Original "Zin" (or any other lame play on the word)

I love Zinfandel. I love its taste, mouth feel and finish. I love its fruit-forward character, and I love the complex mélange of aromas that spring forth from a freshly poured glass. But more than that, I love that Zinfandel is our grape. For better or worse, it's the grape America has produced, and the bellwether vines are found in California. And next to Pinot Noir, Zinfandel is probably one of the most versatile varietals when it comes to pairing wine with food.

I know, I know. Many people would argue that Zinfandel is too fruity--too big to be paired with foods, that the high alcohol content of the reds makes for difficult consumption while the white zinfandel is...well, it's white zinfandel (though rumor has it white zinfandel is the most popular wine in America).

Alexander Winery's 2004 Temptation Zin is not white Zinfandel. In fact, this bold fruit-bomb is anything but. Still, the wine has enough complexity and enough balance that it should satisfy the more discerning palate.

Color: Deep garnet
Nose: Strawberry, floral aromas of rose petal and just a touch of white chocolate make this an alluring wine.
Taste: Across the palate this wine delivers a slight smokiness coupled with red stone and pit fruits such as plumb and cherry. The mouth feel is silky and belies a surprising complexity.
Finish: The wine's finish is deceptive as I wasn't expecting such a balanced acidity. Not much in the finish by way of lingering flavors, but it definitely leaves a person hankerin' for another sip--or even a second a glass.

Pairing: Michael Chiarello of Easy Entertaining maintains that Zinfandel is the "golden retriever" of wine--it plays well with anything. He might have a point. This zinfandel paired well with home-made fajitas, but also was superb with lemon-infused hummus on toasted pita with capers. It has the fruit necessary to pair with sweeter dishes and the acidity to stand up to all but the heaviest of grilled meat.


Pairing Wine and Music

Alan Baker, the Cellar Rat, has a good post (and podcast) about Uncorked & Unplugged, a wine & music pairing event currently on tour
I’m a music geek, always looking for new music, and I still spend way too much money on CDs. And I totally think that the passion for good wine and the passion for music comes from a similar place inside us. And both can cause you to jabber on for hours with others who may have the same reaction, or as often is the case, those who want to debate the merit of your opinion. *** I have to say that this event got me thinking more about how these two worlds can more easily integrate. Will rock clubs start to build decent wine lists? Can they possible cater to a picky wine crowd that knows at what temperature a wine should be served? Can they keep their help, and maybe more importantly, bands, from walking off with cases of wine? I think as fine wine works it’s way into the margins of our society we’ll see more events like this, and interesting new venues for enjoying wine. I’m all for it, and encourage you to check out these types of events, to see if we can help drive this forward so we have more opportunities to enjoy decent wine in interesting new venues.
If some of the local hipster hangouts are any indication about proper serving temperature, I'll hazard a guess the wine won't be properly chilled. "Room temperature" means something very different behind the bar in your local hangout than it does in a French wine cellar. However, I'm glad to see the two worlds beginning to mesh. It will remove some of wine's mystique, but will provide all of us with more and better information about good wines, good values, and (hopefully) good music.


What's in a Gewurz

In our first post, I suggested pairing a Gewürztraminer with pan-seared pork chops, and this week I went ahead and did just that. Except I used thick-cut pork tenderloin and a Dijon béchamel with an accompanying vegetable soup. Delicious? Yes. A good pair with Gewürztraminer? It was ok.

Gewürztraminer is known for its somewhat spicy flavor, which makes it a perfect pairing with many Asian and Indian foods. It is thought to have been first cultivated in the Tramin region of Northern Italy, but the world's most noted Gewurz now come from Alsace. This isn't to say that other locations can't do the grape justice--bottles I've had from Washington State and Oregon have been wonderful, but it does thrive in cooler climates.

For this pairing I went with a 2005 Fetzer Gewürztraminer from Mendocino County, California.

Color: Deep golden straw
Nose: Apricot, slight melon, a touch of honey and florals
Taste: Very rich on the palate--round honey and apricot flavors with a hint of peach and a touch of spice
Finish: Excellent. A rich mouth feel with a finishing crispness that belies the wine's initial sweetness.

The wine paired admirably with the pork. Its fine acidity left my palate clean and ready for the next bite or sip while the wine's spiciness coupled very well with the spice of the Dijon béchamel.

Against the vegetable soup, however, the wine just crumbled. I don't know if it was the hearty stock or the shaved asiago cheese I had picked as an accompaniment, but the wine's delicacy was completely overshadowed. Were I to make this pairing in the future, I would definitely stick with the pork, but would have gone with a different, simpler side, such as fingerling potatoes browned in a skillet with oil, salt and pepper or a fall salad of mixed, dried fruits and nuts.

Pan seared pork with Dijon béchamel

  • Cut pork tenderloin into thick, 1.5 inches pieces
  • Over medium heat, cook for four minutes on a side. Raise the temperature to medium high, and sear an additional two minutes on each side. (the double cooking will give you a good sear and also keep the meat succulent and juicy)


  • In a medium sauce pan, melt two tablespoons of butter over medium heat.
  • Combine with .5 tablespoons all-purpose flour -- don't just dump the flour in. Add it in very small increments, whisking the whole time.
  • Stir the butter and flour together until the flour is gone
  • Heat 1 cup milk to room temperature -- I used the microwave
  • Slowly whisk the milk into the butter mixture
  • When it's combined, add 1.5 teaspoons of Dijon mustard (or to taste) And shredded Swiss cheese (to taste and consistency)
  • Pour over the tenderloin and top with chopped green onions



Beware the impluse buy

I'm a demographic. That demographic can best be described as People who were lead into wine in no small part because of the movie Sideways. I'm sure the wine industry appreciates it and anything that lead me to wine should be lauded (depending on who you ask), but it's a little humbling and almost shameful.

I suspect there are a lot of us, though. Enough of us, anyway, to make the name marketable and justify the release of a Sideways-branded Pinot Noir. And I'm enough of an impulse shopper to have placed the bottle in my shopping basket.

Industry leaders say modern winemaking advances means there's no bad wine. I've yet to taste a bad bottle of wine, true, but I would argue that bad is a relative term, and when stacked against other Pinot Noirs of similar price, the Sideways falls flat.

Tasting Notes
Name: Sideways Pinot Noir, 2003
Color: A flat ruby color in the center glass that faded to under-ripe cranberry at the edge.
Nose: Definite fruit aromas, including cherry and blackberry; I also detected a hint of vanilla, a dash of allspice and a slight earthiness.
Taste: Not surprisingly, this Pinot bottled in France was definitely old-world in style--but poorly executed. Nearly green cherry flavor was further undone by an imbalanced minerality and astringent quality. The wine tasted unfinished and under-ripe overall.
Finish: Nothing complex. The wine's acidity scoured my palate and left little flavor behind--probably because the wine came with little flavor to begin with.

So what to pair with this disappointment? Since I'd started barbequing ribs at one in the afternoon, it would have to be ribs.

(I went with a combination approach to the ribs:

  • Take 1 slab of pork ribs
  • Coat liberally with oil, salt and pepper
  • Place in glass casserole and add water until the ribs are just covered
  • Put the ribs in a 210-degree oven for at least an hour. 1.5 would be best
  • Fire up the grill
  • Once the coals are ready, place hardwood chips in aluminum foil, wrap up, and poke holes in the aluminum foil--this will provide the smoke
  • Shove the coals over to one side of the grill, and place the ribs on the other side--we're going for smoking here, not direct cooking.
  • Let the ribs go at least an hour, slathering them with sauce every 20 minutes

Somewhat surprisingly, the Sideways Pinot Noir did well with the ribs, mostly because it's acidity was able to strip away the fat and sauce and left my mouth ready for the next delicious bite. Also, the wine's slight tartness provided a nice contrast to the sweet undercurrents of the sauce.

Stacked against the side dishes, however, the wine was disappointing. Neither beans, nor coleslaw nor garlic bread were uplifted by the wine's taste or mouth feel.

Overall, the Sideways Pinot Noir was a disappointment. Not a bad wine, per se, but not the best, either. And certainly not my first choice at its pricepoint. For raw value in the Pinot Noir world, I'd recommend going with the Rex Goliath Pinot Noir (non-vintage). It's got excellent fruit flavors, a wonderful mouth feel, and couples well with all kinds of food.


About this blog

First posts are always the toughest. Do we jump right in with a legitimate entry? Do we make promises about the blog that may or may not come to fruition? Do we make light and include a picture of perfectly grilled steak coupled with a hearty Cab Sauv? I've decided on none of the above.

About me I'm not a chef, gourmand, foodie, or etc. So you might be asking, "Why should I listen to you?" Well, I'm a guy who enjoys wine, likes to cook, and does a pretty good job pairing one with the other. I tend to stray from recipes and instead use a fundamental understanding of the way food behaves and the way it interacts. I believe that simple, fresh ingredients prepared with minimal fuss will always produce great results.

Any advice to impart right away? Don't be afraid. So many people get so hung up on recipes and following guidelines to the letter that they can't have fun with their food. Don't worry about. If you overcook the chicken or the vegetables end up mushy, there's a pizza place at your fingertips, and if you're willing to go pick it up, they can have it ready in about 15 minutes. And what's wrong with pizza once or twice a week?

Is that it? I suppose I shouldn't leave you with nothing, so how about this: What's a roux and what can it do for me? You make a roux by heating and mixing equal parts butter and flour. I usually go with a 2*2 tablespoon mix. Melt the butter over medium heat. Once it's melted, begin whisking in the flour a couple pinches at a time. Eventually, the mix will reduce a little and brown. That's it. You can use it to thicken cream sauces, tomato sauces, gumbos and more. I like to slowly whisk it into a couple cups of milk and a small handful of shredded Gruyere and a couple dollops of Dijon mustard over medium-low heat for an outstanding sauce that's a perfect topper to pan-seared pork chops. A solid Washington-state Gewurztraminer--like that bottled by Columbia Winery-- makes a fine accompaniment.