Chardonnay … Versatility is Thy Name

Two Pairings:  Fish Timbales one night and Pizza the next night … Both Paired with a 2012 Dutcher Crossing Chardonnay Stuhlmuller Vineyard Alexander Valley

Food: We are creatures of habit. On Fridays we always seafood (perhaps a remnant of my Catholic upbringing). Saturday is always homemade pizza (the origin? … maybe because it was easy to eat on your lap while the family watched Star Trek – Next Generation … or some other long repressed memory). Anyway, we enjoy a gazillion different ways to prepare both seafood and pizza so the pattern is never boring. Back to the food …

Our fish timbales are made with mackerel and haddock, poached or sautéed or broiled first. A white sauce is made with shallots, cooked and chopped spinach cooked together in cream (and some mashed white beans). Season with salt and pepper. The cooked fish is flaked and added along with a small beaten egg to the sauce. Divide the fish mixture into two six-ounce buttered ramekins. Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. Unmold the ramekins onto warmed plates. We like to serve the timbales with chard that has been sliced into 1 inch pieces, cooked in a little olive oil and water, then seasoned with salt, nutmeg and garlic powder.  (Bonus:  our fish timbales are 290 calories each!).

The next night is pizza … Instead of tomato sauce, the unbaked pizza shell ( we continue to enjoy our sourdough pizza crust) is covered in pesto sauce with cooked chicken, chanterelles, red or orange bell pepper, bacon, red onion, and grated mozzarella cheese. The recipe we use is from Flavors of Prince Edward Island:  A Culinary Journey. The recipes in this cookbook were provided by the PEI Association of Chefs and Cooks. Wonderful cookbook … great pizza.



Wine:  My wife and I typically drink a bottle of wine over two meals. So … here’s the dilemma … what wine will pair nicely with a seafood dish one night and with some recipe for pizza the following night? And, of course, what do we have on hand in the larder and cellar? The fish we have in the fridge really needs a white wine. Even a lighter weight red would likely overwhelm the fish. So … what white wine will also go well with what pizza?

Well, Chardonnay is not one of most widely planted grapes and one of the world’s most widely drunk wines for nothing. Many different style, grows in many different regions. France, Italy, California, Oregon, Australia, New Zealand … to name just a few. Being a guy who ‘marches to a different drummer”, “swims against the tide” (you get the picture), I would normally not be inclined to go along with the masses, many of them who only drink Chardonnay (you … hiding there in the back … you know who I’m talking about). But, come on … the Dutcher Chardonnay is really, really good … and I think ideal for these two meals. Go for it! Perfect!


Dutcher Chardonnay

Tasting Notes:  Lovely yellow-golden color. The nose carries delicious scents of fresh orange slices and orange blossom. Flavors detected include honeysuckle, honeydew melon, and orange zest, with hints of spice (coriander and mace). The wine’s ability to both quietly refresh the delicate tastes of the fish timbales while at the same time assert itself to enhance the rich, complex flavors of the pizza is positively magical. An exceptional wine we have enjoyed time and time again.

Other White Wines That Pair Well with both Fish Timbales and Pizza with Pesto, Chanterelles and Chicken: Verdicchio (Italy), Soave (Italy), White Rhone-Style Blend (California), White Châteauneuf-du-Pape (Rhone Valley, France).

Other Food That Pairs Well with a New World Chardonnay:  Clam or Corn Chowder, Mushroom Risotto, Chicken in Cream and Morel Sauce, Smoked Salmon Omelette.

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Chili … with White Wine(?!!)

Pairing: Chili Paired with NV Otter Creek La Crescent

Food:  There are probably hundreds … or thousands … of recipes for Chili. Ours is a simple, meatless version made of tomatoes, kidney beans, chopped onions, cubed green peppers (or cucumbers), and chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Not only is this recipe yummy and easy to make, it is also ridiculously low in calories and high in protein. Would you believe that the bowl of chili shown in the photo below contains less than 300 calories, and that includes the melon cubes and grated cheddar! (but not the wine). For the recipe, you can go to my wife’s blog,

Chili and Otter Creek


Wine:  First of all … yes, white wine is usually the best pairing for  spicy dishes.

Our quest continues for wines from lesser known, out-of-the-way wine regions and wineries. That quest has brought us to the cold northern climes of upstate New York to Otter Creek Winery in the tiny town of Philadelphia, NY up near the Canadian border. New York is rightly famous for their wines from the Finger Lakes Region (notably Riesling) and Long Island. They can now boast of some excellent wines from the cold, snowy north. The La Crescent grapes grown by Otter Creek were developed at the University of Minnesota for its cold-hardiness and good flavor. My sister, who lives in that area of the state, brought us some wines to sample … delicious! Thanks, Sis!

Otter Creek La Crescent

Tasting Notes:  A pale gold color. Melon and apricot are present on the nose. Lovely ripe cantaloupe and apricot emerge on the palate and continue on the finish, along with a little touch of peach and honey. The residual sugars present a pleasant sweetness to the wine and bring wonderful balance to the spicy Chili as well as to other such flavorful dishes. This might best be described as a semi-sweet wine similar to a Riesling.

Other Wines That Pair Well with Chili:  German Riesling (Spätlese or Auslese), Gewürztraminer (Alsace), Grüner Veltliner (Austria), Zinfandel (Mexico or California)

Other Food That Pairs Well with  Otter Creek La Crescent:  Indian Curry, Chinese Cuisine, Mexican Dishes, Thai Food.

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Chicken Parmigiana … Paired with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Pairing: Chicken Parmigiana Paired with a 2008 Farnese Opi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane Riserva 

Food:  Chicken Parmigiana (also called Chicken Parmesan) is a well known Italian-American dish. Very simple to make. Slice a chicken breast in half to produce two thin filets. Dip each filet in some milk then dredge into some fresh breadcrumbs (mixed with salt, pepper, and grated parmesan cheese). Spray a shallow pan with some cooking oil and lay the breaded filets into it. Bake at 350F for about 10-15 minutes until almost done. Spoon some tomato sauce on the top of each filet, top with a mixture of ricotta cheese and grated mozzarella. Then sprinkle each filet with more parmesan cheese. Place the assembled filets under a broiler until brown on the top (about five minutes). Voila!

Note: The brown color of the penne in the photo below is from cooking the pasta in water that had previously been used to poach mushrooms. It adds yet another subtle flavor dimension to the dish that gets picked up by the wine.

Chicken Parmegiana & Multipulciano


Wine:  The Montepulciano grape is grown throughout central Italy, particularly in the Marche, Molise, and Abruzzo wine regions. The Abruzzo region is situated on the Adriatic coast of Italy. It is the Abruzzo region that many believe produces the finest expression of the Montepulciano grape. A confusing aspect of this grape/ wine, however, is that despite being named for the parish of Montepulciano in Tuscany, the Montepulciano grape is not grown or used in the famed Vino di Nobile Montepulciano which is made mostly from the Sangiovese grape. Weird.


Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

Tasting Notes:  A deep purple color, almost black (like Malbec). Aromas of blueberry, blackberry, and leather practically burst from the glass … wow! On the palate, one gets blueberry leather (if fruit leather comes in such a flavor), black currant, and a rich earthiness. Goes exceptionally well with the Chicken Parmigiana … the three cheeses seem to tease out the earthy elements of the wine. Decanting the wine for a full hour before dining really softened up the tannins and turned it into both a nice sipping wine and a perfect complement to the meal.

Other Wines That Pair Well with Chicken Parmigiana:  Chianti  Classico, Super Tuscan, Barbera d”Asti, Bardolino

Other Food That Pairs Well with  Montepulciano:  Pizza, Pasta with Meat Sauce, Salami, Baked Ham, Beef Stew

View Maps and Photos:  abruzzo wine region

A Source:  Prince Edward Island Liquor Control Commission



Pasta with Chanterelles and Artichokes … Paired with an Okanagan Pinot Noir

Pairing: Linguini with Chanterelles and Artichokes Paired with a 2014 Quails’ Gate Okanagan Valley Pinot Noir

Food:  A few years back, I was doing some work with schools in Southern California. I found myself with a free Sunday and decided to take a drive into the hilly wine country east of Santa Barbara. I took a leisurely lunch at a charming little bistro set in a landscape of rolling vineyards stretching out in all directions. Their Special of the Day was this simple Linguini with Chanterelles and Artichokes served with a glass of locally sourced Pinot Noir. Mmmmm … delicious. Enjoyed it so much that I came up with my own version of it. Frozen artichokes (not canned) work best as preparing fresh ones is a bit time-consuming. Sauté the artichokes and mushrooms in some butter while the pasta cooks. Deglaze pan with some of the wine and a stock reduction. Toss in the almost cooked pasta with a little bit of the pasta water. And, a Pinot Noir is excellent with it.

Linguini with Chanterelles & ArtichokesJPG

Wine:  A first for me … first opportunity to sample a wine from the Okanagan Valley wine region of British Columbia. Wines from this region are becoming more and more available in the U.S. and elsewhere in Canada.The Okanagan Valley has become a significant wine producer in Canada, second only to the long-established Niagara wine region in Ontario. The Quails’ Gate Pinot Noir that we are drinking with today’s selected pasta meal is produced in the Kelowna sub-region of the Valley.

Quails' Gate Pinot Noir

Tasting Notes:  A pretty, medium garnet red. Aromas of cherry and black currant on the nose. A satiny tannin core draped with fresh bing cherry flavors … a classically light and elegant Pinot Noir. Nicely balances the delicate taste of the chanterelles and artichokes.

Other Wines That Pair Well with Chanterelles/ Artichoke Pasta:  Côte du Rhône (France), Rully (Burgundy), Saumur-Champigny (Loire), Pinot Noir (California), Pinotage (South Africa)

Other Food That Pairs Well with Pinot Noir: Salmon, Baked Ham, Dishes made with Bacon, Roast Chicken or Duck (among many other dishes)

Take in the Beautiful Viewsokanagan valley

A Source:  Prince Edward Island Liquor Agency Stores





Haddock with Shrimp and Watercress Sauce … Paired with Verdicchio

Pairing: Haddock with a Shrimp and Watercress Sauce Paired with a 2013 Verdicchio de Matelico

Food:  Having just stopped at a farm stand and purchased fresh sweet corn and green beans, we now must decide what fish (it is Friday, after all!) we will serve with these lovely vegetables. Haddock is always nice and available. How shall we prepare it? Well, my wife and live-in gourmet cook (they’re the same person … in case you were wondering) had recently made and frozen some wonderful watercress sauce. Thaw out the sauce, toss in a handful of already cooked and frozen coldwater shrimp, cook the sauce down a little bit and added a Tbs of cream to thicken it, and pour over the pan-fried haddock. An amazing flavor combination has just been discovered!

Haddock with Shrimp & Verdicchio

Wine:  Verdicchio is widely regarded as an ideal companion to fish. And we concur. This Verdicchio di Matelica is the smaller of the two Verdicchio wine growing zones (the larger being Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi) both in the beautiful Marche region of Italy … the Matelica vineyards located on the eastern slopes of the Apennine Mountains. The Verdicchio grape has been grown in this region for more than 600 years.

Verdicchio di matelica

Tasting Notes:  The color is a pretty golden hue. The aromas are of clover and peach (like walking through the peach orchards of Adams County on a summer day). Flavors of lime, yellow peaches, and some minerality emerge on the palate and continue on the finish. The light taste of lime is a nice companion to the sweetness of the fish and shrimp (as well as the corn in this dish). That sweetness of the corn, salinity of the seafood, and the peppery notes of the watercress, taken together bring out the subtle, perhaps hidden, flavors of this delicate wine.

Other Wines That Pair Well with the Fish:  Soave (Italy), Sauvignon Blanc (California), White Bordeaux (France), Chenin Blanc (South Africa)

Other Food That Pairs Well with Verdicchio: Poached or Sautéed White Fish (Cod, Sole, Haddock), Fish Stew or Chowder, Shrimp, Scallops, Crab

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Provencal Pizza … Paired with a “Stump Jump” Australian GSM

Pairing: Provençal Pizza Paired with a 2012 d’Arenberg The Stump Jump GSM (Grenache, Shiraz and Mourvèdre)

Food:  Provençal Pizza is significantly different from the more traditional Neapolitan Pizza from Italy. Instead of a cooked tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil all typical ingredients of the familiar Italian pizza, our Provençal Pizza is made with fresh tomato slices, oil cured olives, feta cheese, tiny branches of fresh thyme, and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese. It should be noted that ours is not the traditional Provençal Pizza called Pissaladiere. We particularly enjoy our version of this pizza in late summer and early fall when the heirloom tomatoes start appearing in gardens and farmstands. The wonderfully flavorful heirlooms really shine on this pizza. Our crust is made from sourdough, one of our favorites.

Provencal Pizza with Stumo Jump GSMJPG


Wine:  d’Arenberg is probably our favorite Australian wine producer. They make an extraordinary range of different wines (mostly reds) … we’ve had many of them … and they have all been good. And who can resist the cleverly conceived names?!

Back to GSM’s … an abbreviated way of saying Grenache, Syrah (or Shiraz), and Mourvèdre. These are the three principal grapes that make up the red wines from the Southern Rhône wine region of France. These wines include such well known reds as Côtes du Rhône, Gigondas, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Outside of France, Australia has become one of the biggest producers of GSM blends, along with the United States where they are known as ‘Rhône Rangers’.


Stump Jump GSM

Tasting Notes:  A deep garnet red color. The nose speaks of fruit … blackberry and plum. The palate brings flavors of a dark fruit compote, notably blackberry, black raspberry and black currant … all underlaid by a deep earthiness (that’s the Mourvèdre). That robust earthiness continues on the long finish, and complements beautifully the salty/briny flavors of the olives, feta,and Parmesan in the pizza. An absolutely perfect pairing!!

Other Wines That Pair Well with Provençal Pizza:  Côtes du Rhône (France), Bandol (Provence), Rosé (Provence), Châteauneuf-du-Pape (France), Garnacha (Spain)

Other Food That Pairs Well with GSM:  Roast Chicken, Pork, Mushrooms, Charcuterie, Moussaka (among many others … a very versatile wine)

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=Pasta with Chicken and Mushrooms … Paired with an Australian Grenache

Pairing:  Pasta with Chicken and Mushrooms Paired with a 2008 Clarendon Hills Kangarilla Grenache

Food:  A simple dish made with whatever type or shape of pasta you like (we’re using gemelli here), whatever mushrooms you enjoy (we’ve got an assortment of sautéed wild mushrooms), cooked chicken meat, a béchamel sauce, and some grated parmesan cheese. We’ve served the dish with cool, sliced cucumber, and a handful of fresh cherries.

A word about wild mushrooms:  Many markets are now starting to sell cultivated “wild” mushrooms (seems like a contradiction of terms). They are quite delicious. If you are feeling adventuresome, you may have an inkling to go off into the wild and forage for wild, edible mushrooms. My advice … DON’T! Don’t unless you are going with a reliable, experienced, knowledgeable companion who knows what to look for and can distinguish between the delicious and the deadly.

Pasta With Chicken and Mushrooms

Wine:  This Clarendon Hills ‘Kangarilla’ Grenache hails from the beautiful McLaren Vale wine region in South Australia. Vineyards were first planted in the McLaren Vale in the early 1800’s. Today wine from this region is considered to be among the best in all of Australia.  Grenache (Garnacha in Spain) grapes are perhaps best known for being one of the three principal grapes used in the iconic French wine, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Throughout southern France, Australia, and California, Grenache is used in the making of GSM’s (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre), a very popular blended wine. However, in Spain and more and more in Australia, Grenache is grown to make wonderful single varietal wines. And Clarendon Hills makes one of the best. By the way … What is a kangarilla? A cross between a kangaroo and a gorilla??? Hey, Siri …

Clarendon Hills Grenache

Tasting Notes:  Wow … a very special wine. The color is garnet red like the color of bing cherries. Aroma of cherry pie with a shortbread crust, warm and fresh out of the oven. Absolutely amazing! On the palate one gets a hint of earthiness and leather combined with the cherry flavor resulting in a cherry fruit leather taste. Some raspberry overtones play out in the latter stages of the tasting experience with cherry and raspberry lingering through the long finish. The mushrooms help bring out the earthiness in the wine and the fresh cherries served with the pasta … well, you can guess that they help advance the already cherry presence in the Grenache. A great wine … a great pairing!

Other Wines That Pair Well with Pasta, Chicken and Mushrooms:  Pinot Noir (New Zealand), Red or White Burgundy (France), Cote du Rhone (France), Chardonnay (California)

Other Foods That Pair Well with Grenache:  Grilled Lamb or Chicken, Sausage, Turkey, Eggplant

See Photos:  mclaren vale

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