Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dare to Learn Wine: Daring Pairings by Evan Goldstein

Who hasn't felt confused or clueless about wine at times? For all who have, from beginners to the wine-savvy, Evan Goldstein has come to the rescue. With his new book, Daring Pairings: A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines with Recipes from His Favorite Chefs (University of California Press, 2010), Goldstein not only makes wines understandable, but he also makes learning about wine exciting and fun. The Master Sommelier takes on exotic and lesser-known varietals – seventeen white wines and nineteen reds, from Albariño to Xinomavro.

Goldstein begins Daring with a recap of major themes from Perfect Pairings, his 2006 book that tackled the world's six major red and white wines, dessert wines and how to partner them with food. His five keys to understanding wine – acidity, sweetness, tannin, oak and alcohol – go down easy, without wine geek-speak or laundry-list descriptors that render some wine writing tiresome.

Instead, Goldstein is funny, direct, passionate and oh, does he know and love food. He makes it easy to understand how sauces can be used to bridge wine choices or how flavors or textures created by special ingredients point to better wine matches. Consider, for example, how the earthiness of brown mushroom sauces scream out for terroir-driven, earthy wines while the creamy and lighter mushroom dishes seem to demand white wines, especially those with body and texture to match that of the 'shrooms. See? You can do this, too.

In short chapters devoted to each of the 36 wines, Goldstein gives an expert snapshot of the grape and its wines with pronunciation, other names, blends, flavors and where it grows. Adventure-seekers can use his handy category of similar sips to explore other wines they might also like. The author teases out different wine styles driven by choices vintners face – to age or not, use oak or not, make a single varietal wine or a blend. Next, Goldstein takes you right into the glass. Without a sip, readers gain a sense of that particular wine's tastes, textures and whether it might be right for them.

TMI? Readers can choose to read cover to cover or drop in on wines that interest them. Either way, Daring Pairings is sensibly smart, zippy and makes for fun learning, for beginners and sophisticated enthusiasts alike.

The book's food pairing discussions are nothing short of brilliant. Goldstein was blessed to have a lifelong mentor extraordinaire – mom Joyce, founder and chef of San Francisco's iconic Square One restaurant. Evan dishes about how to approach food pairings for each wine with helpful pointers that zero in on specific dishes, preparations or flavors likely to marry well with each wine as well as choices likely to fall flat. He also names wines worth seeking out in different price ranges.

Goldstein's wine wisdom and passion for good food come together in the book's bonus round: knockout recipes designed to pair with each wine by stellar chefs from around the world. Suzanne Goin from Lucques and A.O.C. in L.A. answers Goldstein's dare for a Carignan pairing with warm kabocha squash salad; Miami's Michelle Bernstein matches Argentina's signature white wine Torrontés to Peruvian seafood chowder; Napa Valley's Cindy Pawlcyn (Mustards Grill, Go Fish) marries Mourvèdre to barbecued turkey skewers while Charlie Trotter gets gamey with Gamay for Cornish game hen salad with shiitake mushroom vinaigrette. Foodies will especially enjoy chef comments and Goldstein's insights that follow each pairing recipe.

There's much more to love about this book. Goldstein closes with a list of reliable wine importers he likens to pre-purchase sommeliers whose selections can lead savvy consumers to better wine choices, even when faced with an unfamiliar wine or region. Full-page color photographs, a solid glossary and two indices (general info and recipes) will help readers locate pairing ideas or dishes to try for years to come.

For anyone serious about learning about wine, Goldstein's Pairings books are two great places to start. Cooks will be tempted by a treasure trove of ingredient insights and fantastic recipes to keep them coming back for seconds. If you're thirsting to boost your wine IQ without fear and at your own pace, dare yourself to step up to the plate with a Master, Daring Pairings and Perfect Pairings in tow.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

PS I Love You is for Wine Lovers

To screen lovers, PS I Love You was the name of a TV show or the 2007 movie with Hilary Swank. But to wine lovers, PS I Love You is the name of an advocacy group for a lesser-known red grape and its luscious, hedonistic wines – Petite Sirah.

This Tuesday, July 27th, Concannon Vineyard hosts the Eighth Annual Petite Sirah Symposium. It's sold out but you can catch Dr. Vino, Dan Berger and others chat about this intriguing grape and its wines by live stream beginning at 8:30 AM at

According to fourth-generation Livermore vintner John Concannon, his family has grown Petite Sirah since the early 1900s. As was customary in its Rhône homeland, California Petite Sirah was used as a blending grape – that is, until John's dad decided to bottle it as a varietal wine in 1961, a year that marked a new beginning for American Petite Sirah.

Despite its name, there's nothing petite or shy about this wine. Petite Sirah is big, dark and brooding. Inky in the glass, the purple-hued wine sends up a heady nose of ripe, dark fruit and a chewy, fuller-bodied mouthfeel loaded with black and blueberry flavors. Concannon's own 2007 Conservancy Petite Sirah is rich with tart boysenberry fruit that finishes with a lick of leathery tannins. Delicious now, it should continue to age well, as with many age-worthy examples of the varietal.

We've enjoyed exquisite New World examples of Petite Sirah since the thrill of that first taste of Lava Cap at the Four Seasons in Newport Beach many moons ago. Sink your teeth into Petites by Jaffurs, JC Cellars and Stag's Leap. We've found the latter on some desert wine lists. Look for it when you travel too. We'll forever remember the bottle of indescribable pleasure by Jeff Runquist we found in an unlikely setting, in Yosemite at the Ahwahnee.

Shake up your red wine drinking by uncorking a bottle of Petite Sirah. Put a couple of good bottles on hold for a few years for good measure, too. You'll find PS a great match for grilled meats, lamb roasts, rich sausage or chicken dishes, chocolates and many cheeses. In summer, try it with barbecue instead of Zinfandel; come winter, it might be your new favorite wine to pair with short ribs.

Have fun reading about the grape's curious history and the wines it makes on the website. Or, dial in to the live stream from the symposium this Tuesday. Even better, start giving PS a swirl. You might find yourself singing the same song, PS I Love You.

Disclosure: We received a bottle of the 2007 Concannon Conservancy Petite Sirah as a sample.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

WinewomenPSP Raise the Roof

For WinewomenPSP and the charities we serve, there's no summer break. Chill out with us at events and activities true to our mission all summer long.

Lend a hand and join us Friday, July 23 as we help raise the roof for those served by Habitat for Humanity of the Coachella Valley. Our wine dinner event will take place at a venue that's new to our organization – Nick Faldo's Restaurant at Marriott Shadow Ridge in Palm Desert. Catch details on our WinewomenPSP website and the Desert Sun online here.

Read the amazing story of our local Habitat for Humanity® affiliate chapter here to discover how partner families contribute "sweat equity" to help build their homes and learn about home ownership.

Call Kathleen at 760.799.7076 to make your reservations today. Help us raise the roof for the next Coachella Valley family helped to help themselves by this great organization!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dan's Wine Shop Shakes, Rattles and Rolls

Yesterday's earthquake rattled through the desert a few minutes before the first shift was scheduled to arrive at Dan's Wine Shop in Palm Desert for two special tastings for WinewomenPSP and friends. Owner Dan Sullivan was relieved everyone and his shop escaped injury and grateful that the shaking stopped when it did. A couple more seconds and it might have been ugly.

Instead, the tremor seemed to create a chummier, more intimate tasting experience for all, perhaps because everyone was OK with no heebie-jeebies from aftershocks. Or was it because we figured if we were going down, at least we'd go down with some great wine? Whatever the reason, wine and warmth flowed.

With a cheery intro to each pour, Derek from Young's Market helped us feel at ease and eager for the rest of the lineup. Northeast Italy's Zenato 2008 Pinot Grigio gave us a great start. It's a crisp refresher with delicate green pear fruit, clean minerality and a light, lemony finish. For contrast, Ponzi 2009 Pinot Gris – a New World version of the same grape from Oregon – delivered a heftier mouthfeel with brighter fruit and a lingering finish. Growling tummy triggered pairing thoughts: Aperitif or whitefish for the first PG; heavier fish dishes, chicken or pork for the second.

Rustenberg Stellenbosch 2008 Chardonnay was a delightful surprise, especially to those new to South African wines. Medium-to-fuller bodied, it rocks the palate with rich melon, apple and pear flavors wrapped in toasty oak. Many tasters agreed with Wine Spectator's anointment as a smart-buy and 90-pointer.

Deloach Russian River Valley 2007 Pinot Noir kicked off a trio of reds. The terroir-driven and value-priced Pinot delivers a mouthful of earthy yet restrained plumy and blackberry-dark cherry fruit. Next, an Argentine that might benefit from a little more time in the bottle: Marraso 2008 Malbec with soft, jammy fruit and sweet smoke on the finish.

Dan and Derek picked a perfect closer: Incognito 2006 Red Blend, a luscious load of Lodi fruit. Dark and fragrant in the glass, this rogue rouge is a smooth blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cinsault, Carignane, Tannat, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Grenache. Guests goaded by its supple taste or mysterious red masquerade bottle were loading up on this one too.

We heard raves and rants for each wine – you know, that taste thing. But the hands-down winner was a souvenir bottle many just had to have, even though it wasn't included in the tasting – Earthquake Petite Sirah, a wine that promises to "rock your world." We think we'll wait for our jitters to settle before we pop the cork on that one.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cool Cubes for The Fourth and Beyond

This July 4th weekend, we're giving a salute to two white wines in sleek octagonal packaging by Octavin Home Wine Bar. Soon after we found the Silver Birch New Zealand 2009 Sauvignon Blanc at the Palm Desert Albertson's off Washington, we received Monthaven Winery 2009 Central Coast Chardonnay as a sample. We tested them out for more than a month and even let them sit in our frig during a vacation break. To our surprise, the last drops we angled out of the spigot were as fresh and tasty as the first glasses we poured.

Both sport a sophisticated, luxe look but make no mistake – the eco-friendly packaging is more than just a pretty box. These cubes are functional too, with an octagonal shape that takes up less refrigerator real estate than square-boxed wines. Inside, an air-tight bladder protects wine from oxidation that makes fruit go bad and wine go flat. Neat freaks will like the easy-pour spigot that's also no-drip.

Now, when you want a splash of wine or hesitate to open a new bottle, you can instead pour a glass at a time for up to six weeks. The 3-liter capacity equals four standard 750-ml bottles or about 20 five-ounce pours. And the price is right. Based on a retail price around $25 (we found it for less at Albertson's), the per-bottle price for each Octavin package comes out to about $6 or less.

If you're looking for an easy Fourth sipper, Monthaven Chardonnay fits the bill. It's refreshing all by itself with ripe apple and subtle tropical fruit flavors. Juicy acidity makes this medium-bodied Chard a good match for grilled fish and white-sauced pasta dishes. You won't find much oak influence, buttery textures or blast of high-alcohol here, all of which can make some California Chardonnays tough to enjoy on hot, summer days.

We gave slight preference to Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc for its racier, light grassy and lime flavors. Also medium-bodied and lively, it will keep you cool by the pool and also pairs well with guacamole and chips, ceviche, light salads and simply grilled fish or chicken dishes.

Will either wine bowl you over with complex aromas or flavors? No, but they're not meant to either. Both are pleasant enough to make your Fourth celebration more festive or satisfy your desire for a glass of easy-drinking wine that's not going to demand a lot of attention or concentration.

We'll report back on the Octavin-packaged reds soon. From our experience with these two whites, our taste-testing window might stretch out until Labor Day. Let the backyard party-planning begin! Give these two a try over the long, hot summer and let us know what you think.