Saturday, June 30, 2012

First Rose' of the Season - Gassier Sables d'Azur

Well I can't wait for the weatherman to provide us with summer so I jumped the gun last night and officially opened up Rose' hunting season for 2012. Drinking Rose' in British Columbia is more than a little frustrating as the LDB carries roughly 45 "Rose'" wines but almost half of those are $20+ and another 30% are "White Zinfandelish" horror shows but still we persevere in the pursuit of reasonably priced rose'.  Private wine stores probably offer us the best chance so check with your local private retailer to see what they have on hand .

I should preface this by stating that Rose' is often a personal preference sort of wine, much like Chenin Blanc rose' can be well made in a variety of styles, from light and fruity to bone dry and lemon tart.  I prefer mine in the dry, but still fruit aware style, I want some peachy, ripe cherry in the nose and some citrus in the mouth and a reasonably long finish so that's my caveat. I will drink, and often enjoy, fruitier off dry rose' but when I'm cooking Sockeye, as I was last night, I want dry and citric.

Out at the Mothership yesterday I cast a wary eye at the Rose' selection and beheld a true Provence classic on the shelf for only $15.99, I say only because we live in BC, elsewhere this wine would be in the $12-13 range but you take what you can get. Chateau Gassier is owned primarily by the Gassier family who have been in the Haut Provence region since the 15th century, the winery itself dates from the early 1980s, and the Sables d'Azur is their flagship rose' wine. Many will argue that the Rhone valley produces France's best rose' wines but if they do Provence isn't far behind, and the wines of Provence are typically lighter than those of the Rhone and lightness is what I want in the summer.

The Sables d'Azur is a blend of equal parts Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan with 10% Syrah tossed in for good measure. Rose' wines are not a blend of white and red wines,  except sometimes in Champagne but that's another story, the process of making rose is that red wine grapes are used but the skins are extracted early, sometimes right after the crush, sometimes during fermentation, with the result being a pink, or light orange, hue to the finished wine. Unlike the pink soda pop wines popularized in California, and other places, French rose' wines are almost universally dry.

Anyway the Sables d'Azur is pale salmon in colour, with a touch of orange, the nose is muted but shows bits of peach and floral aromas, in the mouth the wine shows more white peach and citric flavours with a lively bracing acidity that works extremely well with grilled fish and would also compliment spicy dishes and be great with sushi. The finish is medium long, a tad shorter than I was hoping for but still very good. The wine retails for $15.99, as previously stated, and is a sure frontrunner for House Rose' for the summer of 2012. The Sables d'Azur is available in government stores, with reasonable distribution and is a recommended buy.

The Sockeye, by the way, was absolutely delicious, simply seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon zest with a pat of butter on top and oven roasted at high heat until medium rare. When the ingredients are that good I basically just try and stay out of the way, served with lemon, celery risotto and a saute of green beans and cherry tomatoes the plates were all cleaned in record time, and the rose' bottle empty as well.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Humility thy name is not Donovan McNabb

A quick segue into sports this morning.

In a recent interview with Fox Sports former Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb was discussing his football future, McNabb was released after six games with Minnesota last season after his one season experiment in Washington failed miserably.  McNabb stated that there was an "80-90% chance of him playing in the NFL this season", which is probably about 75-85% too high but a man has to have dreams.  McNabb didn't only feel very good about his upcoming season he also took the time to bash Washington head coach Mike Shanahan for "misusing" McNabb, as a Redskins fan I concur but my feeling is that Shanahan really misused McNabb by acquiring him and allowing him to play quarterback for the Redskins, probably not what Donovan had in mind with his use of the term.

Later in the interview McNabb takes some time to diss future Hall of Fame wide receiver Terrel Owens and then discussed his own Hall of Fame credentials.  McNabb spent thirteen seasons as a starting quarterback in the NFL, mostly with a a very good Philadelphia team, he made six pro bowl teams and helped the Eagles reach the playoffs eight times but was never able to lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl win, they lost their only appearance during McNabb's tenure 21-24 to New England.  McNabb is inside the top twenty in many quarterback related categories but not dominant in any area and, as previously mentioned, never won a Super Bowl, regardless McNabb himself is quite clear that he belongs in the Hall of Fame, to quote:

"these last two years, when people may look at it and say, 'Oh, he's done, or whatever.' I'm 34, 35 years old, but still, I played at the pinnacle, I played at the highest level of my career. I played there," McNabb told Fox Sports. "And I would vote for myself for the Hall of Fame."  Well if a sense of self worth is all it takes to play in the NFL then maybe Donovan's right about that 90% chance of playing this season.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

I hope nobody was surprised

In a result that should have surprised nobody England and Italy played 120+ minutes of football today without scoring a goal in their quarter final match at Euro 2012.

This is not to imply that the game was dull, there were lovely moments throughout but seriously if there had been an over/under line on this match it could have been set at zero and nobody would've bet the over. The Italians, who are as passionate about their football as they are about pasta and red wine have, for the past two decades or so, played the most stifling uncreative defensive football on the planet. This is sad because Italy has always had marvelous talented offensive players but their collective psyche is so fragile that in order to avoid disappointment they play not to lose, a 0-0 draw that goes to penalties being their perfect result whereas English football is so plodding that it's a wonder they ever score.

Earlier in the week, upon finding out the quarter final pairings, we joked at work that without the penalty kicks option the Italy vs. England match would likely require several days to decide, but mercifully kicks were used and the Azzurri will move on to play Germany in the semi-final while England once again goes home early in a major competition.

As a side note England are sort of the international football version of my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. Once proud teams considered among the legendary franchises in their sport with a fanatic fan base who haven't won anything since the mid '60s, which is sad for both organizations .

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Burger King are my new Heroes

Big news in the food world today, at least news to me, as Burger King is launching its' limited time summer BBQ menu.

The menu features lots of things that I'm sure will not be as good as you want them to be, Memphis Pulled Pork BBQ at a fast food outlet ? ........ I think not. However the boys smokin' the herb in the test kitchen have come up with a menu item that deserves our serious respect, and that would be the Bacon Sundae.

That's right, soft serve ice cream drizzled with chocolate fudge, caramel, and bacon bits and then topped with a "thick sliced, hardwood smoked bacon garnish". This bad boy clocks in at a mere 510 calories, with 18 grams of fat and 61 grams of sugar so you can easily handle one a day for breakfast.

I kid you not, starting today in the US of A you can walk into a Burger King and plunk down $2.49, plus applicable taxes, and get an ice cream dessert with bacon .................Yeah Baby. I know it's not going to be as good as I want it to be but still you simply must applaud the effort of a major fast food outlet to increase our bacon consumption, forget the failure of the McLean Burger of the 90s, this is the future and we should rush to embrace it. We need this north of the 49th, if I only knew where there was a Burger King in Vancouver.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pizza on the Grill, First Attempt

So what I really want is a wood burning oven in my back yard, or better yet on my back deck, so that I can make even better pizza than I already do, which is pretty good if I do say so. In addition, of course, I could make wicked bread and roast stuff and cook salmon in about a minute and a half and ............ but I digress.

Barring a lottery win, and since I rarely buy tickets my chances aren't good, I'm not going to get the wood burning oven of my dreams anytime soon so I decided to experiment with pizza on the grill. There's tons of info out there about grilling pizza and lots of zealots who claim it's the only way to make pizza, assuming of course you don't have one of those post lottery win wood burning ovens lying around. The problem is that as with many things regarding food, and the internet, much of the information is contradictory, direct heat, no, indirect heat, straight on the grill, no, on a veggie tray or a pizza stone, lid up, lid down's enough to make you give up on the whole idea, but I forged ahead because I really would like to make pizza in the summer without over heating the kitchen, assuming it ever gets hot enough for that to be an issue of course .

So last night I made my initial attempt at grilling pizza and while it wasn't a resounding success both daughter and I agreed that it showed enough potential to try again, wife is in Los Angeles at a conference so she made no comment. I made what I think were two mistakes: first I used thawed home made dough which seemed to lack in yeast as it rose very little over the course of the day and resulted in a slightly tough crust but my second mistake was not letting my fire get hot enough before putting the dough on the grill. This is a problem I have often with the grill, I lack patience and start too early which is why wife generally handles the grill, regardless the pie turned out alright with a nicely charred crust and I was able to get the topping hot and the cheese melted, apparently these are problems that frequently occur in grilling pizza.

I had the foresight to have a backup pizza ready that was baked in the non wood burning oven and it was definitely slightly better cooked than the grilled pizza, but the grilled pizza had nice smoky flavour and that great charred crust so I'm going to persevere. Next time I'll use freshly made dough and let the fire get hotter and see where that leads me, I'll probably still do a backup oven pizza though, I mean what's the worst case scenario: Too much pizza ? Not a problem in our house.

I was so focused on the pizza that I forgot to try out a new Pizza Red, settling instead for La Casona de Castano, a reliable consistent Monastrell from Spain which is in steady rotation as our House wine but which really lacks the acidity required for pizza. Anyway I'll keep you posted on Pizza on the Grill and when I finally master it I'll let you know what technique worked for me.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Cheap Pinot Noir, the search continues

As I've noted before in this blog the search for cheap Pinot Noir is a bit of an obsession for many in the wine community.  Like Ahab seeking Moby Dick or Monty Python pursuing the Holy Grail, wine enthusiasts chase after each new whiff or rumour of inexpensive wines that capture the essence of the most mercurial, and therefore most sought after varietal, Pinot Noir.

The problem with Pinot Noir is that not only is it tough to grow, it's also tough to make wine from after you grow it.  Pinot Noir is genetically unstable, the fruit of any season may not even resemble the fruit of the parent vine in size, shape, cluster, flavour or aroma.  To give you an idea of how tough it is to keep track of Pinot Noir consider that Cabernet Sauvignon has twelve identifiable clones, or types if you will, whereas Pinot Noir has forty six recognized in Burgundy alone and as many as 250 to 1,000 different genetic variants worldwide, according to an ongoing study at Cornell University.  So the Pinot Noir you grew last year may not be the same as the one you grow this year, even if the weather was identical, making consistency a bit of a problem.  Even after you grow the Pinot Noir the fermentation process is fraught with risk as the grape's high number of amino acids cause it to ferment violently often speeding the process beyond a winemaker's control, toss in difficult colour retention due to thin skins and a propensity to acetification, souring, and you have to wonder why anyone bothers.

Well they bother because when everything aligns the results are simply sublime, little Jesus sliding down your throat in silk pyjamas, or velvet trousers,  and all that.  Great Pinot Noir is one of the true treasures of the wine world, I'm not sure anything else compares, but finding reasonable representations at the $12-$20 range is much harder than with almost any other red varietal except perhaps Nebbiolo.  Still we try, endlessly we search the shelves in the hopes of an epiphany and occasionally we are rewarded, I've written before about The People's Pinot Noir and Little Yering Pinot Noir and last night I tried another contestant.

Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir is from an old, established in 1875, and massive, over 2 million cases produced annually, Chilean winery.  I haven't spent a lot of time drinking the wines of Santa Carolina, I've occasionally bought their Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon when it goes on sale, although at $12.99 it's already good value but have not tried the Pinot Noir recently, or their highly regarded Syrah which retails at $17.99. 

Anyway I grabbed a bottle of the Reserva Pinot Noir and popped the cork last night to go with a herb crusted pork roast and the results were pretty good.  Let's temper the expectations folks, this is after all $14 Pinot Noir, but the wine was varietally true and enjoyable.  The nose was fragrant with strawberry, rose petal and a hint of tomato and the flavour followed up with more strawberry, a bit of black cherry and a touch of earthy rhubarb/beet, all perfectly normal and correct for the variety.  The weight was a little light however and the high alcohol dominated slightly, the finish was reasonable but after the bottle had been open thirty minutes or so the wine began to assert an overly acidic tone.

Overall I'd give this bottle a moderate recommendation, it's real Pinot Noir and reasonably priced but I'd probably be inclined to spend the extra $3 and buy the People's Pinot Noir, still if you want Pinot Noir under $15 the Santa Carolina is just fine.