol Roger Non Vintage Brut White Foil

If you’re looking for a big, bold red wine for your evening of love, look no further than Mount Veder 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon or Trefethen Family 2004 Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon.

A $40 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon that definitely is worth it’s price, Mount Veder Cabernet Sauvignon has a nose of black cherry and a medium palate with medium tannin. There is great fruit burst up front with nice complexities, including a little vanilla, a little cocoa, a little pepper and spice. I think it’s well balanced, and good on it’s own or with food. If you are looking to pair a red wine with your Valentine’s Day dinner of grilled or roast meats, whether it’s beef, veal, even pork, this wine will do the trick.

Mount Veder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon

Mount Veder Winery Cabernet Sauvignon

I’ve been in the Trefethen Family wine club since 2008, and love the surprises they send me every few months. I enjoy their regular Cabernet Sauvignon quite a bit, which retails for about $50. For a special occasion I open the Trefethehn Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, which for $100 is a very special wine. Whether pairing with prime rib, rack of lamb or sipping alone, the big bold tannin grabs you, and the delicious black cherry and spice keeps hold of you.

Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon

Trefethen Cabernet Sauvignon

Zinfandel is for lovers, or at least I think so. It’s a warm, cozy wine, and it pairs well with anything from pasta to ribs to steak. Titus Napa Zinfandel will run you about $25, but it’s well worth it. Big and bold, like your love for your Valentine, there are fantastic flavors of ripe red berries, offset by huge pepper and spice on the finish. This wine needs some air to open up, though the second you pop the cork you will will instinctivly pour a glass and enjoy the powerful flavors this wine offers.

Titus Napa Zinfandel

Titus Napa Zinfandel

Not quite the powerhouse that Titus is, the Paso Creek 2007 Zinfandel is very round and approachable. Jammy berries, chocolate notes and even some caramel, this wine is a perfect sipper for under $20. Perfect alone, or with food, this wine will make your Valentine feel the love.

Paso Creek Zinfandel

Paso Creek Zinfandel

If you have questions about other wine options for Valentine’s Day, food and wine pairings, or anything in general, feel free to leave a comment below! I’d love to play cupid, minus the diaper!

Sparkling Wine Selections for Your Holiday Party


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Conventional wine wisdom dictates you should always have a bottle of bubbly on hand, as you never know when cause for celebration will arise. That wine wisdom holds especially true at this time of the year, as we celebrate holidays, family gatherings, and of course, ringing in the New Year. Fortunately, there are a number of options available in every price range, so serving your family and friends a delicious sparkling wine is nearly foolproof. Whether a Champagne, a Cava, or a sparkling wine from Napa, pouring the perfect bubbly is simply a cork pop away.

Champagnes , and sparkling wines made in areas other than Champagne, France,  come in a number of sweetness levels. The most common levels are Brut, Extra Dry, and Sec, with Demi-Sec and Doux rounding out the five levels. Each denotes how much sugar is in the sparkling wine, with Brut being the most dry with less than 1.5% sugar and Doux being the most sweet with over 5% sugar. Today we’ll discuss Brut,  Extra Dry, and Sec options.

J Vineyards & Winery Cuvee 20 Sparkling Wine

J Vineyards & Winery Cuvee 20 Sparkling Wine

Our first selection comes from J Vineyards & Winery, the Cuvee 20 which is a Brut sparkling wine from the Russian River Valley appellation in Sonoma California. A blend of the three grapes Champagne can be made from, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this dry sparkling wine has great flavors.  Dry on the palate, there are crisp lemon citrus flavors with a typical yeasty, doughy note. There’s a light floral and nut note as well, and the sparkling wine is fresh, crisp and clean. Perfect on it’s own, the J Cuvee 20 will pair nicely with appetizers or little bites, whether smoked salmon and caviar or popcorn and french fries. This wine can be found relatively easily, and retails for about $22.

Lamberti Prosecco Extra Dry Sparkling Wine

Lamberti Prosecco Extra Dry Sparkling Wine

Our next selection is the affordable Lamberti Prosecco from Vento, Italy. For about $14, the Lamberti Extra Dry Prosecco has a fabulous crisp palate, with flavors of lemon zest and amazing bubbles. Even though it’s an Extra Dry, there’s very little sweetness, and it must be on the cusp of Brut / Extra Dry. This is definitely a great option to offer as an aperitif, a little bubbly to serve to your guests as they arrive and get comfortable at your gathering. Perhaps a little less widely available, you should be able to go into any reputable wine store and ask them to order this, as the importers Frederick Wildman are fairly well known.

Mumm Napa Cuvee M Sparkling Wine

Mumm Napa Cuvee M Sparkling Wine

Rounding out our sparkling wine selections is the Mumm Napa Cuvee M. The sweetest option offered today, the sparkling wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier. You’ll taste fresh peaches and tangerines on the palate. There are also secondary notes of vanilla and honey, yet for all of it’s sweet flavors, this wine is far from cloying.  Perfect for the holidays, your guests will want to toast you again and again with this sparkling wine in their glass. Also perfect as an aperitif, the Mumm Napa Cuvee M is flexible enough to pair with spicy foods as well as creamy desserts.  This wine can be found in a broad range of stores, and retails for approximately $20.

Looking for the best sparkling wines for the holidays, whether a Champagne such as Pol Roger, or a Cava such as Rondel? While these certainly will fit the bill,  I’ll have a few additional selections available on my website in the coming days.  Cheers.

Bubbles, Bubbles Everywhere – Sparkling Wines for Valentines

Louis Roederer Cristal

Louis Roederer Cristal

If you aren’t a connoisseur of fine Champagne, there’s no doubt you heard of Dom Perignon, Cristal, or Veuve Cliquot from a James Bond movie and rap video.  Indeed, there’s no shortage of expensive Champagne poured each and every February 14th. This Valentines Day men and women everywhere will spend a decent amount of money on good Champagne, often not knowing inexpensive options exist. I’m here to let you know you can pour some fantastic bubbly, and still delight you sweetheart.

When I was asked to visit the CBS12, WPEC studio this week to talk about wines for Valentines Day, I wanted to do something different. Immediately my mind went to Rose wines, something all too often over looked. Once I settled on the Think Pink for Valentines Day segment, I was asked to fill in for a second segment, and came up with three Sparkling wines under $20. I ran into my local Total Wine, with thousands of bottles to choose from, I knew I would find some great options.

Louis Bouillot Perle de Nuit Blanc de Noirs Brut

Louis Bouillot Perle de Nuit Blanc de Noirs Brut

First up was Louis Bouillot (Lou-ee Boo-yoh)  “Perle de Nuit” Blanc de Noirs Brut. Their “Pearl of the Night”, this dry sparkler, made in Burgundy, is a light, crisp and delightful wine. With beautiful bubbles, the palate is light pears and fresh dough, the finish is clean, with a great cherry component. Made of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Gamay, in the traditional method, the Louis Bouillot Blanc de Noirs is aged 24 months, well past the legal requirement of 9 months. This is a great sipper, and I wouldn’t pair it with anything other than good company. I grabbed this at Total Wine for just $16, and it was well worth the price.

You may have watched Kara Kostanich ask on the CBS segment about wines being called “Champagne”. Sparklers not made in the Champagne region of France can not be called Champagnes. The appellation for the Louis Bouillot is Cremant de Bourgogne, which covers France’s Burgundy region and features dry sparkling wines. And while Champagne holds their wines to a high measure of quality, so does the Cremant de Bourgogne appellation.

Rondel Pura Raza Semi-Seco Cava

Rondel Pura Raza Semi-Seco Cava

From France, we jet over to Spain, where a blend of the three traditional Cava grapes; Xarel.lo, Macabeo & Parellada make their appearance. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine made by the traditional Champagne method, and includes fermentation in steel tanks, then a secondary fermentation in the bottle, which gives it the bubbles we love so much. Another Total Wine selection, this $8 sparkler is great. The Rondel Brut Cava has been very highly rated by several magazines, however I selected the Semi-Seco, or sweeter, offering. I felt that for Valentines Day, you may want a slightly sweeter wine, one that is fun and easy to drink. With flavors of dried pineapple or pear, it’s a tad sweet, but not cloying. It’s crisp on the finish, and pairs perfectly with Strawberries.  If you’ve ever wanted to try Champagne and strawberries, I highly suggest trying it with the Rondel Pura Raza Semi-Seco Cava!

Our final Sparkling wine brings us back to Europe, Italy to be precise. It’s time to talk about Brachetto, a sparkling dessert wine from Italy. If your sweetheart is a fan of desserts, this bubbly will be sure to hit the spot. I selected the Sant-Orsola Brachetto D’Acqui, a delicious gem for about $16 at Total Wine! Brachetto is a red grape that is found mainly in Piedmont, the northwest region of Italy. The cherry cola red color is brilliant, and the palate of dry raspberry with a slightly sweet note is balanced with a very clean finish. The sweet berry flavors of the Sant-Orsola Brachetto D’Acqui makes it a natural pair for several desserts.

Sant'Orsola Brachetto D'Acqui

Sant'Orsola Brachetto D'Acqui

Pairing this wine with a chocolate cake, or even a piece or two of chocolates from that heart you always bring your beloved, works wonderfully. The chocolate enhances the fruit flavor, and the two  work well together. I brought a chocolate mousse tart to the CBS set, and it was a very nice pairing. I’d also happily serve the Brachetto with fruit, or alone. It’s a very nice sipper, with a fun, fruity flavor.

There are, of course, hundreds of other wine options for Valentines Day. If these Sparklers don’t tickle your fancy, and you aren’t adventureous enough to try the Rose Wines I recommended, leave a comment below and I’ll try to help you find just the right wine for your Valentine.  And, if you do use one of the QPR Wines (wines with Good Quality to Price Ratio) I mentioned this weekend, don’t be surprised if your sweetheart looks at you, slyly, having read this article, and wants a bigger present with the money on the wine!