Category: Vino!

All things wine related.

Tour de Kitchens

Our friend Ashley

is renovating her kitchen.  When I say “renovating” I mean “gutting”… as in knocking walls down, rewiring, moving the appliance locations, new cabinets – the works!  That means she will not have a working kitchen of her own for a least 8 weeks.  She and her roommate, Lauren, devised a brilliant plan to ensure that they won’t have to live off Ramen noodles and take out for two months.  It’s called the Tour de Kitchens.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Ashley and Lauren threw a big cookout for all their friends before the big kitchen demolition.
  2. While at said cookout, all the friends signed up for a schedule of dates to have the two lovely ladies over for dinner – touring the kitchens of their friends and blogging about it along the way.
  3. Ashley and Lauren throw a big dinner party for all these friends once the kitchen is complete.

In a sense, they feed us twice and we feed them once.  Not a bad deal.  And a super fun idea!  I highly recommend it to any of you planning a major kitchen reno in the future.

Well, Sunday was our turn to host.  I love to entertain and always want to leave my guests wanting more.  So, I always try to make my dinner parties memorable.  However, for this particular dinner party the stakes were especially high. Let me explain…

First, Ashley is a foodie.  A serious foodie.  In fact, she’s been writing a blog called The Charlotte Food Snob since 2006.  It chronicles her adventures in eating out in our fair city.  Secondly, she’s in our church community group which takes turns bringing wine and snacks to various events.  Through our years in this group, I’ve developed a reputation for bringing awesome snacks like this and great bottles of wine such as this and this to our gatherings.  Not to toot my own horn, but people tend to get really excited when they know it’s our week to bring snacks.  I mean REALLY excited.

So, I’m hosting The Charlotte Food Snob herself AND I’ve got a reputation to uphold.  That means, I had to bring my A-Game.  Nothing less would do.

I find that there are three basic elements that will make or break your dinner party, not including the guests.  I call them The Three M’s of  a Successful Dinner party – Music, aMbience, and Menu.

First, the Music.  I keep a playlist on my iPod appropriately titled “Dinner Party.”  It’s a list of nearly 70 songs ranging in artists from Coldplay, to The Beatles, to Diana Krall, to Ben Harper, to Dave Matthews Band.  They are all groovy, but unobtrusive so they play nicely in the background without being “noisy” per se.   I hit shuffle so the songs play randomly and repeat so the whole thing starts over again, should we work all the way through the play list.  I usually start playing it over the speakers in the living/dining area about 30 min before my guests arrive to start setting the mood in my head.

Secondly there’s aMbience…Well, you’ve got to set a lovely table

(dig my new chairs?) and lots of candles always help.

Finally, there’s the menu…Like I said, the stakes were high.  So this menu had to be FABULOUS.  It was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.

The Menu
Appetizers – Goat Cheese Crostinis with Blackberry Ginger Balsamic Vinagrette
Salad – Baby Spinach with Goat Cheese, Raspberries, and Toasted Walnuts
in Warm Olive Oil and Blackberry Ginger Balsamic Vinegar

Entree – Salmon with Grits and Caper Cream Sauce and Asparagus a la Plancha
Wine – 2007 Stag’s Leap Cellars Sauvignon Blanc
Dessert – Coffee Caramel Creme Brulee

And, yes, the menu was so fabulous that I printed it up on card stock and placed it at each place setting. Like I said, I had to bring my A-Game.  And speaking of my A-Game, here’s my handiwork up close:

Well, most of it anyway.  I didn’t exactly get any pics of it, but I used an old faithful recipe, Goat Cheese Bruschetta, for the appetizer with a couple minor adjustments.  First, I used small crostini bread v. a large artisan loaf.  This gave them perfect bite-sized proportions.  Secondly, I used Blackberry-Ginger Balsamic Vinegar, rather than plain balsamic, for the vinaigrette.  Like I mentioned before…EPIC!

Next, there was a beautiful salad

The basis was a recipe for Baby Spinach with Warm Olive Oil and Toasted Walnuts that I saved from Martha Stewart Living months ago.  But, I wanted to add a little something extra to it.  Hence, the goat cheese and raspberries.  The recipe calls for white wine vinegar, but…I just happened to have this delicious Blackberry-Ginger Balsamic Vinegar from Mountain Town Olive Oil Co. in Park City.  So why go with white wine vinegar when I’ve got a bottle of that within reach?  Much more interesting!

I have to give a shout out to my colleague, Sam, who gave me a head’s up on the entree recipe from Epicurious.  Ladies and gentlemen, Salmon with Grits and Caper Cream Sauce

Sorry that the pic is kind of dark.  I was ready to dig in and did not have the patience for the subtleties of fine photography.   Nevertheless, it was as delicious and as it was easy to prepare, despite how fancy it sounds. However, in an effort to deliver the courses in a timely manner, I made the grits before our salad course and they weren’t quite as warm as I would have liked, despite keeping them in the “warming zone” of my range.  The grits cooked up very quickly.  Next time, I’ll just let the salad settle while I cook up both the grits AND the salmon.

Oh, I almost forgot about the asparagus.  It’s now one of my staples from my Spain cookbook.  So fresh!  So easy!  So YUMMY! (And it sounds super fancy if you are, I don’t know, say…printing it up on menu cards for your guests.  Just a thought…)  You basically drizzle a little olive oil and fresh lemon juice on some beautiful asparagus, salt & pepper them, then grill them up for 2-3 min on each side.  You can use an actual grill or a grill pan.  I, personally, like to use my Cuisinart Griddler.

Of course, no dinner party is complete without The Wine.  Ashley and Lauren brought a bottle of 2009 La Crema Sonoma Coast Chardonnay.

We sipped on that during apps and salads.  Epicurious especially recommended the 2007 Stag’s Leap Cellars Sauvignon Blanc to accompany my chosen entree.

Plus, there was a little bit of it in the Caper Cream Sauce.  It was a perfect pairing.  Needless to say, both bottles were empty before the evening was over.   And for the Piece de Resistance (drum roll please…)

Homemade Caramel Coffee Creme Brulee!

Yes, to make this dish at home did require the purchase of a small blow torch.

What?  There’s a rumor going around that this whole Tour de Kitchens thing is a competition.  So, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.  And if that means buying a blow torch…

then so be it! Seriously, though.  We had a blast hosting these ladies.

To hear their take on the evening, hop on over the The Charlotte Food Snob!  We’re looking forward to seeing how the rest of their Tour pans out.  And if this IS a competition, then I think we might just have this one in the bag! 😉

Cheers, y’all!

Wine Girl

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Blog Fodder

I sent BG to do the grocery shopping this weekend.  One of the items on the list was, of course, “wine.”  I thought he’d pick up one or two bottles.  I was mistaken…

Pinots, Chardonnays, and Cabs – OH MY!  Well, this ought to keep me occupied for a while.  In the bunch there are a couple of old friends (both Cabernet Sauvignons, one of which I’ve reviewed here), a Pinot Noir (mi amor), a Cabernet Franc, and Chardonnay, and a Viognier.

After taking a couple pics I had to put them away.

I just love it when my “Dos Equis” are nearly full.  (Ha, ha.  Get it. “Dos Equis.”  As in the beer…but here my “two exes” are for wine storage.  Get it…or am I the only one that finds that funny?)  The only thing I love more…EMPTYING them!

Hmmm…where to start…where to start?

Cheers y’all,

Wine Girl

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Tomoresca Neprica – Uncorked!

I’m not worthy!  I’m not worthy…of my pseudonym, that is.  I was just doing a little perusing of my blog archives and realized that it was (drum roll please)  AUGUST 27TH since I posted a wine recommendation.  A-U-G-U-S-T-2-7-T-H!!  That’s 4 MONTHS!  Shameful.  Just shameful.

It’s not exactly my fault.  Circumstances have conspired against me. First, there was the unseasonable heat during our September trip to Connecticut.  Then, while stopped in Philly on our way home, we hit the Belgian Abbey Ale motherload at Eulogy.  By the time we got home it was nearly October.  You know what that means, don’t you?  Octoberfests!  Our local brewery, Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, hosted it’s second annual MECKTOBERFEST.  You didn’t hear about it because BG never wrote up his post. But, trust me, it was fun!  In October, the weather turns chilly, which meant it was time to eat chili.  Somehow, wine and chili just don’t seem to mesh.  Of course, I couldn’t drink wine while I baked (and ate) ButterBEER Cupcakes or BEER Bread.  Then, before I knew it, the holidays were upon me, which calls for fancy cocktails.

So, you see, it’s not really my fault.  Weather, travels, holidays and even movies have created a situation that resulted in there being a lot of beer and very little wine around here lately.  And I dare to call myself “Wine Girl”…

Tonight, though, we remedy that.  Boy oh boy, are you going to thank me.  Let me introduce you to the 2008 Tormaresca Neprica…

I first had this wine a couple years ago in a restaurant when a girlfriend and I were out having a girl’s night. We split a bottle of it over dinner and each loved it so much that we made certain to jot down the label info before settling up the tab.  We paid $45 for the bottle in the restaurant, so imagine my surprise when I found it for $11 at my local Harris Teeter!

It’s an blend from the Southern Italian province of Puglia. (It’s in the “heel” of the Italian boot.)  The name “Neprica” is derived from the three grapes included in the blend NEgroamaro, PRImitivo and CAbernet.  See.  NE-PRI-CA.  Kind of clever, huh?

You notice more when looking from above than from the view in my picture, but it’s a luscious ruby red pour.  There are berries and spice on the nose.   On the palate you get those same berries, plus some chocolate, and a wee bit of, dare I say…licorice?  Generally, I’m not a licorice fan in any way, shape, or form. But this is very slight and not at all over powering.  All those flavors, combine with the nicely balanced tannins to make up a rich, complex wine that rolls off the back of the tongue like velvet.  And I should know…I’ve done the leg work on this one!

Cheers, y’all!

Wine Girl

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Penny Farthing Cabernet Sauvignon – Uncorked!

I know, I know, I know!  Bad blogger!  Bad, bad blogger!  No posts in a week!  Such a naughty little blogger!

Sorry, guys.  It’s be a crazy busy week and there has just simply been no time to post. But we are getting back on track.  Will you forgive me if I tell you about a heavenly new Cab that I found last week?

Drum roll please….

Ladies and gentleman, meet the 2007 Penny Farthing Cabernet Sauvignon!  I love the old fashioned bicycle on the label, don’t you?  The label on the back of the bottle says that this “whimsical pennyfarthing bicycle invokes bygone days when life was simpler and more joyful.”  Well, now I know I’m going to have to visit this winery one day.  Doesn’t that sound lovely? And what can be more simple and joyful than a lovely bottle of wine?  Not much, in my book.

Here’s what caught my eye while perusing the wine aisles

“Flavors of German chocolate cake with a raspberry glaze accompanied by generous pomegranate aromas filling out the chocolate.  These flavors were married with the vanilla, coffee, and espresso aroma from medium and heavy-toast French oak.”

(That was from the descriptor tag on the shelf.) SOLD!

Look at that gorgeous vermillion color!  Kind of looks like blackberry jam.  And speaking of berries, you get a lot of those plus a little cedar on the nose.  My sniffer is not sensitive enough to discern blackberry, from raspberry, from strawberry, from blueberry scents, but there is definitely berry there.  I personally don’t notice pomegranate, but that may be because I’m almost certain I’ve never smelled one. It’s smooth and nicely tannic, but not too much.  I really do pick up the vanilla and coffee on the palate.

The label says it is a Bordeaux style Cab.  Not sure what that means, but I’ll look into it and get back to you.

Mmmm…don’t mind that noise.  It’s just me slurping and cooing with delight.

I don’t mind telling y’all that my go to Cab may have just been unseated.  I liked it so much that I polished off the bottle (over the course of the last 4-5 days, mind you.  I’m not a total wino…not yet anyway) without bothering to make any notes on it for my Uncorked! Naturally, I had to then purchase another bottle so that I could write it up.  The BG and I are both off work today as we were expecting houseguests to arrive at ~11:30 this morning.  Well, their flight was delayed and now they won’t be here until after 4pm.  So since I had a little extra time on my hands…I thought I’d uncork the second bottle and get my thoughts down.

What?  It’s 5:00 somewhere.

Cheers, y’all!
Wine Girl

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Estancia Pinot Noir – Uncorked!

Whew!  It’s been a busy week and the weekend isn’t going to be much better.  So the first thing I did when I got home was uncork a bottle and relax while I still had the chance.  Tonight’s Uncorked! bottle is the 2008 Estancia Pinot Noir.

It’s a beautiful garnet color, even if it looks a little thin in the glass.  It’s got great legs after a whirl, though.  There’s lots of berries and spice on the nose.  The initial taste is full of berries as well but the finish brings hints of vanilla and, dare I say it, rose.    Please don’t misunderstand me.  I don’t go around snacking on rose petals or potpouri.  But there’s a flavor at the finish that tastes like a rose smells…you know, in the same way a Piña Colada tastes like suntan lotion smells.  You know what I mean, right?  Anyway, it’s delightful.  This vino is smooth in texture and feels warm from the back of my tongue all the way down my esophagus.  (Sorry. I’m a Speechie that helps people deal with swallowing problems all day. A little anatomy is gonna sneak out from time to time.)

I’ve been a fan of this Pinot Noir for a while.  I usually pick it up for ~$17-18, but tonight’s bottle was on sale for $14.  Sweet! Just what I needed!

Well, here’s hoping your weekend is less busy than mine has the potential to be!

Cheers, y’all!
Wine Girl

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Spanish Cooking Saturdays – Torrijas & Mosto

Ever wondered how to get a little red wine into your breakfast?


No? Is that just me?

Well, in case you HAVE ever wondered that and just don’t want to admit it, never fear. I have found the way!

All you have to do is make Spanish Torrijas and a little Mosto to drizzle on them and that’ll get you about a bottle and a half…of red wine…for breakfast!  It goes a little something like this:

The night before you plan to eat this wine soaked breakfast go ahead and make the Mosto.  What is mosto, you ask?  According to Mario in my Spain…On the Road Again cookbook, it is a “term that refers to unfermented grape juice” (p. 28).  You basically take the following ingredients:

put them in a sauce pan and boil them down for about 15-20 min like so

until it reduces by 3/4.  According to Mario, it should get “thick and syrupy” by the time it has cooked down sufficiently.  My experience was not that it got to the consistency of say maple syrup, more like the consistency of cough syrup.  I recommend making it the night before so that will have plenty of time to cool down and get thicker and more syrupy before serving.  To say that it smells divine while cooking down is the understatement of the century.  (Would it be too much of a pun to say that with 3 cups of Spanish red wine, sugar, apple cider, and cinnamon the smell was intoxicating?) The only danger in making it the night before is that the Mosto will not survive the night…and by that I mean, it was all I could do not to pour it in a bowl and eat it with a spoon!

You’ll be pleased to know that I was somehow able to restrain myself and it was appropriately bottled and ready to be served the next morning when we made Torrijas for our friends H & C.

If you are not familiar with Torrijas, it’s basically the Spanish version of French toast.  Mario described it as “fried bread soaked in wine.”

Enough said.  Fried.  Bread.  Wine.  Sign me up.  I need no further convincing.

In the manner of French toast, you basically take some artisan bread and drench in the dry Spanish wine of your choice

then egg it

cook it in olive oil

drain it

sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar

pinch yourself to make sure you haven’t died and gone to heaven

drizzle it in your Mosto

and enjoy! (Sorry that’s not a great pic.  I was too preoccupied with wanting to eat it to bother with details like focusing when I took the shot!)

From our experience, it’s best served with a side of good friends and good conversation on a lovely Sunday morning!

And THAT, my friends, is how you get red wine in your breakfast!

Cheers, y’all!
Wine Girl

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Ghost Pines Cabernet Sauvignon – Uncorked!

Well, it’s Friday night and you know what that means. It’s time to uncork a bottle of vino and kick off the weekend.  We’ve been in the whites lately but tonight I’m in a red mood.

Ladies and gentleman, may I present the 2007 Ghost Pines Cabernet Sauvignon!

It’s not very often I get to use a word like scrumptious to describe a wine, but that is exactly what this one is.  SCRUMP-DIDDILY-UMPTIOUS!  It’s so yummy that I’m having to resist the urge the polish off the bottle myself.  The BG was supposed to be flying home from a work trip to Memphis tonight, but he missed his flight and could not get another one before tomorrow morning.  I’m more than a little perturbed and bummed about that.  Did I mention that it has “come a flood” outside (as good Southern folks say), complete with lots of thunder and lightening?  Needless to say am sorely tempted to drown my sorrows in this smooth and velvety Cab.

But, alas, that is not good form and I have to walk 12 miles in the morning.  So, it’s probably a better plan just to have a glass… or two. 🙂

Just look at that color!  And the nose…you had me at first sniff!  It’s a little earthy, but with chocolate, berries, and cinnamon – OH MY!  It’s just so smooth on the way down with hints of vanilla and spice on the finish.

BG found this one when I sent him on a grocery run one day.  I was into it at the very first pour and it is now my go to Cab.

Find it. Uncork it.  Put a straw it.  You’ll thank me later!

Cheers, y’all!
Wine Girl

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Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc – Uncorked!

Happy Friday to you all!  I hope you are all as glad to be home from work as I am.  I don’t know about y’all but it’s been a crazy busy week for me.  I’m exhausted with no end in sight as I have to work tomorrow at 7 am!  (There are so many things wrong with that statement that I don’t even know where to start.  It’s wrong, I tell you.  Just wrong.)

For now, though, let’s uncork a chilled bottle of Rodney Strong Sauvignon Blanc and relax.

My go to vino is usually a Pinot Noir, but it’s just too dang hot outside.  I need to drink something chilled.  So, I’m on a whites kick right now.  This one is from Rodney’s Charlotte’s Home Vineyards.  Just looking at mellow straw-like color of the pour in the glass cools me off.  It is so lovely and fragrant with hints of pear and pineapple on the nose.  It is light and crisp and, although it is generally dry, there is a slight sweetness at the finish.

Those are my thoughts.  If you are interested, see what more seasoned wine reviewers at the Vine Republic and Snooth have to say about it on their sites.

One thing I don’t like…it’s got a screw cap.  (I know, I know.  Technically that means I didn’t “uncork” it.  Rather I unscrewed it.  But I can’t have a regular blog spot called Unscrewed!, can I?)  I ordered it online with my groceries and I couldn’t tell from the picture that it was a screw cap.  If I had noticed that I probably wouldn’t have ordered this one.  (Yes, I’m THAT shallow.) I know that some legitimate Rieslings, Sauvignon Blancs, and Pino Grigios are being bottled with screw cap these days, but I don’t like it.  I just don’t like it.  It makes me feel like I’m opening something that I bought at a convenient store, not something as artful as a beautiful bottle of wine.

There, I said it.  I’m prejudiced against a screw cap.  So sue me!

But, on the bright side, it was on sale for $9.99 at my local grocery store and it went VERY NICELY with the Roasted Salmon with White Wine Sauce and broccoli that I had for dinner.

Overall, despite the screw cap, this one’s a winner!

Cheers, y’all!
Wine Girl

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Toad Hollow’s Erik’s the Red – Uncorked!

Uncorking a bottle of wine is typically the first thing I do when I get home from work on a Friday night.  So I have decided that my Uncorked! segments will be regular Friday night segments.

Tonight’s Uncorked! is dedicated to Toad Hollow’s Erik’s the Red.

Consider yourselves introduced.

We got this as part of wine club shipment that I think we will be canceling soon because we haven’t really loved any of the wines we’ve gotten with it.  It is a red blend of 18 different grapes, none of which really stand out in the flavor.  Maybe that’s a good thing in a blend.  Who knows?  (I’ll be sure to look into that for you guys.)  You can check out Toad Hollow’s description of it here.

In the glass it’s a lovely dark currant color, but it’s got pretty thin legs when you swirl it around.  Upon first sniff it was a little too peppery for my taste, but I could definitely smell more cherry/berry as it opened up.  To me, it tasted a little bitter and my taste buds could never pick up on the cherry/berry flavor I assumed would accompany the opened aroma.  It generally had a smooth but thin texture, and the finish – I lie to you not – seemed soapy.   I know that may seem ridiculous, but I had a distinct “soapy” after taste in my mouth after each sip.  It was just odd.

Since I’m really trying to learn and hone my tasting skills, I’m always interested to see how my personal notes on a wine tasting stand up against those of other wine lovers.  A quick Google search of this wine led me to a tasting site called Cork’d, of all things.  Wine lovers on this site used words like “disappointing,” “flabby,” “metallic,” and “weird” to describe this one.  A couple reviewers enjoyed it, but for the most part the wine-o’s either didn’t love it or weren’t sure exactly what to make of it.  Check out the Cork’d reviews for yourself here.  In fairness, I should mention that someone known as The Wine Curmudgeon seemed to really like it.

My final thoughts on this “vintage” are… Meh.  It smells better than it tastes…and it tastes kind of cheap.  I don’t think I’ll be uncorking another bottle of this one.

Sorry I don’t have a better review for you tonight.   If any of you have tasted this one, I’d love to know what you think of it too.  Don’t forget to stop by and see what I uncork next Friday night!

Cheers, y’all!
Wine Girl

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Nessa Albari̱o РUncorked!

Welcome to the first installment of what will also become a regular spot on this blog – Uncorked! This is where I will review new wines I’ve tried or just give you my thoughts on tried and true vintages I love.  Please keep in mind that, while being a sommelier sounds like heaven to me, I have absolutely no training in this and have no “wine expert” credentials.  But, I do know what I like and am continuously working on refining my palate. 🙂

Tonight’s Uncorked! varietal is the 2009 Nessa Albariño

I picked it up because I wanted a Spanish white to go with the seafood paella I made yesterday.  I was perusing the Spanish wine section of my local Harris Teeter and noticed that this one had been granted 88 points by The Wine Advocate, so I thought I’d give it a try.

As you can see, it has a lovely golden color.  It looks beautiful and kind of bubbly in the glass, doesn’t it?  It has a bouquet of apples and pears, is dry but not too dry, and has a light citrusy aftertaste.  It was light enough that it didn’t compete with the heavy flavors of the paella.  After making my notes for this post, I Googled this wine to see what other folks thought about it and how easily accessible it is.   Check out commentary from The Wine Cellar here.   I found a couple websites, such as LaTienda (a great site for all your Spanish cooking needs), that are selling it for ~$17-18.  My Harris Teeter had it for $12.  You can’t beat that!

All in all, I’d consider it a lovely, light, and crisp summer wine.  Uncork a bottle yourself and see what you think.  When you do, come back and tell me about it.


Wine Girl

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