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Letters from Readers: Wine Pairing for Pasta Con le Sarde

24 Dec

I love when readers reach out looking for wine suggestions. So it made me happy when broadcast audio engineer and self-described beer aficionado Stevie G reached out and sent me a wine pairing inquiry. He sent a recipe link he was prepping from Serious Eat’s Pasta Con Le Sarde, what he calls “a pretty traditional Holiday dish from Sicily”. “So I was thinking,”, he said, “What wine would JvB pair with this?”

Good question, indeed.

My stomach thought, “Wow that sounds good right about now…”


My memory banks were recalling the reflection of the sun on the ocean, and the smell of the Mediterranean when going from Sicily to Sardinia, and the delicious flavors that accompanied every meal. 

From my travels, heading to Sardinia- Jim van Bergen

 

While touring the region, I had a similar dish. It was simply delicious. The balance of saffron with toasted fennel, superbly fresh sardines, and pine nuts is an unusual, savory,  and delicious treat for the palate. 

 

The Serious Eats recipe that Stevie shared calls for saffron steeped in warmed white wine, which I think elevates the recipe. My reaction was pretty immediate: Salivating!  Thinking of the flavor profiles, my wine training leaps into action with two answers, no questions: Either Grillo, from Sicily or Vermentino, from Sardinia. Knowing that the zesty, fruity, dry and fresh Vermentino is more easily found on nrighborhood wine stores, my reply to Stevie G blurts out.

“For Pasta Con la Sarde, I would pair an un-oaked vermentino from Sardinia! The dish needs fresh, herbal, and citrus components to maintain the delicate palate and balance with the fresh sardine, pasta, fennel & saffron.”

Stevie was pretty blasé. 

“Cool. I don’t drink white much, but heck I’ll give it a shot. What could possibly go wrong ?”

I found it hard to process when someone asks for a wine suggestion, but then says they don’t drink much white wine. I know what he meant: He doesn’t drink it. For a moment, I wondered if I’d hear back, or if Stevie would pull out a beer and ignore my suggestion. But my phone went off, my mind shifted elsewhere, and I focused on other things until I heard back.


Stevie G’s dish 

Only a day later, Stevie wrote me again, and shared the above image. 

“Yeah… You DO know about your wines. The pairing was great! Both fruity notes complemented each other. The coolness of the vermentino helped temper the four-spice spiciness. Thanks for the Holiday recommendation! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you, as well!”

 

All’s well that ends well, no? Except that if you are remotely hungry, you are now thinking about making this recipe… because it’s delicious. 

 

A memory of finding great local wines while touring Italy

I did a little digging looking for the origin of this dish, trying to understand the recipe a little better. In Messina, the sauce is made in a ‘white’ style, without the saffron. So I started searching for an origin story, and found one!


Bolognese Foodie & blogger Filippo from PhilosKitchen.com tells the backstory of this recipe & story on his blog that I have excerpted below:

The origin of Sicilian sardines pasta is intertwined with an act of rebellion and revenge.

At the beginning of the 9th Century A.D., Euphemius of Messina, the commander of the Byzantine navy had been a man of power. According to the legend, the influence of Euphemius was too much for the Byzantine empire; so, the Emperor Michael II the Amorian ordered the demotion and the mutilation of the nose of the Commander on charges of the presumed kidnapping and marrying a nun.

In response to that accusations, that Euphemius considered outrageous, the former commander retreated in Africa along with a clutch of trusted men and hooked up with the Saracens.

On June 14 827, Euphemius sailed to the southern coast of Sicily and reached the bay of Capo Granitola, near to Mazara del Vallo after a three-day storm. The Saracens sailors were tired and hungry. The pantry was almost empty, and the soldiers needed an energetic meal before the battle.


At this moment the cook of the boat prepared a dish with the few ingredients at his disposal: wild fennel, pine nuts, dried pasta, saffron, raisin and the sardines caught in the water of the Sicilian bay. The legend says the Sicilian Pasta con le Sarde has been born that day!

 

 

And there it is. Thanks Stevie G! Cheers, Happy Holidays, and a Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones. 

 

à votre santé!

Troon Takes Orange Wine to the Next Level

30 Aug

Troon Vineyards 2019 Kubli Bench Amber, Estate Orange Wine; Applegate Valley AVA, OR. 13.3% ABV, MSRP $30/bottle. 

 

 

Kubli Bench Amber is an orange wine from Troon Vineyards, a Demeter BioDynamic, Certified Organic winery in the Applegate Valley AVA, located in the southwestern region of Oregon.  The Kubli Bench Amber is a blend of 74% Riesling, 16% Vermentino, 10% Viognier. This delightful and unusual wine is created much like a red wine: fermented on the skins with significant time spent on the lees while in clay amphorae, then aged in French oak barrels for five months.  The result is a superb, rare, and palate-pleasing delicacy that has to be experienced to be fully understood and appreciated. 

 

All content Copyright 2020, JvB UnCorked. All Rights Reserved.

 


Color is pale orange, aptly named amber. A gentle nose offers a blend of citrus, grapefruit, candied ginger, and a hint of sage. It is quite neutral on the palate with lemon-lime citrus, apricot and pear, with secondary notes of vanilla and herbs. A surprisingly long finish with grapefruit zest and lemon pith keeps the palate fresh and lively. With such solid acidity, it is rare to have a sense of phenolics and tannin with a white wine, providing an unusual mouthfeel and body. 

 

All content Copyright 2020, JvB UnCorked. All Rights Reserved.

 

 The result is a delicious wine with luscious pear and apricot, beautiful acidity and strong tannins. This wine is great by itself but can pair with anything– I started with soft cheese, and paired an entire meal wonderfully from salad to roast vegetables to filet mignon! 

Kubli Bench Amber falls into a rare category for me: “When you don’t expect it, but get blown away by a wine.” It is fascinating, fun, and something I will always want in my cellar. It is an absolute delight, and a total #WineGeekWine

 

Below, a #WMC20 live virtual tasting with Troon’s GM,  Craig Camp, top row, second from left.

All content Copyright 2020, JvB UnCorked. All Rights Reserved. 

 

 

#WIYG? 

 


à votre santé!

Donkey and Goat at Faro, Brooklyn

24 Apr

“Isabel’s Cuvée” Grenache Gris Rosé 2018 by Donkey & Goat; Mendocino county,  McDowell Valley AVA, California, USA. 12.5% ABV, SRP $28/bottle.

The color is reminiscent of cloudy grapefruit juice. The nose offers rose bush, citrus, and apple blossoms. On the palate are rich apple and pear with strawberry, blood orange, and a lovely acidity. I did not want to put this glass down. From ancient vines planted in 1896 in soil of gravel & sandy loam comes this creamy, spicy delight on the palate. Light with a hint of fruit and spice.

Had Tracey been selling these bottles from the trunk of her car, I would have bought a case right then and there.

But there was much more to taste!

 

 

From left to right: The Bear, Eliza, Gadabout, Isabel’s Cuvée.

 

 

Over the years I have had many readers ask me to review Donkey and Goat  by owners/operators Tracey & Jared Brandt. They are passionate about their fruit and winemaking, working with sustainable, biodynamic, and organic vineyards and using as little intervention as possible. Their wines are unfined and unfiltered, so their cloudiness may take you off-guard. But taste them, and find that you may like what they are doing, and join the crowd to enjoy the luscious flavors of the fruit of their labor!

 

 

 

2017 “Gadabout” White Field Blend by Donkey and Goat; Berkeley, California, USA. 13.2% ABV; Street Price @ $24/bottle.

 

Color is a cloudy pale straw. The nose offers a theme of funk and zippy acidity. On the palate is a citrus punch blend of lemon and lime with peach, pear, and wildflowers. A mid-weight wine with an even and extended finish, I could enjoy this all day long. Yet it manages to pair with savory food; it surprised me by having enough weight to stack up to Faro’s absolutely delicious beef tartare.

 

 

 

One of two ‘starting point wines’,  for Donkey & Goat, The Gadabout features an El Dorado chardonnay which is then blended with picpoul for acidity. To add texture, Tracey says she added first vermentino, and then marsanne to add depth. Where it ends up is a tasty Rhône-style blend with nice body and mid-palate acidity.

 

From left to right: The Bear, Eliza, Gadabout, Isabel’s Cuvée. 

 

I like where this started on my first sip but it opened up more as the evening progressed. I’d be interested to taste this with more air, if I had more to taste. In general, it seems that Donkey and Goat wines will improve with decanting or a great amount of air exposure.

 

 

“Eliza” 2016 Rhône Style Blend by Donkey & Goat; Barsotti Vineyards, El Dorado AVA; California, USA. 12.5% ABV, SRP $47/bottle.

 

Color is a cloudy goldenrod. The nose offers an earthy quality, then exotic floral and jasmine tea notes. On the savory palate is a mix of Golden Delicious apple and Bosc pear with toasted almond, vanilla, lemon zest, honeysuckle and marzipan. Secondary notes include toasted oats, potting soil, and smoke. On the finish are hints of tangerine and apricot. This is a Rhône blend based on the clairette grape, with vermentino, picpoul blanc, grenache blanc, and finally roussanne. This wine is an unusual mixture, aged for ten months in oak, and the deeper one looks, the more layers one finds. Taste, aroma, and weight of the mouthfeel are fascinating the more you consider this wine, but it’s just as easy to simplify and enjoy. Your mileage may vary for street price if you can find it locally- I expect it’s far pricier in NYC than on the west coast. But this is a fun winelover’s bottle!

 

 

If you happen to be a fan of beef tartare, take note: Chef Kevin Adey’s is a must-have!
I’m lucky I was able to stop
devouring this to take a picture at Faro; it was simply that good.

 

 

If I had to get this wine into a single sentence, I’d give it this:
A Rhône-inspired savory blend with awesome acidity: a yummy, geeky wine!! This wine is a tasty gem for regular white drinkers; for oenophiles, this is a really fun glass (or bottle) to enjoy or discuss.

 

Faro’s stunning take on Gnocchi with lamb.

This wine was good with the house bread & butter, awesome with the beef tartare, and delicious with rich lamb gnocchi (see: food porn above). Did I mention Faro’s Michelin Star? Now I have. In short, Chef Adey’s Menu is fascinating, the food is fabulous, and you’ll enjoy yourself immensely!

Getting back to the wine:  Eliza can handle the food! Depending on the price I might not grab more than a few bottles, but it’s absolutely the kind of gift bottle I’d pick up for serious wine drinkers or for a meal where you want a white wine that can stand up to heavy protein. Eliza can do it…ah, you think, “maybe that’s why she’s named ELIZA?”  (Pause. If you don’t get the reference to Shaw/Pygmalion/My Fair Lady, just skip ahead, ok? -Editor)

 

Tracey Brant, Donkey & Goat

 

If you like natural or organic wines, then you owe it to yourself to check out Donkey & Goat. They are harder to find on the east coast, but that’s what wine clubs are for, aren’t they?

 

#WIYG?

 

à votre santé!

 

Drinking Locally in the Mediterranean

26 Sep

 

Sometimes my vacations aren’t working vacations! This year my family took a cruise through the Mediterranean with Oceania Cruise Lines. The first night at dinner I scoured the ship’s wine list, curated by Wine Spectator. (You can view a sample of the wine list published here.) There are many wines on the list that I know intimately, others I have tasted before, and some I didn’t know that I’d like to taste. But the wait staff explained to us that for every port we visited, the chef was adding special dishes to the daily menu to represent local cuisine, and I really wanted to taste what the locals were drinking! Long story short,  I had better success in some ports than in others, but I didn’t want to interrupt my extended family’s vacation by taking too much time seeking out something that only half the group might taste or enjoy.

Sardinia, Italy

My fabulous wife arranged for a guide in Sardinia with a bus driver, which provided an easy opportunity to access local wine with a helpful hand! Driving along Costa Smerelda (the emerald coast), we made a quick stop in a local grocery and picked up three local bottles of wine in the €5.50-7.00 range (that’s six to eight US dollars). That, my friends, was a real score!

 

Cantina Il Nuraghe,  Mogoro, Italy:  Sardegna Terralba “Bovale” 2015. 13%ABV. Around €6 locally, found in the USA for $15/bottle.  

The bovale grape is more widely recognized as carignan. Lovely maroon color with a rich, complex nose of rosé, red fruit, black pepper and clove. On the palate: red rasberry/cherry, hints of young black fruit. Secondary notes of forest floor, granite, and gentle wood. Gentle acidity, smoother than expected for a 2015.  Totally a food wine; full-bodied, with a long and fulfilling finish.

For a quick historical note: you savvy readers obviously noticed the name of this winery is  Cantina Il Nuraghe. Maybe you’re wondering what a Nuraghe is: a Bronze-Age stone structures, some even called “Sardinia’s Stonehange”. 
 
Have you noticed a theme? Yes, stony soil! You could take it for granite…it’s actually LOTS of granite!
You can’t help but taste the terroir and the granite in the glass.
But everything isn’t red in the Mediterranean. What else could I score for just a few euro?

Cantina del Vermentino Monti: Funtanaliras Vermentino Di Gallura, Monti, Italy.  12.5% ABV. Found locally for €6; SRP  €10. Online in the USA from $12-16/bottle. 

Color is medium straw with a hint of green berry tinge. Nose is gentle floral with iris, tulip, orchid, and Anjou pear.
On the palate: quince, granny smith apple, and lime zest. Mellow acidity traces a spine of heat across top palate; final notes include a gentle finish with a  hint of almond and granite. We opened this at dinner and it went gorgeously with the meal (and was the perfect foil for the ‘blini’ of sturgeon caviar, seen below).
The vermentino paired so well with the caviar, then also with a salad course, then with snapper with grilled vegetables for the main course.  I’d have been just as happy sipping this on the veranda, looking our at the sea. But I would really have missed the sturgeon caviar…
Provence, France
While shopping in Provence for herbs, I noticed a bin full of local wines and picked one up on a whim. It sold for €14- about $16 USD. As this bottle was more expensive than the ones nearby, the shopkeeper explained that the wine was a blend of syrah; and the bottle was also his personal favorite. He went on to explain (if my high school French served me correctly) that since this bottle was more expensive than most people want to pay for a local wine, only real wine-lovers bought it, which allowed him to drink more of it personally, at a better discount.
Les Baux de Provence Domaine de Lauzières “Persephone” by Christophe Pillon; Mouries, France.  80% syrah/20% grenache blend; 13.5% ABV. SRP €14/bottle.
Color is opaque purple. The nose begins as deep brett/barnyard funk which burned off after being allowed to air, then demonstrating earth, mushroom, red fruit. Palate:  cassis, raspberry, and stewed fruit. Secondary impressions are powerful acidity and long tannins; then essences of toasted oak, limestone, clay and sand. The winemaker says that the entire operation is organic and biodynamic; my palate says that this wine loves a piece of meat and some vegetables,  the rich fruit pairing nicely with savory and spices beautifully.
Every wine I found locally in the Mediterranean can be a great food wine, or a “sit and watch the sea with the breeze in your face, and just enjoy the moment” wine. Maybe that is one of the key approaches to making wine in the Mediterranean. I know that each day, I managed to find time to contemplate. 
Finally- the boat’s sommeliers were just as happy to taste these wines as we were, and were impressed at the QPR found I the local wines and their ability to pair with the chef’s local dishes. While I love the Wine Spectator’s list, there is nothing quite like drinking locally.
I sincerely hope that you find time to contemplate your surroundings with a glass of local wine.

à votre santé!

 

Drinking Island Wine: Locations Corsican White Wine

22 Aug

Locations Corsican White Wine by Dave Phinney; Corsica, France. 13%ABV, MSRP $18/bottle.

 

The color is medium golden straw, while the nose offers fresh-cut wildflowers with a hint of salty sea breeze. On the palate, I found this flavor profile unique! Instead of white stone fruit, my mouth experienced a bundle of youthful and vibrant herbs popping forth first, followed by lemon zest, green apple, marzipan, and a long but gentle citrus finish with notes of almond, schist and sand. This wine is uniquely Corsican in its demonstration of a medium-bodied vermentino.

 

This wine is another great example of what Locations Wines is: singular to a locale, top quality fruit with great acid and a unique terroir. Phinney continues to make tremendous world wines on his journey, providing a drinking experience that is as special as the island in the mediterranean. Pair with mediterranean food: seafood, fresh vegetables, lighter fare for a hot, breezy climate. Feel free to open early in the day and enjoy in the sun or shade: drinking this wine is just like island life- everything moves just a little slower, a little more freely, and definitely without a care in the world.

The beach in Corsica: for some reason (possible the fortifications and cannon) make you feel quite secure on the island while sunbathing in this location!

 

The Corsica town market with statue of Napoleon.

 

The town market is full of locally cured meats, wines, fruits, vegetables, cheeses and herbs. If the sight and smell of these foods doesn’t make you want to eat and drink something local, nothing will! 

 

 

à votre santé!

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