Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wine and West indian Wednesday

Last week, Lisa Donneson DWS, owner of North Fork of Long Island AVA brand Bouké Wines and I got together at her home in Brooklyn Heights to dish, cook and drink wine – it was hard work, really it was! The goal was to pair some dishes I grew up eating with some of her wines. My family on all sides –mother, biological father and stepfather – hails from the tiny and bucolic Commonwealth of Dominica in the eastern Caribbean (I’m first generation American). Growing up in south Brooklyn, my childhood memories recall sunny Saturday mornings with my parents eating Accra, also known as fishcake, saltfish fritters or to my latino peeps “bacalao-itos”, while listening to Carl Anthony spin reggae and soca tunes on 1190AM WLIB before starting the chores and cleaning. Then it was smoked herring with plain bagels – 6 for $1.00 back then purchased on Flatbush Avenue near the corner of Flatlands – after Sunday mass. It was family time over heritage food. No wine was involved back then. My stepfather, who is a chef by trade and an awesome cook (he currently operates his own bar and restaurant in Pointe Michel, Dominica called The Curve), taught me how to make all the dishes I grew up eating, and today I incorporate them into my wineLIFE with a lots of love.

Lisa and I chatted the previous week to decide the menu and she asked me for a shopping list. For a heartbeat, I was stumped. These are not “recipes” per se, so I gave her what I thought I’d love to have on hand in the house if I was in the mood for any of these dishes, more akin a wish list than an ingredient list. I let her know I would bring along some homemade pepper sauce to give everything its authentic spice kick, but the rest was up to whatever was available in Brooklyn Heights. As a result, the nature of the actual food items was left up to some interpretation. I’ve been buying saltfish and smoked herring for decades now, its almost a reflex.

She emailed me to say that her fishmonger instructed her to start soaking the salt cod immediately on Friday so that it could be cooked and eaten on Monday. When I arrived, I was delighted to find that instead of the dried tail cuts available in supermarkets (labeled bacalao, usually not even real cod), there was a lovely, fleshy belly cut soaking in a ceramic dish. I knew I’d stepped into something marvelous!

These dishes were to be paired with her off-dry rosé, under the Bouquet label in her line. The 2010 vintage we tasted is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a spot of Gewurztraminer for aroma (the brand signature). It’s just off dry, just enough to lift the fruit, and the finish is squeaky clean. We got to work on our little island feast.

We enjoyed the rosé best with the sautéed salt fish, which we cooked with onions, garlic and bell peppers and finished with cilantro and a squeeze of lime. The spicy, savory, salty dish awakened all the marvelous fruit notes in the wine and put the acidity to work cleaning and freshening up the palate for the next bite. Perfect pairing!

The fishcake was a natural with Bouké Perlant 2009, which is a slightly effervescent blend of three Pinots – Gris, Blanc and Noir. Sparkling wines and fried foods usually make happy couples.

The smoked herring, which I made with tomato paste and fresh Roma tomatoes, found a partner in Bouké Red, a wine that often goes well with tomato-based dishes. The Bouké Red is a wineLIFE fan favorite, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Petit Verdot, and the 2008 vintage is still drinking beautifully!

1. Wine and West Indian food can work well together – and we don’t all have to drink sweet to enjoy it!
2. The white wine with fish rule is officially broken!
3. When buying saltfish, spring for the belly cut of real cod– it makes for a much nicer finished product!

It was a big meal! I walked it off over the Brooklyn Bridge, past Liberty Plaza (Occupy! Salute!) and down to the Ferry to head home.

Visit Lisa’s blog for the full ingredient lists and methods of preparation:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Meet Zinfandel - The Soul Singer

It’s one o’clock in the morning. Pinot’s party is in full swing. Pinot Gris has switched the vibe with some mellow acoustic soul, and Merlot has had enough glasses of bubbly to feel encouraged to approach the object of his desire. He has been trying to find the right words to use to approach her. “Excuse me Miss Sultry, you’re aroma called me from across the room, I just HAD to get closer to you.” Or “Gorgeous Lady Zin, loving you could never be a sin.” There she is, holding her position by the baby grand, microphone in one hand, her other pretty bejeweled hand playing with the stem of a glass filled with something white, something chilled. She’s having a chat with Viognier and Syrah, he’s thinking about how to interrupt gracefully. The off-white silk dress clinging to her full bodied curves makes his heart race, and when she smiles, her pearly whites look as though their floating in the darkness like the grin of the Cheshire cat. “Brown sugar mama, blackberry baby love, I want you in my life.”

Although discovered to be the same as the Primitivo grape cultivated in Apulia, Italy (the heel of the boot), and a close relative of a grape from Croatia called Plavac Mali, Zinfandel is indisputably an American original. Up until 1998 it was the most planted grape in California. Many are familiar with the pink pop known as White Zinfandel, the rosé “blush” which is produced in copious amounts and invariably sells for less than $8 a bottle – bubblegum in a glass! The variety was taken for granted for the most part until the 1960’s, when a handful of winemakers, most notably Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards on the Montebello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA, made the red version an icon by producing single vineyard Zinfandels and Zin-dominated blends. There is even a thriving trade organization to promote the variety called ZAP – Zinfandel Advocates and Producers. They sponsor research in Zinfandel Vines and host events for consumers and trade every year. Those who fall in love with Zin are captivated for all time!

Flavor Profile
Here’s an amazing tasting note from Certified Sommelier Countess Rose Perry (Follow her @VinoCaPisco on Twitter), self-proclaimed Zinfandel expert (her words), for Hunt Cellars Rocket Man Zinfandel:

Appearance – Deep Amethyst, almost opaque

Nose – Violets, twizzlers and brown sugar-coated tea rose

Palate – Fleshy, meaty, jammy & extremely Marilyn Monroe type full bodied, flavors of blackberry jam, white pepper crusted ripened strawberries, clove, spiced grape jelly

Conclusions – LOVE IT!

This should give you an idea of what a typical Zinfandel can bring into your life – the goody goody goods, all day. Definitely for an American palate, kids who grew up on these flavors can skip the pink stuff and go straight for the red!

Food Pairings
In truth, Zinfandel is divine as a solo act (a few back up singers can enhance the blend, but she doesn’t need accompaniment beyond that). Nonetheless, I pressed our Countess Rose, who agrees about drinking her Zin unadulterated, but suggested a Jarlsberg grilled cheese on brioche or green Cerignola olives with old vine versions.

Your Homework
Attack 2 Zins this weekend, one on the high end of the market if you can, and one for under $20. Top Zinfandels are worth the bucks, but you will have to shell out upwards of $60 a bottle for Ridge, Turley, Rosenblum, A. Rafanelli and the like, that Hunt Cellars Rocket Man included. These wineries are Zin temples, where homage is paid in the form of hand selection of grapes from old vines and painstaking blending and aging. There is, nonetheless, enough good juice (even from some old vines) on the lower end to go around, since it is such a ubiquitous and highly productive vine. One of my faves is Gnarly Head Old Vines Zinfandel, which retails for less than $13 a bottle and is delicious for the price. You’ll find Zinfandel based blends containing Petite Sirah, Grenache, Carignan, and other Syrah-compatible varieties. It turns out Merlot doesn’t end up in her mix – she’s too much woman for him!

*Old Zinfandel Vine planted in 1925 Courtesy of my Facebook Friend, Wine Trick