Scalloped Oysters … with a South African Rose

Pairing:  Sunny Acres Scalloped Oysters Paired with 2014 Big Flower Rosé

Food: A couple of interesting things about this meal. First, this recipe for Scalloped Oysters dates back to the early 1900’s. It is from Haydn Pearson’s 1953 Country Flavor Cookbook. In the book, Pearson fondly remembers his boyhood and this delicious oyster dish his mother made with butter, cream, and cracker crumbs. The link to the recipe is here.

Secondly, the raw oysters used for this dish (Merry Oysters from Duxbury, MA and Wiley Point Oysters from Damariscotta, ME) were bought fresh at Sanders Fish Market in January, and put into our freezer, unopened, still raw in their shells. Three months later, we removed them from the freezer, partially thawed them, shucked them and used the fresh oyster meat and liquid to make the recipe. Talk about an easy preservation method! We’ve also eaten them raw this way … taste just like fresh raw oysters!

Scallopped Oysters

Wine:  Big Flower is a tiny winery (only 13 acres) located in the breathtakingly gorgeous Stellenbosch region of South Africa. They make a lovely rosé from a very unusual combination of grapes … 2/3 Petit Verdot and 1/3 Chenin Blanc. Petit Verdot is an ancient variety believed to have been planted by the early Romans in the area of Bordeaux. For many years, it was a principal component of red Bordeaux wine … until the vineyards were almost wiped out by the phylloxera blight in the late 1800’s. Today, it is but a minor element in Bordeaux wine, almost exclusively in the Medoc region of Bordeaux. Of late, winemakers in different parts of the world (e.g., California) are experimenting with Petit Verdot as a single varietal wine instead of just a blending wine. Chenin Blanc is a widely grown grape in South Africa, indeed it is one of the signature wines of that country. The innovative combination of these two grapes in the Big Flower rosé is dynamite!

Big Flower Rose

Tasting Notes:  A beautiful salmon-colored rosé wine. A hint of strawberry on the nose, and a delicate flavor of strawberry and blueberry combined with some bright, pleasant acidity make for a delightful dry wine. Really goes well with the buttery taste of the scalloped oysters.

Other Wines That Pair Well with Scalloped Oysters:  Chardonnay (California), Champagne, Châteauneuf-du-Pape (white), Chablis (France)

Other Foods That Pair Well with Rosé:  Crab Salad, Grilled Shrimp, Tuna Salad, Green Salad, Pâté

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Thai Shrimp Soup … with an Australian “White Bordeaux”(!?)

Pairing:  Thai Shrimp and Noodle Soup Paired with a 2014 Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc/ Semillon (White Bordeaux-Style Blend)

Food:  This soup is my wife’s creation, having adapted parts of it from a few different recipes. It is made with 2 oz of rice vermicelli, 4 chopped scallions, 2 cups of chicken stock, 1 T fish sauce, 2 T fresh lime juice, 2 tsp sugar, 6 oz raw shrimp coarsely chopped, 4 oz grated carrot, 2 cups raw spinach (coarsely chopped), and 2 tsp Green Curry Paste. Serves two generously. Spicy, complex, healthy!

Thai Soup

Wine:  For this meal, we return to one of my favorite wine regions, Western Australia, for another of their terrific wines … this time we’ll try a white blend of Sauvignon Blanc (55%) and Semillon (45%). Some refer to this wine as a “White Bordeaux-style” or SSB wine because its composition mimics the legendary white wine of the Bordeaux wine region of France. The Cape Mentelle winery was one of the first to be established in the Margaret River region of Western Australia, and is widely regarded as one of the best.

Cape Mentelle

Tasting Notes:  A lovely color of pale straw with a hint of green. Clean and fresh aromas of linen drying in a spring breeze, along with green melon and white flowers. The palate continues the tastes of green melon, along with clover and honeysuckle. Absolutely delicious! The cool, clean, crisp qualities of the wine complement beautifully the warm flavor of the Green Curry Paste and the cool, fresh spiciness of the lime juice and fish sauce in the soup. Yet another great example of pairing something spicy with a clean, fresh-tasting wine. Bravo!

Other Wines That Pair Well with Thai Shrimp Soup:  Gewürztraminer (Alsace), Riesling (Germany), Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand), Chenin Blanc (South Africa)

Other Food That Pairs Well with a White Bordeaux-style Wine:  Grilled White Fish, Scallops, Lobster, Goat Cheese, Oysters, Crab Cakes

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Easter Ham … with a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

Pairing:  Baked Ham Paired with 2012 Dutcher Crossing Proprietor’s Reserve Zinfandel (Dry Creek Valley)

Food:  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that our family is big on traditions when it comes to food. So, every Easter, we celebrate the day with friends and the traditional Easter meal of our family … baked ham, pineapple, popovers, potatoes gratin Dauphinois, asparagus, and lemon meringue pie. Served … always … with Zinfandel. Each person has a favorite part of this holiday meal … some say it’s the ham centerpiece with the mustard and brown sugar-crusted topping … others can’t get enough of the over-the-top gratin Dauphinois with it’s thinly-sliced potatoes baked in a cream, butter, and Gruyère cheese sauce. For me, though, it wouldn’t be Easter without  our giant, puffed up 6-inch popovers. My … oh my!

Easter Dinner with Zin

Wine:  Although Pinot Noir is the most widely recognized pairing for baked ham, we have found that the slight sweetness and spicy flavors of Zinfandel is a perfect foil to the salty ham with its mustard/ brown sugar topping. Although Zinfandel traces its origins back to Croatia and is the same grape used to make Primitivo wine in Italy, the vast majority of Zinfandel in the world today is grown in California. And in California, many are convinced that the best Zinfandel comes from the Sonoma region. Our favorite Zinfandel  is produced in the beautiful Dry Creek Valley area of Sonoma. This Zinfandel made by Dutcher Crossing is blended with a bit (13%) of Petite Sirah.

Dutcher Crossing Zin 2012

Tasting Notes: One really gets the spices of mace, allspice and vanilla notes on both the nose and the palate. The flavors of blackberry jam and leather also emerge along with some earthiness resulting from the inclusion of a little Petite Sirah in the blend. And there’s just enough fine tannins to result in good balance in the wine so as not to be too “fruity”. This is yet another example of a wine that goes well with several elements of the meal … the salty/ sweet ham, the cheesy potatoes and the buttery popovers in particular. Even, surprisingly, the pineapple soaked in kirschwasser.

Other Wines That Pair Well with Baked Ham:  Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Riesling, Rose (Dry), Sparkling Wine

Other Food That Pairs Well with Zinfandel:  Barbecued Meats and Chicken, Cheeseburgers (with Blue Cheese), Duck, Lamb, Mushrooms, Pizza, Turkey

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Greek Moussaka … with a Lebanese Red Wine

Pairing: Greek Moussaka Paired with 2009 Chateau Musar “Hochar Père et Fils” Red Blend Bekaa Valley

Food:  Our Greek Moussaka is based on recipes found in cookbooks from the 60’s and 70’s, Foods of the World: Middle Eastern Cooking and The Four Seasons Cookbook. It is made with layers of cooked sliced eggplant, cooked ground lamb, tomato sauce, onion, garlic, oregano, and cinnamon. Assemble in a casserole dish and top with a white sauce made with milk, butter, egg, and grated mozzarella and feta cheese. Bake at 400F for 15 minutes until brown on top. The internet has lots of recipes if you don’t have access to either of these cookbooks.

Mousaka with Hockar Wine

Wine:  Lebanon is one of the oldest wine growing regions in the world. The ancestors of the Hochar family settled in the high elevation Bekaa Valley (1000 m elevation) long ago … in the 12th Century. Viniculture in this region dates back a bit further … about 5,000 years! The Hochar Père et Fils combines Cinsault (50%), Grenache (30%), Cabernet Sauvignon (10%), and Carignan (10%) to create an exceptional red blend of familiar grapes but with a decidedly different taste … probably due to the unusual inclusion of Cabernet Sauvignon into a blend most associated with the Southern Rhone region of France (i.e., Côte du Rhône). The current vineyard that the Hochar family tends is over 60 years old. It is inspiring that significant winemaking has endured in this war torn nation.

Hochar Lebanese Red Wine

Tasting Notes:  What a terrific wine! Complex aromas of earth, smoke, blackcurrant, blackberry, and blueberry. And flavors of fresh earth, leather, hedgerow jam, plum, dates, and wonderful dried figs. Wow! A terrific, big, mouth-filling red wine that complements beautifully the lamb, cheeses, eggplant, oregano, and cinnamon of the moussaka.

Other Foods That Pair Well with the Hochar Red:  Roast Lamb, Eggplant Dishes, Game, Root Vegetable Stews, Ratatouille

Other Wines That Pair Well with Moussaka:  Rioja (Spain), Chianti (Italy), Côte du Rhône (France), Greek Wines (e.g., Roditys, Nemea)

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Pizza … Paired with a Spanish Jumilla

Pairing:  Napoletana Pizza Paired with a 2011 Bodegas el Nido “Clio” Jumilla

Food:  Homemade pizza is a staple in our household … we have it almost every Saturday night. So you will see pizza on this blog a few times a year, but the pizza will have different toppings, sometimes made with different crusts, and paired with a variety of wines. The crust for this particular pizza (and the one we use most frequently) is from Peter Reinhart’s wonderful cookbook American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza. It is his recipe for Napoletana Pizza Dough made with no oil or sugar, only all-purpose flour, salt, yeast, and cool water. My wife makes one recipe’s worth of dough, enough for six personal size pizza (about 8 to 10 inches each), rolls up 6 balls of the dough, two for that night’s dinner and freezes the four remaining balls for use on the following two Saturdays.  The topping is just a simple tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, Italian herbs, pepperoni, and green peppers. I like a generous shake of red pepper flakes with mine. Close your eyes … you’re in Naples!

Pizza with Spanish Red

Wine:  So … I know what you’re thinking … pair this pizza with a nice Italian red wine. Barbara, Chianti Classico, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo … all great choices. But let’s get a little adventuresome. We’ll leave Italy and and seek out something promising in nearby Spain. The “Clio” is a big, powerful wine made from 70% Monastrell (Mourvèdre) grapes and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Jumilla wine region, a small region on the Mediterranean coast of southeastern Spain.

Clio Jumilla Spain

Tasting Notes:  A deep, almost black, cherry red in color. A word that comes to mind in describing its look is “brooding”. The aromas don’t disappoint … bold black cherry, leather and earth.  The flavors carry that same theme of earthiness, leather and jam, with a touch of cedar and expresso. Though clearly a bold-flavored wine, it has a surprising element of lightness to it. Really works well with the tomato, pepperoni and green pepper of the pizza. Wow!

Other Food That Pairs Well with This “Clio”:  Pasta with Meat Sauce, Sausage, Cheeseburgers (especially with Blue Cheese), Osso Bucco

Other Wines That Pair Well with This Pizza:  (since we’ve already identified some great Italian wines, let’s continue our travels outside Italy) Côte du Rhône (France), Merlot (California), Malbec (Argentina), Shiraz (Australia)

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A Lord of the Rings Celebration … with Sam’s Rabbit Stew

Pairing:  Samwise Gamgee’s Rabbit Stew paired with 2007 Barolo Rocche Costamagna Rocche dell-Annunziata

Background:  March 25 is a day of very special significance in the history of Middle Earth. It is the day the One Ring is destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom as told by J.R.R. Tolkien in his epic literary masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). This is a special book to our entire family … we’ve each read it multiple times, individually and together as a family.  So, we celebrate the book every year on this most important day in Middle Earth, March 25. We celebrate it by creating a meal composed of foods described in various parts of the story.

Lord of the Rings Books

Food:  This is a meal that Samwise Gamgee made for his master, Frodo Baggins, in Ithilien on the border of the Dark Lord’s fortress lands of Mordor. Their guide (and sympathetic villain), Gollum, has brought Sam a couple of freshly killed “conies” and Sam asks if he might go find him some “taters” for the stew. “What’s taters, precious?” is Gollum’s response. Sam never gets his taters, but we’ve added them to our stewing rabbit, along with some simple seasoning (salt, pepper, crushed herbs). Sam would be pleased. Sam and Frodo carried dried fruit and elvish honey cakes called “lembas” on their perilous journey to Mordor, so we’ve added them to the meal. Our version of lembas is a recipe for Lebkuchen that we make at Christmastime. We save out some of the cookies, unglazed, then freeze for eating at our LOTR meal.

LOTR Rabbit Stew

Wine:  Sam and Frodo didn’t drink any wine with this meal, but surely would have enjoyed this extraordinary Barolo to complement the rabbit and dried fruit. Barolo is a prized red wine made from the Nebbiolo grape grown in the Piedmont wine region of northwestern Italy. Some would say that this picturesque Piedmont area of Italy, surrounded on three sides by the Alps, is home to the finest wines and cuisine in all of Italy. And Barolo is the king of wines.

Barolo LOTR

Tasting Notes:  This pale ruby, almost transparent, red wine has a bouquet of red cherry, blueberry, and a hint of fig, combined with some more assertive tobacco and leather aromas. The palate wonderfully balances pleasant tannins with wild cherry, blueberry and leather. The wild cherry lingers on the long, long finish. A perfect complement to the simple flavors of the rabbit and dried fruits (apples, apricots, and cherries), and even the honey cakes. Very special.

Other Foods That Pair Well with This Barolo:  Truffles (or dishes made with truffle oil), Game (e.g., Venison), Beef (Braised or Stewed), Lamb Shanks, Mushroom Risotto.

Other Wines That Pair Well with Rabbit Stew:  Barbaresco, Bandol, Pinot Grig (Alsace) Chateauneuf-du-Pape (white or red).

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Shrimp Arrabbiata … Paired with a Beautiful Verdicchio

Pairing:  Shrimp Arrabbiata Paired with 2012 Monasesca Verdicchio di Materica Riserva

Food:  This recipe is adapted from Artist’s Arrabbiata with the addition of shrimp to this light, but spicy, tomato pasta. Arrabbiata means “angry” in Italian, or spicy when describing this dish. Pancetta, garlic, red pepper flakes, and Romano cheese … all classic ingredients that contribute to the spiciness. But, the shrimp cools down the heat a bit.

Shrimp Arrabbiata

Wine:  Red or white? This is often a relatively easy question to answer when selecting a wine to pair with a meal. Most seafood or vegetable dishes pair best with a white wine, while meat or pasta in a rich tomato sauce go nicely with a red wine. And some foods (eg., roast chicken or pork) go well with either a red or a white. Obviously, there are many exceptions to these generalizations, but you usually can’t go wrong with these pairings. However … what do you do with a dish like this shrimp arrabbiata that combines delicately flavored shrimp and a more assertive tomato sauce with pasta? One could overpower the shrimp with a red wine or overwhelm a white wine with a rich tomato sauce. This was my dilemma when considering a food/wine pairing for this dish. The tomato sauce is not really made with a long, slow cooking that would intensify the tomato flavor. Rather this recipe calls for a low simmer for only about 15 minutes. This results in a lighter, fresher tomato taste which suits both the delicate shrimp and a pairing with a crisp, flavorful Italian white … Verdicchio. Perfecto!

Verdicchio Di MatelicaJPG

Tasting Notes:  Ah … the wonderful fragrance of honeysuckle in full bloom … light and sweet smelling. Along with the intoxicating aroma of fresh, ripe cantaloupe. That sweet cantaloupe taste fills your mouth with a wonderful counterpoint to the spicy tomato sauce as well as a lovely complement to the shrimp. There’s even a hint of clementine on the finish. A delightful wine and a nice pairing for this shrimp arrabbiata.

Other Foods That Pair Well with Verdicchio:  Grilled Seafood, Pasta with a Creamy Sauce, White Fish, Scallops

Other Wines That Pair Well with Shrimp:  Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand), Chardonnay (Italian), Chablis, Dry Riesling (Alsace)

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