Monday, March 30, 2009
This year’s event is Vinitaly’s 43rd edition, and has been unapologetically subtitled “Il Mondo che Amiamo” or “The World We Love”. And as a true lover of all things Italian, Swirl is celebrating the start of Vinitaly in Verona with a seated tasting on Thursday that will cover the map of Italy with wine and cheeses from 7 different regions represented in this educational and delicious event! Italian Wine Specialist Antonio Molesini and Richard Sutton of St. James Cheese will be joining us to help define the regional significance of each of each of these truly distinct Italian products.
Here is a little background information on a few of the things that we will be highlighting on the wonderful evening.
Burrata is one of the most sought after cheeses in the world today and restaurants and consumers have gone burrata crazy! From the Puglia region of Italy, the heel of the boot, came this incredibly deliciously creamy cheese created in the 1920s in the town of Andria, about two-thirds of the way up from the heel to the spur. The Bianchini family made it on their farm. It was a local product, and remained the delight of the townspeople only, for thirty years. It became known in other parts of Italy only as recently as the '60s and '70s and burrata probably didn't reach American shores until the 1990s, and it certainly didn't become trendy on restaurant menus until a few years ago.
For the uninitiated, the cheese looks, at first glance, like a ball of fresh mozzarella with a tiny topknot. But cut into it and the center, a tangy core of cream and stracciatella ("little rags") of mozzarella curds, oozes onto the plate. Made in the Apuglia and flown to the U.S., it can be hard to find, and has a short shelf life. Sweet, creamy, lusciously and delicately textured it is irresistible. And if you do find one, grab it immediately, find some crusty bread and tomatoes, and head back for lunch, dinner or a snack. It is to die for, really.
Prosecco has been growing rapidly in popularity and this distinctly Italian product has become one of the most appreciated international sparkling wines. If you drive north from Venice you'll discover Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, the most wonderful yet little-known wine growing regions in the world. This is the home of prosecco, a grape variety native to Veneto. Prosecco is used to make white wines in different styles, sparkling or still. Mixed with peach nectar, it enlivens the classic Venetian cocktail, called a Bellini. Prosecco is an excellent match with a diversity of food, including cheese, risotto and fresh fish and it is even the basis for much of the grappa produced in the region. As the Venetians say: "No matter where you are in the Veneto, everything goes well with prosecco."
Aneri is a new Prosecco to Swirl that we have brought in exclusively for this tasting. A Veronese label known for quality, it is a leading name in the world of winemaking and is acknowledged internationally: the Aneri prosecco has in fact been part of exclusive toasts around the world, from the pre-dinner drinks offered to the heads of state at the G8 summit in 2001, to the signing of the European Constitution in 2004, from the dinners with Putin and the White House and even the toast to Barack Obama for his historic victory in the recent presidential elections. A delightful and elegant wine with floral notes and hints of almonds, it is perfect for any occasion!
While the lovingly tended vine-clad hillsides of the Langhe in Piedmont are world famous for their Barolo and Barbaresco wines, they are also home to the firm, creamy and wonderfully fragrant Robiola cheese. It varies considerably from one producer to the next, depending on family recipe, local custom and available milk. Made throughout the Piedmont and Lombardy regions, robiola may include goat's, sheep's or cow's milk, or any combination thereof. Even the one DOP (denominazione di origine protetta, or name-protected) robiola -- Robiola di Roccaverano -- allows for cow's milk, although traditionalists use only goat's and sheep's milk.
Under the thin rind is a smooth, supple, cream-colored paste with a lushness that can be attributed to the high-fat sheep's milk. The flavors are simple, direct and delicate with a faint mushroom aroma and deliciously silky texture. When eaten at the proper time of ripeness it literally melts in your mouth and is absolutely divine!
My infatuation with Sicily has been growing daily as I research wineries for our upcoming wine and culinary tour of this beautiful island. A label that we have carried on a consistent basis is Principi Butera and it has developed many fans for its affordable red and white wines from indigenous varietals. In the 2009 Gambero Rosso Italian wine guide, 17 Sicilian wineries were given the highest award of Tre Bicchieri and the 2005 Principi Butera Deliella was one of them.
Located in Southern Sicily midway between the temples of Agrigento and the Baroque towns of Modica and Ragusa, Butera produces great wines that demonstrate the full expression of the Sicilian terroir. Deliella is 100% Nero D'Avola showing a lot of depth with ripe currants and a hint of vanilla on the nose and palate. Full-bodied, with velvety tannins and a dense, balanced and lingering finish. This is a special wine that I am really looking forward to sharing with everyone on Thursday! Delicious.
So if all of this has your mouth watering (as it does mine!), reserve a spot for our Vinitaly tasting on Thursday as we taste 7 new wines and cheeses with Antonio and Richard. This is amazing stuff, I promise!
And for a little more temptation here's a recipe with burrata cheese as the main event! Serve it with a cold glass of Aneri prosecco and you will make a major impression. See posting below and check out another blogger who loves Italian cooking prouditaliancook for great recipes and photos such as the burrata one above!
3 large heirloom tomatoes, halved
Sea salt, preferably gray salt, and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic minced
6 slices lightly toasted ciabatta bread (available at Swirl or La Boulangerie)
Fresh basil ribbons
Aged Balsamic vinegar (optional)
Preheat the broiler. Arrange the tomato halves cut side up and close together on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil and the garlic. Spoon a little over each tomato half, stirring the mixture as you go.
Broil until the tomatoes are soft and shriveled but still retain some moisture, 15 to 20 minutes. Timing will depend on how large, meaty and juicy the tomatoes are. Let cool completely.
Take your toasted ciabatta bread and put a scoop of burrata cheese on it. Top it with one of the tomato halves and drizzle with a little more high quality olive oil and a touch of aged balsamic vinegar. Garnish with a few ribbons of fresh basil.
Close your eyes and enjoy a taste of heaven!
Photo Courtesy of prouditaliancook.blogspot.com
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Kerry and I had the opening cocktail and amuse bouche. Going with a "Deep Purple" theme we created a Creme de Violette, Citadel Gin and fresh lemon juice cocktail served straight up in a chilled martini glass. The touch of sweet, violet candy-like-taste of the liquor combined with the very herbal but not too junipery gin and the tangy squeeze of lemon came out the perfect shade of neon purple and was a delicious accompaniment to our "Smoke on the Water" amuse. The smoked shrimp served on waves of sauteed purple cabbage laid out in a Gulf Coast sea shell, rocked with the appropriate Deep Purple sound track playing in the background.
As one course ends, the next couple begins their final secret preparations in the kitchen while the rest of us hang out on the back porch watching the evenings entertainment. Sangi was invited to dinner club by his host Mighty Dog, and their backyard antics were a blur of activity that kept us laughing for four hours. The only breaks taken were to run into the pond for a drink of water or to pull our a plant or two for their never ending game of chase.
"Lavern" and her partner, who we'll call Shirley to keep his identity hidden, was finally able to attend a dinner club meeting. Feeling the need to prove his worthiness to the group, he and his partner took it to another level by creating place mats that combined an old Cream poster photoshopped with a Country Joe and the Fish graphic. They also created what was probably my favorite dish of the evening. Even though beer is not my thing (sorry Lavern!), their pairing of seven seed-crusted salmon over garlic lentils topped with and micro arugula served with Skullsplitter Scotch Ale, all to the tune of "Strange Brew", was a total knockout!
The next course by couple 3 took a lot of time to get to the table but we all understood once we saw their presentation! Their "Cherry Bomb" appetizer was truffled mushroom risotto-stuffed tomatoes topped with manchego and infused with lemon-herb smoke via electronic bong served under glass to Joan Jett's version of the song. It was quite an ambitious undertaking that was greeted with lots of ohhhs and ahhhs by the group even as we argued over whether Joan Jett was really considered classic rock! Their pairing with the Hope and Grace Santa Lucia Pinot was delightful and their dish got high marks for creativity and presentation!
Our hosts went way over board with their "Paint it Black" entree of blackened drum served on grilled leaves of romaine served aside Grilled shrimp Viet- served over tossed with cilantro, napa cabbage & cucumber with fish sauce, lime juice and sriracha dressing. Lots of spicy heat came with the fish so their choice of the Donhoff Riesling provided the perfect mouth cooling accompaniment!
The Rolling Stones songs kept coming as the dessert course was served to "Brown Sugar" and probably my favorite wine of the night, the Maculan Torcolato by couple #5. The creator of the dessert went through a few trials and tribulations with an Abita Purple Haze ice cream before she ended up with this delicious brown sugar custard with fresh whipped cream and candied orange confetti that perfectly tied the dish to the marmalade qualities of the late harvest wine. An exquisite end to our indulgent food and beverage orgy!
And even though April's theme of "bread" as the secret ingredient drew many groans from the crowd, all members are anxiously awaiting our next meeting!
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Besides making incredible wines, the folks over at Gun Bun have always shown a passion for the arts. In 1875 Charles Bundschu married Jacob Gundlach’s daughter, Francisca. It is said that the energetic and devoted pair were active members of the German community, avid patrons of the arts and prominent members of San Francisco society. Quite a well known poet, Charles formed the Bacchus Club, a wine and literary club that celebrated the harvest and all gatherings in song, poem and prose. In 1897 one of the members wrote a play in honor of the harvest which they presented at the winery in celebration of the vintage. It was so well received that the Vintage Festival became an annual celebration and started the tradition where all guests write and recite poetry in honor of each harvest and family gathering that still takes place today.
Always seeking ways to celebrate the artisanship of winemakeing, Jeff’s father Jim decided to produce a limited bottling of the very best lots of estate grown Cabernet with a label designed by renowned artist Chuck House. Since that first bottling in 1981, each vintage now bears a unique art label and the Vintage Reserve Cabernet has become an iconic example ofGundlach Bundschu’s passion of expressing art through their distinctive wines.
And they’re still at it….Fast forward to current winery President Jeff Bundschu who last year in celebration of the winery’s 150th anniversary commissioned a play based on the life of 4th generation Towle Bundschu. Towle’s Hill toured 10 cities, including a visit to New Orleans' Le Chat Noir in the spring of 2008, and returned home to Sonoma to continue performances at the winery.
During that visit to New Orleans last year Jeff Bundshu and company were deeply move and inspired by the spirit of rebirth in the city, and found it especially alive with the music they heard on Frenchmen Street. At an afternoon lunch at Mr. B's on Royal Street an idea was born to begin a new series of art labels featuring the work of local artists from around the country to show their deepened appreciation of America's diverse local cultures.
In 2005 Mother Nature brought a wonderful vintage to the Gun Bun winery. She gave the Gulf Coast Hurricane Katrina. Realizing the next Vintage Reserve Cabernet release would be the year of Katrina they literally left their seats at Mr. B's to find a local artist whose work represents our traditions, characters and enduring culture. They found RK Rowell through an organization of Katrina artists. One thing led to another and Rudy’s piece, “Stompin’ Tchoupitoulas” graces the label of the 2005 Vintage Reserve and honors the endurance of the people and spirit of this great city.
Rudy is no stranger to Swirl. Last year during Jazz Fest, his work lit up our walls with vibrant, colorful paintings celebrating his very distinct vision of Southern culture. He is also a regular at the local art markets and you can see his work at vigoboom.com. We are excited to have him and some of his work back in the shop for an incredible night.
A letter from Jeff Bundschu arrived in the shop upon the release of the 1,100 case production of the 2005 bottling. The last paragraph sums up the winemaking philosophy at Gun Bun. "Our family's aim is not to simply make great wines. It is to make great wines that matter. It is about a connection to a place, and a connection to a community. We hope you will join us in celebrating the unique site that has produced this wine, as we celebrate you inimitable city with its label. We'd be honored to have a place at your table."
So please join Jeff Bundshu at our table on Tuesday, March 24 for a very special evening of art, wine and food as we taste his incredible line up of wines that will include the rare and excellent 2005 Vintage Reserve Cabernet. Rudy Rowell will be in shop signing bottles and showing some of his current pieces while Chef Michael Doyle of Dante’s Kitchen dishes out a sampling of wonderful tapas to pair with the wines. It is a night you won’t want to miss! Call 504.304.0635 for reservations.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Originating in Spain, tapas are simply snacks, canapés or finger food that come in many different forms and can vary from town to town. Tapas can be practically anything from a chunk of tuna, cocktail onion and an olive skewered on a long toothpick to meat with sauce served piping hot in a miniature clay dish. They are served day in and day out in every bar and café in Spain. So much a part of the culture and social scene that the Spanish people invented the verb tapear which means to go and eat tapas!
Spanish tapas is at the very heart of their lifestyle and culture. Everywhere you go in Spain you will find lively and noisy bars serving small plates of superb flavors and local delicacies.
In its most basic form tapas is simply a small snack or appetizer taken with a drink or two at lunchtime or in the early evening before the main meal. It is essentially a style of eating rather than a form of cooking.
Tapas also means sociability, friends and family. The Spanish in general won't drink without eating something as well. This prompted canny bar owners into providing a morsel or two of food to encourage his customers into his bar. Originally these small snacks were given free to anyone who bought a drink in the bar but now you will nearly always have to pay for them.
The origin of tapas is the subject of many an argument in the local bar. (It seems to depend on which area of Spain you are from!) It is said that the first tapa was simply a hunk of bread which was placed over the glass to keep the flies out. Hence the word ‘tapas’ was born. Tapa literally meaning ‘cover’ or ‘lid’. In the beginning somewhere must have been the olive - plain and simple, on its own. What better accompaniment to a glass of dry fino sherry? Or maybe some almonds; fried in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and served while they’re still hot? These are the original tapas; the simplest of foods, requiring little or no preparation.
As the tradition developed, tapas became more of an elaborate event, with each region developing their own specialties. They were still 'little dishes' but the personalities of thousands of bar owners all over Spain has stamped them with the identities that they have today.
Ready to experiment, but don't know where to start? There are some great web sites out there, but one I found most helpful was www.spain-recipes.com. There is also a great site to order any ingredients you may need that you can't find locally: www.tienda.com. Vega Tapas Cafe, Lola's and Rio Mar are my favorite places to eat tapas in the city, and of course you know where you can find some wonderful Spanish wines to accompany your cooking....
You can keep it simple or you can make it as complicated as you like. But whichever way you prefer it, tapas is best served with a glass of wine, good friends and a relaxed attitude!
Small plates, tapas, piatti piccoli - my favorite style of eating in any language, but Spain is definitely the place that put it on the map. What better way to enjoy a meal than by tasting a small portion of several different wonderfully flavored dishes in one sitting. Just add great friends and a few bottles of wine and you have the perfect experience!
We did just that last Saturday night at an amazing dinner at Rio Mar, Chef Adolfo Garcia's restaurant in the Warehouse district of New Orleans. The seafood-centric menu, infused with Spanish and Latin American flavors, puts the fresh seafood of the Gulf, and points beyond, at center stage.
We had a large group and were given a table right by the kitchen, so it seemed fitting that we should try the Chef's Tasting Menu that is available for parties of 10 or more. It includes a sampling of 7 appetizers, 6 desserts and choice of select entrees all for $38 per person. Chef Adolfo was in the house that evening and his watchful eye surveyed every plate that came out of the kitchen, all presented beautifully at our table.
Being in this business makes you a very picky wine drinker and the perusing of a wine list can sometimes be painful. But Rio Mar's offered a variety of food friendly wines at great price points, many of which we carry in the shop. The majority were from Spain, a few from Argentina and Chile with the required sprinkling of California, Washington and Oregon. To pair with the variety of seafood apps and entrees, I chose two of my favorite Spanish whites, an Albarino and a Txakolina. The Brandal Albarino offers a soft, roundness with a slight saline backbone that holds up to the weightier fish and crab preparations while the zesty Ameztoi Txakolina with it's slight effervescence offers the perfect accompaniment to the lighter shellfish dishes.
Starting with the tart and tangy Brazilian Caipirinha cocktails, the highlights were many but here are a few of the standouts. The Baked Oysters Rio Mar (see Chef Adolfo's recipe at the end), prepared with local oysters, spinach, chorizo and manchego cheese, offers a completely different take on the traditional New Orleans preparation. The mussels were delightful and again the use of chorizo and garlic in the broth added great texture and spice. I ordered the Grilled Drum Escabeche for my entree that was deliciously fresh and topped with a melange of peppers, olives and a crunchy caper relish. One of my absolute favorite Latin desserts is Tres Leches, translated as "three milks" because the cake is soaked in evaporated milk, condensed milk and heavy cream when combined, create just the right sweetness, density and mouth feel for a rich cake, making it moist but not mushy. It's then topped with a cloud of vanilla cream and drizzled in caramel, and the Rio Mar version also adds a touch of coconut.
The meal and experience were incredible, from the creative hot and cold apps, deliciously fresh drum and the sweet finale of desserts; we left completely satiated. Chef Adolpho was, and always is, a gracious host who makes you feel welcome and at home in his casual, distinctly Latin dining room. If you've never been there or haven't been recently, you need to go, take a large group of friends and order the Chef's Tasting Menu with a few bottles of wine. I promise you won't be disappointed!
Here's Chef Adolfo's fabulous recipe for Baked Oysters Rio Mar:
24 shucked Gulf oysters
2 cups cooked spinach
4 links ground Spanish chorizo
3 T chopped garlic
½ med chopped onion
½ c bread crumbs
½ c grated Manchego Cheese
salt and pepper
Brown chorizo with onions and garlic in a little olive oil. Cool mixture. Chop cooked spinach and add most of the cheese and breadcrumbs. (Save a little to top off before baking) add cooled chorizo mix and season to taste
with salt and pepper.
In individual ramekins or a baking pan half fill with mix and put oysters on top. Cover with remaining mix and sprinkle with rest of breadcrumbs and bake in 400 degree oven till brown.
Monday, March 9, 2009
Jurancon is is a small, relatively unknown area located in southwest France. With terraced vineyards facing the steep slopes of Pyrenees at an elevation of 1000 feet, it is located between Lourdes and Biarritz, and produces some of the most exotic white wines I’ve ever tasted.
Historically, Jurançon was the very first region to introduce the concept of the “crus” in the 15th century as a protective measure to preserve the authenticity of the wines. Also in 1553, when Henri IV-the future "Henry the Great"-was born Jurançon wine became a part of French history: when the royal infant was christened, his lips were rubbed with a clove of garlic and moistened with a drop of Jurançon wine from which he derived “a vigour and an ardent spirit which were never to leave him”.
Most of the grapes grown in the region are either Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, or Courbu, with a little Camaralet de Lasseube and Lauzet thrown in for good measure. Never heard of these varietals? You're not alone. They haven't ventured much out of their region of origin in the Basque region since they were first planted. Manseng is planted in a scant 2500 acres in all of France, most of it centered around the town of Jurancon and Gascon. Courbu (also known as Petite Courbu) is so obscure that even the Oxford Companion to Wine has only a two line entry for it, saying it grows in Southwest France.
Thankfully, there are really only two things you need to know about Jurancon and its grapes. They make basically two wines -- one sweet, one dry (sec). The sweet wine is made like Sauternes (botrytized), and is fabulous -- not quite as sweet as Sauternes but gorgeously floral in the same way. The dry version of Jurancon is made primarily with Gros Manseng while the smaller berried Petite is usually the basis for the dessert wine. The wines, both sweet and dry, share some remarkable aromas. Think of crossing a great citrusy New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with an earthy, spicy Alsatian Gewürztraminer and then adding a hint of almond and honey and you start to get the picture!
We’ll be drinking the Charles Hours Cuvee Marie Jurancon Sec at our dinner on Wednesday the 18th. It’s my wine of the moment this month and in case you can’t make it to the dinner, I’ve put a recipe for …….. with a Grenobloise for you to see how the pairing works!
Friday, March 6, 2009
We have planned many events together over the years from community festivals, to fund raisers, after-jazz-fest street parties and dinners, but I find our latest adventure something different and exciting. Our upcoming wine dinner on March 18th will combine traditional Southern French cuisine with elements of molecular cooking (see my post on "The Science of Cooking") with the menu created by Chef Didier Ardoin. To better educated myself on this event, I did an interview with Didier on what inspired him to combine these two very different styles of cooking.
Q: What excites you about our upcoming dinner?
A: That owners Jacques and Jerry and Executive Chef Ryan Hughes trust in me enough to allow me to do something so non-traditional, and that I can apply all of my years of self study and practice in a really special event such as this.
Q: Where did you get your inspiration for the menu?
A: From the food and styles I learned while working in Toulouse, France. Being so close to the Pyrenees, there is a lot of Spanish influence in the regional cuisine and the whole molecular cooking movement was first popularized in Spain by Catalan chef Ferran Adria at his El Bulli restaurant. So, it was a natural fit for me to combine the traditional cuisine of Southern France with elements of molecular cooking.
Q: What do you like about molecular cooking?
A: It's fun; it allows the diner to experience familiar things in an unexpected way through altering presentation, texture and deconstruction of ingredients.
Q: Looking at the menu, give us examples of the "unexpected".
A: Let's take "presentation" as an example using the amuse bouche take on a traditional Parisian dish, Poulet au Verjus. Normally it is a simple dish prepared by searing chicken and then simmering it in a tart, green grape juice. For the menu I'm creating a chicken mousseline with a grape gelee and rolled it into a chicken skin cracker and served it with a verjus caramel. You'll experience familiar flavors but in a very different way.
If we use "texture" as an example we can look at the salad course where instead of a traditional red wine dressing, I'm making a frozen granita vinaigrette.
As for "deconstruction", the dessert is a take on a traditional Bananas Foster where scalloped bananas will be coated in a dried caramel and butter powder, seared and then served with rum spheres created by reverse spherification ("cooking" a liquid in a Sodium Alginate bath) and homemade vanilla bean ice cream.
Q: What do you think is the most "unexpected" item on the menu?
A: The entremet which will be served after the entree to prepare your palate for dessert. It is called "liquid popcorn" and it will literally be a shot (non alcoholic) that will take you back to the movies as a kid eating caramel popcorn, but in a liquid form.
Thanks Didier, I can't wait!!
Find all of this intriguing? Join us on Wednesday, March 18th for our Dining at Degas dinner featuring the wine and food of Southern France with a post-modern twist! I'll have the complete menu with wine pairings in my "This Week at Swirl Wines" weekly email on Monday. If you are interested in subscribing to the email you can do so by following this link: swirlinthecity.com.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
It is impossible to think of
Unfortunately one of the other things associated with
Set to open in April, Liberty’s Kitchen at 422½ South Broad (across from the Courthouse, hence the name Liberty) will offer an espresso bar serving Starbucks® coffee and espresso beverages as well as a full service kitchen offering breakfast and lunch – all giving their students the opportunity to learn basic barista and culinary skills in a real life setting. Their intermediate strategic plan includes contract meal programs serving nutritious meals to childcare centers, homeless shelters, schools and programs for the elderly. These meals will not only feed those in need – giving Liberty’s Kitchen a dual social purpose - but they will also generate a more stable income that will both sustain and expand their program by providing an additional operational environment for training in a commercial kitchen setting.
This is important work for our community and Swirl is always looking for ways to give back and support local and national non-profits. We are asking you to help us support Liberty’s Kitchen by attending our fundraiser on Tuesday, March 10th where for a mere $20 you’ll sample 6 different dishes prepared by Liberty’s Kitchen Executive Chef Reggie Davis and their catering service, as well as 6 wines poured by Steve Russett of Republic National Distributing Company. Your support helps make it possible for
If you’d like to attend, please call 504.304.0635 for a reservation as this event is limited to 40 people. Can’t attend, but still want to help? Go to www.libertyskitchen.org and do your part to help