Monday, December 24, 2012

Farm-to-Table Champagne

Growing Bubbly Trends

Count down to the New Year is underway, and I look around for bubbly trends leading up to the festive night. What’s hot and what’s not for 2013? Growing in popularity are grower champagnes, which take us back to the ancient notion of wine produced by the same people who own the vineyards. Few people realize that big-brand Champagne houses, like the ever-popular Veuve Clicquot and now the rap-star-celebrated Moet & Chandon’s Dom Perignon, dubbed Dom, or DP for lyric-appeal, spend millions of dollars on advertising, and in turn inch the price up year after year on Champagne. Building a brand is expensive business, and the large Champagne houses are geniuses at creating sex appeal for why emerging and mainstay markets should spend top dollar on juice they sourced throughout the Champagne region to blend into their iconic house styles. The underdog, though, is making a fast break these days producing true-to-the-farmer and terroir-driven Champagnes.
The great hunt for grower Champagne is on in my neck of the woods, and I have a few suggestions where you can spy some decent juice, even if I feel most restaurants could stand to pick up the pace. Start at EatBar, also known as Tallula, in Arlington if you care to dine with a decent selection of grower Champagne and Grand Marques. The trick to grower Champagne is that it’s hard to find, but when you find it on a list, you immediately know someone who cares has orchestrated the effort to source this wine. Most restaurants need to catch up to the times and stop offering the cheapest swill of Prosecco as their bubbly selection. I was pleasantly surprised by the Oval Room the other day when I spotted a Crémant by the glass, a less expensive option to Champagne because it’s made directly outside of the Champagne region, even though it’s made exactly like genuine Champagne. A Virginia made sparkling can be found around town, too. Claude Thibaut is a Champagne-maker born and bred in Champagne, but he’s brought his talents to Virginia. The White House pours his Thibaut-Janisson at State dinners, but you can also find his juice at Marcel’s near Georgetown, Willow Restaurant in Ballston, and Eventide in Courthouse. The aromatics and delicacy of this sparkler make the hunt well-worth your time, even if you can’t officially call it a grower Champagne, its essence echoes the very meaning behind true-to-the-farmer, boutique wine.
Since it is the holidays, I have to insert one wish to good old Saint Nick for what I hope to see happen in the greater Washington, D.C. area. A Champagne bar is much needed, and not one that serves caviar, but rather gourmet hot dogs. I know you may think I’m crazy, but this New Year’s Eve I triple-dog dare you (yes, The Christmas Story dances in my head) to try a grower Champagne with a tried-and-true hot dog. Add all the accoutrements if you wish; yes, the sauerkraut, chili, cheese, ketchup, mustard, or even cole slaw if you please. But once you have a bite of that American dog and take a sip of some fizzy carbonation laced with green apple crispness and yeasty threads of grandma’s biscuits, you will understand why sugar plum fairies do not dance in my head, but rather sparkling stars from Champagne afar paired with my favorite pink little pig. Closest manifestation to my dream is at Green Pig Bistro in Courthouse. Some brilliant wine director purchased local sparkling cider (another rendition of sparkling wine) and mixed it with rye whiskey, ginger liqueur, lemon juice and bitters. This fizzy concoction called, Ginger Ryder Punch, pairs well with their signature corn bread smothered in maple butter, or pig tacos. It’s a far cry from my simple frankfurter request, but will have to do until another creative restaurateur decides to be bold and brazen and open a Champagne bar that simply serves wieners and fries.

Finding grower Champagnes to adorn your tables is the ultimate challenge, but they can be found in shops around Falls Church and D.C. I have had the most luck at MacArthur’s, Pearson’s, and Arrowines. But, for your convenience, you should always ask your personal retailer to order—these are just a phone call away even if they are not regularly stocked. TIP - Look for ‘RM’ in tiny letters at the bottom of the bottle (Récoltant-Manipulant), the proof they ‘manipulate’ their own vines. The big brands will always have NM (Négociant-Manipulant) on the label, which means they source grapes from a number of growers to produce a wine under their own label.
Here are a few suggestions you can find around town without having to call a New York retailer:

Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte Anne, Champagne, France
Pierre Paillard Grand Cru, Bouzy, Champagne
Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Champagne, France
Cedric Bouchard Inflourescence, Val Vilaine, Champagne
Michel Turgy Grand Cru, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Champagne, France

Christianna Sargent
Certified Sommelier
Advanced Certificate--
Wine & Spirits Education Trust
Association of Italian Sommeliers
French Wine Scholar

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Halls of Vine Wine Academy

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tending to The Vines Wine & food Pairing

Sunday, November 4th, 2012
Barboursville Vineyards
Palladio Restaurant

Aperitivo with Barboursville Brut nv
Bietole, feta e noci tostate
Roasted Baby Beets & House Made Feta Cheese
Baby Arugula, Toasted Walnuts, Garden Fresh Oregano
& Champagne Vinaigrette

Barboursville Vineyards Vintage Rosé 2010
Risotto con gamberi di fiume e finocchi
Risotto with Roasted Fennel
Crayfish Tails,Sliced Almonds & Fennel Fronds
Barboursville Vineyards Vermentino Reserve 2011

Filetto di cernia al limone
Pan Roasted Grouper
Sautéed Rock Shrimp, Roasted Cauliflower
Capers & Lemon Brown Butter Sauce
Barboursville Vineyards Viognier Reserve 2011
Petto d’anatra arrosto
Dry Aged & Seared Duck Breast
Tuscan White Beans, Fresh Tomatoes & Wilted Arugula
& Crispy Parsnips
Barboursville Vineyards Nebbiolo Reserve 2008
Bistecca di manzo alla griglia
Grilled Piemontese Beef Chuck Tender
Braised Collard Greens, Smoked Potato Pyramids
& Pot Liquor Jus

Barboursville Vineyards Merlot Reserve 2008

Buon Appetito 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Fall In A Glass
George Rose:
On my drives through Arlington and Falls Church as of late, my nose detects familiar scents of fall: wood burning in a fire place, dry crackling leaves dancing on the pavement, baked apple pie cooling, and pumpkin scented candles pouring forth from open windows. All of these fragrances swirl in my head only to relinquish a simple craving—a synaptic connection in the brain stirs nostalgia for fall seasons of the past—and suddenly the urge strikes me to drink Chardonnay. Not just any run-of-the-mill Chardonnay, but rather the finest examples produced in Burgundy and cool, climate regions tucked away in pockets of Paso Robles and Santa Ynez Valley, California. Or like this fabulous Chardonnay Reserve bottling from Virginia’s own Barrel Oak winery that I’m sipping as I type this article.

Chardonnay has branded me for this time of year and I revel in its luscious aromas when fall descends. Sporting a broad range of flavors and styles, Chardonnay is such a versatile, noble grape, but it presents a catch 22 when grown in comfortable climates and in mass-produced environments. Winemakers all too frequently make a boring, mediocre wine that expresses nothing of terroir (sense of place), because the grapes get fat and lazy. As wine expert from GQ magazine, Alan Richman, claims, “Chardonnay is mindlessly appreciated by a majority of American wine-drinkers. It's reflexively vilified by a majority of American wine experts—when it's not from those remarkable vineyards in France.” California Chardonnays frequently get a bad wrap for being overly oaked and flabby on the palate because the grapes are living it up, basking in California sunshine and fertile, lush soil. I know for a fact, though, that great Chardonnay can be produced in numerous regions around the world, not just from beloved Burgundy vineyards. As long as the vines are starved and reared in cool austere climates, Chardonnay rises to the occasion, producing wines of profound intensity, minerality, and lush fruit flavors. Travel to Paso Robles, Santa Ynez, corners of Carneros and to the tops of the Santa Cruz mountains and see Chardonnay aspire to make balanced, elegant and graceful replications of great Burgundies.

At this time of year, I just have to marvel over a freshly poured sample of Chardonnay and revel in its scents that roll off the lip of the glass. Something erotic occurs when you catch that first waft of colliding buttery toastiness, lemon curd, lemon zest, orange blossom, crème brulee, walnuts and white macadamia nut cloaked in fragrances of coconut, baked apple, and warm brioche bread. Shall I continue? Or do you want to jump right out of your seat and go purchase a bottle of Chardonnay?

Just remember once you pop that cork, elegant-styled Chardonnays go nicely with fall cheese plates, roasted Brussels sprouts drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar, poached lobster with a béchamel cream sauce, grilled pork tenderloin with caramelized apples, butternut squash chili, or even that simplistic grilled cheese sandwich that you may happen to spruce up a bit with tomatoes and artisan gouda and cheddar cheeses. Chardonnay offers richness while being oaked, dry, acidic and creamy. So many possibilities abound with fall season foods and Chardonnay wine pairings, which is why I encourage you to give Chardonnay a shot this time of year, even if you’re a professed Chardonnay-hater. Or branch out and explore terroirs outside of France or outside of the United States. Live a little. And for those of you who already know Chardonnay and all of its glory, I toast you with my own small slice of heaven now in my hand.

A few recommendations to find around town:

Barrel Oak Chardonnay Reserve Front Royal, Virginia 2010 $30

Verget Pouilly-Fuissé Vergisson, Burgundy, France 2009 $38

Talley Vineyards Estate Chardonnay, Arroyo Grande Canyon Valley, California 2010 $24

Longoria Cuvée Diana Santa Rita Hills, Santa Barbara, California 2008 $44

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Santa Barbara, California 2008 $22

Christianna Sargent
Certified Sommelier
Advanced Certificate--
Wine & Spirits Education Trust
Association of Italian Sommeliers
French Wine Scholar

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Heirloom Tomatoes beat the heat

Heirloom tomatoes beat the heat

Step into a world of ripening heirloom tomatoes and enter a realm of bourgeoning discovery and endless flavor possibilities. The science population has been exclaiming the importance of food diversity and warning of the consequences of genetic erosion for years now.  With this in mind, consider for a moment the tasty, colorful array of heirloom tomatoes found at the farmer’s market that are replaced by bins in the supermarket full of  tasteless tomatoes almost identical in size, shape and color. If you take the time to just consider the benefits of selecting heirloom tomatoes, I will provide you with a few wine pairing tips that will maximize your efforts and return you to that tantalizing memory of how tomatoes used to taste. Your efforts will be rewarded three-fold when you experience the first flavor explosion in your mouth followed by a refreshing wine chaser in this sweltering heat.  

Over 10,000 varieties of tomatoes exist today, but commercial growers have chosen to grow just a couple of them in order to focus on physical traits that increase profitability; namely consistency, productivity and hardiness. Consistency lends to every tomato being the same size and shape with no physical blemishes, creases or any variant color spots. Also, commercial tomatoes need to yield large harvests and be able to endure mechanical picking, long distance traveling and exposure to pesticides. Since most American supermarket shoppers deem physical attributes more preferential to taste, commercialized versions of tomatoes barely resemble their heirloom counterparts. Heirloom tomatoes are not used in large-scale agriculture, but rather are popular among small-scale farmers and home gardeners.
In the wine world, tomatoes can be one of the most difficult foods to pair with wine due to their acidity. Introducing the wrong wine to a tomato-based dish usually ends in tragic, mouth-puckering, bitter reflections. Furthermore, commercialized tomatoes present even more challenges to the food-wine equilibrium because they are bland in flavor and acid-centric. When you introduce heirloom tomatoes to the wine pairing, however, other flavor components enter the equation, such as sweet tendency, succulence, tanginess, earthy undertones, citrus components, and smoky factors. Imagine the mouth-watering, warm-from-the-sun, old-time taste you remember from your youth (or may have never experienced). So, next time chose those beautiful tomatoes of all shapes and colors and try out any of these three recommendations listed below to test your heirloom selections:
  • Classic Italian dishes made with tomato-based sauce and pasta like spaghetti, Bolognese, lasagna, manicotti, baked ziti, chicken parmesan. Just sub in a homemade marinara sauce made from heirloom tomatoes and go for Italian red wines, such as classic Chianti, Barbera, Dolcetto, Barolo, Brunello and the off-shore island reds like Cannonau and Nero d’Avola. My recommendation is a renowned chianti, Fattoria di Lucignano Chianti Colli Fiorentini, average price $13.99 found in local, specialty wine shops like Arrowines.

  • Gazpacho made with garlic, red onion, vinegar and an assortment of other ingredients pairs best with sherry (fino or manzanilla) and lightly colored rosés from Spain, Provence and California. Sherry boasts the least amount of acidity of any wine and its savory, salty flavors mesh well with vibrant tomato flavors. In order to find the best sherry selections in the DC metropolitan area, venture to Jaleo restaurant in Crystal City and take a gander at their retail wine shop. Ask for Osborne Manzanilla from Andalucia Spain, average price $13.99.

  •  Insalata Caprese salad is a simple dish of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil that can be dressed up with a fine-quality olive oil, balsamic vinegar and white wine vinegar. With the extreme aromatic characteristics of this recipe and sweet succulence of the tomatoes, try an Italian white wine such as verdicchio. Red, White & Bleu in Falls Church carries an elegant version, Stefan Antonucci Verdicchio Classico Riserva from the Marche region of Italy for approximately $18.99.

This time of year, tomatoes offer a simplistic answer to quick, easy and healthy dishes that do not weigh you down in heavy, meaty dinner affairs. Served at cooler temperatures, red and white wines can match beautifully with your tomato recipes and leave you with a satiated appetite that does not weigh you down in hot, humid weather.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Garden Green Sweetness Gone Red
Pea Shoots by Emily Smith @emflash on Tumblr
You may be a red wine lover at heart, but come this time of year all of those wine savvy foodies are steering you toward crisp, fruity white wines and effervescent pricklers. Gastronomic journalists go crazy on the relevance of rosé and the perfect pairings with early summer garden selections.  Rather than saying these annual repetitions are not spot on, I wish to present an alternative wine and food pairing superlative: bold red wine with green vegetables, particularly the fruit, seed and leaf kind. Since the vendor stalls at the Falls Church Farmer’s Market are overflowing with zucchini, spinach, lettuce, peas and cucumbers, I challenge you to make the following three salads laced with green ingredients plucked right from the garden and pair them with a delicious red. In order to diversify the wine pairing selections, the three salads to follow represent different pleasure zones on your palate, namely fresh and vibrant, bitter and aromatic, and lastly, rich and savory. For simplicity’s sake, we will forego a sweet option and spare your waistline.

In wine jargon, the scents and flavors of the vegetable garden contain minimum quantities of aromatic substances, acids and sugars that define each veggie flavor in a unique way. These tastes allow for sensations of sweetness, bitterness, acidity, and/or aromaticness. Ultimately, the prevailing flavor characteristics point to which wine will best compliment a dish. First, let us look at a fresh and vibrant dish: snap peas and zucchini ribbons sprinkled with a touch of sea salt and extra virgin olive oil topped with shaved pecorino or parmesan reggiano cheese. One cannot deny a vervy Sauvignon Blanc from the banks of the Loire River would pair superbly with this delicacy; but, you can venture to try a young Beaujolais made from the Gamay grape in southern Burgundy, France, or even a fragrant Valpolicella from the Emilia-Romagna region southwest of Venice, Italy. Both wines have a reminiscent sweet tendency due to their fruity flavors of wild strawberries and cherries, lighter tannins (the bitter aspect of wine found in both coffee or tea), and smooth mouth-feel. The pecorino or parmesan cheese adds the perfect touch of saltiness to balance the flavors between the vegetables and the wine. Some readily available examples found locally would be Joseph Drouhin Beaujolais-Villages for $10.99 or Degani Valpolicella for $12.99.

Moving from the fresh, vibrant category that plays out the natural sugars and acidity of green vegetables, let us look at bitter and aromatic fare. Salad greens are both bitter and aromatic. A plethora of arugula and mesclun can be sourced at the farmer’s market or your very own garden, and these greens offer very peppery, aromatic flavors. Top an arugula spring mix with dried cranberries, vine-ripened strawberries, cucumbers and crumbled gorgonzola (dolce) cheese and whip up your own salad dressing with equal parts local honey, balsamic vinegar with a doubled portion of olive oil, splash of soy sauce and a pinch of salt. Zing! Match this tangy salad bowl with a California old vine Zinfandel that is peppery and full of red raspberry flavor, or go with a humble Côtes du Rhône from France that offers white pepper, orange rind, and plumy, dark fruit. Simple solution would be Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel found everywhere for $12.99, or Guigal Côtes du Rhône for $8.99.

Kick it up a notch with the last category and add richness with starch, butter, and a leafy green that lends sweet tendencies. Prepare a warm orzo salad with feta cheese, garlic, fresh spinach and lemon zest finished with a high quality balsamic vinaigrette. Cook ¾ cup orzo in chicken broth and add a teaspoon of red pepper flakes and thyme. Meanwhile, slowly melt 2 Tbsp. of real butter with ½ c. or more of feta crumbles. Sauté two cloves of garlic with a bundle of fresh spinach leaves, season with kosher salt and fresh cracked peppercorn and 1 Tbsp of lemon zest. Drain your pasta and combine all the ingredients. Plate and finish with a drizzling of high-quality balsamic vinaigrette. Voilà, the savoriness envelops your taste buds and cries out for a rich Spanish Rioja or even an Argentine Malbec sourced from  higher altitude vineyards. You cannot go wrong with LAN Crianza at $11.99 or Catena Zapata Malbec at $18.99.

Overall, it’s fun to play around with flavors and you do not have to be an expert to know what direction to go. Besides, when in doubt, there is probably an Apple app that exists to guide you, or the handy Google assistance at the tip of your fingertips. If these recipes intrigue you, come join us at Red, White & Bleu Wine Shop in Falls Church for our monthly book club where we explore how to drink and eat seasonally based on Dr. Vino’s book, A Year of Wine. Call the shop at 703.533.9463 (WINE) for more details.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spring Rises to the tune of Velt-LEEN-er

Fog Rising by Emily Smith

This past week, I stepped outside before the dawn had fully sprung. A blanket of misty fog clung to the frosted ground; but, slowly the shroud of damp dew began rising, as if lifting her skirts to reveal the tender young grass springing, the yellow daffodil petals yawning, and the purple crocus peeking open for its first glimpse of fluxing seasons. I thought for a moment how everything springs forward, ascending upwards toward a new morning light. I inhaled deeply the scents of fresh morn, waiting to exhale my hopeful pondering: spring has sprung!

The dormant land awakens to new life; and with it a farmer’s bounty and a wine lover’s new adventure into a world painted verdant green. Spring green demands a color descriptor all of its own, somewhere on the verge of light green splashed with yellow highlights, conjuring nascent freshness. In the wine world, this verdant green translates into wines such as Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, and possibly even Pinot Gris or Torrentes. In the food world, ramps, artichockes, fava beans, and asparagus take their place once again on the spring menu.
So if we marry the wine and food world, a story unfolds of delicious pairings waiting to molt the winter senses. The trick is not slipping into wines that are too green just yet. Now is not the time for spritzy Vinho Verdes stacked high at Whole Foods in the zenith of summer, or Pinot Grigios flavored with fresh squeezed lime and lemon. This tender time between seasons calls for a wine that dons plumes of finesse and voluptuous notes of ripe stone fruits. Sauvignon Blanc strikes us with stiletto heels of acidity, tart flavors of grapefruit, and that reminiscent sniff of freshly cut hay. Thus, Sauvignon Blanc proves not the perfect fit. Rather, the way to go this time of year is with a wine that harnesses split personalities. The appropriate bride for this marriage would be the stoic grape from Austria, Grüner Veltliner, pronounced with a ringing Austrian accent: Velt-LEEN-er.

The beauty of Grüner Veltliner is that it has sprung all over the grocery store shelves and at your local vintner shops. This bride flirts with numerous of styles. The Grüner grapes produce wines of light, dainty bodies to full-fledged, voluminous curves. A tell-tale sign when Grüner rests in your glass is the slight presence of dissolved CO2. Surprisingly, the sensation of spritz is not passed on to your palate. Rather, this wine can deliver sensations of a world renowned white burgundy (aka fancy Chardonnay from France) unfolding myriads of richness and texture that can age in bottle for a decade or more. Most importantly, for these tender times, Grüner pairs with meat, yes, red meat; in addition to fish and green vegetables.

So, the next time you visit the Farmer’s market or your local grocer, search for the ingredients to make an asparagus frittata and spring for a Grüner Veltliner. Or better yet, make a meal with heirloom beans and edamame. Check out this amazing farmer’s website, Rancho Gordo, who is preserving the genetic line of heritage beans in Napa Valley Plant these babies in your spring garden and spare them from extinction. You will reap the benefits tenfold in flavor, texture, and freshness. Plus, the groo-vee way to experience beans is with a velvety Velt-LEEN-er. More food thoughts with Grüner could be unique deviled egg preparations for your spring brunch table—make ‘em with bacon, cheese, curry, or the tried-and-true paprika.

Some tip top suggestions to seek out (but, don’t let the Austrian wine label scare you off!):

Hirtzberger, Smaragd Honivogl
Knoll, Smaragd Schütt
F X Pichler, Smaragd Kellerberg
Prager, Smaragd Achleiten
Bründlmayer, Käferberg
Loimer, Spiegel Alte Reben
Steininger, Kamptal