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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - July 2014

Lemon Sunshine

Lemon is an appealing flavor to me all year around, but somehow is even better on a hot summer day. This menu, based on lemon-flavored recipes, is fun and results in a meal that is packed with flavor.

Lemonade and beer are a terrific flavor combination - sweet and sour from the lemonade, bitter and savory from the beer. This combination is commonly called a Lemon Shandy. Some breweries bottle their own versions, but you can make your own with the recipe provided. Shandies are light and refreshing and go down easy on a hot summer afternoon. Additionally, the low alcohol, slight spritz, and yeasty/lemony flavor combination make it a beverage that will go with just about any food. I like the idea of pairing it with a cool yogurt dip that has an abundance of fresh herbs and a bright burst of lemon. This versatile dip is good for almost anything you can eat with your fingers, including vegetables, pita, crackers, and even chicken wings. This pairing will create a leisurely feel, perfect for a relaxing afternoon.

My kids inspired the main course. They love lemon chicken at a local Chinese restaurant. I sought out this recipe so I could make it for them at home. Deep-frying is better for keeping the coating on the chicken, but pan-frying leaves a little extra flavor in the pan for the sauce. Even if you lose a little of the coating, the result is very tasty. I like this recipe with steamed jasmine rice, pea pods, and a refreshing Albariño (a white wine from Spain). The Albariño grape makes a white wine with peach and lemon flavors that cut through the rich fat and stands up to the intense flavors of the chicken. However, if you can’t find an Albariño, a Riesling will be a fine substitute.

For dessert, I got a little help from a boxed cake mix to bake a super quick, easy cake that is beautiful when sliced. What should be its partner? How about an ice-cold limoncello? When sipped alongside, it is like having a little extra glaze with a bit of an alcoholic kick.

So, go on. Pair Up!

Find recipes online at www.lasommelierre.com

07/01/2014 10:00
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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - June 2014

Graduation Celebration

My family will be celebrating a high school graduation this June. For me, a celebration isn’t complete without some kind of bubbles. The bubbles don’t have to be alcoholic or made from grapes, but they do have to be served in tall, elegant glasses to feel special.

Sparkling wines are made all over the world, however, the only sparkling wine that can truly be called Champagne must be made according to very stringent French laws and come from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. In turn, other sparkling wine regions call their wines by special names as well. Cap Classique is a sparkling wine from South Africa made in the traditional methode champenoise, with the secondary fermentation occurring in the bottle. Often, Cap Classique is made from Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc grapes. It has bright, fresh citrus flavors and aromas. To start the meal below, choose a Brut style wine that will have little or no perceptible sugar. Simple Grilled Shrimp will be delicate and perfect with the clean flavors of the wine. For underage grads or those who prefer to consume their beverage sans alcohol, offer sparkling water with a squeeze of lemon.

Kick it up a notch at dinner with a slightly more complex wine, Vintage Brut Champagne. These wines are literally the cream of the crop. Only the best grapes are chosen each year to make vintage wines from the Champagne region. They are made from primarily Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes and usually spend time in oak. The resulting wine is creamy, toasty and a little earthy. For these reasons, Duck Breast with sautéed Chanterelles, Spaetzle (March 2010), and Creamed Spinach is the main course of choice. The slightly gamey and rich flavors of the duck in conjunction with the earthy flavors of the mushrooms will echo the earthy richness of the wine. If the cost of vintage Champagne is prohibitive, try a Blanc de Noirs or a non-alcoholic, sparkling apple-cranberry cider.

Sparkling Moscato d’Asti is one of the few sparkling wines I recommend with dessert. And, it is a really good one. It has the right level of sweetness for dessert and is also a good value (usually $10 – 20). Moscato d’Asti comes from the Piedmont region of Italy; however, Sparkling Moscatos are made in many locations, including Australia and Chile. Moscato has pretty lemon curd flavors and will pair deliciously with Ina Garten’s Lemon Yogurt Cake. Finally, to end on a non-alcoholic note, try a sparkling apple-pear cider.

So, go on. Pair Up!

Find recipes online at www.lasommelierre.com

06/02/2014 10:00
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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - May 2014

Sweet Mama!

My mom is the sweetest lady in the world and she loves sweet wine. In fact, most of the country prefers wines that have a little residual sugar. And why shouldn’t we like sweet wine? Sugar softens the perception of acidity, tames the spice in food and just plain tastes good. In wine, the opposite of sweet is dry. This makes sense when you think of sugar as fuel for fermentation. When all the sugar is converted into alcohol, the fuel is gone and fermentation stops. It is like a gas tank in a car; when it is dry, the engine stops. If the winemaker chooses to stop the fermentation early, the residual sugar left will determine the sweetness of the wine. It can range from slightly sweet (off-dry) to very sweet. Generally, I like to serve off-dry wines at the start of a meal and save super sweet wines for after.

Muscat de Beaumes de Venise is a medium sweet, white wine from the South of France. Try it with Spicy Crab Stuffed Mushrooms. The sugar in the wine will offset the heat of the pickled jalapeños and hot sauce. Additionally, the fresh citrus flavors of the wine will be an excellent match with the crab. If you can’t find a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise, look for an off-dry Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling.

Sweet wines come in three colors: pink, white and red. Both Lodi and Livermore Valley produce wonderful red Zinfandel, and some producers leave just a touch of residual sugar to enhance the fruit flavor. It is the perfect wine for smoky, slightly sweet, BBQ’d pork. I like shredded BBQ pork in a soft roll, piled up with my favorite coleslaw. BBQ’d pork can take days to make, so in the interest of time, consider picking some up from a local BBQ joint or Costco. Coleslaw, on the other hand, is easy. Here is a delicious coleslaw recipe that has lime juice and cilantro. You can make it with broccoli slaw or regular cabbage, whichever you prefer.

The king of sweet wines is Port. Traditionally, it is made from a blend of red Portuguese grapes, but it can be made from any grape. In California, winemakers create terrific Port from Zinfandel grapes. Port is one of the only wines I ever suggest with chocolate, and Blackberry Truffles will echo the primary berry flavor found in Zinfandel grapes. The combination of chocolate truffles and port wine will sing (and so will you after a few glasses).

So, go on. Pair Up!

Find recipes online at www.lasommelierre.com

05/01/2014 16:38
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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - April 2014

Spring Fling

This month I throw caution to the wind and suggest a menu entirely based on cocktail pairings. Cocktails can be a challenge to pair with foods because of their high alcohol content. This is why they are usually served with salted nuts; salt tames the heat of the alcohol. I have chosen two drinks that have additional non-alcoholic ingredients, which make them more food friendly. And, there is a strong cheese to complement a strong drink at the end of the meal.

Although our local berries have not yet come into season, blackberries from South America are fairly well priced and readily available in California. Start your evening off with a Blackberry Thyme Bramble, the perfect blend of sweet fruit, lemony thyme and woodsy gin. This refreshing gin-based drink is an excellent choice to pair with a creamy goat cheese spread on salty crackers. Both the cheese and the drink are tangy and light.

A hearty entrée of Cuban Pork Roast with Red Beans and Rice should be classically paired with its brethren, the mojito. The mojito, Cuba’s national cocktail, it gets its name from the African word mojo, which means, “to cast a spell.” Keep in mind, making mojitos in a pitcher doesn’t work—it’s impossible to distribute the lime and mint evenly, plus, the club soda tends to turn flat. Instead, muddle a large batch of mint, limes and sugar, then pour the mixture into glasses and top with ice, rum and club soda.

Finish off your meal with a classic pairing of sweet, salty and savory. Blue cheese, which is made all over the world, is a bold partner to stand up to the potent crispness of an appletini. Furthermore, sliced apples are convenient vehicles for eating cheese. Serve a plate of sliced apples with your appletini and include a couple varieties of blues: Stilton (English), Roquefort (French), Gorgonzola (Italian), Cabrales (Spanish) and the eponymous, Blue Cheese from the US.

So, go on. Pair Up!

Find recipes online at www.lasommelierre.com

04/03/2014 22:10
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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - March 2014

Fresh from the Garden

Every year, spring feels like a new beginning. Many people make New Year’s resolutions to eat more healthfully starting in January; I think spring is a more natural starting point. Here is a wonderful menu that takes advantage of fresh produce and offers wines to pair with them. Keep in mind that vegetables are notoriously difficult to pair with wine because they have bitter flavors. I chose a lightly sweet/floral white wine to offset the bitterness and a red wine lower in tannin, since tannin is the bitter component in a red wine.

Start with a salad of “less bitter” greens. Choose butter lettuce for its mild flavor, baby romaine for crunch, and young spinach for color. For added texture, include vegetables like mushrooms, green onion, and some diced Campari tomatoes (surprisingly good year-round). Top your salad with a dressing that is not too acidic, like the Tarragon Vinaigrette listed here. Pair with a white wine like Verdelho. Originally from Portugal, Verdelho is a white wine that reminds me of Pinot Grigio. It has soft citrus flavors accented by pretty floral notes. Quite a few wineries in California are choosing to make this wine in both a dry and lightly sweet style. Of course, if you can’t find a Verdelho, Pinot Gris/Grigio works in a pinch.

Next, we have salad’s quintessential partner, soup. Spring Vegetable Soup with Pesto has so many healthful ingredients; I feel healthier just reading the recipe! The good news is that it incorporates ingredients that soften the bitterness of the “green” ingredients and make it more wine friendly. The starchy richness of the beans and potatoes along with the sweetness imparted by the carrots and peas are helpful to a wine pairing. When choosing a partner for this soup, I immediately think of Italian grapes because of their naturally higher acids. Dolcetto comes to mind because it has relatively lower tannins than some of its brethren. Another low-tannin red is Pinot Noir.

For dessert, I wanted to share a recipe that I had as a child when visiting my grandmother who lived near the orange-growing capital of California, San Bernardino. This Fresh Orange Pie was so unique and delicious; I had to get the recipe from Edwards Mansion. It is possible to pair this dessert with an Orange Muscat wine, but perhaps sparkling water with orange slices would be a fresher ending to this deliciously fresh meal.

So, go on. Pair Up!

Find recipes online at

www.lasommelierre.com

03/04/2014 08:23
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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - February 2014

Sunday Dinner

Sunday dinners are about family and close friends. There is a special quality to Sunday dinner; often, the food and wine is prepared and consumed in a more relaxed fashion compared to the hustle and bustle of a workweek meal. Sunday meals also give us an opportunity to talk about what is coming up in the week ahead.

I always like to have a beverage and something to nibble on when folks gather in the kitchen before a meal. If I don’t want to make anything elaborate, my go-to, wine-friendly starter is a salty bag of chips. They go with just about any wine and are easy to grab from the pantry. Two other staples are cream cheese and canned clams. My good friend John Horn gave me a recipe for clam dip that is super-quick to blend up and is loved by almost everyone. Pair it with Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine. You will love the citrus-floral flavors of the wine with the delicate brine of the clams enrobed in the creamy dip.

Roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy is a quintessential Sunday dinner. You will need to start it about two hours before you want to eat, but it requires almost no work. You could even slice the onions in the food processor before making the clam dip and just clean the bowl once. Roast Beef is a classic red wine dish. A great value-conscious choice is one of the rich, red wines from South America. Try a Chilean Cabernet or an Argentinian Malbec. It is easy to find terrific options for under $10 at any local store that sells wine.

Since dessert is rare during the week at my house, serving dessert makes the meal feel more special. Poached Pears With  Quick Chocolate Sauce fits perfectly with the simple, cook-ahead MO of the rest of this meal. Choose Sauternes, a sweet French dessert wine, to complement the pears. You can find some great values on half-bottles at Costco and other wine shops for between $10-20. They are super sweet and have classic aromas of honey, gardenia and pear. And, if you don’t finish the bottle tonight, it will keep in the fridge for up to a month.

So, go on. Pair Up!

Find recipes online at

www.lasommelierre.com

02/03/2014 10:24
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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - December 2013

Intimate Italian 

The holidays are laden with feasts for families and gatherings for groups. Sometimes an intimate dinner for two is a welcome respite from the holiday cacophony. Here is a menu that celebrates the best that Northern Italy has to offer, with delicious wines from the region and recipes that are quick and easy to make on a smaller scale.

I found this great recipe for Crispy Prosciutto Cups with Pear and thought it would be a fun twist on the classic prosciutto and melon starter. Although the recipe makes 24 cups, it could easily be divided into thirds to make a better portion for two people. The perfect partner for these salty-sweet bites is Italian Prosecco, an off-dry sparkler from the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions. The bubbles are a romantic way to start the evening and will cut through the fat of the meat and complement the sweetness of the pears. Even the lemon drizzled on the pears will resonate with the citrus flavors in the wine.

While the appetizer for this meal is light and delicate, Rosemary Lamb Chops with Red Wine Reduction is hearty. Serve it with Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara or Ghemme. All these wines are made from the Nebbiolo grape and come from the Piedmont region. Nebbiolo based wines offer earthy aromas of herbs and tar along with sweet fruit notes of cherry and fig. Any one of these wines would be harmonious with the slightly gamey flavor of the lamb. Alongside, serve some creamy polenta and your favorite roasted vegetable.

Conclude your Italian tête-à-tête with the wine and dessert pairing of Recioto and Sbrisolona, a Lombardian cake with a crumbly texture. Another blended wine, Recioto, is made primarily from Rondinella, Corvina, and Molinara. It comes from the Veneto region, where only the best grapes are selected. They harvest only the highest, ripest grapes on the bunch, the part that gets the most sun. In Veronese, they call these grapes the “recia” (“ears”) of the grapes. Once the grapes are dried, the small amount of juice liberated results in tiny quantities of Recioto produced each year. The wine has a beautiful, crushed velvet texture, a spicy bouquet, and hints of dried plums and chocolate on the palate.

So, go on. Pair Up!

Find recipes online at www.lasommelierre.com

12/02/2013 10:39
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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - November 2013

Food and Wine Gift Giving II

Last year, I offered suggestions for the best wines to give as gifts based on their ability to pair with the most foods. This year I am providing three, homemade food items that are great for gift giving, AND I am adding suggestions for wines to pair with them.

The first food gift is a classic breadstick called Parmesan Grissini. In general, salted bread is delicious with any wine: sparkling, rosé, red or white. This recipe includes crushed fennel seeds, which add the subtle flavor of black licorice, crushed red pepper to give a kick of spice and, of course, Parmesan cheese. The perfect pairing partner is a buttery Chardonnay. Look for Chardonnays that have undergone malolactic fermentation and are aged in oak barrels. The oak will complement the low notes of the licorice and the Parmesan will echo the buttery/dairy flavor provided by the lactic acid from the secondary fermentation.

The next food item is Curried Cranberry Snack Mix. Bold curry flavors in this mix require wine that is very fruit forward. Additionally, the flavor of dried cranberries is often found in red wines; it is a smart mix-in. I also loved the addition of French-fried onions. Fried onions are terrific with wine because they have a sweet/savory quality that brings out the fruit flavor in the wine. Fruit forward varietals like Grenache and Pinot Noir are my first choice pairings but just about any red wine will be fantastic.

Sweet treats are always welcome and Fleur de Sel Toffee will fill the bill, especially since sweet and salty combinations are all the rage. I like the idea of pairing toffee flavors with a little known, fortified wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon region called Banyuls. It is made from Grenache grapes and has the flavors of toasted nuts, fig newton, dark chocolate and hints of roasted coffee. It is rich and thick will echo the caramel flavor of the toffee. As a bonus, the salt in the toffee will make it more wine friendly as it balances the wine’s high sugar content and tames any rough tannin.

So go on, Pair Up!

Find recipes online at www.lasommelierre.com

10/18/2013 16:00
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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - October 2013

Fall Soup-n-Salad

I throw a Halloween soup party every year, and this year I have a new soup and salad combination I am really excited about. After a long summer of white wines, I am happy to say that both recipes pair with red wines; this, I know for many of you, is cause for celebration.

To start is a warm salad with sautéed onion, mushrooms, and craisins, which are all wine friendly ingredients. The dressing has just a touch of lemon juice, which brings freshness without over powering the wine. Then the salad is topped with Manchego cheese, another wine friendly additive. You may remember that Pinot Noir is usually my go-to wine with mushrooms, but Grenache (or Garnacha as they call it in Spain) is a great substitute for Pinot Noir. It has softer tannins than wines like Cabernet, Zinfandel or Syrah and offers bright berry fruit with substantial acidity, two qualities that will work with this salad.

Following the salad comes the soup.  Every year one of my favorite Livermore Wineries, Fenestra Winery, does a Soup & Wine event on the “football-free” weekend in January. The Garlic Sherry Cream of Mushroom Soup, courtesy of Blue Sage Catering, makes it onto the menu almost every year. The substantial amount of cream gives it body, which makes it just right for a bold red wine, as does the meaty texture and taste of the chopped mushrooms. Fenestra’s recommended pairing is a delicious Fenestra Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep, red and black fruits offset the pungent garlic, and the contrasting colors of white soup against the red wine are a beauty to behold. Serve warm crostini sprinkled with truffle salt on the side. It is perfect for dipping and adds a welcome crunch.

Usually, I make a trip through the Caldecott Tunnel to find Vin du Bugey-Cerdon. It is a sweet, pink, bubbly wine and the only wine I pair with milk chocolate. Much to my dismay, none of my usual suppliers had any in stock this year! The good news is that it can be purchased online. This year I am going to focus on pairing it with Twix. I think the caramel, chocolate and cookie crunch will be terrific with the sweet strawberry flavors of the fruit and toasty bakery flavors courtesy of the yeast, which turned the sugar into alcohol!

So, go on, Pair Up!

Find recipes online at www.lasommelierre.com

10/01/2013 09:12
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Pair Up with La Sommelierre - September 2013

Golden Days

September in Northern California epitomizes the phrase “The golden days of summer.” The sunsets arrive earlier, but the days are still filled with sunshine. The promise of fall is in the air, and the nights offer a hint of crispness. This menu celebrates our golden state with golden fruits, golden vegetables and even golden candy!

California provides beautiful ripe fruits and vegetables for a Cornucopia Salad. Tart apples, sweet mango, crunchy celery and creamy avocado, this salad has it all. And, because it has it all, only sparkling wine can handle all these flavors and textures. Consider a rosé wine made from Pinot Noir grapes to provide full-body and intense flavor. And, if you like your bubbles with a hint of sweetness, the sweeter ingredients will welcome an off-dry wine.

With fall’s arrival, comfort foods become a staple in my house. Bright yellow, Butternut Squash Mac-n-“Cheese” will fool you into thinking you are about to partake in tangy cheddar pasta, but the lightly sweet flavor of butternut squash touched by earthy sage and piquant garlic will be an unexpected pleasure. Look for a slightly smoky chardonnay to partner the dish. Chardonnay develops a deep golden color when it spends time in oak, and that color will complement the golden pasta. Toasty oak will balance the sweetness of the squash, and the chardonnay’s full-bodied, creamy texture will harmonize with the cream in the sauce.

Golden Butterscotch Bars are too sweet for wine, but would be perfect with hot, black coffee. Coffee’s acidic bitterness is exactly right with the super-sweet decadence of this dessert. Try a coffee made from beans grown in Mexico, particularly from the Oaxaca and Chiapas regions. Mexican coffee beans produce a cup that is soft and smooth, yet still bright with light to medium body.

So, go on. Pair Up!

Find recipes online at www.lasommelierre.com

08/16/2013 16:00
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