Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Under the Radar Wines

We've got a few things in the store right now that I think are really interesting wines, with distinct personalities that you should know about.  These aren't expensive, none of them are even rated by any of the industry mags, but just really good solid wines with a sense of place that deliver a lot for the money.

The first is something pretty crazy, a Brazilian Cabernet of all things.  It's made by the Miolo family who immigrated to Brazil from Italy in the late 1800's and have been making wine there ever since.  The winery is located in Southern Brazil in the Vale dos Vinhedos, between the cities of Bento Gonçalves, Garibaldi and Monte Belo and is the only area of the country with a regional wine designation.  Their 2006 Miolo Reserva Cabernet is medium bodied, soft on the palate with an earthy nose of cloves, cassis and cocoa and it is a steal for $10.50.  If you are looking to try something new, this is not an ordinary $10 Cabernet!

Our second wine is a delicious Oregon Pinot Noir made by producer Dominio IV.  Lucky for us, famed Oregon producer Archery Summit had a little too much fruit in 2009 and a connection between the two wineries made it possible for Dominio to purchase their grapes.  The 2009 Dominio IV Love Lies Bleeding is made from the estate grapes of Archery Summit in Dundee Hills. Archery Summits' estate Pinot Noirs typically retail over $80 per bottle. This is a great chance to try their premium fruit at a reduced price! $22.99!!

A great little wine from Tuscany came to me last week at a really wonderful price that I just love passing on to our customers! Lionello Marchese's 2007 Sughere Morellino di Scansano is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Cabernet.  While a bit softer on the palate than their Chianti cousins, this Morellino has bright cherry notes, with a little earthy tobacco thrown in.  A lovely medium bodied red from an incredible vintage that would be the perfect accompaniment to pizza, pasta, cured meats and cheeses.  Nothing too complicated, but a joy to drink, especially with the right food! $14.99 (most prices online are $20 and up...)

Pork Chops with Balsamic Glaze

We had the rare occasion of a Saturday night at home this weekend and I wanted to cook, but didn't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  I had bought some pork chops, not something I make often, there was a nice bunch of kale in the frig and some arugula pesto I had leftover from our most recent DC8 dish. I found a recipe for "Maiale in Agrodolce"  a Roman dish that used honey and balsamic vinegar to create a delicious, finger-licking-good, eat-it-with-a-spoon, sweet and sour sauce.  Now I've made balsamic glazes before but you have to trust me on how good and how simple this was...

My original thought was to grill the pork chops, but we were out of charcoal so I decided to just use the grill pan on the stove.  From start to finish this took me about 45 minutes and even if I had to make the arugula pesto it would have been the same, as there was a little down time and the pesto is quick.

Serves 4

4  10-oz. bone-in pork chops
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1⁄3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1  sprig fresh rosemary, torn into 1" pieces

1. Put pork chops on a plate; drizzle with oil; season generously with salt and pepper; let sit for 30 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, combine vinegar and honey in a 1-qt. saucepan and cook over medium heat until reduced to 1⁄4 cup. Stir in butter and rosemary and set aside.

3.  Heat up a grill pan and add a few tablespoons of Olive Oil to keep the pork from sticking.

4. Put pork chops in the grill pan and cook, occasionally turning and basting with balsamic mixture, until browned and cooked through, 12–14 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Twelfth Night to Remember

Taking no break from the eating and drinking of the holiday season, we spent Twelfth Night last week feasting with friends.  Twelfth Night in New Orleans marks the end of the Christmas and the start of Mardi Gras, and gives us all another reason to have a party!

An interesting group of people made for great conversations with topics ranging from political discussions, recent films, travel, wine, art and ducks on the bayou (a discussion that ended promptly as views tended to swim on opposite banks...) Everyone contributed something for the meal, from delicious fresh baked breads, my favorite garlic shrimp, Kerry's zucchini ribbon salad, mushroom and truffle risotto, a decadent double dose of pistachio desserts with both cake and gelato, and the best beef tenderloin I've ever eaten doused with a delicious red wine sauce.  Made by Rachel and Marline with Moises Dundee Hills, the sauce was absolutely fabulous, and made even more special by having James Moises and his wines at the table.  We fed both stomachs and souls that night and I truly hope there are more such evenings together in our future!

Here is their recipe for beef tenderloin  and the cleverly coined "Moises Sauce".

Beef Tenderloin with Moises Sauce


4 T butter
1 T flour
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped carrot
1 cup finely chopped celery
2 T tomato paste
1 1/4 cup Moises Dundee Hills Pinot Noir
1 1/4 cup chicken broth
1 1/4 cup beef broth
1 3.5 lb beef tenderloin
2 T cracked black pepper


Mix 2 T butter and flour in small bowl. Melt 1 T butter in heavy large skillet over low heat. Add onion, carrot and celery, sauté until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add tomato paste; stir until vegetables are coated.

Add wine; boil until liquid is reduced by half, about 3 minutes.

Add both broths, boil until liquid is reduced to 1 1/4 cups, about 5 minutes.

Strain liquid, discarding solids. Return liquid to skillet.

Add butter/flour mixture to sauce, whisk over medium heat until sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Season to taste with pepper. (Sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead.)

Take meat out of fridge, one hour before cooking. Sprinkle beef with cracked pepper and salt.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Put a small bit of vegetable oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add beef and brown each side 4 minutes on top of stove.

Roast about 15-20 minutes (or until meat thermometer says 160 if thick – if thinner maybe less 140). Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Serves 4-6.


Gambas al Ajillo (Shrimp with Garlic)

This is one of my absolute favorite quick and delicious shrimp recipes.  I make this often and can't believe I've never posted the recipe.  Fresh Gulf shrimp are a must and we get them either from K-jeans on Carrollton or the Farmer's Market.   Served with plenty of bread to dip into the garlicky oil, they are a huge crowd pleaser!

Makes 8 tapas size portions

•    1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
•    4 garlic cloves, minced
•    6 whole dried red chiles
•    1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
•    3lbs. head-on jumbo Gulf shrimp (shelled, deheaded and deveined is about 2lbs)
•    Salt
•    Crusty bread, for serving

1.  Shell, dehead and devein your shrimp, rinse and pat dry.
2.  In a very large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the garlic, chiles and parsley and cook over moderately high heat for 10 seconds, stirring. Add the shrimp and cook over high heat, stirring once, until they are pink and curled, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and transfer to small bowls. Serve with crusty bread.

Sprinkle the shrimp after they’re cooked with a crunchy sea salt, like flaky Maldon salt from England or chunky Sanlucar salt from Spain.

Wine of the Moment, 2008 Chono Reserva Syrah

Matt Lirette brought this delicious Syrah to me a few weeks ago to try and I knew we had to have it!  Chono is situated in the Elqui Valley, 500 kilometers north of Santiago, Chile and close to the Pacific Ocean which makes for cooling breeze and longer hang time for ripeness.  Handpicked from the stony, wind-swept slopes of this semi-arid desert vineyard, grapes give rich color and intense spice, with notes of tar and touches of bacon fat, a true poor man's Côte Rôtie!  Small yields give the wine great concentration, the tannins are round and supple, and the mouth delivers an endless flood of rich, black fruits.  One of Chile's most renowned winemakers, Alvaro Espinoza, guides this wine from field to bottle making for an outstanding value for its high quality, and a sheer pleasure to drink.  

$15.50; Try  it Wednesday in our 90under20 Tasting!

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 90 pts
Medium purple; smoked meat and game, lavender, spice box; lots of flavor, no hard edges.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Savory Bites

...offering tidbits of information on interesting discoveries in the food and wine scene of New Orleans.

The Best Gimlet in Town 

During the busy holiday season when 12 hour work days are the norm you can often find Kerry and me sitting at the bar at Cafe Degas sipping on a cocktail and resting our feet.  Nick, the sometimes cranky but always entertaining bartender, knows what we want before we even sit down, his perfectly mixed Vodka Gimlet.  So refreshing with the tart lime combined with just a touch a sweetness, it is the perfect end to a long hard day.

We went over to Cafe Degas last night to toast the end of the holiday season and I asked Nick if I could have his recipe for this blog.  But like any good bartender or cook, the recipe is not exact as it depends on how juicy or tart the limes are (fresh limes are a must), what type of vodka you use, etc.  So here's his basic Vodka Gimlet recipe, that you can adjust based on how tart or sweet you like your cocktails.  

Vodka Gimlet

    * 2 oz Kettle One Vodka
    * 3/4 oz Lime juice, freshly squeezed
    * 1/4-1/2 oz Simple Syrup

Combine ingredients in a shaker ¾ full of ice. Give it all a good shake, strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass, garnish with a twist of lime, and settle down to enjoy one of life’s tarter pleasures.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Top 10 Wine Moments of 2010

Like it or not, New Year's Eve tends to be a day of reflection. As many news publications like to write about the biggest news stories or the best movies of the year, I started reminiscing yesterday about my top 10 wine moments of the past 12 months. This isn't a buying guide nor does it have anything to do with ratings, I'm not even sure if all of these wines are still available, and some of the experiences are not even about a particular wine. These are really just 10 specific, very special moments in time when everything came together and made me pause and say to myself "hmmm! this is why I do what I do..."

1.  As much as we like to costume and drink wine, you would think that Kerry and I would be veterans of this New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition, but 2010 Krewe of Cork Parade was our inaugural year!  And what a time we had with six straight hours of Taittinger Champagne, lots of fun with our friends from Republic and the shop, great costumes and a festive parade through the Quarter. And of course Clovis Taittinger was the perfect Grand Marshall for the event!   

2. When Lacie from Glazer's first came to me about an event with winemaker Terry Hoage, I admit I had to a bit of research about the guy and his wines before I agreed.  But after tasting his small production Rhone style wines from California and checking out the great press on the wines, it was the fact that he was an ex-Saints player and that the tasting was in that magical month of February 2010 that was the clincher for the event.  And let me tell you we drank some really wonderful wine that night with Terry and his wife Jennifer being the most gracious hosts.  Everyone fell in love with both them and the wines and responded by buying everything, all seven cases we had in stock of his delicious, high end white, rose and reds from Paso Robles.  We're still waiting on that Saint's label Terry!

    3. It was a Sunday night, I had a great day cycling, taking Sangi to the park, playing frisbee with Kerry, working on the blog, and of course, making pasta! I had a little bit of pork ragu left our dinner the night before and another pound of dough in the frig, so I made some quick fettuccine, Kerry did a beautiful salad and we were in for a delicious meal. I decided to do something very unlike me and drink a Napa Valley Cabernet with my Italian dinner! But it wasn't just any Napa Cab, it was the 2003 White Rock Cabernet made by Christopher Vandendriessche.  The crisp acidity, spicy fruit, leathery notes and lower alcohol content made it absolutely gorgeous with the food and that night I committed to seeking out more California producers that would please my old world palate! 

    4. The tragic death of artist Rudy Rowell in December 2009 marked the loss of a wonderful man who fiercely loved New Orleans and the south. His colorful works were a passionate display of that love and touched so many people. On the night of Rudy's birthday, March 30, we held a silent auction in the shop to raise money for his mother who had suffered multiple tragedies in the past 2 years.  The evening of the auction was bittersweet as we were surrounded by his beautiful spirit through his paintings and by people who knew and loved both he and his work.  We drank the 2005 Gundlach-Bundschu Reserve Cabernet, adorned with one of Rudy's now famous paintings on the label, as we toasted his life.  His work brought so much joy to so many people and we are so grateful to have known him.  We really miss you Rudy!

    5. What do you get when you combine two creative passionate wine geeks with a love of Napa Valley and an absolute devotion to experiencing all that is good about their native city? Vending Machine Winery, the love child of Monica Bourgeois and Neil Gernon, held their official launch at Swirl in April as family, friends and guests partied the night away drinking their 3 unforgettable, small production (50 cases each at the time) Napa Valley wines to Neil's crazy music soundtrack and friends running around in puffy wine bottle costumes depicting each of the three labels.  We had another event later in the year that rivaled this one, but the initial launch was a truly special night. Thanks Monica and Neil for letting us be a part of your dream, we love you both AND your delicious wines!

    6.  We first stumbled upon one of Marco de Grazia's wines by accident a few years back in a little shop in New York.  It was the first wine I had ever tasted from the Etna region, and I knew then that something very special was happening on that wild volcano in Sicilia that I needed to know more about. Thanks to our friends at Uncorked, we had the pleasure of Marco's company in the shop for an intimate, seated tasting of his wines as well as a few others he is importing.  Soft spoken, loquacious and extremely passionate about the region, it was wonderful to hear about his approach to wine making on the Etna, to taste the wines with him and hear his stories about what makes this reason so special and one of the most exciting wine producing regions in the world today. 

    7. Always more of a complete sensory overload of wonderful wine, food and people was our 2010 Tre Bicchiere Wine Dinner at a Mano with our friend Antonio Molesini leading the way. Each year we hold this dinner with Antonio that features six of the highest award winning wines of the Italian wine guide, Gambero Rosso, at a top notch Italian restaurant. Chef Josh Smith nailed all of the pairings but I have to say my favorite in terms of food and wine pairing was the fresh pasta with lamb ragu with the Feudo Maccari Saia Nero d’Avola from Sicilia.   And as always, Antonio's humorous and informative presentation of the amazing award winning wines makes the evening just that much more fun!

    8.  We were joined by friends for a last minute trip to the beach this past November to celebrate one of Kerry's milestone birthdays.  The birthday girl's request for dinner?  Steak and Champagne!  In addition to a few other beverages and snacks we popped a bottle of 2002 Taittinger Millesime as we dined on Tuscan style steak, reminisced about good times past, daydreamed about future adventures and laughed 'til we cried.  A beautiful yoga session on the beach at sunset led by our dear friend Angela made for the perfect end to a wonderful weekendIt was definitely a birthday to remember!

    9.  There's always something special about tasting wines with someone who has literally had their hands in the process from start to finish.  It's even more special if it is someone you've grown to love and respect for the person they are as we have with James Moises.  Anytime with James is in the shop is a great time, but standing beside him, while we all tasted for the first time each of his four single vineyard 2008 Moises Oregon Pinot Noirs, was a textbook lesson in how place can influence what is in your glass.  Each wine was vastly different than the next, having it's own unique signature while still being quintessential Oregon Pinot.  Thank you James for sharing your friendship and your delicious wines!  Your 2008s are gorgeous and we can't wait to see how they continue to evolve!

    10.  Dinner at Rachel's is always an event, and even the most casual of evenings ends up being something special to write about.  But this night was especially so as a small mix of people, some strangers to each other, were invited to a dinner, prepared by Rachel and Tatyana, of their favorite tapas dishes.  All that was asked of us, their fortunate guests, was to bring a bottle of wine that meant something to us and had a story behind it.  Ours of course was an Etna wine, and the Frank Cornelissen Contadino is a story in itself but our memories of drinking it with Frank outside on his black lava rock patio made for an interesting tale.  As we sat around the coffee table littered with wine bottles sharing our stories, new friendships were formed and others deepened with delicious food, interesting wines and wonderful company.  After all, isn't that what this is all about?

     Here's wishing you and yours a Happy New Year!


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