A great use for leftovers: Post-Thanksgiving Sandwiches and Counoise

By Suphada Rom

Thanksgiving is the holiday of extremes. Two days or so before T-Day, you've done your grocery shopping and now your refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and every lick of free counter space is overwhelmed with produce and decorations galore. The night before, and the morning of, serve as prep time for pie crust, basting of the turkey, and mashing of every root vegetable that can be peeled, boiled, or roasted, all the anticipation of a feast. You are (well, OK, I am) extremely hungry. Then dinner comes and you somehow manage to get a heaping spoonful of everything on your plate, using the large hunk of turkey skin as a deflector from any judgement that is passed from other ravenous folk. You sit down and in-less-than-60-seconds style, eat every morsel on your plate. You are now extremely full and need a nap. Fast forward to the next day with your post-Thanksgiving lethargic self, there is only one cure- a little hair of the dog, but in this particular instance, it's more about the construction of the unparalleled post-Thanksgiving sandwich. Paired with our juicy and thirst quenching Counoise, it is just what you need to recover post-holiday.

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Through the years, I have worked towards constructing what I consider to be the most architecturally sound Thanksgiving sandwich. I was having lunch the other day and I was inspired to do a sketch of what that would looks like (see mediocre drawing below):

Sketch

Thanksgiving sandwich sketch; In this case, it tasted much better than it looks!

Believe it or not, I have thought about the minute details that may seem over the top but I promise you, it'll all make sense when you have that perfect bite and your sandwich doesn't crumble to shame all over your plate and your lap. For this sandwich, you'll need the following ingredients, mostly leftovers from your Thanksgiving feast:

  • White sourdough bread
  • Cranberry sauce, whole berry if possible
  • Mayonnaise
  • Turkey, sliced (I try for 1-2 centimeters thickness)
  • Stuffing
  • Gravy
  • Iceberg lettuce
  • Crunchy fried onions
  • Salt and pepper

The first step is toasting the bread. I tried buttering the toast but I found that it created too much of a slick coating for the cranberry mayo, so if learned to bypass the butter (which is not often the case!). I like a nice golden toast that gets the bread a little rigid on the edges, but still forgiving in the center. The next step is whipping up the cranberry mayonnaise- it's as simple as it sounds. I like a combination that incorporates more cranberry sauce than mayonnaise, so I use about a 2:1 ratio. If you're looking to make enough for just one sandwich, I go by the tablespoons, so 2 tablespoons of cranberry sauce to every 1 tablespoon of mayo. Whip that up and spread it on one side of each slice of bread. I like a generous amount to where a little sauce sneaks its way out of the sandwich upon first bite.

Now it's time to stack! Heavier ingredients will be on the bottom, so I stack the turkey first. I overlap slices on an angle to give the sandwich more volume and to fit more slices of meat in there. Dust the turkey with salt and pepper before adding generous spoonfuls of stuffing on top. The next step is probably my favorite part- gravy! Adding gravy to the top of the stuffing, slowly, allows the stuffing to soak up all the savory goodness that is pan dripping based gravy. To that, I add a couple slices of iceberg lettuce. I know iceberg lettuce is sort of frowned upon in the tiers of lettuce hierarchy; however, it adds both crunch and watery goodness, essential for this sandwich. Adding loose, crisp onions on top of the lettuce is precarious, so I've found the best way to keep the fried onions in place is to adhere them directly to the second slice of bread before stacking. And that's it- simple enough, right?

Sando

An up close shot- I'm not sure if the sandwich is upside down or if it's just me...

This Thanksgiving sandwich is the perfect way to work through the heaps of leftovers in your fridge, without the feeling of deja vu from trying to recreate a meal you've already had. And the assembly? Piece of cake. Although I have specific ingredients and technique for this sandwich, you can literally build it any way you like. I love the creaminess and tang of cranberry mayo, salty and crunchy onion bits, gobs of earthy stuffing, iceberg layers, and of course succulent turkey, all stacked up on sturdy slices of sourdough. Each bite serves as a reminder that the rewards of all your Thanksgiving work can be lasting.

Pairing wines with Thanksgiving fare is relatively straightforward in my book- I want something that's on the lighter side with bright acidity. And because Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint, reaching for something that is relatively low in alcohol is a good idea. With this dish, and with Thanksgiving in general, I really love our Counoise. It is mostly seen in small proportions in our Esprit de Beaucastel and Côtes de Tablas wines, where (according to Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi), it "acts as a polishing agent that smooths out the rougher edges of both Syrah and Mourvedre, and even Grenache. It sort of brings everything together in little package." Every few years, typically when it has longer than average hang time before harvest, we reserve a bit to bottle on its own.

Our 2014 Counoise is a brilliant shade of garnet, bright and warm. The nose is earthy and spicy, with notes of currant and pomegranate seeping through. The spices are high toned- think those you'd use for mulling warm apple cider, like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. To me, this is Fall in a glass- all you're missing is the crunch of Autumn leaves and you'd be all set! On the palate, this wine is bright, light, and juicy. Nice tart cranberry and raspberry notes, balanced with those mulling spices. (Can you tell I love this wine? I am a gamay girl, after all). Great acidity, refreshing, juicy... I wouldn't change a thing about this wine.

I continue to recreate (and attempt to perfect!) this recipe year after year and I'm thrilled to have found a wine to enjoy with it. If you try this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

  • Given it's low production, Wine Club members can purchase our 2014 Counoise by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room.
  • Not a member? You're in luck! We included a bottle in our exclusive "Dinner Party Pack" for the holiday season, available for purchase online and (double bonus!) shipping is included!
  • Interested in learning more about Counoise? Check out this post, "Grapes of The Rhone Valley: Counoise" to learn more about it!

What We're Drinking at Thanksgiving 2016

Image By TheKohser, Wikimedia CommonsThanksgiving is a holiday that -- even more than most -- centers around family and food.  While that seems like an invitation to open that special bottle you've been saving, the diverse nature of the traditional Thanksgiving fare, much of which is somewhat sweet, challenges certain wines while also opening up a range of possible options.  A common response to this has been to declare that anything goes.  If you want to drink it, go ahead.  And I support that, to an extent.  One of my favorite things I've read around the holiday wine pairing blogosphere this year was Blake Gray's simple 5-question "Is this wine good for Thanksgiving" quiz on his blog the Gray Report. No matter what multiple-choice boxes you check, as far as I can tell, the answer is yes.

Still, I do think that some wines tend to be better than others, and lean myself toward flexible, lower-alcohol, lower-oak reds, and rich whites.  Or rosé! In fact, Rhone-style wines fit alll these bills.  Rhone reds tend to be fruity and open-knit, while the whites tend to be rich but unoaked.  All these characteristics are friendly with a Thanksgiving dinner.  The fact that over the years nearly a dozen different newspapers have suggested Tablas Creek wines for Thanksgiving -- and that the suggestions have been for our reds, for our whites, and for our rosé -- suggests a certain affinity.

To get a sense of some of the different options out there, I thought it would be fun to ask different members of the Tablas Creek team to share what they're pairing with their Thanksgiving feasts this year (whether Tablas Creek or otherwise).  Here is what they shared, in their own words, in alphabetical order:

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
I will be seeking out an older Esprit Blanc, maybe 2002, as those wines are showing so beautifully with age. I also have a 2004 Chinon in magnum which i am looking forward to, the large format bottles are good fun at the big family table. There is a strong possibility that there will be cider present as well!! Happy holidays to all.

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
With the joys of parenting little ones both stricken with Hand, Food and Mouth disease, our out-of-town travel plans have been replaced with Ebola-like home confinement in Templeton. Thus, my only defense is to cook and sip something stellar, which will be local rabbit carnitas matched with 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and my last bottle of 2015 Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé.

Brad Ely, Cellar Team Member
For my Thanksgiving table this year, I plan to start with a fun California sparkling. Not only does it put everyone in a festive mood, it also pairs well with a variety of foods. Something like the Roederer Estate Brut with its fresh acidity and underlying fruit will do nicely. As a general crowd pleaser with an affordable price tag, I might have to make it a Magnum.

As far as reds go, a fruit driven Grenache based blend like our Cotes de Tablas Rouge is the perfect fit. With heaps of freshness and elegance, it is sure to hold up to the array of flavors on the Thanksgiving table without overpowering anything. A bottle of Beaujolais will probably be making an appearance as well!

Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Team Lead
For my Thanksgiving meal this year, I am choosing Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2014. I knows that it is an unusual choice, and an expensive one considering the good number of my refugee friends with whom I am going to share it. But context is queen here: Thanksgiving is my most cherished holiday. As a first generation immigrant, French native, this is the occasion to participate to the most meaningful and comforting American ritual. Wine has to raise to the occasion.

I love how the freshness, vibrancy and complexity shows through in this Esprit Blanc. And 2014 is an especially powerful vintage. I am going to pair the wine with my classic Watercress Velouté, a silky French soup known for its slight bitterness, peppery flavor and vibrant green color. The honey crisp apple and citrus blossom of the wine will pair beautifully with this creamy dish. Starting with a wine so full of energy works especially well, considering that the meal is likely to go on for hours.

There is also a great probability that my guests will bring mostly reds. My Esprit Blanc will shine even more.

Robert Haas, Founder
2005 Esprit de Beaucastel - it's rich, it's mature, it's graceful.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
I had a frightening dream last night. We had sold out of Counoise at the winery just before Thanksgiving! After singing the praises of this wine to our guests as perfect for Thursday night’s feast, it looked like I was coming home empty handed. While there are plenty of good choices, I had my heart set on our 2014 Counoise, with its light red fruit, low tannin, exuberant nose and spicy finish. Quickly I hatched a plan to quietly fill a barrel sample from the 2015 vintage and take it home as a prize. Surely no would notice a mere 750 ml missing! As in all dreams, the winery looked quite a bit different that does in reality. The barrels were protected by foreboding barbed wire, and there were sentries posted everywhere, not one of whom I recognized. I gathered my strength, and relayed to one of these guards that Neil had authorized a barrel sample for a special customer. His withering glare and raised eyebrows said it all, and more, and I hastily retreated, tripping and getting tangled up in a roll of barbed wire. As I struggled to free myself, I woke up tugging on my sheets, and realized I’d been dreaming. I got up in search of a glass of cold water when I saw it in the moonlight: A six-bottle box of 2014 Counoise I’d brought home that day, patiently waiting for Thanksgiving evening. And while the wine isn’t sold out, it’s getting low and won’t last long. We’ll be at the winery until 5:00 on Wednesday if you want to treat your friends and family.

Lauren Phelps, Marketing Coordinator
Thanksgiving at my parent’s house is like a large family reunion once a year. My mom rents tables and chairs and goes all out decorating and buying food for the more than twenty of us that gather. There are only a handful of special occasions when I venture down to their basement, where I keep my cellared wine to age, to resurrect a couple of special bottles to share with my more discerning wine loving family members. This year, I’m starting out the meal with a 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc with its elegance and earthy notes to pair with roasted vegetables and turkey, then a few 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel: a complex and food friendly red to pair with the entirety of delectable goodies overflowing the plate.

Suphada Rom, Sales & Marketing
I want something that's on the lighter side with bright acidity. And because Thanksgiving is a marathon, not a sprint, reaching for something that is relatively low in alcohol is a good idea. I really love our Counoise. Warm with high tones of currant, pomegranate, and baking spice, this wine is literally Fall in a glass.

Another choice would be Gamay. I am a huge fan of the different Crus of Beaujolais, Morgon being a favorite of mine. Foillard produces one called “Corcelette” which I think is pretty stunning. Well balanced with “gobs of strawbs”, along with tons of gorgeous floral aromas. And I love the acidity because it sort of sneaks up on, like that post-Thanksgiving nap you’re sure to succumb to.

Amanda Weaver, Tasting Room Team Lead
I’m not in-charge of dinner this thanksgiving, but if I were, I would be roasting a leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic and enjoying a full glass of our 2011 Esprit de Tablas. That’s what I did last year and it was magical! So much earthy goodness between the juicy meat of the lamb and the wet forest/gamey notes of our smoky 2011 Esprit! Perfection!!!

Now I shall be disappointed by any other meal set before me this year…. C’est le vie!!

Me
As for me, I'll be eating with my parents, so it looks like it's the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel for me.  And I'm sure I'll be very happy with that.  But when we host Thanksgiving at our house, my rule is that we open the largest bottle we have, whatever it is.  Nothing says celebration like a 3L bottle, after all.  And maybe, fundamentally, that's my admission that Blake Gray is right.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


Introducing the Dinner Party Holiday Pack: Four Wines, each with its own Paired Recipe!

By Suphada Rom

Over the years, many of you have given one of our holiday packs as gifts to your friends or family. Thank you! This year, we have a new addition to our collection of five special holiday gift packages: what we're calling our "Dinner Party Pack", which comes with four different wines and four original recipes, each designed to pair with one of the wines. Whether you indulge in an over-the-top four course meal and have them all at once, or showcase the wines and dishes one at a time, we're confident that the pairings will be outstanding.  We had a blast designing and testing these recipes- I hope you enjoy them as much as we did! Here's a teaser:

\Cotes Pairing

2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc with Crab & Avocado Salad & Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

Our 2015 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (26% Viognier, 25% Grenache Blanc, 25% Marsanne, and 24% Roussanne) has outstanding intensity from the incredibly low yields we saw in 2015. Lots of citrus: key lime along with some tart nectarine. Notes of white flowers. On the palate, this wine is both concentrated and peppy, with vibrant notes of fresh peaches, spice, and nice minerality on the finish. 

A wine this rich requires a dish with a certain amount of weight, but also some refreshment so that the experience doesn't feel fat or weighty. I chose to put together a really simple crab and avocado salad and finish it with a citrus vinaigrette. The meyer lemon vinaigrette provided a sort of sweeter acidity on the finish, versus the sharper acid of that you'd get from a regular lemon. Have this dish as an appetizer or add butter lettuce to make it into a more substantial salad. 

Counoise Pairing

2014 Counoise with Pomegranate Glazed Pork Belly

The 2014 Counoise is a brilliant shade of garnet, bright and warm. The nose is earthy and spicy, with notes of currant and pomegranate seeping through. The spices are high toned- think those you'd use for mulling warm apple cider, like cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. To me, this is Fall in a glass- all you're missing is the crunch of Autumn leaves and you'd be all set! On the palate, this wine is bright, light, and juicy. Nice tart cranberry and raspberry notes, balanced with those mulling spices. (Can you tell I love this wine? I am a gamay girl, after all). Great acidity, refreshing, juicy... I wouldn't change a thing about this wine.

With lighter red wines, I love pork. I'm a huge fan of pork belly and I decided to throw in a pomegranate glaze to play up the high fruit tones of Counoise. We were pleasantly surprised with the depth of flavor and earthiness that shone through, specifically in the wine. Not that Counoise doesn't have depth or earthiness, it just doesn't flaunt it on its own. It was as if the perfect bite of pork and mushroom brought out deeper umami-type flavors that can be hidden by the wine's charm.

Esprit Pairing

2011 Esprit de Tablas with Garlic & Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

Deep, concentrated, and brooding, the 2011 Esprit de Tablas (40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Counoise) is, in my opinion, one of our more serious vintages of Esprit. The nose (think meat drippings, currants and black tea) is lush and inviting, pulling you into its savory depths. On the palate, it's sleek and serious, with a gorgeous creamy texture and notes of dark fruit, leather, and earth.

Lamb and Mourvedre blends are pretty much a shoo-in. When it comes to lamb, the preparations for it are endless- you can sear it, braise it, tartare (is that even a verb?!) it. I was blown away by the complexity of the Esprit, so I wanted to keep the lamb preparation relatively simple, with a four ingredient herb mixture for the exterior. This makes it even more versatile when it comes to pairing sides. I love a rustic ratatouille, but feel free to pair this with any of your favorite fall sides.

Sacrerouge

2014 Sacrerouge with Chocolate Truffles

Our 2014 Sacrerouge (100% Mourvedre) is a dessert wine that converts the "non-dessert wine" people. It's remarkable in its youth, and incredibly vibrant, with an assertive nose of rich milk chocolate, macerated cherries and a touch of mint. On the palate, this wine is absolutely stunning with a texture that reminded me of how chocolate shavings melt in your mouth: soft, yet chalky. Waves of golden raisins and sea salt caramel come barreling through. It's sweet, but complex too, particularly with chocolate.

To pair with the Sacrerouge, I had a similar mindset to my Esprit pairing: don't overcomplicate it; just showcase the wine. Chocolate truffles are about as simple, yet luxurious, as it gets. They bring out the deep chocolate notes of the wine, without overwhelming it in terms of both texture and flavor profile. The truffles are not overly sweet and are creamy, standing up to the Sacrerouge without being overwhelmed. 

We hope that your holiday gatherings bring smiles to the faces of your loved ones and create warm, wonderful and lasting memories for all. 

As usual, with our food and wine pairings, we love to hear any feedback on the success of your pairings! If you try out the pairings, be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

 A few more resources:

  • The Dinner Party Pack is one of five special holiday gift packages (on which we include no-charge shipping to any of the 39 states to which we ship). Check out the different offerings here
  • These special holiday packs will only be available for pickup or shipment until the end of December. For gift orders, we are happy to enclose a holiday message. Order here
  • Interested in a larger number of gift packs, customized with your personal or company information? Contact us.

 


A Taste of Fall: Butternut Squash Pappardelle and Marsanne

By Suphada Rom

I am not unique in saying that fall is my favorite season. In Vermont, I spent the days outside, listening to the crackle of fallen leaves under my boots while inhaling the crisp and cool air. Even though fall is a transition towards the eventual hibernation of plants and animals, there is something outstandingly vibrant and alive about the burnt orange colors that drape over the fading leaves and the steady winds that rustle about the loose bits of earth. Although I don't have the New England fall foliage anymore, I do have gorgeous autumn influenced vineyards along with local barns and stands, offering everything fall from freshly picked apples to mountains on mountains of pumpkins. 

Avila Barn

Avila Valley Barn in San Luis Obispo, California

Fall in the kitchen means roasting, braising, and doing anything to take the chill off. It felt completely natural (and let's be honest, it felt right!) to tie butternut squash into my latest pairing endeavor. I found a fantastic recipe via Food 52 for Crispy Kale, Roasted Butternut Squash, & Tomato Pappardelle. I was talking to a friend the other day about her criteria when she is searching for a new recipe and she mentioned she doesn't like to tackle anything that requires her to buy anything too out of the ordinary, like an obscure spice or something she'll never use again. This recipe reels in a nice combination of things you already have as staples around your home, like onions, garlic, pasta, and, in my house, a splash of wine. Technically, this recipe is a breeze. Boiling the pasta, sauteing garlic and onion, roasting the vegetables in the oven -- none of these require any special culinary skills or much prep time. Also, I'm always on the market for a good vegetarian recipe because every once in a while, my mother's voice pops up in the back of my head saying, "Suphada, don't forget to eat your vegetables!". Okay Mom- this one's for you!

Roasting tomatoes and butternut squash

Tomatoes and butternut squash liberally coated in olive oil and ready for roasting

Crispy kale

Crispy kale adds the crunch factor -- don't skip it with this dish!

Bread, cheese, and pasta

Pasta, Bread, Cheese, also known as my life's staples!

Final product

The final product with our 2014 Marsanne

To enjoy the meal, I escaped the confinements of the kitchen and dining room table, opting for the inviting couch and warm fire. Curled up and fork in hand, I dove in, twirling a strand of pasta around while jabbing at bits of kale, cubes of butternut squash, and piercing through the deflated, yet juicy tomatoes. The crispy kale doesn't lose its crunch or texture and adds earthiness, while the roasted butternut squash is sweet and creamy. Roasted tomatoes are a personal favorite of mine, whether they are slow roasted and concentrated in flavors, or simply blistered in the oven, like the ones I used here. They add a subtler touch of acidity and the flavor is a bit more on the reserved side. And parmesan cheese on top of pasta is a requirement by law- fact. 

I sat down with a list of our white wines and our 2014 Marsanne practically jumped off the page. A varietal bottling which we only produce occasionally, Marsanne is noteworthy for its quiet elegance, its low alcohol, and its gentle flavors of nuts and melon. I couldn't think of a better wine on our list to pair with this dish. In the glass our 2014 Marsanne is a soft golden color with edges on the brink of a lighter straw hue. The nose is mellow, especially compared to the likes of other Rhone varieties, like Viognier or Roussanne. Notes of spice and baked golden apples shine through, however, there is this delicate wheat aroma that reminds me both of sake and a lighter lager. On the palate it proves to be incredibly refreshing, as flavors of honeydew melon and lemongrass shine through. Low in acidity, it is the appearance of citrus nuances such as preserved lemon that keep your mouth watering, not the actual acidity of the wine. Coming in at a moderate 12.7% alcohol, this is an easy wine to get lost in. 

Perfectly rich and outstandingly balanced, I loved this pairing. This dish is rich in textures, but not in fats such as butter and meat. The sweet and nutty notes of the roasted squash brought out the delicate spice and wheat qualities of the wine. Roasted tomatoes provides just a hint of acidity to balance the dish, but not so much to overexpose Marsanne's lovely low acidity.

I would certainly recreate this recipe and who knows, maybe a little bacon will manage to sneak its way in next time! If you try this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

  • Recipe for Crispy Kale, Roasted Butternut Squash & Tomato Pappardelle can be found here, via Food 52.
  • The 2014 Marsanne is available for purchase by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room.
  • Interested in learning more about Marsanne? Check out this post, "Grapes of The Rhone Valley: Marsanne" to learn more about it!

Grapes Two Ways: Oven Roasted Chicken with Grapes and Shallots, Paired with Grenache Blancs

By Suphada Rom

Walking through the cellar a couple of weeks ago, I was engulfed by the raw sensations of the place. The sweet yet pungent aroma of fermenting grapes. The music blasting out from the high positioned speakers, reverberating off the large tanks and walls. The complex dance of forklifts moving grapes in, must out, and bins to be cleaned. The intense focus of the cellar team, going about their individual tasks.  It's one moment in time, but critical to everything we do the rest of the year.

In celebration of harvest, I decided to incorporate grapes into my next food and wine pairing. After a few relatively easy recipes, I decided to step up my game a little bit and focus on a more complex dish, including sides and sauces. I chose an Oven Roasted Chicken with Grapes recipe from Bon Appetit. The chicken is lightly dusted with Chinese Five Spice, a mix of Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel whose subtle warmth and pepper quality I love. Another thing I love about this dish is that everything is prepared in one pan (I chose a cast iron skillet). Deglazing this pan and liberating all the drippings from the chicken and caramelized shallots is amazing. For the sides and sauces, I got a little creative: an avocado mousse and lemon sabayon. Here are some photos of the process:

Chicken in Pan

A one pan wonder

Finished with Patelin

Oven Roasted Chicken, Avocado Mousse, and Lemon Sabayon- paired with our 2015 Patelin de Tablas Blanc

Finished with Grenache Blanc

An additional wine! Our 2015 Grenache Blanc

This dish had quite a few elements, with contrasting textures, degrees of crunch and acidity. And the pairings really worked. For my first bite, I was adamant about tasting everything together (you can imagine that this was a bit of a challenge, since grapes are not entirely conducive to cutting!) and I was rewarded with the gentle spice of the crispy skinned chicken mellowed out by the creamy avocado mousse. The lemon sabayon was light and airy, reeling in all the qualities of fresh squeezed lemon, without the astringency lemon can sometimes provide. In the form of sabayon, the lemon is set somewhere between a sauce and custard, with creaminess as well as brightness. All together, it harmonized marvelously, like a well practiced barbershop quartet: acidity, textures, richness, and flavors. 

One component of the dish that I was particularly fond of was the lemon sabayon. The peculiar thing about the lemon sabayon is the presentation of acidity. It's almost as if the acid and citrus notes are the backdrop to the concoction's amazing texture. It's sort of like a leaner and lighter Hollandaise sauce. The avocado mousse was just as simple as it sounds, which was important because when you've got a couple of high-volume elements (i.e; spice on the chicken and lemon sabayon), you've got to have something that can compliment the dish without creating cacophony. That extra bit of color on the plate is nice, too!

The dish's combination of richness and brightness makes it a natural pairing for Grenache Blanc, which we often describe in those same terms.  For us, this means our the 2015 Grenache Blanc, and I decided to see how it worked with the 2015 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (56% Grenache Blanc, 23% Viognier, 12%Roussanne, 9% Marsanne) too. All in the name of "research", of course. Both wines are from the incredibly low yielding 2015 vintage. Wines from this vintage are aromatically appealing, with what I like to call "definites". When I delve into wines from this vintage, if I smell or taste something, there is no doubt in my mind that that fruit, spice, or earth flavor exists. For the Patelin de Tablas Blanc, on the nose, there is freshly exposed lemon pith teamed up with a racy expression of lemongrass. The wine is mouthwatering and juicy, with notes of tart green apple and pink grapefruit. A certain sea salt quality keeps the salivary glands going, and keeps me wanting another sip. The varietal Grenache Blanc smells, tastes, and looks somewhat different. There's green apple there too, but it's like a slice of an apple dunked into a bowl of warm caramel. There's also a great deal of citrus, but richer flavors of the pith of limes and oranges rather than lemon. On the palate, it's not as tart as the Patelin de Tablas Blanc and in fact, it's got more of that sneaky acidity quality, more so than the vibrant and obvious kind. There is an added layer of creaminess that I would attribute to the proportion of the wine that saw neutral oak barrel time. 

In terms of the pairing, I thought both wines went extremely well with the dish. Honestly, it was kind of a toss up between the two wines and you can guess why based on the descriptions. The wines worked well with the spice on the chicken: Chinese five spice is just forward enough to showcase the subtle spiciness of the wine, without dominating. The not-overbearing citrus quality of the sabayon teamed up with the racy acidity of the wines for a lovely balance of like flavors. 

This was a technical -- but fun -- recipe to produce and all grapes aside, a delicious one to taste. If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

  • Recipe for Oven Roasted Chicken with Grapes can be found here, via Bon Appetit.
  • Recipes for Lemon Sabayon found here (original recipe with asparagus and prosciutto) and Avocado Mousse found here.
  • You can purchase the 2015 Patelin de Tablas Blanc and 2015 Grenache Blanc by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room.
  • Not local? Good News! Our Patelins can be found throughout the country! Check out the distributors we work with here.
  • Be sure to check out this post, "Grenache Blanc's Moment in the Sun" written by General Manager & Partner Jason Haas on the recent rise of Grenache Blanc.

Outtakes from my Decanter "My Paso Robles" article

Earlier this year, I was flattered to be asked by Decanter Magazine to write an insider's guide to Paso Robles for inclusion in their annual California supplement.  My goal was not to recommend wineries, but instead to give potential visitors an idea of some of the other gems of the area: things to do that you might not know about, or that might not appear in a guide book.  What fun.  The article was published last month:

Decanter_my_paso

Unfortunately, it isn't available online.  So, I wanted to share it here.  This also gives me the opportunity to provide some additional details on my recommendations that weren't able to fit into the magazine due to space constraints.  So, here goes:

My Paso Robles

I was sitting in our downtown park last summer on a warm Thursday evening, listening to a local band play and watching my kids thread their way through the crowd with their friends, when I realized that this is what people look for when they come to wine country, and more than that, what we were looking for when we moved out fourteen years ago from a city life to join my family in working on our Tablas Creek project. We were drinking local rosé out of plastic tumblers, sitting with two other winemaking families on blankets, and eating caprese sandwiches from tomatoes we’d gotten at our local farmer’s market that week. And it’s not just that concert series. Paso is like that: few pretensions, still country, but with an appealing overlay of cultural opportunities brought by the wine community over the last three decades.

Justin Baldwin, the founder of the pioneering Justin Winery, is fond of saying that when he arrived in Paso Robles in 1983, the best meal in town was the tuna melt at the bowling alley. When I first started spending time out here in 1995, it wasn't quite that bleak, but still, when you wanted a great meal, or interesting shopping, you went over to the coast, or down to San Luis Obispo. No more. Our little town, which locals just call "Paso" (population, about 30,000), is now home to a remarkable collection of restaurants, hotels, and shops, driven by the dramatic growth of our local wine community, from 17 wineries when we started Tablas Creek in 1989 to some 260 today.

Local agriculture means more than wineries. The area has a long history of ranching, and the ample (for California) natural rainfall west of town made it a historical centre of both grain and nut production. Several local olive ranches are producing some of California's best olive oils. Just 20 miles away, the coast offers fishing, kayaking and surfing, a milder climate in which citrus and avocado orchards thrive, and Hearst Castle, the most visited state park in California.

In Paso, you have a vibrant mix of three communities, which interact in interesting and rewarding ways. You have the old ranching community, many of whose members have in recent decades dedicated a portion of their ranches to vineyards. Cowboy hats here are not worn ironically. You have the wine community, which has attracted a mix of new graduates, young families, and second career refugees into the area from (mostly) other parts of California, bringing a more urban, multicultural aesthetic. And you have a vibrant Hispanic community, both first and second generation, with taquerias and mercados, some of which play it straight and some of which incorporate influences from California and beyond.

Whatever you do, plan to stay for at least a few days. We're not near any major cities (or airports, for that matter, although the one-gate San Luis Obispo airport makes for a convenient arrival point) and the pace here isn't one where you should try to do it all in a day or two. Slow down, limit your winery visits to 3 or 4 per day, and take in some other attractions. And then plan to come back.

  • Stay at Hotel Cheval. When this 16-room boutique hotel opened in 2007 it brought a whole new level of luxury and professionalism to lodging in Paso Robles. It's still the town's classiest spot to stay, with live music evenings in their great bar (the Pony Club) and the benefit of being just half a block from the downtown park: an easy walk to (and more importantly back from) the town's restaurants.
  • Visit the Abalone Farm in Cayucos. San Luis Obispo County's agriculture isn't all wine. Ranching is big here too, as are strawberries, citrus, and avocados. Abalone fishing has a long local history, but decades of overharvesting from which wild populations are only beginning to recover means that if you want to try local abalone you should come here, just up from the kelp forests of Cayucos, to one of just three licensed fisheries in the state. You have to call and make an appointment, but a visit is a fascinating look at the five-year journey this mollusk makes from spawn to plate.
  • Shop like a local at General Store Paso Robles and Studios on the Park. Less than a block apart from each other are my two favorite places in town to shop. Studios on the Park is a cooperative work space and gallery for a dozen local painters, sculptors, and printmakers. It even offers classes if you're feeling creative. The General Store is the place to go for anything Paso Robles-themed, as well as a curated selection of cookbooks, housewares, and picnic items. I'd go even more often if my wife Meghan hadn't already bought everything there.
  • Play a round of disc golf at Castoro Cellars. I played Ultimate Frisbee competitively for two decades. Disc golf is more my speed now, and the Udsen brothers Max and Luke built a course that takes players through the gorgeous hillside vineyards of their family's winery.
  • Try the cider at Bristol’s Cider House. Made by our winemaker Neil Collins in homage to his Bristol, England roots, the line of Bristol's Ciders is available to taste at his Atascadero cider house. The ciders are creative and delicious, and the themed food nights (curry Thursdays, anyone?) are great fun.
  • Eat a plate of al pastor tacos at Los Robles Café (no Web site; 805.239.8525). Don't be put off by the bare-bones exterior, a few blocks north of the park on Spring Street. This is the kind of place you think should be everywhere in California: a great, inexpensive local taqueria, where they're equally comfortable taking your order in Spanish or English.
  • Go to the railroad station for the best sushi in town at Goshi (no Web site; 805.227.4860), and know that half the tables there will be winemakers out with their families, refreshing their palates with beer, sake, and amazingly fresh fish.
  • Go for cocktails and appetizers around the square, hitting Artisan, Villa Creek, Thomas Hill Organics and La Cosecha. Everything is within a few blocks, so rather than spend all night at one restaurant, try several. At each stop, try an appetizer and a drink. If you're wined out, sip cocktails made from local craft spirits, like Alex and Monica Villicana's re:find distillery.
  • Order the cauliflower at The Hatch or the French onion soup at Bistro Laurent. New classic, or old? Chef Laurent Grangien was the first to open a fine restaurant in Paso Robles back in 1997. His onion soup has been a staple on the menu ever since, and is a requirement for my boys if we've been out shopping. Meanwhile, the Hatch, started by Maggie Cameron and Eric Connolly just in 2014, is Paso's newest culinary hotspot, with southern-inflected sharable plates and particularly delectable cauliflower with their version of hot dip.
  • On a summer Thursday, bring a blanket, a picnic (try 15degrees C in Templeton), a bottle of local rosé, and join the rest of the community for one of the concerts in the park.  Fun for all ages.

So, that's my Paso. What are the can't miss stops in yours?


Wine and Food for the People: Pork Ragu and Patelin de Tablas

By Suphada Rom

The bite of pork melted in my mouth like a pat of butter would over warm bread- a slow and even coating. The bits of vegetable melded into one with the thick and stewy tomato sauce. Chewing... not necessary with a dish as fall-apart tender as this. A scoop of weighty, creamy, cheese-laden polenta registered on my palate just long enough to be cleared away by the freshness of a large gulp of wine. Comfort food at its finest: ready to power you through the hibernation you are sure to embark on.

IMG_5109

I've always found ragus to be a great dish when I'm hosting friends. They're made in advance, so you can serve great food and not be running around the kitchen, trying to maintain the temperature of one dish in the oven while stirring another on the stove, all while trying to entertain. Being the perfectionist that I am, my friends (the patient and loving people that they are!) are often okay while I pile them sky high with different wines to try, distracting them from the mayhem that is my kitchen. When I serve a ragu, my dinner parties are a lot more relaxed, because I cook mine the day before both lending to ease of service and adding depth of flavor. A go-to recipe of mine is this super simple and straightforward one that requires quality over quantity- meaning there aren't a whole lot of ingredients, so the ones that you need should be of high quality.

The recipe I picked was Pork Ragu over Creamy Polenta, originally published in Bon Appetit.  It's not fancy, or technique driven. But sometimes, the best meals are the kind without the bells and whistles. Don't get me wrong, some of the most amazing dishes I've had have been crazy elaborate with foam this and herb scented that and I totally appreciate each and every toiling step it took to create this alluring smear of mystery on my plate. But sometimes, I want consistency, I want flavor, and I want uncomplicated.

A few bits of advice on prep. Like my past recipe for Braised Short Ribs, it's incredibly important to both heavily season and thoroughly sear the meat. This is one of the most important techniques to braising successfully. When all is said and done and everything is in the pot, it's not uncommon with this recipe to have a little bit of airspace, where the meat pokes up out of the sauce. My recommendation, if you can, is to readjust the meat in the pot to accommodate. However if this doesn't work, add a little bit more tomato sauce (if you have any) and water to cover the meat. Also, being the thrifty person that I am, I had some leftover corn from the dinner before, so I sprinkled that on top of the polenta when I was plating.

For wine, in keeping with the theme of a dish for the people, I chose our Patelin de Tablas. The Patelin wines were created out of a conviction that our category - California Rhone blends - needed more entry points for people. Having a great everyday wine that people who might not know you will try by the glass at a restaurant or around $20 on a shelf seemed to us to be a really valuable addition. And California has struggled to match the success of the great neighborhood wines from Europe. Wines without pretense, but which provide lots of comfort and pleasure. Wines that pair gracefully with a range of rustic foods.  Wines from and for your neighborhood. And Patelin translates roughly to "country neighborhood". Our current vintage - the 2014 Patelin de Tablas - is bright and wild, showing brambly notes of both darker fruits and grilled meats. Syrah (55%) takes center stage and shows off its black plum and blueberry notes, as well as creaminess and minerality. Grenache (29%), Mourvedre (10%), and Counoise (6%)  give the wine freshness, wildness, and just a touch of complexity. 

IMG_5114

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few other resources:

  • Recipe for Pork Ragu over Creamy Polenta can be found here, via Bon Appetit
  • You can purchase the 2014 Patelin de Tablas by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room
  • Not local? Good News! Our Patelins can be found throughout the country! Check out the distributors we work with here
  • Be sure to check out this post,"Creating a New Wine: Patelin de Tablas" written by General Manager & Partner, Jason Haas on the conception of the Patelin program


Pairing Rich with Rich: Apricot-Miso Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Roussanne

By Suphada Rom

Last week, I represented Tablas Creek at a wine dinner at TasteVin Wine Bar in San Carlos, California. Glass of rose in hand, I meandered about the room, introducing myself and starting conversations with just about everyone. I love these events because they give me a chance to meet people, answer questions, and honestly, just have good food and wine, paired with great conversation. As I was chatting, one question that was posed several times was, "What is your favorite Tablas Creek wine?" I know what you're thinking and trust me, I was thinking the same thing; how can I pick just ONE wine?! That's absolute crazy talk, since one of the things I love about Tablas is the generous portfolio. As I whittled down options in my mind, I thought back to my early days at the winery, when I was fortunate to take part in a barrel tasting of Roussanne. That day we tasted through several different lots, each one having a different profile due to pick date, fermentation/aging vessel, and whether or not a stirring technique had been used. It was fascinating to see and taste the changes within the variety, whether it was brighter with heightened tropical aromas or deeper, richer and more sumptuous with honey and floral character. The sheer versatility of Roussanne struck a chord within me- I put that wine on a pedestal since then and have enjoyed every moment since tasting it at all points of its wine life.

So, how could I have not yet made a recipe to pair with Roussanne? As I was scanning through my past pairings, I also realized I overlooked pork- for shame! And pork, which can struggle with traditional red meat pairings, is a natural for a richer white like Roussanne. I spent some time researching recipes and found a simple and terrific one for Pork Tenderloin with an Apricot-Miso Glaze, by Bon Appetit. There were only a handful of ingredients needed and prep time was minimal, making it an easy dish for anyone to put together on a moment's notice. I didn't make any real modifications, although I wish I had made a bit more of the reduction not only for the pork during the cooking time, but also to have more to mix around with everything on my plate!

I also made roasted carrots. I didn't use a recipe, but if you'd like to replicate them, they're easy. I simply roasted them at the same temperature as the pork with a generous seasoning of olive oil, salt, and pepper. I flipped them once while cooking, but I mostly left them undisturbed so they would caramelize properly. 20-30 minutes should do it, but feel free to cook them to your liking. Here are the results from today's pairing:

Chopping garlic

Chopping garlic for the apricot-miso glaze

Holding carrots

The freshest bounty of rainbow carrots- almost too pretty to roast... Almost.

Apricot glaze

The formation of the glaze- it thickens quickly, so be sure to keep a close eye on it

Spooning glaze on meat

Spoon. Brush. Coat. Repeat.

Roussanne and plate

The finished product with our 2014 Roussanne

As aromas of sweet roasted carrots and savory tangy pork wafted around the kitchen, I  could not wait to plate this dish and dig in. The carrots, roasted on a high heat with olive oil (from the vineyard, no less!) were slightly caramelized around the edges and just soft enough to the core where they melted in your mouth. The apricot miso glaze was viscous and full of flavor. I love the fermented and oxidized character of miso and its salty, savory profile. Combined with the sweet yet tart apricot preserves, the glaze was so well balanced. In terms of the wine, I loved the underlying savory tones in our Roussanne, which were brought more to life with the miso component of the glaze. Pork is also incredibly rich so pairing it with a wine of Roussanne's concentration and weight made complete sense.

Choosing this dish for our 2014 Roussanne was practically instinctual. I sat down with a glass before I even decided on a recipe, just to get to know it a little better. Delving in, the first notes I caught were floral; jasmine and daffodils came to my mind. Beyond the delicate yet forward floral aromas, I found fresh juicy nectarines and apricots- you know the ones that you eat at an arms length away to keep the juicy fruit syrup from dripping down your face and onto your clothes? I've tried eating fruit like that quickly and in a tidy manner, but alas, it never really works out! On the palate, there is honey and spice. It reminded me of being back home in Vermont. I had a morning routine where I'd make a bowl of tangy yogurt with cut up fruit (whatever was in season), topped with nuts and finished with a drizzle of warm honey. The honey I used was inevitably always warm, since I kept it near the window in my kitchen. Beyond the honey factor, there is a confirmation of stone fruit and and some citrus. And for all these sweet flavor comparisons, the wine is dry and focused, and very, very long- I could not believe how much depth and richness this wine already had at such a young age. The finish was haunting in the best way possible- even without it in front of me now, I can picture it in my mind and on my palate. It was just that good.

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few other resources:

  • Recipe for Roast Pork Tenderloin with Apricot-Miso Glaze can be found here, via Bon Appetit.
  • The 2014 Roussanne is part of our upcoming fall VINsider wine club shipment and we are patiently anticipating its release next month! When it's released, wine club members can re-order this wine at their 20% discount! Not a member yet? Learn more about the VINsider club here.
  • Our 2013 Roussanne is currently available! Purchase by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room.

A Fabulous Dinner in the Woods of Vermont

By Barbara Haas

[Editor's Note: I am very excited to share my mom's first contribution to the Tablas Creek blog. She has been an active partner in this project from the beginning, and the source of many of our best ideas (such as in making our first rosé back in 1999). While this is her first blog, she had a hand in much of the written material we produced in the early days of Tablas Creek. I look forward to many more entries. Thank you to the Windham Hill Inn, which took and shared the photos that appear with this piece.]

Being in the wine business means being in the business of giving pleasure.  We want our wines to taste good and to improve the moments in which they are served.  In order for us to do this, we frequently depend on the shared experience of good food.  The way that wine and food speak to each other is critically important to the appreciation of both.  Think of musical instruments either in tune or not. 

As someone who has been privileged to share a large number of “winemaker” dinners (dinners designed to highlight wine and food), I am reflecting on a recent experience which was one of the best I have had, and I have thought a lot about why this was true.

WinesThe lineup of wines for the dinner

The beautiful, historic Windham Hill Inn and Restaurant in Townshend, VT, has been a steadfast supporter of Tablas Creek wines and owns several vintages in their cellar.  To get there, you really have to know where it is!  A 30-minute drive from our house in Chester, the inn is tucked into a beautiful property at the end of a dirt road, and is totally peaceful and quiet.  The flagstone pathway is bordered by an array of lilies and hydrangeas, and the double entrance doorway (to keep out gusts of snow in the winter) leads you into a warm reception area, which could easily be in a French auberge.  Lots of polished wood, warm fabrics and comfortable furniture surround a small bar area and awaken your sense of anticipation for the aperitif and dinner to follow.

EntranceThe Windham Hill Inn's beautiful setting and entrance

Windham Hill Inn has created dinners to highlight our wines at least eight years in a row, and in my opinion, each year better than the last.  This year’s was a triumph:  focused, generous, and original.

RZH speakingRobert Haas, speaking at the dinner. Barbara Haas sits behind him.

The food was not heavy.  I was still as eager for the fourth course as I was for the first.  With each course, I was delighted by discovery: on my plate and in my glass.  The wines and their paired dishes sang in harmonious duets. 

MenuThe dinner menu

The harmony gave each element more than either had alone.  It was a remarkable experience.  For example:  a perfectly cooked piece of swordfish was accompanied by charred green onion, grilled pineapple, sesame and ginger.  Each element found a responding taste in the Tablas Esprit Blanc 2012.  I marvel at the talent which first recognizes the elements of taste in a wine, and then goes and finds a food which highlights that taste.

Another example was herb-rubbed Vermont lamb loin, with baby bok choy, and fermented black bean and garlic sauce.  The sauces throughout the meal had clean, clear flavors but no heaviness.  In the case of the lamb, the sauce was a simple, clear “jus”.  The rare lamb and its deep-flavored sauce gave the Mourvèdre 2011 ample room and encouragement to express itself.

The chef showed both intelligence and generosity by keeping his dishes focused and simple; in other words, not so tarted up with heavy sauces and irrelevant flavors that they dominated the wine.  This is not an easy job.  Home cooks and professionals alike tend to make food too complicated and “loud” when they are trying to impress, what I like to call “high-decibel food.”  The same tendency happens in wine making. 

LobsterThe second plated course: Maine lobster with a watermelon and heirloom tomato salad

Achieving balance and harmony is challenging but eminently more satisfying, and makes a diner want to come back for more.  A professional taster may recognize each achievement of the chef and winemaker.  A non-professional will simply have a wonderful, satisfying dining experience, without needing to analyze why. 

Thank you and congratulations to Chef David Crone and Wine Director Dan Pisarczyk of Windham Hill Inn for discovering the hidden secrets in our Tablas Creek wines and bringing them to light and value.

SunsetSunset over the rolling Vermont hills


Eat Global, Drink Local

By Evelyne Fodor

[Editor's Note: With this blog, we welcome Evelyne Fodor to the blog. She is a woman of many accomplishments, including a PhD in French (she is a French instructor for the UCLA Extension), a tremendous chef, and a lover of food and wine. Evelyne has become one of Tablas Creek's best-loved wine consultants and made many fans in our tasting room. This is her first blog piece.]

One of the most frequently asked questions at the tasting room is also one of my favorites. “Which food do I pair with this wine?”  At Tablas Creek we take food pairing very seriously. For each of our wines we offer recipes and food pairing suggestions.  Each spring and fall, we invite our members to taste dishes created by local chefs to match our new releases.  We also have a monthly column on our Tablas blog dedicated to this topic.

When one has an eclectic, adventurous palate however, food pairing becomes a very elusive topic. The other day, long-time club members Tom and Karen from Atascadero showed me a picture of an Ethiopian dish they enjoyed and asked me for suggestions on which of our wines to pair with it. If, like Tom and Karen, you love experimenting with regional cuisines such as Indian, Thai, Ethiopian, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese or Moroccan - cuisines with high flavors but notably not associated with wines - the topic is worth exploring.

Spices

I am by no means a specialist but in our wine and food-centric community we have an in-depth understanding of both spices and wines.  I asked three local experts, Lori Di Ciaccio-Foster the owner of Spice of Life in Paso, Brigit Binns owner of cooking school and B&B Refugio and Neeta Mittal, owner of the boutique winery LXV to explain the complicated relationship between spices and wines.

Fascinated by what she refers to as the “mystery of spices,” Lori brings spices from all over the world and blends them in the back kitchen of her small shop. For her, the fusion between spices and wine is striking:  “Blending and harmonizing spices to create vibrant flavors satisfies the mind as well as the palate.” She explained that “each spice captures unique flavors, aromas, and emotions which can pinpoint a specific region or culture.” Like wines, spices thrive best in very specific regions where natural conditions create a unique terroir.  

Spice of Life

Next door to Spice of Life is Neeta Mittal’s LXV Wine Lounge.  With its deep blue walls, day beds full of vibrant colors and plush pillows, the place is a “sensory experience.” Neeta was born and raised in Kerala, "God's own country," a southern state of India also known as the "Land of Spices."  Besides its famous backwaters, elegant houseboats, ayurveda treatments and wild elephants, Kerala is also famous for delicately spiced, taste-bud-tingling cuisine. When Neeta is not involved with her winery, she explores the principles of Ayurveda, vegetarianism and veganism: “As we become more demanding of flavors and more intuitive about our health, spices once thought to be exotic are making an exciting splash in the culinary world.”

Neeta

My last expert is my friend Brigit Binns, the acclaimed author of multiple cookbooks, including The New Wine Country Cookbook: Recipes from California’s Central Coast, in which every recipe is paired with a Central Coast wine.  Recently I met with several of Tablas Creek's wine club members at her Refugio for a class called “The Rosé Less Travelled," with chef Clark Staub, featuring both our Dianthus and Patelin de Tablas Rosé wines. It's also at Refugio that last May Neeta led a three-part cooking series to explore the flavors of Indian cooking and how they partner with Rhône varieties (beautifully!).  Brigit is currently working on a new book project called “Wine First: A Cookbook for Wine Lovers;” her concept is simple: “First, you choose the wine."

So we did! One evening at home, John Morris, Tablas Creek tasting room manager, Neeta and myself lined up a few Tablas wines and started a discussion on the ideal wine pairing.  We selected five whites:  Cotes de Tablas Blanc 2014, Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2012, Petit Manseng 2014, Vermentino 2015 and Picpoul Blanc 2014.  For the reds, we picked most of our Spring shipment including  Esprit de Tablas 2011, 2012 and 2013.  And at the last minute I added our newest release Terret Noir 2014.  I did not include our two rosés, because they simply are too easy to pair with almost anything.  Our challenge was to find affinities in both Tablas wines and regional dishes to create a perfect flavor pairing. We knew the style of cuisines would differ greatly based on climate and available local ingredients but certain spices such as coriander, cumin, cardamom, star anise and turmeric are common to all them.

Meal

John has a deep knowledge of our wines and he has also become an expert in Thai food, as his wife Christina was born and raised in Thailand. He quickly singled out Vermentino 2015. Vermentino is a white medium-bodied wine that grows mostly on the islands of Corsica and Sardinia as well as in Provence where it is known as Rolle. With its somewhat exotic character, citrusy aromas, minerality and crisp acidity, Vermentino is very much appreciated by our guests.  It also pairs very well with Asian dishes that play with the Star Anise spice such as Asian Style Shrimp.  

If for John the choice was simple and straightforward, it took Neeta more time and a few more tastings to figure out which of our wines would be ideal for her Southern Indian dish. She finally chose Esprit de Tablas 2012 which she described as “having a long and complex palate, with flavors of black raspberry, plum compote and leather.”  The moderate alcohol content and gentle tannins with nice fruit and spicy flavors was, according to Neeta, an ideal marriage with her delicately spiced, taste-bud-tingling Tharavu (Duck Dry Curry).

When it was my turn, my first impulse was to pick Petit Manseng 2012 for its rich sweetness, stonefruit characters and sweet spice, which I thought would pair beautifully with my mom’s Moroccan chicken tagine. The word tagine refers to both the conical-shaped dish and the food that's cooked inside it, which in this case is braised chicken flavored with saffron, turmeric, preserved lemon and olives.  Moroccan cuisine has long been integrated into the French culinary tradition due to its colonial history. There is a natural continuity in choosing a Rhône style wine with a Moroccan dish since they both hail from Mediterranean climates. My mom’s tagine is a dish especially well suited here as Morocco shares the same latitude as Paso Robles.

Instead, I choose the Terret Noir 2014, our newest wine. We know very little about the Terret Noir grape, except that it’s a blending partner used in the southern Rhône Valley for red Châteauneuf du Pape wines. It is praised for its "qualities of lightness, freshness, and bouquet" which reminds me of Beaujolais’ Gamay grape. Like Gamay, Terret Noir is pale in color, low in alcohol with bright fruity flavors and a wonderful distinctive herbal aroma reminiscent of garrigue, the low, scrubby vegetation that grows around the Mediterranean coast. The wine’s relatively high acidity made the natural bitterness of preserved lemons and green olives a bit too aggressive, so I simply added (oh mon dieu!) a bit of crème fraîche.

With that in mind, turn up the heat and drink some of our suggestions with all the wonderful African, Asian, Caribbean and fusion dishes that you like!  This is the great way to learn and make your own decision about which Tablas Creek wine pairs best with your tastes.

Tharavu / Duck Dry Curry
A dish from the South of India

Neeta Mittal, LXV Wine Lounge

Duck leg

A few notes before we begin:

  • Always try to grind spices fresh. Spices sitting on your shelf have probably lost their essence.
  • Use a whole duck, if possible, but you can always substitute duck breasts
  • Curry Leaves can be found in an Indian store. You could use a couple of bay leaves with some lime zest, but it won't be the same as curry leaves. I have cooked this dish WITHOUT curry leaves and still tastes great.
  • Use small Green chilies like Thai chilies.
  • You can always email me for ordering just enough spices for this dish, including the curry leaves (neeta@lxvwine.com)
  • Guideline for pairing with Indian food: low alcohol, low tannin, low oak, high acidity, young fruit

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 full duck (skinned and cut into medium pieces and fat removed)
  • For Marinade:
    • Turmeric Powder : 1/2 tsp
    • Red Chili Powder : 3 tsp or to your spice level
    • Coriander Powder : 4 tsp
    • Whole Spices:
    • Cloves: 4 – 5
    • Cardamom: 1
    • Cinnamon stick: 1 inch
    • Bay leaves: 1-2
    • Slightly crushed whole pepper corns: 1/2 tsp
  • For Gravy:
    • Onion: 2 large (finely sliced)
    • Tomatoes:  2 (finely chopped)
    • Dried Whole Red Chilies: 4-5, each broken into two pieces
    • Mustard Seeds: 2 tsp
    • Curry Leaves: few
    • Green Chilies: 8-10 or to your spice level (slit, lengthwise)
    • Coconut Oil: 4 tbsp
    • Ghee: 2 tsp
    • Tamarind: 1 tbsp OR Vinegar: 1 tsp
    • Ginger: 2 tbsp (chopped)
    • Garlic:  2 tbsp (chopped)
    • Coconut milk: 1 cup

DIRECTIONS

  • Marinate the cleaned duck pieces with the marinade for at least 2 hours.
  • Heat coconut oil and ghee in a heavy-bottomed pan.
  • Add mustard seeds and when it starts to splutter, dried red chili, and whole spices. Sauté for a few minutes.
  • Add chopped ginger, garlic, curry leaves, green chilies and chopped onion; sauté till onions turn light brown.
  • Add tomatoes and sauté for a few more minutes, until the oil separates from the tomatoes
  • Add 1/2 cup of water, tamarind (or vinegar), the marinated duck pieces, and salt to taste. Cover and cook for 20 minutes or until the duck is half-done, stirring once or twice in between. Open and cook for 5 minutes at high heat until the gravy almost dries up, stirring in between so that it won’t stick to the bottom.
  • Pour in the coconut milk into half cooked duck and adjust the salt. Lower heat and simmer gently until the curry changes to a brown color and oil starts floating on top. (The coconut milk should get cooked and release coconut oil).
  • Serve Tharavu curry with hot Basmati Rice
  • Pair with a glass of slightly chilled 2012 Esprit de Tablas 

My Mom’s Tagine

Evelyne Fodor, Tablas Creek Wine Consultant

Chicken tagine in pot

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 chicken legs and 6 chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons of oil
  • 5 cups thinly sliced yellow onions
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1½ cup chicken stock
  • 6 quarters preserved lemons
  • ½ cup pitted green olives
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoons chopped leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped cilantro
  • Generously salt the chicken pieces on all sides. Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

DIRECTIONS

  • Heat 1 tablespoon of the fat in the bottom of your Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, for 3 or 4 minutes on each side, until they are well browned. Remove browned pieces from the pan and add the next batch, continuing until all the pieces are browned. Remove all chicken pieces to a plate.
  • Add oil and onions and sauté on medium high heat, stirring often and adjusting the heat as necessary, for 15 minutes, or until they are a rich golden brown.
  • Preheat the oven to 350F.  Add the spices and a pinch of salt to the onions and stir constantly for about 2 minutes to lightly toast the spices.  Return the chicken to the pan, pour in the chicken stock, and bring to a boil.
  • Cover the tagine, transfer to the oven, and cook for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and is beginning to pull away from the ends.  Remove the chicken from the pan.
  • Return the tagine to a burner and simmer for about 3 minutes to reduce the sauce. Add the lemons and olives. When they are hot, whisk in the butter, parsley, and cilantro.