Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sublime Pairings-A Night of Australian Vino Raises the Bar on Going Down Under

Something amazing tends to happen when you gather vibrant people together for an evening of innovative cuisine and superb wines. A recent adventure at Zin American Bistro was no exception. Owner Mindy Reed has recently taken to hosting monthly wine dinners, which showcase her knack for pairing some delectable bottles with the flavorful food stylings of rogue Chef Aaron Kiefer.

On this particular evening, we were treated to some terrific selections from three different regions of Australia, starting in the southeast with the 2007 Shoofly 'Buzz Cut.' A blend of Viognier, Riesling, Chardonnay, Verdelho and Semillon, this wine is a terrific marriage of bright citrus fruit and a subtle grassiness-the perfect beginning to what was to be an evening of magnificent indulgence.

Next up was Shoofly's 2008 Chardonnay Chook Raffle, which turned out to have a crisp, tropical style to it, along with a steely minerality. Along with unmistakable melon and peach flavors, I got an aroma of banana nut bread on the nose. This island-inspired wine paired beautifully with a starter of Ahi tuna, which was served three ways and featured Aaron's grapefruit "caviar."

My favorite selection of the evening turned out to be the 2008 Innocent Bystander Pinot Noir, produced in the Yarra Valley. If there was every a cherry bomb in a glass, this is it folks. This particular vintage is full of juicy dark fruit and holiday spice, and I found it to be a bit earthy, which married well with the gaminess of bacon-wrapped quail stuffed with cranberries. I overheard one of my fellow wine lovers refer to this offering as a 'schizophrenic' wine, and the metaphor was dead on. There was a lot going on in the glass, and this Pinot seemed to morph into several incarnations during this particular pairing.

The love affair with Innocent Bystander continued, as Mindy began pouring a wonderful Shiraz-Viognier blend. Sometimes, this combination elicits a skeptical reaction from the uninitiated, because the idea of blending red and white grapes to produce a red wine seems a bit odd at first. The wine is actually fermented with the skins of the Viognier grape only, and this particular incarnation sports a gorgeous ruby tint. Peppery on the nose and spicy to taste, its tannins were smooth and silky. I adored the fruit flavors that emerged as I took my first bite of succulent mustard-encrusted rack of lamb, which rested on a bed of blueberry risotto, inspiring my foodie friend Kimberly to exclaim with epiphany "the blueberry is the bridge!"

With what turned out to be the most sinfully delicious version of bread pudding I have ever eaten, we sipped a D'Arenberg Old Vine Shiraz from the McLaren Vale appellation. Dark licorice and deep raspberry flavors explode all at once with this elegant offering, which didn't surprise me, since the grapes come from vines that are more than 80 years old. The result was nothing short of sublime when matched with warm vanilla and candied pecans, among other flavors.

Having made some wonderful new friends and feeling wholly decadent in my indulgences, I still found myself wanting something more as I walked out the door. I wanted to know when I could reserve my seat for the next dinner.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The House that Dripped Brunello

I am a sucker for campy vintage horror films, and love nothing more than enjoying a juicy gothic tale with friends who appreciate my taste for these atmospheric gems.

So the other night I invited my friend Yo over for pizza, some wine and The House the Dripped Blood, an obscure English horror flick from the early 1970's. With genre staples like Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the cast, this one is a chilling and brilliant example of these films, which are often infused with brilliant, cinematographic reds and deep purples.

We were fortunate enough to pair our meal and horror-watching with a 2003 Brunello di Montalcino, courtesy of Jeff, who heads up the wine department at World Market. Jeff insisted I take the bottle as a Christmas gift for being such a loyal customer, an offer I cheerfully obliged. This coveted Tuscan wine is made from Sangiovese Grosso, a clone of the Sangiovese grape, and was produced by Gaetano D'Aquino.

Yo and I agreed that the wine was a bit dry and slightly tannic upon first tasting, but it opened up a lot in the glass as the night wore on. Brunello has a brilliant ruby color to it, much like some of the hues seen throughout the film, and this wine was no exception, with more fruit emerging as it decanted.

Something else emerged as well as the night drew to a close. Yo recently received a box in the mail with the instructions "Return to Karen Black" (Black is Yo's favorite B-movie actress, as I mentioned in a previous post). As we were finishing up the last of the Brunello we heard a rustling sound, and the next thing we knew there was a Zuni fetish doll sitting on the floor, staring up menacingly at us.

Needless to say, the strangeness that ensued was reminiscent of Trilogy of Terror, one of Black's finest cinematic moments. I'm just glad Yo was able to escape and lived to tell everyone about her evening of Italian wine, and the vivid imagination of a horror-crazed friend.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Time It Was, and What a Time It Was, It Was

Not enough can be said about the love one has for family, and the love one feels for friends and neighbors who have become family. This sentiment has been on my mind as of late, because two of my dearest friends, who also happen to be neighbors, are readying themselves for a move.

I have shared so much of my life in California with Mike and Patti Walling, and one of the passions we have in common is a heartfelt love for terrific food and wine. Tonight, Patti was feeling a bit stressed about final exams and nostalgic for home (she grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania where her mother and family still reside) and so she decided to whip up another one of her fantastic meals, this one a round steak topped with peppers, onions and tomato sauce, all baked to perfection in the oven.

The dinner turned out as expected- simple, delicious, comforting and made with the same love and devotion that Patti's Mom would infuse when she'd make it for her daughter's birthday. A family tradition, passed down from one generation to the next: a time of innocence...a time of confidences...

What do drink with this wondrous meal? Tonight, I opened one of my favorites from Bogle Vineyards called Phantom. This wine is a heady, velvety blend of the grapes I go ga-ga over: Petite Syrah, Old Vine Zinfandel and Old Vine Mourvedre. The bottle reads, "In the dark recesses of the cellar you sense a presence, hear footsteps."

Creepy, huh? Maybe not, as I like to believe it evokes something more than a mere foreboding apparition. I'd like to think that the presence we sense is that of change, a positive movement forward. The footsteps we hear are our very own, leading us not to grave danger or harm, but to a new beginning and a future bright with the promise of our dreams. A new school, new job, new friends and neighbors-all while cherishing what and who we already know and love, and excited for what lies ahead.

And as we sip our wine like we have on so many of the beautiful evenings we've spent together over these
last five years, laughing and crying, a bit scared but excited, the three of us listen to our favorite music, and the sounds of Simon and Garfunkel emanate through this soon-to-be empty apartment...long ago it must be...I have a photograph...preserve your memories...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Sea of Reds, a Defensive Back and a Lover of Karen Black

Let it be known, I am not a big box store kind of girl. Growing up in a small East Coast town provided me with a deep and abiding appreciation for Mom and Pop-style establishments, of which I honestly don't believe there are enough in this town.

Enter Vern and Paulette Wright of PS Wine and Specialty Foods in downtown Palm Springs. Aside from reminding me of a favorite aunt and uncle back home, this lovely couple knows their wines. They also know how to help you feel welcome on a chilly desert Friday night.

This particular tasting I enjoyed with friends included a pair of Zins, a Cabernet Franc and a reserve Merlot from Washington. The Zins were heavenly, an '07 Joel Gott that was jammy with good structure, the other an '03 Edmeades, a jem from Mendocino County that's like fruit in a glass and too silky for words. Our Cab Franc was from Napa's Cosantino Winery and was light on the fruit, big and full. The '04 Hogue Reserve Merlot was bright and terrific, laden with berries and popped on the finish. After tasting this one, we weren't surprised when Vern and Paulette announced that their next wine country tour would be of Washington State.

You are guaranteed to find an assortment of colorful folks at these tastings, and last night was no exception. I found myself sipping and swirling with a teacher, a notary and a former defensive back for the Baltimore Colts and St. Louis Cardinals (for the football-uninitiated, those were the cities of origin for these teams). Also joining us was my friend Yo, an actress who shares my strange and delightful penchant for Karen Black films. As we involved ourselves in yet one more animated discussion about Burnt Offerings and Trilogy of Terror, Yo managed to outguess me on the alcohol-content of both Zins, part of a contest we were apparently engaged in but didn't realize it.

If you ever find yourself with a hankering for good wine, great conversation and a taste of old town hospitality, you need to look no further than this unassuming and wonderful wine shop that could. Who knows, maybe Karen Black will grace us with her presence one of these Friday nights, Zuni fetish doll in tow.

For information on Friday night tastings at PS Wine and Specialty Foods, call 760-322-4411 or email

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Brawn of Chilean Tannins and the Bleary-Eyed Benevolence of Beef

I'll admit, the last thing I wanted to do after a 4:30 wake up call this morning was come home and cook dinner. So as I pondered what to snack on before hitting the sack, I poured myself a glass of Maquis Lien, a beautiful '05 blend of Syrah, Carmenere, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec grapes, decided to munch on some Spanish cheese and call it a night.
That being said, when I wearily opened the fridge and saw that a boneless New York strip steak I'd forgotten about was still sitting there on the top shelf, just waiting to be thrown into a steaming and fragrant bath of imported Italian olive oil, I sprang into action.
Fifteen minutes later, I was happily devouring stalks of steamed asparagus, and a simply-salted, peppered and red wine-infused cut of beef, which paired perfectly with the rich fruit and substantial tannins of my latest Chilean discovery.
Thank you, Trader Joe's, for this savory and juicy bit of iron-filled goodness that ended a very long day. Thanks to Maquis Lien for showing me the magic that can happen in a glass when the South of France meets the Colchagua Valley and then introduces it to Meritage.