Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Paul Dolan Wines

Paul Dolan was one of the pioneers of organic and biodynamic winemaking. His family lineage includes well-known names like Carlo Rossi and Concannon, and he honed his winemaking skills at Fetzer Vineyards in the early days of the California wine boom.

Although Dolan is no longer connected to the winery that bears his name, the winery still sources organically grown grapes from vineyards in Mendocino County and Potter Valley. The winery stresses the importance of careful vineyard management and strives to express the unique terroir in each of their wines. 

Paul Dolan Vineyards Zinfandel Mendocino County 2015 

100% Zinfandel, 15% ABV, SRP $16.99 

Dark red with aromas of blackberry, cherry preserves and pepper, this is a wine that definitely needs time to open – especially considering its youth and alcohol content. The flavors are a mix of red and black fruit, complimented by notes of cinnamon, pepper and allspice. This is a big, plush zinfandel with soft tannins and a lingering finish. 

Paul Dolan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County 2015 

98% Cabernet Sauvignon/3% Cabernet Franc/1% Petite Verdot, 14.5% ABV, SRP $22.99 

The 2015 vintage was overall pretty kind to California winemakers, but particularly good for cabernet growers. The light, early harvest produced wines of depth and richness, and this wine is no exception. The aromas are classic: black cherry, cedar, cassis and a hint of cinnamon. The deep color hints at the full-bodied and lush layers of flavor: cherry, black currant, red licorice and vanilla. The bracing tannins suggest this wine could use some more time in the bottle or some time in a decanter (which is what I did). 

Paul Dolan Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Mendocino County 2015 

100% Sauvignon Blanc, 14.5% ABV, SRP $16.99 

I have one word for this wine – delicious. I have a weakness for big, ripe sauvignon blanc – especially when it’s done in stainless steel.

Earlier I mentioned that 2015 was a good vintage for California, and this wine shows the bright, deep flavors that come from really good fruit. The nose is rich with aromas of melon, citrus and lemongrass. The flavors are a mix of tropical fruit, honey and baking spice with enough acidity to balance the richness. 


(These wines were provided as samples.)

Saturday, March 18, 2017

McPherson Cellars Tre Colore 2015

One of the things I’m most interested these days in regard to wine is wineries outside the states that a lot of people associate with U.S. wine production – California, Oregon and Washington.

I'm talking about wines from Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Mexico and North Carolina, just to name a few states that are producing great wines.

I like buying these wines for a couple reasons. First, I like supporting the wineries themselves, since most are small, independent operations – as opposed to the giant, corporate-owned wineries whose products take up the bulk of shelf space in many wine retailers. Second, I want to encourage retailers to put more of these wines on their shelves. 

Wines from Long Island or Virginia don’t exactly leap off the shelves. People tend to buy what they know.

So, when I discovered a local retailer carrying wines from Texas, I immediately picked up a few bottles. I'll admit I was not familiar with Texas as a wine producing state, but I should have known better.

Texas was the site of the first North American winery established by Franciscan monks around 1662. Today, Texas has 4,000 acres of vineyards, eight American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), 350 bonded commercial wineries and ranks fifth in U.S. wine production.

There will be more Texas wines in my future, but here are my thoughts on one.

McPherson Cellars Tre Colore 2015 Texas Red Wine 

50% Cinsault/50% Carignan/10% Viognier, 13.9% ABV, $12.99 @ Bottles

Tre Colore is bright and fruit forward without being cloying. It’s light-bodied with notes of cherries, raspberry, cinnamon and hint of floral/honey owing to the small amount of viognier. It’s food friendly and would pair well with so much. It would definitely be the perfect red to pack for a picnic.

The McPherson family has a history in the Texas wine industry that goes back over 40 years. Kim McPherson started the McPherson label in 2000 and opened McPherson Cellars in 2008 in a converted Coca-Cola plant in downtown Lubbock.

All the grapes for McPherson wines are sourced from the Texas High Planes AVA, which is in west Texas – south of the panhandle region. The grapes for the 2015 Tre Colore came from the Castaño Prado and Lost Draw vineyards. 

This is the kind of wine I want to drink more of: small production (1988 cases), from a family-owned winery and full of character.

Eric Asimov recently wrote about buying wine like you would food. It’s worth a read.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

New Wines From Adler Fels

It’s probably been 20 years since I opened a bottle from Adler Fels Winery. Granted, I don’t drink as much California wine as I used to. But if my memory serves me correctly, it was a chardonnay, and it was quite good.

Alder Fels has been around since 1979, and more recently has produced lots of wine under other labels. These two new wines are part of a refresh/rebrand of the flagship label.

Adler Fels Chardonnay The Eagle Rock 2015

50% Sonoma County/50% Monterey County, 14.4% ABV, SRP $19.99

This is a classic California chardonnay with notes of peach, honeydew melon, and a touch of vanilla, finishing with balanced acidity. I’ve always had a soft spot for well-crafted Monterey County chardonnay, and the addition of Sonoma County fruit gives this wine added complexity.

Adler Fels Pinot Noir The Eagle Rock 2014

76% Santa Barbara County/24% Sonoma County, 14.4% ABV, SRP $27.99

This lovely, subtle pinot noir leads with notes of tart cherries, olive, licorice and tobacco. The finish is long and supple. Give this wine a little time to open up, as it really developed over the course of the evening.

The winemakers for Adler Fels are Linda Trotta and Aaron Bader. They’re a well-known winemaking team, who among many, many other previous endeavors are the duo behind the official wines of The Bachelor TV series. Yes, such things do exist.

If you’ve got a few minutes and need a mindless chuckle, here’s a video review of those wines. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

The Ethics of Meat

Are you a vegetarian? Vegan? Pescetarian, flexitarian or omnivore? Don’t even get me started on meatatarians. Maybe you’ve gone paleo?

When it comes to food politics, the divisions can be just as contentious as regular politics. And we all know how that is these days.

I was reminded of this the other day while reading an exchange on a local Facebook page devoted to sustainable food issues. Someone posted information regarding an event where pork was being served. Someone responded with a passionate denunciation of the event because of the presence of meat and advocated for strictly vegetarian events.

While I understand passions run high when discussing such matters, what struck me was the tone of the conversation. The person who posted the event was very diplomatic in pointing out this was a forum for all sorts of sustainable food issues – vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike. The anti-meat person was basically shouting down anyone who disagreed.

I'm not suggesting that all vegetarians are zealots with poor communication skills, but it did make me reflect on my own journey with food choices.

Almost ten years ago, I started changing my food-purchasing habits. Thanks to an increase in local sources of humanely raised meat and poultry, my shopping options were more diverse.

At the same time, I was reading more and more about the horrific conditions in major meat and poultry farms and processors. Finally I made the decision not to participate in supporting that system.

Occasionally I’m in a position where I need to eat food of unknown or unsustainable origin. That’s part of life. Unless you’re growing and foraging all your food, you’re most likely eating something that exploits animals, people, or land.

When it comes to meat, I’d be most comfortable eating abundant game animals like deer, which desperately need to be culled. But due to local regulations prohibiting the sale of venison and my lack of friends who hunt, that’s not an option. So, I buy all the meat, poultry, and seafood we eat from the best sources I can find – usually local, small farms and fisheries.

All that being said, I still struggle with the ethics of eating meat, especially farmed meat. Some day I may decide to stop.

But what I will never do is lecture other people about their choices.

If you’d like to ask me about my decisions or have an intelligent conversation about your food politics, I’d be happy to engage you. I welcome the opportunity to hear different perspectives and consider alternate points of view.

This is what gives the sustainable food movement the opportunity to make real changes in our food system. By involving vegans, farmers, meat processors, fishermen (and fisherwomen), and people of all eating persuasions, we can move common concerns into the mainstream while having respectful conversations about our individual concerns.

And conversely, scolding people rarely accomplishes anything. So let's keep the conversations civil.

The same goes for politics.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Five Simple Ways to Cook (More) Like a Chef

Disclaimer: The only way to cook like a chef is to go to culinary school or cook for a long, long time in restaurants.

I’m no chef, but I’ve worked in and around restaurants long enough to pick up some tricks. Here are five easy things will up your game in the kitchen considerably.

1.    Use the best ingredients you can find.

Does this really need much explanation? Fresh, top-notch ingredients need less effort and preparation to shine. And if you’re putting a lot of work into a meal, it makes even more sense to start with the best raw materials.

2.    Get a good, sharp knife and learn some basic skills.

How precisely your ingredients are sliced, chopped, minced or julienned is a sure sign of kitchen talent. A former employer once made this point by taping a too-thick slice of onion to the kitchen wall with a nasty note. Check out this great intro to knife skills.

3.    Keep textures and tastes in balance.

All soft or all crunchy is monotonous. The same goes for sweet or tart flavors. Mix your dishes and ingredients to create a harmonious mix of textures and flavors. Watch how the pros at your local restaurants do it and steal ideas liberally.

4.    Sauces, salsas and condiments are your best friends.

There’s nothing more valuable to improve a meal than the flourish that these three things provide. Why do you think cookbooks have entire sections devoted to them?

5.    Think about how your plate looks.

And I’m not just talking about your dinnerware. Use different colors. Stack something. Drizzle something. Again, watch how restaurants do it and steal ideas.

Bonus tip: Fresh parsley and cilantro should be in your fridge. Always.

I’ll admit I’m not always good at this, but these two herbs are cheap and available year-round in just about any grocery store. Use them for garnish or to add a fresh kick at the end of cooking. You can bet your favorite restaurant does.

Above all - be fearless and have fun. The best chefs never stop learning. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wine Review: Pullus Pinot Grigio 2012 Štajerska-Slovenia

If you've written off pinot grigio, this wine might change your mind.

I rarely buy pinot grigio unless it's placed directly in my hand, as this bottle was by my local merchant. The world is awash in thin, generic white wine that gives this very worthy grape a black eye.

Pullus Pinot Grigio is produced by Ptujska Klet, the oldest winery in Slovenia. When was the last time you saw this claim on a bottle of wine?

Yeah, since 1239. If you're interested in learning some more about this fascinating winery, check this out. If you'd rather taste the most interesting and delicious pinot grigio you're likely to have anytime soon, run - don't walk - to go find this wine. It will be worth the search.

The first thing that catches your eye is the beautiful pale salmon color in the glass. The winemaker allowed extended skin contact, which gives it that lovely color.

It's very dry and bursting with fresh flavors. I picked up melon, a hint of red berries and notes of herbs. It's complex, yet refreshing. Served with seared grouper cheeks over gnocchi and greens, it was a perfect match.

Pullus Pinot Grigio 2012 Štajerska-Slovenia - ($13.99 - Vino Garage)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Man's Best Friend

After a two-year break from writing this blog, it’s hard to pick a topic for a comeback post. Eventually, you just have to pick something and go with it.

Some my favorite posts have been about our dogs, so that seems like a safe bet.

The picture above is our latest dog, Abi. She came to live with us about a year and a half ago.

It’s been almost four years since we lost a truly epic dog. Peanut was an amazing girl, and my eyes still mist over every time I think about her. After she passed away, our whole family needed time to mourn. 

I understand why some people choose to fill the void left by the passing of a pet right away, but I just can't do it. I need the loss to fade before I can give a new animal the emotional investment they deserve.

It took a long time for me to wrap my head around adding a new dog to our household. The decision was eventually made by a simple fact – Hogan was lonely.

He had never been an only dog. After Peanut was gone, he had a couple dog buddies, and we tried taking him to the dog park. But Hogan isn’t a run-with-the-pack kind of guy. He likes to have a friend he really connects with.

One day a friend sent me a link to a rescue group's Facebook photo of a female Belgian Malinois that needed a home. I fell in love. And that is how Abi came to live with us.

It took a long period of adjustment, lots of guidance on feline diplomacy, a stolen sandwich, a chewed piece of wall and much patience from all parties involved, but Abi has become one of the family.

I don’t know how she ended up at the animal shelter where she was rescued the day before she was to be put down. She certainly bounced around quite a bit for the first year of her life.

It’s hard for a dog to get used to a new home with new rules. It was hard for Hogan to get used to living with a new dog, especially one whose idea of fun is a ferocious neck-grab takedown.

Right now I’m watching them sleeping side-by-side. Dogs – just like people – need time to form a relationship. Seeing the bond and love between them reminds me of something else common to dogs and people.

There’s nothing like having a best friend.