Girls on Food

Wine

Winning In Windham: A Vinoventure

As Thoreau once said, I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately…..and to sample wine.  ALL OF THE WINE.  Ok, maybe I added that second bit, but I imagine that’s what he was thinking.  I had the pleasure of traveling the back roads of Windham, NY with my father and happened upon some new local treasures.

After traversing The Windham Path, our first, stop was Higher Grounds.  This laid back coffee, breakfast, sandwich shop has some wonderful options for people looking to stay healthy.  I sampled their Garden Goddess served with feta cheese, tomatoes, spinach and you can add avocado if you’re feeling frisky.  It doesn’t hurt that when you look out the window, you’re staring at a mountain.  Also, they had peppermint coffee, and I’m a sucker for peppermint coffee.  Keep your eye peeled on their specials; they like to switch it up.

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Higher Grounds
61 State Rt 296, Windham, NY 12496
https://www.facebook.com/Higher-Grounds-Coffee-Co-302891989763169/

After a morning hike, we decided to get a closer look at some of the towns finer grapes.  Situated off the main road a piece is The Windham Winery, a local establishment featuring a $20 tasting that doesn’t disappoint.

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Their tasting menu has an excellent assortment of choices.  Different and unique was their Diamond wine, a grape that is not frequently used because it has to be worked with individually and carefully.  The owner is very present and walks you through all of his wines. He’s laid back, personable- he makes this an experience you won’t forget!

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I only do wine tasting in my finest Ron Jon surfer trucker hat, an obvious class act as I taste intricate wines in this refined hiking ensemble.  Their Vino is on the sweeter side but never left my cheeks in cartoon pucker.  It has an at home, laid back feel.  You’ll find yourself staying longer than the time you expected because you can’t stop petting the dog and leisurely staring out toward the beautiful mountain vista.

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Next stop – Ze Windham Wine Bar.  A cozy little locale on the main street of town.

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Ze Windham Wine Bar
5369 Main Street Windham NY 12496
(BEHIND THE POST OFFICE)
http://zewindhamwinebar.com/wine-beer-food.html

This quaint family operated business has a lovely array of wine and beer alike.  My father is traditionally a bud light drinker but was pleasantly surprised by one of their options, the Berliner Weissbier.  I squealed with delight that I managed to get Papa Lohne to try a brew that had a decorative decal #familygoals.  Just check out the artistic craftsmanship on this bottle.

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Father proudly holds his maiden voyage of a beer that isn’t handed out for free at intramural sporting events.

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One of the owners, Cordelia, poses artfully for me in her native wine habitat.  I highly recommend Ze Windham Wine Bar and not just because it utilizes Ze as a “the.”  It’s charming, friendly, warm, and a wonderful place to have a glass of wine and socialize with the owners and the surrounding guests alike.  While I happily sipped on a cabernet, I regretfully did not try one of their cheese plates or charcuterie boards.  Suffice it to say, next time I am on a self-enforced writers retreat, I will stop by and sample a pretzel roll and pecorino cheese.

As the winter approaches and ski season is just around the corner, take a moment and visit Windham, NY.  You can traverse the friendly slopes and then grab a glass of your favorite cabernet, just maybe don’t do both at once.  Your not broken leg will thank you for it.

Music City Food +Wine Festival Highlights

Torrential downpours did not stop festivalgoers from coming out to Bicentennial Capitol Mall and checking out the Music City Food + Wine Festival. Attendees doubled up with umbrellas and ponchos and made their way through the demonstration and grand tasting tents. The muddy grounds and rain didn’t seem to dampen any spirits as the wine and cocktails were flowing freely and there was an endless sampling of bites from some of the best chefs around.

By far this is one of my favorite events of the year.  Not only do we get to see what new tricks chefs like Tim Love and Michael Symon have up their sleeves, but the collaboration between the chefs is always a treat. I talked to people from Chicago, Ft. Worth, and Minneapolis and asked why they chose Nashville and the response was overwhelming. “Nashville just has that chill vibe and we love the southern hospitality. It’s hard to put our finger on it, but there is just something about this city.”  I agree gang – there is something about this city and this festival. Pretty sure that Nashville is one of the few that concludes the two-day event with a dance party where Kings of Leon, Tim Love, and Aaron Sanchez pass out tequila and rose to festivalgoers.

While I had MANY favorites and took loads of photos, here are my top five standouts of the festival:

1. Seersucker Southern Craft Confections:  Scott Witherow, owner of Olive and Sinclair Chocolate ( totally one of my guilty pleasures) decided to expand his creativity beyond the bean to bar chocolate and Seersucker Candy Company was born. There hasn’t been a piece of candy that Scott has made that I haven’t fallen head over heels for, but these Cherry Bombs BLEW ME AWAY! Rest assured, you haven’t had anything like this before. Each Cherry Bomb is filled with pickled maraschino cherries dipped in buttermilk fondant and dark chocolate. Your mouth will enjoy every decadent bite.

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2. Virago: This is one of my favorite places in Nashville and I recently highlighted their Brunch with a View on blondevoyagenashville.com. Chef Andrew Whitney knocked this one out of the park, yet again.  He created a lovely sashimi of Kentucky Silver Carp paired with a small bite of red pepper and cilantro. Don’t judge a book by its cover, this delicate bite packed one heck of a flavorful punch! Confession: I may have used the excuse of getting out of the rain multiple times so I could swing by and grab another one of these beauties!

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3. Hattie B’s: How could I talk about Nashville food and not mention hot chicken. While I loved their Hot Chicken Jambonette, served bone-in on a bite of white bread and topped with a pickle, it was the Hot Quail Leg with Pimento Cheese grits that stole my heart. You read the description… need I say more? The creaminess of the grits lighted up the heat on the quail leg. I do hope this is one they will consider adding to the menu.

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4. Devil’s Backbone Brewing Company– Pumpkin Hunter: I adore craft beer, so when I was introduced to the lovely folks of Devil’s Backbone, I was pleasantly surprised. These brewers came to play!  Located in Roseland, Virgina, their brews are becoming more and more popular throughout the country, especially in the Southeast. Being totally basic, I opted for their fall choice and had the Pumpkin Hunter. Forget the pumpkin spice latte, this is where it’s at! The flavors are such that you feel like you are having a piece of pumpkin pie! They have a great tool on their website that will help you find a local retailer. Stock up on the pumpkin, it’s only here for a limited time and you don’t want to miss out!

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5. Pat Martin + Friends- Open Hearth Cooking: I can’t imagine the Music City Food+Wine festival without Pat Martin and his open hearth cooking. Each year seems to surpass the last. The “pitmaster’s playground” had a variety of proteins from whole hogs, goat, chickens and even octopus to feed the masses.  It definitely worth the wait in line for these goodies. Scrumptious.

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I tried to keep the list short and sweet, but if you are looking for more scoop on the festival, check out my Instagram  @blonde_voyage_nashville where I will be posting more of my favorites throughout the week!

Even though the dates haven’t been announced for the 2017 festival, keep an eye out on their website, http://www.musiccityfoodandwinefestival.com/ for details.  I hope to see you next fall!

Eat Drink SF: The Best Bites & Booze in the Bay

Like I said in my preview post, San Francisco is a hub of fresh produce. Better yet, some of the country’s most innovative chefs seem to recognize this, setting up shop all along the peninsula. And with so much good food and so much real talent, it’s hard to taste everything this part of Northern Cali has to offer. Luckily, that’s the whole premise of Eat Drink SF — get the best bites and booze of the Bay in one place so the public can sip and sample the day away.

EDSF Entrance

Now, I’ve struggled with how to describe this event because it’s, in all honesty (and to a writer’s chagrin) hard to capture with words. There’s such a large variety of cuisine and cocktails; it is a bit overwhelming — for the mind as well as the stomach. So I’ve decided the best way to share my experience is with a few photos of my standout samples.

FOOD

Peruvian Sea Scallop

Shrimp Escabeche served with shallots, cilantro, celery, and a coconut foam – The Market

This dish was my first bite of the day. Off to a great start with familiar flavors in a unique combination.

Bruschetta

Panzanella Spiedini – Zero Zero

The fresh pancetta brought me back to Italy for sure…Bellissimo!

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Summer Tabbouleh – Terzo/Rose’s Cafe

Simply celebrating summer’s freshest produce.

Delfina Pizza sample

Pane Al Pomodoro: Grilled Bread, Crushed Early Girl Tomatoes, Ricotta Salata – Pizzeria Delfina

Cheers, guys, but I’m still a major fan of your Broccoli Rabe.

Sea Scallops

Peruvian Sea Scallop with Corn and Blueberries – Brasserie S&P

Chilled scallops garnished with a corn puree that tastes like sweet buttercream, blueberries for freshness, need I say more?

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Someone recently asked me if I liked caviar. My response was that I hadn’t had it enough to like or dislike it. I’d like to update that answer — love it.

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White Sturgeon Mousseline (garnished with caviar) – Michael Mina

I never thought I’d have the chance to eat at Michelin-star restaurant Michael Mina. Well, if this bite is any indication of what their full menu features, I better put my name down now. This sample is truly what food critics mean when they say a dish has “balance of flavor” — sweet, salty, sour, spice, and that elusive umami, all tucked into one delicious mouth-full.

E&O Kimchi Rice

Slow Braised Pork & Kimchi, Rice Cake, Seasoned Nori – E&O Kitchen & Bar

The longest line of the day and I can tell you why. While there were quite a few Asian and Asian-inspired samples out there, this one tops them all. Pork meat that just melts in the mouth, fried rice cake delicately coats the palate with oil, while the Kimchi adds just the right amount of funk. And that seasoned Nori? Well, I could just eat a bag of that like potato chips. Brava Chef Sharon Nahm who was working the booth herself — at lightning speed, I might add, keeping up with all of us greedy customers.

Spaghetti Bro Balls

Meat Balls Alla Marinara – Spaghetti Brothers

Spaghetti Bros Chefs

Spaghetti Brothers, Chef Eric Lowe & Aaron Toensing

Luce Brown Butter Prawn

Chilled Blue Prawn & Cucumber, Brown Butter, Pistachio – Luce

Another bite from a Michelin-star restaurant and tied for my personal dish of the day. Those pistachios added an extra something to this (crunch, body, flavor) — nice touch, Chef.

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Smoked Passmore Ranch Sturgeon – The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards

I love me some Wente wine, so I was so pleased to see that their Executive Chef, Chef Mike Ward, was at EDSF representing The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards. And this simple smoked fish garnished with a bit of sweet from the raspberry coulis and a bit of salty with that (oh yes) caviar is the other dish in my two-way tie for the dish of the day.

Wente Chef

Chef Mike Ward gets bonus points for posing for a Silly Stacy Selfie. Cheers, friend!

DRINKS

Tasting all this food, yeah you’re going to get thirsty — luckily there was no shortage of craft cocktails, beers, and wines available.

Kolsch

Kalifornia Kolsch – Magnolia Brewing Company

Crisp, refreshing, and light with just a hint of herbaceousness — perfect for the non-beer drinker.

Sipsmith London Punch

London Punch – SipSmith

Sipsmith London Dry Gin, Earl Grey Tea, vermouth, citrus, and blackberries make up this funky little cocktail. I loved the addition of the Earl Grey tea, which truly added a woodsy aroma and aftertaste. But my favorite part was that you could taste the gin — and all those other elements just uplifted that classic, pseudo-sweet flavor. Well met, mixologists.

Old Tom & The Sea

Old Tom & The Sea – Anchor Distilling Company

My favorite cocktail of the day goes to the Anchor Distillery’s “Old Tom & The Sea.” Something about the mix of the sweet cherry liquor and the sour lemon juice just felt fun and fresh. And, like the London Punch, there was the right combination of all those other ingredients, and they highlight the purity of the gin. I find so many cocktails work to hide the alcohol, but this one uplifted it and made me appreciate it as a form of produce. Bonus: they gave us the recipe. Adults, try this at home:

.75 oz Anchor Old Tom Gin

.5 oz Tempus Fugit Kina L’Aéro d’Or.

.25 oz Luxardo Sangue Morlacco Cherry Liqueur

.25 oz Lemon Juice

Lemon and cherry flag for garnish.

The Treasury Mixologist

Flash – The TreasuryThe Treasury %22Flash%22

very close second for the cocktail of the day goes to Elisa Gallardo and Carlos Yturria of The Treasury for their gin, kiwi, cucumber and lemon concoction called “Flash.” So refreshing — almost smoothie-esque — this is the drink you’d reach for if you didn’t want to taste the alcohol. There’s enough Gin to add a bit of sweetness to the otherwise sour fruits, but not so much that you felt like you were drinking Gin. So, depending on what you’re looking for in a cocktail, this may be the one for you.

Herbal Spritzer

Herbal Spritzer – CUESA

Of course, for those who to prefer to get high on life, there was an abundance of non-alcoholic beverages to sip and savour as well. My personal fav was the make-your-own herbal spritzer booth presented by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA). A little bit of sparkling water and a shot of rosemary infused simple syrup, and you’ve got a fun mocktail the whole family can enjoy. I’ll drink to that.

EDUCATION

But what about the wine, Stacy??? Yes, Wine Enthusiast did present a few wineries to share their current releases. Admittedly, most were common names you could easily find in stores. And why not? If you try something you like, you’re going to want to be able to buy it. But the real wine party was at the SF Wine School presentation theatre.

Wine School Class

There were three different classes to attend, but with so much going on I had to choose just one. And this Cali girl just couldn’t deny the opportunity to learn even more about excellent oaky Chards.

wine school Chards

Well, they weren’t all oaky, and they weren’t all California either. In fact, we had the opportunity to taste a Chardonnay from France, one South Africa (that was new to me!), and one from California. We learned that different Chardonnays present in a variety of ways depending on how much and what kinds of oak is used during barrel aging. Our presenter, Chris Gaither, AS, even took us through some wine-nerdom as he explained the role of malolactic fermentation. Honestly, I wish the class could have been longer, but I guess I’ll have to start thinking seriously about the CWS cert from SF Wine School.

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Silly Stacy Selfie Featuring: Chris Gaither, AS, Stacy Briscoe, and David Glancy (SF Wine School Founder)

Wine School Tatts

Stacy and David sporting their cute SF Wine School Tatts — Cheers!

MORE INFO

For more information about any of the vendors, restaurants, or sponsors, or to learn more about Eat Drink SF, please visit the Eat Drink SF website.

*All photography by Stacy Briscoe*


**Want to have your Bay Area wine event, winery, vineyard, or tasting room featured? Please Contact the Author via her blog BriscoeBites.com**

SF Foodie Fest Preview: Eat Drink SF 2016

EatDrinkSF
Photo by Gamma Nine

I know everyone always claims their hometown food is the best — but when you live where fresh bay water meets sea salt and sand, it’s hard to deny that San Francisco is where it’s at when it comes to fresh produce. Now add the fact that some of our country’s most innovative chefs set up shop all along the peninsula, and us San Fran kids really have something to be proud of. So this year, I’m joining the crowd to celebrate the best of the Bay’s homegrown food, world-class chefs, restaurants, somms, mixologists — and all things to eat and drink in SF — at Eat Drink SF 2016.

Photo by Gamma Nine
Photo by Gamma Nine

About the Eat Drink SF

Each year, Eat Drink SF invites foodies, wine-nerds, culinary enthusiasts, and just plain hungry and thirsty people to meet and greet with top local chefs, bartenders, and sommeliers. The three-day event, running from Thursday, August 26 – 28, will include over 160 restaurants participants who will provide tasty treats, cooking demonstrations, and more.

 

Photo by Gamma Nine
Photo by Gamma Nine

Those looking for a little more to munch on will certainly be able to find it. Participating restaurants include:

1300 on Fillmore, Alembic, Brasserie S&P, Cafe Claude, Cathead’s BBQ, Chiaroscuro, Cross Hatch Eatery, Delfina Pizzeria, Dragon Beaux, E&O Kitchen and Bar, Gaspar Brasserie, Gitane, Hog & Rocks, Humphry Slocombe, Huxley, Konjoe, Lemonade, Luce, Michael Mina, Precita Park Cafe, Roka Akor, Souvla, Spaghetti Bros., SPIN San Francisco, Terzo, The Keystone, The Market, The Restaurant at Wente Vineyards, Tratto, Zero Zero

If you’re interested in learning a few kitchen tips and tricks, you’re certainly going to want to check out the Main Stage where lectures, demonstrations, and Q&A with industry experts will be featured all day. Check out the Events Page for details.

And let’s not forget about us drink enthusiasts! This year, Eat Drink SF will feature over 70 bars, distilleries, breweries, and wineries who will provide the events drinks as well as host tastings and seminars. Featured beverages will include:

Bass Note Sangria, Beaujolais Wines, Bodega Norton, Buena Vista Cafe, Ca’ Momi Winery, Carpano Antica Formula, Chateau Gassier, Concannon Vineyard, Fernet Branca, FloWater, Joel Gott Winery, Kikori Whiskey, Korbel California Champagne, Junipero Gin, Mr. Espresso, Provenance Vineyards, Pure Leaf Iced Tea: Tea House Collection, Purity Organics, Robert Mondavi Winery, SIMI Winery, Singani 63, Sipsmith Independent Spirits, San Francisco Brewers Guild, S. PELLEGRINO® Sparkling Natural Mineral Water, Spirit Works Distillery, Stella Artois, Stella Artois Cidre,Templeton Rye, Teeling Whiskey, The Glenlivet, The Hess Collection, Torres Brandy, Trinchero Napa Valley, Trumer Pils, Tullamore D.E.W, Wente Vineyards, Woodford Reserve, Zaya Rum, and Zodiac Vodka.

Photo by Gamma Nine
Photo by Gamma Nine

And just like the culinary kids, pros in the beverage industry will be hosting several educational seminars throughout the day as well in the San Francisco Wine School Beverage Classroom. I’m personally excited for Saturday’s Chardonnay: Burgundy, Butter & Beyond with Chris Gaither, AS.

Oh, but I do hope the SF Wine School brings more cute tattoos…

SF Wine School Tats

Join Us!

Hungry for more? Tickets are still available on the Eat Drink SF website. And whether you’re there for just one day or the whole weekend, I guarantee you won’t go thirsty or hungry.

Cheers!


Eat Drink SF is presented by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association — the local restaurant representative organization and political advocate.

All photos of EDSF are from the 2015 event. Photography © 2015 Marc Fiorito w/ Gamma Nine | All Rights Reserved

Passion for Paso: A Closer Look at the Wine-Stylings of Paso Robles

I was at the Paso Robles Wine Country Grand Tasting Event in Oakland last week when I overheard one of the winemakers saying that the most frequent question he gets asked by consumers is, “Where in Napa is Paso Robles?”

Ok, let’s download for a second and just talk about where Paso Robles is and what that means in regards to wine.

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Since most people think of SF and LA when they think of California, we’ll use these two major metropolises as reference points. Paso Robles is South of San Francisco by quite a bit (about 200 miles, or a 4 to 5-hour drive), and North of Los Angeles by about the same distance (around 200 miles, but about a 3 to 4-hour drive).

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So the answer to “Where is Paso Robles in Napa Valley” is — it’s not. Napa and Sonoma — the two big names in California wine — are North of SF. Nowhere near Paso.

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Ok, so now that we know where we are on the map let’s talk about what that means. The other thing to note is the Paso Robles AVA’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean. The most Western section of the AVA is just about 6 miles from the water. For the most part, the AVA benefits from two extreme weather conditions: hot days when the ocean air is kept at bay due to the mountainous Santa Lucia Highlands, and cool nights when that warm front sucks in the fog to settle amidst the vineyards (technical term: diurnal fluctuation). This weather is a good thing for grape-growers because while the hotter temps allow for the fruit to ripen with a full body of juice and sugars, the cooler temps help slow that process down so the grapes won’t bud too early (which can lead to overripe, rotten, and often broken grapes). And this is a good thing for winemakers, especially those looking to create Rhone-inspired varietals, as this weather pattern is most akin to that found in the vineyards of Bordeaux.

But remember, Paso Robles is made up of rolling hills and valleys, so those vineyards on the Eastern side will get less of those cool temps and more of that warm weather, yielding different successful grape varietals. In between these two extremities are vast variations in climate, topography, and soils (read: terroir).

The other thing that makes the Paso Robles AVA so unique is its soil: there are over 46 different types of soil throughout the area. The most desirable — and lucky for winemakers on the West side of the AVA, the most dominant — are the calcareous soils which contain higher soil pH values than other California wine regions (layman’s terms: good acidity in the soil = good acidity in the wine). And, because of Paso Robles’ hilly terrain, rainwater can flow, gather, and soak into the soil without any supplemental irrigation systems, so many winemakers can practice dry-farming methods (good for the drought situation).

So there’s a bit of context about how and why Paso Robles is its own unique AVA. And the winemakers in the area not only know this, but they celebrate it in kind of an old-school way. Whether talking to a small-lot producer or a “major chain,” they all seem to take pride in creating a wine that speaks of their particular plot in Paso.

Eberle Winery

Eberle Logo

Previous to the Grande Tasting, I attended a seminar (wine-nerds unite!) featuring different wineries representing various areas of Paso, winemaking techniques, and (of course) a glass of wine exemplifying those features. And, I’m going, to be honest, I stopped by Eberle Winery’s table to talk to winemaker Chris Eberle (no relation to the founder) because his wine was — for me — the best of the bunch.

Eberle Winery is situated on the Western side of the Paso Robles AVA, benefitting from those ideally warm days and cool nights, as well as absorbent soils.

2015 Eberle Viognier

Eberle Viognere

About the Wine: With the use of two separate vineyards, Chris was able to create a well-rounded balance of fruit, acid, and minerals in the 2015 Eberle Viognier — wine that truly exemplifies the Paso Robles terroir.

Flavor Profile:  Pale yellow in color, this 100% Viognier gives off a sweet aroma of honey and soft fruits (peaches, apricots) that let you know these grapes grew underneath a summer-like sun. Conversely, on the tongue, the wine provides a crisp acidity that opens the palate and gives way to a tarter taste of fresh lemon zest. The finish is long and lingering with a solid amount of minerality that thoroughly cleanses the palate.

Suggested Food Pairing: Fresh salt-water seafood with a cream or butter sauce. The natural salts in the fish will accompany the cleansing minerals of the wine; the Viognier’s strong acidity will cut through the fattier sauce, rounding the meal out nicely.

Eberle 2014 Cotes Du Robles Blanc

Eberle White Rhone

About the Wine: If you’re in a climate that celebrates French-style winemaking, then why not go all out? That is what Eberle has done with their play-on-words 2014 Cotes-Du-Robles Blanc, a classic Rhone-style blend (Cotes-du-Rhone) of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier.

Flavor Profile: A calm, soothing yellow in the glass, this Rhone-style wine emits soft aromas of white flowers, orange blossoms, and nectarine. On the palate, the wine has a soft, round mouthfeel — one would think “oaky,” although no new oak was used. It’s the Roussanne that gives the wine that glorious texture, the Grenache that yields subtle fruit and floral notes, and that pinch of Viognier that gives the blend just enough acid to cut through any potential sweetness. These grapes were whole-cluster pressed, which gives the wine just a bit more body (almost a tannin-like quality) than many whites.

Suggested Food Pairing: Keep it simple and savor the unique flavors of the wine — a light herb salad, a raw sashimi platter. Better yet, enjoy this on its own with good friends and good times.

More Information: For more information about Eberle Winery and their available wines, visit their website. I’m personally interested in trying Chris’s Rose of Syrah next!

J. Lohr Vineyards and Wine

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This photo courtesy of J. Lohr website

After learning from a smaller-production winery, I was curious how one of the “big-names” would stack up. I mean, I live by a J. Lohr tasting room, see their reps at all of the local wine walks, and also frequent Zonattos — a local grocer who has a major thing for J. Lohr. So I’m no stranger to their wines. But what I didn’t realize was that they have vineyards in both Monterey and Paso Robles — two very distinct wine-growing regions.

I also have to give credit to their Senior Manager Mark Hess who, while talking me through their wines, also showed me how much love the company puts into their products — big name or no, J. Lohr also has Paso-pride.

J. Lohr 2015 Viognier

JLViognere

About the Wine: J. Lohr’s Gean Vineyard, where their Viognier grapes are grown, is one of those lucky vineyards that can soak in the rain (when it shows up) and provide itself with a type of natural irrigation system because of its hilly terrain. So, even in a drought year like 2015, J. Lohr was able to have a successful harvest.

Flavor Profile: This pale yellow, white wine gives off very typical Viognier aromas of white blossoms and soft, ripe fruits. On the palate, the dominant flavors are those of peaches, nectarines, maybe a hint of citrus zest. Unlike the Eberle Viognier, the acidity on J. Lohr’s was quite minimal, giving the wine a softer texture on the tongue. However, there is still that distinct note of minerality from those Paso soils of calcareous shale and weathered sandstone, giving this wine a lovely earthy finish.

Suggested Food Pairing: Think island flavors with this wine. A grilled meaty fish like Swordfish or mahi-mahi (or chicken for those not into seafood) accompanied by a mango salsa, coconut rice, and a creamy avocado dressing.

J. Lohr 2013 Merlot

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About the Wine: Now here’s a wine I’m sure — even if you’re not in the Bay Area — you’ve seen on the shelves of the local grocery. But, although common, its story certainly is not.

This wine made during the second year of the California drought when grape growers and winemakers were still learning how to deal with the lack-of-water situation. In fact, Mark mentioned that J. Lohr’s Merlot grapes shattered (as in, they literally broke) in some areas, unable to be used at all. But, because of Paso Robles’ France-like terrain, the folks at J. Lohr decided to change the type of Merlot grapes they were growing to those more akin to the grapes grown in France. Makes sense — if the weather and the terroir are similar, why not grow similar grapes? These thicker-skinned Merlot grapes were able to withstand the heat much better and, thus, we have this beautiful 2013 Merlot.

And this Merlot is not all Merlot — it’s 86% Merlot with 14% Malbec — two grapes that play very well together.

Flavor Profile: This Merlot has a beautiful fuschia-red hue in the glass and emits a strong aroma of a pine-esque cologne along with dark fruits like plum. On the palate, the bold fruit is balanced nicely with the addition of the Malbec, which gives the wine an acidic kick and a solid finish filled with baking spices and a hint of mocha.

Suggested Food Pairing: Perfect for an Italian-inspired meal like a pasta bolognese or a meat lasagna.

J. Lohr 2013 Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon

JLHilltopCab

About the Wine: Cab is a varietal that thrives under pressure, so the gravelly terrain and the 100 degree days on the hilltops of Paso are perfect for this thick-skinned grapes.

The 2013 J. Lohr Hilltop Cabernet Sauvignon is another gorgeous blend: 96% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Merlot, and 1% Verdot.

Flavor Profile: This thick blood-like red wine is fruit-happy on the nose, giving off scents of plums, violets, and a hint of dusty earth. It’s surprisingly (pleasantly so) smooth upon the first sip, with a firm yet round texture on the tongue; this must be due to the 60% new French oak used during barrel aging. Flavors of vibrant red fruits give way to a good amount of tannins — enough to give the wine body and structure without scratching your tongue. The finish is just as smooth as the start, leaving a pleasant aftertaste of a fresh cedar wood forest.

Suggested Food Pairing: Say hello to your inner carnivore and grill up a beef fillet with an earthy au jus.

More Info: For more information about J. Lohr and their wines, please visit their website. Personally, I’m most curious to do a tasting of their Monterey vineyard wines to compare and contrast.

 Le Vigne

Small producer, large producer, and now something right down the middle with Le Vigne Winery, but their wines are anything but average. I was particularly drawn to the Le Vigne lineup because, as the founding family was straight-off-the-boat Italian and big foodies to boot, the wines are crafted with good meals and good times in mind.

Oh, and according to winemaker Michael Barreto, Le Vigne also has a cheesemaker on staff — so if you’re in the area and want to learn about wine and cheese pairings, this is your stop.

Le Vigne 2015 Sauvignon Blanc

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About the Wine: Sauvignon Blanc is another grape varietal that benefits from being plumped to perfection under the heat of the sun. But, as it is a thinner skinned grape, it relies heavily on the moisture brought in from that maritime fog. And Le Vigne’s Sauvignon Blanc exemplifies this perfectly — with a surprisingly full-bodied Sauvignon Blanc.

Flavor Profile: The 2015 Le Vigne Sauvignon Blanc presents very clear in the glass, almost water-like. Made of 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, the aromas are typical to the varietal — tropical fruits accompanied by a hint of honeysuckle. These aromas come through in the taste as well, but because the Sauvignon Blanc was left on the lees during crush, this wine has an almost creamy texture — a unique quality for the varietal. Furthermore, this gives the wine a bit of body and structure, lending itself more versatile in regards to food pairing.

Suggested Food Pairing: A mixed seafood pasta with Alfredo sauce or lobster with a smooth beurre blanc sauce or bechamel — let those cream-based sauces pull out the round mouth and meatiness hidden within this wine while the fruity components of the Sauvignon Blanc cut through the richness of your meal.

Le Vigne 2013 Merlot

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About the Wine: According to Michael, Merlot was a hard sell for a long time, partly because consumers were walking around screaming, “I’m am not drinking Merlot!” like it was their personal, educated opinion. But also because winemakers tend to try too hard when it comes to Merlot, not letting the grape speak for itself. So that’s the tactic Michael took when producing this wine. With 100% Merlot grapes, gently pressed, and aged in neutral American Oak barrels, this is a Merlot that speaks of the vines, the land, and a winemaker’s caring attitude.

Flavor Profile: Straight up, this is a pretty wine in the glass — the ruby red glistens in the light. The smell takes your straight to the farm, emitting intense aromas of herbs and even vegetables. On the palate, this wine is just as clean and as clear as it looks and as earthy as it smells, with low acid and low-medium tannin, you’re able to enjoy every lingering sip without the intrusion of excess.

Suggested Food Pairing: Because of the refreshing quality of this wine, don’t be afraid to pair it with a slow-roasted, hearty dish like a beef stew or cioppino — the wine can handle it and will offer you relief amongst all those strong flavors in the food.

Le Vigne Nikara Red Blend

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About the Wine: This Bordeaux-style blend is a signature Le Vigne wine, celebrating the French-like terrain of Paso Robles.

Le Vigne’s Nikiara is 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petit Verdot, 10% Cabernet Franc, and 10% Merlot.

Flavor Profile: Deep red in the glass, Nikiara presents a strong herbaceousness on the nose along with dark red fruits. On the palate, this red blend is smooth on the palate, yet a bit firmer and fuller than a typical Bordeaux. Black cherries come forward on the palate along with a hint of anise and spice and then slowly make way for those fresh green herbs. The finish is a silky, sensuous one, leaving you wanting another sip more.

Suggested Food Pairing: This French-inspired wine will pair well with a heartier French-inspired fare. Think decadent duck a l’orange, think cassoulet. But honestly, I’d be happy sipping this wine with a simple plate of enjoyably stinky cheeses.

More Info: For more information about Le Vigne and their available wines, please visit their website. And if you’re in the area, definitely do stop in for a wine and cheese tasting!

Fun Fact: The label art is a portrait of the winery’s owner’s father on his farm back in Italy.


I started this post talking about how vast and diverse Paso Robles is and, I realize, I’ve featured wines from generally the same area. Maybe it’s the beach-bum in me — growing up with fog in my lungs and sand between my toes — that I just love the wines that have been impacted by my beloved Pacific. Or maybe it’s the fact that Paso Robles is home to over 200 wineries, and I just couldn’t taste them all in one afternoon.

The point is, I have a new appreciation for Paso Robles wine — the winemakers at this event passed on their passion, and I’m curious and eager to learn more. So…who wants to fund my next road trip???

For more information about the Paso Robles AVA, definitely visit Pasowine.com where you can get a full list of wineries in the area and geek out as much as you’d like about terroir, climate, grapes, and growers — and find out if there are any Paso wine tastings near you.

Oh…and it wouldn’t be a Girls On Food/Stacy On Wine without some Silly Selfies.

Cheers!

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Chris Eberle, winemaker at Eberle Winery, and Stacy
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Mark Hess, Senior Manager for J. Lohr, and Stacy
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Michael Barreto, winemaker for Le Vigne Winery, and Stacy

**Want to have your wine event, winery, vineyard, or tasting room featured? Please Contact the Author via her blog BriscoeBites.com**

Yes Way Jose!: Salt and Vine in Nashville

Salt and Vine is the newest gem added to the Sylvan Heights neighborhood crown. Located in the new H.G. Hill Center on the corner of 40th Avenue and Charlotte, this one will be shining bright!

 Salt and Vine
4001 Charlotte Avenue Nashville, Tennessee 37209
http://www.saltandvinenashville.com

FullSizeRender 8Mattie Jackson, the Nashville native who created this concept, has struck a perfect balance between casual eatery, wine bar, and gourmet marketplace. As you walk in, you notice the darling marketplace where we were greeted by our hostess. Seeing as this is a new Nashville restaurant, of course, there was a wait. We proceeded to the bar to check out the offerings. Salt and Vine offers quite the assortment of beverages. Wines are categorized by crushed, pressed or fortified and then for the non-wine drinker (do those people actually exist??) they have limited cocktail and beer options. Not only does Salt and Vine have a great bar, but they have a charming tasting room. That evening the room was utilized as an extension of the dining room, but Maggie and her team will be offering frequent wine tastings, the first beginning August 3rd.  Get your tickets before they are out of stock!

My dining partner in crime and I had carefully concocted our order while waiting at the bar.  We were ready!  As soon as we were seated, we said “Yes Way, Jose” to our server and she was more than kind to bring out that punchbowl filled with fruity goodness.  A combination of tequila, lemon, and rosé with slices of strawberries floating about, the drink was well balanced and left you wanting more. Think- the PERFECT cocktail for the pool or your next Sunday Funday.

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Seeing as I just got back from Italy, I totally had burrata brain. Check. Clearly, we needed something a little more on the hearty side. I mean for heaven’s sake, we had a punch bowl full of tequila and rosé… We placed an order for the Green Curry Mussels and the Crispy Chicken Thighs.

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First up, the Burrata, grilled corn, peach and basil oil. This dish looked too good to be true.  The vibrant oranges and whites with just a touch of green made for a mouthwatering dish. The saltiness and heartiness of the grilled corn were complimented by the sweetness and fresh qualities of the peach. The basil oil acted as a balancing agent for the dish. Perfection.

FullSizeRender 12Next up: Green Curry Mussels, grilled bread. This was not a dish you would have to muscle your way through, folks. It was a little premature in the evening to have a favorite, but this was it.

The color contrast of the mussels, curry sauce, and grilled bread was flawless, but this dish was all around a winner. There was a delightful balance of curry, cilantro, and coconut milk. Clearly, we consumed all of our mussels leaving this amazing soupy goodness.  In true southern style, we had to ask for extra grilled bread so we could “sop” up the tastiness. Do it- you won’t regret it.

IMG_6718Finally, we concluded the evening with Crispy chicken thighs, farro, blistered tomato, salsa verde. This dish was the perfect juxtaposition. The chicken was so tender that it was falling off the bone, while the farro was the perfect al dente, adding a certain crispiness to the dish.

Salt and Vine brings simple elegance and to the Sylvan Heights neighborhood making wine and food more approachable and less forced. Ladies and gentleman, this place, will be on repeat. Perfect for a quick glass of wine after work or a light dinner, Salt and Vine will leave you thirsty for more.

How to Pair Food & Wine: An Evening with the Diablo Tasters Guild

Love learning about food and wine pairings? Then you may want to become the newest member of the Tasters Guild International — a nationwide society of foodies/wine lovers who gather together with their local chapters to geek out on all things culinary.

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The Diablo Tasters Guild July gathering at Buon Appetito

While wine tasting at this year’s SF Pinot Days, I was lucky enough to meet John Engstrom and Jim Lipman of California’s only living Tasters Guild chapter, the Diablo Tasters Guild located in the San Francisco East Bay Area. They were kind enough to invite me to one of their monthly get-togethers where they sync a local restaurant’s venue and cuisine with a California winery. This month the Guild featured food with an Italian flare from Buon Appetito in Fremont alongside some Spanish-inspired wine from Bodegas Paso Robles.

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Diablo Tasters Guild Host, Jim Lipman
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Diablo Tasters Guild Host John Engstrom

For those who have never attended a food and wine pairing event, it can be a bit overwhelming. Especially when the hosting winery provides not one, but two glasses per course. It can be a lot to take in — both physically and mentally — luckily we had the expert guidance of Heather Gray, General Manager of Bodegas Paso Robles.

Wine Rep - Heather Gray
Bodegas Paso Robles General Manager Heather Gray

About Bodegas Paso Robles

Bodegas Paso Robles is the only California winery that focuses on winemaking utilizing grapes native to Spain and Portugal specifically. The grapes are acquired from several vineyards along the Paso Robles AVA in San Luis Obispo County and include exotic varietals such as Malvasia, Monastrell, and Trousseau as well as more familiar names such as Tempranillo, Albariño, and Garnacha (or Grenache).

The Dinner

Before each course, Heather would stand and talk a little bit about each wine and how and why she felt they would pair well with the accompanying meal. Of course, the fun part is taste-testing ourselves and discussing our experiences and preferences.

Course 1: Carpaccio di Salmone Affumicato (Thinly sliced smoked salmon, topped with fresh Arugula, red onions, and capers)

Salad Course

This was a beautifully cured salmon that came alive with the addition of the fresh vegetables and a creamy mustard-based aioli on top.

However, the dominant flavor in this dish was salt since, as you can see from the photo, the salmon was the star of that plate. One could argue that the dish was too salty, but that’s only the case if eaten alone. Pair this course with either of the two white wines from Bodegas Paso Robles, and you’ll experience an entirely different — more balanced — flavor profile.

2015 Galicia

The 2015 Galicia is made from 100% Albariño grapes. It’s quite a pale yellow in the glass and emits an intense floral aroma. On the palate, it’s quite dry and a bit spicy — there’s a hint of effervescence that tingles the tongue from start to finish. It’s this quality in the wine that helped cut through the saltiness of the meal as a whole and brought out the meatiness — the umami — of the salmon.

204 Dona Blanca

The 2014 Doña Blanca is a 50-50 blend of Garnacha Blanca (more commonly, Grenache Blanc) and Malvasia Blanca (often likened to a Muscat). In the glass, this white wine had a much bolder yellow color, releasing even stronger floral aromas alongside fruits such as apples or pears. To smell it, you’d think the wine would be a sweet one, but it’s not at all. There’s just enough acidity to cut through those perfumey aromas, yet the texture is quite smooth — almost oily — on the palate. That calm and creamy texture, again, helped to bring out the savory flavors along with the natural oils in the salmon, while the floral aromas brought forth the herbaceous qualities from the fresh vegetables. Personally, this wine allowed for the most variety and balance of flavor on my palate, and the one I would recommend to pair with this or any similar dish.

Course 2: Penne al Pomodoro Naturale (Tube pasta with light marinara sauce, fresh chopped tomatoes, basil & garlic).

Penne Pasta

In all honesty, this dish is very much like something I make at home all the time. It’s penne pasta cooked just over al dente with your basic marinara sauce. No muss no fuss and certainly not fancy. But that’s perfect for an event like this — since the wines are so unique, it’s a great idea to pair them with familiar foods, giving us a chance to explore these Spanish varietals even further (as well as get ideas for pairing wine at home).

2010 Garancha

The 2010 Garnacha, made from 100% Garanache grapes was a beautiful ruby red in the glass. On the nose, the wine emits intense aromas of green, grassy herbs (I’m thinking dillweed here) and the taste was just as herbalicious. Bodegas Paso Robles uses a combination of Hungarian, American, and new French oak when barrel aging their wines. This particular wine spent 18 months barrel aging, and all I can say is that was just the right amount of time. The wine is oaked enough to create that smooth, round mouthfeel without the overbearing flavor profile of oak — the herbs and bright fruits get to sing.

And what did this do for that run-of-the-mill everyday pasta? Well, it certainly brought out the herbs in the marinara sauce, elevating what could be a mid-week meal into something a bit more special.

2010 Vaca Roja

The 2010 Vaca Roja, a combination of Garanacha and Monastrell (commonly known as Mourvedre) was significantly darker in the glass than the 100% Garanache. The addition of that Monastrell gave the wine not only a darker hue but a darker aroma and taste as well. On the nose, the 2010 Vaca Roja smelled predominantly of black cherries, deep red grapes, and ripe plums. On the palate, the flavors are even more complex bringing in hints of licorice, spice, and a little smoke along with those fruit flavors.

This wine was pure yum, but did it pair with the dish? Yes and no. What it did was give the pasta a bit of body that it didn’t have before. That lead me to believe that this wine would pair even better had the pasta had a bit of meat in it (such as pasta bolognese, spaghetti and meatballs, or Pasta Pomodoro with a healthy helping of hearty mushrooms).

Course 3: Risotto con Agnello e Funghi (Italian Arborio rice with roasted lamb, mushrooms, grilled fennel, red wine and Parmesan cheese)

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I loved that the risotto was the perfectly cooked, completely immersed in parmesan cheese and the beautifully meaty mushrooms mixed in with every mouthful. For those elements alone I would say try this dish, specifically with the next wine pairing.
2011 Viva Ti

The Viva Tu Tempranillo, made from 100% Tempranillo grapes and aged in 70% new French oak is my top wine pick from the whole event. Visually, the Viva Tu is a gorgeous dark purple-red in the glass. Initial aromas included black cherries and sweet plums along with some savory scents of black olives and deep forest greenery. On the palate, the wine is so smooth, and those initial fruit and vegetable flavors give way to an almost nutty or caramel-like note. The finish is a long lingering one with just enough tannins to give the wine body and depth.

The calming smoothness of the wine paired beautifully with those mushrooms and the creamy texture of the risotto, while the aromas of the deep forest wildlife pulled out the herbs and fennel that had been hiding deep within the dish.

This is a wine I would happily drink again and again, recommend to a friend, and experiment with different food pairings.2009 Solea

The 2009 Solea is a traditional Rioja blend consisting of 86% Tempranillo and 14% Graciano (a native Spanish grape, high in acid, used predominantly for blending purposes). This blend gave off quite a dark aroma — think raisins, prunes, dried cherries — and there was a definite kick of acidity even on the nose. On the palate, the 2009 Solea is quite dry with flavors including anise, fennel, with a bit of a damp, earthy funk. But just as the tasting concludes, there’s that kick of acid that adds a bit of spice, tickling the tongue well into the aftertaste.

Was this the perfect pairing for the lamb risotto? In theory yes. This wine would best be paired with a meaty stew-like dish. But make sure that your protein — whether lamb, goat, or beef — is packed full of flavor and its natural juices.

Course 4: Formaggi Misto (Assorted cheeses featuring Parmesan, Ricotta salata, and Manchego)

Cheese Plate

Not too much of an explanation needed here. We simply had three different cheese to taste alongside two of the most complex wines of the evening.
2010 Piminteiro

Forget the looks; the 2010 Pimentiero is all about its aroma — it smells like you’re walking through someone’s vegetable garden. The strong scents of capsicum and jalepeño peppers are overwhelming — it’s no wonder this wine’s name translates to “pepper pot.” But despite those spicy aromas, the 2010 Pimentiero is surprisingly refreshing. Soft fruits such as cherries and plums are pleasant on the palate, while the acid and tannins are both artistically restrained, allowing for a long, thirst-quenching finish.

It’s interesting how the different cheese brought out different components in the wine. While the soft Manchego cheese brought out the fruit flavors of the Pimentiero, the dry Ricotta revealed a smokiness in the wine, and the hard Parmesan showcased brightness and acidity.

2011 Trousseau

The 2011 Trousseau, made from 100% Trousseau (one of the rarest grapes in the country) has the best aroma of the wines from the event. It was like sniffing one of the finest cigars — fruit meet flowers, flowers meet peppers, peppers meet leather — and they all mingle in this truly unique wine.

Paired with the Manchego, the Trousseau brought out a little extra “stank” we all love a good cheese. The farm-like funk was even more prominent when tasting the Ricotta along with the Trousseau, while the wine brought out the softer, nuttier notes of the hard Parmesan.

Course 5: Souffle al Cioccolato (Chocolate soufflé with crème)
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This is the money shot right here.

I’m not going to lie folks — as much of a chocoholic that I claim to be, I’ve never had a chocolate soufflé before, so I was more than pleasantly surprised when I broke into my dessert, and an incredible avalanche of fudge came pouring forth.Choc Souffle

The cake, in contrast, was light and fluffy, with a crisp, almost cookie-like outer crust. Amazing. I want to try to make this at home…

2013 dulce damaI must also admit, as much as I love a good chocolate, I’m not a huge dessert person because I’m highly sensitive to sweets — as in things that are simply sweet are often too sweet for me. This goes double for dessert wines — I’m not a fan of sweet wines almost at all. But I do believe I found my exception to my rule. I think one of my problems was that  I’d never had the perfect dessert pairing. Well, it lives — in this dish and this wine.

The 2013 Dulce Dama, made from Tempranillo and fortified brandy (in true Port-style) honestly surprised me. Yes, the initial taste is classic dessert — cocoa, figs, chocolate syrup. But if you let it sit in your mouth for a second, suddenly that flavor melts away, and these beautiful deep fruits come forward — cherries, blueberries, blackberries. Let that settle on the tongue and then the acidity kicks in, ultimately balancing sweet with savory and a bit of sour.

This paired perfectly with the chocolate soufflé. It’s almost like the sweetness of the dessert, and the sweetness of the wine canceled each other out allowing for the bright fruit flavors and the acidity to cut through all of that richness. I would certainly recommend this specific pairing — this wine needs this dessert as much as this dessert needs this wine. This course was by far the best pair of the evening.

Hungry for More?

Of course, this was a study of one dinner and one winery. There’s so much more to learn in the world of food and wine pairing — that must be why the Diablo Tasters taste every month. And with the intimate setting and knowledgeable hosts, guests are guaranteed to learn something at every sitting.

For more information about Diablos Tasters Guild, including how to get on the guest list or how to start your local chapter, contact either Jim or John on the Diablo Tasters Guild website.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Stacy on Wine without a silly Stacy selfie.

Stacy - Heather Selfie
Bodegas Paso Robles General Manager Heather Gray and Stacy Briscoe (after drinking wine)

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**Want to have your wine event, winery, vineyard, or tasting room featured? Please Contact the Author via her blog BriscoeBites.com**

Let Them Eat Steak: The Capital Grille Opening Week – Raleigh, NC

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The Capital Grille
4242 Six Forks Road, Raleigh, NC 27609
http://www.thecapitalgrille.com/

cg6“The best steak I’ve had in a decade” was the description a friend used after visiting The Capital Grille earlier in the week. No doubt, when my husband and I arrived we had been excited for days! Not only was the steak incredible, the service, atmosphere, and all the sides complimented it to a tee!

The restaurant was bustling, the hostesses were cheerful, and our waiter was so friendly! We had a table dead center in all the action – the kitchen is open the length of the restaurant; flanked by booths. When you first walk in, the glass wine cellar separates the entrance from the tables. They have over 350 wines, with an in-house sommelier and extensive info on each wine.

CG1bOur server, Scot, was incredible! He immediately greeted us with an iPad in hand – chock full of all the wines, cocktails, desserts…and told us about their signature martini – the Stoli Doli. The Stoli Doli is a delectable beverage created with Stolichnaya Vodka infused with fresh pineapple, chilled and served straight up. He then reviewed the iPad menu with us – this is neat – you can peruse all the wines they have in-house, and when you click on the name, it gives you more details about it. If you order and love one, or are interested in learning more about one, you can just select the “email to me” button, and send yourself the bottle details with a photo of the wine! I know I could have used this in the past, and was excited to scroll through it while at the table.

cg2bAs we were scrolling through the iPad and reviewed the menu, Scot surprised us with two tiny sample glasses of the Stoli Doli pineapple martini. It was a dangerously good drink! Chilled perfectly; the fresh squeezed pineapple juice was the perfect complement to the vodka. Simply delicious! Next, they brought out a bread basket, with a great variety of bread with a pad of freshly salted butter! We ordered two glasses of wine (both cabs; my husband got a full bodied Concha y Toro, and I ordered a lighter Avalon) and we ordered our appetizers. We debated between the Pan-Fried Calamari with Hot Cherry Peppers, the Jumbo Lump Crab Cocktail, and the Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella. When asked his opinion (without offering our debate) Scot immediately suggested the calamari and the prosciutto, so we were happy to oblige! So glad we did!

 

cg7The calamari was perfectly cooked, and the hot cherry peppers added an unusual, but delicious, flavor! It had a little kick, but more noticeable the first bite than subsequent ones! The prosciutto was fantastic. The mozzarella made fresh, in-house, daily, and they wrap it with the prosciutto and then grill it before serving! Add a bit of tomato and basil, and wow! Just Wow! I’ve never had fresher mozzarella; it was so much more flavorful than what I am used to!

 

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Prosciutto Wrapped Mozzarella

I am not a huge red meat eater, but at a restaurant with an in-house butcher, figured steak was the way to go! My husband loves a NY Strip, and he ordered that, medium, with a Kona coffee rub on top. Scot suggested I try the porterhouse steak, so that is what I ordered, medium-rare, with the Kona coffee rub as well, topped with shallot butter. Come on – there is no way I wasn’t trying that coffee rub, too! Just a quick side comment, for the reader: if you like a “closer to medium medium-rare” order the medium. I love a good rare, medium-rare, so I was thrilled when it came out like that! If you like it more well done, order up!

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These steaks were incredible! The rub was delicious, the steaks tender, and the shallot butter was out of this world good! The menu offers a la carte family style sides (full and half size portions on many), and we ordered the lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, and a half order each of the fresh creamed spinach and the soy glazed brussels sprouts with bacon. The sides probably need a paragraph to themselves! 1. All 3 of these sides, while typical, were all different (better) than previous versions I’ve had before. 2. Unlike other steakhouses we’ve been to, the fresh creamed spinach is, well…fresh! They make it in-house with béchamel sauce. I mean, good-ness. It was incredible! 3. I usually don’t order lobster mac ‘n’ cheese because it is too sweet for me. This one was a typical pasta that happened to have huge, delicious, fresh chunks of lobster meat in it. Everything blended so well, but I never got sick of eating it! 4. The soy brussels sprouts. I mean. Oh. My. Gosh. I don’t like Brussel sprouts. We ordered it because I write a food blog, and they’re trendy. But yowza! I liked these! They had been flash fried before cooking, and were so much sweeter than usual sprouts! Add the glaze and the bacon, and run doesn’t walk to making this your extra side!

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Now, I feel like I’m raving, and have written more than I ever do. But I haven’t even gotten to dessert yet! By now, the floor manager, Chris, and the sommelier, Blake, have stopped by our table to welcome us to the restaurant. (The Capital Grille has a few more than 50 restaurants nationwide, and from what I’ve read on various review sites, this is not unusual behavior – this restaurant is known for treating everyone like royalty!) We were directed back to the iPad and flip through the dessert options (there are pictures, so we’re done for!). They have a flourless chocolate espresso cake that looks amazing, their cheesecake has a crème brulee finish, and they even have a healthy option with fruit and yogurt! I am a sucker for ice cream, so chose to go with their handcrafted ice cream dessert: 3 separate scoops of dark chocolate, raspberry sorbet, and caramel ice cream, with two cookies on the side! Phe-nomenal.

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Finished everything off with a decaf cappuccino that was served with some rock candy on the side. Perfect ending to this delicious meal! As we were leaving (with big smiles on our faces), my husband asked if we could make this our new “special occasion” restaurant! Looking forward to many more meals here at The Capital Grille!

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Celebrate Bastille Day at La Madeleine Country French Cafe!

Happy Bastille Day!

What better way to honor this French national holiday, which celebrates the unity of the French people after the storming of the Bastille, then enjoying its rich culture and culinary delicacies!

If you are looking for a place to indulge in French-inspired cuisine or want to feel whisked away to the French countryside today, then La Madeleine Country French Cafe should be on the top of your list.

La Madeleine Country French Cafe

Various Locations
http://www.lamadeleine.com


To celebrate Bastille Day, La Madeleine will be offering a free mini Liberté Tart all day today.

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The Liberté Tart has fresh blueberries, raspberries, and whipped cream, to represent the blue, red and white of the French flag. There is no purchase necessary, just simply request your free tart and enjoy!

However, while you’re there, you shouldn’t just stop at dessert. La Madeleine also offers breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, as well as wine, which is important because French food should always be accompanied with wine, in my humble opinion.

When I visited La Madeleines location in Alexandria, VA, not only was I able to grab my free Liberté tart (they also offered this promo on the 4th of July) but I was also able to try their new French Tartine Trio sandwiches, and of course topped my meal off with a glass of Rosé. I couldn’t pass up on Rosé!

The French Tartine Trio sandwiches are three open-faced sandwiches. One had chicken & goat cheese; another had Roasted Vegetable and the third ham & swiss. They were each baked on herb ciabatta bread and paired with a Cranberry Pecan Salad. Each sandwich was better than the last and perfectly flavored. I remember being slightly bummed when I finished because there was no more left. That could be the fatty in me, but I’m almost positive it was mostly because the dish was excellent!

My husband had the Chicken Friand,  a puff pastry with balsamic chicken and mushroom filling topped with wild mushroom sauce, which was to…die…for. Of course, I couldn’t snap a picture because he eats so fast, but I was able to try it, and it did not disappoint. The pastry melted in your mouth, and the flavors of the balsamic chicken and mushroom sauce combined were out of this world!

The delicious French inspired dishes coupled with the casual countryside decor makes La Madeleine an excellent choice to celebrate today’s holiday.

So, make sure while you’re out celebrating Bastille Day today, that you stop by one of La Madeleines locations for your free Liberté tart and a sure to be filling, relaxing, magnifique breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Bewitched by Betwixt Wine

There’s this little corner of San Francisco, off of the 101, that’s a bunch of warehouses. I’ve been here to scout for used sports gear,  to stop by the flea market, and of course to visit the fishmonger. I didn’t realize there were wineries here…

Betwixt Front Door

There are quite a few. In fact, when I came to this part of town to visit Tim and Melissa of Betwixt Wine — who I met during the 2016 Pinot Days — I was surprised to learn they share their little space with several other small, independent wineries (such as August West) as well.

And at this stage of their operation, having only officially been in the winemaking business since 2012, this suits them just fine. It’s an intimate space where they network and swap ideas and inspiration with others in the industry.

Betwixt Barels

About Betwixt Winemaking

Tim Telli, owner and winemaker of Betwixt Wine, gets his grapes from various small lot vineyards along the Northern California coast. He says he lets the grape-growers do what they do best (grow the grapes) because his passion is in the winemaking process — all of which takes place in his downtown SF winery.

Tim’s focus is on, what he calls, “minimalist winemaking,” meaning he takes a hands-off approach when it comes to production. He first puts the grapes through “cold soaking” or “cold maceration” pre-fermentation, which is a natural way to extract color and flavor from grape skins without excess tannins.

cold press tank
Betwixt cold press steel tank

The wine then goes through a gentle pressing process and left in the barrels to ferment until ready to bottle.

The barrel-aging process is an aspect of winemaking that may not be given a lot of thought by the daily consumer. Sure, we may know what it will mean for our palate if a bottle says the wine’s spent time in an oak barrel — we expect a particular scent, flavor, and mouthfeel. But those aromas, tastes, and textures — at least in the case of Tim and Betwixt Wines — is carefully crafted by the winemaker.

2015 Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard -- old French oak barrel
2015 Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard – aged in old French oak barrel

While visiting Tim and his wife Melissa, I had the opportunity to try their 2015 Pinot Noir — in its separate components. We first had the wine from an aged oak barrel which, because of its age, emits very little “oaky-ness.” This Pinot Noir was quite clear, fruit forward (both on the nose and on the palate), and had a sharp acidic bite to it.

We then tasted the Pinot from the new oak

2015 Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard - new French oak barrel
2015 Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard – aged in new French oak barrel
Pressed Wine in Glass
2015 Pinot Noir, Helluva Vineyard – pressed wine aged in neutral French oak

barrel. Visually, the wine is a much firmer red color; Aromatically, the wine emits a strong scent of fresh cedar or pine wood. The taste was the biggest difference: the mouthfeel was overall softer, rounder, the fruit flavors substantially more mellow, and there was a distinct lack of acidity in comparison to the old barrel batch.

Lastly, we drank from the batch of pressed Pinot Noir. This means, after all, the free-flowing juice from the grapes has been separated, and only the stems and skins are left, Tim gently presses on those remains to squeeze out any residual liquid. As you can imagine, this is where the tannins will come into the final product. I’ve never tasted just the pressed juices of wine before. Although it makes sense logically, I was surprised by how light and cloudy the glass was, and how strong the aroma of “bush” and “weeds” was. On the palate, of course, this was quite dry and tasted very little of fruit.

In its separate parts, we could all taste the potential the 2015 Pinot Noir has. And that’s part of the joy for Tim and Melissa — taste testing and experimenting until a perfect balance is achieved. Once they’ve figured out the right ratio of old oak to new oak to tannin, they can bottle wine they’re happy to drink themselves and, of course, share with others.

Let the blending trials begin!

The Wine: Current Releases2014 Pinot Noir

So what about the wine that’s bottled and ready to drink now? Yes, there’s plenty of those. For me, the most notable is their 2014 Lester Family Vineyard Pinot Noir. It truly exemplifies what Betwixt Wine is all about — a hands-off, natural approach to the growth and fermentation process and their artistic endeavor for the ideal balance of flavor. You can taste the grape from the ground up — the earth the vine was grafted in, the juice of the perfectly plump fruit, and just a hint of the salt sea air from that Santa Cruz coastline. You can taste the love in the wine — the time it took to ferment the grapes just the right amount; the decision to add a certain percentage of new oak barrel aged wine; the attention to detail regarding the right amount of tannins to balance the overall taste and texture. Like a chef plating a well-rounded and balanced dish so is this Pinot Noir.

You can read my full review of Betwixt 2014 Pinot Noir, but know I’m not the only one to fall in love with this wine. Wine Enthusiast Magazine recently scored this bottle a highly recommended 92 points. I’ll drink to that!

2014 Grenache BottleThe Wines – New Releases

On the heels of a successful 2013 Grenache from Boer Vineyard, Chalone, Monterey (just recently picked up by the prestigious Frances restaurant in San Francisco), is Betwixt’s 2014 vintage from the same vineyard. This is another great example of Tim’s ability to utilize the best of small lot vineyards and create something truly unique. While many Grenache’s can be heavy and overbearing, Tim’s take on this varietal is quite light and lively, showcasing the ripeness of the fruit alongside the natural minerality of the vineyard’s terrior. This Grenache is quite young but is packed full of flavor — easily enjoyable now yet has the potential to age beautifully for the next several years. I couldn’t help but take a bottle home to share with my family, and write up this glowing review.

Here’s hoping Tim takes Melissa and mine’s advice and enters this wine for an official review.

More Info

Betwixt Wines current line-up includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Grenache, as well as a limited release White Wine Blend. Current releases are available for purchase through their site.

To learn more about Tim, Melissa, and Betwixt Wines, please visit their website. If you’d like to taste their wines in person, they’ll be pouring at SF’s Fig & Thistle on July 26, 2016, from 6:30 until 8 pm (See their events page for details).

Stacy "Betwixt" the winemakers, Tim & Melissa Cheers!
Stacy “Betwixt” the winemakers, Tim & Melissa Cheers!

**Want to have your winery, vineyard, or tasting room featured? Please Contact the Author via her blog BriscoeBites.com**

A Dog Day Afternoon at The Lincoln in Venice, CA

If there’s one thing I love as much as food, it’s dogs! So when I heard that The Lincoln, a craft cocktail bar in Venice, was hosting “A Dog Day Afternoon” to benefit No-Kill LA (an initiative of the Best Friends Animal Society), I knew I had to be there!

The Lincoln
2536 Lincoln Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

Dog-Day-Afternoon-The-Lincoln

The Lincoln is a industrial-chic bar that fits right in with Venice’s gritty and eclectic vibe. It evokes the style of a 40’s auto-shop with vintage decorative touches and repurposed materials such as barstools made from car-jacks, and glass from a Sherman tank factory. When I arrived at the brick, open-air patio with sunlight filtering through wooden beams, it was bustling with a lively mix of people and their canine companions.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Patio

I brought my dogs, Max and Oliver, along for the experience, and they were happy to mingle with some of the other pups as I perused the special drink menu for the event. I did treat them a lot on this trip, especially when it came to the food. I know a lot of people with pets do like to do that, but I think it may be time to try switching to natural dog food. This would be in their best interest in all honesty and I can always treat them once in a while!

There were even dog food reviews in the forms of pamflets as well as free samples for your dog too! I was talking to someone there and they were telling me about the fantastic new dog playpen DogProductPicker.com research on dog playpens has found that having the right playpen for a dog can reduce damage to your furniture and lawn, so I’m told. How interesting!

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Menu

Being a wine lover, I had to try the Rose Wine Flight right off the bat! For $12, the pours are generous, and it was a treat to sample the different flavors of rose from various regions.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Wine-Flight

The first, a Grenache/ Cinsault blend from the Famile Sumeire winery in Provence, France, had a bright berry flavor with hints of spice balanced with a subtle minerality.

The second glass, a Grenache/ Syrah “Funk Zone” blend from Santa Barbara was my favorite. Crisp and dry, it was a mellow wine, perfect for a Sunday afternoon; that offered flavors of honeysuckle and strawberry with notes of citrus.

The third wine was also a hit; a Chenin Noir by Domaine Brazilier of Loire, Franc. This was the most complex tasting, and it boasted a strong, almost cidery vibe, with flavors of ripe melon, lemon zest, and pepper.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Patio2

Any of these wines would have paired perfectly with seafood or a summery strawberry salad, and I may have to hunt down a bottle or two to keep at home. The Lincoln doesn’t serve food, but for this particular event they had 100% beef hot dogs available for free, and I helped myself to one only to earn jealous glances from Max and Oliver.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Hot-Dogs Dog-Day-Afternoon-Hot-Dogs2

Luckily for them, The Lincoln provided free doggy treats and fresh water for all the visiting pups to enjoy. (I can also say that the rose flight pairs quite nicely with a good, old-fashioned hot dog!)

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Dog-Treats

I was also tempted by the cocktails offered on the special menu, so I tried a “Bark at the Moon”, made with gin, amaretto, mandarin, lemon, and egg. This cocktail was deliciously citrusy, creamy, smooth and totally refreshing. The whipped egg whites on top offered a light and foamy touch – it was like drinking a lemon meringue pie!

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Cocktail

I would have tried more cocktails if I didn’t have to make the drive back to Pasadena, so I worked off my buzz by wandering the patio, saying hello to some of the other dogs and their owners. There’s no better ice-breaker than a dog, and I found that everyone at The Lincoln was friendly and eager to chat. I loved the neighborly vibe of this bar, and I only wish I lived closer so I could become a regular.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Dog5 Dog-Day-Afternoon-Dog4 Dog-Day-Afternoon-Dog3 Dog-Day-Afternoon-Dog2 Dog-Day-Afternoon-Dog

I also made sure to visit the NKLA booth at the back of the patio. Every donation made that day was pledged to be matched by The Lincoln, so I was happy to contribute $20 to the cause, and pick up a t-shirt as well. For those that don’t know, No-Kill LA is a fantastic organization whose mission is to serve as a model for how the rest of the nation’s animal shelters can become no-kill. Since their launch in 2012, NKLA has reduced the amount of animals killed in Los Angeles shelters by 66%, thanks to a variety of programs including spay/neuter clinics, pet adoptions, and fostering. They aim to make Los Angeles a no-kill city by 2017, which is great news for pet lovers everywhere.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-NKLA

NKLA also brought along Sabrina, a three-year-old Terrier and Pitbull mix with a goofy personality, who was up for adoption. If I didn’t already have two dogs (both of whom are rescues), I would have been tempted to bring Sabrina home with me! She was such a sweetheart, and I hope that she finds her forever home soon.

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Sabrina

Dogs are always welcome on the patio of The Lincoln, but I was glad to learn that “A Dog Day Afternoon” will likely be a monthly event where local dog-lovers can gather to support an excellent cause while enjoying delicious craft cocktails in one of Los Angeles’ hippest neighborhoods. It was well worth the trek for me, and I’m already looking forward to the next one!

Dog-Day-Afternoon-Tania

Kendric Vineyards: A Hidden Gem on San Francisco’s Treasure Island

TI_Scenery

Just off San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, on the small, industrial Treasure Island are a few small businesses not too many non-SF-natives know about. And even those savvy to the SF scene may not realize that past the first few buildings that house Winery SF, Sol Rouge, and Sottomarino, there is an even smaller, more independent winery stationed in an abandoned school house — Kendric Vineyards.

Kendric_Entrance

No, it’s not glamorous — on the inside or the out. Walking through the winery, one will see all the bare-bone necessities needed in the world of wine — from barrels

Kendric_Barrels

to tanks…

Kendric_fermentation

…with not much room for anything else. But when it comes to the heart and soul of wine, that’s where Kendric’s beauty is bounteous.

Stew Above Vineyard
Stew in his Marine vineyard. Photo courtesy of Kendric Vineyard website

About Kendric Vineyards:

Stewart Johnson is the vineyard owner and winemaker of Kendric Vineyards. From planting the grape seeds to bottling the wine itself, Stewart is hands-on during all stages of his vineyard’s production. He specializes in Pinot Noir and Viognier from his private vineyard in Marin as well as Syrah and Sangiovese from his mother’s private vineyard the Shenandoah Valley. With the help of his family, friends, and local volunteers, Stewart can successfully run a — pretty much — one-man wine operation.

I first met Stewart during the 2016 Pinot Days in San Francisco, where I was able to taste his 2013 Pinot Noir and his 2012 Reserve (click links for full reviews). Most recently, I had the pleasure of visiting his modest Treasure Island winery to taste and discuss some of his upcoming releases.

Barrel TastingThe Wine

There’s a lot of hard labor for Stew, working his vineyard, crushing his grapes, keeping a constant eye on the development of each of his wines. But then there’s the fun part — tasting. How does a winemaker know when the wine is ready to be bottled? How does he decide if a particular varietal will be perfect on its own or will lend itself more successfully as part of a blend? How does he figure out the ratios of those blends? Go straight to the barrels to taste, taste, and taste some more.

 

2014 Sangiovese2014_Sangiovese

The first barrel taste-test for us was his 2014 Sangiovese from his family’s Shenandoah Vineyard. Straight from the barrel and into the glass, this wine had an intense perfume of bright red fruits — think cherries, raspberries, strawberries. Visually stunning, in the glass, the wine has a crystal-ruby quality. And that aromatic and visual brightness carry over into the mouth as well — there’s an underlying tartness that carries through, a hint of acidity, and that lingering fruit on the finish. With a medium tannin level, this is a wine that will certainly age well once bottled, developing further complexities.

2015_sangiovese2015 Sangiovese

Same varietal, same vineyard, different year. And it’s amazing the difference a year makes. This wine is almost the polar opposite of its older sibling. Visually, the wine is quite cloudy. Aromatically, it gives off bigger, bolder, darker aromas. And, because of the higher tannin content, the taste is more intense with a dryer finish. This vintage is what Stew calls “typical of the style,” and, as it is still young in the barrel, he has time to wait, taste again, and decide if he’ll bottle as-is or add something to it himself to round out the flavor profile.

The 2014 Syrah “Experiment.”

2014 Syrah Experiment

Kendric Vineyards’ 2014 Syrah is an excellent example of a wine with a lot of depth and complexity, but not necessarily what one would call a “friendly” drinker. This particular vintage has taken on a lot of the barrel’s oaky-ness and presents with a strong woodsy scent. That oaky-woodsy-ness takes over a lot of the taste as well, hiding any fruit elements the wine may have — it’s not unpleasant, it’s just unbalanced. So how does a winemaker remedy an unbalanced wine? Like a good chef, a good winemaker knows what ingredients he has, how they work together, and is willing to experiment with different ratios of those ingredients until the balance is perfected.

In Stewart’s case, his “other ingredient” is a beautiful 2014 Viognier with a soft, soothing texture, floral aromas, stone fruit flavors, with just a kick of acid in the back of the tongue. If you think about it, these are the perfect elements to work alongside and even uplift the 2015 Syrah: The silkiness of the Viognier will subdue the tannins, the stone fruit, and floral aromas will both calm and complement the oak, while that bit of acid will bring forward those hidden red fruits in the Syrah.

Added_2014_Viognere

How much to add is, indeed, an experiment. The best way to conduct this experiment is by measuring quantities by the glass and tasting. Once a proper balance is achieved, Stewart will figure out how much he’ll need per barrel and the blending will begin. Of course, it’s important to note that the amount of Viognier added to the barrel is so minute; consumers will not be able to taste the addition of an extra varietal. In fact, the percentage is so small; it won’t even qualify to mark on the final label at all (read: this will not be a blend).

More Info

Keep an eye on Kendric Vineyards — with wines that speak of both the land and the man behind the grapes, I know we’re going to see and taste fantastic bottles to come.

Kendric Vineyards is a small operation. For more details about Stewart and his wines, please visit the Kendric Vineyards website, where you can purchase current releases as well as sign up for his mailing list to find out about future releases.

Stew and Stacy
Stew and Stacy Selfie…Cheers!

**Want to have your winery, vineyard, or tasting room featured? Please Contact the Author via her blog BriscoeBites.com**