Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fishing in a Small Pond

Why don't they bite? It is all about excuses, isn't it? The wrong bait, the fish want something else, it's the wrong time, the weather is lousy, it's a bad location, ad nauseam.

Since returning from CA, I have contacted the editor of the newspaper concerning my wine article, have stopped in to visit with the caterer/food speciality shop owner and even approached a neighbor that just purchased a gas station/liquor store/campground. They are too busy right now and there is no space for an article. Blah, blah, blah....

Fear of the unknown. We all suffer with this ailment from time to time. But fear is so paralyzing! I realize that most of this comes from living in a small community with limited exposure. We get so comfortable with the everyday routine.

I haven't been fishing long, but I am about ready to move on.

Divine Wine

Sometimes, enjoying a glass of wine can be similar to practicing religion. Both have specific ceremonies, special glasses and each can cause anxiety. No wait, stay with me on this one.

First, there is opening the wine bottle. In an upscale restaurant, this can be very elaborate. As the customer, do you scrutinize the bottle, sniff the cork or affect a bemused expression upon the first sip? For me, this calls to mind the image of a Lutheran from a small congregation attending a Catholic mass at St. Peter's in Rome. All those furtive glances to see what others around you are doing. Stand, sit, kneel... Repeat.

Relax, the only reason to look at the label is to make sure the wine you are being served is the same as what you ordered. For example, if you want to try a bottle of Bordeaux from a "stellar" vintage, like the 2005 the critics are claiming is the best in the last 50 years, check the label when the wine steward presents the bottle.

Now, on to cork sniffing, which sounds somewhat illegal. Is it really necessary or just part of the stereotype? Yes, unless the cork is synthetic, take a whiff to check for the odor of moldy newspapers or wet dog. Both are indicators the wine may be tainted or more commonly referred to as "corked". This silly aristocratic gesture may just save your taste buds from a very unpleasant experience. Corked wine is a fault is caused by a naturally-occurring airborne fungus reacting with chlorophenols, which are industrial pollutants that are found in pesticides. The cork and oak trees absorb these compounds during their growth and because natural corks and oak fermentation barrels are porous, these fungi can develop 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) during the stages of wine production. Even though corked wine is not harmful to drink, it certainly is not pleasurable.

The choice of glasses can also influence your enjoyment of wine. And we are not talking about Mogan David in a plastic communion cup, people! A basic tulip shape allows the maximum air surface for the wine to release it's bouquet and then concentrates it at the top as you smell and drink it. In general, red wines, with their more concentrated and complex bouquet, benefit from a "fatter" tulip shape than do whites.

Remember, there are no hard and fast rules in wine. It is not a "sin" to drink a red wine with fish or chicken, it just depends on how they are prepared. More on the commandments for food and wine pairings in upcoming days.

From Eccesiastes 10:19 A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What Are You Drinking?

Summertime, and the living and drinking are easy. There are lots of coolers for your six pack but consider a picnic in the park or a day on the boat with a bottle of wine. How about a Vinho Verde from Portugal, a pétillant or semi sparkling made from the Albariño grape variety. It is a light lemon colored wine that is quite acid with a hint of apple. Great paired with salad dressed with a vinegarette and fresh walleye. Want to know more? Check out episode #241 at Wine Library TV at this link:

Need a source for insulated totes? Try these:

We bought a Built NY double bottle tote in the Wine Bar at the Ferry Building similar to ones found at this site:

Don't forget the glasses and corkscrew. Or consider alternative packaging like a screwtop. It's summer, chill out!

It's a LuLu

Only the blue haired set arrives at a restaurant at 4:30 p.m., right? Not necessarily.

Our hotel offered a great breakfast starting at 7 a.m. so we filled up early and set off to see the sights. Occasionally we would grab a bite, like those great slices of pizza at Za's in the Russian Hill area, but normally two meals a day were the norm.

LuLu's was not normal, in any sense of the word. Like I mentioned, it was in an unlikely spot for an upscale restaurant, near the auto repair shops south of Market. Once inside, you were struck by the modern decor, the wood fired oven that displayed most carnivore's delights slowing turning on the rotisserie and a bar that spanned the length of the room.

As we were the only customers at that hour, they offered us a choice from their limited menu. We had so many interesting choices from antipasti of leek, goat cheese and bacon tarts, or duck confit salad with frisee, blackberries and walnuts or wild mushroom pizza with fontina and thyme but finally settled on two entrees. We shared the garlic goat cheese ravioli with sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts and parmesan and the spit roasted rosemary chicken with arugula, aioli and prosciutto on chiabatta.

The wine list had 5 wine flights, two pages of wine by the glass and 29 pages of wine by the bottle. The list was broken down by country and some even by region and appellation. Prices ranged from 2005 Garnacha Tintorera "Castilla de Almansa" Bodegas Piqueras from Spain for $22 to a 2004 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti for $4885.00. We choose a glass of the 2004 Petit Chablis, Herve Azo from France and a 2005 King Ridge Pinot Noir from Oregon. Both complemented our meals.

Next time you are in San Francisco, put 816 Folsom Street on your list, bring your appetite and credit card because you should never put a price on a good time!

Too Gone For Too Long

What is it about getting older and having a routine? You leave on vacation, indulge on good food and wine, change your form of exercise, quit writing and then struggle to get back on track once you return. Today is the day! Yoga class begins again and I am going to put down this cookie and start blogging.

I actually missed cooking my own food, especially when we saw all the beautiful organic produce at the Farmers Market that is outside the Ferry Building on Saturdays in San Francisco. The huge vegetables, fresh herbs and succulent fruits just inspired me. We saw quite a few chefs with their rolling carts loading up at the vendors and just walking among the stalls, you were offered all sorts of samples.

To quote Rachael Ray "YUMMO"

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What About Bob?

You remember the movie with Bill Murray. Imagine requesting a Golden Gate Greeter through your hotel, a native to show you their city like only they can. Now the twist. His name was Bob. What about Bob? He is a thin framed, bespectacled Jewish man in his fifties who has always lived in large cities. He walks almost as fast as he talks, even faster than me, which is how we managed to see so much of San Francisco on foot in less than three hours.

Due to conflicts in our scheduling, the first time we could meet was on Thursday, May 10 at 5:30 p.m. By this time, we had walked or been transported across a large part of San Francisco but had yet to head south and west. So we hoped that Bob would show us the sights of the Mission District, Hayes Valley, the Castro, Haight-Ashbury etc.

We were one of the last visitors through City Hall that night as they were setting up for a red carpet gala in the rotunda, we popped into Citizen Cake for a brief glimpse of Elizabeth Falkner and Bob did not even stop to sample one of her artful creations, we skirted the Tenderloin, cruised the edge of the Castro and got hip in a Haight sake shop. To slow him down, we offered to buy Bob some food and ended up at Pancho Villa for burritos with half of the Mission residents. The line wound out the door, a guitarist serenaded customers, children danced among the tables and the food was authentic and fantastically filling.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Brush With Fame Foiled By Twitter

Fate, karma, kismet, coincidence, whatever word you use, eluded me on Wednesday. May 9th.

As a follower, or vayniac, of Gary Vaynerchuk at Wine Library TV, I was amazed to hear that he was flying into San Francisco the same day as us "hicks from the sticks". I took the chance and e-mailed him to find out his plans. In my less than 15 minutes of fame, he responded and said he would mention a meeting place in his next webcast.

Enter Twitter. What is that, you say? For those of you under 40 years of age, no explanation is necessary, right? For the rest of us, who own a cell phone but don't IM or text message, it is another way to connect (distract, annoy, irritate or interrupt ) all the people in your lives.

We did not put Internet capabilities on our cell phone as we are both on our computers enough during our day. Little did I know that Gary would get signed up with Twitter right before his trip and would post the location of the wine bar where he and other vayniacs were meeting.

As it was our vacation, we left the cell phones at home, did not log on to our e-mail, but I did leave the name of our hotel with him.

Wednesday we arrived at our hotel about 1:30 p.m. and checked to see if we had any messages. The afternoon was spent walking, walking, walking and taking in all the sights of the NE section of the city and having a great meal at Sam's Grill. We stopped back to see if there was any word from Gary V. and then accepted that we wouldn't be sharing a glass and picking his zany brain.

San Francisco is a close second to Italy for cell phone usage by what we could tell... or maybe that is still NYC. Anyway, we were in the minority in that category as well as a few others. After watching a woman get struck by a car while walking across the street as she talked on her cell phone, I realized our country is seriously over stimulated. Twitter was the answer to a fateful wine encounter, I never received the question.

Give me the peaceful sounds of nature, any day.

Wine Country Unplugged

Carneros Region, Sononoma Valley, Napa Valley et al. What is the difference in these AVA's ? (American Viticultural Areas or a "delimited grape growing areas") Believe it or not, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms determines these through distinctive geological differences in climate, soil, elevation, physical features etc.

After traveling through these regions, I could see a distinction between Carneros than the others. Located just south of the town of Napa off Highway 29, this region is one of the oldest wine producing areas in California and yet is one of the newer appellations. Here, there seems to be a spirit of cooperation than the competition that exists between the Napa and Sonoma vintners.

Our guides talked about the rivalry between Napa and Sonoma. How those in Napa think that those in Sonoma are less "refined". Visually, not many differences are apparent. But a small vineyard with a simple ranch house on the Napa Valley side of the road can demand a higher price point for their bottle of wine than one on the Sonoma Valley side. Is this fair? Not really. But names on labels do seem to matter in the marketplace.

Our first stop was at the Cline vineyards for a very quick tasting of five wines outside their 1890 farmhouse tasting room. They were a 2006 Pinot Grigio/Chardonnay blend, a 2005 Four White blend of Palomino (a white grape variety used to make sherry), Gewurztraminer, Malvasia (a white grape variety originally from Greece and Italy) and Viognier, a 2006 Mouvedre Rose, a 2005 Five Red blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, Mouvedre, Petite Syrah and Alicante Bouschet (one of a few red flesh varieties) and a 2005 Zinfandel. These were poured so darn fast that we hardly had time to evaluate them or to ask any questions. Shame on Terry, the tasting room geezer who didn't have a clue. I asked him a few things that he had trouble answering and then I knew, not all wine country folk should work in the industry.

Also, they wanted us inside to buy additional tastings and perhaps a bottle or two. The one we purchased was their Ancient Vines Mouvedre. Not many folks grow this particular grape variety whose slight sweetness was perfect with the barbecue ribs and hot wings I served this week.

The quaintness of the Cline location was contrasted by the faux Tuscan villa of the Viansa vineyard. Founded in 1989 by Vicki and Sam Sebastiani, this food and wine marketplace overlooks a 90 acre waterfowl preserve. The grounds are planted with olive and cypress trees and they pride themselves on producing Italian varietals. We had a brief tour and were once again inside the tasting room for a three wine flight. Their 2005 Cento per Cento Chardonnay was awarded double gold in the 2007 San Francisco Chronicle's Wine competition and deserved the honor. Of the wines we sampled, this was the clear winner. Soft gold in color, with apple, peach and hints of white pepper. It was dry on the palate and rich in mouthfeel with a complex and long finish. The other two were completely forgettable. We did purchase a 4 wine flight for $5 that included the 2003 Piccolo Sangiovese, a 2003 Nebbiolo, the 2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2003 Cabernet Franc. Of all of these, the Sangiovese was a favorite, but I have a prejudice for that varietal.

The Loxton tour was held in the refurbished race car garage that housed the barrels of fermented juice sourced from multiple locations. It's winemaker, an Australian, was one of the new generation vintners who was making his mark without a significant financial property investment.

The California wine country was vastly different than those I saw in Italy. It seemed like they were trying hard to look "Old World" but actually look more like a Hollywood production. It is not that I was not impressed, I was. But history, tradition, antiquity speak volumes.

Bright Lights, Big City

Green acres are the place for me but a big city is a nice place to visit.

Landing on the corner of Powell and Market streets, you know you are not in Kansas anymore. I am not sure how many thousands of people a day populate that intersection but on May 9th around 1 p.m., we bumped into all of them. One of the cable car lines starts there, the BART line has a stop there, most of the hustlers, street musicians, homeless and tourists congregate there and you can either stop and stare or start moving.

For the next week, from about 7:00 a.m. until about 7:00 p.m., we did not STOP moving. Thankfully, by the end of the first night, we had our City Pass in hand and could hop on any public transportation. My feet were SO happy!

There are cable cars of course, but the F streetcars, refurbished from all over the world, are sweet. Then there are the buses, light rail and the Bay Area Rapid Transit. Who needs the cabs? And don't forget walking and walking and walking. Those were great shoes, thanks Payless.

I relished any green space we found, Golden Gate Park, views of the Pacific from the cliffs around the Legion of Honor Museum, respite from the city's noises in the magnitude of the Muir Woods and the city of Calistoga from a hot air balloon.

Land spreading out so far and wide, keep San Francisco, just give me that countryside.

Back In The Saddle Again

I may be channelling more Gene Autry than Steven Tyler of Aerosmith these days. After our week in San Francisco, adjusting to the home routine has been slow. Between laundry, getting groceries, re-training pets, birthday dinners, planting garden, picking weeds, hubby's allergies and mosquitoes, I feel less like a middle-aged rocker and more of a plodding cowboy.

Don't get me wrong, I felt my age in San Francisco also. Those hills can chew you up and spit you out. And I was in great shape, or so I thought. My yoga classes really helped with breathing but cramming mega miles into one day gives you serious shin splints.

The real surprise was the city itself. I expected a more dramatic skyline, interesting architecture, more cultural diversity, less kitsch and more wine bars. I had to remind myself of history, earthquakes, proximity to Mexico and the Pan-Asian immigration and just how many tourists flood the city every day. It still did not explain the lack of wine bars.

With one exception and it was a doozie. Or a LuLu, to be more exact. Where else but in a large metropolitan city can you find an incredible restaurant and bar with a wine list longer than most first novels located in the same block as the auto mechanic who specializes in brakes. (A profitable profession in that city, no doubt)

Are you interested in knowing more? So were we and after walking over seven grueling blocks, we arrived at the fashionable hour of 4:30 p.m. Desperate for a chair, some food and a glass of wine, we begged to see the limited menu and were seated in the empty restaurant. Hi, my name is Julie. I will be your server tonight. I'll be back with the menu and the wine list.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Packing for Vacation

Don't be alarmed if there are no posts for awhile. Nice weather, wood ticks, piles of used computer equipment on the floor and packing for vacation in San Francisco are taking priority. I hope to bring a Midwestern perspective of wine country to the blog on my return.

Monetary vacation donations, restaurant suggestions or walking footwear choices will be gladly accepted until next Tuesday.

First Magazine Submission

A friend who is a published author, was kind enough to share some of her hints, contacts and encouragement when we met last Friday evening. Of the magazines she suggested approaching, I received a prompt response from the Lake Country Journal. They were interested to see 650 words by May 15th for their fall issue.

Here is my article on food and wine pairings for the hunter.

Fall speaks a special language to many Minnesotans. The riot of colorful leaves visually shouting their demise, explosive cackles of pheasants, muffled quacks from the waterfowl blind and snorts of passing deer. These sights and sounds evoke both an emotional and gastronomical response in our home. Hunting licenses, stamps, shells, clothing and wine are purchased in anticipation of fresh game. Does wine seem like an unlikely item on a hunting list? I hope after reading this article, it will become a natural addition.

Wine was an integral part of the post hunt feast since the early hunter gatherers of Egypt, Greece and Europe. From these celebrations, we learned that food and wine complement each other. Flavors are heightened, social gatherings are enhanced and memories are made.

So how do you know what wine to buy and serve? The easiest way is to match the body or weight of the food with the body style of the wine. The most often used analogy for understanding body styles in wine is to imagine drinking a glass of skim milk as opposed to a glass of heavy cream. You will notice a difference in the way each liquid coats your mouth and tongue. Now compare a lighter bodied wine such as a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to a heavier bodied buttery California Chardonnay. My mother-in-law’s pheasant in cream sauce would overpower the citrus flavors of the Sauvignon Blanc but the similar creaminess of the Chardonnay, with its characteristic apple flavor would be a perfect match.

Because pheasant is not a strong flavored or heavy meat, the cooking method and sauces that are used, affect the wine selection. Our favorite preparation of pheasant is in stir fry dishes; however fiery foods can be a challenge in wine pairings. By complementing the dish with a spicy and slightly sweet German Gewürztraminer, the heat from the sauce is tamed while accentuating the Asian flavors.

Duck is a staple not only in gourmet restaurants but also many Minnesota kitchens in the fall. The rich, moist, dark meat best lends itself with tart fruit or wine based sauces. A woodsy, earthy, yet fruity Pinot Noir from Oregon, with its mellow tannins, will cut through the fattiness in the meat. Or if teriyaki bacon wrapped duck hot off the grill is more your thing, a fruity French Beaujolais with moderate acidity and low tannins is an excellent match for the smoky-char flavor.

Now it’s time to bring out the big guns, both literally and in our wine choices. Deer hunting can be a right of passage for young hunters, a life-long passion that borders on an obsession and a bonding experience between family, friends and nature. It also provides the cook with both lean cuts of meat as well as cured products. If steaks, roasts and stews are on the menu, head right for a California Cabernet Sauvignon or Argentinean Malbec. These highly tannic, robust reds can stand up to the sometimes “gaminess” of venison.

If you process your deer into sausage, ask for some with Italian seasonings. The most amazing venison and wine combination you will ever taste is a sausage, peppers and Parmigiano-Reggiano penne skillet with a mildly tannic Tuscan Sangiovese. Now you can understand why all those straw-covered bottles once graced Italian restaurants. This grape is the main variety in all Chianti. Savory foods like cured meats, aged cheese and tomatoes can battle with red wines due to a receptor in your taste buds called umami. What does ooo-MAH-mee mean? It is the word for “yummy” in Japanese and was identified in 1908 as the fifth taste bud sensation. Chianti’s status has been recently elevated with enforced quality standards so look for one that has "reserve" on the label. It is the everyday red wine we enjoy in our home.

Has all this talk about food whetted your appetite for a trip to your local liquor store? Great! Here is my list, and could you also pick up some extra shells?

Thanks again Norma and wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


After Sunday's collapse of a section of the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco, I started thinking about bridges. Not just because we are planning to be in San Francisco at this time next week or what it will mean to our trip. But, what bridges signify in our lives.

We are so interconnected to everything on our planet, either by the human genome or interdependence. Our physical bridges bring us from one isolated point to another with relative ease. However, it is our emotional and spiritual bridges that keep us apart. Intolerance, hatred, racism, bigotry, narrow-mindedness, religion, politics.... The list keeps growing instead of shrinking.

Whatever journey we are on, the road we have chosen may just be leading us to a bridge and it is up to us to weigh our options and pick the higher road.

My wine journey has been filled with speed bumps lately, and I hope that the examples of alternative thinking or routes that I witness in San Francisco, help to lead me in the right direction.

"Good wine is a necessity of life for me." Thomas Jefferson