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Friday, March 29, 2013

Palm Sunday Brunch

Spring colors at the brunch table

Holy Week is such a special time - it’s all about celebrating rebirth and new life as we are reminded by the Resurrection.  Easter is the most obvious celebration of Holy Week, but this year I wanted to try my hand at some recipes I’ve been meaning to learn or test, and since Easter Sunday is already packed with traditional foods, I opted for Palm Sunday to test the recipes on the family.

Mimosas with Pisani Prosecco
What’s a Sunday brunch without mimosas?  I’m not one for mixing wines with other ingredients but in the case of mimosa and bellini, I say bring on the bubbles and create a bright, fun drink!  So mimosas it was, and for bubbles I chose Pisani Prosecco.

Brunch was eggs benedict with a light spring salad.  For me, the proper pairing with egg dishes due to the texture of egg is anything with bubbles - it leaves the palate feeling clean again.  A good quality Prosecco is perfect for mimosas and they worked beautifully with the eggs benedict.

Eggs benedict
I’m on a sort of quest to learn the five French “mother sauces” over the course of this year.  First I learned bechamel and have been using it, but now to put a perfect hollandaise sauce to good use, eggs benedict does the trick.  I had to learn to poach an egg properly and having heard some less than pleasant stories about how to poach the egg, I had a test run a few days before the brunch.  It’s not difficult at all!  I used some tips from Julia Child and some from other sources on the internet, and voila!  Delicious eggs benedict with just the flavors and textures I had hoped to achieve.  (I think the most important tips were water temperature, water to vinegar ratio, and poking the egg shell with the pin.)

Light salad
The eggs, buttered English muffins, crispy bacon, and rich hollandaise sauce needed a light side dish, so I chose frisee, Boston lettuce, shallots, and a basic lemon and local wildflower honey dressing with balsamic vinegar.  Together with the mimosas, they were perfect with the eggs benedict.

Light dessert
For a light dessert, I went with a mix of fresh raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries, topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, a hint of unsweetened cocoa powder, and some orange zest.  Perfection.

Obviously we were quite satisfied after such a brunch, so a late dinner would be light.  I chose fresh salmon which I rubbed with olive oil and crusted with almond, thyme, and rosemary, with a raspberry sauce.  The side dish was wildflower honey braised endives.  To match the salmon and raspberry, I chose a California Pinot Noir (Hahn is one of the family favorites as a dependable West Coast Pinot).

Salmon and endives with Pinot Noir
I’m getting toward the end of Julia Child’s book, My Life in France.  I read last night in her book that when she and Simone Beck wrote their cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (aimed at teaching American cooks how to prepare traditional French dishes), at the time the book was in progress, American publishers were concerned that American cooks would not be interested in the book due to attention to detail deemed laborious.  They felt that Americans see French detail as tedious and unnecessary.  After having all of my poached eggs turn out perfectly by using a more detailed approach than most, and carefully executing the hollandaise sauce, I can honestly agree with Julia and “Simca” that the attention to detail is sometimes absolutely necessary.  Yes, at times I like winging it and experimenting, but with traditional dishes, a cook must respect the years others have put into perfecting the recipes.  And when the recipes turn out well, it’s so satisfying to know it was done correctly.

Easter dinner has been planned out and I’m looking forward to it - there will be some traditional dishes for the holiday, and some experimental dishes as well - so I’m excited to try those, as well as the wines that have been picked.  And what will the wines be?  Well, I need something to write about next week, but a hint - think Rhone!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Sibling Rivalry?

Siblings and best friends!  Absolutely no rivalry.

Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Edmund and Edgar, Kate and Bianca, Frasier and Niles, Snow Miser and Heat Miser, Ferris and Jeanie, Peyton and Eli, Venus and Serena - we hear about sibling rivalry all the time.

Sometimes siblings have a special bond and become best friends for life.  And sometimes there’s a rivalry.

Once upon a time in the Rhine area of Germany, there was a simple, humble grape called Gouais Blanc.  One day, Gouais Blanc met a mystery grape (the grape’s parents were Traminer and an unknown grape), and Gouais’ relationship with this mysterious grape produced a child called Elbling.  This was quite some time ago.  Elbling enjoyed popularity in Germany, particularly in the Mosel region, as a dry white wine with bright citrus characteristics and a simple approachable nature.

Some time later, Gouais Blanc and the mystery grape had another encounter.  This time their child was Riesling.  Beautiful, terroir-driven Riesling has enjoyed tremendous popularity since then, making lovely aromatic white wines in many parts of the world, particularly in Alsace and in Germany, where Elbling once ruled the vineyards.  Riesling, with its characteristics of citrus, honey, blossoms, orchard fruit, mineral, and petrol may seem sweet initially, but after it shows off its many facets, it cleans up with a racy acidity, making it well balanced and lovely and refreshing.

What happened to Elbling, you may ask - well, Elbling, over time, went from the most widely planted grape in Germany, to the 23rd most planted in Germany.  Talk about sibling rivalry!  In fact, I’ll bet most people have never even heard of poor Elbling, but everyone knows all about Riesling.  In fact, due to its fruity nature and often perceived sweetness, Riesling has helped many a novice transition into the wonderful world of wine appreciation.  Whether Riesling is your training wheels or your indulgence, we all know Riesling, and a great many of us love a good Riesling.  What about Elbling?

Elbling and Riesling - siblings
Elbling can still be made as a dry wine - in fact, almost 99% of all German Elbling is planted in Mosel, and some is used as an uncomplicated, bright, crisp white.  Elbling also grows quite successfully in Luxembourg.  And Elbling is known as a very good grape for making sparkling Sekt (Riesling can be used for Sekt as well).

Why did people forget about poor Elbling?  How did Riesling get so popular?  What’s with all this sibling rivalry?  Whenever we talk about Elbling, automatically we begin discussing its relationship to Riesling - why is that?  It seems “rivalry” can hardly describe how Riesling overtook Elbling over the years - there is no comparison between their degrees of success.  But let’s not forget that once upon a time, Elbling was an important grape in Germany.  To some, it’s still an important grape.

Perhaps someday Elbling will become more popular again - due to its refreshing nature as well as the fact that it’s less expensive than Riesling.  Perhaps Riesling will always be the more interesting and attractive of the two siblings.  Or perhaps wine drinkers can just appreciate the two for what they are, rather than compare them, just because they’re siblings.  No rivalry is necessary - just two grape siblings peacefully coexisting.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Girl’s Best Friend

Some days I wish a genie would magically appear and offer to grant three wishes.  And if I really put some thought into it, I’d probably wish for some sensible, useful things.  But there are times when I realize I’d just wish for three different vintages of Sauternes.

See, I’ve heard that “diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”  And that may be true.  But I’m one of the girls who, some time ago, voluntarily relinquished the diamond I used to wear on the ring finger of my left hand, and set myself free from rather an unhappy and unfulfilling situation.  Of course I love diamonds - who doesn’t?  But I’ve been known to say that I’d take a good Sauternes over diamonds any day.  Take it literally and it can sound quite crazy.  But think about the sensation brought on by a great Sauternes and pause for a moment.

I remember when I was first beginning to appreciate wine.  I’d wander around wine shops inquisitively and look at all the bottles, arranged according to either region, grape type, etc.  The ones that fascinated me most were the little bottles of gold.  They had an appearance like no other - golden wine, beautifully elegant labels, something different about them that made me wonder about them.

I’ve gotten to taste plenty of them since then.  One day not too long ago I was sitting in the office (that would be the wine office, not a law office), and we had just tasted through a bunch of wines, ending with a Sauternes.  As the small bottle remained on the table after all the others were put away, I stopped to think.  This was the only one that day that I chose not to spit into the bucket - no, I wanted it to stay with me.  This was why I had changed directions in my professional life, for wines like this.  A Sauternes with some time in the bottle was enough to remind me of that once again.

Last year, as I sat in Kevin Zraly’s class, he explained some facts and some of his opinions as well, and when he spoke about Sauternes, he told the class that Sauternes is “the nectar of the gods” - indeed.  Whether you sip it or pair it with a pan seared foie gras or a dessert, the appearance, aromas, flavors, and textures of a properly executed Sauternes make for quite an experience.  And it’s something I never tire of.  Whether you feel a diamond is forever, or a Sauternes is forever, or both - it’s undeniable that there’s a sort of “Midas touch” about Sauternes.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ladies in the Wine Industry

I hear it’s International Women’s Day today - so there’s something I’d like to draw our attention to.

Ladies of the wine industry, how do you feel about our progress?

A while back (but not too long ago!), I sat in a large lecture room designed for mock trials and similar events, at orientation day before beginning my first year at Quinnipiac University School of Law.  The dean was happy to inform us that finally, there were more female law students in the new “1L” class.  I was elated.  I’m not a feminist in the sense that many people see it.  Rather, I just believe in gender equality and opportunities for both sides.

I’ve been hearing quite a bit about women in the workforce since that day at our 1L orientation.  I felt a bit like a revolutionary in that I was a female entering an industry once completely dominated by men.  I felt like perhaps it might be a small but fun challenge.

What I didn’t realize was that three years after completing law school and taking the bar exam, I’d find myself changing courses and entering the wine industry.  And if I thought the legal field was dominated by men, I had another guess coming.  What’s the deal with the wine industry and all these men, and not nearly enough women?

To give myself a little inspiration, I read The Widow Clicquot about Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, and learned about her challenges and how she rose above such challenges - and obviously, this was at a time where far fewer women were involved in the wine industry.  Still, today I wonder where all the women are.  I hear too often about women being associated with thoughts of sweet pink and white wines and ditzy labels on bottles, and please don’t even get me started on cheap sweet Moscato.

Guys, that’s really not what we’re all about.

Some of the most important chateaux, domaines, and wineries around the world are currently owned by women, and there are some amazingly talented female winemakers out there as well.  But we don’t hear about them nearly enough.  Most of the people I interact with in the wine industry are men by a vast majority, and they’ve been in the industry quite a long time.  Sometimes it shakes my confidence a bit, but thanks to a few very experienced men in the industry, my confidence is easily restored.

But I’m not going to lie - I love having opportunities to interact with successful women in our industry - women on the local level, as well as from all around the US and in fact all around the world.  They should serve as an inspiration to all of us female wine professionals, that we may stand out and make a difference in the industry.

Take a look at this link for just a few inspiring ladies of the wine industry.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Champagne “Just Because"

Recently, I realized that I just don’t drink enough Champagne.  In fact, here in the US, most people don’t drink enough Champagne.

How do I know this?

Well, our culture has emphasized that Champagne is for special occasions only, like New Year’s Eve, weddings, etc.

Yes, Champagne is ideal for celebrations.  But why not drink Champagne “just because?”  I know good Champagne is often expensive and people seem to be quite name- conscious when it comes to Champagne houses, and I know that such expenses and Champagne names are generally associated with special days.

Roederer’s Cristal was the Champagne of choice to celebrate my graduation from law school.  Moet & Chandon Imperial was the Champagne at my sister’s wedding.  Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label has been present for anniversaries, bachelorette parties, etc.  Bollinger has graced the Thanksgiving table.  Duval-LeRoy and Nicolas Feuillate have appeared at parties before.  Laurent-Perrier and Mumm have graced the table at a pre-Christmas celebratory dinners.  Dom Perignon was Kevin Zraly’s choice to mark the end of last winter’s Windows on the World wine school (and the image of him in a tuxedo taking a sip from the bottle of Dom still remains in my mind).

More recently, Champagne has been a part of my wine adventures.  New Year’s Eve started with Beau Joie Rose, followed by my very first experience with the (amazingly delicious) Taittinger Comtes de Champagne.

Those are, more or less, some of the more recognizable names in Champagne.

When we depend on those names, we either run the risk of landing in the “mass produced” trap where we rely on things we know so well (consistency is guaranteed, terroir expression is lost), or we go for something absolutely exquisite but based on the name, we overpay.
So why not change it up?  I’m not talking about Prosecco, Cava, Sekt, and Cremant - while those can be fantastic, I’m actually still talking about Champagne.  I mean small producers and names we hear a lot less often.  At these smaller Champagne houses (including grower Champagnes, where the Champagne house owns the vineyards, grows their own grapes, and produces the wines), the focus is on terroir and expression of the vintage and the location on the Champagne region.  The grapes are not sourced from all around Champagne; rather, they’re usually from the vineyards owned by the Champagne house centered around one village.  While quality is not always the same from vintage to vintage and some may regard this as lack of consistency, it’s actually what we want to see - honesty and expressiveness in the wines.

And oftentimes, the effort to hunt down some different and lesser known Champagnes is rewarded with an interesting wine at a lower price.

For Valentine’s Day, I picked the Vilmart & Cie 2007 Grand Cellier d’Or 1er Cru.  It was fantastic.  If you haven’t tried Champagne from Vilmart, I urge you to find it and try it.  And at just under $100, it’s great quality and it’s vintage Champagne.  How can you beat that?

I seem to be craving bubbles lately.  It’s what made me realize I haven’t been drinking nearly enough Champagne.  So not long ago, I picked a Philipponnat Brut Royale Reserve - on a weeknight, for no particular reason - “just because.”  Philipponnat is one of my favorites - it’s a somewhat bold Champagne with lovely texture and toasted notes with a lot of presence.  Haven’t heard of it?  Find it and try it, “just because” - it’s under $50!