Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Our new varietal wine guide!

Rosa d'Oro is currently undergoing a large packaging update and I am thrilled to death to have found Kerri Green Design to work with. She designed the Trigrammaton Cellars labels and has now moved on to helping with Rosa d'Oro's print collateral.
The part I am most excited about is the varietal wine guide on the right. We make so many varietals that people are unfamiliar with, but they aren't really that strange or unusual in flavor profile. We needed a handy way to categorize and familiarize our Italian varietals, with a guide that allowed people to locate their taste preferences on a lighter to heavier scale and have a clear, familiar referent that consumers could grasp easily and quickly with a few general descriptors and prices included in one handy snapshot. It also has some space for people to make notes at tastings for future reference. The food section is pretty cool too.

The new Aglianico label in the center is just a taste of the 2012 bottle updates by the way, more good design is on the way! And as a double plug, if you need some design help at affordable prices, send Kerri an email.

Friday, June 21, 2013

We are live on Kickstarter, and a few other thing

So this is a big step, and kind of scary, but I am on kickstarter trying to raise funds for a real kitchen in the tasting room - please visit and see if it sparks your interest at...

Here are a few things I have really have been digging. I am painfully aware that my goal of updating culinary adventures and finds never really got off the ground, but that may all be about to change...

1. Tojiro 240mm Kiritsuke. Probably the best present I ever bought myself, available at www.chefknivestogo.com for a measly $80. Took some regrind work but the White Steel #2 (my first time with it) is remarkable. It is a featherweight laser. While you are rubbing one out to all the knife porn on that website at 2am be sure to pick up a:

2. Shapton glass stone. I started using ceramic Shaptons in 2004 and picked up a 1000 grit glass stone as a quick stone to complement the higher grits. The new glass line is pretty awesome and certainly worth the money in longevity and speed. Also got a diamond 300 for regrinding several old, damaged knives rather than continuing to live in shame.

3. Coriander root. I had somehow passed this over my whole life, just assuming that if you had coriander or cilantro why use the roots? I picked some up for Thai Night and instantly realized I have been an idiot and it is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Subtle, floral, with a real sense of body and warmth. Imagine the floral aspect of parsnips in a much more subtle and delicate package with added savor and grace. No chlorophyll so not grassy in any sense, nor woody like the seed. Tremendous ability to blend with other flavors as well. Consider it the medium+ toast Francois Frere barrel of spice elements. Really, really nice. Will work that grey area of similar looking greens in the Chinese market and see how it compares in general to Pak Chee Thai.

4. Having your own ras el hanout on hand from Morrocan night - build it and watch in awe at the amount of mileage you get back, and amaze your friends. Using a range of spice roastage seems to really create the greatest vertical range of depth. Grind rose petals at the end and hold separately for dusting where appropriate. I actually went back and added some unroasted seeds to get that high/low element.

5. Meat glue - there is always that question about soluble proteins binding in addition to the power of the glue in presalted and mixed meat when it is ground, diced etc. I used 40% less in my tuna meatballs and still had some rubber bounce issues. 50% strength may be a good number to use when you are liberating proteins that will gel when cooked. And, that ammonia release is awfully freaky while it sets... I can use meat glue on my tofu just fine the haiku said.

6. Pickled mustard seeds on oysters for that faux caviar look. Priceless, even if it is just an inside joke.

7. Restaurant Man - Joe Bastianich. Joe is in some ways the most likeable and yet most completely unlikeable dude in the restaurant biz. Cocky, smug, well known as a jerk. He is a labor lawsuit recipient and he lost. But the audiobook is a great listen, and painfully honest. His East Coast drone remembers me back to going to see Michale Gira (Swans) read from his book - it was the most painful thing I ever saw, let alone heard. Anyways, if you don't mind a little hubris and fanny humor, listen (or read if you must) Restaurant Man. It is a great ride into the restaurant scene, and a perfect business primer. The best part is all of the Amazon reviews by mayonnaise-eating white-bread d-bags who want a clean, sanitized exposé Food Network style. Sometimes the medium is the message, or something like that. Dicks.

8. Bosse-de-Nagge - III. For old metal dudes like me that still listen to Slint, Unwound and The Ex regularly, this is embarrassingly post-, shoegazey and thin, but it really works on the pretentious cerebral side when you need a good artsy break from all of the Antediluvian and Adversarial you have have been cranking pasta out to at one in the morning or shoot thinning under a 95 degree sun for 12 hours straight. Far from cvlt, but then again, so am I. Surprised no one has termed it 'Frisco metal.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Food, Wine, Life

This is a rare personal post - you have been warned.

I hate eating and I hate food. Sometimes. I am getting over it. The best way to learn to hate food is to work in a restaurant. Fight with the owner, the unappreciative clientele, the low pay and the servers. Have food become the means to pay the mortgage, the student loans, the credit card bills that went to electricity and a car you rarely drive anyway. Let the subtle tide of creation and exploration become the whimper of quotidian drudgery. Separate the soul from craft, trade in the excitement of the push for the torture of the grind, and watch your personal life fade away at the same time which is no small part of the equation and the dilution of taste.

I did not always hate food. In fact it has been a fascination for most of my life. Why a ten-year old would be obsessed by glistening oeufs en gelée and terrines encased in perfectly egg-washed puff pastry will never be known, but a visceral embryonic connection was there. I grew up on a vineyard in the Russian River AVA as well, and at a young age I knew my Carignan from Colombard. I was more than a million miles away from food culture, large broken family, never eating anything worth remembering, but there was this odd spark. Moving out and on meant the liberty to try Thai food for the first time, garam masala-ed failures and toxic burned bechamel. Ten years too late the food fascination got the best of me, and after a lifetime of self-imposed austerity my soon-to-be wife realized that not only did we have a food connection, but I had a serious intimate relationship with it that just wasn't quite normal (she is a great cook too by the way.) I had temperature control in my bones, an almost erotic yearning for technique that bridged science with philosophy and aesthetics, and the physical connection to organic objects that merges both into a momentary being, and then disappears. It was never about eating, it was all about crafting. This why I am not a foodie; I lost weight working in restaurants.

When I made the transition into kitchen work my culinary obsession blossomed. Science and craft gel well for me, and that is still true at this moment today in the wine game. Right brain left brain. Every spare penny went to the cheapest damaged copies of the cookbooks that I read like novels. I remember hours spent puzzling over Michel Bras' book. Like most aspiring fine dining cooks I remember having all of Trotter's cookbooks at one time and then their cold austerity and bold caution slowly made them fade away. I remember the first time I looked at one of the El Bulli books and I remember when Susur's book came out - I even sent a letter asking for a kitchen position under him at one point.

Somewhere, between application number 42 and 50 someone finally gave me a job, and I still count my first chef as my friend today. I said I would shut up and eat shit my first year and I did. When I was told to do something wrong, I did it, though I was grumbling. I was also reveling in the bizarre semi-meritocracy of kitchen life. It was kind of like college, but not so much. In my first year cooking I managed to receive a James Beard Scholarship and for my school internship I set up my own paying gig with what would shortly be a 1-star Michelin restaurant in Napa Valley. Then they hired me, and then gave me a raise. I really wasn't bad, and I was moving fast. Had I been a driven enough cook I would have probably stayed, but I was married now and had to go home. This gradual acclimation to distance in a stressful marriage set a dangerous precedent that would shape my future.

When I returned to Portland life was in slow motion. Cooks were hacks, slow, lazy, whatever. Insular, uninformed and just not really disciplined. The general level of execution was very low. I wanted to be on sauté every night. I loved tearing through an impossible prep list then gliding through 150 covers in an evening. But so few kitchens flowed like that. Growing restless and bored I took a wage cut to work with someone who spent five years with Gray Kunz and then Bouley. Kunz is God. If you don't know what this means you are missing part of this post. Half the pay for a minimum of 70 hours per week. Eventually I had to quit because I could not afford to eat and my wife hated me. It was the best food I ever made, under the worst human being with the most gifted palate I have seen. I was learning but it was true injustice from every angle. Food was not pleasure but intellectual edification, but then I had to go home.  I was already old, and while everyone else closed down the bars I biked home through the dark to an angry wife and a house I could not afford. Sleep, repeat.

I can't emphasize the difficulty of that last bit. To be learning, creating with pride but totally miserable inside was wrenching. This is where food really started to become struggle, internal versus external, spousal obligation and all that stuff. This is the quintessential kitchen conundrum. Outside the kitchen life was a struggle, treading water financially and emotionally while in the kitchen the treading was of a slightly different sort, but it was my treading. I floated for a bit, then my first chef came to the rescue, hired me back, gave me a free hand with the menu and I recreated every dish from the last year's culinary adventures, and I made them better. I got even. I made oxtail and foie gras ravioli better. Squab? Better. It was cross-cultural. Steroidal harira, melting and buttery sake kasu sablefish, tomato air and Wuxi pork belly. I became somewhat happier with my work life anyway, and for a little while I had a bit of movement and hope. I began avoiding home, stopping at the bar and sneaking a cigarette here and there. When I got there I would start thinking about the next menu and specials so I would always be ahead of the game. As a child of divorce I tend to be over prepared, born wearing pants. I was between worlds. Doing more at work meant neglecting home, and they were pretty much all six-day weeks. They had to be.

A few more jobs, a few more stages. I yelled at "chefs" for putting vinegar or tomatoes in aluminum pans. I threatened my fourth chef over his shitty plating. When he told me his customers did not like "clean" food I fucking flipped, not because I care about the drooling knuckle-dragging customer, but because his slovenly laziness diminished the discipline that was mine. He hurt me existentially. When close enough was good enough, anyone could do it. Brunoise should be brunoise, none of this four millimeter shit. There are all sorts of stories I could tell about people you know about in Portland. The lies, whining, backstabbing are everything that could be dreamt of involving all the big Portland players. Some of them lied to my face in their backwater pomposity, and I am dying to tell you their names and stories. I was getting to know them and I had the fortune of a memorable name. Three years in I took a sous chef and pastry chef position, still climbing the ladder and I wanted the executive position. I was still hungry, and I needed more money as my home life was still drowning in debt, but I was bouncing off the ceiling constantly, wanting to do more, better, harder in a dour kitchen. It was a difficult setup in an odd spot with a ragged crew. After several serious conversations with others chefs about jumping ship and really pushing fell through and a chronically ill wife who could not work I approached meltdown stage. Struggle at work, struggle at home. My own head was killing me. I didn't have the balls to make my own way. So I ditched.

What was I ditching? Well, I was avoiding the reality of ending a personal relationship of five years. Food wise, I was ditching the fact that cooking had become arguments with the owner's chain-smoking wife over menu items, food cost percentages and sending non-salaried cooks home on slow nights. I was ditching a kitchen culture that over and again just was not gelling into a cohesive unit that pushed - it was all grind. What I found interesting and compelling was not what sold. I was ditching that I was in a corner and not finding any way out. Food was work. The kitchen was a black cloud of pessimism. It felt like not moving upwards but making a series of lateral jumps. One of the worst aspects of the hidden kitchen world is the amount of dysfunction it can contain. A good team is a rare thing of beauty, the type of unit you read about at Alinea. A bad team is a series of half-trained slackers going through a revolving door frequently, and you can't do it all yourself. Those of us with personal problems such as boundary issues and faulty work/home balance (guilty) tend to burn out anyway by failing on the human side of the equation, and this affects a kitchen too. One day, with a phone call, I decided to go to California for two months to help out with harvest. It was that or jump off a bridge.

In California I reconnected with sunlight, my old friend the grapevine and enough excitement and hard work to keep me active. Though I hated the circumstance of dipping a toe into a failing family business (my family's dysfunction makes any kitchen look glowingly healthy) I enjoyed it, and the culinary background was a definite asset in the winery and also in the vineyard. I could do this, and had that feeling in my bones that I could make it better and make it succeed. The two months provided a bit of a reset. When I went back to Portland I went back to work in the kitchen but my focus was shifting. I could still go through the motions - three busy months solid on grill and not a single piece of meat ever came back, but I was elsewhere. I went to work in a wine shop. It was not great, but it was a starting point. I was also feeling the personal need to upgrade my people skills and expand the horizon socially, and a (gulp) sales position forced me to open up and gain some confidence. I actually made some lasting friends out of customers. Shortly after I was back in California 65% of the year, cutting down walnut trees, planting, trellising, making sales and making wine. Life at home remained the same. It was 2009. Things continued, some got worse and some got better.

I'll save the rest of the story for later, but there is an element of failure and success that is clear and it is the topic of discussion. I burned out on food, and I am in the midst of divorce. The irony is that ending one path has forced me to reexamine and reevaluate the other. I refuse to end both.

My wife has been quite open about our impending end in her blog, she is a fantastic writer and can be found here and here. We had the intellectual link, and I am still proud of it. It hurts to end that part as I have become much more comfortable thinking of myself as artsy-fartsy in some ways, and that awareness is largely her doing. Though I get a bit queasy discussing these things publicly it may be time to leverage technology into resolving my own struggle and possibly assist others.

So, dear reader, maybe you have struggled with cooking, with crafting and creating food. Maybe the stable mirror of your existence has departed and the flavor of life has dwindled a bit. I admire those who cook for an empty house. Maybe there is a simple fix for you, like cut your hair, get a mani/pedi and move on. Maybe you just need a new cookbook. This is no joke. I fought buying the Alinea cookbook for years. The technical aspects of modernist cuisine were mysterious and unpublished (with the exception of El Bulli) when I was coming up, so it was in a away also the end of an era. It came out when I exited cooking and I felt that it was not for me anymore and it was part of what was now a different path. I did not want to go there. It became symbolic of my failure in so many ways. Sure, it was still easy to dazzle a house party but that inchoate spark was missing, that lovely concupiscent dialectic had died. No one saw it but me, and its absence was like sleeping with a hooker, everything was just going through the motions mechanically. Could have been fucking sewing. The right book at the right time could have changed this.

What I see now is that for me the balance is all, and the dialectic comes to a grinding halt if it is forsaken. Sure, there are those few gifted visionaries who tirelessly churn forward and find success, but the price can be very high for mono-minded-mania. It feels wonderful to push at all cost with laser-like focus and shut the world out, but that is precisely the cost. Somewhere, somehow, one forgets to enjoy eating. The craft becomes impersonal labor, reified as ideology, cathected failure. It ceased to breath for me. I developed the peculiar habit of not wanting to eat my own food. In fact, even today, the thought of it makes me nauseous. Consumption became utterly unrelated to production, and I am not a classy guy. This isn't snobbery as I still drink Keystone and eat freezer pizza with vigor. No, this has been a philosophical failing, a misunderstanding of the the nature of things, an internal failing demanding an external perspective.

In short, I forgot - or am only coming to see now - that cooking is a relationship too. Relationships require different things at different times, sometimes some distance and silence, sometimes cautious nurturing and caring. Then there are times that for all the drama, storm and stress all that is needed is a sweaty three-way in the elevator. I ordered the Fat Duck Cookbook too...

When cooking became struggle it had lost its essence as something to be shared. It became either a commodity (is it a deal for $22) or it became a masturbatory exorcism. It fell into the neat dichotomous crevasse of being either a cold product or an ego-invested stand against kitchen corruption. The adventure was gone, the R & D phase so essential to forward movement evaporated because that tender care and concern no longer existed. Food can be just recipes just like it can be just a pay check. I half think that every cook should take some time and go watch their patrons eat their food. We are only part of the equation; there is a whole other world on the other side of the pass. Much like music or some other form, a sense of enthusiasm somehow pervades and persists through the object. You know a kitchen without energy or drive the second the plate hits the table, whether at a restaurant or at home. There is eating and cooking for sustenance, then for fulfillment. Fundamentally, when pride dies, food dies too. If you no longer believe it can or should get better, it won't. It is your dithyramb.

So what now? Well, I am reconnecting with food. Slowly disentangling all those painful threads of guilt, failure, duty, scarcity and self abnegation and hoping to find an equilibrium of abundance. Enjoying only the execution part will not be enough to sustain it. At the most basic level that sense of wonder and excitement that culminates in creation is a large portion of the goal, but not the totality. There is the unique possibility at this moment to cook very little in a very focused and controlled way, a few things a week, and actually share them with visitors in our winery's tasting room and reestablish that communal link of sharing and hospitality. We can explore historical elements as well through regional pairings. The technical aspect of execution is unlimited. I will focus on new areas, like charcuterie that had been marginalized in the past. The wine pairings will hopefully become more creative and adventurous or they may be historically informed and sanctioned, who knows? We like rustic as much as high minded. We like the basics, but should not be afraid to pull out the calcium chloride or kappa carrageenan, bake some bread or crack open that dusty pastry book. The wine will be better for it at the end of the day if all the cards are played right. I also will get to reconnect with an old friend in a wisened and hopefully steadily passionate, yet measured way. And, the work will be documented here so that I can spare you some failure and maybe share some success. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Recipe: Beet Salad

Beet Salad (serves four)

1 pound good quality beets, greens removed (keep different colors separate if using)

1 Granny Smith apple quartered and thinly sliced

4 oz. arugula

·      1 shallot minced very finely
·      Toasted and crushed pumpkin seeds (or crushed walnuts)
·      1 ½ tsp. sherry vinegar
·      1 tbl. finely sliced chives
·      1 tbl. pumpkin seed oil (or walnut oil)
·      Sea salt and fresh black pepper

Horseradish Cream
·      2 tbl. prepared creamed horseradish (but if you have fresh, grate extremely finely and process in a blender withe vinegar, than add cream over an ice bath gently)
·      ½ tsp. rice vinegar or white balsamic
·      1 tbl. mascarpone or crème fraiche
·      A touch of sugar if necessary

Beet salad never sounds too exciting, but this extra-classy version is a good way to dress it up and impress friends. This salad forgoes the classic goat cheese in exchange for a lighter and cleaner profile that works well in a multi-course dinner. Pumpkin seed oil is very expensive (and very good), and if you can find it the nutty and earthy flavor works beautifully with the beets. Walnut oil is a lighter-flavored substitution that works, but not quite as well. The horseradish is the secret.

1.      Preheat oven to 300°F. Rinse the beets and remove any of the greens remaining. Put beets in a small oven-safe container, such as a small saucepot, add one tbl. olive oil and a dash of water to the beets. Be sure to use a tight- fitting lid so that no steam escapes. Cook beets in oven until a knife inserts smoothly into the largest of them, approximately 50 minutes – do not overcook though. Allow to partially cool, rub skin off and slice thinly.
2.      While the beets are cooking prepare the horseradish by mixing the creamed mixture with the crème fraiche or mascarpone. Whisk well, adding the rice vinegar and a touch of sugar if necessary. A touch of olive oil may be needed.
3.      In a large bowl mix the minced shallot, pumpkin seeds (or crushed walnuts), vinegar, chives, and oil. Mix. Put half of the mixture into second bowl. In first bowl toss the beets with the dressing and season. In second bowl with other half of dressing toss the arugula and sliced apple.
4.      Assemble. Put 1 tbl. of horseradish mixture onto each plate and push with the back of a spoon to spread in a circle. Carefully layer dressed beets in a perfect circle on top of the horseradish (or use a ring mold).  If you are using the pumpkin seed oil you can quickly drizzle it around the plate Jackson Pollock/‘80s style for that clever ironic look. Very gently pile the dressed apple and arugula mixture so that it looks light and fluffy and intentionally off-center in an arty ikebana kind of way. Toss a few more seeds or nuts on the plate and pair with a 2009 Muscat Canelli by you know who...

Options, yeah, you got options. Lots of 'em. Beets are sweetly savoury and earthy, like Winona Ryder with a hangover walking to the bus stop, or a good Nuits-St. George. They are a smooth platform for all sorts of antics, daring or tame. Your wine pairing will probably have more to do with the vinegar you add for brightness or the horseradish than the beets themselves. Arugula can be a little tricky as well, so you can either overpower it with big guns or you can smoothly work with it, which is where the bit of sugar and texture in the Muscat comes into play. Remember that texture is always a component to consider, and a little sugar goes a long way. The food should always be a little less acidic than the wine, but in this recipe there are many points to cover - nutty, sweet/tart apple, bitter green arugula, deep earth and sweet beet, and a bit of horseradish fire. This is a tall order for any wine. Sure you could out acid and angle it with a Grüner or sparkler, but the salad as a whole is too complex I think for a cohesive counter point to account for all this. Plus, if you are doing a multi-course dinner, pair this slightly sweet and then go angular on the next with a meat dish or into a light red. Always think of flow and contrasts. It is o.k. to use a lightweight throwaway wine on one then alternate with a wine-centric dish for the next course. Sometimes wine folks need to let the food speak when the dish sings, because I guarantee you will need to cover up the kitchen's fuckups at some point. Other options I like would be a similar Chenin Blanc, Oregon Pinot Gris, possibly a Friulano or Fiano. Just watch the greens and let the beets come forward while quenching the horseradish to keep the salad clean and fresh.



Monday, December 27, 2010

Ode to the Oxtail

     Here is a hint for those who like to cook - use oxtail. Yes, it looks like a giant denuded penis and yes, it is actually the tail which is a little gross. But, do you need a rich brown stock? A meaty soup base? A rich and hearty braise? Then skip your boutique grocer's tail at $6.99 per pound and go directly to the local Asian supermarket and spend $2.59  and buy three times as much.

Oxtail is just as it sounds - tail. There was time when it actually meant old male cow tail, which would be the best for braising and stewing due to its age and muscle tone, but now it generally means cow tail young or old. And of course, all tail is not equal. Even young oxtail can give you a leg up though. Here is why:

Oxtail is a very well-used muscle for a cow, equalling flavor, and it is full of nasty stuff like collagen that  carries flavor and creates unctuous body. When you braise oxtail you are at the same time creating a super stock with the liquid. You get all the goody out of the bones and all of the meaty flavor that does not exist when making a traditional stock based only on bones. Braising oxtail is a two-fer.

A traditionally made stock (simmering bones in aromatic liquid) still has its place in the kitchen. It can create discreet background flavors when braising, soups of course can be very good, it is a good wetting agent, etc. Chicken stock is extremely versatile, but those store-bought pre-roasted chickens are so full of sodium preservatives and MSG that your leftover stock may taste like a chicken McNugget, and vegetable stock is criminally underrated for its versatility and clarity of flavor. But in restaurant life we have another secret weapon: the fond. The fond is a flavor bomb. It is very powerful and not really needing any further reduction. It is Slayer to your Moby. This is where the dense flavor and high carmelization potential of oxtail really shines. I say braise your tail in the traditional way, pick the meat out and reserve it with some of the liquid for moistness and use as needed, then reduce the strained liquid with all the leftover bones and reduce it further until you have a thermonuclear potion of erotic bovinsim.

Oxtail is like a giant finger, there is a joint or knuckle every couple of inches. Cut cleanly through this joint, get rid of any extra fat and really fully brown every inch of surface area without dessicating the meat. Remove the tail, brown your onion, then add and carrot, celery or other aromatic vegetables you want. If you are super classy you may even char some tomato and put it in. For Italianate braises some tomato is key, but if you use dollar tomato paste it will have absolutely no brightness or lift. One of the few splurges that I advocate is buying the good canned San Marzano tomatoes if you do have access to seasonal ones. A ghetto trick is to use that dollar tomato paste but half and seed several romas to try to get some tomato acid in there. And always slip in an anchovy when no one is looking. Then add you thyme, bay, peppercorns, whole head garlic, etc. If you making oxtail soup, use a lot of liquid, otherwise use as little as possible.

Choose your vessel size carefully. Excess liquid is dilute flavor so keep it tight and packed. Be generous with the wine and garlic. Slow is good, so heat slowly and cool down slowly. You can use store bought stock at this point to top up the liquid. Because oxtail is all about rich flavor I advocate just barely covering it with liquid to start and then let it evaporate and reduce. This means that you will need to flip your tail, but you will create extra flavor on the exposed portion that is resubmerged. Using a parchment sheet is the classic way to allow evaporation and retain heat. When your braise has finished the key step is to pick the meat out carefully, and this job sucks. There are fine bits of cartilage hidden in their so use your fingers' tactile abilities to find them. Missing these bits has caused innumerable bad days for young cooks rushing to get through oxtails before service only have a plate come back to the chef with a piece of bone pushed to the side. Once the meat is cleaned keep it moist, never let it dry out, and in fact it should only be cooled in its liquid - never pull hot meat out of a braise to cool unless you want your love to produce chewy cardboard.

Returning to the earlier stock versus fond discussion, a fond is made not by simmering bones in water but by reducing bones and meat with minimal liquid repeatedly to a brown fond, and then rewetting it over and over with different liquids (wine, stock, water, tears, etc.). Heat control and attention is key. This braising of tail and reusing bones even further is sort of in between, like a cheater fond. Carefully reduce and clean up your liquid with careful skimming. You will know when it is done. Due to the high reduction I do not salt the braise until the meat is picked and reserved, otherwise heavy salting can produce an inedible disaster with high reduction. It also impedes browning by liberating moisture from the meat.

I'll stop here for now with kitchen tips - more to come soon. My personal fave oxtail dish I ever made was oxtail and foie gras raviolo with the gently spiced reduction over the top (be sure to make your own pasta). Piemontese-style goodness!

Oh yeah, and wine pairings are pretty endless. Good reds from all over, Rhone, Nebbiolo to Aglianico. Keep it rich though. A weedy Cab Franc from the Loire, though a personal fave may not match in body (unless it is a warm vintage). Spain is good to, but maybe not too over the top, like Priorat. Try a Ribera del Duero that has some acid. Let the food shine, go for that Lake County Barbera, hint hint...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Greco petition sent to the TTB

 (VCR 11 at the bottom is FPS 01)
[Greco is not recognized as a grape variety in the U.S. yet. We picked the first harvest of this cool Campanian grape propagated by Novavine last fall, documented here, producing about 65 gallons of rather orangeish, minerally wine. Assuming the petition passes, we will be the first winery in the U.S. to produce a "Greco Bianco" wine. We have also ordered budwood to graft over our Chardonnay block to it].

Rosa d’Oro Vineyards of Kelseyville, California hereby petitions the TTB to recognize “Greco Bianco” as a prime grape variety name approved for the designation of American wines. Foundation Plant Services has recognized one clone (FPS 01) of Greco as Greco di Tufo, but because Tufo is a place name, and black and white varieties exist, we believe that Greco Bianco would be the most appropriate prime grape variety name.

Greco Bianco (White Greco) and Greco Nero (Black Greco) have been cultivated in Southern Italy for at least 2000 years.  Greco Bianco is most famous as the Italian DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) wine “Greco di Tufo” or Greco from the town of Tufo in Campania. In nearby Calabria a D.O.C. sweet wine known as “Greco di Bianco” is also produced near the town of Bianco [ed note - I think Greco Bianco in Calabria is actually Muscat used in the passito style, which may be a bit of a hangup for this petition]. Current estimate is that approximately 2,500 acres of Greco Bianco is grown in Southern Italy.

Other Italian D.O.C. wines that allow Greco Bianco (percentage listed after) as part of the blend are:

·      Bivongi (30-50%)
·      Capri (up to 50%)
·      Cilento (10-15%)
·      Ciro (up to 5%)
·      Gravina (35-60%)
·      Molise if labeled varietally (minimum 85%)
·      Penisola Sorrentina (up to 60%)
·      Sannio (up to 50%)
·      Sant’Agata dei Goti (40-60%)
·      Sant’Anna di Isola Capo Rizzuto (up to 35%)
·      Scavigna (up to 20%)

·      And, the DOCG wine Fiano di Avellino (up to 15% blended in).

In California, Novavine grapevine nursery acts as the importer of Italian budwood produced by Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo (VCR). All VCR clones utilized by Novavine have passed through Foundation Plant Services (FPS), and FPS officially recognizes Greco FPS 01, generated from Italian clone VCR 11 as Greco di Tufo (see supporting dosumentation #1). The Italian VCR clones of Greco are printed as document #2. In 2009, at their budwood growing ground in Dunnigan, California, Novavine grafted one row of approximately 185 previously established rootstock to Greco FPS 01. One picture of this row was taken by this author in August 2010 and is reprinted in supporting documentation #9.

In 2010 Rosa d’Oro Vineyards harvested the first crop produced by that row of Greco FPS 01. We produced approximately 70 gallons of dry white wine. The harvest and vinification is documented in #9.

Greco, along with regional companion Fiano, are of tremendous potential to warmer growing regions of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. It is capable of producing varietally unique ultra-premium wine, and most importantly Greco is extremely heat tolerant and drought tolerant, minimizing the need for irrigation. Greco Bianco is moderately susceptible to powdery mildew. Greco Bianco’s canopy is very vigorous but it produces a relatively light crop, probably never exceeding four tons per acre in even very fertile soil.

At the author’s request Novavine indicated that in addition to an order of Greco placed by Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, in 2010 orders for Greco had been filled for Clondaire Vineyards in Calaveras County (cited in document #5) and for Callaghan Vineyards in Arizona.

The wine produced from Greco Bianco grown in Dunnigan, California by Novavine is true to type. It ripened very late for a white variety in mid-October. It retained very high natural acidity, has moderate to very thick skins, high phenolic content and produced a typical deeply colored yellow/straw/light orange wine. It also has the strong mineral and orange citrus characteristics typical of the grape. It has the potential to age and also has assertive and attractive youthfulness.

Written and compiled by
Pietro Buttitta
Rosa d’Oro Vineyards 
certified sommelier

Supporting Documentation

#1) National Grape Registry, Accessed December 2, 2010, http://ngr.ucdavis.edu/varietyview.cfm?varietynum=2938

#2) Vivai Cooperativi Rauscedo, Greco Bianco biotypes accessed November 16, 2010, http://www.vivairauscedo.com/en/catalogo.php

#3) Novavine, accessed November 16, 2010, http://novavine.com/plant_materials/varieties_clones/vcr.asp
Novavine, 6735 Sonoma Highway, Santa Rosa, Ca. 95409, (707)539-5678, info@novavine.com

#4) Wikipedia, Greco entry, accessed November 16, 2010, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco_(grape)

#5) “Calaveras Winegrowers seek AVA Status Vineyard Tour Highlights new Rhone, Italian, and Iberian Varietals” in Wines & Vines Magazine, August 2010

#6) The Concise World Atlas of Wine, Octopus Publishing, 2009, by Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson, pp 144-145

#7) Making Sense of Italian Wine, Running Press Book Publishers, 2006, by Matt Kramer, pp 134-141

#8) Wine All-in-One for Dummies, Wiley Publishing, 2009, by Ed McCarthy, Mary Ewing-Mulligan, Maryann Egan, pp 380-83

#9) Rosa d’Oro Vineyards blog documenting Greco Harvest “The Cutest Grapes I Ever Saw 10/15/2010” http://www.rosadorowine.blogspot.com/2010/10/cutest-grapes-i-ever-saw.html

#10 Two scientific journal articles involving Greco Bianco

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Espelette, the Devil, and the Details

I remember my first espelette.  I am only about 50% on the anniversary, and sometimes the car is not where it was left, but I remember the first time I used the pepper. I was working at Giorgio's in Portland, just after they made Gourmet's top restaurants list. I had just left Terra Restaurant in Napa Valley and returned to Portland hoping to continue up the fine-dining ladder. Giorgio's was turning out some of the best food in the city at that time, which was ironic since the chef, who had an immensely gifted palate and a resume to kill for, was the most miserable, insecure and douchebaggy lying weasel I ever worked for. The restaurant  started its grizzly decline when we were runner up to Andina as Willamette Weekly's restaurant of the year. The chef freaked (though he never admitted it), started drinking at the bar all day and soon disappeared back to New York where he closed three restaurants and is now slinging burgers and a "french hot dog." C'est la vie baby. Anyway, I used the pepper there, and this is about espelette.

The esplette pepper is problematic. Most importantly, it is very expensive. This is because, just like a French wine can be A.O.C (Appellation d’origine contrôlée), espelette is an A.O.C. pepper. That means that the pepper can only be grown in ten authorized villages in the valley near Espelette (Ainhoa, Cambo-les-Bains, Espelette, Halsou, Jatxou, itxassou, Larressore, Pée Saint-sur-Nivelle, and Souraïde Ustaritz), hence the  $10 per ounce price. It is used extensively in Basque cuisine, pipérade being the most famous dish. It is a shi-shi item. Is it worth it? That depends on your priorities, but you should certainly purchase it once and decide for yourself. If you are the type that buys the good anchovies, then yes, this is for you.

Espelette is not a hot pepper, though the heat can vary depending on all the normal climatic/soil/sun things. One container I used was quite hot, though generally they have only about one-third the heat of a jalapeno. The magic of the espelette is in its depth and range of flavors. For me it is sort of a cross between the fruitiness and tang of sumac and the much cheaper aleppo pepper. Aleppo (which is highly recommended as well for different reasons) has less fruit but more earthy-spice (like cumin, coriander, etc.) and can be found in most Middle-Eastern stores - will write on this one later. Espelette is quite pungent with a strong red fruity quality and also a floral tone. Its most famous attribute is an element of natural smokiness having nothing to do with smoking, unlike smoked Spanish paprika. Espelette therefore is a more delicate pepper. Though it can be used in robust dishes, like piperade, it will show its natural attributes best on a clean canvas. It performs very well with seafood (duh), utilized with clean and light flavors with a touch of natural sweetness and the umami character really brings the piquant and slightly tart flavors forward. It works well with citrus. Keeping it simple is key. Another way I have used it was in a simple fingerling potato salad that was only sliced fingerlings (gently simmer skin-on just until cooked, then slice hot and toss with ingredients while warm so that they absorb the ingredients and the starch creates a gentle binding creaminess), grey sea salt, lemon Agrumato oil and espelette. Add protein and some greenery, and you will look very, very sophisticated, if a little heavy.

Wine pairing: Espelette will rarely drive a pairing. After all, it is not like adding a teaspoon of anise to a dish. But, it can add heat and sharpness, and it has that delicate citrus floral thing, so these elements should be accounted for. Let's imagine that the potato preparation above is the dish as a simple appetizer. Txakoli is the regional drink to go to, it is the Basque Vinho Verde basically. Its attributes are low alcohol which handles the heat, very high acid that keeps it clean, and the wonderful freshness that would make your Italian grandmother blush. If you want to go Spanish an Albariño may work, but if you use enough pepper to make it hot, look elsewhere. My recommendation is to grab something that has a bit of smoke characteristic to echo the pepper, and just a touch of residual sugar to smooth the heat. If the potato dish mentioned above is used, I say grab an Alsatian Pinot Blanc (yes, the derided lowly Pinot Blanc) in the $10-$20 range. It has some of the Albarino characteristics wrapped in a totally different paradigmatic package. Pinot Gris can taste like peanut shells (especially in the Willamette Valley) and I just can't roll with it. It should have about five to seven grams of residual sugar per liter to tame a touch of heat, a whiff of smoke (from the auxerrois usually in the blend) and peach that works with the fruit of the pepper, and a medium body that matches the weight of potato and olive oil. Oh yeah, and it is cheap. If you must have Italian, go Catarratto from Sicily. Alto Adige Pinot Blancs are absolutely beautiful but they are dry and more crisp so let your heat level guide you. Add a few leaves of arugula and a couple of prawns, could not be easier. We are all Trader Joes' slaves.