Category Archives: Family and Friends

Party Wines

‘Tis the season to be jolly!

It makes me wonder why everyone is always in such a terrible mood. Christmas should be a wonderful time of year! The whole family will be together, food will be overflowing from refrigerator to ovens, making the house smell wonderful and laughter all the way through. However, what if we need help getting to the laughter part, or what of all the parties and Christmassy get-togethers? Eating and drinking turns into an all out free-for-all, turning potentially normal Wednesdays into… PARTY DAY!! Being good party goers as we are, host(ess) gifts are a must. Believe it or not, I always go with wine. (Shocker…)

I’m aware that the wine racks in any store can be daunting. Which one? What is my price point? Why is that Malbec wearing a grin, is it mocking me? Hey, no judgment here. Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had a staring contest between two bottles of wine, unable to make a decision. I’m here to make your life easier with a list of terrific winter wines, perfect for parties or presents.

But first, this short anecdote: I was invited to a birthday party dinner. I didn’t really know anyone, save my friend who had invited me. Even though it was a family affair, I wanted to bring something. I felt bad just bringing myself – so I went to my go to wine store and picked 14 Hands, “Hot to Trot.” This wine is not only delicious, but it’s a red blend, therefore able to please just about anyone. It’s also a fabulous re-gifting wine. I snagged it, purchased it and was on the road, already late due to having to get the wine in the first place. I arrived at the restaurant, told my friend about my wine gift for the birthday girl; thirty seconds later I was informed this was her 20th birthday (Insert sound effects of a bomb exploding).

I handed it to my friend. Re-gifted. Boom.

So a list for when you’re strapped for time and don’t fancy imagined banter with inanimate objects, these are sure to please:

Price Point ($5 – $12)
14 Hands, “Hot to Trot,” Red Blend
MGM, Pinot Noir
Chariot, “Gypsy,” Red Blend
Chateau St. Michelle, Reisling
Monogamy, “Truly Madly Deeply,” Cabernet Sauvignon

Price Point ($13 – $25)
Chatham Hill Winery, Cabernet Franc
Don Gascon, Malbec
Ruffino, Chianti
Prosecco, Champagne

Price Point ($26 – $40)
Caymus, “Conundrum,” Viognier Blend
d’Arenberg, “The Dead Arm,” Shiraz
Frei Brothers, Zinfandel
Boordy Vineyards, Port


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Frei Brothers and Lionel Vatinet

Hors d'OeuvresTuesday night last week, my dad and I went to La Farm Bakery for the new book promotion and signing for Lionel Vatinet, the master baker at La Farm in Cary. Lionel (Lee-uhn-nell) is a fabulous baker and now has given us all his secrets from the bakery and restaurant! On Friday, I had a housewarming party that I wanted to attend with hors d’oeuvres and chose a recipe from Lionel’s new book, “A Passion for Bread.” I found the perfect treat, the Asparagus Tartin. From all the hustle and bustle of the weekend, I decided not to do a Sunday night dinner, but will reflect on the process and taste of this tartin and the wine I had at the party.

The asparagus tartin started with asiago – parmesan bread; with giant chunks of parmesan sticking in and through the bread I knew it was a good start. The bread was then to be spread with softened, sautéed shallots full of garlicky-oniony flavour. (Those are scientific descriptions by the way!) Atop the shallots, torn fresh mozzarella was laid with dollops of olive tapenade bursting with saltiness to help boost the mozzarella. Then the recipe called for two small stalks of blanched asparagus bound to the tartin with wonderful 15 month aged Comté cheese (a French version of Swiss Gruyere, hard by light and nutty). These ingredients were broiled until the cheese was bubbling and the bread was crispy on the edges. BUT WAIT… we were not done… oh no. On top of this I was to add dollops of goat cheese, torn prosciutto, a quartered marinated artichoke, a roasted tomato and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.

Ok now I’m done. It was a work of art and really. dang. good.

I brought a bottle of Prosecco with me as I could think of nothing else to accompany all of the flavours and ingredients as well. Though I never got to taste my creation with the Prosecco, I knew it would have been fabulous. Instead, I was served Frei Brothers Zinfandel 2010; not a bad substitute I must admit. I’d only ever had the Chardonnay and knew Frei Brothers made reputable wine. The Zinfandel was just as lovely with deep notes of dark fruited jam and spice. The tannin dried the mouth just enough and all the food around was a nice escape. This wine is a great fall/winter wine; it’s warm and inviting and loved by many preferences of red drinkers. In short, great for a party.

So even though there was no Sunday night dinner, I know I enjoyed making something new. I hope you’ll find yourself diving into a new recipe too. Just to try it! Why not… you never know what kind of magic you’ll make.

Bring on the holidays!

(Clicking on the underlined link leads to the website and more information)

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Five Blocks, Pinot Noir – Lúmos

Lumos Wine Well, here we are Wednesday and hadn’t made the Sunday meal post yet. Ah sure, it seems easy to write a blog continuously, but sometimes life really gets in the way. These long days are making my brain shut down and all I think about are these Sunday dinners. They have begun to bring together our family, our love of wine/food and of course centering our thoughts. What do you think about when you’re cooking or baking? Everything else going on in your life? Not me, I think about the recipe, what ingredient comes next, how will it look when it comes out. Then it’s done and nothing has really turned out the way you wanted it to, but the Taste! The taste makes it all worth it.

This Sunday’s menu: Stuffed portobello mushrooms with roasted brussels sprouts and lemon bars
Paired with: Five Blocks, a Pinot Noir from Oregon from a Winery called Lúmos 2011

As I’ve previously touched on, nothing went the way I wanted it to. I baked the mushroom caps first and they shrunk to Portobello Mushroomswhat looked like little tiny stones on parchment paper. When I turned them over they were as flat as pancakes… how does one stuff a pancake?? Instead, I used them like a mushroom tostada piling my mixture of cannelini beans, wilted kale, herbs and prosciutto on the cap; topped then with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese and baked until crispy. (Notice the un-stuffed-ness of the mushroom??)

The brussels sprouts were roasted in olive oil and balsamic glaze until done, easy. It was my dad’s birthday on Monday so I wanted to make his favourite dessert, but I was trying to keep it a secret. This was extremely hard to do as everyone was in the kitchen and they were all secretly wondering why I was making a shortbread crust and had 5 lemons? In the end, everything was delicious. It really had great flavour and the lemon bars came out of the oven right on time.

Pinot NoirFor this meal I chose a Pinot Noir from Oregon. 1. Mushrooms pair very nicely with Pinot Noir because of their earthiness and because the mushroom can stand up to a red wine. 2. Oregon is known for the earthiest of Pinot Noir. This time I went to Sip… a wine store in Cary to pick out my wine. I had my dad come with me to choose which one he wanted. The store had about 200 bottles of wine in it, there were about 4 from Oregon and 2 that were Pinot Noir; it took my dad about 30 minutes to choose. Typical eh?

The Five Blocks was aged in French Oak for 15 months. It was said to be more earthy than the other one in the store.  It had dark fruit flavours and lovely spice. I didn’t pick much up on the earthy side when I first tasted it. To me it was much more bright than I expected. The tannin was medium and smoothed by the overall meal. The wine paired nicely with the portobello mushroom, not so much with the lemon bar 🙂

I guess all that really matters in the end is the effort we put into something to make someone else happy. The more we do for someone else, the more we find we want to do. Sitting at the table with our food and wine, room dimly lit by candles and filled with conversation and laughter. Who could pass that up?

Lemon Bars I couldn’t.

Happy Birthday dad.


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Truant Zinfandel – Four Vines

ZinfandelThere nothing quite like Sunday night dinners with the family and the few here in North Carolina is really only half of mine. For the next few weeks I’m going to plan, buy, create and blog about a dish and wine pairing randomly chosen. (Well, not too random, I’ll choose the varietal) I’m going to pick a dish and the varietal I believe to pair nicely with the food, then go and choose a wine from one of our fabulous North Carolina owned and operated wine stores.

Trying new wines is one of the ways we learn more about wine. There is something to be said for finding our favourites and always buying those, but new wines are being made everyday! Our flavour profiles change as well. One day you may not like beets and the next you find you love them. Beets have an earthy flavour, which could in turn change your love of earthy tasting wines. It happens!

I’ll be doing these Sunday night dinners until Thanksgiving. Hopefully you’ll learn something new, either about wine, about food or about yourself. Let’s get started.

Dad and Bro’s 3 Meat Chili – paired with “Truant” Zinfandel – Four Vines, California 2010

I never really liked chili until I had my father/brother’s recipe. It’s got ground beef, chunks of sirloin steak and italian sausage. It might even have chorizo, who really knows… It also has strange ingredients like chocolate and espresso powder, but there is just something about it that makes it the epitome of comfort food. With a little cheddar cheese and cornbread or like last night we had blue corn chips; it just screams home.

I knew that the chili was going to be made so after work I ran over to Great Grapes in Cary. I had forgotten they were have a huge sale and wine tasting, but managed to slip in and out pretty easily. It really is Great! now that they have more room with that newly built other side. I walked in and found the Zinfandel section, I knew I needed fruit forward, depth of flavour and a medium amount of tannin. (Fruit because of the chocolate and the spiciness. Depth of flavour to mingle with the chili’s depth and tannin to melt with all the meat.)  I chose two different kinds, Truant and another from the same area, California – chili is such an American food and California has the best zins. I asked Lisa, a lovely woman I’ve spoken with before about wine, which she thought would better handle spice and stand up to the intense flavours in the chili – Truant.

Truant is very new the Four Vines, formerly without a name, now fits nicely in their line. On the bottle they describe Zinfandel“Truant” as a student who intentionally steps away from compulsory schooling without authorized leave or explanation. As Four Vines describes it on their website, “someone who slips away from the confines of everyday routine.” Four Vines is a cool winery because they use grapes from all over and don’t simply pick from one appellation*. In this case Four Vines uses grapes from all over California to make Truant, it also blends other grapes with the main grape, “zinfandel.” Truant is 77% Zinfandel, 13% Syrah, 5% Petite Sirah, 3% Barbera and 2% Sangiovese.

Tasting notes from the website are dead on, “On the nose there are dark berry notes and spicy notes from oak aging. The wine drinks of juicy blackberry, ripe plums and a touch of blueberry. Generous in fruit flavors, plenty of structure and a velvety finish.” I loved that this wine wasn’t too spicy because it didn’t try to overpower the chili. It also cooled the palate and increased the underlying hints of cumin, sausage and sweetness of the tomatoes. I thought this was a good wine and good varietal for chili because they worked so well together!

If you’re going to be serving chili as we move into these Winter months, choose a wine to complement the chili’s good aspects – whether that be intense spice, intense flavour, lots of earthy beans or more beef. Whatever you’re chili is like, it’s hard to lose with a nice Californian Zinfandel.

*Also from the website if you were curious as to where in California the grapes were grown. “Grapes from vineyards in Paso Robles, Mendocino County, Cucamonga Valley, Lodi, Amador County and Russian River Valley go into Truant. Our Old Vine vineyard sources typically range from 30 to 100 years in age.”

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I Like Ham and No Flim Flam

I love the word brunch, mainly because it can mean anything. One never knows what to expect when it comes to the ambiguous “brunch.” This past Sunday, I learned just what that meant. Getting the whole family together (at least those who live in NC) is almost impossible so my grand idea of EASTER BRUNCH turned into my mom cutting up a pineapple for 4 hours, my dad somewhere in house doing something and me eating way too much delicious quiche my mom had made the night before.  Really, brunch became every man for himself and being a woman, it wasn’t pretty.  My mom eventually got done with the pineapple and I started making apricot and raspberry almond cookies.  Not only were they too crumbly, but my chocolate coating looked more like modern art then elegant like I had wanted. They did taste good though and I settled down to a movie until dinner was prepared.  If you want to try your hand at the most annoying cookies to make ever: click here.

Well Easter has come and gone, along with all the facebook posts, tweets and emails about what kind of wine one should serve with ham or lamb.  The flavors are completely different, textures and wines.  So as a family with Jewish influences, what did we have? We had Babe, or perhaps a close relative, we’ll call him Gabe.  Gabe was delicious and my dad chose a nice sweet sparkling Moscato, they went perfectly together.  At the wine bar I used to work at, we had the Gamekeeper’s Reserve Chenin Blanc from South Africa with heavy pineapple flavors; I thought that might have gone well with the ham too.

So of course, what you always get after big family meals is lots of delicious leftovers. I have a big bag of ham in my refrigerator ready to be used in yummy recipes.  The one I made up last night included sautéed potatoes with onions, green beans, chicken and bits of ham. I like meals where there are a lot of ingredients and flavors altogether.  I basically poached the chicken in chicken broth to retain its juice and added everything to the same skillet, excess chicken broth and all. I have an overabundance of Viognier so I poured an overly large glass and relaxed.

For easy cooking at home, know how you like food prepared and then you can just switch up ingredients so dinner doesn’t become boring.  And always have red, white and beer on hand, this is America after all! D

Don’t miss the funny clip at the beginning.  Click on quiche, it will explain the Asian guy, also known as Long Duck Dong.

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