Jun 30, 2010

Enjoy Whiskey from George Washington's Distillery

 George Washington Distillery (Photo: Shanon Bell/Discus)

Tomorrow, for the first time in more than 200 years, a limited edition of Rye Whiskey made at the distillery owned by America's first President, George Washington, will go on sale to the public. The whiskey was also made with Washington’s personal recipe: 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% barley.

When constructed in 1797 on the grounds of Washington’s Mount Vernon property, it was, at 2250 square feet, the largest whiskey distillery in the young nation. It operated five copper pot stills throughout the year, whereas the average distillery utilized one or two stills only one month out of twelve. It was a money-maker, too: in 1799 the distillery produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey, then valued at $7500 (today worth about $120,000). As Washington wrote to his nephew in 1799, “The demand [for my whiskey]…is great.”

Washington's Distillery burned down in 1814. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s that archaeological and historical research was conducted on the site, thanks to an agreement made between the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and the State of Virginia. The now-reconstructed distillery is largely faithful in appearance to the original, with hand-finished wood and hand-wrought nails and hardware used throughout (18th century tools were utilized in the construction, too). It’s a working distillery, the only site in North American authentically demonstrating—down to costumes on the distillers—the way in which whiskey was distilled in the 18th century.

The 2009 whiskey is expected to sell out quickly tomorrow. But don't despair if you can't be on hand! In the future, small bottles of whiskey distilled on-site will be on sale at the George Washington Distillery and Gristmill as well as at the Mount Vernon Estate. Profits benefit Mount Vernon's educational programs.

By the way, the George Washington Distillery is considered to be the gateway to the American Whiskey Trail, a cultural heritage and tourism initiative that provides a “spirited” look at whiskey’s long and exciting history in the USA. Located three miles from Mount Vernon, the Distillery is open daily from April 1 through October 31.

Learn more about visiting Mount Vernon and George Washington’s Distillery
Watch a History Channel presentation on George Washington’s Distillery
Read more about George Washington’s Distillery

Jun 25, 2010

Culinary Gad News Roundup (6-25-10)

The periodic Gadabout Roundup compiles interesting news from a variety of sources--press releases, industry associations, websites, and more--on the subjects of food, wine, spirits and/or travel. Today's Roundup focusses on wine-related news.

Wine Tasting Cruise Aboard Historic S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien: A treat like this rarely comes along, but now's your chance. This authentic WWII Liberty Ship—one of the few survivors from the nearly 7000-ship armada that stormed Normandy on D-Day in 1944—will embark on a leisurely cruise of San Francisco Bay on Saturday, July 17, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., while guests sip wines from local urban/boutique wineries (Foggy Bridge, Rock Wall, Wait Cellars, Winery Collective, broccellars, and R&B Cellars). 

But before the wine is poured, you'll enjoy a light breakfast complemented by Sparkling Wine Mimosas as you sail beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Reversing course, the ship will then sail to the Bay Bridge, where a Cal Trans official will offer an overview of that bridge's history and discuss details about the configuration and design of the new span. By then it will be time for the picnic lunches.

Then, as the cruise continues—with views of the city skyline, Angel and Alcatraz Islands, and the Marin Headlands—the wine tasting will begin, accompanied by cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery and
other local producers. And somewhere along the line entertainment will be provided by The Fondettes, a trio of young women who specialize in 1940s music à la the Andrews Sisters (their clothing, accoutrements and gestures seem straight out of that era—no small feat, considering that all three are 18 or 19 years old).

Learn more about the Jeremiah O'Brien "Bay Bridge & Urban Wineries Cruise"

Purchase tickets for the cruise

Annual Wine Adventure Weekend in California's Lake County: Adventurous vinophiles will taste wines from Lake County’s high-elevation growing regions at this sixth annual passport event (July 24-25, 2010). Just two hours' drive from San Francisco, Lake County is part of the North Coast AVA, which also encompasses Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties—all winegrape growing regions located in the Mayacamas mountain range. Within Lake County itself, five AVA’s exist: Clear Lake, Benmore Valley, Guenoc, Red Hills, and High Valley AVA.

Adventure Tickets can be purchased online ($35, plus a small handling fee) through July 15, or at any participating winery during the event ($40). Each ticket is good for two days of activities and entitles the holder to wine tastings and hors d’oeuvres at each winery, a logo wine glass, a tasting booklet and a re-useable wine bag. Several wineries will also offer barrel tastings, winery tours, art exhibits and entertainment. Visitors will be entered into a raffle drawing by leaving their Adventure Tickets with the last winery they visit. The grand prize: a collection of premium Lake County high-elevation wines.

Visit the Lake County Winery Association for more information.

Yosemite's Ahwahnee Hotel Announces 2010 Vintners' Holidays Lineup: I attended Vintners' Holidays a few years ago, and it was simply awesome. Just to spend a couple of days at the Ahwahnee, sitting before that gigantic stone fireplace, was pleasure enough. But to add the Vintners' event put the whole experience over the top: fabulous wines, amazing food, and when I wasn't eating or tasting I could don my hiking boots and walk off all those calories in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

This year the Ahwahnee welcomes 32 outstanding California winemakers to its 29th annual Vintners' Holidays. A partial list of attending winemakers includes Hugh Davies (Schramsberg Vineyards), Kent Rosenblum (Rosenblum Cellars), Carol Shelton (Carol Shelton Wines), and K. R. Rombauer III (Rombauer Vineyards). Eight separate sessions will be held from October 31 to December 2, with a different group of winemakers at each session. Guest participants will meet the winemakers, learn about the latest trends in viticulture, taste the wines, and enjoy a five-course finale candlelit dinner in The Ahwahnee's grand Dining Room.

Learn more, see a list of winemakers at the various sessions, and/or make a reservation.

Wente Vineyards's 2010 Concert Lineup is a Wow: The Livermore Valley winemaker, recently voted CalTIA's Winery of the Year, has put together a smash concert season. It actually got underway last night (June 24), with Liza Minelli as the season opener. Coming up between now and September are (in sequential order): Barenaked Ladies, Huey Lewis & The News, Chris Isaak, ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, and Harrie Connick, Jr. Concert seating is in a terraced amphitheater surrounded by gardens, hills, and the winery's Old California-style buildings.

More information about Wente's 2010 concerts.

Jun 23, 2010

Tastings: Two Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs

 Sunny Days & Foggy Nights in Anderson Valley  (Courtesy: Husch Vineyards)

Last week, at a small media event sponsored by California’s Mendocino County, I sampled two excellent Pinot Noir wines from Anderson Valley wineries (Husch Vineyards and Handley Cellars).

Thanks to this region’s temperate coastal climate of warm sunny days and cool foggy nights/mornings, grapes grown here mature slowly, giving them time to develop full varietal character—and that character was certainly apparent in both wines. The Valley's planted acreage is mostly given to grapes that enjoy cool growing conditions: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and White Riesling. Lesser amounts of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon have also found a home here.

Husch Vineyards 2007 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($23): I was struck by this wine's deep red color and its pronounced red-fruit aroma—strawberries, cherries, raspberries (and, yes, the fruit carried through to the tongue). The wine offered a silky mouth feel, balanced acidity, and a lovely lingering aftertaste. In short: delish! I would serve this elegant wine all by itself, paired with interesting cheeses, or at the table with duck, lamb, game, or salmon.

A small, family-owned and –operated enterprise, Husch Vineyards is the oldest winery in the Anderson Valley appellation. It’s about 2.5 hours north of San Francisco at 4400 Highway 128 in Philo, and welcomes visitors daily from 10-5.

Handley Cellars 2007 Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley ($30): Extremely fruit forward aroma, much like the Husch. Lots of cherry/berry, but also a hint of something intoxicating in both aroma and taste that I couldn’t quite place—the wine is blended from 12 different Handley-owned vineyards, with each contributing something unique (the official tasting notes point to lavender and chocolate, so maybe that was it). Balanced acidity, nice crispness, long and silky finish. A wonderful wine to sip, pair with creamy cheeses, or enjoy at the table with duck, game, salmon, and perhaps a beef stew.

Or maybe I'd try one of Handley's suggested pairings, either a Blue Cheese Pistachio Torta or a Chicken Liver Terrine. Find the recipes here.

Handley Cellars is a family-owned winery making about 14,000 cases per year. Aside from Pinot Noir, the winery’s other offerings include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Zinfandel, and Syrah. Handley also produces Gold Medal-winning Brut sparkling wine, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes ($38). The tasting room at 3151 Highway 128 in Philo is open from 10-6 daily from May to October (and 10-5 from November to April).

Little more than a mile separates Husch Vineyards and Handley Cellars (both are located on Highway 128 in Philo). Other wineries in the valley include Goldeneye, Roederer Estate, Navarro Vineyards, Scharffenberger Cellars, and Claudia Springs. To see a list of all wineries in the Anderson Valley, visit the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association.

To learn more about visiting Mendocino County, visit the county’s official tourism site.

Jun 22, 2010

Grocery Prices: Safeway vs. Walmart (Update)

Last fall I did a bit of sleuthing to determine how much money I would save by shopping for groceries at Walmart—where I had never before shopped—vs. Safeway, where I shopped quite a lot. The result? For essentially the same cart of groceries I spent $105.58 at Safeway and $54.50 at a Walmart super-store.

I created a detailed PDF that gave exact items bought and prices paid, posting it with the original article. Earlier this year the link to the PDF went awry. I've now fixed up the link in the original post (read that post here), or you might want to just go directly to the PDF.

Here are a few examples of the price differences I encountered between these two stores (remember, these prices were effective in September 2009; they may be different now):

  • A 32-oz container of low-fat cottage cheese at Walmart was $2.08; at Safeway it was on sale for $3.79 (the regular price was $4.49)
  • 1.15 pounds of sweet potatoes at Walmart: .83; at Safeway, $1.69
  • 1 can tomato sauce at Walmart: .26; at Safeway, .69
  • Healthy Choice roasted turkey medallions (frozen): Walmart, $1.68; Safeway, $3.00
  • House Brand 42-oz box Old Fashioned oatmeal: Walmart, $1.94; Safeway, $3.99
More details about why I went sleuthing and how I went about it can be found in the original post.

    Jun 18, 2010

    Tastings: Wines & Sprits from Tasmania

     Contemplating life on Tasmania's Maria Island

    This week two separate travel industry events allowed me an opportunity to taste wines from the Australian island state of Tasmania and California’s Mendocino County. Today I’ll cover Tasmania.

    Held at the Swig Bar on Geary Street, the aptly-named Taste of Tasmania media event offered tantalizing samples of Tasmanian food, wine and spirits.

     The Jansz Tasmania Premium Cuvée—a sparkling wine made in the traditional méthode champenoise—was a wonderful new find. This classic blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier grapes is extremely balanced, with a citrus and pear flavor, spicy aromas, nicely complex, and at under $20 a very nice value. This wine can be easily bought online in the US.

    Jansz vineyards enjoy a climate similar to that of Champagne, and the region has come to be known as “Sparkling Tasmania.” In four out of the last six years, the Premium Cuvée has been chosen as Australia's official celebratory wine.

    I tasted two offerings from Moorilla Estate, which specializes in cool-climate wines. The Riesling 2008 (Muse Series) was excellent—quite dry, crisp and steely. The 2008 Pinot Noir (Muse Series) possessed an enticing berry aroma but upon tasting it I was disappointed. It seemed a bit thin and undeveloped—perhaps it simply needs more bottle time before coming into its own. Moorilla wines are becoming easier to find in the U. S.

    Moorilla Estate offers far more than wine. Its Source Restaurant, which utilizes local ingredients, prepares imaginative dishes such as “Crab, crab jelly, corn custard, almond, sauce verte” and “Wild line-caught fish, truffled macaroni, foie gras emulsion, jus” (the first, an appetizer; the second, a main course). It produces four beers under the Moo Brew label, which you can drink—along with wines—at the Estate’s Cellar Door. You can book a room at one of the eight Mona Pavilions overlooking the river (all feature tip-top modern art and are, I suspect, extremely expensive). And, as of 2011, the Estate will be home to the much-anticipated, $55 million Museum of Old and New Art—or, as it’s already known, MONA.

    Last on my Tasmania tasting excursion was a wonderful single malt whisky from Lark Distillery. Made from Tasmanian (Franklin) barley, it’s lightly peated, double-distilled, barreled in 100-liter oak casks and then aged up to 8 years in smaller barrels. Very malty, the peat’s definitely there but doesn’t overwhelm, a light-but-complex taste. I do prefer more peat, but I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent whisky, which is becoming easier to find in the U. S.

    By the way, if you're interested in single malt whisky, take a look at this previous post—it contains a link that lets you download a free single malt flavor map.

    Tasmania—an island about the size of West Virginia—is known for its immense natural beauty and offers a bounty of possibilities for those who love adventure and the outdoors. To learn more about Tasmania, visit the official government tourism site,

    Jun 16, 2010

    Culinary Gad News Roundup (6-16-10)

    The periodic Gadabout Roundup compiles interesting news from a variety of sources--press releases, industry associations, websites, and more--on the subjects of food, wine, spirits and/or travel.

    Breakthrough for Olive Oil Consumers: At last! The US Department of Agriculture has finally revised olive oil grade standards so that they conform to industry standards commonly accepted here and abroad. In other words, if it says Extra Virgin Olive Oil on the bottle, the contents must soon meet the scientifically verifiable criteria that defines Exra Virgin Olive Oil. The revised standards--which take effect on October 25, 2010--present objective criteria for all grades of olive oil and olive-pomace oil (extra virgin olive oil, virgin olive oil, olive oil, refined olive oil, and olive pomace oil). This is a great accomplishment on behalf of consumers.

    To get a detailed look at the new standards, download the USDA publication, United States Standards for Grades of Olive Oil and Olive-Pomace Oil.

    2010 Grape Harvest Celebration News:  Charles Krug Winery recently announced dates for its annual grape harvest celebration, "The Tasting on the Lawn." The event--held on the estate's expansive, oak-shaded Great Lawn--will take place on Sunday, September 11 from 2-5 p.m. Considered the winery’s signature tasting event, the celebration began in 1951; it's one of the earliest events of its kind (possibly the first).

    On the agenda: current release tastings from Sauvignon Blanc to Cabernet Sauvignon (including the winery’s Limited Release Family Reserve wines), paired with a moveable feast of nibbles selected especially for the wines. As always, live music and entertainment add to the festivities. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy special barrel tastings inside the winery's elegantly restored 1881 Carriage House. Admission for Wine Club members is free; non-members can purchase tickets through the winery's website.

    Nutritarians Eat the Rainbow: I'd never heard the term "Nutritarian" until a couple of days ago, when I happened across an informative article on the subject at I suppose I've been a Nutrarian for a long time without knowing it. Simply put, a Nutritarian believes in that old adage, "You are what you eat," and follows suit with a diet geared toward high-nutrient food choices: veggies, fruits, legumes, nuts & seeds, and whole grains. From what I can gather (I'm not sure), you don't need to be a vegetarian to qualify as a Nutrarian. I do eat meat, and enjoy it, but it's certainly not the rally point for my diet.

    Says the article's author, Douglas Brown: 

    Central to nutritarianism is the understanding that fruits and vegetables contain thousands of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals— substances they believe are not found in any other food source. So, how can you tell if a food is high in phytonutrients? Eat the rainbow, says Jairam Vanamala, a professor in Colorado State University's department of food science and human nutrition. Since phytochemicals and color are linked, eating fruits and vegetables representing a wide range of colors provides a smorgasbord of phytochemicals.
    The article also quotes Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a Florida physician/author who invented the word Nutritarian and wrote the books Eat to Live and Eat For Health. He also developed the ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) that shows at a glance a food's nutrient-richness. In this index, which tops out at 1000, the higher the score the better.

    According to Dr. Fuhrman, the 10 highest ANDI vegetables are:
    1. Mustard greens, cooked (1,000)
    2. Watercress, raw (1,000)
    3. Kale, cooked (1,000)
    4. Turnip greens, cooked (1,000)
    5. Collard greens, cooked (1,000)
    6. Bok choy, cooked (824)
    7. Spinach, raw (739)
    8. Spinach, cooked (697)
    9. Brussels sprouts (672)
    10. Swiss chard (670)
    The 10 highest ANDI fruits:
    1. Strawberries (212)
    2. Pomegranate juice (193)
    3. Plums (158)
    4. Raspberries (145)
    5. Blueberries (130)
    6. Oranges (109)
    7. Grapefruit (102)
    8. Cantaloupe (100)
    9. Kiwi (97)
    10. Watermelon (91)

    It's Watermelon Time Again: Speaking of watermelon (which came in with a very high rating of 91 on the ANDI index for fruits, above)...Every year I receive a colorful press kit from the National Watermelon Promotional Board (NWPB), filled with recipes, photos, and all sorts of interesting information about this can't-be-summer-without-it fruit. Here's some nutritional info about watermelons:
    • Watermelons have higher concentrations of lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable.
    • A recent study by the USDA established that watermelon can help maintain cardiovascular function and health, help maintain the arteries, and help maintain blood flow and heart health.
    • A 2-cup serving of watermelon is an excellent source of Vitamins A, B6 and C; and a source of potassium.
    In my last post about watermelon, just about a year ago, I passed along a "cool-me-down" recipe for Watermelon Cherry Mojitos. Extremely refreshing, someething of a life-saver come the dog days of August.

    This year's' recipe will also refresh you on one of the really hot days coming up, especially if you serve it with last year's recipe. The recipe below was created by Chef Katie Brown for the NWPB:

    Watermelon & Shrimp Skewers

    Serves 4

    ½ cup lime juice
    1 cup olive oil
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    2 teaspoons minced ginger
    2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
    1 teaspoon salt
    24 large shrimp, cleaned and deveined
    16 medium watermelon cubes

    1. Put the watermelon cubes in a colander over a bowl and place in the refrigerator to drain for 30 minutes.  After the watermelon has drained, remove and pat dry with a paper towel.
    2. In a bowl, combine the lime juice, olive oil, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and salt.  Pour ½ the marinade over the shrimp, cover, and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
    3. Heat grill to medium-high.
    4. Toss the watermelon with the remaining marinate and begin to skewer the shrimp and the watermelon on to the skewers, alternating so that each skewer has 3 shrimp and 2 watermelon cubes.  (Toss the shrimp marinade, but save the watermelon marinade.)
    5. Place the skewers on the grill and grill for about 3 minutes each side.
    6. Serve alongside the marinade that the watermelon was tossed in.

      Jun 15, 2010

      Free Foodie Travel Secrets eBook

      Here’s an easy way you can do a little bit of good for the planet while learning something new.

      The website Tripbase has compiled a nifty PDF that’s chock-full of great photos and tips for food-lovin’ travelers. The tips come from the website’s readers. When you download a free copy, Tripbase will donate $1 to a charity that’s helping to bring clean and safe water to people in developing nations. A form pops up asking for your email address, but if you don’t want to divulge that information, simply click “No thanks, just get the eBook.”

      There is no downside here, plus you’ll get to read a lot of helpful or at least interesting tips about enjoying food while traveling around the world (tips are arranged by continent and then country). Here are just a few new ideas I have for what I will (or probably won't) eat on future trips:
      • Where to find the Best Pad Thai in Bangkok: Not a fancy restaurant, but two female vendors who share a street stand a few minutes from the Grand Palace. “Made to order, they were the most beautifully plated and delicious Thai noodle dishes we had while in Bangkok."
      • Violet Liqueur in France: Even though I’ve spent a lot of time exploring food and wine and spirits in France, I’ve never heard of this liqueur, which apparently is available in and around Toulouse. “Add a few drops to white wine…and enjoy a sweet, almost lavender flavor.”
      • Space Cakes in Amsterdam: The tip-giver enjoyed this creamy, chocolate cake very much, but didn’t realize it was loaded with THC, which she was unprepared to handle. “I was stumbling past canal after canal, completely fried out of my mind.” Hmmmmm…
      • Dans le Noir in London: Eat in a completely darkened restaurant, using only “the senses of taste and smell.” (What about the senses of sound and touch? I think they count with enjoyment of food, too.)
      • Live Baby Octopus in Korea: Even though the octopus was chopped up right before serving, “the tentacles kept wriggling angrily and sucking onto my chopsticks.” Okay, I admit it, I might not give this one a try.
      Download Tripbase’s free Foodie Travel eBook, or one of their other themed travel tip eBooks: Worldwide Beaches, Family Travel, Italy Travel, U. S. Travel, Worldwide Travel, and just plain old “Travel Tips.” They can all be selected and downloaded from this page.

      Jun 11, 2010

      Winery Visits: Artesa Winery

      Central Fountain, Artesa   (Courtesy: Artesa Winery)

      Earlier this week I visited Artesa Winery, one of my favorite destinations in Napa’s Carneros region. The occasion: a tasting, including barrel samples, conducted by winemaker Mark Beringer.

      One of the reasons I like visiting Artesa so much: its bold architecture. Completed in 1991 and poised atop a high hill on a bucolic country road, you don't really see the 127,000 square-foot, pyramid-shaped winery until you've arrived. That's because the building, designed by Spanish architect Domingo Triay, is built into the top of a hill—and I mean built into. Triay thought that the gently-sloping hill was much more impressive than any building would be sitting on top of it, so his design hid the building inside the hill to keep the property's beauty intact.

      The construction involved removing the first 30 feet or so of the hill and temporarily storing the soil. The environmentally-conscious winery was then built from the top floor downward into the ground (there are four floors). When completed, the stored soil was returned to its rightful place atop the hill—which by this point was also the top of the winery; the hill ended up being the same height as at the beginning, although a winery was now inside. Today the winery’s roof is covered over with native grasses. Although the large building is beneath ground, terraces, platforms, open-air patios, skylights and giant windows bring the outside in and the inside out.

      Artesa Winery - three tiered Stair
       To the Sky!

      And yet, though much of the building is hidden from view, there is absolutely nothing shy or modest about Artesa. To the contrary. The entrance path to the winery—an incredibly broad set of stairs that appears to climb upward toward the sky and is bordered by cascading waterfalls the entire way—pauses on a landing where a huge modern fountain is surrounded by sculptured thrusts of aluminum. And upward a few stairs from that is a terrace offering a 360° vista of the Carneros, the Bay beyond, and San Francisco beyond that.

       Main entrance to Artesa   (Courtesy Artesa Winery)

      And then, finally, after all of this prelude, you walk into the winery, which is open, airy, modernistic and minimal. Art is everywhere, most of it created by resident artist Gordon Heuther, who works in various media including metal sculpture and painting. It's his upward-thrusting sculpture that surrounds the main fountain.

      And I haven’t even told you about the wine yet…

      Fifth-generation Napa winemaker Mark Beringer joined Artesa in 2009 after an illustrious 16-year stint with Duckhorn Vineyards. As Artesa’s Vice President of Production and Winemaking, he has been charged with returning Artesa’s primary focus to “the jewels of the Carneros”—Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. His winemaking style is geared to letting the terroir speak for itself. To do that, he employs--along with intuition--small-lot production, low-manipulation techniques (e.g., gravity flow, gentle pressing), and constant experimentation.

      Winemaker Mark Beringer leading the tasting   (Credit: Suzie Rodriguez)

      The barrel samples offered tantalizing hints of what’s to come under Beringer. We tried the Block 921 2009 Estate Reserve Chardonnay; It was still on the lees and thus a little hazy; since I'm a fan of unfiltered wine, I'm not fazed by haze. The wine possessed a decided hint of citrus and loads of bright fruit flavor. The 2009 Estate Vineyards Pinot, Block 91-D, was intensely fruit-driven, with a nicely developing spice.

      We also tasted bottled 2007 and 2008 Chardonnays and Pinots. Excellent wines all, but for me the standout among the bottles was the 2007 Pinot Noir Carneros Estate Vineyard. Intensely berry/cherry/touch-of-floral aroma; rich and supple; great structure. Yeah, I liked it!

      Later, over lunch, we were served an amazingly good wine with dessert—the 2008 Pinot Rosé, Carneros. Not a hint of sweetness, yet it was the perfect complement to the Bing Cherry Crisp topped with Blackberry Cabernet Sorbet and Berry Mignardises. Sipping it, I "deja-vued" about one of my first trips to France years ago. In those days, rosé wine in the US, even in California, was sweet. I hated it. But somewhere in Provence one summer someone talked me into trying a French rosé. Dry, crisp and something of a tease, it was a revelation.

      From Within Looking Out  (Credit: Suzie Rodriguez)

      Artesa is open daily from 10 to 5. The tasting room terrace is wildly popular on weekends, what with the comfortable seating and a view stretching forever…or at least all the way to San Francisco. So if you don't like crowds, try visiting during the week. No appointment needed for basic tastings. However, for tours or more elaborate tastings—for example, the Food & Wine Pairing in which the resident chef pairs nine tastes with single-vineyard or limited-release wines—you’ll need to make advance reservations.

      Artesa from the air  (courtesy Artesa Winery)

      Jun 5, 2010

      Wine Country Recipe: Syrah BBQ Salmon

      Barbecue Season is upon us, at long last. To get you in the grilling mood, here's a tempting and healthy recipe from Cline Cellars' website, created by Chef Blake Mastyk of Arizona's Cartwright's Sonoran Ranch House. If you like this dish, you might want to check out other Cline Cellars recipes.

      California Syrah BBQ Salmon
      with Charred Corn & Avocado Salsa

      • 4 6-ounce Salmon filets
      For the Syrah BBQ Sauce:
      • ½ white onion, diced
      • 2 cloves garlic, minced
      • 1 jalapeno, diced
      • 1 cup Cline Syrah
      • ½ cup ketchup
      • 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
      • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
      • ½ tsp cumin
      For the Salsa:
      • 2 ears of corn, husked
      • ½ white onion
      • 1 jalapeno pepper
      • 2 avocados, diced
      • ½ bunch cilantro
      • juice of 1 lemon
      • 1 Tbsp olive oil
      • ½ tsp cumin
      In a saucepan, sauté the white onion over medium-high heat with a splash of olive oil. When the onion starts to brown, add the garlic and jalapeno and cook for 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the Cline California Syrah. Reduce the wine until only 1/3 of the liquid is left. Add the ketchup, vinegar, soy sauce and cumin. Bring to a boil, remove from stove and set aside.

      Preheat grill to high. Grill the corn on the cobb, white onion and jalapeno until they start to char on the outside. Remove from grill. Cut the corn off the cobb; dice the white onion and the jalapeno. In a mixing bowl, combine the corn, avocado, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lemon juice, splash of olive oil, cumin and salt and pepper to taste.

      Grill the salmon on both sides. Turn the grill to medium low and brush salmon with the Syrah BBQ sauce. The salmon should take two coats of sauce on each side. Serve with a dollop of salsa.

      Note: This recipe serves 4

      Jun 3, 2010

      Single Malt Scotch: Free Flavor Map

      I last wrote about Diageo's Single Malt Scotch Flavor Map in early 2009, so it's time for an update.

      I discovered Single Malt Scotch a few years ago and became an immediate fan. I liked the peaty stuff right off, so the salesman at my local store suggested a 12-year-old bottle of Highland Park from Scotland’s Orkney Islands. It was a good choice: smooth, mellow, and with enough peatiness to please but not overwhelm my newbie taste buds.

      Next time around I took his advice again. He suggested a well-known label, but I was disappointed by its tame taste. It was clear that I needed a better method to find what I wanted.

      That's when I learned about the Single Malt Whisky Flavor Map. A joint creation of Diageo Scotland Limited (maker of Clynelish, Cragganmore, Glen Ord, Talisker, and other classic malts) and whisky expert Dave Broom, the map makes it easy to identify the flavors you like and “explore the whisky landscape with confidence.”

      Understandably, many people are puzzled by the complex range of whiskies. Just as some wine drinkers prefer a tart Sauvignon Blanc to a fruit-forward, big-bodied Zinfandel (or vice versa), whiskey sippers also have preferred tastes. While I mostly crave big smoky whiskies, you might prefer something fruity and floral or another kind of whisky "expression". As a Diageo press release put it: “…many consumers find the [malt whisky] category complex and even intimidating. Faced with numerous brands, price points, ages, expressions and regional variations, they find it difficult to know how to reach a decision. This deters many potential malt whisky consumers.”

      The Flavor Map plots whisky brands on a vertical/horizontal axis. Horizontally, they range from Light to Rich. Vertically, from Smoky to Delicate. Thus, once you determine a whisky you like, you’ll probably also enjoy other nearby whiskies.

      For instance, the brand I liked first time out (Highland Park 12) is in the Smoky/Rich quadrant; its closest neighbors are Bowmore 12 and Talisker 18, which gives me two likely possibilities to try. A bit further away, but still in the same quadrant, are Cragganmore 12, Bruichladdich 15, and Lagavulin Distillers Edition.

      The Flavor Map contains a succinct Guide to Flavors, which explains the terms used. Whiskies considered Rich, for instance, “contain characteristics often derived from the nature of the wood used during maturation. Typical flavors range from vanilla (given by American oak casks) to nuttiness to cigar box, chocolate, and dried fruit (from European oak casks).”

      If you're a single malt fan, this handy Flavor Map is an absolute must. And it's free to download!

      Download a free copy of the Single Malt Whisky Flavour Map.
      The Culinary Gadabout Recommends: 
      Reidel Whisky Glasses

      Single Malt and other fine whisky fans know that the shape of a glass can maximize enjoyment of its contents. Part of this has to do with aesthetics: that is, the simple pleasure of holding and admiring a beautifully-designed glass. But equally important is that a glass with the right size and shape can enhance aromatics and thus taste.

      Back in 1992, in a quest to develop the ultimate whisky glass, famed Austrian glassmaker Riedel brought together a panel of Scotch whisky experts to test nineteen different glass shapes. Afterward, with the help of master distillers in Scotland, the company continued making refinements. The result? The perfect glass for any fine whisky. Shaped like an elongated thistle on a truncated stem, the Riedel whisky glass possesses a slightly outturned lip. This long glass, warmed by the  hand, permits the release of aromatics perceived by the nose in a slowly-unfolding, multi-layered sequence of discovery. And that’s even before the shaped lip directs the whisky to the tip of the tongue, from where it expands into the mouth for that first velvet feel.

      Experts consider Riedel’s line of glasses to be the finest for wines and sprits. Says Time Magazine: “Over the past 50 years, this Austrian clan of master glassmakers has done more to enhance the oenophile’s pleasure than almost any winemaking dynasty.” Robert Parker, writing in The Wine Advocate, stated that “the finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel.”

      Riedel makes two versions of its whisky glass: (1) the mouth-blown/hand-crafted (and expensive) Riedel Sommelier Whiskey Glass, and (2) the machine-made, reasonably-priced Riedel Vinum Single Malt Whiskey Glasses.

      I’m a Vinum fan because these glasses offer beauty, utility, and value: a set of two costs $39.95. The glasses are beautiful and thin (but not so thin that they break if you look at them the wrong way). They possess no “machine” seams, and the Riedel name is etched on the base. They stand 4.5” high and hold 7 ounces. Although they’re dishwasher-safe, hand-washing is recommended.

      Addendum: Want to learn more about single malt scotch? It doesn't get better than British writer Michael Jackson's classic Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch.

      Jun 1, 2010

      Wente Vineyards: CalTIA Winery of the Year

      The California Travel Industry Association has announced its 2010 CalTIA Industry Awards, which recognize achievements and commitment to sustainability, innovation, stewardship and good citizenship in the development and promotion of California tourism.

      Winery of the Year

      The CalTIA Winery of the Year, Wente Vineyards of Livermore Valley, was founded in 1883 by Carl Wente. Now run by the fourth and fifth Wente generations, it's the country's oldest, continually-operated, family-owned winery, blending traditional and innovative wine-making practices and sustainably farming on 3,000 acres of Estate vineyards.

      Official CalTIA notes about the Award point to "the winery's contribution to developing the California Tourism brand. The award recognizes innovation, success and commitment to the travel industry." CalTIA also cited Wente's Farming for the Future program of sustainable viticultural practices designed to produce high-quality wines with the least environmental impact. Sustainable philosophies extend into all aspects of the business.

      Last year's Winery of the Year was the Mendocino Wine Company.  Previous winners include Chateau Montelena, Korbel Champagne Cellars, and Ridge Vineyards.

      Chef of the Year

      Since you're reading the Culinary Gadabout, you'll also be interested to learn that Suzanne Goin received CalTIA's Chef of the Year award. Goin and her Los Angeles restaurants (The A.O.C., Lucques, Tavern, and The Hungry Cat) have won many previous awards, including the coveted James Beard designation as Best Chef (2006).

      That same year Goin's cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, was nominated as Best Cookbook from a Professional Viewpoint by the James Beard Foundation. Goin has been described as the "picture-perfect California chef, demonstrating outstanding passion and skill in using only the best ingredients, combining them to give any diner an unforgettable experience."

      The 2009 Chef of the Year was Bradley Ogden of Marin County's Lark Creek Inn. Previous winners have included Julia Child, Thomas Keller, Michael Mina, and Gary Danko. 

      Tourism Steward and Tourism Champion

      Two other awards were given this year by CalTIA:
      • The Steward of the Year award was given to Bill Lane & the Lane Family of Sunset Magazine.
      •  The Tourism Champion of the Year is Huell Howser, host of the California Gold TV series.