Articles in Drinking
I first tasted St-Germain in 2010, while attending a wine and spirits trade show in London. There, amid hundreds of booths offering samples of every conceivable alcoholic elixir, a statuesque Belle Epoque bottle caught my attention. Once I tasted the delicate elderflower liqueur inside, I knew I’d stumbled onto something truly different.
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St-Germain is made in France, but the idea for the liqueur was born in England. While visiting London on business in 2001, a young American named Robert Cooper tasted a cocktail made with elderflower syrup, and became intrigued by its unique flavor. As it happened, Cooper was in charge of marketing for Chambord, the French raspberry liqueur, which was developed for the U.S. market by his father.
Cooper returned to the States with the idea of creating an elderflower liqueur, but soon found that the process was more challenging than he’d imagined.
“I began vigorously working on the project in 2003, and it was not in marketing until early 2007,” Cooper said. By then he’d left the family spirits business to launch his own operation, Cooper Spirits International. “It was quite difficult to make the macerations from something as volatile as a fresh flower.”
St-Germain is made from the blossoms of wild elderflowers that bloom on the hillsides of the French Alps for just four to six weeks in early spring. Once the flowers have been hand-harvested, the race is on to process the fresh blossoms before they lose their delicate aroma and flavor.
They’re immediately macerated to preserve their freshness, and each day’s macerations are successively combined until the blooming period is over.
“We make the maceration once a year, much like a wine, surrounding the elderflower harvest,” Cooper explained. That means there’s only one chance each year to get it right.
The ‘bartenders’ bacon’
Cooper’s dedication has resulted not only in a wonderfully delicious liqueur, but something of a cocktail revolution.
In the six short years since its release, St-Germain has become a key player in U.S. artisan cocktail movement.
“St-Germain came on the market when the whole mixology and cocktail scene was really starting to catch fire,” said mixologist Mike Henderson of Root Down, an upscale Denver restaurant known for its creative cocktails.
“I think one of the reasons it’s been so successful is that it’s got a unique ability to go with just about everything,” he said. “It works equally well with vodka, gin, rum, tequila, whiskey, scotch and Champagne. It’s joked about in the cocktail community as being ‘bartenders’ bacon’ – it just makes everything a little bit better.”
Henderson includes St-Germain in three of Root Down’s signature drinks, including the Hummingbird (with Prosecco and sparkling water), the Spanish Estate (with rum, sherry vinegar and bitters) and the Pepper Blossom (with vodka, jalapeño syrup and citrus juices).
The complexity of St-Germain’s flavor, he said, is the secret to its versatility. “When you taste it, you get a lot of notes of lychee, pear and tropical fruit, and there’s some citrus in there,” Henderson said. “Because it’s got that depth and variety of flavors it has the ability to bring out whatever flavors it’s mixed with. For example, if you make a cocktail that’s got pear in it, St-Germain has this ability to bring out more pear. If you make a cocktail with kiwi in it, it has this weird ability to bring out more of that kiwi flavor.”
Global domination on the horizon
The wild popularity of St-Germain among cocktail devotees on both sides of the bar led liquor giant Bacardi to buy the brand from Cooper Spirits earlier this year, with the intention of turning it into an international brand “icon” à la Grey Goose vodka, purchased by Bacardi in 2004.
Although Cooper continues to work with Bacardi as St-Germain’s “brand guardian,” I can’t help wondering if global domination will mean a compromise in the liqueur’s artisan production process.
“I have been working diligently for the past three or four years on growing our capacity,” Cooper told me. “So long as we can procure the flowers in sufficient quantities, we can make more St-Germain.”
This spicy-sweet cocktail was created by Mike Henderson of Root Down, in Denver.
1¼ ounces vodka
1¼ ounces St-Germain
¾ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce grapefruit juice
½ ounce jalapeño-infused simple syrup*
2 basil leaves
Combine all ingredients except basil in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake vigorously for 10 seconds.
Strain liquid into a lowball glass and garnish with basil leaves.
*To make jalapeño-infused simple syrup, add 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of water and a fresh jalapeño (cut in half with seeds removed) to a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Let syrup cool and remove pepper before using. Will keep in the refrigerator up to four weeks.
Top photo: Elderflowers bloom in the French Alps for only four to six weeks each spring. Credit: Cooper Spirits International
Sangria is a simple concoction of fruit, sugar, water and wine and a staple in sunny, tapas-minded Spain. Grown-up fruit punch, it’s refreshing and versatile, taking on more savory lemon and lime tones if that’s the fruit you choose, or slightly sweet if peaches are your preference.
But if you can’t be bothered to make your own, increasingly bars are making inventive versions, and good bottled versions abound.
Eppa SupraFruta is a bottled sangria, available in both red and white versions, made from organically grown Mendocino County wine grapes.
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Slices Sangria is the new creation of Mike Kenton, the founder of OFFbeat Brands. Kenton spent much of his career at Codorniu in Spain, where he fell in love with the traditional drink.
He uses wine made from Spanish grape varieties such as Tempranillo and Verdejo, blended with fruit juices such as orange, lime and blackberry (for the red); or lime, lemon and pineapple (for the white).
“Sangria has been on my family’s dining table for as long as I can remember,” said Slices’ Spanish winemaker, Miguel Gúrpide.
Gurpide also makes a sangria rosé (the fruit used includes lime, lemon and strawberry) and two sparkling sangrias, one rosé and one white.
Relatively light in alcohol (usually under 9% alcohol by volume), sangria is an easygoing cocktail to make for one or for a crowd, doused in club soda or given a couple of cubes of ice.
Courtesy Eppa Sangria
2 to 3 cardamom pods
½ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce simple syrup
1 ounce fresh pineapple juice
2 ounces Eppa SupaFruta Sangria
Pineapple leaf, for garnish
1. In a tin, muddle the cardamom pods.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients.
3. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
4. Double strain over ice in a wine glass.
5. Garnish with a pineapple leaf.
Courtesy Tara and Les Goodman, Adafina Culinary
2 onions, Spanish or sweet, sliced ⅛-inch thick
6 to 7 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
2 cups Spanish olive oil
6 large farm eggs
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1. Place the onions and potatoes in a medium mixing bowl, and toss with a couple pinches of kosher salt.
2. Place a 10- to 12-inch nonstick pan over medium-high flame, adding the onions and potatoes.
3. Pour in the olive oil and stir to coat.
4. When oil begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, turning frequently, until potatoes are fork-tender but not browned, about 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Remove pan from heat and strain the oil from the onions and potatoes.
6. Set aside oil and reserve for another use.
7. Cool onions and potatoes to room temperature, and adjust for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.
8. Beat the eggs and add them to the cooled potato mixture.
9. Return pan to medium heat and stir the tortilla mixture as it cooks until eggs are slightly set.
10. Spread mixture out evenly and reduce heat to medium-low.
11. Cook until bottom is golden brown and eggs are set, about 10 to 12 minutes (you can place pan under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes if needed to set the top).
12. Remove pan from heat and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.
13. Place a plate face down over the pan and flip tortilla over — bottom side up. Let cool for a half hour or so, and slice into wedges.
14. Serve with Spanish pimenton (paprika) aioli, crunchy sea salt, and a glass of chilled sangria — or a sangria cocktail.
Top photo: Sangria. Credit: iStockphoto
Over dinner a few nights ago, I was reminded of how delicious Oregon Rieslings can be. My husband and I were sipping this fresh, incredibly bright 2010 Brooks Ara Riesling, which has wonderful orange blossom and honeysuckle aromas, a sophisticated taste mix of juicy pear and herbs, powerful mineral spine and plenty of zingy acidity.
Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week
Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon
Grapes: 100% Riesling
Serve with: Dungeness crab, sushi, scallops with lemon, Thai cuisine
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Brooks winery was founded in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1998 by the charismatic, visionary Jimi Brooks, who passed away suddenly in 2004 at the untimely age of 38. He’d made wine at WillaKenzie Estate and Maysara Winery, and practiced organic and biodynamic farming well before many others in Oregon. His own wines have always had a remarkable purity of fruit and are among the most interesting in the state.
Brooks’ son Pascal, now a teenager, inherited the winery, and Jimi’s sister, Jamie Brooks Heuck, took on the role of managing the business until Pascal can take over. That involved acquiring a winery on a hilltop on Eola Hills Road in 2008 that had passed through the hands of several Oregon wine pioneers. The winery’s Eola Hills estate vineyard is 20 acres, but about two-thirds of the grapes come from diverse vineyards in the Willamette Valley.
The name “Ara” is a constellation in the Southern Hemisphere; its name is Latin for “altar,” and the wine is only produced, says the Brooks website, “when the stars are in the right alignment.” They sure were in 2010. The 2006 vintage of Brooks Ara Riesling was served at President Barack Obama’s first state dinner at the White House, honoring Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh.
If you find yourself in Oregon wine country on Memorial Day weekend, Brooks is holding an open house on Saturday, Sunday and Monday where you can taste all their stellar 2012 whites and current releases of their Pinot Noirs. Just don’t miss this 2010 Ara Riesling.
Top photo composite:
Pascal Brooks, heir to the Brooks winery.
Label for 2010 Brooks Ara Riesling.
Credits: Courtesy of brookswine.com
When warm weather finally arrives after a wet, chilly winter, I can hardly wait to park myself on the front porch with a glass of wine, especially if it’s a gorgeous pink one. I’m not talking about the sweet swill I drank in college (anyone remember Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink?), but crisp, sophisticated dry rosé wines.
If you’re familiar with the pale pink wines of Southern France, you know about the fresh simplicity of a thirst-quenching rosé. In Northern California, the style is a little more intense in terms of color and flavors. And these days, it’s a bit more serious than in decades past.
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Until recently, nearly all California rosé was made as a sort of byproduct of red wine. Wineries would “bleed off” or siphon some red wine juice from the tank after a short period of contact with the grape skins, which would increase the skin-to-juice ratio of the remaining wine in the tank and give it better color. (Wine gets its color from grape skins, so the more skin contact it gets, the deeper its color will be.) The siphoned pink juice was then used to make rosé. The poetic-sounding name for this process is saignée (pronounced sahn-YAY), the French word for “bleed.”
The challenge with the saignée method is that the grapes used are planted, grown and harvested according to red-wine parameters. Whites are typically harvested earlier in the season than reds, which are left to ripen on the vines for weeks after the whites have been picked and crushed. As the season progresses, the grapes develop a higher sugar content, which can lead to rather intense wines with high levels of alcohol. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re setting out to make red Pinot Noir or Syrah, but it’s not ideal if you’re aiming for a refreshing rosé.
Many California wineries (and French ones, too) still use the saignée process, but in the last several years, a growing contingent of vintners has begun making rosé on purpose, rather than as a happy bonus of red wine production.
Saignée wines can be very good in the right hands, but the wines that really wow me are made exclusively with rosé in mind, from start to finish. Because the grapes are farmed for rosé, the wines generally require less tinkering in the cellar to achieve the right balance of sugar/alcohol and acidity. They’re priced a bit higher than the siphoned-juice versions — often $15 or more per bottle — but there’s a wonderful payback in balance, freshness and complexity.
Here are four sophisticated pink wines to savor on the front porch, patio or wherever the season takes you.
- Beckmen Vineyards Santa Ynez Valley (California) Grenache Rosé 2011 ($18): This Santa Barbara County winery makes terrific Rhône-style wines, including this delicious pink Grenache. The wine has a beautiful light salmon color, and a soft aroma of red berries. It also has a refreshing brightness, with strawberry and lime flavors and a tangy finish. Try it with a salad topped with avocado and grilled shrimp.
- Bonny Doon Vineyard Central Coast (California) Vin Gris de Cigare 2012 ($16): This rosé from pink-wine champion Randall Grahm is made with a “less is more” approach. It’s a Rhône-style blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc and Cinsault. Pale salmon pink in color, it has subtle aromas of fresh strawberries and peaches. It’s crisp and elegant, with some unexpected roundness midway through. This would be great with a grilled turkey burger, or seared ahi tuna.
- Clayhouse Wines Paso Robles (California) Adobe Pink 2011 ($14): Middleton Family Wines, a solid Paso Robles player, makes this fresh-and-tasty wine. It has a light pink color tinged with salmon, and aromas of strawberries and vanilla. It’s crisp and tangy, with bright citrus and strawberry flavors, kissed with soft vanilla.
- Korbel Brut Rosé (California) NV ($12.99): Sparklers are fantastic warm-weather wines, and this one, made from Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Gamay and Chenin Blanc, is among my go-to pinks. It has a pale salmon color, lively, small bubbles, and flavors of strawberries and black cherries. It’s more on the medium-dry side, but it’s so fresh-tasting and well balanced that you barely notice the sweetness. I’ve seen this wine at retail for less than $10 per bottle — a crazy-good deal.
Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2012 . Credit: Tina Caputo
It’s 9 a.m., and I’ve just been poured five glasses of inky purple wine from bottles labeled only with question marks. It’s primeur time in Bordeaux, and I’m sitting in a quiet room in a Médoc château overlooking just-spring vineyards, about an hour’s drive north of the city.
During the primeur week, the top châteaux present their unfinished, unbottled wines from the most recent harvest to wine critics for assessment and evaluation. This helps them determine how the wines will age and their opening prices on the market, as if they were futures. (For more about how this works, see my article Bordeaux Primeurs’ Primer).
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The 118 French and international wine writers invited to this annual ritual are divided between those who taste blind — about two-thirds of us — and those who prefer to know what they’re tasting as they taste it. The blind tasters get the list of producers after they’ve finished; it’s more fun that way. The only clue we’re given by the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGC) — the federation that comprises the 131 top châteaux and organizes these tastings — is the appellation where each wine is produced.
The appellation divisions are geographical, as are the tasting sessions. On Monday, we start with the year’s crop of dessert wines, from Sauternes and Barsac, before moving to the Garonne River’s Right Bank for Saint-Émilion and Pomerol, then back to the Left, tasting and spitting our way up through the Graves area to the Médoc. We end on Friday at Margaux, one of the world’s most iconic production zones. Most of the first-growth châteaux send their wines to the group tastings; others only pour their wines at their château by appointment.
So what’s the point? After all, these are wines that won’t be released for at least another year and may take 10, 20 or more years to reach full maturity.
“The tasters’ first task is to form an opinion about the quality of the vintage,” explains Denis Dubourdieu, professor of oenology at Bordeaux University. “Beyond that, the object is to assess the wines of individual châteaux, giving them scores and valuations ahead of the châteaux’ price declarations. The aim is to decide which wines are worth investing in.”
That sounds straightforward enough, but there’s a catch. These are wines in their infancy whose exuberant fruit and often harsh tannins can easily mislead mouths more accustomed to the finely tuned balance between nose and palate of well-aged wines. Tasters trained in Bordeaux have developed ways to judge the wines fairly and objectively.
Bordeaux Primeurs and the secret to wine
“There’s no magic wand: A wine can only become great with age if it was great in its youth,” says Jean-Marc Quarin, an experienced Bordeaux wine critic who writes a successful wine blog and publishes a vast guide to Bordeaux’s wines (soon to appear in English too). “One of the secrets to understanding wines this young is to concentrate on what happens in the palate rather than in the nose.”
His approach is analytical and instructive: If the nose can deceive at this early stage, the experience of the wine once it’s in the mouth — including its structure and impact — shouldn’t lie and can be a more reliable indicator.
“You have to focus on each stage of the wine’s passage through the mouth, from the initial attack, as we call it, to the mid palate and the finish,” he says. “That’s when you can spot the differences between rough and fine-grained tannins, hollow and full bodies, and short and long finishes.” Quarin gives each wine about 10 seconds in the mouth when he’s tasting, and analyzes every sensation carefully to pick out wines whose potential will be fulfilled over time. It’s a complex art, but his method is helpful.
So how did the 2012 vintage fare? The year’s weather conditions were not simple, but some terrific wines were made nonetheless, especially by estates with the means — in financial and manpower terms — to carry out a lot of extra work in the vineyards to counter the erratic climatic effects. This went from removing under-developed bunches in summer to selecting the ripest berries — one by one, if necessary — before the winemaking.
The new president of the UGC, Olivier Bernard of Domaine de Chevalier, emphasized this ability: “Bordeaux’s viticultural know-how and winemaking skills have come a long way in recent years,” he said. “We are now able to make very good wines even in difficult vintages such as this one, by making choices about how to adapt to the climate’s impact. It takes a lot more effort to produce these good wines, but those who rise to the challenge are seeing very good results.”
Professor Dubourdieu concludes: “Key factors in Bordeaux are our range of soils — from well-draining pebbles to moisture-retaining clay — and our diverse grape varieties: Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc in smaller quantities. They give us the flexibility in our blends to adapt to the vagaries of the weather.”
Indeed, we found silky Merlots that were wonderfully ripe yet not lacking in freshness on the Right Bank, and elegant white wines in the Graves: This was a good vintage for the whites. As for the Left Bank Cabernets, they varied, but in the terroirs where they achieved good maturity, such as at Haut Bailly, in Saint-Julien and parts of Pauillac and Margaux, they have produced finely textured wines when blended with the sweet Merlots. Many of these wines will be at their best in five to 10 years, so we won’t have to wait too long to enjoy them.
Photo: Bottles for blind tastings. Credit: Carla Capalbo
Cinco de Mayo is a pretty straightforward holiday — no gifts, no elaborate rituals — but that doesn’t mean you have to succumb to the same old margarita. Instead, try a couple of variations with festive flair.
The first combines the standard one-two punch of tequila and Cointreau, plus helpings of lime juice and sugar syrup. But it provides a jolt to the tongue with the addition of muddled jalapeño. (Unless you like your heat register set to high, remove the seeds.)
The second is closer to the traditional: tequila, lime juice and Cointreau, with a clever combination of lemon and lime juice mixed with sugar to taste. The addition of salt around the rim and ice make it the perfect drink to enjoy poolside or at the beach, a tangy elixir of savory and sweet.
Created by Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
1 muddled jalapeno, seeds removed
1½ ounces tequila
¾ ounce Cointreau
1 ounce lime juice
¾ ounce sugar syrup
Lime slices to garnish
1. Muddle the jalapeno.
2. In a margarita glass rimmed with salt and filled with ice, add muddled jalapeno, tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and sugar syrup.
3. Garnish with a fresh slice of lime.
Silver Coin Margarita
Created by Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, New Mexico
1½ ounces tequila, preferably El Tesero Platinum
½ ounce Cointreau
2½ ounces fresh lime, lemon and sugar mix
Lime slices to garnish
1. Combine fresh lime and lemon juice with sugar to taste.
2. In a rocks glass rimmed with salt and filled with ice, add the Tequila, Cointreau and lime/lemon/sugar mix.
3. Garnish with a fresh slice or two of lime.
Top photo: Silver Coin margaritas. Credit: Courtesy of Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe
A truly great food and wine pairing can lead the way to nirvana. I can still remember my first time like a first kiss: It was fleeting, but held so much promise.
But matching food with wine can be a tricky business once you get much beyond “red with meat and white with fish.” So I jumped at the opportunity to spend time in the kitchen and at the table with Brian Streeter, culinary director of Cakebread Cellars and their famed American Harvest Workshops.
Cakebread Cellars is one of the most celebrated wineries in California’s Napa Valley. Started by a couple of weekend warriors who planted 22 acres in 1973, the winery has grown into a family dynasty producing elegant vintages from 510 acres. A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, Streeter joined the tightly knit group 13 years into its odyssey and has been pairing foods and wines almost every day for 27 years.
What are some core principles of food and wine pairing?
It’s all about intensity, acidity, tannins and alcohol. If you can get a handle on these core components, pairing any wine with food is much easier.
Intensity is all about the body or mouth feel of a wine. I might be stating the obvious, but lighter foods really do go best with lighter wines and richer, more complex foods go with richer, more complex wines. Color is the first great visual clue to a wine’s intensity, and knowing if the wine has spent any time barrel aging is a good signal too.
Acidity is the next thing to think about. To be a good food pairing wine, a wine needs to have a certain level of acidity. Wines low in acidity end up being flabby and don’t pair well. If I really want to highlight the bright acidity in a wine, I’ll marry it with a food component that has some natural sweetness to it. That’s why shellfish like shrimp, scallops or lobster goes so well with white wines like Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. The sweetness of the dish makes the acidity pop even more and seem brighter. But if you want to soften the acidity, adding lemon or white wine to the recipe makes the wine seem a little rounder.
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Lastly, consider the alcohol level. A low level of alcohol is a good indication that the wine’s grapes were picked earlier and acidity levels will be higher, so they will naturally go best with lighter food. If the wine is higher in alcohol, it will exhibit bigger, riper flavors. Often the winemaker will age it in new oak barrels, adding another element. These full-flavored wines cry out to be enjoyed with 2-inch thick prime porterhouse. But you want to be careful not to serve anything too spicy or too sweet with them as both tend to accentuate the alcohol in the wine and throw it out of balance.
Speaking of spicy, are there any tricks to pairing with those foods?
Often, spicy foods clash with wines that have seen time in barrel or have alcohol levels above 12.5%. I love Indian food because of its use of so many spices, but in order to make a successful wine pairing, sometimes recipes need to be dialed back or reinterpreted if you want to find a dish that really complements the wine. Once I’ve tasted the wine, then I decide whether I want to accentuate, or even soften, its style by how I season the dish with which I plan to pair it. Off-dry wines and wines with fruit-forward characteristics do best with really spicy food, unless the seasoning is so intense that it will overshadow any wine.
What other foods are risky to pair with wine?
Any ingredient that throws a wine out of balance or alters its natural finish is trouble. Red flags should go up with asparagus, artichokes, vinegar, eggs, soup and dishes that are designed to satisfy a sweet tooth.
Asparagus and artichokes are notorious for being bad partners with most wines. But asparagus just picked from our winery garden and cooked right away is one of the things I look forward to most at this time of year. I will rarely serve asparagus with red wine because it makes the wine taste like overcooked canned vegetables, but I think it’s fabulous with Cakebread’s Sauvignon Blanc.
Artichokes can easily throw a wine out of balance. Roasting them or grilling helps, but the wine might suffer a little for it. Save that really special bottle you’ve been holding onto for another occasion.
When it comes to salads, vinegar or acid is problematic because it can make a wine taste flat. Use sparingly and balance with other ingredients. Incorporating some protein — whether in the form of meat, cheese or nuts — softens the acidity and gives the wine more texture to interact with.
Eggs, particularly hard-boiled, can make a wine taste sulfurous. But if you like deviled eggs like I do, the acidity in Sauvignon Blanc is a good contrast to the richness of the egg.
Soup usually is a difficult course to pair wine with because it’s matching a liquid with a liquid. That said, soups that have some body to them are better than broths.
Sweetness in food accentuates acidity, alcohol and any tannin in a wine. We only make dry wines at Cakebread Cellars, so I’ll look elsewhere for off-dry wines to pair with these kinds of dishes.
What do you think is the most versatile varietal?
I have two favorites, Rosé and Pinot Noir. When it’s hot outside, nothing tastes better than a refreshing glass of Rosé. It’s more complex than white wine, but not as big as red and can be served chilled. I enjoy lighter food during the summer like salads and a lot of fish, so rosé is what I reach for.
When it comes to reds, you can pretty much divide red wine drinkers into two groups: the Pinot camp and the Cabernet camp. Pinot typically shows brighter red fruit, a little higher acidity and softer tannins, so they can pair well with a greater variety of foods. Salmon is a well-known choice for Pinot; pork and poultry work more often than not. When I’m having a big, juicy steak or roast, then I start thinking about Cabernet or Merlot. Firmer tannins match up much better to dark red meats.
Which should be a beginning oenophile’s instinctive choice: Contrast or complement?
Trying to pick a contrasting wine, like a sweeter wine to offset spice, can be a bit tricky, so I’d suggest taking the safer route. Choose a wine that complements a dish and you’ll probably end up with a successful pairing.
Thai Stone Crab Tostadas
This stone crab appetizer was one of many dishes I helped prepare in a recent cooking class at Cakebread Cellars. The sweetness of the crabmeat and the tang of the dressing heightened the bright acidity of the Cakebread Cellars Sauvignon Blanc we drank with it.
For the fried wontons:
8 wonton wrappers, halved on the diagonal to make 16 triangles
Vegetable oil for frying
For the topping:
1 cup stone crab meat (from about 1 pound cooked crab claws) or Dungeness crab meat
1½ cups very finely sliced green cabbage
2 tablespoons minced red onion
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
½ jalapeño chile, seeded and minced
Coarsely chopped cilantro for garnish
1. In a 4-quart saucepan, heat 3 inches of vegetable oil to 375 F. Fry the wonton wrappers a few at a time, turning them once with tongs, until they puff and turn golden, less than a minute. Drain on a rack or paper towels.
2. In a bowl, combine the crabmeat, cabbage, red onion and scallions.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, sugar, ginger and chile.
4. Add the dressing to the slaw and toss well.
5. Put a spoonful of slaw on each wonton wrapper. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve immediately.
Top photo: Thai stone crab tostadas. Credit: Caroline J. Beck
Ask expatriates living in Malaysia about their favorite things to do there, and more often than not, their answer is eating the local food. As a Malaysian spending six months in the United States last year, I realized the usual exchange of pleasantries involves asking, “How are you?” In my country, it is a little different. We ask, “Sudah makan?” (translation: “Have you eaten?”) and this applies to friends, family and new acquaintances you meet on the street.
For us in a nation of 28 million, food always brings people together, and it’s the same in cultures all over the world. In our capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL), you can find almost any cuisine — Spanish, Italian, Indian, Chinese, Greek, French, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern. Despite being a Muslim-majority country, alcohol is widely served, from humble cafes on the street to ultra-posh and swanky restaurants in the city. Good wines, in particular, are readily available. Some will be surprised to know that Malaysia is one of the fastest-growing countries in the Asian market for wine consumption.
The Italian restaurant Svago in Kuala Lumpur is one place where you can treat yourself to fine cuisine and wine while taking in the amazing view of the Petronas Twin Towers, which were featured in the 1999 movie “Entrapment.” Svago’s lounge and bar area is an eclectic space of retro and contemporary decor, with parquet flooring, steel beams and floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The low-backed vinyl chairs and terrace encompass modernity.
Planeta wines a perfect complement to dinner
When a chef manages to craft innovative canapés that tantalize your taste buds, it is sacrilege not to have a healthy glass of vino to go with it. That evening at Svago, we were introduced to the five top wines — two whites and three reds — from Planeta, which we were told is one of the premier wineries in Sicily, Italy. The wines we sampled ranged from crisp and light to robust and full-bodied.
Chef Andrea Buson stays true to his Italian heritage but is able to inject Asian influences in his dishes too. The food on the table comprised the likes of Arancini Rossi (a beetroot risotto ball topped with pesto calamari), Smoked Duck Breast With Grilled Ginkgo Nuts, Wagyu Beef Carpaccio on Rocket Topped With Cherry Tomato and Aged Pecorino Romano, Herb-Crusted Lamb Loin prepared Provencal style, and Stuffed Cannelloni With Ricotta and Truffle Mushroom Duxelle.
For our sampling of Planeta wines, we started with the La Segreta Bianco, which takes its name from the wood that surrounds the vineyard at Ulmo. “It is produced mainly from Grecanico grapes and was introduced to Sicily more than 2,000 years ago,” explained Simone Di Domizio, the export manager for the Asian market, who regaled us about the wine’s history and geography and the uniqueness of the flavors. Under the light, this white is clear yellow with slight greenish reflections. It has aromas of citrus, pineapple and white peach. The palate is fresh and balanced, and it is ideal with Mediterranean cuisine and fish dishes.
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Next came the chardonnay. While I more often choose Sauvignon Blanc over chardonnay because I don’t like the high acidity and rich oak texture in the latter, this one was buttery and smooth in all the right places. According to Di Domizio, the chardonnay “illustrates” the changes taking place in Sicilian wines. “Among the five wines, the chardonnay is our flagship wine and has gained the best ratings from reviewers all over the world,” he said. Its fermentation and maturing in French barrels have delivered a graceful and powerful wine. The golden yellow color with lively green glints beckons you, and on the nose there are aromas of peach, golden apple, white figs and vanilla cream as well as hints of hazelnut and Zagara honey. The palate is soft, round, energetic and full.
And enter the vivacious reds. The La Segreta Rosso is a young, fresh wine produced mainly from Nero d’Avola grapes. “This is a perfect approach to Sicilian wine with its excellent relationship between price and quality,” Di Domizio said. It has the brilliant color of ruby red with purple reflections. The explosive aromas of cocoa and tobacco first hit you, followed by bouquets of mulberry, plum and balsamic notes. The palate has ripe tannins with a fresh alcohol structure and is versatile with appetizers and meat dishes.
If you don’t already know, the heat in Malaysia comes with its friend humidity. By this time in the evening, even the air-conditioning was struggling to cool us down, and with the warmth from the wines we were positively toasty. The Maroccoli Syrah made its appearance with its fruity spiciness. “Sicily is a good place for Syrah,” said Di Domizio, because of its sunny dry places. The alcohol strength is subtle, and the aromas you get with this wine are blackcurrant, cinnamon and cloves, making it great with chili or curry. The Syrah would also pair well with the good Indian food in KL, I must say.
Alas, the night had to end, and it did so with a capping of the Sito dell’Ulmo Merlot. We were told it has enjoyed international attention since its first vintage, and the presentation of this noble grape is rich, round and powerful. It is found on the wine lists of some of the most prestigious restaurants and wine bars around the world. The palate is vibrant with a dense texture. “It has a balsamic and chocolate aftertaste which is fresh and complex. It works really well with fusion cuisines as well as mature cheeses and meat,” Di Domizio said.
Origins of Planeta wine
During our dinner, we discussed Planeta’s origins and history. Started by the Planeta family, which has have owned the estate at Sambuca di Sicilia since the 1600s, it is one of the most acclaimed Sicilian winemakers. While Planeta has penetrated the Malaysian market, the dinner was its inaugural wine-pairing event in Kuala Lumpur as an opportunity for consumers to sample the wines .
Planeta has five wineries in Sicily, and a sixth winery is being built. Aside from Malaysia, Planeta is making its mark elsewhere in Asia, including Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Cambodia and Indonesia.
“Malaysian consumers,” Di Domizio said, “have shown the yearning to further develop their wine knowledge” with the increase of international influences.
Top photo: The Planeta wines sampled at the dinner. Credit: Aida Ahmad