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.

Scopa and Campo Fina in Healdsburg, CA

Scopa and Campo Fina share a chef and owner. And while they are both Italian and serve pizza, Campo Fina is the more casual of the two, with all day menus and a bocce court out back. On a recent visit to Healdsburg, we had dinner at one the first night and the other on the last.

Scopa has some serious cuisine going on in a very cozy, casual setting. The dining room is long and extremely narrow. We were lucky to get a table by the front window which looks out onto the tiny one-table sidewalk patio.

The menu is heavy on antipasti and pizza, so we indulged in both. We started with pan roasted and hot padron peppers that had been tossed in olive oil and sea salt, after which we fought over the grilled calamari with white beans and arugula. The squid was not at all chewy and had a perfect char to it.

The pizzas tasted better than they look in the pictures. The crust was chewy but crisp, and the pizza maker was liberal with his use of toppings. It’s hard to beat a good Margharita pizza, but the Salsiccia with peppers was everyone’s favorite.

Not one to pass up the specialty of the house, we also split Nonna’s chicken, which had been tomato-braised and cooked in a pot with polenta and greens. I have overcome my lifelong disdain for polenta, at least when it’s soft like this was, which is a good thing since otherwise I would have missed out on a comforting, satisfying dish.

We had some great wines that night, including a blend from Preston Vineyards that we liked so much we visited the vineyard the next day and ordered a case to take home.

Pizza also sounded good on our last night in Healdsburg, so we decided to check out the newly opened Campo Fina. We ordered a glass of wine and played bocce while waiting for our table, getting our evening off to a great start as the women beat the men in a fierce competition.

Thinking we needed something at least a bit healthy before diving into pizza, we started with an arugula salad with figs and burrata, which was light and lovely. The octopus is prepared similarly here to the calamari at Scopa, only at Campo Fina it is served with grilled potatoes, wild chicory and black olives. It turned out to be my favorite dish of the night, because though the pizza may have looked better at Campo Fina and had a better char, both the crust and toppings lacked the flavor of their counterparts at Scopa. But it was fun to eat outside below the vines, the restaurant has a festive vibe and it was a pleasant way to end a fabulous trip.

Scopa 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.

Green Dirt Farm cheese appreciation event

We are so fortunate to have an operation like Green Dirt Farm in our midst. Located near Weston, MO, it’s a true gem. Owned by Sarah Hoffman and Jacqueline Smith, the farm raises sheep and produces the highest quality lamb and farmstead cheeses. They also hold farm-to-table dinners, cheese making workshops, and cheese appreciation events in the spring, summer and early fall. The farm-to-table dinners feature area chefs who relish the opportunity to use the farm’s lamb and cheeses to create a spectacular four course meal.

I attended one of the cheese appreciation events on a cool late summer day in September. Led by Sarah, who is the farm’s cheesemaker, it was a delicious and informative two hours.

Following the directions we received by email, we drove up to the barn, a beautifully made structure that looks very much like a church. Walking in, it felt like being on a movie set. One long table ran the entire length of the room and was beautifully set for thirty people with flowers in lovely watering cans and vases, loaves of bread for all of the cheeses we would be eating, and bowls of dried fruit and nut mix. At each place was a clipboard of information about the individual cheeses and a pencil for note-taking. A hint of things to come, in front of each plate a row of 5 glasses sat tantalizingly empty.

Each cheese appreciation event focuses on different cheese and drink pairings. “Blues and Brews” is a fun theme, with blue cheeses from around the country paired with beer from our local Boulevard Brewery. We were there for the “Comparative Milk Types” session, which paired goat, cow and sheep’s milk cheeses with wines from Kansas City’s own Amigoni winery.

Tony Glamcevski, Tour and Events Manager for GDF,  had meticulously cut and scooped 6 cheeses onto individual white rectangular plates, which he served to each guest to get the afternoon started. Sarah then held court, discussing the origins of each cheese,  how it was made, and its particular qualities. We started with the lightest cheeses like Fromage Blanc  and worked our way up to some heavy-duty ones, Green Dirt’s Wooly Rind,  and California’s Humboldt Fog.  Michael Amigoni and his wife Kerry poured their wines in the same fashion, while Michael explained the attributes of his wines and why each pairing worked.

What a fun way to spend an afternoon! We felt like we had gone on a mini-vacation, or at least a field trip.  And as if we hadn’t had enough cheese, we stopped at Pizza Bella on the way home for dinner! A perfect ending to our adventure.

Unless there are still seats available for next weekend’s classes, it’s too late to get in on this gig in 2011. Mark your calendar for next May when they will start up again.

The cost is $40 per person and they only have room for 30 people per session, so be sure to reserve online ahead of time.

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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

Pairing Food and Wine

I often have difficulty pairing wine with whatever I’m serving for dinner. We’ve gone well beyond “white with fish, red with meat”, and there are so many grape varietals that it can be a bit overwhelming to decide. For a handy tool, check out wine maven Natalie McLean’s Drinks Matcher. Select the dish you’re having, and it shows what wines go best. Or, if you have a wine you want to serve, it gives you suggestions of what food will work well with it. [clearspring_widget title="Natalie MacLean's Drinks Matcher" wid="499d0d5ceaf11a9c" pid="4aa809ee7c11c3b0" width="300" height="272" domain=""]

The new guideline seems to be “match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine”. For instance, you probably wouldn’t want to pair a Cabernet Sauvignon with sushi, or a Reisling with rack of lamb.IMG_0334

Here’s a list from Wine Spectator that you might find helpful. It ranks whites and reds in the order of their weight, from lightest to heaviest. It takes the guess work out of trying to determine where the more obscure grapes fit into the spectrum, and should make it easier to pair your food with a variety of wines that would work. Remember, this is not like a test you took in 5th grade–there’s more than one right answer!

Selected dry and off-dry white wines, lightest to weightiest:

• Soave, Orvieto, Pinot Grigio
• Off-dry Riesling
• Dry Riesling
• Muscadet
• Champagne, Prosecco, Cava and other dry sparkling wines
• Chenin Blanc
• Arneis
• French Chablis and other unoaked Chardonnays
• Rioja (white)
• Pinot Blanc
• Albariño
• Vermentino
• Verdejo
• Sauvignon Blanc
• Greco di Tufo
• Grüner Veltliner
• White Bordeaux
• White Burgundy
• Pinot Gris (Alsace, Tokay)
• Viognier
• Gewürztraminer
• Barrel-fermented or barrel-aged Chardonnay (United States, Australia)

Selected red wines, lightest to weightiest:

• Valpolicella
• Beaujolais Cru
• Dolcetto
• New Zealand Pinot Noir
• Burgundy
• Oregon Pinot Noir
• California Pinot Noir
• Cabernet Franc
• Barbera
• Chianti Classico
• Rioja
• Brunello di Montalcino
• Ribera del Duero
• Barbaresco
• Grenache/Garnacha
• Pinotage
• Merlot (United States)
• Malbec
• Barolo
• Bordeaux
• Petite Sirah
• Zinfandel
• Cabernet Sauvignon (United States, Australia)
• Rhône Syrah and Australian Shiraz

Wine Spectator

Aug. 7, 2009

The Drop Bar

I love the Drop. If you haven’t been, go, and if you haven’t been lately, it’s time to go back. It’s on Martini Corner, on 31st Street, between Oak and Gilham. While the stark décor might be more attractive to the under thirty crowd, the food should be pleasing to all palates.IMG_0335

The menu is small, but each item is tasty and fresh. We started with white bean hummus, topped with  toasted cumin seeds that lent an unique taste to the taste and presentation.

The most inspired offering that’s not to be missed is the bruschetta platter. Share it with a friend and make a meal of it. The innovative list of bruschetta features more than a dozen from which the diner picks four to sit atop the thick grilled bread. We chose the brie and apple, the strawberry and IMG_0336gorgonzola, both of which were excellent but couldn’t unseat my two favorites– the one with pistachios, chopped figs and goat cheese, and the other with fontina, caramelized onions and spiced almonds.

Though the original menu featured mostly items that didn’t need to be cooked (the restaurant has a ridiculously small kitchen), the Drop now offers small plates and even such substantial dishes as lamb chops and coffee encrusted ribeye.  The crab cakes were fabulous–as good as anywhere in the  city,with only enough filler to hold each one together, and served with a spicy sriracha aioli and guacamole. We practically licked the plate! IMG_0339

The place is quite the scene, especially during Happy Hour when they offer great food and drink specials, including 1/2 priced starters and $5 glasses of wine.  The music tends to be too loud for the over-40 crowd, but it does add to the lively atmosphere.

Starting Sept 28, the Drop will again be open for lunch, following a break during which owner Eddie Crane enjoyed his new baby. That’s good news for all of us who missed stopping by at the noon hour for a light salad and bruschetta or sandwich.

Drop on Urbanspoon