Finding the Perfect Wine for your Thanksgiving Feast

Thanksgiving will be here in the blink of an eye. In addition to planning your feast, why not give some thought  to what wines will best complement it? You deserve to drink something that will highlight the countless hours you spend preparing that gorgeous bird with all the trimmings. rose wine

I’m a firm believer that you should drink what you enjoy without consideration of the connoisseurs’ rules. Most experts would tell you that white wine is the most appropriate selection with turkey, but with so many health studies extolling the virtues of red, the color white has certainly fallen out of favor.

Regardless of your preference, take an inventory of your buffet table before deciding upon a varietal. The intensity and flavors in the wine should match that of the cuisine. Unoaked Chardonnays match up well with cream sauces and giblet gravy, while Sauvignon Blanc works best with butternut squash, oyster stuffing, Brussels sprouts, and even mashed potatoes. Riesling stands up to spicy foods as well as sweet desserts. Viognier is a fashionable grape of the moment and would be a pleasing, all-purpose choice.

Of the red varietals, Pinot Noir is a safe choice. But keep in mind the cornucopia of delectable and rich options sitting on that groaning sideboard. Zinfandel has deeper flavors to match such fruity dishes as cranberry sauce, and Shiraz/Syrah will bring out the best in that peppery, spicy, and oh-so-rich sage stuffing.

Pig and Peay

Andy Peay was in town for the Nelson’s inaugural wine event, aptly called ShuttleCork. Peay, along with 5 other sought-after vintners, came from California to pour  fantastic wines and mingle with some of Kansas City’s most ardent wine enthusiasts during an evening that culminated in a wine auction.

Pig and Peay dinner--Michael Smith RestaurantBut before that, Peay teamed up with Michael Smith to participate in a wine dinner at Michael’s restaurant. The two have known each other for years so it seemed like a natural fit…and it was. Those of us in attendance were treated to a variety of Peay’s outstanding wines, paired with pig. Michael roasted a whole pig and made an entire meal around it.

Here is the menu from the Pig and Peay ‘S’Wine dinner.

Hamachi Crudo & Lardo Crouton
2011 Cep Rosè, Russian River Valley   Hamachi and Crudo--MIchael Smith

Sea urchin guacamole
pancetta & potato chips
2010 Estate Chardonnay Sea Urchin, Plaintain and pancetta chips-Michael Smith

Whole Roasted Pig
steamed buns & garnishes
2010 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir & 2010 Pomarium Pinot NoirThe Pig--Michael Smith

Roasted Wild Boar
house cured guanciale spaetzle & house made boar soppressataPork with steamed buns and arepas--Michael Smith 2008 ‘La Bruma’ SyrahBoar and spaetzle---Michael Smith

Almond Milk Doughnut
chocolate glaze & bacon bits
The Roasterie CoffeeAlmond milk doughnuts--Michael Smith

My favorite course was the pork in steamed buns and arepas, with an Asian slaw. The pork was served family-style and those who like it hot could add a spicy chili-garlic sauce to the little sandwiches.

Michael and Nancy Smith host a winemaker dinner every month, and I’ve never been to one that wasn’t great fun. Outstanding wines and food, and if you get a group of your friends together to go with you, what more could you want?

First Taste: Barndiva in Healdsburg, CA

Barndiva is one of those places that we Midwesterners hope to find on a trip to the West Coast. As its website states,  the restaurant is “a celebration of all things local,” which is California means some pretty awesome produce. And it’s in an old barn that has been remade to create a fabulous, casual, and comfortable setting. And after a day of wine tasting and a big lunch, it was especially nice that the fare wasn’t rich or heavy.

My appetizer was one of the prettiest I have ever laid eyes on. I thought from the description that it would be small, but I was very happily mistaken. Heirloom tomatoes were paired with compressed watermelon, basil, and watercress. I savored every bite.

For my dinner, I chose another appetizer, a riff on a BLT, using pork belly, basil coulis, cherry tomato, potato chips and baby lettuces. I’ve been eating way too much pork belly lately since it’s all the rage right now, but this was the most innovative use of it that I’ve experienced.

The Zucchini & Bellwether Farms Ricotta Lasagna was delightful as well, with handmade pasta and a light tomato vinaigrette. We also enjoyed the  crispy young chicken, which was extremely moist and flavorful.

In addition to the dishes hitting on all cylinders in terms of taste and style, the servers were quite compelling. Our favorite, and the most knowledgeable server we encountered during our stay in Healdsburg, was a retired businessman who loves and knows his wine. He directed us to Littorai Vineyard, which turned out to be a fortuitous recommendation since that ended up being my favorite Pinot Noir of the trip.

Barndiva is always listed as one of the must-go places in Sonoma in magazines and websites. It’s on mine now as well.

Barndiva on Urbanspoon

Cellar Rat wine class

This was not my first rodeo. Shortly after Cellar Rat opened, a friend and I went to the wine store’s basic Wine Essentials class to learn about the five S’s of wine tasting–See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip and Savor. Having accomplished those feats, we decided it was time to take a more advanced course and, with our husbands, opted to learn about Old World v. New World wines.

Jeff was our guide–a teacher by day and wine guru/expert by night. He’s extremely passionate about wine and it shows in the depth of his knowledge and enthusiasm.

We tasted both whites and reds, 8 wines in all, and Jeff explained how to distinguish between Old World, or European (France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal), and New World wines, those made in North America, South America, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia. The winemaking process is different, as is the flavor profile. Old world wines tend to be smoother and more subtle, relying on the terroir (the particular characteristics of the land and soil), while New World wines tend to be bolder, more reliant on the skill of the winemaker, and more ready-to-drink without the need for cellaring. Although these are generalizations, if you go to the wine class, Jeff will provide you with more specific characteristics of both Old and New World wines.

During the course of the evening, Jeff also offered suggestions for navigating a restaurant’s wine list, explaining which varietals to look for that are usually reasonably priced, as opposed to Napa Cabs that are typically marked up the most.

After the class, Jeff took those that were interested around the store to point out some good values on the Cellar Rat shelves. Rather than reveal his secrets, I’ll let you take the class and find out for yourself!

I highly recommend signing up for a class. It was fun and educational, and we sampled some really nice wines. It would be a fun date night, with just your sweetheart or another couple.

Extra Virgin Wine Dinner

I recently had the pleasure of attending a wine dinner at Extra Virgin, featuring wines from Maison Bleue Winery in Prosser, Washington. Maison Bleue was started by Jon Martinez, a former Kansas Citian. He used to practice dentistry, but got the winemaking bug while working with Michael Amigoni of Amigoni Vineyards.  In five short years his wines have received national acclaim and, after having the good fortune to taste them at Extra Virgin, I’m not at all surprised.

Michael Smith, chef/owner of Extra Virgin (as well as his eponymous and more upscale restaurant next door) did a masterful job of creating dishes to pair with each wine. Both Michael and Jon discussed the food and wine as we were presented each course.

Here was the menu.

Arugula Salad, spring strawberries & goat cheese  

Notre Vie Viognier 2010     

House made Tagliatelle Pasta

laughing brid shrimp, house cured chorizo,
spring peas & tarragon

Petite Joie Marsanne 2010  

Wood Fired Flatbread

grilled spring onions, romesco sauce, house made ricotta,

spanish olives & pistachios

La Famille Mourvedre Rosè 2011   

Fried Soft Shell Crab

potato puree crispy guanciale, micro greens

& aji Amarillo-chili paste

Jaja GSM 2010    

Braised Pork Cheeks

oregon morels & fava bean relish

La Montagnette Grenache 2010  

Chocolate Macaroon

strawberry powder, strawberry mousse

& dark chocolate sorbet

Liberte Syrah 2009   

I particularly loved the pasta course and the soft shell crab. The pasta was homemade, and the chorizo gave the oil that the pasta was tossed in a bit of a kick. The shrimp and peas were elegant in their simplicity. I’m a sucker for soft shell crab in any form, but  the varying textures and complementary flavors made this exceptional. Of the wines we tasted that night, the Rosé, which like Michael Amigoni’s is made from a Mourvedre grape and  JAJA, a blend of Grenache,  Shiraz and Mourvedre grapes were my favorite, though I had no trouble sipping all of them throughout the evening.

The cost of the dinner, count em–six courses, and all those wines, was $70 …hard to beat for sheer value. Add in a beautiful evening on the EV patio, a tableful of great people, and it was a memorable evening. 

You might want to get your hands on some of these wines now, before Martinez raises the prices….Cellar Rat at 1701 Baltimore carries many of them.

And do yourself another favor–sign up for one of Extra Virgin’s wine dinners.

Amigoni Urban Winery

My readers may recall that not long ago I attended the 2011 DrinkLocalWine conference in St.Louis, where I sampled dozens of Missouri wines from around the state. While I was pleasantly surprised that  many of them were worth drinking, it also reinforced my lack of enthusiasm for Norton, the official Missouri wine grape. Also known as Cynthiana, it has strong acidity and can be a bit harsh. Food tempers it, as does giving it time to breathe.

But it’s not my grape of choice, which may be why I was so taken with Michael and Kerry Amigoni when I first met them.They own and operate Amigoni Urban Winery, with a vineyard located in Centerview, MO and a tasting room in the Stockyards District at 1600 Genessee. He concentrates on the science (growing, producing) and she handles the business side of the venture.

They are not fans of Norton either but, unlike most Missouri wine producers, they were convinced that Vinifera ( a vine native to the Mediterranean) could be grown with consistency in our wild climate. With extreme cold and heat, that’s a tall order, but the Amigonis set out to grow California-style grapes such as Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Mourvedre, Carigan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec. And they have more than succeeded in their quest–Michael and Kerry are producing top quality wines that favor comparably to those being grown in California. In fact, I believe  his reds would fare quite well in a blind tasting with some of the big names out west. (His whites may as well, but I’m a red wine drinker, so I can’t speak to that with certainty.)

Michael has taken it a step further and has just bottled the Amigoni label’s first rosé, made from his Mourvedre grapes. Rosé has been making a comeback for years, though some still think it’s the same as the Sutter Home White Zinfandel blush wine that was making the party scene in the nineties. But a fine rose such as the Amigonis’ thankfully bears no resemblance to that.

I attended the release party for the rosé at Genessee Royale bistro last week. The restaurant is across the street from the couple’s tasting room, so it was a natural partnership. Owner Todd Schulte prepared small plates that paired beautifully with the rosé, which allowed the wine to be presented at its best.

We enjoyed the rosé so much that we bought a case on the spot. (Yes, we are friends, but my husband would never have bought more than a few bottles if he/we hadn’t enjoyed it so much). At $14 a bottle, it’s a great value. And it’s such a food-friendly wine that I look forward to sipping it throughout the summer no matter what is on the menu. Conference

The third annual DrinkLocalWine conference was held in St. Louis at the beginning of April. It was founded several years ago by Dave McIntyre and Jeff Siegel, two national wine columnists who have a passion for spotlighting the countless local wines that are produced around the country. The first conference was held in Texas, the second in Virginia. This year’s meeting brought together wine aficionados from coast to coast to celebrate the wines of Missouri.

Norton is the state grape and produces a big bold, grassy red wine with strong acidity. Though other wines were featured during the weekend, it was on this wine that I focused my attention.

I went to the conference as a food junkie who loves a good glass of wine, but in no way do I profess to know wine the way I fancy that I know food. Though I still can’t distinguish the aromas or tastes that wine “experts” discover in each sip,  I did learn three valuable lessons over the weekend.

1. Norton needs time to breathe. It tastes much better an hour or even a day after opening.

2. Norton is not a good cocktail wine. It order to appreciate the depth of the wine, it is best enjoyed with food. It pairs well with foods that are a bit fatty, so it was perfectly suited to the lamb chop and sausage we were served at Annie Gunn’s  restaurant during the Winemaker’s dinner.

3. At the risk of my husband and others declaring that I’m full of you know what, the shape of the glass does matter. No, I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid. But I did experience the same wine in different glasses. That experiment resulted in my conviction that the proper glass truly does allow a wine’s bouquet to be properly released, just as experts have always said it does.

The conference yielded some interesting discussions about marketing local wines and promoting Missouri. It was noted that many restaurants these days spend so much time touting the local sources of their ingredients, yet don’t give a second thought to the locality of the wines on their wine lists. Missouri wines don’t enjoy a stellar reputation;  most consumers think they prefer wines from the West coast, France, Italy, Spain…. anywhere but within the state of Missouri.  If Missouri winemakers, who are predominately on the eastern half of the state,  would spend time traveling to the west side of the state and host some wine tastings, I can’t imagine that Kansas City restaurateurs would not be receptive. And after sampling some of the wines that I did over the weekend, perhaps those same restaurateurs would change their tune and spotlight some of them.

Were all of the wines worth drinking? No.  Some reinforced my previously held view that many Missouri wines can’t hold a candle to my favorite California, Oregon or Washington state wines, but others definitely surprised me.

As with any local product, it would be smart to promote a state- produced product. While restaurants and consumers may be reluctant to purchase an entire bottle of a wine of a varietal they have never experienced, baby steps may be the way to go. What about offering these wines by the glass? Exposing diners to these wines may entice them to buy a full bottle or consider other state grapes. On the flip side, it’s time for diners to request these wines to get a sense of what our state has to offer.

Going on a wine tour is another way to explore. Visiting three wineries in the Augusta/Hermann area, I was struck by how pretty their settings were, and how far the wine industry has come in Missouri in the last 3-5 years. Who knew that Mt. Pleasant Winery in Augusta, MO makes a tawny port that sells for $122 a bottle in China?

Wine tastings are available at each winery, and entertainment is often offered as well. On the Sunday we toured the area, people were sitting on outdoor terraces overlooking the Missouri River and Katy Trail, listening to live music while sipping wine and eating lunch. The entire day was a revelatory experience,  and one I hope to repeat sooner rather than later.

In Kansas City, we are fortunate to have an urban winery right in the Stockyards District. Amigoni Vineyards doesn’t grow Norton grapes, but it has found a way to grow vitis vinifera, a European style of grape not commonly grown in Missouri because it’s not considered as hearty or disease resistant. Time will tell whether his vines can survive the state’s harsh and extreme conditions, but for now the proof is in the bottle, and winemaker Michael Amigoni is making some very fine wines.

The conference was a real eye-opener. I can now promote my state’s wines with genuine enthusiasm and a new appreciation. Next year Coloradoans will be in for a treat as the conference invades their state.


Proof–Washington, DC

There’s a very good reason why Proof is considered one of Washington, DC’s hot spots of the moment, in the hopping Penn Quarter. Although I’ve only been there once, I can’t express my enthusiasm enough. Incredible food, exhaustive wine list, attractive decor and a fun vibe all combine to make the experience a special one.

We started with pork confit on jicama slaw with a red pepper lime emulsion, an incredibly pillowy gnocchi with tomato and basil, and stacked tuna tartare with crispy nori tempura.

Do I have your attention yet? No? Okay, let’s move on to the entrees.

A gorgeous vegetarian napolean, with crispy tofu standing in for the usual pastry layer, honey glazed duck with yam puree and pomegranate emulsion, and sablefish with pumpkin seeds, raisins, garbanzo beans, spinach and romesco sauce. The latter dish was the only one of the evening I wouldn’t order again, not so much because it wasn’t enjoyable, but rather because it wasn’t as exciting as the other dishes.

The menu changes monthly to keep up with what’s in season, and servers are knowledgeable and engaging.

Restaurants come and go all the time; it’s such a tough business. Proof has been open for three years, but it’s still hard to secure a reservation or even find a seat at the bar.

And to think it’s known more for its spectacular wine inventory than the food.

Proof on Urbanspoon

JP Wine Bar

I have always been a fan of JP Wine Bar in the Crossroads District.  (The Leawood location recently closed.) I enjoy the wine and cheese flights and the food has always been fabulous. Last year the menu was tweaked to include more entrees and fewer small plates, evidently because Kansas Citians have trouble with the small plate concept and don’t know how much to order (or maybe they just wanted larger portions).

It’s been a while since I’d been and I wanted to check out some of their newer menu items. My friend and I split the scallops with grilled artichokes, carnitas, and seared tuna with a sushi rice cake and stir fried vegetables. Though each dish was good and nicely presented, nothing was memorable or knock- your-socks-off delicious. The scallops were properly prepared, but one-dimensional and  not very exciting. The carnitas were served with good homemade corn tortillas and a spicy green sauce, but the black beans that accompanied the pork were beyond dry. The tuna was rare as requested, but the entire dish lacked flavor and oomph. It was a real disappointment.

The patio was packed on such a beautiful evening and the service was excellent. It’s still a great place for some special wine–I just hope the chef works on returning the food to its former glory.

J P Wine Bar & Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Cellar Rat

If you’re on the hunt for that hard-to-find bottle of wine or beer from around the world, checkIMG_0334 out the Cellar Rat in the Crossroads District. Rather than focusing on big ticket bottles as some wine stores are apt to do, Cellar Rat has only a small section devoted to the higher priced vintages, with the bulk of the store shelves displaying wines priced under $20. Reds and Whites are divided by country and then varietal, making the search a little more manageable. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, or you need help pairing a wine with the dinner you’re preparing, the staff is knowledgeable and happy to assist you with your selections.

Wine classes and wine tasting events are offered in a tasteful private room that has a working garage door at one end.  After an hour of wine appreciation by an expert staff member, participants learn how to taste and characterize wine, using four white wine and five red wine varietals. The discussion is lively and informal, and a pleasurable way to learn the basics. After the wines have been tasted and compared, a variety of cheeses is offered to conclude the class.

Cellar Rat also carries an impressive array of imported beers and ales, but they don’t forget about our hometown Boulevard Brewery. Artisan cheeses are available for purchase as well and they even make homemade mozzarella, which is snapped up almost as quickly as it is produced.

1701 Baltimore